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February 21 2015

21 February 2015


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DOT and FAA Propose New Rules for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

by Press • 15 February 2015


WASHINGTON – The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration today proposed a framework of regulations that would allow routine use of certain small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in today’s aviation system, while maintaining flexibility to accommodate future technological innovations.

The FAA proposal offers safety rules for small UAS (under 55 pounds) conducting non-recreational operations. The rule would limit flights to daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations. It also addresses height restrictions, operator certification, optional use of a visual observer, aircraft registration and marking, and operational limits.

The proposed rule also includes extensive discussion of the possibility of an additional, more flexible framework for “micro” UAS under 4.4 pounds. The FAA is asking the public to comment on this possible classification to determine whether it should include this option as part of a final rule. The FAA is also asking for comment about how the agency can further leverage the UAS test site program and an upcoming UAS Center of Excellence to further spur innovation at “innovation zones.”

The public will be able to comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register, which can be found  Separate from this proposal, the FAA intends to hold public meetings to discuss innovation and opportunities at the test sites and Center of Excellence.  These meetings will be announced in a future Federal Register notice.

“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The proposed rule would require an operator to maintain visual line of sight of a small UAS. The rule would allow, but not require, an operator to work with a visual observer who would maintain constant visual contact with the aircraft. The operator would still need to be able to see the UAS with unaided vision (except for glasses). The FAA is asking for comments on whether the rules should permit operations beyond line of sight, and if so, what the appropriate limits should be.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”

Under the proposed rule, the person actually flying a small UAS would be an “operator.” An operator would have to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and obtain an FAA UAS operator certificate. To maintain certification, the operator would have to pass the FAA knowledge tests every 24 months. A small UAS operator would not need any further private pilot certifications (i.e., a private pilot license or medical rating).

The new rule also proposes operating limitations designed to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground:

  • A small UAS operator must always see and avoid manned aircraft. If there is a risk of collision, the UAS operator must be the first to maneuver away.
  • The operator must discontinue the flight when continuing would pose a hazard to other aircraft, people or property.
  • A small UAS operator must assess weather conditions, airspace restrictions and the location of people to lessen risks if he or she loses control of the UAS.
  • A small UAS may not fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.
  • Flights should be limited to 500 feet altitude and no faster than 100 mph.
  • Operators must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas, and obey any FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs).

The proposed rule maintains the existing prohibition against operating in a careless or reckless manner. It also would bar an operator from allowing any object to be dropped from the UAS.

Operators would be responsible for ensuring an aircraft is safe before flying, but the FAA is not proposing that small UAS comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. For example, an operator would have to perform a preflight inspection that includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS. Small UAS with FAA-certificated components also could be subject to agency airworthiness directives.

The new rules would not apply to model aircraft.  However, model aircraft operators must continue to satisfy all of the criteria specified in Sec. 336 of Public Law 112-95, including the stipulation that they be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. Generally speaking, the new rules would not apply to government aircraft operations, because we expect that these government operations will typically continue to actively operate under the Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) process unless the operator opts to comply with and fly under the new small UAS regulations.

In addition to this proposal, earlier today, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum concerning transparency, accountability, and privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protections for the Federal Government’s use of UAS in the national airspace system which directs the initiation of a multi-stakeholder engagement process to develop a framework for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues concerning commercial and private UAS use.

The current unmanned aircraft rules remain in place until the FAA implements a final new rule. The FAA encourages new operators to visit:

You can view the FAA’s Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking later today at:

An overview of the Small UAS rule can be viewed at:

You can view the fact sheet at:

For more information on the FAA and UAS, visit:






Proposed Drone Laws Rule Out Most Actual Commercial Uses for Drones

by Press • 17 February 2015


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been stuck with two cold truths. The first is that they have to make common-sense regulations that both protect Americans and allow both businesses and ordinary people to fly little quadcopter drones. The second is that they have absolutely no idea how.

The FAA gave us their outline yesterday for what they think drone regulation might look like. Possible prerequisites for being a drone pilot include a biennial aeronautical knowledge test, and being 17 or older. Some other proposals are:

•Drones have to be within line of sight at all times

•Drones can’t fly over people

•They can’t fly faster than 100 mph, or higher than 500 feet—which is still pretty fast and high

Each of these rules, on the own, doesn’t seem too prohibitive. But taken together, they start to rule out most of the commercial applications that futurists say could revolutionize industries like agriculture and urban development.

For example, if a drone has to be within line of sight, this rules out Amazon’s plans for a network of drones that fly for miles to deliver packages, or an agriculture drone that monitor acres of farmland. And if a drone can’t fly higher than 500 feet, that does away with real estate drones that help contractors survey the hard-to-access exteriors of skyscrapers.

“The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers,” Amazon VP Paul Misener told the Guardian.

Mr. Misener brought out the tired big-business threat that they’ll simply take their business to other, more amenable countries if the FAA can’t simply get it together and make regulation that lets Amazon build the network they want. It’s a reminder that the struggle for sensible drone laws is a classic, sad dichotomy of a slow-moving regulatory body that can’t get anything done in time and a megalithic corporation that wants to make stacks of cash innovate without any interference from the government.

The FAA, which is already behind schedule in its rule-making, will spend the next two years making revisions, hearing comments and deliberating while tens of thousands of enthusiasts and companies continue using drones without clear guidelines.



Reactions to FAA Proposals

February 18, 2015


Long-awaited federal rules proposed for commercial drones should pave the way for thousands of U.S. businesses to fly the devices in industries like filmmaking, farming and construction, but drone proponents worried that limits in the regulations would stifle other possible uses like package delivery.

Drone makers and users generally cheered the rules proposed by the Obama administration on Sunday, which would replace the Federal Aviation Administration’s current near-ban on commercial use of the devices. The industry had worried federal regulators would treat drones like manned aircraft, mandating expensive and time-consuming airframe certifications and full pilots licenses for drone operators.

Instead, the FAA set simple criteria for certifying operators and said they could maintain safety of the devices themselves.

But the proposed rules—which will undergo 60 days of public comment before the FAA finalizes them, likely late next year—also contain limits on drone operations. Those include bans on flights over people or beyond the sight of operators, and a requirement for prior approval from air-traffic control for flying in many urban areas. Proponents said such restrictions would preclude many commercial uses for the devices and set U.S. drone users behind their peers abroad.

The proposed rules “are more progressive than we expected,” said Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, a trade group that represents drone makers, including Inc. and Google Inc. “But once you spend some time looking at them, some of the things proposed would be devastating to the future of the industry.”

FAA officials said they sought to balance the need for flexibility for the emerging drone industry with the agency’s top priority, public safety. The rules would “provide probably the most flexible regime for unmanned aircraft 55 pounds or less that exists anywhere in the world,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.

The rules would require operators to obtain an FAA certificate by passing a written exam in person every two years. The standards would limit flights to daytime, below 500 feet, less than 100 miles an hour, and within sight of the operator. The rules don’t affect recreational use of drones, which is already permitted as long as users obey safe-operating requirements.

The FAA requested comment on specific areas throughout its 195-page proposal, which was nearly four years behind schedule. Final regulations often differ from proposals. The FAA also said it was still mulling separate, less-demanding rules for unmanned aircraft weighing less than five pounds.

Until the rules are final, the FAA’s effective ban on commercial drones will remain in place. The FAA has approved just 26 companies to use drones under strict rules.

Separately on Sunday, the Obama administration set rules on how federal agencies can use drones in the U.S. The administration said the rules are designed to protect citizens’ privacy and civil liberties, including a mandate for federal agencies to release annual summaries of their drone operations.

For private and commercial drones, the White House ordered the Department of Commerce to convene a stakeholder group within 90 days to develop guidelines for “privacy, accountability and transparency issues” for such devices.

The FAA said it proposes banning flights over people and beyond eyeshot because of risks unique to unmanned aircraft: operators can suddenly lose control of the devices and no pilot is on board to see and avoid obstacles. Drone makers are working on technology to improve the wireless link between drones and operators and to enable the devices to sense and avoid obstacles automatically.


The proposed restrictions could limit many commercial drone applications, including filmmaking, delivering packages, news reporting, monitoring crops at large farms, and inspecting power lines and pipelines. Inc. said the proposed rules wouldn’t allow Prime Air, its planned delivery-by-drone program, to operate in the U.S. “The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers,” the company said.

The FAA said its proposed rules don’t cover delivery drones, and that any unmanned aircraft carrying an “external load” might require FAA certification. Companies would be allowed to test a drone carrying a package under the proposed rules, “but they could not carry it for payment; they could not carry it for someone else,” said Mark Bury, the FAA’s assistant chief counsel.

Limitations on the battery life of drones and their ability to carry payloads far distances mean systematic drone deliveries aren’t possible today, but companies are running delivery trials and say the technology will be ready in the next several years.

Ted Ellett, a former FAA chief counsel who represents companies that want to use drones, said the proposal “seems to be close to a home run” for many of his clients and their peers.

Drones for farming would likely thrive under the proposal, he said, but the FAA’s proposed limits still would allow the agency to block drone flights if they pass “over a single farmer on his tractor in the middle of a 100-acre field in Iowa.”

Mr. Ellett and other industry officials also worry that requiring operators to get approval from air-traffic control to fly drones near airports—and thus in many urban and suburban areas—would pose a big hurdle to certain operations.

Private manned aircraft frequently operate without flight plans around such areas, and they don’t need approval prior to takeoff.

The FAA said it aims to separate drone traffic from manned aircraft. The agency says it has received dozens of reports of drones flying too close to manned aircraft and airports in recent years.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) said in an interview that the proposed rules are a positive step, but that limits on flights over people or beyond the view of the operator would stifle the industry.

The FAA “started out on the strict side, but they’ll have to loosen up,” he said. “Legislation is a possibility, but let’s see how the regulations evolve.”

Chris Anderson, chief executive of U.S. drone maker 3D Robotics Inc., played down the impact of the proposed limits that his peers criticized, saying that the rules would enable the vast majority of commercial drone flights that are technically possible today.

Not requiring full pilots licenses, aircraft certifications “and other things that would have been barriers to innovation is what encourages me the most,” he said. “The little, tiny things like no nighttime flying and not flying over people all strike me as things that can be discussed.”


He added that regulations would finally lend legitimacy to the drone industry and lead to rapid expansion. “All I wanted was a sandbox where we could innovate,” he said. “Now we’ve got that sandbox and I think you’ll see an explosion of creativity and energy and investment in this space going forward.”


Promoting Economic Competitiveness While Safeguarding Privacy, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems

by Press • 15 February 2015



SUBJECT: Promoting Economic Competitiveness While Safeguarding Privacy, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems


Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) technology continues to improve rapidly, and increasingly UAS are able to perform a variety of missions with greater operational flexibility and at a lower cost than comparable manned aircraft. A wide spectrum of domestic users — including industry, private citizens, and Federal, State, local, tribal, and territorial governments — are using or expect to use these systems, which may play a transformative role in fields as diverse as urban infrastructure management, farming, public safety, coastal security, military training, search and rescue, and disaster response.

The Congress recognized the potential wide-ranging benefits of UAS operations within the United States in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-95), which requires a plan to safely integrate civil UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS) by September 30, 2015. As compared to manned aircraft, UAS may provide lower-cost operation and augment existing capabilities while reducing risks to human life. Estimates suggest the positive economic impact to U.S. industry of the integration of UAS into the NAS could be substantial and likely will grow for the foreseeable future.

As UAS are integrated into the NAS, the Federal Government will take steps to ensure that the integration takes into account not only our economic competitiveness and public safety, but also the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties concerns these systems may raise.

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to establish transparent principles that govern the Federal Government’s use of UAS in the NAS, and to promote the responsible use of this technology in the private and commercial sectors, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. UAS Policies and Procedures for Federal Government Use. The Federal Government currently operates UAS in the United States for several purposes, including to manage Federal lands, monitor wildfires, conduct scientific research, monitor our borders, support law enforcement, and effectively train our military. As with information collected by the Federal Government using any technology, where UAS is the platform for collection, information must be collected, used, retained, and disseminated consistent with the Constitution, Federal law, and other applicable regulations and policies. Agencies must, for example, comply with the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. 552a) (the “Privacy Act”), which, among other things, restricts the collection and dissemination of individuals’ information that is maintained in systems of records, including personally identifiable information (PII), and permits individuals to seek access to and amendment of records.

(a) Privacy Protections. Particularly in light of the diverse potential uses of UAS in the NAS, expected advancements in UAS technologies, and the anticipated increase in UAS use in the future, the Federal Government shall take steps to ensure that privacy protections and policies relative to UAS continue to keep pace with these developments. Accordingly, agencies shall, prior to deployment of new UAS technology and at least every 3 years, examine their existing UAS policies and procedures relating to the collection, use, retention, and dissemination of information obtained by UAS, to ensure that privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties are protected. Agencies shall update their policies and procedures, or issue new policies and procedures, as necessary. In addition to requiring compliance with the Privacy Act in applicable circumstances, agencies that collect information through UAS in the NAS shall ensure that their policies and procedures with respect to such information incorporate the following requirements:

(i) Collection and Use. Agencies shall only collect information using UAS, or use UAS-collected information, to the extent that such collection or use is consistent with and relevant to an authorized purpose.

(ii) Retention. Information collected using UAS that may contain PII shall not be retained for more than 180 days unless retention of the information is determined to be necessary to an authorized mission of the retaining agency, is maintained in a system of records covered by the Privacy Act, or is required to be retained for a longer period by any other applicable law or regulation.

(iii) Dissemination. UAS-collected information that is not maintained in a system of records covered by the Privacy Act shall not be disseminated outside of the agency unless dissemination is required by law, or fulfills an authorized purpose and complies with agency requirements.

(b) Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Protections. To protect civil rights and civil liberties, agencies shall:

(i) ensure that policies are in place to prohibit the collection, use, retention, or dissemination of data in any manner that would violate the First Amendment or in any manner that would discriminate against persons based upon their ethnicity, race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, in violation of law;

(ii) ensure that UAS activities are performed in a manner consistent with the Constitution and applicable laws, Executive Orders, and other Presidential directives; and

(iii) ensure that adequate procedures are in place to receive, investigate, and address, as appropriate, privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties complaints.

(c) Accountability. To provide for effective oversight, agencies shall:

(i) ensure that oversight procedures for agencies’ UAS use, including audits or assessments, comply with existing agency policies and regulations;

(ii) verify the existence of rules of conduct and training for Federal Government personnel and contractors who work on UAS programs, and procedures for reporting suspected cases of misuse or abuse of UAS technologies;

(iii) establish policies and procedures, or confirm that policies and procedures are in place, that provide meaningful oversight of individuals who have access to sensitive information (including any PII) collected using UAS;

(iv) ensure that any data-sharing agreements or policies, data use policies, and record management policies applicable to UAS conform to applicable laws, regulations, and policies;

(v) establish policies and procedures, or confirm that policies and procedures are in place, to authorize the use of UAS in response to a request for UAS assistance in support of Federal, State, local, tribal, or territorial government operations; and

(vi) require that State, local, tribal, and territorial government recipients of Federal grant funding for the purchase or use of UAS for their own operations have in place policies and procedures to safeguard individuals’ privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties prior to expending such funds.

(d) Transparency. To promote transparency about their UAS activities within the NAS, agencies that use UAS shall, while not revealing information that could reasonably be expected to compromise law enforcement or national security:

(i) provide notice to the public regarding where the agency’s UAS are authorized to operate in the NAS;

(ii) keep the public informed about the agency’s UAS program as well as changes that would significantly affect privacy, civil rights, or civil liberties; and

(iii) make available to the public, on an annual basis, a general summary of the agency’s UAS operations during the previous fiscal year, to include a brief description of types or categories of missions flown, and the number of times the agency provided assistance to other agencies, or to State, local, tribal, or territorial governments.

(e) Reports. Within 180 days of the date of this memorandum, agencies shall provide the President with a status report on the implementation of this section. Within 1 year of the date of this memorandum, agencies shall publish information on how to access their publicly available policies and procedures implementing this section.

Sec. 2. Multi-stakeholder Engagement Process. In addition to the Federal uses of UAS described in section 1 of this memorandum, the combination of greater operational flexibility, lower capital requirements, and lower operating costs could allow UAS to be a transformative technology in the commercial and private sectors for fields as diverse as urban infrastructure management, farming, and disaster response. Although these opportunities will enhance American economic competitiveness, our Nation must be mindful of the potential implications for privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties. The Federal Government is committed to promoting the responsible use of this technology in a way that does not diminish rights and freedoms.

(a) There is hereby established a multi-stakeholder engagement process to develop and communicate best practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues regarding commercial and private UAS use in the NAS. The process will include stakeholders from the private sector.

(b) Within 90 days of the date of this memorandum, the Department of Commerce, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and in consultation with other interested agencies, will initiate this multi-stakeholder engagement process to develop a framework regarding privacy, accountability, and transparency for commercial and private UAS use. For this process, commercial and private use includes the use of UAS for commercial purposes as civil aircraft, even if the use would qualify a UAS as a public aircraft under 49 U.S.C. 40102(a)(41) and 40125. The process shall not focus on law enforcement or other noncommercial governmental use.

Sec. 3. Definitions. As used in this memorandum:

(a) “Agencies” means executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government that conduct UAS operations in the NAS.

(b) “Federal Government use” means operations in which agencies operate UAS in the NAS. Federal Government use includes agency UAS operations on behalf of another agency or on behalf of a State, local, tribal, or territorial government, or when a nongovernmental entity operates UAS on behalf of an agency.

(c) “National Airspace System” means the common network of U.S. airspace; air navigation facilities, equipment, and services; airports or landing areas; aeronautical charts, information, and services; related rules, regulations, and procedures; technical information; and manpower and material. Included in this definition are system components shared jointly by the Departments of Defense, Transportation, and Homeland Security.

(d) “Unmanned Aircraft System” means an unmanned aircraft (an aircraft that is operated without direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft) and associated elements (including communication links and components that control the unmanned aircraft) that are required for the pilot or system operator in command to operate safely and efficiently in the NAS.

(e) “Personally identifiable information” refers to information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity, either alone or when combined with other personal or identifying information that is linked or linkable to a specific individual, as set forth in Office of Management and Budget Memorandum M-07-16 (May 22, 2007) and Office of Management and Budget Memorandum M-10-23 (June 25, 2010).

Sec. 4. General Provisions.

(a) This memorandum complements and is not intended to supersede existing laws and policies for UAS operations in the NAS, including the National Strategy for Aviation Security and its supporting plans, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Integration of Civil UAS in the NAS Roadmap, and the FAA’s UAS Comprehensive Plan.

(b) This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law, and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c) Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department, agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(d) Independent agencies are strongly encouraged to comply with this memorandum.

(e) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

(f) The Secretary of Commerce is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.




Drone rules may be a boon to local industry

Updated: 6:41 p.m. Monday, Feb. 16, 2015 | Posted: 6:39 p.m. Monday, Feb. 16, 2015

By Barrie Barber and Matt Sanctis

DDN Staff Writer

The small drone industry could get a boost with the Federal Aviation Administration’s long-awaited proposed rules on how, where and under what conditions they can fly commercially, local business and education leaders said Monday.

Drone manufacturers and potential business users have lobbied and waited years to find out what rules the FAA would put in place to allow everything from inspecting pipelines to scouting real estate locations.

“What the FAA has handed down in terms of rules is very practical and very achievable,” said Frank Beafore, executive director of unmanned aircraft-maker SelectTech Geospatial in Springfield.

The proposed rules released Sunday would require operators to be certified, and fly drones within line of sight and during the day. The drones would be restricted to below 500 feet in altitude and speeds of less than 100 miles per hour. The regulations might not take effect for another two years or more as the federal agency listens to what the public has to say.

State leaders have identified the emerging industry as among the most important to create jobs in future years. It could employ 2,700 workers in Ohio by 2025, according to a trade association report.

The Dayton Development Coalition has been among the economic development organizations touting unmanned aerial vehicles as a new and promising industry for jobs in Southwest Ohio.

“The bottom line is it’s encouraging that (FAA officials) have come out with some rules and the rules appear to be reasonable so far, but again I would like to receive some input from some of the companies actually flying these,” said Maurice McDonald, coalition executive vice president of aerospace and defense.

Drones have raised concerns about safety and privacy.

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum Sunday to federal agencies to guard against abuse of data collected by drones, including a 180-day limit on keeping personally identifiable information with some exceptions, the Associated Press reported.

Drone users and advocates must build confidence with the public that the machines can be flown safely, McDonald said.

The possible regulations are a good first step to realizing the benefits of drone technology, said Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, in a statement.

“This proposed rule is a critical milestone in the UAS integration process, and one that is long overdue,” he said. “UAS technology has largely remained grounded while many prospective users wait for the regulatory framework to catch up.”


‘Going to be big’

The region is in a good position to attract investment and develop new companies because of the area’s background in aviation and manufacturing, Beafore said. Along with agriculture, his company is working with a customer who might use drones to inspect power lines.

“It’s going to be big everywhere and it’s going to be exceptionally good for the greater Dayton region because we have a lot of the technical pieces of the puzzle already in place,” he said.

Clark County is expected to play a significant role in Ohio’s drone industry. Clark State Community College has a precision agriculture program and the Ohio/Indiana UAS Test Center in Springfield supports universities and government agencies research, and economic development and commercialization of the technology.

In Dayton the FAA gave mapping and surveying firm Woolpert Inc. approval in December to be one of the first companies in the nation to fly drones commercially.

Businesses that operate drones will largely regulate themselves, Beafore said, because the companies would be liable for any accidents or destruction of property. Recreational hobbyists must follow other existing rules, and the FAA might in the future issue rules on so-called micro-drones, or those weighing less than five pounds.

One of the places with a big stake in the new rules is Sinclair Community College, which has worked to be a national leader in training an unmanned aerial systems workforce.

Andrew Shepherd, Sinclair director of the UAS program, called the FAA rules “a good balance between safety and being open to the market” to get the industry off the ground.

Deborah Norris, Sinclair vice president of workforce development and corporate services, said while the FAA move was important to integrate drones into the national airspace, the college will continue to seek approval to fly more drones to train students and partner in research with corporate clients.

A less stringent certification process — rather than a pilot’s license — will open the field to more people to fly drones commercially, Shepherd said.


A ‘sigh of relief’

The rules as proposed are a big win for both Clark State and the Miami Valley, said Aimee Belanger-Haas, interim dean of business and applied technology at Clark State. The community college uses drones in a new precision agriculture program.

Students learn to analyze data the unmanned aircraft collect over farm fields, ranging from the amount of moisture in the soil to pests that might be damaging crops.

The rules are flexible enough that they would allow almost any farmer or consultant to fly the drones as long as they have the proper certification.

Although the public has a say in the rule-making, Beafore said they make sense for likely uses locally, including precision agriculture. For example, the rules set a maximum altitude of 500 feet, and require an observer to keep the aircraft in sight at all times.

“When you’re up at a higher altitude, you need a more powerful camera,” he said. “If you can skim the top of corn at say, 15 feet, I’m getting a much better sensor image.”

The Richmond, Ind., Police Department will launch a small drone in the months ahead if the FAA grants approval, Police Chief Kris J. Wolski said.

“We started realizing it would not only benefit us from traffic accidents but maybe outdoor crime scenes where the incident is spread out over a larger area,” he said.

The department, which spent $1,800 on the quad-copter, would follow federal laws on privacy and warrantless searches, he said.

The proposed rules were “a sigh of relief” to Dayton photographer Andrew J. Snow, 64, because it won’t require a pilot’s license. Snow has a drone photography exhibit at Sinclair Community College.

“I look forward to expanding my business with the use of these devices because it’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “It provides us with new perspectives that you can’t get any other way.”



DARPA’s New Search Engine Puts Google in the Dust

February 13, 2015

By Hallie Golden



After only one year in use, DARPA’s Memex search engine has already played a key role in nearly 20 different investigations.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s foray into fighting hackers and other malcontents on the Web can be summed up in a single probing question.

“How can I make the unseen seen?” Dan Kaufman, the director of DARPA’s information innovation office director, said last week in a feature on “60 Minutes.”

The answer, Kaufman said, is Memex. Developed by DARPA, this search engine on steroids dives deep into the realm of the “Dark Web” and spits out a data-driven map detailing all of the patterns it’s unearthed.

After only one year in use, Memex has already played an important role in about 20 different investigations, according to officials.

Inspiration for the technology’s — and its name — came in part from a 1945 Atlantic article written by Vannevar Bush, director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, which was stood up in 1941 to coordinate military science research during World War II.

Bush described a memex as “a device in which an individual stores all his books, records and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.” In other words, a lot like the Internet we know today.

But of course, the real importance of Memex is not how it came to be, but the innovative advances it has accomplished with big data. And one of the ways it is accomplishing this goal is through the use of social science.

Jacob Shapiro and his team at Giant Oak, a data firm that advertises itself as “seeing the people behind the data,” are responsible for the social science aspect of Memex.

The team has held the role since late August. Its main job, according to Shapiro, is to apply social science to the reams of data collected by Memex to make sure it isn’t misinterpreting any of the data — a common pitfall.

Without a correct understanding of where the data came from, the time and energy spent on accumulating information will likely prove unhelpful, Shapiro explained.

“One thing that happens a lot with big data is [that] it’s very easy to lose track of what the social process is that generated the data in the first place,” Shapiro told Nextgov. “The data doesn’t always mean what you think [it means], because there can be complicated, unobserved processes which are generating certain patterns.”

The 2012 flu season calculation — or lack thereof — produced by Google, is an example of that type of misstep, according to Shapiro. Its algorithm overestimated flu prevalence by over 100 percent.

The mistake likely happened because the search team changed its flu algorithm without communicating the change with the flu trends team, Shapiro explained. While the team members were getting data, it proved unhelpful because they had the incorrect understanding of where the numbers came from.

Although DARPA envisions Memex as a program to generate search results for a variety of missions, it currently focuses on using its tools to fight human trafficking and its hotbed of Web ads and exchanges.

Shapiro said there is little knowledge about how human trafficking markets work, their size and even their geography. “Part of our charter is to build some more of that basic knowledge,” he said.

Even these initial steps have proven surprisingly difficult.

“We’ve spent relatively more time than we thought we would trying to find the intersection between, ‘We know the bad things happened,’ and ‘We actually have data on what the entities involved in those bad things were doing,'” Shapiro said.



The Marines Are Building Robotic War Balls

February 12, 20150

By Patrick Tucker


The future of amphibious assault looks kind of like an explosive inner tube. It’s really a drone.

Establishing a beachhead on enemy-held turf is historically one of the most dangerous jobs in warfare, just ask Achilles. But the robotic age may make it slightly less so.

A research team from Stamford, Conn. has developed an amphibious drone that they are currently testing with the Marines. The GuardBot is a robot ball that swims over water at about 4 miles per hour and then rolls along the beach, at as much as a 30-degree incline and 20 miles per hour.

It uses a nine-axis stabilization, “pendulum motion” propulsion system, which moves the bot forward by shifting the center of gravity back and forth and a variety of steering algorithms.

It took creator Peter Muhlrad some seven years to develop, but now that it’s complete Muhlrad says it can be rapidly produced in various sizes. Company documents suggest it can be scaled down to units as small as 10 cm and as large as nine feet. The company is planning to develop a prototype that’s 6 feet in diameter.

Muhlrad’s company, GuardBot Inc. has a cooperative research development agreement, or CRADA, with the Navy. A CRADA is a legal framework that allows private companies or researchers to use government facilities, research and resources to build things that are mutually beneficial to both parties. The information that the researcher discovers is protected for up to five years. Under many CRADAs the researcher does not receive money from the government but has the right to commercialize what he or she produces. The government retains a use license.

The company is currently working with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab to test the GuardBot in an operational environment, though it’s unclear what that may be. Here’s the team presenting it at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia, in 2012. Watch it navigate the volleyball pit.

In January 2014, they tested it at the Naval Amphibious Base in Little Creek, Va., where the GuardBot successfully deployed from and returned to a naval craft.

Today, the machine is remotely operated over a 2-8 GHz datalink.

But Muhlrad and his team are working on new software that incorporates geographic information system data, or GIS, to allow for far greater autonomy. Just pick a spot on the map and the ball will get there.

“Depending on if we get funding, we could develop that in 8 to 10 months,” Muhlrad told Defense One.

Muhlrad designed the system primarily for surveillance and object inspection. It’s capable of 360 degree turns so its somewhat more maneuverable than other ground robots. In tests with Smith Detection’s raman laser spectroscope in the payload (the two small transparent half-spheres on the side of the bot) it was able to detect explosive chemicals from about 2 inches away.

No, unlike a one-armed PackBot, it clearly won’t be disabling explosives. And it won’t replace special operations teams, but it could accompany them on dangerous missions. When Defense One asked if the GuardBot could carry explosives rather than detection or camera equipment, Muhlrad answered simply: “Yes.”


The Pentagon is building an app store for cyberoperations

An exclusive inside look at DARPA’s futuristic Plan X.

Sara Sorcher

February 16, 2015


It looks like outer space.

The hundreds of thousands of computers look like stars. Across the vast military network, the sparkling connections between them form constellations.

This is the Pentagon’s vision of the Internet.

The US military’s cyber warriors, unlike soldiers patrolling a battlefield overseas, will not hear the sound of an attack coming. They will not see their opponents in the flesh. They will not die because they were in their line of fire.

Like information security professionals at private companies, they spend long hours hunkered over computers, analyzing lines of code, trying to detect breaches – a laborious process that requires advanced engineering skills. Though their networks are scanned up to millions of times every day, there is no alarm system that triggers when an enemy hacker crosses a virtual tripwire to breach their network. There’s no virtual explosion if they destroy the data inside.

The Pentagon’s research arm wants to change this.

With a project called Plan X, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is building what could one day become a virtual reality that gives cyber warriors “instantaneous knowledge of the fact [their] network is being attacked,” says its program manager Frank Pound.

Slated to cost around $125 million over four years, Plan X marks the first major attempt to create an actual online battle space and would fundamentally shift the way the military operates on the virtual battlefield.

Simply moving a hand across a flat, touchscreen monitor could allow a user to analyze the health of the entire network or find rogue computers that are not supposed to be connected. Attacks would be translated into rich display graphics and 3-D visualizations so it’s impossible to miss them as they happen. Military specialists could defend against them by literally dragging blocks of code from a virtual shelf or marketplace similar to Apple’s App Store onto their network. They may one day even use 3-D visors like the Oculus Rift, a video-gaming headset, to launch these operations in a fully immersive virtual reality.

Here’s why this is a big deal: Protecting its networks from computer attacks is as important to the military as defending the country’s air, land, sea, and space. The director of national intelligence has listed a potential compromise of online systems and theft of information as the No. 1 threat to US national security – more than terrorist groups or weapons of mass destruction. US military superiority, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey said recently, does not carry over into cyberspace. It may have superior weapons and technology, but the asymmetrical nature of cyberconflict means increasingly sophisticated attackers will always have the upper hand against the defenders.

A program such as Plan X would also speed up the military’s cyberoperations. With it, researchers expect it to take up to 72 hours to write, test, and deploy a mission – a process that, at this time, sometimes takes months.

The program is still in the early stages, but DARPA is the influential agency that fueled the creation of the Internet in the first place. It also invented the technology behind GPS, videoconferencing, and other key tools you likely use every day. It’s possible that one day Plan X could ultimately end up in your hands to help track the health of all the devices in your home network.

Passcode, The Christian Science Monitor’s new section on security and privacy in the Digital Age, has the exclusive first peek at the Plan X concept.

Editor’s note: DARPA’s Frank Pound will also give a live demonstration of Plan X at a Passcode event on the future of cybersecurity innovation in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 26. Join us.



DARPA makes progress on air-launched satellites

Michael Peck, Contributing Writer

February 16, 2015


DARPA says it’s making progress on its project for aircraft-launched satellites.

The ambitious Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program aims to launch 100-pound satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) on 24 hours notice, and for less than $1 million per launch.

“ALASA seeks to overcome the limitations of current launch systems by streamlining design and manufacturing and leveraging the flexibility and re-usability of an air-launched system,” said ALASA program manager Mitchell Burnside Clapp in a DARPA news release. “We envision an alternative to ride-sharing for satellites that enables satellite owners to launch payloads from any location into orbits of their choosing, on schedules of their choosing, on a launch vehicle designed specifically for small payloads.”

Phase 1 of the project produced three viable designs, DARPA said. In March 2014, Boeing won the prime contract for Phase 2, which will focus on quick mission-planning software and advanced propulsion. “Perhaps the most daring technology ALASA seeks to implement is a new high-energy monopropellant, which aims to combine fuel and oxidizer into a single liquid,” said DARPA. “If successful, the monopropellant would enable simpler designs and reduced manufacturing and operation costs compared to traditional designs that use two liquids, such as liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

The first demonstration flight is slated for late 2015, followed by the first orbital test launch in the first half of 2016. Depending on test results, there could be 11 more demonstration launches through summer 2016.



Fears of secret Soviet weapon helped fuel Air Force’s Project Blue Book

By Matthias Gafni

Contra Costa Times (TNS)

Published: February 17, 2015

A recently declassified CIA report on the development of the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes said the high-flying jets were mistaken for UFOs more than half the time in the late 1950s and 1960s during Project Blue Book, a Wright-Patterson Air Force Base operation that investigated reports of UFOs. But not everyone is convinced.

(Tribune Content Agency) — It was 1964. Late at night. The Northern California man had lost his hunting buddies in the woods near Lake Tahoe and climbed a tree to sleep.

Awakened by a glowing object landing on a nearby ridge, the man was soon fighting for his life against two neckless creatures and a robot before the beings emitted a noxious gas and knocked him out.

A tall tale? Drunken binge? Drug-induced hallucination (it was the ’60s, after all)? No matter. That Placer County, Calif., UFO sighting and thousands more were studiously collected and meticulously researched as part of the Air Force’s strange, long-shuttered Project BLUE BOOK, a government program on the hunt for little green men — or perhaps Soviet spies; no one is saying for sure.

For 22 years, the military seemed to spare little expense in chronicling humans’ reported otherworldly encounters with glowing orbs, spinning spheres, flying ice cream cones and more.

All of it had been hidden away in archive files until a UFO enthusiast posted 130,000 documents worth of BLUE BOOK material in a free online database for the first time last month.

The project launched in 1947, two years after the end of World War II and just as the Cold War was gearing up. It concluded in 1969 without offering definitive proof of either aliens visiting Mother Earth or advanced spycraft launched by our enemies. But the goldmine of reports — witness names redacted — provides a snapshot of a nervous, suspicious era that drove our government to consider even the most fanciful reports.

“UFO investigations were taken very seriously,” said Alejandro Rojas, editor of Open Minds magazine, who points to a 1947 report of an unidentified flying object near Mount Rainier in Washington by private pilot Kenneth Arnold as the mother of modern UFO sightings.

“He was a credible person, and it hit the press and became a really, really big story,” Rojas said.

Add a dash of post-war paranoia, and the Air Force dove in head first, he said.

“The public’s imagination went wild with (UFOs),” agreed Jeff Underwood, historian of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. “It was a serious attempt to find if there was any validity to a UFO crisis or just mass hysteria.

“For the Air Force, it was driven more over concerns the Soviets created a super secret weapon than if there were little green men,” he said.

In the end, many of the more than 12,000 sightings diligently investigated by the Air Force were chalked up to weather phenomena, meteors, satellites, a bright planet, balloons, birds or overactive imaginations.

The latter category would seem to fit the story told in 1964 by the lost hunter near Lake Tahoe, who swore he spent the night in a tree, firing arrows at three white “robot”-looking creatures, setting scraps of his clothing afire and hurling the pieces at the glowing aliens below.

Although the BLUE BOOK documents suggest the military’s time commitment was considerable, it wasn’t enough to please everyone. In 1966, then-Michigan congressman and future president Gerald Ford complained that the Air Force was dismissing scores of UFO sightings from his constituents as “swamp gas” and called for a Congressional inquiry into the phenomena.

He wasn’t the only famous politician to get an earful from his constituents about UFOs. In a letter to President John F. Kennedy, 63-year-old Alice Reynolds of San Mateo, Calif., said she was out feeding bread to the birds when she saw two stationary white balls, one with a tail, in the early morning sky Nov. 13, 1961.

She complained that she tried to contact the Civil Defense Control Center in Belmont, but it wasn’t open, so she called the police: “They were more curious as to why I (was) up at that time than what I called about,” she wrote to the president.

The UFO witnesses ranged from grandmothers to amateur astronomers and even military pilots, who should have known a weather balloon when they saw one.

Several reports included sketches, charts and purported photographs of the objects.

Bay Area newspapers had a field day with one mysterious craft spotted by dozens of people as it drifted over the region on Feb. 7, 1950, including two nurses who swore they were “non-drinkers.”

“Flying ‘Ice Cream Cone’ Reported Over Alameda,” a San Francisco Chronicle headline screamed. The article featured a cartoon drawing of the flying confection with a Navy officer looking through binoculars yelling “Vanilla!” while a young boy said: “I say it’s chocolate!”

A San Jose man eventually wrote to the Air Force explaining that his own close look at the object revealed a single-engine airplane with a reddish vapor trail behind it. Mystery solved, concluded investigators.

Popular culture drove the reports, Underwood said, and it ultimately slowed them down in the late 1960s.

“As soon as Star Trek started, I lost interest in UFOs,” he laughed.

He wasn’t alone. On Dec. 17, 1969, the Air Force terminated the project, citing conclusions from a University of Colorado report titled, “Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects.” Researchers determined there was no threat to national security, additional scientific knowledge or extraterrestrial vehicles uncovered by Project BLUE BOOK. However, 701 sightings remain “unidentified.”


What happens if DHS shuts down?

By Alexandra Jaffe, CNN

February 16, 2015


Washington (CNN)—Congress has just 12 days until Department of Homeland Security funding runs out, and House Speaker John Boehner this weekend said he was “certainly” willing to let that happen.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has said a shutdown would cause a “terrible disruption” for everyday Americans, and the White House is slated this week to ramp up pressure on Congress to deliver a compromise to fund the agency.

Republicans, however, say the impact of a shutdown would be minimal, because most of DHS’ operations are considered essential, and so would continue despite a funding lapse.

So what would actually happen if Congress doesn’t pass a funding bill in time?

Some DHS employees would be furloughed — but most won’t.

Two kinds of government staffers are required to work during a shutdown: Employees whose salaries are paid for by funds outside the appropriations process, and those “whose work is necessary for the preservation of the safety of human life or the protection of property,” according to the Congressional Research Service. Unsurprisingly, that latter part covers quite a lot of DHS’ workforce.

During the 2013 government shutdown, around 200,000 DHS employees were required to report to work, many of them without pay.





Those that are required to work include 50,000 TSA screeners, 40,000 active duty Coast Guard members, 13,000 immigration law enforcement officers, 40,000 border patrol and customs officers, and 4,000 Secret Service agents.

But there would be some — around 30,000 or so — furloughs, mainly hitting the department’s management and administrative functions. It’s possible, though, that staffers furloughed could be called back to work in case of an emergency — and immediately re-furloughed after they handled the issue.

That doesn’t sound like it would be pleasant for DHS employees.

It’s not — and the potential hit to DHS morale is a serious problem with the possible shutdown. A third-party review of federal employees found DHS ranked dead last in employee satisfaction and commitment over the past two years, and morale actually declined in 2014. It’s a challenge for the Department, which struggles to retain and recruit employees, and a shutdown wouldn’t help.

But it does sound necessary for, well, homeland security…

Exactly. Many of DHS’ most fundamental operations won’t be impacted.

A number of DHS programs are funded by fees, rather than congressional appropriations, and would continue to operate even if funding lapses.

Those include the bureau’s cybersecurity operations and the Federal Protective Service, the law enforcement agency that oversees federal buildings. Border security efforts, the TSA and intelligence gathering efforts, among others, are all key DHS activities that would remain.

FEMA’s disaster relief operations and the national flood insurance program would continue to operate.

And most U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services operations, including the visa program, immigrant naturalization and asylum claims, would continue — except for the E-Verify system employers use to verify workers’ visas, which would pause in case of a shutdown.

Wait — so Obama’s executive action on immigration, which started this mess, would still be implemented?

Yep. It turns out defunding the agency that’s implementing Obama’s executive action delaying deportations for millions of immigrants won’t prevent the executive action from taking effect.

Republicans haven’t given up, though. They’re looking to add a policy rider to the bill extending funding for DHS that would block the executive order from taking effect — which remains a sticking point for Senate Democrats, who say they’ll only vote for a clean funding bill.

And even if House and Senate Republicans were able to pass a DHS funding bill that blocked Obama’s immigration move, he would likely veto it.

That’s caused the current showdown. And Boehner’s comments this weekend indicate there’s no clear compromise yet.

Then what DHS operations would take a hit?

State law enforcement could feel the pain of a shutdown the most.

Johnson has previously warned that, if DHS funding lapses, “we cannot engage in new starts, new spending, new initiatives, new grants to state and local law enforcement to fund homeland security missions.”

Many local law enforcement operations, including training, hiring of new staff and purchasing new equipment, are funded through DHS grants, and those would be discontinued during a shutdown.

And it could impact the nation’s ability to respond to future threats. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Maryland Democrat and ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, said during a hearing this week that a DHS shutdown would halt “research and development work on countermeasures to devastating biological threats.”

Civil rights and civil liberties complaint lines and investigations would shut down as well.


Send In The Weathermen

By Tony Dokoupil

February 18, 2015


On a moonless night in October 2001, an American helicopter lifted off from an airbase in Uzbekistan, banking south on a covert mission into Afghanistan. Inside was one of America’s most elite and unknown special operators, hand-selected for a job so important that the wider war on terror hinged on its success.

In New York and Washington, D.C., the funerals continued. Families gave up hope of a miracle rescue in the rubble of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But if this soldier succeeded he would never shoot his gun and no one outside the military would know his work.

He was a weatherman.

More precisely, he was a special operations weather technician, known as a SOWT (pronounced sow-tee). As the Department of Defense’s only commando forecasters, SOWTs gather mission-impossible environmental data from some of the most hostile places on Earth.

They embed with Navy SEALs, Delta Force and Army Rangers. Ahead of major operations they also head in first for a go/no-go forecast. America’s parachutes don’t pop until a SOWT gives the all-clear.

That was Brady Armistead’s job as his helicopter rumbled toward a strip of desert 80 miles south of Kandahar, the capital of the Taliban government. He had a satellite forecast calling for clear skies. But satellite forecasts depend on ground data, too, and there was nothing from Afghanistan.

Five years earlier, when the Taliban seized power, it granted sanctuary to Al Qaeda and ruled by a strict interpretation of the Koran. No television or movies, mandatory burkas for women and long beards for men — plus no weather reports.

The Taliban considered forecasting to be sorcery. They fired the country’s 600 or so professional meteorologists, shelled the Afghan Meteorological Authority, and burned the country’s vast climatological archives.

That created a blind spot in global weather data, which is typically pooled and shared between the world’s governments. The Pentagon felt it had a fix in SOWTs like Armistead, jump-ready scientists with the God-given guts to do the weather behind enemy lines.

The dropzone approached and Armistead watched through night-vision goggles as a sandstorm melted the ground and blurred the horizon. The pilot pulled the aircraft into a hover, letting Armistead fast-rope 60 feet down into the void below. The weatherman was accompanied by a small team of Air Force combat controllers, commandos trained at seizing airfields and managing traffic in the sky.

By dawn they had traversed several kilometers of desert, scaled a mountain and dug into a ledge, where Armistead started to work. In the days that followed, he used laser rangefinders for cloud height, night-launched weather balloons for upper atmospheric data, and a pocket meteorological wand for everything else.

The result was a daily “nowcast,” which he compared against the computer predictions. He adjusted the forecasts, tweaking the estimate to match the reality and running the calculations again. He wanted to be as close as possible to clear skies, moderate temperatures, calm winds, good visibility and air dense enough to support flight, which was no guarantee in a high-altitude, hot environment.


“I’ve done plenty of missions where it’s like, ‘No kidding, don’t step off the porch, bad guys, because you’re going to step on me.’

—Brady Armistead


By day three Armistead felt ready. A thousand miles away, General Dell Dailey, the head of Joint Special Operations Command, felt ready, too. On a tarmac in Uzbekistan, 199 Army Rangers double-knotted their boots and pilots fired the engines on four MC-130 Talons. As night fell on October 19, Dailey asked for final word from the front.

“Conditions favorable,” Armistead wrote in a secure text message.

“Roger,” replied Dailey, adding his initials. “Force will launch.”

So began the ground war in Afghanistan. The Army Rangers seized an airfield and created Camp Rhino, the first American base in the country. Their mission also marked the start of a dangerous new era for meteorologists like Armistead, guardians of unmanned aircraft and commandos in low-flying helicopters. Both assets are extremely weather-sensitive. A satellite can fly overhead, but combat meteorologists liken the quality of such data to shaking a box to guess what’s inside.

“We get the ground truth,” said Armistead, speaking publicly for the first time about his work. “I’ve done plenty of missions where it’s like, ‘No kidding, don’t step off the porch, bad guys, because you’re going to step on me.'”

The Grey Berets, as they’re called — in recognition of their storm-colored headgear — have been around in some capacity since World War II. Over the years, however, their mission has been stymied by a tangled chain of command, inconsistent training and a requirement that all SOWTs begin as desk meteorologists.

That’s all changed.

In 2008, in response to demand for SOWTs and a rash of weather-related accidents, the Air Force quietly created career field 1WXOS, the first official class of commando weathermen. The field has allowed Air Force Special Operations Command to expand recruiting, signing kids as young as 17 and then sending them through a new two-year training pipeline, the longest in the Department of Defense.

SOWTs were on the ground ahead of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to military sources, and their work has helped nail pirates, free hostages and respond to humanitarian disasters. Overall, their ranks have tripled in recent years, with more growth expected. No position in the Air Force is a higher priority for recruiters.

But the work of SOWTs is still invisible to the general public; it’s often overshadowed by members of the military’s rougher quarters, who rarely seem to tire of mocking their colleagues with the weather balloons. That’s why so many SOWTs — among more than two dozen operators and forecasters, from teenage recruits to proudly broken-down old guys — opened up to NBC News.

“In special operations most of the failures have weather as a causal effect,” said Rip Coleman, a former director of environmental services for Joint Special Operations Command. “The weather is going to make or break a mission before it even takes off,” added Dusty Lee, a recruiting, accessions and selection superintendent for Air Force Special Tactics, the branch equivalent of the Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces. “There are never enough of us.”

This is the story of the combat weatherman’s long road from desk jockey to war hero. But it is also a view of conflict from the inside in an age of environmental change. A time when some of the most important commandos in the military don’t kick down doors and when the greatest threat to human security may not even be human.


“We’re Human Sensors”

Morning comes early for clandestine weathermen.

Long before the sun bobs up over the Gulf of Mexico, SOWT pickup trucks and muscle cars are lined at the main gate of Hurlburt Field, the home of Air Force Special Operations Command on the Florida Panhandle.

Their first official workouts start at 7 a.m. But even at this hour, SOWTs are taught to be reading the skies. Forgot to roll up your windows on a rainy day? You owe the team a thousand push-ups. Blow an outlook for chilly weather? You aren’t allowed to go home for your coat.

SOWTs don’t just do the weather. They leverage it. They use the morning dew to erase a platoon’s tracks or the wind to muffle a helicopter or the shadow of a mountain to shelter the wounded. They also watch for obstacles and opportunities, cataloging where the soil is soft, the rivers are swift, the snow is loose, the fog is dense or the apples are juicy. They make America a home-turf warrior no matter the country.

“We live out our forecasts,” said Jonathan Sawtelle, an angular young officer who, after serving as the SOWT’s director of operations last year, is set to start a more senior forecasting job at Joint Special Operations Command. “We’re sensors, human sensors, and that’s the magic of the SOWTs.”

But let’s be honest.

There’s a joke here, something comical about sending a meteorologist to war. It has to do with our image of the ordinary forecaster: that second-rate scientist who spends his life indoors, predicting the outdoors, and getting it wrong.

“Meteorologists everywhere are weenies in the extreme,” the author and aviator William Langewiesche wrote in 2008. “They are twerps. Dweebs. Instrument tappers. Professional virgins.”

Before the new career code, many SOWTs fit this description. They were drawn from the Air Force’s conventional weather centers, which tended to make them meteorologists first, warriors second. The new SOWTs — and the best of the old ones — are a different breed. They are warriors first, meteorologists second.

“They’re stronger, faster and brighter than we ever were,” said Tony Carson, a SOWT officer who came in under the old system. “The challenge now is pulling these guys back, not pushing them forward.”

There are about 120 SOWTs spread across three newly created Special Tactics teams, with two more planned by 2020. These teams comprise combat controllers, weathermen and medics, among other Special Tactics airmen. If the Air Force is right, these men — there are no women allowed — represent a widening component of U.S. special operations.

They are essential in combat, dealing death from above, but they can also save lives, coordinating rescues and re-supply drops — all while keeping an eye on the unfriendly skies. Climate change is expanding the need for such work, according to the Pentagon, which anticipates a greater number of humanitarian relief and disaster response missions.

“Can you attribute any given weather event to climate change? No,” said Sawtelle. “But is Special Tactics there and ready to take action? Absolutely. We’re a fast-reacting force, standing ready to respond to climate disasters.”

SOWTs are a tiny slice of the special operations machine but a unique one, a rare blend of brawn and brains. Their careers start with a standard military intelligence test. To qualify for the pipeline, SOWTs need a minimum score that’s 20 points higher than what is required by anyone else in Air Force Special Tactics — higher, in fact, than almost every job in the military other than code breaker.

They need that extra intellectual firepower to survive forecasting school at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi: 30 weeks of advanced meteorology, interspersed with workouts and trips to the mess hall.

The SOWTs have to unlearn as much as they learn. The “thin air” around us is in fact thick, for example, dense enough to support flight. An object that’s “light as air” is actually, as a matter of science, exerting a ton of atmospheric pressure per square foot.

They learn that trying to predict the weather is as hard as following a wave across the open seas or predicting the first bubble in a slowly boiling pot of water. But good forecasts shape history. One Air Force academic traces the relationship between weather and war to the first caveman who scored his club handles for skull-bashing in the rain.

America itself was founded on the exploitation of fog, snow and favorable tides. The Continental Army used a shroud of low clouds to hide from the British bayonets on Long Island. General George Washington then crossed the Delaware in a blizzard, surprising the enemy and turning the war.

The lore is endless, which is why the military has always been one of meteorology’s biggest patrons. Between 1870 and 1955 it launched the forerunner of the National Weather Service, opened the first graduate school of meteorology, and funded the first computer-generated forecasts. These days, the military is working to loop the world’s data together, flow it through an ensemble of models, and forecast the Earth as a single entity. Here’s the outlook, it’ll say: from three days to three decades.

But even then there are likely to be SOWTs. During training, they get a glimpse of their essential value. They’re shown a nighttime picture of the Earth. The cities glow but the land is largely dark and desolate, “data sparse.” What’s the weather like there? No one can be sure.

This may come as a surprise to Americans, the world’s most wired people for weather. We have about 10,000 professionally run surface weather reporting stations, the same amount as the rest of the world combined. We also have about 150 radar centers; some regions of Africa have none. Asked to name what parts of the globe lacked for surface weather data, one researcher said, “The whole southern hemisphere, really.”

The key to a perfect forecast is a perfect picture of the atmosphere, from the edge of space down to the tip of a farmer’s wet finger. It’s an image scientists can’t get from a climate-controlled room. They know the physics that govern the sky. Their supercomputers can stay ahead of the clouds. They just can’t get the numbers right in the first place.

Insufficient or faulty ground data is a major reason why forecasts curdle within a week, and go totally rancid after 10 days. Even a same-day satellite forecast is a spaghetti plot of best guesses and city-sized generalities. That won’t do in war, where the weather is never neutral.

As SOWTs master the language of the sky, they also learn to survive under it. The physical side of the SOWT pipeline may be an even greater test than the intellectual side. It starts with a 500-meter surface swim, two 25-meter underwater swims, a 1.5-mile run and timed bursts of pull-ups, sit-ups and push-ups.

Pass that and you qualify for a “selection course,” a two-week cycle of spittle and sweat at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Here SOWTs get their ribs kicked by drill instructors while the anguish of muscle failure eats at their minds. They jump off cliffs, run through rivers, drag truck tires and perform everyday calisthenics made more torturous by a spray of water to the face, anything to trigger a fear of drowning.

“We’re here to push them, to show them that their bodies and minds are capable of handling much more than they think,” said one instructor featured in a SOWT recruiting video released online. “We’re looking for that alpha male drive,” said another instructor.

If the SOWTs survive this hell, there are others waiting, including five kinds of survival school and a disaster-movie sequence of severe weather observations, tactical training and demolition. Throughout this regime prospective SOWTs are constantly being evaluated. Most candidates never get accepted into the pipeline. Of those who do, fewer than one in five get their grey beret, according to Lee, the senior recruiter.

Recent recruits include wrestlers, water polo players, surfers, runners and a lineman pulled off an NFL practice squad. The common denominator is a knack for tamping down the body’s instinct to scream. “I’m leaving with a grey beret or a body bag,” said one new recruit, entering the pipeline this fall. He’s 17.

“These guys are certified mental and physical studs,” said Sawtelle.

They’re stronger, faster and brighter. The challenge now is pulling these guys back, not pushing them forward.

They’re also deadly operators. Before they deploy, all SOWTs get a coat of battle paint at Hurlburt Field, home of the Air Force’s advanced combat training school. It’s a sprawling gym, pool and classroom complex, and on a recent visit the facility felt like a stroll through the pages of a spy novel.

Cell phones get locked up in little boxes. The cinder blocks above the urinals are covered with one-pagers on countries in West Africa and Southeast Asia. Everywhere the walls are talking, reminding young airmen about the need for strict operational security.

“Loose pieces of talk are put together by our enemies for victory,” warns one poster.

“This is a 100 percent shred zone,” notes another.

In a warehouse across the street, the SOWTs keep their personal “cages”: wire mesh closets packed like Hollywood costume trailers and piled high with beef jerky and books.

“A lot of guys read a lot of books,” said Sawtelle, walking down the aisles. He pointed out a particular favorite in one locker: “The Art of War,” an ancient Chinese military treatise attributed to Sun Tzu.

“Know the weather,” Sun Tzu advised around 320 B.C. “Your victory will then be total.”

Air Force special operators support Army, Navy and Marine special operations detachments, which means SOWTs have the guns, radios and battle dress to join any team at any time.

Sawtelle stopped at a red door with a security keypad and another little locker for phones.

“We’re behind every SOF (special operations forces) mission,” he said, before saying goodbye. “Weather is always the first slide.”

But not everyone in the military seems to care. The most celebrated soldiers are the ones who most directly take enemy lives and most often lose their own in the process. In Air Force Special Tactics those soldiers are the combat controllers, the ones who call in bombs in a firefight.

Inside the main doors of the Special Tactics Training Complex there is a wall of framed photos, almost all of them fallen combat controllers. In the auditorium two combat controllers recently addressed visitors (and potential recruits) from the Ultimate Fighting circuit. “I know how it sounds,” one of the men said, as he neared the end of a bloody anecdote about his time in Afghanistan, “but just before a firefight, I start to smile.”

This kind of machismo may be necessary, given the work of special operations, but it also means that soldiers sometimes don’t respect the weather. A couple of months after the auditorium speeches a team of Special Tactics airmen huddled in tents on Alaska’s Manatuska Glacier. They were on a training mission, an effort to find a body in one of the area’s seemingly bottomless crevasses.

They were supposed to have SOWTs with them, testing the ice and snowpack, gauging the depth and swiftness of a nearby river. If the team found a body — an actual dummy hidden in the terrain — the SOWTs would forecast for an incoming helicopter. But the SOWTs were called away, sent on a real-world mission at the last moment, according to the Air Force.

The combat controllers and medics didn’t mind. Some used a smartphone app, which failed to predict an afternoon of high winds and rain that might have flipped tents if they had not been angled correctly by a local guide. Others planned to ford the river — until another guide warned them of a dangerous drop in the middle.

Even when the SOWTs are around, the rougher soldiers don’t necessarily see their value. Some prank the SOWTs, stuffing their bags or lockers with balloons. Others ignore the SOWTs entirely — too tough to worry about the weather, too young or inexperienced to realize they should.

One day last spring, dozens of combat controllers filed into a room ahead of a parachute exercise. They were joined by a smaller number of combat medics and an even smaller number of SOWTs. The room darkened as soundproof hatches closed over the windows and a projector turned on.

The young combat controller in charge of the briefing said, “Here’s the weather report.”

He added, “If anyone cares.”


The First SOWT

To understand the new special operations weathermen, it helps to look back to their origins.

The number of military weather observers surged during World War I, when the appearance of long-range artillery and chemical warfare meant that a busted forecast took on dire consequences. A bad wind sock could turn a chemical weapon into a chemical threat. A broken air pressure gauge could make it impossible to determine the distance of incoming fire and get return fire on target.

But World War II was the weatherman’s golden hour. It was the first war with the widespread use of air power, and the United States prepared by training more than 30,000 conventional weather personnel to help guide America’s new flyboys. On D-Day an Allied forecaster first delayed the invasion of France, then sent Commander Eisenhower’s “great crusade” through a clear patch the Germans didn’t see and never expected.

That invasion included the earliest known airborne weathermen, forerunners to today’s SOWTs. One of them stepped out into the clouds over Normandy, popping silk with the 82nd Airborne Division. Another followed in a glider. Both were stitched by gunfire before taking an observation.

The modern SOWT mission was reborn in 1963.

The Johnson administration began to prepare for a secret war in Laos, where the North Vietnamese were cutting tracks through the jungle, creating a supply route known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Pentagon wanted to stop them with bombs, but the flight conditions were dicey. When tropical air hits a mountain range it cools rapidly, forming thunderstorms that could knock back a jet in already difficult skies.

Back at Hurlburt Field, two brigadier generals had an idea for managing this problem. They created an experimental five-man team, a squad of weathermen who could operate like Army Special Forces. They called it the Commando Combat Weather Team and tapped an Air Force captain named Keith Grimes to run it, according to a copy of Grimes’ 1974 “oral autobiography,” prepared by the Air Force (and still partially redacted by the CIA).

Grimes held three degrees, spoke four languages and went on to become one of the most important commandos in Air Force history. He became the first true SOWT, and implemented the broader vision of warriors first, weathermen second.

Grimes came from the regular Air Weather Service, a group of people who, as he described it, “don’t talk to strong men without sort of quivering.” By contrast he was “a wonderful maverick,” in the words of a two-star general whose note introduces the Grimes story, “a credit to mankind — as well as the military.”

In June 1965 Grimes deployed to an air base in Udorn, Thailand, dressed in civilian clothes and posing as a scientist. The war had started but it wasn’t going well. For the past year American-backed bomber pilots had been following a finger of the Annamite Mountains and, just as the Pentagon had feared, they were getting “socked in” by storms. As many as half their missions were aborted because of weather.

So, to get these sorties on target, Grimes hiked into the Annamites himself, accompanied by a band of Laotian guerillas. From a mountaintop, he could see for 50 miles around, and he would monitor the sky. When he saw a storm collapse, he would call in a strike by code word, coaching the pilots through this hole in the clouds or that sun-drenched valley.

He watched the bombs fall.

“We’d be waiting, hiding in the grass, or the jungle, or up on top of some rocks, or in some cave,” he later recalled, “and before the North Vietnamese could regain their composure and get organized in any fashion we’d overrun the position. Then we’d do it somewhere else two or three days later.”

It worked.

The weather-related abort rate tumbled and the enemy death toll soared. Grimes himself got credit for facilitating 1,200 confirmed kills. He also studded the mountains with three dozen permanent weather stations, and trained a team of indigenous local observers, a “net” he could “crank up” to keep future bombs on target.

What Grimes did in Laos flashed the benefits of a hyper-local, eyes-on combat weather forecast. But like SOWTs today, Grimes still struggled for proper recognition. When he tried to get new rounds for his M-16, for example, the equipment manager at Udorn denied him.

“You’re a weatherman,” he said.

Grimes left his M-16 on the counter and walked out to find an AK-47.

“All we needed to do to get ammunition for the AK-47 was to kill some North Vietnamese,” he said. “That was a devil of a lot easier.”

In 1970 Grimes again demonstrated the value of SOWTs. He was asked to help execute Operation Kingpin, a lionhearted mission to rescue American POWs from Son Tay, a prison camp near Hanoi. The plan called for six helicopters and two dozen Green Berets and involved an issue of front-page national concern.

To prepare, Grimes called the Air Force’s climatology department and, based on the historical averages, selected October or November as the ideal time for the raid. He wanted the conditions just so: less than five knots of surface wind, an east moon, no more than 45 degrees above the horizon, scattered cirrus clouds, nothing to silhouette the helos.

After a summer of mock-ups, the team flew to Vietnam to wait on the right conditions. But a typhoon formed off the coast and by all appearances it was going to make landfall on November 21, the very day Grimes was targeting for the launch.

From a classified bunker on Monkey Mountain, an American base about 800 miles south of the target, he searched for another option. He reviewed satellite photos and surface observations from his commandos in Laos and China. He saw a cold trough coming down out of the north, a low-pressure system that might be strong enough to delay the typhoon and create a “tongue” of clear weather over Son Tay.

“What’s your conclusion?” the general said.

“If we don’t do it tonight, we’ll never do it,” Grimes said.

They did it.

Six helicopters flew the nape of the Earth, and the night was perfect. The force got in and got out in 26 minutes flat.

The mission still failed.

The POWs had all been moved, the camp deserted. But that was a failure of intelligence, not weather, and Grimes won the Legion of Merit for his work.


“What is the price to be paid by military commanders for not knowing the weather? Mission failure? Damage to national prestige? The blood of American servicemen?

—Joseph T. Benson


Today Grimes is a relative unknown even within the Air Force, where his accomplishments have been left out of books and buried in the Vietnam archive at Texas Tech University. The reasons help explain why the specialty of combat weather itself has struggled over the years, and may continue to struggle.

Through the 1970s and beyond, the SOWT career field still had a major problem: There was no career field, nothing distinct from the traditional Air Force meteorologists. The Commando Combat Weather Team was a revolving door of volunteers, many with no training beyond jump school. One Grey Beret would be a top-tier special operator. The next wouldn’t even know how to load his gun.

It was almost impossible to get the military’s elite commandos to allow a desk-bred man with a thermometer to take the place of a battle-hardened colleague with a gun. By the time Grimes died in a plane crash in 1977, the field seemed to die with him, setting the stage for the lowest moment in the history of special operations.

Operation Eagle Claw began in November 1979 when Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans captive. Five months later President Jimmy Carter launched a rescue mission, this one involving eight helicopters.

They were to take off from an aircraft carrier in the Red Sea and rendezvous at a secret location in the Iranian desert. Combat controller John T. Carney, who had gone in first to scout the landing site, returned with his teammates to marshal the aircraft, including three large fuel transports. The weather, forecast by desk meteorologists from thousands of miles away in Nebraska, was supposed to be favorable.

