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January 10 2015

10 January 2015


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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? 

January 3 2015

3 January 2015

Happy New Year


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Aerostat to watch over northeast corridor

By Joe Gould 11:57 a.m. EST December 19, 2014


The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is launching a 250-foot tethered blimp, which carries a monitoring station, also known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System. The system can surveil and track objects, like cruise missiles, in an area as large as Texas, staying aloft for up to 30 days.

The system, built by Raytheon, trumps ground based radars that cannot look over the horizon and, the Army acknowledges, cannot detect all threats. It is meant to assist NORAD’s surveillance of the east coast, including Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York City.

That over-the-horizon capability means earlier detection, Army officials say, which could all the difference against a cruise missile.

“If I can detect this thing much further out, it gives commanders [more] time to get air assets into place and to alert people on the ground of the threat,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn Bramhall, commander, 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, during a press briefing, Dec. 17. “If I can give a command four more minutes or five more minutes, that’s a lot of time.”

The launch is part of a three-year JLENS evaluation is to see how well it can integrate into existing NORAD detection systems. It has already showed it is effective at detecting cruise missiles at earlier tests in Utah, Army officials say.

Ahead of a launch from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, Army officials stressed that the system carries no weapons or cameras and will not impinge on the privacy of Beltway residents.

“I can’t stress enough: there are no cameras or video equipment onboard the JLENS system. Its radars cannot detect people,” said Capt. Matt Villa, JLENS plans and coordination officer.


Radar testing for JLENS aerostat

Raytheon is doing final testing of radars aboard a JLENS aerostat that will help protect the National Capital Region against cruise missiles, drones and other aircraft.

By Richard Tomkins | Dec. 29, 2014 at 10:40 AM

Read more:


ABERDEEN PROVING GROUNDS, Md., Dec. 29 (UPI) — The first of two radar blimps to protect the nation’s capital from cruise missiles is being readied for operational transfer to a U.S. Army air defense unit.

The helium-filled aerostat system, called JLENS, is undergoing additional testing of its radar systems by its maker, Raytheon, following its recent raising in Maryland.

“JLENS is strategically emplaced to help defend Washington D.C. and a Texas-sized portion of the East Coast from cruise missiles, drones and hostile aircraft,” said Dave Gulla, vice president of Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems’ Global Integrated Sensors business. “JLENS can detect potential threats at extremely long ranges, giving North American Aerospace Defense Command more time to make decisions and more space to react appropriately.”

The tethered radar Aerostats, each the size of a football field, will float at a height of 10,000 feet for 30 days at a time.

Raytheon said the second blimp in the system will take to the air early next year and that both will then take part in a North American Aerospace Defense Command exercise.


Obama Calls Sony Hack ‘Cybervandalism’ Not Act of War


By Byron Tau

President Barack Obama said that the North Korean hacking of Sony Pictures’ computer systems was an act of “cybervandalism,” not an act of war, and confirmed that the U.S. was considering adding North Korea back to the list of state sponsors of terrorism.


In an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mr. Obama said that the United States was reviewing its options in response to the attack.

“I don’t think it was an act of war. I think it was an act of cybervandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately,” the president told host Candy Crowley.

Mr. Obama also confirmed that the U.S. was reviewing North Korea’s State Sponsors of Terrorism designation. The State Department under President George W. Bush de-listed North Korea in 2008. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the U.S. was considering such a move.

“We’re going to review those through a process that’s already in place,” Mr. Obama told CNN. “I’ll wait to review what the findings are.”

Sony Pictures, an American subsidiary of Sony Corp., withdrew the film “The Interview” this week after a major intrusion into its computer systems along with threats of violence against theaters who show the film. Mr. Obama has called Sony’s decision to pull the movie “a mistake” and has since been weighing how best to respond to the cyber-attack that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had tied to North Korea, citing computer evidence.

“The Interview,” a James Franco and Seth Rogen comedy, depicts a fictional assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by two American journalists.

Mr. Obama said that incidents of hacking from either foreign governments or criminal organizations were a manageable problem that should not disrupt commerce or cause a panic.

“We’re going to be in an environment in this new world where so much is digitalized that both state and non-state actors are going to have the capacity to disrupt our lives in all sorts of ways,” he said, adding: “When other countries are sponsoring it, we take it very seriously. But, you know, I think this is something that we can manage.”

Sen. John McCain (R. Ariz.), in comments on CNN, criticized Mr. Obama for calling it “cyber-vandalism”, saying the attack amounted to “a new form of warfare.” He said: “I think the president does not understand that this is a manifestation of new form of warfare, when you destroy economies, when you are able to impose censorship. We need to react vociferously.”



Air Force seeks electronic warfare roadmap

Michael Peck, Contributing Writer 5:25 p.m. EST December 24, 2014


The Air Force is searching for a roadmap for new electronic warfare receivers.

A request for information released by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) asks for “information needed to develop a near to mid-term (present-2025) technology roadmap including required investment funding to advance the state of practice of EW receiver technology and architecture to address modern and future radar agile threat waveforms.”

The Air Force has become concerned about the ability of its current EW receivers to keep up with advancements in radar waveform agility and the “complex electromagnetic operating environment that are part of the modern battlefield,” according to the RFI. New threats include the Active Electronically Scanning Array, variable pulse widths, and the radio confusion that comes from operating in multi-signal or dense radio-frequency environments.

AFRL wants EW receivers capable of sorting and identifying “increasingly ambiguous waveforms,” faster system architectures and more sensitive receivers. Responses to the RFI are due by Jan. 23.


The Military Wants Smarter Insect Spy Drones

Patrick Tucker December 23, 2014


The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency put out a broad agency announcement this week seeking software solutions to help small drones fly better in tight enclosed environments. The Fast Lightweight Autonomy program, the agency said, “focuses on creating a new class of algorithms to enable small, unmanned aerial vehicles to quickly navigate a labyrinth of rooms, stairways and corridors or other obstacle-filled environments without a remote pilot.”

The solicitation doesn’t focus on new drone designs so much as helping very small drones — able to fit through an open window and fly at 45 miles per hour — navigate tight and chaotic indoor spaces without having to communicate with operators, get GPS directions, or receive data from external sensors. All the thinking, steering and landing would be in the drone.

“Goshawks, for example, can fly very fast through a dense forest without smacking into a tree. Many insects, too, can dart and hover with incredible speed and precision. The goal of the FLA program is to explore non-traditional perception and autonomy methods that would give small UAVs the capacity to perform in a similar way, including an ability to easily navigate tight spaces at high speed and quickly recognize if it had already been in a room before,” Mark Micire, DARPA program manager, said in a press release.

Urban disaster relief is an “obvious” application for tiny, self-guided insect robots according to the agency. An equally obvious application, left out of the announcement, is spy drones that can fly independently into rooms, find a perch, and serve as a fly on the wall in a very real (but robotic) sense of the world.

As new materials come online, researchers are quickly getter better at miniaturizing flying machines. Supposedly, the world’s smallest drone is this robofly from Harvard (DARPA funded) at 60 milligrams and 3 centimeters.

The military is working on a version that’s three times smaller. On Dec. 16, the Army Research Laboratory announced that they had created a tiny fly drone of comparable size to the robofly with wings made of lead zirconium titanate.

But creating a miniature flying machine isn’t as simple as creating something that can take off and land while attached to a wire. There’s more that goes into flight than pure mechanics. It takes brains. Ron Polcawich, head of the Army Research Lab’s piezoelectric microelectromechanical systems, or PiezoMEMS team, says it may take another 15 years of research before fly drones can move through the air, land and behave like real bugs.

Supposedly, the world’s smallest drone comes from Harvard at 60 milligrams and 3 centimeters. The military is working on a version that’s three times smaller.

In this paper titled Towards Autonomous Navigation of Miniature UAV, a group of researchers from NASA, IEEE and other outfits describe the high level of difficulty in getting a machine that’s the size of an insect to actually think like one, much less think like a bird.

“A major algorithmic challenge is to process sensor information at a high rate to provide vehicle control and higher level tasks with real-time position information and vehicle states.”

Why is it such a challenge to make a tiny drone locate itself in space and decide on a destination? Because a flying machine that size doesn’t have much room to carry a computer capable of crunching all the visual data (from a camera) that it needs for flight, especially if it’s also going to carry a battery as well. “Since micro rotorcrafts can only carry a few grams of payload including batteries, this has to be accomplished with a very small weight and power budget… Additionally, novel algorithmic implementations with minimal computational complexity, such as presented in this paper, are required,” they write.

The paper demonstrates an autonomous algorithmic flying solution for a quadcopter of a much more bird-sized 12 grams. No, it doesn’t solve the problem of teaching a computer the size of a golf ball to see, dodge obstacles in the air and land on a dime, but it does provide an idea of where research is headed.

“The implementation on an ultra-light weight platform of only 12g is a huge step towards ultimately having a fully capable avionics package (flight computer, camera, and IMU) under 15g. It will enable fully autonomous control of ultrasmall quadrotor systems (as e.g. the 15cm, 25g Bitcraze miniature quadrotor system) that can be deployed for indoor and outdoor [intelligence search and reconaissance] missions in confined spaces while maintaining stealth.”

If progress in machine vision algorithms continues at its current rate that 15-year forecast until the flight of the flying robot insects may be conservative.


Bergdahl’s case offers few options for Army

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff writer 1:59 p.m. EST December 24, 2014


Getting Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl out of the Army is not going to be easy.

As Army leaders consider how to handle the former Taliban captive who is accused of misconduct, their options are narrowed by an obscure personnel regulation: Because the former prisoner of war’s term of enlistment expired during his five years in captivity, the Army must now grant him an honorable discharge or launch a court-martial.

“We’re in an all-or-nothing situation,” said Jeffrey Addicott, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and judge advocate who served as a legal adviser to the Army Special Forces and now teaches law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas.

The Army announced Monday that the investigation of Bergdahl has been forwarded to a top general, or convening authority, to take “appropriate action.”

For now Bergdahl, 28, remains assigned to a desk job at an Army headquarters unit in San Antonio. The Army declined to release any details of the six-month investigation into the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.

Then-Spc. Bergdahl was accused of leaving his patrol base intentionally before he was captured by Taliban insurgents in 2009. Legal experts say the allegations suggest charges of desertion could apply.

One legal option is for the Army to officially refer the case for a court-martial, which would open the door for Bergdahl, if he chooses, to request an other-than-honorable discharge in lieu of the court-martial. Both Bargdahl and the Army general overseeing the case would have to agree to that arrangement.

That would allow the Army to strip Bergdahl of some of his veterans benefits and impose some further administrative sanctions, such as loss of pay and reduction in rank.

But without a court-martial, the Army may have to pay Bergdahl the back pay he’s technically due because he remained on active duty during his five years in captivity. That’s about $200,000, and possibly far more if the full scope of POW benefits is applied.

“I don’t think the Army can have it both ways. Either he was a deserter and he deserves to be court-martialed — or he wasn’t and he is entitled to the back pay,” said Greg Rinkey, a former Army JAG who is now a military defense attorney in New York.

For now Bergdahl’s back pay is frozen in a back account controlled by the Army and the matter will likely remain unresolved until Bergdahl is discharged.

Rinkey said he believes the Army will ultimately opt against seeking a court martial. Questions about Bergdahl’s state of mind at the time of his capture would make the charges at court-martial hard to prove, and that Bergdahl’s five years in captivity would weigh in the Army’s decision, Rinkey said.

After five years in captivity, Bergdahl’s Taliban captors released him May 31 in a prisoner swap that also freed five Taliban leaders from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He returned to good health after a short stay at military hospitals in Germany and San Antonio.

A prior investigation of Bergdahl’s disappearance — conducted in 2009 long before his return — found that some members of his unit believed Bergdahl left his patrol base alone at night at least once before and returned safely.

Bergdahl was interviewed as part of the more recent investigation since his return, but Army officials have not released any details of that investigation.

Yet details of the case have been widely reported in the media, in particular the criticisms from other soldiers in his unit who believe Bergdahl intentionally left his base and as a result put the lives of many soldiers at risk.

Some soldiers believe the aggressive manhunt that Army commanders in Afghanistan ordered after Bergdahl’s disappearance directly resulted in several casualties.

That controversy is likely a part of the Army leadership’s considerations.

“You’ve got almost every single member of the platoon that says ‘Yeah, he put down his weapon and left his patrol base. He voluntarily vacated himself from his place of duty.’ Addicott said.

It’s possible Bergdahl could be charged with the lesser offense of Absent Without Leave, or AWOL. But Addicott believes the facts suggest a more severe charge. “To me, it’s desertion. He left in time of war. And I think the facts are clear.”



Newest U.S. Stealth Fighter ’10 Years Behind’ Older Jets

Dec 26, 2014

Dave Majumdar


America’s $400 billion, top-of-the-line aircraft can’t see the battlefield all that well. Which means it’s actually worse than its predecessors at fighting today’s wars.

When the Pentagon’s nearly $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter finally enters service next year after nearly two decades in development, it won’t be able to support troops on the ground the way older planes can today. Its sensors won’t be able to see the battlefield as well; and what video the F-35 does capture, it won’t be able to transmit to infantrymen in real time.

Versions of the new single-engine stealth fighter are set to replace almost every type of fighter in the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps inventory—including aircraft specifically designed to support ground troops like the A-10 Warthog. That will leave troops in a lurch when the F-35 eventually becomes the only game in town.

“The F-35 will, in my opinion, be 10 years behind legacy fighters when it achieves [initial operational capability],” said one Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program. “When the F-35 achieves [initial operational capability], it will not have the weapons or sensor capability, with respect to the CAS [close air support] mission set, that legacy multi-role fighters had by the mid-2000s.”

The problem stems from the fact that the technology found on one of the stealth fighter’s primary air-to-ground sensors—its nose-mounted Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS)—is more than a decade old and hopelessly obsolete. The EOTS, which is similar in concept to a large high-resolution infrared and television camera, is used to visually identify and monitor ground targets. The system can also mark targets for laser-guided bombs.  

“EOTS is a big step backwards. The technology is 10-plus years old, hasn’t been able to take advantage of all the pod upgrades in the meantime, and there were some performance tradeoffs to accommodate space and stealth,” said another Air Force official familiar with the F-35 program. “I think it’s one area where the guys are going to be disappointed in the avionics.”

Ironically, older jets currently in service with the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps can carry the latest generation of sensor pods, which are far more advanced than the EOTS sensor carried by the F-35. The latest generation pods—the Lockheed Martin Sniper ATP-SE and Northrop Grumman LITENING-SE—display far clearer high-definition video imagery in both in the infrared and optical spectrum—and from greater distances. Further, both pods have the ability to beam those full-motion video feeds to ground troops, which provides those forces with vital intelligence information.

Both pods also incorporate the ability to mark targets with an infrared laser beam—which the EOTS lacks—that helps pilots and ground controllers coordinate their attacks. Some pilots consider the infrared marker to be crucial to the close air-support mission to support ground troops. The F-35 EOTS, which is an integral component of the new stealth fighter, was envisioned as a replacement for targeting pods altogether to preserve the JSF’s stealth frame. (Targeting pods can bulge out a bit, and leak out unwanted signals.) But along with the stealth came performance compromises that also hinder the ability to upgrade the system—the specifications of which were set more that 15 years ago—far before anyone imagined a jet would be providing video imagery to ground forces.

When the Pentagon had initially drawn up the Joint Strike Fighter program’s specifications during the later half of the 1990s, the EOTS would have been bleeding-edge technology. However, in the 14 years that have passed since the Pentagon awarded Lockheed the contract to develop the F-35, technology has evolved—and the services have gained experience from over a decade of war.

“It was an awesome system when the F-35 specs were drawn-up in the late ’90s—LANTIRN [targeting pod] was the most advanced pod at that time,” said the first Air Force official affiliated with the F-35 program. “But we’re now a couple of generations beyond that spec with the targeting pods. EOTS is about a [1990s-era Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-28(V)] LITENING II-equivalent targeting pod.”

That means that the EOTS camera does not have the range or high-resolution capability that would be found on the current targeting pods carried by American fighters flying over Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. It also means that future F-35 pilots won’t be able to see their quarry in the same kind of detail that they can on current U.S. jets.

The Air Force is currently using the advanced LITENING-SE on many of its fighters like the F-16, which is about two generations newer than the old 1990s-vintage LITENING II-pod. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is delivering the new Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod-Sensor Enhancement (ATP-SE) to the Air Force—which is, ironically, an advanced version of the original Sniper XR pod that the F-35’s EOTS sensor was based on.

More damningly, the F-35 won’t be able to send even its already lower-quality live video down to those soldiers on the ground because its specifications were set before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started. Back then, no one ever imagined needing to beam live video to ground troops from a fighter jet. Nor are there any current plans to add that capability to the F-35.

“At no point is F-35 fragged to have VDL unless it carries a targeting pod and the F-35 EOTS does not have and will not get an IR [infrared] marker,” the first F-35 official said. “It won’t fit in the space available.”

The lack of an infrared pointer is a huge problem, according to multiple Air Force pilots with experience flying combat missions in support of ground forces. In aircraft like the A-10, F-15E or F/A-18 Hornet, when ground troops pass target coordinates—or if the pilot spots enemy forces shooting—that pilot can turn on the infrared pointer to highlight the target. If the ground controller—known as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller—sees the “sparkle” from the infrared pointer, he can confirm that the pilot is illuminating the correct target.

Further, if a pilot sees something of interest, he or she can use the infrared pointer to draw the attention of the ground controller, who can then confirm if the target is hostile or not. “F-35s will never have this,” the first F-35 official said. “It also helps pilots orientate themselves during weapons delivery passes.”

Officials at JSF-maker Lockheed Martin couldn’t respond to queries by press time, but the F-35 program does not appear to have a plan to rectify the problem.

One Air Force official said that with enough time and more money, the EOTS could be fixed. “Because in five years when the USAF [US Air Force] comes to Lockheed Martin and says we absolutely need an upgraded EOTS with an infrared pointer and , Lockheed Martin says… OK no sweat, that’ll be $5 million per jet,” the Air Force official said. “Thus lies the problem in the U.S. military industrial complex. They purposefully build products that require mass amounts of money to ‘upgrade’ when in fact, they could have planned ahead and built an easily upgradable ship / aircraft / radio / weapon system.”

One of the JSF officials agreed that the EOTS does not speak well for the Pentagon’s ability to buy new weapons. “EOTS is a poster child for one of the ills of the acquisition process,” the official said. “Because all of the subsystems depend on each other, requirements aren’t allowed to change after the design is ‘finalized.’ It’s not a big deal, unless it takes 20 years to field the jet… then it’s a problem.”

The end result is that when the F-35 finally becomes operational after its myriad technical problems, cost overruns, and massive delays, in some ways it will be less capable than current fighters in the Pentagon’s inventory.

“Will the F-35 even have parity with those jets in the CAS mission set 10 years from now? I don’t know, dude. It doesn’t look good.”



Will Fracking, Climate Change, Solar Reshape US Security?

By Jared Anderson and Colin Clark

on December 23, 2014 at 7:30 AM


Energy sources and related commodities have driven national security issues ever since the modern nation-state was born with the Peace of Westphalia. Oak made Spain and England’s stout sailing ships. Water energy and wind drove mills and moved water. Wood and coal moved steamships. Then came the almost magical commodity of oil, packed with energy. World War II brought us the wonder and terror of nuclear energy. Today, America buys much less foreign oil for the first time in decades, largely due to fracking and other technological advances. Wind and solar energy are growing by leaps and bounds. How fundamental are these changes in the world’s energy markets and what is their likely effect on our national security interests? My colleague at Breaking Energy, Jared Anderson, tackles the energy side of the equation. We’ve got the national security side. Read on. The Editor.


The global oil market is going through an upheaval, with non-OPEC production led by North American producers surging while OPEC’s traditional price-setting role changes. First, US oil production and proven oil reserve growth over the past several years is astonishing. Despite the current oil price decline, US oil production growth in 2015 is expected to grow around 1 million barrels per day. However, those growth rates probably won’t be sustained over the long term.

Second, if you look at the world’s largest oil reserve holders and countries that have reserve-to-production ratios in excess of 100 years, they are almost exclusively OPEC members. The cartel’s market influence has diminished in the face of robust non-OPEC production, but the group’s power is likely to endure over the long term purely due to the sheer volume of oil its members collectively control.

The Saudis will remain the de facto leaders of OPEC until another country can build comparable spare production capacity, which in the Saudis case is currently around 2 mmb/d. Saudi Arabia has 266 billion barrels of proven high-quality, cheap-to-produce oil reserves. The US, in contrast, boasts only 44.2 billion barrels of mostly expensive-to-produce oil reserves. Technology is a wild card that has the potential to unlock additional petroleum resources and reduce production costs, but it would be a mistake to discount Saudi Arabia’s power as an oil country, particularly over the long term.

That means, of course, that the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet will remain a key asset. Add the Iranian nuclear talks, the predations of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the simmering tensions between Israel and its neighbors to the oil that flow through the Strait of Hormuz and there seems little doubt we will keep substantial naval, air and expeditionary forces in the area for the foreseeable future.

But these shifting energy markets raises larger strategic questions.

Colin spoke with one of the wisest analysts about the energy sector and its national security implications, Tony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A former senior Pentagon and NATO official, Cordesman also served as director of policy and planning for resource applications at the Department of Energy. He doesn’t foresee any immediate major strategic shifts created by the energy market changes. At the same time, he acknowledges that major technological and market shifts have usually gone unnoticed until they hit us in the face.

Cordesman points to the solar and nuclear markets, where we have all been expecting or hoping for major technological breakthroughs “since the Nixon administration.” Then he notes that, in the oil market, “no one predicted that the most critical technological breakthrough would prove to be fracking.” Can we expect a breakthrough in the solar, nuclear or biofuel arenas? “It may take 25 to 50 years or it will happen almost without warning,” he predicts.

The current situation in the alternative energy world: We’re seeing the strong growth of renewable energy, albeit from a low base. The growth rate of installed US solar power capacity has been impressive, but that growth rate has slipped in the past few years as the technology has gained market share. “U.S. solar power capacity would need to grow at an annual rate of 22 percent in order for solar to provide 10 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2030, from less than 1 percent now,” Breaking Energy recently reported.

Wind and solar are used to generate electricity but coal will remain a significant source of US power generation for decades, although its market share looks likely to decline — for environmental reasons. The renewable energy story is important, and while it is changing the way utilities do business, wind and solar are only beginning to compete with fossil fuels on price. In most cases, their competitiveness is a result of tax incentives often referred to as subsidies. Also, the intermittent nature of these resources is a technical challenge that must be overcome in order to efficiently integrate large volumes of wind and solar energy into the power grid during times of peak demand. Creative financing and technological advances – particularly in energy storage – will help renewable electricity sources compete over time, but coal and natural gas will remain significant components of the US power generation mix for the foreseeable future.

At the international level, the issue of burning coal to generate power is far more complex. It is cheap and represents a comparatively cost-effective way to electrify large portions of the global population that currently have no access to power. Indeed, nine countries are collectively about to build roughly 550 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity over the next two and a half decades.


And Then, Climate Change

In many ways, reducing emissions from coal-fired power generation is the key to dealing with climate change. China has been acting to address coal plant emissions due to its dangerous air pollution levels, which is an important piece of the climate change puzzle.

This poses a great conundrum for China. The Communist Party’s leaders are trying to forge a China united between rural and urban areas and that requires huge and fast economic development — much of it dependent on the use of cheap and readily available coal. Weaning themselves off of coal may be promising in terms of reducing emissions, but Cordesman says they are unlikely to be able to accept the economic tradeoffs.

For the same reasons, many other developing countries including India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are increasing their coal-fired power generation fleets.

Some think the ship has already sailed on preventing the impacts of climate change and now focus on adapting to extreme weather and other consequences as opposed to mitigating emissions such that they limit global temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius.

Optimists remain however, and international agreements are not the only thing to focus on when thinking about what the world is doing to address the issue. “At every level—individuals, families, cities, states, provinces, even multinational corporations—efforts to cut CO2 are underway,” David Biello, associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American, wrote in a recent post. He goes on to point out, “these are first steps and they are coming at a quickening pace, which suggest a possible future free of catastrophic climate change. More and faster should be the new slogan for action to address global warming. How much more and how much faster should be the only issue for negotiation.”



Rethinking The Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent

By Robert Spalding and Adam Lowther

on December 29, 2014 at 2:54 PM


The United States Air Force needs to replace the Minuteman III ICBM fleet at the three nuclear missile bases in Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. Critics decry the cost of a proposed replacement, thought to be in the range of several hundred billion dollars. Their main argument against replacing ICBMs is not the cost of replacing the Minuteman III. The critics say we just don’t need them. They are, they say, a “Cold War relic.”

The fact that nuclear peer Russia and near-peer China are modernizing their ICBM forces is often lost on those critics. While the reasons why are debatable, Russia’s recent aggression on a variety of fronts has left many Russia apologists dumbfounded. Russia isn’t just modernizing its ICBMs. At a frequency unprecedented since the Cold War, Russian nuclear-capable bombers are penetrating the American Air Defense Identification Zone’s (ADIZ) in both the continental United States and around Guam. Russia, unlike the US, is investing heavily to modernize their nuclear triad — delivery vehicles and weapons. The Russians seem intent on relying on their nuclear force to counter American conventional military superiority.

China likewise is improving its nuclear forces. The DF-41— a multiple reentry vehicle ICBM — was recently tested successfully. They are also working on improving their nuclear submarine capability, placing new submarine-launched ballistic missiles on Jin class nuclear submarines. To deter such capabilities America requires a secure and reliable nuclear deterrent for decades to come.


Why ICBMs?

The fact that the basics of the ICBM mission have not changed much since these systems were first fielded may explain why some believe they are outdated. Before we commit to deactivating this weapon system, it is important to consider some of its benefits.

First, ICBMs provide an excellent deterrent to nuclear attack on the homeland. The 400-plus Minuteman III silos spread across the American West are invulnerable to all but massive nuclear missile attacks. Thus, their existence sets a high threshold for attacking the United States, either conventionally or with nuclear weapons. Without ICBMs, our strategic nuclear targets shrink from 503 to six, which could all be destroyed with conventional strikes. Only ICBMs require a nuclear strike.

Second, ICBMs cost less than the other two parts of the nuclear triad. While a Minuteman III weapon system replacement will come at a cost; it is likely to prove operationally cost effective over the long term. It is important to remember that ICBMs are used every single day to deter our adversaries.

Building new ICBMs provides the US an opportunity to consider deploying ICBMs in new and creative ways to deter a broader range of future threats. Instead of just procuring a new nuclear-capable ICBM, a common launch vehicle capable of carrying multiple modules might prove a good option.


A New Ground Based Strategic Deterrent

Some non-traditional missions a common launch vehicle might provide include:

◾a capability for providing time critical space assets like sensors, navigation, or communications satellites in response to a contingency;

◾traditional missions like: ballistic missile defense; anti-satellite strikes;

◾and prompt conventional strike.


The benefit of such a system would be the ability to replace the top of a missile with a different payload in order to carry out a different mission. At the same time, nuclear deterrence could be preserved.

Traditional nuclear deterrence works by creating the fear of a massive retaliatory response in the minds of a potential adversary. What if ICBMs could also demonstrate that an adversary’s objectives are beyond reach? Some have speculated that terrorists may not be deterrable using nuclear weapons, and thus the ICBM force is irrelevant against these threats.

In the future, a state or terror group may elect to detonate a nuclear weapon in the upper atmosphere creating an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP). It would not cause direct casualties but it would cause major disruptions to financial and communication systems worldwide. If the US can demonstrate the ability to rapidly restore these systems in the wake of an EMP attack, the incentive to launch such an attack may be diminished.


A prompt conventional strike capability (usually known as Prompt Global Strike — PGS) would also fill a niche role so the US could strike a fleeting terrorist target or rogue regime. Given its cost, only a small number of such weapons would be feasible and useful. They could not effectively replace nuclear ICBMs.

The concern that a nuclear-armed opponent might mistake a launch as a pre-emptive nuclear attack is used against ICBMs providing the PGS capability. However, with today’s improved communications and space situational awareness capabilities the US can offer effective advance notification and assurances to Russia and China, reducing the risks raised by detractors.



While the options for a Minuteman III replacement are still open, what is not debatable is the fact that Russia and China both see ICBMs as critical to their own security. It is now time for the United States to do likewise. When it comes to nuclear deterrence, symmetry of weapons plays an important role in stability. We should not forget that.


Col. Robert S. Spalding III is a B-2 pilot and former military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Adam Lowther is a professor at the Air Force Research Institute at Maxwell Air Force Base. He specializes in the study of nuclear weapons policy. He was deeply involved in the Commander Directed Investigation about cheating and drug use among missileers at Malmstrom Air Base.



Afghanistan War officially ends

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff Writer 11:32 a.m. EST December 30, 2014


Operation Enduring Freedom, the worldwide combat mission launched shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that eventually became synonymous with the 13-year war in Afghanistan, officially ended Sunday.

The mission that took the lives of 2,356 U.S. service members was punctuated with a ceremony with military officials in Kabul and a statement from President Obama lauding the efforts of those involved.

“On this day we give thanks to our troops and intelligence personnel who have been relentless against the terrorists responsible for 9/11 — devastating the core al Qaeda leadership, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives. We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service,” Obama said in the written statement.

Up to 10,800 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan in 2015 and the mission will be renamed “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.” Military officials say that will be a narrowly defined two-prong mission: advising the Afghan army and continuing to mount counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and other insurgents who may pose a threat to the U.S. or Afghan governments.

Obama’s current strategy calls for reducing the U.S. force level to about 5,000 in 2016 until a complete end of the military mission there before he leaves the White House in 2017.


The early years of OEF encompassed missions around the world. Many U.S. troops supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003 were technically deployed under OEF orders. And it also included counterterrorism operations in Southeast Asia, North Africa and elsewhere.

For years, the war operations in Afghanistan were comparatively small. U.S. troop levels there remained below 30,000 until 2008, when the Taliban insurgency began gaining ground and threatening the American-backed government. U.S. troop levels peaked at around 100,000 in 2010.

Pessimism about the military mission in Afghanistan has grown during the past several years.

According to a Military Times reader survey, the percentage of active-duty service members who say the U.S. ultimately is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to succeed in Afghanistan has dropped from 76 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014.

A similar trend is reported among civilians. While the mission was overwhelmingly popular when it began in October 2001, a Gallup Poll in 2014 showed that about half of Americans believe sending troops to Afghanistan was a mistake.


U.S. drone rules remain in the hangar in 2014

by Press • 1 January 2015



(Reuters) – The United States missed a year-end deadline for publishing new rules on remote-control aircraft, delaying an eagerly awaited step toward using drones in everything from farming to package delivery.

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 Federal Aviation Administration 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.

But the White House Office of Management and Budget had not releases the draft by Wednesday. The office has 90 days to review proposed regulations, during which time analysts craft a cost-benefit analysis and meet with affected parties. The time frame often is extended.

Once published, the draft proposal will be subject to public comment, and it is likely to take at least a year to come into effect, according to legal and policy experts.

“We are continuing to work with our administration colleagues to finish the rule,” the FAA said on Wednesday. “Our goal is to get the proposal right.”

The rules deal with difficult issues such as potential licensing of drone pilots and aircraft and flight safety, according to industry sources.

They also must address the explosive growth of casual fliers with little knowledge of safety guidelines used by model-aircraft enthusiasts, industry experts say. The proliferation of inexpensive drones has led to more dangerous close calls with jetliners and crowds, the FAA says.

The rules also may deal with the ability of state and local authorities to regulate drones. The FAA controls the U.S. airspace, but numerous states and cities have also passed drone laws. The FAA may include a “pre-emption clause” in the draft rules to assert its precedence over other laws.

“The FAA does not want a patchwork of regulations that deal with operation of model aircraft,” said Mark Dombroff, a partner at the law firm of McKenna Long & Aldridge in McLean, Virginia.

Dombroff led a group including Textron Inc, Rockwell Collins Inc and the Motion Picture Association of America that recently met with the FAA to press for pre-emption. While that probably won’t be in the first draft, it likely will emerge through public comments, he said


DoD braces for political battle over military pay

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff Writer 4:36 p.m. EST December 30, 2014


The Pentagon is bracing for one of its biggest political battles in years as a blue-ribbon commission on military compensation and retirement nears the end of its two-year study and moves closer to releasing its proposals for change by Feb. 1.

An internal document obtained by Military Times reveals the Defense Department is setting up a rapid-response plan that will scrutinize the commission’s potentially controversial proposals and send a recommendation to President Obama within 60 days, or by April 1.

DoD leaders have no idea what the independent commission will propose to Congress, so they have tapped a team of high-level officials to review, analyze and prepare a formal response to influence a potentially historic vote on Capitol Hill.

The stakes are high; the commission’s report is likely to set off a far-reaching debate about the future of the military compensation system, with a basic structure that has changed little over the past century.

In some ways, the Pentagon is eager to support big changes that might cut personnel costs and reduce long-term defense spending and save money for investments in research and new weapons systems.

At the same time, military officials worry that sweeping changes to military compensation — such as radically changing the current retirement system — could devastate recruiting and retention and threaten the long-term health of the 41-year-old all-volunteer force.

The report from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission will include detailed legislation that members of Congress may immediately begin debating, revising or potentially putting to a vote.

The commission’s recommendations likely will include contentious proposals, such as replacing the military’s 20-year cliff-vesting retirement model, creating new incentive pays or eliminating some in-kind benefits that service members receive in the form of installation-based services.

As the Pentagon and the White House begin facing pointed questions about how the proposals might impact readiness, defense officials will launch an intensive internal review that ultimately will inform Obama’s official position.


From Feb. 2. Through Feb. 6, several Pentagon “working groups,” as well as a team from the RAND Corp, think tank, immediately will begin to analyze the proposals, according to the internal DoD document.

Separate “working groups” will study topics that include “pay and retirement,” “health benefits” and “quality of life benefits,” according to the four-page PowerPoint, dated Dec. 18.


The working groups will mostly include officers at the O-6 level from each service and civilians at a similar pay grade.

Specifically, the analysis will focus on the potential impact on recruiting and retention and will aim to “develop the DoD response for Presidential consideration,” according to the document.


From Feb. 9 to 13, the working groups will convene at an “off-site location” for further analysis.


From Feb. 17 to 19, members of the working groups will brief their services’ senior leaders on the status of the Pentagon’s official response.


By Feb. 26, senior leaders, including the undersecretary for personnel and readiness, will receive a draft of the formal response.


By March 6, the Joint Chiefs will vet DoD’s official position on the commission recommendations. At the same time, Pentagon civilian leaders will reviewing it in a process led by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work.


By March 13, the defense secretary will approve or reject a final version of the Pentagon’s response. It’s unclear at this point if that will be outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel or his successor, Ash Carter, who is likely to be confirmed by the Senate in early 2015.


From there the official response will go to the White House, where it will face further review.

The DoD plan aims to have Obama provide formal recommendations to Congress by April 1.



Biological ‘Bad Luck’ Blamed In Two-Thirds Of Cancer Cases

Posted: 01/01/2015 2:00 pm EST Updated: 2 hours ago

By Will Dunham


WASHINGTON, Jan 1 (Reuters) – Plain old bad luck plays a major role in determining who gets cancer and who does not, according to researchers who found that two-thirds of cancer incidence of various types can be blamed on random mutations and not heredity or risky habits like smoking.

The researchers said on Thursday random DNA mutations accumulating in various parts of the body during ordinary cell division are the prime culprits behind many cancer types.

They looked at 31 cancer types and found that 22 of them, including leukemia and pancreatic, bone, testicular, ovarian and brain cancer, could be explained largely by these random mutations – essentially biological bad luck.

The other nine types, including colorectal cancer, skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma and smoking-related lung cancer, were more heavily influenced by heredity and environmental factors like risky behavior or exposure to carcinogens.

Overall, they attributed 65 percent of cancer incidence to random mutations in genes that can drive cancer growth.

“When someone gets cancer, immediately people want to know why,” said oncologist Dr. Bert Vogelstein of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, who conducted the study published in the journal Science with Johns Hopkins biomathematician Cristian Tomasetti.

“They like to believe there’s a reason. And the real reason in many cases is not because you didn’t behave well or were exposed to some bad environmental influence, it’s just because that person was unlucky. It’s losing the lottery.”

Tomasetti said harmful mutations occur for “no particular reason other than randomness” as the body’s master cells, called stem cells, divide in various tissues.

Tomasetti said the study indicates that changing one’s lifestyle and habits like smoking to avoid cancer risks may help prevent certain cancers, but may not be as effective for others.

“Thus, we should focus more research and resources on finding ways to detect such cancers at early, curable stages,” Tomasetti added.

The researchers charted the cumulative number of lifetime divisions in the stem cells of a given tissue – for example, lungs or colon – and compared that to the lifetime cancer risk in that tissue.

Generally speaking, tissues that undergo more divisions – thus increasing the probability of random mutations – were more prone to tumors.

The study did not cover all cancer types. Breast and prostate cancer were excluded because the researchers were unable to ascertain reliable stem cell division rates. (Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)


The reason oil could drop as low as $20 per barrel

By Anatole Kaletsky

Tue Dec 30, 2014 2:40pm EST


(Reuters) – How low can it go — and how long will it last? The 50 percent slump in oil prices raises both those questions and while nobody can confidently answer the first question (I will try to in a moment), the second is pretty easy.

Low oil prices will last long enough for one of two events to happen. The first possibility, the one most traders and analysts seem to expect, is that Saudi Arabia will re-establish OPEC’s monopoly power once it achieves the true geopolitical or economic objectives that spurred it to trigger the slump. The second possibility, one I wrote about two weeks ago, is that the global oil market will move toward normal competitive conditions in which prices are set by the marginal production costs, rather than Saudi or OPEC monopoly power. This may seem like a far-fetched scenario, but it is more or less how the oil market worked for two decades from 1986 to 2004.

Whichever outcome finally puts a floor under prices, we can be confident that the process will take a long time to unfold. It is inconceivable that just a few months of falling prices will be enough time for the Saudis to either break the Iranian-Russian axis or reverse the growth of shale oil production in the United States. It is equally inconceivable that the oil market could quickly transition from OPEC domination to a normal competitive one. The many bullish oil investors who still expect prices to rebound quickly to their pre-slump trading range are likely to be disappointed. The best that oil bulls can hope for is that a new, and substantially lower, trading range may be established as the multi-year battles over Middle East dominance and oil-market share play out.

The key question is whether the present price of around $55 (35 pounds) will prove closer to the floor or the ceiling of this new range. The history of inflation-adjusted oil prices, deflated by the U.S. Consumer Price Index, offers some intriguing hints. The 40 years since OPEC first flexed its muscles in 1974 can be divided into three distinct periods. From 1974 to 1985, West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, fluctuated between $48 and $120 in today’s money. From 1986 to 2004, the price ranged from $21 to $48 (apart from two brief aberrations during the 1998 Russian crisis and the 1991 war in Iraq). And from 2005 until this year, oil has again traded in its 1974 to 1985 range of roughly $50 to $120, apart from two very brief spikes in the 2008-09 financial crisis.

What makes these three periods significant is that the trading range of the past 10 years was very similar to the 1974-85 first decade of OPEC domination, but the 19 years from 1986 to 2004 represented a totally different regime. It seems plausible that the difference between these two regimes can be explained by the breakdown of OPEC power in 1985 and the shift from monopolistic to competitive pricing for the next 20 years, followed by the restoration of monopoly pricing in 2005 as OPEC took advantage of surging Chinese demand.

In view of this history, the demarcation line between the monopolistic and competitive regimes at a little below $50 a barrel seems a reasonable estimate of where one boundary of the new long-term trading range might end up. But will $50 be a floor or a ceiling for the oil price in the years ahead?

There are several reasons to expect a new trading range as low as $20 to $50, as in the period from 1986 to 2004. Technological and environmental pressures are reducing long-term oil demand and threatening to turn much of the high-cost oil outside the Middle East into a “stranded asset” similar to the earth’s vast unwanted coal reserves. Additional pressures for low oil prices in the long term include the possible lifting of sanctions on Iran and Russia and the ending of civil wars in Iraq and Libya, which between them would release additional oil reserves bigger than Saudi Arabia’s on to the world markets.

The U.S. shale revolution is perhaps the strongest argument for a return to competitive pricing instead of the OPEC-dominated monopoly regimes of 1974-85 and 2005-14. Although shale oil is relatively costly, production can be turned on and off much more easily – and cheaply – than from conventional oilfields. This means that shale prospectors should now be the “swing producers” in global oil markets instead of the Saudis. In a truly competitive market, the Saudis and other low-cost producers would always be pumping at maximum output, while shale shuts off when demand is weak and ramps up when demand is strong. This competitive logic suggests that marginal costs of U.S. shale oil, generally estimated at $40 to $50, should in the future be a ceiling for global oil prices, not a floor.

On the other hand, there are also good arguments for OPEC-monopoly pricing of $50 to $120 to be re-established once markets test the bottom of this range. OPEC members have a strong interest in preventing a return to competitive pricing and could learn to function again as an effective cartel. Although price-fixing becomes more difficult as U.S. producers increase market share, OPEC could try to impose pricing “discipline” if it can knock out many U.S. shale producers next year. The macro-economic impact of low oil prices on global growth could help this effort by boosting economic activity and energy demand.

So which of these arguments will prove right: The bearish case for a $20 to $50 trading-range based on competitive market pricing? Or the bullish one for $50 to $120 based on resumed OPEC dominance?

Ask me again once the price of oil has fallen to $50 – and stayed there for a year or so.


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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Happy New Year?

Signs suggest the U.S. economy is finally gaining some traction after 2008’s Wall Street meltdown and the bursting of the housing bubble. Consumer and investor confidence steadily climbed during the month of December to levels close to their highs for the year.   

Nearly 40% think now is a good time to sell a home in the area where they live. A year ago, just 29% felt that way.

Americans ended 2014 on a much more positive note psychologically than they did the previous year and are more optimistic about the year ahead.

Quite simply, Americans are in a better mood these days.

Still, just 30% of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction. But this is the first time this weekly finding has crept out of the 20s in several months.

It’s not uncommon, though, for Americans to be more upbeat coming off the Christmas season and going into a new year, so it will be worth watching to see whether optimism continues to grow in Rasmussen Reports’ key economic and social indicators or whether they fall back into the trough they’ve been in for the past couple years.

President Obama also may be benefiting from the public’s improving attitude. His daily job approval ratings have inched up since the blowback his party got on Election Day.

