By Dan Parsons
Lisa Sanders, head of SOCOM’s Science and Technology Directorate,
speaking at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference
TAMPA, Fla. — Special Operations Command outfits its troops with some of the most technologically advanced gear in the military, but pays very little for its development.
SOCOM instead field tests incrementally improved devices to demonstrate their operational relevance, then relies on its parent services to foot the bill for development and acquisition, said Lisa Sanders, who heads SOCOM’s Science and Technology Directorate.
“I say often, we are not going to invent anything in my four walls,” Sanders said May 15 at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference. “I don’t have the skill set for it. I don’t have the budget for it. That’s not our charter.”
Most of the directorate’s budget — which is less than 1 percent of what the Army spends on science and technology development — is spent on “revolutionary leap-ahead” technologies like advanced night vision devices. The programs undertaken by SOCOM often are funded at less than $1 million apiece, she said.
“I’m interested in something that’s 10 percent better, but I’m probably not going to invest in [developing] things that are 10 percent better” than what special operators already use, Sanders said.
While many contracts might not flow directly from SOCOM, they do provide a series of avenues to put products in the hands of operators for evaluation. Those that successfully fill a gap in SOF troops’ capabilities could get referred to other services to undergo rapid acquisition. Instead of funding massive technology development projects, SOCOM instead helps industry and other government agencies how to make their systems better suited to U.S. commandos.
“What we want to do is collaborate with folks who do have ideas,” Sanders said. “We want to connect technology providers to the user community to figure out how to actually take your technology and [create] something that becomes deliverable.”
There are several ways the directorate becomes aware of a technology that could be useful or improve upon an existing capability. If a technology is already available, the SOCOM directorate becomes a “matchmaker” between industry and the large services, Sanders said.
“It’s available today but never been used for this purpose. … I’m not inventing anything. I’m not discovering anything. I’m not doing deliberate technology. I’m simply taking something and implementing it,” she said.
The directorate conveys its interest in the commercially available technology and its operational value to programs like the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and the Defense Department’s Rapid Innovation Fund to encourage rapid acquisition.
“What I cannot do is spend SOCOM S&T resources on them because it’s near-term systems integration and that’s not science and technology,” she said.
Other times one of Sanders’ engineers will come up with an idea for a useful technology that either does not exist or is not yet possible. In that case, the directorate informs academia and the services research laboratories, like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, of SOCOM’s strategic interest in a particular technology, Sanders said.
What Sanders will spend money on are technologies that have near-term potential to advance SOF-specific capabilities but “need solid science and technology development.”
The directorate looks at SOF mission areas, and then polls operators on what their gear can and can’t do to accomplish those missions. The assessments result in “derived capability gaps” engineers than ask industry and other government agencies if they can fill.
Through broad agency announcements the directorate is able to gain access to commercially available technologies that could provide improved performance for SOF troops but inherently require fewer development and acquisition dollars, she said. The directorate received 900 submissions to its last BAA and is in the process of awarding contracts to 30 of the companies that responded, Sanders said.
Three times a year the directorate hosts an experimentation event to allow industry, academia and other government agencies to see how certain technologies work in an operational environment.
“It is not intended to be a show and tell,” Sanders said. “It is not intended to necessarily result in a contract. … It is intended to help determine how to make your product better,” and for SOCOM to learn what is available on the market.
“We need you as technology providers to have the opportunity to get your products out in front of the best operators,” Sanders added. “And they are more than happy to give you their feedback.”
Photo Credit: Scott Rekdal/NDIA
By Sandra I. Erwin
A domestic oil and natural gas boom, as well as concerns about the cost of green fuels, has put biofuel manufacturers on the defensive.
Producers of biofuels saw promising signs from Washington earlier this year when President Obama in his inauguration speech tied green energy to economic growth. Congress also agreed to allow the Pentagon to continue to research and test alternative fuels.
But over the past several months, it has been oil and gas dominating the energy conversation in Washington. Lawmakers are even considering proposals to do away with the renewable fuel standard that mandates that ethanol be blended with gasoline.
The Defense Department has been experimenting with advanced biofuels as a potential drop-in alternative to fossil fuels. Navy and Air Force officials have argued that biofuels could be a hedge against the volatile oil market. This year alone they face nearly $2 billion in unbudgeted fuel bills that will have to be paid with funds from other Pentagon programs. They also fear that instability in the Middle East could one day disrupt oil supplies.
The Pentagon’s adoption of biofuels is critical to the industry’s future, said Hugh C. Welsh, president of DSM North America, a subsidiary of global giant Royal DSM.