The rotor blades of a burned-out U.S. helicopter create a stark silhouette against the desert skies of eastern Iran, where the American commando mission to rescue the hostages proved impossible after equipment failure, seen April 27, 1980. In background is a U.S. helicopter that was also left behind when the mission was aborted.

The rotor blades of a burned-out U.S. helicopter create a stark silhouette against the desert skies of eastern Iran, where the American commando mission to rescue the hostages proved impossible after equipment failure, seen April 27, 1980. In background is a U.S. helicopter that was also left behind when the mission was aborted.

The actual weather was not. The helicopters flew through shrouds of chalk-white dust, invisible to the satellites above, billowing for hundreds of miles near the surface. One of the aircraft crashed. Another turned back in desperation. A third malfunctioned. Carter decided to abort, but one of the remaining choppers flew into a transport plane, erupting in an explosion that left eight servicemen dead.

Carter’s presidency never recovered, and for a while it seemed the Air Force’s forecasters wouldn’t either. Many assumed that they had delivered a busted outlook. The truth was even worse, according to several after-action reports. The desk meteorologists had done the best they could do. The problem was the SOWTs.

They were never on the scene.

No one had called them.

In February 2007, Joseph T. Benson, the SOWTs’ director of operations at Hurlburt Field, attacked this lapse in a blistering essay for Air & Space Power, the Air Force’s professional journal.

“What is the price to be paid by military commanders for not knowing the weather? Is it paid in lost equipment? Mission failure? Damage to national prestige? The blood of American servicemen?” he wrote. “On April 24, 1980, at a remote location in central Iran code-named Desert One, the United States paid on all counts.”


Grey Berets Rise Again

Before special operations weathermen emerged as modern war heroes, they spent decades on the fringes of military life. By the early 1980s, the commando weather team that had been formed for secret work in Vietnam and Laos had, in the words of one former officer, been “allowed to atrophy to the point of being almost nonfunctional.” That’s when people started dying.

In 1982, five Army paratroopers were dragged to their deaths in unforeseen high winds near Fort Irwin, California. A year later, four Navy SEALs dropped into unexpectedly rough surf and died during the invasion of Grenada. In these cases and others, the SOWTs were uncalled or unheeded.

The first Gulf War made matters worse. One SOWT built the largest clandestine weather net since Keith Grimes hiked into Laos. But there was another SOWT on the ground, a drinker. To consummate the invasion he held “a sexual orgy in the middle of the desert,” Wayne Golding, the SOWTs’ commanding officer, later told an Air Force historian.

Golding wasn’t smiling. A major reason why U.S. special operators — from the SEALs to the Rangers to the Green Berets — were turning down SOWTs at the time was the fear that the weather guy would somehow compromise a mission. They didn’t trust the SOWTs’ training, nor their professionalism, and this libidinous forecaster had just given them proof that those suspicions were justified.

It got even worse. In the early 1990s, General Merrill McPeak, the new Air Force chief of staff, decided to deflate the Air Weather Service, a byzantine, bloated organization that grew out of World War II. He closed wings, shuttered squadrons and reassigned hundreds of forecasters.

A “Right Stuff”-style fighter jock from the Vietnam era, McPeak thought the Air Weather Service was, as he suggested in an email to NBC, as outdated as the Polish cavalry. He nearly succeeded in making its forecasters just as ceremonial.

“It killed our career field,” said Rip Coleman, who at the time was the director of meteorology for Air Force Special Operations.

Coleman and others succeeded in getting a new unit created: the 10th Combat Weather Squadron at Hurlburt Field. Brady Armistead was already there, a proud young forecaster who, like Grimes before him, was a human test case.

He was among the first weathermen assigned to an experimental Special Tactics Team. Such teams are now the official future of Air Force Special Operations. In the beginning, however, Armistead’s arrival was met with bewilderment.

The guard stopped him at the front gates. There must be some mistake, the guard told him: “We don’t have a combat weather team at Hurlburt Field.”

Armistead demanded that the guard station call the base commander: “We don’t have a weatherman,” the base commander confirmed.

It took three more calls to get Armistead a bunk for the night. It was right about then — as he lay awake and little worms of anger spread in his chest — that Armistead decided to change the way special operations thinks about weathermen.

“You can beat me down. You can talk crap. But at the end of the day, I’m going to show you my value,” he remembers thinking.

By the time he dropped into Afghanistan, poised to start the war on terror, Armistead had won his own battle, according to several former colleagues. He had earned a spot on the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, the Air Force’s version of SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force. (The Pentagon doesn’t officially acknowledge any of these teams and neither does Armistead, but other senior military personnel confirmed STS 24’s existence to NBC News.)

“Those guys were s**t-hot,” remembers a member of Delta Force, who deployed with SOWTs and combat controllers during the fierce early months of the war in Afghanistan. “They could swing like Tarzan, think like Einstein and climb like Spider-Man.”

The military started to trust SOWTs again, using them two years later when the United States invaded Iraq, according to records compiled by the Air Weather Association, a society of military forecasters.

At least three SOWTs infiltrated early. One landed in the northeast, near Iran, where he watched the winds for signs of chemical warfare. Another entered in the south, surviving incoming missiles and a sandstorm strong enough to bury his sleeping bag.

A third worked the center of the country, and forecast clear skies for a thousand paratroopers making the first major insertion of the war. A half hour before the paratroopers reached their jump point, the SOWT thought he had blown his call. The clouds above him were low and thick — then he saw his first star.

In a role that remains classified, SOWTs also deployed in support of Operation Neptune’s Spear, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to people familiar with that and similar SOWT missions.

“I guarantee you there were guys out there,” said one senior official, who requested anonymity because he isn’t authorized to discuss the bin Laden mission. Special Operations Command declined to comment directly, as did Sawtelle, the officer then in charge of the SOWTs at Hurlburt Field.

But the need for data was obvious. Pakistan’s ground weather stations are spotty and far-flung, producing forecasts too vague for military use. To compensate, at least one environmental observer was on the flight path into Pakistan, while a second dug into the mountains surrounding Abbottabad, providing environmental “overwatch” on the compound, according to military sources.

It’s unclear how they landed in those positions. SOWTs are trained to jump from tens of thousands of feet, glide through the night and hit an X anywhere on the map. But they’re equally adept at flying commercial with an Osprey backpack, North Face boots and a cover story.


“Those guys were s**t-hot. They could swing like Tarzan, think like Einstein and climb like Spider-Man.

—Delta Force member


For all the SOWT successes, it was yet another failure that perhaps did the most to secure their future.

The date was July 7, 2007, a bloody day for American soldiers in Mali, but of course the men zipped into their tents in the Kidal region didn’t know that yet. They were waiting out a storm, worrying, if at all, about a strike by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The average summer storm in Mali drops less than a quarter inch of rain. This was not the average summer storm. It was most likely a mesoscale convective complex, a violent kind of disturbance that climatologists expect to multiply as the planet warms.

It had grown overnight, the power undetected by satellites, hundreds of miles from the nearest radar station. Warm air soared upward, pulling in moisture from the Atlantic coast, and by noon what had begun as a few gray clouds on the horizon had blossomed into an ambush, according to Bruce Perkins, an Air Force meteorologist who helped investigate the incident for U.S. Special Operations Command.


The storm collapsed directly over the unsuspecting soldiers of the 10th Special Forces Group. Rain cut grooves in the earth and lightning lit the sky with sudden, eerie flashes. When the wind gusted, it sheared away a layer of mud.

One gust loosened the tent pegs.

The next gust blew the tents over.

Two soldiers toppled out uninjured. Two others rolled, and the tent turned into a grinder of heavy people and heavier gear. They suffered brain damage and were flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for long-term care. The fifth soldier — a decorated veteran and new father from Monterey, California — died at the scene.

A SOWT, Perkins made clear to his seniors, could have made all the difference. A SOWT, he said, “would have been able to forecast some pretty heavy stuff coming, and tell the guys to find a harder place to site their tents.”

The right people in the Pentagon agreed. Less than a year later, on May 5, 2008, the Air Force decided to create its new career field for special operations weather.

No more need to teach desk meteorologists how to fight. SOWTs now recruit at football games and college wrestling tournaments, sometimes drawing people in with a chin-up bar and a challenge. SOWTs have resources now, too, and they get to train alongside the best commandos in the military.

“Sixty seconds to touchdown!” the crew chief yelled during one such training mission.

The interior of a grounded CH-47 helicopter came alive with the wet rumble of motorcycle engines. The commandos balanced on dirt bikes, eight per team: 24 soldiers to protect the lives of several thousand refugees. They adjusted their M4 carbines and flipped on night-vision goggles.

Then the ramp fell and they sped into a war zone.

They were actually on a parcel of forest near Pensacola, Florida, conducting a simulated response to environmental trauma. The people of one country had pushed into the people of another, and Special Tactics had been deployed to secure the perimeter of the refugee camp, help the injured and keep the peace.

That, and don’t get themselves killed. One of the instructors was tossing mortars. They were blanks, but the sounds and shakes were real. One rookie was blown off his bike and into the mud. Another sped up, riding the tailpipe of the bike in front of him.

Afterward the team debriefed in a small clearing near a lake. It was full dark, so everyone kept their night-vision goggles on.

“Why don’t you want to bunch on those turns?” asked the mortar-tossing instructor.

He put a pinch of tobacco in his lip and didn’t wait long for an answer.

“Ambush, IED,” he said. “You’re all smoked in a second flat.”

Observing this session was lead instructor Sergeant Travis Sanford, a 27-year-old SOWT in the new mold. He looks like G.I. Joe: a V-bodied six-footer, snapped together with symmetry and blessed with a kung-fu grip. In 2010 he grabbed a wounded Marine by his ankle and pulled him to safety in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star for valor.

Today he’s a model the Air Force would like to replicate by the dozen. But he also gets it. There’s still a joke here, still something slightly off about forecasting the weather while someone is trying to kill you. That will probably always be true.

The new SOWTs don’t take the slights too personally anymore, Sanford said. When a smirking officer asks for a weather balloon, as one always does, one of Sanford’s colleagues likes to pull out a kid’s party balloon and shape it into a giraffe.

Sanford understands the military in terms of a giant high school social scene. The special operators are like starting quarterbacks and homecoming kids, but not the SOWTs.

“We’re kind of like the valedictorians,” he said. “We’ve got the 4.0 grade point average, but we can play a little, too.”


What ISIS Really Wants

The Islamic State believes it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy.

By Graeme Wood, The Atlantic

February 17, 2015


What is the Islamic State?

Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaida’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and that may have contributed to significant strategic errors.





The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of alQaida to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaida’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.

Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)

We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terrorism and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohammad Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.

There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.





The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.

To take one example: In September, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in Western countries such as France and Canada to find an infidel and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.” To Western ears, the biblical-sounding punishments—the stoning and crop destruction—juxtaposed strangely with his more modern-sounding call to vehicular homicide. (As if to show that he could terrorize by imagery alone, Adnani also referred to Secretary of State John Kerry as an “uncircumcised geezer.”)

But Adnani was not merely talking trash. His speech was laced with theological and legal discussion, and his exhortation to attack crops directly echoed orders from Muhammad to leave well water and crops alone—unless the armies of Islam were in a defensive position, in which case Muslims in the lands of kuffar, or infidels, should be unmerciful, and poison away.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combated, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

In November, the Islamic State released an infomercial-like video tracing its origins to bin Laden. It acknowledged Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the brutal head of alQaida in Iraq from roughly 2003 until his killing in 2006, as a more immediate progenitor, followed sequentially by two other guerrilla leaders before Baghdadi, the caliph. Notably unmentioned: bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the owlish Egyptian eye surgeon who currently heads alQaida. Zawahiri has not pledged allegiance to Baghdadi, and he is increasingly hated by his fellow jihadists. His isolation is not helped by his lack of charisma; in videos, he comes across as squinty and annoyed. But the split between al-Qaida and the Islamic State has been long in the making, and it begins to explain, at least in part, the outsized bloodlust of the latter.

Zawahiri’s companion in isolation is a Jordanian cleric named Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, 55, who has a fair claim to being al-Qaida’s intellectual architect and the most important jihadist unknown to the average American newspaper reader. On most matters of doctrine, Maqdisi and the Islamic State agree. Both are closely identified with the jihadist wing of a branch of Sunnism called Salafism, after the Arabic al salaf al salih, the “pious forefathers.” These forefathers are the Prophet himself and his earliest adherents, whom Salafis honor and emulate as the models for all behavior, including warfare, couture, family life, even dentistry.

Maqdisi taught Zarqawi, who went to war in Iraq with the older man’s advice in mind. In time, though, Zarqawi surpassed his mentor in fanaticism, and eventually earned his rebuke. At issue was Zarqawi’s penchant for bloody spectacle—and, as a matter of doctrine, his hatred of other Muslims, to the point of excommunicating and killing them. In Islam, the practice of takfir, or excommunication, is theologically perilous. “If a man says to his brother, ‘You are an infidel,’ ” the Prophet said, “then one of them is right.” If the accuser is wrong, he himself has committed apostasy by making a false accusation. The punishment for apostasy is death. And yet Zarqawi heedlessly expanded the range of behavior that could make Muslims infidels.

Maqdisi wrote to his former pupil that he needed to exercise caution and “not issue sweeping proclamations of takfir” or “proclaim people to be apostates because of their sins.” The distinction between apostate and sinner may appear subtle, but it is a key point of contention between al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. (The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet.) That means that roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So, too, are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims. Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Baghdadi permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute.

Centuries have passed since the wars of religion ceased in Europe, and since men stopped dying in large numbers because of arcane theological disputes. Hence, perhaps, the incredulity and denial with which Westerners have greeted news of the theology and practices of the Islamic State. Many refuse to believe that this group is as devout as it claims to be, or as backward-looking or apocalyptic as its actions and statements suggest.

Their skepticism is comprehensible. In the past, Westerners who accused Muslims of blindly following ancient scriptures came to deserved grief from academics—notably the late Edward Said—who pointed out that calling Muslims “ancient” was usually just another way to denigrate them. Look instead, these scholars urged, to the conditions in which these ideologies arose—the bad governance, the shifting social mores, the humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil.

Without acknowledgment of these factors, no explanation of the rise of the Islamic State could be complete. But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias: that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul. When a masked executioner says “Allahu akbar” while beheading an apostate, sometimes he’s doing so for religious reasons.

Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

Every academic I asked about the Islamic State’s ideology sent me to Haykel. Of partial Lebanese descent, Haykel grew up in Lebanon and the United States, and when he talks through his Mephistophelian goatee, there is a hint of an unplaceable foreign accent.

According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

All Muslims acknowledge that Muhammad’s earliest conquests were not tidy affairs, and that the laws of war passed down in the Koran and in the narrations of the Prophet’s rule were calibrated to fit a turbulent and violent time. In Haykel’s estimation, the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition,” Haykel said. Islamic State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”

The Koran specifies crucifixion as one of the only punishments permitted for enemies of Islam. The tax on Christians finds clear endorsement in the Surah Al-Tawba, the Koran’s ninth chapter, which instructs Muslims to fight Christians and Jews “until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” The Prophet, whom all Muslims consider exemplary, imposed these rules and owned slaves.

Leaders of the Islamic State have taken emulation of Muhammad as strict duty, and have revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years. “What’s striking about them is not just the literalism, but also the seriousness with which they read these texts,” Haykel said. “There is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness that Muslims don’t normally have.”

Before the rise of the Islamic State, no group in the past few centuries had attempted more-radical fidelity to the Prophetic model than the Wahhabis of 18thcentury Arabia. They conquered most of what is now Saudi Arabia, and their strict practices survive in a diluted version of Sharia there. Haykel sees an important distinction between the groups, though: “The Wahhabis were not wanton in their violence.” They were surrounded by Muslims, and they conquered lands that were already Islamic; this stayed their hand. “ISIS, by contrast, is really reliving the early period.” Early Muslims were surrounded by non-Muslims, and the Islamic State, because of its takfiri tendencies, considers itself to be in the same situation.

If al-Qaida wanted to revive slavery, it never said so. And why would it? Silence on slavery probably reflected strategic thinking, with public sympathies in mind: When the Islamic State began enslaving people, even some of its supporters balked. Nonetheless, the caliphate has continued to embrace slavery and crucifixion without apology. “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women,” Adnani, the spokesman, promised in one of his periodic valentines to the West. “If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”

In October, Dabiq, the magazine of the Islamic State, published “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour,” an article that took up the question of whether Yazidis (the members of an ancient Kurdish sect that borrows elements of Islam, and had come under attack from Islamic State forces in northern Iraq) are lapsed Muslims, and therefore marked for death, or merely pagans and therefore fair game for enslavement. A study group of Islamic State scholars had convened, on government orders, to resolve this issue. If they are pagans, the article’s anonymous author wrote, “Yazidi women and children [are to be] divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations [in northern Iraq] … Enslaving the families of the kuffar [infidels] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Koran and the narrations of the Prophet … and thereby apostatizing from Islam.”

Tens of thousands of foreign Muslims are thought to have immigrated to the Islamic State. Recruits hail from France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Australia, Indonesia, the United States, and many other places. Many have come to fight, and many intend to die.

Peter R. Neumann, a professor at King’s College London, told me that online voices have been essential to spreading propaganda and ensuring that newcomers know what to believe. Online recruitment has also widened the demographics of the jihadist community, by allowing conservative Muslim women—physically isolated in their homes—to reach out to recruiters, radicalize, and arrange passage to Syria. Through its appeals to both genders, the Islamic State hopes to build a complete society.

In November, I traveled to Australia to meet Musa Cerantonio, a 30-year-old man whom Neumann and other researchers had identified as one of the two most important “new spiritual authorities” guiding foreigners to join the Islamic State. For three years he was a televangelist on Iqraa TV in Cairo, but he left after the station objected to his frequent calls to establish a caliphate. Now he preaches on Facebook and Twitter.

Cerantonio—a big, friendly man with a bookish demeanor—told me he blanches at beheading videos. He hates seeing the violence, even though supporters of the Islamic State are required to endorse it. (He speaks out, controversially among jihadists, against suicide bombing, on the grounds that God forbids suicide; he differs from the Islamic State on a few other points as well.) He has the kind of unkempt facial hair one sees on certain overgrown fans of The Lord of the Rings, and his obsession with Islamic apocalypticism felt familiar. He seemed to be living out a drama that looks, from an outsider’s perspective, like a medieval fantasy novel, only with real blood.

Last June, Cerantonio and his wife tried to emigrate—he wouldn’t say to where (“It’s illegal to go to Syria,” he said cagily)—but they were caught en route, in the Philippines, and he was deported back to Australia for overstaying his visa. Australia has criminalized attempts to join or travel to the Islamic State, and has confiscated Cerantonio’s passport. He is stuck in Melbourne, where he is well known to the local constabulary. If Cerantonio were caught facilitating the movement of individuals to the Islamic State, he would be imprisoned. So far, though, he is free—a technically unaffiliated ideologue who nonetheless speaks with what other jihadists have taken to be a reliable voice on matters of the Islamic State’s doctrine.

We met for lunch in Footscray, a dense, multicultural Melbourne suburb that’s home to Lonely Planet, the travel-guide publisher. Cerantonio grew up there in a half-Irish, half-Calabrian family. On a typical street one can find African restaurants, Vietnamese shops, and young Arabs walking around in the Salafi uniform of scraggly beard, long shirt, and trousers ending halfway down the calves.

Cerantonio explained the joy he felt when Baghdadi was declared the caliph on June 29—and the sudden, magnetic attraction that Mesopotamia began to exert on him and his friends. “I was in a hotel [in the Philippines], and I saw the declaration on television,” he told me. “And I was just amazed, and I’m like, Why am I stuck here in this bloody room?”

The last caliphate was the Ottoman Empire, which reached its peak in the 16th century and then experienced a long decline, until the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, euthanized it in 1924. But Cerantonio, like many supporters of the Islamic State, doesn’t acknowledge that caliphate as legitimate, because it didn’t fully enforce Islamic law, which requires stonings and slavery and amputations, and because its caliphs were not descended from the tribe of the Prophet, the Quraysh.

Baghdadi spoke at length of the importance of the caliphate in his Mosul sermon. He said that to revive the institution of the caliphate—which had not functioned except in name for about 1,000 years—was a communal obligation. He and his loyalists had “hastened to declare the caliphate and place an imam” at its head, he said. “This is a duty upon the Muslims—a duty that has been lost for centuries. … The Muslims sin by losing it, and they must always seek to establish it.” Like bin Laden before him, Baghdadi spoke floridly, with frequent scriptural allusion and command of classical rhetoric. Unlike bin Laden, and unlike those false caliphs of the Ottoman Empire, he is Qurayshi.

The caliphate, Cerantonio told me, is not just a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation. Islamic State propaganda regularly reports the pledges of baya’a (allegiance) rolling in from jihadist groups across the Muslim world. Cerantonio quoted a Prophetic saying, that to die without pledging allegiance is to die jahil (ignorant) and therefore die a “death of disbelief.” Consider how Muslims (or, for that matter, Christians) imagine God deals with the souls of people who die without learning about the one true religion. They are neither obviously saved nor definitively condemned. Similarly, Cerantonio said, the Muslim who acknowledges one omnipotent god and prays, but who dies without pledging himself to a valid caliph and incurring the obligations of that oath, has failed to live a fully Islamic life. I pointed out that this means the vast majority of Muslims in history, and all who passed away between 1924 and 2014, died a death of disbelief. Cerantonio nodded gravely. “I would go so far as to say that Islam has been reestablished” by the caliphate.

I asked him about his own baya’a, and he quickly corrected me: “I didn’t say that I’d pledged allegiance.” Under Australian law, he reminded me, giving baya’a to the Islamic State was illegal. “But I agree that [Baghdadi] fulfills the requirements,” he continued. “I’m just going to wink at you, and you take that to mean whatever you want.”

To be the caliph, one must meet conditions outlined in Sunni law—being a Muslim adult man of Quraysh descent; exhibiting moral probity and physical and mental integrity; and having ‘amr, or authority. This last criterion, Cerantonio said, is the hardest to fulfill, and requires that the caliph have territory in which he can enforce Islamic law. Baghdadi’s Islamic State achieved that long before June 29, Cerantonio said, and as soon as it did, a Western convert within the group’s ranks—Cerantonio described him as “something of a leader”—began murmuring about the religious obligation to declare a caliphate. He and others spoke quietly to those in power and told them that further delay would be sinful.

Cerantonio said a faction arose that was prepared to make war on Baghdadi’s group if it delayed any further. They prepared a letter to various powerful members of ISIS, airing their displeasure at the failure to appoint a caliph, but were pacified by Adnani, the spokesman, who let them in on a secret—that a caliphate had already been declared, long before the public announcement. They had their legitimate caliph, and at that point there was only one option. “If he’s legitimate,” Cerantonio said, “you must give him the baya’a.”

After Baghdadi’s July sermon, a stream of jihadists began flowing daily into Syria with renewed motivation. Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German author and former politician who visited the Islamic State in December, reported the arrival of 100 fighters at one Turkish-border recruitment station in just two days. His report, among others, suggests a still-steady inflow of foreigners, ready to give up everything at home for a shot at paradise in the worst place on Earth.

In London, a week before my meal with Cerantonio, I met with three ex-members of a banned Islamist group called Al Muhajiroun (The Emigrants): Anjem Choudary, Abu Baraa, and Abdul Muhid. They all expressed desire to emigrate to the Islamic State, as many of their colleagues already had, but the authorities had confiscated their passports. Like Cerantonio, they regarded the caliphate as the only righteous government on Earth, though none would confess to having pledged allegiance. Their principal goal in meeting me was to explain what the Islamic State stands for, and how its policies reflect God’s law.

Choudary, 48, is the group’s former leader. He frequently appears on cable news, as one of the few people producers can book who will defend the Islamic State vociferously, until his mike is cut. He has a reputation in the United Kingdom as a loathsome blowhard, but he and his disciples sincerely believe in the Islamic State and, on matters of doctrine, speak in its voice. Choudary and the others feature prominently in the Twitter feeds of Islamic State residents, and Abu Baraa maintains a YouTube channel to answer questions about Sharia.

Since September, authorities have been investigating the three men on suspicion of supporting terrorism. Because of this investigation, they had to meet me separately: communication among them would have violated the terms of their bail. But speaking with them felt like speaking with the same person wearing different masks. Choudary met me in a candy shop in the East London suburb of Ilford. He was dressed smartly, in a crisp blue tunic reaching nearly to his ankles, and sipped a Red Bull while we talked.

Before the caliphate, “maybe 85 percent of the Sharia was absent from our lives,” Choudary told me. “These laws are in abeyance until we have khilafa”—a caliphate—”and now we have one.” Without a caliphate, for example, individual vigilantes are not obliged to amputate the hands of thieves they catch in the act. But create a caliphate, and this law, along with a huge body of other jurisprudence, suddenly awakens. In theory, all Muslims are obliged to immigrate to the territory where the caliph is applying these laws. One of Choudary’s prize students, a convert from Hinduism named Abu Rumaysah, evaded police to bring his family of five from London to Syria in November. On the day I met Choudary, Abu Rumaysah tweeted out a picture of himself with a Kalashnikov in one arm and his newborn son in the other. Hashtag: #GenerationKhilafah.

The caliph is required to implement Sharia. Any deviation will compel those who have pledged allegiance to inform the caliph in private of his error and, in extreme cases, to excommunicate and replace him if he persists. (“I have been plagued with this great matter, plagued with this responsibility, and it is a heavy responsibility,” Baghdadi said in his sermon.) In return, the caliph commands obedience—and those who persist in supporting non-Muslim governments, after being duly warned and educated about their sin, are considered apostates.

Choudary said Sharia has been misunderstood because of its incomplete application by regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which does behead murderers and cut off thieves’ hands. “The problem,” he explained, “is that when places like Saudi Arabia just implement the penal code, and don’t provide the social and economic justice of the Sharia—the whole package—they simply engender hatred toward the Sharia.” That whole package, he said, would include free housing, food, and clothing for all, though of course anyone who wished to enrich himself with work could do so.

Abdul Muhid, 32, continued along these lines. He was dressed in mujahedeen chic when I met him at a local restaurant: scruffy beard, Afghan cap, and a wallet outside of his clothes, attached with what looked like a shoulder holster. When we sat down, he was eager to discuss welfare. The Islamic State may have medieval-style punishments for moral crimes (lashes for boozing or fornication, stoning for adultery), but its social-welfare program is, at least in some aspects, progressive to a degree that would please an MSNBC pundit. Health care, he said, is free. (“Isn’t it free in Britain, too?,” I asked. “Not really,” he said. “Some procedures aren’t covered, such as vision.”) This provision of social welfare was not, he said, a policy choice of the Islamic State, but a policy obligation inherent in God’s law.

All Muslims acknowledge that God is the only one who knows the future. But they also agree that he has offered us a peek at it, in the Koran and in narrations of the Prophet. The Islamic State differs from nearly every other current jihadist movement in believing that it is written into God’s script as a central character. It is in this casting that the Islamic State is most boldly distinctive from its predecessors, and clearest in the religious nature of its mission.


In broad strokes, al-Qaida acts like an underground political movement, with worldly goals in sight at all times—the expulsion of non-Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula, the abolishment of the state of Israel, the end of support for dictatorships in Muslim lands. The Islamic State has its share of worldly concerns (including, in the places it controls, collecting garbage and keeping the water running), but the End of Days is a leitmotif of its propaganda. Bin Laden rarely mentioned the apocalypse, and when he did, he seemed to presume that he would be long dead when the glorious moment of divine comeuppance finally arrived. “Bin Laden and Zawahiri are from elite Sunni families who look down on this kind of speculation and think it’s something the masses engage in,” says Will McCants of the Brookings Institution, who is writing a book about the Islamic State’s apocalyptic thought.

During the last years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Islamic State’s immediate founding fathers, by contrast, saw signs of the end times everywhere. They were anticipating, within a year, the arrival of the Mahdi—a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end of the world. McCants says a prominent Islamist in Iraq approached bin Laden in 2008 to warn him that the group was being led by millenarians who were “talking all the time about the Mahdi and making strategic decisions” based on when they thought the Mahdi was going to arrive. “Al-Qaida had to write to [these leaders] to say ‘Cut it out.’ ”

For certain true believers—the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battles—visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need. Of the Islamic State supporters I met, Musa Cerantonio, the Australian, expressed the deepest interest in the apocalypse and how the remaining days of the Islamic State—and the world—might look. Parts of that prediction are original to him, and do not yet have the status of doctrine. But other parts are based on mainstream Sunni sources and appear all over the Islamic State’s propaganda. These include the belief that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs, and Baghdadi is the eighth; that the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest.

The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. It named its propaganda magazine after the town, and celebrated madly when (at great cost) it conquered Dabiq’s strategically unimportant plains. It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.

“Dabiq is basically all farmland,” one Islamic State supporter recently tweeted. “You could imagine large battles taking place there.” The Islamic State’s propagandists drool with anticipation of this event, and constantly imply that it will come soon. The state’s magazine quotes Zarqawi as saying, “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify … until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.” A recent propaganda video shows clips from Hollywood war movies set in medieval times—perhaps because many of the prophecies specify that the armies will be on horseback or carrying ancient weapons.

Now that it has taken Dabiq, the Islamic State awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. Western media frequently miss references to Dabiq in the Islamic State’s videos, and focus instead on lurid scenes of beheading. “Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive,” said a masked executioner in a November video, showing the severed head of Peter (Abdul Rahman) Kassig, the aid worker who’d been held captive for more than a year. During fighting in Iraq in December, after mujahedeen (perhaps inaccurately) reported having seen American soldiers in battle, Islamic State Twitter accounts erupted in spasms of pleasure, like overenthusiastic hosts or hostesses upon the arrival of the first guests at a party.

The Prophetic narration that foretells the Dabiq battle refers to the enemy as Rome. Who “Rome” is, now that the pope has no army, remains a matter of debate. But Cerantonio makes a case that Rome meant the Eastern Roman empire, which had its capital in what is now Istanbul. We should think of Rome as the Republic of Turkey—the same republic that ended the last self-identified caliphate, 90 years ago. Other Islamic State sources suggest that Rome might mean any infidel army, and the Americans will do nicely.

After its battle in Dabiq, Cerantonio said, the caliphate will expand and sack Istanbul. Some believe it will then cover the entire Earth, but Cerantonio suggested its tide may never reach beyond the Bosporus. An anti-Messiah, known in Muslim apocalyptic literature as Dajjal, will come from the Khorasan region of eastern Iran and kill a vast number of the caliphate’s fighters, until just 5,000 remain, cornered in Jerusalem. Just as Dajjal prepares to finish them off, Jesus—the second-most-revered prophet in Islam—will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.

“Only God knows” whether the Islamic State’s armies are the ones foretold, Cerantonio said. But he is hopeful. “The Prophet said that one sign of the imminent arrival of the End of Days is that people will for a long while stop talking about the End of Days,” he said. “If you go to the mosques now, you’ll find the preachers are silent about this subject.” On this theory, even setbacks dealt to the Islamic State mean nothing, since God has preordained the near-destruction of his people anyway. The Islamic State has its best and worst days ahead of it.

The ideological purity of the Islamic State has one compensating virtue: it allows us to predict some of the group’s actions. Osama bin Laden was seldom predictable. He ended his first television interview cryptically. CNN’s Peter Arnett asked him, “What are your future plans?” Bin Laden replied, “You’ll see them and hear about them in the media, God willing.” By contrast, the Islamic State boasts openly about its plans—not all of them, but enough so that by listening carefully, we can deduce how it intends to govern and expand.

In London, Choudary and his students provided detailed descriptions of how the Islamic State must conduct its foreign policy, now that it is a caliphate. It has already taken up what Islamic law refers to as “offensive jihad,” the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims. “Hitherto, we were just defending ourselves,” Choudary said; without a caliphate, offensive jihad is an inapplicable concept. But the waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph.

Choudary took pains to present the laws of war under which the Islamic State operates as policies of mercy rather than of brutality. He told me the state has an obligation to terrorize its enemies—a holy order to scare the shit out of them with beheadings and crucifixions and enslavement of women and children, because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict.

Choudary’s colleague Abu Baraa explained that Islamic law permits only temporary peace treaties, lasting no longer than a decade. Similarly, accepting any border is anathema, as stated by the Prophet and echoed in the Islamic State’s propaganda videos. If the caliph consents to a longer-term peace or permanent border, he will be in error. Temporary peace treaties are renewable, but may not be applied to all enemies at once: The caliph must wage jihad at least once a year. He may not rest, or he will fall into a state of sin.

One comparison to the Islamic State is the Khmer Rouge, which killed about a third of the population of Cambodia. But the Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations. “This is not permitted,” Abu Baraa said. “To send an ambassador to the U.N. is to recognize an authority other than God’s.” This form of diplomacy is shirk, or polytheism, he argued, and would be immediate cause to hereticize and replace Baghdadi. Even to hasten the arrival of a caliphate by democratic means—for example by voting for political candidates who favor a caliphate—is shirk.

It’s hard to overstate how hamstrung the Islamic State will be by its radicalism. The modern international system, born of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, relies on each state’s willingness to recognize borders, however grudgingly. For the Islamic State, that recognition is ideological suicide. Other Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, have succumbed to the blandishments of democracy and the potential for an invitation to the community of nations, complete with a U.N. seat. Negotiation and accommodation have worked, at times, for the Taliban as well. (Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan exchanged ambassadors with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates, an act that invalidated the Taliban’s authority in the Islamic State’s eyes.) To the Islamic State these are not options, but acts of apostasy.

The United States and its allies have reacted to the Islamic State belatedly and in an apparent daze. The group’s ambitions and rough strategic blueprints were evident in its pronouncements and in social-media chatter as far back as 2011, when it was just one of many terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq and hadn’t yet committed mass atrocities. Adnani, the spokesman, told followers then that the group’s ambition was to “restore the Islamic caliphate,” and he evoked the apocalypse, saying, “There are but a few days left.” Baghdadi had already styled himself “commander of the faithful,” a title ordinarily reserved for caliphs, in 2011. In April 2013, Adnani declared the movement “ready to redraw the world upon the Prophetic methodology of the caliphate.” In August 2013, he said, “Our goal is to establish an Islamic state that doesn’t recognize borders, on the Prophetic methodology.” By then, the group had taken Raqqa, a Syrian provincial capital of perhaps 500,000 people, and was drawing in substantial numbers of foreign fighters who’d heard its message.

If we had identified the Islamic State’s intentions early, and realized that the vacuum in Syria and Iraq would give it ample space to carry them out, we might, at a minimum, have pushed Iraq to harden its border with Syria and preemptively make deals with its Sunnis. That would at least have avoided the electrifying propaganda effect created by the declaration of a caliphate just after the conquest of Iraq’s third-largest city. Yet, just over a year ago, Obama told The New Yorker that he considered ISIS to be al-Qaida’s weaker partner. “If a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” the president said.

Our failure to appreciate the split between the Islamic State and al-Qaida, and the essential differences between the two, has led to dangerous decisions. Last fall, to take one example, the U.S. government consented to a desperate plan to save Peter Kassig’s life. The plan facilitated—indeed, required—the interaction of some of the founding figures of the Islamic State and al-Qaida, and could hardly have looked more hastily improvised.

It entailed the enlistment of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the Zarqawi mentor and al-Qaida grandee, to approach Turki al-Binali, the Islamic State’s chief ideologue and a former student of Maqdisi’s, even though the two men had fallen out due to Maqdisi’s criticism of the Islamic State. Maqdisi had already called for the state to extend mercy to Alan Henning, the British cabbie who had entered Syria to deliver aid to children. In December, The Guardian reported that the U.S. government, through an intermediary, had asked Maqdisi to intercede with the Islamic State on Kassig’s behalf.

Maqdisi was living freely in Jordan but had been banned from communicating with terrorists abroad, and he was being monitored closely. After Jordan granted the United States permission to reintroduce Maqdisi to Binali, Maqdisi bought a phone with American money and was allowed to correspond merrily with his former student for a few days, before the Jordanian government stopped the chats and used them as a pretext to jail Maqdisi. Kassig’s severed head appeared in the Dabiq video a few days later.

Maqdisi gets mocked roundly on Twitter by the Islamic State’s fans, and alQaida is held in great contempt for refusing to acknowledge the caliphate. Cole Bunzel, a scholar who studies Islamic State ideology, read Maqdisi’s opinion on Henning’s status and thought it would hasten his and other captives’ death. “If I were held captive by the Islamic State, and Maqdisi said I shouldn’t be killed,” he told me, “I’d kiss my ass goodbye.”

Kassig’s death was a tragedy, but the plan’s success would have been a bigger one. A reconciliation between Maqdisi and Binali would have begun to heal the main rift between the world’s two largest jihadist organizations. It’s possible that the government wanted only to draw out Binali for intelligence purposes or assassination. (Multiple attempts to elicit comment from the FBI were unsuccessful.) Regardless, the decision to play matchmaker for America’s two main terrorist antagonists reveals astonishingly poor judgment.

Chastened by our earlier indifference, we are now meeting the Islamic State via Kurdish and Iraqi proxy on the battlefield, and with regular air assaults. Those strategies haven’t dislodged the Islamic State from any of its major territorial possessions, although they’ve kept it from directly assaulting Baghdad and Erbil and slaughtering Shia and Kurds there.

Some observers have called for escalation, including several predictable voices from the interventionist right (Max Boot, Frederick Kagan), who have urged the deployment of tens of thousands of American soldiers. These calls should not be dismissed too quickly: an avowedly genocidal organization is on its potential victims’ front lawn, and it is committing daily atrocities in the territory it already controls.

One way to un-cast the Islamic State’s spell over its adherents would be to overpower it militarily and occupy the parts of Syria and Iraq now under caliphate rule. AlQaida is ineradicable because it can survive, cockroach-like, by going underground. The Islamic State cannot. If it loses its grip on its territory in Syria and Iraq, it will cease to be a caliphate. Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: Take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding. Former pledges could, of course, continue to attack the West and behead their enemies, as freelancers. But the propaganda value of the caliphate would disappear, and with it the supposed religious duty to immigrate and serve it. If the United States were to invade, the Islamic State’s obsession with battle at Dabiq suggests that it might send vast resources there, as if in a conventional battle. If the state musters at Dabiq in full force, only to be routed, it might never recover.

Abu Baraa, who maintains a YouTube channel about Islamic law, says the caliph, Baghdadi, cannot negotiate or recognize borders, and must continually make war, or he will remove himself from Islam.

And yet the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: Irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?

Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options. Neither the Kurds nor the Shia will ever subdue and control the whole Sunni heartland of Syria and Iraq—they are hated there, and have no appetite for such an adventure anyway. But they can keep the Islamic State from fulfilling its duty to expand. And with every month that it fails to expand, it resembles less the conquering state of the Prophet Muhammad than yet another Middle Eastern government failing to bring prosperity to its people.

The humanitarian cost of the Islamic State’s existence is high. But its threat to the United States is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with al-Qaida would suggest. Al-Qaida’s core is rare among jihadist groups for its focus on the “far enemy” (the West); most jihadist groups’ main concerns lie closer to home. That’s especially true of the Islamic State, precisely because of its ideology. It sees enemies everywhere around it, and while its leadership wishes ill on the United States, the application of Sharia in the caliphate and the expansion to contiguous lands are paramount. Baghdadi has said as much directly: In November he told his Saudi agents to “deal with the rafida [Shia] first … then al-Sulul [Sunni supporters of the Saudi monarchy] … before the crusaders and their bases.”


The foreign fighters (and their wives and children) have been traveling to the caliphate on one-way tickets: They want to live under true Sharia, and many want martyrdom. Doctrine, recall, requires believers to reside in the caliphate if it is at all possible for them to do so. One of the Islamic State’s less bloody videos shows a group of jihadists burning their French, British, and Australian passports. This would be an eccentric act for someone intending to return to blow himself up in line at the Louvre or to hold another chocolate shop hostage in Sydney.

A few “lone wolf” supporters of the Islamic State have attacked Western targets, and more attacks will come. But most of the attackers have been frustrated amateurs, unable to immigrate to the caliphate because of confiscated passports or other problems. Even if the Islamic State cheers these attacks—and it does in its propaganda—it hasn’t yet planned and financed one. (The Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January was principally an alQaida operation.) During his visit to Mosul in December, Jürgen Todenhöfer interviewed a portly German jihadist and asked whether any of his comrades had returned to Europe to carry out attacks. The jihadist seemed to regard returnees not as soldiers but as dropouts. “The fact is that the returnees from the Islamic State should repent from their return,” he said. “I hope they review their religion.”

Properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case. The land it controls, while expansive, is mostly uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates or slowly shrinks, its claim that it is the engine of God’s will and the agent of apocalypse will weaken, and fewer believers will arrive. And as more reports of misery within it leak out, radical Islamist movements elsewhere will be discredited: No one has tried harder to implement strict Sharia by violence. This is what it looks like.

Even so, the death of the Islamic State is unlikely to be quick, and things could still go badly wrong: If the Islamic State obtained the allegiance of alQaida—increasing, in one swoop, the unity of its base—it could wax into a worse foe than we’ve yet seen. The rift between the Islamic State and al-Qaida has, if anything, grown in the past few months; the December issue of Dabiq featured a long account of an alQaida defector who described his old group as corrupt and ineffectual, and Zawahiri as a distant and unfit leader. But we should watch carefully for a rapprochement.

Without a catastrophe such as this, however, or perhaps the threat of the Islamic State’s storming Erbil, a vast ground invasion would certainly make the situation worse.

It would be facile, even exculpatory, to call the problem of the Islamic State “a problem with Islam.” The religion allows many interpretations, and Islamic State supporters are morally on the hook for the one they choose. And yet simply denouncing the Islamic State as un-Islamic can be counterproductive, especially if those who hear the message have read the holy texts and seen the endorsement of many of the caliphate’s practices written plainly within them.

Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet. “The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,” Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.

The Islamic State’s ideology exerts powerful sway over a certain subset of the population. Life’s hypocrisies and inconsistencies vanish in its face. Musa Cerantonio and the Salafis I met in London are unstumpable: No question I posed left them stuttering. They lectured me garrulously and, if one accepts their premises, convincingly. To call them un-Islamic appears, to me, to invite them into an argument that they would win. If they had been froth-spewing maniacs, I might be able to predict that their movement would burn out as the psychopaths detonated themselves or became drone-splats, one by one. But these men spoke with an academic precision that put me in mind of a good graduate seminar. I even enjoyed their company, and that frightened me as much as anything else.

Non-Muslims cannot tell Muslims how to practice their religion properly. But Muslims have long since begun this debate within their own ranks. “You have to have standards,” Anjem Choudary told me. “Somebody could claim to be a Muslim, but if he believes in homosexuality or drinking alcohol, then he is not a Muslim. There is no such thing as a nonpracticing vegetarian.”

There is, however, another strand of Islam that offers a hard-line alternative to the Islamic State—just as uncompromising, but with opposite conclusions. This strand has proved appealing to many Muslims cursed or blessed with a psychological longing to see every jot and tittle of the holy texts implemented as they were in the earliest days of Islam. Islamic State supporters know how to react to Muslims who ignore parts of the Koran: with takfir and ridicule. But they also know that some other Muslims read the Koran as assiduously as they do, and pose a real ideological threat.

Baghdadi is Salafi. The term Salafi has been villainized, in part because authentic villains have ridden into battle waving the Salafi banner. But most Salafis are not jihadists, and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State. They are, as Haykel notes, committed to expanding Dar al-Islam, the land of Islam, even, perhaps, with the implementation of monstrous practices such as slavery and amputation—but at some future point. Their first priority is personal purification and religious observance, and they believe anything that thwarts those goals—such as causing war or unrest that would disrupt lives and prayer and scholarship—is forbidden.


They live among us. Last fall, I visited the Philadelphia mosque of Breton Pocius, 28, a Salafi imam who goes by the name Abdullah. His mosque is on the border between the crime-ridden Northern Liberties neighborhood and a gentrifying area that one might call Dar al-Hipster; his beard allows him to pass in the latter zone almost unnoticed.


Pocius converted 15 years ago after a Polish Catholic upbringing in Chicago. Like Cerantonio, he talks like an old soul, exhibiting deep familiarity with ancient texts, and a commitment to them motivated by curiosity and scholarship, and by a conviction that they are the only way to escape hellfire. When I met him at a local coffee shop, he carried a work of Koranic scholarship in Arabic and a book for teaching himself Japanese. He was preparing a sermon on the obligations of fatherhood for the 150 or so worshipers in his Friday congregation.

Pocius said his main goal is to encourage a halal life for worshipers in his mosque. But the rise of the Islamic State has forced him to consider political questions that are usually very far from the minds of Salafis. “Most of what they’ll say about how to pray and how to dress is exactly what I’ll say in my masjid [mosque]. But when they get to questions about social upheaval, they sound like Che Guevara.”

When Baghdadi showed up, Pocius adopted the slogan “Not my khalifa.” “The times of the Prophet were a time of great bloodshed,” he told me, “and he knew that the worst possible condition for all people was chaos, especially within the umma [Muslim community].” Accordingly, Pocius said, the correct attitude for Salafis is not to sow discord by factionalizing and declaring fellow Muslims apostates.

Instead, Pocius—like a majority of Salafis—believes that Muslims should remove themselves from politics. These quietist Salafis, as they are known, agree with the Islamic State that God’s law is the only law, and they eschew practices like voting and the creation of political parties. But they interpret the Koran’s hatred of discord and chaos as requiring them to fall into line with just about any leader, including some manifestly sinful ones. “The Prophet said: As long as the ruler does not enter into clear kufr [disbelief], give him general obedience,” Pocius told me, and the classic “books of creed” all warn against causing social upheaval. Quietist Salafis are strictly forbidden from dividing Muslims from one another—for example, by mass excommunication. Living without baya’a, Pocius said, does indeed make one ignorant, or benighted. But baya’a need not mean direct allegiance to a caliph, and certainly not to Abu Bakr alBaghdadi. It can mean, more broadly, allegiance to a religious social contract and commitment to a society of Muslims, whether ruled by a caliph or not.


Quietist Salafis believe that Muslims should direct their energies toward perfecting their personal life, including prayer, ritual, and hygiene. Much in the same way ultra-Orthodox Jews debate whether it’s kosher to tear off squares of toilet paper on the Sabbath (does that count as “rending cloth”?), they spend an inordinate amount of time ensuring that their trousers are not too long, that their beards are trimmed in some areas and shaggy in others. Through this fastidious observance, they believe, God will favor them with strength and numbers, and perhaps a caliphate will arise. At that moment, Muslims will take vengeance and, yes, achieve glorious victory at Dabiq. But Pocius cites a slew of modern Salafi theologians who argue that a caliphate cannot come into being in a righteous way except through the unmistakable will of God.

The Islamic State, of course, would agree, and say that God has anointed Baghdadi. Pocius’s retort amounts to a call to humility. He cites Abdullah Ibn Abbas, one of the Prophet’s companions, who sat down with dissenters and asked them how they had the gall, as a minority, to tell the majority that it was wrong. Dissent itself, to the point of bloodshed or splitting the umma, was forbidden. Even the manner of the establishment of Baghdadi’s caliphate runs contrary to expectation, he said. “The khilafa is something that Allah is going to establish,” he told me, “and it will involve a consensus of scholars from Mecca and Medina. That is not what happened. ISIS came out of nowhere.”

The Islamic State loathes this talk, and its fanboys tweet derisively about quietist Salafis. They mock them as “Salafis of menstruation,” for their obscure judgments about when women are and aren’t clean, and other low-priority aspects of life. “What we need now is fatwa about how it’s haram [forbidden] to ride a bike on Jupiter,” one tweeted drily. “That’s what scholars should focus on. More pressing than state of Ummah.” Anjem Choudary, for his part, says that no sin merits more vigorous opposition than the usurpation of God’s law, and that extremism in defense of monotheism is no vice.

Pocius doesn’t court any kind of official support from the United States, as a counterweight to jihadism. Indeed, official support would tend to discredit him, and in any case he is bitter toward America for treating him, in his words, as “less than a citizen.” (He alleges that the government paid spies to infiltrate his mosque and harassed his mother at work with questions about his being a potential terrorist.)

Still, his quietist Salafism offers an Islamic antidote to Baghdadi-style jihadism. The people who arrive at the faith spoiling for a fight cannot all be stopped from jihadism, but those whose main motivation is to find an ultraconservative, uncompromising version of Islam have an alternative here. It is not moderate Islam; most Muslims would consider it extreme. It is, however, a form of Islam that the literal-minded would not instantly find hypocritical, or blasphemously purged of its inconveniences. Hypocrisy is not a sin that ideologically minded young men tolerate well.

Western officials would probably do best to refrain from weighing in on matters of Islamic theological debate altogether. Obama himself drifted into takfiri waters when he claimed that the Islamic State was “not Islamic”—the irony being that he, as the non-Muslim son of a Muslim, may himself be classified as an apostate, and yet is now practicing takfir against Muslims. Non-Muslims’ practicing takfir elicits chuckles from jihadists (“Like a pig covered in feces giving hygiene advice to others,” one tweeted).

I suspect that most Muslims appreciated Obama’s sentiment: The president was standing with them against both Baghdadi and non-Muslim chauvinists trying to implicate them in crimes. But most Muslims aren’t susceptible to joining jihad. The ones who are susceptible will only have had their suspicions confirmed: The United States lies about religion to serve its purposes.

Within the narrow bounds of its theology, the Islamic State hums with energy, even creativity. Outside those bounds, it could hardly be more arid and silent: a vision of life as obedience, order, and destiny. Musa Cerantonio and Anjem Choudary could mentally shift from contemplating mass death and eternal torture to discussing the virtues of Vietnamese coffee or treacly pastry, with apparent delight in each, yet to me it seemed that to embrace their views would be to see all the flavors of this world grow insipid compared with the vivid grotesqueries of the hereafter.

I could enjoy their company, as a guilty intellectual exercise, up to a point. In reviewing Mein Kampf in March 1940, George Orwell confessed that he had “never been able to dislike Hitler”; something about the man projected an underdog quality, even when his goals were cowardly or loathsome. “If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.” The Islamic State’s partisans have much the same allure. They believe that they are personally involved in struggles beyond their own lives, and that merely to be swept up in the drama, on the side of righteousness, is a privilege and a pleasure—especially when it is also a burden.

Fascism, Orwell continued, is “psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people, ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them, ‘I offer you struggle, danger, and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.”

Nor, in the case of the Islamic State, its religious or intellectual appeal. That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter.


Rasmussen Reports

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



Bottom of Form

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The United States prides itself on being a nation of laws, not a nation of men. But a surprising number of voters are ready to override those laws in order to have their way.

President Obama’s immigration plan and his national health care law both face legal challenges this year that could bring them to a halt. But one-in-four voters think the president should be able to ignore the courts if he wants to, and Democrats believe that even more strongly.  

Opponents of the president’s actions say he does not have the constitutional authority to alter a law passed by Congress without congressional approval. Forty-four percent (44%) of voters think Obama has been less faithful to the U.S. Constitution than most other presidents. 

But 31% believe when it comes to issues that he considers important to the nation, Obama should take action alone if Congress does not approve the initiatives he has proposed.  So much for our constitutionally mandated checks and balances between the three branches of government.

Twenty-four percent (24%) believe states should have the right to ignore federal court rulings if their elected officials disagree with them.

Fifty-six percent (56%) of Americans think the Constitution should be left alone.  Thirty-three percent (33%) believe only minor changes are needed in the nation’s foundational document. The rest are ready to rewrite it or scrap it completely.

While the Founding Fathers conceived this nation as one based on laws, they also insisted right from the start in the Declaration of Independence that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed. But just 25% of voters believe the federal government today has that consent.

No wonder then that voter distrust in the federal government continues to climb. Only 20% now consider the government a protector of individual liberty, while 60% see it as a threat to liberty instead.

Voters still view the president’s order exempting up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation as illegal and tend to think Congress should try to stop it. But they’re evenly divided over whether a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the way to do it. The House of Representatives has approved funding for the DHS that does not include money for the president’s amnesty plan, but Obama has vowed to veto any budget that doesn’t include that money.

As for Obamacare, voters still balk at its requirement that all Americans must buy or otherwise obtain health insurance.

While the president’s daily job approval ratings remain better than they were before Election Day, voters remain closely divided over his handling of national security and economic matters.

Ratings for Congress are still nothing to write home about, but they are more positive than they’ve been in nearly five years. Still, most voters think Congress is a bunch of sellouts. Voters continue to find the large number of millionaires serving in Congress troubling and to question how they got that way.

Republicans hold the edge over Democrats for the second week in a row on the Generic Congressional Ballot, but it remains very close as it has been for well over a year.

The president hosted a summit at the White House this week to discuss ways to counter terrorism worldwide. But in a recent interview, he said the media overhypes the threat of terrorism and downplays the greater long-term threat of climate change and epidemic diseases. Voters by far, however, see terrorism as the bigger long-term threat to the United States.

We were curious this week, too, whether Americans think global warming is to blame for the cold weather and heavy snows hitting much of the country.

Daily consumer and investor confidence are down slightly but still remain at higher levels than they have been in several years. But voters still feel the current economy isn’t working for the middle class

While confidence in home ownership as a family investment has hit a year-high, Americans continue to have mixed feelings about whether now’s a good time to sell a home. Most homeowners are making their mortgage payments on time, but Americans don’t want the government assisting those who can’t.

Beginning-of-the-year confidence in the banking industry has faded, and concerns about rising grocery prices have returned to levels seen for the last three years.

In other surveys last week:

— Thirty-two percent (32%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

— It’s no secret that faith in God is important to many Americans in one form or another. But just how important is religion in their everyday lives, and how do they practice their faiths? 

— This past Monday, we celebrated Presidents Day to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Americans think some other presidents deserve a federal holiday, too.

— But the thought of adding any of the recent presidents to Mount Rushmore leaves most Americans cold.

February 14 2015

14 February 2015


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Idaho company pioneers agricultural drones

by Press • 9 February 2015

By Mike Petrovsky


A company in Idaho’s panhandle thinks its agriculture-related drone business will eventually take off before the start of the growing season despite federal regulations temporarily putting on hold its flight plan into uncharted territory.

Hayden-based Empire Unmanned LLC was launched Jan. 31. The company is a collaborative effort between Advanced Aviation Solutions out of Star, located a little northwest of Boise, and Blair Farms in Kendrick, just southeast of Moscow. The company intends to use drones to help farmers in Idaho, Montana and the Pacific Northwest monitor their crops and ranchers do the same for their livestock from above.

Empire Unmanned is the first business in the U.S. authorized to legally fly drones as a service for agriculture, said company president Brad Ward.

Ward, 44, is a retired Air Force pilot who also flew MQ-1 Predator and RQ-4 Global Hawk drones over his 20-year military career.

“We are hoping to charge (farmers and ranchers) $3 an acre, and with the learning curve, we will bring that cost down,” Ward said.

The company, in business not even two weeks, already has had seven potential customers express interest — most of them large growers.

“The smallest grower that has contacted us has 1,500 acres,” Ward said. “The largest is a rancher with 14,000 acres.”

Yet the former Air Force drone aviator said the amount of acreage really doesn’t matter.

“We’re looking to get the word out to as many farmers and ranchers as we can.” Ward said. “It’s not so much the size of the farm — 200, 500 acres. We don’t have a minimum charge.”

Empire Unmanned plans to use its drones to collect data on grain crops and potatoes in Idaho, cattle in Montana and orchards and vineyards for growers in Washington state and Oregon.

Yet before Empire Unmanned can launch its first agricultural drone, the company has to navigate an increasingly more complicated puzzle of Federal Aviation Administration regulations as they pertain to unmanned aircraft used commercially.


“We are waiting on one last piece – a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA. That’s the only piece,” Ward said, adding that Empire Unmanned expects to officially get its business off the ground on March 1, in time for planting season. “The biggest challenge is regulatory and the changing environment at the FAA (regarding drones). (The number of regulations) is growing and the rules are changing at a fast pace.”

As for drone regulations in Idaho, Ward said the extent of the state law governing drones is simply to not allow the drone to trespass on private property.

The potential benefits to the use of drones in agriculture is great particularly for farmers who practice a type of farming that is known by different names including target farming, zone management and precision agriculture. Ward explains:

“We can tell you what your wheat stand looks like, instead of you walking all 640 acres identifying where you’re having problems with the field. Drones give them (farmers) an idea of what their field is doing — where a particular area is under stress -— so a farmer can go to that spot and figure out what’s going on.”

Ward said a 30-minute drone fly over can provide farmers with crop field data “right down to the square inch,” which means, for example, growers can examine the blossoms on fruit trees without having to go into the orchard with a ladder.

He added that farmers who practice zone management can transfer the coordinates compiled by the drone to their GPS-guided tractors, making the process more efficient and thereby less costly.

One would think growers or ranchers could save even more money if they purchased a drone from Ward’s company outright and operated it themselves.

“We couldn’t in good faith sell an aircraft to farmers knowing that they couldn’t operate it legally,” Ward said.

He explained that last year the U.S. Secretary of Transportation issued the “Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.”

“The crux of the matter is … a farmer using a UAS (unmanned aircraft system) to monitor crops that are part of a commercial farming operation do not fall under (federal) ‘Hobby and Recreation’ rules,” Ward said.

He added that model aircraft, which do not meet the federal statutory requirements of the hobby and recreation exemption, are nonetheless unmanned aircraft, and as such, are subject to all existing FAA regulations.

“Depending on the system, there are about 20 Federal Aviation Regulations that the typical small UAS do not comply (with),” Ward said. “A farmer that wants to fly an unmanned aircraft to monitor his crops needs an exemption to these regulations.”

Furthermore, Ward said, the FAA is only approving exemptions for the operators of the aircraft and is not taking applications from manufacturers on behalf of their customers, which means a farmer who buys a drone doesn’t inherit approval to fly it from the manufacturer or reseller, they have to apply for an exemption themselves.

Ward added that as of Saturday morning only 23 companies, with his Empire Unmanned being first on the list, have exemptions to operate drones for commercial agricultural purposes.

Ward outlined how the drones collect the data for growers and ranchers.

“They (drones) take a still picture and all those still pictures it takes are put on to a mosaic map of overlapping images,” he said, adding that one 3-D stereoscopic image is the end result.

As for ranchers, Ward said the drones can be equipped with thermal sensors to seek out water or check on irrigation systems.

“The drones (using thermal imaging) can even take the temperature of (a ranchers’) cows to see which ones are sick,” he said.

Ward points out that using drones and thermal imaging to keep an eye on cattle has never been done before, at least not legally, because to his knowledge Empire Unmanned is the only company to get federal approval to apply drones and thermal imaging to ranching.

But what if something should go wrong? A drone goes out of control, let’s say.

“One of the advantages (Empire Unmanned) has is we have $2 million of liability coverage,” Ward said.

Yet Ward doubts if his company will ever have to take advantage of that coverage because black and yellow drone called eBee it’s using — which is manufactured by the Swiss company senseFly — weighs about a pound and a half and is made mostly out of foam.

“There’s a You-Tube video showing a man knocking the drone out of the sky with his forehead,” Ward said, adding eBee can fly no higher than 400 feet “and you’re pushing really hard to get it to go 45 mph on a dive.”

Empire Unmanned has sky-high ambition, but seems to be pretty short player in the world of commercial aviation giants.

Ward said his company has only three employees, but expects to bring on more once business, well, takes off.

For those looking for a job flying an eBee drone with Empire Unmanned, Ward advises that an applicant must “be a private pilot with a Type 3 medical exam, and they have to meet the flight review requirements for the FAA.”

Yet, despite those requirements, Ward said, “We have no shortage of resumes, so we won’t have to go out of the state (to look for drone pilots).

And Empire Unmanned has, for now, has just one drone, which has yet to get off the ground because the company, as stated before, needs to have that final piece of the FAA regulatory puzzle in place. Five more eBees, however, are on order from senseFly, Ward said.

“In the short term, it is probably going to be pretty slow to start,” he said of his company’s upcoming startup. “We won’t keep all six airplanes busy.”

As an aside, Empire Unmanned this year plans to team up Donna Delparte, an assistant professor with Idaho State University’s Geosciences Department. Delparte’s background is in geographic information systems, or GIS, which is a mapping technology that allows the user to create and interact with a variety of maps and data sources. And Ward said his company’s UAS, will be used to assist Delparte with her research.

“Empire Unmanned is a valued research partner, and we will be collaborating with them to collect multi-spectral imagery using UAS to evaluate potato crop health this upcoming growing season,” Delparte told the Journal in an email early Saturday. “(Empire Unmanned) brings extensive expertise in safe UAS mission planning and flight operations.”

ISU has received a $150,000 federal grant to develop ways to use drones equipped with specialized sensors to monitor crop health.

As Ward stated earlier, drones allow farmers to monitor their fields quickly with less cost.

The aircraft can provide even greater advantages, Delparte told the Associated Press in a recent interview.

“Remote sensing technologies offer the potential to protect U.S. food security by providing rapid assessments of crop health over large areas,” she said.


Ward told the Journal on Friday his company “would like to share expenses” with ISU on Delparte’s potato crop project, but it hasn’t worked out those details with the university yet.


New federal agency to sniff out threats in cyberspace

By Ellen Nakashima

The Washington Post

Published: 09 February 2015 11:07 PM


The Obama administration is establishing a new agency to combat the deepening threat from cyberattacks, and its mission will be to fuse intelligence from around the government when a crisis occurs.

The agency is modeled after the National Counterterrorism Center, which was launched in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks amid criticism that the government failed to share intelligence that could have unraveled the al-Qaida plot.

Over the past several years, a series of significant cyber-incidents has affected U.S. companies and government networks, increasing the profile of the threat for policymakers and industries. Disruptions, linked to Iran, of major bank websites, a Russian intrusion into the White House’s unclassified computer network and the North Korean hack of Sony Pictures have raised the specter of devastating consequences if critical infrastructure were destroyed.

“The cyberthreat is one of the greatest threats we face, and policymakers and operators will benefit from having a rapid source of intelligence,” Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, said in an interview.”It will help ensure that we have the same integrated, all-tools approach to the cyberthreat that we have developed to combat terrorism.”

Monaco will announce the creation of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center on Tuesday in a speech at the Wilson Center in Washington.

“It’s a great idea,” said Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism official. “It’s overdue.”

Others question why a new agency is needed when the government already has several dedicated to monitoring and analyzing cyberthreat data. The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the National Security Agency all have cyber-operations centers, and the FBI and the NSA are able to integrate information, noted Melissa Hathaway, a former White House cybersecurity coordinator and president of Hathaway Global Strategies.

“We should not be creating more organizations and bureaucracy,” she said. “We need to be forcing the existing organizations to become more effective — hold them accountable.”

The idea of a central agency to analyze cyberthreats and coordinate strategy to counter them isn’t new. But as the threat has grown, the idea has taken hold again.