The president ended the year with a monthly job approval in December of 48%. That’s up a point from the previous three months but is one point shy of his high for the year of 49% in February and May. Obama’s monthly approval hit a two-year low of 45% in November 2013 during the troubled rollout of the new national health care law.

But when it comes to his handling of the economy, the president has yet to get any additional credit from voters.

Obama officially ended the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan last Sunday, but most voters support his decision to keep several thousand troops there until 2016 for training and counterterrorism purposes.

President George W. Bush launched the war in Afghanistan to end that country’s harboring of al Qaeda terrorists training against the United States, but over 13 years later as America’s longest running war comes to a close, few Americans believe that goal has been reached.

Election 2016 is nearly two years away, but we can expect the presidential race to begin really taking shape as this year progresses. Much has been made of late of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s plans to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

GOP voters aren’t enthusiastic about another Bush running for president and feel even more strongly that his family’s history in the White House makes him a less attractive candidate to vote for.

Most Republicans think their party should come up with a fresh face for the next presidential election.

In other surveys last week:

— Voters end the year with little personal experience with the health insurance exchanges established under the new health care law.

— Republicans and Democrats are tied on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

— A sizable number of Americans plan on making some life changes this year and are more hopeful than they were a year ago that they’ll stick to these New Year’s resolutions.

The U.S. Postal Service was the deliverer of choice for more Americans this holiday season.

— Americans told us they planned to welcome the new year with a kiss and a drink.

December 20 2014


20 December 2014


Also on a blog at


Isis: the inside story

The Guardian

Martin Chulov

Thursday 11 December 2014 01.00 EST


In the summer of 2004, a young jihadist in shackles and chains was walked by his captors slowly into the Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq. He was nervous as two American soldiers led him through three brightly-lit buildings and then a maze of wire corridors, into an open yard, where men with middle-distance stares, wearing brightly-coloured prison uniforms, stood back warily, watching him.

“I knew some of them straight away,” he told me last month. “I had feared Bucca all the way down on the plane. But when I got there, it was much better than I thought. In every way.”

The jihadist, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed, entered Camp Bucca as a young man a decade ago, and is now a senior official within Islamic State (Isis) – having risen through its ranks with many of the men who served time alongside him in prison. Like him, the other detainees had been snatched by US soldiers from Iraq’s towns and cities and flown to a place that had already become infamous: a foreboding desert fortress that would shape the legacy of the US presence in Iraq.

The other prisoners did not take long to warm to him, Abu Ahmed recalled. They had also been terrified of Bucca, but quickly realised that far from their worst fears, the US-run prison provided an extraordinary opportunity. “We could never have all got together like this in Baghdad, or anywhere else,” he told me. “It would have been impossibly dangerous. Here, we were not only safe, but we were only a few hundred metres away from the entire al-Qaida leadership.”

It was at Camp Bucca that Abu Ahmed first met Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of Isis who is now frequently described as the world’s most dangerous terrorist leader. From the beginning, Abu Ahmed said, others in the camp seemed to defer to him. “Even then, he was Abu Bakr. But none of us knew he would ever end up as leader.”

Abu Ahmed was an essential member of the earliest incarnation of the group. He had been galvanised into militancy as a young man by an American occupation that he and many like him believed was trying to impose a power shift in Iraq, favouring the country’s larger Shia population at the expense of the dominant Sunnis. His early role in what would become Isis led naturally to the senior position he now occupies within a revitalised insurgency that has spilled across the border into Syria. Most of his colleagues regard the crumbling order in the region as a fulfilment of their ambitions in Iraq – which had remained unfinished business, until the war in Syria gave them a new arena.


He agreed to speak publicly after more than two years of discussions, over the course of which he revealed his own past as one of Iraq’s most formidable and connected militants – and shared his deepening worry about Isis and its vision for the region. With Iraq and Syria ablaze, and the Middle East apparently condemned to another generation of upheaval and bloodshed at the hands of his fellow ideologues, Abu Ahmed is having second thoughts. The brutality of Isis is increasingly at odds with his own views, which have mellowed with age as he has come to believe that the teachings of the Qur’an can be interpreted and not read literally.

His misgivings about what the Islamic State has become led him to speak to the Guardian in a series of expansive conversations, which offer unique insight into its enigmatic leader and the nascent days of the terror group – stretching from 2004, when he met Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Camp Bucca, to 2011, when the Iraqi insurgency crossed the border into Syria.

At the beginning, back in Bucca, the prisoner who would become the most wanted man in the world had already set himself apart from the other inmates, who saw him as aloof and opaque. But, Abu Ahmed recalled, the jailers had a very different impression of Baghdadi – they saw him as a conciliatory and calming influence in an environment short on certainty, and turned to him to help resolve conflicts among the inmates. “That was part of his act,” Abu Ahmed told me. “I got a feeling from him that he was hiding something inside, a darkness that he did not want to show other people. He was the opposite of other princes who were far easier to deal with. He was remote, far from us all.”

* * *

Baghdadi was born Ibrahim ibn Awwad al-Badri al-Samarrai in 1971, in the Iraqi city of Samarra. He was detained by US forces in Falluja, west of Baghdad, in February 2004, months after he had helped found a militant group, Jeish Ahl al-Sunnah al-Jamaah, which had taken root in the restive Sunni communities around his home city.

“He was caught at his friend’s house,” said Dr Hisham al-Hashimi, an analyst who advises the Iraqi government on Isis. “His friend’s name was Nasif Jasim Nasif. Then he was moved to Bucca. The Americans never knew who they had.” Most of Baghdadi’s fellow prisoners – some 24,000 men, divided into 24 camps – seem to have been equally unaware. The prison was run along strictly hierarchical lines, down to a Teletubbies-like uniform colour scheme which allowed jailers and captives alike to recognise each detainee’s place in the pecking order. “The colour of the clothes we wore reflected our status,” said Abu Ahmed. “If I remember things correctly, red was for people who had done things wrong while in prison, white was a prison chief, green was for a long sentence and yellow and orange were normal.”

When Baghdadi, aged 33, arrived at Bucca, the Sunni-led anti-US insurgency was gathering steam across central and western Iraq. An invasion that had been sold as a war of liberation had become a grinding occupation. Iraq’s Sunnis, disenfranchised by the overthrow of their patron, Saddam Hussein, were taking the fight to US forces – and starting to turn their guns towards the beneficiaries of Hussein’s overthrow, the country’s majority Shia population.


Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis.

The small militant group that Baghdadi headed was one of dozens that sprouted from a broad Sunni revolt – many of which would soon come together under the flag of al-Qaida in Iraq, and then the Islamic State of Iraq. These were the precursors to the juggernaut now known simply as the Islamic State, which has, under Bagdhadi’s command, overrun much of the west and centre of the country and eastern Syria, and drawn the US military back to a deeply destabilised region less than three years after it left vowing never to return.


But at the time of his stay at Bucca, Baghdadi’s group was little-known, and he was a far less significant figure than the insurgency’s notional leader, the merciless Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who came to represent the sum of all fears for many in Iraq, Europe and the US. Baghdadi, however, had a unique way to distinguish himself from the other aspiring leaders inside Bucca and outside on Iraq’s savage streets: a pedigree that allowed him to claim direct lineage to the Prophet Muhammad. He had also obtained a PhD in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad, and would draw on both to legitimise his unprecedented claim to anoint himself caliph of the Islamic world in July 2014, which realised a sense of destiny evident in the prison yard a decade earlier.

“Baghdadi was a quiet person,” said Abu Ahmed. “He has a charisma. You could feel that he was someone important. But there were others who were more important. I honestly did not think he would get this far.”

Baghdadi also seemed to have a way with his captors. According to Abu Ahmed, and two other men who were jailed at Bucca in 2004, the Americans saw him as a fixer who could solve fractious disputes between competing factions and keep the camp quiet.

“But as time went on, every time there was a problem in the camp, he was at the centre of it,” Abu Ahmed recalled. “He wanted to be the head of the prison – and when I look back now, he was using a policy of conquer and divide to get what he wanted, which was status. And it worked.” By December 2004, Baghdadi was deemed by his jailers to pose no further risk and his release was authorised.

“He was respected very much by the US army,” Abu Ahmed said. “If he wanted to visit people in another camp he could, but we couldn’t. And all the while, a new strategy, which he was leading, was rising under their noses, and that was to build the Islamic State. If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now. Bucca was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.”

As Isis has rampaged through the region, it has been led by men who spent time in US detention centres during the American occupation of Iraq – in addition to Bucca, the US also ran Camp Cropper, near Baghdad airport, and, for an ill-fated 18 months early in the war, Abu Ghraib prison on the capital’s western outskirts. Many of those released from these prisons – and indeed, several senior American officers who ran detention operations – have admitted that the prisons had an incendiary effect on the insurgency.

“I went to plenty of meetings where guys would come through and tell us how well it was all going,” said Ali Khedery, a special aide to all US ambassadors who served in Iraq from 2003-11, and to three US military commanders. But eventually even top American officers came to believe they had “actually become radicalising elements. They were counterproductive in many ways. They were being used to plan and organise, to appoint leaders and launch operations.”

We wrote each other’s details on the elastic of our boxer shorts. When we got out, we called each other Abu Ahmed agreed. “In prison, all of the princes were meeting regularly. We became very close to those we were jailed with. We knew their capabilities. We knew what they could and couldn’t do, how to use them for whatever reason. The most important people in Bucca were those who had been close to Zarqawi. He was recognised in 2004 as being the leader of the jihad.

“We had so much time to sit and plan,” he continued. “It was the perfect environment. We all agreed to get together when we got out. The way to reconnect was easy. We wrote each other’s details on the elastic of our boxer shorts. When we got out, we called. Everyone who was important to me was written on white elastic. I had their phone numbers, their villages. By 2009, many of us were back doing what we did before we were caught. But this time we were doing it better.”

According to Hisham al-Hashimi, the Baghdad-based analyst, the Iraqi government estimates that 17 of the 25 most important Islamic State leaders running the war in Iraq and Syria spent time in US prisons between 2004 and 2011. Some were transferred from American custody to Iraqi prisons, where a series of jailbreaks in the last several years allowed many senior leaders to escape and rejoin the insurgent ranks.

Abu Ghraib was the scene of the biggest – and most damaging – breakout in 2013, with up to 500 inmates, many of them senior jihadists handed over by the departing US military, fleeing in July of that year after the prison was stormed by Islamic State forces, who launched a simultaneous, and equally successful, raid on nearby Taji prison.

Iraq’s government closed Abu Ghraib in April 2014 and it now stands empty, 15 miles from Baghdad’s western outskirts, near the frontline between Isis and Iraq’s security forces, who seem perennially under-prepared as they stare into the heat haze shimmering over the highway that leads towards the badlands of Falluja and Ramadi.

Parts of both cities have become a no-go zone for Iraq’s beleaguered troops, who have been battered and humiliated by Isis, a group of marauders unparalleled in Mesopotamia since the time of the Mongols. When I visited the abandoned prison late this summer, a group of disinterested Iraqi forces sat at a checkpoint on the main road to Baghdad, eating watermelon as the distant rumble of shellfire sounded in the distance. The imposing walls of Abu Ghraib were behind them, and their jihadist enemies were staked out further down the road.

The revelation of abuses at Abu Ghraib had a radicalising effect on many Iraqis, who saw the purported civility of American occupation as little improvement on the tyranny of Saddam. While Bucca had few abuse complaints prior to its closure in 2009, it was seen by Iraqis as a potent symbol of an unjust policy, which swept up husbands, fathers, and sons – some of them non-combatants – in regular neighbourhood raids, and sent them away to prison for months or years.

At the time, the US military countered that its detention operations were valid, and that similar practices had been deployed by other forces against insurgencies – such as the British in Northern Ireland, the Israelis in Gaza and the West Bank, and the Syrian and Egyptian regimes.

Even now, five years after the US closed down Bucca, the Pentagon defends the camp as an example of lawful policy for a turbulent time. “During operations in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, US Forces held thousands of Law of War detainees,” said Lt Col Myles B Caggins III, a US Department of Defense spokesman for detainee policy. “These type of detentions are common practice during armed conflict. Detaining potentially dangerous people is the legal and humane method of providing security and stability for civilian populations.”

* * *

Some time after Baghdadi was released from Bucca, Abu Ahmed was also freed. After being flown to Baghdad airport, he was picked up by men he had met in Bucca. They took him to a home in the west of the capital, where he immediately rejoined the jihad, which had transformed from a fight against an occupying army into a vicious and unrestrained war against Iraqi Shia.

Death squads were by then roaming Baghdad and much of central Iraq, killing members of opposite sects with routine savagery and exiling residents from neighbourhoods they dominated. The capital had quickly become a very different place to the city Abu Ahmed had left a year earlier. But with the help of new arrivals at Bucca, those inside the prison had been able to monitor every new development in the unfolding sectarian war. Abu Ahmed knew the environment he was returning to. And his camp commanders had plans for him.

The first thing he did when he was safe in west Baghdad was to undress, then carefully take a pair of scissors to his underwear. “I cut the fabric from my boxers and all the numbers were there. We reconnected. And we got to work.” Across Iraq, other ex-inmates were doing the same. “It really was that simple,” Abu Ahmed said, smiling for the first time in our conversation as he recalled how his captors had been outwitted. “Boxers helped us win the war.”


Zarqawi wanted a 9/11 moment to escalate the conflict – something that would take the fight to the heart of the enemy, Abu Ahmed recalled. In Iraq, that meant one of two targets – a seat of Shia power or, even better, a defining religious symbol. In February 2006, and again two months later, Zarqawi’s bombers destroyed the Imam al-Askari shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad. The sectarian war was fully ignited and Zarqawi’s ambitions realised.

Asked about the merits of this violent provocation, Abu Ahmed paused for the first time in our many conversations. “There was a reason for opening this war,” he said. “It was not because they are Shia, but because the Shia were pushing for it. The American army was facilitating the takeover of Iraq and giving the country to them. They were in cooperation with each other.”

He then reflected on the man who gave the orders. “Zarqawi was very smart. He was the best strategist that the Islamic State has had. Abu Omar [al-Baghdadi] was ruthless,” Abu Ahmed said, referring to Zarqawi’s successor, who was killed in a US-led raid in April 2010. “And Abu Bakr is the most bloodthirsty of all.

“After Zarqawi was killed, the people who liked killing even more than him became very important in the organisation. Their understanding of sharia and of humanity was very cheap. They don’t understand the Tawheed (the Qur’anic concept of God’s oneness) the way it was meant to be understood. The Tawheed should not have been forced by war.”

Despite reservations that were already starting to stir, by 2006, Abu Ahmed had become part of a killing machine that would operate at full speed for much of the following two years. Millions of citizens were displaced, neighbourhoods were cleansed along sectarian lines, and an entire population numbed by unchecked brutality.

That summer, the US finally caught up with Zarqawi, with the help of Jordanian intelligence, killing him in an airstrike north of Baghdad. From late 2006, the organisation was on the back foot – hampered by a tribal revolt that uprooted its leadership from Anbar and shrank its presence elsewhere in Iraq. But according to Abu Ahmed, the group used the opportunity to evolve, revealing a pragmatism in addition to its hardline ideology. For Isis, the relatively quiet years between 2008 and 2011 represented a lull, not a defeat.

By this time, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had risen steadily through the group to become a trusted aide to its leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, and his deputy, the Egyptian jihadist Abu Ayub al-Masri. It was at this point, Abu Ahmed said, that Isis made an approach to the Ba’athist remnants of the old regime – ideological opponents who shared a common enemy in the US and the Shia-led government it backed.

Earlier incarnations of Isis had dabbled with the Ba’athists, who lost everything when Saddam was ousted, under the same premise that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. But by early 2008, Abu Ahmed and other sources said, these meetings had become far more frequent – and many of them were taking place in Syria.

Syria’s links to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq had been regularly raised by US officials in Baghdad and by the Iraqi government. Both were convinced that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, allowed jihadists to fly into Damascus airport, where military officials would escort them to the border with Iraq. “All the foreigners I knew got into Iraq that way,” Abu Ahmed told me. “It was no secret.”

* * *

From 2008, when the US began to negotiate the transition of its powers to Iraq’s feeble security institutions – and therefore pave the way to its own exit – the Americans increasingly turned to only a few trusted figures in the Iraqi government. One of them was Major General Hussein Ali Kamal, the director of intelligence in the country’s Interior Ministry. A secular Kurd who had the trust of the Shia establishment, one of Kamal’s many duties was to secure Baghdad against terror attacks.


Like the Americans, General Kamal was convinced that Syria was destabilising Iraq, an assessment based on the interrogations of jihadists who had been captured by his troops. Throughout 2009, in a series of interviews, Kamal laid out his evidence, using maps that plotted the routes used by jihadists to cross the border into western Iraq, and confessions that linked their journeys to specific mid-ranking officers in Syrian military intelligence.

Seventeen of the 25 most important Islamic State leaders now running the war in Iraq and Syria spent time in US prisons

As Isis activity ebbed in Iraq, he had become increasingly obsessed with two meetings that had taken place in Syria early in 2009, which brought together Iraqi jihadists, Syrian officials and Ba’athists from both countries. (Kamal, who was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2012, died earlier this year, and authorised me to publish details of our conversations. “Just tell the truth,” he said during our last interview in June 2014.)

When I first met him in 2009, he was poring over transcripts of recordings that had been made at two secret meetings in Zabadani, near Damascus, in the spring of that year. The attendees included senior Iraqi Ba’athists who had taken refuge in Damascus since their patron Saddam was ousted, Syrian military intelligence officers, and senior figures in what was then known as al-Qaida in Iraq. The Syrians had developed links to the jihadists since the earliest days of the anti-US insurgency and had used them to unsettle the Americans and their plans for Iraq.

“By early in 2004/05, Islamic elements, jihadists and disenfranchised Ba’athists were starting to get together,” said Ali Khedery, the former adviser to American ambassadors and senior commanders in Bagdhad. “They were naturally disciplined, well organised people who knew the lay of the land. And over time, some folks who were Ba’athists became more and more Islamist and the insurgency raged. By 2007, General [David] Petraeus was saying there was crystal clear intelligence of cooperation between Syrian military intelligence and the jihadists. Though the motivations never really aligned 100%.”

In our conversations, Abu Ahmed emphasised the Syrian connection to Iraq’s insurgency. “The mujahideen all came through Syria,” he said. “I worked with many of them. Those in Bucca had flown to Damascus. A very small number had made it from Turkey, or Iran. But most came to Iraq with the help of the Syrians.”

The supply line was viewed by Iraqi officials as an existential threat to Iraq’s government and was the main source of the poisonous relationship between Nouri al-Maliki, then Iraq’s prime minister, and Bashar al-Assad. Maliki had become convinced early in the civil war that Assad was trying to undermine his regime as a way to embarrass the Americans, and the evidence he saw in 2009 from the meeting in Damascus took his loathing of the Syrian leader to a whole new level.

“We had a source in the room wearing a wire,” at the meeting in Zabadani, General Kamal told me at the time. “He is the most sensitive source we have ever had. As far as we know, this is the first time there has been a strategic level meeting between all of these groups. It marks a new point in history.”

The Ba’athists present led the meeting. Their aim, according to General Kamal’s source, was to launch a series of spectacular attacks in Baghdad and thereby undermine Maliki’s Shia-majority government, which had for the first time begun to assert some order in post-civil war Iraq. Until then, al-Qaida in Iraq and the Ba’athists had been fierce ideological enemies, but the rising power of the Shias – and their backers in Iran – brought them together to plan a major strike on the capital.

By July 2009, the Interior Ministry had increased security at all checkpoints across the Tigris river into Baghdad, making a commute at any time of day even more insufferable than normal. And then General Kamal received a message from his source in Syria. The extra security at the bridges had been spotted by the attack plotters, he said. New targets were being chosen, but he didn’t know what they were, or when they would be hit. For the next two weeks, Kamal worked well into the evening in his fortified office in the southern suburb of Arasat, before being sped by armoured convoy across the July 14 Bridge – which had been a target only days earlier – to his home inside the Green Zone.

For the rest of the month, General Kamal spent several hours each scorching night sweating it out on a treadmill, hoping that the exercise would clear his head and get him ahead of the attackers. “I may be losing weight, but I’m not finding the terrorists,” he told me during our last conversation before the attackers finally struck. “I know they’re planning something big.”

On the morning of 19 August, the first of three flat-bed trucks carrying three large 1000-litre water tanks, each filled with explosives, detonated on an overpass outside the Finance Ministry in south-eastern Baghdad. The blast sent a rumble across the Emerald City, raising desert soil that caked homes brown, and sending thousands of pigeons scattering through the sky. Three minutes later, a second enormous bomb blew up outside the Foreign Ministry on the northern edge of the Green Zone. Shortly after that, a third blast hit a police convoy near the Finance Ministry. More than 101 people were killed and nearly 600 wounded; it was one of the deadliest attacks in the six-year-old Iraqi insurgency.

“I failed,” Kamal told me that day. “We all failed.” Within hours, he was summoned to meet Maliki and his security chiefs. The prime minister was livid. “He told me to present what I had to the Syrians,” Kamal later said. “We arranged with Turkey to act as a mediator and I flew to Ankara to meet with them. I took this file” – he tapped a thick white folder on his desk – “and they could not argue with what we showed them. The case was completely solid and the Syrians knew it. Ali Mamlouk [the head of Syrian general security] was there. All he did was look at me smiling and say ‘I will not recognise any official from a country that is under US occupation’. It was a waste of time.” Iraq recalled its ambassador to Damascus, and Syria ordered its envoy to Baghdad home in retaliation. Throughout the rest of the year, and into early 2010, relations between Maliki and Assad remained toxic.

In March 2010, Iraqi forces, acting on a US tip, arrested an Islamic State leader named Munaf Abdul Rahim al-Rawi, who was revealed to be one of the group’s main commanders in Baghdad, and one of the very few people who had access to the group’s then leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. Al-Rawi talked. And in a rare moment of collaboration, Iraq’s three main intelligence bodies, including General Kamal’s Intelligence Division, conspired to get a listening device and GPS location tracker in a flower box delivered to Abu Omar’s hideout.

After it was confirmed that Abu Omar and his deputy, Abu Ayub al-Masri, were present at a house six miles south-west of Tikrit, it was attacked in a US-led raid. Both men detonated suicide vests to avoid being captured. Messages to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri were found on a computer inside the house. Much like Bin Laden’s safe house in Pakistan, where he would be killed a little more than a year later, Abu Omar’s hideout had no internet connections or telephone lines – all important messages were carried in and out by only three men. One of them was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“Abu Bakr was a messenger for Abu Omar,” Abu Ahmed told me. “He became the closest aide to him. The messages that got to Osama bin Laden were sometimes drafted by him and their journey always started with him. When Abu Omar was killed, Abu Bakr was made leader. That time we all had in Bucca became very important again.”

The deaths of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri were a serious blow to Isis, but the roles they had vacated were quickly filled by the alumni of Camp Bucca – whose upper echelons had begun preparing for this moment since their time behind the wire of their jail in southern Iraq. “For us it was an academy,” Abu Ahmed said, “but for them” – the senior leaders – “it was a management school. There wasn’t a void at all, because so many people had been mentored in prison.

“When [the civil war in] Syria became serious,” he continued, “it wasn’t difficult to transfer all that expertise to a different battle zone. The Iraqis are the most important people on the military and Shura councils in Isis now, and that is because of all of those years preparing for such an event. I underestimated Baghdadi. And America underestimated the role it played in making him what he is.”

* * *

Abu Ahmed remains a member of Isis; he is active in the group’s operations in both Iraq and Syria. Throughout our discussions, he portrayed himself as a man reluctant to stay with the group, and yet unwilling to risk any attempt to leave.

Life with Isis means power, money, wives and status – all attractive lures for young firebrands with a cause – but it also means killing and dominating for a worldview in which he no longer believes so fervently. He said hundreds of young men like him, who were drawn to a Sunni jihad after the US invasion, do not believe that the latest manifestation of the decade-long war remains true to its origins.

“The biggest mistake I made is to join them,” Abu Ahmed said, but added that leaving the group would mean that he and his family would certainly be killed. Staying and enforcing the group’s brutal vision, despite partially disavowing it, does not trouble Abu Ahmed, who sees himself as having few other options.

“It’s not that I don’t believe in Jihad,” he said. “I do,” he continued, his voice trailing away. “But what options do I have? If I leave, I am dead.”

The arc of his involvement with what is now the world’s most menacing terrorist group mirrors many others who now hold senior positions in the group: first a battle against an invading army, then a score to be settled with an ancient sectarian foe, and now, a war that could be acting out an end of days prophecy.

In the world of the Bucca alumni, there is little room for revisionism, or reflection. Abu Ahmed seems to feel himself swept along by events that are now far bigger than him, or anyone else.

“There are others who are not ideologues,” he said, referring to senior Isis members close to Baghdadi. “People who started out in Bucca, like me. And then it got bigger than any of us. This can’t be stopped now. This is out of the control of any man. Not Baghdadi, or anyone else in his circle.”

Martin Chulov covers the Middle East for the Guardian. He has reported from the region since 2005. Additional reporting by Salaam Riazk



Time Frame Set for US Tech Initiative

Industry, Analysts Cautious About DoD’s Push for Commercial Products

Dec. 14, 2014 – 11:20AM | By PAUL McLEARY | Comments


WASHINGTON — The long-range research-and-development initiative recently touted by top Pentagon leadership to help counter advances being made by potential adversaries is still taking shape, but now there is at least a tentative timeline.

A team being run by Stephen Welby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for systems engineering, is leading the effort and will spend the next six months looking at proposals from the defense industry and commercial firms to determine which ideas deserve further scrutiny and, potentially, investment.

Still, some industry observers and officials caution that differences in business culture and practices will raise hurdles to this effort.

As part of a wider acquisition reform called the Defense Innovation Initiative, Welby told reporters on Dec. 3, “we recognize that all good ideas don’t originate in this building.”

During his comments, Welby introduced a new request for information (RFI) to push the project along. The RFI identifies five major subject areas in which the Pentagon is interested in identifying breakthrough technologies: space technology, undersea technology, air dominance and strike technology, air and missile defense technology, and what they call “other technology-driven concepts,” which include everything from nanotechnologies to bio systems to cyber technologies.

The Pentagon will dedicate a team to each subject area for outreach and evaluation.

“We are inviting folks for a dialogue,” he added, insisting that despite past difficulties in reaching out to commercial tech firms, the Pentagon is keen to find out “what is emerging across the private sector that might shape the future of military capabilities.”

But don’t expect contracts anytime soon. The initiative won’t field any new technologies until about 2030, at the earliest.

“We are thinking about a decade out. We’re not talking about the next opportunity, the next win,” Welby cautioned. “There are no dollars associated with this” yet.

His group’s recommendations will be sent to Frank Kendall, the building’s top weapons buyer and one of the key drivers of what has been called the “offset” initiative. If all goes well, any investments will be included in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2017 budget request.

But while the Pentagon may be eager to capitalize on commercial sector innovations in robotics, autonomy, computing and cyber capabilities, it may be difficult to attract the most creative minds in Silicon Valley to government work.

In a note to investors this month, analyst Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners wrote that most of the technologies identified by the initiative are “either driven by commercial firms or have commercial applications.”

He identified autonomy as being the most clearly commercial, singling out Google’s work with autonomous cars and its investment in robot maker Boston Dynamics this year.

“Defense-centric firms may be able to team with or even acquire some of these firms,” he wrote, “but if DoD can change its business practices, there may be more direct competition for heritage defense firms.”

Most critically, Callan wrote that if Pentagon continues to insist on owning the intellectual property of the technologies it purchases, “that could remain a powerful deterrent to commercial firms” from collaborating with the government, since higher commercial profit margins would likely keep them in the public sector as opposed to signing long-term deals with the government.

In a Dec. 8 market commentary, Guggenheim Securities analyst Roman Schweizer also sounded a note of caution on the initiative, writing that the categories in the RFI “are so large that we expect there will be plenty of bureaucratic food fights for funding. And it’s doubtful that anything but a very large amount of funding would be needed to move the needle in any of those areas.”

During an event at The Atlantic Council in Washington on Dec. 10, Mike Petters, president and CEO of shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries, also sounded uncertain of the new thrust toward commercial technologies.


“My [shipbuilding] business for the last 30 years has been focused on process,” he said. But “we’re looking at a Pentagon that’s going to move to a more competitive environment, and it’s going to move to an environment where commercial standards are going to come more into play.”

Petters warned that defense companies haven’t always had happy experiences investing in commercial companies, but given the defense market today, it is becoming a necessity to both raise shareholder value in the short term, while keeping the company viable in the long run.

In making more commercial investments, “we will bring our shareholders along at an appropriate pace and continue to think through if there are those kinds of investments that create value that was not there otherwise.

“You can buy back shares, raise your dividend, you can do lots of stuff that will actually affect the perceived value of your company, but they’re not investments that are creating new value inside your business,” he said. “That’s an environment that we’re all struggling with now.” ■


The Pentagon’s Slush Fund

How the military gets what it wants—even when it’s not in the budget.


December 11, 2014


What does an $810 million U.S. defense “initiative” to “reassure” Europe in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s Crimean land grab have to do with emergency war needs in Afghanistan and Iraq? Absolutely nothing. So why does that hefty sum appear in the military’s budget, now pending on Capitol Hill, meant to support operations in those two Middle Eastern countries?

This is not how America’s war budget—otherwise known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund—is supposed to work. The White House in 2011 said that the OCO, originally established in 2001 under a different name, was just for “temporary and emergency requirements” for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, many experts are saying that its continued use is emblematic of a five-year collapse in Washington fiscal discipline.

The OCO budget isn’t subject to spending limits that cap the base defense budget for each of the next seven years; it’s often omitted altogether from tallies of how much the military spends each year; and, as an “emergency” fund, it’s subject to much less scrutiny than the rest of what the military asks for.

This sort of special war funding was supposed to decline and then disappear as combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down, but that constraint has receded into the distance, if not disappeared altogether, as the OCO fund has become a larger catchall—a slush fund used by the military services, by lawmakers and by the White House to escape budgetary caps, officials and independent experts say.

Although President Barack Obama promised as a candidate in 2008 to “end the abuse” of wartime emergency spending, it’s now clear he will not do so before leaving office in 2016, these experts agree. This year the main defense authorization budget is likely to come in at a cool $521.3 billion, snugly within legal limits set for federal spending in 2015. But the OCO includes an additional $63 billion. More than a 10th of all Pentagon spending will remain uncapped and subject to much less scrutiny than the remainder.

The European initiative is just one of many programs in the OCO budget that have little or nothing to do with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The new Defense Authorization Act for 2015, which may be signed by the president as early as tomorrow, includes $55 million to retain the “air superiority presence” of the U.S. Air Force. Another $351 million of OCO funds would go to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense system.

In the OCO portion of the separate omnibus appropriations bill for 2015, which Congress is trying to pass within the next few weeks, another $1.2 billion is set aside for the military’s reserve components to buy “miscellaneous equipment” the Pentagon didn’t even seek. And $3.3 billion is allocated to classified Air Force equipment purchases.

The OCO budget—which is higher than the entire budgets for most federal departments—as a result has become one of those Washington abominations that makes advocates of fiscal discipline inside and outside the Beltway shake their heads in dismay, even as they forecast its continued existence as a supposedly necessary adjunct to the main, or so-called “base” Pentagon budget. The OCO fund is valued because it can absorb costs that would otherwise push the base budget over its limit, an event that by law would trigger a variety of punishing new spending cuts for the Pentagon.

“We figure there’s about—well, there’s a lot of money in the OCO that should probably be in base. It’s not because we didn’t want it to be in the base; it’s just happened over 12 years,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work in September at a Washington meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. Going forward, he said, the government has three choices: remove the spending caps on the base budget, combine OCO and base funding without removing the caps or agree that OCO will continue into the future. He predicted the third option.

“With the crisis in Ebola, with all of these things, the European reassurance initiative, we’re going to have to have overseas contingency operations funding for some time,” Work said.

It’s not much of a secret anymore that OCO spending is only occasionally for emergency military tasks. Todd Harrison, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, estimates that about half of the OCO budget in the new authorization bill covers expenses that actually should be included in the base budget.

Harrison says that portion has grown since 2012, based on the simple fact that the number of troops deployed in Afghanistan is shrinking faster than OCO spending. The Defense Department’s budget request for 2015 anticipated that troop levels in Afghanistan would drop by two-thirds from the previous year—but requested only a 36 percent cut in OCO funding for Afghanistan. As a result, OCO spending per service member in Afghanistan has risen to more than double what it was last year.

Jamal Brown, deputy press secretary for the Office of Management and Budget, did not return calls for comment. But other sources said that the administration, faced with a $115 billion gap over the next four years between what the budget caps allow and what the Pentagon wants to spend, now appears to regard OCO as a permanent fixture of the defense budget.

The Government Accountability Office noted in a June 2014 report, for example, that most of the Pentagon’s spending for the Central Command is in the OCO budget, even though many of those costs will persist beyond 2016, when U.S. operations in Afghanistan are supposed to end.

In the report, entitled “Guidance Needed to Transition U.S. Central Command’s Costs to the Base Budget,” GAO analyst John Pendleton urged the department to craft that guidance quickly and set a deadline for completing the shift. Although the Defense Department promised to provide such guidance by the end of July 2014, it has not yet done so, according to the GAO.

“This is an iterative process, not a one-time bit of guidance. The question of migrating costs from OCO to Base is being discussed at length throughout the ongoing budget process,” said Bill Urban, Defense Department spokesman, in an emailed comment. He declined to elaborate.

Moreover, the OCO budget isn’t a fiscal salve only once a year. The Defense Department comptroller can—and often does—ask the House and Senate committees on appropriations and armed services for permission throughout the year to add new spending to the OCO budget if programs already in that budget wind up costing less than anticipated. Often, additional non-emergency expenses sneak in during that process.

Over the past four years, for example, the Defense Department’s comptroller has sought congressional approval to add roughly $20 billion worth of expenditures to OCO to cover costs not previously stated in the budget, including many that do not appear to be emergencies or directly related to combat operations.

Read more:


FAA Delay: Comprehensive Set of Rules On Drone Use May Not Be Finalized Until 2017 or Later

by Press • 14 December 2014

By Anjalee Khemlani


The government continues to delay in passing a comprehensive set of rules addressing drones, and it is unlikely to have anything until 2017.

In August, the Federal Aviation Administration missed a key deadline for developing rules for small commercial drones, which in turn infuriated the businesses who were looking to use it for product delivery services, according to the Washington Post.

But the FAA further upset the businesses, who are threatening to take their drone research overseas, because the government entity said it is likely to miss its original September 2015 deadline as well.

“We all agree that the project is taking too long,” Peggy Gilligan, a top FAA safety official, told a congressional House panel Wednesday.

In the meantime, the skies are increasingly more dangerous as the prevalence of drones grows.

Gizmodo reported that the number of drones crashing into airplanes has increased, and a restaurant chain recently caused an accident by flying a mistletoe-bearing drone around a restaurant, which ended when the drone cut a customer’s face open.

But the FAA said it is unable to quickly reach an agreement on a balanced set of rules.

“The consensus of opinion is the integration of unmanned systems will likely slip from the mandated deadline until 2017 or even later,” said Gerald Dillingham, the Government Accountability Office’s director of civil aviation.

Currently there are a few exceptions to the ban on commercial drones, and a couple universities have been approved for research.

But the decision on how to combine a safe airspace with the addition of thousands of small crafts–while keeping an eye on the normal operations and travel of the larger aircraft–is proving to be difficult.

The FAA has already announced some of the ideas, such as requiring pilot licenses to fly drones, but the attention to safety continues to delay a comprehensive set of rules.

Yet, the delay is proving unsafe already as having the system entirely unregulated can cause harm as well.

Read more:


Efforts Made toward Integration into the National Airspace Continue, but Many Actions Still Required

by Press • 16 December 2014


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made progress toward implementing the requirements defined in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (the 2012 Act). As of December 2014, FAA had completed 9 of the 17 requirements in the 2012 Act. However, key requirements, such as the final rule for small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operations, remain incomplete. FAA officials have indicated that they are hoping to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking soon, with a timeline for issuing the final rule in late 2016 or early 2017. FAA has established the test sites as required in the Act, sites that will provide data on safety and operations to support UAS integration. However, some test site operators are uncertain about what research should be done at the site, and believe incentives are needed for industry to use the test sites. As of December 4, 2014, FAA granted seven commercial exemptions to the filmmaking industry allowing small UAS operations in the airspace. However, over 140 applications for exemptions were waiting to be reviewed for other commercial operations such as electric power line monitoring and precision agriculture.


Previously, GAO reported that several federal agencies and private sector stakeholders have research and development efforts under way focusing on technologies to allow safe and routine UAS operations. During GAO’s ongoing work, FAA has cited many accomplishments in research and development in the past fiscal year in areas such as detect and avoid, and command and control. Other federal agencies also have extensive research and development efforts supporting safe UAS integration, such as a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) project to provide research that will reduce technical barriers associated with UAS integration. Academic and private sector companies have researched multiple areas related to UAS integration.

GAO’s ongoing work found that other countries have progressed with UAS integration and allow limited commercial use. A 2014 MITRE study found that Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada have progressed further than the United States with regulations that support commercial UAS operations. For example, as of December 2014, Australia had issued 180 UAS operating certificates to businesses in industries including aerial surveying and photography. In addition, Canada recently issued new regulations exempting commercial operations of small UASs weighing 25 kilograms (55 lbs.) or less from receiving special approval.


Why GAO Did This Study

UASs are aircraft that do not carry a pilot aboard, but instead operate on pre-programmed routes or are manually controlled by following commands from pilot-operated ground control stations. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 put greater emphasis on the need to integrate UASs into the national airspace by requiring that FAA establish requirements governing them. FAA has developed a three-phased approach in its 5-year Roadmap to facilitate incremental steps toward seamless integration. However, in the absence of regulations, unauthorized UAS operations have, in some instances, compromised safety.

This testimony discusses 1) progress toward meeting UAS requirements from the 2012 Act, 2) key efforts underway on research and development, and 3) how other countries have progressed in developing UAS use for commercial purposes.

This testimony is based on GAO’s prior work and an ongoing study examining issues related to UAS integration into the national airspace system for civil and public UAS operations.

For more information, contact Gerald L. Dillingham at (202) 512-2834 or


Study: Your all-electric car may not be so green

Associated Press

By Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer

December 16, 2014 6:48 AM


WASHINGTON (AP) — People who own all-electric cars where coal generates the power may think they are helping the environment. But a new study finds their vehicles actually make the air dirtier, worsening global warming.

Ethanol isn’t so green, either.


“It’s kind of hard to beat gasoline” for public and environmental health, said study co-author Julian Marshall, an engineering professor at the University of Minnesota. “A lot of the technologies that we think of as being clean … are not better than gasoline.”

The key is where the source of the electricity all-electric cars. If it comes from coal, the electric cars produce 3.6 times more soot and smog deaths than gas, because of the pollution made in generating the electricity, according to the study that is published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They also are significantly worse at heat-trapping carbon dioxide that worsens global warming, it found.

The study examines environmental costs for cars’ entire life cycle, including where power comes from and the environmental effects of building batteries.

“Unfortunately, when a wire is connected to an electric vehicle at one end and a coal-fired power plant at the other end, the environmental consequences are worse than driving a normal gasoline-powered car,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who wasn’t part of the study but praised it.

The states with the highest percentage of electricity coming from coal, according to the Department of Energy, are West Virginia, Wyoming, Ohio, North Dakota, and Illinois.

Still, there’s something to be said for the idea of helping foster a cleaner technology that will be better once it is connected to a cleaner grid, said study co-author Jason Hill, another University of Minnesota engineering professor.

The study finds all-electric vehicles cause 86 percent more deaths from air pollution than do cars powered by regular gasoline. Coal produces 39 percent of the country’s electricity, according to the Department of Energy.

But if the power supply comes from natural gas, the all-electric car produces half as many air pollution health problems as gas-powered cars do. And if the power comes from wind, water or wave energy, it produces about one-quarter of the air pollution deaths.

Hybrids and diesel engines are cleaner than gas, causing fewer air pollution deaths and spewing less heat-trapping gas.

But ethanol isn’t, with 80 percent more air pollution mortality, according to the study.

“If we’re using ethanol for environmental benefits, for air quality and climate change, we’re going down the wrong path,” Hill said.




Chinese Air Force Shoots Down Unauthorised Flights

December 17, 2014


A drone without an operating license that was shot down by the PLA Air Force in Beijing has brought light to the need for tightened regulations on privately-owned drones and other devices.

Last December, a flying drone reportedly owned by a Beijing-based technology company had interfered with the operation of several commercial flights. The operator ignored a series of warnings issued by the military and authorities, whereupon they shot down the aircraft with an armed helicopter, according to the party-run PLA Daily.

The drone turned out to be working on air photography and measurement. The owner did not apply to either the civil aviation authorities or the PLA Air Force in Beijing for permission to fly. As a result, the three drone operators at the time of the violation were arrested and charged with endangering public security, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

In China, permission from the air force is required to operate any flying kits below an altitude of 1,000 meters. The number of violations has skyrocketed since regulations on privately-owned general flights have been loosened in recent years.

Flying kits such as drones, delta wings, hang gliders and model airplanes are easily accessible, and the market has been growing at a 15% annual rate.

In this regard, experts have advised a legislative overhaul, defining each flying device’s scope of operation based on their specifications and use and specifying the appropriate monitoring authorities accordingly. Lastly, they have suggested reinforcing the penalties for violations.

The current law stipulates that all non-official aviation activities must abide by China’s Civil Aviation Law and that operation without permission will be subject to a fine of 20,000 to 100,000 yuan (US$3,200-$16,150) and a suspension of the operation license. Unauthorised operations that cause casualties could face criminal charges.

– See more at:



Universities: Confusing Drone Rules Stifle Our Research

by Press • 17 December 2014



Academics who use drones for their research are pushing back on what they call overly restrictive federal regulations.

Two associations that together represent more than 200 American universities are complaining that the Federal Aviation Administration’s confusing policies on commercial drones are harmful to academic research.

The associations made the complaint in a memo they submitted to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget earlier this month, in which they argued that universities need access to drones for a wide variety of academic research. Universities have used drones for gathering data from storms, inspecting crops, mapping terrain, and recording sports practices.

Under current regulations, universities must get the go-ahead from the FAA in order to use drones for research. But the process of securing a permit is long and confusing, the memo says.