“We see the Defense Department as an ally,” Welsh said in an interview. The military, and especially the Navy, he said, have been “pretty forward thinking in alternative energy.”
Although the Pentagon consumes just 1.5 percent of the nation’s fuel, biofuel investors and green-energy advocates have looked upon the military as a catalyst for a massive expansion of alternative fuel production in the United States.
The Defense Department’s biofuels program is expected to remain strictly a research-and-development effort. The Pentagon does not plan to buy commercial-scale quantities of biofuels until their prices are comparable to petroleum products. The Defense Logistics Agency last year procured 450,000 gallons of advanced drop-in biofuels. Over the next three years, the Navy agreed to spend $170 million to support advanced biofuels, with matching amounts from both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy. Under the Defense Production Act, the government is allowed to invest in an industry that it considers important for national security.
Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have challenged the military’s investments in biofuels as unaffordable luxuries in a time of shrinking budgets.
“This has been somewhat frustrating to the industry because of the politics,” Welsh said. He blames the anti-biofuels climate on misinformation about the high cost of alternatives. The Navy’s “green fleet” experiment stirred controversy last year after lawmakers learned the service was paying $26 per gallon of biofuel. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus defended the purchase on grounds that the green fleet is a research project and the military is buying limited quantities of biofuels, which makes them more expensive.
Welsh said the cost trends are moving in favor of biofuels. Current first-generation corn-based ethanol is a dollar cheaper per gallon than gasoline, he said. Manufacturers are now transitioning to second-generation cellulosic ethanol, which will be made from feedstocks that are not in the food supply, such as corn stover, wood chips and elephant grass. “Within a few years, cellulosic ethanol will be the same price as corn ethanol,” Welsh said.
The military’s advanced biofuels — made predominantly from camelina plants and algae — are expensive, but there will be cheaper alternatives once commercial production of cellulosic biofuel ramps up, Welsh said.
“There was a lot of emotion around the Navy’s green-fleet exercises off Hawaii,” he said. “That was an isolated demonstration.” When commercial cellulosic ethanol plants are up and running around the world, biofuel will be cheaper than conventional fuel, he said.
The military might consider testing lower cost biofuels made from switchgrass, elephant grass, corn stover or other crops grown specifically for cellulosic ethanol, he said. Cellulosic ethanol, however, does not meet military performance requirements. “We hope we can refine it to a high enough octane level that they might be able to use it as a drop-in fuel for jets,” Welsh said. “We see that day coming.”
The political climate, for now, will remain tough for green fuel producers. “This is a hot-button topic with fairly evangelical folks on both sides of the issue,” said Welsh.
Over the last five years, the private sector invested $5 billion in cellulosic ethanol plants in the United States, he said. There are 20 plants under construction. The challenge for the biofuels industry is not manufacturing but fighting the political tide. “The oil and gas sectors will continue to push their talking points about biofuel being a ‘phantom’ that doesn’t exist in commercial scale.”
A recent renewable-energy industry forecast paints a mixed picture for biofuels.
“Industry expert opinions on the future of liquid biofuels for transportation are wide-ranging,” said the REN21 report, published by a coalition of private sector and government groups that support renewable energy.
One of the disagreements among experts is over whether biofuels in the long term will remain mostly first generation — made from corn or sugar — or whether advanced biofuels — cellulosic-ethanol and biosynthetic gas — could eventually dominate markets, the study said. “Cellulosic ethanol plants are still considerably more expensive to build than corn ethanol plants in the United States, by a factor of two to three in higher investment costs,” REN21 reported. “Costs will have to decline significantly, although cellulosic feedstocks are cheaper.”
Some analysts believe commercialization is close at hand, while others believe it may never occur, the report said. Factors include developing cheaper enzymes, feedstock prices, technological learning, and sustainability issues. A variety of advanced biofuels are in research stages that may one day achieve commercial viability, the study said. “Experts pointed to several possibilities, including biomass-gasification-to liquid conversion, sugar-to-biodiesel conversion using yeast fermentation, bacteria for producing biodiesel from cellulosic materials, and algae as a potential biofuel feedstock.”
First-generation biofuels are no longer favored because of sustainability concerns, the report said. Production of corn-based fuel, for instance, has implications for land use, deforestation, biodiversity, food prices, security and social issues with local populations, said REN21. An emerging consensus is that “only advanced biofuels, particularly from agricultural wastes and from crops on marginal lands like switch grass, would ensure future sustainability.”
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
By Dan Parsons
AM General's Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1
TAMPA, Fla. — A contract award for a new special operations tactical truck has been delayed until late summer while officials continue to mull their options, according the vehicle's program manager.