Monaco, who has a decade of government experience in counterterrorism, has long thought that the lessons learned from fighting terrorism can be applied to cybersecurity. She saw that as a policymaker she could quickly receive an intelligence community assessment on the latest terrorism threat from NCTC, but that was not possible in the cyber realm.

“We need to build up the muscle memory for our cyber-response capabilities, as we have on the terrorism side,” she said.

Last summer, Monaco directed White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel to see whether lessons learned from the counterterrorism world could be applied to cyberthreats. She also revived a cyber-response group for senior staff from agencies around the government, modeled after a similar group in the counterterrorism world, to meet weekly and during crises.

Daniel’s staff concluded that the same defects that contributed to the 2001 terrorist attacks — intelligence agency stove-piping and a failure to combine analysis from across the government — existed in the cyber context.

They recommended the creation of an NCTC for cybersecurity, but some agencies initially resisted. Advocates argued that the new center would not conduct operations or supplant the work of others. Rather it would support their work, providing useful analysis so that the FBI can focus on investigations and DHS can focus on working with the private sector, officials said.

During Thanksgiving week, news broke of a major incident at Sony Pictures Entertainment. In the following days, it became clear the hack was significant: Computers were rendered useless, and massive amounts of email and employee data were pilfered and made public.

President Barack Obama wanted to know the details. What was the impact? Who was behind it? Monaco called meetings of the key agencies involved in the investigation, including the FBI, the NSA and the CIA.

“Okay, who do we think did this?” she asked, according to one participant. “She got back six views.” All pointed to North Korea, but they differed in the degree of certainty. The key gap: No one was responsible for an analysis that integrated all the agency views.

In the end, Monaco asked the FBI to produce one, coordinating with the other agencies.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NCTC, might seem a natural place to provide that analysis. But its small cyber staff focuses on strategic long-term analysis, not a rapid merging of all sources of intelligence about a particular problem.

The Sony incident provided the final impetus for the new center. Monaco began making the rounds at the White House to build support for the center, officials said.

In his State of the Union speech on Jan. 20, Obama made a veiled reference to the center, saying the government would integrate intelligence to combat cyberthreats “just as we have done to combat terrorism.”

Obama will issue a memorandum creating the center, which will be part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The new agency will begin with a staff of about 50 and a budget of $35 million, officials said.

Matthew Olsen, a former NCTC director, said the quality of the threat analysis will depend on a steady stream of data from the private sector, which operates the nation’s energy, financial and other critical systems. “One challenge will be identifying ways to work more closely with the private sector, where cyberthreats are the most prevalent,” he said.

The government and industries need to invest more in technology, information-sharing and personnel training, as well as in deterring and punishing those who carry out cyberattacks, said Michael Leiter, another former NCTC director who is now executive vice president at Leidos, a national security contractor.

The new center “is a good and important step,” Leiter said. “But it is far from a panacea.”



Ash Carter Could Face Big Decisions on Industry Consolidation
By Sandra Erwin

February 7, 2015


The Pentagon in recent years has frowned on mega-mergers of top weapons contractors, a policy that is likely to continue under soon-to-be confirmed Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter.

But Carter could face challenges to that policy in the near future as defense contractors weigh their options in a tight market. There is growing speculation that such a test might come in 2015 or 2016, following the award of a major Air Force contract to build a new stealth bomber.

The competition for the $100 billion Air Force long-range strike bomber program includes three of the Pentagon’s top contractors. The contest pits Northrop Grumman against a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team.

Whoever loses the bomber is likely to come under pressure from investors to make a big move — to either merge with a competitor or acquire a piece of one, predicts aerospace industry analyst Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group.

The Air Force said it plans to make an award some time in 2015. It has budgeted nearly $14 billion for long-range strike bomber research-and-development work through 2020, and procurement would begin some time in the next decade. Additional funding is said to be tucked in the Pentagon’s classified “black” budget.

For the companies, the contest is a matter of long-term survival because the bomber is the only combat aircraft program up for grabs that is likely to go into production in the next decade.

“It’s a fascinating horserace … and the outcome could precipitate a big merger or acquisition,” Aboulafia told executives at a recent meeting of the National Aeronautic Association.

Only Lockheed Martin can afford to lose the bomber contract and still have certainty that it will remain a combat aircraft prime contractor, as it will be producing the F-35 joint strike fighter for decades. But Boeing’s and Northrop Grumman’s future as a combat aircraft prime depends on winning the bomber. “If you are not Lockheed, you’d better win this one,” Aboulafia said.

Under one scenario, if Northrop wins, Boeing could seek to acquire if not the entire company, maybe Northrop’s aerospace unit that would have the bomber contract and also builds sizeable components of the F-35. Aboulafia believes this would be the only option for Boeing to remain a combat aircraft prime contractor if it does not win the bomber deal. If Northrop loses, its investors might conclude that it is more lucrative to break up the company and spin off the aerospace division.

“That is not inconceivable,” he said. The bomber award will be a “huge determinant of the defense industrial base. … It is going to be transformative.”

Boeing continues to manufacture Super Hornet fighter planes for the U.S. Navy and international customers, as well as F-15s. But the last of its current Super Hornet orders would be delivered in 2017 and the last F-15s in 2018, said Aboulafia. Northrop Grumman designed the most recent stealth bomber the Air Force bought in the 1990s, the B-2. The company has military aircraft manufacturing capabilities for both manned and unmanned systems.

Although the Pentagon has drawn a hard line on prime contractor mergers, there might be cases when it might have to reconsider, Aboulafia said. Since the last big wave of industry consolidation in the 1990s, the market has changed dramatically, including the definition of what constitutes a prime contractor. If Northrop doesn’t win the bomber, even if the company is financially healthy and successful, its days as a military airframe prime would be numbered, said Aboulafia. “Does that mean it can sell one or more of its units?” The Pentagon might not be able to make a strong enough case to stop a sale, he said.

“The money you spend is the only real leverage you have,” he said of the Defense Department. “This is a changing environment in terms of investor expectations and company structure. Maybe we’ve forgotten that people do expect either growth or a compelling story to invest their cash.” The companies that are left out of the bomber program will feel pressure from investors, he added. “How do you make your case to Wall Street? An acquisition might be the way forward.”

If the government doesn’t have enough work to keep prime contractors in business independently, it is not clear how it can dictate which units a company can sell, said Aboulafia. “That sounds problematic.”

During his time as chief weapons buyer and deputy secretary of defense, Carter stood firmly behind the idea that market competition is essential to ensure innovation and protect the Defense Department from becoming dependent on monopolies.

But the reality is that big programmatic decisions — like selecting a prime contractor for the F-35 in 2001 and now one for the bomber — unleash market forces that the Pentagon cannot control, said Aboulafia. “Contractors understand this. When the bomber program gets decided, someone is going to be without a seat at the table.”

Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he continues to believe that the Pentagon should carefully review the implications of industry consolidation before allowing mergers. “I support the review of each proposed merger, acquisition, and teaming arrangement on its particular merits, in the context of each individual market and the changing dynamics of that market,” Carter said in written answers to committee questions submitted before his Feb. 4 confirmation hearing.

“I believe the government must be alert for consolidations that eliminate competition or cause market distortions that are not in the department’s best interest,” Carter said. “During my time as the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics and the deputy secretary, the department took steps to improve and preserve competition in defense procurements, and I would support the creation or continuation of competitive opportunities.”

For military aircraft manufacturers that want to be viable beyond the coming decade, the bomber is the only game in town. The Air Force has plans to buy a trainer aircraft, and both Boeing and Northrop have announced their intent to develop clean-sheet designs for the competition. The Air Force, however, has said it might choose to buy an existing airplane rather than a new design. The Pentagon also is eyeing a “sixth-generation” fighter, but that program is too far into the future to satisfy the shareholders of whichever company doesn’t get selected to build the bomber. “A sixth-gen fighter is not going to come soon enough to save a military airframe prime that doesn’t get this,” said Aboulafia.

If the Air Force sticks with its goal of buying 80 to 100 bombers, the program could be worth more than $100 billion. The Air Force has championed the bomber as one of its top three acquisition priorities.

In his statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carter said he would support the program. The Air Force, he wrote, “requires a new generation of stealthy, long-range strike aircraft that can operate at great distances, carry substantial payloads, and operate in and around contested airspace.”



Wary of Procurement Mishaps, Air Force Takes Cautious Steps
By Sandra I. Erwin

February 8, 2015


Its aircraft fleet averages 27 years of age and rival nations are rapidly modernizing, but the U.S. Air Force is not rushing to commit to futuristic weapon systems.

The Pentagon’s budget proposal for 2016 seeks more than $48 billion for new aircraft production and upgrades. It is buying airplanes that are either already in production or in late stages of development, including 57 F-35 joint strike fighter jets, 41 logistics support aircraft, 300 helicopters and 53 unmanned aerial vehicles.

These acquisitions will help replenish the Air Force fleet but new aircraft designs are years or decades away. The next major development is a stealth bomber planned for the 2020s. But the Air Force is hitting the pause button on several programs, including a next-generation fighter, a new trainer airplane and a ground surveillance jet. Officials said they are being cautious about committing to new designs at a time when technology is advancing far more rapidly than the military’s procurement decision cycle. They also are resistant to make big wagers on unproven technology during a period of great uncertainty about future threats.

Illustrating the Air Force’s modernization dilemma is the so-called “sixth-generation” fighter that would succeed the fifth-generation F-22 and F-35. The Pentagon has funded research work in the 2016 budget but officials insist the program should not follow the traditional path of military acquisitions. “It’s a concept, and there’s money scattered throughout the budget,” said Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget Maj. Gen. James F. Martin.

As national security threats become more complex and the challenges too unpredictable, a different approach to developing future weapon systems is needed, said Air Force Lt. Gen. James M. “Mike” Holmes, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements.

That means a departure from the predictable cycle of replacing an airplane with another airplane. “We’re trying to not jump straight to the idea that we’re going to build a sixth-generation fighter,” Holmes said during a roundtable with reporters at the Pentagon.

For the Air Force, the question is how to ensure “air superiority” in the future, and a new-and-improved stealth fighter might no longer be the answer, he said. “We’re trying to get a feel for what is the requirement for air superiority in the future and look at all the domains and not just jump into another air platform.”

Under the traditional process, the Air Force would conduct an “analysis of alternatives,” or a market study and years later choose an airplane design and begin development. The service wants to do business differently, said Holmes. “We just don’t want to jump straight to the AOA on the next airplane before we’ve looked across the range of ways of doing air superiority in the future. That includes cyber, space systems, ground and maritime. Not just jump straight to an air solution.”

The procurement system was designed for a more foreseeable world, he explained. “With 20-year development programs, by the time you design it and set requirements, by the time you field it, you have to think about what comes next.”

Another concern is how to get ahead of the fast-moving innovation train. Other countries have studied U.S. weaponry and how they are employed, and are now making systems to neutralize U.S. advantages, Holmes said. This is happening “faster than was anticipated,” he added. “The gap between our capability and the capability of potential adversaries is decreasing, and it’s decreasing at an accelerated rate.”

While it is “prudent to think about what comes next,” Holmes said, the military has to avoid the traps of traditional thinking. The tendency is to build a “little bit better F-35 or even a leap ahead F-35 or F-22” rather than “think about the right approach to solve problems.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert shares that view. In a presentation at an Office of Naval Research conference last week, he observed that advanced stealth fighters are not a silver bullet. Holmes said the CNO makes a valid point. “Our analysis says that with modern integrated air defense systems, stealth is necessary but may not be sufficient.”

The military has to be prepared to fight “air against air, air against ground, ground against air,” Holmes said. “You could see an application of swarming autonomous [vehicles] to go target surface-to-air defenses.” If so, he added, “Is it worth the cost to pay for autonomy for something that’s going to blow itself up when it hits a target? There are a lot of things we need to learn.”

The Air Force is reluctant to move forward with some modernization programs until is has more certainty about the state of technology. A case in point is the replacement of the T-38 trainer, a project called T-X. The service initially wanted to keep it simple and choose a trainer aircraft from among a handful of available models flown by countries around the world. But the technical requirements grew more complex in recent years as the Air Force realized it needed more advanced airplanes to train F-22 and F-35 pilots. Companies like Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Textron are working on clean-sheet concepts, and forced the Air Force to question whether it should buy off-the-shelf or gamble on a new design.

Officials are once again scrubbing the T-X requirements and are making it a test case for a new procurement reform initiative called “bending the cost curve.” T-X is years behind schedule but the Air Force is comfortable with the delay because it is allowing program officials to better understand the technology offered in the open market and to capitalize on private investment, Holmes said. The Air Force also is reevaluating the T-X acquisition rules so that proposed aircraft that exceed the baseline requirements without adding cost can get credit in the competition.

The Air Force in this case benefits from putting off contract awards and letting market forces work in its favor. “We think that keeping multiple teams in competition” helps the Air Force, said Holmes. “Having airplanes that are flying puts pressure on developmental airplanes, and having developmental planes puts pressure on airplanes that are flying.”

Doubts about earlier acquisition plans also prompted the Air Force to delay a competition to build a ground surveillance aircraft to replace the aging JSTARS, or joint surveillance target attack radar system. Companies like Boeing, Bombardier and Gulfstream are expected to propose JSTARS concepts built in smaller, commercial airframes that they claim will save the government money both in the procurement and lifecycle support of the aircraft.

Officials for some time had begun to question whether the JSTARS’ intricate sensor suites and electronics could be squeezed into smaller airframes. The Air Force decided to delay the program in order to further investigate the issue. The question is “what’s possible and what’s not,” Holmes said. “When [Air Force officials] looked at the strategy we had built for acquisition, they thought it was risky. The integration challenge may have been understated by some of the proposals. We want to keep the competition longer, it drives the price down.”

A similar path might be followed for the modernization of the AWACS airborne radar plane, Holmes said. “We hope to see how the JSTARS plan goes in the new business approach to how we take sensors and people and put them on a more efficient, cheaper airframe.”



Ash Carter’s Team Taking Shape

By Paul McLeary and Vago Muradian 6:46 p.m. EST February 11, 2015


WASHINGTON — As Ash Carter nears his widely anticipated confirmation to become the next US defense secretary, the team that he will bring with him to the Pentagon is already taking shape.

Carter is expected to tap current Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning as his chief of staff, and US Army Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, head of Army public affairs, to be his senior military adviser, according to a source familiar with internal deliberations.

Fanning has served in his current capacity since April 2013, and is widely regarded as an up and comer in defense circles.

As undersecretary, Fanning primarily oversees the service’s budget and takes the point position onmatters of space operations, policy and acquisition issues.

Before joining the Air Force’s leadership team, Fanning also served as deputy undersecretary of the Navy and its deputy chief management officer from 2009-2013, where he led the sea service’s business transformation and governance processes.

Fanning “has had a terrific tenure in the Air Force,” said Rebecca Grant, a former Air Force official and president of IRIS Research. “He’s really been able to operate across the full range, including being involved in the difficult budget meetings in the Pentagon” over the past several years, she added.

Grant also noted that the Air Force is facing some weighty issues, such as the long-range bomber program, finding ways to pay for the expensive fleet of F-35s that will soon be making their way down assembly lines and into the operational Air Force, and finding ways to increase — or at least maintain — the current operational posture of its fleet of ISR and strike drones.

The chief of staff commonly assists the secretary with policy deliberations and coordinating interagency matters, among other tasks.

Lewis took over the Army’s public affairs office in June, fresh off a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan having served as the deputy commanding general (support) for the 101st Airborne Division.

A career Air Cavalry officer, Lewis also served a tour in Iraq and an earlier tour in Afghanistan.

Between deployments, Lewis has spent a lot of time at the Pentagon, much of it at Carter’s side, most recently as an adviser on his transition team.

Not counting his role on the transition team, Lewis has already filled the role of military adviser to Carter twice, first as his military assistant when Carter was the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics in 2011, and following him to become his senior military assistant when he took over as the deputy secretary of defense until he deployed back to Afghanistan in early 2012.

Lewis also served as the military assistant to the chairman of the Defense Business Board.



Lawmakers talk big cuts for Pentagon budget

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff writer 1:25 p.m. EST February 11, 2015


Big cuts to the Pentagon budget that once would have been unthinkable were openly discussed Wednesday on Capitol Hill as lawmakers summoned a panel of experts to weigh in on the White House’s newly released 2016 defense budget request.

This year’s budget battle will be exceptionally intense because a two-year deal in 2013 that eased the impact of the spending caps known as sequestration will expire when the 2016 fiscal year begins in October.

If lawmakers fail to reach a new agreement to extend that relief, the Defense Department will have to make major across-the-board cuts to planned spending.

That is forcing lawmakers to scrutinize the military budget in search of big-ticket items and lower-priority programs to target.

“The weapons system that we are planning on building right now, we can’t afford,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said at Wednesday’s hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. “Something’s got to go.”

The expert witnesses called to testify all had suggestions on how to save money.

“The obvious answer is the F-35,” said Nora Bensahel, a military analyst with American University, referring to the futuristic weapons system slated to replace large parts of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps tactical aircraft fleets.

“That is the procurement program that is eating the defense budget alive,” she said.

She did not advocate scrapping the program, but said the Air Force “doesn’t need as many of them as it says it needs.”

The Navy’s controversial littoral combat ship also came in for blunt criticism. Tom Donnelly, a defense expert with the American Enterprise Institute, said the LCS is “the wrong weapon” that resulted from “bad analysis of mission and needs.”

Several experts agreed that reducing personnel costs, which make up about one-third of the base defense budget, will be central to any long-term plan to reduce Pentagon spending.

They pointed to the new proposals from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which call for reducing the size of the current retirement benefit and offering new contributions to 401(k)-style accounts for troops who leave before reaching the 20-year service milestone.

“They’ve got a sound approach there — it certainly could use some tweaks and improvements from Congress,” said Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank in Washington.

However, Harrison and others noted that those changes alone will not bring defense spending within the sequestration budget caps mandated under current law and suggested further reductions in personnel costs will require cutting the size of the total force.

Several experts suggested that reducing Army active-duty strength is the least harmful option. But the likely easiest path to that end — shrinking units garrisoned in Europe — is looking less attractive these days in the face of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

“There are significant choices that can change just in the course of a year,” said Ryan Crotty of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggesting lawmakers consider the cost-saving benefits of trimming troop strength in the reserve components and potentially moving important capabilities out of the active-duty military.

“If you are going to start thinking about big cuts, you’re going to have to start thinking about big moves,” Crotty said. “Maybe the cyber mission needs to move out of the active component and into the Guard and reserve.”

Making the right budget cuts will require a fundamental rethinking of how the U.S. military fights wars, the experts said. That means less emphasis on conventional ground forces and short-range tactical aircraft, and more investment in new technologies in areas like intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cyber warfare and long-range guided missiles.

Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., criticized his own committee for failing to support the Pentagon’s request for base closures. The top brass wants to shut down dozens of underused military facilities across the country, but lawmakers are resistant to do anything that might hurt jobs and the local economy of their home districts.

“We look incompetent, we look selfish, we look weak,” Cooper said.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., said perhaps Congress should consider a “war tax” because the current budget system cannot support the kind of spending that many people want.

“I just don’t think we can continue to go down this road, quite frankly, without a [financial] collapse,” Jones said. “Maybe we need to debate a war tax or some type of taxation to make sure that we are not cheating our defenses from being strong enough to defend this country.”

Behsahel said explaining to the American people why defense spending is important should be a high priority, especially after years of unpopular wars.

“My mother used to say to me, ‘Why can’t we defend the United States for $500 billion a year?’ It’s an excellent question,” she said. “Saying not everything looks like the wars of the past 13 years is an important step.”


Bomber contract could push Northrop into Boeing’s arms

Originally published February 10, 2015 at 6:28 PM | Page modified February 11, 2015 at 7:15 PM

The Air Force award of a major new bomber contract this spring could lead to consolidation among the big three aerospace defense giants. Analyst Richard Aboulafia argues that one likely scenario is that Boeing will buy Northrop’s aerospace unit.

By Dominic Gates

Seattle Times aerospace reporter


When the Pentagon this spring announces who will design and build a major new stealth bomber for the Air Force, the decision will determine Boeing’s future in the combat-aircraft business.

The choice could also reshape the military-industrial base. Top aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia said that whatever the outcome, it could precipitate an aggressive move by Boeing, the No. 2 U.S. defense contractor, to acquire the aircraft unit of No. 3 defense player Northrop Grumman.

Boeing has teamed with Lockheed Martin, the top defense contractor, in bidding against Northrop to build up to 100 new-generation long-range strike bombers (LRS-B) that will replace the Air Force’s B-1 and B-52 bombers.

The currently projected cost, not counting classified spending, is $90 billion, or $900 million per airplane.

“If Boeing loses, it won’t be building combat aircraft after 2018 unless it buys Northrop’s aircraft unit,” said Aboulafia, a Teal Group analyst who will address the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance annual conference Wednesday morning in Lynnwood.

“If Boeing wins, Northrop will not be a combat-aircraft prime, and its investors may decide the company is more valuable broken up — in which case Boeing would be the likely buyer for the aircraft unit anyway.”

Besides aerospace, Northrop has distinct and substantial businesses in electronics, information systems and technical services such as supply-chain management.

Details of the government’s requirements for the plane remain top secret. But Pentagon officials have said the aircraft must be able to carry nuclear bombs, and may be designed to fly unmanned when dropping conventional bombs.

Should the Boeing/Lockheed team win, it’s likely Lockheed will do the design and Boeing will build it, Aboulafia said in an interview.

Boeing would probably build the planes in St. Louis, with significant pieces subcontracted around the nation, including potentially to the Puget Sound region.

Boeing built large portions of the B-2 stealth bomber’s wing and aft fuselage in Seattle under a subcontract from Northrop, that program’s winning bidder.

The Boeing jet-fighter production lines in St. Louis, meanwhile, are likely to be shuttered before the end of the decade. So losing the contract would mean “Boeing will exit the combat-aircraft business,” Aboulafia said.


Plenty of cash

Boeing’s leadership, riding record-high share prices and sitting on a $13 billion mountain of cash — eight times as large as Lockheed’s — is unlikely to accept that position.

Aboulafia’s bold thesis is backed by history.

In November 1996, the Pentagon eliminated McDonnell Douglas from the Joint Strike Fighter competition, leaving the company with dim prospects.

Boeing, eager to balance its commercial unit with a defense acquisition, announced just a month later it would buy McDonnell Douglas for $13.3 billion in stock.

The market forces that will come to bear after the LRS-B decision may be even stronger than in 1996.

Pressure on the U.S. defense-procurement budget has increased under the mandatory budget cuts imposed by Congress in the process known as “sequestration.”

Boeing plans $4 billion in cuts on its defense side to cope with the downturn in business.

Ahead, there are few big-money military-airplane contracts. After the LRS-B, defense contractors won’t begin real work on the next prospect, new “sixth-generation” jet fighters, for a decade or more.


LRS-B is by far the biggest prize in sight.

“There’s only going to be one bomber program awarded probably in the next generation,” said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow specializing in the defense budget for the Center of Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent public policy research institute.

“You either win this, or you’re out of the business,” he said. “For both teams, this is a must win.”


Based on public Air Force budgets, Harrison extrapolates the official total program cost at $90 billion, including approximately $24 billion in development costs but excluding any prior “black budget” classified spending.

However, he believes the real cost “will be much higher than that.”

The initial contract will be to produce a limited number of operational aircraft, with the government covering development costs plus a profit for the manufacturer. Only afterward will the terms of a production contract be negotiated.

“It’s exceedingly rare that a program ever comes in anywhere close to its initial cost estimates,” Harrison said.

The government’s last bomber program, the B-2, started out with a requirement for 132 airplanes. Northrop ended up building only 21, so that the unit cost soared to $2 billion per airplane.

Still, it’s unlikely the LRS-B program will be cut down so drastically, since it is designed to replace some 150 aging B-52s and B-1s.

The contest for the bomber is so secret, analysts outside the Pentagon have no idea who is favored.

No one knows for sure what the plane will look like, either, though it is expected to be a triangular “flying wing” shape like the B-2.

Prototypes may already have flown. Trade journal Aviation Week reported on a mysterious triangular “blended wing-body aircraft type” that was photographed over Amarillo, Texas, last March.

Adding to the mystery of what’s coming, the Pentagon has left open an option that the bomber may not be a single platform, but a system of several aircraft.

A government defense analyst, who asked not to be identified because he is not allowed to speak publicly, said that could mean development of an unmanned sensor drone stuffed with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment and command-and-control systems. This drone could potentially direct a separate aircraft that would be nothing but a basic “bomb truck.”


Drone work

Northrop has already developed a possible version of such a drone, called the RQ-180, details of which are still classified. That work could give Northrop an advantage in the bomber competition.

“They have designed a stealthy large aircraft more recently than anyone on the Boeing/Lockheed team,” said the government defense analyst.

The wild card is how much the Pentagon wants to protect the industrial base. It’s clear that while Boeing and Lockheed are healthy companies, Northrop may not survive intact a loss of this contest.

Would the Pentagon accept Boeing absorbing Northrop’s aircraft unit, reducing its prime military-airplane providers from three to two, perhaps with Lockheed exclusively building fighters and Boeing bombers?

The government analyst said the Pentagon has already accepted such virtual monopoly consolidation in the building of U.S. submarines and aircraft carriers.

Both Boeing and Northrop declined to answer questions on the bomber competition.

“We feel we are well positioned for this program in terms of capability and capacity,” said Northrop spokesman Randy Belote.

Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said the company has “been part of the bomber community from the start of the bomber age” and looks forward to the opportunity provided by LRS-B.


USAF Budget: Hardest Choices Yet to Come

By Aaron Mehta 11:36 a.m. EST February 11, 2015


WASHINGTON — The US Air Force requested $122.2 billion for fiscal 2016, a budget that emphasizes designing the Air Force of the future while addressing current needs.

The budget was crafted to balance the future force with what Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, Air Force deputy assistant secretary for budget, called the “most urgent combat and commander requirements.”

“It’s a request that’s based on necessity, what we need for today’s readiness in a long-term strategic framework, the capabilities we’ll need in the future,” Martin said. “It also allows us to begin the recovery from three years of operating at reduced funding levels.”

In many ways, it’s an ideal budget. Unfortunately, it’s also an idealized one.

The Air Force budget went about $10 billion over projected budget caps imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA), and came with a wide list of programs that may have to be altered or cut if Congress does not change the law, whether by repealing the BCA or through another Ryan-Murray type compromise. This means the biggest question isn’t what’s in the budget today — it’s what the budget will look like later this year.

Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute put the situation this way: “No one knows the final topline number for 2016, including Congress, the White House and the Pentagon. So everything is up in the air.”

She guessed that based on previous agreements, the Air Force could project to get an extra $4 billion to $5 billion over BCA levels in a “Ryan-Murray lite” agreement. That’s significant money, but not nearly enough to fund everything requested.

If BCA funding levels are not raised, in 2016 the service is threatening to cut F-35A procurement by 14 jets, drop the number of space launch procurements by one, cut nine MQ-9 Reaper buys, and potentially cut whole fleets of aircraft like the KC-10 tanker, U-2 spy plane or RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40.

One system already on the cutting block is the A-10 Warthog, the close air support plane much beloved by soldiers on the ground. The service says it will save $4.2 billion over the future years defense plan if it can retire the jet starting in fiscal 2016, but Congress has resisted in the past and some, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., are already promising to protect the plane this year.

One source with knowledge of Congress said the A-10 decision is already generating blowback, but noted that was expected. Aside from the A-10, however, “there isn’t really much that was controversial in this budget.”

The budget works in the service’s major recapitalization programs, getting second-tier priorities like recapitalization of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System and T-X trainer replacement included alongside the three biggest priorities: the F-35 joint strike fighter, Long Range Strike-Bomber and KC-46A tanker.

It also restored the U-2 to the base budget, a flip from last year when the service intended to start early retirement on the high-altitude spy plane.

The real challenge is going to be what happens when, barring a miracle, BCA levels are not raised to what the Air Force wants to see. When that happens, the source warned, expect the cuts to start at the same place they always do.

“Realistically, the flying hours will take a hit again. Readiness accounts, things like that,” the source said, adding that the science and technology accounts could also be vulnerable as technologies like the new ADVENT engine for future aircraft “don’t have clear constituencies and isn’t a game changer today. It’s out in the future.”

Eaglen agreed that the most likely cuts are “a combination of readiness reduction in the near term and procurement cuts, stretching out of buys and slowing down procurement rates in the long term.

“There is nothing new in how the Pentagon will manage what they do when the budgets are decided,” she added.

The source familiar with Congress added that the service simply doesn’t have the horsepower on the Hill to muscle through whole fleet cuts, despite their threats to do so.

“I think the Air Force will make an attempt against a small fleet asset, like the KC-10 or something in that zone, but I don’t think they have the weight to make a retirement really happen. That’s why I think it will default back to readiness.”

A former top US Air Force official expressed frustration that the service’s hands are tied in terms of what can and cannot be touched.

“We would love to retire the A-10, and that’s a multibillion dollar decision, but because of politics we’re not allowed to do that,” he said. “We would love to retire the Global Hawk and keep the U-2, but now we’re going to end up keeping both.”

At the end of the day, he said, “you have so much force structure you have to retain, where do you go for the savings? That’s the problem we’re facing particularly under a sequestered budget.”


ISR and Weapons

While the budget may alter dramatically, it is worth looking at what the service prioritized in its ideal budget request.

Analysts and officials who talked with Defense News all noted that the fiscal 2016 budget request hews closely to what the service sought in the 2015 request. That is no accident, as the service emphasized analysis of various programs and personnel figures before 2015. Abandoning those findings so quickly would be a mistake, the analysts agreed.

That doesn’t mean the budget hasn’t been impacted by real world events. The last budget was formulated at a time when the Pentagon was withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan and pivoting toward the Pacific, with potential drawdowns in Europe on the table.

Between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS, the service has found itself flying significantly more operations than it had anticipated. In 2014, the Air Force flew 20,000 close air support and more than 35,000 ISR missions, according to service figures.

The budget reflects that in two main ways: an increase in munitions and an emphasis on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets.

Ammunition procurement funds grew from $635 million to just under $1.7 billion in the 2016 request, a jump of more than 150 percent. That is driven largely by the need to procure more air-to-ground munitions, such as the joint direct-attack munition, which are being used regularly in Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS.

That trend continues in the overseas contingency operations (OCO) request. The “blue” OCO funding request comes in at $10.6 billion, down from $12.1 billion in fiscal 2015 enacted. That includes a huge jump in missile procurement, going from $136 million in the 2015 enacted budget to $289 million for the 2016 request.

Weapons, of course, are no good if you don’t know where to put them. When combat operations against ISIS kicked off, experts both inside and outside the Pentagon said this would be a fight that was won or lost based on ISR.

In addition to procuring 29 MQ-9 Reaper units, the service included funding for both the U-2 and Global Hawk, pushing the retirement of the manned U-2 out to 2019 to make sure upgrades to the unmanned Global Hawk are complete.

Keeping both the U-2 and Global Hawk fleets, but spending significantly to upgrade the Global Hawk Block 30 sensor packages, is a big step toward maintaining a high-end ISR fleet, Mark Gunzinger of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said.

“Their decision to maintain and upgrade Global Hawks will pay dividends in the future,” he said. “While some services are still debating what they would like their UAS to do, the Air Force is putting real money behind unmanned systems.”

James Poss, a retired major general and deputy chief of staff for ISR with the US Air Force, supported the focus on ISR, although he cautioned against reading the budget as an unmitigated success for ISR proponents.

“The budget isn’t plussing-up ISR. It’s more just not cutting it as heavily” as other sectors, Poss said.

He, too, praised the decision to keep the U-2, even if just for a few more years.

“Pushing the retirement date of the U-22 to 2019 gives us a good chance to make sure we have all the risk bought out of the [Global Hawk] system, because those high-altitude aircraft are absolutely vital when going against an adversary which can shoot back, when you need that standoff range to find his defenses,” Poss said.


Mattel’s View-Master gets a Google VR makeover

The stereoscopic toy leaps into the 21st century as Google scopes out uses for its Cardboard virtual-reality tech.

by Ben Fox Rubin

/February 13, 2015 6:05 AM PST


Google and Mattel on Friday unveiled a new View-Master toy infused with virtual-reality technology.

The Internet search giant and the toymaker plan to use Google’s Cardboard virtual-reality platform to offer virtual reality, augmented reality and “photospheric” images, using a smartphone as the display inside a plastic View-Master casing.

“We view this as just the beginning,” said Doug Wadleigh, a Mattel executive, adding that Google and Mattel will be testing and learning as they continue their partnership.

The companies plan to come out with the product in October, in time for the holiday season.

View-Master, a binocular-shaped Mattel toy created decades ago, was used to give kids 3D-like images by flipping through its picture reels. Early details of the new product are available at

For Mattel, the struggling maker of Barbie and Fisher-Price toys, the partnership could be a much-needed boost. The company has been posting softer revenue in recent quarters, while rivals Hasbro and Lego have been able to grow their sales even while more kids are using tablets and smartphones for games. Amid the difficulty, Mattel’s CEO stepped down last month.


Google has been a major player in augmented reality and virtual reality lately, last year unveiling the cheap, do-it-yourself virtual reality kit called Cardboard, which it has continued to develop with additional features and apps. Earlier this week, South Korean electronics maker LG unveiled a new promotion that offers a virtual-reality headset based on Cardboard — the VR for G3 — for free for new buyers of its G3 flagship smartphone.

Google’s Glass wearable headset project has faced a bumpier start, with government officials asking about privacy issues and Google eventually taking the product off the market, at least temporarily.

Those products are just one part of a growing list of virtual-reality and augmented-reality products being created, as tech firms work to add new technologies into those previously unrealized markets. The intent of virtual reality is to provide an immersive experience for gaming or other applications, while augmented reality offers an overlay of the real world to provide extra information for the user.


Catapult-Launched Bat Drone Wages Electronic War

By Allen McDuffee

11.18.13 |


Small, tactical drones may have a new role in military strikes after Northrop Grumman’s catapult-launched Bat demonstrated an electronic attack capability for the first time in new tests.

With its 12-foot wingspan, the low-flying Bat, which maxes out at 70 miles per hour, was able to jam radar during tests. That means the Pentagon will soon have the option of deploying a flexible, largely undetectable drone with radar-jamming capability to protect manned aircraft against radar and surface-to-air missile guidance systems.

“Bat continues to demonstrate capabilities that can normally only be achieved by larger, more expensive unmanned aircraft,” said George Vardoulakis, Northrop Grumman’s vice president of Medium Range Tactical Systems, in a statement. “Our customers now have a more mobile and affordable option for electronic warfare missions.”

The tests, involving other unmanned and fixed-wing aircraft, took place last month at the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One Weapons and Tactics Instructor event at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California, according to Northrop Grumman.

While the Bat has been in operation for some time, it has remained a surveillance vehicle until now. Northrop integrated its Pandora electronic attack payload — a lightweight, low-cost derivative of the company’s family of APR-39 systems — on the Bat in less than two months.

According to Northrop, the Bat was a good candidate because of its price point, larger payload volume given its size and its ability to accept different-size fuel tanks and sensor payloads.

Bat is a runway-independent and fully autonomous vehicle that launches from a hydraulic rail launcher at sea or land and recovers into a portable net system.










Leaked FAA Document Provides Glimpse Into Drone Regulations

Gregory S. McNeal

February 14, 2015

Forbes Contributor


The FAA appears poised to release regulations that will impose a minimal burden on businesses, paving the way for integration of drones into the national airspace.  Information about the forthcoming regulations is contained in an inadvertently published document that appears to be an FAA economic analysis of the long awaited regulations for small drones.  In no uncertain terms, the purported FAA economic analysis assumes that drones provide great social and economic benefits, will save lives, and can be integrated into the national airspace with minimal risk while providing benefits that far outweigh their costs.

Less burdensome regulations and a recognition of the benefits of drones is a reversal from what many observers (including me) believed the FAA would do.  The economic analysis suggests that the forthcoming regulations may allow for many beneficial drone uses across a variety of industries.  The analysis also indicates that ensuring that the potential of drones can be realized will be a key driver behind the final regulations.

Steve Zeets a professional land surveyor who filed a petition for an exemption from FAA rules last year downloaded the document from  Zeets works with EZAg, an agricultural company and Terraplane, LLC, a company that wants to use drones for GIS, surveying, engineering, and photogrammetry — his specialties.  Zeets was on the federal government website checking for an update to his petition for an exemption when he came across the economic analysis “The exemptions they have been approving were submitted around the same time mine was,” Zeets said, “so I was figuring mine would be approved any day now.”  As he scrolled through the exemptions he came across the economic analysis and opened the 89 page report.

“Once I opened the document, I called a colleague. He went to the website while we were still on the phone and couldn’t find the document. I still had it open so I saved a copy to pdf.”  It seemed that the document was taken down almost immediately, and what Zeets didn’t know was that he may have been the only person in the world to have been in the right place at the right time, able to download the inadvertently uploaded document before it was taken down by an unknown government official.

Initially Zeets didn’t realize the significance of the report, so he decided to share it with others through social media.  I figured that someone else had to have seen the document, so I started watching Twitter
TWTR +1.15% for any chatter and didn’t see anything.”  He then began reading the document and realized the significance of what he held.  Based on the document, Zeets feels the FAA is moving towards a common sense approach to regulations.  The regulations they talked about in that document mirrored a lot of what my exemption was requesting” said Zeets, “I know the final rules won’t be out for a while, because they have to get public comments. But, if my exemption is approved with similar limitations to what is proposed in that document, then we will start offering our services almost immediately after our exemption is approved.”

Looking at the document and seeing what the FAA was planning, Zeets knew that others needed to see the report.  It was at that point that Zeets decided to upload the document to his Drive.  I sent the link to sUAS News to ask if they had seen it too,” Zeets said, “But shortly after I sent the Tweets my phone battery died. When I woke up this morning and plugged my phone in, I saw a lot of Tweets about the documents and people asking for the source. At that moment I realized that no one else saw the document on the website.”

The report Zeets published provides insights into what the FAA considered and rejected while crafting regulations for small drones (those weighing less than 55 pounds, also known as sUAS).  The reportsuggests that the FAA will adopt a regulatory approach far more favorable to the operation of drones than many expected.  According to the report the FAA has decided to adopt a “minimally burdensome rule” for drones.  In fact the term “minimal regulatory burden” or a variant thereof is a key theme throughout the document.  If the economic analysis ends up reflecting a true assessment of the proposed rule, many drone advocates will be very happy with the FAA and their decision to regulate the lowest-risk small UAS operations by imposing a minimal regulatory burden on those operations.

The FAA may be poised to release regulations that will please many drone advocates — at least that’s what a document that appears to be an FAA economic analysis of the long awaited regulations for small drones suggests.

A small note of caution: As stated earlier, the document appears to be the economic analysis of the proposed sUAS rule.  The document is dated February 2015 and is captioned “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regulatory Evaluation, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems” authored by George Thurston of the Office of Aviation Policy and Plans, Economic Analysis Division.  But, it’s possible this is a leaked early draft that has since been revised or is otherwise incomplete or inaccurate.  With that caveat lector disclaimer out of the way:

Here are 9 key takeaways regarding how the proposed FAA regulations will handle drones:

The FAA believes drones provide great social and economic benefits. The agency admits that drones provide significant societal benefits, and that the social benefits will continue to increase as entrepreneurs enter the drone marketplace.  The agency noted that if the use of a small drone replaces a dangerous, non-drone operation and saves even one human life, that savings alone would result in benefits outweighing the expected costs of the integration of drones into the national airspace.  Specifically, the agency found that integrating small drones into the national airspace will have an economic impact of greater than $100 million per year in benefits.  The FAA sees great upside potential in aerial photography, precision agriculture, search and rescue/law enforcement and bridge inspection (specifically noting the nearly 45,000 bridge inspections that could be conducted by drones each year).    The agency estimated that at a mere $5 per acre of cost reduction, drones in precision agriculture could produce billions of dollars per year in cost savings.  For operators that can’t afford to purchase their own drone or train their personnel to operate them, there will be a market for end users to seek contracted small UAS services (full disclosure, as of a February 12th, I began collaborating with Measure, a company that provides drone services on a contract basis).

Drones will save lives.  The FAA assumes drones will provide safety benefits by allowing the substitution of drones for operations that pose a higher level of public risk.  Climbers working on towers have a fatality rate that is 10 times that of construction workers, and drones can help to reduce those fatalities.  For example, 95 climbers working on cell and other towers died between 2004 and 2012.  If drones had been available for those inspections, those fatalities could have been avoided.  The FAA believes that drones will become a safer and less costly substitute for manned aerial photography, will enable safer operations than manned aircraft for agricultural purposes, and will allow quicker responses in search and rescue and disaster relief operations.  The FAA reviewed accident data related to aerial aviation photography and found that out of 17 accidents, a drone could have substituted for the manned operation in two cases — both cases could have ended in fatalities, and could have been performed by a drone.

The FAA will not require a commercial pilot certificate for drone operations.  The FAA considered requiring drone pilots to obtain a commercial pilot certificate, have a Class II medical certificate,  pass an aeronautical knowledge test, and demonstrate flight proficiency and aeronautical experience before a certified flight instructor.  The FAA determined that drones pose a low level of pubic risk and that imposing all of those requirements would be unduly burdensome.  Instead, the FAA will require an operator to pass an aeronautical knowledge test before obtaining an unmanned aircraft operator certificate, and that knowledge test will need to be taken at a certified testing site in person.  On-line testing was rejected due to concerns about the integrity of the test, and the possibility that personally identifiable information might be at risk through on-line test taking.  The FAA believes that the cost of obtaining a small UAS operator certificate will be less than $300 and the operator will be required to pass a recurrent test every 24 months and undergo vetting by the TSA.  The FAA will not require flight school and believes that little preparation would be necessary for applicants with an existing pilot certification.

The FAA decided to accommodate all types of drone businesses by adopting the least complex set of regulations across all sizes and categories of drones.   In pursuit of that goal, the FAA determined that segmenting drones into different categories based on weight, operational characteristics, and operating environment was too complex and burdensome for the public and the FAA.  By treating all small drones as a single category without airworthiness certification, the FAA believes they can accommodate a large majority of small drone businesses and other non-recreational users .  The FAA concluded that their single category rule will mitigate risk while imposing the least amount of burden to businesses and other non-recreational users of even the smallest drones.  While the FAA considered a “micro UAS” subcategory of drones — the micro drone rule proposed by the UAS America Fund —  they ultimately decided that the micro drone proposal should be treated as a comment to the FAA’s rulemaking, rather than as the separate petition that it was filed as.

The FAA considered, but rejected onerous inspection, maintenance and permitting requirements for drones.   The agency determined that such requirements were not proportionate to the risk posed by small drones.  The FAA specifically noted that the light weight of drones versus manned aircraft means that drones pose significantly lower risk to people and property on the ground.  As such, the FAA believes that inspection and maintenance of small drones pursuant to existing FAA regulations would not result in significant safety benefits.  While inspection, maintenance, and permitting requirements will not be required, the FAA notes that statutory constraints will require unmanned aircraft to be registered.  Registration fees will cost $5, and will need to be renewed every three years.

The FAA will require drones to be operated within line of sight of the operator, rejecting technology as a substitute for an operator’s sense and avoid responsibilities.   The FAA considered whether technological means could serve as a substitute for the operator’s see-and-avoid responsibilities, for example by utilizing onboard cameras.  The agency believed that technology has not yet advanced to the point where it could be miniaturized and used on board a small drone.  Specifically, the FAA found that no acceptable technological substitute for direct human vision in small UAS operations exists at this time.  Perhaps they missed the Intel announcement at CES — no doubt this will come up in the comments to the NPRM.

Drone flights will need to take place between sunrise and sunset.  Regulators considered allowing drone flights after sunset, as it would allow for a greater number of drone operations in the national airspace.  However, because such flights would take place at low altitudes it would increase risks to persons on the ground.  Mitigating those risks would require equipment and certification that would run contrary to the FAA’s goal of a minimally burdensome rule.

Drone flights will need to be below 500 feet.   Fearing the risk to manned aircraft operations above 500 feet, and recognizing that flights at that altitude would require greater levels of operator training, aircraft equipment, and aircraft certification, the FAA rejected the idea of allowing flights above 500 feet because the goal of the sUAS rule is to regulate the lowest-risk small UAS operations while imposing a minimal regulator burden on those operations.

Less burdensome rules mean more people will comply with the rules, decreasing enforcement costs.  The FAA believes that their proposed rule will not increase enforcement costs because the legal standards will result in increased compliance by operators.  Moreover, the clearer simplified standards will reduce the uncertainty associated with drone operations, reducing the likelihood of enforcement litigation (because litigation is more likely when the parties disagree as to which legal standards are applicable to an operation and how those standards apply to the operation).

The assumptions made by the FAA in their economic analysis seem to indicate that their first stab at regulating the drone industry will be a success.  Many commentators (including this one) will be pleasantly surprised if the regulations match the views in the purported economic analysis of the proposed regulations.


Ramussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Words, words, words. Words make a difference. Take “net neutrality.”

It sounds good, right? After all, it’s “neutral,” and supporters, including President Obama and the Democratic majority on the Federal Communications Commission, say it will ensure that the Internet remains a level playing field. But critics who include congressional Republicans say net neutrality is really just a cover for government control of the Internet, and they don’t like where that leads.

Most Americans approve of the FCC’s regulation of radio and TV, but far fewer think the FCC should have the same regulatory power over the Internet.   Most still believe the best way to protect those who use the Internet is more free market competition rather than more government regulation.

After all, Americans continue to give high marks to their online service even as the government insists that regulatory control will make it better.

Words also brought down NBC News evening anchor Brian Williams who was caught in a lie about his experiences during the invasion of Iraq. Americans tend to think Williams hurt NBC’s credibility and agree with the decision to drop him from the evening news.

Fewer Americans are getting their news predominately from television anyway, and they trust the news they are getting less than they did a year ago.

Speaking of words, the president caused an uproar the other day in remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast when he equated atrocities by the radical Islamic group ISIS with past sins of Christianity. But a plurality of voters agrees with what he said.

That doesn’t mean voters are letting Muslims off the hook. Seventy-five percent (75%) agree that Islamic religious leaders need to do more to emphasize the peaceful beliefs of their faith, and 52% believe Islam as practiced today encourages violence more than most other religions.

Most Americans say their religious faith is important in their daily lives  and think this nation would be better off if people practiced their faith more often.

The president this week asked Congress to authorize more military force against ISIS up to and including the use of combat troops, but are most Americans willing to go that far?

Also on the speaking front, the president proposed $74 billion in new spending in his State of the Union address last month, and Republicans predictably said, no way. But it appears Democrats weren’t strongly persuaded either

Congress at week’s end sent a bill to the president calling for construction of the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline from western Canada to Texas, but Obama has vowed to veto it. Voters wish he wouldn’t.

Voters also remain opposed to the president’s decision to give amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.

Keep a close eye on our Daily Presidential Tracking Poll and our Consumer/Investor Index that measures daily confidence in both groups. They all fell back this week from beginning-of-the-year highs, but it’s too soon to tell if that’s a trend in the making.

Republicans have inched ahead on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

House Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi remain the best-known and least-liked leaders in Congress. Voters continue to overwhelmingly favor term limits for members of Congress.

In other surveys last week:

— Thirty-four percent (34%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction. The number of voters who think the country is heading in the right direction has been 30% or higher for the last seven weeks after being in the mid- to high 20s most weeks since mid-June 2013.

Medical professionals strongly support vaccinations for children and say there is no scientific evidence that they do more harm than good. But what does America think?

— A commercial airliner landing in Los Angeles last weekend reported a near miss with an unmanned drone, the latest of such incidents to make the news. With more and more drones flying, voters are becoming a lot more concerned about air safety.

— Most voters oppose criminalizing smoking and growing marijuana in the privacy of one’s home.

Is it love or is it Valentine’s Day? Most Americans aren’t planning anything very special to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

— If a black cat crosses your path, what do you do? Do you walk under ladders? How superstitious is the average American?

Beware of Friday the 13th?


February 7 2015

7 February 2015


Blog URL



Kendall Unveils 6th Gen Fighter Strategy

By Aaron Mehta 10:18 a.m. EST February 2, 2015


WASHINGTON — Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall unveiled part of his strategy for procuring a next-generation fighter for the Air Force and Navy in congressional testimony last week.

The core of the strategy, Kendall told members of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), is called the Aerospace Innovation Initiative.

“What it will be is a program that will be initially led by [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]. But it will involve the Navy and the Air Force as well,” Kendall said. “The intent is to develop prototypes for the next generation of air dominance platforms, X-plane programs, if you will.”

The initiative will also include work on a next-generation engine, Kendall said, adding that more details about the plan will appear in the fiscal 2016 budget request being unveiled this week.

Whereas the F-35 joint strike fighter was billed as one plane that can fit the needs of the Air Force, Navy and Marines, the next-generation fighter will instead be two planes that share common parts.

The Navy and Air Force have offices looking at a next-generation fighter that would replace the Navy’s F/A-18s and the Air Force’s F-22s, respectively. An Air Force official told Defense News in September that he hopes to have Milestone A acquisition activity started in fiscal 2018.

The 6th generation initiative will be a “fairly large-scale” program, and one that Kendall said was designed with the industrial base in mind.

“The only reason the department’s doing that is to preserve the design teams that can do this next-generation of capability in that area, because once those design teams go away, we’ve lost them and it’s very hard to get them back,” Kendall said in response to a question by HASC Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.

“In very specialized areas, like you mentioned electronic warfare, that’s a very special skill set and you can’t develop somebody who is an expert at that overnight; it takes time,” Kendall continued. “And you get that expertise by working on programs, by developing new cutting-edge things.”

Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners, said the emphasis on protecting design teams is smart, especially as other major programs are winding down.

“There are a lot of people working diligently on the Long Range Strike-Bomber. When that decision is made [in the spring], that will let go of some people,” he said, adding the future of the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike program is also unclear. “People can only be kept so long without a contracting path. At its essence, it really gets down to preserving these design teams that will dissipate.”

Timing will be a key question with the initiative, Callan said. If the program takes 10 years to develop a prototype, it is much less effective than if this Initiative is targeting a five year window.

What other specialized technologies might be involved in a 6th-generation fighter are unclear, but there may be some hints in comments made by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work at a Jan. 28 Center for a New American Security event.

Work said upcoming budgets will feature funding lines to invest “in promising new technologies and capabilities, including unmanned undersea vehicles; sea mining; high speed strike weapons; an advanced new jet engine; rail gun technology; and high energy lasers.”

The announcement of the initiative could also be a warning shot at Lockheed Martin, whose F-35 is just now gearing up to go operational. If the company doesn’t keep costs down on the program, Callan said, the Pentagon could consider moving future funding for F-35 procurement over to this next-generation system.

“I think by injecting some alternatives back into the mix, at the very least Kendall is going to have a pricing tool,” Callan noted. “He has to keep Lockheed on its toes, because Lockheed obviously wants to keep F-35 as relevant as it can, so they’d better keep coming up with good ideas for future software releases, for continuing to drive down the airplane’s cost, and just make it relevant.”

It is assumed that Boeing and Lockheed are working on concepts for sixth-generation, while Northrop has confirmed it has teams assigned to developing a new design. Interestingly, Northrop’s setup mirrors that of the initiative, with coordination over shared systems but two teams assigned to developing a pair of different designs.



Bomber Leads Way on USAF RDT&E Request

By Aaron Mehta 4:16 p.m. EST February 2, 2015


WASHINGTON — The US Air Force’s single biggest research program is also its most mysterious.

In the president’s fiscal 2016 budget request, the Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) program is budgeted for $1.2 billion in research and development funding, making it the largest system under the Air Force’s $17.9 billion research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funding request.

RDT&E funding for the bomber will continue to escalate over the future years defense plan (FYDP), with a planned request of $2.2 billion in fiscal 2017, $2.8 billion in 2018, $3.6 billion in 2019 and $3.7 billion in 2020. Those figures do not reflect money that is hidden in the “black” budget as well, which could dramatically increase the cost of the program.

The LRS-B program is targeting a production line of 80-100 planes, with an estimated cost of $550 million each, although critics of the program warn that is not a realistic figure. It will eventually replace the fleet of B-52 and B-1 bomber fleets. Although technical specifications are largely unknown, it is expected the design will be stealthy, with optionally manned capability.

A down-selection will be made this spring or early summer, with initial operating capability planned for the mid-2020s. Nuclear certification will follow two years after that.

After the bomber comes the KC-46A tanker at $602 million requested and the F-35A engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) phase at $589 million. Unlike the bomber, those RDT&E funding profiles will likely track down, as both those programs are close to going operational. The F-35A goes operational in 2016, with the KC-46A in 2017.

Following that is the GPS III-OCX ground station program, a contract awarded to Raytheon, at $350 million, then the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) EMD phase at $292 million and the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) system at $228. The costs of those three space programs aligns with what Gen. John Hyten, the head of Space Command, has been saying about needing to drive down the development costs of satellite systems.

Science and technology accounts receive a $2.3 billion request, at a time when the service is emphasizing scientific development as a way to keep up with growing high-end threats from nations such as China.

However, that dollar value is at risk if Congress does not agree to raise budget caps imposed under the Budget Control Act. The service has warned that one option it will exercise if BCA cap levels are not raised is to cut science and technology funding by 10 percent.




Northrop Grumman Will Tease Top-Secret Stealth Bomber With a Super Bowl Ad

Firm is battling Boeing-Lockheed for defense contract

By Tim Nudd

February 1, 2015, 7:38 AM EST


You can advertise a lot of things on the Super Bowl, from a bag of Doritos to … a next-generation bomber that will cost half a billion dollars per aircraft to build.

Northrop Grumman is working on a design for the latter—it’s battling Boeing-Lockheed for defense contract to build the U.S.’s next-gen bomber—and will tease the aircraft on the Super Bowl with the 30-second spot below, a rep for the company confirmed to Adweek.

Breaking Defense, a leading news site on defense, first broke the news Saturday. Running a Super Bowl ad is a first for Northrop, and is believed to be a first for any defense company.

The ad has been on YouTube since Thursday and already has more than 300,000 views. According to Breaking Defense, it begins by showing various famous Northrop aircraft—first the YB-35, then the B-2 bomber, then the X-47B.

Finally, the new mystery plane is shown at the end, shrouded in a giant sheet, as an airman walks toward it and grins slightly. (Breaking Defense says there’s a chance the aircraft is the so-called sixth generation fighter for the Air Force and Navy, which Northrop also has design teams working on.)

The bomber program will be enormously expensive. Research and development alone is expected to cost $25 billion. Then, each plane is likely to cost $600 million to build—and the Air Force plans to buy 100 of them. If Northrop gets the contact, the $4.5 million NBC buy will have been a drop in the bucket.


Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

USAF Slips Next Joint Stars, Opens Door to GPS Competition

Feb 2, 2015 Amy Butler | Aerospace Daily & Defense Report


The U.S. Air Force is restructuring several key efforts — delaying a follow-on to the Joint Stars ground surveillance aircraft program, adding a three-year extension for U-2 operations and a setting up a possible competition for more GPS satellites — as part of its $167.3 billion budget request for fiscal 2016.

The request is up from $152.8 billion provided by Congress for fiscal 2015.

The procurement and research and development (R&D) plan would increase in the fiscal 2016 budget request by $8 billion compared with levels enacted by Congress in fiscal 2015. In the $25.3 billion procurement request and $17.99 billion R&D request, the service is maintaining a focus on its three top procurement priorities: the F-35, KC-46 aerial refueler and the Long-Range Strike Bomber.

The F-35 consumes a large portion of the Air Force’s investment budget — as well as the Navy’s. In fiscal 2016, the Pentagon is requesting about $11 billion for F-35 development, purchases and spares and associated equipment; that is $2.4 billion higher than enacted in fiscal 2015. Much of the spike would pay for a proposed increase in production rate from 38 to 57 aircraft (16 more for the Air Force and 3 more for the Navy). This boost has been long sought by Lockheed Martin and is part of an effort to reduce the per-unit price of the single-engine, stealthy fighter. That amounts to a request of 44 conventional take-off-and-landing Lockheed Martin F-35As for the Air Force, up from 28 in fiscal 2015. Fourteen of those would be cut if Congress forces the Pentagon to adhere to cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act.

Likewise, the request seeks to boost the purchase to 12 of Boeing’s KC-46As in fiscal 2016, up from seven in fiscal 2015; that increase is likely only if the company manages to achieve its first tanker flight in April as planned, despite earlier delays associated with designing wiring bundles for the aircraft.

The service also plans to continue development of a next-generation, stealthy bomber. The fiscal 2015 budget of $914 million increases substantially in this request to $1.25 billion. The Air Force plans to announce a winner between the Boeing/Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman teams this spring. If a protest is lodged, it should be resolved by the fall, the start of the new fiscal year.

By contrast, the Air Force is planning to delay procurement of a next-generation Joint Stars airborne ground surveillance aircraft by one year to fiscal 2023; the first four Joint Stars follow-on aircraft were expected in fiscal 2022. The Air Force is planning to retire the existing Boeing 707-based E-8Cs from 2025-2026 to help pay for the new program. Another offset is the planned retirement of the E-8C test aircraft in fiscal 2016. The new aircraft are expected to be housed on a much smaller business jet to allow for decreased sustainment cost and increased efficiency on missions.

The Air Force also is delaying the retirement of seven E-3 Airborne Warning and Control Aircraft from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2019 to support combatant commander requirements.

Another change to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance plan in the fiscal 2016 budget is the Air Force’s reversal on the U-2. Slated for termination in last year’s budget, it is now expected to continue flying for as least three more years — until fiscal 2019. The Air Force is still investing substantial funds in modifying the Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk to continue operations beyond fiscal 2023; it was the U-2’s planned replacement. However, the service says that if the Budget Control Act remains law, it will slice funding from sensor upgrades efforts for the Global Hawk Block 30 program.

The Air Force plans to stabilize operations at 60 combat air patrols (CAPs) for the Predator/Reaper unmanned aircraft. Sixty-five CAPs are now operating. The Air Fore plans to buy 29 MQ-9 Reapers, up from 24 in the fiscal 2015 budget. However, 20 of those would be sliced if the Budget Control Act remains in place. The goal remains to phase Predators out of service and move to an all-Reaper fleet.

The Air Force plans to finally settle the debate about how to replace the aging UH-1N helicopters used to support nuclear operations in the vast intercontinental ballistic missile fields operated by the service. The Air Force will convert old Army UH-60As to L models. “The Air Force has not yet determined the phasing of these replacements,” says Capt. Melissa Milner, a service spokeswoman.

The budget includes substantial R&D for he next-generation Air Force One fleet to replace the current fleet of two VC-25As. The fiscal 2015 request included $1.6 billion for R&D, including the first 747-8 on which the new flying White House will be built.

The Air Force’s space budget includes some changes as well. Perhaps most notable is a plan to reopen competition in the Global Positioning System III with space vehicle 11. Lockheed Martin won what was described in 2008 as a “winner-take-all” contract and is developing and building the precision timing and navigation satellites now. However, its performance was marred by poor oversight of the first timing and navigation payload developed by Exelis, which was nearly a year late. Boeing, a legacy GPS satellite provider, has been eager to restart its work since the Air Force announced the 2008 win. A new competition shows an aggressive approach by the Air Force after the Lockheed Martin slip up; its original intent was to “have a long-term relationship with one partner,” as described by former GPS program director Col. Dave Madden in 2008. At that time, GPS III was envisioned as potentially a 30-satellite constellation.

The service also is sticking to its plan to explore alternate architectures to those now established for protected, nuclear-hardened satellite communications with the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite and the Space-Based Infrared System (Sbirs) early missile warning spacecraft. Both are developed by Lockheed Martin, and the plan is to continue with purchases of six satellites for each constellation. Beyond that, industry is likely to have opportunities to win work for far simpler, more resilient satellite architectures in these mission areas. Budget documents do not lay out the timing of these projects, though.

The service also plans to propose once again to retire the A-10 fleet in light of the F-35’s planned introduction into service in December 2016 and the use of other platforms – such as the B-52, B-1, F-15E and F-16 for close air support missions. The service plans to retire 164 of them in fiscal 2016, with the entire fleet following three years later.



The Pentagon’s Adoption of Cloud Technology Is Finally Taking Off

February 3, 2015 By Frank Konkel Nextgov


As the Pentagon transitions to use more cloud-based services, its systems still have a long way to go in improving how they collect, distribute and share information.


Rarely has the Defense Department dedicated the kind of time and resources to talking emerging technologies as it did Jan. 29 at an industry-day event, parading a who’s-who of top tech officials to explain the Pentagon’s plans for cloud computing.

Held at the Commerce Department headquarters, the event served two purposes. The first was to explain how DOD has advanced its cloud strategy. That explainer alone was enough to retain a standing-room-only auditorium for eight hours – a mind-boggling feat considering no lunch was served and networking opportunities were limited.

The second goal for DOD and Defense Information Systems Agency officials appeared to be the outlining of the Pentagon’s vision for making use of emerging technologies in the near future.


Behold the Data Distribution Center

DOD Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen says he hates the term “data center,” or at least the connotation people get when they hear the term – that is, of a siloed set of servers somewhere that don’t share information as well as they seal it away.

As the Pentagon transitions to use more cloud-based services – either from commercial providers or internal efforts such as its milCloud service – Halvorsen stated systems would have to improve how they collect, distribute and share information collectively. Optimal data distribution requires a common infrastructure, sensors and data exchange, and it’s not a problem limited to the Pentagon’s internal operations.


“There’s a responsibility on the industry side, too,” Halvorsen said. “Industry has to figure out how it will share data with other industry partners. There won’t be one single cloud environment. The only way for it to work is if we share common data.”

DOD already collects a huge amount of information from sensors, open-data sets and myriad other entities, but making maximum use of those growing data sets in the coming decade simply won’t be possible under DOD’s current data center-focused approach.

DISA Chief Technology Officer Dave Mihelcic used the industry day to echo similar comments he’s made recently about DOD’s need tostrategize for the future.


MilCloud ‘Not Getting a Free Pass’

MilCloud is DISA’s internal answer to commercial cloud providers, offering a cloud-services portfolio to DOD customers. Milcloud was initially deployed for sensitive, unclassified information on the NIPRnet and later configured for the SIPRNet, too. It’s oft-criticized for poor performance and high costs – commercial cloud services executives are especially critical of milCloud, deeming it inferior in performance and security to their offerings.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn, vice director at DISA, used the industry day stage to defend milCloud, noting its costs have come down and customer engagement has improved via the creation of a customer engagement center.

MilCloud has been deployed in two Defense Enterprise Computing Centers – in Montgomery, Alabama, and Oklahoma City. Lessons have been learned along the way, he said, and DISA is modifying processes to address customer feedback to develop additional features for milCloud.

“The discussion is more on how much do we want to push out to commercial industry and how much can you drive costs down,” Lynn said. “If you can drive cost down, we’re interested. Bring us your best offers.”

But is milCloud’s rate competitive with industry? Without exact numbers, it’s tough to tell – alas, a cost comparison was not displayed among the gratuitous number of PowerPoint slides presented that day – but Halvorsen did indicate that milCloud still has significant room to improve.

“MilCloud’s rate has decreased, but not low enough,” Halvorsen said, noting that milCloud is “not getting a free pass.”

“[Lynn] and the team are continuing to look hard at how to drop those costs,” Halvorsen added.

Halvorsen noted there are “things in milCloud,” which, because “times have changed,” could potentially migrate to commercial cloud. His statements indicates that commercial cloud providers are beginning to meet increased security requirements in the cloud, with various pilot programs – dominated by Amazon Web Services – already handling sensitive DOD workloads.

Yet, he defended milCloud as an important tool in storing or processing data, which “for all kinds of risk reasons, we want to keep inside government” to mitigate, financial, technical and political risks.


A Hint of Future Partnerships?

It’s not reality yet, but Halvorsen alluded to the possibility of a “contracted data distribution center,” in which a vendor provides hot-ticket items, such as on-demand cloud services while the military provides physical security.


As a joke, Halvorsen added that most private security companies “can’t roll tanks up to provide security” to a commercial data center, indicating the lengths at which DOD would go to ensure its data centers – at least physically – are nearly impenetrable.

“Why couldn’t we put what amounts to be a commercial data distribution center on government property in government buildings?” Halvorsen said. “I’m waiting for that proposal with all the costs associated with it. Maybe it becomes the first federal cloud computing center? There are a growing number of customers who want the same level of protection.”

When asked by reporters what industries might want to partner up to store highly sensitive data on a managed DOD premises, Halvorsen replied “financial institutions,” but added that such developments are not close to be carried out yet.

“We are not there yet, but that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.



U.S. FAA grants 8 more exemptions for commercial use of drones

by Press • 4 February 2015


The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on Tuesday it had granted eight more exemptions for commercial use of small drones as the industry eagerly awaits new agency rules on the remote-controlled aircraft.

The agency said it issued new exemptions to Total Safety U.S. Inc for flare stack inspections; to Slugwear Inc for aerial photography and surveys; and to Team 5 LLC, Shotover Camera Systems LP, Helinet Aviation Services LLC, and Alan D. Purwin for film and television production.

The FAA also amended the exemptions previously granted to Pictorvision Inc and Aerial MOB LLC to let the companies fly additional types of small drones.

The FAA is developing specific regulations for unmanned aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kg). The agency has effectively banned their commercial use except when operators are granted special exemptions.

The FAA, which has received 342 requests for exemptions for use of commercial drones, has granted a total of 24.

Businesses have been clamoring for rules to allow commercial drone flights, fearing the United States is falling behind other countries in developing a multibillion-dollar industry.

The FAA turned a draft of the rules – the first major overhaul of the regulations – over to the White House on Oct. 23, and had said it expected them to be published in 2014.

Last month, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters the rules were close to being issued.


Two US Army Events Explore COTS

By Joe Gould 5:06 p.m. EST February 4, 2015


WASHINGTON When it comes to modernization, the US Army has come to recognize it does not always need to reinvent the wheel — or the router, server stack or tactical radio — especially when the commercial sector has ready or near-ready technology.

Two of the service’s try-before-you-buy emerging technology events feature, or at least weave in, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) gear, according to Army officials. These are the massive bi-annual Network Integration Evaluation (NIE), and the Army Expeditionary Warfighter Experiment (AEWE) at Maneuver Center of Excellence’s battle lab, Fort Benning, Georgia.

“We’re not hung up on the TRL [technology readiness level],” said Harry Lubin, chief of the battle lab’s live experimentation branch. “If it has a capability that TRADOC [Training and Doctrine Command] might be interested in, go ahead and bring it. We’ll employ it within the constraints of its current capability. If it isn’t hardened and can’t get wet, still bring it, and we’ll use it when we can.”

While the NIE is less tolerant of immature technologies, one of its acquisition partners, the Army’s Program Executive Office Command, Control Communications Tactical (PEO C3T), has made use of COTS and modified COTS across all of its major programs, according to PEO C3T director of public affairs, Paul Mehney.

“Today, as both commercial and military sector network capability continues to rapidly mature, we plan to leverage new technologies as they emerge in the commercial sector instead of encouraging developers to begin with a blank slate by designing a system or capability from the beginning to end,” Mehney said.

The program office, which is seeking both hardware and software, employs commercial software applications, routers and server stacks in programs that have appeared in the NIE. For example, the NIE uses a modified Android computing environment for tactical situational awareness and mission command apps, called the Mounted Android Computing Environment.

As for hardware, COTS is in use within the Army’s developing tactical radio programs, its network backbone, called the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), and particularly in its satellite communications systems.

The Army’s first networking waveform radio, known as the AN/PRC 117G, is a single-channel COTS radio that provides wideband networking capability and interoperability with fielded waveforms. The 117G was evaluated at the NIE and in the field. It and several other COTS radios were deployed by the US and coalition forces, including the AN/PRC 148, AN/PRC 150 and AN/PNC 152.

A significant amount of COTS or modified COTS gear appeared in both WIN-T Increment 1, which provides soldiers with high-speed, high-capacity communications down to battalion level at-the-quick-halt; and Increment 2, for operations on-the-move.

When WIN-T’s 4G/wireless command post is evaluated during future NIEs, COTS technology will feature prominently, Mehney said.

A decade old, the AEWE differs from the NIE in a few key ways. In scale, the AEWE is much smaller and focuses primarily on units below battalion, while the NIE includes brigade and higher echelons. Lubin called the AEWE the “farm system” to the NIE’s “major leagues,” because the NIE aims to field to a near future brigade “capability set,” while the AEWE offers a forgiving test-fix-test environment.

Both use soldiers and scenarios designed to simulate real-world conditions.

At the end of each AEWE, the Army’s testing agency will highlight technologies that would be ready for the NIE or worth a look by related Army proponents. Each vendors is given a report on its technology’s performance in the AEWE, as well as direct feedback from the soldiers throughout the experiment.

At worst, participation can yield a learning experience, and at best, it can mean business. After the AN/PSQ-20 Enhanced Night Vision Goggles participated at Fort Benning a few years ago, the Army purchased 2,300 of them and fielded them to Afghanistan, Lubin said.

The AEWE, which began in 2004 with seven pieces of gear, was intended to see how emerging technologies could protect small combat units and make them more lethal. Retaining much the same mission, it has evolved into TRADOC’s annual outreach to industry, and this year it involves 66 technologies, Lubin said.

The Army’s research and development organizations have increasingly offered their Army-developed technologies to the AEWE. The arrangement allows vendors a sense of how ready their technology is and the Army a chance to work with cutting-edge technologies.

“At the start, it was 90 to 95 percent industry, and industry has remained the majority of the systems we look at, but we have seen a growing number of government technologies over the last several years,” Lubin said. “A number of government and industry technologies use AEWE as a risk-reduction venue, knowing full well the next stop will be NIE.”

To integrate the various technologies, many of them unmanned vehicles and sensors in recent years, the AEWE employs engineers from the Cyber Center of Excellence. Because there is no standing network, engineers will use vendor input to tailor-build the experiment’s network each year to handle the various radio and video signals.

Critics say such experiments force companies to shoulder more of the up-front research and development costs, an unreasonable burden for small businesses. Lubin acknowledges that industry “underwrites a huge chunk” of the AEWE because their gear must be certified as safe for soldiers to use, and the companies must bring the gear to Fort Benning, train the soldiers on it and maintain them throughout the experiment.

But in return, Lubin said, vendors get access to a flexible testing environment, as well as valuable input about where to focus tech development dollars and what soldiers will accept. It also allows vendors to connect with each other and possibly associate their efforts.

“The smaller companies don’t have a lot of exposure with the Army, so it gives them a better taste of working with the Army and what their path forward would be,” whether with program offices, or research and development organizations, Lubin said.

“You can see how a tech provider who looks to leverage this venue can really move their technology forward because they have that constant engagement with the soldier who’s using it in a tactical environment,” Lubin said.

COTS in the Field

The Army is employing a range of COTS satellite terminals, some the size of a carry-on bag and all aimed at providing soldiers with access to global communications in austere locations and terrains.

Deployable Ku-Band Earth Terminal: Uses commercial and military satellites to provide long haul, high-capacity transport both within and beyond the Afghan theater. The system is for headquarters-level, network-hub connectivity.

Secure Internet Protocol Router/Non-secure Internet Protocol Router (SIPR/NIPR) Access Point (SNAP) V1 & 2: Transportable in the back of a truck, these use commercial- and military-band satellites to provide high-capacity beyond-line-of-sight SIPR, NIPR, coalition networks and voice capability to remote company and platoon outposts.

• Global Rapid Response Information Package: Suitcase sized and used by small teams, it can be set up in minutes for secure and unclassified communications.

Ground to Air Transmit and Receive Inflatable SATCOM Antenna: An inflatable ground satellite antenna enabling high-bandwidth network connectivity, this antenna connects soldiers to WIN-T.

• Transportable Tactical Command Communications: Satellite dishes that deploy in a suitcase to support small detachments and teams, and larger transportable satellite dishes to support company-sized elements. Enables soldiers to connect to WIN-T.



Next-Generation Fighter Will Be Less Reliant on Stealth

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

Posted: February 4, 2015 11:40 AM


WASHINGTON — The chief of naval operations (CNO) said the next-generation fighter — notionally named F/A-XX — may be less reliant on stealth and more reliant on suppression of enemy air defenses to carry outs its missions and needs a “manned and unmanned feature.”

In response to a question while speaking Feb.4 to a forum audience at the Naval Future Force Science & Technology Expo sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and the American Society of Naval Engineers in Washington, ADM Jonathan Greenert warned that “stealth may be over-rated.

“If something moves fast through the air and disrupts molecules in the air and it puts out heat — I don’t care how cool the engine can be — it’s going to be detectable,” he said.

Greenert said that the next-generation strike fighter should have manned and unmanned options of operation, noting that it had to be “interchangeable.”


It has to be in also had to have a payload capacity for a wide spectrum of weapons, he said, and gain access “probably by suppressing air defenses. Today it’s radar but it might be something more in the future.

“I don’t see that it’s going to be super-duper fast,” he said. “You can’t outrun missiles. You can’t be so stealthy that you become invisible. You are going to generate a signature of some sort. You have to be able to deal with that and be able to employ weapons that are going to have longer range and be smarter and more of them, … overwhelming of defenses—confuse it–or suppress it.”


DoD Needs Commercial Tech, but How To Get It?

By Paul McLeary 5:13 p.m. EST February 4, 2015


WASHINGTON— As commercial and small technology firms move ever faster to develop next-generation software, communications and hardware solutions to push into a tech-hungry marketplace, governments find themselves struggling to keep pace.

The issue was highlighted earlier this month when an inebriated government employee inadvertently crashed a small, commercially available drone onto the White House grounds, calling into question the ability of the Secret Service to protect the president and his family against such small — but real — threats.

While the White House issue makes a good punchline, government officials are worried, and they say they’re trying to reach out to the commercial tech sector to do something about it.

“The explosion of research and development in the non-defense sector means DoD must devise new means of pulling in commercial technology,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work told a Center for a New American Security conference in Washington on Jan. 28.

This all falls in line with Work’s so-called “third offset” strategy that is taking its place alongside other urgent reform initiatives percolating in the Pentagon, including “Better Buying Power 3.0,” a plan by the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, that in part pushes for more commercial and dual-use technologies in DoD weapon competitions.

The two projects themselves fall broadly under the Defense Innovation Initiative, which is urging the building to revamp its entire training, education, development and acquisition enterprise to stay ahead of the advances being made by peer competitors like China and Russia, while also holding the line against the vast amounts of advanced commercial technologies now available to non-state actors for little cost.

Seated alongside Work at the CNAS event, Gen. Jean-Paul Paloméros, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, agreed that the alliance “can no longer contend that we maintain the advantage” in the realm of cyber or even some forms of tactical communication or the exploitation of social media for tactically relevant information.

Speaking across town on Jan. 28 at a special operations conference, Matthew Freedman, senior adviser at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that while the exploitation of social media is something that needs to be studied, the US military “needs to rethink its acquisition strategy from requirement of things to an acquisition of capabilities” when it comes to other communications and surveillance technologies.

He said this doesn’t mean the Pentagon should fall back on doing what it has always done: launching a slew of expensive and time-consuming programs to develop new technologies out of whole cloth.

“Sometimes allocating resources means retrofitting existing systems at much lower costs instead of building new systems,” he said.

Except for several wartime rapid acquisition programs that some in the Pentagon are fighting to keep as a more permanent part of the building’s bureaucratic infrastructure, the DoD’s acquisition system isn’t built for speed. Freedman said that a different model needs to take hold, since “sometimes we need to get software developments to the war fighters within 90 days,” and the system as currently structured just can’t handle that.

Robert Newberry, director of the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, added that targeting terrorists via social media is an area in which the US intelligence agencies — and especially the military — is still struggling. “We’re studying it to death,” he said, “but I’m not sure coming up with any grand solutions.”

These issues are no less prevalent with larger, more traditional systems, many of which, like the US Air Force’s fighter and bomber fleets, have been in the inventory since the 1980s or earlier.

“We came out of the Cold War with a very dominant military,” Kendall told the House Armed Services Committee on Jan. 28. “And no one observed more carefully the dominance we displayed in 1991 more closely than the Chinese.”

As such, the Beijing government, among others, has been busily developing a suite of capabilities that are explicitly intended “to defeat the American way of doing power projection [and the] American way of warfare when we fight in an expeditionary manner far from the United States.”

Testifying with Kendall was Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay, the Joint Staff director for force structure, resources and assessment, who promised the House committee that “we’re looking at the whole soup and nuts” of the rapid advancements being made by potential US foes, and how best to offset them.

In particular when it comes to US expeditionary operations, Pentagon planners are concerned about the strength and security of their communications and satellite backbone. And there, the military expects to lean on private industry even more in the future.

“The big issue is there’s certain things we have to do that are very protected, very secure, that may not have the bandwidth commercial satellites do,” Ramsay said. “But we really are very much wedded to the commercial backbone, and I do see that increasing over time. But it’s finding that right balance in the future.”


Full budget details on cyber, cloud, networks

Amber Corrin, Senior Staff Writer 1:29 p.m. EST February 4, 2015


The Defense Department’s ongoing move to enterprise-wide IT services got a boost in the form of President Barack Obama’s proposed 2016 defense budget, with the Pentagon’s leading enterprise IT effort receiving more than a six-fold increase in spending.

Funding for the Joint Information Enterprise under the Defense Information Systems Agency’s budget grew from $13.3 million in 2015 to $84 million in 2016, part of DISA’s nearly quadrupled procurement budget of $1 billion. DISA is leading the DoD-wide move to JIE.

DISA’s Defense Information Systems Network, the military’s backbone for network communications, saw an increase in procurement funding as well, up from $80 million last year to $141 million, as the network undergoes upgrades.

As DoD pushes ahead with JIE, enterprise IT services and IT infrastructure upgrades, some legacy efforts saw significant funding decreases, including DISA’s net-centric enterprise services program, which fell from $3.7 million last year to a mere $444,000 in 2016.

In the Navy, procurement funding for enterprise IT jumped from $87 million to $99 million.

Cybersecurity spending in the 2016 largely remained flat under research, development, testing and evaluation, with some shifting of funds going on within the more than $149 million in funds specifically labeled as cyber.

In the Air Force, cyber operations technology development gained $82 million in RDT&E money, an effort that was new in the 2016 budget. Air Force RDT&E defensive cyber operations investments grew from $5.6 million to $7.7 million, while offensive cyber operations fell slightly from $13.3 million to $12.8 million. Likewise, RDT&E money for the Air Force rapid cyber acquisition lost $1 million on the year, with a $3 million allocation for 2016.


Across DoD, defense-wide cyber intelligence funding fell slightly from $6.7 million to $6.5 million, and some cyber programs appeared to go unfunded in 2016, including a line item for defense-wide cybersecurity advanced research.

Network-centric warfare technology was a winner in RDT&E spending, growing from $360 million to $453 million as part of DARPA’s $1.3 billion budget for advanced technology development.

Elsewhere in RDT&E – a area of the DoD budget that grew by half a billion dollars in 2016, to $13.5 billion – Navy unmanned systems development received more than $350 million across several programs, including $227 million for RQ-4 Global Hawk R&D. Last year, that category received only $45 million. However, funding for the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike dropped off from $400 million to $134 million.

At the Missile Defense Agency, research and development for command, control, communications and computers (C4) fell to $10 million, after receiving $13 million in 2015 and $35 million in 2014. Defense-wide C4 interoperability funding, however, inched up from $63.5 million to $65 million under DISA’s RDT&E budget. Across DoD, a new line item for unmanned aerial vehicle integration and operation allocated nearly $42 million.

In the Army, signals modernization funding more than doubled from last year’s $21 million in procurement funds to $50 million in 2016. The Army’s Defense Enterprise Wideband SATCOM Systems also increased from $118 million to $196 million. The Joint Tactical Radio program received a $25 million increase to $65 million, while WIN-T procurement spending grew from $664 million to $783 million.

The Army’s ongoing installation IT modernization effort received a boost in the new budget, with installation information infrastructure modernization growing from $80 million to $103 million.

In the Army and the Navy, each service’s version of the Distributed Common Ground System saw a plus-up in funding, with DCGS-A growing from $192 million to $314 million and DCGS-N increasing from $24 million to $32 million. However, the Marine Corp’s version was practically defunded, with their program dollars shrinking from $20 million to $1.9 million.

The Navy’s Next Generation Enterprise Network budget increased significantly as the service executes its transition from the Navy-Marine Corps intranet, with procurement funding for NGEN growing from $2 million in 2015 to $67 million in 2016.

Elsewhere in the Navy, tactical/mobile C4I systems funding fell from $16.7 million last year to $13.6 million in 2016, while C4ISR equipment funds remained essentially flat at just under $10 million. A line item for Navy SATCOM systems included a jump of nearly $20 million on the year, to $31 million, while funding for the Navy multiband terminal fell off from $248 million in 2015 to $118 million in 2016.

Spending on the Navy’s Rapid Technology Transition program, designed to quickly field new technologies to meet emerging and urgent naval requirements, more than doubled to $18 million in the proposed budget.

In the Air Force, investment in strategic command and control procurement doubled from $140 million to $287 million, while general IT funding fell from $43 million to $31 million, and mobility equipment funds were cut in half to $62 million.

Across DoD, investment in military manufacturing science and technology jumped from $90 million last year to $157 million in 2016 as Pentagon officials seek emerging manufacturing capabilities and other advanced technologies.



The Pentagon’s Weapon Wish Lists Could Disappear

February 4, 2015

By Marcus Weisgerber & Molly O’Toole


The military’s billion-dollar wish lists for weapons that did not make it onto the Pentagon’s budget might disappear as lawmakers decide whether they’re worth it.

Long live the Pentagon wish list? Lawmakers this year might not ask the military services to send them wish lists of weapons, that on-again, off-again practice of informally requesting items not included in the Pentagon’s official budget proposal.

Aides for both the House and Senate Armed Services committees say members of the panels have not decided whether they will request the unfunded priority lists. Traditionally these lists, which are closely watched by defense firms and lobbyists, are chock full of expensive programs that fell just below the cut line.

In the past, the military brass from services compiles the lists, at the request of lawmakers. It’s seen as a way for service chiefs to go around the administration’s budget request and ask Congress to fund or put back items they want.

“Actually I’m not really big on unfunded priority lists,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Defense One Wednesday. “I think they’re sort of a backdoor way of getting things done.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, has not yet decided if he will request lists from the services, said committee spokesman Claude Chafin. “[Thornberry] recognizes the utility of the information, and it’s certainly something we need, he just doesn’t have his heart set yet on the vehicle for that information.”

McCain said he’s ambivalent right now, but would talk to Thornberry this weekend at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

Michael Amato, spokesman for Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking Democrat on the House panel, said unfunded lists have not been discussed but the committee would probably not request them from the services.

“From our perspective, the budget is the document that matters and if the services want to send a letter, that’s all and good, but we are focused on the formal budget request and removing sequestration,” Amato said.

While the 2016 budget proposal was released in its entirety on Monday, defense firms closely watch for the wish lists, which are customarily sent to Congress a few weeks later. If a company’s program is included on the list, it gives their lobbying effort more stock, since they could point to the military’s desire for the item.

Often times, Congress will find a way to squeeze these items into the budget, albeit not always at the levels requested.

That was the case this year with the Navy’s EA-18G Growler. The Boeing-made Growler is a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet that carries special wing pods that jam enemy radio signals. The Navy did not request any Growlers in its 2015 budget proposal, but included 22 in its unfunded priority list. In the end, lawmakers added $1.46 billion for 15 jets in the Pentagon’s budget.

The Pentagon has gone back and forth over wish lists. Sometimes, it is referred to as unfunded requirements, more often, unfunded priorities. The list grew in length and dollar value last decade. At one point, the Air Force’s list topped $20 billion. This came despite military spending already being at an all-time high.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was not a fan of the lists, and pared them back substantially. By 2013, they were no longer produced. They reemerged last year after the Pentagon submitted its 2015 budget proposal.

On Monday, Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said he “would assume that the chiefs would probably continue past practice, but for me … it’s too early to comment about what people don’t like about it already.”

Ashton Carter, who had his nomination hearing Wednesday to become defense secretary, said in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee the he would allow the military’s service chiefs to submit the wish lists. But it’s up to Congress to request them.


Operator of Drone That Crashed Outside White House May Be Charged

by Press • 5 February 2015



WASHINGTON — Secret Service agents investigating the man who operated the drone that crashed on the White House lawn last week believed there was enough evidence to charge him with a crime, and they have presented the case to federal prosecutors, according to law enforcement officials.

But the decision on whether to indict the man, Shawn Usman, has been a vexing one for the prosecutors because laws designed to protect the airspace around the White House were written for manned aircraft like planes, long before unmanned ones, like drones, became popular toys.

There is also a question of whether Mr. Usman should face charges for something he contends happened because of a malfunction with the drone.

According to aviation experts, the law’s ambiguity highlights a larger legal issue that has emerged in recent years as regulations for unmanned aircraft have not kept pace with their increased use by hobbyists and companies.

If the prosecutors decide against criminal charges, Mr. Usman may face civil charges from the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency has opened an investigation into Mr. Usman, according to a senior official there. Under F.A.A. regulations, it is illegal to operate a drone in Washington because of national security concerns at landmarks like the White House and Capitol, the official said. The penalty for such an infraction can be more than $1,000.

Mr. Usman, 31, has worked at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which uses satellites to gather information for the Defense Department. But it is not clear whether he has continued to work there while the government decides whether to charge or fine him.

In recent days, James M. Garland, a lawyer for Mr. Usman, did not return several messages seeking comment. But after his client’s name was posted online Wednesday night, he released a statement saying that Mr. Usman was “an accomplished scientist and dedicated public servant.”

“Many of the public reports of his actions with respect to this incident are inaccurate,” Mr. Garland said. “He has cooperated fully with the Secret Service’s investigation and looks forward to putting this unfortunate episode behind him.”

In an interview with Secret Service agents, Mr. Usman said that around 3 a.m. on Jan. 26, he had been playing with the drone — a 2-foot-by-2-foot quadcopter called the DJI Phantom — in the living room of his apartment a little less than a mile from the White House.

Mr. Usman, who said that he had been drinking earlier that night, told the agents he had opened a window and flown the drone outside. He then flew the drone, which belonged to a friend, back into the apartment through the window and back out again. After guiding the drone about 100 feet outside the window, Mr. Usman said that he lost control of it. The drone hovered for several minutes before shooting up several hundred feet in the air and disappearing.

Mr. Usman called the friend who owned the drone. They realized that there was nothing they could do, and Mr. Usman went to bed without knowing where the drone had landed.

When Mr. Usman woke up, he saw the news reports that a drone had been found at the White House. He spoke with one of his bosses, who told him to call the Secret Service.


Anthem hack will shake up market for cyber risk insurance

By Adam Rubenfire | February 5, 2015


The cyberattack on Anthem, which affected 80 million people, likely won’t do immediate financial damage to Anthem’s bottom line because it had cybersecurity insurance coverage, J.P. Morgan Securities analyst Justin Lake said Thursday.

What the attack will do is impact the market for such cyber security insurance for healthcare providers, payers and others. Small and medium-sized healthcare organizations that have not considered such coverage may now do so, while insurers will be re-evaluating underwriting standards and likely premium levels in the wake of the Anthem attack, insurance experts said.

Larger healthcare institutions can purchase cybersecurity coverage in excess of $100 million, in some cases for as high as $300 million to cover the costs associated with recovering from an attack, said Evan Fenaroli, cyber product manager at Philadelphia Insurance Companies, which has clients that include small physician practices and regional health systems. His average healthcare client has a $1 million policy, but the company can write policies of $5 million to $10 million.

Premiums for a $1 million plan are generally $5,000 to $10,000 annually, though that can vary based on several factors, including the company’s revenue, cyber-risk management efforts and the coverage chosen, Fenaroli said. For hospitals, premiums can be much larger—sometimes more than $100,000 or even $1 million for larger health systems, he said.

Larger organizations are more likely to purchase coverage than smaller ones, he said, because they often have access to risk managers, in-house IT security and sophisticated insurance brokers. Smaller companies, like physician practices and local clinics, don’t have access to these resources and are less likely to recognize their vulnerabilities and so see coverage as too expensive or unnecessary.

“However, as data breaches continue to be publicized in all industries, we are seeing more of the small and mid-sized organizations actively seek out this coverage,” Fenaroli said.

Most policies provide broad coverage for what constitutes a privacy breach, Fenaroli said, whether it stems from a hacker, unauthorized access by an internal rogue employee or a laptop that was lost or stolen and gotten into the wrong hands. Optional coverage can include underwriting for costs or lost revenue associated with a denial of service attack, in which a network is made unavailable to users, or for cyber extortion, where hackers access a network and demand a ransom in exchange for not stealing data (a lot of companies would rather pay the ransom and make the problem go away).

Some of the largest healthcare breaches have been handled by Beazley, which underwrites cybersecurity coverage, but also contracts services that include forensic analysis, customer notification, call center operation, credit monitoring and crisis communications. The company also has an internal team of lawyers that advises clients and represents them in class action lawsuits.

The cost of insurance coverage and breach response is minimal compared to the legal and regulatory costs associated with a massive attack that can wreck a company’s coffers if the response isn’t adequate, said Katherine Keefe, global head of British insurer Beazley’s breach response team and a former deputy general counsel for Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross.

“You’re making a meaningful, legally compliant breach response that lessens the chance down the road of class action and regulatory compliance issues,” Keefe said.

Mac McMillan, a healthcare security expert and founder of CynergisTek, an Austin, Texas-based security consultancy, said he’d heard a steep estimate of $100 million on the Community Health Services hacking incident last year in which 4.5 million records were compromised.

Cybersecurity insurers have yet to address coverage for intellectual property theft because it’s hard to determine the value of ideas and trade secrets, said Fenaroli. Devicemakers and pharmaceutical companies are in particular trouble in this regard, since they spend billions of dollars on research and development.

“The number would be potentially so high that it really wouldn’t’ be insurable,” Fenaroli said. “But I think that’s something that the insurance industry as a whole will evolve to provide some kind of coverage.

Chinese hackers who infiltrated CHS’ computer network last year were believed to be looking for intellectual property on medical devices and other equipment, but instead stole data on patients who sought care from its physician practices, the company said in August.

Any large, well-publicized breach such as the one that struck Anthem will affect the market for cybersecurity insurance, Fenaroli said, by influencing coverage terms, making underwriting requirements more stringent and increasing coverage prices, especially for healthcare companies as the industry sees more large-scale breaches. Such has been the case in the retail industry following major attacks on Home Depot and Target.

“What was acceptable five years ago is no longer going to be adequate protection from these types of attacks,” Fenaroli said. “That’s the challenge we as underwriters face, and the challenge the industry faces.”


France Seeks Drone Interception System

February 6, 2015


A French national security and defence agency under the prime minister closed the books on a call for bids to fund a drone interception system. It hopes to have at least some drone defences operational in the next 18 months. “We have made a proposal to the scientific community to see what best emerges,” said Karine Delmouly, a project manager at the National Research Agency, or ANR, which is vetting the proposals. She declined to discuss specifics or say how many companies made bids. France wants to monitor and detect intruding drones and their remote-control pilots; analyze and track their flight paths; and ultimately neutralize the drones – either temporarily or permanently – with the least collateral damage possible, the ANR said in its call for bids. As for the options, the sky may be the limit.

Anti-drone devices could include pinpoint radar systems to track drones the size of a breadbasket or even smaller (and distinguish them from birds), high-tech lasers to destroy the unwanted intruders or telecommunications-scrambling systems to block the remote controls that direct them. Interception drones could be sent up into the sky to fight back and low-tech solutions such as sky-high netting or fences could also work, officials say.

Last year in France, authorities faced a series of illegal small drone flights above atomic power plants and the military port of Toulon on the Mediterranean Sea. Last month one was spotted above the Elysee presidential palace in Paris. The Secretariat, which oversees the country’s security systems including cybersecurity, put 1 million euros ($1.1 million) on the table to get a system that will keep drones far from atomic plants, President Francois Hollande’s office and even landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. While it would be too costly to create a radar system to detect drones across the country, the French government is studying where and how to install scramblers and low altitude radars. Some “Vital Service Operators” — a classified list of about 200 companies key to run France’s transport, energy or health care — may be among those that will use the systems the Secretariat wants up and running within 18 months. For now, French skies are vulnerable to small drones because French military radar systems aren’t adapted to detect those flying at low altitudes, General Mercier said.

On, an image-sharing website of footage gathered by amateur drone operators, a user called “toniorapido” posted a 9-minute video of a fly-over the business district of La Defense last July. In the video, a drone flies nearby the headquarters of nuclear energy operator Areva, oil giant Total, and the country’s nuclear power plants operator Electricite de France. The drone also flew under the Arche de la Defense, a landmark of the country and above the nearby mall. La Defense has been a no-fly zone since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. “We must keep calm. Most drones are harmless,” said Francis Durufle, vice president the Civilian Drones Federation. “But we have to be vigilant. It’s like cars had appeared overnight and you had to understand the scope of changes and dangers instantly, from privacy to spying or attacks or one falling on your head.”

The Defense Ministry declined to give details on the sort of drones spotted above its nuclear submarine base in Brittany. Authorities said they didn’t capture the crafts. The Elysee palace also declined to give more details about the drone spotted above its courtyard. “We take this very seriously,” Gaspard Gantzer, a spokesman for Hollande, told Bloomberg News. “But we have to take it with sang froid.” –

See more at:


Robotics-law expert Ryan Calo weighs in on drone regulations — and ‘drunk droning’

by Press • 5 February 2015


Hard cases, said a long-ago Supreme Court justice, make bad law. The startling outliers shouldn’t be the yardstick for crafting routine criminal law. When a tipsy off-duty employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency lost control of his friend’s drone last month and smashed it onto the White House lawn, the cry went up for more drone regulation. But the incident was an oddity; the real legal questionsabout drone regulation have to do with privacy, policing, commerce and other uses. Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington, specializes in robotics. The White House drone flew right onto his radar.

The White House crash had even the president asking if we were doing enough to regulate drones.

I worry … that there isn’t the expertise in government to deal with robotics, whether it’s drones or driverless cars.- Ryan Calo, University of Washington law professor who specializes in robotics issues

You can’t fly a drone around D.C. — it’s unlawful — so I’ve been confused by calls for additional legislation. What’s been interesting is the company that manufactured the drone. It’s fair to say they overreacted by creating a firmware update to prevent using that drone in the region.

Why is it overreacting?

We shouldn’t impose heavy restrictions on what amount to toys, let alone require their firmware to restrict flight. Basically, when you lock down drones for one purpose, you set a bad precedent of taking control away from innovators and owners. I think that the FAA should be more permissive about the commercial use of drones. They want commercial drone operators to hire a professional pilot. That seems like overkill.

In the past, how did the law cope with new technology, like cars, that one person controlled but that affected others?

With cars, a lot of early case law involved people scaring horses, because a new technology has unintended consequences. The law will strike one balance, and then we’ll get comfortable [with the new technology], and the law will strike a different balance.

The three big challenges for robotics laws are, one, that software can suddenly touch you; it’s not just your computer losing your homework but [doing someone] physical harm. Two, that these things will behave in ways that are useful but surprising. Three, that there’s a social valence where we react more viscerally to such technology, and the law has to take that into account.

Technology always seems to outstrip our ability to legislate its consequences.

The pace of change is faster than the pace of legislative or judicial change. These are difficult things for legislators to predict. People put restrictions on Segways, but it ended up that the Segway wasn’t a big deal. The Electronic Communication Privacy Act passed in 1986, based on technology in which storage of digital stuff was very expensive and systems would routinely purge information to make room for new information. Today we store everything indefinitely; this law has been outdated for 10 years.

You regard drones as a catalyst for privacy laws. Where are the boundaries? If I saw one hovering at my window, I’d be inclined to take a baseball bat to it.

Tort law is going to look at you taking a baseball bat to a drone as two different claims: your claim against the drone operator for trespassing, and the operator’s claim against you for trespassing on his chattels. So you’re going to end up potentially suing each other. If the drone were to fly at your face, you’d be excused under the defense-of-self doctrine. But you can’t just take a bat to something.

Privacy law is not as protective as it should be. It’s hard to sue people for spying on you in your back yard. It’s hard to get police to exclude evidence from a drone or aerial photography. And it’s not exclusively about drones; drones are a good example but not the only example.

Aren’t crime and terrorism the big drone fears?

Almost every credible threat you could accomplish with a drone, you could accomplish with a football. There are certain things drones make easier. If the concern is about an explosive too close to the White House, walking up to the gates and throwing a football full of explosives is one way to accomplish that; another is with a drone. Why ban drones but not balls? If the scenario is as horrific as you’re imagining, those people will not be dissuaded by additional laws.

Arguments about gun regulation often go this way: “Why not regulate butter knives? You can kill with those too.” Butter knives are made to spread butter; guns are made to put holes in things. Likewise, balls are made for sports, drones to get into places where humans cannot and maybe should not go.

I take your point. It’s harder to characterize drones as being an entirely innocuous tool, the way you would with a butter knife, nor do I think it goes so far as being like a gun. Certain activities are made easier by technology, in some cases so easy that we’re made uncomfortable.

[But] artificial intelligence and robotics are interesting precisely because of what they allow people to do. That’s what makes them empowering. Let’s say you want the best surgeon; that surgeon could be in Tokyo. You could get surgery in L.A. from that surgeon through robotics.

What is the answer? New laws? Industry self-regulation?

I think it’s very unwise to disallow a whole platform from doing certain things. You are curtailing the prospects of innovation.

And it’s a slippery slope. If there’s a protest, and police have the ability to affect your drone at a distance, all of a sudden you can’t exercise your 1st Amendment rights to monitor the police. This sort of thing has happened. [San Francisco’s rapid transit system shut down cellphone service on its train platforms to head off a potential protest in 2011.]

A better way to manage this is to throw the book at people who endanger others with their drones. A Pepperdine colleague, Gregory McNeal, says we have these two-ton machines that can veer off and run into each other — and we protect against that with a line of paint.

Driverless cars are another emerging robotic technology; California is still trying to come up with standards for them too.

I worry, and I’m not alone, that there isn’t the expertise in government to deal with robotics, whether it’s drones or driverless cars.

The legal liability issues around driverless cars are going to be pretty easy. If you build a product to get from point A to point B safely, and it doesn’t do that, you’re going to be liable.

It becomes tricky when you have an app-enabled platform, like your smartphone. Imagine you run a third-party app, and that app ends up doing something problematic. It’s no longer the manufacturer or the operator that is responsible. It’s [app] code that literally anybody in their basement, anybody in Russia could have written.

The optics suggest you should sue the manufacturer because its robot ran into you and hurt you. But [the injury] is in part a product of a third-party app. I have proposed immunizing manufacturers of open robotic systems for the apps people run but also being more careful in selecting what apps to sell.

What was your first thought when you heard about the “drunk droning” incident at the White House?

Thanks a lot, one person, for sending us in the wrong direction. We’re now talking about locking down platforms and extra regulation just because of one guy.

On Twitter, some of us had this hashtag going, #drunkdrone songs. Remember that Jimmy Buffett lyric, “Why don’t we get drunk and screw?”? My first one was, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw Up Drone Policy in the United States?”


Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Things are heating up for America on several fronts overseas, and voters don’t like what they see.

In its latest atrocity, the radical Islamic group ISIS burned a captured Jordanian pilot to death earlier this week. U.S. voters say President Obama has not been vocal enough in criticizing the heinous acts of this group and believe overwhelmingly that those involved should be tried for war crimes.

The president is expected to ask Congress any day now to authorize the use of more military force against ISIS up to and including ground forces. We’ll let you know early next week how voters feel about boots on the ground again in Iraq.

Most voters think it is likely the United States will be forced to send combat troops to fight ISIS but strongly agree that Obama needs Congress’ approval first.

Voters are cool to the president’s plan to send additional military aid including weapons to Ukraine to help it fight pro-Russian separatists. After all, only 38% consider Ukraine a vital national security interest of the United States.

By contrast, most voters consider Israel vital to national security, but 44% believe the U.S. relationship with Israel has gotten worse since Obama took office.

Meanwhile, the number of voters who think the United States needs to spend more on the military and national security has risen to its highest level in several years of regular surveying.

Perhaps in part that’s because belief that America and its allies are winning the War on Terror has fallen to its lowest level ever.

But there’s the rub. Most voters continue to call for across-the-board spending cuts, but that support drops if the military budget or entitlements are taken off the cutting block. Generally speaking, Democrats want to cut defense spending, while Republicans want to cut entitlements. The president has already warned the GOP-led Congress that he will not accept a budget that increases defense spending but cuts his domestic priorities.

Obama began the week by proposing a near $4 trillion budget to Congress that includes spending and tax increases. Republican leaders declared it largely dead on arrival. In theory at least, most voters prefer to cut spending and don’t see a need for higher taxes.

Voters want the president and Congress to work together: The problem is that, depending on their party, voters want them to do completely different things. So where do we go from here?

Maybe the president’s getting some credit after all for the economy’s improving performance. His daily job approval ratings remain several points higher than they were before Election Day, and his monthly job approval hit 49% in January. That’s up a point from December and ties his high for 2014. Forty-nine percent (49%) also disapproved, but that his lowest negative since October 2013.

Democrats have a two-point lead over Republicans on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot. They have now led for four of the first five weeks of 2015.

The federal government’s jobs report, released yesterday, showed another month of healthy hiring, although the unemployment rate slipped back slightly. The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence also slipped a point in January, but that follows two months in a row of six-year highs.

Americans seem to be relatively content with their current jobs since nearly half believe staying put affords them the best opportunity to get ahead.

But 15% also now say they’re among the working poor, the highest finding since July 2012.

Daily consumer and investor confidence are down slightly from their beginning-of-the-year highs but remain ahead of levels seen for the last several years.

Of course, there’s still a lot of nervous anticipation about the impact of the new national health care law on businesses this year. Just over half of voters again view Obamacare unfavorably, and support for government-mandated levels of health insurance coverage continues to fall.

Americans also remain highly skeptical about the ability of the public schools to produce high school graduates ready for college and the workplace.

Keep in mind, too, that only 34% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction. But then again, believe it or not, that’s more optimism than we’ve seen in the last couple years.

In other surveys last week:

— Following reports of a measles outbreak in 14 states, Americans overwhelmingly support requiring children to be vaccinated before being allowed to attend school.

Support for capital punishment in America remains steady, despite lingering concerns about wrongful executions and uncertainty as to whether the death penalty deters crime.

— Most think the man who killed 12 and wounded 70 in a Colorado theater mass shooting should get the death penalty, but there’s less support for punishing a suspect who’s proven to be mentally ill.

— An overwhelming majority of Americans say they receive good service at the restaurants they visit, and they tip accordingly.

How do Americans rate the way the media covers the weather?

— Oops! The Seattle Seahawks were the fans’ favorite to win Super Bowl XLIX.

January 31 2015

31 January 2015


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DJI Phantom Crashes on White House Lawn


January 27, 2015


The person operating the quadcopter that crashed on the White House grounds called the U.S. Secret Service Monday morning to “self-report” their involvement in the incident.

The individual was interviewed by Secret Service agents and has been fully cooperative, Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said in a statement Monday afternoon. The Secret Service locked down the White House shortly after 3 a.m. after an officer on the south grounds of the White House spotted the drone, described as a two-foot wide “quad copter,” flying above the White House grounds before crashing on the southeast side of the complex. The officer saw the drone flying at a very low altitude.

“Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device,” Leary said.

The Secret Service will continue to investigate the incident through “corroborative interviews, forensic examinations and reviews of all other investigative leads,” Leary said.

A Secret Service official said the owner of the drone called in after seeing reports of the drone on the news.

The Secret Service was sweeping the White House grounds on Monday morning looking for anything else that might be on the ground.

President Barack Obama and the first lady are both away, traveling in India.

The executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, Michael Drobac, called the news of the drone crashing at the White House a “terrible incident” for the drone industry because it sends a message that drone users aren’t using the technology responsibly.

But the vast majority of the at least half-million drone users in the U.S. are, Drobac said, citing a conservative estimate. The problem is “bad actors,” he said, and the industry is working with the FAA to educate new users about the rules for operating drones.

And the industry is developing new technologies to prevent users from operating drones in unauthorized spaces. Some of the newest models of recreational drones won’t turn on in unauthorized areas, like within 5 miles of an airport, Drobac said.

“Technology is going to help solve the problem and is already doing it. I trust technology over rogue operators,” he said.

Flying drones is illegal in the District of Columbia, but that hasn’t always kept them out of the capital’s skies.

The Secret Service previously detained an individual operating a quadcopter drone on July 3 in President’s Park, just a block from the South Lawn of the White House, according to a report filed with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Another person was detained by the U.S. Capitol Police for flying a drone on the Capitol Hill grounds. And in October, a drone was spotted above D.C.’s Bolling Air Force Base.

A surge in interest in drones and how they should be regulated even brought one to Capitol Hill — inside a committee room, no less.

Source: CNN


Did the White House Use Drone Killing Technology?

Patrick Tucker January 26, 2015

At about 3 a.m. on Monday morning, a small quadcopter drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, crashed on the White House lawn. White House officials said that the drone, by itself, was unarmed and didn’t represent a threat. Authorities quickly located the owner, a government employee, who has managed (so far at least) to convince the Secret Service that he made an innocent mistake flying his drone outside of the White House in the wee hours of the morning.

The White House won’t comment on whether or not they took any special steps to bring down the small UAV. But the White House may have employed the same anti-drone technology that the military is trying to perfect to protect ships and planes from future drone swarms. There are plenty of ways to knock a drone out of the sky, everything from surface to air missiles to hunter-killer robots to, yes, lasers. But for a cheap off-the-shelf drones operating off a simple radio or Wi-Fi signal, the best method is simple jamming.

For the military, signal jamming is an increasingly important component of electromagnetic warfare, or EW. It’s an area of growing concern as the electromagnetic spectrum, an area where the United States once enjoyed sole dominance, is becoming increasingly crowded.

What might the White House have used to jam the signal? Defense contractor Raytheon markets a wide variety of electronic anti-drone jammers. That includes the enormous “next generation jammer” that comes in at $10 billion as well as some that actually fly, such as the miniature air-launched decoy (with jamming kit) or MALD-J.

But drone jamming doesn’t have to come in at billions of dollars. For instance, a device called the Cyborg Unplug promises to make your living area drone free for around $66.

Here’s how the manufactures describe it on their website. “Cyborg Unplug hits wireless surveillance devices where it hurts: network connectivity. ‘Plug to unplug’, it sniffs the air for wireless signatures from devices you don’t want around, sending an alert to your phone when detected. Should the target device connect to a network you’ve chosen to defend, Cyborg Unplug will immediately disconnect them, stopping them from streaming video, audio and data to the Internet… Detected wireless devices currently include: wearable ‘spy’ cameras and microphones, Google Glass and Dropcam, small drones/copters and a variety of popular spy devices disguised as familiar objects.”

You can also make your own jammer with easily obtainable components, as researcher Ahmad Jisrawi points out.

There’s just one problem, cell phone, Wi-Fi and signal jamming in the United States is illegal. So use your home jammer at your own peril.  If you just want to detect a drone and then down it via some more conventional means, outfits like or Domestic Drone Counter Measures have all that you need, off mesh network components that can pick up and report a drone’s signal nearby.

Reports suggest that the drone seems to have crashed on its own, begging the question, is the White House equipped with an off-the-shelf drone jamming kit? If not, why not?

It’s an issue that won’t be going away. In fact, drones have been crashing all over Washington lately. On Jan. 21, a representative from 3D Robotics attended a hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and demonstrated how to pilot a small $500 Parrot Bebop UAV from his iPhone. The meeting broke history, marking the first time that an unmanned aircraft was flown—and crashed—inside a congressional hearing.

“Oh my gosh. And that’s your worst-case scenario! Drone crash. Drone crash!” Colin Guinn, 3D Robotics chief revenue office, said to committee members.

The other key takeaway from the event, the Federal Aviation Administration has no current strategy for integrating UAVs into commercial airspace, even though they are required to do it by Sept. 15 of this year, according to Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. What does that mean? Drones will be regulated by the current regime and, as demonstrated Monday, poorly policed even around targets of national security interest.

What’s the current FAA strategy regarding drones? If you want to fly a robot plane beyond your line of site, or one over 55 pounds, within 400 feet of an airport, or for any sort of commercial purpose at all, you need a special exemption from the FAA, of which they have granted 16 out of some 295 requests.

James Williams, the manager for the FAA’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration Office told the House committee: “We’re in the process of building a tracking system…similar to laser systems…On the research side…we’ve started an initiative to assess the risk of an unmanned aircraft to a manned aircraft.” Williams added: “We’re accelerating that thanks to congressional funding this year.”

Monday’s event may accelerate that research further.  



DJI Announces Mandatory Firmware Update

by Gary Mortimer • 28 January 2015


DJI will release a mandatory firmware update for the Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision, and Phantom 2 Vision+ to help users comply with the FAA’s Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) 0/8326, which restricts unmanned flight around the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

The updated firmware (V3.10) will be released in coming days and adds a No-Fly Zone centered on downtown Washington,

The restriction is part of a planned extension of DJI’s No Fly Zone system that prohibits flight near airports and other locations where flight is restricted by local authorities. These extended no fly zones will include over 10,000 airports registered with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and will expand no fly zones to ensure they cover the runways at major international airports. DC and extends for a 25 kilometer (15.5 mile) radius in all directions. Phantom pilots in this area will not be able to take off from or fly into this airspace.

DJI is also continuing to update its no fly zone list in compliance with local regulations to include additional sensitive locations and to prevent flight across national borders.

These new safety features will be released across DJI’s flying platforms in the near future.

“With the unmanned aerial systems community growing on a daily basis, we feel it is important to provide pilots additional tools to help them fly safely and responsibly,” said Michael Perry, DJI’s company spokesperson. “We will continue cooperating with regulators and lawmakers to ensure the skies stay safe and open for innovation.”


DoD Business Panel Proposes $125B in Savings

By Paul McLeary 10:58 a.m. EST January 25, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s Defense Business Board (DBB) issued a series of recommendations on Jan. 22 calling on the Defense Department to slash $125 billion in spending over the next five years by reducing services from contractors, implementing early retirements, reworking contracts and reducing administrative costs.

The report comes at the direction of Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, whose October 2014 memo to the civilian panel instructed it to form a Task Group “to review and recommend changes to the Department’s current plans for enterprise modernization.”

Specifically, Work wanted advice on how private sector organizations consolidate their information technology (IT) services and to “recommend ways to best reconfigure all or part of DoD’s supporting business process and their associated IT.”

He also wanted the board to recommend an approach to quantify “the economic value of modernization on a productivity basis,” and how modernizing department business practices would help it gain further efficiencies.

The DBB released its findings just a week before the fiscal 2016 defense budget is due to be unveiled.

The task group identified more than 1 million people working in the DoD’s human resources, health care, financial, logistics, acquisition and property management fields. It claimed that by renegotiating contracts with vendors, offering early retirements and retraining employees to be more efficient, the building could save about $125 billion between fiscal 2016 and 2020, or about $25 billion a year.

Those savings could then be pumped back into the force, the board claims, and would equal the funding it takes to field 50 Army brigades, 10 Navy carrier strike groups or 83 Air Force F-35 fighter wings.

The three biggest cost saving initiatives identified between 2016 and 2020 are $49 billion to $89 billion through “more rigorous vendor negotiations” for contracted goods and services; another $23 billion to $53 billion through retirement and attrition of defense civilians and contractors, also reducing redundancy; and $5 billion to $9 billion in its IT processes though data center consolidation, cloud migration and automating some functions.

Work’s Oct. 15 memo said the DoD spends about $100 billion annually on “core business processes,” which he identified as human resources and healthcare management, financial management, logistics and supply, and property management.

“My goal is to modernize our business processes and supporting systems and create an agile enterprise shared services organization in order to reduce costs, maximize return on investment, and improve performance,” he wrote.

The study also includes deep looks at the business processes of Lockheed Martin, Pepsi Co.,Hewlett Packard, and IBM.

The inclusion of such large commercial firms has raised some eyebrows, however.

“Commercial businesses tolerate risk because the worst that can happen to their business is that they lose some money” said Steven Grundman, Lund Fellow for Emerging Defense Challenges at the Atlantic Council.

“The military organizes and costs for risk because there are far more consequential interests that they are guarding than money, and mitigating risk is expensive and one reason the analog between business and the military is imperfect at best.”

The DBB also looked at several Pentagon programs to gain some insight on how procurement practices can be streamlined. They studied the Army Logistics Support Agency’s successful outsourcing its data center, the 10-year, $1 billion failure of the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System, which was canceled in 2010, and the Air Force’s $1.1 billion Expeditionary Combat Support System failure.


SpaceX, US Air Force Settle Lawsuit

By Aaron Mehta 7:03 p.m. EST January 23, 2015


WASHINGTON — SpaceX has reached an agreement with the US Air Force and will drop its lawsuit against the service, the company and Pentagon announced in a joint statement Friday evening.

The two parties have “reached agreement on a path forward for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program that improves the competitive landscape and achieves mission assurance for national security space launches,” the statement reads.

“The Air Force also has expanded the number of competitive opportunities for launch services under the EELV program while honoring existing contractual obligations,” the statement continued. “Going forward, the Air Force will conduct competitions consistent with the emergence of multiple certified providers. Per the settlement, SpaceX will dismiss its claims relating to the EELV block buy contract pending in the United States Court of Federal Claims.”

The lawsuit dates back to April 25, when Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, announced his company was filing a protest against the Air Force for its decision to award a block-buy contract for 36 launches to the United Launch Alliance (ULA), the only company currently certified to launch under the EELV program.


With Lawsuits and Mergers, US Space Market Primed for Changes

Musk decried the sole-source deal as wasteful for taxpayers and, over the past eight months, has publicly slammed the Air Force as being too close to the legacy launch company.

Friday’s statement indicates that ULA’s block buy contract will remain. Given how forceful SpaceX had been that the block buy was unfair, that qualifies as a win for both the legacy launch provider and the Air Force.

At the same time, the mention of “expanded” competitive opportunities and the statement that the Air Force will conduct future competitions “consistent with the emergence of multiple certified providers,” it becomes clear that SpaceX got its message across: ULA can no longer count on having a monopoly on the EELV program.

The statement also said SpaceX will “work collaboratively” with a new panel, set up by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, that will review the certification process and look for ways to improve it.

In a follow-on statement, James said she was “extremely pleased” at the agreement.

“I have always been a huge proponent of competition and believe this is an important step in that direction,” James said. “The Air Force is dedicated to ensuring we have the world’s finest national security space architecture and a robust launch capability is at the heart of making that possible.”

A spokesman for SpaceX referred queries to the joint statement. Reached for comment, a ULA spokeswoman did the same.

SpaceX expected certification to be complete before the end of 2014, but that now appears more likely to happen by midyear. James has expressed confidence the company will eventually be certified, which would allow them to launch sensitive military equipment into orbit.

Musk recently announced that his company will begin producing satellites.



SpaceX Enters Satellite Business

By Aaron Mehta 3:28 p.m. EST January 23, 2015


WASHINGTON — SpaceX, the upstart company led by Elon Musk, has already upended the space launch market. Now the company has its eyes turned toward the creation of a massive new satellite constellation, one that would have major repercussions for the commercial and military communications market.

A recording posted on YouTube of a Jan. 16 event announcing the opening of SpaceX’s Seattle facilities shows Musk claiming the company has submitted paperwork to international regulators, the first step in securing the bandwidth frequencies on which his network could operate.

The system would be “about” the 1,100-kilometer level in space, solidly in the low-Earth orbit range. The weight of the satellites would be in the “few hundred kilogram” range, and the overall network would eventually include 4,000 or so systems, almost doubling the number of active systems currently in space. Musk envisions the system going online in five years providing coverage for most of the globe, a timeframe he admitted is ambitious.

Following a series of regular updates, full capacity of the system would go online within 12-15 years, with an estimated price tag of $10-$15 billion. Musk indicated he is looking to hire about 500 people for the Seattle-based program to get the initial version of the system ready to go.

“The focus is going to be on creating a global communications system,” Musk told the audience. “This is quite an ambitious effort — we’re really talking about something which is, in the long term, like rebuilding the Internet in space.”

At no point in the speech did Musk mention whether the future constellation would be used for military purposes, and a SpaceX spokesperson declined to offer further comment on the satellite program.

However, if Musk can make the system work, it could have serious benefit for the Pentagon, which has struggled to provide enough bandwidth for communications across the globe.

Marco Cáceres, an analyst with the Teal Group, pointed to the way the Pentagon leases bandwidth from Iridium as a potential path forward.

“I would imagine [Musk would] be interested in getting the military on board as a customer, much in the same way Iridium has,” Cáceres said. “It gives the Pentagon another system if they need more bandwidth, more coverage. I would imagine that they would probably enter into a similar arrangement with Iridium, where they just lease capacity.”

Brian Weeden, technical adviser to the Secure World Foundation, added that security will be a deciding factor in whether the Pentagon looks to SpaceX.

“A lot depends on the security of the service, and whether it can meet the Pentagon’s requirements for encryption,” Weeden said. “If it can, then I think the Pentagon could be a customer, like they are with Iridium.”

However, the Pentagon is already the largest single customer for Iridium, and that company’s updated network will likely meet department needs for the next few years. With that in mind, Cáceres doesn’t see the Pentagon signing contracts until Musk’s network is up and running.

“SpaceX will have to prove itself, which will take at least a few years,” Cáceres said. “So I don’t think you’ll see the military jumping on board anytime in the next few years.”

Iridium spokeswoman Diane Hockenberry indicated the company does not see SpaceX, nor a similar system proposed by OneWeb Ltd., as direct competitors in the near future.

There are “many differences and advantages when compared to the two proposed systems, including our unique mesh architecture of cross-linked satellites that provides truly global coverage with no compromises,” Hockenberry said. “Because we operate in L-band, which provides superior mobile voice service as compared to the higher spectrums these projects plan to use, we do not anticipate any risk to our existing business model, or competition for our voice, aviation safety services, or Department of Defense services.”

As to the cost, Cáceres warned that satellite constellations tend to increase in price as reality intrudes on planning. However, he pointed out that a big chunk of the cost is tied into launch — something SpaceX would be able to do in-house with its Falcon system of launch vehicles.

Iridium, ironically, was one of the first commercial operators to select SpaceX for its satellite launch missions.


Clogging Space?

Musk acknowledged “similarities” between his proposed system and Iridium, but emphasized that the number of satellites in his system should lead to less risk. “If a satellite didn’t work you’d just take it out of the constellation and deorbit it,” he pointed out in his speech.

One question with SpaceX’s plan is whether throwing 4,000 satellites into low-Earth orbit would create traffic issues. Space, after all, is growing more congested as new countries begin launching systems into orbit.

Musk waved away concerns about that in his speech, noting that at the 1,100-kilometer level “there’s just not a lot up there.”

Weeden agreed that there is space for the proposed constellation at that altitude. However, he warned that SpaceX needs to focus on not creating further space debris with its system.


“That means managing the constellation so they don’t run into each other, and then properly disposing of their satellites when they reach end of life,” Weeden explained.

Musk acknowledged the potential issue of space junk and said it would be a big focus for planners.

While the sheer number of satellites could pose a problem, it also may make the system attractive to the Pentagon, which has been exploring the idea of “disaggregation,” or breaking the very expensive, gold-plated satellite systems into smaller, cheaper constellations, for the last few years.


US Space Officials Push Smaller Platforms

While that push began under former Space Command head Gen. William Shelton, his successor, Gen. John Hyten, pledged to continue to look at moving toward disaggregation in a December speech.

“That architecture has to fundamentally change, and it is going to fundamentally change,” Hyten said.

Regardless of Pentagon interest, Musk plans to go ahead with the system, with an eye on using profits to fund his true passion — the development of a city on Mars.

“This is intended to be a significant amount of revenue and help fund a city on Mars,” Musk said. “Looking in the long term, and saying, what’s needed to create a city on Mars? Well, one thing’s for sure — a lot of money. So we need things that will generate a lot of money.”

He added that SpaceX is unlikely to go public until there are “regular” flights to Mars.



Google Fiber Expands to 18 Cities in American Southeast

The search giant’s gigabit broadband service is making its biggest expansion yet.

by News Staff / January 27, 2015 1


Google Fiber is making its biggest expansion to date. On Jan. 27, the company announced 18 new cities that will become part of its growing gigabit broadband service. The new Fiber cities are in the metropolitan regions of Nashville, Tenn.; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

In February 2014, Google named 34 prospective Fiber cities, beginning an evaluation process that involved gauging the public’s interest in those areas and the cooperation of local governments. Those regions still in the “prospective” category include Portland, Ore.; San Jose, Calif.; Phoenix; Salt Lake City; and San Antonio.

In blog post chronicling Fiber’s progress, Google notes that the availability of gigabit Internet access has connected students to underwater microscopes that allow them to study the Pacific Ocean, it’s assisted the work of a geneticist looking to help newborns in intensive care, and facilitated programming courses in Kansas City.

Fiber has also stimulated the broadband market in the regions it has entered. Anecdotes of increased competition is driving market choice around the nation. CenturyLink recently began offering gigabit broadband in some areas of Seattle, leading incumbent provider Comcast to begin doubling service speeds in those areas.

Google noted that Fiber is a long-term investment that aligns with infrastructure needed to build a future like the one alluded to by the president in his recent State of the Union address.



New Malware Can Bring Down Drones Mid-Flight


January 29, 2015


Maldrone bills itself as the “first backdoor for drones.” Developed by security researcher Rahul Sasi, this malware tricks a drone’s autonomous decision-making unit into handing over control to a hacker. Once the drone has been infected, that hacker can do anything from flying the drone to the destination of their choice to making the drone just drop out of the sky.

Sasi demonstrated Maldrone’s ability in a demo and outlined the specifics of the malware on a hacker forum.

This isn’t the first time someone’s developed malware for UAVs—it really isn’t—but it is unique for a few reasons. First of all, as Sasi himself points out, past malware targets the drone’s API, whereas Maldrone goes straight for the brain—the autonomous decision-making unit.

And unlike past hacks that were specific to a particular make and model of drone, Maldrone is designed to work with any drone software. The demo shows the malware taking over a Parrot AR drone, but Sasi says he’s also implementing the malware on a DJI Phantom.



SECDEF Hagel Farewell Ceremony

01/29/2015 08:45 AM CST

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Mr. President, thank you.

I’m very grateful to you for many reasons. But first, thank you for being here today. I know the kind of schedule that you have been on, and the length of the trip, the intensity of those visits…and to make this effort today means an awful lot. Thank you.

I want to also thank you for giving me the honor of serving you and the American people as the Secretary of Defense. I will always be grateful, always grateful for that opportunity.

And Mr. President, thank you for your strong leadership at a very difficult time: a difficult time in our world that requires wise, steady, careful leadership. You have and you are providing that leadership, and I have been very proud to serve with you in the Senate and in particular, over the last two years as your Secretary of Defense.

Vice President Biden, thank you as well for being here today. I have not forgotten some of the stories that you told. I recall very well us calling my mother on that trip through the mountains of Iraq, and I remember you wanted to speak with her.

And hours and hours later…

… She never forgot that, Mr. Vice President, and was so proud of that phone conversation. And so I thank you for your generous reaching out to my mother at a very difficult time for her. Because she she was gone about a month later. So, thank you.

One of my greatest joys during my time here in Washington has been development of our friendship. And as you have noted, and as the president has noted, our time together, the three of us, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Secretary Kerry is here today, who knows a little something about this business, and to you Secretary Kerry, thank you. I include you in those days.

Our former chairman, Chairman Lugar, is here as well. And to Dick Lugar, thank you. As you have noted, there are special people in our lives that we benefit from, and certainly Dick Lugar is one of those I think we all have benefited a great deal from.

And Vice President Biden, thank you for your years of service to this country as well.

Chairman Dempsey, it has been a great privilege for this old sergeant to have worked side by side with a general of your character and your courage. I’ve been very fortunate to have you as my partner in this job, especially during those self-help and educational opportunities called congressional hearings.

I was always reassured in each of those hearings, as we would drive to the Hill in the morning, knowing that Marty Dempsey was next to me. And for what you have meant to our military, Marty, and what you continue to do for this country, thank you very much.

I see another great icon of the United States Senate with us today: Senator John Warner, who we all worked closely with and benefited from. And to our distinguished colleagues, Senators Warner and Lugar, welcome and thank you for what you have done for this country, as so many of you here today. And I am grateful that you would take the time to visit us on this on this occasion.

To the chiefs of the services, our senior civilian leaders, and the combatant commanders, thank you. Thank you for your unflagging service and your leadership and your commitment to this country.

I want to particularly acknowledge Bob Work Bob Work, our Deputy Secretary of Defense. I thank him for his leadership and our strong partnership over the last year. And my appreciation as well to Ash Carter: for Ash’s service and his partnership during my first year at the Pentagon, and for his continued commitment to public service.

And my heartfelt thanks to my security and advance staff. Each of you played critically important roles for which my family and I will always be grateful. To my personal staff and those in the office of the secretary, you’ve been indispensable, indispensable in helping me carry out my responsibilities, and I thank you.

And to the men and women who serve our country and their families, whose service and sacrifice is unequaled, you have my deepest gratitude. We salute your high purpose in defense of our freedoms and our values. Every day, you wake up, and you go to work knowing that this department this department alone is charged with one fundamental mission: the security of this nation. It’s been my absolute privilege to have been on your team.

Over the past two years, I’ve witnessed the courage and dignity of America’s servicemen and women all over the world. I’ve seen young enlisted and young officers do their jobs realizing that how how they do their jobs is just as important as the job itself.

I’ve seen senior officers and senior enlisted realizing that they are role models. Maybe their highest responsibility of all. And I’ve seen the enduring devotion and commitment of their families: the mothers, the fathers, husbands, wives, children, and the sacrifices that they willingly willingly make for our country.

Their individual commitment to the greater good and strength of the institution has been a complete inspiration to me in every way. They understand that it’s people, people who build and strengthen institutions and make the world a better place.

These are the reasons why America’s military is the most admired and most trusted institution in our country. We must always protect that confidence and trust by our conduct and our performance continuing to hold ourselves and each other to the highest standards of professionalism and personal behavior.

As I will soon leave this job that I have cherished for the last two years, I want you all to know that the things that I have most respected and most admired are your dignity, your courage, and your dedication.

The opportunity to have been part of all this is something I could not have imagined when I joined the Army 48 years ago. No high office with responsibility is easy, as everyone in this room knows.

But with each difficult challenge comes the satisfaction of knowing knowing that you are like Teddy Roosevelt’s man in the arena, slugging it out, doing what you believe, doing what you like, and doing it your way. And recognizing that it’s not the critics who count or change the world or make the world better, but rather it’s those who are willing to work, work very hard toward building a better world.

We live in a complicated and defining time. The men and women who have devoted their lives to America’s security are the architects of this new, 21st century world. They’re building onto the great legacies and foundations that have been laid by those who have gone before them.

We’ve made mistakes. We will make more mistakes. But we hold tightly to one of America’s greatest strengths: the capacity and the constitutional structure that allows us to self-correct. We can change systems, right wrongs, solve problems, and start over. But we must get the big things right.

We must recognize that there is not an immediate answer to every problem. Some problems require evolving solutions that give us the time and the space to adjust, and the patience to seek higher ground and lasting results.

Our world, captive to immediacy, uncertainty, and complexity, is not moving toward less complicated problems, but rather, toward more global challenges rooted in historic injustices and conflicts.

In this dynamic environment, we need to prioritize and focus on how on how to build greater partnership capacity around the world with our partners, to help solve problems through coalitions of common interests that help build opportunities and create hope for all people.

These are difficult and complicated tasks, but we have no choice. It will require steady, wise, and judicious use of American power, prestige, and influence. We must never fail to always ask the most important question when making decisions in policy: what happens next.

With all the world’s travails and problems, it is still a hopeful world. This I believe.

I want to thank my wife, Lilibet, with whom I’ve shared this remarkable 30-year journey. I could never have done this job without her by my side. And I’m especially proud of her work on behalf of military families and other important issues to the men and women of the military. I valued all of her many contributions to this institution, and I thank her deeply for helping me be a better Secretary of Defense.

I want to also thank my daughter Allyn, my son Ziller, for their constant support, encouragement, and always good advice…and helping me with the internet…and recognizing and allowing me to take inventory in that recognition that I am not near as smart as I thought I was. Those are the humbling experiences of parenthood. Those of us who’ve had the opportunity to know those days and have that experience and be blessed with that experience know so well.

And to my brothers, Tom and Mike, who have truly been with me since this train left the station in Nebraska many years ago, thank you.

And one last point: Of all the opportunities my life has given me and I have been blessed with so many I am most proud of having once been a soldier.

The lessons from my time in uniform about trust, responsibility, duty, judgment, and loyalty to your fellow soldier these I have carried with me throughout my life.

May God bless and keep each of you. Thank you.



New Budget Will Feature 6th Gen Fighter

By Paul McLeary 3:57 p.m. EST January 28, 2015

WASHINGTON — More pieces of next Monday’s fiscal 2016 defense budget request are beginning to fall into place.

The Pentagon’s future years funding projection to be released with each annual budget request will include more money than planned, the Pentagon’s second in command said on Wednesday.

The fiscal 2016 future years defense program (FYDP) slated to be released on Feb. 2 “reverses the decline in defense spending over the past five years and works to address the under-investment in new weapons by making targeted investments in those areas we deem to be the highest priority,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said.

Earlier in the day, Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall told a Senate panel that there is money in the next budget for the Air Force to begin work on its 6th generation fighter

“It will be a program that will be initially led by DARPA,” Kendall said, “but it will involve the Navy and the Air Force as well. And the intent is to develop prototypes for the next generation of air dominance platforms, X-Plane programs, if you will.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on a series of studies on 6th generation fighter technologies for the past several years, and Air Force officials have said they expect to begin flying the next-generation jets by as early as the 2030s. Industry teams are also known to have started internal research and development projects on potential 6th generation technologies.

The DARPA 6th generation fighter program has been dubbed the Air Dominance Initiative.

In keeping with the push by Kendall and Work to increase competition for programs and get the department the best deal — and the best technology possible — he added that in order to be competitive, “the Navy and the Air Force will each have variants focused on their mission requirements. There’ll be a technology period leading up to development of the prototypes.”

Kendall confirmed that “this will be in our budget” in 2016.

The initiative will be a key component of the Better Buying Power 3.0 plan that Kendall has championed, which seeks to find efficiencies in the technology development phase of new programs, while tapping allies to share some of the cost of prototyping and development.

The work will eventually “lead to the systems that will ultimately come after the F-35,” he said, adding that “part of the program is an airframe-oriented program with those X- plane prototypes.” Another is a jet engine development program “for the next generation, also competitive prototypes for the next generation propulsion.”

Speaking at a Center for a New American Security event, Work added that in the upcoming budgets, his team is programming funding lines to invest “in promising new technologies and capabilities, including unmanned undersea vehicles; sea mining; high speed strike weapons; an advanced new jet engine; rail gun technology; and high energy lasers.”


The Pentagon’s new fiscal cliff

“Everyone is still with the happy talk that somehow sequestration is going to go away.”

By Jeremy Herb

1/28/15 6:54 PM EST


President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans say they want to boost Pentagon spending by tens of billions of dollars next year — but that’s just budget theater.

The administration and the new Republican-controlled Congress are creating another budgetary cliff on defense spending, forcing the military to face across-the-board cuts if Pentagon spending busts the caps that are already law.

The sequestration cap for Pentagon spending is about $499 billion, but the Obama administration is set to propose a $534 billion base defense budget, according to budget documents. And many analysts expect congressional Republicans propose a similar, if not higher, topline.

The first delivered Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental jet taxies into position before taking off from Paine Field following delivery to an undisclosed customer Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012, in Everett, Wash. The new 747-8 Intercontinental is expected to deliver double-digit gains in fuel efficiency over the 747-400 and provide VIP customers and passenger airlines, such as Lufthansa, with the lowest operating costs and best economics of any airplane in its class. Lufthansa is scheduled to take delivery of its first 747-8 Intercontinental early this year. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

If the the final Pentagon spending measure exceeds the budget cap without changing the sequestration law, the Pentagon would get hit with across-the-board cuts back down to $499 billion.

Leaders of the Armed Services committees continually preach about the devastation of the cuts — summoning military leaders to Capitol Hill to detail how the cuts would wreak havoc — but so far there’s little talk of another budget resolution like the Ryan-Murray deal in December 2013, which provided some sequestration relief, let alone a “grand bargain” involving taxes and entitlements to stave off sequestration once and for all.

“Everyone is still with the happy talk that somehow sequestration is going to go away and they’re somehow going to have a higher number,” Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told POLITICO.

Across the Capitol, many, if not most, Democrats and Republicans alike oppose defense sequestration, set up by the 2011 Budget Control Act that raised the debt ceiling. But defense spending has been tied up for years over the larger budget debate about taxes and entitlements that has stymied Congress and President Barack Obama from striking a major budget agreement.

That disconnect is likely to play out once again in this year’s budget proposals. The administration’s budget, to be released Monday, is likely to boost both defense and domestic spending — expected to be paid for in part with tax increases unacceptable to Republicans.

Past Republican budgets have also proposed a higher defense spending topline, but they’ve done so through cuts to domestic agencies and entitlement reforms that are non-starters with Democrats.

Defense hawks, however, say there’s still plenty of time to gin up support for a budget deal that can give the military — and possibly domestic agencies — relief from the budget crunch.

“Endgame? We aren’t even at kickoff yet,” one House GOP aide said when asked about a sequestration fix.

Armed Services members argue that the dynamic in Washington has shifted with the new U.S. war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and the military’s fight against Ebola in Africa, which can convince wayward lawmakers the defense shortfall must be addressed.

And they say that the effects of sequestration will hit the military much harder than it did initially in 2013 because the services have already cut to the bone to grapple with reductions after the end of the war in Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has made repealing sequestration his top committee priority this year, is trying to force his colleagues to listen to the military’s dire warnings. He held a hearing Wednesday with the service chiefs so they could lay out the damage the cuts would cause, from losing capabilities for intelligence-gathering drone flights to more casualties due to a hollow and untrained military force.

“I will say candidly that it is deeply frustrating that a hearing of this kind is still necessary,” McCain said. “And yet, here we go again: If we in Congress do not act, sequestration will return in full in fiscal year 2016, setting our military on a far more dangerous course.”

In past years, the budget battles have pit the Republican House against the Democratic Senate and Obama. This year, though, GOP defense hawks will be squaring off primarily with deficit hawks in their own party.

The Budget Committee chairmen will play a key role, and defense analysts say they don’t know yet how the new chairmen, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), will tackle defense spending amid a desire to cut the deficit. Both chairmen held hearings on the budget outlook this week, where they talked plenty about balancing the budget and curbing spending. But neither mentioned defense spending or sequestration in his opening statements.

Congressional leaders have also said little about sequestration in outlining their priorities for the new Congress.

“Right now, the signals are not encouraging, and by that I mean lack of signals by Speaker [John] Boehner, Majority Leader [Mitch] McConnell, and chairs and ranking members of the Budget Committees in both chambers,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. “Only when it becomes a crisis, when we are confronting sole sequestration close to the deadline, will there be real movement — if there is movement on a budget deal.”

Asked whether his budget would put Pentagon spending above the sequester cap, Enzi declined to say. “I’m a long way from starting to comment on every item in the budget,” he said.

Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who has been a vocal Democrat on averting sequestration, said that some informal discussions are underway among members of the Budget and Armed Services committees. And he noted he was one of a half-dozen senators on both committees.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and other defense hawks say their role is to highlight the dangers of not stopping sequestration, rather than proposing an ultimate solution that involves taxes, spending and entitlements.

But there have been some signs that GOP defense hawks may be more willing to compromise with the president on a budget deal. Thornberry, for instance, did not rule out tax increases as part of a sequestration solution, something his predecessor did not support.

“I’m pretty much open to any solution that would fix sequestration,” Thornberry said in an interview.

And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), McCain’s right-hand man on defense issues, has said repeatedly he’s willing to support new revenues in exchange for entitlement reforms, as well as pursuing a fix addressing both defense and domestic spending.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Graham slammed Obama and Congress, criticizing both sides for creating sequestration and not doing anything about it.

“We don’t have a plan,” Graham said. “But Sen. McCain, to his credit, is challenging some of us on the committee to find a plan. Mr. President, help us, because we can’t do this by ourselves.”

The 2013 budget agreement between the then-Budget Committee chairs, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) proved there can be some appetite for a budget deal, but that agreement only reversed a small chunk of sequestration — and it used up many of the “easy” spending cuts.

“It’s clear that all of the low-hanging fruit has been picked, which means a deal is that much harder,” said Eaglen, a former Senate staffer.

The defense industry, which has vowed to help fight sequestration, is gearing up for a year’s worth of uncertainty with the sequestration cliff looming. And on Wednesday, the investment firm Guggenheim Partners issued a memo to investors warning “there will not be quick resolution” on the defense budget.

“The key wildcard remains whether the GOP Congress and White House can reach an agreement on lifting the FY16 cap on defense,” wrote Guggenheim analyst Roman Schweizer. “This deal may not come together until the very end of the fiscal year.”

Gordon Adams, a defense budget official in the Clinton administration who now teaches at American University, said there was a key fail safe for the Pentagon if sequestration can’t be thwarted: the war budget, which does not count against the caps.

“OCO is a safety valve,” Adams said, referring to the formal name for the war budget, Overseas Contingency Operations.

But war funding could still get hit with an across-the-board cut, according to Todd Harrison, a budget guru at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, because funding for Afghanistan and ISIL operations does not count against the spending caps, Harrison said, but is subject to the across-the-board cuts if Congress breaks the caps, due to a quirk in the 2011 law.



USAF Vice Chief to Scientists: ‘Help Us’

By Aaron Mehta 3:12 p.m. EST January 28, 2015


WASHINGTON — If the US Air Force is going to simultaneously keep ahead of the technology curve while fighting a war, it needs innovative thinking from all corners, the service’s vice chief told scientific advisers on Tuesday.

Speaking at an annual conference of the USAF Scientific Advisory Board, Gen. Larry Spencer implored the group of independent advisers to help the service break out of its traditional mold.

“We need your help to help us break through that, because we are so tied to the way we’ve always done it and we are so encumbered by what ‘we cannot do’ and ‘what won’t work,’ ” Spencer told the audience.

The service is never at a loss for potential new technologies it can exploit. The challenge, Spencer said, is to take those ideas and turn them into something actionable.

“What we need help with, at least from this group is, at some point, we need to leap off the paper into something we can use,” he said. “The dilemma we’re having is balancing the demands of today with the demands we know are in the future, and being able to afford them both at the same time.”

Spencer said it’s worth exploring technology allowing the service to track femtoseconds — tiny fractions of a second that could give more accuracy to a variety of technologies; heads up displays that can be fed into contact lenses; improvements in quantum systems; and ways to cut the hours needed to operate an unmanned system.

He also said the service will put a premium on innovation in its fiscal 2016 budget request, which will be unveiled Monday.

Spencer’s comments came at a kickoff event for this year’s trio of studies being run by the Scientific Advisory Board, a federal advisory committee formed in 1944 to provide an independent voice to the service on technology and science.

The three topics being looked at this year are the use of quantum systems, cyber vulnerabilities in embedded systems on air and space systems, and how to enhance the utility of unmanned vehicles in contested environments.

One major topic of discussion raised by audience members is how the service will keep up with technology growth from near-peer competitors such as China, at a time of tightening budgets.

Spencer acknowledged that balance is difficult, but said the service cannot allow itself to fall behind other nations.

“We should not, in my view, put ourselves in a position where we are reacting. We should have people reacting to us,” Spencer said. “That is obviously more difficult in an environment of shrinking budgets, particularly when your budget is shrinking and your threats are certainly not going down.”

Spencer also argued that the traditional drawdown after a military conflict is not applicable to modern day situations. After World War II, Korea or the Persian Gulf War, hostilities ended, and so a drawdown made sense, Spencer said. In comparison, the conflicts of today are unending.

“People would typically think after Afghanistan or Iraq the budget comes down,” he said. “The problem is, back then we had defeated someone and that adversary’s capability had gone down. The type of war we have been fighting is not against a state actor that we had traditionally fought in the past.

“If anything you can argue our peer competition is on the rise,” Spencer continued. “So how do you take that down after Afghanistan and Iraq, budget reduction, and at the same time stay on top of the curve? And that’s what we’re trying to convince the American people of.”


The FAA should strike the right balance on drone regulation

By Editorial Board January 28 at 6:45 PM


SOME PEOPLE intend to be national security threats. Others are just drunk. In the case of Monday’s drone crash on the southeast corner of the White House grounds, the immediate problem seems to have been an inebriated pilot. But the underlying issue is that the federal government poorly regulates the booming drone industry. The right response is not overreaction but rather tightening rules and procedures in some ways — and loosening them in others.

The White House has seen a handful of eye-raising security breaches in recent years, including one in September in which a man armed with a knife hopped the perimeter fence and ran into the building. In response, security continues to tighten. Among the most visible changes are unsightly waist-high fences around the building. Following the latest breach, the Secret Service says it won’t install golf netting around the White House grounds. That’s good: Washington has already become a city of concrete bollards and security cordons; official buildings shouldn’t be wholly removed from the public.

Federal authorities can and should enhance security against drones and other threats in smarter, less obtrusive ways. Technologies in the pipeline could detect small incoming aircraft. The trick will be intercepting or jamming drones on their way toward the West Wing without harming bystanders.

Rather than shooting errant drones out of the sky, it would be better to ensure that they never get near sensitive areas. At the moment, the Federal Aviation Administration requires that amateur drone pilots keep their devices at least five miles away from airports and below 400 feet. But several recent near-miss episodes between descending jetliners and drones demonstrate that these rules are far from perfectly applied. The responsibility is mostly in operators’ hands. The FAA should look into requiring that safety protocols be written into drone firmware, which would automatically prevent operation in unauthorized airspace, no matter how inebriated operators are.

Until the agency does that, high-profile enforcement in cases of serious rule-breaking might help. The government hasn’t released the name of the man who flew his 2-foot-by-2-foot unmanned aerial vehicle into restricted White House airspace Monday. Whoever he is, he should be punished publicly, showing other amateur drone pilots that responsibly operating their drones isn’t optional.

In other ways, the government should loosen up. The FAA generally doesn’t allow drone flights for commercial purposes even as amateurs take to the sky freely. The agency is developing rules that would allow more commercial drone flying — but might also require commercial operators to carry full pilot’s licenses, which would be another form of regulatory overkill. The aim should be to prevent midair collisions and cordon off restricted airspace. Licensing makes sense, but requiring hours of cockpit time does not. The benefits of using drones in commerce — from delivering packages to dusting crops — are too great to continue repressing the industry. (One potentially interested party is Amazon, whose chief executive is Jeffrey P. Bezos, the owner of The Post.)

Drone use should be safe. At the moment, though, it’s both under- and over-regulated. We hope the latest incident jolts the system into a better balance.



Russian Chirok Strike UAS Prepares for Test Flights

January 30, 2014


The first full-size model of the Chirok (Teal) reconnaissance and strike drone is preparing for test flights. It was introduced last year at the Innoprom Expo on a 1:5 scale in Yekaterinburg. Now the full-size model is ready, sporting a wingspan of 10 meters. The Chirok is getting ready for flight tests, according to reports TASS received from the United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation, which developed the drone.

The official presentation of the full-size Chirok model will be held at MAKS this year. United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation CEO Alexander Yakunin believes serial production of the drone will begin in 2016.

The Chirok is a dual-purpose aircraft, developed by the Moscow Radio Engineering Research Institute. It is designed for monitoring the ground or water surface, and for cargo transport. As expected, the military will be able to use the UAV for reconnaissance and as an unmanned combat aircraft.

The Chirok combines the latest achievements of engineering from different areas: electronics, aerospace, and the chemical industry. The technologies employed allow for building a truly modern aircraft. It is lightweight and durable, and has high performance marks, despite its impressive dimensions. The Chirok has a 10 m wingspan, with a maximum take-off mass not exceeding 700 kg. The device has an all-composite (carbon) body. The membrane of the air cushion is made of super-modern material, which was developed by Russian specialists. The technology behind the production of this material is based on Russian know-how.

The maximum take-off weight of the Chirok is up to 700 kg, and the maximum weight of its payload is up to 300 kg. On board it will be able to use opto-electronic devices for various types of monitoring. The UAV is also capable of carrying precision-guided weapons. It can also ascend to a height of 6,000 meters, with a range of up to 2,500 km. Currently, UIMC experts are working on further improvements for the technical specifications of the Chirok UAV.

Another feature of the design is that the arms can be positioned within the aircraft’s housing. For previous models, arms were mounted on the external suspension. Such a solution reduces the visibility of the UAV and improves its aerodynamic properties.


“This type of machine is designed for use in harsh environments: in regions where there are no runways. The machine will help to solve this problem across a large swath of our great country,” said Yakunin. “Our project will be offered to customers on both civil and military markets. I think it will generate a lot of interest in the energy sector and with the Ministry of Defense,” said Yakunin.

The United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation, a Russian state-backed corporation, was created in 2014, as part of the Rostec state-backed corporation, to develop the high-tech manufacturing of competitive products in the field of technology and communications systems, automated control systems, and electronic security and robotic systems for the Russian Armed Forces and other special groups, as well as competitive products for civil and dual-purpose. It brings together 55 enterprises and research institutions in the Russian electronic industry.

Source: Kalasihnikov Group



Dutch Interceptor Project Combats Unlawful UAV Use

Januray 30, 2014


European UAV manufacturer Aerialtronics has been working with the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR) to develop the Interceptor, a system aimed at protecting the public from potential threats resulting from the unlawful use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The move comes as the government recognises that inexpensive remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), more commonly referred to as drones, can be misused by rogue operators to threaten public order and perform a host of illegal activities such as smuggling. Only this week, a small consumer drone crashed into a tree on the South Lawn as it flew undetected into the grounds of the White House in Washington, USA. This incident could have had catastrophic consequences, raising questions about whether small UAS can be effectively detected and brought down in case of risk.

To combat this, the Dutch National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism — NCTb (Nationaal Coördinator Terrorismebestrijding) — in cooperation with the police, has started the Interceptor development programme and invited companies to submit proposals. The Interceptor system — intelligent and efficient RPAS concept and product against unwanted RPAS — will use drones to perform the interceptor role against other drones creating a potential hazard for public security.


The system will be equipped with means to:

◾Pursue a menacing drone;

◾Bring it to the ground in a controlled way;

◾Render it harmless (while still in the air).


The Interceptor system is likely to be deployed as a mobile as well as fixed system. The mobile deployment is an essential move, given the current market development in the drones sector.


Thanks to the built-in scalability of its countermeasures, the Interceptor will be able to tailor its response according to the situation and threat levels. The first phase of this project will consist of a feasibility study aimed at drafting the requirements and characteristics of the desired system.


About Aerialtronics

Aerialtronics is an international manufacturer of state of the art, high quality unmanned aircraft systems for civilian purposes. The company provides full aerial data solutions to a variety of applications worldwide. Aerialtronics’ systems are designed and developed in-house according to aviation grade quality standards.



FCC seeks broadband speeds with wow factor; telecom firms say, ‘Whoa’

FCC seeks broadband speeds with wow factor; telecom firms say, ‘Whoa’

David Lazarus

Los Angeles Times

January 29, 2015, 3:21 PM

Broadband Internet in this country just got a whole lot faster..

Actually the definition of broadband Internet just got faster — and the cable and phone industries are none too pleased about it.

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to change the standard for U.S. broadband to a download speed of 25 megabits a second, more than six times zippier than the old standard of 4 megabits.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in calling for the change this month, said raising America’s broadband bar is “table stakes” for playing in a 21st century global digital economy.

The U.S. currently ranks 14th worldwide for broadband speed, according to the networking company Akamai Technologies. The average speed here is 11.4 megs a second.

South Korea is way out in front, with an average broadband speed of 24.6 megs a second. The rest of the top 10: Hong Kong, Switzerland, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Latvia, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Romania.

Yeah, Romania.

The previous U.S. broadband standard of 4 megabits a second wasn’t exactly lightning-fast when you consider that some South Korean Internet users are on the verge of receiving a speed of 10 gigabits a second, or enough digital muscle to download a high-definition movie in seven seconds.

With a 4-meg connection, U.S. Internet users would have to wait hours to download the same film.

You’d think the American telecom industry would be cool with meeting higher broadband expectations. We invented the Internet, after all. The rest of the world should be eating our digital dust.

But guess what? The cable and phone industries think a faster broadband standard is unnecessary and impractical.

We just don’t need that much speed, they argue.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. filed an opinion with the FCC last week declaring that the calls for a 25-megabit standard “dramatically exaggerate the amount of bandwidth needed by the typical broadband user.”

“Some are suggesting that NCTA is against this definitional change because the cable industry doesn’t want to deliver consumers faster speeds or improved infrastructure,” the group said in a related blog post. “This is laughable.”

Telecom companies are already offering speeds well above 25 megs a second, it said. AT&T and Verizon Communications made similar arguments in their own recent FCC filings.

So what’s the problem?

It’s this: Federal law requires that the FCC make sure broadband is being deployed nationwide in a reasonable and timely fashion. If the definition of broadband is changed, many current — read: slower — services would no longer qualify.

That would empower the FCC to exert pressure on telecom companies to step up their game.

And these guys would rather spend millions of dollars lobbying regulators and lawmakers than spending money to keep pace with the rest of the developed world in meeting demand for faster broadband.

Thursday’s FCC vote was 3 to 2, with the panel’s two conservative commissioners siding with telecom companies.

Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai said that 70 million households could buy faster Internet speeds if they wanted, but “choose not to.”

Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, a libertarian-leaning think tank, said the FCC’s action represented “a new low in cynical, elitist politics,” paving the way for “a reckless, ideologically driven regulatory agenda.”

But Kate Forscey, an Internet rights fellow with the advocacy group Public Knowledge, said it’s bizarre that cable and phone companies would even defend a broadband standard of 4 megs a second.

“Those same companies spend an awful lot of time every single day telling consumers that the kind of speeds they want and need far surpass” this level, she said.

Time Warner Cable, for example, tells Los Angeles customers that its 50-megabit-a-second service is “ideal for downloading music, streaming videos and more.”

Its 3-megabit service, the closest Time Warner plan to a 4-megabit broadband standard, is “a good choice for checking email and doing a light amount of web surfing.”

Golly, doesn’t that sound like fun?

The FCC’s broadband vote followed a crackdown this week on businesses blocking people’s personal Wi-Fi hot spots.

The Marriott hotel chain caught regulators’ attention after announcing it would jam people’s wireless devices and prevent them from syncing a laptop or tablet to a cellphone’s Internet connection — though the hotel would be happy to provide its own Internet access for a price.

“Consumers must get what they pay for,” Wheeler declared. “Protecting consumers from this kind of interference is a priority area for the FCC Enforcement Bureau.”

That raises some interesting questions. If making sure consumers get what they pay for is a “priority area” for federal regulators, does that mean officials will play a more active role in net neutrality issues, ensuring that no Internet content receives special treatment from network providers?

Does it also work the other way, with the FCC protecting consumers from having to pay for things they don’t want, such as pay-TV packages with hundreds of unwatched channels?

Clearly the FCC believes U.S. consumers deserve a higher standard of Internet service. Phone and cable companies should embrace that challenge, rather than whine about regulatory kibitzing.

It’s all about giving consumers what they pay for. We’re paying for a top-quality online experience.

Is the telecom industry really saying that’s too much for it to deliver?



North Carolina Not Waiting on FAA to Explore Commercial Drone Use

The state-funded NextGen Air Transportation office at N.C. State University plans to apply for special FAA permission to start drone experiments for the state Department of Transportation.

by Jay Price, The News & Observer / January 29, 2015 0


(TNS) — The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to issue long-awaited draft regulations for operating small commercial drones this year, something that’s expected to open the skies to a multibillion-dollar industry.

President Barack Obama called for drone regulations this week after one landed, apparently by accident, on the White House lawn.

But with experts saying new rules for civilian use are still probably months or even years away, North Carolina’s nascent drone industry and state government agencies that are eager to use the aircraft aren’t waiting.

In coming days, the state-funded NextGen Air Transportation office at N.C. State University plans to apply for special FAA permission to start drone experiments for the state Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, one of the state’s largest drone companies, Raleigh-based PrecisionHawk, is expecting its own FAA exemption in the next few weeks so that it can begin commercial operations across the United States.

NGAT, which has been investigating various aspects of drone use at several sites around the state, will demonstrate its newest aircraft Thursday for state officials and members of the media at an N.C. State University farm off Lake Wheeler Road. That particular aircraft is mainly aimed at agricultural use, said the office’s director, Kyle Snyder.

By late spring, NGAT expects to receive the aircraft it will use for the DOT experiments, Snyder said.

The highway department is keen to evaluate several jobs it thinks drones could do well, said Bobby Walston, aviation director for DOT. Among those are investigating routes for new roads and inspecting bridges, construction sites and rock slides.

Other state agencies will be keeping a close eye on the work, too, Snyder said, including the Division of Emergency Management, which could use drones for evaluating damage in disasters and for search and rescue.

A bigger question is probably which state agency, if any, would not have a proper use for a drone, said state Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican who helped craft a state drone law approved last year that addressed privacy issues among other things.

“We can all understand the potential for law enforcement, and we could really save taxpayer dollars with bridge inspection,” said Torbett, who will attend the demonstration flight Thursday. “I doubt that there is a state agency – except maybe treasurer – that won’t have an opportunity to apply the technology and do it in a very cost-effective way.”


Given that it’s impossible to even guess at the range of applications for drones, the economic potential they represent here, both for drone users and companies that are involved in creating them, is unknowable but huge, Torbett said.

PrecisionHawk is already doing business in Canada, Great Britain, Australia and Latin America. It’s beginning to do more work on applications across a range of industries, including oil and gas, insurance, geology and mining and search and rescue, but its main focus has been agriculture.

PrecisionHawk sells its basic aircraft for about $16,000, but it essentially considers itself a data company, said spokeswoman Lia Reich.

That’s probably not surprising, given that the company has close ties to more traditional tech outfits. PrecisionHawk got a $10 million influx of cash this fall from a group of investors that included Bob Young, co-founder of the Red Hat software company, who sits on its board of directors.

The drone – which has a fuselage crafted from circuit boards rather than aerospace material – uploads the data it gathers to the cloud, where software developed by PrecisionHawk analyzes it and delivers the results to, say, a farmer’s laptop.

The buzzphrase is “precision agriculture.” Depending on which sensors a drone is configured with, the data it picks up when flying slowly over the farm can determine things such as how much nitrogen should be added to which part of a field or where weeds or disease are popping up, Reich said.

By helping farmers apply only as much nitrogen as a field needs, PrecisionHawk not only saves them money but helps reduce nitrogen runoff into streams and waterways.

Data from the drone also can help boost crop productivity. Just how much is something the company plans to gather more data on this year while working on several North Carolina farms in partnership with NGAT, Reich said.



Will Our Smart Gadgets Become Trusted or Oppressive Companions?

As we turn more of our decision-making over to devices, experts say, our reliance on these interconnected tools will far surpass today’s dependence on smartphones.

by Steve Johnson, San Jose Mercury News / January 28, 2015 0


(TNS) — Like legions of hyperactive butlers, many of the brainy gadgets being developed for the Internet of Things will anticipate our needs and make choices for us — without being told what to do — marking a momentous transformation in our relationship with machines.

As we turn more of our decision-making over to the devices, they will evolve into our personal confidants and counselors, determining everything from the time we wake up and clothes we wear to the music we listen to and route we take to work. In the process, experts say, our reliance on these interconnected tools will far surpass today’s dependence on smartphones.





These autonomous assistants are widely expected to help us stay healthier, take better care of our loved ones, live more comfortably, become more environmentally responsible, and boost our productivity by freeing us from an endless array of mundane, everyday tasks so we can concentrate on the most important ones.

But social scientists and others worry these computerized devices might make decisions that are seriously flawed or that we otherwise dislike, leaving us feeling less in control of our lives. More troublingly, their ceaseless surveillance could result in an excessively conformist society, some experts fear — especially with government and other entities exploring the use of these intelligent machines to identify and deter “abnormal behavior.”

“When we’re not being tracked, we’re more free to experiment, to be our authentic selves, to read new things, to be different kinds of people,” said Neil Richards, a law professor and privacy specialist at Washington University in St. Louis. But such omnipresent monitoring, he believes, “menaces our society’s foundational commitments to intellectual diversity and eccentric individuality.”

Stanford University researchers believe society may be profoundly impacted by Internet-of-Things machines endowed with “artificial intelligence,” generally defined as humanlike capabilities. So in December they began a centurylong study of the technology — with findings to be published every five years — in part to assess the implications “of systems that can make inferences about the goals, intentions, identity, location, health, beliefs, preferences, habits, weaknesses, and future actions and activities of people.”


Understanding such effects is crucial, experts say, because the technology is rapidly being adopted. About 13 percent of consumers already have outfitted their homes with a smart thermostat, security camera or other device, according to an Internet-of-Things study in August by consulting firm Accenture. Within five years, it added, that figure will likely hit 69 percent.

Instead of just doing what we command, many of the devices are being empowered with sophisticated software and microelectronics to act on their own initiative as our personal advisers.

Seattle’s Pith makes a smart furniture fabric called BackTracker, which the company says “nags” people to correct the way they sit if their poor posture might cause them back pain. A computerized fork from Hapilabs in Hong Kong admonishes users with lights and vibrations when they eat too fast. And Atlanta-based Monsieur claims its “intelligent bartender” not only remembers which alcoholic drinks its owner prefers, but “knows when you’ve had a long day at work and offers a double instead of a single.”

That’s just for starters, according to this prediction from Santa Clara chipmaker Intel about the technology that’s coming:

“Your bed knows when you wake up. It tells the radio to switch on so you can listen to the traffic and weather report or music it knows you enjoy. It tells the coffee machine to make a fresh pot. When you prepare for the day, your toothbrush notifies you that it’s time to see the dentist and it schedules an appointment based on your availability. Your shower adjusts its temperature based on your preference and when you go to the bathroom mirror, it reminds you to take your vitamins. As you get dressed, your closet mirror helps you choose an outfit based on the weather and what activities you have planned. As you leave the house, a display on the way lets you know you forgot your wallet.”


Mary Czerwinski, a Microsoft research manager and cognitive psychologist, said it’s conceivable some machines might function for their owners as a kind of psychotherapist, noting that people will get so close to their devices, they’ll think, “What would I ever do without this?” not unlike the relationship depicted in the movie “Her.”

To heighten such emotional attachments, some consumer robots are being given lifelike human features, and researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, in England, are developing versions “capable of expressing anger, fear, sadness, happiness, excitement and pride.”

Yet machines making decisions for people stirs mixed emotions.

Consider the self-driving cars being developed by Google and many automakers. Of more than 15,000 vehicle owners surveyed this year by market researcher J.D. Power, only about 1 in 4 expressed interest in having their next car chauffeur them about. Among those looking forward to that is 61-year-old Deryl Stanley, vice president of a club whose members customize classic cars.

“One day I’ll be 90 years old and need to go to the doctor, pick up some groceries and drop off some laundry,” he said. “It sure would be nice to go out to the garage, punch in where I want to go, and let it take me there.” Besides, he added, the autonomous vehicles “could virtually eliminate all the problems associated with driving under the influence.”

But fellow club member Joe Wilder, a 72-year-old retired drug-company salesman who has lovingly restored a 1956 Crown Victoria, is less enthusiastic.

“Self-driving cars may be safer, but I don’t think the drive will be as enjoyable as when I have the ability to speed up, slow down, wander here and there, and feel the car in my control,” he said. “Technology has taken a lot of living life away from us.”

One concern that could influence how we feel about the Internet of Things is that the technology might prove prone to malfunctions, as some experts fear.

That might not be a big problem if a smart refrigerator gets confused and orders too much milk, said Jörg Denzinger, a University of Calgary computer science professor. But in a computerized transportation system, where cars automatically relay braking alerts to each other in emergencies, a glitch could cause multiple crashes, he said, adding that designers of the technology “need to be careful.”

Although experts say smart devices generally won’t make decisions for people without at least initially seeking their consent, anybody hoping to approve every action their gadgets take would quickly suffer what researchers call “consent fatigue.” As a result, it’s widely expected that people will give their devices the power to act independently much, if not most, of the time.

However, that could produce an unhealthy “techno-dependency” in people, resulting in them losing self-reliance and suffering “a lack of depth and breadth of understanding about how the world works,” according to a Microsoft forecast on the impact of smart devices in coming years. “If we are not careful, undermining these values may make the world of 2020 a much less rewarding world to live in.”

Others worry that human and machine goals may conflict, particularly if individual and societal interests clash.

You may want your smart car to drive the quickest route, but for environmental reasons it might be programmed to choose slower roads that minimize fuel consumption, Israeli researchers have speculated. And if you’re hospitalized with an illness, they added, it’s conceivable your doctor’s smart software might oppose giving you an effective new antibiotic, to limit the general population’s risk of becoming resistant to the drug.

Such clashes could “get creepy” — and perhaps insulting — noted Martin Reynolds, a fellow with the research firm Gartner, who speculated during an Internet-of-Things conference that you might be dying for Kentucky Fried Chicken one day, but your smart car — knowing you’re overweight — “directs you to someplace to get a salad.”

Having your consumer gadgets scrutinize and record everything you do also could get disconcerting.

To test that, researchers at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology installed video cameras, microphones and other monitoring gear in 10 Finnish households in what was billed as a groundbreaking study, despite its limited size, to learn how devices might affect people. While most of the subjects got used to being incessantly observed, some grew so annoyed they hid their activities by blocking the cameras’ view or turning them off.

For some of the subjects, “the surveillance system proved to be a cause of annoyance, concern, anxiety and even rage,” the study concluded, noting that the snoopy gadgets deprived the participants “of the solitude and isolation they expected at home.”

Aside from worrying about who will see the personal information these gadgets gather on their users and spew across the Internet, privacy advocates fear the technology might turn everyone into timid sheep.

Because the data smart devices gather will likely result in the government and others creating profiles on everyone, “behaving normal will eventually become the ultimate practice in the Internet of Things,” warns Paul De Hert, a criminal law expert at the Institute for European Studies in Brussels.


“It limits creativity, it inhibits individuality, social change, progress,” added Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. “You get conformity and stagnation. These are really big issues.”

Heightening that concern, government officials in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere are studying the use of smart video-surveillance systems to spot “abnormal behavior.”

One example is BRS Labs’ “behavior recognition system” that Amtrak has deployed in some of its Bay Area train stations and that San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency plans to use. After several weeks of videotaping a location, BRS Labs’ technology learns to recognize usual patterns of activity and alerts its human operators if it spots anything out of the ordinary, said the company’s chief scientist, Wesley Cobb, adding, “this is stuff that 10 years ago everybody would have said, ‘Nah, that’s science fiction.’ ”

Two European Internet-of-Things technologists have even proposed sending people warnings through their smart devices if the gadgets detect “behavior violating regulations of a society.” Moreover, “to prevent antisocial behavior from re-occurring,” they suggest “automatic publication of such incidents on the web,” a strategy they term “name-and-shame.”

Many experts believe the benefits of the Internet of Things will far outweigh any problems it causes. Besides, Elizabeth Charnock, CEO of Half Moon Bay software company Chenope, said it’s common for new innovations to trigger temporary hand-wringing.

“People start off screaming about privacy,” she said, and then “people just stop thinking about it.”


DARPA to leverage open architectures, enabling UAS to fly as collaborative units

John McHale, Editorial Director, OpenSystems Media



DARPA officials announced that the agency’s Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program is offering the opportunity to participate in discussions to enable development of “groundbreaking” software that will allow unmanned aircraft to work together with minimal supervision.

According to a DARPA release most current ISR systems for unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) require constant control by a dedicated pilot and sensor operator plus a large number of analysts, all via telemetry. These control requirements severely constrain the scalability and cost-effectiveness of UAS operations and create operational challenges in dynamic, long-distance encounters with highly mobile targets in contested electromagnetic environments. (Photo courtesy of DARPA)

This DARPA program looks to overcome these challenges by designing algorithms and software that can extend the mission capabilities of existing unmanned aircraft well past the current state-of-the-art, with the goal of improving U.S. military ability to conduct operations in denied or contested airspace. CODE researchers are seeking to create a modular software architecture that will be resilient to bandwidth limitations and communications disruptions, while compatible with existing standards and capable of affordable retrofit into existing platforms.

DARPA officials released a Special Notice ( inviting any interested parties to identify their interest in participation in select Phase 1 CODE meetings. DARPA is particularly interested in participants that have capabilities, methodologies, and approaches related to CODE research and focused on revolutionary approaches to UASs, autonomy, and collaborative operations. Responses to the Special Notice will then be used to select the participants and should not contain intellectual, confidential, proprietary, or other privileged information.

Two meetings are planned at the moment — an Open Architecture Meeting and a Technology Interchange Meeting. The Open Architecture Meeting will cover the requirements and approaches for making the CODE open architecture compatible with communication-constrained, distributed, highly autonomous collaborative systems. During the Technology Interchange Meeting, invited participants will present technologies that have potential for incorporation into the demonstration planned for Phases 2 and 3 of the program and ensure that CODE leverages the best available technologies from all possible sources.

The meetings are scheduled for the first week of March in the Arlington, Va., area. To be considered for attendance to the meetings, interested parties can submit a one-page response to DARPA by 4:00 PM Eastern Time on February 4, 2015. More information can be found at . All technical and administrative correspondence, including one-page responses and questions regarding this announcement, should be sent to

CODE focuses on developing and demonstrating enhancements in collaborative autonomy: the capability for groups of UASs to work together under a single human commander’s supervision. The unmanned vehicles would then continuously evaluate themselves and their environment to present recommendations for UAV team actions to the mission supervisor who would approve, disapprove, or direct the team to collect more data. Using collaborative autonomy, CODE-enabled unmanned aircraft could find targets and engage them as appropriate under established rules of engagement, leverage nearby CODE-equipped systems with little supervision, and then adapt to dynamic situations such as attrition of friendly forces or the emergence of unanticipated threats.

CODE’s improvements would essentially enable UAS control systems to go from multiple human operators for each UAS to one person who is able to command and control six or more unmanned vehicles simultaneously.


“Just as wolves hunt in coordinated packs with minimal communication, multiple CODE-enabled unmanned aircraft would collaborate to find, track, identify and engage targets, all under the command of a single human mission supervisor,” says Jean-Charles Ledé, DARPA program manager. “Further, CODE aims to decrease the reliance of these systems on high-bandwidth communication and deep crew bench while expanding the potential spectrum of missions through combinations of assets—all at lower overall costs of operation. These capabilities would greatly enhance survivability and effectiveness of existing air platforms in denied environments.”



The FCC has set a new, faster definition for broadband

By Brian Fung January 29 at 1:12 PM 


Federal regulators have set a new definition for broadband that establishes 25 megabits per second as the baseline for high-speed downloads, up from 4 Mbps previously.

With this standard, the Federal Communications Commission will be able to argue for much stronger action on Internet providers — a point that’s rankling Republicans on the commission as the agency moves to promote the adoption of fast, cheap and reliable Internet in America.

It’s a simple accounting change that will have major ramifications. As a result of the decision — which also sets the minimum speed for uploads at 3 Mbps — millions of people who subscribe to slower plans will effectively lose their broadband status. Combine those with the substantial share of Americans who have never had broadband, and as many as 17 percent of America, or 55 million people, will lack access to high-speed broadband under the new measure, according to the FCC.

Conservatives are decrying the move as a case of government overreach, calling the 25/3 Mbps standard an “arbitrary” threshold and arguing that most consumers seem to think the old one — 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up — works just fine.

“Seventy-one percent of consumers who can purchase fixed 25 Mbps service — over 70 million households — choose not to,” said Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.

For an agency whose mission is to remove barriers to broadband, the FCC is its own worst enemy, Pai added, saying the FCC is intentionally finding that the industry has failed just so that it can “regulate it back to health.”

But Democrats on the commission say the new standard establishes a forward-looking, aspirational target. Those who lack access to speeds that are “table stakes” for the rest of the country don’t deserve to be left behind, they argue. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler pointed out that subscriptions to 25/3 service have quadrupled in the last three years. And Wheeler said that Internet providers’ claims that there isn’t enough demand for 25 Mbps broadband isn’t borne out by their marketing campaigns, which treat customers like voracious data consumers.

“Someone is telling us one thing and telling consumers another,” Wheeler said. “Our challenge is not to hide behind self-serving lobbying statements, but to recognize reality. And our challenge is to help make that reality available to all.”

As the FCC prepares to intervene next month against state laws that make it harder for cities to build their own, public alternatives to traditional Internet providers — and as it plans to release its latest draft rules to prevent discrimination against Internet traffic — the standard for broadband will become a key political tool in defending the FCC’s actions. So will the underlying law that recognizes the FCC’s authority to promote broadband, Section 706 of the Communications Act. A Republican-backed bill in Congress is already seeking to strip the FCC of that power.


Ramussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, January 31, 2015


A more optimistic America plans to take a Super Bowl break tomorrow, but why isn’t President Obama getting more credit for our improving national disposition?

We’ll tell you tomorrow morning whether Super Bowl fans think the New England Patriots or the Seattle Seahawks will come out on top. One thing’s already certain, though: Americans aren’t buying the Patriots’ story in the “Deflategate” controversy.  

The Super Bowl may be the biggest sporting event of the year, but a sizable number of viewers are more interested in the big budget commercials and the halftime show by pop star Katy Perry.

Going into the Super Bowl weekend, Mitt Romney was the big newsmaker with his announcement that he is not running for president again. In announcing his decision, Romney said he hoped Republicans would pick a fresh face to be their 2016 presidential nominee, and GOP voters strongly agree with him. 

Romney knew, too, that a big potential problem for his candidacy is that Republican voters are a pretty conservative bunch. Democratic voters have their complaints with Washington, D.C., but they remain more content with their party’s political representation than GOP voters are.

The best-known fresh face among Democrats is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, but Hillary Clinton trounces her in a head-to-head matchup for their party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
The race to be the next Democratic nominee is still Clinton’s to lose.

Consumer and investor confidence remain at or near their highest levels in several years, and now 35% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction. That may not sound great, but it’s the highest level of optimism in nearly two years.

Homeowners are more confident than they have been since the housing bubble burst that their homes will be worth more in one year and in five years’ time

More than half of voters believe the country can end its toxic dependence on foreign oil as prices at the pump continue to trend down.

The president’s daily job approval ratings  rose to their highest levels in nearly two years just after his State of the Union address last week but have since settled back. Yes, the president’s daily ratings have improved slightly since Election Day, but unchanged are the mediocre marks he earns for his handling of economic and national security issues.

Democrats have a three-point lead over Republicans on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot. It will be interesting to see whether the Generic Ballot and right direction findings signal a trend or just spiked temporarily after the State of the Union speech like Obama’s job approval.

The president’s poor national security marks are perhaps no surprise given that belief the United States is winning the War on Terror has fallen to yet another low.

Voters also think the president is getting more confrontational with his political opponents, despite the belief by 82% that it is more important for Obama and the Republican-led Congress to work together than to stand for what they believe in.

Voters are ever-so-slightly happier with the new Congress, although that’s not saying much.

Speaking of confrontational, most voters don’t want Loretta Lynch to be like the person the president has nominated her to replace, Attorney General Eric Holder.

In other surveys last week:

Americans support women in the pulpit and in senior leadership positions within the church. But they are more hesitant when it comes to supporting openly gay and lesbian religious leaders.

— As Kentucky, Illinois and several other states consider adopting right-to-work laws, voters aren’t as convinced that such laws which ban compulsory union dues have a positive impact on state economies. However, those who currently live in right-to-work states paint a rosier picture.

Few voters think Saudi Arabia will become a more liberated society following the passing of King Abdullah and the quick succession of his half-brother, King Salman.

— Is lifting the trade embargo on Cuba long overdue? What does America think?

— Americans don’t feel as strongly as they used to that movies send a bad social message, especially when it comes to violence.

Americans are eating out more but still enjoying it less than a good meal at home. Half of Americans say they rarely eat fast food, but for those who do, it’s not necessarily because they like it.

Subscribers to Rasmussen Reports receive more than 20 exclusive stories each week for less than a dollar a week. Please sign up now. Visit the Rasmussen Reports home page for the latest current polling coverage of events in the news. The page is updated several times each day.

Remember, if it’s in the news, it’s in our polls.


January 24 2015

24 January 2015


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Shrouded in Mystery, New Bomber Makes Waves

By Aaron Mehta 4:14 p.m. EST January 18, 2015


WASHINGTON — In late spring or early summer, the US Air Force will decide who will build its next-generation bomber. Yet, despite all the hype and public interest, the program remains shrouded in mystery.

The Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) program is stealthy, literally and figuratively. Few details are actually known about the bomber’s capabilities or design. But the program’s impact is already being widely felt throughout the Pentagon and its industry partners.

The half a dozen analysts and experts interviewed by Defense News for this piece all agree on one thing: the LRS-B has the chance to shape American military aerospace for the next 20 years. Whichever competitor wins will reap a windfall of development money; the loser could find itself out of the military attack airframe business entirely.

And while the program appears to be on track, Congress is waiting in the wings for any sign of cost overrun or technological problems.

“This is crunch time,” said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group. “It’s the biggest single outstanding DoD competition by a very wide margin. That makes it important in and of itself.”


Known Unknowns

The program is targeting a production line of 80-100 planes. It will replace the fleet of B-52 and B-1 bombers. It will be stealthy, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and optional manning has been discussed. A down-selection will be made this spring or early summer, with initial operating capability planned for the mid-2020s. Nuclear certification will follow two years after that.

The target price, set by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is $550 million a copy. To keep the price down, the Air Force is looking to use mature technologies that are available now, rather than launching new developments. At the same time, the program will have an open architecture approach for future technologies.

Unless there is a secret competitor still unknown — highly unlikely, but like many things with the program, impossible to rule out — there are two teams are bidding for the contract. One is Northrop Grumman, which developed the B-2 stealth bomber. The other is a team of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Together, those companies represent three of the top five defense firms in the nation.

Breaking down the rest of the program is a master class in the classic “known unknowns” phrase coined by Donald Rumsfeld. What equipment will it carry? Will it be in a flying wing shape? What is more important, stealth or speed? Will the planes, like the B-2, be so classified that they cannot be stationed abroad? If so, does that affect the range vs. payload tradeoff?

A source with knowledge of the program said the Air Force is likely looking at something smaller than a B-2, perhaps as small as half the size, with two engines similar in size to the F135 engines that power the F-35, so enhancement programs can also be applied to the bomber.

“They should go bigger [in terms of airframe], but Gates threw that $500 million figure out there without thinking through the overall effect and requirement,” the source said.

Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, former deputy chief of staff for ISR, agreed that the focus on the $550 million figure may end up hurting the bomber’s capabilities by driving the discussion from what the plane does to what can keep the price down.

“One of the biggest concerns is that this is going to turn into a cost shootout, and whomever can produce a ‘technically acceptable’ airplane at the lowest cost will be the winner, without any judgment or look at the ability for growth, the ability to connect to new technologies,” he said. “That is a big concern amongst folks out there who are involved in this evolution.”

And then there are the theories that the bomber is further along in its development cycle than it appears. Last year, J.J. Gertler, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service penned a memo noting that the bomber’s budget profile looks more like a production than a research and development program, hinting that much of the technological development and testing has already occurred behind the scenes.

One analyst noted that some of that work could be based on technologies developed for the previous bomber recapitalization, which was canceled in 2009.

Mark Gunzinger, a retired Air Force official and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, argued that the mystery around the jet isn’t a bad thing.

“We don’t know performance specifics in terms of range, payload, low observability, what weapons, what missions, radar capabilities — all these specific performance details,” he said. “Nor should we. Those should not be announced publicly. It is a black program and those kind of details now would do nothing but give our potential enemies more time to develop countermeasures.”


Industrial Impact

One of the larger unknowns is how much weight the Air Force — or higher ups at the Pentagon — is putting on industrial base impact. The answer to that question could seriously affect on which of the Boeing/Lockheed or Northrop teams win.

Deptula said industrial base considerations “absolutely” need to be part of the calculus.

“It has been a factor in other segments of our defense architecture, and one could make the case that in the aerospace industry, it is perhaps even more important than in the shipbuilding industry,” he said.

Asked about that topic on Jan. 14, William LaPlante, the civilian acquisition head for the service, indicated that while industrial base concerns are something the Pentagon is aware of in a broad sense, that is not specifically one of the criteria for the bomber program.

“There is a bigger picture of just making sure we understand when will [different programs] have a downselect, what will come out of that — it’s almost like a game theory thing to understand the implications,” LaPlante said. “It’s at the strategic level. Occasionally you might put it into a single competition. I don’t think that’s the case on the LRS-B.”

The stakes are high for all three companies, Aboulafia said. After this contract, the next attack airplane will be a new fighter in the 2030s, and then a follow-on bomber sometime after that.

If Northrop loses, the chances of it still having the infrastructure to compete for a jet 15 years from now, or on a bomber longer out, seem slim. Losing the contract now would essentially end that part of their business.

Boeing, too, is coming to the end of its time as an attack aircraft manufacturer, despite the company’s best efforts to keep the F/A-18 Super Hornet line humming. While the KC-46A tanker remains a Boeing program, it, and many other products from the company, are commercial derivatives rather than a brand new design.

Awarding Northrop the bomber would spread out the US Air Force’s three top recapitalization priorities among three companies. On the flip side, giving the contract to the Lockheed/Boeing team would mean that Lockheed Martin, the producer of the F-35, essentially has full control over Air Force combat aviation production.

Analysts are divided as to who would be favored if the industrial base is a high priority. On the one hand, an industrial base angle should benefit Northrop, as it would spread the major programs among competitors.

“If you want Northrop to stay in the game as a prime, and you don’t want to see the entire combat air forces at Lockheed, you have to go with Northrop,” noted the first source familiar with the program.

Aboulafia, however, questions whether there is truly enough work available to spread among the three firms.

“That presupposes the Pentagon has this illusion that there can be three military airframers, and that’s living in a fantasy land,” he said, adding that strengthening the two military primes in Boeing and Lockheed would be “appealing” to DoD.

Aboulafia also points out that the contract could have major implications for one long rumored transaction among aerospace analysts — the potential sale of Northrop’s aerospace group to Boeing.

“If Northrop loses, it could tip things to being bought by Boeing because it would not have a new airframe to build,” Aboulafia said. “If Northrop wins, it could make them a more attractive target, and do the same.”

Once the primes are settled, the subcontractor battle is likely to be just as fierce, Aboulafia noted.

Spokespeople for both teams expressed confidence that they were offering the better option to the Air Force.

Another thing to keep an eye on is the fight over the engine. If F135-maker Pratt & Whitney wins that competition, it would give it a stranglehold on the US military engine market. Whether the Pentagon be OK with that, or look to award a contract to General Electric instead, is another known unknown.


Challenges Ahead?

Right now, the program is humming along, with strong support from inside the Pentagon.

Last week, outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel threw his weight behind the new bomber in a speech at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

“I think the Long-Range Strike Bomber is absolutely essential for keeping our deterrent edge,” Hagel said. “We need to do it. We need to make the investments. We’ll have it in the budget. It’s something I have particularly put a priority on.”

That commitment was echoed by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James at a Jan. 14 speech.


“When we roll out the FY16 budget, the budget line will be similar to what you saw in ’15 projected into ’16,” James said. “We’re on track for our competition, it remains a top priority and it is truly the future of our bomber force.”

But some foresee challenges ahead as the bomber moves from a black, hypothetical program to one actually bending metal — and one that can become a high profile target for government spending watchdogs and the nonproliferation community.

“As the F-35 gets spun up, LRS-B will become a new target, especially with the arms control people,” said the source with knowledge of the program. “This a big airplane, and it will cost a lot.”

Several experts agreed that the larger threat to the program comes from internal budgetary pressures, as the bomber will be competing not just with other service priorities, but with programs like the Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine replacement, something Rebecca Grant of ISIS Research says the Navy is positioning as a “national asset” on Capitol Hill.

“The black program status makes it harder in my opinion to build support for the bomber,” Grant said. “With new [Senate Armed Services Committee] leadership, the program will come under additional scrutiny as the first big budget wedges appear this year and beyond. So the USAF had best have its act together on why the bomber they pick is the right bomber now, in the hands of the right manufacturer.”

Congress could also interfere with the program in another way. The loser could protest the award, which could set up not only a battle at the Government Accountability Office, but a public relations fight. High profile contract protests often result in each company tapping its preferred congressmen to lobby on its behalf.

According to public data analyzed by the non-profit, Lockheed ($4 million), Northrop ($3.9 million) and Boeing ($3.1 million) were the top three contributors to congressional campaigns and affiliated political action committees from the defense sector in 2013-2014. All three companies also rank in the top 25 of US companies in terms of dollars spent on lobbying.

Drawing a direct line from dollars spent on campaigns and lobbying and results for certain programs is always a bit risky, especially given the breadth of each company’s portfolio. After all, Boeing and Lockheed traditionally work against each other, while both companies work with Northrop on different programs.

But those figures illustrate how strong the ties are between industry and members of Congress, even before the key issue of industrial base in various districts comes into play. After all, representatives will always rally around whichever side will bring jobs to their constituents.

While Boeing and Lockheed each have their own local supporters, Northrop may be able to call on the California and Florida delegations following its decision to expand facilities at Melbourne International Airport, on Florida’s Space Coast.

While a company official did not confirm that Northrop plans to work on a potential LRS-B in Florida, Sen Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told media in May that the company plans on using the facility for that purpose.


Air Force UFO files hit the web

By Stephen Losey, Staff Writer 10:20 a.m. EST January 17, 2015



This week, nearly 130,000 pages of declassified UFO records — a trove that would make Agent Fox Mulder’s mouth water — hit the web.

The truth is out there — and it’s now on the web.

The fabled Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s files on UFO sightings and investigations, have tantalized and frustrated extraterrestrial enthusiasts for decades. But this week, nearly 130,000 pages of declassified UFO records — a trove that would make Agent Fox Mulder’s mouth water — hit the web.

UFO enthusiast John Greenewald has spent nearly two decades filing Freedom of Information Act requests for the government’s files on UFOs and other phenomena. On Jan. 12, Greenewald posted the Blue Book files — as well as files on Blue Book’s 1940s-era predecessors, Project Sign and Project Grudge — on his online database, The Black Vault.

Project Blue Book was based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Between 1947 and 1969, the Air Force recorded 12,618 sightings of strange phenomena — 701 of which remain “unidentified.”

According to a 1985 fact sheet from Wright-Patterson, posted online by the National Archives, the Air Force decided to discontinue UFO investigations after concluding that “no UFO reported, investigated and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security [and] there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ are extraterrestrial vehicles.” Wright-Patterson also said the Air Force has not seen any evidence suggesting the sightings “represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge.”

Skeptics smelled a whitewash. The private and now-defunct National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, for example, charged throughout the 1960s that the federal government was covering up what it knew about UFOs and pushed for congressional hearings.

The National Archives has made these files available to public on microfilm in its Washington headquarters. Parts of the Project Blue Book files have previously been posted online in various locations, Greenewald said. But his webpage is the first time the complete files have been posted in PDF form in a searchable database, he said.

The more than 10,000 cases include a 1950 incident at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where an Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent reported a star-like craft that shifted from a bright white color to red and green as it moved erratically in several directions.

And in 1965, Air Force Maj. Jack Bond, the deputy for reconnaissance at the Directorate of Advanced Recon Planning, reported seeing an unidentified object moving in a sine wave pattern while on a flight out of Wright-Patterson. Bond said the object strongly reflected the sunlight as it rose and appeared gray as it descended. It rose and fell three times at varying speeds, before leveling off and accelerating away at more than 600 knots.

The investigator dismissed Bond’s observation as a mirage caused by the sun, due to the motion of Bond’s plane and the hazy atmospheric conditions.

One thing you won’t find online are records related to the alleged 1947 Roswell, New Mexico, incident, where conspiracy theorists maintain the military recovered a crashed alien spacecraft and its occupants.

But Roswell does pop up several times in the files. There are several blurry photographs of lights in the sky taken at Roswell in 1949, for example. And in 1950, airmen there spotted a circular object 10 feet in diameter with a bluish-white color going fast at 8,000 feet and taking a sharp turn to the right.

The National Archives maintains it “has been unable to locate any documentation among the Project BLUE BOOK records which discuss the 1947 incident in Roswell, New Mexico.”

But that is just what they would say, wouldn’t they?


Top 10 states with the most UFO sightings

USA Today Network

Mary Bowerman, USA TODAY Network

1:43 p.m. EST January 19, 2015


From seeing streaks of light across the sky to floating orbes in the backyard, people across the USA have reported unidentified objects over the years. The National UFO Reporting Center has a State Report Index that breaks down UFO sightings by state, duration of sighting, shape and description.

Here are the 10 states with the most UFO sightings, according to the center:

1. California: 11,092

2. Florida: 5,017

3. Washington: 4,951

4. Texas: 4,313

5. New York: 3,799

6. Illinois: 3,031

7. Arizona: 3,143

8. Ohio: 2,883

9. Michigan: 2,424

10. North Carolina: 2,247


Sightings in the database range from the 1950s to 2015.

In the past week, almost 136,000 pages of declassified UFO records, known as Project Blue Book or the Air Force’s files on UFO sightings and investigations, were put online.


Project Blue Book was based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. The project investigated sightings of strange phenomena from 1947 to 1969. While many of the sightings were attributed to air traffic or Mother Nature, 701 remain “unidentified.”




Don’t Believe the Defense Acquisition Reform Hype

Alex Ward    

January 19, 2015 ·


The likely nomination of Ashton Carter as Secretary of Defense has increased expectations of substantial reform in the Pentagon’s acquisition system. Conventional wisdom holds that the quintet of Carter, Robert Work, Frank Kendall, John McCain, and Mac Thornberry will work together to bring about meaningful — almost revolutionary — change in the way the Department of Defense obtains its weaponry.

Don’t believe the hype. Delivery times are too slow. Weaponry is too costly. Competition barely exists. Government and industry still struggle to interact with one another. All of these are deep-seeded problems with the defense acquisition process that no group of men, even with Carter at the helm, can fix all at once.

Despite the certainty that these five will try to reform the current acquisition process, massive, wholesale change is highly unlikely for three reasons: Carter will not have a lot of time to focus on defense acquisition; Congress will focus mostly on oversight, not reform, which will lead to incremental change at best; and the current path of reform is already the accepted path.

To the first point, as much as Carter may want to focus on acquisition reform, the tides of global events are against him. Over the next two years, the United States will be involved with combating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, handling the Iranian nuclear issue, tensions in the South China Sea, confronting a resurgent Taliban, spreading terrorism, and rapidly-developing humanitarian crises like Ebola. All of these issues require substantial attention and Carter only has two years (unless he is asked to stay on by President Obama’s successor. And, as world affairs have proven recently, we are likely in for some sort of under-the-radar surprise that will require even more American forward engagement in the world. Even though this White House notoriously micromanages the country’s foreign and defense policies, Carter will still be expected to contribute substantively on shaping the policy and strategy, all while being the face of the administration abroad related to the defense dimensions of these matters. So, even if Carter did want to devote the majority of his time to defense acquisition reform, sadly the clock and calendar are not on his side.

Second, those who are more sanguine about reform’s chances point to Senator John McCain and Representative Mac Thornberry, who run the Armed Services Committees in their respective chambers. They will undoubtedly draw attention to the issue, but expect strict and vociferous oversight as opposed to meaningful and substantive reform. McCain will surely host multiple hearings on cost overruns and delivery delays as he has in the past on systems like the Littoral Combat Ship, and will therefore not do much to change the system other than point out its faults. Most of Senator McCain’s attention will be diverted toward grand strategy and repurposing America’s role in the world as he considers his legacy during his last years in the Senate. Representative Thornberry will be the most active on the reform front, most likely working to rewrite existing legislation. However, he will likely fail to simplify the defense acquisition process because his sole attention to the issue will not be enough solve its near intractable problems. Without substantive support from his Senate counterpart and Pentagon officials, Thornberry will work hard to make something happen but will not be able to fix the system. That said, Thornberry will be able to get some measures through, but they are more likely to be aimed at keeping costs down as much as possible, hindering research, development, and experimentation — which could ultimately leave to lower costs in the long run, to the cost of our defense capabilities and efforts such as the new “offset strategy.” Yet, it is important to note that, this Republican-led Congress will be friendlier to ending the financial constraints on the Department of Defense (the sigh of relief from American defense contractors is audible.) That still will not change the overall tone in Congress toward defense acquisition reform which is that it is too hard to fix, partially because it is very technical but mostly because the status quo brings money to the districts of many Congressmen. If the system changes, the money and the votes may go away. At best, then, we can expect Congress to point all the problems, but not legislation to finds solutions.

Lastly, Better Buying Power 3.0 (BBP 3.0), the path chosen by the Department of Defense to improve the defense acquisition process — started by Carter and currently put into action by Kendall — has not received much pushback from Congress. In fact, there is bipartisan agreement that the system is broken and needs fixing, and BBP 3.0 is as good a strategy to deal with the issue as any. A letter from Kendall to McCain last June showed they both agree that “defense acquisition improvement, as opposed to defense acquisition reform, should be our goal.” Not surprisingly, a report from the National Defense Industrial Association is in agreement, with most of the proposals having to do with improving the workforce and culture within the Pentagon’s acquisition department, as opposed to reforming the system from the ground up. With Congress taking a mostly oversight role, and the Department of Defense out in front with a proposed way forward, it is reasonable to expect that not much will change between now and the end of 2016. The Pentagon will continue apace with its incremental change agenda and Congress will bloviate whenever something goes awry.

There is certainly movement and appetite for reform. The problem is that the “change is nigh” refrain has become a tired prediction that never pans out. The next two years may see the most quantitative movement on defense acquisition reform, but not the most qualitative. That said, it is imperative that change come soon, because “even a small improvement in performance of the acquisition system can make a difference of billions in the cost of equipping the military,” according to a defense acquisition expert. One can only hope that “The Trinity” in the Pentagon and the “Dynamic Duo” in Congress can make wholesale change happen, but it is not likely.

With Carter at the helm, expect small steps, but nothing major, in the acquisition process.


N.S.A. Breached North Korean Networks Before Sony Attack, Officials Say


JAN. 18, 2015


WASHINGTON — The trail that led American officials to blame North Korea for the destructive cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in November winds back to 2010, when the National Security Agency scrambled to break into the computer systems of a country considered one of the most impenetrable targets on earth.

Spurred by growing concern about North Korea’s maturing capabilities, the American spy agency drilled into the Chinese networks that connect North Korea to the outside world, picked through connections in Malaysia favored by North Korean hackers and penetrated directly into the North with the help of South Korea and other American allies, according to former United States and foreign officials, computer experts later briefed on the operations and a newly disclosed N.S.A. document.

A classified security agency program expanded into an ambitious effort, officials said, to place malware that could track the internal workings of many of the computers and networks used by the North’s hackers, a force that South Korea’s military recently said numbers roughly 6,000 people. Most are commanded by the country’s main intelligence service, called the Reconnaissance General Bureau, and Bureau 121, its secretive hacking unit, with a large outpost in China.

Kim Heung-kwang, a defector, said that in the early 1990s, North Korean computer experts had an idea: Use the Internet to attack the nation’s foes. Credit Jean Chung for The New York Times

The evidence gathered by the “early warning radar” of software painstakingly hidden to monitor North Korea’s activities proved critical in persuading President Obama to accuse the government of Kim Jong-un of ordering the Sony attack, according to the officials and experts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the classified N.S.A. operation.

Mr. Obama’s decision to accuse North Korea of ordering the largest destructive attack against an American target — and to promise retaliation, which has begun in the form of new economic sanctions — was highly unusual: The United States had never explicitly charged another government with mounting a cyberattack on American targets.

Mr. Obama is cautious in drawing stark conclusions from intelligence, aides say. But in this case “he had no doubt,” according to one senior American military official.

“Attributing where attacks come from is incredibly difficult and slow,” said James A. Lewis, a cyberwarfare expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The speed and certainty with which the United States made its determinations about North Korea told you that something was different here — that they had some kind of inside view.”

For about a decade, the United States has implanted “beacons,” which can map a computer network, along with surveillance software and occasionally even destructive malware in the computer systems of foreign adversaries. The government spends billions of dollars on the technology, which was crucial to the American and Israeli attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, and documents previously disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former security agency contractor, demonstrated how widely they have been deployed against China.

But fearing the exposure of its methods in a country that remains a black hole for intelligence gathering, American officials have declined to talk publicly about the role the technology played in Washington’s assessment that the North Korean government had ordered the attack on Sony.

The extensive American penetration of the North Korean system also raises questions about why the United States was not able to alert Sony as the attacks took shape last fall, even though the North had warned, as early as June, that the release of the movie “The Interview,” a crude comedy about a C.I.A. plot to assassinate the North’s leader, would be “an act of war.”


Dinner in Pyongyang

The N.S.A.’s success in getting into North Korea’s systems in recent years should have allowed the agency to see the first “spear phishing” attacks on Sony — the use of emails that put malicious code into a computer system if an unknowing user clicks on a link — when the attacks began in early September, according to two American officials.

Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. says he had dinner last fall with the man who later oversaw the Sony attack. Credit Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

But those attacks did not look unusual. Only in retrospect did investigators determine that the North had stolen the “credentials” of a Sony systems administrator, which allowed the hackers to roam freely inside Sony’s systems.

In recent weeks, investigators have concluded that the hackers spent more than two months, from mid-September to mid-November, mapping Sony’s computer systems, identifying critical files and planning how to destroy computers and servers.


“They were incredibly careful, and patient,” said one person briefed on the investigation. But he added that even with their view into the North’s activities, American intelligence agencies “couldn’t really understand the severity” of the destruction that was coming when the attacks began Nov. 24.

In fact, when, Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, had an impromptu dinner in early November with his North Korean counterpart during a secret mission to Pyongyang to secure the release of two imprisoned Americans, he made no mention of Sony or the North’s growing hacking campaigns, officials say.

In a recent speech at Fordham University in New York, Mr. Clapper acknowledged that the commander of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, Kim Yong-chol, with whom he traded barbs over the 12-course dinner, was “later responsible for overseeing the attack against Sony.” (General Clapper praised the food; his hosts later presented him with a bill for his share of the meal.)

Asked about General Clapper’s knowledge of the Sony attacks from the North when he attended the dinner, Brian P. Hale, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, said that the director did not know he would meet his intelligence counterpart and that the purpose of his trip to North Korea “was solely to secure the release of the two detained U.S. citizens.”

“Because of the sensitivities surrounding the effort” to win the Americans’ release, Mr. Hale said, “the D.N.I. was focused on the task and did not want to derail any progress by discussing other matters.” But he said General Clapper was acutely aware of the North’s growing capabilities.

Jang Sae-yul, a former North Korean army programmer who defected in 2007, speaking in an interview in Seoul, said: “They have built up formidable hacking skills. They have spent almost 30 years getting ready, learning how to do this and this alone, how to target specific countries.”

Still, the sophistication of the Sony hack was such that many experts say they are skeptical that North Korea was the culprit, or the lone culprit. They have suggested it was an insider, a disgruntled Sony ex-employee or an outside group cleverly mimicking North Korean hackers. Many remain unconvinced by the efforts of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to answer critics by disclosing some of the American evidence.

The northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, where there are North Korean-run hotels and restaurants, and an “attack base” to which some I.P. addresses have been traced. Credit Sheng Li/Reuters

Mr. Comey told the same Fordham conference that the North Koreans got “sloppy” in hiding their tracks, and that hackers periodically “connected directly and we could see them.”

“And we could see that the I.P. addresses that were being used to post and to send the emails were coming from I.P.s that were exclusively used by the North Koreans,” he said. Some of those addresses appear to be in China, experts say.

The skeptics say, however, that it would not be that difficult for hackers who wanted to appear to be North Korean to fake their whereabouts. Mr. Comey said there was other evidence he could not discuss. So did Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the N.S.A. director, who told the Fordham conference that after reviewing the classified data he had “high confidence” the North had ordered the action.


A Growing Capability

North Korea built its first computer with vacuum tubes in 1965, with engineers trained in France. For a brief time, it appeared ahead of South Korea and of China, which not only caught up but also came to build major elements of their economic success on their hardware and software.

Defectors say that the Internet was first viewed by North Korea’s leadership as a threat, something that could taint its citizens with outside ideas.

But Kim Heung-kwang, a defector who said in an interview that he helped train many of the North’s first cyberspies, recalled that in the early 1990s a group of North Korean computer experts came back from China with a “very strange new idea”: Use the Internet to steal secrets and attack the government’s enemies. “The Chinese are already doing it,” he quoted one of the experts as saying.

Defectors report that the North Korean military was interested. So was the ruling Workers’ Party, which in 1994 sent 15 North Koreans to a military academy in Beijing to learn about hacking. When they returned, they formed the core of the External Information Intelligence Office, which hacked into websites, penetrated fire walls and stole information abroad. Because the North had so few connections to the outside world, the hackers did much of their work in China and Japan.

According to Mr. Kim, the military began training computer “warriors” in earnest in 1996 and two years later opened Bureau 121, now the primary cyberattack unit. Members were dispatched for two years of training in China and Russia. Mr. Jang said they were envied, in part because of their freedom to travel.

“They used to come back with exotic foreign clothes and expensive electronics like rice cookers and cameras,” he said. His friends told him that Bureau 121 was divided into different groups, each targeting a specific country or region, especially the United States, South Korea and the North’s one ally, China.

“They spend those two years not attacking, but just learning about their target country’s Internet,” said Mr. Jang, 46, who was a first lieutenant in a different army unit that wrote software for war game simulations.

Mr. Jang said that as time went on, the North began diverting high school students with the best math skills into a handful of top universities, including a military school specializing in computer-based warfare called Mirim University, which he attended as a young army officer.

Others were deployed to an “attack base” in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, where there are many North Korean-run hotels and restaurants. Unlike the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the cyberforces can be used to harass South Korea and the United States without risking a devastating response.

“Cyberwarfare is simply the modern chapter in North Korea’s long history of asymmetrical warfare,” said a security research report in August by Hewlett-Packard.


An Attack in Seoul

When the Americans first gained access to the North Korean networks and computers in 2010, their surveillance focused on the North’s nuclear program and its leadership, as well as efforts to detect attacks aimed at United States military forces in South Korea, said one former American official. (The German magazine Der Spiegel published an N.S.A. document on Saturday that provides some details of South Korea’s help in spying on the North.) Then a highly destructive attack in 2013 on South Korean banks and media companies suggested that North Korea was becoming a greater threat, and the focus shifted.

“The big target was the hackers,” the official said.

That attack knocked out almost 50,000 computers and servers in South Korea for several days at five banks and television broadcasters.

The hackers were patient, spending nine months probing the South Korean systems. But they also made the mistake seen in the Sony hack, at one point revealing what South Korean analysts believe to have been their true I.P. addresses. Lim Jong-in, dean of the Graduate School of Information Security at Korea University, said those addresses were traced back to Shenyang, and fell within a spectrum of I.P. addresses linked to North Korean companies.

The attack was studied by American intelligence agencies. But after the North issued its warnings about Sony’s movie last June, American officials appear to have made no reference to the risk in their discussions with Sony executives. Even when the spear-phishing attacks began in September — against Sony and other targets — “it didn’t set off alarm bells,” according to one person involved in the investigation.

The result is that American officials began to focus on North Korea only after the destructive attacks began in November, when pictures of skulls and gruesome images of Sony executives appeared on the screens of company employees. (That propaganda move by the hackers may have worked to Sony’s benefit: Some employees unplugged their computers immediately, saving some data from destruction.)

It did not take long for American officials to conclude that the source of the attack was North Korea, officials say. “Figuring out how to respond was a lot harder,” one White House official said.


Cyber warfare: Capitol staffers aren’t ready

“It’s amazing we weren’t terribly hacked, now that I’m thinking back on it.”

By Tal Kopan

| 1/19/15 7:00 PM EST



Congressional staffers are the gateway to all lawmaking on the Hill, but they also may be unwittingly opening the door to hackers.

The Hill’s networks are under constant attack. In 2013 alone, the Senate Sergeant at Arms’ office said it investigated 500 potential examples of malicious software, some from sophisticated attackers and others from low-level scammers. And that’s just the serious cases — in a different measurement, the House IT security office said in 2012 it blocked 16.5 million “intrusion attempts” on its networks.

But the thousands of men and women who keep Congress running every day are committing the basic cybersecurity mistakes that attackers can exploit to do harm — like in the CENTCOM social media hack or crippling breach of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

POLITICO interviews with nearly a dozen current and former staffers, as well as congressional IT security staff, reveal a typical array of poor cyber habits.

Most of the staffers interviewed had emailed security passwords to a colleague or to themselves for convenience. Plenty of offices stored a list of passwords for communal accounts like social media in a shared drive or Google doc. Most said they individually didn’t think about cybersecurity on a regular basis, despite each one working in an office that dealt with cyber or technology issues. Most kept their personal email open throughout the day. Some were able to download software from the Internet onto their computers. Few could remember any kind of IT security training, and if they did, it wasn’t taken seriously.

“It’s amazing we weren’t terribly hacked, now that I’m thinking back on it,” said one staffer who departed the Senate late this fall. “It’s amazing that we have the same password for everything [like social media.]”

“This is a problem waiting to happen, not even just on the institutional security side but in terms of mischievous hackers trying to break into social media sites or dropboxes of senators or any of that stuff.”

While the House and Senate IT security staffs work to ensure that human mistakes are backstopped by technology, experts and lawmakers say they’re hampered by the unique challenge of securing an enterprise divided into hundreds of networks each overseen by an empowered elected official.

“I think people would be shocked to know how little people know about these things and care about things,” said one former longtime Senate staffer who left the Hill this fall. She noted offices have access to a lot of constituents’ personal information just like banks and businesses.

“I don’t think the Senate as a whole does a very good job of teaching people what matters as to how to do cyber hygiene and advice on how to come up with good passwords, because when you think about it, some of the lowest-level staff have the most access, and this is their first job and isn’t self-explanatory. It needs to be taught to staff,” the former aide said.

Another former staffer who worked for years in both chambers but left in recent months said that people who work on the Hill can easily feel a false sense of security.

“You feel very secure up there in terms of the IT services that are provided, and I think the reasoning behind that is twofold, you fall into the trap that you’re on the Hill and you’re in a bubble up there, and it’s also the fact that the House and Senate IT folks bring up that fact a lot that you should be safe online and there are firewalls to prevent any breaches,” the former staffer said. “Looking back, I would say that it’s a false sense.”

Even the best security techniques and technologies are undermined by poor user practices like password reuse and sharing. Part of the problem is that even if the House and Senate staff that secure their respective networks do a great job, there’s still a lot of autonomy in every office, and they may have different levels of interest and expertise in security.

“The House administration, they’re doing everything they can to keep the House network as secure as possible, given the constraints that they operate under,” said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who co-chairs the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus.

“Managing risk in the House is particularly difficult because its organizational structure is unusual. In most organizations, you have a very hierarchical structure,” he said.

“No [other] organization has 435 CEOs each responsible for a completely independent division.”

Langevin said a huge number of individuals and “perhaps” nation-states try to breach the House network every day — as former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) learned in 2006 when he says the Chinese hacked four computers in his office used by staffers working on human rights issues.

Wolf and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) — two longtime China critics — revealed their office computers had been breached by Chinese sources in 2008, and Wolf said the FBI told him to keep the attack quiet for some time.

Wolf said he believes the House IT security team works very hard, but there’s more to be done.

“I don’t think any federal agency, and probably including the Hill, is doing a very good job,” Wolf said, citing his own hacking experience. Wolf, a high-profile China critic with staffers investigating human rights abuses, was an obvious target. And for foreign hackers more generally, congressional computer systems represent a cornucopia of intelligence about the thoughts and intentions of lawmakers.

The problem, said Wolf, is a lack of understanding and a lack of will.

Langevin also said more could be done on outreach, saying a positive step was a change recently for the House to require regular password changes. Not all members and staffs are focused on cybersecurity like his office, he added.

“It goes back to constant education and reeducation,” Langevin said. “People are people, and if you’re not focused on something or constantly reminded, it’s easy to let things fall through the cracks.”

A study released last week found that IT security professionals identify negligent employees as the No. 1 threat they deal with.

The offices tasked with securing Hill networks are well-aware of the threat. In an interview, an official for the Senate Sergeant at Arms said along with constant research and innovation, training and education is a core focus of the office as they try to keep bad guys out of the Senate network.

That means contacting new members as soon as they’re elected and offering briefings for full staff. The Senate-wide team coordinates with each office’s system administrator or point person, sending out advisories and recommendations, offering support and conducting monthly vulnerability assessments of every office that are shared with staff.

While some controls are managed at the office level, including downloading permissions on computers, the SAA monitors the entire network for Web traffic (without seeing the content) and anything out of the ordinary coming in or out. They also control software updates, testing all software patches before deploying them to check they work on Senate software and network configuration, and they scan mobile devices used by members and staff overseas.

The office of the House Chief Administrative Officer would not speak with POLITICO about its practices, but said in a statement the office takes a “dynamic approach” to security and recently hired a full-time trainer. In congressional testimony, CAO has said it provides firewall protection and intrusion detection as well as services for individual offices like training and foreign travel mobile device scanning.

In testimony submitted to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee this spring, then-Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer said in the previous year, 2013, his office analyzed more than 500 potential malicious software incidents and shared their analysis with other federal agencies. In some cases, his team discovered previously unidentified zero-day vulnerabilities — a clear sign of advanced intruders at work. In separate testimony before its committee of jurisdiction, the House CAO budget request measured the challenge differently, saying the House IT security office in 2012 blocked 16.5 million intrusion attempts, 11.4 million efforts at spyware and 17,763 viruses.

Attackers in the Senate primarily used spearphishing — targeted emails designed to trick a specific person into clicking a bad link or opening a weaponized attachment — and watering holes — otherwise innocent sites known to be frequented by Senate staffers that could be hacked and used to distribute malicious software to visitors. In one recent example of a watering hole-style attack, advertisements on the AOL ad network were configured to distribute malicious software, meaning unsuspecting visitors to The Huffington Post could be hit.

The example shows that even seemingly safe and important uses of the Internet, like surfing news websites and opening email attachments, can be turned into the pathway for an attack by a skilled adversary. Without constant vigilance, even the lowest-level staffer can unwittingly invite bad guys into Hill computers.

The SAA official, like all security experts, acknowledges no network can be made 100 percent secure, and any network has to be workable for the employees.

“I think our biggest issue really is finding the balance between the protections that we want to have in place to keep the Senate secure and balancing that against the business needs of the Senate community,” the official said in the interview. “Being able to find that middle ground, where we still are doing what we need to do to keep our Senate safe, but yet allowing the staff and the senators to do the job that they were elected to do.”

Simple security measures can seem like major hurdles for staffers just trying to get their work done. A recent change to House password change rules — requiring changes every three months instead of six months — meant staffers had to change their email and computer login passwords at different times, one former staffer who left at the end of the 113th said. And having to call an IT person every time you need to update Firefox, say, can be a hassle.

Asked if that meant that there are times when security measures face pushback from members or staffs that aren’t thinking about security first and foremost, the official said that’s “true,” but they try to engage the community to work on solutions.

Even the most technically secure network needs the buy-in of every employee to be as safe as possible, experts say. Tony Cole, vice president and global government chief technology officer at major security firm FireEye, said having every staff member see themselves as part of cybersecurity is “extremely critical.”

“In the federal government and many other allied nations as well, cybersecurity is not part of the culture, very clearly it’s not,” Cole said. Most attackers are highly sophisticated at researching potential targets, like Hill staffers, and using information on social media to craft emails that they are likely to click on.

“Even with a robust architecture, having all of the best practices laid out across the board and the latest tools, you really need the security culture in place as well if you’re going to be successful at identifying attacks,” Cole said, “and even then, a place like the Hill, attackers are going to get in.”

Read more:



New rules could speed up DoD cloud migration

Aaron Boyd, Senior Writer 5:50 p.m. EST January 19, 2015


Until now, the Defense Department has trailed considerably behind civilian agencies when it comes to taking advantage of new commercial cloud capabilities, namely because of stringent procurement and security rules. But that’s about to change.

Pentagon leaders last month announced new procurement rules that empower DoD agencies to buy cloud services more quickly and easily. And this month, tight security rules that effectively closed off the option of using public cloud services in most cases were loosened.

Experts say the changes will set in motion a flurry of projects across the Defense Department to migrate networks, data and applications to the cloud.

“I think there is some genuine, real excitement about going to the cloud in the DoD,” said Gregory Garcia, executive director of the Army Information Technology Agency.

Initial forays into the cloud are likely to be uncoordinated and small in scale. Once the cloud concept proves successful with those early endeavors, more ambitious enterprise-scale projects will likely follow, experts like Garcia say.

“As we build success stories of those early adopters, we’ll see more people embrace that idea,” Garcia said. “Five years from now, I think it’s going to be all in the cloud.”

The first key policy change announced in November by acting DoD CIO Terry Halvorsen aimed to speed up and expand the department’s procurement of cloud services by removing the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) as the department’s sole cloud broker, thereby empowering all DoD agencies to buy cloud services on their own.

And earlier this month, DISA loosened security restrictions on certain classes of data that previously were off-limits to commercial cloud service providers. The new guidelines spell out how and where DoD data can reside, setting the stage for how component agencies will purchase cloud services.

The result is a new security requirements regime that is more willing to accept some increased risk for less mission-critical data, said Mark Orndorff, mission assurance executive for DISA.

“Where is that right balance point that will allow us to get the full benefits of commercial cloud providers while doing that with the right level of security?” Orndorff said. “This is an opportunity to get the agility, economic and technical advantages from commercial cloud and do that without putting the department at risk by leveraging the virtual separation capabilities that commercial cloud providers have, up to a level of sensitivity.”

In a nutshell, DoD data now will fall into one of three levels of security, based upon the impact there would be on DoD operations if that data were compromised.

For example, public-facing data, websites and information discoverable through FOIA could reside on a public cloud. A higher level of security would cover controlled unclassified information, which can be kept separate on virtual servers but require logging in to a secure DoD connection. The highest level of security is reserved for unclassified and classified national security data, which must be housed on physically separate servers.

Garcia said the policy changes are sure to ignite many cloud ventures, but he added, “I think the economic question and the security question are going to really drive people to make that assessment.”

The Pentagon appears open to the possibility of further relaxing security requirements in the future, if warranted.

“We are very open minded to it, but we want to do due diligence to assess: What is the risk, what are the mitigations and how do we want to press forward,” Orndorff said. “We just want to spend more time before we decide if that’s a goal.”

In time, as more DoD services are managed by commercial cloud providers, agencies could move to single, enterprise contracts for all their cloud needs, experts say. But, early on, the varied missions within DoD components and different security requirements likely will force agencies to look at their cloud needs one application and network at a time.

“This will be piecemeal, at least at first,” said Stu Fleagle, vice president of government solutions for Carpathia. “It will probably be much more limited before it’s wholesale and enterprisewide.”


Where does DoD begin?

Steven Kousen, vice president of cloud strategy and integration services at Unisys, said the earliest initiatives likely will focus on “things that are already virtualized and make sense.”

“If that’s public data, they’ll solicit for that sort of data. Other areas they know are sensitive but unclassified — those things can be moved,” Kousen added.

Another factor likely determining what moves to the cloud first will be technical compatibility with cloud service providers’ infrastructure. So, for example, Fleagle of Carpathia noted that the .mil domain was built on VMware technology, making DoD websites an easy first choice for migration as many cloud systems are built on the same stack.

Chris Spina, government cloud specialist with VMware, agrees. “Having cloud service provider networks that are all using the same core stack will make it easier,” he said. “If [a DoD application] is running VM on-prem today, it will be easier to move on a cloud with VMware.”

In addition to setting the right balance between security and economics in their cloud plans, DoD executives will need to address another issue: what to do with their networks, data and applications once their cloud services contracts expire.

“That question has to be asked,” Garcia said. “Is it portable from a cloud to a cloud? There are many constraints in getting it there, but there are also many, many constraints in getting it out of there.”

Despite the challenges, all parties are expecting a much faster transition to the cloud for DoD agencies under the new guidelines.


Confusing a “Revolution” with “Terrorism”

by Eric C. Anderson

Journal Article | January 19, 2015 – 5:27am


That the world should be so simple Washington could “bin” offshore challenges in a small set of categories that expedite planning and policy options. The Cold War dichotomy made life in the Pentagon a much simpler affair. You were either “communist” or you were not. In the wake of Gorbechev’s failure, you were a “rogue” state, or not. Osama Bin Laden only served to further add a category, “terrorist,” or not. This dichotomous sorting process made it relatively easy to explain policy options to the American electorate and direct the expenditure of taxpayer blood and treasure. Iraq, “rouge,” Afghanistan and all things al-Qaeda “terrorism.” Respond appropriately. Iraq meant deployment of large conventional force and time spent with boots on the ground. Afghanistan and al-Qaeda, pin-point targeting and late night visits to remote locales with black helicopters and US Special Forces. But what happens when the problem does not fit into the bins?

Welcome to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), otherwise known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State.[i] The new caliphate—Washington’s latest “terrorist.” Pull out the drones, tag the troops who can arrive without drawing attention, and fly 2,700 sorties in 30 days. Mission achieved. Well, maybe not.

What happens when your “terrorist” has 30,000 armed recruits, is occupying territory the size of West Virginia and has proclaimed an ideology that includes establishing a formal government with an identified constituency and offers a school curriculum? What does it mean when they control the regional wheat supply, are poised to do the same with fresh water, and essentially own the electric power grid? Are they still “terrorists”?

Webster might have thoughts to the contrary. I certainly do.

The ability to challenge an existing regime with an organized armed force, focused on sustained operations, occupying terrain and imposing a new government might be more appropriately declared a “revolution.” And requires a very different response than rooting out “terrorists.” Ask King George. Ask Louie the 16th. Ask Batista. Ask the former Shah of Iran.

Revolutions are hard. They do not succumb to link-analysis—find your individual adversaries via who they communicate with—or precision strike. A movement with thousands of men and women under arms is not terrorism that can be rooted out by flying remote control missions with armed, unmanned airframes from Nevada or Idaho. This requires a “presence,” and not one that is “rented”—see the Hessians—but rather is ready for a sustained engagement that demonstrates a willingness to die in the name of preserving a competing ideology. Welcome to Iraq and Syria. Welcome to Yemen and Mali. Welcome to Somalia and Nigeria. It appears we are on the cusp of a brave new world that will make your skin crawl unless medieval judicial standards were a ready practice in the adjacent neighborhood. And Washington is seemingly unwilling to embrace this new reality.

Not that one can blame decision makers for seeking the most cognitively straightforward assessment. The human mind is, in most cases, attuned to avoiding complexity and employing proven solutions. We seek familiar patterns and recoil when things deviate from the expected. Newspapers call this “headlines.” In the Intelligence Community it is called “indications and warning,” a means of preparing the policy maker or war fighter for events that might not turn out as desired. Welcome to ISIS.

That is to say, we are witnessing an evolution in the threat environment confronting the U.S. Intelligence Community, policy makers, and war fighters. The terrorism-focus that largely predominated in our campaign against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Sunni uprisings in Iraq is being outpaced by a transition in many of these organizations’ modus operandi. In the case of certain al-Qaeda elements—particularly al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Shabaab, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In each of these cases the primary focus no longer appears random acts of terror intended to disseminate a message that otherwise might be ignored or forgotten. These groups, and very specifically ISIS, have stepped from terrorism into revolutionary movements. That is to say, they are busily engaged in the process of seizing territory, establishing a form of governance, implementing a new ideology, and brutally putting an end to opposition and the old regime.

One could argue we are witnessing a return to the French Revolution—a violent uprising that may give way to Robespierre’s “Reign of Terror”—in this case the imposition of a draconian version of Sharia law. Just as the monarchies of Europe were not prepared for the “new” France, despite having witnessed the American colonialists break with Great Britain, we now contend the U.S. National Security apparatus is not recognizing the implications of powerful entities willing to declare the rise of a new caliphate. This is a problem—unlike terrorism—that cannot be addressed with the intellectual tools or kinetic options that seemingly succeeded in decapitating Bin Laden’s vision for al-Qaeda.

To explain the depth of this problem and facilitate an understanding of the type of organizations emerging in this new threat environment, this text will focus on the rise of ISIS by outlining the events that gave rise to its formation, examining its ideology and governance strategy, and then turning to a consideration of its potential courses of action. In accomplishing that task we also hope to lay out the implications for the U.S. intelligence, policy, and war fighting communities. Ultimately, the goal is to make clear we are witnessing the rise of new non-state actors who appear to have little interest in observing the dictates of, or even maintaining, the Westphalian system that shaped existing international mores and modes of behavior.


A Brave New World?

The U.S. national security apparatus periodically needs a call to heed the sea changes taking place within the Westphalian “system.” In the opening round of the Cold War it was George Kennan’s long cable from Moscow, subsequently published under a pseudonym in Foreign Affairs. Kennan’s argument that: “The possibilities for American policy are by no means limited to holding the line and hoping for the best. It is entirely possible for the United States to influence by its actions the internal developments, both within Russia and throughout the international Communist movement…”gave rise to the policy of “containment” and led to a U.S. Intelligence Community, Defense Department and national security strategy suited to the perceived greatest danger—Moscow’s global ambitions.[ii]

Kennan’s ideas had greater staying power than even the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—the term “containment” periodically appears in Chinese literature evaluating Washington’s approach to Beijing’s reappearance on the global stage—but was poorly suited for the world that emerged during the 1990s. So, seemingly, was the U.S. national security collective. The Intelligence Community shed employees and went in search of a mission; the Defense Department worried a threat of suffering deep budget cuts; and, politicians sought to realize a “peace dividend” in the face of an apparently much more benign threat environment. Bin Laden and al-Qaeda would bring an end to that perceived erosion in attention, capabilities and policymaker imagination.

Arguably, the next fundamentally formulative document for the national security community as a whole was the 9-11 Commission Report. In a document totaling 585 pages, the report’s authors called for a new national security strategy, a revision of the Intelligence Community’s operating procedures—to include establishing a Director of National Intelligence—and a press for the policy makers to seek greater unity in their efforts. Broad ambitions, but for a nation engaged in a Global War on Terror,” a clarion call that resulted in significant changes.

The 9-11 Commission Report, in many senses as aspirational as Kennan’s work, created a national security apparatus that seemed to be remarkably adept at defeating terrorists before they could execute attacks on the homeland. It also appeared to lend cohesion to National Security Council deliberations that facilitated a “whole of government” approach to addressing al-Qaeda and other untoward actors who came to the fore in Afghanistan and Iraq. What it did not do, however, is prepare the Intelligence Community, policy makers, or war fighter for the emergence of non-state revolutionary entities with the ability to seize large swaths of territory—think of ISIS in Syria and Iraq or AQIM in Mali.

This article will attempt to start that conversation. While I harbor no delusion of being as smart as George Kennan nor as broadly staffed or experienced as the 9-11 Commission, it now is time to begin the intellectual transition away from the War on Terrorism and turn to the threat of increasingly powerful non-state actors that could begin redrawing national boundaries and challenge the international norms that have prevented World War III. The last line is not in jest—given the religious identification of these non-state revolutionaries, there is a very real possibility of igniting a conflict that pits Islam against any other competing religion. A recipe for disaster.


What is Terrorism?

We are perhaps best served by starting with what is terrorism. Sadly, even in the wake of spending over a decade battling “terrorism” there is no agreed upon definition. Suffice it to say, at one point the Intelligence Community even classified its definition and refused to share with the general public. So here’s what one will find in explaining the phenomenon we have been battling since the anarchists started their campaign at the end of the 19th century. Given the consequences of Arch Duke Ferdinand’s assassination, it should not be surprising the first official—that is outside a dictionary—definition appeared in Article 1.1 of the League of Nations’ 1937 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Terrorism. In that document, the collected wise men declared “acts of terrorism” were “criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public.”[iii] What’s missing here, of course, is why the act of terror was committed in the first place.

This is no minor oversight. As more than one author has noted, “one man’s terrorist is another’s revolutionary.” Or, as attorneys pithily remark, good luck in separating “terrorist organizations” from “liberation movements.” Please recall that Osama Bin Laden and the nascent Taliban were celebrated mujahedeen—freedom fighters—before they launched an assault on the West for the perceived endless infidel presence in the home of Mecca and Medina. In any case, the Soviet Union spent a decade attempting to crush “Charlie Wilson’s War.” A just campaign from Washington’s perspective, a terrorist nightmare according to Moscow. This suggests a requirement for further refinement of our terms.

In 1991, Edward Luttwak, then the strategy chair at the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Stuart Koehl, a professional military analyst, jointly published The Dictionary of Modern War: A Guide to the Ideas, Institutions and Weapons of Modern Military Power. A hefty tome, weighing in at nearly 700 pages, the book is an effort to precisely define the history, issues, and tools confronting Washington and the Western world. These two prestigious authors, however, apparently have difficulty in discerning the difference between a terrorist and revolutionary. Here’s their definition of “terrorism:”

The use of violence against civilians by covert or clandestine organizations for political purposes….By bombings, shootings, kidnappings, hijacking, and assassinations, terrorists seek to lower public morale, reduce confidence in official authorities and institutions, obtain concessions, and force governments into acts of repression which they hope will lead to a popular revolt.[iv]

Helpful, in that we are led to believe this is not a state-actor or uniformed force, but a bit confounding in that the term revolt inherently implies revolution, and the targets, “official authorities and institutions” are two of the three areas Chalmers Johnson—as we shall see—constitute the type of change a revolutionary is intent on accomplishing.

Back to the United Nations. In 2002, that body set about drafting the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Accordingly, the diplomats suggested—they have still not agreed in a vote—that terrorism is identified when:

1. Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Convention if that person, by any means, unlawfully and intentionally, causes:

(a) Death or serious bodily injury to any person; or

(b) Serious damage to public or private property, including a place of public use, a state or government facility, a public transportation system, an infrastructure facility or the environment; or

(c) Damage to property, places, facilities, or systems referred to in paragraph 1 (b) of this article, resulting or likely to result in major economic loss, when the purpose of the conduct, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.

Again, the problem is how to discern between the terrorist and the revolutionary, and who gets to make that decision. Which drives us forward to 2004. Here we find the United Nations Security Council engaged in a semantic waltz that comes up with the following word play in Resolution 1566:

Criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act, which constitute offences within the scope of and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature.

A vague hand wave at attempting to categorize particular forms of activity as outside the realm of politically acceptable…so long as you are a member of the existing governmental structure and frown upon upstarts who would replace the status quo with a different version of governance. Then revolution becomes a “criminal act.”

Washington, as one might suspect, has had its own problems in defining terrorism. Here is the official Federal Bureau of Investigations solution:

18 U.S.C. § 2331 defines “international terrorism” for purposes of Chapter 113B of the Code, entitled “Terrorism:”

International terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

• Involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law

• Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping

• Occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum


And then we have the Department of Defense:

The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.

Followed by the State Department—which buries this in an annex to its annual report on terrorism:

Section 2656f(d) of Title 22 of the United States Code defines certain key terms used in Section 2656f(a) as follows:

(1) The term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country;

(2) The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents; and

(3) The term “terrorist group” means any group practicing, or which has significant subgroups which practice, international terrorism.


Not satisfied with this collection of definitions—but with a nod of approval for the Department of Defense approach—in his seminal text, Inside Terrorism, Bruce Hoffman offers his own effort at delineating the difference between such activity and criminal or revolutionary movements.

To that end, Hoffman argues terrorism can be identified through five key attributes:

1. Terrorism is political in aims and motives

2. Terrorism is violent or threatens violence

3. Terrorism is designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions

4. Terrorism is conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or cell structure—whose members wear no uniform or insignia

5. Terrorism is perpetuated by a subnational group or non-state entity[v]


Hoffman goes on to contend we can now define terrorism as “the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence.” And, he seeks to refine the definition by contending terrorists seek to have “psychological effects beyond the immediate victim,” “[one] designed to create power where there is none,” or, he continues to “consolidate power where there is very little.”[vi]

The bottom line, any organization that engages in armed revolt against an existing regime can almost automatically be characterized as a terrorist plot. But is that helpful? Well if one wants to circumvent or avoid the War Powers Act this is good stuff. Congressional blessing for employment of the Department of Defense’s impressive capabilities is typically hard to acquire. The last official United States government declaration of war against a foreign power took place in 1942. There has been subsequent Congressional approval of the use of force—recall the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution or the January 1991 Congressional vote approving military action against Saddam Hussein. But Bin Laden and al-Qaeda created a new problem, how to go to war with a non-state actor? The solution was the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed as Senate Joint Resolution 23 by the United States Congress on 14 September 2001.

There is little argument this was an expedient and widely accepted means of meeting an immediate threat. The bill passed in the House of Representatives with 420 ayes, 1 nay and 10 not voting. The Senate was equally cooperative, 98 ayes, 0 nays, 2 present/not voting. Very similar legislation was rolled out for the subsequent 2003 attack on Iraq. Introduced in Congress on 2 October 2002, in conjunction with the Administration’s proposals, House Joint Resolution 114 passed in the lower chamber by a vote of 296-133, and passed in the Senate by a vote of 77-23. The White House had a powerful political tool in its kit and was unlikely to abandon the option, regardless of comments made on the campaign trail.


Which Begs the Question—What is a Revolution?

But what happens if you are confronting a revolution. Let’s return for a moment to the issue of cognitive processing. Depending on one’s education and upbringing—culture, entertainment, national myths, religion—terms take on mental images that are hard to eradicate or override. Ask Americans about terrorism, and visions of the collapsing Twin Towers in New York flash through the psyche. Ask them about revolution, and a picture of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson pass through the synopsis. For intelligence analysts, this “background” tends to engender “mirror imaging” or flash evaluations. No need to ponder through this, “I know what ‘terrorism’ is and is not.” In the same vein, “I know what a ‘revolution’ is and is not.” Think, however, if you were born and raised in Cuba after Castro came to power. Now what is a revolution? Take the same perspective and apply it to an Iranian born and raised after 1979. What is a revolution? What does it accomplish? Who are the heroes?

This renders important the definition of “revolution” for academics, intelligence analysts, policy makers, and war fighters who must motivate forces in dangers’ way. Academics want an “ivory tower” value-free term. Intelligence analysts should seek the same, but are often influenced by their audience—policy—to come up with something more communicative to the desired reader. (Analysts seek approval from the audience, just like novelists.) And the war-fighter wants visions of George Washington or Simon Bolivar. So what do we get?

Semantically, we run into the same problem apparent during an investigation of what constitutes terrorism. Thomas Jefferson was famous for writing to James Madison, that, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” Jefferson, however, does not spell out what that rebellion would look like. Interestingly, Alexis De Tocqueville is equally vague in Democracy in America. The closest he comes is in Volume Three of the tome, when the following appears:

Every revolution enlarges the ambition of men. That is above all true of the revolution that overturns an aristocracy. …. In this first exaltation of triumph, nothing seems impossible to anyone. Not only do desires have no bounds, but the power to satisfy them has almost none. In the midst of this general and sudden renovation of customs and laws, in this confusion of all men and all rules, citizens raise themselves and fall with unheard of rapidity; and power passes so quickly from hand to hand that no one must despair of seizing it in his turn.[vii]

This at least offers hint at the strum and angst associated with revolution, but I highlight the fact De Tocqueville is particularly focused on the toppling of the ancien regime and suggests the new would-be rulers are more than a bit chaotic in their bid to establish a new order. This chaos is suggestive of an opposition that is not completely in synch on their ambitions or end state. Also of note, De Tocqueville free admits such revolutions can come the barrel of a gun and may not always end in a democracy—leading one to suspect he is looking back on the French revolution as much as he is discussing the outcome of George Washington’s efforts.


A more contemporary academic effort to parse out “revolution” begins in 1962 with a paper published in Political Science Quarterly. Titled “Revolution: A Redefinition,” the author, Peter Amann, opens with the admission, “There is no ‘true’ definition of an abstraction”—in this case “revolution.”[viii] Nonetheless, this is a political scientist at work, so Amann makes a stab at wrestling with the alligator. His first step is to set forth conditions for a revolution—starting with a sovereign state, “a political organization exercising, or able to exercise, a monopoly of armed force, justice and administration over a given area and population. Add to that, he continues, the argument this monopoly on power “depends largely, not on the consent of the governed, but on their habit of obedience, whatever its motive.”[ix] So we have moved beyond De Tocqueville’s focus on aristocracy and can now take aim at all forms of the governmental status quo. And arrive at a definition of revolution, “a breakdown, momentary or prolonged, of the state’s monopoly of power, usually accompanied by a lessening of the habit of obedience.” As for the duration of such events, “revolution prevails when the state’s monopoly of power is effectively challenged and persists until a monopoly of power is re-established.”[x]

I hasten to point out at this stage Amann makes no qualifications concerning the revolutionaries’ attire (recall Hoffman’s definition of “terrorism” included an assumption such groups would be without uniform) nor does he spell out or subscribe particular tactics to a revolution. Rather Amann declares the revolutionaries may vary from small groups to a large element of the population and that the “most obvious hallmark” of their deserving the title is the exercise of military force.[xi] Amann does not spell out what constitutes “military force.” Is it shooting at Red Coats from behind stone walls? Is it fighting Batista from the hills and jungle? Or is it direct symmetric contact with the armed forces protecting the status quo? All tactics are fair game in such a situation—but one thing is clear, the revolutionaries are seeking to create fear and exploit same by operating in an environment where there is little to no power, or they would already be out of business. So perhaps Hoffman has not saved us with his definition of “terrorism,” as Amann’s “revolution” looks remarkably like the same phenomena.

So let’s move forward with the conversation, turning now to Chalmers Johnson’s text, Revolution and the Social System. As a political scientist, Johnson sought to define revolution as change, effected by use of violence, to a government, regime, or society.[xii] (Back to Tocqueville.) The phraseology is important here. As a subsequent scholar explains, “society” is community collective consciousness concerning means of cohesion, “regime” is the existing political power arrangement—from constitutional to monarchy—and “government” is the bureaucratic institutions used to exercise political power. More importantly for our conversation, “violence” is differentiated from “force.” “Violence,” we are told, is force “used with unnecessary intensity, unpredictability, and usually destructively.”[xiii] Now Johnson’s definition of “revolution” takes on a much broader scope, particularly as to Hoffman’s contention that “terrorism” is identified by the “creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence.” Seems that Johnson’s “revolutionaries” do exactly the same thing.

Revolution and the Social System becomes, arguably, more helpful in separating “terrorism” from “revolution” in Johnson’s six typologies of a revolt. The first, Jacquerie, finds the peasants massed outside the walls with torches and pitchforks at the ready.[xiv] In this form of revolution, Johnson argues, the mass is acting in the name of the church and king with the intent of removing local or national elites—i.e., the Taliban. The second, Millenarian Rebellion, trods down a similar path, but adds an inspirational leader with a utopian dream—think Mullah Omar, Osama Bin Laden or al-Baghdadi.[xv] The third type, Anarchistic Rebellion, is a reactionary response to change, harkening back to the “good old days.”[xvi] Potentially, the Salafist

movement in Egypt.


Which brings us to Johnson’s fourth “revolution” typology, Jacobin Communist. This he defines as: “A sweeping fundamental change in political organization, social structure, economic property control and the predominant myth of social order, thus indicating a major break in the continuity of development.”[xvii] In his 1966 essay, “Theories of Revolutions,” Lawrence Stone decrees this is a “very rare” phenomenon that can only occur within “a highly centralized state with good communications and a large capital city, and its target is government, regime and society.”[xviii] Rare, perhaps in 1966, but what we have now watched, at least transitorily, occur in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and possibly Tunisia. The same may be underway in Nigeria and Yemen. The problem here, of course, is that Chalmers Johnson’s label—Jacobin Communist—pulls the analyst off target. We mirror image Marx, not the Prophet Mohammed.

Type five is the Conspiratorial Coup d’Etat.[xix] This falls in the realm of work done by Edward Luttwak, who penned Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook.[xx] It only falls into the “revolutionary” category as such events may cause fundamental change in society, regime and government. Consider, for instance, Qaddafi coming to power in Libya or Saddam Hussein taking the reins in Baghdad. Finally, Johnson holds out for Militarized Mass Insurrection. In this case we are looking for a guerilla war founded on an ideology not military strategy, as the revolutionaries are dependent upon popular support and solace.[xxi] Here we find examples like Mao in China, potentially the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

All of which is to say, Chalmers Johnson offers a clearer perspective on what might be considered a revolution and overlays the academic’s heuristic devices, but then opens the door to pulling the ISIS campaign into his fourth typology. Leaving us again to beg for a definition of “revolution” that steps clearly outside the boundaries of “terrorism.

The next significant academic attempt at this problem comes in 1972, when Isaac Kraminick publishes “Reflections on Revolution: Definitions and Explanation in Recent Scholarship.” Kraminick opens his discussion on the subject with the apt warning: “There are few concepts over which there has been so much contention as that of revolution…Few things are so ambiguous.”[xxii] That admonition laid before the reader, Kraminick plunges in, coming away with what appears to be a refined definition of the central concept. His first stab comes in the form of guiding historians seeking to separate “simple” internal social strife from a sea change. To that end, he suggests we consider a revolution as something with, “a particular direction and purposive orientation to the change; a novel structuring of society, a new and millennial order must be sought.”[xxiii] As examples he offers the “great historical revolutions”—English, French, Russian—and modern—China and Cuba. He also notes “revolution is a cultural phenomenon involving fundamental changes in norms and values.”[xxiv] This looks mightily like what we are seeing with the ISIS campaign, a transition from the sectarian, nondenominational “liberal democracy” in Iraq or Assad’s dictatorship in Syria, to a secular regime guided a council seeking to meet the dictates of the Koran as they understand the words of the Prophet.

Kraminick, however, is not finished, six pages later, he adds further elucidation. Focusing on the political elements within such a sea change he argues, “Revolutions are the substitution of one governing elite for another….Revolution is thus an event primarily found in the political arena; governments, elites, and the masses are the players and power is the fruit of victory.”[xxv] We would note he does not restrict the players to uniformed forces or other established governments or states. Rather, that these are simply potential participants. ISIS has its own elite, al-Baghdadi, a spiritual head with a PhD in political science, and a number of formerly well-placed Baathist party members who are suspected of serving to guide the military campaign. As for the masses, 30,000 armed militants did not only come from the upper crust of Iraqi or Syrian society—to say nothing of the foreign fighters who have drifted in from Europe and even the United States.

Not surprisingly, Kraminick steers us back to that now-departed seer, Samuel Huntington. Drawing upon Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies, Kraminick offers the following quote from the Harvard professor:



A full-scale revolution involves the destruction of the old political institutions and patterns of legitimacy, the mobilization of new groups into politics, the redefinition of the political community, the acceptance of new political vales and new concepts of political legitimacy, the conquest of power by a new, more dynamic political elite, and the creation of new and stronger political institutions.[xxvi]

Given this definition, it is easy to argue there was no revolution when Saddam was removed from office. Instead, the existing elite, to use a very broad sense of the term, assumed governmental functions and went about practicing politics in a manner Saddam would have surely recognized. ISIS threatens to undo all of that and bring in a new crop of leaders, cultural values, and a very different justification for recognizing its political legitimacy.

Let’s move on by returning to Luttwak and Koehl’s Dictionary of Modern War. While they do not provide an explicit definition of “revolution,” the two scholars make this observation on what they find to be “revolutionary war:”

Armed conflict between a government and opposing forces, wherein the latter rely mainly on guerrilla warfare and subversion rather than formal warfare. The revolutionary side operates by establishing a rival state structure which embodies a political ideology, and which is intended to replace the existing order….the covert ‘administration’ collects taxes, conscripts, and information—all of which can be extracted from the population even if the government is in apparent military control of the area in question. These resources are supplied to the guerrilla arm, which strives to erode the government’s control and undermine its prestige. That in turn facilitates subversion (propaganda + terror) to extend the reach of the covert administration, which sustains the guerrilla.[xxvii]

This is ISIS in practice as we know it today. And raises a vexing observation. Following this definition of “revolutionary war,” one is drawn to conclude terrorism is a tactic employed by revolutionaries, it does not, ipso facto, make them terrorists.

This conversation is briefly resumed in 1996, when Clifton Kroeber publishes an essay titled, “Theory and History of Revolution.” Plowing through a mountain of academic writing on the subject, he comes to the conclusion most definitions have employed the following three terms: “brief,” “violent,” and “successful.”[xxviii] (It seems losing revolutionaries are not allowed retain the honorific adjective in histories written on their efforts—was Che Guevara a “terrorist” or a “revolutionary”? Depends on if you are asking Hollywood or Washington.) One can argue if “brief” is truly a fitting term—recall our own revolution took eight years and Mao was on the road much longer than that—nonetheless, we are on to something here, particularly the catch phrase “violent.” In any case, Kroeber steers us to a much simpler definition with few modifiers or semantic qualifications. “Revolution and revolutions,” he argues, “signify all demands, suggestions, and attempts at radical change—and, in addition, all unplanned changes equally basic.” He goes on to observe, “Revolutions signify drastic, fundamental changes in their full depth, duration, and complexity.”[xxix] Now we have arrived at the situation in Iraq and Syria as ISIS pushes toward Baghdad.

Finally, a nod to the most recent attempt to separate revolution from terrorism. The most recent version of the US Army’s Field Manual 3-24, “Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies,” seeks to avoid this definitional nightmare by instead focusing on “irregular warfare,” “a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant population(s).” As an “insurgency,” it is described as “a struggle for control and influence, generally from a position of relative weakness, outside existing state institutions.”[xxx] One could contend this is just intricate verbal sparring, but there is a point to be taken from these two definitions, neither implies a fundamental change in regime, society or government within the conflict. But even the US Army cannot avoid eventually pigeonholing “revolution.” In Chapter Four of the guide to solving the American armed services’ seeming most perplexing problem of the 21st Century we are told:



A revolution is a popular insurgency with plans to overthrow a government and transform its society and government from one form of government to another. Revolutions generally evolve from a rebellion, but in revolutions popular support comes in the form of a fully mobilized population, which differs from simply passive or active support. A fully mobilized population is part of a revolution and it is generally seeking fundamental lasting change in a society’s political, economic or social order.[xxxi]

Oh, to be fair, a “rebellion” is defined a scant ten lines above this statement. A “rebellion (also known as an insurrection),” according to the US Army, “may be fomented by a group that challenges state control.” The difference between “revolution” and “rebellion” is that the population only offers “passive” support to the latter.

Now we are back to splitting semantic hairs. The US Army’s definition of “revolution” is remarkably similar to that offered by Chalmers Johnson, but we must be able to discern between a “passive” and “full mobilized” population or we will be looking to counter a “rebellion.” Reading a bit further, it would appear one wants to be confronted with a “rebellion” and not a “revolution.” “Rebellions,” the US Army holds, are illegal acts that can be prosecuted as a crime by virtue of the fact they are an effort to “incite, assist or engage in violent acts against a constituted government.” “Revolutions,” on the other hand, are a far more dicey proposition as this type of conflict requires an effort to “reintegrate the mobilized population and not only reintegrate members of the insurgency.”[xxxii] Two things to immediately take away from the US Army doctrine here, first, there is no mention of “terrorism” in either “rebellion” or “revolution,” and we have no idea of how to decide what qualifies as a “passive” versus “fully mobilized” population. The operational planner is on his or her own for that decision.

Time to return to the situation in Iraq and Syria for a moment. Within the Sunni population in both nations we find a disenfranchised population who see little purpose in acceding to the existing regime. I could contend the two sitting governments at least safe-guarded their property rights, but that was a tenuous guarantee at best. Neither Baghdad nor Damascus was holding out the promise of equal representation within the “democracies” they supposedly practiced, so “civil rights” were also tenuous for the Sunni. Perhaps, then, they are no longer “passive,” but instead a source of support for the opposition—willingly or unsubtly compelled. This explains the 30,000 under arms working for ISIS and strongly nudges an analyst toward employing the term “revolution” as opposed to “terrorism;” making al-Baghdadi a modern-day George Washington, a situation that causes cognitive dissonance in capitols from Riyadh to Washington.


A Potential Way Forward

In conversations with policy makers and war fighters it quickly becomes clear they have little patience for the academic or intelligence community’s preoccupation with factual minutia and contentious debates over terminology. “Tell me what time it is, don’t build me a clock,” was a favorite phrase of one now-retired National Intelligence Officer. Inevitably, the analyst would forget this guidance and resume a description of cutting gears and tuning movements, a course of action that frequently ended with yelling in the front office and demands for more “competent” persons to work the problem. Having no desire to go in search of a new occupation, I recommend the following as a definition of “revolution.” It is a movement of sufficient size to form a shadow government, challenges the existing regime with a new ideology, seeks to replace the sitting government and presents an alternative to standing cultural or social norms. This is the American “rebellion” the French revolution, Lenin coming to Saint Petersburg, Mao finishing the “Long March,” and Castro riding a jeep into Havana. In contemporary times it could have been the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood’s failed bid to rule in Egypt, AQIM in Mali or Ennahda as it struggles to govern in Tunisia.


In contrast, “terrorism” is the employment of violence intended to shock a target population by a group or organization that is not positioned to serve as a national governing body in the event these activities result in a collapse of the ruling elite. Here we have the 19th Century Anarchists, West Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Gang, Italy’s Red Brigades, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (Carlos the Jackal), Timothy McVeigh, and al-Qaeda as originally crafted under Osama Bin Laden’s tutelage. These are organizations with a political message but no apparent thought to long-term staying power. They would clear the way for a new government and perhaps a different social order, but do not seemingly want to be responsible for the mundane task of constituent services and diplomatic niceties. Which begs the question, what is Hamas or Hezbollah? A revolution or terrorist organization? Questions that are beyond the scope of this work, but illustrate the difficulty in drawing clear lines between “revolution” and “terrorism.” For political reasons it is sometimes more expedient or convenient to have fuzzy definitions—at least so long as one is not drawn into the possibility of having to kinetically dispatch or dispel the “trouble-makers.” “Revolutions” suggest a need for heavy munitions and boots on the ground—an operational plan that requires winning hearts and minds. “Terrorists” imply a more transitory target,[xxxiii] normally handled by police forces and discrete use of explosives.

And so we are back to the dilemma of where to “bin” ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State. This is no minor concern, as the Washington Post has ably demonstrated for its readership. In the week following beheading of two journalists and the Obama administration’s debate over ramping up airstrikes, the newspaper started almost every article on ISIS with the adjective “terrorist.” The reporters were in good company. Here’s what the President of the United States called the Islamic State on 10 September 2014: “Tonight I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.”[xxxiv] But look what happens in the week following the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s testimony before Congress.

To set the stage, let’s return to General Dempsey’s remarks. He is sitting before the Senate Armed Forces Committee on 16 September 2014 following a request to explain how the administration plans to defeat this new threat. In his response we find this description of ISIS:

I want to emphasize that our military actions will be part of a whole of government effort that works to disrupt ISIL financing, interdict the movement of foreign fighters across borders, and undermine the ISIL message…

ISIL will ultimately be defeated when their cloak of religious legitimacy is stripped away and the populations on which they have imposed themselves reject them. Our actions are intended to move in that direction.

This will require a sustained effort over an extended period of time. It is a generational problem. And we should expect that our enemies will adapt their tactics as we adjust our approach.[xxxv]

The terminology Dempsey employs to describe the Islamic State looks remarkably familiar to the verbiage used to define a “revolution.” There is no discussion of “terrorism,” this is about “messaging,” stripping away “legitimacy,” and a “generational” problem. In other words, we have something very different than the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq; this needs more than an F-16 pilot with good intelligence and smart munitions.

President Obama seemingly made the same transition within a ten-day period. Speaking with Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes 28 September 2014, the President described the Islamic State as: “sort of a hybrid of not just the terrorist network, but one with territorial ambitions, and some of the strategy and tactics of an army.”[xxxvi] This verbal footwork came a little late in the game. On 23 September 2014, a day after the US air campaign began over Syria, the Washington Post was no longer starting its articles with the “terrorist” Islamic State, but had moved its readership on to the term “political Islam.” This transition brings its own baggage.


“Political Islam,” one quickly discovers upon wading into the literature, is one of the most nebulous terms an academic or journalist can employ to define a public movement or organization. In a book published in 1997, Political Islam,” Joel Beinin and Joe Stork offer this attempt at explaining the phenomena:

We term the movements examined in this volume ‘political Islam’ because we regard their core concerns as temporal and political. They use the Koran, the hadiths (reports about the words and deeds of Muhammad and his companions), and other canonical religious texts to justify their stances and actions.[xxxvii]

Not terribly helpful. “Political Islam” in this context is anything that is window dressed with the terminology or mythology of the Koran and related writings? Yes, that does indeed seem the case. Writing on the same subject six years later, Graham Fuller declares, “I use the terms ‘political Islam’ and ‘Islamism’ synonymously.” He then goes on to state, “An Islamist is one who believes that Islam as a body of faith has something important to say about how politics and society should be ordered in the contemporary Muslim world and who seeks to implement this idea in some fashion.”[xxxviii] Other academics offer similar vague pronouncements.[xxxix]

We are stuck in an endless “do-loop” here in the sense “Political Islam” is like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of “pornography,” “I know it when I see it.” To wit, I offer the following, “political Islam” is the practice of justifying one’s form of governance by arguing your ideology is based upon the Koran and other Muslim foundational documentation or mythology. The reason for taking such a course of action is entirely logical. As Moorthy Muthuswamy writes in Defeating Political Islam, “If an individual wants to capture, control, and rule a land and its people; it is hard to think of a better way than to declare oneself so close to the almighty God as to be the sole purveyor of his ‘revelations’.”[xl] Taken from this perspective, the ISIS decision to wrap themselves in the cloak of the Prophet makes complete sense. The revolution they are bringing is made more palatable for the masses as it is justified in the name of Muhammad and Allah. This appeal to a higher authority worked for the leaders of the Muslim conquests from 634-750, and for the Christian Crusaders three hundred years later.

Which brings us back to the issue of how to respond the Islamic State?

In response, we point to an article Alireza Doostdar, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School, wrote in early October 2014. Using the quirky title, “How Not to Understand ISIS,” Doostdar bids caution in trying to “bin” the Islamic State as yet another example of Islamic revival and fundamentalism. Doostdar is not dismissing the influence of “Salafi Islam” on the movement, but he notes there are other factors at play. For instance, “What we call ISIS is more than just a militant cult. At present, ISIS controls a network of large population centers with millions of residents, in addition to oil resources, military bases, and roads. It has to administer the affairs of the populations over whom it rules, and this has required compromise and coalition-building, not just brute force.”[xli] Furthermore, he continues, lacking a “good grasp of the motivations of those who fight for or alongside ISIS” we have simply subscribed to an argument it is driven by religion. But, he notes, ISIS emerges from a decade of “war, occupation, killing, torture, and disenfranchisement” in Iraq, and more recently in Syria. Thus, he argues, we should not be surprised by the ISIS brutality—it is not Islam that brings forth this behavior, “it is a whole ecology of cruelty spread out over more than a decade.”

Doostdar further complicates the situation in his attempt to unearth the allure for foreign fighters who join ISIS. He admits it could be visions of the utopian caliphate, but it is equally possible they are motivated by “compassion for suffering fellow humans or of altruistic duty.”[xlii] This is an unsettling proposition for Western audiences that have been shocked by beheading clips on U-Tube and television footage of an entire town being subjected to apparently random shelling. This is “compassion” or altruism?” Again we return to the issue of relative definitions and personal perspective. What seems compassionate to one—dog ownership—may be cruelty to another—for example, members of People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.

So how do we respond to ISIS? It will take more than kinetic shock and awe. The argument this is a revolution suggests a hearts and minds campaign, a sustained presence on the ground, and a plan for the future. Nation building has to be part of the dialogue. We are now in a “whole of government” problem and the Department of Defense is but one tool in the repair kit. The alternative option is to let ISIS carve its own space within the Middle East. To establish the Caliphate and be weighed down with the administrative burden of governing and providing constituent services so as to maintain a veneer of legitimacy. (Recall al-Anbar revolted against al-Qaeda in Iraq when its members “over-stepped” the tribal leaders’ bounds, ISIS will likely find the setting no easier to control.)

This latter option is enticing. It would save billions of dollars that are currently being expended on munitions and aviation fuel. However, it sets a discomforting—to say the least—precedent. If ISIS wins in Syria and Iraq—essentially trifurcating Iraq and carving away half of Syria—what message are we sending to AQAP in Yemen, to AQIM in Mali, to al-Shabaab in Somalia, and Boko Haram in Nigeria? Does this open the door to a Confederation of the Caliphate that then seeks to follow in the footprints of the 7th Century Muslim conquest? These are the questions one should ask as you proceed through the essays that follow. We are on the cusp of a “brave new world” and the paradigms that served us so well in the Cold War and Global War on Terrorism may no longer be an appropriate framing mechanism.


End Notes

[i] Others argue it should be called Da’esh:


D (dal in Arabic د) stands for Dawla = state


A (aleph in Arabic ا) stands for islamiya = Islamic


‘E (ein in Arabic ع) stands for iraq = iraq


Sh (sheen in Arabic ش) stands for Sham = Levant


[ii] George Kennan, July 1947, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Foreign Affairs, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington DC, p. 581.

[iii] League of Nations 1937 “Convention for the prevention and punishment of Terrorism.”

[iv] Edward Luttwak and Stuart Koehl, 1991, The Dictionary of Modern War: A Guide to the Ideas, Institutions and Weapons of Modern Military Power, Harper Collins, New York, p. 609.

[v] Bruce Hoffman, 2006, Inside Terrorism, Columbia University Press, New York, p. 40.

[vi] Ibid., pp. 40-41.

[vii] Alexis De Tocqueville, 2000, Democracy in America, edited by Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 600.

[viii] Peter Amann, March 1962, “Revolution: A Redefinition,” Political Science Quarterly, Volume 77, Number 1, The Academy of Political Science, p. 36.


[ix] Ibid., p. 38

[x] Ibid., p. 39.

[xi] Ibid., p. 43.

[xii] Chalmers Johnson, 1964, Revolution and the Social System, Hoover Institution Studies, Stanford, p. 3-26.

[xiii] Sheldon Wolin, January 1963 “Violence and the Western Political Tradition,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.” Pp. 15-28.

[xiv] Johnson, pp. 31-34.

[xv] Ibid., pp. 35-39.

[xvi] Ibid., pp. 40-45.

[xvii] Ibid., pp. 45-49.

[xviii] Lawrence Stone, January 1966, “Theories of Revolution,” World Politics, Volume 18, Number 2, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 163.

[xix] Johnson, pp. 49-57.

[xx] Edward Luttwack, 1968, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

[xxi] Johnson, pp. 57-68.

[xxii] Isaac Kraminick, 1972, “Reflections on Revolution: Definitions and Explanation in Recent Scholarship,” History and Theory, Volume 11, Number 1, Wiley, p. 26.

[xxiii] Ibid., p. 30.

[xxiv] Ibid., p. 31.

[xxv] Ibid., p. 36.

[xxvi] Ibid., p. 37.

[xxvii] Luttwak and Koehl, p. 487.

[xxviii] Clifton Kroeber, 1996, “Theory and History of Revolution,” Journal of World History, Volume 7, Number 1, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, p. 24.

[xxix] Ibid., p. 25.

[xxx] ___, May 2014, FM 3-24, MCWP 3-33.5, Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies, Headquarters, Department of the Army, p. 1-1.

[xxxi] Ibid., p. 4-1

[xxxii] Ibid., p. 4-2.

[xxxiii] We recognize “transitory” is a relative term in this context. As Audrey Kurth Cronin documents in How Terrorism Ends Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist

Campaigns (Princeton University Press 2009), a terrorist movement can survive a full generation of more than 20 years.

[xxxiv] ___, 10 September 2014, “Transcript: President Obama’s speech outlining strategy to defeat Islamic State” Washington Post,” Washington.

[xxxv] ___, 16 September 2014, “TRANSCRIPT: Dempsey testifies to the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Islamic State,” Washington Post, Washington.


[xxxvi] Barrack Obama, 28 September 2014, “President Obama: What America Makes Us,” CBS, New York.

[xxxvii] Joel Beinin and Joe Stork, 1997, Political Islam, University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 3-4.

[xxxviii] Graham Fuller, 2003, The Future of Political Islam, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, p. xi.

[xxxix] For instance see: Charles Butterworth, 1992, “Political Islam: The Origins,” Academy of Political and Social Science,” Volume 524, Sage Publications, pp. 26-37; Charles Hirschkind, 1997, “What is Political Islam?” Middle East Report, Number 205, Middle East Research and Information Project, p. 12-14; and, ___, 2010, Political Islam from Muhammad to Ahmadinejad, edited by Joseph Skelly, Preager Security International, Santa Barbara.

[xl] Moorthy Muthuswamy, 2009, Defeating Political Islam, Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, p. 54.

[xli] Alireza Doostdar, 2 October 2014, “How Not to Understand ISIS,” Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion, University of Chicago, p. 2.

[xlii] Ibid., p. 3.


Eric C. Anderson is a faculty member with the National Intelligence University. As a long-standing member of the U.S. intelligence community, he has written over 600 articles for the President’s Daily Brief, National Intelligence Council, International Security Advisory Board and the Department of Defense



Britain could become a world leader in the billion-pound drone industry

by Press • 19 January 2015


Alex Wood

Sales of consumer drones were up 24% in 2014, with Selfridges describing them as “the ultimate toy that spans the generations”.

But as sales rose, drones quickly picked up a lot of negative publicity. Onemarketing stunt featuring mistletoe suspended by drones at TGI Friday’sspectacularly backfired after a unit sliced off part of a photographer’s nose. In another incident, a drone had a near-miss with an Airbus A320 as it began its descent into Heathrow.

Analysts predict that the market for drones could be worth billions. In the US alone, drones could create up to 70,000 new jobs for a booming new industry.

But the consumer end of the market is a mere drop in the ocean. The potential for drones to revolutionise the way we do business is where the real opportunity lies, and Britain has the potential to become the world leader.

E-commerce and drones were made for each other. Imagine a world where your next Amazon order is delivered to your door in minutes by an unmanned drone. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos sold this dream to much fanfare a year ago, but little has changed since then, leaving many to question if it was all a marketing stunt. The odds are stacked against Amazon launching the service as regulators in the US appear to have tied themselves up in knots over how to control the new industry.

As it stands, drone-based delivery services are illegal in America. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it intends to work on regulation this year, but this is just one of many roadblocks for America’s drone industry.

“The biggest problem in the US is they’ve invested $5bn in a new traffic control system, but it was started years before drones were on the radar, meaning the industry has been stopped in its tracks,” says Rohan Sinclair Luvaglio, chief executive and founder of Bizzby.

Luvaglio’s London-based startup is a mobile app that offers services, including handymen, cleaners and beauty therapists to customers’ doors in just 30 minutes. He wants to launch his own answer to Amazon’s drone-delivery concept in the UK. Late last year Bizzby successfully demonstrated Bizzby Sky, a delivery service operated by its mobile app, from a test centre outside the capital.

Unlike in the US, a drone-delivery service in the UK would not be illegal. However current regulations exclude drones from what the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) defines as “crowded areas”, preventing Luvaglio from launching it in cities such as London, where many potential customers live.

“We need a DVLA for drones,” he says. “Without proper regulation with a central database of approved units, it’s impossible to make sure your drones adhere to no-fly zones.”

Like many areas of high technology, it is not yet clear where responsibilities lie within government, which makes it hard to drive change. Policymakers have not responded to letters or requests to engage, according to Luvaglio.

Despite the struggles for new delivery drone services, Britain has recently become a leader in the field of drone-based aerial photography. “A lot of countries already use the UK’s regulations on drones as a benchmark,” says Giles Moore, CEO atAirstoc, the world’s first marketplace for stock footage shot by drones.

Airstoc works with operators from 62 different countries and many face much more draconian regulations than in the UK.

His company is now part of ARPAS UK, association for the drone industry in the UK, and works closely with the CAA to reform regulation.

Much of the recent negative publicity towards drones appears to stem from a very small selection of hobbyists who give the industry a bad name. “The big issue here is the cheap drones flown by people without licenses. As a hobbyist its fine in a controlled area like a park or open land, but these devices are like a remote control car you used to play with as a kid – you don’t drive it down the M1.”

Unlike in the US, professional drone operators in the UK have to acquire a licence, which Moore points out is a major plus to the industry. Despite the fact that aerial drone photography is illegal across much of America, the country still boasts the highest number of operators in the world.

Without significant investment in a new air traffic control system and a nationwide overhaul of already restrictive regulations, America could find itself quickly outmatched by Britain’s burgeoning drone industry.

If our regulators here in the UK act quickly, we could be just years away from a potential golden age, where deliveries can take place 24 hours a day from the sky and we become a leading centre for imagery shot by drones. And with pioneers like Bizzby and Airstoc driving the technology forward, drones could well be Britain’s next billion- pound industry.



Forget Windows 10 — here are the four most important words Microsoft said today

By Preston Gralla

Computerworld | Jan 21, 2015 2:17 PM PT



Microsoft’s wide-ranging announcements today about Windows 10 covered things as mundane as new customizations for the Windows 10 Start screen and as mind-blowing as a new computing holographic platform.

It showed off a new browser code-named Spartan, promised a unified development platform for all Windows devices, displayed the Cortana digital assistant running on a PC, pointed to the future of Xbox and wowed the audience with its holographic computing platform.

Microsoft executives even got a chance to publicly root for the Seahawks and to subtly dis Patriot coach Bill Belichick in a news story they showed running on a Windows app.

Windows 10


    But the four most important words they uttered may have slipped right by you: Windows as a Service.

    You can be forgiven if they’re the kind of words that make your eyes glaze over. Everyone these days seems to be promoting their products as an “as a Service” offering: Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS). So Windows as a Service may sound more like a marketing concept than an actual product.

    But Windows as a Service is real and seems to be the future of Windows, and of Microsoft’s attempt to solve its struggles in mobile. Although Microsoft threw around the term several times at the announcement, it hasn’t yet provided many details on what it means. But it provided some very strong hints.

    Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the operating systems group, said that anyone running Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or Windows Phone 8.1 will be able to upgrade for free to Windows 10 in the first year after the operating system launches. And he noted that it’s not just a one-time upgrade — Windows will continue to be upgraded for free for the life of the device.

    On his blog, he says, “We’ll deliver new features when they’re ready, not waiting for the next major release. We think of Windows as a Service — in fact, one could reasonably think of Windows in the next couple of years as one of the largest Internet services on the planet. And just like any Internet service, the idea of asking ‘What version are you on?’ will cease to make sense.”

    In doing that, Microsoft is taking a page from the success of its Office 365 subscription service, in which you pay not to download and use a single, static version of Office, but rather for an annual subscription which continually auto-updates to the newest version.

    Myerson seems to be saying that with Windows being delivered as a service, Windows 10 may well be the last “big-bang” version of the operating system, the last time that Windows gets a major single overhaul. Instead, it will be continually updated like any Web service — like Gmail, for example.

    What’s not clear yet is Microsoft’s revenue model for this. Will you only need to buy Windows once and will it automatically auto-upgrade for free forever? Will you need to pay a subscription fee every year? Will you be able to buy subscriptions for multiple devices? Microsoft is playing coy at this point and not giving out any answers.

    Going for mobile

    Turning Windows into a service also appears to be part of Microsoft’s latest attempt to gain traction in mobile. In providing Windows as a single, unified service to developers as well as users, Microsoft is combining its Windows 10 and Windows Phone 10 developer platforms into a single platform, with one Windows Store.

    Microsoft apparently hopes that this will ultimately lead to more apps being developed for Windows Phones. Although Windows Phone has a small user base, Windows has a massive one — Microsoft claimed back in late 2011 that 1.25 billion Windows PCs were running worldwide. Developers who may not want to write apps for the small Windows Phone user base may well want to write for the much larger one number of traditional PCs — and those apps could then be run on mobile devices, according to Microsoft.

    Microsoft emphasized several times during its presentation that it sees Windows as a single experience (a single service, really) across multiple devices — that what you start on your PC you can continue to work with on a tablet and then finish it up on a phone. Files created on one device will be synched with all your other devices. Microsoft is building a number of common apps into its unified Windows platform, including apps for mail, photos and entertainment, as well as Office, which will be free for devices under eight inches. That’s one more way the company hopes that providing Windows as a single service across multiple devices will spur people to buy Windows mobile hardware.

    Will doing all this with Windows as a Service help Microsoft accomplish what it wants? And is it something that users will want?

    For users of traditional PCs, it’s a no-brainer. Who doesn’t want Windows to upgrade itself automatically, no big-bang install required, for as long as a device lives? It’s a win for users and Microsoft here. (I’ll talk about how much of a win within a week or so, when I review the new version of Windows 10.)

    As for mobile, it’s not quite so clear. Windows Phone has only a 3% market share, according to IDC, and that share fell in the last year. Windows as a Service may be too little, too late to make up for that.


    Carter, Not Hagel, to Brief the Defense Budget on Capitol Hill

    January 21, 2015 – 7:16 pm

    Kate Brannen, Gopal Ratnam


    One of Ashton Carter’s first jobs as defense secretary? Head to Capitol Hill to present and defend the Pentagon’s 2016 budget, a planning document he’s had little opportunity to shape.


    Chuck Hagel, who is planning to stay on as SecDef until his successor is sworn in, was expected to handle the annual round of congressional budget hearings. But, according to defense and Hill sources, that task is now going to fall to Carter, who only stepped down as deputy defense secretary a year ago.

    Because work on the defense budget begins at least a year out, it’s likely Carter was involved in the early stages of the 2016 budget. But even with a Pentagon pro like Carter, who knows the department inside and out, the budget schedule will throw him into some of the thorniest acquisition and personnel issues right off the bat.

    Carter is not losing any time when it comes to cultivating good relations on Capitol Hill, and has begun meeting with senators in preparation for his confirmation hearing. On Tuesday, he met with Sen. John McCain, the new Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    “Great meeting today with the future Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter — I’m confident he’ll do a fine job,” McCain tweeted.

    Hagel is being spared the congressional budget briefings partly because Rep. Mac Thornberry, the new Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is looking to delay testimony from the defense secretary to give the panel time to delve more deeply into the Defense Department’s budget request, a Capitol Hill staffer told FP.

    That means the defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will serve as wrap-up witnesses — rather than kicking off the congressional budget season, as is typically done.

    Under the new timeline, Hagel will most likely have left the Pentagon by the time the House Armed Services Committee holds its briefing. It looks like the other three congressional defense committees are following suit — waiting until Carter takes over the job.

    Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said he had no new information to share about precisely when Hagel might leave.

    Hagel “remains firmly focused on his duties and on making sure our troops and their families continue to get the support they need to conduct missions around the world,” Kirby said. “For him, a big part of that commitment means overseeing the final preparations of the fiscal year 2016 budget submission.”

    Hagel’s last day on the job is dependent on when Carter is confirmed by Congress, but his formal farewell ceremony is planned for Jan. 28 at Joint Base Myer-Henderson in Arlington, Va.

    Carter’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for the first week of February. The Obama administration will release its 2016 budget request that same week, on Feb. 2.

    At the Pentagon, budget day usually involves back-to-back briefings on each of the military services’ spending plans. Typically, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs hold the first briefing of the day, but last year was a little different: Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey gave a preview of the budget a few weeks before it was rolled out.

    Hagel will still be in the job Feb. 2, but it hasn’t been decided yet whether he’ll brief the public that day. If he doesn’t, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work could stand in.

    Later that week, Hagel is planning to head to Brussels for a NATO meeting of defense ministers on Feb. 5. This will likely be his last trip abroad as defense secretary.


    Rasmussen Reports

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

    Bottom of Form

    Saturday, January 24, 2015

    Maybe it’s just the improving economy, but voters are less critical of the job President Obama is doing and even appear receptive to some of the new government programs he’s proposing. That doesn’t necessarily mean they want to pay for them, though.

    A number of economic indicators including our daily readings of consumer and investor confidence are now at levels we haven’t seen since before the Wall Street meltdown in 2008. 

    But only 21% of voters agree with the president’s contention in his State of the Union address Tuesday night that the economic crisis is over. Just over half, however, like his proposals from that speech including increased spending on infrastructure, mandatory paid sick leave and tax cuts of up to $3,000 per child per year to help middle- and lower-income families afford child care.

    Voters also tend to like Obama’s plan for free community college for millions of Americans – as long as it doesn’t cost taxpayers anything.

    Prior to the State of the Union address, just 17% said the president should focus on new spending programs, while 68% thought he should focus instead on programs that can be accomplished within current spending levels.

    To pay for his new proposals, the president has called for $320 billion in tax increases on the wealthiest Americans including raising capital gains and inheritance taxes. Voters support those tax increases by a 49% to 41% margin, but 66% think it’s likely that middle-class taxes will go up, too.

    Voters also still place more importance on government policies that encourage a free market over ones that reduce the income gap between rich and poor.

    Obama’s daily job approval ratings have been improving since his party’s major reverses on Election Day. Following his State of the Union speech, they have risen to some of the highest levels of his entire presidency.

    While Americans are sending positive signals about much of the economy, they remain deeper in debt than they were last year at this time.

    Still, homeowners are more confident than they have been since the housing bubble burst that their homes will be worth more in one year and in five years’ time. They’re also more optimistic about the current value of their home.

    But Americans as a whole still aren’t convinced that now is a good time to put a house on the market where they live.

    Americans are also well aware that lower gas prices and the surging energy industry are critical to the improving economy, even as Congress and the president battle over the future of the Keystone XL pipeline from Western Canada to Texas.

    Despite increasing economic confidence, only 30% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction. This is consistent with findings for over two years now. Just 32% believe America’s best days are still to come.

    Players in both major parties think they can do better and are already angling for position in next year’s race to be Obama’s successor.

    Generally, at this stage of the game, it’s mostly about name recognition, and Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, is the leader in the race to be his party’s standard-bearer in 2016. But Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and retired neurosurgeon and conservative columnist Ben Carson show surprising support early on.

    For many though, the early GOP battle is between Romney and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Many see it as the battle of the moderates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. How do Republicans vote in a Bush/Romney matchup?

    We’ll give you a look at the presidential race on the Democratic side early next week, including a one-on-one matchup between Hillary Clinton and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

    Following last November’s midterm elections, voters are more confident in the fairness of U.S. elections than they have been in over two years, but they’re still highly skeptical of their own representatives in Congress.

    Democrats hold a one-point lead over Republicans on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

    In other surveys last week:

    — Voters are more critical of the health care they personally receive but don’t expect it to get better under Obamacare. Most think consumers are better off with less government involvement in the health care marketplace

    — Americans are starting off 2015 with their most positive view of the country’s banking system since before the Wall Street meltdown.

    Concern about inflation appears to be trending down, and Americans are more confident in the federal government to handle it.

    Most voters still oppose closing the terrorist prison camp at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba and worry that the suspected terrorists who are released will attack the United States and its allies. 

    — Americans continue to hold Martin Luther King Jr. in high esteem nearly 50 years after his murder, but most think his dream of equality still hasn’t been fulfilled.

    — It’s been a difficult year for race relations in the United States, but most Americans still think they can talk honestly about race with each other.

    Half of Americans have now seen the film “American Sniper” or plan to go, while most dismiss its critics as politically motivated.

January 17 2015

17 January 2015


A blog at


Air Force losing more drone pilots than it trains

By Jeff Schogol, Staff Writer 3:28 p.m. EST January 9, 2015


The Air Force expects to lose more remotely piloted aircraft pilots to attrition than it trains this fiscal year, Air Combat Command spokesman Benjamin Newell said Friday.

The active-duty Air Force already has a shortfall of RPA pilots, in part because more RPA pilots are joining Air National Guard units, an Air Combat Command official told reporters Thursday.

On Friday, Newell told reporters that the loss of active-duty RPA pilots to the Air National Guard is not the main reason why the Air Force projects that it will train fewer RPA pilots than it loses in fiscal 2015.

“We are losing them through a combination of factors,” Newell said in an email to Air Force Times and other media outlets. He did not elaborate what those factors are.

“Factors leading to a decrease in the number of pilots available to fulfill surge level mission requirements are manifold, but we’re in the planning and coordination stage at the moment,” Newell said in a follow-up email to Air Force Times. “We’re not able to discuss specific measures, because we don’t yet know which ones we’ll use.”

The head of Air Combat Command recently wrote a memo to Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh explaining the RPA community was coming under increasing stress to fly all of the combat air patrols being asked of pilots, as first reported by The Daily Beast.

“We are above our program of record,” Col. Ray Alves, of Air Combat Command, told reporters Thursday. “We’re actually at surge capacity right now – and surge, by definition, we cannot maintain forever. So we need to start looking at … how do we ensure that the enterprise is correctly manned to continue to meet the levels of demand that the combatant commanders are putting upon us.”


Defense Industry Running out of Time; Mergers Loom

By Paul McLeary 11:30 a.m. EST January 9, 2015


NEW YORK — For the past several years, defense watchers in Washington have been anxiously awaiting an expected surge in merger and acquisition (M&A) activity among the big prime defense contractors as the Pentagon budget tightened.

But that hasn’t happened to the level that many analysts expected.

Other than the April announcement of an agreement between Orbital Sciences and Alliant Techsystems to combine their businesses into a $4.5 billion, 13,000-person space, defense and aviation developer and manufacturer, most of the primes have instead been filling niche needs and spinning off smaller business segments.

Some Wall Street analysts have said that the fiscal 2016 budget will represent the seventh year of the current downturn in defense spending, which has been coupled with the disruption of the budget cuts and the congressionally mandated sequester cuts, which kick in if the Pentagon doesn’t stick to its budget caps.

“In the absence of clarity of where the Pentagon exactly wants to go going forward, the grand strategy [for defense contractors] is a simple one” said Pierre Chao, managing partner at Renaissance Strategic Advisors, on Jan. 7.

The primes have adopted what he descried as “a holding strategy, to make sure I can generate enough returns to the street in the forms of dividends and share buybacks until I can get that clarity, develop a strategy and move forward,” he said at a conference hosted by Bank of America here.

So far that strategy has worked, as the primes have consistently posted record profits in their quarterly and yearly reports, a fact that has struck many as being incongruous with the pleas of budgetary disaster coming from the Pentagon.

That disconnect, said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has come about because industry saw the budget cuts and dearth of new start development programs coming, “and did what it needed to do to prepare. Cutting people, closing facilities, and getting more efficient … industry is reaping the benefits now.”

But the share buybacks and cost-cutting measures that the defense industry has used to return value to its shareholders can’t last forever. “It’s a somewhat temporary benefit,” Harrison warned, because “you can only get more efficient and downsize to a certain point until it starts to hurt you.”

Chao echoed the point, telling the audience of analysts and investors that the strategy has worked — but time may be running out.

Prime contractors’ efforts to lay off staff, close facilities and conduct share buybacks has “been rewarded, it’s been holding in place,” he said. “There’s enough cash and capital in place, there’s enough running room in terms of leverage … for that to last another 12 months, maybe 14, 15 months. We’re certainly in the latter innings rather than in the beginning. The success of that strategy is sowing the seeds of its own destruction — obviously the higher they push up the multiples, the less return on investment capital that share buyback scheme generates at some point.”

All of the schemes undertaken by the defense industry to increase shareholder value has been a positive force for the industry’s shareholders overall, said Frank Finelli, a managing director of the Carlyle Group.

“They’re doing a very effective job in running their companies,” he said. Still, with the budget uncertainty in Washington “it’s going to be hard to get things done.”

Jeffrey Bialos, a partner with Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, added that he thinks the defense industry will try to sustain the buyback and efficacy efforts as long as they can “before they start mergers.”

And once those mergers begin, he expects them to be “more in dual use and aerospace but not so much in strictly defense,” since the market has become so interdependent.

Renaissance Strategic Advisors’ Chao added that he sees 2015 as a year when the primes start moving on the M&A front. In 2014, he said there was about “$13 billion worth of transactions that got that close, but somebody blinked at the last minute.”

“If the companies in ’13 were frozen by sequestration and weren’t moving, the mood last year was the beginning of ‘I can’t afford to be frozen, I need to start doing something or at least start thinking about it,” he added.

It’s assumed that fiscal 2016 will be the low point for the defense budget’s topline, The cap instituted under the 2011 Budget Control Act is slated to begin moving up in 2017 from $499 billion to $512 billion.

There is little expectation that Congress will lift the Budget Control Act’s spending caps, although the White House has said that it will continue to ignore the caps in its yearly requests. Sources have told Defense News that the ’16 budget request slated to be released on Feb. 2 should blow by the $499 bill budget cap by about $35 billion, which doesn’t take into account the yearly supplemental wartime funding request, which it has been reported will be $51 billion in ’16.

“There’s enough money in the system overall to fund competitive solutions … the issue is how you allocate those funds in a constrained environment,” said Bialos, a former deputy undersecretary of defense for Industrial Affairs in the Clinton administration.

Despite budget caps and the sequester, “there’s enough money for us to do what we need to do and for industry to prosper.”


Russia Overhauls Military Doctrine

By Jaroslaw Adamowski 3:43 p.m. EST January 10, 2015


WARSAW — Russia’s new military doctrine calls for a more aggressive stance toward NATO, boosting presence in the Arctic and strengthening cooperation with India and China.

“Global developments at present stage are characterized by an increasing global competition, tensions in various interstate and interregional areas,” said the document, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 26. “There are many regional conflicts which remain unresolved. There is a tendency to force their resolution, including those which are in the regions bordering the Russian Federation. The existing architecture of the international security system does not provide an equal level of security to all states. ”

The new doctrine brings significant changes to the country’s defense strategy in a number of fields, and names the expansion of NATO in Russia’s neighborhood as one of the principal threat factors.

In response to efforts by NATO to extend air and anti-missile defense coverage over Europe, the document enables the joint setting up of missile defense systems by Russia and allied countries, which was not possible under the previous doctrine. The document says these efforts by NATO states are “undermining global stability and violating the balance of power in the nuclear-missile sphere.”

Referring to the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine, where Moscow is backing pro-Russian rebels in the country’s east against the government in Kiev, the document explicitly identifies “the expansion of NATO’s military potential on the Russian border” as a security threat. As a response, the doctrine calls for developing cooperation with other BRICS countries, which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The document points to this as one of the “main tasks of the Russian Federation to contain and prevent armed conflicts.”

Local analysts say Russia is already a major supplier of arms to some of the BRICS states, such as India, where it is partnering on joint defense projects.

“[T]he strategic partnership between the two countries remains critical for India’s defense needs, especially now that India has permitted foreign direct investments in the defense sector, up to [a share of] 49 percent. Until 2013, India [represented] 38 percent of Russia’s major weapons exports, with Moscow supplying 75 percent of India’s imports of major weapons,” said Monika Chansoria, senior fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies think tank in New Delhi. “However, what primarily took off as a buyer-seller relationship has now fully evolved into a joint venture association.”

Fifteen years following the signing of the Indo-Russian Declaration on Strategic Partnership, there is an “amplified collaboration between Moscow and New Delhi in joint design, [research and development], and development and manufacturing of defense systems and technologies extending to space applications and aviation,” Chansoria said. “This is only likely to be further enhanced with announcements such as … the cooperation on the production of 400 Ka-226 military helicopters.”

Petr Topychkanov, an associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Nonproliferation Program, said the Indian arms market is “promising for Russia, because Russia not only exports weapons to this country, but also cooperates in production of new systems like BrahMos or the Su-35MKI” fighter jet.

The BrahMos is a supersonic cruise missile jointly developed by NPO Mashinostroeyenia, a Russian design bureau, and India’s state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation.

Meanwhile, local observers say Russia’s push to intensify ties with other BRICS countries, as expressed in the new doctrine, is a natural continuation of Moscow’s earlier foreign policies.

“Russia has always intended to have a more sustained and fully structured cooperation between all the BRICS countries …. while, at the same time, a number of security topics are much more ripe and relevant to deal with not within BRICS, but, rather, within other formats [of Russia’s international cooperation],” said Victoria Panova, assistant professor at the Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia at the MGIMO University in Moscow.

“South Africa or Brazil would not be interested in the issue of [weapons of mass destruction] non-proliferation or disarmament the same way as the other three countries,” Panova said. “All five countries could be very interested in common policies and deepening their cooperation regarding information and cybersecurity.”

The sanctions imposed on Russia by the West following its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, including those hampering imports and exports of military gear, are another major factor contributing to Moscow’s drive toward closer cooperation with the remaining four BRICS states, local analysts say.

The new doctrine is also calling for expanding Russia’s military presence in the Arctic. This follows statements by Russian political leaders. In April, Putin said the region has always been a sphere of “special interest” to Russia.

The decision by the country’s Defense Ministry to set up an Arctic Strategic Command last December, and related plans to acquire aircraft, radars and other military equipment for the newly-established force, demonstrate Moscow’s commitment to enhancing its military capabilities in the Arctic.


CENTCOM’s Twitter account hacked by Islamic State supporters

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff Writer 5:35 p.m. EST January 12, 2015


At first glance, the words were chilling.


Another tweet read: “We won’t stop! We know everything about you, your wives and children.”

Hackers claiming to support the Islamic State group seized control of the social media sites for U.S. Central Command on Monday afternoon, including Twitter and YouTube. They posted a spate of threatening remarks along with seemingly sensitive documents revealing contact information for general officers and maps about a potential war with China and North Korea.

In a news release issued Monday evening, CENTCOM officials said “we are notifying appropriate DoD and law enforcement authorities about the potential release of personally identifiable information and will take appropriate steps to ensure any individuals potentially affected are notified as quickly as possible.”

The group, which calls itself the Cyber Caliphate, took control of CENTCOM’s Twitter account about 12:45 p.m. on Monday. CENTCOM’s Twitter account was suspended as of early Monday afternoon East Coast time.

Upon closer inspection, the documents revealed did not contain highly classified material and the biggest impact may be limited beyond some obvious public humiliation.

“It’s embarrassing as all get-out for CENTCOM,” said Matthew Aid, a cybersecurity expert, in an interview Monday afternoon.

“It looks like rather low-level classified documents,” said Aid, who is the author of “Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Flight Against Terror.” Nevertheless, Aid said, “They came off a protected network. Regardless of the low level of sensitivity, the fact that it was done should scare the crap out of people.

“The question is: Where did they get this stuff? Did they hack CENTCOM and get this stuff or did they hack this material from some other site and just post it?” Aid said.

A Pentagon spokesman emphasized that Twitter is responsible for security on its own site and CENTCOM only maintains an account with a user name and a password, just like thousands of other users.

“CENTCOM did not get hacked,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

“This is little more, in our view, than a cyber-prank. It’s an annoyance. We wish it wouldn’t happen because we have to spend our time on it. But it in no way compromises our operations in any way shape or form.”

Warren downplayed the sensitivity of the documents revealed and said there is no sign that they were obtained through a hack.

“Right now there’s no evidence that any DoD systems or any DoD networks have ben compromised or breached,” Warren said.

But Aid noted that the lag time between the hack and CENTCOM’s suspension of the account suggests the Florida-based command was not keeping close tabs on its social media account.

“They should have done a better job of monitoring their own site. According to what I was reading, this stuff was on their site for 35 or 45 minutes before it was suspended. Someone should have been on top of that,” Aid said.

The ” Cyber Caliphate” hacked the websites of several regional news outlets in early January, including the Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico and a TV station in Salisbury, Maryland. An FBI agent in New Mexico said federal agents were looking into the matter, according to news reports.


Obama calls for new cyberprotections

David Jackson, Gregory Korte and Elizabeth Weise, USATODAY 6:17 p.m. EST January 12, 2015


WASHINGTON — Lawmakers need to promote the benefits of Internet commerce while minimizing the risks of identity theft and other cybercrimes that can damage the economy, President Obama said Monday.

“If we’re going to be connected, then we need to be protected,” Obama told employees of the Federal Trade Commission as he proposed legislation designed to protect the online privacy of consumers and students. “As Americans, we shouldn’t have to forfeit our basic privacy when we go online to do our business.”

The president asked Congress to pass a law requiring companies to inform customers within 30 days if their data have been hacked. Obama called for a law that would prohibit companies from selling student data to third parties or otherwise using information about students for profit.

Citing recent high-profile hackings at Sony and other major companies, Obama said business owners should inform consumers as soon as possible when there has been a data breach.

A federal standard would replace a “patchwork” of different state laws throughout the country, he said in proposing the Personal Data Notification and Protection Act.

The Internet has revolutionized American commerce, Obama said, but “with those benefits come risks.” Credit card theft costs Americans billions of dollars, he said, and identify theft poses a “direct threat” to economic recovery.

There are also national security implications. Even as Obama spoke, the Twitter and YouTube accounts of the U.S. Central Command appeared to be hacked by supporters of the Islamic State militant group.


Obama pitches free two-year college plan in Tennessee


This week will be devoted to the Internet, cybersecurity and privacy. Tuesday, in addition to a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House, he will visit the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center in Arlington, Va. He’ll roll out a broadband proposal in Iowa Wednesday and tout job opportunities in the cybersecurity field in Norfolk, Va., on Thursday.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he welcomes Obama “back” to the discussion over cybersecurity. Thune said Obama should have been more active in recent years, when a major cybersecurity bill got held up in the Democratic-run Senate.

Obama’s “engaged support for similar legislation this Congress would help address cyberthreats, improve privacy protections and would also begin to address concerns over the president’s go-it-alone approach of unilateral executive actions on cyber and other issues,” Thune said.

Obama’s proposals cement the staunch pro-privacy position of this administration, said Peter Swire, a professor of law and ethics at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Swire is a former special assistant to Obama for economic policy and served as chief counselor for privacy in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget during President Clinton’s administration.

Obama’s is “the first administration to support online privacy legislation,” Swire said. “The announcement suggests its continued opposition to cybersecurity legislation that would compromise privacy.”

An industry group, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said Monday it applauded the White House focus on cybersecurity, but it stopped short of endorsement until it sees the full proposal.


New DoD cloud security requirements coming Tuesday

Aaron Boyd, Senior Writer 10:11 a.m. EST January 13, 2015


The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is poised to release final security guidance for purchasing cloud services on Tuesday as the Defense Department shifts to commercial providers.

After receiving more than 800 comments on the draft guidelines, DISA reorganized the security levels to allow certain work areas to exist in virtual private networks while still keeping the most sensitive data physically separated on DoD networks.

The final draft also tweaks the authorization requirements to track closer to the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) except in specific areas where greater security assurance is needed.

Per a Dec. 15 memo from the DoD Office of the CIO, defense agencies have been given more authority to purchase cloud services from commercial vendors rather than using DISA as the sole broker. While the move is intended to speed up the acquisition process, DISA is charged with ensuring that security standards don’t flag with the use of commercial providers.

“Where is that right balance point that will allow us to get the full benefits of commercial cloud providers while doing that with the right level of security?” Mark Orndorff, mission assurance executive and designated accrediting authority for DISA, said during a DISA panel hosted by the AFCEA D.C. Chapter Monday. “This is an opportunity to get the agility, economic and technical advantages from commercial cloud and do that without putting the department at risk by leveraging the virtual separation capabilities that commercial cloud providers have, up to a level of sensitivity.”

The original draft listed six classes of security requirements for different levels of data. Those have been pared down to three in the final document, combining two levels at each new tier.


•1&2: Data lives in the commercial cloud. Not requiring physical separation or access to DoD network — information is fully public or discoverable through FOIA requests.

•3&4: More sensitive business systems that support operations of the department. Data will be separated into a virtual cloud environment that will require a secure connection to DoD networks.

•5&6: National security systems will exist in a physically separate environment not connected to a virtually accessible cloud.


Orndorff said DoD might consider allowing national security data into a virtualized network at some point in the future, though at this time it is not a hard goal. For now, information at that security level will live in physically separate, private networks within DoD.

“We just want to spend more time before we decide if that’s a goal,” Orndorff explained. “We are very open minded to it but we want to do due diligence to assess: what is the risk, what are the mitigations and how do we want to press forward.”

DISA also revised the vendor assessment requirements to be slightly more rigorous than FedRAMP.

The majority of assessment controls use FedRAMP as a baseline, “asking for additional security requirements only when it’s absolutely necessary and makes sense for DoD-legitimate reasons,” Orndorff said.

“The net-net is that we will gain more in efficiency and effectiveness by allowing the virtualization for a set of DoD work than we will put at risk,” he added.

Orndorff noted the final guidelines were expected a week earlier but were held up for final revisions.

“The risk guys wanted to take more risk than the lawyers were ready for us to take,” he said. “So we took a little more time to make sure we had all our ‘i’s dotted and ‘t’s crossed.”

DISA will publish the final guidance document on the Information Assurance Support Environment website by end-of-business Tuesday.

“This is a challenge the DoD is definitely up for,” said DISA CTO David Mihelcic. “There’s potentially huge savings long-term for certain workflows to be moved to this commercial cloud environment.”


CNN cleared to test drones for reporting

by Press • 12 January 2015

By David Goldman

CNN will explore the use of drones for reporting, after receiving special permission from the U.S. government.

In the first program of its kind, the FAA will allow CNN to test camera-equipped drones for news gathering and reporting purposes.

CNN has partnered with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to collect data for the program. The FAA said it will analyze that information to develop rules about using drones for news gathering.

“Our aim is to get beyond hobby-grade equipment and to establish what options are available and workable to produce high quality video journalism,” said David Vigilante, CNN’s senior vice president of legal.

Vigilante said he hopes that the test program leads to the safe and more widespread use of drones in U.S. airspace.

The FAA has restricted drone use in the United States out of fear that they could come in contact with airplanes. Drones could also cause damage or injury by falling out of the sky.

There are no drone pilot licenses, and several drones have come close to making contact with planes — in October, 41 pilots reported seeing a drone, or unmanned aircraft, during flight, according to the FAA.

As a result, the FAA has set up a handful of largely uninhabited regions across the country where people can test out drones for commercial use. Currently, the agency only allows certain lightweight drones for commercial flights of up to 400 feet.

But the FAA is expected to soften some of the rules this year, as drone technology become more commonplace. Drones can be used in search and rescue operations, and they can be flown into dangerous areas to broadcast news to the public.

“Unmanned aircraft offer news organizations significant opportunities,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We hope this agreement with CNN and the work we are doing with other news organizations and associations will help safely integrate unmanned news gathering technology and operating procedures into the National Airspace System.”

Several other companies are making big investments in drones as well. Facebook (FB,Tech30) is hiring people for its drone team. Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) has said it wants to use drones to deliver small packages over short distances. And Google (GOOGL, Tech30)acquired Titan Aerospace, which makes high-altitude, solar-powered drones.


Docker, a Software Start-Up, Sees a Future in Containers of Code


JAN. 12, 2015


SAN FRANCISCO — A tech start-up called DotCloud was on its last legs in 2012. Now called Docker, its software has been downloaded 70 million times.

“It’s exhilarating and it’s frightening,” said Benjamin Golub, Docker’s chief executive. “We are absolutely punching way above our weight class.”

Docker is at the forefront of a new way to create software, called containers. These software containers are frequently compared with shipping containers. And as their popularity grows, building big computer networks could become remarkably simpler.

Like the big metal containers that can move from ship to ship to truck without being opened, software containers ship applications across different “cloud computing” systems and make it easy to tinker with one part, like the products for sale on a mobile application, without worrying about the effect on another part, like the big database at the heart of the corporate network.


“It absolutely makes it easier to write applications,” said Eric Brewer, Google’s vice president for computer infrastructure. Google developed the first type of container, for internal use, about eight years ago, which helped it build its Internet services quickly.

Docker took the Google innovation and made it easy for people to use across computers.

“It’s a huge efficiency gain in how you write code,” said Mr. Golub, who started his career teaching business courses in Uzbekistan. “You don’t have to rewrite everything, then fix all the breaks when it goes into production. You just work on what you change.”

Mr. Golub’s office has a turtle, he jokes, “so that I’m not the worst coder.”

Some big companies have noticed what the 70-employee start-up is doing. The European bank ING uses Docker to update 1,400 different applications a day. Gilt Group, an online store, turned seven big applications in its website into 400 smaller pieces, making it easier to update. And Goldman Sachs uses Docker to build and deploy the software it runs internally.


“Our underlying software was getting so spread out” that it was difficult to manage, said Don Duet, a global co-head of technology at Goldman. “Docker is a central place where you can put everything.” A 26-year technology veteran, he compares software containers in importance to Java, a programming language created in the 1990s that led to rapid growth of the commercial Internet.

At least for now, Docker’s small size and independence may be assets, since it is able to play with the giants without seeming like a threat. Microsoft in October announced it would work with Docker to put its Windows operating system in containers (Docker already works with several types of Linux, the operating system commonly used in the servers of many big clouds). IBM is working with Docker to increase the international deployment of containers. And Google and Amazon have both endorsed Docker at their events for software developers.

For all the success, Mr. Golub has reason to worry, too. His company, still private and unprofitable, has raised about $65 million. It makes some money advising companies, and is working on commercial management software that it hopes to sell. That will help manage a product Docker distributes to open source software developers — outside contributors who help create software and share it free.

He also has competitors. Google’s commercial offering, called Kubernetes, can manage the free Docker tool, something that could make Mr. Golub’s commercial product unnecessary. Another container project, CoreOS, claims to offer more options on how to build software, possibly with more security.

Mr. Golub acknowledges the unlikely nature of Docker’s success. “It’s strange, going from a feeling I know — your company is about to close its doors — to a feeling that you won’t be able to deliver on your promise,” he said.

He went to Uzbekistan in 1993, after he finished graduate school at Harvard in business and government. His teaching position there lasted all of five months. He returned to the United States and started working in tech during the Internet’s early days, mostly in marketing at VeriSign, an online domain-name and security company.

In 2005, when social media was just starting, he was asked to become chief executive of Plaxo, which created an early tool for managing address books. Plaxo infuriated users by raiding their personal information to send spam emails.

Plaxo was sold to Comcast in 2008 for about $150 million, according to reports at the time. Mr. Golub, by then something of a Mr. Fixit for struggling tech companies, in 2010 became chief executive of Gluster, which specialized in software for data storage. Red Hat, another software company, purchased Gluster for about $140 million in 2011.

DotCloud, the precursor of Docker, was in the business of helping developers build online applications by focusing on things like spreading use across several computers.

“Software developers need to be able to work easily with complicated infrastructure,” said the company’s founder, Solomon Hykes. “It was clear that cloud applications would have to be written efficiently, become part of the Internet, update constantly, and be always online, for all kinds of industries.”

DotCloud was one of many such services, and could not find many customers. But there was a container-type function in DotCloud, like the one Google had built. Mr. Hykes, who was talking with Mr. Golub about what the company could do to generate interest, worked at building a way for one container to work over the many versions of the Linux operating system.

His project was demonstrated at a five-minute talk in March 2013 in Santa Clara, Calif., for fans of the computer programming language Python, popular for creating interactive websites. A video of the talk went viral, and Mr. Golub joined DotCloud soon after. Mr. Hykes is now the company’s chief technology officer.

Docker, as the project was called, officially began in September of that year and used the open-source process for building software. The company name was changed a month later. The open-source project has attracted about 700 outside contributors, and over 65,000 applications have been “Dockerized,” or made capable of global creation, deployment and updating.

Docker’s rapid rise has accelerated the creation of alternatives. Besides CoreOS, which was founded about the same time that Mr. Hykes’s video was made, another company, Mesosphere, focuses on the management of containers among different cloud systems. Microsoft’s shift to containers is likely to include the kind of management software Mr. Golub hopes to sell.

“I used to tell my students in Uzbekistan that competition is good,” Mr. Golub said. “You don’t need to know what the future is going to be to know what is going to get you there.”


Bills Would Give Feds a 3.8 Percent Pay Raise

By Eric Katz

January 13 2105

Lawmakers in the both the House and Senate introduced bills on Tuesday to raise federal employees’ pay 3.8 percent across the board in 2016.

The Federal Adjustment of Income Rates (FAIR) Act was introduced in the House by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., with several Democratic cosponsors. Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., introduced identical legislation in the Senate.

The proposal marks a slight uptick from the 3.3 percent raise the group of fed-friendly lawmakers introduced last year. Those measures stalled out in committee in both chambers.

Connolly said the bill was necessary to stop the “alarming rate of attrition” of federal employees. Citing a Partnership for Public Service analysis, Connolly noted more than one-quarter of the federal workforce has left government since 2009. The 3.8 percent across-the-board raise would also apply to hourly employees.

Federal employees received a 1 percent pay raise in each of the last two years after seeing their pay frozen for the previous three. Those increases did not keep pace with either inflation or the private sector, Connolly noted. Private sector wages have outpaced federal pay by 6.3 percent over the last five years, according to the Employment Cost Index. Even by the federal government’s own standards, the 1 percent raises were historically low.

“Our federal workers deserved to be fairly compensated for the important work they do on behalf of Americans across the country,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a cosponsor of the bill. “So many of the public functions we often take for granted are the purview of the hard working men and women who constitute our federal workforce, and they deserve fair pay and benefits. Advancing the FAIR Act will help the government recruit and retain the top-quality workforce the American people need and deserve.”

President Obama has not yet proposed his federal employee pay raise for 2016, which is typically released in conjunction with his budget blueprint. Last year, lawmakers waited until after Obama issued his 1 percent raise proposal to introduce their bills.

Federal employee groups have criticized the 1 percent pay bump for the last two years, calling it insufficient and even “pitiful.” Richard Thissen, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said new employees are already seeing smaller paychecks as they must contribute more toward their retirement pensions.

“We rely on these men and women to take criminals off our streets and keep them behind bars, assist our military at home and abroad, help prepare us for and recover from severe weather, and much more,” Thissen said. “Providing our public servants adequate compensation is about more than just fairness, it is about maintaining an efficient and effective federal government.”

William Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said Congress has already targeted federal employees enough for deficit reduction, which has damaged their productivity.

“After being treated like a punching bag for years by too many members of Congress, it is no wonder that the federal employee viewpoint survey is showing decreasing workplace morale,” Dougan said. “Now more than ever, we genuinely hope members of Congress understand the importance of addressing the dwindling morale of federal employees. Raising morale, through legislation like the FAIR Act, will allow the government to recruit and retain top-tier candidates, which results in better services to the citizens of our country.”


Pilots Report Hundreds of Drone Sightings to FAA

January 14, 2015


Pilots have reported hundreds of drone sightings in the United States, with some of them right here in Chicago, and they’re saying that it’s not safe. Especially at busy airports like O’Hare International Airport.

In July of last year, the FAA said a Republic Airways flight from Kansas City reported seeing a radio-controlled aircraft operating at 500-feet, only a mile from O’Hare.

Three months earlier a drone was found crashed on the property of Tech Cor in Wheeling, less than half a mile from Chicago Executive Airport.

Those two incidents are among 190 near-misses and pilot sightings of drones and other unmanned aircraft systems reported to the FAA from January to November of last year.

Captain Lee Moak, the President of the Airline Pilots Association told a congressional hearing that close encounters with drones are on the increase and more regulation is needed.

“I think many people don’t realize they are flying them in commercial airspace and it could cause a significant hazard,” Moak said.

The FAA said it is drafting new rules that drone pilots must follow.

Already they must fly under 400-feet and within sight of their operators. Drones are supposed to stay five miles away from airports.

But some drone enthusiasts, like Adam Eidinger, worry that the new rules will go too far.

“These things are really not on the radar as a public threat or a safety threat, however as more and more people start flying them they could be,” Eidinger said. “But for now they are not and I think the government has really overreached.”

But drones were such a popular gift over the Holidays that the FAA produced a public service announcement to educate their operators.

Some airline pilots say more drones in the sky means a greater chance that one could strike an airplane full of passengers.

“The bottom line is they should not be allowed around an airport or the approach to an airport because that can be significantly dangerous,” Moak said.

Source: NBC Chicago


Hagel backs Air Force plans for long-range strike bomber

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff Writer 6 a.m. EST January 14, 2015


WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told airmen here Tuesday that the nation’s nuclear mission is as important as ever and he voiced strong support for the Air Force’s plans to build a costly new long-range strike bomber.

On one of his last trips as the Pentagon’s top official, Hagel came to this rural air base to speak to the airman who fly and fix the B-2 Spirits, the iconic nuclear-armed stealth bombers. While the aircraft is rarely used in operations, Hagel said it is nevertheless critical to national security.

“It’s always about strategic deterrence so that we don’t have to send our men and women into conflict,” Hagel told several hundred airmen. “Our adversaries have to know and have to believe, and essentially have to trust that we have deterrent capability, that in fact we have everything we say we have.”

Hagel said the military should invest billions of dollars in developing a new aircraft to replace some of today’s aging bombers, in particular the B-52, which are more than 50 years old. He said the new aircraft program, known as the Long-Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, will be well funded in the budget request slated for release in February.

“I think the Long-Range Strike Bomber is absolutely essential for keeping our deterrent edge. … We need to do it. We need to make the investments. We’ll have it in the budget. It’s something I have particularly put a priority on,” Hagel told reporters here Tuesday.

Officially, the Pentagon launched the LRS-B program last year with a request for proposals from defense contractors. But it is widely believed that production of the aircraft is well underway, jump-started with money from classified budgets, according to the Congressional Research Service.

As the Pentagon is facing pressure to cut its budget, the LRS-B is emerging as one of the few big-ticket programs that the top brass remains fully committed to.

For now, plans call for building about 80 to 100 bombers, at a price tag of about $550 million each, to enter the fleet in the mid-2020s. The final design may have an option at flying unmanned. Those new aircraft would likely replace the 76 B-52s in today’s fleet.

Hagel is making a three-day trip across the country to visit with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. After resigning in December, Hagel is expected to leave office in February and said he wanted to make some final visits to thank them for their service.

Hagel has paid special attention to the nuclear force during his two-year tenure. The focus was driven in part by scandal. Dozens of nuclear launch officers who operate the Air Force’s 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles were disciplined earlier this year for misconduct that included drug use and cheating.

The high-level advocacy for the nuclear mission reflects concerns that morale is suffering and the Air Force is not drawing the best and brightest into the nuclear-related career fields because those jobs lack prestige and offer limited opportunities for promotion.

Like other parts of the nuclear force, the Air Force’s long-range bomber community has been marginalized to some extent during the past couple of decades. After the Cold War ended, the sense of urgency about the nuclear missions faded. And in the post-9/11 era of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force focused on shorter-range tactical aircraft that could provide close-air support for ground troops.

Without a robust replacement program for today’s aging B-52s, the long-range bomber force could face a manpower crisis, some experts say.

“We are now approaching levels where you have to question whether the remaining force is going to offer a viable career field for young men and women entering the military and contemplating careers as bombers,” said Mark Gunzinger, a retired Air Force pilot who is now a defense expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank in Washington.

“If you are a brand new second lieutenant and you’re contemplating where you might bid for a career coming out of pilot training, do you want to go into career field that has one wing commander? Compared to the intelligence field or unmanned aircraft and other fields where there is clearly more slots, more opportunities to progress up the leadership ladder?” Gunzinger said in a recent interview.

The Air Force’s has 159 aircraft in its long-range bomber fleet, including a total of 20 B-2s and 63 B-1s that are on average 28 years old and are slated to remain in the fleet into the 2040s, according to the CRS.

“We have to have a career field that can attract the brilliant, young talent that we need to maintain a safe and secure for into the future,” Gunzinger said.


Ten News Outlets to Test Drones for Journalism

by Press • 16 January 2015

By Gerry Smith


A group of 10 U.S. media companies, including the New York Times Co. (NYT), the Associated Press and NBCUniversal, will test the use of drones for news gathering, seeking to persuade the government to broaden the commercial use of the small unmanned aircraft.

The news organizations will join Virginia Tech University to study the use of drones at one of six test areas approved by Congress, according to a statement today.

The media companies are trying to gain U.S. approval for the use of drones to cover breaking news events that would otherwise be too expensive or dangerous to capture in person. The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits the commercial use of the small aircraft, though it has made some exceptions.

“The AP is excited to join with these other leading media companies in exploring the safe and responsible use of drone technology for news gathering purposes that further our understanding of current events,” Santiago Lyon, the news wire’s director of photography, said in the statement.

Other media companies that will participate in the drone testing are Advance Publications Inc., A.H. Belo Corp., Gannett Co., Getty Images, E.W. Scripps Co., Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. and the Washington Post.

CNN said on Jan. 12 that it will also begin testing the use of drones for news gathering in partnership with Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Using Technology

The widespread interest in unmanned aircraft is another example of how news organizations are embracing technology for reporting at a time when many are reducing staff members to cut costs. Last year, the Los Angeles Times published a story about an earthquake that had been written by a computer algorithm.

The FAA is working to establish rules to regulate the commercial use of drones that have become increasingly popular with civilians, and the agency has made some exceptions to its ban. Some film companies have been given permission to use drones and they have been approved to inspect oilfield equipment, map farmland and photograph homes for real estate marketing.

The FAA, however, typically requires drone operators to notify the agency three days in advance. News organizations say giving such notice would be impossible because breaking news is unpredictable.


Cost Savings

Drones offer several potential benefits for newsrooms. Unmanned helicopters and fixed-wing planes can be bought at hobby shops and online for less than $1,000. By comparison, it costs news outlets about $1,500 per hour to rent a helicopter and owning one can cost “hundreds of thousands” of dollars each year for pilots, fuel, maintenance and other expenses, said Matt Waite, a journalism professor at University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Drones also would enable news organizations to film in locations where few journalists would be willing to go. Last fall, CBS’s “60 Minutes” used a drone to capture aerial footage of the villages around Chernobyl, which has been largely abandoned after a nuclear plant explosion in 1986.

The use of drones for journalism also raises potential safety and privacy issues, especially near densely packed crowds where news and sporting events often take place. In 2013, a drone crashed into a grandstand at Virginia Motorsports Park, causing minor injuries to several spectators during an event.


State Restrictions

At least 44 states have proposed or enacted laws that restrict the use of drones, according to Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, which advocates the use of unmanned aircraft for news gathering. In addition, most news organizations don’t have insurance that would cover drone accidents, Waite said.

“I get phone calls from editors who say ‘Hey, we’re going to buy a drone. What should we buy?’ I say ‘Hold on a second. Do you know the rules here?” Waite said.

The FAA’s current ban on the use of drones for journalism has not deterred some hobbyists from sharing their drone footage of breaking news events with news outlets. News organizations say they want to use drones themselves.

“We view this as just another tool for news gathering, like a satellite truck or a helicopter,” Osterreicher said. “And hopefully a more cost-efficient and safe one.”


Skydio Lands $3 Million to Keep Drones from Crashing

by Press • 15 January 2015




YouTube is full of videos of drones crashing or running off course, and the Federal Aviation Administration has banned commercial drones in the U.S. while it figures out how to regulate them. Yet interest in the flying machines remains high.

Skydio Inc. is the latest drone technology startup to emerge, raising $3 million for software that its co-founders say should be able to keep flying drones on track. The seed funding is led by Andreessen Horowitz, with Accel Partners also participating in the round.

The company was founded last year by three graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—Adam Bry, who has a masters degree in Aero/Astro engineering; Abe Bachrach, who has a Ph.D. with a focus on applying machine learning and computer vision to autonomous vehicles; and Matt Donahoe, who has a masters from the MIT Media Lab.

Mr. Bry and Dr. Bachrach also co-founded Google GOOGL -0.23%X’s Project Wing, a system that Google is developing to use drones to deliver goods. Skydio started out in Dr. Bachrach’s dad’s basement and has since relocated to Atherton, Calif.

Mr. Bry, who is chief executive, said Skydio is tackling the hard problem of developing algorithms and software that are able to extract 3-D structure from a 2-D image, allowing a drone to navigate and avoid obstacles.

“It’s easy for humans, but hard for computers,” he said. “We’re trying to build the visual cortex for drones, for seeing and understanding.”

Skydio isn’t the only company working on making drones easier to control. In December, The Wall Street Journal reviewed some other efforts.

But Skydio’s co-founders say they believe their company has the best technical approach, along with patient investors who are willing to give them the time to figure it out.

Using lightweight sensors helps too, Mr. Bry said. “You can use heavier things like lasers and radar, but the size and weight of the system determines safety.”

Skydio is working with partners, although it won’t name them. The company aims to release software over the next 12 months, although no date has been set. Although the software is designed to work on anything that flies, the computer and camera on vehicles will be tuned to take advantage of Skydio’s algorithms, he said.

In a demonstration for journalists, Skydio was able to point an iPhone at a drone and control it, commanding it to take off, fly and hover without running into anything. (More videos of Skydio’s drones are here.)

Skydio is Andreessen Horowitz’s second investment in drone technology. The first company, Airware, also founded by a graduate of MIT, has raised more than $40 million from investors including GE Ventures.

Andreessen Horowitz General Partner Chris Dixon has written a blog post calling Airware and Skydio complementary, according to a spokeswoman, with Airware developing a drone operating system and Skydio providing a critical application on top of that operating system.



Air Force Space Programs on Hold as New Architecture Studied

January 2015


By Stew Magnuson


It’s called “the vicious circle of space acquisition.”

Large satellite systems take a long time to develop.

As the years stretch on, the temptation to change requirements and add new capabilities is too hard to resist. For once the spacecraft is launched, it’s impossible to swap out the hardware.

Schedules slip. Production lines go cold, increasing the contractors’ costs.

By the time the satellite is sent to orbit, the technology aboard is already generations behind what is available in the commercial marketplace.

This was all described in a 2012 paper co-authored by Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, then Air Force Space and Missile Center commander.

“Since the mid-1990s, we have seen some of the longest delivery times for major space systems since the beginning of the space age,” she wrote in “Space: Disruptive Challenges, New Opportunities, and New Strategies” published in Strategic Studies Quarterly.

However, deliveries of new space systems of late have all but come to a halt. The communication satellites being launched now are based on designs dating back to the early 2000s. The last major contract award was in 2008 for the third-generation GPS satellites.

That was also the year the Defense Department canceled the Transformational Satellite Communication System, or T-Sat, a six-year effort to create a next-generation spacecraft that came to naught.

Six years later, there are no new Air Force satellites on the horizon.

The Air Force is in the throes of conducting several studies that service officials say may lead to a radically new space architecture. Meanwhile, as the paper noted, getting space system acquisition right is more important than ever.

The nature of how it is employed by the military has changed over the past dozen years.

The Cold War era was marked by strategic applications such as nuclear command and control, and remote sensing satellites searching for rocket launches and large-scale troop movements.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq brought space down to the troop level with GPS, tactical communications and command and control of drones bringing immediate benefits to those who were fighting insurgents.

“Without exaggeration, the combat effects we have come to expect from our smaller, more mobile force structure would not be possible without space capabilities,” wrote Pawlikowski, who has since moved on to become the military deputy at the office of the assistant secretary for Air Force acquisition.

The buzzword in policy circles has been “disaggregation.”

Instead of large satellites and small constellations, the Air Force could deploy smaller spacecraft in larger numbers. It could also save funding by piggybacking payloads on other commercial or government satellites, a concept known as “hosted payloads.”

Placing an instrument on a large satellite that has extra space can reduce deployment time from seven to eight years to two to three years, she wrote.

“Disaggregation will allow us to realize more affordable and resilient capabilities for the theater war fighter while at the same time allowing smaller, nuclear hardened cores to be retained,” the paper said.

In the aftermath of a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite weapons test and incidents where GPS signals have been jammed, “resiliency” has been part of the equation along with affordability. Space systems have increasingly been seen as vulnerable.

Paul Hamill, director of strategy communications at the American Security Project think tank, said, “We have a system right now where we have big, one-off, specialized satellites that need huge rockets and engines to get them up there. … We need to move away from that model.”

He agreed with the notion of making space more “responsive,” with the deployment of smaller satellites that can be launched more rapidly.

“Let’s get smaller stuff up that can do bits of everything because let’s face it, if we have a state actor or non-state actor shoot one of these down, it’s not easily replaceable. If you shoot three down, we’re in serious trouble.”

Pawlikowski said the Air Force should adopt a “payload-focused” strategy where requirements for communications, sensors or other capabilities are more frequently produced and sent to orbit on smaller satellites. That will keep manufacturers’ production lines hot, stabilize requirements, reduce the economic consequences of losing vehicles and deny adversaries the opportunity to do widespread damage by destroying one spacecraft, she wrote.

If that is accomplished, “We can see a path to unwinding the vicious circle facing today’s space acquisition,” she added.

Todd Harrison, senior fellow of defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, was skeptical that the Air Force had put its space acquisition woes behind it.

“To go in a new direction, you have to start a new program of some kind, whether it is more of an existing system, leveraging current research or hosted payloads … and in this budget environment, that is incredibly difficult,” he said.

If the Air Force were to start a new, clean-slate design of a large communications satellite, it would likely repeat the mistakes of the past such as T-Sat, he said.

“I don’t think we have fixed the root causes. The primary problem with T-Sat was the temptation to place every possible feature on one satellite,” he said.

“We were trying to build the next big thing for protected communications and place all the requirements for wideband onto it. It proved to be too technically far reaching and expensive.”

He noted that after six years of work on T-Sat, the expected launch date had slipped by six years.

“We were no closer to launching it when the program was canceled than when we began,” Harrison said. “That’s the problem of building these big, “Battlestar Galactica type satellites.”

As the Air Force continues in a state of limbo when it comes to new start programs, Harrison sees a lack of interest on the part of Pentagon leaders. The series of studies the Air Force is conducting on new space architectures is just a way to buy time, he added.

“While everyone recognizes space as a critical enabler for the war fighter at all levels of conflict, from low to high end, it is not the sexy weapon system that puts hot metal on a target. So it doesn’t attract much interest from senior leaders,” he said.

The pause in acquisition programs could probably continue for three to five years, but after that, if the Air Force doesn’t kick off some kind of new program, it could begin to see capability gaps, Harrison predicted.

Said Hamill: The acquisition pause will continue “for as long as Congress is willing to let it go on.”


Hamill has seen renewed interest in space topics on Capitol Hill in the wake of the RD-180 rocket engine controversy. The Russian-supplied engines are critical for launching large satellites. Talk of cutting the United States off from acquiring the engines as tensions with Russia grew in 2014 prompted lawmakers to take a new look at the program.

Current National Defense Authorization Act language demands that the Air Force begins an effort to build its own heavy lift engines.

Incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and ranking member, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., will push for acquisition reform, and space will be a part of that, Hamill noted.

“I think the issue of us funding Russia has livened this issue up in Congress especially with … Mac and Adam. It has reawakened some interest in this,” Hamill said.

And presumptive Secretary of Defense “Ash Carter knows this issue back to front. It also helps that he a physicist,” he added. “I believe that he is going to take this issue on.”

Launch is important because the idea of disaggregated space architecture, which is more responsive to requirements, demands less expensive and dependable access to space.

Pawlikowski wrote that increased frequency of the launches will result in economies of scale and bring down prices.

Hamill said the private sector is ready and willing to step in and provide lower cost launches, and even build an RD-180 replacement if necessary, at no cost to U.S taxpayers.

“The military side of space issues and launch capabilities are stuck in the early 1990s. We’ve actually got private companies out there who can do this. Industry and the private sector have moved on. It’s the public sector who haven’t,” Hamill said.

On the terrestrial side, the Air Force recently embarked on a study to determine whether commercial satellite communications providers can take over the day-to-day command and control of military satellites using their networks of ground stations.

Four commercial satellite providers received contracts in October to study the idea.

A statement from one of the companies, Intelsat, noted that it alone had some 400 antennas scattered throughout the world with 99.9 percent availability. It costs a com-sat provider one-fifth of what it costs the Air Force to operate the same system, it said.

Harrison said the idea is certainly worth looking into, especially since systems such as the Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom technology are based on commercial communications satellites.

As for military protected communications, which have unique command-and-control requirements, “probably not,” he said.


Rasmussen Reports

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


Bottom of Form

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bob Dylan once declared, “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.” That could well describe America’s response to radical Islam.

Sixty-four percent (64%) of Likely U.S. Voters think there is a global conflict in the world today between Western civilization and Islam 

Yet the president of the United States and his top aides refuse to use the words “radical” and “Islam” in the same sentence.

The men responsible for the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris shouted an Islamic expression of faith and said after the killings they had avenged the prophet Mohammed. But only 24% of Americans think the actions of the killers represent the true beliefs of Islam. Just 16% believe the Taliban in Afghanistan represent true Islamic beliefs following their massacre of 130 school children in Pakistan, and 27% say that of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which regularly beheads innocents on YouTube. 

However, 52% of voters also think that Islam as practiced today encourages violence more than most other religions. Seventy-five percent (75%) agree that Islamic religious leaders need to do more to emphasize the peaceful beliefs of their faith.

Those murdered in Paris were killed for mocking Islam. Americans have mixed feelings about how media organizations treat religion in this country, but they strongly defend their right to say what they want to. Still, 65% believe it is likely an attack will happen in this country in the next year on those critical of Islam.

But 60% of voters think American society as a whole is fair and decent, the highest finding in nearly two years. Just 20% think most Muslims are treated unfairly in the United States because of their religion. By contrast, 66% believe most Christians living in the Islamic world are treated unfairly because of their religious faith.

Americans still believe most of their fellow countrymen aren’t racist but think race relations in this country have taken a decided turn for the worse. Whites, in particular, have grown much more pessimistic about the racial picture.

Only eight percent (8%) of all voters think race relations are better since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and unlike many questions dealing with race, blacks and whites don’t disagree much on this one. 

A year ago in his State of the Union address, the president argued that income inequality was a major problem for this country and vowed to confront it. Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters still believe that in America today the rich still get richer, while the poor get poorer.

In his upcoming State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama will formally propose making the first two years of community college free for millions of students. Voters tend to like the community college idea as long as it doesn’t cost them anything.

Most voters aren’t looking for new federal programs: They don’t like the government, and they think it should downsize. Voters want the government to do more to help the economy, but what they want it to do is cut spending.

As the national unemployment rate continues to drop, most Americans remain opposed to long-term government help for those out of work.

Voters are more convinced than ever that government contracts go to the companies with the most political connections, not the ones that offer the best service for the price.

Suspicious of how their government functions, voters also like the constitutional system of checks and balances to keep their elected officials in line. Most believe the federal government should only do what the president and Congress agree on. They also say a president should not be able to change laws passed by Congress on his own, even as congressional Republicans challenge Obama’s decision not to enforce the deportation of up to five million illegal immigrants.

After all, most voters continue to believe that securing the border is more important than legalizing the status of undocumented workers already here. They think plans to offer legal status to such individuals will just encourage more illegal immigration.

Many favor the use of the U.S. military along our southern border to stop illegal immigration. We asked Americans if the U.S. military would be best used at home or abroad.

Despite the political bickering, consumer and investor confidence remain near their highest levels since 2007. 

The president’s daily job approval ratings remain higher since Election Day.

Democrats and Republicans are tied on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

In other surveys last week:

— Thirty percent (30%) of voters say the United States is heading in the right direction.

— Gas prices are hitting near-record lows around the country,
but Americans suspect the rock-bottom prices won’t last for long.

— While several economic indicators suggest the U.S. economy may finally be recovering, car buying doesn’t appear to be one of them.

— Over half (53%) of Americans now say they’ve gone an entire week without paying for anything with cash or coins.

— Forty percent (40%) of Americans say they have had credit card or debit card information stolen, and 45% of these adults say they have lost this information through a major data breach at a retailer they’ve bought things from.

January 10 2015

10 January 2015


Also on a blog at



Key decisions on drones likely from Congress

Updated: 7:59 a.m. Monday, Dec. 29, 2014 | Posted: 7:59 a.m. Monday, Dec. 29, 2014


The Associated Press


The Obama administration is on the verge of proposing long-awaited rules for commercial drone operations in U.S. skies, but key decisions on how much access to grant drones are likely to come from Congress next year.

Federal Aviation Administration officials have said they want to release proposed rules before the end of this month, but other government and industry officials say they are likely to be delayed until January. Meanwhile, except for a small number of companies that have received FAA exemptions, a ban on commercial drone flights remains in place. Even after rules are proposed, it is likely to be two or three years before regulations become final.

That’s too long to wait, say drone industry officials. Every year the ban remains in place, the United States loses more than $10 billion in potential economic benefits that drones could provide, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group.

“We need some sort of process that allows some of the low-risk operations,” said Jesse Kallman, the head of regulatory affairs for Airware, a drone technology company backed by Google Ventures. “I think Congress understands that, and hopefully they’ll take steps in the coming year to address that.”

That appears to be what some key lawmakers have in mind. “We in Congress are very interested in UAS,” Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said at a hearing this month, referring to unmanned aerial systems, or drones. “We understand UAS are an exciting technology with the potential to transform parts of our economy. … It is our responsibility to take a close look.”

One of the committee’s first priorities next year is writing legislation to reauthorize FAA programs and overhaul aviation policy. The bill is expected to include directions from lawmakers on how to integrate drones into the nation’s aviation system. The last reauthorization bill, passed in 2012, directed the agency to integrate drones by Sept. 30, 2015, but it’s clear the FAA will miss that deadline.

The FAA is expected to propose restricting drones weighing less than 55 pounds to altitudes below 400 feet, forbid nighttime flights and require drones be kept within sight of their operators. Drone operators may also be required to get pilot’s licenses, a possibility already drawing fire from critics who say the skills needed to fly a manned aircraft are different from those needed to operate a drone.

Shuster indicated he’s concerned that requiring pilot’s licenses might be burdensome and unnecessary. And keeping drones within sight of operators would be too strict and limit their usefulness, he said.

The reason for keeping drones within line of sight is that they don’t yet have the ability to detect and avoid other aircraft.

AUVSI, the drone industry trade group, recently hired Mark Aitken, former legislative director to Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., as its government relations manager. LoBiondo is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation, which will write the FAA reauthorization bill.

“We’re really looking at an incremental approach still,” Aitken said. “It’s not something that is going to happen overnight.”

FAA officials have been working on drone regulations for nearly a decade. The agency twice drafted regulations that were later rejected by the White House or Transportation Department. The FAA has long maintained that unmanned aircraft must meet the same regulations as manned aircraft unless waiving or adjusting those regulations doesn’t create a safety risk. However, FAA officials more recently have begun talking about “risk-based” regulations, giving industry officials hope the agency might propose a blanket exemption from regulations for the smallest drones — usually defined as weighing under 5 pounds — as long as operators follow a few basic safety rules. Canadian authorities recently approved a blanket exemption for very small drones.

Congress already is getting pushback from private and commercial pilots who worry about possible collisions. The FAA receives reports nearly every day about drones sighted flying near manned aircraft or airports.

“As a (Boeing) 737 captain, I’ll be damned if myself and 178 other people are taken down by a 12-pound or a 50-pound or a 150-pound piece of metal coming through my windshield,” said Ben Berman at a recent forum hosted by the Air Line Pilots Association. “There are too many near misses occurring every day like this.”

Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represents private pilots, said online videos show that “operators are flying near airports, in the clouds and in congested airspace.” He called such actions “reckless” and said they will inevitably lead to a collision.

FAA regulations permit recreational users to fly small drones as long as they stay at least 5 miles away from an airport, limit flights to less than 400 feet in altitude, keep the aircraft in line of sight and fly only during the daytime.

Last week, drone industry trade groups teamed up with the FAA and model aircraft hobbyists to launch a safety campaign aimed at amateur drone operations. The campaign includes a website, , where operators can find FAA regulations and advice on how to fly safely. The trade groups said they also plan to distribute safety pamphlets at industry events and are working with manufacturers to see that safety information is enclosed inside the package of new drones.

Retailers say small drones, which are indistinguishable from today’s more sophisticated model aircraft, were popular gifts this Christmas.



Drone sales soaring in U.S.

Feds preparing to propose rules for the robotic machines.

By Melody Petersen

Los Angeles Times

January 4, 2014

Any day now, federal regulators will propose rules for operating small commercial ‍drones over the U.S.

But the fledgling ‍drone industry has not been waiting to take off. Sales of the unmanned robotic flying machines are soaring.

This month, several thousand people flocked to the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena for the commercial ‍drone industry’s first expo.

Gauging from the energetic crowd and busy industry booths, spectators could easily forget that flying a ‍drone to make money is illegal, and that new rules won’t be finalized for months.

The Federal Aviation Administration says that this wees it plans to propose rules for commercial ‍drones weighing less than 55 pounds. The public will then get to comment.

Near the Los Angeles expo entrance, a booth for Drone-Fly Inc., a Westlake Village startup, was promoting its small helicopter-like ‍drones.

“‍Drones will affect and change the world — much like automobiles, but on a much larger scale,” Taylor Chien, DroneFly’s 30-year-old co-founder and chief executive, said in a video playing on a big screen.

Video taken by the company’s camera-equipped ‍drone was screened.

Not everyone was impressed. “It frightens me. It really does,” David Morton, a retired Federal Aviation Administration inspector and speaker at the expo, said when a person in the crowd asked about DroneFly’s video 15 minutes later. “The technology is way ahead of the regulatory environment.”

‍Drones have hit buildings and people, but so far there have been no reports of serious injuries in the United States. A growing concern is the almost daily reports by pilots who see ‍drones flying dangerously close to their aircrafts.

Two aircraft on approach to Los Angeles International Airport in May reported seeing a “trash can-sized” ‍drone at 6,500 feet, according to a report filed with the ‍FAA.

In October, a small plane flying above Burbank at 8,000 feet reported seeing a red-and-black ‍drone, measuring three feet across, passing just off its wing in the opposite direction.

YouTube has videos of ‍drones flying out of control and then disappearing. The “flyaways” can be caused by faulty programming, interference with the ‍drones’ GPS systems or lost connections with the ground controller.

The ‍FAA‍’‍s ban on flying commercial ‍drones until regulations are in place has held back the industry. Yet some entrepreneurs have grown tired of waiting and are operating the ‍drones anyway — spurred by the agency’s lack of enforcement.

Sales are increasing fast as the ‍drones become cheaper, more powerful and easier to fly. Prices start at under $50 on  .

Frank Tesoro, DroneFly’s 30-year-old president, said the company that he founded with Chien in a garage sold $3 million in ‍drones in 2013 — its first year of operation. This year, he said, the company is set to triple that.

Evidence of the industry’s booming sales comes from Parrot, a French firm that is one of the few ‍drone makers that is a public company. The firm said last month that its third-quarter sales of the machines were 130 percent over the comparable quarter last year.

The public often connects ‍drones to their use by the military. Organizers of the expo, however, said they wanted to promote the technology’s many promising commercial uses.

Farmers want to use ‍drones to monitor crops and improve yields. Industrial companies see using them to inspect smokestacks, pipelines and other hard-to-reach property. Journalists envision them as reporting tools.

Only few of companies have received exemptions to fly ‍drones commercially. Anyone, however, can fly a ‍drone for fun or personal use as long as national safety guidelines are followed.

The ‍FAA began a safety campaign last week, reminding amateur operators of the rules. The guidelines require operators to keep ‍drones below 400 feet, always within sight and at least five miles from airports.

Entrepreneurs have been waiting for years for the ‍FAA‍’‍s rules for commercial ‍drones. Many expo attendees said they fear the proposed rules will be so onerous that many people will be kept out of the business.

Among their concerns is that the agency will require ‍drone operators to get licenses similar to what is required of commercial pilots — a certificate that can take many months and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“Licenses hold you accountable for doing the right thing with the technology,” Morton said.

“We want to follow the rules,” said A.J. Jolivette, chief executive of Terosaur, a ‍drone firm in Huntington Beach.. But if the rules are too strict, he said, it will cause people to “go around the regulations.”


FAA says ‘no date’ for rules on commercial drone use

by Press • 4 January 2015

By Bennett Haeberle


INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — While the Obama Administration could release proposed rules for the commercial use of drones any day, a Federal Aviation Administration official told I-Team 8 Friday that she could not provide a date.

“We are continuing to work with our administration colleagues to finish the rule. I am sorry to say I do not have a date for you,” FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory wrote in an email to I-Team 8.

The highly anticipated rules were expected to be published before the end of 2014, but that didn’t happen. While Cory’s email did not elaborate, it did seem to indicate that the FAA and the Obama Administration are still tinkering with the details.

Currently, the commercial use of drones is banned in the United States, which has left professional photographers, filmmakers, real estates agents, farmers and others angling for space in a highly restricted yet largely uncharted marketplace.

While some would-be drone professionals have tested the waters by creating websites or offering aerial photography for hire, the FAA has cracked down on some, targeting people in nine states and issuing fines and a total of 17 cease and desist letters to those operating drones for a commercial purpose.

The issue is — those are only the people the FAA has caught.

It’s hard to know the true number of would-be drone professionals jockeying for position before commercial rules are made public.

“If I am out in the field and I want to take a video — a 360 degree video — of a piece of machinery doing, I don’t see why I would feel the need not to do that, especially if I feel it’s going to enhance my marketing effort,” said Brad Zingre, an Avon, Indiana man who also works as marketing representative for Caterpillar.

Zingre is not a commercial drone pilot. He’s a hobbyist, and a novice hobbyist at that. His wife bought him his first drone for Christmas. He has only had a weeks worth of flying under his belt.

“I’ve flown it every day just because it’s new and fun,” he said in an interview Friday.

When asked what he’s learned, he said, “that you crash a lot and the video is not that great.”

The FAA already has proposed guidelines for drone hobbyists, including rules that limit the hobbyists to flying within sight and below a 400 foot ceiling. But with the federal government lagging behind on creating proposed rules and drone sales growing among online retailers, it could soon become hard to differentiate between the hobbyist and the would-be drone professional.

Recently, the FAA and the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the Small UAV coalition and other drone groups worked together to put together a website.

The website spells out different safety techniques hobbyists should know in order to fly a drone safely.


Indiana’s drone laws

While Indiana passed a drone law this summer, it largely targeted law enforcement agencies, requiring that police have a search warrant before using a drone unless it involves “exigent circumstances” that would threaten life or public safety.

That new law — House Enrolled Act 1009 — requires police agencies obtain a search warrant before using a drone, with some exceptions.

Among them: police may use a drone if there are “exigent circumstances,” if officers gain permission from a property owner, if there’s a natural disaster, or if it’s used for a geographical survey — so long as it’s not for criminal justice purposes. Exigent circumstances are situations in which officers have sufficient probable cause but do not have time to get a warrant before someone’s life may be in danger or evidence may be destroyed.

Indiana is only one of five states in the U.S. to pass a law either defining or restricting the use of drones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This summer, an I-Team 8 analysis of more than 400 law enforcement agencies across the state found that only four police agencies admitted to having or operating a drone.

I-Team 8’s investigation found it’s not just law enforcement agencies that have found limited access to the use of mini drones.

Aaron Sheller and Matt Minnes were among a group of Indiana farmers interviewed this summer who created the start-up company Precision Drone.

“It’s very exciting. A very exciting time for drone technology,” Sheller said.

The company, which manufacturers drones ranging in price from $4,500 to $17,000, hopes to sell them to farmers to provide them with clearer picture of crop conditions.

“Once we started using drone technology we could see areas of the field that we never would have thought had problems – had problems,” Sheller said.

While the commercial use of drones continues to be banned, the FAA has granted special waivers to several filmmakers and two production companies filming an Alaskan oil pipeline.

Indianapolis councillor weighs drone resolution


Indianapolis Councillor Zach Adamson is toying with the idea of creating a resolution that would ban drone flight in Indianapolis until concrete federal rules are established.

“There have to be some guidelines and that’s all were saying is — maybe we shouldn’t allow this free-for-all until someone comes up with these regulations,” said Councillor Adamson.


Exclusive: U.S. Drone Fleet at ‘Breaking Point,’ Air Force Says


Dave Majumdar


Too many missions and too few pilots are threatening the ‘readiness and combat capability’ of America’s unmanned Air Force, according to an internal memo.

The U.S. Air Force’s fleet of drones is being strained to the “breaking point,” according to senior military officials and an internal service memo acquired by The Daily Beast. And it’s happening right when the unmanned aircraft are most needed to fight ISIS.

The Air Force has enough MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones. It just doesn’t have the manpower to operate those machines. The Air Force’s situation is so dire that Air Combat Command (ACC), which trains and equips the service’s combat forces, is balking at filling the Pentagon’s ever increasing demands for more drone flights.

“ACC believes we are about to see a perfect storm of increased COCOM [Combatant Commander] demand, accession reductions, and outflow increases that will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 enterprise for years to come,” reads an internal Air Force memo from ACC commander Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, addressed to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. “I am extremely concerned.”

“ACC will continue to non-concur to increased tasking beyond our FY15 [fiscal year 2015] force offering and respectfully requests your support in ensuring the combat viability of the MQ-1/9 platform,” he added.

In other words, the Air Force is saying that its drone force has been stretched to its limits. “It’s at the breaking point, and has been for a long time,” a senior service official told The Daily Beast. “What’s different now is that the band-aid fixes are no longer working.”

In the internal memo, Carlisle says that the Air Force’s current manning problem is so acute that the service will have to beg the Pentagon to reconsider its demand for 65 drone combat air patrols, or CAPs, as early as April 2015. (Each CAP, also known as an “orbit,” consists on four aircraft.)

But senior military leaders in the Pentagon have been pushing back hard against any reduction in the number of drone orbits, particularly as demand has surged in recent months over Iraq and Syria because of the war against ISIS. In fact, the Pentagon is so fervent in its demand for more Predator and Reaper patrols that the top military brass made an end run to bypass regular channels to increase the number of drone orbits, the ACC alleges.

“The reduced offering of 62 CAPs (plus a 60-day Global Response Force) has been submitted to the Joint Staff; however, the Joint Staff has indicated their desire to circumvent normal processes while proposing their own offering of 65 MQ-1/9 CAPs,” Carlisle wrote. “This simply is not an option for ACC to source indeterminately.”

Carlisle writes that the Air Force would want a crew ratio of 10 to one for each drone orbit during normal everyday operations. During an emergency that ratio could be allowed to drop to 8.5 people per orbit. However, the Air Force is so strapped for people that the ratio has dropped below even that reduced level.

“ACC squadrons are currently executing steady-state, day-to-day operations (65 CAPs) at less than an 8:1 crew-to-CAP ratio. This directly violates our red line for RPA [remotely pilot aircraft] manning and combat operations,” Carlisle wrote. “The ever-present demand has resulted in increased launch and recovery taskings and increased overhead for LNO [liaison officer] support.”

“It’s at the breaking point, and has been for a long time. What’s different now is that the band-aid fixes are no longer working.”

The Air Force has been forced to raid its schools for drone operators to man the operational squadrons that are flying combat missions over places like Iraq and Syria. As a result, training squadrons—called Formal Training Units (FTU)—are being staffed with less than half the people they need. Even the Air Force’s elite Weapons School—the service’s much more extensive and in-depth version of the Navy’s famous Top Gun school—course for drone pilots was suspended in an effort to train new rookie operators.

Overworked drone crews have had their leaves canceled and suffered damage to their careers because they could not attend required professional military education courses.

The result is that drone operators are leaving the Air Force in droves. “Pilot production has been decimated to match the steady demand placed upon the RPA community by keeping ‘all hands’ in the fight,” Carlisle wrote. “Long-term effects of this continued OPSTEMPO are manifested in declining retention among MQ-1/9 pilots, FTU manning at less than 50%, and enterprise-wide pilot manning hovering at about 84%.”

The Air Force has about seven pilots for every eight drone pilot slots, in other words.

But it takes more than just pilots to operate the drone fleet. In addition to the pilots who “fly” the MQ-1s and MQ-9s, there are sensor operators who work the cameras and other intelligence-gathering hardware onboard the unmanned aircraft. Further, there are maintenance crews who have to fix those drones. Perhaps most crucially, drones require hundreds of intelligence analysts who have to comb through thousands of hours of video surveillance footage to understand what the flight crews are watching.

“Some have looked at this as a problem with just RPA pilots and the number of them required for these CAPs, but that ignores the tail required for supporting RPA operations,” a senior Air Force official said. “This tail requires hundreds of man-hours to support every hour of flight in forward operations, maintenance, and most starkly in the processing, exploitation, and dissemination of the intelligence that RPAs create.”

The problem for Carlisle and the Air Force is that even as the demand increases on the drone fleet, fewer new troops enter the ranks while more and more veteran operators vote with their feet.


New U.S. Stealth Jet Can’t Fire Its Gun Until 2019

Dave Majumdar


America’s $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is slated to join fighter squadrons next year—but missing software will render its 25mm cannon useless.

The Pentagon’s newest stealth jet, the nearly $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, won’t be able to fire its gun during operational missions until 2019, three to four years after it becomes operational.

Even though the Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is supposed to join frontline U.S. Marine Corps fighter squadrons next year and Air Force units in 2016, the jet’s software does not yet have the ability to shoot its 25mm cannon. But even when the jet will be able to shoot its gun, the F-35 barely carries enough ammunition to make the weapon useful.

The JSF won’t be completely unarmed. It will still carry a pair of Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM long-range air-to-air missiles and a pair of bombs. Initially, it will be able to carry 1,000-pound satellite-guided bombs or 500-pound laser-guided weapons. But those weapons are of limited utility, especially during close-in fights.

“There will be no gun until [the Joint Strike Fighter’s Block] 3F [software], there is no software to support it now or for the next four-ish years,” said one Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program. “Block 3F is slated for release in 2019, but who knows how much that will slip?”

The tri-service F-35 is crucial to the Pentagon’s plans to modernize America’s tactical fighter fleet. The Defense Department hopes to buy 2,443 of the new stealth jets in three versions—one for the Air Force, one for the Navy, and one for the Marines. Versions of the jet will replace everything from the air arm’s A-10 Warthog ground attack plane and Lockheed F-16 multirole fighter, to the Navy’s Boeing F/A-18 Hornet carrier-based fighter, to the Marines’ Boeing AV-8B Harrier II jump-jet. But the F-35 has been plagued with massive delays and cost overruns—mostly due to design defects and software issues. There have also been problems with the jet’s engine. An F-35 was destroyed on takeoff earlier in the year when a design flaw in its Pratt & Whitney F135 engine sparked a fire.

Another Air Force official familiar with the F-35 confirmed that the jet won’t have the software to fire its gun until the Block 3F software is released to frontline squadrons sometime in 2019. Neither Lockheed nor the F-35 Joint Program Office responded to inquiries about the status of the jet’s gun.

Right now, the F-35’s software doesn’t support the use of the aircraft’s GAU-22/A four-barreled rotary cannon. The weapon was developed from the U.S. Marine Corps’ AV-8B Harrier II jump-jet’s GAU-12/U cannon, but it has one fewer barrel and weighs less.

It’s also supposed to be more accurate—when it can be fired, that is. The gun can shoot 3,300 rounds per minute, though the Air Force’s F-35A version can carry just 180 rounds for the gun.

“To me, the more disturbing aspect of this delay is that it represents yet another clear indication that the program is in serious trouble.”

The Navy and Marine Corps versions of the F-35 have differing configurations and rely on an external gun pod. The software won’t be ready for those jets for years, either. And while that gun-pod version for the Navy and Marines carries slightly more ammo, with 220 rounds, some in the military are complaining that it’s not enough. “So, about good for one tactical burst,” the first Air Force official said. “Hope you don’t miss.”

The lack of a cannon is a particular problem, as the F-35 is being counted on to help out infantrymen under fire. (This is known as close air support, or CAS, in military jargon.) The F-35 will lack the ability to mark a target or attack enemy forces in “danger close” situations, said one highly experienced Air Force fighter pilot.

“Lack of forward firing ordnance in a CAS supporting aircraft is a major handicap,” he added. “CAS fights are more fluid than air interdiction, friendlies and targets move… Oftentimes quickly. The ability to mark the target with rockets and attack the same target 10 seconds later is crucial.”


Typically, aircraft will work in pairs where the flight lead will make an initial pass to mark a target with rockets. A second aircraft will then attack with its guns. Incidentally, the F-35 won’t be armed with rockets, either, sources told The Daily Beast.

The reason pilots would choose to use guns over a bomb or a missile is simple. Basically, a pilot might not want to drop a bomb near ground troops in situations where the enemy has gotten in very close to those friendly forces. Even a relatively small 250-pound bomb could kill or injure friendly troops who are within 650 feet of the explosion.

By contrast, a gun will allow a pilot to attack hostile forces that are less than 300 feet from friendly ground forces.

Proponents of the F-35 within the Air Force leadership argue that the jet’s sensors and ability to display information intuitively will allow the stealthy new fighter to do the close air-support mission from high altitudes using satellite-guided weapons. But there are situations where that won’t work.

“GPS-guided munitions with long times of fall are useless when the ground commander doesn’t know exactly where the fire is coming from, or is withdrawing and the enemy is pursuing,” said another Air Force fighter pilot. “GPS munitions are equally useless when dropped from an aircraft when the pilot has near zero ability to track the battle with his own eyes.”

The lack of a gun is not likely to be a major problem for close-in air-to-air dogfights against other jets. Part of the problem is that the F-35—which is less maneuverable than contemporary enemy fighters like the Russian Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker—is not likely to survive such a close-in skirmish. “The jet can’t really turn anyway, so that is a bit of a moot point,” said one Air Force fighter pilot.

“The JSF is so heavy, it won’t accelerate fast enough to get back up to fighting speed,” said another Air Force fighter pilot. “Bottom line is that it will only be a BVR [beyond visual range] airplane.”

That means the F-35 will be almost entirely reliant on long-range air-to-air missiles. It doesn’t carry any short-range, dogfighting missiles like the Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder when it’s in a stealthy configuration. One pilot familiar with the F-35 added that “they will not have a large enough air-to-air [missile] load to be on the leading edge” of an air battle in any case.

Another senior Air Force official with stealth fighter experience agreed. “From an air-to-air standpoint, an argument could be made that the F-35A not having a functional gun—or any gun, for that matter—will have little to no impact. Heck, it only has 180 rounds anyway,” he said. “I would be lying if I said there exists any plausible tactical air-to-air scenario where the F-35 will need to employ the gun. Personally, I just don’t see it ever happening and think they should have saved the weight [by getting rid of the gun altogether].”


However, the Air Force official said that very fact the F-35 will not have a functional gun when it becomes operational is symptomatic of a deeply troubled program. “To me, the more disturbing aspect of this delay is that it represents yet another clear indication that the program is in serious trouble,” the official said. F-35 maker “Lockheed Martin is clearly in a situation where they are scrambling to keep their collective noses above the waterline, and they are looking to push non-critical systems to the right in a moment of desperation.”


FAA Grants Real Estate, Agricultural UAS Exemptions

by Press • 6 January 2015


The Federal Aviation Administration today granted two regulatory exemptions for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations, including the first for real estate photography.

The agency gave the exemptions to Douglas Trudeau with Tierra Antigua Realty in Tucson, AZ, and Advanced Aviation Solutions in Spokane, WA. Before these exemption approvals, the FAA had granted 12 exemptions to 11 companies in a variety of industries.

Mr. Trudeau’s exemption authorizes him to fly a Phantom 2 Vision + quadcopter to enhance academic community awareness and augment real estate listing videos. Advanced Aviation Solutions plans to use a fixed-wing eBee Ag UAS to make photographic measurements and perform crop scouting for precision agriculture.

Both applicants also must obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) that ensures the airspace for their proposed operations is safe, and that they have taken proper steps to see and avoid other aircraft. In addition, the COAs will mandate flight rules and timely reporting of any accident or incidents.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx found that the UAS in the proposed operations do not need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because they do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security. Those findings are permitted under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

In granting the exemptions, the FAA considered the planned operating environments and required certain conditions and limitations to assure the safe operation of these UAS in the National Airspace System. For example, operations require both a pilot and observer, the pilot must have at least an FAA Private Pilot certificate and a current medical certificate, and the UAS must remain within line of sight at all times.

As of today, the FAA has received 214 requests for exemptions from commercial entities.



Pentagon Wants ‘Real Roadmap’ To Artificial Intelligence

By Patrick Tucker

Defense One

January 6, 2015


In November, Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall quietly issued a memo to the Defense Science Board that could go on to play a role in history.

The memo calls for a new study that would “identify the science, engineering, and policy problems that must be solved to permit greater operational use of autonomy across all war-fighting domains…Emphasis will be given to exploration of the bounds-both technological and social-that limit the use of autonomy across a wide range of military operations. The study will ask questions such as: What activities cannot today be performed autonomously? When is human intervention required? What limits the use of autonomy? How might we overcome those limits and expand the use of autonomy in the near term as well as over the next 2 decades?”

A Defense Department official very close to the effort framed the request more simply. “We want a real roadmap for autonomy” he told Defense One. What does that mean, and how would a “real roadmap” influence decision-making in the years ahead? One outcome of the Defense Science Board 2015 Summer Study on Autonomy, assuming the results are eventually made public, is that the report’s findings could refute or confirm some of our worst fears about the future of artificial intelligence.

In the event that robots one day attempt to destroy humanity, 2014 will be remembered as the year that two of technology’s great geek heroes, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, predicted it would happen. And if that never comes to pass, 2014 will go down as the year two of the world’s smartest people had a media panic attack about robots for no reason.

In August, Musk tweeted that artificial intelligence could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons and in October, likened it to “summoning a demon.” Hawking, meanwhile, told the BBC in December that humanistic artificial intelligence could “spell the end of the human race.” The context for the claim was a discussion of the AI aide that helps Hawking to speak despite the theoretical physicist’s crippling ALS.

The statements surprised many as they seemed to rise from thin air. After all, 2014 was not a year in which artificial intelligence killed anyone or even really made headlines. A few thousand more people encountered Apple’s AI administrative assistant program for the iPhone, Siri and, despite improvements, found the experience frustrating and disappointing. (It’s no wonder that fewer than 15 percent of iPhone owners have ever even used Siri). IBM searched for new applications for Watson beyond winning quiz shows. Computers continued to beat humans at chess and continued to not understand chess in any remotely human way — not why we play, not why we sometimes quit, not the significance of chess in Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece the Seventh Seal, nada. When a computer finally passed the Turing Test, a commonly cited measure for strong artificial intelligence, the response from many in technology community, after some gleeful reposting, was rejection of Turing Test as a useful metric for measuring humanisticAI.

The route to a humanistic artificial brain is as murky as ever. Inventor and Google director of engineering Ray Kurzweil has suggested that it will only be possible only after humanity creates a map of the human brain accurate to the sub-cellular level, a prize that seems far off.

Elon Musk’s freakout was prompted not by any technological breakthrough but by philosopher Nick Bostrom’s book titled Super Intelligence (Oxford 2014).

It’s a remarkable read for many reasons, but principally, it offers a deep exploration of a threat for which there is no precedence or any real world example in the present day. It is a text of brilliant speculation rather than observation. Here’s how Bostrom describes the rise of malevolent super-intelligence in chapter six, evolving from a limited AI program, somewhat like Siri, but one capable of recursive learning.

Now when the AI improves itself, it improves the thing that does the improving. An intelligence explosion results— a rapid cascade of recursive self-improvement cycles causing the AI’s capability to soar. (We can thus think of this phase as the takeoff that occurs just after the AI reaches the crossover point, assuming the intelligence gain during this part of the takeoff is explosive and driven by the application of the AI’s own optimization power.) The AI develops the intelligence amplification superpower. This superpower enables theAI to develop all the other superpowers detailed in Table 8. At the end of the recursive self-improvement phase, the system is strongly super-intelligent.

The book carries on like this. It reads almost like an Icelandic Saga, but rather than filling in the gaps of history with imaginative tales of heroic exploit, it offers a myth of the future, one told not in verse but in the language of an instruction manual. It presents a logical argument for the inevitability of super-intelligence but no proof, nor any clear evidence that it has or will happen, because, of course, none exists.

In response to this year’s AI panic, Rodney Brooks, the roboticist behind not only the popular Roomba robot vacuum cleaner but also bomb disposal system, the PackBot, was quick to rebut the notion of malevolent AI as any sort of serious threat.

Brooks is an experimental roboticist, sometimes called a scruffy, someone willing to take every manner of device, sensor, computer program and apply it to the goal of achieving a slightly better result. In talks, he will frequently point out that the first Stanford self-driving vehicle, a cart, took six hours to traverse a mere 20 meters. It was through a great deal of slow, painful and incremental research that, in 2005, researchers from Stanford were able to reveal a car that could travel 132 miles in about the same amount of time. Brooks is well-aware that artificial intelligence lends itself of to terrifying caricature. For Brooks, decades of difficult experimentation informs an outlook that is very different from that of Musk, Bostrom or even Hawking.

“I think it is a mistake to be worrying about us developing malevolent AI anytime in the next few hundred years,” he recently wrote on the blog of his newest company, Rethink Robotics. “I think the worry stems from a fundamental error in not distinguishing the difference between the very real recent advances in a particular aspect of AI, and the enormity and complexity of building sentient volitional intelligence.”

Let’s take Brooks’s position that a “sentient volitional intelligence” – which in English means something like human thinking and will— is impossible in the near term. Does artificial intelligence still pose any sort of actual threat to humanity? Bio-ethicist Wendell Wallach says yes.

In his book Moral Machines, Wallach, with co-author Colin Allen, argues convincingly that a robotic intelligence need not be “super” or even particularly smart in order to be extremely dangerous. It needs only to have the authority, autonomy if you will, to make extremely important, life or death, decisions.

“Within the next few years, we predict there will be a catastrophic incident brought about by a computer system making a decision independent of human oversight,” the authors write. “Already, in October 2007, a semiautonomous robotic cannon deployed by the South African army malfunctioned, killing 9 soldiers and wounding others… although early reports conflicted about whether it was a software or hardware malfunction. The potential for an even bigger disaster will increase as such machines become more fully autonomous.”

Wallach, unlike, Bostrom, does not look toward a future where humanity is locked in conflict with Skynet. Machines, software, robotic systems cause loss of life not because they have developed will but because they lack it, are incredibly stupid, poorly designed are both. But it’s a future where humanity has outsourced more and more key decisions to machines that are not nearly as intelligent as are people.

The distinction between malevolent AI and dumb and dangerous is important because while there is no clear evidence that super-intelligence is even possible, humans are leaving ever more important decisions in the hands of software. The robotic takeover of the human decision space is incremental, inevitable and proceeds not at the insistence of the robots but at ours.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the United States military, the institution that effectively created the first random access memory electronic computer and everything that has followed from that, including modern robotics. Faced with rising costs for staffing, a public increasingly averse to casualties but a growing number of commitments and crises to contend with, military research into artificial intelligence—in autonomy—touches everything from flying jets to administering healthcare.

Consider the automatic piloting features of the current version of the F-35, the military’s joint striker fighter, the most expensive aircraft in history, in part, because it’s loaded with a lots of sophisticated software to take over more and more human pilot responsibilities. In November, the Navy ran it through a battery of tests. While the Pentagon hasn’t released data on those tests yet, pilots that took part in an exercise to land an F-35 on the deck of an aircraft carrier reviewed the experience positively. “It makes landing on the boat a routine task,” Cmdr. Tony “Brick” Wilson told U-T San Diego writer Jeanette Steele.

Earlier this year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, put out a proposal for a system, called the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System, to effectively automate most of the piloting of an aircraft, in order to “reduce pilot workload,” according to the agency. Even those planes that are piloted are becoming less so.

Then, of course, there are unmanned systems, which usually require a two-person team, at least. But that’s rapidly changing. The high-tech, largely classified RQ-180, developed by Northrup Grumman, will show off new more autonomous features, in addition to stealth capabilities unprecedented in a UAV when it becomes operational. It’s currently in testing.

“The next generation of UAVs will need to be much more capable—faster, with greater autonomy in case communication links are disrupted, and stealthier so they are more difficult for an adversary to detect,” defense analyst Phil Finnegan of the Teal Group told Popular Science writer Eric Adams.

Perhaps the most important factor contributing to far more autonomous military machines is cyber-vulnerability. Any machine that must remain in constant communication with an operator—even when that communication is encrypted—is more hackable than a system that doesn’t require constant contact to perform basic functions. A number of high profile cyber-breaches made that very obvious in 2014. During the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, the firm IOActive demonstrated, live, that backdoors had compromised a number of key pieces of common military communications equipment. Even encrypted data can still give away information about the sender or receiver that could be important or exploitable.

“If you can’t ensure stable connectivity it makes the push for more advanced robotics more difficult to imagine unless you take letting the robots think for themselves more seriously…because the solution to some of those issues could be autonomy,” Michael Horowitz, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, remarked at the Defense One Summit in November.

It’s no coincidence that 2014 saw several key, Defense Department announcements regarding the electromagnetic spectrum, in particular the release of a much-anticipated spectrum strategy framework. What’s becoming increasingly clear is that waning U.S. dominance in the particle space where electronic communication happens makes communication-dependent systems more vulnerable.

“Communication with drones can be jammed… that creates a push for more autonomy in the weapon,” futurist and technologist Ramez Naam said during the Defense One summit. “We will see a vast increase in how many of our weapons will be automated in some way.”

Greater autonomy does not necessarily mean the ability to shoot at (robotic) will with no human issuing the actual command. When you talk to drone and robotics experts inside the Pentagon about the prospect of killer robots, they’ll often role their eyes and insist that the Defense Department has no plans to automate the delivery of what is often, euphemistically, referred to as “lethal effects.”

It’s an attitude enshrined in current policy, a 2012 Defense Department directive that, as Defense One has observed previously, expressly prohibits the creation or use of unmanned systems to “select and engage individual targets or specific target groups that have not been previously selected by an authorized human operator.” The directive is signed by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter who was serving as deputy secretary of defense at the time.

But a directive is very different from a law. There’s no real reason why some different defense secretary – or the same man, in Carter’s likely case – couldn’t issue a counter directive in the face of a new set of circumstances. And within that wording of the current directive, there’s a lot of room. Left open is the question of how or when to “engage” a target or “group.”

Will we reach a point where it makes more sense to endow unmanned systems with the system authority to select their own targets? What about the ability to simply suggest a target to a human operator who is unrested, overburdened and possibly overseeing several drones at once?

Of course, the United States military isn’t the only player building autonomy robotic systems, either weapons or consumer devices.

“Even though today’s unmanned systems are ‘dumb’ in comparison to a human counterpart, strides are being made quickly to incorporate more automation at a faster pace than we’ve seen before,” Paul Bello, director of the cognitive science program at the Office of Naval Research told Defense One in May. “For example, Google’s self-driving cars are legal and in-use in several states at this point. As researchers, we are playing catch-up trying to figure out the ethical and legal implications. We do not want to be caught similarly flat-footed in any kind of military domain where lives are at stake.”

In conversation with Defense One, the Pentagon official reiterated that point, that regardless of what the military does or does not build, the national security community has a big interest in understanding the possibilities and limitations of AI, especially as those will be tested by other nations, by corporations and by hobbyists. “You are absolutely right, it’s a concern,” he said.

What level of vigilance should the rest of us adopt toward ever-smarter robots? It’s a question we’ll be asking well beyond 2015, but in the coming year within the guarded walls of the Pentagon, a real answer will begin to take form.



Watchdog Wants to Know if DOD Has Actually Saved Money by Jumping to the Cloud

By Frank Konkel

January 5, 2015


Last month, the Defense Department inspector general published a hard-hitting report questioning the structure and execution of the department’s cloud computing strategy.

Now, auditors are putting DOD technology officials on notice that they’re already beginning another probe of the agency’s cloud efforts.

The message of the new report: Show us the money.

A Dec. 9 letter from Carol N. Gorman, assistant IG for readiness and cyber operations, said the audit aims to determine whether DOD components actually performed cost-benefit analyses before acquiring cloud computing services and “whether those DOD components achieved actual savings as a result of adopting cloud services.”

The memo is addressed to the undersecretary of defense for acquisition technology and logistics, the DOD chief information officer, the director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, and the commanders of U.S. Cyber Command and U.S. Strategic Command.

A cost-benefit analysis would include data relevant to a component’s return on investment: current IT spending compared to estimated spending offered through various cloud service providers; performance metrics; energy savings and a slew of other data sets. A cost-benefit analysis puts numbers to the cloud, which for all its fame as an IT driver remains a somewhat nebulous term. In addition, a cost-benefit analysis also serves as a baseline for determining the success of any cloud-computing deal.


Cloud computing is traditionally associated with improvements in IT efficiency and cost savings for enterprise IT organizations in both the private and public sectors. Instead of building and managing their own energy-chugging data centers, organizations essentially rent a range of services such as storage, compute or analytics from cloud service providers in the cloud – which are just the cloud service providers’ data centers.

The logic most organizations follow is that purchasing IT as a service makes sense as security concerns continue to be addressed through various initiatives. The DOD IG, however, wants to make sure component agencies are doing their homework before they jump to the cloud. If they haven’t, the DOD IG isn’t likely to mince words, despite the Pentagon’s continued efforts to retool its cloud strategy.


U.S. surveillance drones largely ineffective along border, report says

By Craig Whitlock January 6 at 2:10 PM 


U.S. drones deployed along the borders are grounded most of the time, cost far more than initially estimated and help to apprehend only a tiny number of people trying to cross illegally, according to a federal audit released Tuesday.

In a report that could undermine political support for using more drones to secure the nation’s borders, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found “little or no evidence” that the fleet had met expectations or was effective in conducting surveillance.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been flying surveillance drones for nearly a decade, launching them from bases in Texas, Florida, North Dakota and Arizona. The agency has nine of the Predator B model — a modified version of the MQ-9 Reaper drone flown by the Air Force — and has plans to more than double the size of its drone fleet to 24 as part of a $443 million expansion.

The inspector general, however, questioned whether those plans make any sense or would be cost-effective.

In an audit of the fleet’s operations during fiscal 2013, the inspector general calculated that it cost $12,255 per flight hour to operate the drones, five times as much as Customs and Border Protection had estimated.

Although the agency planned to fly four drone patrols a day — each for an average of 16 hours — the aircraft were in the air for less than a quarter of that time, the audit showed. Bad weather and a lack of personnel and spare parts hindered operations, it concluded.

“The unmanned aircraft are not meeting flight hour goals,” the auditors wrote, adding more broadly that Customs and Border Protection “cannot demonstrate how much the program has improved border security.”

As evidence, the report cited statistics showing that of the 120,939 illegal border crossers apprehended in Arizona during 2013, fewer than 2 percent were caught with the help of drones providing aerial surveillance.

In Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of border-crossing apprehensions were attributed to drone detection.

The findings echo earlier audits by the inspector general of the domestic drone program but could carry extra weight as Congress considers whether to spend more on drone surveillance to secure the borders as part of immigration legislation.

In a written response to the audit, Eugene Schied, an assistant commissioner with Customs and Border Protection, disputed the characterization in the findings. The drone program, he said, “has achieved or exceeded all relevant performance expectations.”

Schied accused the inspector general of cherry-picking statistics and ignoring information that makes the drones appear more effective. For instance, Schied said, drones “directly contributed” to the seizure of almost 50,000 pounds of marijuana, worth an estimated $122 million, along the Southwest border in 2013.

Customs and Border Protection dismissed suggestions that a major expansion of its drone fleet would occur anytime soon. Although plans to fly as many as two dozen drones were authorized years ago, Schied said the department did not have the money to follow through and that “there is no intent at this time” to operate more than 10 of the aircraft.



Pentagon To Close, Consolidate Bases in Europe, Base F-35 in England

Marcus Weisgerber January 8, 2015


Congress won’t let the Pentagon close or realign bases in the United States, so the Defense Department has looked to shut down facilities elsewhere: in Europe.

Pentagon officials announced Thursday that they will close or reduce its presence at dozens of facilities across the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Portugal, part of a broader consolidation plan that they say would save DOD $500 million annually. The officials stressed that the reorganization would not impact the American military’s ability to respond to a crisis on the continent and in some cases could respond even faster due to better positioning.

The move comes amid increased tension across Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. While the U.S. will consolidate facilities, it still plans to boost rotational deployments of American troops and weapons to Europe for drills with NATO forces, Pentagon officials said. In 2015, the Pentagon plans to spend nearly $1 billion on efforts to boost U.S. training and exercises across the continent.

“Taken together, these decisions on our force presence in Europe will enhance our operational readiness and mission posture at reduced funding levels, all toward the objective of maintaining a strong trans-Atlantic alliance and meeting our common security interest,” Derek Chollet, assistant secretary for international security affairs, said Thursday.

The most notable decision announced Thursday is that the Pentagon is moving U.S. Air Force tankers, intelligence planes and tiltrotor aircraft from RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, to other bases across Europe. The Air Force used the Cold War-era airfield since 1950 when WB-50 Superfortresses arrived at Mildenhall.

A number of aircraft, particularly Air Force KC-135 aerial refueling tankers and special operations CV-22 Ospreys will move from Mildenhall to Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases, respectively, said Tim Bridges, the deputy assistant secretary for Air Force installations. Both bases are in Germany.

The idea behind the Osprey move is to position them “closer to where the fight is,” Bridges said. All U.S. Air Force personnel are expected to leave Mildenhall around 2019, he said.

Of course, the U.S. decision to drawdown its presence at RAF Mildenhall is disappointing. However, we recognize that such changes are sometimes necessary.

While the Air Force would reduce its footprint in the United Kingdom, it announced England would be the first European country to host American F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. The British are buying their own F-35s, which will fly from the Royal Navy’s new HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carriers.

The Air Force will base two squadrons of F-35s, each with 24 aircraft, at RAF Lakenheath in Eastern England. The base is also home to F-15 Eagles, F-15E Strike Eagles and HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search-and-rescue helicopters. F-35s are scheduled to start arriving there in 2020.

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon called the Pentagon’s decision to base F-35s in England a “resounding vote of confidence by the U.S.”

“I am delighted that the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and U.S. Air Force will be operating this superb aircraft alongside one another from bases in the U.K.,” he said in a statement. “It is an indication of the strength of our continuing shared commitment to transatlantic security.”

The British secretary was not so upbeat on the U.S. departure from Mildenhall.”Of course, the U.S. decision to drawdown its presence at RAF Mildenhall is disappointing,” Fallon said. “However, we recognize that such changes are sometimes necessary.”

The base consolidation will not alter the number of U.S. troops in Europe, which will stay near the current level of about 67,000, Chollet said.

Pentagon officials have been working on the European base consolidation plan for about two years. When Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2014, DOD officials considered pausing the consolidation effort, but decided to press on.

“We weren’t talking about reducing our ability to conduct the mission; we were talking about our ability to do that same mission for less money, and that was an effort worth continuing,” said John Conger, who is acting assistant secretary of defense for energy installations and environment at the Pentagon.

For several years the Pentagon has said it wants to close or realign bases across the United States, a plan that has been flat out rejected by Congress.But with fewer bases, fewer U.S. and local host country support and maintenance people will be needed, Conger said.

“Approximately 1,200 U.S. military and civilian support positions will be eliminated and about 6,000 more U.S. personnel will be relocated within Europe,” he said. “Up to 1,100 host-nation positions could also be eliminated and approximately 1,500 additional Europeans working for the U.S. could end up being impacted over the next several years, as many of their positions are relocated to areas we need to maintain for the long term.”

Some of those reductions will be offset by 1,200 new positions associated with the two new F-35 squadrons at Lakenheath.

A full list of the bases being consolidated or closed follows:

United Kingdom

• Divest RAF Mildenhall – Returns the installation and four supported sites to the United Kingdom. DoD intends to relocate the operational units at RAF Mildenhall within Europe – the assigned KC-135s and the 352nd Special Operations Wing to Germany, and the assigned RC-135s within the U.K. This consolidation paves the way for the stationing of two squadrons of F-35s at RAF Lakenheath, starting in 2020.

• Divest RAF Alconbury/RAF Molesworth – Consolidation of missions allows the permanent return of RAF Alconbury, RAF Molesworth and supporting sites to the United Kingdom. The majority of U.S. personnel, and many of the U.S.-funded host nation positions assigned to these bases will be transferred to RAF Croughton.



• Close Mainz Kastel Station – Fully returns the site to Germany.

• Close Barton Barracks – Fully returns the site to Germany, and relocates the Department of Defense Dependents Schools district office to Sembach.

• Partially close Pulaski Barracks in the Kaiserslautern area – Returns part of the site to Germany.

• Close Weilimdorf Warehouse Site – Returns the site to German control.


• Close two Baumholder Waterworks – Returns control to Germany.

• Relocate HQs DISA-Europe from Stuttgart to Kaiserslautern.

• Close Amelia Earhart hotel in Wiesbaden.

• Partially close Artillery Kaserne in Garmisch – Returns two-thirds of the site to Germany.

• Restructure the Army Air Force Exchange Services bakery and water distribution operations at Gruenstadt.

• Close Husterhoeh Kaserne in Pirmasens – Returns the site to Germany.

• Relocate mail sorting/distribution from German Aerial Mail Terminal in Frankfurt to Germersheim Army Depot – Efficiencies and personnel moves only.

• Create a distribution center of excellence at Germersheim Army Depot.

• Consolidate various communication data centers across EUCOM.

• Close commissaries at Illesheim and Sembach, as well as the four commissaries in Stuttgart at Kelley Barracks, Patch Barracks, Panzer Barracks and Robinson Barracks, once a new replacement store on Panzer is constructed.

• Consolidate Defense Media Activity operations across Europe.

• Consolidate communications, postal services and personnel management that support the U.S. mission to NATO and the U.S. military delegation to the NATO Military Committee.



• Divest Leased Site in Brussels – Consolidation of U.S. facilities in Brussels to Sterrebeek.


The Netherlands

• Divest Shinnen Emma Mine Leased Site, Netherlands and consolidate U.S. facilities at Brunssum.



• Place a portion of the Pisa Ammo Storage Area, near Livorno, into caretaker status.

• Partially close Camp Darby near Livorno. Returns about half of the installation to Italy.

• Convert the Vicenza Health Center to outpatient and specialty care only.



• Streamline operations and property at Lajes Field – Reduces active duty, civilian personnel and contract providers by two-thirds. A number of the buildings at Lajes will also be returned to Portugal.

Op-Ed Our mistake: Thinking that all countries should be structured like U.S.

By Stephen D. Krasner

The U.S. hasn’t been winning wars because we’ve been pursuing unattainable goals. Here’s what needs to change

January 8, 2015, 5:10 PM


The United States has the most potent military in terms of firepower and operational capacity in history. Our military overthrew Saddam Hussein and crushed the Taliban in a matter of weeks. Our forces can direct a rocket from Nevada through a window in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and nimbly set up nearly 20 Ebola treatment centers in Liberia..

“We think that modern liberal democracy is what many countries should aspire to and that, absent obstacles, it will spring into existence. This is a chimera.”

Yet this same military, as writer James Fallows recently pointed out in the Atlantic, has not won its wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya or anywhere else in the last 20 years — if winning means creating a stable, capable and ideally democratic governing structure that is able and willing to police its own territory. After the United States poured billions of dollars into the Iraqi army, it fell apart in the face of a few thousand initially lightly armed Islamic State fighters.

Conditions in Afghanistan are in some ways far better than they were before 9/11: Life expectancy has jumped by more than five years; and many more children, girls as well as boys, attend school. But the Taliban remains an active threat. Kabul is haunted by the fear of terrorist attacks. Foreigners have fled. Opium production is up. Corruption is rampant. In Iraq, Nouri Maliki has resigned as prime minister, but the likelihood that Iraq will become a well-governed unified state is nil even if Islamic State is degraded over time. Libya is descending into chaos.

We have not lost because the military and its leaders failed to adapt or because military resources were misdirected. We have lost because we — our civilian leaders, our country — have accepted objectives that are not attainable. Our goal has been to put countries on the road to modernity, to move them toward well-governed, prosperous, democratic states that respect human rights, have an active civil society, treat women and men as equals, have a free press, extend the rule of law to all members of society and encourage market-oriented economic activity.

Our military knows how to fight effectively against an enemy as unconventional as the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or Islamic State, but also how to train their Iraqi and Afghan counterparts to pull off complicated military maneuvers.

But what our military cannot do — what no one can do — is to transform domestic political and economic institutions in these countries. We, our leaders and our people, are guilty of assuming that the United States is not only a “city on a hill” but also the natural model for how human beings should organize political authority. We think that modern liberal democracy is what many countries should aspire to and that, absent obstacles, it will spring into existence. This is a chimera.

Some time ago, the Times ran an op ed that stated that the Middle eastern societies do not want democracy, and that all the M/E’s that believed in democracy were already here. I am coming more and more to agree with that author. What we see in Paris, and will soon see here is a vast…

For most of human history in most of the world, rulers who wield power have invariably acted in their own self-interest. Controlling the state is the path to personal wealth and power. Corruption is not an aberration, it is the lubricant that makes their governing possible. Modern election outcomes in these places are often perverted or produce leaders who have no interest in sustaining accountable governance, even though the U.S. has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to provide technical election assistance, support political parties and civil society organizations, and establish election monitors.

It does not matter how well our military is trained, how wisely we deploy our defense dollars or how conscientious our politicians might be. Our military intervention cannot put these countries on the path to modernity. We must change our goals if we are to enhance our own national security and provide a better life for the citizens of the countries where we send our men and women to fight.

Our objective should be “good enough” governance, which means ensuring that a state is capable of keeping order within its own boundaries — at least enough order to contain transnational terrorists. The provision of this order may sometimes be arbitrary and brutal. Maintaining order in some countries might require an American military whose primary mission would be to degrade transnational terrorist entities and perhaps intervene to maintain a balance of power among local strongmen.

Where ethnic conflicts have eroded trust, we should encourage decentralization. Ideally, “good enough” governance would include providing some public services such as healthcare and primary education that would not threaten the local elite’s ability to extract resources and stay in power. Some degree of economic growth might be possible provided we recognize that these rulers always require their cut of the profits.

Unless we accept that our Wilsonian aspirations are unreachable and counterproductive, the United States will not be able to align its assets — military and civilian — with policies that have a chance of keeping us safer. Such a development just might leave some countries better off than they were before we intervened.

Stephen D. Krasner is a professor of political science and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was director of policy planning for the State Department from 2005 to 2007.


North Dakota’s fledgling drone business awaits FAA action

by Press • 9 January 2015


GRAND FORKS – Hundreds of companies have contacted North Dakota’s unmanned aircraft test site over the past year hoping to test drones, cameras or other technology.

Researchers say they have plenty of demand. What they need are rules.

More than a year after North Dakota was named one of six national test sites for drones, the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to write regulations governing drone use in the United States. Observers say the pace of rulemaking is keeping a potentially huge industry grounded.

The lack of rules is forcing businesses and even some North Dakota researchers to take their drones to Canada where it’s easier to get permission for test flights. Canada, Australia and several European countries have fewer restrictions on drone flights. That’s attracting U.S. firms and leading some in Congress to worry the United States will lose business.

“The FAA is just not moving as quickly as we would like them to move and we don’t really understand why that is,” said Al Palmer, head of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

Industry leaders and researchers have become increasingly frustrated waiting for regulations, said Palmer, who compared the FAA to a turtle. “In order to move forward they have to stick their neck out.”

The FAA is expected to release proposed rules for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds within the next month. But Palmer said those rules won’t likely be final until 2017, extending the uncertainty for unmanned aircraft businesses.

Military drones fly from the Grand Forks Air Force base, and the region is developing a commercial drone industry. Testing of drone-carried sensors for agriculture is expected to begin this spring, said Robert Becklund, director of the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site.

Becklund said the lack of clear guidance from the FAA is scaring away customers. Businesses don’t know what kind of restrictions the federal agency will impose for commercial use of drones, and the rules for using the North Dakota airspace are bureaucratic and limiting.

But Becklund said he isn’t deterred by the slow pace of federal bureaucracy and hopes the FAA will soon authorize drone test flights over a large area of North Dakota. That will significantly reduce paperwork and delays.

“It doesn’t really surprise me that it’s taking this long to get things moving,” he said. “From a practical point of view, it’s plenty frustrating for us here who want to contribute directly to the FAA’s needs.”

The FAA doesn’t comment on pending regulatory decisions and declined to make officials available for this story. Part of the problem, observers say, is that the FAA needs drone data to help establish safety standards. Test sites could help provide that data. But Congress provided no funding for the test sites, so the FAA can’t order research.

Becklund is looking for creative ways to make the test site more accessible to companies doing drone research and development. Under current rules, they need to partner with a public research university to test drones or drone equipment. Some businesses balk at sharing information and equipment, however.

Economic development officials say uncertainty about federal rules has many small businesses waiting to invest money in drone technology. But some big companies are already committed to the Grand Forks area. Aerospace giant Northrop Grumman plans a facility in a new technology park at the Grand Forks Air Force base.

Local officials say they are close to finalizing an agreement with the Air Force so drone companies can build research facilities at the air base.

Becklund said changing the description of drones from aircraft to experimental aircraft might smooth the FAA rule process and move things forward.

“I think that’s the real way ahead here,” said Becklund, who may push for the change this year. “The test site will help them get the airspace and then they can fly those airplanes themselves.”


CES 2015: Why the future of drones is up in the air


by Press • 8 January 2015

Tiny drones, pink drones, selfie-taking drones, military drones, drones that fly themselves – the drone zone at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is positively buzzing – in every sense of the word.


“Drones are arguably the most hyped product at CES,” said Ben Wood, from analyst firm CCS Insight.

“A veritable minefield in terms of regulation and safety but as prices tumble expect to see them in a lot more Christmas stockings this year.”

The Consumer Electronics Association, which organises CES, said the drone market should be worth about $130m (£86m) in 2015 – 50% higher than 2014.

In a few years the trade group expects it to be a billion-dollar market.

But not all is stable in the world of drones. Two key issues are dogging the field – regulation and power.

In the US the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has very strict rules around their commercial use.

Jim Williams, manager of the FAA’s integration office, said its regulations for commercial use were strict for good reasons.

“People who are being paid to do a job are more likely to take risks to accomplish that,” he said.

Away from commercial use, there is much anxiety around the world about amateur drones and privacy, as most of the craft come equipped with cameras.

The second big worry is battery life.

I spoke to several drone companies at CES representing both budget and high-end Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and the average battery life for the craft is about 20 minutes – with some managing just 10 minutes of flight time. One firm claims its devices have a flight time of about 50 minutes.

“One of the biggest frustrations with drones is battery life,” said Mr Wood.

“It’s rare to get more than 15 minutes of use and there seems little prospect of that improving any time soon.

“For prolonged usage, owners are typically obliged to get additional batteries, which means added cost.”

Despite the challenges, drones seem here to stay, and those on show at CES are a good sampling of the current state of the market.


AIN:- ICAO Panel Will Recommend First UAV Standards in 2018

by Press • 7 January 2015

by Bill Carey


The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) new Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) Panel aims to deliver standards for unmanned aircraft to the organization’s governing council in 2018. Once approved, the standards will guide ICAO’s 191 member states in setting their own national regulations. The overall process of producing RPAS standards is expected to take a decade or longer.


The panel’s current focus “is on development of standards and recommended practices (SARPs) for adoption by the Council of ICAO in 2018 related to airworthiness, operations (including RPAS operator certification) and licensing of remote pilots,” Leslie Cary, ICAO’s RPAS program manager, wrote in response to an AIN query. “Guidance material related to command and control in support of airworthiness and operations certifications will be part of the 2018 deliverable.”

The panel plans to complete SARPs for air traffic management and “detect and avoid” requirements for unmanned aircraft in 2020, said Cary, who serves as the RPAS Panel secretary. “Most topics will take several years and several packages to complete; the 2018 packages will be the start of a very complex activity,” she said. “We anticipate a rolling delivery of SARPs, Procedures for Air Navigation Services and guidance material on a biennial basis for the next 10+ years until all the topics are complete.”

Twenty-one states and nine international organizations nominated members to serve on the panel, Cary said. The members held their first meeting in late November and elected Randy Willis, manager of air traffic strategic operations with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, to serve as chairman, and Mike Gadd, manager of aircraft certification with the UKCivil Aviation Authority, as vice chairman. The panel’s next meeting will be held June 15-19 in Montreal.

The RPAS Panel replaced a lower-level Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Group that ICAO formed in 2007. The study group produced several guidance documents, including Document 10019, or “Manual on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems,” which ICAO expects to publish in March. The manual “serves as an educational tool for states, industry, service providers and other stakeholders on most of the topics that comprise the regulatory framework,” Cary said. “It discusses how existing manned aviation provisions apply to unmanned (aircraft) and provides some guidance on how to address the gaps. The material will be revised and expanded as the actual regulatory framework develops and is adopted.”

Aerospace companies in Europe and the U.S. are developing UAVs to meet current manned and future unmanned aircraft certification requirements. In October, Airbus Defense in Spain formally applied to the European Aviation Safety Agency for civil type certification of its 1,256-pound Atlante UAV—the continent’s first such application. Airbus said a second Atlante is now flying “and has been conducting various trials of different sensors, systems and guidance techniques.”


France’s Sagem completed a series of test flights of its one-ton Patroller UAV near Toulouse in November that demonstrated “a complete anti-collision function.” The project also demonstrated the Patroller’s ability to perform approaches to Toulouse-Blagnac airport based on ATC procedures.

In the U.S., General Atomics, the FAA and NASA conducted flight tests in November of NASA’s Ikhana Predator B fitted with a “detect and avoid” suite, including General Atomics’ due regard electronically scanned radar.


Ramussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Obama vs. Congress – Round One. Voters are strongly hoping the country comes out the winner.

In a 50-50 nation, it’s no surprise that voters are evenly divided when asked whether President Obama or the new Republican-led Congress should take the lead on issues important to the nation.

Taxes, spending, Obamacare and immigration top Congress’ to-do list as far as voters are concerned, but they also fully expect partisan politics to get in the way.

Voters still believe government spending will go up during the president’s last two years in office but think taxes are likely to remain about the same.

Looking for places to cut? Americans continue to believe that government employees earn more, do less and have more job security than those in the private sector.

The outgoing postmaster general criticized Congress this week for not allowing the financially troubled U.S. Postal Service make needed reforms like cutting mail delivery to five days a week, but Americans aren’t entirely convinced the agency should be able to make budget changes without Congress.

As for Obamacare, voters are nearly tied in their views of it, the health care law’s best showing since just before its official rollout in November 2013. But they still expect the quality of health care to suffer and costs to go up as a result of the law.

For the first time, however, most voters want the health care law fixed on a piece by piece basis rather than repealed entirely

Voters are also closely divided over whether Congress should try to find ways to stop the president’s plan to allow several million illegal immigrants stay in this country legally and apply for jobs.

The president of Mexico visited with Obama this week and assured him that Mexico will do all it can to make his new plan a reality. But most voters favor ending foreign aid to our southern neighbor until it does more to prevent illegal border crossings.

Despite the huge Republicans gains on Election Day, the president’s job approval ratings have improved steadily over the last couple months, so both sides are coming to the negotiating table feeling that they have the support of the American people.

Democrats have kicked off 2015 with a lead over Republicans on the Generic Congressional Ballot. But the parties have been within two points of each other most weeks for months.

Both sides also will try to take credit for the improving economy. Our regular economic indicators including the Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Index suggest that something other than traditional beginning-of-the year optimism is going on.

The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence continues to climb, hitting a six-year high for the second month in a row in December.

Thirty percent (30%) now believe the unemployment rate will be lower in a year’s time, the highest level of optimism in two years.

Thirty-three percent (33%) of voters think the country is heading in the right direction. While this is far from a cause for celebration, it’s the first time this finding has climbed out of the 20s in months. Will optimism continue to grow?

The horrifying events in France remind us of the ever-present threat of terrorism, a topic we will address in surveys early next week. Jury selection began on Monday in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev nearly two years after his arrest for the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013. Most voters still think the bombing suspect should receive a death sentence if convicted.

Looking a few months down the road, most of the presidential attention among Democrats is focused on Hillary Clinton and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, but for Republicans the field is wide open – with candidates both old and new. So how do voters feel about the GOP presidential contest this far out? 

In other surveys last week:

— With only a handful of reported cases in this country, Americans are less concerned about the threat of Ebola and more confident the U.S. public health system can handle the killer virus.

— The U.S. birthrate declined for the sixth year in a row in 2014, but Americans are still more worried about the population growing too fast rather than too slow.

— Seventy-three percent (73%) of voters agree it’s important for someone to be married before they have children.

— Fewer voters now think there should be a waiting period before allowing a woman to have an abortion.

— Very few voters know how much the United States spends on students each year, but they do know the money being spent isn’t doing much good.

More voters than ever think women are good for the U.S. military and believe even more strongly that they should be allowed to fight on the front lines.

Is the telephone fading away as a means of communication?