In their letter, the associations characterized the permit process as “a series of delays and moving targets.” Aggravated by the burdensome regulatory process, some universities have opted to ban research that uses drones altogether, “to the detriment of their scholarly and economic opportunities,” the letter states.

Except for a few special cases, only hobbyists and casual operators are currently allowed to fly drones without FAA approval, and that’s under a number of conditions. Drones can’t weigh more than 55 pounds and have to be flown away from populated areas, within sight of the operator.

So far, only 13 companies have gotten exemptions from the rule. In September, filmmakersgot the green light to fly drones on set, and last week, the FAA granted exemptions to a handful of companies that want to use drones for construction, surveying, or oil-rig inspections. The FAA is still reviewing dozens of exemption requests.

In August, a separate association of research universities sued the FAA for its regulations, which it called “a grave threat to science, research, education, and technological innovation across the United States.”

Academics have been complaining about drone regulations for some time. Since the FAA decided last year that only hobbyists can fly drones without permits, professors have been forced to change research plans and curricula because they didn’t get a drone permit in time.

The associations are calling on the FAA to create an exemption for drone use by universities, or at least for a “streamlined” process for approving drone research permits.

Last week, regulators appearing before a congressional panel admitted it was unlikely the FAA would meet a September 2015 deadline to develop a complete set of rules governing how commercial drones can be used.

Gerald Dillingham, director of civil aviation at the Government Accountability Office, told USA Today that final regulations may not be issued until 2017.



New York City Council Considers Drone Ban

Dec 19, 2014


The New York city council is eyeing a potential ban of private drones and the addition of fines, in two separate bills. The first bill is “more of an outright ban” of drones, proposed by Council member Dan Garodnick, and the other will create fines and areas where drones are prohibited, proposed by Council member Paul Vallone. The two bills may be combined, but that decision will be determined by further council committee review.

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), can be purchased for less than a hundred dollars depending on the model. The easy access fuels fears of people attaching bombs in potential ‘lone wolf’ attacks or attaching cameras on for spying.

“Having these devices quietly peeping into windows and backyards rightly terrifies many New Yorkers, and we need to act,” said Council member Garodnick, adding that drones could be “dangerous, weaponised and intrusive when left unchecked.”

Council members expressed concern that drones are not regulated enough on the federal level, which poses a risk to public safety and privacy. There have been a number of “close call” incidents between drones and commercial and city air traffic where drones flew too close to the latter.

Although New York sees a large amount of air traffic, “its skies have remained lawless with the increased usage of drones,” said Council member Corey Johnson.

City agencies, including the police, would be exempt from the fines and prohibited areas, but Garodnick’s bill would require police to obtain warrants before using drones.

As for those who would like to see drones deliver pizza to their doorsteps, Garodnick quipped, “Let’s not rush toward a Jetsons’ future,” referencing the futuristic cartoon television show.

Source: Epoch Times

– See more at:


Sony Hack: Is North Korea Really to Blame?

Experts Advocate Skepticism Pending Release of Any Proof

By Mathew J. Schwartz, December 18, 2014.


Don’t take at face value the report that the U.S. government believes that North Korea hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment, numerous information security experts say.

Those cautions are being sounded in the wake of the New York Times reporting that unnamed U.S. intelligence officials now believe that the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was “centrally involved” in the Sony attack, and that the White House is still weighing how it wants to publicly respond.

But the report doesn’t define what “centrally involved” might mean, quote any officials by name, reveal which agency they might work for, or share the evidence that has been used to reach that conclusion. Accordingly, multiple information security experts have questioned the supposed connection between the attack against Sony and a cyber-squad being run by the Pyongyang-based government of communist dictator Kim Jong-Un.

Pending the release of any real evidence to back up the North Korea attribution claims, Jeffrey Carr, CEO of threat-intelligence sharing firm Gaia International, recommends skepticism. “My advice to journalists, business executives, policymakers and the general public is to challenge everything that you hear or read about the attribution of cyber-attacks,” Carr says in a blog post. “Demand to see the evidence [and] … be aware that the FBI, Secret Service, NSA [National Security Agency], CIA, and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] rarely agree with each other, that commercial cybersecurity companies are in the business of competing with each other, and that ‘cyber-intelligence’ is frequently the world’s biggest oxymoron.”

Attributing the Sony attack to North Korea would be expedient for hawkish politicians, not to mention Sony Pictures executives who have been embarrassed by their company’s poor security posture, and the contents of their leaked e-mails, says Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at distributed denial-of-service defense firm CloudFlare. “Blaming North Korea is the easy way out for a number of folks, including the security vendors and Sony management who are under the microscope for this,” he says.

Blaming North Korea also appears to square with the demand from the Guardians of Peace – Sony’s claimed attackers – that the movie studio not release The Interview. The comedy, which was due for a Dec. 25 release, centers on a tabloid TV reporting team that gets approached by the CIA to kill Kim Jong-Un. That follows Pyongyang in June denouncing the comedy, which it labeled as an “act of war that we will never tolerate,” and promising “merciless” retribution.


Sophisticated Attack

But the anti-forensic researcher – and zero-day exploit broker – known as the “Grugq” notes that the Sony attack is more sophisticated than anything that’s ever been traced to North Korea. That includes not just stealing large amounts of Sony data and infecting Sony systems with wiper malware, but also dribbling the stolen data out in batches via BitTorrent, as well as coordinating a media relations campaign that’s kept the Sony breach and related leaks at the top of the news for weeks.

“To handle this sophisticated media/Internet campaign so well would require a handler with strong English skills, deep knowledge of the Internet and western culture,” the Grugq says in a post to text-sharing site Zeropaste. “This would be someone quite senior and skilled. That is, I can’t see DPRK [North Korea] putting this sort of valuable resource onto what is essentially a petty attack against a company that has no strategic value for DPRK.”


Who Else Might Be Responsible?

Other security experts also question why North Korea would demonstrate – or squander – its cyberwarfare capabilities on a Hollywood film. “I can’t imagine a more unlikely scenario than that one,” Carr says.

Much of the North Korean connection appears to have been built on attackers’ having set their code-development tools to use the Korean language. But CloudFlare’s Rogers notes that it’s “trivial” to change the language settings in development tools right before compiling code, and notes that the dialect used by North Koreans differs from traditional Korean so much that it’s more likely would-be attackers would use tools programmed for Chinese.

As noted, the attackers’ focus on The Interview has been cited as another piece of evidence of North Korean involvement. But leaked Sony e-mails show that the Sony attack appeared to begin as an extortion attempt, launched by a group calling itself “God’sApstls.” It was only after news reports began mentioning that Pyongyang had denounced Sony Pictures earlier in 2014 for the forthcoming release of The Interview – following Sony suffering its wiper malware attack, and attackers leaking stolen Sony data – that the attackers even mentioned the film.

If North Korea didn’t sponsor the Sony attack, that still leaves plenty of potential culprits, many of which numerous security experts also find more plausible. One theory is that the hack was the work of chaos-seeking hacktivists. Or China could have launched the attack after potentially hacking Sony last year during business negotiations, Dateline suggests.

Alternately, as Wired posits, Sony may have been infiltrated by multiple groups, including nation-state-backed hackers, as well as hacktivists.

Rogers, meanwhile, says the technical aspects of the attack – and obvious penchant for revenge – suggest the work of an insider. “It’s clear from the hard-coded paths and passwords in the malware that whoever wrote it had extensive knowledge of Sony’s internal architecture and access to key passwords,” he says. “While it’s plausible that an attacker could have built up this knowledge over time and then used it to make the malware, Occam’s razor [the concept that the simplest theory is often correct] suggests the simpler explanation of an insider. It also fits with the pure revenge tact that this started out as.”


Sony Criticized for Canceling Film

The Sony attack rhetoric has escalated in recent days, with the Guardians of Peace – which has claimed credit for stealing and leaking Sony data, as well as a wiper malware attack that deleted an unknown number of Sony hard drives – issuing a vague “terror” threat against theater operators who opted to show The Interview. The comedy was scheduled to debut December 25.

The Department of Homeland Security reported that it saw “no credible intelligence” of an actual Sony-related “terror” plot, as did President Obama. “Well, the cyber-attack is very serious. We’re investigating, we’re taking it seriously,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News. “We’ll be vigilant, if we see something that we think is serious and credible, then we’ll alert the public. But for now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies.”

Nevertheless, Sony on Dec. 17 said that it would indefinitely postpone the release of The Interview. A company spokesman said that the company is “deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company,” and added that Sony backed its filmmakers’ “right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

Some industry watchers think the move to yank the film’s release was a damage-control exercise on the part of Sony Pictures’ beleaguered executives. “I think they just want to wash their hands of it,” Matthew Belloni, executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter, tells USA Today.

Numerous entertainment industry figures also slammed Sony’s move, not least for the precedent that it now sets. “I think it is disgraceful that these theaters are not showing The Interview,” tweeted well-known producer Judd Apatow, who’s worked with The Interview star Seth Rogan before. “Will they pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat now?”

In the wake of Sony cancelling the release of The Interview, New Regency reportedly canceled work on Pyongyang, a “paranoid thriller” set in North Korea that was due to begin filming in March. In response, former “Daily Show” actor Steve Carell, who was signed to star in the film, tweeted: “Sad day for creative expression.”

Some experts say it’s a sad day for information security as well. “If Sony is honestly going to cancel this movie in reaction to the demands of the G.O.P., it is both naïve and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent,” Al Pascual, director of fraud and security at Javelin Strategy and Research, tells Information Security Media Group.



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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas comes but once a year — and usually not accompanied by so much big news.

Yesterday, just before he left for Christmas vacation, President Obama announced the United States will make a “proportional” response to North Korea’s computer hacking and threat campaign against Sony Pictures that led to the cancelling of the film, “The Interview.” Earlier in the week, Obama announced his intention to end the 54-year-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.

Americans will weigh in on both these topics in surveys we release early next week. If it’s in the news, it’s in our polls.

The week’s other major event was the massacre by the radical Islamic Taliban of 145 people, most of them children, in a school in Pakistan. U.S. voters are hesitant to join Pakistan in the search for the killers, but the incident has dramatically reduced support for negotiations with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan.

Support for the use of unmanned drone aircraft to kill suspected terrorists overseas is now the highest it’s been in over two years.  
Nearly half of voters favor the harsh interrogation tactics used against suspected terrorists by the CIA and think they elicited valuable information that helped the United States.

After all, the number of voters who think the United States is winning the War on Terror continues to fall to new lows, and more than ever they see a terrorist attack as the biggest threat to this country.

Voters feel more strongly these days that the U.S. military should focus on defending America’s interests rather than addressing the problems of other nations.

Just 27% now believe the United States will still be the most powerful nation in the world by the end of the 21st century.

Looking ahead in the short term, voters are closely divided over whether the incoming Congress will make any difference, but they believe overwhelmingly that the president and the new Congress should work together rather than stand on principle.

However, only 24% are even somewhat confident that the president and the new Congress can work together.

The president’s daily job approval ratings have improved slightly since Election Day but still remain in the mid- to high negative teens. 

Voters continue to see Republicans as the party to trust when it comes to national security, economic growth and fiscal restraint. Democrats remain their first choice on issues like health care, education and the environment.

The lead on the Generic Congressional Ballot continues to swing back and forth between the two parties as it has weekly for months.

Enough of this heavy stuff. It’s Christmastime, and more Americans are feeling the spirit this holiday season.

More adults plan to make a charitable donation this year, but
fewer are sending Christmas cards.

With less than 10 days left until Christmas, though, 30% still had not begun their holiday shopping.

The good news for retailers is that consumer confidence has been climbing steadily over the past month to some of its highest levels of the year.

But buyers, beware: Americans are ending the year more in debt than they were at the beginning of 2014.

The number of homeowners who think they are likely to miss or be late on a mortgage payment in the next few months is at its highest level in over a year.

Yet homeowners remain fairly confident in their home’s short- and long-term value, and most still think their home is worth more than what they owe on their mortgage. Adults nationwide round out 2014 still believing owning a home is a family’s best investment but remain divided as to whether now’s a good time to sell in their area.

Voters are more positive about the fairness of the U.S. economy than they’ve been all year.

In other surveys last week:

— Twenty-five percent (25%) of voters think the United States is headed in the right direction.

Those under 40 have less confidence than their elders in voting as an agent for change and express more confidence in public protests and economic boycotts.

— Voters still strongly approve of the health care they are getting, but most also remain convinced that it will get worse under the new national health care law. 

— Voters continue to believe the government should cut spending to help the economy.

— Six years after the Wall Street meltdown, one-third of Americans still fear they will lose their money due to bank failure. Americans remain worried about inflation, too, but they are a bit less pessimistic about rising food prices that they have been in months.

December 13 2014

13 December 2014


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Airbus in Near Miss with a Drone at London Heathrow Airport

December 8, 2014


A passenger plane had a near miss with a drone as it landed at Heathrow, in the first such incident recorded at Britain’s biggest airport. The incident involved an Airbus A320, which can carry up to 180 passengers, and was rated by investigators as among the most serious near-collisions.

The UK Airprox Board (UKAB), which will publish its findings on Friday, is expected to record an incident risk rating of A – the highest of five categories – defined as a “serious risk of collision”.

The report  said the pilot of an Airbus A320 spotted the drone, which failed to show up on air traffic control systems, at 2.16pm on 22 July while flying at an altitude of 700ft.

The pilot reported the incident to the UKAB, which launched an inquiry, but the owner of the drone has never been identified.

The Airbus A320 is a short-haul jet that can carry 180 passengers and is commonly used by European airlines

Earlier this year the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) demanded better protection for the public from the risks of drones.

It wants drones, officially known as remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), which share airspace with passenger and freight airliners, to meet the same safety standards as piloted aircraft. It includes being flown only by operators with pilot-equivalent training.

Balpa’s general secretary, Jim McAuslan, said: “The UK should become a ‘safe drone zone’ so we can make the most of the major business and leisure opportunities offered by remotely piloted aircraft, while protecting passengers, pilots and residents.

“The technology is developing quickly and we could see remote aircraft the same size as a Boeing 737 being operated commercially in our skies within 10 years.”

Research carried out by intelligence experts for a University of Birmingham policy commission report published in October warned of the misuse of drones.

The commission called for urgent measures to safeguard British airspace to cope with civil and commercial use, which is expected to be more widespread by 2035.

The report said the “hazards presented by inadvertent or accidental misuse of RPAS, or the consequences of their malfunctioning are becoming better understood”. It added that small commercial aircraft, including for taking photographs, are already being flown and often in breach of the rules.


Multirotor came within 20 feet of airliner AIRPROX REPORT No 2014117

by Gary Mortimer • 12 December 2014


THE A320 PILOT reports being on short final to land on RW09L at Heathrow. The blue and white aircraft had external lights selected on, as was the SSR transponder with Modes A, C and S. The aircraft was fitted with TCAS II. The pilot was operating under IFR, in VMC; the Air Traffic Service was not reported.

He stated that a small black object was seen to the left of the aircraft as they passed 700ft in the descent, which passed about 20ft over the wing. It appeared to be a small radio controlled helicopter. The object did not strike his aircraft and he made a normal landing but it was a distraction during a critical phase of flight. ATC was informed of the object’s presence and following aircraft were notified.

THE MODEL OPERATOR: Despite extensive tracing action and the proactive assistance of local model-flying-club members, it was not possible to trace the operator of the model aircraft in question.

Factual Background

The weather at Heathrow was recorded as follows:

METAR EGLL 221420Z 04007KT 340V070 9999 FEW048 27/14 Q1022 NOSIG


Analysis and Investigation

UKAB Secretariat

The Air Navigation Order 2009 (as amended), Article 138


‘A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or


Article 166, paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 state:

(2) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.

(3) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.’

(4) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft which has a mass of more than 7kg excluding its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight, must not fly the aircraft


(a) in Class A, C, D or E airspace unless the permission of the appropriate air traffic control unit

has been obtained;

(b) within an aerodrome traffic zone …; or

(c) at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface unless it is flying in airspace described in

sub-paragraph (a) or (b) and in accordance with the requirements for that airspace.’



An Airprox was reported when an Airbus A320 and a suspected radio controlled model helicopter came into proximity at 1416 on Tuesday 22nd July 2014. The A320 pilot was operating under IFR in VMC, in receipt of an Aerodrome Control Service from Heathrow Tower.



Information available consisted of a report from the A320 pilot and radar photographs/video recordings. The model helicopter did not appear on radar and, from the A320 pilot’s description, was probably of a size that could not be considered likely to do so.

The Board members were satisfied that the A320 crew had seen a model helicopter and were of the unanimous opinion that the operator of the model had chosen to fly it in an entirely inappropriate location. That the dangers associated with flying such a model in close proximity to a Commercial Air Transport aircraft in the final stages of landing were not self-evident was a cause for considerable concern. Members reiterated that anyone operating an air vehicle, of whatever kind, had to do so with due consideration for regulation and for other airspace users, and preferably under the auspices of an established association or club. The Board were heartened to hear of work being undertaken by the CAA to bring the issue of remotely piloted aircraft operations to wider public attention, an example being the recent issue of CAP1202, giving advice for the conduct of such operations. The UKAB Secretariat also pointed out that a link to ‘CAA UAS/UAV Information and Guidance’ could be found on the Airprox Board website

The Board concluded that the cause of the Airprox was that the suspected model helicopter had been flown into conflict with the A320, and that the risk amounted to a situation that had stopped just short of an actual collision where separation had been reduced to the minimum.



Cause: A suspected model aircraft was flown into conflict with the A320.

Degree of Risk: A.

ERC Score: 1



If GoPro gets into consumer drones, the industry could finally have the innovation champion it needs

by Press • 7 December 2014

By Dominic Basulto

In order for any consumer technology to go mainstream, it needs one tech giant to emerge as its innovation champion. In search, it’s Google. In social networking, it’s Facebook. In digital music, it’s Apple. In e-commerce, it’s Amazon. And now the consumer drone market might one day have GoPro, the wildly popular action camera maker that just went public in June.

According to a credible report from the Wall Street Journal, GoPro is considering the launch of its own line of multirotor consumer drones priced between $500 and $1,000 by late 2015. While GoPro hasn’t officially confirmed or denied the report, they have joined a Washington-based drone-lobbying group, the Small UAV Coalition. And moving into consumer drones would be a likely next step for them, given the popularity of aerial photography for GoPro users.

Almost overnight, GoPro would become the odds-on favorite to become the leader and champion of the fast-growing consumer drone market. According to Teal Group, an aerospace research firm, the worldwide UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) market – including both military and civilian drones – is expected to nearly double in size over the next ten years, from $6.4 billion to $11.5 billion.

Right now, military drones account for 89 percent of that total, so the total worldwide civil UAV market is relatively tiny, approximately $700 million. The consumer drone market (i.e. the market for personal, hobbyist drones and not the market for mapping or search-and-rescue drones) is even tinier, estimated by the Consumer Electronics Association to be $130 million in 2015. To put that number into context, GoPro’s sales through the first nine months of 2014 — $763 million — is almost six times the size of the personal drone category and bigger than the size of the entire worldwide civil UAV market.

So whom would GoPro have to knock off in order to become the undisputed champion of the consumer drone market?

There are three consumer drone manufacturers that are considered the industry leaders – China’s DJI Innovations, France’s Parrot and California’s 3D Robotics (founded by former Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson). According to industry estimates, DJI posted $131 million in annual sales in 2013. The next closest competitor is France’s Parrot, with$53.35 million in sales in fiscal 2013.

There’s not a single U.S. tech giant in the consumer drone market. in other words, there’s no Apple waiting in the wings with an Apple Drone to take on GoPro. While both Facebook and Google acquired drone companies in 2014, and Amazon seems to be embracing drones for commercial deliveries via Amazon Prime Air, none of them has created a drone that consumers can walk in and buy at a retail store. And even market leader DJI could be ripe for the picking, given that the company only launched its Phantom quadcopters in 2013 – hardly enough time to gain true brand equity in the marketplace.

At the end of the day, if American consumers had the chance to choose between “designed in the USA” (GoPro) and “designed in China” (DJI), which one do you think they’re going to pick?

Right now, we don’t know exactly what GoPro is going to create with its consumer drones. Company spokesmen are keeping things close to the vest, only noting that the company’s users are creating “jaw-dropping GoPro footage recorded from quadcopters.” So there’s reason to expect more from GoPro in this direction — it’s a natural brand extension, given that the company already provides cameras for drones.

There are two basic options for GoPro – either the company creates a new standalone consumer drone with an internal GoPro camera, or it essentially adapts a drone model already in the marketplace, equips it with a sophisticated mount, and lets users hook on an existing GoPro camera. You can see immediately see which of these two options is more valuable for GoPro – they’ve got to build the drone with the internal camera because there are already a handful of companies that already offer the “drone plus mount” option for aerial photography. Why would you bother buying a new GoPro drone if you can just buy another drone and mount a GoPro on it?

Another big question is how the FAA is going to rule on drones. That matters a lot, since the civil UAV market is expected to explode in popularity if the FAA gives the green light for commercial drones. Right now, civil drones are essentially limited to hobbyists, they cannot be flown above 400 feet in the air and they cannot be flown close to airports.

Yet, even with those restrictions in place, there are signs of drone mania taking off. It’s not just aerial photography, which is far and away the biggest drone hobbyist use so far. Filmmaking could be next, now that Hollywood has received the green light to use them for filmmaking. We may even see more creative uses unveiled at January’s CES tech trade show in Las Vegas, which for the first time ever, is going to have an Unmanned Systems Marketplace.

For now, though, all eyes are Washington and not on Vegas. It seems like we’ve been expecting an FAA ruling forever. And now even the White House has been pushing for more guidance. There’s a lot of regulatory risk here, especially given all the concern about airplane-drone accidents. In fact, perhaps based on all those concerns, the latest reports are that the FAA will go ultra-strict on its commercial drone ruling, perhaps even limiting consumer drone use to daylight hours and requiring all commercial drone operators to get a pilot’s license.



China Reaches Out To US For Space Data: Air Force Space Commander

By Colin Clark

on December 08, 2014 at 11:41 AM

WASHINGTON: China has taken the unprecedented step of asking Air Force Space Command to share information about possible satellite and satellite debris collisions. The United States had been sharing so-called conjunction warnings with China through the State Department, but no one knew if China actually paid any attention because the data was never acknowledged.

Then, quite recently, the head of Air Force Space Command, Gen. John Hyten, got a formal request from the Chinese to share the information directly. “The Chinese have asked to get data straight from our operations center to their operations center without going through State,” Hyten said during a Capitol Hill breakfast. How significant is this, I asked after we ate. “To me, it’s a big deal.”

I understand that China had committed to this in July as part of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The summary document about the agreement between the two countries says the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs “committed to provide e-mail contact information for appropriate Chinese entities responsible for spacecraft operations and conjunction assessment, allowing these entities to receive Close Approach Notifications directly from the United States Department of Defense.”

Of course, getting the PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get the People’s Liberation Army to do something doesn’t always happen quickly — if at all. Observers of the fallout after the Chinese anti-satellite test will remember that Foreign Affairs appeared absolutely clueless about the test, both publicly and privately. And that anti-satellite test, ironically, was responsible for an enormous increase in the amount of space debris that may cause a collision. That the United States will play the responsible global citizen and provide conjunction data to the Chinese after the test only deepens the irony.

Of course, for the Chinese it’s a win as the US catalogue and tracking of orbital data is considered the best there is and they are getting direct access to it should any of their satellites be threatened. But this also provides proof to the Chinese that playing by international rules and norms can provide tangible benefits, which surely played a key role in the sharing being approved. Several attendees at the space breakfast said the Chinese request marked an important step forward in US-Chinese military-to-military relations and welcomed it.

One of the foremost US authorities on the Chinese military’s space efforts says in an email that the Chinese move demonstrates “first and foremost, that in the Chinese system the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is NOT a powerful entity. This is reflected in the basic reality that the Foreign Minister has not been a member of the Politburo since the days of Qian Qichen, in the late 1990s.”

He believes that the PLA “is most likely acting, in the first place, to remove an unnecessary link in the chain of information, especially important since conjunction data is perishable.

“Given China’s steadily improving space situational awareness system, my own guess is that they are accessing this data, first, to minimize the chances of a conjunction. There have been some interesting stories in the Chinese press about moving satellites to avoid collisions. It is unclear what data has been used to make that determination, whether it is primarily home-grown, from the US, from third parties, or a combination. Second, it may be to double-check their own data: What are the Americans seeing that we are not? This may be partly a matter of resolution, and partly a possible source of intelligence. There was a brouhaha a few years back where we were reporting in our space catalogs European satellites that the Europeans denied existed.”

So what does America get out of this? “For the United States,” Cheng writes, “ideally this would be an opportunity for us to gain insight into what organizations play a role in China’s space situational awareness organization. Who gets this data (almost certainly the General Armaments Department)? Who else outside the military gets this data? How does it get incorporated into China’s SSA system? In particular, does the China National Space Administration (CNSA) get this data, and at what point? (I doubt the information is going from us to CNSA).”

In the end, Cheng assesses this is not the beginning of a fundamental change to US-Chinese military to military relations. “What WON’T change is that Chinese space (and military, but I repeat myself) officials will NOT engage in direct, US-PRC communications. Certainly not in a crisis, and probably only minimally in peacetime, even with this new connection.”


Banks Urge Clients to Take Cash Elsewhere

New Rules Mean Some Deposits Aren’t Worth It, J.P. Morgan, Citigroup and Others Tell Large U.S. Clients


The Wall Street Journal

By Kirsten Grind, James Sterngold and Juliet Chung

Dec. 7, 2014 8:57 p.m. ET

Banks are urging some of their largest customers in the U.S. to take their cash elsewhere or be slapped with fees, citing new regulations that make it onerous for them to hold certain deposits.

The banks, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., HSBC Holdings PLC, Deutsche Bank AG and Bank of America Corp. , have spoken privately with clients in recent months to tell them that the new regulations are making some deposits less profitable, according to people familiar with the conversations.


In some cases, the banks have told clients, which range from large companies to hedge funds, insurers and smaller banks, that they will begin charging fees on accounts that have been free for big customers, the people said. Bank officials are also working with these firms to find alternatives for some of their deposits, they said.

The change upends one of the cornerstones of banking, in which deposits have been seen as one of the industry’s most attractive forms of funding, said more than a dozen corporate officials, consultants and bank executives interviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Deposits have traditionally been a crucial growth engine for banks. Banks generally pay depositors one interest rate and then make loans with higher rates, often collecting fees in the process. But deposits also can be withdrawn at any time, potentially leaving a bank short of cash if too much money is removed at once.

The new rule driving the action is part of a broader effort by U.S. regulators and policy makers to make the financial system safer. But the move may inconvenience corporations that now have to pay new fees or look for alternatives to their bank.

Sal Sammartino, vice president of banking at Stewart Title, a unit of Stewart Information Services Corp. , a global title insurance company based in Houston, said he has had sleepless nights in recent weeks as he has negotiated with large banks to try to keep the firm’s deposits there. He declined to name the banks.

“Ultimately my balances aren’t as profitable for the banks, and that’s going to impact my business,” he said.

In an environment of slow economic growth with fewer opportunities to make loans and ultralow interest rates, some banks feel they have too much money on deposit.

Some banks, including J.P. Morgan and Bank of New York Mellon Corp. , have also started charging institutional clients fees to hold euro deposits, mainly driven by the European Central Bank’s move to make firms pay to park their cash with the ECB. BNY Mellon recently started charging 0.2% on euro deposits. State Street Corp. said in its third-quarter earnings call in October that it planned to begin charging fees later this year on euro deposits.

U.S. banking rules set to go into effect Jan. 1 compound the issue, especially for deposits that are viewed as less likely to stay at the bank through difficult times.

The new U.S. rules, designed to make bank balance sheets more resistant to the types of shocks that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis, will likely have little effect on retail deposits, insured up to $250,000 by federal deposit insurance. But the rules do affect larger deposits that often come from big corporations, smaller banks and big financial firms such as hedge funds.

Hundreds of companies and other bank customers with deposits that exceed the insurance limits could be affected by the banks’ actions.

Overall, about $4 trillion in deposits at banks in the U.S. were uninsured, covering more than 3.5 million accounts, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.

The rule primarily responsible involves the liquidity coverage ratio, overseen by the Federal Reserve and other banking regulators. The new measure, finalized in September, as well as some other recent global regulations, are designed to make banks safer by helping them manage sudden outflows of deposits in a crisis.

The banks are required to maintain enough high-quality assets that could be converted into cash during a crisis to cover a projected flight of deposits over 30 days.

Because large, uninsured deposits would be expected to leave most quickly, the rule will now require that banks maintain reserves that they cannot use for profitable activities like making loans. That makes it much less efficient or profitable for banks to hold these deposits.

The new rules treat various types of deposits differently, based on how fast they are likely to be withdrawn. Insured deposits from retail customers are regarded as more safe and require that banks hold reserves equal to as little as 3% of the sums.

But the banks must hold reserves of as much as 40% against certain corporate deposits and as much as 100% of some big deposits from financial institutions such as hedge funds.

Some corporate officials said the new rules could make it more expensive for them to keep money in the bank or push them into riskier savings instruments such as short-term bond funds or uninsured money-market funds.

“You’re going to see a lot of corporations that have had much simpler portfolios that are going to move toward more sophisticated portfolios,” said Tory Hazard, president and chief operating officer of Institutional Cash Distributors, a broker to large clients looking for places to hold their cash.

Some bankers said they are advising corporate clients to break up large deposits across several banks, including smaller ones not affected by all of the new rules. Others might be attracted to other products offered by banks or products being created by asset managers.

Some customers are negotiating for a reduction in the fees, said people familiar with the discussions.

J.P. Morgan told some clients of its commercial bank recently that it would begin charging monthly fees on deposit accounts from which clients can withdraw money at any time. The new charges will start Jan. 1 for U.S. accounts, according to an Oct. 21 memo reviewed by the Journal, and later for international accounts.

“New liquidity and capital requirements have changed the operating environment and increased the cost of doing business with financial institutions,” the memo read.

The change affects some hedge-fund customers, rather than corporate accounts. The charges include items such as a $500 monthly account maintenance fee for demand deposits and a $25 charge per paper statement.

Larger clients with broad, long-term relationships with their banks may get a break on the new fees, according to people familiar with the situation. Banks also are likely to differentiate between clients’ operational deposits, used for things like payroll, and excess cash that can be pulled more easily, the people said.

At a National Association of Corporate Treasurers conference in October, consultant Treasury Strategies noted that the new rules “will redefine the economics and dynamics of corporate banking relationships.”

Some argue that while it is a good policy on its face, the rule potentially magnifies problems in a recession by encouraging banks to hoard high-quality assets, potentially paralyzing markets for these assets such as Treasury securities and some corporate bonds.

“This proposal, which is supposed to promote financial stability, actually does the opposite,” said Thomas Quaadman, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Thomas Deas, treasurer at chemicals company FMC Corp. said dialogue is increasing between banks and corporate clients as company executives get their arms around the potential new fees.


Robert Marley, assistant treasurer at EnerSys Inc., a maker of industrial batteries in Reading, Pa., said he was recently told by banks that his company would need to move cash that had been sitting in short-term deposit accounts in Europe or face new fees. “I’m not happy about it,” he said.


Industry Pivots From New Simulators to Services

Dec. 7, 2014 – 03:45AM | By AARON MEHTA | Comments


ORLANDO, FLA. — Amid a global downturn in defense spending, the training and simulation world is booming. But in a series of interviews at this year’s I/ITSEC conference here, executives for some of the world’s largest defense firms acknowledged that the sector’s market strategy is changing.

The biggest market trend, they said, is a growing emphasis on providing services to customers. In the past decade, companies could feast on providing the technology of simulators and classroom education. Now, governments are buying less new equipment, which means industry needs to focus on upkeep and training opportunities in existing systems.

Mike Blades, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan who attended I/ITSEC, said the emphasis on providing services is a major industry trend.

“That’s the theme of the show,” he said. “There are very few programs that require new simulators, just upgrades.”

Simon Williams, a retired Royal Navy rear admiral who chairs the defense arm of Clarion Events, noted that service companies that have no role in producing education and training tools are jumping into the market for the first time.

“In the future, where the market will be is training as a service,” Williams said. “So you will have suppliers who will supply you with the technologies, but there will be an interface between the customer and the technology, which is the service company.”

“Increasingly what we’re going to see is companies — the Sercos, the Babcocks — these large global service operators will start to step into this market,” he added.

And while new companies are throwing their hats into the ring, the traditional defense industry powers are moving to adapt.

Bob Gower, Boeing Defense’s vice president for training systems and government services, said he is “aggressively” pursuing training services, which led to a recent reorganization of his team.

“We did this for a couple of reasons,” Gower told reporters. “One is where the market is, but we also see trends where some customers are buying services and upgrading systems under those services. So to me, to have a healthy business over the long term, we have to be in the services business if we want to do systems as well.

“The services portion of the business is about 10 percent of my portfolio,” Gower added. “Going forward I’d like to get to where the services is much closer to half than 10 percent, but that’s going to take me some time.”

Asked how much time, Gower said he had no set timetable, but “sooner would be better.”

Gower added that schoolhouse-type solutions, where a company owns and operates a training center on behalf of another nation, is one area of growth. The schoolhouse model essentially outsources the entire pilot training for an air force. Traditionally, militaries buy aircraft and simulators, develop courseware, train instructors and then train pilots. In this model, a company does all that and is judged on a variety of metrics, including pilots graduated.

Competitor Lockheed Martin is also pursuing that model, through what it calls “turnkey training solutions.” Jon Rambeau, vice president and general manager of Lockheed’s Training and Logistics business, said his company is focusing on “not just innovating around technology, but also applying innovative business models to help our customers manage their budgetary constraints.”

That model is “definitely something that is picking up a little bit of momentum,” Rambeau said. “When you think about the huge upfront capital investment a country needs to make to recapitalize its fleet of training aircraft, it’s a much more cost-effective model that spreads costs out over typically 20-25 years.”

That model is largely being marketed internationally. Lockheed is already doing schoolhouse work for the UK and Singapore, and expects to be on contract with Qatar in the near future. Gower added that the Middle East is particularly interested in this model of learning.

Gene Colabatistto, group president for defense with CAE, agreed that services are becoming more important. In his two-and-a-half years in his position, he said, services has grown from 33 to 48 percent of his business.

In addition to the schoolhouse model, Colabatistto said countries are learning it is easier to let companies handle upgrades and service the equipment rather than relying on military maintenance crews.

“I think the most sophisticated users realize what we’re really good at is obsolescence management,” he said. “They realize we’re really good at this because we operate 60 commercial centers. We know how to do this. So a lot of what is driving this [move to services] is the way budgets are being allocated and executed.”



Blades points to companies such as Engility, spun off from L-3 as a company solely focused on government services, as an example of where the market is going and evidence of enough services requirements to merit a spin-off.

At the same time, Anthony Smeraglinolo, Engility president and CEO, warned in a keynote address at the show that there is an oversaturation in the services market and a correction may be coming.

“It is still a great market, but there are too many of us addressing it,” he said. “When there is more capacity than demand, something needs to give, and I think we have begun to see that in terms of industry consolidation.”

Smeraglinolo has put that into effect, acquiring two government services firms in Dynamics Research Corp. and TASC over the past 12 months to grow Engility’s marketshare.

“I firmly believe consolidation is a fundamentally good thing for both industry and our government partners,” he said. “Mergers and acquisitions result in increased scale, which enables fixed infrastructure costs to be spread across the larger base.”

Smeraglinolo’s speech set off different reactions among industry attendees at the show.

Some, such as Blades, agreed there will be more merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in the sector in the near future, noting that “some companies just might not make it.”

CAE’s Colabatistto, however, warned acquisitions may be limited, the result of a small pool of companies that would make sense for a larger firms to acquire.

Many of the firms doing interesting things in the simulation and training world that larger companies could acquire are categorized as small businesses under US government regulations, he said, reliant on the ability to compete for small business set-aside contracts. If those companies are claimed by larger firms, those small-business contracts go away.

“So we look at those companies and it’s very hard to find which ones you would actually acquire,” Colabatistto said.

“I think there will continue to be acquisitions,” he said. “But to make a large play in the market is difficult with budget uncertainty and then in the smaller companies, the way they are classified makes it very risky.”

Even if chunks of the sector are gobbled up in acquisitions, Williams said, the training and simulation market is at a point where new ideas are constantly leading to new companies popping up.

“Yes, there will be consolidation, but equally, in a highly innovative market, you will always have the disruptive technology and the small entrepreneurial companies that will be starting up to fulfill a need that the major corporation doesn’t foresee because they [the small companies] have the agility to do so,” he said.

“So I think we will always have a number of smaller players, and they will be subject to M&A activity as time goes on,” he added. “It will almost be self-refreshing.” ■


If You Want to Pay More for Internet Access, Obama’s Got Your Back

Ed Feulner / @EdFeulner / November 22, 2014 / 7 comments

Edwin J. Feulner’s 36 years of leadership as president of The Heritage Foundation transformed the think tank from a small policy shop into America’s powerhouse of conservative ideas. Read his research.


Ready to pay more for Internet access? Me neither.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we can expect under the “net neutrality” rules being pushed by President Obama.

“Net neutrality” may sound harmless, but there would be nothing neutral about this change. Currently, broadband providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast are treated differently than traditional telephone companies and electric utilities. They aren’t subject to “common-carrier” rules that prohibit them from varying rates and services.

In short, they can offer — and charge — what they want. That’s good for consumers, because it means that in order to compete, they’re always trying to win and keep customers by offering better, faster service at lower rates.

That would change with the advent of “net neutrality.” Under the plan that Obama is urging the Federal Communications Commission to adopt, Internet providers would be declared common carriers providing “telecommunications services.” That would leave the FCC free to regulate them.

One result: The providers would have to pay a part of their Internet revenue to the FCC’s “Universal Service Fund,” which provides subsidies for Internet service. This fee is set at 16.1 percent of revenue, or about $7 per subscriber per month. Former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth calls it “perhaps the largest, one-time tax increase on the Internet.”

It may surprise you to learn that two of the current FCC commissioners oppose the president’s plan. According to one of them, Mike O’Reilly, the FCC is planning a “spending spree” with these new USF subsidies. It’s bad enough our Internet access would become more expensive, but we’d have to fund more waste at a government agency, too?

As regulation expert James Gattuso notes, this push for net neutrality comes at an ironic time: Congress is considering a renewal of its moratorium on state Internet taxes. But, he says, the FCC has no plans to ask Congress to vote on this matter. Why? It claims it has the power to move forward without legislative approval.

But net neutrality would mean more than a rate hike (which will naturally hit lower-income Americans the hardest). Coming under the FCC’s regulatory thumb would harm innovation and make broadband companies wary of investing in new ways to provide better, faster and cheaper service.

This isn’t just conjecture. An example of it came quite recently, in fact, when AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spoke of how the company’s plans to invest in fiber-optic networks in up to 100 cities would change under Obama’s proposal.

The fiber-optic rollouts “are long-term investments,” Stephenson said on Fox Business Network. “And we have to ask under what rules will those be regulated in two or three years. Until we have some clarity, we’ll have to slow ourselves down, and we’ll have to pause and have some idea of what these rules look like in two or three years.”

I can’t think of a better phrase to describe the effect of regulation on innovation: “We’ll have to slow ourselves down.” The fact is, we shouldn’t have to do anything of the sort. These companies should feel they can invest freely in the kinds of services that make life better for their customers. But under net neutrality, that won’t be possible.

It simply makes no sense to yoke the Internet of 2014 to any portion of the Communications Act of 1934. As Erik Telford of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity recently wrote in The Hill, “Given how much the Internet has revolutionized our lives in just the past [10] years, it’s absurd to think that an 80-year-old law will ensure the best service to consumers going forward.”

So let’s see: We’d pay more — for less. Sounds like a government plan, all right.

Here’s a better idea: Leave “net neutrality” junked on the shoulder of the information superhighway instead.


Will Government Regulation Kill the Internet of Things?

By Jack Moore

December 8, 2014 1 Comment


The government needs to update laws and regulations to accommodate the explosive growth of Internet-connected smart devices or risk falling behind the global technology curve.

That’s the view of a few tech-minded lawmakers who have turned their focus to the expanding web of objects and sensors that make up the so-called Internet of Things.

“We’re destined to lose to the Chinese or others if the Internet of Things is governed in the United States by rules that predate our VCRs,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, speaking at a Washington, D.C., event last week hosted by the Center for Data Innovation.

Some 27 million fitness trackers and other forms of “wearable” technology will be sold globally by the end of the year, according to recent research.

And that’s just one fragment of the so-called Internet of Things, or IoT.

This tangled network of Internet-connected sensors and other devices has also become firmly embedded in industrial-control systems that help run power plants and water systems. Smart devices are also making inroads in telecommunications and the health care system.

Will Too Much Regulation ‘Snuff Out’ Innovation?

But Fischer and her Senate colleagues appear anxious about the government writing too many of those rules in stone.

“I think we need to have a firm enough hand to have some rules of the road, to ensure security and privacy but not to snuff any of this great innovation out,” said Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, a fellow member of the Senate commerce panel who also spoke at the event.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who also spoke at the event, said, “I think there’s an exciting opportunity as we look at the new Congress to take up some of these issues where we’re living in the Dark Ages in the way that some of the regulations have been framed.”

But she called for “humility” in the way the government oversees the adoption and spread of IoT, echoing comments made by Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen last year when FTC first studied IoT.


NIST Offers IoT Playgrounds to Test Devices

Traditionally, the government has operated in only carrot-or-stick mode when it comes to the regulation of new technologies, said Sokwoo Rhee, associate director of IoT and cyber-physical systems at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

In the first, the government offers research and development funding to help companies securely adopt new technologies. The latter amounts to strict regulation.

But there’s also a third way, Rhee said: providing a “playground,” or testing space for companies to test what works.

That could be perfect for IoT, in which there are almost as many security standards as there are devices.

“The problem is, there are too many standards out there … Everybody claims they have their own standard,” Rhee said. “Every company’s creating their own thing.”

A NIST-backed program, the Global Cities Challenge, leverages that, allowing IoT manufacturers to work directly with local governments to test out various devices in the real world.

“The market’s going to figure it out,” Rhee said. “The question is, how fast the market can get there and what is the role of government to accelerate that process.”


Security of Devices and Data a Focus

One of the areas in which there’s agreement the government needs new rules is in securing the growing number of devices connected to the Internet — and the data stored on those devices.