Tactical vehicle manufacturers had expected a decision sometime in April for what SOCOM calls the ground mobility vehicle 1.1, but the date has now been moved to mid-August, according to Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ken Burger, program manager for the family of special operations vehicles.
The delay is not an indication that anything is amiss with the acquisition strategy, Burger told National Defense May 16 at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference here.
“There’s not problem with the program,” he said. “We are simply still working through the process and in dealing with our vendors. We needed some more time.”
An industry insider who is familiar with the program said in a recent interview that SOCOM met with competing firms May 1 to request more information on each potential GMV. It was assumed that SOCOM is giving companies a chance to “adjust” the per-vehicle price ahead of the contract award, she said.
Burger would not elaborate on the specifics or purpose of the delay, but was insistent that the program is on track.
Plans are to buy about 1,300 of the vehicles to replace SOCOM’s current GMV fleet, which are Humvees specialized for use by commandos.
Compared to the proposed joint light tactical vehicle for the Army and Marine Corps, the GMV 1.1 is expected to be a relatively small contract. But companies have spent millions of internal research-and-development dollars to design and built prototypes based on SOCOM’s published requirements.
Only AM General, which builds Humvees and the current GMV, did not build a new truck from the ground up, though its redesign of the Humvee-based GMV is significantly upgraded and not identical to the vehicle now in service.
Other contenders include Navistar International, and The FLYER built by General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems. Oshkosh Defense and Lockheed Martin each offered up trucks designed specifically to serve a GMV role, but both have been cut from the running.
Oshkosh filed a protest earlier this year but withdrew it last month. The industry official said the withdrawal could have been a move to resubmit a proposal.
The contract is worth $25 million in fiscal year 2014. SOCOM included a 100-vehicle purchase in its budget request for that year, according to published reports.
SOCOM is also seeking a smaller vehicle that fits inside a V-22 Osprey, designated the internally transportable vehicles. A request for proposals for that program was issued in April.
Correction: This article originally misstated that General Dynamics Land Systems offered the Flyer vehicle for the GMV 1.1 competition. The Flyer is made by General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems.
Photo Credit: AM General, General Dynamics, Navistar
By Sandra I. Erwin
Defense industry lost the first round of the fight against federal budget cuts, but it must continue to press on, a top CEO told corporate officials.
“There are just too many rounds left in this fight over the fiscal path ahead of us, and we have a responsibility to be clear about the consequences of that fiscal policy,” said Wesley G. Bush, CEO and president of Northrop Grumman Corp.
Bush spoke May 3 to a gathering of industry officials in McLean, Va., where he received the National Defense Industrial Association’s 2013 James Forrestal Award.
Even if industry lobbying failed to undo the budget sequester, which would slash military spending by $500 billion over the next decade, companies in the defense sector still have a “real obligation to be vocal,” Bush said. “Going silent on this issue would be a real mistake.”
With the benefit of hindsight, industry CEOs see how their plan to fight back the sequester law — which Congress passed in 2011 — might have suffered from overconfidence. Industry executives had assumed that politicians would protect defense spending because it creates jobs.
The lesson from the past two years is that industry should promote more than just job creation, Bush suggested. “I think it is important to help our nation’s policy makers understand our industry because not all of them do,” he said. One of the underestimated benefits of defense spending is that it bolsters technological advances, and, indirectly, national security, Bush said. The current fiscal policy, he added, is causing a “devastating impact on the investments that are required to sustain our technological advantage.”
A steady decline in research-and-development budgets should be cause for alarm, Bush said. In the early 1960s, the United States spent 1 percent of GDP on defense R&D. In the 1980s, that share dropped to three-quarters of a percent. Over the last decade, it was one-half of one percent. Current projections show that the decline will continue, to one-quarter of one percent.
Turning this trend around should be a priority for defense industry, said Bush. “If we don’t speak up, who will?”
Another cause that demands industry’s attention is export-control reforms, Bush said. “I would argue that innovation is our nation’s most lucrative export and our nation’s export policies need to support that commodity.” While some sensitive technologies should not be sold to foreign countries, current export rules are too restrictive, Bush said. “We have for years made the perfect the enemy of the good.” A case in point is satellites. “We somehow thought that we had a corner on that technology, but we were badly mistaken,” said Bush. “The very policies that were intended to keep this technology secure for us actually encouraged others who could not buy it from us to develop their own.”
Bush acknowledged recent efforts by the Obama administration to reform the export-control regime. He said he hopes these changes will spur sales of defense-related technologies such as unmanned aircraft to U.S. allies. “By broadening the international market for our industry’s high-tech products, like unmanned systems, export reform will translate directly into the preservation and expansion of our nation’s critically important high-tech workforce,” Bush said.
“We must be vocal and proactive to ensure our voices are heard,” he insisted. “Let’s remember who we are. We are the leaders in America’s aerospace and defense industry. We are responsible for seeing that our industry performs as the indispensable national asset that it is.”
Photo Credit: Scott Rekdal/NDIA
By Sandra I. Erwin
One of Washington’s most influential insiders, John J. Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is warning that the defense industry is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant and helpless in overcoming hostile political forces.
In a May 10 letter to the CSIS board of trustees, titled, “An Honest Look at the Military-Industrial Complex,” Hamre said he worries that arms manufacturers, while perceived as powerful members of the Pentagon-Congress-industry triad, are rapidly losing clout.
“One of the enduring myths of Washington politics is that the defense industry is an ominous, all-powerful puppeteer, manipulating the actions of politicians, political appointees, generals, and admirals,” Hamre wrote. “I have been observing this community for nearly 30 years, and the truth is that it is the weak partner to the Defense Department.”
Hamre cited several reasons why he believes the defense sector is fading into the background. One is that the industry is “not sitting at the table when hard budget choices are made in the Pentagon.” Government leaders have been reluctant to downsize the civilian workforce and Congress insists that no base or installation can be cut, he said. Military commanders focus on funding for operations and readiness on the premise that the United States cannot afford to have a “hollow force,” Hamre said. “Among these powerful forces, the defense industry is a feeble voice.”
Government policies also undermine defense industry, Hamre said in the letter. “We have had an accretion of laws, regulations, reporting requirements, and mandated procedures that are choking the system,” he noted. “The contract to send a man to the Moon and bring him back safely was written on a single sheet of paper. Now the system is choking on procedures that are sapping energy and enormous sums of money.”
The Pentagon's budget priorities put contractors in a tight corner, said Hamre. One-third of Pentagon procurement dollars is going to “overhead,” much of it dictated by the choking layers of redundant overseers, he added.
Most government employees have no experience in the private sector, Hamre said. As a result, they fail to understand the true cost of doing business. “They look at program X and see that the estimated price is $400 million. But a third of that is for government activities and testing outside the contract. The contractor may be given $250 million and be allowed to harvest an 8 perfect profit. When the government employee thinks that project is worth $400 million to the contractor, in reality it contributes $20 million to the bottom line.”
Given the political paralysis and budget stalemate in Washington, the future looks grim, Hamre said. “We are crippling our economic future. And we are damaging an essential component of our national security in the process. It is time that we wake up, before it is too late.”
Hamre’s cri de coeur comes less than three months after automatic budget cuts across the entire federal government went into effect. Before the sequester became law March 1, the defense sector was convinced that Congress and the Obama administration would work out an 11th hour deal to spare the military budget. No such break came, and Pentagon contractors are still gauging the potential damage from the cuts.
Having served as Pentagon comptroller and as deputy secretary of defense during the Clinton administration, Hamre has deep insight into the budget process, and his latest warnings should come as no surprise to beltway insiders.
CSIS analysts Clark A. Murdock and Ryan A. Crotty published a study last month that paints a dark picture of the future of the defense sector. The Pentagon’s budget, they noted, “Is being hollowed out from within by internal cost growth.” The costs of operations, maintenance of aging equipment and personnel have been on an “unsustainable trajectory for decades and, when combined with the declining top line due to budgetary and economic pressures,” spell tough times for contractors, Murdock said.
The Defense Department has recognized this problem but has thus far failed to rein in overhead spending, he said. “This growth of costs within the department sets up an unforgiving trade-off between maintaining end strength, sustaining readiness, or continuing technological investment.”
Equipment modernization accounts — which fund the military’s hardware and weapons programs and all research and development have accounted for nearly a third of the defense budget. By 2021, if costs in other accounts are allowed to continue to climb at current rates, less than 5 percent of the budget will remain for modernization, CSIS estimated.
Other think tanks have reached similar conclusions, including the Pentagon’s advisory group, the Defense Business Board, the Stimson Center and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
CSBA’s top budget expert Todd Harrison said defense industry is on the losing end of a guns-vs-butter struggle that is taking place within the Pentagon’s budget. As spending goes down, the cuts will fall disproportionately on programs that are performed by the private sector because there is no political will to touch military pay, benefits or reduce the size of the civilian workforce, Harrison said at a Washington, D.C, conference last week.