University of Michigan researchers this summer, for example, showed that networked traffic lights are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Meanwhile, hackers breached Internet-enabled baby monitors and harassed parents and young children.

A recent study showed 70 percent of widely used IoT devices had security vulnerabilities, Schatz said.


For the government and private companies that operate critical infrastructure, such as power grids and water systems, the challenges may be even more acute.

The President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee last month issued a report last month warning of the pressing need for the government to take steps to ensure IoT devices in critical infrastructure are adopted securely.

“So policymakers actually have no choice in this space,” Schatz said. “We must take on this topic, both because of its scope and its potential benefits and dangers.”


DHS Cyber Program Repels Threats in Real Time

By Aliya Sternstein

December 9 2014


CenturyLink has begun automatically blocking malicious operations on federal networks, under a controversial Department of Homeland Security program that monitors Internet traffic governmentwide.

The progress comes after delays due to contract negotiations. DHS in 2013 tapped five telecommunications companies to computerize threat deflection, including major players AT&T and Verizon.

CenturyLink becomes the first company to go live with intrusion prevention — the third phase of the “Einstein” scanning program. The company, as of Monday, is delivering services to nine civilian agencies, representing about a quarter of federal users, DHS and CenturyLink tell Nextgov.

The company has “the first fully operational” system that is “actively providing cybersecurity services to federal civilian agencies’ end-users,” CenturyLink officials said in a statement.

The project is ahead of schedule, DHS officials said. Einstein 3 Accelerated, or E3A, was slated for completion in 2018 but now is projected to reach full operating capability as early as 2015. DHS has inked memorandums of agreement with 42 other agencies.

DHS would not name the agencies or comment on negotiations with other Internet service providers. AT&T and Verizon declined to address the program, saying they do not comment on customer matters.

The whole Einstein project, as of Aug. 31, was expected to cost nearly $3 billion, according to federal spending databases.

The contract issues complicating rollout included the “general readiness of the ISPs to meet the functional, security, and operational requirements of E3A,” a March DHS inspector general report determined.

Einstein 3 is designed to quarantine emails and block malicious Web domains that “spoof” legitimate sites, according to CenturyLink. The service defends the perimeter of federal civilian networks. It senses aberrant activity using threat “signatures,” or tell-tale signs of a hacker derived from U.S. intelligence and private research. These indicators can include certain email headers or IP addresses, according to a DHS privacy assessment of Einstein.

Under a one-year task order, CenturyLink is adding the blocking features to agencies’ existing Einstein services. Einstein 1 analyzes traffic flows; Einstein 2 alerts security professionals to suspected threats using intrusion detection technology.

DHS ultimately expects to deploy phase 3 across all federal agencies.

The new system consists of commercial technologies and government-developed software. A “sinkholing” application prevents malware on dot-gov networks from copying data to rogue Internet domains by redirecting users to safe servers, according to DHS.

The email filtering tool scans messages destined for dot-gov networks for dubious attachments and links, before delivering them. Infected messages are either quarantined or redirected to DHS cyber analysts for further scrutiny.

Homeland Security has plans to discard all Einstein records at least three years old, as earlier reported. DHS officials have decided they have no research significance. But some security analysts say DHS would be disposing of a wealth of historical threat data. And privacy experts say destroying the records could eliminate evidence the governmentwide surveillance system does not yield results.


Woolpert gets unique permission to fly drones over Ohio, Mississippi

Dec 10, 2014, 9:54am EST

Tristan NaveraStaff Reporter-

Dayton Business Journal


A local company is among the first in the nation to get permission to fly drones.

Woolpert Inc. has been granted permission by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly unmanned systems at two locations, it announced Monday as part of a round of exemptions granted which included three other companies. This makes the Beavercreek-based firm one of the first commercial enterprises in the United States to be allowed to fly unmanned systems for commercial uses.

“Unmanned aircraft offer a tremendous opportunity to spur innovation and economic activity by enabling many businesses to develop better products and services for their customers and the American public,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We want to foster commercial uses of this exciting technology while taking a responsible approach to the safety of America’s airspace.”

In a petition, the group sought permission to operate the Altavian Nova Block III over parts of rural Ohio, areas a map which covers about 35 percent of the state, or about 16,000 square miles, limited to rural areas and away from airports.

The group had also been seeking permission to operate the Altavian Nova Block III to survey Ship Island near Biloxi, Miss., per a request from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The other companies receiving permission were Trimble Navigation Limited, VDOS Global LLC and Clayco Inc.

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. The firms said they will operate UAS weighing less than 55 pounds and keep the UAS within line of sight at all times.

Woolpert, a geospatial analysis firm, has been seeking to use unmanned craft for surveying purposes. It submitted its requests to the FAA over the summer, a move which was supported by prominent drone trade group, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

The FAA granted its first few commercial exemptions to oil companies operating pipelines in Alaska earlier this year. It then granted exemptions to six major film studios to use the craft. The FAA requires special rule making exemptions on a case-by-case basis for drone operations for commercial companies. It also allows public entities to operate the craft using Certificates of Authorization.

Several hundred COAs have been authorized around the country including to Sinclair Community College, Ohio State University and Wright State University.

Woolpert has more than 600 total employees, including 235 in the Dayton region. It posted revenue of $110 million last year, according to DBJ research.


Amazon commercial cloud tapped for GEOINT

Dec. 9, 2014 |



The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has become the first intelligence agency to host an operational capability on Amazon Web Services’ Commercial Cloud Services.

Lockheed Martin put an interactive map for NGA’s Map of the World on Amazon’s C2S, according to a company announcement. Map of the World is an interactive map that allows users to identify terrain and manmade features as well as any intelligence data associated with them. Lockheed Martin’s Geospatial-Intelligence Visualization Services (GVS) program migrated the map and ensured that it complied with the intelligence community’s ICD-503 security guidelines for IT. The project is part of the Total Application Services for Enterprise Requirements (TASER) GVS contract vehicle, which was originally awarded in 2012.

“Deploying geospatial mission applications and software to a commercial cloud environment allows the Map of the World to operate with more agility and efficiency,” said Jason O’Connor, vice president of analysis and mission solutions at Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions. “This accomplishment demonstrates the power of what can be done by leveraging cloud technologies with mission driven software. It shows how we can further enhance geospatial capabilities in the intelligence and DOD community.”



DoD’s first network hub successful in early tests

Dec. 8, 2014 |

Written by JOE GOULD


Tests of the first hub in the Pentagon’s network consolidation effort, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, have thus far been successful, Acting DoD Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen said Friday.

This amounts to a step forward as the Pentagon collapses its sprawling, disparate networks into a more streamlined, standardized, defendable and cost-effective structure. Each network hub, called a joint regional security stack (JRSS), is essentially a collection of servers, switches and software tools to provide better network traffic visibility and analysis.

“It has some sensors, which will give us a better tip-off to what’s going on on the network, so we can take more responsive action [against anomalous activity],” Halvorsen said in a call with reporters. Citing security concerns, he declined to discuss the specifics of the test or the protective software — and declined to discuss costs ahead of Congress approving the Defense Department’s budget.

The consolidated structure would also be visible to the National Security Agency, for intelligence sharing and collaborating on network defense, officials say.

Starting next year and culminating in 2016 and 2017, the rolling effort will see 11 JRSS nodes in the continental U.S., and 23 locations around the world. The first JRSS is at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland has been set up to handle both Army and Air Force network traffic.

“There’s an enormous push behind the thing, this is happening now, it’s not some future pipe dream type stuff,” Hari Bezwada, the chief information officer for the Army’s Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems. Bezwada was speaking at an industry conference here on Thursday.

An Army battalion, which has been installing bulk buys of networking gear, has completed work at nine bases, Bezwada said. The Army and Air Force are converting to JRSS nodes, ahead of the Navy and Marine Corps.

The consolidation is meant to reduce the attack surface for hackers, and DoD’s finite number of defenders, Rezwada said. DoD plans to wrap the whole thing in “best-of-breed” security software.

“You don’t want people to come in through the back door and attack, now we can defend these locations a lot better, with sophisticated, trained people,” Bezwada said.

The Army and the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate are also collaborating on a laboratory that allows experimentation with new cybersecurity technology.

Among other cloud-based applications, the consolidated networks will host “big data” analytics apps that would sniff out intrusions in real time, Bezwada said. What’s more, network overseers will be able to “see” 4 million users simultaneously, Rezwada said.

The transition will also enable the Army to seek cloud-based “unified capabilities,” a package of IP-based services including chat, video and voice communications. The Pentagon plans to issue a request for proposals in early 2015.




JRSS paves the road to JIE

Oct. 16, 2014 |



As the Defense Department edges closer to making its Joint Information Environment a reality, the pieces are coming together, perhaps most tangibly in the form of the joint regional security stack (JRSS).

Pegged as one of JIE’s cornerstones that will better secure military networks and standardize defense IT, JRSS is evolving into a foundational piece of broader departmentwide efforts to transform how the military handles IT, networks and global communications.

“One of the early successes of the JIE is the deployment of joint regional security stacks, which are a component of the single security architecture and will ultimately help to improve command and control and situational awareness across the enterprise,” said Col Daniel Liggins, the vice director of the JIE implementation office at the Defense Information Systems Agency, which is helping lead DoD’s sweeping IT restructuring taking place under JIE. “The stacks are being installed at various sites around the world.”

JRSS continues to take shape as the first site, located at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, reached initial operating capacity on Sept. 14.


“Joint Base San Antonio has been our proof of concept,” said MG Alan Lynn, DISA vice director. He noted that with the other services on track to integrate with the Army’s efforts down the line, San Antonio serves as the 1.0 version of JRSS, with the coordination of the Air Force and DISA down the road being the “1.5” version and a 2.0 also coming but at the moment remains “undefined.”

“We’re working on 2.0, which will represent capturing the differences between how the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps do things differently,” Lynn said at a recent AFCEA DC event in Washington.

Joint Base San Antonio is just the first of 11 continental U.S.-based, or CONUS, JRSS locations, and one of what will eventually be 23 locations around the world. In Wiesbaden, Germany, and in southwest Asia (SWA), noncontinental U.S. JRSS facilities are providing network services to troops overseas, and support to those users will continue to grow in the coming years as DoD agencies continue to build up JRSS in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

The JRSS strategy has steadily gained momentum over the past year or so as JIE evolves and as the services work to modernize their IT infrastructure, according to defense officials.

“What we were focused on last year was SWA, CONUS and one reach back from SWA to Wiesbaden,” said Mike Krieger, deputy Army CIO/G-6. “We wanted SWA to have two ways out — [communications] right now either go to Germany or to space [via satellite]. So we wanted to do the states and Germany. Last year it was ‘let’s fix SWA,’ and to fix SWA we had to do CONUS and Europe so they’re not isolated. Now we’ve got to go back as DoD, not just as the Army, and say now that we’ve got these installed we’ve got to finish Europe and finish the Pacific.”

With San Antonio reaching initial operating capability Sept. 14, the Wiesbaden location is not far behind, with IOC expected on Nov. 14, LTG Robert Ferrell, Army CIO/G-6, told conference attendees at a recent AFCEA TechNet event. IOC for two stacks in southwest Asia is planned for Dec. 14, Ferrell said.

In the U.S., Montgomery, Alabama, is set to be one of the next locations to be up and running in the coming months, eventually joined by locations at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Meade, Maryland; Fort Belvoir, Virginia; and in San Diego and St. Louis, among others, Krieger said. Plans are still being made for the locations of all 23 facilities, some of which also are DISA defense enterprise computing centers, or DECCs.

Back at Joint Base San Antonio, work there has progressed quickly, officials say, setting the tone for the base infrastructure modernization efforts that are at the core of the transition to JRSS facility. Work began last year on upgrading network switches and implementing the multi-label protocol switching (MPLS) that underpins DoD’s CONUS network infrastructure overhaul, as well as the transition to JIE and to cloud capabilities.

The effort has relied on partnership between the services and with the defense agencies — collaboration focused on efficiency and effectiveness, according to COL Robert Mikesh, product manager, for the installation information infrastructure modernization program at Army Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems.

“That’s what gets us into what we’re doing now in network modernization in terms of the switches, the MPLS network that DISA’s working — the new DISN, so to speak,” Mikesh said. “That’s a [wide-area network] upgrade and that’s very important to us, because the tenets coming out of CIO/G6 right now are [to] reduce the cyber attack surface of our network, increase the capacity of our network and then simplify your network in terms of how our soldiers and the operating commands can actually manage the day to day. How can we centralize that management and simplify the day to day?”


That idea is a critical piece of JRSS and the broader DoD IT infrastructure overhaul. It’s also key in the partnership not only between services and agencies, but also with industry helping to implement the upgrades on the ground and transition DoD to an enterprise-level approach IT management.

“With Joint Base San Antonio, this is the first version of JRSS deployed, so it involves the collection of different capabilities, tools and technologies in multiple servers and multiple software sets,” Chris Kearns, director of DISA programs for enterprise IT solutions at Lockheed Martin. Lockheed’s Information Systems and Global Solutions is the prime contractor for the Global Information Grid Systems Management-Operations contract, which JRSS work is being performed under. “That will allow the virtualization of a lot of capabilities at the base and service levels, and at the DISA and agency level it allows them to have visibility into the network. The team becomes very involved in the operational networks that have to be moved to route traffic through; it has to be planned so no missions are interrupted. Then it’s managed at that single, enterprise level.”

Kearns noted that the broad scope of JRSS and the wider DoD network infrastructure reform efforts means an essentially unprecedented level of IT-focused cooperation in order to get to the enterprise-level approach that is at the heart of JRSS and JIE. It is a journey that has not been without its bumps in the road.

“In general a lot of the policy and procedure improvements, the concepts of operations — the joint aspect is a new approach where rather than have multiple sets of equipment for different stakeholders and different views, now you have everyone coming together,” Kearns said. “Workshops have been valuable to get stakeholders together and dialogue, making sure all the requirements are getting met by the same platform. It’s a little like Joint Strike Fighter, where we had multiple sets of different entities and services come together on a single platform. From a cybersecurity perspective, there are a lot of the same initial challenges in making sure everyone is at the table and getting their requirements met.”

MG John Morrison, commander of Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, said that JRSS, JIE and the installation-level upgrade efforts like those at San Antonio are the three legs of the stool behind an entire new methodology in modernizing the Army network.

“All of these approaches are really an integrated team … the joint management construct applied to [command and control] is really a new way of doing things,” Morrison said at an AFCEA event in Washington. “At San Antonio, we’ve already completed what [in the past] would have taken years. This is really where we’re cutting our teeth on the [concept of operations] of this new joint construct. We’ve got to get this right.”


Can Iran Turn Off Your Lights?

Patrick Tucker

December 9, 2014


Online security company Cylance released a report last week showing that an Iranian cyber-espionage operation “Operation Cleaver” had successfully breached U.S. and foreign military, infrastructure and transportation targets. The report claimed to confirm widely-suspected Iranian hacks of the unclassified Navy Marine Core Intranet system, NMCI, in 2013. It describes (with explicitly naming) more than 50 targets around the world, including players in energy and transportation.

But is the Iranian cyber threat overblown?

The tactics detailed in the report show an escalation of Iranian hacking activity, which the report’s writers, in several instances, refer to as rapid.

“We observed the technical capabilities of the Operation Cleaver team rapidly evolve faster than any previously observed Iranian effort. As Iran’s cyber warfare capabilities continue to morph the probability of an attack that could impact the physical world at a national or global level is rapidly increasing. Their capabilities have advanced beyond simple website defacements, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, and Hacking Exposed style techniques,” the report states.

The Operation Cleaver team found vulnerabilities in the Search Query Language or SQL coding in various target systems and then used those SQL vulnerabilities to inject secret commands into back servers (a tactic called SQL injection). They were then able to upload new tools into the systems allowing for more data theft and access. The tools enabled the hackers to capture a wide number of administrator passwords (a technique known as

Among the targets were some 50 companies in 16 countries, representing 15 industries including “military, oil and gas, energy and utilities, transportation, hospitals, telecommunications, technology, education, aerospace, defense contractors, chemical, companies and governments.”

The report’s most dramatic assertion appears on page 5, “Iran is the New China” it declares.

But is it true?

The Not-So-New China of Cyber-Attacks

Speaking before the House Intelligence Committee last month, Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, the commander of U.S. Cyber Command, said that China and perhaps “one or two others” could effectively blackout portions of the United States. “It is a matter of when, not if, that we are going to see something dramatic.”

What does “something dramatic” look like? In a word: dark. “If I want to tell power turbines to go offline and stop generating power, you can do that,” Rogers said. “It enables you to shut down very tailored parts of our infrastructure.”

Rogers declined to mention which “one or two others” had the ability to turn off your lights, but Iran’s burgeoning cyber-capabilities occupy a growing portion of Roger’s job.

In 2013, when hackers within Iran attacked NMCI, it was Roger’s job to fix the gaps, an issue that members of the Senate Armed Services committee asked him about during his 2014 confirmation hearing. At the time, he said that NMCI was “properly architected and constructed against external cyber attacks.”

Other cyber hawks have been more eager to play up the Iranian threat. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., speaking to The
Free Beacon
last month, noted, “We have seen some very, very devastating efforts on behalf of Iran.”

To understand what those efforts may be, it makes sense to consider the history of Iran’s cyber capabilities.

In the 2009, as the Green Movement was fomenting popular resistance the Iranian government, the formation of the “Iranian Cyber Army” marked “a concentrated effort to promote the Iranian government’s political narrative online,” according to OpenNet Initiative’s 2013 analysis of Internet Controls in Iran from 2009-2012. The Army attacked news organizations and opposition Websites within Iran with great success.

Around the same time, the pro-government Basij paramilitary organization launched the Basij Cyber Council, which recruited hackers to develop cyber attacks and spy on Iranian dissidents through malware and “phishing campaigns” where victims were lured to fake websites and tricked into surrendering information. Not long afterward, Iran’s pro-government hacker community turned its attention outward. 

The most severe attack that can be linked to Iran was the 2012 “Shamoon” attack against Saudi Arabian oil company Aramco. It emerged from a shadowy group called the “Cutting Sword of Justice” and effectively took out 33,000 Aramco computers, erasing the data on the hard drives. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called it “a significant escalation of the cyber threat and they have renewed concerns about still more destructive scenarios that could unfold.” Escalation sounds troubling until you consider the baseline state from which said escalation ascends.

Here’s what Shamoon did not do: affect any of the computers that actually controlled vital mechanical processes at Aramco. It did not cause any industrial accidents and did not shut down oil production. The attack was costly, caused inconvenience on a large scale, but was not a black-out attack.

“There was nothing about Shamoon that was sophisticated. In fact, Shamoon was only 50 percent functional according to one of the labs that I spoke with,” Jeffrey Carr, CEO of the cyber-security firm Taia Global and the author of Inside Cyber Warfare: Mapping the Cyber Underworld, told Defense One.

The level of technical expertise displayed by Shamoon, and hinted at in the Cylance report, suggest that the sophistication of Iran’s cyber capabilities has not reached that of China or Russia or the United States. SQL injection hacks can be severe but are not exotic. The attacks detailed in the Cylance report also make use of a widely known security bug, the MS08-O67 flaw in Microsoft Windows.

Today Is Not Zero-Day

Cylance claims that they uncovered “only a fraction” of the systems that Operation Cleaver likely targeted. But as Dan Goodin, writing for Ars Technica, reports “there’s no evidence any zero-day vulnerabilities were exploited.” That suggests that the gaps Operation Cleaver took advantage of are fixable at relatively low cost.

So-called zero-day attacks exploit new classes of vulnerabilities in systems, vulnerabilities for which there is no effective patch. When a zero-day attack occurs, the security team has “zero” days to come up with a solution a very novel problem. Stuxnet, the worm that effectively shut down the Iranian nuclear refinement centrifuges in 2010, was a zero-day weapon and actually did succeed in shutting down vital mechanical processes outside of cyberspace.

Hackers within China are practiced at zero-day attacks, including a reported global attack against shipping interests occurring in July. That attack, while sophisticated, amounted to little more than industrial espionage, which fits with China’s modus operandi.

China vs. Iran: Differing Capabilities and Motivations

Therein lies the big difference between China and Iran as a cyber adversary. China is more capable and more focused on narrow objectives, which Cole defines as “stealing intellectual property and national secrets primarily to give itself a competitive edge in competing in the global market.”

Government officials have echoed that view. Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said “China’s cyber operations reflect its leadership’s priorities of economic growth, domestic political stability, and military preparedness.” Read that to mean a likely continuance of data theft, not terrorist acts that could damage both economies.

Iran, as a cyber adversary, is both less capable and more bellicose than China. The Iranian economy, unlike China’s, is largely divorced from that of the United States. And Iran was the only nation to actually suffer a catastrophic cyber attack, for which it blames Israel and the U.S. As a result of these and other factors, Iran may have more of a will for cyber-mayhem even if it lacks the most dangerous tools.

In this way, Iran is the perfect cyber adversary for Washington’s hawks to rattle sabers against, and the rattling is becoming more frequent.

Speaking to The Hill’s Cory Bennett on Nov. 22, Rep. Rogers speculated that a breakdown in negotiations between Iran and the United States on an upcoming nuclear deal could compel Iran to attack water and oil and water systems in the United States.

“As soon they believe it’s to their advantage to begin again in more aggressive cyber activity toward the United States, they’re going to do it,” Rogers said. “It would be logical to conclude that if the talks fail completely, they’ll re-engage at the same level.”

The deadline for a deal passed—peacefully—two days later, with the parties agreeing to a seven-month extension.

“Are they the new China? At this point they haven’t shown us enough capability to overshadow the continuous attacks of various levels of sophistication from China,” Tony Cole, the global government chief technical officer for the cybersecurity group FireEye told Defense One. “They might be simply showing the world that they have a capability at this point in the cyber arena or it could be for more nefarious purposes where they plan on creating a cyber attack to have a kinetic and damaging effect in the real world. We hope it’s not the latter.”

(For a history of Iranian cyber capabilities, check out FireEye’s 2013 paper.)

Despite its growing capabilities, Iran probably lacks the means to turn off your lights. 


FAA Faces Fresh Flack for Drone Policy

U.S. Regulators Approves Anther Four Companies to Use Drones for Industrial Operations

By Jack Nicas

Updated Dec. 10, 2014 1:26 p.m. ET


The lack of a comprehensive policy for drone use in the U.S. is endangering the safety of air transportation while also setting U.S. businesses behind their peers abroad, lawmakers, government watchdogs and industry officials said at a congressional hearing.

The comments on Wednesday came as the Federal Aviation Administration made its latest incremental move to open the skies to commercial use of drones, approving four companies to use the devices to create maps and collect data on construction sites. The decision brings the number of approved commercial-drone operators in the U.S. to just 13—compared with thousands in Europe.

“I can’t help but wonder: If the Germans, French and Canadians can do some of these things today, why can’t we also be doing this?” said U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.) at a hearing Wednesday on U.S. drone regulations. “Are they smarter than us? I don’t think so.”

The hearing underscored frustration over the pace of the FAA’s efforts to develop new drone rules, as well as the many technological, regulatory and safety challenges that remain to integrate the devices into U.S. skies. Currently the agency bans the use of drones by companies other than the 13 it has granted exceptions, though many businesses and entrepreneurs are using them without authorization.

Peggy Gilligan, the FAA’s associate administrator for aviation safety, defended the agency’s progress, saying regulators are taking a gradual, cautious approach because authorizing widespread drone flights in the U.S.—which has the world’s most crowded airspace—carries extreme safety risks.

Other experts at the hearing reinforced the need for caution. Dr. Nicholas Roy, a robotics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped develop Google Inc. ‘s delivery-drone prototypes, said small consumer drones aren’t yet reliable and engineers are struggling to develop many important technologies, such as features that enable the devices to detect and avoid obstacles. But, he added, FAA restrictions on test flights are complicating the development of such technologies.

Lee Moak, head of the Air Line Pilots Association, brought a hand-held four-rotor drone to the congressional hearing and showed pictures of planes that were struck by birds or drones. He urged regulators and lawmakers not to allow industry pressures to rush drone regulations. “Standards and technologies must be in place to ensure the same high level of safety before an [unmanned aircraft] can be permitted to occupy the same airspace as planes,” he said.

Gerald Dillingham, director of aviation issues at the Government Accountability Office, said the FAA is behind schedule on eight of 17 drone-related mandates Congress gave the agency in 2012. Notably, he said, integrating drones into U.S. airspace—mandated to occur by September 2015—likely won’t occur until 2017 or later.

That delay “could contribute to [drones] continuing to operate unsafely and illegally and lead to additional enforcement activities for FAA’s scarce resources,” he said. Plus, without rules for commercial drones, “U.S. businesses may continue to take their testing and research-and-development activities outside of the U.S.”

Rep. Blake Farenthold, (R., Texas), who said he had “a quadcopter on my Christmas list,” asked Mr. Dillingham how the FAA could expedite its drone regulations. In response, Mr. Dillingham said, “This is a situation that, although we’ve studied it, we don’t have an answer for.”


Rep. Farenthold then asked Mr. Dillingham how the FAA could better enforce its effective ban on commercial-drone use in the U.S., a policy that U.S. entrepreneurs are widely violating. “It’s going to be a difficult, if not impossible task because the FAA already has so many calls on their resources,” Mr. Dillingham said.

The FAA has written draft rules on commercial drones, but they are under review and aren’t expected to be implemented soon. Meanwhile, the agency is issuing case-by-case approvals for companies to use drones for their businesses. Earlier this year, the agency approved seven companies to use drones for filmmaking. The agency earlier approved two commercial-drone operations in northern Alaska.

On Wednesday, the FAA approved four more companies because their proposed drone operations “do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security.”

FAA issued those exemptions to Trimble Navigation Ltd. and VDOS Global LLC, which make or operate unmanned aircraft, and Clayco Inc. and Woolpert Inc., two architectural and engineering firms. The companies plan to use drones to make maps, monitor construction sites and inspect oil flare stacks, the agency said.



Unmanned aircraft rules needed now, AOPA tells Congress

by Press • 11 December 2014


By Elizabeth A Tennyson


The FAA should expedite its rule governing the operation of small commercial unmanned aerial systems, AOPA told the House Aviation Subcommittee in comments submitted for the record as part of a Dec. 10 hearing on UAS technology. In its statement, AOPA also recommended that the FAA take steps to address dangerous operations by recreational UAS users, including stipulating penalties.

In order to operate safely in the National Airspace System, AOPA said, commercial unmanned aircraft should be certified using a standard airworthiness certificate or other form of FAA approval, be controlled by an FAA-approved pilot or operator, and be utilized in compliance with current operating rules and airspace requirements, including see-and-avoid capabilities.

Commercial UAS are currently allowed to operate only with an FAA waiver. On the day of the hearing, the agency granted five new regulatory exemptions to four companies, bringing the total number of exemptions to 11. The newest waivers will allow the use of UAS for aerial surveying, construction site monitoring, and oil rig flare stack inspections. To obtain the exemptions, the companies had to demonstrate they could maintain an equivalent level of safety to other aircraft.

In addition to concerns over commercial operations, an increasing number of incidents involving recreational UAS pose a potential threat to aviation operations, AOPA told the subcommittee. The FAA limits recreational UAS operations to altitudes below 400 feet, requires that they be flown within sight of the operator, and puts restrictions on operations in the vicinity of airports and aircraft. Despite these rules, the FAA has received reports from pilots and air traffic controllers describing 193 UAS encounters so far this year.

“It is clear that many of the people flying UAS have little or no knowledge of the rules under which other airspace users operate,” AOPA wrote in its statement. “It is also clear from online videos that operators are flying near airports, in the clouds, and in congested airspace.”

AOPA is encouraging the FAA to issue clear guidance for recreational UAS operations and ask manufacturers to include that information in product packaging. AOPA also wants the FAA to work with associations to improve educational outreach to recreational UAS operators, establish penalties for reckless UAS operations, and publish guidance for pilots on how to file timely reports on UAS encounters.

Dangerous commercial and recreational UAS operations have also raised concerns for the AOPA Air Safety Institute, an arm of the nonprofit AOPA Foundation that provides free safety education for pilots and flight instructors, analyzes safety data, and conducts safety research.

“Radio controlled model aircraft have been around for decades. The difference—and the challenge—now is the proliferation of low cost, multi-rotor ‘drone’ aircraft that take little or no training to operate and are often flown beyond line of sight using ‘point of view’ systems,” said George Perry, Air Safety Institute senior vice president. “Technology moves fast, and government bureaucracies like the FAA do not. It’s clear to anyone who has been following ‘the rise of the drone’ that there are several safety concerns and the FAA is struggling with how best to deal with those.”

AOPA has been involved in UAS regulatory issues since 1991, when the FAA tasked an aviation rulemaking advisory committee with developing guidance for UAS. In 2004, AOPA asked the FAA to create a government-industry working group to develop consensus standards for operating small UAS weighing 55 pounds or less. AOPA served on the group and the FAA accepted the resulting consensus standards in 2007, but has yet to release a proposed rule.

In the meantime, the FAA has relied on outdated guidance to govern the use of UAS, including Advisory Circular 91-57, which was drafted in 1981. That guidance “does not address commercial UAS operations or line-of-sight and point-of-view operations because in 1981 commercial applications for model aircraft were almost non-existent and having images beamed back to the user to be displayed in Google glasses was science fiction,” AOPA wrote in its statement.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the subcommittee heard from representatives of the FAA, the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, the airline industry, and the UAS industry.


Fight or flight: Amazon gets tough with the FAA

Amazon says if the US agency won’t play, its drone operations will end up overseas. We’ll see whether that threat gets off the ground.

by Donna Tam and Stephen Shankland

December 10, 2014 1:27 PM PST

For Amazon and its drones, the FAA must seem like a heavy cloud cover that just won’t lift.

The online retailer has ambitious plans to try out home delivery of goods via small unmanned aircraft, but needs clearance from the US Federal Aviation Administration to do flight tests outdoors — clearance that, in Amazon’s eyes, can’t come soon enough.

The FAA, meanwhile, is in no rush to allow what could be swarms of pilotless vehicles — not just from Amazon — into airspace also used by commercial and private planes and helicopters. Operating a commercial fleet of drones is currently illegal, but the government agency has approved a limited number of organizations to conduct flight tests. Amazon was hoping to be among those allowed to do trial runs with its drones.

Amazon’s impatience with the oversight process showed through this week in the company’s latest letter to the FAA, in which it threatened to move more of its drone trials overseas.

“I fear the FAA may be questioning the fundamental benefits of keeping [unmanned aircraft systems] technology innovation in the United States,” Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, Paul Misener, wrote in the letter, dated December 7.

The agency said it will continue to review Amazon’s situation and has assigned an inspector to “work closely” with the company, according to a statement.

“The FAA is currently waiting for additional information from the company to complete the application,” the agency said.

Neither Amazon or the FAA would say what additional information the agency requires of Amazon. There is no set timetable for the process, an FAA spokeswoman said.

The new plea from the world’s largest online retailer, which follows a letter Amazon sent in July, underscores the FAA’s caution on drones as it works to establish rules for commercial drone operations. Currently, only hobbyists can fly drones outdoors. Until commercial regulations are in place, the FAA is reluctant to approve widespread outdoor testing, meaning that for now Amazon must conduct such flight tests abroad.

“In the absence of timely approval by the FAA to conduct outdoor testing,” Amazon said in its letter, “we have begun utilizing outdoor testing facilities outside the United States. These non-U.S. facilities enable us to quickly build and modify our Prime Air vehicles as we construct new designs and make improvements.”

Amazon won’t say where, but the BBC reported that the company has a drone facility in the UK. It’s not the only company that has to go overseas — Google has been testing drones in Australia.

Meanwhile, Amazon is testing drones in an indoor space near its headquarters in Seattle, Wash.


The slow approach

The deliberate approach by the FAA is in keeping with its mandate.

“The FAA’s approach is conservative by necessity. Given the number of rogue operators out there who just don’t seem to care, the FAA is moving slowly, although I call it methodically,” said Mark A. Dombroff, an aviation attorney who leads a drone practice at McKenna Long & Aldridge.

Despite those concerns, the government should approve Amazon’s request, he said.

“I see no problem with them testing [drones] outside so long as they observe all the same parameters that the FAA has defined for any exemption being sought,” he said. “I understand that they are agreeable to doing just that, so I think they should get an exemption.”

It’s likely the government is hesitant given Amazon’s ambitious plans for commercial delivery, according to Dombroff.

Amazon last year announced Prime Air, a way to deliver packages that weigh 5 pounds or less in under 30 minutes. More than 86 percent of the millions of products Amazon sells fall in that weight category.

While drones are traditionally associated with military operations, the US government is trying to figure out how these unmanned aircraft will work in a civilian environment. In January, the FAA announced six testing sites that would help the agency determine guidelines for issues related to civilian drone operation, like safety, communications, navigation, air traffic control and privacy. The sites chosen are the University of Alaska, the state of Nevada, Griffiss International Airport in New York, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University’s Corpus Christi campus and Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Misener said previously that the company wants to run its outdoor testing closer to its home in Washington. It applied for an exemption in July, arguing its service would benefit the public, and would not harm public safety. The FAA previously approved a handful of exemptions in September to moviemakers operating drones under tight controls.

The FAA initially suggested Amazon apply for an experimental permit instead of exemptions, according to Monday’s letter. The agency said it has issued more than 200 of these experimental certificates to drone operators since 2005.

These permits are applied to a specific drone model, which Misener said would take too long, given how quickly Amazon is developing new models. The drones went through three iterations in the span of two months, according to the company’s initial request, and is likely past its ninth generation by now. Misener called the permit process “lengthy” and “burdensome.”

Misener also played the patriotism card in his letter this week, writing that it is “in the public interest” to keep Amazon’s drone R&D efforts in the US: “Amazon is increasingly concerned that, unless substantial progress is quickly made in opening up the skies in the United States, the nation is at risk of losing its position as the center of innovation for the [drone] technological revolution, along with the key jobs and economic benefits that come as a result.”

Still, the FAA has good reason for its go-slow approach, said Paul Saffo, who forecasts technology trends as a consultant at Discern Analytics.

“The FAA’s ‘slow’ pace might be actually protecting the industry from some horrible accident that would have a vastly greater negative impact,” said Saffo. “First we invent our technologies. Then as a society we decide how to use that technology.”


Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It’s disconnect time between Americans and their government once again.

Voters continue to believe that cutting government spending and taxes are the best presents the federal government can give the economy this holiday season.  Instead, Congress is on the brink of passing a $1.1 trillion budget that does neither.

Most voters have said in surveys for years that controlling the border to stop illegal immigration should come before any steps putting those already here illegally on the path to citizenship. Instead, President Obama on his own has exempted up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation, and so far there doesn’t appear to be much Congress can do about it.

The majority opposes the president taking action on immigration issues without Congress, perhaps in part because many don’t believe he is as interested as they are in stopping illegal immigration.  Voters are closely divided over whether their state should join the 17 states now suing the Obama administration over the president’s action.

Voters weren’t clamoring for a report on CIA interrogation methods either, but the Senate Intelligence Committee released one anyway this week. Some in the national security community warned against making the results of the Senate investigation public, saying it’s likely to cause reprisal attacks against Americans overseas. Voters strongly believe it would have been better for Congress to keep the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation methods a secret if the disclosures put the American public at risk.

Besides, nearly half of voters favor the harsh interrogation tactics used by the CIA on suspected terrorists and think they elicited valuable information that helped the United States.

Then there’s Obamacare which remains untouched despite numerous voter concerns. Most voters continue to believe the unpopular national health care law will cost the government more than projected and will push up health care costs for all Americans.

Voters aren’t keen on the idea of declaring war on the radical Islamic group ISIS in Iraq and Syria and strongly feel that congressional approval should be required before the president sends U.S. troops into combat. The Senate edged closer this week to authorizing boots on the ground for a war most voters don’t want.

On the holiday front, Americans remain strongly supportive of celebrating Christmas in the public schools and putting religious displays on public land – even as state and local governments run in the opposite direction.

Voters continue to give mediocre reviews to the public schools and remain strongly pro-choice when it comes to things like uniforms, academic calendars and school prayer.

Despite complaints from many in government, Americans are solidly convinced that their local police are their protectors and give them high makes for the job they do. Most also believe deaths that involve policemen are usually the fault of the suspect, not the cop.

But Americans are less sure of the need for police to use factors such as race, ethnicity and overall appearance to determine whom they should randomly search.

As with many issues involving race, black Americans and white Americans have distinctly different views of the police and recent high-profile events involving them in Ferguson, Missouri and on Staten Island in New York.

Most Americans aren’t convinced that recent protests around the country in response to the grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York will bring about desired changes and think such protests are controlled by special interest groups and outside agitators anyway.

Americans are more supportive of police officers wearing body cameras and believe it will reduce the number of fatal incidents cops are involved in.  Interestingly, however, they think the cameras will protect the police more than civilians.

Voters have become slightly less critical of the president since Election Day, although his daily job approval rating still runs in the negative mid-teens.

Democrats have edged ahead on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot, the first time they’ve had the lead since early October.

In other surveys last week:

— Twenty-six percent (26%) of voters think the United States is heading in the right direction. This finding has been under 30% nearly every week for the past year-and-a-half.

Investors are feeling more upbeat, consumers less so.

— It’s Jesus vs. Santa again this Christmas season.

— Americans are in the charitable spirit this Christmas, and more plan to make a donation than last year.

Most adults think their fellow Americans play video games too much. Nearly half of Americans also still believe violent video games lead to more violence in society.

December 6 2014


6 December 2014


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For Obama and the Pentagon, an uneasy relationship


Nov. 29, 2014 11:03 AM EST


WASHINGTON (AP) — On a trip to Afghanistan during President Barack Obama’s first term, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was stunned to find a telephone line at the military’s special operations headquarters that linked directly back to a top White House national security official.

“I had them tear it out while I was standing there,” Gates said earlier this month as he recounted his discovery. “I told the commanders, ‘If you get a call from the White House, you tell them to go to hell and call me.'”

To Gates, the phone in Kabul came to symbolize Obama’s efforts to micromanage the Pentagon and centralize decision-making in the White House. That criticism later would be echoed publicly and pointedly by Gates’ successor, Leon Panetta.

The president’s third Pentagon chief, Chuck Hagel, was picked partly because he was thought to be more deferential to Obama’s close circle of White House advisers. But over time, Hagel also grew frustrated with what he saw as the West Wing’s insularity.

There have been similar gripes from other Cabinet officials, but the friction between the White House and the Pentagon has been particularly pronounced during Obama’s six years in office. That dynamic already appears to be affecting the president’s ability to find a replacement for Hagel, who resigned Monday under pressure from Obama.

Within hours, former Pentagon official Michele Flournoy called Obama to take herself out of consideration, even though she was widely seen as his top choice and would have been the first woman to hold the post.

Flournoy officially cited family concerns, but people close to her say she also had reservations about being restrained like Hagel and would perhaps wait to see if she could get the job if another Democrat — namely Hillary Rodham Clinton — won the presidency in 2016.

Obama’s eventual nominee will join a national security team that is under intense criticism for its response to the rise of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. The president has authorized airstrikes in both countries and sent about 3,000 U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces.

He has resisted sending American troops into ground combat and has insisted the military campaign is not designed to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose 3½ year assault on civilians helped create the chaos that allowed the Islamic State to thrive.


The foreign policy landscape looks far different from what Obama envisioned when he ran for the White House and pledged to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama has been seen in the Pentagon as being overly suspicious of the military and its inclination to use force to address problems. To some in the Pentagon, the president’s approach to the military seems particularly cool and detached when compared with that of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, who was more eager to embrace the military and accept its judgments.

Stephen Biddle, an occasional adviser to U.S. combat commanders, said the White House has fallen victim to “group think” and is distrustful of advice or perspectives that challenge its own.

“That’s a bad policy development design,” said Biddle, a political science professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

Several White House, defense and other administration officials discussed the relationship between the president and the Pentagon on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so publicly.

On foreign policy decision-making, Obama relies in particular on national security adviser Susan Rice and chief of staff Denis McDonough. Secretary of State John Kerry has managed to carve out some areas of influence, particularly on Iranian nuclear negotiations. Some Pentagon officials say they have seen an increasingly close relationship between Obama and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But at the Pentagon, senior officials say there is growing frustration with a lack of policy direction and clarity from the White House that has hampered the military’s ability to quickly respond to fast-moving events around the world. Policy recommendations from the Pentagon are often discussed exhaustively in White House meetings that can bog down, delaying decisions and sometimes resulting in conclusions that remain vague.

Over the past year, officials said the Pentagon leadership was particularly baffled by the White House’s slow deliberations on Russia’s moves against Ukraine and the rise of Islamic State militants.

Earlier this fall, officials said, Hagel sent Rice a memo on Syria reflecting the views of military commanders who feel Obama’s strategy lacks cohesion and has included too many one-off decisions, such as resupplying Kurdish forces fighting the militants in the Syrian town of Kobani. Hagel and military commanders were particularly concerned about a lack of clarity over Obama’s position toward Assad.

On Ukraine, officials say Hagel pressed the White House to speed up the protracted debate over providing even nonlethal assistance to Ukrainian forces and to look for new options when the support the administration did provide proved ineffective in stopping Russian-backed rebels.

Obama’s advisers deny Hagel was ousted because he challenged the president. They cast the former Republican senator as the wrong fit for a job in which he never appeared comfortable. The aides also defended the White House’s lengthy internal deliberations, saying Obama’s decision-making process reflects the complexity of the problems.

Hagel’s ouster has spurred a flurry of suggestions from foreign policy experts for how Obama can repair his relationship with the Pentagon, from ousting his West Wing aides to revamping the White House’s National Security Council, which has ballooned from a few dozen staffers in the 1970s to more than 400.

But Gates, the former Pentagon chief who voiced his frustrations during a forum this month at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in California, suggested the real issue rested with the president himself.

“When a president wants highly centralized control in the White House at the degree of micromanagement that I’m describing, that’s not bureaucratic, that’s political,” he said.



Defense Firms Could Be Skeptical of Investing in Research

Marcus Weisgerber

November 26, 2014


Despite a recent push by the Defense Department for companies to invest more in research projects, the Pentagon might continue having trouble getting firms to spend more of their own money for this, experts say.

Unless DOD creates “more compelling threats of potential lost business” so-called prime contractors — such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics – will be less likely to boost research spending, a new report by analyst Byron Callan at Capital Alpha Partners has found.