If the sequester stays in place as stated in the law until 2021, by then, personnel and operations costs will consume 86 percent of the Pentagon’s budget, said Harrison. That would leave only 14 percent for everything else, and it is conceivable that there would be little to no money left for procurement of new weapons, he said. The only way to fix this is by doing “politically difficult things” such as reforming military healthcare, retirement and overall compensation, and closing unneeded bases in the United States and overseas, Harrison said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a “strategic choices management review” that is expected to help set priorities as budgets decline. But defense industry should not expect the outcome of this review to help its cause, suggested James McAleese, an industry adviser and principal of McAleese & Associates.
“The more aggressive the SCMR becomes, and the longer the sequester goes on, the Defense Department will be less and less able to protect the industrial base as we've known it historically,” McAleese said May 14 at a U.S. Naval Institute conference. It will be market forces, rather than Pentagon policies, that will determine what companies survive the downturn, McAleese said. “There will be ‘bet the company’ competitions that will determine winners and losers.”
McAleese said the nation’s largest defense contractors will be among the winners because of their dominant market positions. He noted that the value of defense stocks has stayed about 5 percent above the S&P 500 index. The concerns about sequester have been priced into defense contractors' stocks, he said. Even after sequester took effect, top Pentagon suppliers — including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics and L-3 — projected modest sales reductions of 2 percent for next year. The largest contractors’ performance is “defying sequester,” said McAleese.
Former Pentagon comptroller Dov S. Zakheim, a senior advisor at CSIS, echoed Hamre’s concerns that the industry is headed for rough waters.
“People are beginning to take the sequester for granted,” he said at the USNI conference. “This is the first day of Noah's 40 day flood.”
Zakheim cited a stream of think tank studies over the past several years that proposed ways to cut defense spending “smartly” by shedding wasteful overhead and preserving military capabilities. These reports, however, are mostly pie in the sky, Zakheim said. “The problem in all those recommendation is that in most cases they require congressional activity” that will never occur, at least not in the foreseeable future, he said. “These reports talk about health reforms. We've been trying that for a very long time. They talk about acquisition reforms. We passed several acquisition reform acts. The Defense Department is dealing with acquisition reform,” said Zakheim. “In theory you can find the economies that would mitigate sequester. In reality you'll have to fight for every single dollar of those economies and hope for the best."
Photo Credit: Center for Strategic and International Studies
By Dan Parsons
TAMPA, Fla. — The Defense Department’s chief acquisition official believes the military should become more vocal about its opposition to a political crisis over government spending that has begun to threaten U.S. national security.
Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, advised pushing back against political considerations that could pull $1.2 trillion from Pentagon coffers over the next decade.
“Maybe we ought to be a little more vocal about this,” Kendall said May 15 to a ballroom full of troops and industry officials at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.
“We know how to suck it up," he said, describing the no-complaints, hard-charging attitude embodied by special operations troops. “We know how, when times are hard, to just put our heads down, keep going and muscle our way through it. That attitude may not be serving us very well right now."
Kendall used a single word to describe the fiscal outlook facing the military: depressing. The current fiscal year, he said, is a “damage limitations exercise that we’re just trying to get through.”
“I don’t see [fiscal year] ’14 being any more reasonable,” Kendall said.
The Defense Department issued its budget request for fiscal year 2014 without considering the impacts of a possible sequestration, he said. If the across-the-board cuts are allowed to occur, it will erase about $40 billion per year in defense spending, for which the department has not planned. The political logjam is one Kendall thought he would never see, especially because politicians from both parties are scoring points at the expense of national defense.
“We’re living in a world that I really did not expect to have to live in,” he said. “My opinion was that the center would hold. There was enough support on both sides of the political aisle that national security strategy was going to be protected. That was the assumption that went into the sequestration deal — the assumption that there was a consensus about the importance of national security.”
Sequestration — as has been admitted by those on Capitol Hill involved with the passage of the 2012 Budget Control Act that enacted it — was designed to be “so crazy that no one would let it happen,” Kendall said.
The cuts have not yet taken hold, but the looming austerity is already being felt throughout the military, he said. Kendall likened the situation to a slow, steady rain rather than a “hurricane that arrives and is a cataclysmic event.”
“The water keeps dripping and dropping on us and the water level keeps rising,” he said.
Many of the impacts are secondary consequences not readily visible to the public eye or to lawmakers, he said.
“We’re not flying airplanes. We’re not training people. We’re not steaming ships. We’re not doing exercises with ground forces,” Kendall said. “Some of the things we’re doing today, if we keep doing them for a couple months, will set us back a couple of years."
Airfield tarmacs are not being repaved or repaired when needed, he said. Government-owned buildings remain vacant because they cannot be brought up to fire codes or there is no money for furniture to fill them, he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military faces a host of global threats both from peer nations and non-state actors. China and Russia have no compunction about selling advanced munitions to rogue factions or nations that would seek to harm the United States, he said. Both countries are also steadily building their military capabilities with investments in training and technology, he said.
“While we’re decreasing our defense budgets, they are increasing theirs and they are doing it, in both cases, reasonably smartly … and they’re moving forward while we’re moving the other direction. I’m not very happy about that situation.”
Dealing with many of those threats will fall to Special Operations Command troops. The Obama administration has placed an emphasis on SOF as the nations draws down from Afghanistan and focuses its attention on the Asia-Pacific region. Those troops, hundreds of whom listened to Kendall's comments, should impress to lawmakers that national security should not be a bargaining chip, he said.
The skills and infrastructure that is being lost are not things that are easily or swiftly recoverable, he said. Cutbacks have begun affecting troops at the tip of the spear — some are not optimally prepared to deploy to combat zones, he added.
"I think we need to let people know how we feel about what’s happening," he said.
Photo Credit: Scott Rekdal / NDIA
By Dan Parsons
TAMPA, Fla. — Mike Traster is suspended 30 feet above Tampa Bay, borne aloft by a pair of water jets streaming from a jetpack on his back.
Traster, a “master jetpack flight instructor,” has been flying around the bay for two days outside the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference. His exploits have gathered crowds of people snapping cell-phone pictures of his antics.
But private security firm owner Tony Sparks has a very specific, practical purpose in mind for this technology, which seems more tailor-made for a James Bond movie than for real-world military operations.
When U.S. special operators need to board a vessel at sea, they must drive a boat alongside and use ladders. The process takes time, is difficult in high seas and leaves troops and their vessel vulnerable to hostile fire.
Sparks’ vision is that an advance team of Navy SEALs could approach a target vessel from thousands of yards, underwater, then spring aboard wearing jet packs. His company, Phantom Services, specializes in recapturing stolen yachts. He has already used the JetLev to recover three private yachts stolen in the Caribbean.
“Boats and helicopters, when you drive them up to a vessel that is being attacked, are noisy and you lose the element of surprise,” Sparks, a former special operations helicopter pilot, tells National Defense. “The enemy also has the height advantage when you approach. Why not send in an advance team, 20 feet under water, to approach unnoticed, jump on board and start shooting?”
The JetLev not only allows an operator to fly, but also to dive. The military version includes oxygen tanks for operators to breathe below the surface of the sea.
When he last recovered a stolen yacht, no fighting was necessary, Sparks says.
“When we showed up and landed on the starboard and port side of the boat, the bad guys just jumped overboard,” he says. “Surprise means a lot. It’s my job to have surprise.”
The JetLev, which runs $68,500 for a civilian version, was originally envisioned as a recreational vehicle, Traster says.
If that sounds prohibitively expensive, a day of flight training is included in the price. Traster says a person unfamiliar with jetpack operation can master the basics in five minutes. Two hours is all it takes to perform some of the more advanced maneuvers demonstrated during the conference.
The jet pack is connected by a 30-foot hose to what is essentially a riderless, seatless Jet Ski. Instead of shooting water out the back for propulsion, the device’s 260-horsepower gasoline engine directs water down from the pack’s dual nozzles at 800 to 1,000 gallons per minute. Were it not tethered to a continuous water source, the device could actually fly, Traster explains. It does not require a surface to generate lift.
The device tops at 30 miles per hour, Traster says. It is also more maneuverable than a personal watercraft or small boat. It can run for three to four hours on a 22-gallon tank of gas.
The whole idea of the JetLev seems a bit fantastical —perhaps comical — until Sparks explains his concept with deadpan sincerity. “This has a Coast Guard application for near-shore search and rescue because it gives you an elevated view,” he says. “It works well for rescuing distressed vessels in high sea states. With one-handed controls, [an operator] can shoot and fly at the same time.”
“You just drop the pack, it floats away — we have a tracker on it — and go back and pick it up when the fight is over.”
Photo Credit: Scott Rekdal/NDIA
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
An infamous hacking group affiliated with China's military that was exposed in February has quietly returned after laying low for several months, said an expert with the consulting firm that outed it.
Mandiant released a report that pinned numerous cyber-intrusions on Unit 61398 of China's People Liberation Army. The unit, which is based in Shanghai, curtailed its activities after the report's initial release, said Richard Bejtlich, the firm's chief security officer, but it has recently begun to pick up where it left off.
"The group itself went quiet for a while. They changed the nature of their activities [and] they removed some of the tools they had been using inside different companies. But over the course of the last several weeks, it seems like they are starting to come back and ramp up," Bejtlich said May 15 at the Center for National Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Unit 61398 has been linked to the theft of huge amounts of intellectual property throughout the world, according to the Mandiant report. It has stolen hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organizations, with the majority of them based in English-speaking countries. It is possible that the unit employs hundreds of operators, the report said.