Callan’s report comes just days after the Pentagon officially launched a project to find new technologies that it hopes will give it an edge on the battlefield decades from now.

The project, called the Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program, is akin to the so-called “offset strategies” that the Pentagon employed after World War II and again in the 1970s. The terminology refers to offsetting an enemy’s military with a technology. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, the driving force behind the effort, has termed the latest effort the “third offset strategy.”

Nuclear weapons were considered the first offset and stealth and precision weapons were considered the second offset. So-called smart bombs, that could hit targets hundreds of miles away with pinpoint accuracy, have given the U.S. military a battlefield advantage for nearly four decades, but now other nations are catching up.

Work envisions a future where the U.S. military will have to fight from farther away with stealthy air, sea and ground weapons. Technologies, including biotechnology and robotics could all play into this concept as well as using different technologies in concert with one another.

“The key thing is, what is something that we believe that will give us a competitive advantage?” Work said during an interview at the Defense One Summit last week.

And other countries, including adversaries, will try to duplicate this strategy, Work said. The Pentagon’s first two offset strategies were “relatively hard to duplicate.” Not the case anymore as adversaries will be able to copy the way DOD uses the technology.

“We have potential competitors who are very, very good in this business and cannot only steal our [intellectual property], but can duplicate things very fast,” he said.

The prior offset strategy has lasted about four decades, but “it is unlikely the next one will last that long,” Work said.

Parts of the new offset strategy will be classified and kept secret while others will be remain in the open.

“There are certain capabilities that might surprise us so much that we say: ‘Hey, we would not want to reveal this capability,'” Work said. He likened this to the development of the Air Force’s fleet of F-117 stealth fighters, which were battle-ready for years before they were publically acknowledged.

Even though the Pentagon has been spending less in recent years, defense firms have still been able to turn sizable profits by downsizing, reorganizing and expanding commercial business.

“We did not want our potential adversaries to know we had the capability,” Work said. And they didn’t until 1988.

Defense firms were integral to the last offset strategy and Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall is trying to get companies to buy in to this latest round. Over the next six months, DOD leaders will build a “conceptual framework” for the new offset strategy.

Defense leaders argue that companies that spend their own money on research projects will be better positioned to win contracts down the road when Pentagon spending rebounds from the current decline.

Companies with large commercial businesses oftentimes spend multiples more on research than pure defense companies. That’s because there is a far greater chance of recouping investments with a successful commercial technological breakthrough. That is not the case with defense technology.

So if Apple develops a new phone, it could sell hundreds of millions of them worldwide leading to billions of dollars in profit. If Lockheed Martin develops a new missile with sensitive military technology and DOD doesn’t want it, the company loses the money it cost to build the weapon since there are not as many sales options.

Even though the Pentagon has been spending less in recent years, defense firms have still been able to turn sizable profits by downsizing, reorganizing and expanding commercial business. DOD’s research spending has been slowing in recent years as well. But as Pentagon spending continues to fall, it will be difficult for DOD to convince companies to tap into profits to expand research spending.

Companies are not required to say how much they’re spending on research, but many have been more open about disclosing figures, particularly over the past year as DOD has challenged firms to step it up.

Lockheed officials have said the company would boost research project spending in 2014 to about $730 million, but that’s still well below the $822 million the company spent in 1999.

And leadership is key to keeping the military services focused on the effort, particularly making sure they budget money for research projects, according to experts.

Work called the effort a “very big priority” for Pentagon leaders of the remaining two years of the Obama administration. Despite budget constraints, Pentagon officials are trying to free up money for prototyping projects, Work said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in September put an emphasis on using prototyping as a way to keep company design teams fresh when there are fewer DOD funded research projects.


Ex-DoD official Carter leads list of SECDEF candidates

By Leo Shane III, Staff writer 1:41 p.m. EST November 26, 2014

Within an hour of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation announcement, defense watchers began looking to potential nominees to replace him. Within two days, two of the top contenders removed themselves from that list.

On Monday, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said through his staff that he had no interest in the job. A day later, Michèle Flournoy, the former top policy adviser at the Pentagon, asked the White House to drop her name from consideration as well.

The moves leave Ash Carter, the former deputy secretary of defense, as the most-rumored name to be selected for the post. White House officials have floated his name as a possible Pentagon leader for years.

Carter has worked both as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer and budget official, and still commands the respect of many in the building and on Capitol Hill. He’s a Rhodes scholar with degrees in theoretical physics and medieval history, and also served as an assistant defense secretary during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

But he’s not the only name still under consideration. Here’s an updated look at some of the other rumored candidates:

• Robert Work: The current Defense Department deputy secretary has played a major role in recent military budget planning issues. He’s a former Navy undersecretary and has close ties to a pair of prominent defense think tanks. He’s also been a long-trusted adviser to President Obama, taking a lead role on his defense transition team.

• Deborah Lee James: The current Air Force secretary boasts more than 30 years of national security experience in the government and private sector, with ties to influencers in both arenas. She also has ties to the Clinton administration, serving as an assistant secretary for reserve affairs. And she worked on the House Armed Services Committee staff for a decade, giving her allies on Capitol Hill as well.

• Ray Mabus: The former Mississippi governor works as secretary of the Navy, and was a key figure in the department’s reaction to the 2013 Navy Yard shooting. Mabus was also previously tapped by the White House to lead clean-up efforts following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

• Other names in the mix: Army Secretary John McHugh, Clinton’s Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Clinton Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre.

• Names not in the mix: Retiring Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin has said he’s looking forward to returning home to Michigan at the end of the year. A spokeswoman for former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell said he has no interest in returning to the government.


Sunni vs. Shi’ite: Why the U.S. plan to save Iraq is doomed to fail

By Peter Van Buren November 25, 2014

If the United States was looking for the surest way to lose Iraq War 3.0, it might start by retraining the failed Iraqi Army to send north — alongside ruthless Shi’ite militias — into Sunni-majority territory and hope that the Sunnis will welcome them with open arms, throwing out the evil Islamic State.


Maybe it’s time for a better plan.

And the way to find one is by understanding how we lost Iraq War 2.0. We need a plan to create a stable, tri-state solution to the Sunni-Shi’ite-Kurd divide, or the current war will fail as surely as the previous one.

A critical first step is, of course, to remove Islamic State from the equation, but not how the Obama administration envisions. The way to drive Islamic State out of Iraq is to remove the reason Islamic State has been able to remain in Iraq: as a protector of the Sunnis. In Iraq War 2.0, the Iraqi Sunnis never melded politically with al Qaeda; they allied out of expediency, against the Shi’ite militias and the Shi’ite central government. The same situation applies to Islamic State, the new al Qaeda in Iraq.

The United States is acting nearly 180 degrees counter to this strategy, enabling Shi’ite militia and Iranian forces’ entry into Anbar and other Sunni-majority areas to fight Islamic State. The more Shi’ite influence, the more Sunnis feel they need Islamic State muscle. More Iranian fighters also solidify Iran’s grip on the Shi’ite government in Baghdad, and weakens America’s. The presence of additional Sunni players, like the Gulf States, will simply grow the violence indecisively, with the various local factions manipulated as armed proxies.

Iraq in 2007 was, on the surface, a struggle between insurgents and the United States. However, the real fight was happening in parallel, as the minority Sunnis sought a place in the new Shi’ite-dominated Iraq. The solution was supposedly the Anbar Awakening. Indigenous Iraqi Sunnis would be pried lose from al Qaeda under American protection (that word again), along with the brokered promise that the Shi’ites would grant them a substantive role in governance. The Shi’ites balked almost from day one, and the deal fell apart even before America’s 2011 withdrawal — I was in Iraq with the Department of State and saw it myself. The myth that “we won” only to have the victory thrown away by the Iraqis — a favorite among 2.0 apologists — is very dangerous. It suggests repeating the strategy will result in something other than repeating the results. The Sunnis won’t be so easily fooled again.

Progress otherwise in Iraq? The new prime minister has accomplished little toward unity, selecting a Badr militia politician to head the Interior Ministry, for example. The Badr group has been a key player in sectarian violence.

Islamic State still controls 80 percent of Anbar Province, the key city of Mosul and is attacking in Ramadi. U.S. air strikes cannot seize ground. The Iraqi Army will never rise to the fullness of the challenge. One can only imagine the thoughts of the American trainers, retraining some of the same Iraqi troops from War 2.0.

Military vehicles of the Kurdish security forces are seen during an intensive security deployment in Diyala province north of BaghdadElsewhere, the Kurds are already a de facto separate state. Their ownership of Arbil, the new agreement to allow the overt export of some of their own oil, and the spread of the peshmerga to link up with Kurdish forces in Syria, are genies that won’t go back into the bottle. America need only restrain Kurdish ambitions to ensure stability.

Present Iraq strategy delays, at great cost — in every definition of that word — the necessary long-term tristate solution. It is time to hasten it. The United States must use its influence with the Shi’ites to have their forces, along with the Iranians, withdraw to Baghdad. America would create a buffer zone, encompassing the strategically critical international airport as a “peacekeeping base.” Using air power, America would seal the Iraq-Syria border in western Anbar, at least against any medium-to-large scale Islamic State resupply effort. Arm the Sunni tribes if they will push Islamic State out of their towns. Support goes to those tribes who hold territory, a measurable, ground-truth based policy, not an ideological one. Implementing the plan in northwest Iraq can also succeed, but will be complicated by Kurd ambitions, greater ethnic diversity among the Iraqis and a stronger Islamic State tactical hold on cities like Mosul. There’ll be another tough challenge, the sharing of oil revenues between the new Sunni and Shi’ite states, so this plan is by no means a slam-dunk.

The broad outline is not new; in 2006 then-Senator Joe Biden proposed a federal partition of Iraq along the Bosnian model. Bush-era zeal kept the idea from getting a full review. But much has transpired since 2006.

If the tristate plan works, it will deny Islamic State sanctuary where it is now most powerful, and a strategy for northwest Iraq may emerge. America will realize its long-sought enduring bases in Iraq as a check on Iranian ambitions and an assurance of security for the embassy. The president can decouple Syrian policy from Iraq. An indefinite American presence in Iraq will not be fully welcomed, though one hastens to add it basically is evolving anyway.

For advocates of disengagement, this is bitter medicine. But we are where we are in Iraq, and wishful thinking, on their part or the White House’s, is no longer practical. A divided Iraq, maintained by an American presence, is the only hope for long-term stability. Otherwise, stay tuned for Iraq War 4.0.


National Security Policymakers—No Experience Necessary?

Chris Miller

Posted on November 30, 2014

The United States possesses the most capable military in human history accompanied by the largest intelligence community in the world. The well-oiled machine that is our military-industrial complex underpins all other components of American national strength. Even with all of this power at our disposal, national security decisions with great ramifications are often made on the basis of executive summaries and PowerPoint briefings to congressional and executive branch officials–including presidents–who have little to no real national security experience of their own to draw on. Our leaders cannot properly defend America while learning about national security 45 minutes at a time. The learning curve is far too steep.


No Experience Necessary?

The President of the United States and U.S. Representatives and Senators, using history as a guide, are generally white males past middle age of above average wealth and education. They are most likely lawyers by training, clawed their way up through the ranks of one of the major political parties, held local, state, and national political offices, and served several years as a Congressman, Senator, or perhaps Governor.

On average, they have little to no military or national security experience, other than perhaps serving on related congressional committees or as commander of a state’s National Guard. This common lack of experience among our national leaders holds true even of presidents and congressmen who are not white, male, older, Christian, educated and rich. Lack of national security experience seems to be the common trait that our national leaders have in common, no matter their background. Yet they are the ultimate decision-makers for the most capable national security complex in the history of the world, all the way up to Commander in Chief. As the number of veterans in congress dwindles every year, it should not surprise us that we are struggling to form a coherent national strategy.

No person in their right mind would knowingly hire a dentist, a lawyer, a carpenter, or a plumber who has neither experience nor training. But America’s system elects leaders who are qualified for little else than winning elections.

Those involved in helping elected officials make security decisions update them on the full historical background, developments, and nuances of a complex international situation involving the interests of the United States and other countries that may have great implications for American national security. In this discussion, they must consider America’s national strategy, whether and how it should act, its goals if it does act, and how to achieve these goals using the specific tools—military, economic, diplomatic, and social—the country has to achieve them. The only tools for the briefing are an executive summary and a PowerPoint presentation, after which they must be prepared to answer detailed questions.

How the President’s daily window onto the world since the Kennedy administration—the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB)—is delivered depends upon their personal taste, issues they find most important, their desired level of detail, and determines which issues are left out as well as included. It is usually delivered in under an hour each day. Naturally, those, such as the Director of National Intelligence, who determine what the President is told and how and what he is not told are in a position of some power. They are responsible for building the President’s knowledge of the state of the world, especially if he has very little experience of his own to draw upon. Not all national security decision-making follows or is based upon such a complex process as the NIE. Nonetheless, the product of what may be weeks, months, or even years of work is often briefed to the President in blocks of 45 minutes at a time.

Before the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy only devoted 45 minutes at a time to briefings on the planning, conduct, and chances of success of the operation and later believed if he had understood the full picture and ramifications, he would never have approved it. Kennedy was a WWII veteran who initially served as a U.S. Navy intelligence officer. Some would argue—especially those without security experience—that this is proof such experience makes little difference. However, a more clear-eyed view would be that if someone with military and intelligence experience such as Kennedy could not spot the pitfalls or folly of such an operation following 45-minute briefings, what chance does someone who does not possess even that much experience have?


To the Election Victor Goes the Spoils

Though the smoke is still clearing over the imminent departure of Chuck Hagel from the Pentagon, it appears that Secretary of Defense, a former Republican and Vietnam veteran, was never accepted into the inner circle of decision-making at the White House. Hagel was supposed to simply preside over the final departure of U.S. troops from the Middle East, but instead has presided over a slowing of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and a return to military operations—against ISIS this time—in Iraq. That Hagel and America’s top Generals were at odds with the White House on Syria and Iraq was obvious almost from the beginning.

Much of America’s security policy in the post-9/11 era, spanning both Democratic and Republican administrations and multiple shifts in party control of congress, has been wrought with bipartisan policy failures that have outweighed military and intelligence successes. As Mark Lowenthal points out, we are always told about intelligence failures and policy successes, but never of intelligence successes and policy failures. The bin Laden raid, the Libyan intervention, and the targeted elimination of militants throughout the MENA region have been successes. However, these successes have been overshadowed by poor policy in Iraq and Afghanistan and the opportunity cost they represent which has left the U.S. looking impotent in the face of Russian aggression and put the “Asia Pivot” on hold.

Our military has performed valiantly in the face of great strain over the past decade, with 1% of the citizenry called upon to do all of the fighting. There are no signs it will let up soon. Despite all of Americans’ grumbling about elected leaders, Congress enjoys a re-election rate over 90% despite approval in the lower-teens. Congress agreed with the President that Iraq and Afghanistan should be invaded and America should stay until they were “secure and stable”, but they would not pay for civilian experts from places such as the State Department to help get the job done. Americans dislike “foreign aid.” So battle-hardened Marines and soldiers were called upon to fill the roles of aid workers, public works directors, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, and diplomats and managed to succeed in limited measures despite the impossibility of the task. Defense was forced to fill the hole left by State.

The limited successes America has experienced in the post-9/11 era show that our tools of national power still do work, it is just the decisions made by those who use them that are faulty. This is because they are operating them with no experience and they have not read the instruction manual. Working in national security is the necessary experience. The academic study of war and conflict is the instruction manual. No person in their right mind would knowingly hire a dentist, a lawyer, a carpenter, or a plumber who has neither experience nor training. But America’s system elects leaders who are qualified for little else than winning elections.

It is a no-brainer to say that national security decision-making is a complex task. Even with years of experience, academic study, or both it is still complicated. America’s premier national intelligence product—the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)—has been likened to the final product of a complex machine that funnels the whole of the nation’s knowledge on a problem and then assembles it; validates it; interprets it; analyses it; condenses it, and; reports it to policymakers. Capabilities across the U.S. government in the intelligence community, the Departments of Defense, State, Justice, Homeland Security, Energy, Treasury, and others feed information through the estimative “machine” in order to develop a product. This product is checked and re-checked by those possessing relevant knowledge and experience within multiple organizations until it is judged fit for purpose. Inter-agency meeting are held to iron out differences and dissents.

After this complex and carefully-constructed process, the result of months or years of work by thousands of experienced, trained personnel, it ends up in the hands of presidents and congressmen who make decisions based upon a written synopsis and a 45-minute briefing. They do have staffers to help them. However, as is frequently lamented, the greatest qualification many possess is having worked on the campaign and then having stayed put, wearing their clearances and committee staff roles as qualification badges. As Kevin Parsneau found, presidents place “loyalty” above “experience” when it comes to choosing staff. Many career State Department Foreign Service Officers, often with decades of experience, lament working under political appointees who often have half their qualifications.

Many will argue that the American system was designed to ensure that civilian control over the security complex is maintained. This is true and it should be maintained. However, all of America’s founding fathers either served in the continental army during the revolution or supported the war effort diplomatically, all of them knowing from the moment they signed the Declaration of Independence that they would be hung if it failed. Today, leaders and their advisers who set troops up to fail get re-elected at no cost to themselves. George Washington set aside his uniform as America’s first military commander and its first spy chief to become its first president, but he did not set aside that experience.

Of recent note, the sequestration debacle, triggering untargeted, across-the-board cuts to defense spending, is further proof of Congress’ misguided understanding of national security. Congress is so broken as an institution that, knowing the parties could not reach an agreement on the budget, they agreed instead to place the added pressure upon one another to reach a compromise by setting this sequestration trap for themselves. They both believed that with defense spending on the line, the other party would cave.

Neither of them did. Congress played a game of chicken with the defense budget and both congressional Democrats and Republicans were willing to ride off the cliff together rather than work together. Now, as Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno points out, these military spending cuts are squeezing the defense budget just as more requirements are being placed upon it by the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, not to mention Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Asia Pivot. Congress is not only inexperienced when it comes to national security; it is also reckless and irresponsible.

America’s national security, especially in an era of great uncertainty, is too important to leave in the hands of amateurs. You cannot teach nor learn national security with an executive summary and a 45-minute briefing. We are often told that our leaders are surrounded with the best advisers. They are most often surrounded with those most loyal to them and those who tell them what they want to hear. To sort this mess out, going forward those without experience need not apply.


Chris MillerChris Miller is a U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient and has worked as a military contractor in the Middle East. His work currently focuses on strategic studies. His interests are CBRNe, military and veterans issues, the Cold War, and international security affairs.


The Perversion of Military Ideas: How Innovative Thinking is Inadvertently Destroyed

by Dr Aaron P. Jackson

Journal Article | December 1, 2014 – 3:04am

Abstract: Have you ever read a military concept or doctrine publication, or an academic or professional paper about warfare or military operations, and wondered how it came to include such an ill-conceived idea? Odds are that the idea you read is a perversion of an earlier, better idea that in its original incarnation was actually quite innovative and insightful. This article explains the process by which such innovative and insightful military ideas are inadvertently oversimplified and/or distorted into intellectually questionable caricatures of their former selves.

A saying attributed to Confucius is that ‘the beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right names’.[1] Assuming for a minute that this is a truism, then contemporary Western militaries aren’t particularly wise. The latest buzzword to make the ‘bingo’ list is ‘ambiguous warfare’, coined to describe Russian actions in Ukraine, which involved an ‘unconventional attack, using asymmetric tactics’ (two more buzzwords to tick off on the bingo card).[2] Forgive me if I’m oversimplifying things, but doesn’t the word ‘warfare’ itself imply that a situation might be ambiguous? Also, aren’t tactics variable, and is it not good practice to continually adapt them to maximise the odds of achieving the strategic aims that one has gone to war for in the first place? In other words, Russian tactics and strategy in Ukraine need to be understood and organisations like NATO need to figure out how to respond to them. But this doesn’t warrant the invention of yet another new buzzword.

Of course I’m not the first to complain about the proliferation of buzzwords at the cost of genuine understanding; in fact what might be dubbed ‘the buzzword problem’ has grown to the extent that complaining about it has become something of a cliché. Even such world-renowned strategists as Colin Grey have observed that ‘Americans in the 2000s went to war and by and large have remained conceptually wounded’.[3] But the wittiest summary of the buzzword problem has to be that of Justin Kelly and Ben Fitzgerald, who penned a short paper entitled ‘when a cup of coffee becomes a soy decaf mint mocha chip frappuccino’.[4] Bingo!

There is a flip side to this coin, however, noting that I use the word ‘coin’ in the literal, dictionary definition sense, not as an acronym or abbreviation or attempt to employ some kind of once clever but now exhausted counterinsurgency related homonym. The flip side is that with so many buzzwords proliferating it becomes hard to separate good, innovative, insightful ideas and approaches from white noise. As far as the volume of complaints go, this flip side has been relatively neglected. People prefer to disparage the white noise, not lament what gets lost in it. I intend to buck this trend, and will do so by offering an explanation of how good military ideas (or concepts, or theories, or models, or whatever else they may be called) are assimilated by the military community and quickly but inadvertently turned into mere buzzwords that form part of the white noise. This process might well be called the birth, perversion and death of good military ideas.

Regardless of which particular military idea (or concept or theory or model) we examine, thinking about it will tend to follow this trajectory:

(1) A very intelligent thinker comes up with an innovative idea or approach that captures the attention of a core group of people who become adherents to the thinker’s ideas. Alternatively, a think tank comes up with a bad idea that someone, somewhere can profit from, and adherents are drawn to it by good old-fashioned profit motives. Either way, proceed to step 2.

(2) The core group of adherents writes secondary material (journal articles etc) about the thinker’s original work, including their interpretations of it, how to practically apply it and (in the case of long-dead thinkers) how to modify it for current conditions.[5]

(3) A much broader group of military personnel (a ‘lay audience’) engages with the secondary literature, re-interprets and simplifies that literature, and ends up popularising an over-simplified and often inaccurate or distorted version of the original thinker’s idea.[6] Usually very few within this lay audience will bother going back to the original thinker’s work and actually reading and considering it directly (for example, how many people can you think of who have quoted but never read Clausewitz?). Furthermore, somewhere between the adherents and the lay audience historical context is often lost and as a result ideas that were derived within specific historical circumstances tend to morph into timeless caricatures of themselves, even if the original idea was explicitly intended only to suit the circumstances in which it was first conceived (for example, Boyd’s decision making process, a complex model developed to guide fighter pilots in aerial combat, has morphed into a simplified ‘OODA loop’ that seems to promise victory to whichever side can go around the loop quickest).

With very rare exception it is only once a military idea (or concept etc) has reached a point of multiple reinterpretations and gross oversimplification that it tends to be incorporated into doctrine. This is for a few reasons. First, doctrine writers, sadly and due to what I call ‘being a subject matter expert by virtue of posting’, tend to fall into the third group of idea developer identified above (the lay audience). Second, to end up in doctrine an idea must be generally accepted by the military as an institution, and to reach the critical mass necessary for this acceptance an idea has to have reached the lay audience (and hence has to have been dumbed down). It also doesn’t help that doctrine is written by consensus and, as the old saying goes, a committee that sets out to build a horse usually ends up with a camel.[7]

Examples of this process are everywhere; indeed, they are for the most part the white noise itself! Terms such as ‘complexity’, ‘design’, and perhaps even ‘system’ spring immediately to mind. Ideas like ‘network centric warfare’, ‘effects based operations’ and ‘centre of gravity’ also roll quickly off the tongue. These ideas all started life as novel, innovative ways to think about warfare. And all were subsequently simplified (or distorted), generalised and applied in a way that removed them from their original context. Other times, an existing idea has been altered slightly then re-labelled so that it appears to be something completely new when it actually isn’t. For example, ‘ambiguous warfare’ is essentially a relatively minor variation to what was last year called ‘hybrid warfare’, itself a relatively minor variation to what was called ‘irregular warfare’ a few years earlier still. Such new terms create the impression of analysis and understanding, while in reality they obscure genuine understanding, especially if one desires to make valid and meaningful historical comparisons.

These terms are not the only examples of this process; they are merely some of the better-known or more recent. Which brings me to the final part of the process.

(4) The oversimplified, reinterpreted version of the original idea, often perverted to the point that it has lost its original meaning (and goodness), then suffers one of two fates. If it has a high enough profile (i.e. a large enough group of adherents), it gets to ride on the ‘good ideas merry-go-round’ for the rest of infinity. Centre of gravity is an excellent example; in fact, this idea may well own the merry-go-round and therefore ride for free. Centre of gravity isn’t ever going to be applied in the way Clausewitz intended, because his writings were sufficiently open to interpretation that we don’t actually know precisely how he would have applied the term himself. So adherents are able to debate, interpret and re-interpret the concept ad infinitum—heck, one of them has even gone so far as to advocate disconnecting it from the writings of Clausewitz altogether, leaving this commentator wondering why the concept’s other adherents haven’t yet burned him as a heretic![8]

The second possible fate is that the idea gets so distorted as to become detrimental and so is dumped from the lexicon altogether (General Mattis’ memorandum directing US Joint Forces Command to cease use of the ‘effects based operations’ concept is perhaps the most famous example).[9] Unfortunately, this second option is (by a wide margin) the one less exercised (meaning that most ideas get their infinite merry-go-round ride).

Sadly there is little that can be done to stop this process. The most effective solution may well be one that can only be implemented by individuals and to that end I offer the following advice. If you see or hear about a military idea and think it looks like a good one, first find the original source of the idea, read it and ensure you understand it. Second, find, read and critically evaluate the existing secondary literature about it.[10] Do this before you write something of your own about the idea (or push for it to be included in doctrine). Third, if having read what is already out there you decide that what you’ve got to say isn’t actually new or innovative, avoid the temptation to re-package the same old junk in a shiny new box; find something else to write about instead. Finally, and above all, please don’t invent a new term when there is another perfectly good term already in use! Sure, this proposed approach will involve some additional time and intellectual effort, but the alternative is worse. The alternative is ambiguous warfare.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are the author’s own and are not necessarily those of the Australian Defence Organisation or any part thereof.

End Notes

[1] Quoted in: Charles M. Westenhoff, Military Airpower: A Revised Digest of Airpower Opinions and Thoughts, Maxwell Air Force Base: Air University Press, 2007, p. 239 (available online,, accessed 26 November 2014).

[2] Peter Apps, ”Ambiguous Warfare’ Providing NATO with New Challenge’, Reuters, 21 August 2014 (available online,, accessed 17 October 2014).

[3] Colin S. Gray, ‘Concept Failure: COIN, Counterinsurgency, and Strategic Theory,’ Prism, Vol. 3, No. 3, June 2012, pp. 18-19 (available online,, accessed 26 November 2014).

[4] Justin Kelly & Ben Fitzgerald, ‘When a Cup of Coffee Becomes a Soy Decaf Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino’, Small Wars Journal, 13 September 2009 (available online,, accessed 17 October 2014).

[5] The first two steps in this process echo the relationship between what Thomas Kuhn labelled ‘paradigms’ and ‘normal science’. The first of these terms is defined by Kuhn as the ‘constellation of beliefs, values, techniques and so on shared by the members of a given [scientific] community’ and the latter involves the conduct of further research (which Kuhn also refers to as ‘puzzle solving’) within the confines of the paradigm. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (4th ed., Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2012), quote p. 174.

[6] The term ‘lay audience’ is used here in deference to Ludwig Fleck’s concept of ‘thought collectives’. This concept posits the existence within any field where ideas are exchanged (e.g. science, art, religion, medicine, etc) of an ‘esoteric circle’ consisting of specialists and an ‘exoteric circle’ consisting of their followers. Core ideas within the field are generated by the esoteric circle, but the opinions and feedback of the exoteric circle are nevertheless important as they validate and give impetus to thought generation by members of the esoteric circle. Ludwig Fleck, The
Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact (transl. by Fred Bradley & Thaddeus J. Trenn, ed. by Thaddeus J. Trenn & Robert K. Merton, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1979).

[7] Although a single central authority ultimately approves doctrine, it is nevertheless developed at working level through compromise between various stakeholder groups within a military organisation (e.g. different units that have an interest in the same doctrine publication for a variety of training, teaching or operational purposes).

[8] Dale C. Eikmeier, ‘Give Carl von Clausewitz and the Centre of Gravity a Divorce’, Small Wars Journal, 2 July 2013 (available online,, accessed 17 October 2014).

[9] General J. N. Mattis, U.S. Joint Forces Command Commander’s Guidance for Effects Based Operations, unpublished memorandum dated 14 August 2008 (available online,, accessed 26 November 2014).

[10] For those who are willing to ‘swallow the red pill’, I recommend going one step further: in addition to thinking about the idea, try thinking about thinking about the idea. This seems a bit abstract and philosophical, but such an approach helps enable an evaluation not only of why an idea does or doesn’t work, but also of the institutional reasons underlying why a military or its members covet an idea in the first place.


Canada Issues Clear Guidelines for UAS Flying    

UAS Vision

Dec 3 2014


Transport Canada has released the details of its new rules governing the commercial use of unmanned aerial systems. Last month, the agency, the equivalent of the FAA, announced a significant liberalization of so-called “low threat” UAS operations. Those were generally described as line-of-sight operations below 300 feet in rural areas away from airports by UASs weighing less than 4.4 pounds and up to 55 pounds. The advisory circular fills in the blanks, explicitly laying out the responsibilities of owners and operators and acknowledging operational circumstances in which some compromise is appropriate. It also clearly shows that Canada isn’t requiring UAS pilots to be licensed per se, but they do have to complete a ground school course to fly the larger class of UAS.

The agency has also published a consumer-friendly part of its web site that guides users easily through the regulations on flying an unmanned aircraft.


Drones Face Critical Moment As White House Prepares To Act

Gregory S. McNeal

Washington 11/30/2014 @ 6:23PM


The White House is currently reviewing a series of policy initiatives related to the integration of drones into the national airspace. At the conclusion of the policy review process, the White House will act on both the FAA’s sUAS rule and on matters related to privacy. For an industry begging for clear rules that won’t stifle innovation, the next few weeks will be the most critical since the passage of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.


The FAA is preparing to publicly release their rules for small drones (under 55 pounds). Rather than recognizing the potential benefits of small drones, and distinguishing between very risky high powered, high speed, heavier drones, and less risky lightweight aircraft (some weighing as few as one or two pounds), it appears that the FAA is poised to treat all sUAS as identical. The rules, according to the Wall Street Journal, will “require operators to have a license and limit flights to daylight hours, below 400 feet and within sight of the person at the controls.” If the reporting is accurate, these rules will disappoint many and will put America far behind other developed nations which have already established risk-based rules that recognize that large 55 pound fuel powered unmanned aircraft present different risks than small battery powered multicopters, and even smaller remote controlled toys.

In the coming weeks, America’s drone laws will be in the hands of the White House. I reached out to individuals familiar with the process at the White House and have provided below an overview of what to expect in the short run. That overview is followed by a short preview of what 2015 will bring.


Where is the sUAS (drone) rule?

The rule is out of the hands of the FAA and is currently being reviewed by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the White House. This review is the last opportunity for individuals outside of the FAA to correct the FAA’s proposed rule. The FAA cannot publish the rule until the White House review is complete, and that review is supposed to focus on costs vs. benefits. The FAA has made it clear that they are an agency focused on safety, not innovation, as such when their regulators conduct a cost-benefit analysis of drones, they see only safety costs and few innovation benefits. The job of OIRA is to push back against that regulatory mindset and conduct a true cost-benefit analysis. The next few weeks will determine whether the White House does their job and ensures that the FAA doesn’t stifle innovation with overly burdensome rules.

Last week a group of U.S. Senators contacted the FAA demanding answers about the status of the new regulations regarding drones. Those Senators expressed concern that “…proposed regulations on small, commercial unmanned aircraft will be costly, needlessly restrictive and hinder research and development for the growing UAS industry.” If those Senators truly want to influence policy, they should immediately contact the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and discuss the specifics of their concerns. Unfortunately, the fact that five Senators didn’t know that the sUAS rule was pending regulatory review at the White House (in their letter they embarrassingly asked the FAA for a status update) indicates that the quality of their commentary may be less than helpful.


What about privacy?

The White House is preparing an executive order to deal with the privacy issues related to drones. The executive order has been delayed while the White House awaits the completion of its review of the draft FAA sUAS rule and conducts a preliminary review of a European study on privacy and drones. Sources familiar with the White House’s deliberations tell me that the executive order will segment the privacy issues related to drones into two categories — public and private. For public drones (that is, drones purchased with federal dollars), the President’s order will establish a series of privacy and transparency guidelines. The order will include some operational guidelines, and will require that agencies operating drones reveal information about their use and surveillance capabilities. (For some possible guidelines regarding drones and privacy, see this white paper “Drones and Aerial Surveillance: Considerations for Legislators”).

The second part of the executive order will address the privacy concerns associated with private uses of drones. In the order, the President will direct that the Department of Commerce’s, National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) chair a process for creating privacy rules for private drone operators. The NTIA typically creates these rules by convening stakeholder meetings with individuals from industry, consumer groups, and advocacy groups.

The process will likely begin with a notification and a request for public comments regarding a privacy blueprint. That blueprint will be available for sixty days of commentary. Following the receipt of comments, a notice will be published regarding a series of multi-stakeholder meetings. Those stakeholder meetings are designed to create a set of consensus based rules — which may take up to a year to draft. The final set of rules become what are known as a “voluntary, enforceable code of conduct.” The codes are voluntary, in that NTIA does not have the regulatory authority to impose their rules on individuals or organizations. However, the rules are enforceable in that those individuals or organizations who claim to comply with a “voluntary, enforceable code of conduct” are subject to the Federal Trade Commission’s enforcement authority if they fail to comply with the code of conduct.

Public commentary will dominate 2015.

In light of the expected publication of the FAA’s sUAS rule for public commentary, and the NTIA’s multi-stakeholder privacy guideline process, 2015 will be a year in which public commentary on drone rules and regulations will be critical . While these processes will be open for the general public to submit comments, the reality is that those who hire experienced regulatory affairs professionals usually have the most influence in these processes. Big businesses know this and already have teams of regulatory professionals working on their behalf.

If small drone businesses want to have a voice, they will need to work with experienced professionals individually, or organize and hire someone to represent their views collectively. That may be hard for some small businesses to hear, but that’s the reality of regulation, organized interests dominate. 2015 will be all about whose voice is heard in the commentary process — get ready for it.

Gregory S. McNeal is a professor specializing in law and public policy. You can follow him on Twitter @GregoryMcNeal or on Facebook


Russia Establishes Military UAV Unit

Russia has reportedly established a dedicated unmanned air vehicle unit in the eastern region of Chukotka, believed to stem from a $9.2 billion investment in the technology pledged by the nation’s defence ministry in May.

According to the state-owned Sputnik news agency, Alexander Gordeev, spokesperson for the Russian Eastern Military District (EMD), says the unit was formed at the Ugolny military and civil airfield, and it is expecting to receive a number of indigenously-designed Orlan-10 surveillance UAVs by the end of the year.

Flight testing with the type in cold conditions is expected to take place in early 2015, and the type will be operated by Orlan to begin with, until the military unit is fully trained on the aircraft.

On 20 May, the Russian defence ministry said it would invest some $9.2 billion on UAVs by 2020.

Separately, President Vladimir Putin has ordered the establishment of a public body responsible for the implementation of Russian policies in the Arctic, Sputnik says. Putin also requires that a naval force of warships and submarines be positioned near the Arctic to bolster the country’s border defence in the region.

In August it was reported that EMD personnel had started assembling Russian-built Forpost UAVs, which were to carry out patrol missions over Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula.

The unit was to operate six of the type, which entered service at the beginning of 2015, and as of August operators had already completed a training course on the system, Sputnik says.

The use of unmanned technology by Russia is prevalent. This is demonstrated by the reported Russian use of UAVs over Ukraine, as observed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s special monitoring mission (SMM) to the country.

According to the OSCE, the SMM visited Strelkov on the Arabat Spit on 1 December to meet with representatives of the Ukrainian army, who said they had observed military activities on the Crimean side of the peninsula, with a UAV flying every 2-3 days. The SMM could not verify this information, however.

These flights, the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine says, are increasing. Seven flights took place – alongside terrorist attacks – on 24 November alone.

On 28 November, the NSDC said a Russian UAV was shot down in the Shchastya region of Ukraine, using a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft weapon.


Reports: Ash Carter Tapped as Next Defense Secretary

Dec. 1, 2014 – 03:45AM | By PAUL McLEARY | Comments


WASHINGTON — Ashton Carter, the former deputy defense secretary, will be nominated to be the next defense secretary to replace Chuck Hagel, sources have told CNN and The Associated Press.

Carter served as the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian official from October 2011 to December 2013, and had a stint as the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer before that. He has mostly kept quiet since leaving the Pentagon.

Described as an “uber wonk” by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey at Carter’s farewell ceremony last year, Carter was in the thick of the wartime rapid fielding initiatives of the past decade, playing a key role in procuring tens of thousands of hulking MRAPs to Iraq and Afghanistan in just about two years.

“It’s lucky for us that you have worked without glamor or fame behind the scenes to make sure through good management and common sense and discipline that we are an organization that continues to adapt to the challenge that we find in front of us,” Dempsey added at Carter’s farewell ceremony.

Known for his ability to work through complicated budgetary issues while playing a large — and thoughtful — role behind the scenes, Carter has given few clues as to some of the priorities he would bring with him to the Pentagon.

He has stressed the need to retain some of the rapid fielding offices and initiatives that were stood up during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I very much hope we can retain that agility,” Carter told the New York Times in a November 2013 exit interview just before departing the Pentagon. “Rapid fielding — not on a Cold War schedule of years and decades, because that’s how slowly the Soviet Union changed, but on weeks and months, because that’s how fast the battlefield has changed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

In a Foreign Affairs story published in January, he wrote that in a postwar environment, “it is important to understand what prevented the Pentagon from rapidly meeting immediate demands during those wars, what enduring lessons can be learned from its efforts to become more responsive, and how to put in place the right institutions to ensure success against future threats when agility is crucial.”

These ideas are in keeping with the initiatives recently launched by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and the chief weapons buyer Frank Kendall — both of whom hold offices previously occupied by Carter — that are aimed at streamlining acquisition processes, and rapidly developing new technologies to meet new threats.

And Carter has friends on the Hill.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who has seen many confirmation processes over his three decades in the chamber, told reporters on Tuesday that he believes Carter “would do very, very well in a confirmation hearing” run by Republicans in the new Congress.

“Offhand, I don’t foresee that there would be a big issue because I think he’s highly respected on both sides of the aisle,” Levin said.

Republican lawmakers responded by stressing the president must change what some have dubbed a micromanaging style over the department, no matter who gets the nomination.

Carter is “a good guy,” retiring House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters Tuesday morning.

“It’s not the secretary. It’s the president,” McKeon said. “And he’s going to keep going through these guys unless they do just whatever he tells them to do.

The lawmaker who is set to replace McKeon as HASC chair, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas., said of Carter: “I have a lot of respect for him.”

“I hope that whoever gets the job has an understanding that he or she is going to do what’s best and not be micromanaged from the White House,” Thornberry said. “He knows the Pentagon. He certainly knows some of the acquisition issues I’ve been dealing with. So, we’ll see.”

Carter earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale University in 1976. He received his doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford in 1979, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.


He also worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University and MIT, as well as a research associated at Brookhaven and Fermilab National Laboratories.

In government, Carter has been awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal four times, along with the Defense Intelligence Medal.

During the Clinton Administration, Carter was assistant defense secretary for International Security Policy. From 1990 until 1993, he served as director of the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and chairman of the Editorial Board of International Security.

Has co-edited and co-authored 11 books. ■


It’s Not a (Totally) Poisoned Chalice

Some “presidential” suggestions for Ash Carter on taking the Pentagon’s top job.

BY James Stavridis

DECEMBER 3, 2014


From: President of the United States (POTUS)

To: Forthcoming Secretary of Defense

Subj: The Top Challenges and Opportunities Ahead


First, I want to thank you for taking the job, Ash. After Michèle Flournoy, Jeh Johnson, and Jack Reed all turned down the job before anyone even asked them to serve, a lot of people started to talk about the secretary of defense job as a “poisoned chalice.” I know working with John McCain on one side and Valerie Jarrett on the other won’t be fun, but there is so much to do — even with only two years left. So let me give you a sense of a few of the top things I would like to see you working on.

Islamic State: We need to come together on a coherent strategy and put the foot on the gas pedal. Two key elements will be getting NATO to step up to the plate (and I am personally willing to lean on leaders in Europe) and hopefully energizing the Turks to get in the game with strikes from Incirlik and quickly moving troops into the field. We also need to work with the Jordanians, especially their special forces. Let’s get IS under a three-front war: Peshmerga from the north; Iraqi security forces from the south and east; and first bombing and then Syrian opposition forces from the west. We will soon see they are not ten feet tall if we put them under multi-axis pressure.


Ukraine and Putin:

The key strategic terrain in Europe isn’t southeast Ukraine — it is the six inches between Vladimir Putin’s ears.

The key strategic terrain in Europe isn’t southeast Ukraine — it is the six inches between Vladimir Putin’s ears. We have to get his attention and that means reassuring NATO (with strong rotational air, sea, and ground forces); arming the Ukrainian military with effective lethal assistance and cyber support; and creating real pain for Russia by stretching their forces globally. That means meeting them in the Mediterranean, Arctic, Atlantic, and anywhere else they decide to operate, including the English Channel and the Caribbean Sea. As the price of oil falls through the floor, their disposable cash for operations and new expensive weapons systems will dwindle, and we can help pressurize them along the way. And the White House will support you by keeping the sanctions viable.


Cyber: We are far behind where we should be in cyberspace operations. Let’s start by splitting the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, as both jobs are expanding rapidly in scope and scale — having one officer commanding both, even one as good as Adm. Mike Rogers, is a mistake. Let Mike take Cyber Command, and turn the NSA over to a highly qualified civilian with both technical and legal training. We also need to be exploring offensive cyber capability, developing cyber doctrine (starting with defining just what an “attack” means and what our range of responses should be), and building the outline of a true U.S. Cyber Force to stand alongside the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The Chinese and Russians are already doing so and we cannot afford to fall behind.


Third Offset strategy: Take a good look at the paper from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis on the idea of a new “offset” strategy. This would be the third one since the 1950s “New Look” and the 1970s “Offset Strategy” and the idea would be to find our technological and organizational edge in facing potential 21st-century opponents. The idea of a triad of cyber, special forces, and unmanned systems working together is probably part of it, as are standing up new organizations to operate in a hugely networked era as the “Internet of things” emerges. For example, look hard at the Unified Command Plan — do we really need six geographic combatant commanders when so many challenges are global and don’t respect boundaries? Your undersecretary, Bob Work, has worked this hard and is a superb source of ideas and insights. Frankly, we are so consumed with the day-to-day crises that we need to consciously step back from the tactical and think strategically. I am not sure anyone is really doing that in the Pentagon and figuring out how to nurture that will be crucial.


Opportunity agenda: It is not all gloom and doom, no matter what David Ignatius and Tom Friedman are always writing about. In addition to the inevitable firefighting, you also have to find time to focus on the positive elements of what the Pentagon can do. Continuing to help our Colombian colleagues as they move toward a peace agreement with the FARC is a good one. Ensuring the Balkans stay on track is another. So is a robust program of disaster relief and humanitarian work, using the tools of smart power. Consolidating our global alliance systems with NATO, the Partnership for Peace nations who were with us in Afghanistan and have real capacity (e.g. Sweden, Austria, Finland), and our Pacific partners (e.g. Japan, South Korea, and Australia) is crucial. Working with the interagency — especially State and USAID, but also the Directorate of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, Justice, and Treasury — will yield dividends.


Strategic communications. Get out and tell the story, Ash. You must be the principal spokesman for what this enormous department is all about. Naturally, we want to have coherence and alignment across the executive branch, but that still means you going forth and explaining what our men and women are doing for the nation at every turn. Gen. Martin Dempsey may have a great singing voice, but there is no substitute for hearing from the secretary directly. Craft a strategy for the Pentagon’s message and move it fast.


Two years is not a long pull at the oar, so this may be more a sprint than a marathon. Energy, determination, and a good sense of humor will help, as will a thick skin. The nation is counting on you, and I wish you the best. And good luck at the confirmation hearings — you’ll need it!


Barack Obama

P.S. Does DARPA have anything in the locker over there that can help people quit smoking? Just thought I would check.…



Shutdown-Avoiding ‘Cromnibus’ Emerges in House – With Reid’s Endorsement

Dec. 2, 2014 – 03:45AM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments


WASHINGTON — A plan is emerging on Capitol Hill to avoid a government shutdown while also passing a full 2015 Pentagon spending measure, and a key senator is on board.

Republican lawmakers trickled out of a morning caucus meeting in the Capitol basement and signaled they have decided to move a bill that would fund all but one federal agency for all of 2015.

Excluded would be an appropriations measure that funds the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for all of fiscal 2015, the GOP’s first legislative response to President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.

But included would be a bill to hand the Pentagon around $500 billion in base funding and likely over $60 billion in war funding, one House Appropriations aide said.

Several House members spoke to reporters following a closed caucus meeting and predicted something called a “cromnibus” is most likely to pass next week.

The bill would by a hybrid of the omnibus spending measure the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees had been working on for weeks. That measure would have included full-year spending bills for a dozen agencies, including the Defense Department.

The emerging “cromnibus” would also include a full Pentagon bill, as well as the same for many other agencies. But it would be merged with a continuing resolution for DHS in retaliation for the immigration action — hence the new moniker “cromnibus.”

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., told reporters he expects a vote on the cromnibus next week.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday that “no decisions have been made at this point.”

“We’ll continue to discuss with our members a number of options in terms of how we will deal with this in consultation, again, with the members,” Boehner said.

If such a bill passes the House late this week, it would land in the Senate just days ahead of a Dec. 11 deadline. That’s when funding for the Pentagon and the rest of the government runs out.


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hinted Tuesday he would bring a “cromnibus” to a vote and let the new Congress fight over immigration next year.

“That would be a big accomplishment if we could get a bill over here that would fund all the appropriations subcommittees except for one,” he said.

Reid dubbed it “kind of unfortunate” the House would withhold the DHS full-year funding, but seemed more interested in averting a shutdown.

“That’s the way it is,” he said.

Minutes later, John McCain, the incoming Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, told reporters he is betting strongly against a government shutdown next week.

“They might do their usual ‘pass something then leave town’ — so watch the House,” McCain said. “It’s all driven by time, and you don’t make decisions until you have to. That’s how the Senate works.” ■



Pentagon to Begin Drafting Technology Roadmap
By Sandra I. Erwin

Dec 3, 2014




The Defense Department is seeking to recapture the technology magic of decades past that propelled the United States to become the world’s only superpower.

The Pentagon’s new effort to spur innovation is casting a wide net in hopes that outsiders in the private sector and academia can help inject new thinking into weapon programs and investment plans.

“We recognize that all good ideas don’t originate in this building,” said Stephen P. Welby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for systems engineering.

Welby is overseeing the technology initiative, named “long-range research and development plan.” His team will spend six months perusing proposals and determining whether they merit further study and investment. The recommendations will go to Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall in time to influence the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2017 budget request.

Companies, think tanks, universities, and the general public are being invited to send ideas. A “request for information” was published Dec. 2 on the website

“We are inviting folks for a dialogue,” Welby told reporters. The Pentagon wants to understand the “art of the possible” a decade or two into the future, he said. “What is emerging across the private sector that might shape the future of military capabilities?” The Defense Department recognizes that innovation now comes from the private sector, so it wants to become a “fast follower,” Welby said.

The long-range R&D study is part of a broader “offset” strategy that Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Kendall are leading. It is modeled after the strategy the Pentagon adopted during the Cold War, when the Eisenhower administration figured out how to “offset” the Warsaw Pact’s much larger conventional forces with nuclear weapons. In the 1970s, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and Undersecretary William Perry pushed a second offset initiative to use digital microelectronics and information technology to counter conventional forces. The Pentagon will attempt a third offset strategy in order to jump ahead of future enemies that are acquiring increasingly advanced technology.

The Pentagon worries that countries like Russia and China have steadily invested in advanced technology over the past decade. Potential adversaries are fielding advanced aircraft, submarines, long-range, precision-guided missiles, undersea and electronic warfare technologies.

The long-range R&D plan will identify “high-payoff enabling technology investments that could provide an opportunity to shape key future U.S. materiel investments, offer opportunities to shape the trajectory of future competition for technical superiority, and will focus on technology that can be moved into development programs within the next five years,” said the solicitation.

Welby’s team is divided into five groups that will focus on space, undersea technology, air dominance and strike, air and missile defense, and broadly emerging technology. The last category is likely to include autonomous vehicles, agile manufacturing and nanotechnology.

This does not mean that the Pentagon only is interested in those five areas, Welby said. The five priorities were chosen for efficiency. “We are not building a hundred panels,” he said. “We are starting with those five.”

The panels also have been instructed to not engage in the inter-service infighting that typically occurs when programs and dollars might be at stake. “We recruited folks who are bright and open minded,” said Welby. “We want to make sure we don’t get trapped into silos.”

For the private sector, this project is not necessarily going to lead to procurement contracts, he noted. “We are thinking about a decade out. We’re not talking about the next opportunity, the next win,” he said. The questions at hand for the next six months will be: Where are the long bets, what are the markets going, and where is technology headed, Welby said. “There are no dollars associated with this RFI.”


Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, December 06, 2014

It’s often been said that there are two or more Americas within the fabric of this great nation. Racially, that’s certainly true.

The refusal of grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri and on Staten Island in New York to indict white police officers following the deaths of two young black men has highlighted this division. Many had high hopes that the election of the nation’s first black president would help heal our racial wounds, but just eight percent (8%) think race relations in America are better since Barack Obama became president in 2009. That’s something that blacks, whites and other minority Americans agree on.

But while 54% of whites think the U.S. justice system is fair to blacks, 84% of black voters consider the justice system unfair to them

Eighty-two percent (82%) of black voters think most black Americans receive unfair treatment from the police. White voters by a 56% to 30% margin don’t believe that’s true.

In the Ferguson case, 59% of blacks think white police officer Darren Wilson should be charged with murder for the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown.Just 15% of whites agree.

Similar racial divides are found on a number of key issues, with blacks more favorable to a big government approach than whites are. Black voters also continue to overwhelmingly approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while most whites disapprove.

That disapproval is expected to cost the president’s party another seat in the U.S. Senate when Louisiana voters choose in a runoff election today between incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu and her Republican challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy.

Republicans are still out front on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

While his party took a shellacking at the polls in early November, the president’s monthly job approval held steady at 47% for the third month in a row. Fifty-one percent (51%) disapprove.

Nearly half of voters want Congress to stop the president’s new plan to protect up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation. Americans rate their citizenship highly and aren’t keen on putting many of those here illegally on the path to citizenship.

Thirty-six percent (36%) of voters now give the president good or excellent ratings for his handling of issues related to immigration, his highest positive ratings since late January. Forty-eight percent (48%) still say the president is doing a poor job in this area.

Many voters expect the new Republican Congress to repeal Obamacare, but for the first time, most want to fix the new national health care law rather than repeal it.

 Voters remain closely divided on the issue of gun control, but  they also continue to strongly believe it would be bad for the country if only police and other government officials were allowed to have guns. 

 The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence jumped to a six-year high in November, correctly predicting the upbeat jobs report released by the federal government on Friday.

One-out-of-two working Americans expect a pay raise in the coming year. But fewer of these employed adults are confident that their next job will be better than the one they’ve got now.

Consumer confidence remains lukewarm this holiday season, but investors are definitely feeling more upbeat.

More Americans than ever are doing their holiday shopping online, but they’re also highly concerned about cyberattacks from abroad. Voters feel more strongly than ever that these cyberattacks – the most recent ones allegedly from Iran and North Korea – should be considered acts of war.

 In other surveys last week:

 — Just 25% of Likely Voters think the country is heading in the right direction. The number of voters who think the country is on the right course has been below 30% most weeks since June of last year.

  — But few Americans have ever thought about giving up their U.S. citizenship.

  — The number of Americans who have started their holiday shopping jumped dramatically following the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales weekend.

  — Here’s a closer look at those Black Friday sales.

November 29 2014

29 November 2014


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Despite Contracting Reforms, Pentagon Seen As Unfriendly to Business

By Sandra I. Erwin



Pentagon officials have been emphatic about “lowering the barriers” to potential vendors — especially those on the cutting edge of technology — in order to spur competition in a market dominated by big conglomerates.

But the private sector is skeptical. Industry executives say they appreciate the Pentagon’s initiatives but so far see them as empty rhetoric.

Defense procurement chief Frank Kendall launched in September a new contracting reform campaign that specifically calls for the Pentagon to attract new businesses into the military market. He also is seeking congressional support to lighten the regulatory burden, as red tape is the most often cited reason why commercial companies shun the defense business.

But executives contend that Kendall’s initiative is not enough to counter a deeply entrenched bureaucratic resistance to doing business differently. They argue that Pentagon buyers are rewarded for squeezing profits out of contractors and make unreasonable demands for companies’ intellectual property. Unless conditions change, executives say, the Pentagon will continue to have trouble wooing high-tech vendors that could far more easily sell their products in mainstream commercial markets.

A new white paper by the Lexington Institute, an industry-funded think tank, lays out a litany of reasons why the Pentagon has become an unfriendly customer. They include a reluctance to use commercial contracting methods that are faster and less burdensome on suppliers, and a lack of understanding of how the private sector works even though the Defense Department buys as much as $400 billion of goods and services per year from the defense industry.

“DoD has a strong initiative to increase competition but they do not understand it well,” observed the paper’s author Scott E. Chandler, an associate fellow at Lexington and a long-time commercial and military aviation executive.

The Pentagon mistakenly believes that new policies by themselves can increase competition, Chandler said. “But they forget that competition fundamentally requires attracting at least two companies willing to do business with you. However, DoD strategy does not seem geared to policy that is designed to be an appealing buyer.”

The issue sparked a lively debate last week at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif. During a panel discussion, Kendall reaffirmed his stance that Pentagon is not targeting industry’s profits and respects companies’ rights to their intellectual property.

Other panelists disagreed. Former Pentagon comptroller during the George W. Bush administration Dov Zakheim accused the Defense Department of being antagonistic toward industry profits. “This country was built on profit,” he proclaimed.

Kendall pushed back. “We get it that [profit] is a necessity for business. We respect that,” he said. “At the same time, we use profit as a tool to incentivize. … We need to strike the right balance.”

Zakheim fired off a list of complaints. It’s not just profits, he said, it’s IP (intellectual property) concerns. “Industry invests in its own R&D,” Zakheim said, and companies expect to get a return on that investment. “Then the government tells you that you can’t make more than 8 or 9 percent profit margin, and they want your IP. Why in God’s name would Google hand over their IP to a bunch of civil servants who haven’t taken a [technology] course in over 25 years?”

Companies such as Google that are pushing the technology revolution in areas where the Pentagon has fallen behind say “No, thank you,” Zakheim added. “Their major market is the entire world.”

The Pentagon has contracting rules in place that allow it to buy technology from the commercial market with minimum red tape, but that method typically is used to buy commodities like food and clothing. Purchases of advanced technology usually are done under the traditional procurement process, with the government calling the shots. With commercial contracting, the government simply buys what it needs from open market. “You can get all kinds of innovation, it’s quicker, less restrictive, more attractive to industry,” Zakheim said. He noted that even though senior leaders such as Kendall have endorsed this approach, the contracting workforce in mid-level management prefers to not use commercial contracting because it restricts government access to corporate IP and cost data.

Kendall defended the Pentagon’s buying methods. “We do a fair amount of business with commercial companies,” he said. “Some come in as part of the supply chain. We have to be careful about the security of the supply chain.” But he recognized that the Defense Department has to change its ways if it hopes to capture private-sector innovation, especially from small businesses. Changes is needed in “how we do accounting, contracting in general,” said Kendall. “We are working this hard.”

He said commercial contracting can be tricky for Pentagon buyers. “The IP issue is complex,” he said. “We respect people’s right to their IP. We cannot compel anybody to share IP.” On the other hand, “industry uses IP as a weapon to gain competitive advantage,” Kendall said. “In the government, there is frustration about not having competition because someone has secured a position [in the market] based on their IP rights.”

Over the past several years, he said, the Pentagon has started to require procurement officials to learn how to price and negotiate IP. “We have to be very good at this because it’s a complicated thing to do.”

The Lexington paper notes that the U.S. government goes to great lengths to provide patents, copyrights and licenses to protect proprietary data, trademarks and industrial secrets. The Pentagon, meanwhile, seeks to dismantle these protections as part of its strategy to spur competition, Chandler argued. He blames the Pentagon for creating an increasingly uncongenial market where vendors are seen as enemies and not as business partners. “It is true that individual companies or contractors misstep from time to time, but the snipe hunt for rampant fraud, waste and abuse is largely unwarranted,” he said.

The U.S. government wields enormous power but sometimes that power can undermine its own goals, Chandler contends. The Defense Department can “cancel contracts for convenience; change requirements, purchase quantities, or schedules at will; demands proprietary information even for commercial products for distribution to competitors; and, dictates contract terms and controls margins.” Conversely, a “fundamental objective of business is to seek and grow competitive advantage, while the objective of the government policy and practice is to erase it, artificially if necessary.”


China’s Anti-Stealth Radar Comes to Fruition

Nov. 22, 2014 – 03:45AM | By WENDELL MINNICK | Comments


TAIPEI — The one great testament to China’s anti-access/area denial efforts were weapon and sensor systems on display at the recent China Airshow in Zhuhai.

One of the most noticeable was the road-mobile JY-26 “Skywatch-U” 3-D long-range air surveillance radar. China had plenty of road-mobile radars on display, but this one claimed a unique capability — “stealth target detection.” This towering radar is a clear symbol of China’s continued desire to locate and destroy stealth aircraft like the B-2 bomber and F-22 and F-35 fighters.

According to a brochure by the East China Research Institute of Electronic Engineering (ECRIEE), this radar “boasts double stealth target detection virtues thanks to operation in UHF [ultra high frequency] band and owning of large power-aperture product” for both air breathing targets and tactical missiles. The range of the UHF radar is not cited on the brochure, but other details are, including electronic counter-countermeasures and a complex digital active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar capable of tracking 500 targets.

An unusual feature is the bubble surface of the radar, which looks similar to Lockheed Martin’s offering in the Three Dimensional Expeditionary Long-Range Radar (3DELRR) competition, which Raytheon won. The surface of both radars is analogous to bubble wrap used to ship breakable items in the mail. These bubbles are transmit receive modules (TRM), but the JY-26 has fewer TRMs then the Lockheed 3DELRR, said Richard Fisher, senior fellow on Asian military affairs, International Assessment and Strategy Center.

Press reports of an alleged Chinese cyber espionage strike against Lockheed surfaced in April 2009, Fisher said. “Barring further US and Lockheed disclosures, we cannot know whether China stole critical radar information in addition to other programs like the F-35 stealth fighter.”

However, John Wise, a UK-based radar specialist, said the Lockheed 3DELRR is a “G-band (5.4GHz) radar and has nothing whatsoever in common with the JY-26, other than shape.” If JY-26 has true anti-stealth aircraft detection and tracking capability, it would need to operate down the bottom end of the UHF band (250-350MHz), he said.

“The elements [TMR] might be so shaped because they may offer circular polarization, which could have benefits for an air detection radar, and guesstimate the elements are half wavelength in dimension,” he said.

In 2011, an image of a larger version of the JY-26 appeared on Chinese-language military blogs that had twice the number of TMRs than the Lockheed radar, but the JY-26 variant on display at Zhuhai had fewer, which suggests the JY-26 at Zhuhai is either a lower-cost model or its developer has improved its software to allow for fewer TRMs, Fisher said.

“Nevertheless, the JY-26 poses a real threat to US and allied air forces and also demonstrates China’s capacity for developing electronic warfare systems that are competitive with the latest US systems,” Fisher said.


The timing of China’s cyber espionage and the appearance of the JY-26 suggest a painful question, Fisher said.

“Did China successfully steal data from Lockheed Martin’s radar shop that is now going to be used to better prosecute Lockheed’s F-35 fighter?”

Other experts, such as Wise, caution that common radar configurations are not necessarily evidence of espionage because similar engineering objectives could lead to similar solutions. Fisher said he believes the Lockheed radar was compromised by Chinese espionage and the evidence is the eerie similarity between two radars that use unique TMRs.

According to a Nov. 10 China-based article in the Global Times, a Shandong Province-based JY-26 recently monitored an F-22 flying to South Korea. Separated by the Yellow Sea, Shandong’s coastline is 400 kilometers from Kunsan Air Base and Osan Air Base, South Korea.

Who would be in the market for the JY-26? For one, Pakistan has to contend with India’s stealth fighter program with Russia, and Iran must deal with Israel’s planned procurement of the F-35 fighter.

Then there is the continuing threat many nations face from US B-2 bombers, F-22 fighters and eventually the F-35. ■


Hagel rallies chairmen around defense budget

By Kristina Wong – 11/21/14 09:33 AM EST


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met quietly with congressional leaders of three defense committees on Thursday as lawmakers prepare the Pentagon’s budget for next year.

Hagel spoke with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the incoming leaders of the Armed Services committees, and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), who was reappointed as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense.

The chair of the Senate’s Appropriations subcommittee on Defense has yet to be announced.

“He wanted to reach out to these leaders to discuss a wide range of issues of importance to the Defense Department, to include our budget pressures,” said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.

Lawmakers are putting together an omnibus 2015 spending bill, which would fund the Defense Department through next September. However, before recessing on Dec. 12, they could instead simply extend a temporary funding measure known as a continuing resolution (CR).

A news report said Hagel was on Capitol Hill to argue against a CR, which would hold the Pentagon to 2014 funding levels and restrict spending on new programs and projects. Frelinghuysen is the current chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, and would be involved in any such process.

Hagel spoke out against a CR on Wednesday during a PBS interview.

“You can’t run any institution by the uncertainty of maybe you’ll get funding in six months, maybe you won’t, maybe it will be the same, maybe it won’t,” he said. “Especially you can’t run national security … on the basis of hope of a continuing resolution.”

He also urged lawmakers to overturn Defense budget caps under sequestration.

“We won’t have the resources. We won’t have the readiness. We won’t have the capability. We won’t have the long-term investments that this institution requires to stay ahead of everybody else as we have since World War II with a technological edge, with the ability to continue to recruit, retain the best people,” Hagel said.


The Defense Department will submit its 2016 defense budget request to Congress in March, which Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey suggested Wednesday would be higher than caps.

McCain and Thornberry would oversee the process of authorizing that budget, and Frelinghuysen would oversee House Appropriations of that budget.

Lawmakers partially lifted caps for 2014 and 2015, and experts say they are likely to do so again in 2016 and 2017.

“We the Defense Department are being called upon to do more everywhere,” Hagel said. “And our budget continues to be cut. Something doesn’t connect here and that’s going to have to change.”



Leaders monitor burnout among intel analysts

Oriana Pawlyk, Staff writer 12:10 p.m. EST November 22, 2014


JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Virginia – They stay up all night and chug too many energy drinks. They have psychiatrists and chaplains on call, and a therapy dog named Lily.

Secluded in a dimly lit, cavernous maze of computer screens, they collect and analyze mission data that is transmitted from an aerial, unblinking eye — drones — flying anywhere in the world.

The airmen who walk the halls of the 480th Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance Wing headquarters here are among the 6,000 airmen around the globe committed to fighting a new type of war where the margin between victory and defeat lies in massive amounts of information.

They work at such a rapid rate that leaders are putting forth efforts to stop these airmen from burning out. The wing’s leadership has molded the Comprehensive Fitness Model — an attempt to help airmen balance their busy lives through targeted programs, activities and resiliency skills — to cater to airmen involved in these operations.

“In each one of our groups, we have now resourced to have a doctor, a medical tech, a psychologist, a psych tech, a chaplain and a chaplain’s assistant available and on our operations floors,” said Col. Timothy Haugh, the wing’s commander.

Haugh said the wing is constantly working to best posture these airmen to sustain the mission and motivate them during their careers.

“These are our enlisted airmen, predominantly, [using] the general weapons system that produces thousands of intelligence reports every day” Haugh said Nov 17. “For us, the investment in the brain matter of all of these very talented airmen is what makes the difference.”


Intel overload

At any given time in the Middle East, there are more than 160 Air Force fighter, bomber, ISR, airlift, air refueling and other types of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft that support Air Forces Central Command operations in partnership with sister services and allied nations, according to an Air Force official. In the fight against the Islamic State group, Air Force warplanes through Nov. 17 have conducted almost two-thirds of the 956 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, Air Force figures show.

The analysts at Langley continue to watch these events, processing the intelligence through the Distributed Common Ground System, or the DCGS. They monitor video feeds coming from a Predator, Reaper, Global Hawk or U-2 unmanned aerial vehicle, sift through lines of chat conversations with pilots, and watch as strikes dissolve the area below.

In 2013, such information translated into 460,000 hours of full-motion video, 2.6 million images and 1.7 million signals intelligence reports, according to officials.

Intel airmen can begin working a new mission in a day’s time, unlike airmen in other career fields who get two weeks’ notice for a new deployment cycle. And these airmen — most between the ages of 19 and 25 — sit side-by-side regardless of their active-duty or reservist capacity.

“The team that exists at this site, they’re my fusion lead for things that are going on in the Central Command [area of responsibility] and fuse it … or make sense of it for the supporting commander,” Haugh said.


Occupational hazard

Haugh and his team’s mission, aside from identifying adversaries and threats, is to constantly monitor the occupational health for these airmen working 12-hour shifts, for three to four days at a time.

One surprising area of concern: dental hygiene.

“Our biggest problem is dental,” said Lt. Col. Cameron Thurman, the 480th’s surgeon. “They’re staring at computer screens for 12 straight hours and you can’t miss a guy running across the screen with an AK-47 … or good guys are gonna die … so a lot of things that they do is sit there and chug Monsters and energy drinks left and right to stay vigilant.”

Thurman said the need for more sugar has led to intel analysts having the worst cavity rate in the Air Force. But “the fact that we know that is a significant step forward,” Haugh said.

If airmen must drink high-end sugary drinks, Thurman has a few tips.

“The worst way is the way most of us do it, which is to sip on it over a long period of time throughout the day,” Thurman told Air Force Times. “You [are] continuously bathing your teeth in that sugar-acid mixture all day. So if you’re going to do it … you should drink some water afterward to wash it off as best you can off of your teeth.”

While energy drinks are becoming an Air Force-wide problem, Thurman said, he hasn’t seen overwhelming evidence that shows airmen are plagued with other risks such as heart palpitations or agitation. But some leaders didn’t take a chance — a few years before Thurman arrived, one group commander mandated that all energy drinks needed to be removed from his facility’s vending machines.

While Haugh isn’t looking to do the same, he has put another practice in place. Thurman said the wing provides education on the effects of sugar intake, fatigue management and mild exercise during breaks, some of it coming from the newly created “Wingman Tactics Process.”

The program aims to collect and review best wingman practices already in place throughout the wing, and then share those ideas with the remaining wing members. It starts at the bottom — if there is a local solution to a problem affecting a small group of airmen, the successful solution gets passed on and grows to the next level.

The Wingman Tactics Process is modeled off the Air Force’s weapons and tactics processes, but Haugh has fashioned it to be more proactive for the airmen.


Some examples: techniques to optimize the new Airman Comprehensive Assessment Form; resiliency team tactics; a ‘What if tragedy occurs’ exercise; and developing a Heritage Hall for airmen.

“If our wing members have a tactic that enhances the way we care for our Airmen, or accomplish the mission, let’s share it,” Haugh said in a release in October.

Airmen also have the four pillars — spiritual, social, mental and physical — of the Comprehensive Assessment Form to turn to in order to build core strength. A struggle, thus far, has been the social aspect for these airmen stuck in a room for hours on end.


Overcoming isolation

While a multitude of programs are available under the CAF’s four pillars, Thurman sees intel members investing in their spiritual and mental well-being most.

“Most of these airmen are in between the ages of 18 and 25, and most people in [that age group] do not have physical medical problems,” Thurman, in the Air Force eight years, said. But having an extremely stressful job at that age is what makes having someone to talk to extremely important, he said.

The wing is trying to keep the airmen interacting in as many social ways as they can because they are isolated in more ways than one.

Intel airmen aren’t always interacting with other members of the Air Force because of their out-of-sync schedules, Thurman said. A second issue is secrecy. “They may have the best day of their military career … and they can’t tell anybody about it,” he said. Some intel airmen working on Army bases or in remote locations are geographically isolated as well.

Working in shifts for these airmen will probably not change — Thurman said the airmen have their own family life and schedules that, for now, work for them.

With 2,000 people at DCGS-1, the Langley intel platform, “it’s impossible to override a schedule that makes all 2,000 people happy,” Thurman said. Wing leaders have done a good job in giving the airmen leeway to deal with their personal issues before they step into the pod that makes up their daily activity, he said.

But the wing has managed to create a social network among the DCGS airmen.

“Last month we closed DCGS-1 for eight hours and moved the mission over to another DCGS … and got everybody together for a ‘warrior day,’ ” Thurman said. The competitive nature and the camaraderie of the day promoted stress relief.

For now, these airmen will be working together, socializing together and keeping Air Force dentists busy, too.



When Hagel leaves, new SecDef faces big questions about the military’s future

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff writer 5:13 p.m. EST November 24, 2014


President Obama’s new pick to run the Pentagon will face a dizzying set of challenges affecting the Defense Department’s mission, budget and culture.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation Monday comes at a time when the military advance of the Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria is prompting some fundamental reassessments of defense policy and the use of the military.

“The hardest question before the new secretary — and it’s a question the American people are also grappling with — is exactly how much responsibility does the United States have to take for all the problems in a chaotic world?” said Mieke Eoyang, director of the national security program at Third Way, a think tank in Washington.

“I think the resurgence of ISIS over the fall is what is leading the White House to reevaluate that,” she said referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

It remains unclear who Obama will pick to serve as his fourth Defense Secretary. Hagel has agreed to remain in office until his successor is confirmed by the Senate, which will likely be early next year. The front runner is Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy. If selected, she would be the first woman to lead the Defense Department.

The new secretary will be drawn into an intense debate inside the military and the White House about operations in Iraq and Syria. There’s disagreement about the number of U.S. troops and type of operations needed to defeat the Islamic State. Top officials are also debating the nature of the aid the U.S. should provide to the Iraqis and whether money and weapons should be supplied only through the Iraqi government or directly to the Kurdish forces or the Sunni tribal militias.

“There’s a lot of policy to resolve,” said one former military official.

Politically, Obama’s pick may face a bruising battle in the Senate, which in January will be under Republican control for the first time in eight years. The head of the Armed Services Committee will likely be Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a fierce critic of the Obama administration who would use the confirmation process to pressure the White House on foreign policy.

After confirmation, the new secretary will be immediately thrust into another budget crisis. The 2016 budget — due for release early next year — will reignite fears about the budget caps known as sequestration. The two-year deal that temporarily eased the impact of sequestration will expire next year.

A new secretary may come to appreciate the newly empowered GOP, which could give the Pentagon more money, potentially lifting one of Hagel’s biggest constraints.

“The irony is that the Republicans are taking over Congress and may repeal sequestration. And that would make it easier for his successor to deal with things,” said Larry Korb, a defense expert at the Center for American Progress.

A new secretary will also be coming into the Pentagon at a critical moment in the debate about military compensation. The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission will issue a massive report about troops pay and benefits, along with proposed legislation, in February.

The commission was created by Congress to help jump-start reform on the controversial topic and the new secretary’s public position on proposed changes will help shape the debate on Capitol Hill.

The new secretary will also likely oversee a critical transition regarding the integration of women into combat units. The services will complete that transition next year or, if service leaders want to keep some jobs or units off limits to women, service leaders will have to provide the secretary with a detailed request an exemption to the new policy.


Chuck Hagel’s resignation underscores defense rifts

Obama and his inner circle didn’t hide their concerns about the defense secretary.

By Philip Ewing and Jennifer Epstein

| 11/24/14 9:33 AM EST

| Updated 11/24/14 8:32 PM EST


As President Barack Obama searches for his fourth defense secretary in six years, Chuck Hagel’s resignation Monday only confirms the perception of how tightly the White House controls the most important national security decision making.

Hagel’s departure follows a drumbeat of complaints by his predecessors, former officials and members of Congress that the National Security Council has assumed nearly all the authority for foreign conflicts, counterterrorism and other vital issues — leaving ever-less involvement for the Defense Department and other agencies.

“I know that Chuck was frustrated with aspects of the administration’s national security policy and decision-making process,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “His predecessors have spoken about the excessive micro-management they faced from the White House and how that made it more difficult to do their jobs successfully. Chuck’s situation was no different.”

Specifically, Hagel had grown frustrated with Obama’s unwillingness to mount a serious push on behalf of defense spending, one Senate aide said, as well as other priorities for the Pentagon.

“Hagel has been pushing back on the administration in regards to the defense budget and some of the defense policy, and that’s kind of what led to this,” the aide said. “He started to no longer be a yes-man.”

Hagel formally notified Obama on Monday that he would step down as soon as the Senate confirms his successor — a process that could take months. In a ceremony at the White House, Obama thanked Hagel for his candor.

“When it’s mattered most, behind closed doors in the Oval Office, you’ve always given it to me straight,” the president said. “For that, I will always be grateful.”

The president’s reference to his and Hagel’s behind-the-scenes discussions was the only allusion to the friction that appears to have led Hagel to quit.

Hagel’s departure was “a mutual decision,” a senior defense official said, reached after “several weeks” of discussions about the outlook for the remainder of the administration.

While a senior administration official on Monday praised Hagel’s “steady hand” during his 22 months on the job, Obama and his inner circle never fully integrated Hagel into the decision-making process and did not hide their concerns about him.

Unlike firings in previous administrations, however, Hagel’s departure will not likely mark a new direction in policy, as President George W. Bush wanted when he relieved then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2006.

“The risk now is making him a scapegoat, when the problems that have most bedeviled us in the Middle East were obviously not his making,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.

A senior defense official acknowledged to POLITICO that there had been policy differences between Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice but said no single disagreement had prompted Hagel’s departure.

“Did he and Rice agree on everything? No — but that’s normal, that’s healthy. This is not about him vs. Susan Rice,” the official said. “The secretary is not resigning in protest.”

The White House said that Hagel initiated conversations about his role in October “given the natural post-midterms transition time.” He finally decided to resign last week.

Hagel told troops in a message on Monday that he didn’t make his decision “lightly” and urged them to keep their attention on deployments around the world and the work of running the vast Defense Department.

“That work will continue,” he wrote. “It must continue. The world is still too dangerous, the threats too numerous, for us to lose focus. And even as I promised the president my full support going forward, so, too, do I promise that I will work hard to support you right up until my last day in office. I owe you that.”

The president said he intends to move quickly to name a successor, though no firm timetable has been suggested. The Republicans take control of the Senate in January.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) told CNN on Monday he was “flabbergasted” to hear from Hagel that he was quitting — and warned that whoever Obama picks to replace him can expect “to have a very tough time” in the Senate.

Hagel’s resignation was not publicly expected and rattled the Washington defense establishment.

Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby had said after the Nov. 4 midterm elections that Hagel had committed to remaining in the administration for its final two years. At a defense conference in California earlier this month, Hagel delivered a speech about acquisition reform as usual and gave no sign that he was planning to leave.

“I don’t get up in the morning and worry about my job,” Hagel told Charlie Rose in an interview televised last week.

All the same, Hagel’s tenure has more often been an anchor for Obama than a help. He endured a long and painful confirmation process that included a widely panned hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee and several weeks of limbo as a Republican filibuster kept him on ice.

More recently he has battled behind the scenes with Rice, even sending her a memo sharply critical of the administration’s strategy for Syria. Senior defense officials have complained in reports by several news organizations, including POLITICO Magazine, about the National Security Council’s micromanagement of national security and the growing centralization of decision making by the White House.

Both of Hagel’s predecessors in the Obama administration, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, have written books complaining about the president’s national security policy process, and other critics seized on Hagel’s departure on Monday.

Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey have sought to preserve maneuvering room for U.S. commanders to send troops to Iraq to help Iraqis in their battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Now, Obama must gear up for a major new confirmation battle in the Senate, depending on how quickly he can find a replacement.

Potential successors could include Michèle Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense who now runs the Center for a New American Security; Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work; or another administration alumnus such as Ash Carter, who stepped down as Hagel’s first deputy secretary.

Hagel’s tenure at the Pentagon has mostly been reactive. He launched major studies or reviews following the 2013 Washington Navy Yard shooting, scandals at military hospitals and revelations about cheating and decay within the Air Force’s nuclear weapons units.

He also has taken on Panetta’s initiative to integrate more women into combat units, but that work has been slow in the Marine officer corps and in the special operations forces.


The Army has just begun an initial effort to send women to its elite Ranger School; completing that work will be among the challenges waiting for Hagel’s successor.

House Speaker John Boehner said Washington must use the transition as an opportunity to re-examine Obama’s strategy for fighting ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

“This personnel change must be part of a larger rethinking of our strategy to confront the threats we face abroad, especially the threat posed by the rise of ISIL,” he said. “We cannot defeat this enemy without a broad, coordinated, well-thought-out effort that has the strong support of the American people. Thus far, this administration has fallen well short.”

Read more:


US: Commercial Farming, Other Industries React to Forthcoming FAA Drone Rules

by Press • 25 November 2014



News about forthcoming rules from the Federal Aviation Administration for the operation of drones was met with mixed reaction by those experimenting with unmanned aerial vehicles. At least one person expressed concern that the rules may inhibit adoption by farmers, while others saw any potential movement by the FAA as a good sign that the industry might move forward.

Federal rules on commercial drones are expected to require operators to have a license and limit flights to daylight hours, below 400 feet and within sight of the person at the controls, the Journal’s Jack Nicas and Andy Pasztor reported Monday. The FAA is still in the process of drafting the rules, so it can’t comment on them, an FAA spokesman told CIO Journal.

The line of sight rule may be an issue for commercial farming because of the huge acreages involved, said Phil Hamm, director of the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Oregon State University. For the past two summers, the university has used unmanned aerial vehicles to photograph potato crops for monitoring purposes. This work was done under a permit for research testing from the FAA.

“You want to be able to pre-program these vehicles to fly your fields and return home,” he told CIO Journal. While farmers may have someone guiding them from a central place, a line of sight rule means that you can only fly one circle of 125 acres, he added.

And, while Oregon State has used licensed pilots to operate its unmanned aerial vehicles, Mr. Hamm told CIO Journal that the requirement may not be necessary for all types of drones, particularly the smallest ones.

Still, some in the industry welcomed any sign that the FAA might be moving forward with rules. “The forthcoming FAA rulemaking is a critical milestone in the unmanned aircraft systems integration process, and one that is long overdue,” said Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, in an email. “After continued delays in the rulemaking process, the release of the proposed rule will bring us one step closer to realizing the many societal and economic benefits of UAS technology,” he added.


Mr. Toscano said he hadn’t yet seen the draft rule and could not comment on specifics. “As an industry, we believe it’s important that the forthcoming rule enables the many civil and commercial uses for UAS technology in a safe and responsible manner without being unnecessarily restrictive,” he said.

The agriculture industry should appreciate the decision as it will drive manufacturers and operators to improve their equipment and operations to match safety and standards that have made our national airspace a safe and effective means for commerce, said Brian Whiteside, president of VDOS Global LLC, which wants to use its drones to perform inspections in the Gulf of Mexico for a major energy producer. “While this may have some short-term negative effects, long term this is what is needed to bring the technology forward,” he added.

Currently, FAA regulations effectively prohibit the use of commercial drones unless an exemption has been granted. On September 25, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the FAA had granted the first exemptions for the commercial use of drones to some aerial photo and video production companies for use in Hollywood. The FAA has not yet granted exemptions for the commercial use of drones in the agricultural industry, but companies say they hope the agency might do so by the end of the year.


New Zealand:- New civil aviation rule proposed for unmanned aircraft

by Press • 25 November 2014


Industry and the public will soon get an opportunity to have their say on a proposed Civil Aviation Rule for unmanned aircraft operations.

Commonly known as UAVs, drones or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), most unmanned aircraft operations are currently regulated by a rule designed for model aircraft.

Steve Moore, CAA General Manager – General Aviation, says most unmanned aircraft can fly much faster, further, and higher than traditional model aircraft.

The advanced performance characteristics of unmanned aircraft mean they can be used for a much wider range of applications including scientific research, film and video production and agriculture.

“This can mean greater safety risks for airspace users, and for people and property. It’s important we update the rules in recognition of those risks.

“Ultimately, users will need to abide by the new rule, so it is important they get the chance to have input into its development,” he says.

Recent advances in technology have led to significant growth in the number of unmanned aircraft operations, particularly RPAS, world-wide.

The proposed rule is part of the CAA’s strategy to integrate unmanned aircraft into the aviation system.

“It is important that we put in place a comprehensive regulatory framework that is flexible enough to accommodate further growth over the long-term.”

The proposed rule focuses on the safety risks associated with high performance unmanned aircraft, with operators of high risk unmanned aircraft likely to require CAA certification. Initial consultation in developing the rule has involved users, including industry group UAVNZ, and Callaghan Innovation.

“We are aware that these operations are opening up significant business opportunities in areas like real estate, film and television and scientific research.

“We want to make sure the new rule does not impose an undue regulatory burden on operators and will seek feedback on this and other aspects during the consultation period,” says Steve Moore.

“We want to make sure that recreational users can still operate in a low-risk environment, and will modify the existing rules so they can continue to do this where appropriate,” he says.

Unmanned aircraft can be purchased from retail outlets and also online for a few hundred dollars. In some cases users may not be aware they are subject to Civil Aviation Rules, he says.

“The CAA encourages anyone who wants to operate an unmanned aircraft to find out what their safety obligations are before they fly.”

The CAA’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making will be issued on 4 December 2014. Members of the public and industry can give feedback until 30 January 2015 through the CAA web site:



UK: Drones might be the must-have Christmas present, but owners could be breaking the law

by Press • 25 November 2014

By Chris Pyke


Drones might be flying off the shelves in the lead up to Christmas but you could easily fall foul of the law when operating one

The many people unwrapping a drone on Christmas Day morning may not realise that by the afternoon they could be breaking the law.

With the price of drones for the amateur starting from as little as £35 – with more sophisticated models costing up to £300 and even higher-spec devices costing into the thousands – the flying devices have found their way to the top of a lot of Christmas present lists.

But an intended fun gift could mean the new proud owner may be unwittingly breaking the law when they take-off with their new toy.

The unmanned aircraft are used for aerial photograph or video, capturing anything from coastal paths to castles to the humble back garden.

Unmanned aircraft have often been used by model aircraft enthusiasts for recreational purposes. Unlike manned aircraft or model aircraft used for pleasure there are no established operating guidelines so operators may not be aware of the potential dangers – or indeed the responsibility they have towards not endangering the public.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) does have specific rules on flying drones, or unmanned aircraft, that limit where the owner can fly the craft.


Drones cannot be flown over or within 150m of any congested area, over or within 150m of an organised open-air crowd of more than 1,000 people, within 50m of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft or within 50m of any person except during take-off.

The person in charge of the aircraft must also maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the device in order to monitor its flight-path and avoid possible collisions with other aircraft as well as people and buildings.

Huw Evans, owner of Huw Evans Picture Agency, pointed out that anyone using a drone for commercial purposes must have training and pass exams before using them.

And he said he was concerned about safety with untrained people operating the drones, pointing out an incident at an event in Virginia in the United States when an unmanned aircraft crashed into the crowd and left five people hurt.

This was also a worry for Beverley Richards, operations director at SkyCam Wales, who said: “Professional commercial ‘drone’ operators must obtain permission for aerial work (PFAW) from the CAA.

“This involves a ground school, written exams, production of an operational manual, flight exam and airworthiness tests. Only upon completion of all this is it possible to get public liability insurance.

“Skycam Wales uses professional ‘drones’ and camera equipment but the regulations are the same for hobbyists using small quadcopters with tiny cameras. The only difference is receiving payment or reward thus necessitating a PFAW.”

Mr Evans added: “A 14-year-old could buy one and they are not going to read the CAA regs. You are only going to come under the CAA radar when images are being sold commercially.”

The CAA have produced leaflets to explain the rules and dangers of flying a drone but they are not included in the packaging of devices as yet.

“You do need to follow these rules,” said a CAA spokesman, who added that they were looking to do more to raise awareness and had produced a leaflet for new drone operators.

The leaflet has eight points for the new owners, such as it being illegal to fly over congested areas and that you are legally responsible for each flight.

Resource Group Training Solutions, in Cwmbran, runs courses in unmanned aircraft, which provided the licence for Mr Evans to operate a drone,

“UK Aviation legislation is focused on the safe operation of manned aircraft,” said Craig Palmer at Resource Group Unmanned Aviation Services.

“Remote pilots must work within the same regulatory framework. Remote pilots must be aware that when operating they have a legal responsibility for the safe conduct of each flight. Failure to comply could lead to a criminal prosecution.

“Resource Group is a UK CAA national qualified entity and we pride ourselves on our professional and thorough approach to air safety within our remote pilot qualification programme.

“We work closely with many manufacturers and distributors to ensure that the safety message remains paramount to all involved within the industry.

“The students we train come to us to gain the experience and knowledge, both theoretical and practical, needed to operate safely. We require them to prove a high level of skill before we sign them off as competent remote pilots capable of working safely in UK airspace.


“We believe that safe operation, whether for commercial or recreational flying, needs to be at the forefront of any remote pilot’s mind. The message for us is clear: ‘Fly safe, fly legal or don’t fly and if in doubt ask’.”


Drone Flights Face FAA Hit

Looming Rule Proposal Would Restrict Commercial Uses, Require Pilot License


The Wall Street Journal

By Jack Nicas and Andy Pasztor

Updated Nov. 24, 2014 11:14 a.m. ET


Highly anticipated federal rules on commercial drones are expected to require operators to have a license and limit flights to daylight hours, below 400 feet and within sight of the person at the controls, according to people familiar with the rule-making process.

The drone industry has awaited commercial rules for about six years, hoping the rules would pave the way for widespread drone use in industries such as farming, filmmaking and construction. Current FAA policy allows recreational drone flights in the U.S. but essentially bars drones from commercial use.

While the FAA wants to open the skies to unmanned commercial flights, the expected rules are more restrictive than drone supporters sought and wouldn’t address privacy concerns over the use of drones, people familiar with the matter said.

The agency also plans to group all drones weighing less than 55 pounds under one set of rules. That would dash hopes for looser rules on the smallest drones, such as the 2.8-pound Phantom line of camera-equipped, four-rotor helicopters made by China’s SZ DJI Technology Co. Similar-sized devices are seen as the most commercially viable drones and have surged in popularity in the last two years.

Drone sightings this week by airline pilots flying into New York’s JFK International Airport pose high aviation risks. WSJ’s Andrew Tangel and Simon Constable discuss. Photo: Getty

Small-drone supporters say such models are less risky to people and structures than heavier drones like Boeing Co. ‘s ScanEagle, a gas-powered, 40-pound aircraft with a 10-foot wingspan that can stay aloft for more than 24 hours. ConocoPhillips Co. uses the ScanEagle to gather data on Arctic ice pack and whale migrations.

In addition, pilot certifications likely to be proposed by the FAA would typically require dozens of hours flying manned aircraft, according to people familiar with the rule-making discussions. Drone proponents have resisted requiring traditional pilot training for drone operators.

FAA officials expect to announce proposed rules by year-end. The proposal will kick off a public comment period that is likely to flood the agency with feedback. It could take one or two years to issue final rules.


Recent milestones in commercial-drone use in the U.S.


On Sept. 25, 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration authorizes six filmmaking companies to use unmanned aircraft for their work. Above, a drone on the set of the 2012 James Bond movie ‘Skyfall’ in Istanbul.

Commercial drone use is on the rise in big industry, including filmmaking, farming and construction. The rush to the skies comes despite the fact that commercial drone use is mostly banned in the U.S. The Federal Aviation Administration is considering loosening the rules. But the regulator is moving carefully because the technology is potentially dangerous and raises privacy concerns.

One of the first milestones in the U.S. for commercial drones was the co-founding of 3D Robotics Inc. in 2009 by the former editor of Wired magazine Chris Anderson. The firm is now one of the leading makers of consumer drones and flight-control systems that customers use to build their own drones. Mr. Anderson is also the founder of, a popular forum for drone enthusiasts.

In 2010, Parrot SA debuts its AR.Drone, a quadcopter that is controlled by a user’s smartphone priced at $300. It becomes a starter drone for many enthusiasts.

Chinese drone maker SZ DJI Technology Co. in January 2013 releases the DJI Phantom, an easy-to-fly quadcopter priced under $1,000 that can carry a GoPro camera. The device becomes popular for capturing aerial footage. DJI has sold thousands of units in the U.S. and abroad. Inc. in December 2013 unveils its plan to deliver packages via drone, a service it dubs Amazon Prime Air. The company showcases a prototype on ’60 Minutes’ and says its drones would eventually be able to deliver small packages in less than 30 minutes. Drones take a big step in the public consciousness from machines of war to commercial gadgets.

In June 2014, BP PLC signs a five-year contract to use drones made by AeroVironment Inc. at its oil operations in Alaska, the first large-scale, government-approved commercial use of unmanned aircraft in the U.S. The FAA has approved one other drone for commercial use, the 40-pound ScanEagle made by a Boeing Co. subsidiary ConocoPhillips used in test flights.<br>

On Aug. 28, 2014, Google Inc. says it is developing drones to deliver goods. Google unveils a 5-foot-wide single-wing prototype that has carried supplies to two farmers in Queensland, Australia. Google says it began working on drones in 2011 and dubs the plans Project Wing.

On Sept. 25, 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration authorizes six filmmaking companies to use unmanned aircraft for their work. Above, a drone on the set of the 2012 James Bond movie ‘Skyfall’ in Istanbul.

Commercial drone use is on the rise in big industry, including filmmaking, farming and construction. The rush to the skies comes despite the fact that commercial drone use is mostly banned in the U.S. The Federal Aviation Administration is considering loosening the rules. But the regulator is moving carefully because the technology is potentially dangerous and raises privacy concerns.

One of the first milestones in the U.S. for commercial drones was the co-founding of 3D Robotics Inc. in 2009 by the former editor of Wired magazine Chris Anderson. The firm is now one of the leading makers of consumer drones and flight-control systems that customers use to build their own drones. Mr. Anderson is also the founder of, a popular forum for drone enthusiasts. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

In 2010, Parrot SA debuts its AR.Drone, a quadcopter that is controlled by a user’s smartphone priced at $300. It becomes a starter drone for many enthusiasts. Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese drone maker SZ DJI Technology Co. in January 2013 releases the DJI Phantom, an easy-to-fly quadcopter priced under $1,000 that can carry a GoPro camera. The device becomes popular for capturing aerial footage. DJI has sold thousands of units in the U.S. and abroad. DJI North America/Associated Press Inc. in December 2013 unveils its plan to deliver packages via drone, a service it dubs Amazon Prime Air. The company showcases a prototype on ’60 Minutes’ and says its drones would eventually be able to deliver small packages in less than 30 minutes. Drones take a big step in the public consciousness from machines of war to commercial gadgets. Amazon

In June 2014, BP PLC signs a five-year contract to use drones made by AeroVironment Inc. at its oil operations in Alaska, the first large-scale, government-approved commercial use of unmanned aircraft in the U.S. The FAA has approved one other drone for commercial use, the 40-pound ScanEagle made by a Boeing Co. subsidiary ConocoPhillips used in test flights.

On Aug. 28, 2014, Google Inc. says it is developing drones to deliver goods. Google unveils a 5-foot-wide single-wing prototype that has carried supplies to two farmers in Queensland, Australia. Google says it began working on drones in 2011 and dubs the plans Project Wing. Google/Associated Press

On Sept. 25, 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration authorizes six filmmaking companies to use unmanned aircraft for their work. Above, a drone on the set of the 2012 James Bond movie ‘Skyfall’ in Istanbul. Flying-Cam

In a statement, the FAA said it is working to “integrate unmanned aircraft into the busiest, most complex airspace system in the world—and to do so while we maintain our mission—protecting the safety of the American people in the air and on the ground. That is why we are taking a staged approach to the integration of these new airspace users.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing the current FAA proposal and seeking comments from other parts of the government, including the Pentagon and law-enforcement agencies. Last-minute objections could change some specifics and delay release of the proposed rules.

The agency has said it is moving carefully on drone rules out of concern for potential collisions with other aircraft and injury to people and structures on the ground.

Airline pilots and aircraft owners have supported the cautious approach. But some drone-industry officials predict a loud backlash to the proposal.

“I feel like there’s a colossal mess coming,” said Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, an advocacy group for drone makers and innovators, including Google Inc. and Inc. The rule is going to be “so divorced from the technology and the aspirations of this industry…that we’re going to see a loud rejection.”

Unmanned aircraft have proliferated in U.S. skies as technology makes them smaller, cheaper, more powerful and easier to fly. While the FAA has helped build unparalleled safety into passenger air-travel with strict manufacturing and operating rules, the system didn’t foresee thousands of small aircraft buzzing around at low altitude.

The FAA’s current policy allows commercial drone flights only with case-by-case approval. Officials have authorized just a handful of companies so far.

Still, thousands of entrepreneurs are believed to be flying the devices without FAA clearance, making it hard for those operators to get insurance.

Some government and aviation-industry officials are worried about surging use without meaningful oversight. Pilots are increasingly reporting midair drone sightings, including three near John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York last week.

Drone proponents say the U.S.’s regulatory approach is less accommodating than in other countries. This month, Canada plans to issue blanket approval for all commercial operations that use drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds as long as they comply with certain safety standards, such as altitude limits and no-fly zones around airports.

The FAA must “properly balance regulatory restrictions and the safety risks posed by” various sizes of unmanned aircraft, said Ted Ellett, a former FAA chief counsel who now is a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells US LLP. Mr. Ellett said a “one-size-fits-all” approach “will create yet another unnecessary and costly impediment.”

The FAA plans to group all drones weighing less than 55 pounds under one set of rules. Gretchen West, former executive vice president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the nation’s biggest drone-lobbying group, said large, powerful drones like those used by the military got more attention when the FAA began working on the rules.

Since then, much of the growth has shifted to smaller drones. The expected rules are “going to be very restrictive for small systems,” she added.

Jesse Kallman, head of regulatory affairs for drone-software firm Airware, said requiring commercial drone pilots to have cockpit training “will end up excluding someone who has hundreds of hours of experience on an unmanned aircraft in favor of a pilot who understands how to operate a Cessna but not an unmanned aircraft.”

In exemptions granted to six filmmaking companies to use drones on film sets earlier this year, the FAA required operators to have private-pilot licenses.

The FAA’s draft rule is expected to require lower-level pilot certifications requiring fewer flight hours, according to people familiar with the matter.

But with roughly 150 exemption requests pending, some experts predict the agency may end up establishing important legal precedents long before the formal regulatory effort ends. The FAA “is now embarking on an unprecedented use of rule-making by exemption, yet Congress invited it and everyone knows the final rule is over a year away,” said Kenneth Quinn, another former FAA chief counsel who heads the aviation and unmanned aircraft practice at the law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP in Washington.

One former FAA official said the agency is concerned that statutes bar it from authorizing commercial aircraft operations that don’t have a certified pilot.

The agency is drafting language asking Congress for greater flexibility, this person said.

The planned 400-foot flying limit within the operator’s sight largely follows the FAA’s current rules for recreational uses of drones. Those rules are based partly on voluntary guidelines for model aircraft published by the agency in 1981.

Drone proponents say the FAA is relying on decades-old regulations that don’t account for advancements in technology. Many drone pilots use “first-person view” technology allowing them to rely on real-time footage from a drone’s camera broadcast to their controller or headwear that resembles virtual-reality visors. Users can add infrared and other sensors for night or low-visibility missions.

The FAA’s expected requirement for daylight flights within the operator’s sight would essentially prohibit many commercial applications, such as pipeline inspections and crop monitoring on large farms.

The FAA is awaiting data from a number of test sites before proposing regulations affecting drones that weigh more than 55 pounds. That process is expected to take at least several years. Until then, many states and local governments are likely to establish their own standards.

Write to Jack Nicas at and Andy Pasztor at


White House Needs Strategic Thinker at Pentagon, and Quickly, Former Official Says

Nov. 24, 2014 – 03:45AM | By PAUL McLEARY | Comments


WASHINGTON — Eyebrows were raised earlier this month when an unannounced but widely anticipated trip by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to Asia in early December was abruptly called off.

When reporters in the Pentagon’s press room began to push for answers and speculate over the fate of the secretary, they were quickly assuaged by a host of officials who brushed away such concerns, pointing to upcoming Congressional testimony as the cause for what they insisted was merely a postponement of the trip.

Now we know that — according to the official accounts, at least — Hagel had for weeks been in discussions with the White House about his future, and it was clear that he wasn’t long for the top job in the Pentagon.

But when the announcement came on Monday, with no successor named to be chewed over during the lame duck session of the 113th Congress, a litany of familiar names cropped up as Hagel’s potential replacement.

At the top of the list — as she has been before — sits Michele Flournoy, a longtime defense expert who has spent a career moving in and out of government service, academia and the think tank world.

Former deputy defense secretary Ash Carter is also on the short list, and it is widely held that either one is more than qualified to take the Pentagon’s top job.

But some there is a real question of how much it will ultimately matter who gets to sit in the big seat at the five-sided building across the river, given the White House’s penchant for controlling national security matters tightly, along with a powerful National Security Council that has the president’s trust and clashed not only with Hagel, but his predecessors Leon Panetta and Bob Gates.

One defense analyst, Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners, asked “why would [Flournoy or Carter] really want to do this for what could be a very short period of time?” The Obama administration’s clock runs out in January 2017.

For anybody considering this position now, especially those thought to be friendly to a democratic administration, Callan thinks the answer might be “thanks but no thanks, I’ll wait until 2016” and see what their chances are under the next administration, particularly if Hillary Clinton emerges as a frontrunner.

But not everyone sees such reluctance once a call from the White House comes.

“The reality is you just can’t count on that call from the White House ever coming, and I think it’s extremely compelling when the president of the United States asks you to take on a cabinet level position” said one former high-ranking Pentagon official who asked not to be named.

The official pointed out that Bob Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld with only two years left in the Bush administration, and managed to not only be a driver of change, but extended his stay into the Obama administration.

Underlining Hagel’s imminent departure is a stark reminder of how much things have changed since his taking the job in February 2013, and how much the White House’s expectations have shifted of what is needed in a secretary of defense.

When Hagel was first nominated, the White House “probably thought this was about drawing down and keeping the budget in check and shifting focus to Asia, but none of that is today true” the former official said. “The bigger global strategic issues have come back to the forefront, so the administration would likely look for someone who has the background to think through those problems.”

While the big strategic issues of the Islamic State group, Iraq, Syria, Russia, and China are still being grappled with both at the White House and in the Pentagon, the management of the Pentagon itself is going through a time of disruptive change, and with it a management restructure — even if relatively modest — will likely be one of the results of sequestration.

And here, Michele Flournoy appears well placed to take the reigns. After vacating the undersecretary of defense for policy job which she held from 2009 to 2012, Flournoy headed for the Boston Consulting Group, where she wrote several op-eds outlining ways to cut defense spending. One defense consultant has also said that while there, Flournoy delivered a series of private talks to clients about how critical it was to reform management processes in the Pentagon.

It’s this insider perspective that the White House is likely looking for.

During his Monday press briefing, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that whoever is nominated to take over at the Pentagon will be “somebody who knows the inner workings of the department well” and has the “leadership skills and management skills that are necessary” to manage such a large organization “in a time of crisis.”

Adding to the sense of crisis is the fact that any new secretary will face questioning from a Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee.

Outgoing Republican head of the House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon told CNN on Monday that the president is “gonna have a very tough time getting any nomination through [Congress] so we may have Secretary Hagel there for a while.”

But several sources don’t see either Flournoy or Carter has having much difficulty in getting through the confirmation process, McKeon’s comments aside.


And there’s not a lot of time.

Given the dwindling amount of time left in the Obama administration, and having already been burned in Hagel’s confirmation hearings which exposed holes in his knowledge of administration policies, the White House will most assuredly “want someone who can hit the ground running” the former defense official said. “So that limits your pool of people under consideration because you don’t have 6 months” to spool up.

Speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center on Oct. 22, Flournoy nicely laid out a series of views that are very much in line with the message that has come out of the White House and Pentagon over the last several years, though perhaps more eloquently stated than Hagel has often managed to express.

“There’s a huge disconnect between where we see the world going, the demands that are going to be placed on the US military and what our policy is with regard to defense spending,” she said.

“Congress has got to give the Pentagon the authorities to reform, to be able to spend its money smarter and more efficiently and arrest cost growth in certain areas. Even with that you can’t expect to defend the nation under sequestration. The risks are real and they are accumulating…you’ve got to invest more in defense over time, particularly regaining readiness in the near term and investing in the capabilities we’re going to need for the future.”


In keeping with the Better Buying Power and Offset initiatives being pushed by deputy secretary of defense Bob Work and chief weapons buyer Frank Kendall, Flournoy also insisted on the importance of “letting the department come into the 21st century as far as its business practices.”

Writing in The National Interest magazine in August with Richard Fontaine, president of CNAS, the duo argued for “a sustainable brand of American internationalism” which would “reverse the harmful effects of sequestration and address the issues of skyrocketing military benefits and gross inefficiencies in the Department of Defense in order to reinvest in defense preparedness and future combat capabilities” which also emphasizing “the long-term American relationship with Iraq and Afghanistan in order to protect U.S. interests there.”

Fine words, but the fact remains that the Obama has developed a bad reputation when it comes to secretaries of defense, as seen by the fact that it has burned through a secretary every two years.

At the Reagan National Defense Forum in California earlier this month, former secretary Panetta lamented that “because of that centralization of authority at the White House, there are too few voices that are being heard in terms of the ability to make decisions.”

Sitting on the same panel, Bob Gates added that “it’s in the increasing interest of the White House to control and manage every aspect of military affairs. When a president wants highly centralized control of the White House at every degree of micromanagement that I’m describing, that’s not bureaucratic, that’s political.” ■


New DoD cloud policy delayed to early December

Nov. 25, 2014 |

Written by AARON BOYD


The Department of Defense’s new cloud procurement policy — expected to drop last week — is now slated to be released in early December, according to a spokesperson from the DoD Office of the Chief Information Officer.

In an effort to speed the department’s move to cloud computing, the new policy will divest authority from the Defense Information System Agency to the contracting officers at each branch and agency within DoD. Before issuing the policy, a memo has been circulating among the component agencies for review, a process that is still ongoing.

Despite minor delays, the policy should be signed and released in early December, sooner than later, according to the DoD representative.

Stakeholders eagerly awaiting the new policy are curious about the ultimate role of DISA and the DoD OCIO, both of which will have some authority to review cloud purchases for security and interoperability, though their specific functions have yet to be defined publicly.

Acting director of strategic planning and information at DISA, Alfred Rivera, gave some indication of what to expect from the new policy.

“DISA is going to be moving away from participation as cloud broker and in cloud services, with more focus on providing security guidelines to include security reference models, the basis in determining costs and the types of applications that are candidates for cloud services,” Rivera said, quoted in an earlier article. “I think we’re going to continue to play a very big role from the cloud broker perspective in that respect as cloud server provider, [and] also be a vehicle for network access to cloud service providers [that are] available, secure and reliable. Those two elements are still going to be germane to DISA’s responsibility.”


Near-collisions between drones, airliners surge, new FAA reports show

By Craig Whitlock November 26 at 1:06 PM 


Pilots around the United States have reported a surge in near-collisions and other dangerous encounters with small drones in the past six months at a time when the Federal Aviation Administration is gradually opening the nation’s skies to remotely controlled aircraft, according to FAA records.

Since June 1, commercial airlines, private pilots and air-traffic controllers have alerted the FAA about at least 25 episodes in which small drones came within a few seconds or a few feet of crashing into much larger aircraft, the records show. Many of the close calls occurred during takeoffs and landings at the nation’s busiest airports, presenting a new threat to aviation safety after decades of steady improvement in air travel.

Many of the previously unreported incident reports — released Wednesday by the FAA in response to long-standing public-records requests from The Washington Post and other news organizations — occurred near New York and Washington.

The FAA data indicates that drones are posing a much greater hazard to air traffic than previously recognized.

Until Wednesday, the FAA had publicly disclosed only one other near-midair collision between a drone and a passenger aircraft — a March 22 encounter between a US Airways plane near Tallahassee, Fla., and what the pilot described as a small, remotely piloted aircraft at an altitude of 2,300 feet.

On Sept. 30, air-traffic controllers at LaGuardia airport in New York reported that Republic Airways Flight 6230 was “almost hit” by a brightly colored small drone at an altitude of 4,000 feet as the passenger plane was descending to land. On Sept. 8 at LaGuardia, three different regional airliners — ExpressJet, Pinnacle and Chautauqua — reported “very close calls” with a drone within minutes of each other at a height of about 2,000 feet as they were preparing to land.

On July 29, a US Airways shuttle flight that had departed from Reagan National Airport reported an extraordinarily narrow encounter with a yellow drone with a four-foot wingspan that suddenly passed within 50 feet of the aircraft while it was approaching LaGuardia.

In Washington, Porter Airlines Flight 725 from Toronto was descending to Dulles International Airport at an altitude of 2,800 feet on June 29 when it reported that a black-and-silver drone zipped past, just 50 feet away. On June 1, a United Airlines flight originating from Rome alerted the control tower at Dulles that a four-engine helicopter drone interfered with its descent and passed just 100 feet underneath the Boeing 767.

The 25 near-midair collisions were among more than 175 incidents in which pilots and air-traffic controllers have reported seeing drones near airports or in restricted airspace. Pilots described most of the rogue drones as small camera-equipped models that have become increasingly popular with hobbyists and photographers.


Although such drones often measure only a few feet in diameter and weigh less than 10 pounds, aviation safety experts say they could easily trigger an accident by striking another plane’s propeller or getting sucked into a jet engine.

“The potential for catastrophic damage is certainly there,” said Fred Roggero, a retired Air Force major general who was in charge of aviation safety investigations for the service and now serves as a consultant to companies seeking to fly drones commercially.

The reported increase in unsafe encounters comes as the FAA is facing heavy pressure from federal lawmakers and drone manufacturers to move more quickly to open the skies to remotely controlled aircraft.

Under a 2012 law, Congress ordered the FAA to legalize drones and safely integrate them into the national airspace. The FAA is still developing regulations to make that happen, a process that is expected to take years.

Under FAA guidelines, it is legal for hobbyists to fly small drones for recreational purposes, as long as they keep them under 400 feet and five miles away from airports. Flying drones for commercial purposes is largely prohibited, although the FAA has begun to issue special permits to filmmakers and other industries to operate drones on a case-by-case basis.

The agency, however, is facing a monumental task to enforce its rules. It lacks the manpower to police airports or effectively track down offenders.

In a statement, the FAA acknowledged that it is now receiving about 25 reports a month from pilots who have seen drones operating in close vicinity.

“In partnership with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, the FAA has identified unsafe and unauthorized [drone] operations and contacted the individual operators to educate them about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws,” the agency said. The FAA has also issued fines to rogue drone operators on a handful of occasions.

Many of the close calls have been reported to the FAA by pilots of helicopters and small planes.

“All it’s going to take is for one to come through a windshield to hurt some people or kill someone,” said Kyle Fortune, who was flying a four-seat Cirrus SR-22 near Medford, Ore., on Sept. 22 when he said a drone about four feet in diameter suddenly appeared 100 feet underneath his plane. He was flying at an altitude of 4,000 feet — about 10 times higher than the FAA’s height restrictions for small drones.

“It was some idiot out there with a drone. I have no idea what he was doing up there, taking pictures or whatnot,” Fortune said in an interview. “If it had come through the cockpit it wouldn’t have been a good day.”

Several other near-midair collisions have been reported by pilots of rescue helicopters used to transport patients needing emergency medical attention.

A Life Flight helicopter in Pottsville, Pa., reported Nov. 19 that it was descending at 2,400 feet when a flight nurse in the co-pilot seat suddenly yelled: “Watch out!” A small drone was flying straight toward the rescue helicopter “at a high rate of closure,” according to a report that the crew said it filed with the FAA.

The pilot was forced to make a sharp banking turn to the right to avoid a collision, according to the report. The crew estimated that the drone passed by with about 50 to 100 feet of separation.

Greg Lynskey, government relations manager for the Association of Air Medical Services, said small drones were becoming a major concern for rescue helicopter crews around the country. He said the FAA guidelines that allow hobbyists to fly drones as long as they stay five miles away from airports are too lax and do little to protect helicopters that fly near hospitals or pick up patients at accident scenes on the ground.

“I’m hoping this can get worked out before we have a catastrophic incident,” he said. “It wouldn’t take much to bring down a helicopter. If a drone hits the tail rotor, that’d pretty much be it.”



Here’s What the Rewrite of DOD’s Cloud Strategy Will Look Like

By Frank Konkel

November 25, 2014


An update to the Defense Department’s cloud computing strategy aims to decentralize the process for purchasing commercial cloud solutions away from the Defense Information Systems Agency and toward individual agencies, according to a draft document of the retooled cloud strategy obtained by Nextgov.

The 46-page draft document has not been released publicly and is subject to change, according to a DOD spokeswoman. DOD acting Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen alluded to its pending release in a recent speech.

The new strategy, “DOD Cloud Way Forward,” describes a “cradle-to-grave process” that service providers and customers can follow to get DOD computing to the cloud.

Perhaps the biggest shift spelled out in the document will be DISA’s more limited role.

Under DOD’s current cloud strategy, DISA has acted as a cloud broker for the whole agency, handling both security assessments of potential cloud offerings and contracting duties. The new strategy would enable individual agencies to pursue approved cloud services through their own contract offices.

While several cloud pilots are ongoing within DOD, DISA’s all-encompassing role became a bottleneck between cloud service providers and DOD customers.

DISA will, however, still play a significant role in ensuring security, according to the draft strategy and recent remarks from Halvorsen.

“DISA will have a role in looking to make sure that as we go more commercial, we have met the security requirements,” Halvorsen said in a Nov. 6 speech. “We’ve spent a lot of time over the past 90 days really figuring out what do we have to have from a security standpoint for what levels of data.”


Cloud Security Levels Get a Rewrite

The draft document makes several important proposed revisions to its cloud security model, including modified security levels that distinguish between national security systems and DOD computing systems that are not national security systems.

The proposed change reduces the number of security controls required for non-national security systems – an important distinction given that much of DOD’s workload is not within national security systems. It would also “change the specific categorization levels (Low, Moderate, High) for the cloud security impact levels (1-6),” according to the draft document.


The system of impact levels are the result of DISA’s attempt to categorize data depending on a broad, three-tier risk scale — low, moderate or high — based on the type, confidentiality, integrity and availability of the data.

DOD policymakers want to change impact levels in a few different ways, according to the draft document.

For example, impact levels 1 and 2 would be more aligned with Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program’s “moderate” designation. That means cloud service providers that go through the civilian government’s standardized cloud security assessment can get their skin in the game for DOD’s public-facing, lowest-risk data.

Currently, cloud providers have to adhere to additional requirements on top of FedRAMP’s baseline standards.

Impact levels 3 and 4 would also be modified to accommodate non-national security systems’ controlled unclassified information — another example of DOD shifting away from treating all its systems as national security systems.

In addition, one proposed change is to allow non-DOD federal government tenants access to cloud services vetted at impact levels 3-6.

The document alludes to legal challenges inherent in DOD storing controlled unclassified data in a public cloud. Opening impact levels 3-6 to other federal agencies could circumvent that legal issue, the document stated.

Other potential changes include amending the security control baselines for impact levels 5 and 6 from “High-High to Moderate-Moderate.” That comes after feedback from the 45-day report suggested the “High-High” baseline for impact levels 5 and 6 “exceeds the requirements of the vast majority of fielded DOD systems.”

Specific DOD customers would, however, have the option to negotiate additional security controls directly with cloud service providers.


An Evolving Effort, But Questions Remain

DOD’s move to cloud computing has been much slower than that of its counterparts across the rest of government.

While civilian agencies and even the intelligence community have found ways to bring innovative, daring solutions to government, DOD has lagged behind mostly because of security concerns.

IDC Government Insights concluded in a September report the federal government spent more than $3 billion on cloud computing in fiscal 2014, but the Pentagon’s cloud spend accounts for only a fraction of that total.

A revamped cloud security model may help expedite DOD’s cloud migration, but assuming few changes to the draft document before its public release, some questions still remain.

The draft document does not thoroughly delineate how DOD will handle creating cloud access points between a cloud service providers and the NIPRNet, the nonclassified IP router network, used by DOD to exchange sensitive but unclassified information.

Workloads at impact levels 3 and up will require a connection to the NIPRNet, but there’s been little guidance from DOD to industry on that front, according to multiple industry sources.

If the draft holds, another interesting point sure to raise eyebrows is that workloads at impact levels 3-5 cannot be hosted in a public cloud environment.


The draft guidance states that virtually separating tenants “is allowed if all tenants are federal government cloud customers. Otherwise, the DOD will require the cloud infrastructure to be physically separated from non-DOD/federal government tenants.”

In other words, the draft language indicates only cloud providers with government-only enclaves will be able to host data at impact levels 3 and above. Data at impact level 6, which includes classified information, can only be hosted in an environment physically separated from anything other than other DOD entities hosting impact level 6 information.

The DOD spokeswoman declined to discuss the draft with Nextgov.


Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, November 29, 2014


  Did Thanksgiving come just in time? After outrage over the expected yet controversial grand jury decision in Ferguson and contention over the president’s executive action on immigration, perhaps Americans needed a day to step back and reflect.

On Monday, the St. Louis County Grand Jury decided not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown back in August. Prior to the decision, most Americans didn’t expect Wilson to be charged with murder, and half said the U.S. Justice Department should not try to charge him for federal crimes related to the Brown shooting.

Eighty-one percent (81%) of Americans expected violent protests if Wilson is not charged with murder, but only 28% believed them to be the result of legitimate outrage over the case.  Fifty percent (50%) thought it would be mostly criminals taking advantage of the situation. 

Fifty percent (50%) of voters oppose the president’s new plan that will allow nearly five million illegal immigrants to remain in this country legally and apply for jobs, while 40% are in favor of it.
But that’s slightly less opposition than voters expressed prior to the announcement. 
Half also think the plan will be bad for the economy, and a majority believes the new plan will attract more illegal immigrants.

Americans put a great deal of importance on being a U.S. citizen, but nearly one-in-three think it’s too easy to become one.

Open enrollment for 2015 started earlier this month for insurance under the new national health care law, but 35% now say Obamacare has hurt them personally. That’s the highest finding in over a year.

But it’s not just the president who is taking heat. Voters continue to give Congress dismal reviews and the majority still believes members get reelected because the system is rigged.

Two weeks after they won full control of Congress, Republicans now lead Democrats by four points on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

In other news this week, just 28% of voters favor President Obama’s newly disclosed plan to expand the U.S. military’s fighting role against the Taliban in Afghanistan after this year. Thirty percent (30%) now believe it is possible for the United States to win the war in Afghanistan, but that’s up from 23% earlier this year.

Of course, the week ended with Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and Americans put much more importance on the former than the latter. An overwhelming majority of Americans have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and 49% consider it one of the nation’s most important holidays. Forty-four percent (44%) planned to have Thanksgiving dinner at home, while nearly as many (42%) visited the home of a relative.

One-in-four Americans planned to be out of town this Thanksgiving weekend.

Thirty-three percent (33%) of Americans said they were at least somewhat likely to go shopping yesterday to take advantage of Black Friday sales deals. But only nine percent (9%)  said they are more likely to shop at a store that opens on Thanksgiving Day to get a jump on Black Friday deals. Forty-four percent (44%) say they are less likely to shop at a store that is open on Thanksgiving. Find out more about What America Thinks about Black Friday.

Forty-three percent (43%) of American Credit Card Holders plan to pay for most of their holiday gifts this year with a credit card. But 51% do not intend to pay that way.

Speaking of plastic, most Americans think they have their own credit card use under control but say most other people need to cut back on how much they use their cards. They admit, however, that credit cards tempt people to buy things that can’t afford.

In other surveys last week:

Hillary Clinton remains the heavy favorite for her party’s presidential nomination in 2016, but the Republican race is still in flux less than two years before the election.

– Though nearly half of Americans think it’s likely the recent sexual assault allegations against comedian Bill Cosby are true, they still think television networks should hold off on pulling his shows until he is officially charged with a crime.

Just 36% of Americans think the Founding Fathers would consider the United States a success. But a plurality (46%) believes the Founders – a group that generally includes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among others – would view the nation as a failure instead.

– Just 26% think the United States is heading in the right direction.

November 22 2014

22 November 2014


Also on a blog at


Sinclair pushes ahead with UAS facilities, plans new flying pavilion downtown

Nov 14, 2014, 3:20pm EST

Tristan Navera

Staff Reporter

Dayton Business Journal


Sinclair Community College is pushing ahead with plans for a new testing center for drones downtown.

The school’s board of trustees approved this week $1 million to support the National UAS Training and Certification Center, a proposed refit of Building 13 into a 28,000-square-foot facility for the school’s unmanned aerial systems and aviation programs.

Another $4 million for that center is expected to come from Ohio, through the state controlling board.

“With this move we’re able to start making the center a reality,” said Deb Norris, vice president of workforce development at Sinclair.

The school will next select an architect and begin design work on the new UAS center.

New to the idea, the school will construct a 3,200 square foot flying pavilion onto Building 13, with 40-feet-high ceilings where students will be able to test fly unmanned aircraft outside of weather concerns and in compliance with the tight regulations placed on unmanned aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration, said Andrew Shepherd, director for unmanned aerial systems at Sinclair.

Sinclair’s UAS center will also include an indoor flying tunnel where students will be able to test craft and parts that are 3-D printed. It’s received about $914,500 in donations and equipment to support the center, including major industrial equipment, Norris said. The $5 million going into the UAS center will also pay for the moving of other equipment in Building 13 to other parts of campus.

It’s another boost to Sinclair’s UAS program, which has got six active permissions from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly aircraft at Wilmington Air Park and Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. But the new indoor range will allow for UAV testing and training on-campus.

It’s also a boost to the efforts of the Dayton region, where leaders have been hoping to draw more business and research around the emerging industry.

Sinclair has been growing its own set of UAS, now with more than 50 vehicles from 21 different manufacturers.

The school also has designated its 35,000-square-foot fieldhouse, which is located in the basement of Building 8, as an indoor flying range for the community and school purposes.

“It’s another benefit to the range of flying options we have now,” Shepherd said. “Now we will be able to fly the unmanned aerial systems in several different ways.”



House GOP Approps Chair Lobbies for Omnibus, Warns Against Govt. Shutdown

Nov. 17, 2014 – 03:45AM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments


WASHINGTON — US House Republicans’ top appropriator has a message for any member who might favor a government shutdown next month: The American people “want action.”

Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., penned a Monday op-ed in Roll Call preaching “elections have consequences” as some in his Republican caucus are pushing to shut down the federal government should President Barack Obama issue an executive order that alters the federal immigration system.

“I believe a major consequence of this election is a loud and clear mandate from the American people for Washington to stop the gridlock, work together across ideological lines and start producing real accomplishments on their behalf,” Rogers writes.

“The bottom line from the election is this: The American people want a government that works for them. They want action on the issues that are meaningful and important to the country and to their daily lives,” writes Rogers, an ally of House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is trying to find a way to pass an omnibus spending bill with a full 2015 defense appropriations while also placating the most conservative wing of his caucus.

Rogers made a case for ending the “circular and corrosive politicking that has infected our system and that is designed for quick cable TV news bites and little else.” And in a veiled message to his GOP mates, he said, the American people will not “tolerate [it] any longer.”

The message from Boehner’s camp is clear: Shutting down the government weeks after capturing control of both chambers of Congress would be a political loser for the GOP.

Rogers and others aligned with the speaker believes, as he writes, “this means ‘regular order’ for appropriations bills — enacting funding bills on time, and in a responsible, transparent and pragmatic way, without the specter of government shutdowns or the lurching, wasteful and unproductive budgeting caused by temporary stopgap measures.”

Rogers noted that “there will be an extraordinary amount of work to do when the new Congress convenes in January.

“But there simply won’t be the necessary political bandwidth available to address these pressing issues if Congress is bogged down in old battles and protracted to-do lists,” Rogers writes. “That is why it is critical that we pass an omnibus appropriations bill before the end of the year that will close the books on fiscal 2015, responsibly fund the government and allow the next Congress to get off to a running start.”

Veteran federal budget analyst Stan Collender writes in a Monday blog post that a GOP-on-GOP “war” is underway, and the budget is a major front.

“Make no mistake about it, the sides have already been drawn and the battle — no, the war — among congressional Republicans on the federal budget is well underway,” Collender writes.

Settle in, he advises, because the “war” has only just begun.

“What’s most important about the GOP budget war is that it won’t be resolved anytime soon,” Collender writes, “no matter what is decided between now and Dec. 11.”

The Pentagon and defense industry are pressing congressional leaders to pass an omnibus, rather than another, or multiple, continuing resolutions. That’s because the Defense Department, under a CR, cannot take actions such as start new programs or increase production rates. ■


SOCOM wants to probe mobile devices

Nov. 17, 2014 |



Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is looking for technology that can extract data from computers, tablets and smartphones.

The request for information (read it here) calls for a device that within 15 minutes, under austere field conditions, can:

■Survey digital media and physical properties associated with memory drives and devices.

■Extract files for a specified search.

■Identify file properties such as filenames and hash numbers, and compare them to a watch list.

■Detect and extract personal identifying information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and chat room nicknames, and compare them to a watch list.


At a forward operating base or Special Operations safehouse, the device should also be able to:

■Create a forensically sound image.

■Examine user-configuration settings.

■Extract user and file metadata.

■Find keywords in specified languages.

■Examine default and alternate file storage locations to see what files are stored there.

■Recover unallocated files.



NTSB: Gov’t aircraft regulations apply to drones

Updated: 12:21 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 | Posted: 12:21 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014


The Associated Press


The government has the power to hold drone operators accountable when they operate the remote-control aircraft recklessly, a federal safety board ruled Tuesday in a setback to small drone operators chafing under Federal Aviation Administration restrictions.

The National Transportation safety Board, which hears appeals of Federal Aviation Administration enforcement actions, ruled that small drones are a type of aircraft and fall under existing FAA rules.

The FAA had fined Raphael Pirker, an aerial photographer, $10,000 for operating his Ritewing Zephyr in a reckless manner on the University of Virginia campus in 2011. Pirker allegedly flew the drone at low altitudes — at times, just 10 feet off the ground — and directly at people, causing them to duck out of the way.

Pirker appealed the fine, saying his aircraft was effectively no different than a model aircraft and therefore not subject to regulations that apply to manned aircraft. An NTSB administrative law judge sided with him in March, saying the FAA hasn’t issued any regulations specifically for drones and therefore can’t determine their use.

The FAA appealed the decision to the four-member safety board, which said Tuesday that the definition of an aircraft is very broad.

“An ‘aircraft’ is any ‘device’ ‘used for flight in the air.’ This definition includes any aircraft, manned or unmanned, large or small,” the board said. The board sent the case back to the judge to decide if Pirker’s drone was operated recklessly.

FAA officials had no immediate comment.

The decision strengthens the FAA’s position as the agency tries to cope with a surge in use of unmanned aircraft, some weighing no more than a few pounds and available for purchase on the Internet and in hobby shops for as little as a few hundred dollars.

More than a million small drone aircraft have been sold worldwide in the past few years, and a growing number of them are turning up in U.S. skies near airports and airliners, posing a risk of collision. Reports of drone sightings near other planes, helicopters and airfields are reaching the government almost daily — a sharp increase from just two years ago when such reports were still unusual.

“It’s a huge win for the FAA, and signals it’s not going to be the Wild West for drones, but a careful, orderly, safe introduction of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system,” said Kenneth Quinn, a former FAA general counsel.

But Pirker’s attorney, Brendan Schulman, said the NTSB ruling “is narrowly limited to whether unmanned aircraft systems are subject to a single aviation safety regulation concerning reckless operation.”

“The more significant question of whether the safe operation of drones for business purposes is prohibited by any law was not addressed in the decision,” he said. Several cases challenging the FAA’s ban on commercial drone operations are pending in federal district court in Washington.

The FAA has barred commercial operators from using drones, with the exception of two oil companies operating in Alaska and seven aerial photography companies associated with the movie and television industry. Even those exceptions have come with extensive restrictions, including that a requirement that the operators of the remote control aircraft have an FAA-issued pilot’s license the same as manned aircraft pilots.

A wide array of industries as varied as real estate agents, farmers and major league sport teams are clamoring to use small drones. Congress directed the FAA to safely integrate drones of all sizes into U.S. skies by the fall of 2015, but it is clear the agency won’t meet that deadline.

Congress also directed the FAA to first issue regulations permitting widespread commercial use of small drones, usually defined as weighing less than 55 pounds. Agency officials have indicated they expect to propose regulations for small drones before the end of the year. However, it may be months to years before those rules are made final.

Meanwhile, the agency is poised to issue a series of special permits to a wide array of for companies that applied for exemptions to the commercial ban similar to the exemptions granted to the film industry. More than 120 companies have applied for special permits.

Among those close to being granted are permits to monitor and spray crops, inspect smokestacks and natural gas flares, and to inspect pipelines and power lines.


NTSB Remands Administrator v. Pirker Case Back to ALJ for Further Review

by Press • 18 November 2014


WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board announced today that it has served the FAA and respondent Raphael Pirker with its opinion and order regarding Mr. Pirker’s appeal in case CP-217, regarding the regulation of unmanned aircraft. In the opinion, the Board remanded the case to the administrative law judge to collect evidence and issue a finding concerning whether Pirker’s operation of his unmanned aircraft over the campus of the University of Virginia in 2011 was careless or reckless.

The FAA appealed an NTSB administrative law judge’s decision after the judge dismissed the FAA’s order requiring Pirker to pay a civil penalty of $10,000 for allegedly operating an unmanned aircraft in a careless or reckless manner. In his decision, the judge compared Pirker’s unmanned aircraft to a model aircraft, and found the FAA had not enacted an enforceable regulation regarding such aircraft.

In reaching its decision, the Board determined the FAA may apply the regulation that prohibits operation of an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner to unmanned aircraft. To determine whether Pirker violated this regulation, however, the Board stated an administrative law judge would need to review evidence showing the operation was careless or reckless.

The public may view the opinion and order on the NTSB website, at



CybAero invests in Swedish advanced test facility

by Press • 18 November 2014


First North-listed CybAero, which develops and markets unmanned helicopters, has decided to build a test center which will contain the industry’s most sophisticated equipment. Construction commenced on November 1st, and the test center is scheduled to be ready for occupancy by April 2015.

“Our testing represents a large and important part of our commitment to offer customized solutions. Our goal is to become the leading supplier in the market based on customer satisfaction,” says Mikael Hult, CybAero’s CEO.

The test center will occupy 300 square meters and will be located only minutes away from CybAero’s head office in the Mjärdevi Science Park in Linköping, Sweden. The company is currently recruiting test engineers who will be responsible for the test center where tests will be carried out 24 hours a day.

“At the test center, we will be able to test components, customer-specific solutions and, together with clients, perform complete factory tests, including functionality and performance prior to delivery,” Mikael Hult explains.

The advanced test center will provide CybAero with significantly better capacity than the company previously had access to. A number of necessary tests had been conducted by CybAero’s suppliers, but now we will have the ability to test components, subsystems and complete systems all under one roof.

“We will also be able to hold our customer training in the new location,” adds Mikael Hult.

“The large orders we received during the past year and our progress in refining our products and systems are now complemented by a new, advanced test facility,” Hult concludes.

For more information:

Mikael Hult, CEO, CybAero AB, tel. 46 (0)70 5642545 e-mail:


Offset 3.0, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Commercial Technology Offset 3.0, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Commercial Technology

Adam Jay Harrison    

November 17, 2014 · in Beyond Offset


Editor’s note: This article is part of the Beyond Offset series, a collaborative project between War on the Rocks and the Center for a New American Security that aims to build a community-of-interest that will address the challenges of maintaining America’s competitive edge in military technology and advance solutions.


America loves technology. As a nation, our cultural predilection for technical ingenuity has created the conditions for economic prosperity, scientific discovery, and military superiority. However, the worldwide proliferation of American free market ideas and liberalism (not to mention technology) has led to the emergence of an increasingly competitive global innovation landscape. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, the U.S. represented just 26% of world total patents in 2012, down from 40% in 1999. During the same period, the number of patents filed in China increased by some 3,200 percent, growing to roughly 10% of world total patents today.


In a related trend, the technological state of the art is shifting from the advanced militaries of the world to the commercial marketplace. An October 2014 update by the Defense Business Board makes the startling claim that “commercial technology…is more advanced in most areas critical to military capabilities.” To the extent that the commercial marketplace is predicated (more or less) on the free flow of goods and ideas, it is not hard to imagine a world where America’s peer competitors and non-state adversaries achieve technological parity with the U.S. military in many important areas.

During the Cold War, the U.S. relied on qualitatively superior weapons systems to “offset” Soviet military mass. This imperative led to the emergence of a captive industry servicing the U.S. military’s warfighting needs. The migration from a dual-use defense industrial base in World War II to a defense-specific industrial base created a dependency between public financing and military-relevant technologies. This connection has been an important factor in ensuring America’s military-technology edge; however, there are forces at work that threaten to undermine such a model. The “democratization” and proliferation of advanced technology, the shift in research and development spending to the private sector, and the convergence of commercial, consumer, and defense applications allow nations, organizations, and individuals alike to capitalize on military-grade technologies more quickly and cost effectively than ever before.

As the Pentagon is set to deploy a new offset strategy focusing on the development of “revolutionary” defense technologies, the Center for New American Security – War on the Rocks “Beyond Offset” series is exploring the key factors relevant to ensuring America’s military competitiveness. In this context, it is worth considering how the contemporary technology environment should inform the new offset strategy. In a world where advanced technology has entered the public domain, can the U.S. reasonably expect to command a decisive, full spectrum technological lead? With innovation cycles accelerating at faster and faster rates, should DOD make “big bets” on a small number of technologies? Does it make sense to aspire to overwhelming technological superiority at the expense of greater numbers of commercially derived capabilities? These are some of the key questions that DOD must answer.

The technology-first mindset punctuates Department of Defense (DOD) decision-making from top to bottom. The U.S. government has at times found it difficult to supply basic equipment required for large scale military operations but has consistently risen to the occasion when it comes to the development of advanced capabilities. In an interview for this article, Major General (R) Buford C. Blount, former commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, noted that approximately 600 sets of Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) plates (i.e., body armor) were supplied to his 19,000 soldiers at the launch of the ground invasion during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Similarly, it took years for the Army and Marine Corps to furnish sufficient handheld radios to meet the needs of ground forces in Iraq. This state of affairs is easily contrasted with the massive development efforts that accompanied the emergence of the IED threat in Iraq. From Counter Radio Frequency IED Electronic Warfare systems to Mine Resistant Ambush Protect vehicles, DOD leaned-in to the IED threat with a massive technology campaign reminiscent of the ambitious industrial-scale research and development efforts of prior generations. Today, technology bias can be seen at work behind closed doors in the Pentagon, where personnel training and readiness accounts stand to assume a disproportionate share of shrinking defense budgets.

Technology as strategy stems at least in part from the perception that American military technology played the decisive role in the post-World War II conflict arena. In support of this contention, strategists point to the causal relationship between the United States’ qualitative military-technology superiority in the Cold War and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. To its proponents, the culminating milestone of the techno-centric strategy was Operation Desert Storm, the overwhelmingly one-sided conflict that pitted advanced American military capabilities against conventional mass and signaled the birth of the Revolution in Military Affairs – the abortive antecedent to the Pentagon’s current offset campaign.

Taking for granted that a certain level of technological capacity is required to ensure U.S. military interests, the question is whether the pursuit of a strategy emphasizing the development and employment of “exquisite platforms” trumps strategies equally predicated on technology scalability (i.e. affordable systems). While these two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive, the manner in which DOD has pursued the former certainly leaves little room for the latter. As a case in point, the cost trajectory of contemporary American fighter aircraft programs such as the F-22 and F-35 is unnervingly consistent with the somewhat tongue-in-cheek predictions of former Lockheed Martin Chairman and CEO, Norm Augustine. In his excellent collection of missives on the defense industry entitled Augustine’s Laws, he posits that while the defense budget grows linearly, the cost of new military aircraft grows exponentially. In Law 16, he concludes in reductio ad absurdum fashion.

In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one tactical aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and the Navy three and a half days per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.

The Democratization of Technology. During the Cold War, the capital requirements associated with advanced military research and development favored nations with the economic muscle to make such investments and the talent to exploit these investments. This combination of factors were major contributors to the United States’ military-technology edge. Current trends, however, are eroding this historical advantage.

Through the mid-1980’s, the U.S. government was responsible for the preponderance of global research and development spending. Today, by contrast, the U.S. government accounts for less than 5% – a dramatic shift that is primarily attributable to the explosion of private sector investment accompanying the high tech boom. Throughout much of the 1990’s and 2000’s, venture capital favored opportunities with low technology risk, many of which focused on the exploitation of technologies substantially underwritten by public financing. During this period, corporate research and development spending produced a wide spectrum of component-level innovations that the military sector has, to a greater or lesser extent, successfully internalized in the development of advanced capabilities. More recently, however, the investment trend has shifted towards system-level innovations with potentially disruptive relevance for military applications.

Robotics, space systems, computation, networking and communications, and transportation are all areas where the commercial marketplace has taken an increased interest or assumed an outright lead over the traditional defense industrial base. The rapidly expanding global technology commons constitutes an unprecedented transnational ecosystem operating outside the control of individual nations yet with the power to directly influence the military-strategic landscape. Market-based proliferation of capabilities and systems once exclusively reserved for the advanced militaries of the world makes it less and less likely that any one nation can build and sustain a decisive, broad-based military-technology advantage.

The Acceleration Factor. The democratization of military grade technologies is also linked to the emergence of low cost prototyping and manufacturing equipment most prominently associated with the nascent “maker” movement. The availability of 3-D printers and scanners, software-based design tools, and network-enabled marketplaces offering an endless assortment of commodity and bespoke components is mitigating cost and time as a barrier to advanced research and development. Leveraging the Internet, start-ups, sub- and transnational organizations, and super-empowered “creatives” are able to access and share rich information resources enabling new forms of distributed, social-scale technology development. The decentralization of research and development beyond the confines of government labs and corporate research centers is a trend that foretells exponentially accelerating rates of technology innovation over time or what technology futurist Ray Kurzweil has dubbed the Law of Accelerating returns.


Low capital costs, open innovation approaches that distribute technical and financial risk, and agile development methodologies are also changing the overall R&D economic value proposition. The significant investments and lead times associated with traditional research and development impose a long technology half-life (i.e., employment timeframe) in order to recover sunk costs. As the forces governing the contemporary technology landscape are driving faster and faster innovation cycles, the rate of technology obsolescence (i.e. the period of time before a technology is overtaken by new innovations) also increases. Ultimately, this dynamic stands in opposition to the “big bet,” revolutionary technology mindset at the heart of the Pentagon’s new offset strategy.

The Quantity Question. Perhaps an even more fundamental question is whether, in the current fiscal and technological environments, it is advisable to pursue qualitative military-technology superiority at the expense of numbers. During World War I, English mathematician and father of the field of operations research, Frederick William Lanchester, devised a set of differential equations to describe the power relationships between opposing military forces. Dubbed Lanchester’s Laws, the equations predict that the power of a force in “modern” military engagements is proportional to the squared number of individual warfighting units. Writing as he was at the beginning of the twentieth century, Lanchester did not make specific allowances for the force multiplier effect of advanced technologies, to include everything from nuclear weapons to guided munitions. He, therefore, concludes that a force will require an N-squared increase in technology quality to compensate for an adversary’s N-fold increase in quantity (i.e., quantity trumps quality).

Even if we assume a more conservative model, where the impact of technological quality is proportional to quantity, Lanchester’s Laws have stark implications for a techno-centric offset strategy that imposes trade-offs between quantity and quality. In the case of the F-22, the world’s premier air superiority platform, a single aircraft can carry up to eight air-to-air missiles and simultaneously engage up to four targets. Regardless of its awesome capabilities, however, one cannot help but wonder how the F-22 would perform in a battle of attrition against swarms of relatively low cost, ultra-maneuverable Unmanned Combat Aerial Systems like the Kratos UCAS-167A – an aircraft derived in part from a U.S. built, high performance target drone. What happens, for instance, when the F-22’s limited missile complement is expended on waves of “good enough” opposing aircraft? Moreover, every loss due to maintenance or operator error would disproportionately impact the qualitatively superior, but numerically inferior force – an asymmetry that could spell disaster in a protracted campaign.

Not Your Father’s Offset. Notwithstanding the above, it should go without saying that technology is an important part of American military strategy. In an era where market forces have both catalyzed and metastasized advanced research and development, however, the way we think about technology as an element of military power should evolve. DOD’s historical bias toward qualitative technological superiority must be balanced by cost, quantity, and obsolescence considerations in order to sustain a force that is both numerically sufficient and operationally relevant for a full spectrum of military contingencies. As technology continues to evolve at faster and faster rates outside the confines of the traditional military-industrial complex, lower financial and organizational barriers to adoption favor nimble, emerging powers. Within this context, long-lifetime, high cost, “exquisite” weapon systems represent a potential strategic vulnerability increasingly at risk of innovation-fueled disruption.

Once upon a time, the combination of American defense and American industry was an unstoppable force that won two world wars. Today, however, a highly specialized and financially dependent defense industrial base has replaced the manufacture of high quality military capabilities substantially underwritten by dual-use infrastructure and know-how. The efficacy of the current model is predicated on DOD maintaining a virtual monopoly on advanced military-grade technologies – a state of affairs that no longer exists. With the unconstrained proliferation and acceleration of R&D, individual technologies are no longer sustainable differentiators. In this environment, DOD needs an offset strategy that’s less concerned with finding the next “golden BB” and instead enables the U.S. military to become the world leader in rapidly, systematically, and sustainably internalizing (and complementing) the high tech outputs of America’s most sustainable competitive advantage – the commercial high tech marketplace.


The USPS hit by hackers; 800,000 records stolen as foreign entities map US federal systems

This article was posted on 11/11/2014


Cyber warfare is a very real and ongoing thing, taking place across multiple fronts on the international theater. To that extent, it’s of no surprise that every month there’s a seemingly different company or organization that comes into the spotlight as the latest victim in the battle. November’s latest high-profile target ─ that we’re aware of ─ is our very own United States Postal Service.

According to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, the big hancho overseeing the agency, 800,000 employees’ personal data, including social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and dates of employment, have been stolen. Stolen information may also include the phone numbers and home addresses of customers who’ve contacted USPS customer service. On the plus side ─ if there can even be one once your Social Security number is taken ─ credit information from post offices or online purchases at was untouched.

“It’s an unfortunate fact of life these days that every organization connected to the internet is a constant target for cyber intrusion activity,” Donahoe wrote in a statement. “The United States Postal Service is no different. Fortunately, we have seen no evidence of malicious use of the compromised data.”

Interestingly enough, USPS had learned about the data breach as far back as September, but concealed the issue from its employees until Nov. 10, 2014, stating that it did not want to inform employees until the problem could be resolved. “We notified employees as soon as we were able to without jeopardizing the remediation efforts. Earlier notification could have resulted in additional files being compromised,” a spokesperson told Gizmodo.

Although the FBI is currently investigating the hack, it is unclear who is actually responsible for it. In an interview with The Washington Post, James A. Lewis, a cyber-policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, alleged that it makes sense for China to be target a federal agency such as a post office. That’s because China may be under the assumption that the U.S. postal service holds a vast array of personal information on its citizens, much like the majority of state-owned postal services. This data can potential analyzed for previously unseen patterns.

“They’re just looking for big pots of data on government employees,” says Lewis. “For the Chinese, this is probably a way of building their inventory on U.S. persons for counterintelligence and recruitment purposes.”

The New York Times offers a different explanation: rather than collecting personal information, the objective may have been to conduct reconnaissance and form an understanding as to how federal systems operate and link together.

As far as the public is concerned, it’s unclear who is actually responsible for the hacking; the Chinese government repeatedly denies accusations of engaging in cyber-theft, citing the actions are prohibited by Chinese law. Nevertheless, the incident is worrisome because it shows that foreign entities are making progress in plotting how U.S. infrastructure operates.

At least we can rest assured that whoever hacked the USPS has just gotten on the hit list of the most humorless and retributive U.S. agency. Also ─ the USPS is offering a year of free credit monitoring to employees and customers who may be at risk.

Source: USPS



Air Force ISR mission grows with threats from Islamic State

By Oriana Pawlyk

Staff writer

5:01 p.m. EST November 18, 2014


Langley Air Force Base, Virginia — The demand for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions has increased across combatant commands from a tolerable level in the last few years to more frequent and in-depth requirements in recent months.

The Air Force is leading intelligence gathering missions over Iraq and Syria, as well as Afghanistan and the Pacific, said Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, in a briefing Monday. But no matter how much the missions gather — the Air Force is supplying more than 80 percent of joint-force ISR — commanders still want more.

“We have more mission than money, manpower or time today,” Carlisle told reporters in his first public remarks since becoming ACC commander on Nov. 4. “The real question is how do we prioritize this capability and that capacity to meet the highest demand. What the COCOMs and the national command authorities need to tell us, or what I need to tell … these guys is, ‘I need you to do the next most important thing for the nation, not the next thing that shows up in your mailbox.'”

Balancing the ISR demand and combatant commanders’ needs will be one of the challenges Carlisle said he will address with commanders in his new post.

In the fight against Islamic State militants, the Air Force’s ISR role is impeded because there are no supporting troops on the ground in hostile areas between Syria and Iraq. One problem in particular, Carlisle said, is identifying activities on the ground.

“If you’re looking at the ground and watching folks moving on the ground, to tell a Shia from a Sunni, it’s pretty hard to do,” Carlisle said. “Unless ISIS is actually flying a flag that says ISIS across the top if it … these guys are trying to determine with everything that we have available given the restrictions that are placed on us ,… how do we positively identify where we’re going or who we’re going to hit?” he said.

But airmen are committed to the fight, Carlisle said. Compared to 10 years ago, today’s ISR teams have greater resources, and are more educated and trained in their career fields and on the systems they work with.

Airmen working on the Distributed Common Ground System, or DCGS weapon system, the Air Force’s primary ISR collection system, produce intelligence information from the data collected in the skies in just minutes.

“The ability to provide the warfighter the ability to transfer capability depending on where the greatest need is — whether it’s a nuke going off in North Korea or it’s ISIS or it’s Afghanistan or it’s the Horn of Africa — the agility of this system is amazing,” Carlisle said.


While the information “doesn’t really mean a whole lot unless you do something with it,” he said, “what [these airmen] do and the way they produce a product that is so incredibly good, it just means the demand continues to go up.”



GA-ASI Advances SAA Capability With Two New Flight Tests

by Press • 21 November 2014

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GAASI), a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions, today announced two key technological advances related to its ongoing Sense and Avoid (SAA) system development efforts.

In collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Honeywell, GA-ASI tested a proof-of-concept SAA system, marking the first successful test of the FAA’s Airborne Collision Avoidance System for Unmanned Aircraft (ACAS XU). The company also performed the first flight tests of a pre-production air-to-air radar for SAA, called the Due Regard Radar (DRR), making it the first radar of its kind designed for a RPA.

“Our latest Sense and Avoid test represents a major step forward for integrating RPA safely into domestic and international airspace,” said Frank Pace, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “Our proof-of-concept SAA system is now functional and ready for extensive flight testing with the FAA, NASA, and our industry partners.”

A functional flight test of GA-ASI’s SAA system—which includes automatic collision avoidance and a sensor fusion capability designed to provide the pilot on the ground with a clear picture of the traffic around the aircraft—occurred September 4, 5, and 10 at GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. onboard a Predator B RPA. During the test, Predator B proved the functionality of ACAS XU during collision avoidance maneuvers against ADS-B and transponder-equipped aircraft executed automatically onboard the RPA with the pilot ready to override the system.

Automatically executing collision avoidance maneuvers will enable Predator B to maintain safety in the National Airspace System in the unlikely event of a loss of the command and control data link. ACAS XU is specifically designed to be interoperable and backwards compatible with Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) II, which is the worldwide collision avoidance system used on most commercial transport aircraft.

GA-ASI is currently working with NASA to integrate the proof-of-concept SAA system aboard NASA’s Predator B, called Ikhana. Ikhana will serve as the primary test aircraft in a SAA flight test scheduled to take place this month and next at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. The flight test campaign will evaluate the SAA system in a wide variety of both collision avoidance and self-separation encounters and will include a sensor fusion algorithm being developed by Honeywell.

Meanwhile, DRR testing has been occurring at various locations across Southern California this year onboard a Beechcraft King Air in an attempt to detect and track multiple test aircraft across the full Field-of-Regard, including General Aviation aircraft beyond ten miles. The tests are the first in an extensive flight test campaign designed to develop the Engineering Development Model (EDM) DRR fully and make it ready for flight testing on Predator B.

The ultimate goal of GA-ASI’s SAA program is to enable “due regard” operations in international airspace and routine access in non-segregated civilian airspace in the U.S. and around the world. The company’s pioneering efforts commenced in 2011 and have included the successful demonstration and follow-on integration of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) onboard the Guardian RPA, the flight test of a SAA architecture and self-separation functionality on Predator B, and testing of a prototype DRR on a Twin Otter aircraft and Predator B.


Virgin Atlantic jet’s ‘close call’ with radio-controlled drone

by Press • 20 November 2014



A Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet from London to New York had a close call with a radio-controlled drone as it made its final approach to John F. Kennedy Airport last Sunday evening, it has emerged. The pilots told investigators they saw the machine clearly while on final approach.

Experts were warning that a direct hit by a drone could have catastrophic consequences rather like a bird strike, particular if they were to be sucked into an engine at either landing or take-off.

The crew of the Boeing 747, Virgin Atlantic Flight 9, spotted what they said looked like the kind of drone that can be bought by any enthusiast for just a few hundred pounds, flying at an altitude of about 3,000 feet. “The object was moving at a slow rate of speed and was like a quad copter drone,” they told investigators. The jetliner was flying over heavily populated areas of Nassau County at the time.

The incident with the Virgin plane was one of three to have occurred in the vicinity of JFK in the space of as many days. A few minutes later, a Delta 737 coming in to the airport from San Diego, California, also spotted the drone. In their case “it came within several feet of the left wing,” a police official said.

A similar sighting by the crew of a Jet Blue aircraft early on Wednesday afternoon also on approach to JFK had by last night prompted a formal investigation into all three incidents being led by the Federal Aviation Authority, FAA, and the FBI.

The moment when the Jet Blue plane came close to a drone was captured on a recording of the pilot expressing his alarm to the control tower at the airport. “About two miles out on the final, maybe 4 to 300 feet, looks like one of those unmanned drones is flying right on the final,” he said.

County police later said they had sent up a helicopter to look for the drone in the wake of the Jet Blue sighting but that nothing had been found.

The moment the Delta crew spotted the same danger was also recorded. “We just had something fly over us,” the pilot said. “I don’t know if it was a drone or a balloon, it just came real quick.”

The three cases are certain to cast a spotlight on growing concern about the proliferation of drones as private toys and the menace they represent to civil aviation as well as to privacy. The FAA has said that it expects about 10,000 drones to be in operation in about five years.

Aviation experts are especially concerned that rules put in place by federal regulators in the US banning drones from airspace close to airports have not been respected or enforced. While most of the drones, also known as UAVs, are small some are more substantial and carry cameras.

“These planes are all being approached [by drones] while the planes are landing, so they’re close to the ground, which means the pilot doesn’t have a whole lot of room for manuevering,” Ken Honig, formerly a senior official with the Port Authority that operates all the New York area airports, commented. “If the unmanned aerial vehicle gets too close to a plane, it could get sucked into a jet engine. The kind of damage done by a bird could be amplified by the metal parts in a UAV.”


The Pentagon’s Budget Dilemma

BY Kate Brannen    

NOVEMBER 19, 2014


The Pentagon has shared with Congress new details about its plan to train and equip vetted members of the Syrian opposition to fight the Islamic State in hopes of finally securing funding for the effort.

With an initial tranche of $225 million, the Defense Department aims to train the first classes of Syrian rebels, each of which will have 300 fighters, according to a reprogramming request signed by the Pentagon’s chief financial officer, Mike McCord.

The document, dated Nov. 10, was sent to Capitol Hill last week. It represents the final hoop the Pentagon must jump through before it can start using the money the way it wants. Because Congress has already granted the Defense Department authority to launch a “train-and-equip” program for Syrian rebels, the four congressional defense committees are expected to approve this latest request before adjourning in December.

The Pentagon aims to begin training in the second quarter of fiscal year 2015, meaning anytime between January and March. The plan calls for moving a total of 5,400 trainees through two sites, the document states, without mentioning where the training will happen. However, both Saudi Arabia and Turkey have offered to host training.

“The funds will be used for infrastructure and facilities work, leasing cost, construction of firing ranges, force protection, training and support, stipends, transportation, base operations, and life support,” according to the reprogramming document, a copy of which was obtained by Foreign Policy.

Lawmakers have criticized Barack Obama’s administration for not ramping up the training-and-arming program faster

Lawmakers have criticized Barack Obama’s administration for not ramping up the training-and-arming program faster — but the Pentagon’s hands are somewhat tied until Congress officially OKs the money to do so, McCord explained in an interview. In September, Congress signed off on the program but didn’t fund it, he said.

Instead, Congress asked the Pentagon to send what’s called a reprogramming request — used whenever the Defense Department wants to shift large amounts of money from lower-priority programs to higher-priority ones — to outline the training plan.

For McCord, this is just one example of how the Pentagon’s ability to respond to rapidly developing crises is hampered by a legislative and budget-planning system that isn’t designed to move quickly.

“These things take a while — and ISIL doesn’t wait on us,” he said, using one of the Islamic State’s acronyms.

Neither does Ebola.

As death rates in Western Africa climbed higher and higher in early September, aid groups working there made a rare call for global military intervention. Soon after, the Pentagon said it would send a 25-bed hospital to Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. That initial offer seemed paltry given the scale of the epidemic and the massive need for help in the hardest-hit countries.

But the Defense Department was also busy crafting much bigger response plans. McCord’s office was charged with figuring out how much it would cost and how to pay for it. There is a big difference between Ebola and other humanitarian disasters, McCord said. With something like an earthquake or hurricane, there is an early understanding of the extent of the destruction and the numbers of lives lost. With that information, the U.S. military can plan its contribution to the relief effort.

“With Ebola, the problem continues to spread and evolve at rates you can’t predict,” which requires flexible budgeting, McCord said.

Reprogramming requests are one way the Pentagon can respond to unforeseen conflicts or disasters. These were used in new, and some would say innovative, ways this summer, and they reflected the uncertainty about how big these crises were going to get.

For example, in one such request, the Pentagon asked to reassign $500 million to help fight Ebola and respond to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq caused by the Islamic State. However, it did not delineate amounts, meaning the U.S. military technically could spend $1 on Ebola and $499,999,999 on Iraq — or vice versa.

“We were trying to build in hedges for things that were not precisely defined,” McCord explained. “We’re trying to use all of the flexibility that we do have in the system. The world moves so fast right now, and our system was not built to move fast, and it’s really in conflict with how the world works.”

In total, the Pentagon eventually asked to shift $1 billion to counter Ebola in Liberia.

“We’ve never put that kind of money into our humanitarian assistance account,” McCord said.

The Pentagon’s normal spending on disasters around the world is roughly $100 million a year, he said: “[Ebola] would have eaten our whole budget for the year in a month.” Therefore, he was not surprised that Congress had lots of questions.

“We were, I think it’s fair to say, pushing the envelope in terms of a lot of big reprogrammings,” McCord said, adding that there was also a hefty classified request associated with the operations against the Islamic State.

Timing also made McCord’s job harder. Late in any fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, few dollars are left to move around. Also, the United States was ramping up two huge efforts — fighting Ebola and terrorists in Iraq and Syria — well after the Pentagon finished its budgeting for fiscal year 2015, which started Oct. 1, forcing McCord and his staff to amend the plan already sent to Capitol Hill.

Just last week, the Pentagon asked Congress for another $5 billion to fight the Islamic State.

Just last week, the Pentagon asked Congress for another $5 billion to fight the Islamic State. This is on top of the $59 billion it seeks to fund war operations around the globe. The Pentagon already told Congress how much it wants allocated to its overseas contingency operations account much later than usual because of the long, drawn-out dispute over the Afghan presidential election, McCord said. Without a clear winner, Washington was unsure about the fate of the bilateral security agreement, without which it couldn’t keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan past December. Whether troops remained in Afghanistan would dramatically alter how big an appropriation the war account would need.


Included in the $5 billion request for fighting the Islamic State is $1.6 billion for a new train-and-equip program for 12 brigades of Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga. On Nov. 7, the Pentagon said it is sending another 1,500 troops to Iraq. Of them, 870 will be assigned to the training mission at sites in northern, western, and southern Iraq.

Although the Pentagon has deployment authority, once in Iraq, the troops cannot conduct the training mission without specific approval from Congress. That’s because the training of foreign militaries — or in the case of Syria, foreign rebel groups — requires Congress to sign off on the plans and the funding.

“We have almost no authority to conduct that train-and-equipping operation until Congress approves something that gives the authority to do so,” McCord said. “There are little things that we can do, but nothing like the kind of scope that we think that we need to do.”

Now the issue is all wrapped up in the messy end-of-year budget battle playing out on Capitol Hill with a lame-duck Congress.

In September, lawmakers passed a temporary spending measure to avoid a government shutdown. Included in that legislation was legal authority for the Pentagon to start the program for Syrian rebels, but not the money for it.

The short-term spending measure — called a continuing resolution (CR) — expires on Dec. 11, as does that legal authority. To keep the government running, Congress will need to pass an omnibus spending bill for 2015, or at the very least extend the CR into January.

If Congress extends the CR, McCord said he thinks the authority to train and equip the Syrian rebels would extend with it. But the Pentagon still wouldn’t have the authority it needs to launch a handful of other high-priority endeavors, including the Iraqi train-and-equip program, he said.

The Pentagon is also waiting for congressional authority to launch a $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative and a new $5 billion fund to fight terrorism, including $500 million to train Syrian rebels.

“You could argue that those can wait, but I would argue they shouldn’t,” he said. “Around the world, whether it’s in Europe or the Middle East or in Africa, I think there’s real good we could be doing with these authorities,” McCord said.

That doesn’t mean the training programs will be up and running the day after Congress signs off, he said. “But the longer we wait, we can’t do anything other than planning.”


Adversaries Will Copy ‘Offset Strategy’ Quickly: Bob Work

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

on November 19, 2014 at 5:59 PM


WASHINGTON: The “third offset strategy” is officially just four days old, but the man in charge is already lowering expectations for what it will produce.

Yes, the Pentagon is absolutely seeking “the key technologies we think will give us a particular operational advantage,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work. Yes, the quest is inspired by Eisenhower’s nuclear “New Look” in the 1950s and the “Offset Strategy” of smart bombs, sensors, stealth, and networks in the 1970s. But no one should expect the Pentagon to find another technological advantage that endures for decades, as they did.Bob Work deputy defense secretary


“What’s different about this third offset strategy [from] the last two offset strategies is they were relatively hard to duplicate,” Work told the Defense One conference this afternoon. Today, however, “we have potential competitors who are very, very good in this business and can duplicate — not only steal our IP — but can duplicate things very fast.” (Consider the Chinese J-31 fighter, which looks suspiciously similar to the Pentagon’s most expensive program ever, the F-35).

“So one of the things we’re asking ourselves is, what are the temporal aspects of this competition? It’s going to be much, much different than the last one,” Work said. “The last offset strategy lasted us for four decades. It is unlikely that next one will last that long.”

Much of the new strategy, in fact, depends on upgrades and integrating new technologies and software (such as automation) with existing weapons to create new capabilities, a senior official who took part in many of the meetings that crafted the new strategy said last week. One of the examples to watch may be the Long Range Strike Bomber program, which will comprise a system of systems – a bomber may well be paired with other aircraft, if vague comments over the last year by senior Air Force officials are any indication.

“When we invested in technology” in the past, DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar said at the conference, “we could do that investment with the confidence that we’d have 10, 20, maybe 30 years of technological advantage over any other party. That is not the world that we live in today.”

“In fact, it is really good news for human beings that that’s not the world we live in anymore,” Prabhakar continued. Rather than tech trickling slowly down from the US to other countries, rapid globalization of technology “has raised living standards and improved lives around the planet,” she said. “[But] it creates some really different problems for those of us who worry about national security.”

It’s easy to make America’s dominant position post-World War II your baseline, look at the world today, and “wring your hands,” Prabhakar said. In historical terms, however, such dominance by any one nation is an anomaly.

Indeed, until World War I, civilian inventions drove military technology: the telegraph and railroad shaped the bloody stalemate of the Civil War; the radio, the airplane, the internal combustion engine, and even tank tracks began as civilian tools before they were used on the battlefield. Now the world’s returning to the state where the private sector, not governments, leads the way to new technologies — which places different nations on a much more equal competitive footing.

That’s why changing how the Pentagon procures new technology is as important as what new technology it procures. The acquisition and requirements system has to move faster to get advanced technology in the hands of troops before the adversary catches up. Said Work, “we are going to have to do rapid prototyping and rapid fielding or we will continually lose ground.”


Congress Must Act on War Authority

Military Action in Syria Requires a New A.U.M.F.

NY Times


NOV. 18, 2014

The United States is fighting a new and costly war in Iraq and Syria. Yet, for months, members of Congress have ducked their constitutional responsibility for warmaking. They have neither initiated a meaningful debate on the use of American force against the Islamic State, which is known as ISIS, nor shown any inclination to vote on whether to endorse or modify the mission.

With the midterm elections over, we had hoped this would change. But, increasingly, it seems as if the current lame-duck Congress will leave the issue to the next one.

Republicans will control both the Senate and the House come January. There are signs that some want a broad war authorization that could be exploited to justify military action against terrorist groups geographically beyond Iraq and Syria, just as the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, or A.U.M.F., against Al Qaeda was used by the Bush and Obama administrations to expand operations against other “associated forces.”

Some Democrats, including Senate leader Harry Reid, seem oddly passive, saying they are open to an authorization vote but doing little to advance it now. At the start of the campaign against ISIS in September, Mr. Obama insisted he had all the legal authority he needed to attack. After Election Day, he said he would ask Congress to authorize the military campaign specifically against ISIS.

Yet now it seems clear that he has no problem waiting until next year for Congress to act. The vacillation is not reassuring. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that has jurisdiction over a use-of-force resolution, has called for quick action, along with a few other Democrats like Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Representative Adam Schiff of California.

What Mr. Menendez needs to put forward is a resolution that focuses on the war on ISIS, not on any far-flung terrorist group, and limits the fighting to Iraq and Syria.

A bill filed by Mr. Schiff would have this authorization expire 18 months after being enacted; Mr. Kaine’s bill limits the period to one year. Mr. Obama, however, has said that the campaign against ISIS would take years. The important point is that presidents should be required to go back to Congress to explain why a military conflict deserves continued support.

Although Mr. Obama has said he will not put American ground forces in Iraq or Syria, Mr. Schiff’s bill creates a loophole that would allow trainers, advisers, intelligence officers and special operations forces to be there. Mr. Kaine’s bill would allow ground forces to rescue American personnel or attack high-value targets.

While it is important for Congress to repeal the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War and terminate the 2001 authorization against Al Qaeda, the priority in the lame-duck session should be to pass a new and separate authorization for the war against ISIS.

If the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is unable to get such an authorization approved, Mr. Kaine and others should try to attach it as an amendment to other related legislation. It’s past time for Congress to exhibit some courage and take a stand.


Sources: Top Appropriators Focusing Solely on Omnibus, Have Had No CR Talks

Nov. 20, 2014 – 03:45AM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments


WASHINGTON — Capitol Hill’s top appropriators have yet to discuss another short-term measure to keep the government running, focusing solely on a longer-term bill they hope to drop in early December.

Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, respectively, are cobbling together an omnibus spending bill that would fund the Pentagon and other federal agencies through Sept. 30.

A stopgap government-funding measure expires Dec. 11, and House conservatives’ desire to use repeated threats of government shutdowns to influence the White House’s pending action on immigration has House GOP leaders searching for options.


As leaders look for a way to avoid a government shutdown, which they believe would damage the party, Rogers and Mikulski are in talks to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, congressional sources say.

“I can tell you … that all of leadership is working towards an omnibus and the chair think[s] we will have a deal in place by early Dec.,” a House aide wrote in a Thursday email, referring to Rogers.

Neither House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said when they intend to move a government-funding bill next month.

But a Senate aide said the appropriations leaders intend to have their omnibus on the floor the week of Dec. 8. (The House Republican leadership this week altered the lower chamber’s schedule to be in session that day.)

“We are making significant progress on a full-year, 12-bill omnibus,” the Senate aide said. “We expect to have it ready for the floor by the week of Dec. 8.”

Among the dozen appropriations bill that will comprise the omnibus, is a full 2015 defense spending bill with a war funding section.


McCain Emerges as Pentagon’s Last Hope to Avert Sequester

By Sandra I. Erwin


Pentagon pleas for relief from drastic spending cuts are getting scant attention as the lame-duck Congress becomes enmeshed in partisan fighting over immigration reform and the threat of a government shutdown.


But there is still fresh hope for defense in the new Congress when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., takes the gavel as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“With McCain, you have a very, very vigorous opponent to sequestration,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-VA, told a gathering of defense industry executives this week.

Kaine, who has served with McCain on Armed Services, also firmly opposes the automatic spending cuts, or sequester. He urged defense executives to join forces with McCain. “He fundamentally believes that sequestration is harming our nation’s defense,” Kaine said.

Although McCain has frequently hammered defense contractors for mismanaging military programs and overspending, the industry now needs to view him as a partner, Kaine added. “Having a Republican chairman who is vigorously passionate against sequestration is very important,” he said. “McCain will be a good ally.”

Defense CEOs have had an uneasy relationship with McCain. As the ranking Republican on Armed Services over the past eight years, he has called for the termination of big-ticket military programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the USS Ford aircraft carrier and the Littoral Combat Ship. He also has chastised the Pentagon for poor stewardship of procurement dollars.

Once a program reaches a certain point and has enough constituencies around the country, you can’t stop it,” McCain said in 2012. “Some of these programs need to be stopped.” And he has condemned corrupt business practices in the defense sector. “We have a revolving door between the Pentagon and industry. … There is an environment where overruns are not a major concern.”

Despite such disapproval, defense industry officials are encouraged by the prospect that McCain might be able to sway votes against sequester in fiscal year 2016.

“Sen. McCain has crossover with the Foreign Relations Committee and will be extremely active on national security policy,” said retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, chairman of the board of the National Defense Industrial Association.

Punaro said the industry is optimistic about the new GOP leadership in both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. McCain and incoming HASC Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, are highly experienced on defense issues, with a combined 52 years on the authorizing committees.

“They have dealt with increases and decreases in budgets, previous drawdowns, base closures, numerous conflicts and wars, five different administrations, 10 secretaries of defense and 10 Joint Chiefs of Staff chairs,” said Punaro. “Both have had to cooperate and confront when necessary.” Of note to defense industry, he said, is that while McCain and Thornberry have different leadership styles, they share common goals to repeal sequester, improve acquisition, increase oversight, and ensure the relevance and timeliness of authorizers.

Pentagon officials have not spoken publicly about the new leadership on Capitol Hill, but have ramped up the rhetoric against sequester and have called on the lame-duck Congress to replace the continuing resolution that funds the government through Dec. 11 with a full-year appropriation. It now appears unlikely that Congress will pass an “omnibus” appropriations bill in December to replace the CR.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said the military badly needs more money and funding stability as national security crises escalate. “We need additional top line for emerging and additional requirements,” he said Nov. 19 at the Defense One summit in Washington, D.C.

Dempsey said military leaders have to “convince members of Congress not only that the Defense Department needs more money, but that it must begin to operate under a new set of rules than the current budgetary deadlock allows.”


The Obama administration’s defense budget request for 2016-2020 exceeds the congressionally mandated spending limits by $110 billion. If Congress rejects that request and enforces the caps set by law, military budgets would go up by $43 billion over the next five years. The Pentagon has insisted that even that increase would put the military in a bind because it does not cover the rate of inflation.

Punaro noted that in the 114th Congress, the Republican House and Senate will have more conservative conferences, which means any budget decisions will have to be deficit neutral. “There is not as much leverage to force policy changes or block changes through the debt ceiling, reconciliation or appropriations process as either side seems to think.”

Even if the Pentagon gets more money next year, higher appropriations alone do not remove the sequester caps. That would require a bipartisan deal.

The incoming GOP senators ran campaigns of “no compromise,” Punaro said. “They replace Democrats who were punished for their perceived support of the president. Will these Republicans senators now say, ‘Let’s compromise with the president?'”

In his remarks to industry CEOs, Kaine lamented how profoundly dysfunctional the legislative process has become, to the point of undermining the United States’ standing in the world. “A Congress that does nothing,” Kaine said, “sends a message of national decline.”


Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Did someone miss the message on Election Day? Actions this week by President Obama and in the Senate suggest that we can look forward to another two years of hyper-intense partisanship.

The president on Thursday announced his long-anticipated plan – without congressional approval – that will allow nearly five million illegal immigrants to remain in this country legally and apply for jobs. Republican leaders, scheduled to take control of the full Congress in January, had asked Obama to delay the decision, saying it would poison their future relations. Most voters oppose the amnesty plan and think the government is not aggressive enough in deporting illegal immigrants.

Most voters also have said in regular surveys for years that gaining control of the border to prevent future illegal immigration is more important than legalizing the status of the illegals living in the United States.  But 56% think the current policies and practices of the federal government encourage people to enter the United States illegally. 

Even though voters across the partisan spectrum are clear that the economy remains their number one concern, a bill approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline was shot down by liberal Democrats in the Senate early this week. Voters continue to favor the oil pipeline’s construction from Canada to Texas and feel it will help the economy. Opponents claim it will contribute to global warming. 

Incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu was desperately pushing passage of the bill in hopes that it would help her bid for reelection in Louisiana. But our surveying indicates it wouldn’t have made much of a difference: Landrieu’s Republican challenger Bill Cassidy looks comfortably on his way to joining the new GOP Senate majority. Louisiana voters will decide on December 6.

Senate Republicans in turn this week stopped a legislative effort to put the brakes on National Security Agency domestic spying. Voters still don’t approve of the NSA’s activities, but at a time when more than ever see a terrorist attack as the biggest threat to the nation, 57% believe protecting the country from a possible terrorist attack is more important than protecting the privacy of most Americans.

Major technology companies like Google, Apple and Facebook were pushing for the restrictions, but voters tend to think they spy on individuals more than the government does.

Voters are now evenly divided when it comes to Obamacare’s requirement that every American buy or otherwise obtain health insurance. Repeal of the unpopular health care law appears unlikely, but congressional Republicans are expected to make major changes in it next year if they can. 

The president also has come out strongly for so-called “net neutrality” rules that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the Internet like TV and radio. But Americans have a message for the government: Leave my Internet alone.

For the second time this year, the number of voters who rate Obama’s leadership positively has reached a three-year low of 38%. But the president’s daily job approval ratings have improved slightly since the election.

Opinions of the current Congress haven’t changed much. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are Congress’ two least-liked leaders, but John Boehner’s close behind them. Republicans and Democrats are tied on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

The president began the year with a State of the Union address that focused on the issue of economic fairness. While voters rate policies that encourage economic fairness and economic growth as both important, they continue to feel that economic growth is the more important of the two.

The housing market remains a rare bright spot. Forty percent (40%) of homeowners now expect their home’s value to increase in the next year. That’s the highest level of optimism since the housing bubble burst several years ago.

More homeowners than ever think that their home’s worth more than when they bought it. Thirty-seven percent (37%) think now is a good time for someone in their area to be selling a home.  Two years ago, only 16% felt that way. 

Consumer confidence continues to muddle along, but investors are more upbeat these days.

Americans are in a more generous mood this holiday season, but they’re off to a slower start when it comes to shopping.

In other surveys last week:

— Americans don’t expect the white police officer who killed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri to be charged with murder and oppose the U.S. Justice Department trying to prosecute him after that.

– For the third consecutive week, 27% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

— Just over half of Americans remain confident in the nation’s banks, well below the level of confidence measured before the 2008 financial meltdown.

— While most Americans say their interest rates haven’t changed over the past year, roughly half still expect them to go up over the next 12 months.

— Most adults continue to be concerned about inflation but show slightly more confidence in the Federal Reserve to keep inflation under control and interest rates down

— Eighty percent (80%) think Christmas is over-commercialized.


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