Besides Unit 61398, Mandiant is monitoring 23 other known hacker groups throughout the world. While he could not say exactly how much data has been stolen, he said it is enormous.
But the threat isn't just in lost data, Bejtlich said. If a group can infiltrate a network to steal data, it can also destroy that network.
"Whenever you hear someone say, 'Don't worry, it's just espionage.' [It's important to realize that] espionage easily can escalate to destruction. It's just the prerogative of the intruder," said Bejtlich.
Another issue Betjlich highlighted was the corruption of data, which he called a "middle ground" between espionage and destruction.
"In some ways it's the toughest one to identify because most companies don't necessarily know what the data should be," he said.
Several cybersecurity bills were introduced into Congress during the 112th session, but none came to fruition. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced an executive order which asked in part for an expansion of the Defense Industrial Base Information Sharing Program, which alerts the Defense Department to attacks on participating companies' software.
While Bejtlich called on Congress to pass legislation, he also said solutions could be found by countries working together. Better communication between nations, and firmer regulations and rules could help alleviate some cyber-attacks. Even a pact between just a handful of countries would be beneficial if it could evolve beyond only talking, Bejtlich said.
"I think government-to-government discussions are necessary, but they will not be sufficient. I think we will ultimately be disappointed if it's simply a discussion," said Bejtlich.
The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel are the top countries in the world when it comes to cyberdefense, said Bejtlich. Japan and South Korea are also beefing up their defensive capabilities in light of more frequent attacks, he said.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
By Dan Parsons
TAMPA, Fla. — As the U.S. military turns its attention to the Pacific, Navy Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) teams are already undergoing a transition back to their maritime roots, said Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, commander of Navy Special Warfare.
The SEALs have shied from the “sea” portion of their title during the past 12 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are now famous for the landlocked airborne raid that killed public enemy number one, Osama bin Laden.
Pybus called the endeavor to return the force to is traditional sea-based missions “amphibious evolution in reverse.”
“There is plenty of work in the maritime environment,” he said at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference here. “By Christmas, we will cut in half the number of SEAL platoons in Afghanistan. Much of our force will return to the water.”
Within the next decade, 90 percent of the world’s population will live on or near a coast, he said.
“There are already urban problems on the coast,” he said, derived from the “crushing” of large populations into mega-cities. Rattling off a few examples, Pybus mentioned Tripoli, Libya, the South China Sea and Bangladesh.
The Navy is set to go on a boat-buying spree in support of its missions in areas like the Strait of Malacca that are host to huge swaths of global commerce.
Adm. William McRaven, Special Operations Command commander, has issued a “maritime mobility roadmap” that spells out how SOCOM will purchase a family of watercraft comprising large stealth boats and smaller craft that can be launched from motherships at sea.
“We won’t get all those in the numbers we want, based on fiscal reality … but we’ll try to get them in sufficient numbers to get our work done,” McRaven said.
The need for new vehicles is not the only issue ailing the special operations forces community. Though they have a reputation as a highly skilled and accomplished warriors, SEALs lack the most up-to-date equipment for maritime operations. They sometimes even find themselves operating with allied special operators that are better equipped, Pybus said.
“Some of our partners have equipment that, quite frankly, is better than ours because we spent a decade fighting ashore,” Pybus said. “It’s time to catch up.”
SEALs in the future will need new scuba gear, including rebreathers and underwater propulsion systems, he said. In the meantime, plans are to use the equipment at hand up to, and perhaps, beyond their life cycles, he said.
The transition back to seaborne and coastal operations is not a SEAL-specific endeavor. The Marine Corps has plans to regain its sea legs. Even the Army and Air Force are mulling what their operations will look like in an era where the Defense Department’s focus is on an area of the world marked by vast expanses of open ocean.
In the Pacific, much of the population is clustered in large cities near coasts, said Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander of Army Special Operations Command.
Drawing down from years fighting two landlocked wars, U.S. forces are burdened with a horde of theater-specific equipment and vehicles that are not designed for use on and near the ocean, Cleveland said.
“Our tools that we have developed for our style of land warfare, largely are not relevant,” he said. “What we built to fight in the last two wars is not what we need for the future.”
Air Force special operators are tasked with figuring out how to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and airlift to a force that will be dispersed throughout the world. The vast expanses of the Pacific are a concern for those tasked with getting SEALs and other commandos where they need to be, said Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command.
The CV-22 Osprey is capable of providing for those needs, but the Air Force will buy its last one in 2014. Then the service must take on the challenge of maintaining a fleet that has flown long, hard hours in dangerous scenarios — an expensive but necessary endeavor in a fiscal environment in which the Air Force has little chance to buy new aircraft, Fiel said.
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.
By Sandra I. Erwin An MC-130J Commando II is being converted to an AC-130J gunship
The Air Force Special Operations Command’s fleet of more than 200 customized C-130 cargo planes will shrink by more than half in the coming years. Shedding older aircraft will allow AFSOC to save money on maintenance and to spend more on high-tech weaponry and sensors for its future fleet, said Maj. Gen. Kenneth D. Merchant, director of global reach programs at the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.
Merchant, who just took the job last month, oversees $52 billion worth of programs.
The Air Force is buying 94 brand-new C-130J aircraft from Lockheed Martin Corp. for special operations forces. Fifty-seven will be converted to MC-130J — used by special operations forces for transporting cargo and troops, and for aerial refueling. The other 37 will become AC-130W Stinger II gunships.
Sixteen AC-130Js are scheduled to be delivered by 2015, according to Lockheed Martin.
New MC-130Js and AC-130Ws already are in production and will be sent to AFSOC units based at Hurlburt Field, Fla., over the next several years, Merchant said at a recent industry conference in Arlington, Va.
One of the most anticipated pieces of equipment is a “precision strike package” for the Stinger II gunship, he said. “What we were able to do is ‘eye watering,’” he said. The strike package includes sensors, a 30 mm gun, standoff precision-guided munitions, a mission operator console, a communications suite and flight deck hardware. One of the Air Force’s newest satellite and laser-guided weapons, the small diameter bomb also will be launched from the gunship.
In its fiscal year 2014 budget request, the Air Force seeks $1.6 billion for special operations programs. Included is procurement of four MC-130J aircraft and five AC-130J gunships.
Also requested in the 2014 budget are three CV-22 Osprey for AFSOC. A total of 50 CV-22 aircraft are scheduled to be delivered by 2016. Two of the $74 million aircraft were lost in recent years to training and combat mishaps. Merchant said Congress has approved funds for one replacement aircraft. Osprey manufacturer Bell-Boeing expects to shut down the CV-22 production line after the aircraft that are currently on order are completed.
The CV-22 is a variant of the Marine Corps’ Osprey, which is a helicopter-fixed wing hybrid. The first CV-22 was delivered to AFSOC in January 2007. It completed its third combat deployment in 2012.
The aircraft has seen its share of maintenance and reliability problems, Merchant said. Its engine, made by Rolls-Royce has had trouble operating in desert climates, he said. “The dusty environment is chewing these engines up.” Rolls-Royce is currently working on the problem and will modify the engine, said Merchant.
An Air Force fact sheet noted that AFSOC airmen flew 14,761 combat sorties for over 51,221 combat hours last year. They moved 15.6 million pounds of cargo, transported 33,500 passengers and fired 16,600 rounds of ammunition.
Military analysts, meanwhile, are calling for the Pentagon to invest in more advanced technologies for special operations forces. A new study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said AFSOC’s reliance on a C-130 based aviation fleet ignores the combat environment that the U.S. military will face in the future.
Special operations forces need a “stealthy air transport,” the study said. “AFSOC’s venerable C-130 variants have remained relevant through constant upgrades, sophisticated countermeasures, and advanced tactics. In the future, however, the inherently high signatures of the C-130 platform will render it extremely vulnerable” to enemy air defenses, said CSBA. U.S. Special Operations Command and the Air Force will need to “develop a mix of stealthy airlifters and non-standard clandestine aircraft capable of ‘hiding in plain sight,’” the study said.
CSBA also suggested AFSOC needs a “next-generation gunship." By 2018, AC-130 gunships will have been providing close air support to special operations for 50 years, the study said. Gunships have received constant upgrades to their weaponry, sensor packages, and countermeasures. “Nevertheless, their high signatures and low airspeeds make AC-130s extremely vulnerable in anything other than extremely permissive environments,” said CBSA. Possible alternatives could be a mix of low-cost “disposable” unmanned and stealthy strike aircraft.
Chris Dougherty, a former Army Ranger and one of the authors of the CSBA study, said that the use of C-130s for troop insertion and extraction “probably isn't going to cut it” in combat zones where enemies are well armed. “The [radar/heat] signature is going to be too high,” he said May 10. “The bigger near-term concern for SOF is the proliferation of guided rockets, artillery, mortars and missiles, particularly advanced man portable air defense systems,” he said. “When you are flying around in an aircraft with a radar cross section the size of a small building, having those capabilities out there is of concern.”
Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin