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Military Tests Anti-Drone Weapons at 'Black Dart'
By Yasmin Tadjdeh

POINT MUGU, CALIF. — The U.S. military is looking for new technologies to target and shoot down enemy drones. A growing sense of urgency about the threat posed by unmanned aircraft was evident at the 2015 Black Dart exercise.

Black Dart — which started in 2002 — is the Defense Department’s largest live-fly, live-fire counter-drone demonstration. The two-week event is being held at Naval Base Ventura County Sea Range in Point Mugu, California.

“Initially, it started out as just a UAS development capabilities demonstration, and over time transitioned into a counter-unmanned aircraft systems technology demonstration,” said Air Force Maj. Scott Gregg, director of this year’s Black Dart, which is run by the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization.

Fifty-five systems will be used during the duration of the demonstration, Gregg said July 31 during a Black Dart media day. Additionally, 16 drone targets are being employed.

This year’s exercise has a particular focus on small UAS, said Navy Cmdr. David Zook, chief of JIAMDO’s capabilities assessment division.

“I think we’ve definitely focused on it more than we have in the past,” he said. “The proliferation of the smaller, micro and mini UAVs — the Group 1s, Group 2s — has increased our need and our demand signal to operate in that environment.”

Group 1 drones weigh less than 20 pounds. Group 2 systems weigh between 21 and 55 pounds.

Even though small UAS can only carry light payloads, sometimes just a few pounds, they could be loaded with dangerous materials, Gregg said. They are also more difficult to detect, he noted.

About 700 military personnel and observers from across the services, academia and private industry are participating in the exercise, Zook said.

“This is a joint problem. This is more than just what individual services can handle,” he said. The “services can come up with their own solutions, but we’re bringing a really unique place for them all to come together.”

The systems being used at Black Dart aren’t necessarily new, he noted. Some of them are programs of record but are being used in different ways during the exercise. That’s important in these times of reduced military budgets , he said.

“As we start running into sequestration-related … funding challenges, we need to be able to find the best” systems, he said. “We need to find ways to use our systems that we have right now and work them in different ways or different combinations so we can work that integration piece to get us more advantage.”

Information gleaned from the demonstration can be used to help the services make acquisition decisions or even change concepts of operations, Zook said. That in turn helps the war fighter, he said.

Some unmanned aerial vehicles participating in the demonstration include the MQ-9 Reaper, Tigersharks, Outlaws and others.

Black Dart was classified until last year. Now that it's no longer secret, industry is taking note, Zook said.

“Industry has always been a part of this and as Black Dart has become more visible [and] prevalent we have worked that partnership and evolved that partnership into more effective systems” that fill gaps, he said.

JIAMDO provides the range and targets and then allows industry and the services to bring in their own technologies and test them out. These could include surveillance, detection, identification or negation weapons, he said. JIAMDO spent about $4.2 million on this year’s demonstration.

Demonstrations such as Black Dart show that the military recognizes the growing drone threat and is working hard to counter it, said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Kristen Lasica, a military spokeswoman. JIAMDO is under the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“UAS technology and the proliferation of it continue to increase at a phenomenally rapid rate. The threat is getting bigger. It’s getting easier for our adversaries and people with nefarious intents to do harm,” she said. “This demonstration, Black Dart, is a prime example of how the DoD, the Joint Chiefs of Staff specifically, prioritize this issue and that we’re going to continue to do everything in our power to ensure that our understanding of the threat and our mastery and how to counter it is superior to that of our adversary.”

Photo Credit: A drone at a Black Dart demonstration (Defense Department)
Boeing Confident in Production of Super Hornet Beyond 2017

By Allyson Versprille

As Boeing continues discussions with both foreign and domestic customers, a company executive said he is confident that international demand and a strong desire for the aircraft by the U.S. Navy will push production of Super Hornets and Growlers past 2017.


The Navy did not request funding for Super Hornets in its fiscal year 2016 budget proposal. However, in March the service solicited Congress for additional aircraft in its unfunded priorities list. Lawmakers are still deciding whether or not to fund those 12 aircraft, worth $1.15 billion. 

In the document, the Navy stated “our legacy strike fighters (F/A-18A-D) are reaching end of life faster than planned due to use and wear. Improving the inventory of F/A-18F and F-35C aircraft will help reconcile a near term (2018-2020) strike fighter inventory capacity challenge, and longer term (2020-2035) strike fighter model balance within the carrier air wing. It will reduce our reliance on legacy-model aircraft which are becoming increasingly expensive and less reliable.”


Daniel Gillian, vice president of F/A-18 and EA-18G programs for Boeing Defense, said he is optimistic that the House and Senate Armed Services Committees — as well as defense appropriations subcommittees — will support the push for more Super Hornets.


"I think near-term FY16 a lot of the momentum is behind Super Hornet and the committees that mark down Super Hornet, [and] we see that holding up," he said.


There are also positive signs from Kuwait, where discussions on purchasing the aircraft are currently taking place, he told reporters.


"Ongoing discussions in the Middle East are certainly moving forward and we're confident that we're moving towards something there, along with [the] FY16" Navy requests, Gillian said.  "We're seeing enough demand signals from the market to make a decision to continue moving forward with production."


In May, Reuters reported that the deal with Kuwait would involve 28 Boeing Super Hornets and would total more than $3 billion. Such a deal would keep the company's mixed-model Super Hornet and Growler production line in Saint Louis, Missouri, open until 2019, Gillian said.


"Currently production with the 15 Growlers from last year that were added in FY15, goes through December 2017," he said. If the company lands both Kuwait and the 12 planes for the U.S. Navy, production will be pushed out to the fall of 2019.


There are also opportunities in Denmark, which is currently seeking to procure a new fighter jet. Boeing is proposing 24 to 36 of the two-seat variant of the Super Hornet, Gillian said. The company faces competition from Lockheed Martin's F-35 joint strike fighter. Denmark is expected to make a downselect decision in the fourth quarter of this year. Such a sale — in addition to the aforementioned opportunities — would extend production through 2021, Gillian said.


Canada and Belgium are two other possibilities for Super Hornet sales, he noted.

In Canada, the issue is whether the nation will pursue an election that results in a change in government, he said. "We think a change in government would lead to a potential discussion about a competition. Right now, they're on a path to the F-35."


Belgium is following Denmark's decision but a downselect would be years away, Gillian added.


Boeing is in the process of slowing down production of the aircraft in coming years from three per month — its current rate — to two per month in the first quarter of next calendar year, he said.


He stressed the importance of future Super Hornet sales for the company, especially within the United States.


"I think the 12 planes are particularly important in the context of the Super Hornet shortfall that the CNO [chief of naval operations] discussed in his testimony," he said. In April, Adm. Jonathan Greenert said the Navy has a "Super Hornet shortfall" of at least two or three squadrons — the equivalent of 24 to 36 aircraft.


"The Super Hornet is truly the workhorse of naval combat operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," Greenert said before the House Armed Services Committee. "It is an absolutely critical, in-demand weapon against our enemies."


Gillian said keeping production lines open is also essential on an international level. "It's important because it's part of a bigger discussion and it allows the international market to continue to develop a lot of the discussion about Growler force structure."


The company wants to continue employing the team it has in place, he said. "It is certainly important to Boeing for continuing to employ the team that we have with all of the skills they have to continue building an airplane that can land on an aircraft carrier, which is a unique and perishable skill set."

Photo Credit: Boeing

Acquisition Concerns Loom Large at CNO Confirmation Hearing
By Jon Harper

Concerns about acquisitions loomed large at the July 30 confirmation hearing for Adm. John Richardson, who has been nominated to be the next chief of naval operations.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, directed his ire at the Navy’s latest aircraft carrier program, which he described as a “glaring example of cost overruns and schedule delays.”

“Each Ford-class aircraft carrier has experienced more than $2 billion in cost growth. This program continues to be plagued by technology immaturity, concurrent development and production, and a lack of reliability test data for critical systems. This is unacceptable — I repeat unacceptable — and I fully expect the Navy’s ongoing study of alternative aircraft carrier designs to provide real options,” McCain told Richardson during the hearing.

Richardson, currently the director of the naval nuclear propulsion program, was asked if he supported a provision in the Senate’s fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which calls for examination of alternative platforms for aviation.

“I look very much forward to supporting that study completely and seeing what information it produces,” he said, without indicating whether he would pursue an alternative to the Ford-class. Richardson said he shared McCain’s concerns about the cost overruns, and promised that he would be “very involved in acquisitions” if he is confirmed.

The program that received the greatest amount of scrutiny at the hearing was the Ohio-class replacement ballistic missile submarine, also known as the SSBN(X).

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the program would cost more than $100 billion. Lawmakers and Navy officials are worried that the high price tag could wreck the service’s other shipbuilding accounts.

Richardson described the Ohio replacement as the Navy’s “number one modernization priority.”

“This is an absolutely critical program for the country, and we are doing everything in the Navy to make sure that we not only get the requirements right and stable, but that we treat our cost targets like any other performance parameter for that program and we … achieve all of those cost targets,” he said.

Richardson testified that the Navy would take several steps to keep costs down, noting that the requirements for the Ohio replacement are already set. The service is working toward providing a mature and stable design before production begins to avoid “costly change orders,” and he hopes to have a build plan that would allow for stable and predictable funding, he said. The Navy is slated to complete a study aimed at maturing the design and build plans sometime this fall, he said.

Still, Richardson noted that the program would be costly. “If we absorb that entire cost within the Navy, that will come at a tremendous price in terms of our other responsibilities and ships and aircraft,” he warned.

The admiral praised the decision by lawmakers to set up a special National Sea-based Deterrence Fund that would help pay for the SSBN(X).

“The creation of this fund I think highlights the existential importance of this program to our nation, and also that executing this program will require a combination both of resources and authorities,” he said.

Richardson came under fire recently for his public efforts to secure funding for the Ohio replacement. In June, the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, accused the officer of violating anti-lobbying laws. At the behest of McCain, the Navy asked the Defense Department Inspector General to assess whether Richardson had overstepped the line. The IG ultimately cleared the admiral of any wrongdoing. 

McCain indicated that Richardson’s confirmation would face no serious political opposition from the committee.

“You are well qualified and we will attempt to make sure that your nomination is confirmed before we depart for our ill-deserved August recess,” McCain said at the end of the hearing.

Photo: Adm. John Richardson (Defense Dept.)
Kendall: Industry ‘Overreacted’ to Pentagon R&D Reforms
By Sandra I. Erwin

Defense industry CEOs have been up in arms over proposed new rules that would give the Pentagon more control over companies’ internal research spending.

The Defense Department’s top weapons buyer Frank Kendall said the Pentagon should have greater visibility into research and development projects that contractors charge to the government. One way to do that, according to the proposed rule, would be to require companies to enlist a “technical sponsor” from the Defense Department before they start any R&D project. Contractors also would have to provide a written report of the project’s results, annually if the project spans multiple years.

The provision was included in the procurement policy guidebook Better Buying Power 3.0. that Kendall unveiled in April. At the time, he described the policy as “minimalist.” But the blowback from the industry was unexpectedly strong. He reportedly got an earful from CEOs during an Aerospace Industries Association meeting in late April. Executives argued that micromanaging internal company investments would be counterproductive and a drag on innovation.

Kendall insists that the new policy is not going to be as intrusive as some CEOs fear. “People have overreacted to my initiative a little bit,” he told a gaggle of reporters July 28. “I’m not going to make any fundamental changes. … I’m looking for a little bit more of a check on what industry is doing to make sure it’s technically meaningful work.”

The provision in Better Buying Power grew out of concern that the military is losing its technological edge and that the Pentagon has to have a better handle on how companies turn their internal research and development, or IRAD, into militarily useful innovations. The Defense Department reimburses contractors about $4 billion a year for R&D expenses.

Kendall said the concern is justified as other countries like China and Russia are modernizing their armed forces at a rapid pace with the intent to offset U.S. military technologies. He sees this as a crisis that calls for new approaches to R&D investments.

“What I’m looking for is better communications between industry and government, both ways,” Kendall said. “But I want to do that with as light a touch as I can have. I don’t want to create a lot of new bureaucracy and I don’t want industry to have to wait for government approval before they can do something.”

The details of the new policy are still being hashed out. “We’re still doing some internal debating,” Kendall said. “We’ll share our ideas with industry before we do anything.”

The language in Better Buying Power alarmed executives who dread the prospect of having to jump through a bunch of extra hoops in order to get reimbursed for projects. CEOs view recoverable IRAD as one of their main weapons that gives them a competitive advantage in the defense market.

Some military leaders believe the additional oversight is warranted because they cannot always be sure that companies are spending R&D funds wisely.

“I understand the concern by industry,” said Lt. Gen. Michael E. Williamson, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. “But at some level this concern reflects a lack of an institutional memory,” Williamson said July 9 at an industry conference. “People forget that 25 years ago the burden placed on the use of IRAD, the amount of oversight was significant.” Over time, he said, there has been less Defense Department involvement in “providing direction.” Also, Williamson noted, “Reporting procedures associated with IRAD as allowable overhead cost changed significantly.”

The language in BBP 3.0 is an “effort to look at opportunities to become more efficient, cut costs,” he said. “We can have a discussion about the execution.” As potential adversaries catch up with U.S. technology, “It becomes an imperative for us to be able to not only look at promising technologies that industry is looking at, but also create a mechanism for the Department of Defense to interact with our industry partners so we can demonstrate our significant interest in specific areas.”

Four billion dollars is “significant money,” said Williamson. The government should be able to point at “gaps and seams in the context of technology,” he said. The Pentagon’s initiative to increase oversight is “probably the right path in an environment where we have constrained resources.”

Kendall has made a case that IRAD is not well balanced between near-term and long-term projects. But industry executives reject the idea that more red tape is the answer. Some CEOs have called on the Pentagon to better articulate its needs, and to shed more light on its long-term investments so companies can follow in a similar direction.

“The point of IRAD is to have government reimbursed R&D that isn't government directed, in order to see what the best minds in industry can do to solve the government's tough problems,” said a defense industry representative who asked to not be quoted by name. “Having the government dictate exactly what it wants kind of takes the ‘I’ out of IRAD.”

Kendall is purposely not rushing to release a new policy that might fan the flames. “He wants to get this right,” said Ronald J. Youngs, assistant vice president of acquisition policy at the Aerospace Industries Association. “And it’s good that he’s being deliberate about it,” he said. “Our CEOs and others are very interested in this topic. We think a continuing dialogue to achieve the goals in Better Buying Power is important.” But defense companies strongly disagree with the specific IRAD provision, he added. “We really think the way to achieve the goal of technological superiority is through greater communication from DoD that would give us greater insight into their expectations … but working within existing processes.”

Contractors expect the government to scrutinize expenses but the Pentagon has “never tied the hands of the company from making determinations of where to invest.”

Photo Credit: Defense Dept.
Australians Taking Advantage of Lessons Learned with New Growler  
By Allyson Versprille

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Boeing and the U.S. Navy presented the first EA-18G Growler tactical jamming and electronic protection aircraft to the Royal Australian Air Force at a rollout ceremony in St. Louis, Missouri, July 29. 

In June 2014, 
the RAAF awarded Boeing the contract for 12 Growlers to be purchased under a foreign military sales agreement. The ceremony marked the presentation of the first Growler to Australia, the only foreign country to acquire the aircraft so far. The Growler is a derivative of the F/A-18 Super Hornet. 

The Australian Growler has some features not on the U.S. version. It has an advanced targeting forward-looking infrared, ATFLIR, to assist in locating targets, as well as AIM-9X, the current version of the AIM-9 Sidewinder, a family of infrared-tracking short-range air-to-air missiles. 

Those additions were placed on the aircraft as a result of lessons learned in the 2011 multi-state operation in Libya to enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973,
officials said. The resolution called for a cease-fire in Libya, tightened sanctions on the Gadhafi regime and imposed a no-fly zone in the country’s airspace. 

“One of the things you’ll see on the airplane is we’ve actually got it fitted with an ATFLIR and AIM-9X,” said former Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force Geoffrey Brown. “Because of the close relationship between Australia and the U.S., we always share lessons, and one of the big lessons out of Libya was the need to actually have an electro-optical part on the Growler.” 

There were two main lessons the Australian Air Force was able to take away from Libya, said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Donald Gaddis, program executive officer for tactical aircraft. The first lesson was how to shorten the kill chain from locating a target to taking that target out, he said. 

The U.S. Navy used a combination of targeting and information sharing technologies on its Growlers in Libya to find threats and transmit to that data to other aircraft such as an F/A-18 Super Hornet. The technologies they used to complete this task are ALQ-210, a passive radar detector, active electronically scanned array radar (AESA), multifunctional information distribution (MIDS) and data link, Link 16. 

They were “rapidly transmitting weapon quality tracks to other airplanes and the other airplanes were taking the data link tracks and slewing their sensors to the targets that the Growlers had found and dropping ordnance on those targets,” Gaddis said. 

By placing ATFLIR straight on their aircraft, the Australians are “decreasing the kill chain even more because you don’t have to data link through another ATFLIR. You’ve got it on your own airplane. It’s all electronic attack, air-to-ground-related,” he added. 

Brown said he thinks the U.S. Navy will follow the Australian Air Force’s lead, and reconfigure its Growlers with that technology as well. 

Another lesson that the Australian Air Force learned from the United States operation in Libya was how to rapidly plan a mission when moving from one theater to another, he said. 

“We had a squadron of Growlers in the Iraqi theater, and when the Libya operations went down we redeployed the entire squadron within two days. Within two days they had moved from Iraq, they had moved to their bases in Italy, they’d already done the mission planning, and they were already on station helping with the operational plan,” Gaddis said. They are also currently gleaning lessons learned from Syria and Iraq, he noted. 

He said the Australians wanted to add the AIM-9X to enhance its warfighting capability, whereas the U.S. Navy might not require that addition because it has more aircraft in its fleet. RAAF is purchasing 12 Growlers compared to the U.S. Navy, which currently has 115 of the aircraft in its fleet out of 153 that will be delivered, including the 15 funded in the fiscal year 2015 budget. 

However, “with the F-35, the Super Hornet and the Growler, they’re going to have a pretty potent air force” Gaddis said. RAAF boasts 24 Super Hornets in its current fleet. 

“The Royal Australian Air Force is starting to look like the United States Navy,” he said. 

Brown said having aircraft that operate in a similar manner is good for interoperability. “It makes it far easier to make all our capabilities operate together and it gives access to the best technology in the world.”

He noted that the program has cost more than $3 billion Australian dollars ($2.2 billion U.S. dollars) but is a critical capability as the military faces more hostile air spaces with increased proliferation of surface-to-air missile systems and defensive systems that make it harder for fighter aircraft and transporter airplanes to enter enemy air space. 

The Growler will fly to Naval Air Station China Lake, California, for flight testing and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, where Australian operators will continue training with U.S. Navy pilots. RAAF is expected to take delivery of the aircraft in-country in 2017, according to a Boeing press release.

Photo Credit: Boeing
Social Media Data Used to Identify Russian Incursions into Ukraine
By Graham Kilmer

Researchers have used pictures and videos posted online along with satellite imagery to track the movement of Russian troops and equipment into Ukraine, according to a report by the Atlantic Council, a D.C. based think tank.

“The point is that we tap into people’s desire to share data online,” said Maks Czuperski, one of the authors of the May 28 report, “Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine.”

Most devices used for posting to the Internet embed geotags in the data, which are geographic location identifiers, Czuperski said. These geotags become an important part of locating military movements.

“They create little digital breadcrumbs all across the Internet,” Czuperski said.

Researchers could verify the images location with other pictures found online of the same location using the geotag with tools such as Google Earth and Yandex Maps, Czuperski said. Using the landscape and landmarks found in other pictures, they were able to identify to a high degree of certainty the location of images they collected, Czuperski said.

All images would be archived after they were collected, Czuperski said. If equipment or weapon systems first seen in Russia appear to pop up in Ukraine, they can go back and verify using images in the databank, he said.

In July 2014, someone drove past a military convoy in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, and took a video of  the vehicles heading west, according to the report. Within the convoy was a 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled 152 mm Howitzer system. An Al-Jazeera news crew filmed the same Msta-S system two months later in Novoazovsk, Ukraine. The team of researchers was able to identify the same hand painted cargo marking, a paint blotch on the turret, and camouflage pattern on the vehicle in both videos, according to the report. 

“These features strongly suggest… that the unit would have been transferred across the border,” the report said.

Researchers were also able to identify when Ukraine was being shelled from positions within Russia by analyzing artillery craters, said Czuperski. The trajectory of an impact can be determined by using high-resolution satellite images to examine the distinctive features of a crater, which can signify whether it was a low or high angle strike, Czuperski said.

Once established, researchers would follow the trajectory back until they found the area they believed to be the firing position for the artillery strikes, said Czuperski. The positions were usually identified by the telltale burn marks on the surrounding ground, he said.

News outlets often reported when a given location would come under fire, Czuperski said. Using that information you can determine roughly when there would have been a ground missile system at the supposed firing position, he added.

The next step involved searching through social media posts from nearby communities during that time frame, to see if there were posts or pictures related to military equipment being fired, he said.

“It takes layers of verification,” Czuperski said.

Once there are several data overlaps related to a specific event, it can be asserted with confidence that the firing position of a specific artillery strike has been identified, he said.

Map Credit: Thinkstock
Laser Weapons: Technology Evolves but Politically a Tough Sell
By Sandra I. Erwin

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus promised to unveil a new “roadmap” this fall for how the military will acquire and employ electric lasers, microwave and other directed energy weapons.

Touting the recent deployment of a laser weapon aboard a ship at sea and successful tests of an electromagnetic railgun, Mabus said the Navy is poised to “support rapid and efficient acquisition of directed energy weapons.”

That was welcome news to the standing-room-only crowd that filled a huge ballroom in Tysons Corner, Virginia, to hear Mabus and other officials talk about the future of a technology that the military has toyed with for decades and has perennially been “on the cusp” of a major breakthrough.

Champions of directed energy weapons have been galvanized by a string of technical successes in recent years, but recognize they suffer from a credibility deficit. The Navy will keep pushing to get programs funded and to turn lab projects into military-useful systems, Mabus said at the July 28 “Directed Energy Summit” organized by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

In order to graduate from science experiments to Pentagon “programs of record,” directed energy weapons will need military sponsors and greater support from Congress, Mabus said. Electric lasers and high power microwaves eventually will be used to defend ships, aircraft and ground vehicles from enemy aircraft and missiles, he said. Most significantly, these weapons could be bought at a fraction of the cost of conventional missiles and artillery rounds. An electromagnetic railgun, for instance, costs $25,000 and a laser shot consumes less than a dollar worth of fuel. By comparison, satellite and laser guided missiles cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Mabus said he is confident the military can produce a lethal 150 kilowatt laser and test it by 2018. That is a tall order as the laser weapon the Navy deployed in 2014 is a 30 kilowatt system.

While laser technology has advanced at a rapid pace, the military will continue to have difficulties packaging the electronics and installing them safely in military vehicles. The limitations of size, weight, power and cooling will be real impediments for years to come, experts said.

There are also considerable political obstacles that could keep laser weapons from transitioning from prototypes to weapons of war.

Support on Capitol Hill is “mixed,” said Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who is co-chair of the Directed Energy Caucus, a group of lawmakers that is seeking to increase awareness and support for the technology.

“It’s not the easiest thing in the world to explain what the systems are and how they create effects,” said Langevin. Most members and staffs are not ready to embrace this and are not yet sold on the benefits. “It takes time and effort to wrap their heads around the basics of the technology, let alone what the capabilities would mean for future war fighting,” he said. “That’s before you factor in the decades of directed energy being oversold and under-realized. … That’s our biggest enemy.”

Many policy makers like Langevin were once inspired by Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “Star Wars” speech when he laid out a plan to deploy lasers in space to defeat Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. Directed energy weapons had enormous promise that has yet to be fulfilled, he said. “Many people were discouraged because billions were spent and we never realized that vision.”

Today, “we’re further along. Technology is showing maturity,” he said. One day, “the capabilities will speak for themselves.” Langevin encouraged contractors to invest in directed energy research, but understands why some may be losing patience. “There has to be a programmatic light at the end of the tunnel.”

The other co-chair of the Directed Energy Caucus is Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo. He lamented that the Pentagon has spent $6 billion on these technologies and has “too little to show for it.”

The good news, he said, is that “We are at an exciting transition point. We have to push harder to get these technologies past the tipping point.” The hundreds of contractors and military officials at the conference were a friendly audience that did not need convincing, but the Pentagon has to do better at persuading skeptics to fund directed energy programs during these times of tightening military budgets.

The potential cost savings of using lasers instead of kinetic weapons could be a powerful selling point, said Lamborn. “Congress pays a lot of attention to anything that saves money.” If the military can produce a beam of directed energy of sufficient intensity to destroy or degrade a missile or shell for 50 cents worth of fuel, that could help drum up support. Naysayers in Congress are not against directed energy per se, he said. “Some members don’t see it as priority.”

Maj. Gen Tom Masiello, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, suggested that past efforts in directed energy systems failed because they were not “operationally relevant.” A chemical laser that the Air Force built in the 1990s to shoot down ballistic missiles is a case in point. Now the military is worried about defending aircraft from small drone attacks and cruise missiles, which could bolster the case to deploy electric lasers aboard fighters and cargo airplanes. AFRL is integrating a solid-state laser into a pod to be fitted in a fighter-size aircraft. The challenges are significant, however, he noted. “The technology has to be operationally relevant, it has to be affordable, there are a lot of policy issues. … We understand the effectiveness of kinetic weapons. We need analytical tools for directed energy.”

Maj. Gen. J.D. Harris Jr., vice commander of Air Force Air Combat Command, said C-130 gunships will be used as flying test platforms for laser guns. “Once we get the size weight and power they could be used for nonlethal and lethal force.”

The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer has been involved with directed energy weapons for nearly 40 years. Since the 1970s, he has heard about the “great promise of instantaneous kill and an unlimited magazine," said Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
The reality is that “there’s no magic that will allow us to go faster."

The Pentagon spends about $300 million a year on directed energy technology, said Kendall. “I can’t promise the budget is going to get bigger. But I don’t think it’s going to get smaller.” Key experiments scheduled for the next several years will be decisive, he said. “That’s about the right pace.”

Many policy issues haven't been hashed out yet, he added. “We have a series of demonstrations that will culminate in the next five to six years that will position us to move toward operational weapons,” he said. “We made a lot progress. But we’re not there yet.”

Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, recalled a conversation he had more than four decades ago with James Schlesinger, secretary of defense during the Nixon and Ford administrations, about directed energy weapons. The secretary called them “interesting toys,” Krepinevich said. The question is whether one day they will break into the mainstream, he asked. “Submarines and torpedoes were once interesting toys until they became deadly weapons during World War I.” The packed ballroom at the directed energy summit, he noted, is one sign that “people believe the time has come.”

Photo: The laser weapon system (Navy)
Researchers Study How Terror Messages Spread on Twitter

By Graham Kilmer

Researchers with backgrounds in computer and social sciences at Arizona State University have begun studying how information from terrorist organizations goes viral on social media websites.

Hasan Davulcu, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at ASU and the principal investigator of the research initiative, said the study is centered around understanding what types of information and propaganda from terror organizations go viral on social media, and how that information spreads, as well as the ideological tendencies of groups who participate in the spread of terror social media.


“We need to develop better tools to detect extremist networks promoting violence and block their online content,” Davulcu said.


Terror groups like ISIS target those who feel alienated and marginalized within the society they live in, Davulcu said. They rarely are able to recruit entire groups, especially in Western countries, he added.

Research shows that alienated individuals are more likely to fall prey to images than traditional forms of propaganda, said Davulcu. “They are more likely to grab viewers' attention, are more easily processed, more believable, evoke greater emotion, and remain more salient in viewers' minds,” he said.


The researchers have identified two sets of factors that pull and push individuals into ideological alignment with ISIS, Davulcu said.


ISIS has crafted a narrative in its media that portrays the caliphate as a utopia where Sharia law results in a perfectly fair society, Davulcu said. It espouses the notion that poverty and inequality do not exist under its rule, and creates an allure that pulls recruits to its territories, he said.


It also releases a lot of information over social media with anti-Western sentiment, he added. The call to fight the “oppressor” pushes recruits into the organization, he said. “There’s no silver bullet for countering someone’s message,” said Davulcu.


Responding to and countering ISIS propaganda online will require the dissemination of information showing the inconsistencies in its rhetoric to communities and individuals who may be targeted by ISIS propaganda, he said.

“First we need to understand terrorist recruitment activity online,” Davulcu said.


The study will focus primarily on information cascades,“wherein large numbers of individuals participate to spread information and opinions across the globe, often times producing significant changes in attitudes and behaviors,” Davulcu said. Understanding how these cascades happen is important to understanding the methods used by terror organizations for recruiting individuals through social media, Davulcu said.


Paolo Shakarian, an assistant professor in the school of computing, informatics and decision systems engineering at ASU said, when looking at tweets that reached 50 recipients, less that 2 percent of those tweets end up going on to reach another 500 recipients. The community structure matters in terms of the proliferation of information on social media, he said. If a tweet can reach 50 individuals with diverse backgrounds, then it is more likely to spread.


Messages released on social media require an intermediary, Shakarian said. If users have no form of contact, there will be no information sharing between them, he said. The research is aimed at ultimately understanding who the global message of ISIS resonates with and how, said Davulcu.


“We’re trying to understand the relationship between the online and the offline world,” he said.


The researchers have algorithms to track political online discourse in Malaysia, Indonesia and the United Kingdom, and are working on one for Libya, Davulcu said. Researchers specializing in social sciences identified key ideological variables that will help identify persons susceptible to extremist and violent propaganda, he said.


A characteristic they are paying close attention to is diversity tolerance versus diversity intolerance, said Davulcu. Researchers have discovered that ideologies that are intolerant to diversity are exceptionally prone to violence, said Davulcu.


They are also studying the spectrum of religious beliefs, and the differences between individuals or groups who believe religious texts to be literal truths and those who are more open for debate and interpretation. Individuals who believe in religious text as being literal will never engage in a dialogue about ideas opposed to their beliefs, said Davulcu.

Other important factors for how audiences respond to terror propaganda on social media depends on what the ideological messages they proliferate aim to change, whether it be political, economic, social orreligious constructs, said Davulcu. Also, whether they believe violence is ever an acceptable avenue for change, he added.


The ISIS message enters communities around the world in different ways, Davulcu said. In Indonesia, radical groups have begun to preach and recruit since citizens have gained more political freedoms such as free speech and assembly, he said. After the jailing of Indonesian extremist leader Abu Bakar Bashir, he pledged an oath to ISIS, and hundreds of his followers followed suit, said Davulcu.


Photo: ISIS flag (Wikipedia)






Study: Contractor Protests Have Negligible Impact on Defense Acquisitions
By Sandra I. Erwin

Defense contractor protests draw disproportionate media attention even though most of them get resolved relatively quickly without causing major disruptions to military procurement programs.

That is one of the takeaways from a new study by the Congressional Research Service that analyzes trends in bid protests filed with the Government Accountability Office.

CRS defense acquisition specialist Moshe Schwartz and legislative attorney Kate Manuel took a deep dive into bid protest trends across the federal government in response to growing congressional interest in the subject. In recent years, lawmakers have become alarmed by blaring headlines about high-profile contractor protests, prompting both the House and Senate in their respective versions of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to direct the Pentagon to commission an independent study of bid protests.

Schwartz and Manuel crunched bid protest data from fiscal year 2001 to 2014. In their July 21 report, they find that while the number of bid protests is growing against civilian agencies, Defense Department contracts are now less likely to be protested and, when challenged, are less likely to be ruled by GAO in favor of contractors than is the case with civilian agency contracts. They note that protests against civilian agencies are increasing at a faster rate than protests against Defense.

Under federal law and regulations, contractors can challenge an agency award decision if they believe that the solicitation or the award was unlawful. GAO can dismiss, deny or sustain a protest. Congress requires GAO to resolve disputes within 100 calendar days of the protest being filed. GAO said protests in 2014 were resolved on average within 39 days.

Protests against the Defense Department over the 13-year period studied by CRS have not been detrimental to acquisitions programs, the data shows.

While the number of bid protest cases against the Defense Department increased from 600 in 2001 to 1,200 in 2014, most were dismissed, withdrawn by the protester or negotiated before GAO issued an opinion. GAO issued rulings in only 23 percent of them. In those cases, GAO sustained 11 percent of the protests. During that period, an average of 4 percent of protests filed against Defense received a favorable ruling by GAO.

Over the past four years, the number of protests filed with GAO has been constant — 2,206 in fiscal year 2011 compared to 2,269 in 2014. Most were dismissed, withdrawn by the protester or settled before GAO issued an opinion.

Protesters face tough odds. In recent years, the percentage of protests won by contractors against the Defense Department has dropped by more than half. From 2001 to 2008, GAO sustained an average of 5 percent. From 2009 to 2014, GAO sustained about 2 percent of all protests filed. In 2014, 13 percent of protests were sustained, the lowest rate since 2001. And even when GAO sustains a protest, the company is not guaranteed to win the contract in question.

CRS analysts found that Defense Department procurements are less likely to be protested than those of the rest of the government. From 2008 to 2014, DoD accounted for almost 70 percent of all government contracts but just 55 percent of total protests against the federal government.

Also, protests against DoD are sustained at a lower rate than the rest of the government. From 2008 to 2014, 2.5 percent of protests against DoD were ruled in favor of contractors, compared to 5 percent of protests against civilian agencies. Protests against civilian agencies are growing at a faster rate than those against Defense.

When defense programs are delayed, protests themselves are not the reason, the study said. The impact a protest could have on a program’s schedule mostly occurs outside the 100-day period. Agency actions to address the complaint can delay contract awards for weeks or months. The Navy’s next generation jammer development contract, for instance, was delayed by six months when GAO sustained a protest and recommended the Navy reevaluate proposals.

Even though most protesters lose in GAO rulings, contractors frequently benefit from filing a complaint as contracting agencies may voluntarily act to correct the allegation charged in the protest.

The increasing willingness of agencies to voluntarily take corrective action is one of the most significant trends in bid protests, the study said. Actions include rewriting contract requirements or amend request for proposals. In cases when they believe the procurement was done properly, some agencies still agree to meet with the protesting party to clarify why it lost.

Greater efforts to negotiate disputes have increased the so-called “effectiveness rate” of bid protests. That is the percentage of protesters that obtain relief either through a protest being sustained or voluntary action taken by an agency. From 2001 to 2014, the effectiveness rate of GAO protests grew from 33 to 43 percent. It has averaged 42 percent over that past five years. The relatively large share of protests that are resolved via settlement is a significant trend, the study said.

One possible explanation for the higher effectiveness rate is the unpredictable nature of GAO opinions. Agencies tend to voluntarily take corrective actions rather than wait for GAO to sustain a protest.

Another way to read this, CRS noted, is that corrective action reflects agency risk aversion and fear of losing a protest. In this context, the high likelihood of protests being resolved through voluntary actions encourages companies to file protests. Under this line of thinking, if agencies allowed more cases to be decided on the merits, companies might be less inclined to file protests.

The ups and down of government spending also influence the rate of protests as contractors are more motivated to challenge awards when they see fewer opportunities. When federal spending was on an upswing from 2001 to 2008 — spending grew 100 percent — protests increased by 35 percent. The trend reversed from 2008 to 2014 when government spending dropped by 25 percent and protests increased by 45 percent.

CRS noted that the data that GAO provides to Congress over-represents the number of procurements protested. When more than one protest is filed in connection to a single procurement, each protest is counted separately.  In 2014, GAO processed 2,269 filings but only 2,135 procurements were protested.

The study also delved into the psychological warfare between agencies and contractors.

Federal procurement officials’ aversion to protests drives behavior that may or may not benefit contractors. The prospect of companies filing a protest influences agency behavior in ways that affect contractors sometimes positively but also negatively.
The threat of protests may motivate agency officials to do more rigorous market research, hold a competition instead of awarding a sole-source contract, or conduct more thorough and fair competitions. But fear of protests also could prompt officials to structure contracts in ways that are less likely to be protested, such as using “lowest price technically acceptable” as award criteria, instead of a best-value competition when best value may be more appropriate. 

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

ISIS Gaining Support in U.S. Through Social Media Propaganda
By Taylor Feuss

Tweet from ISIS fighter

Islamist terrorist groups, such as ISIS, are becoming better at recruiting Americans through the use of social media, experts said at a recent panel discussion.

Islamist terror plots against the West have risen from 19 in 2014, to 33 thus far this year. Some plotters have never visited radicalized areas and are instead recruited online and through social media propaganda, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said July 22 at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

“Gone are the days of Bin Laden, where extremists plotted through curriers and caves. We are now seeing a new generation of terrorists, radicalizing and recruiting online across borders,” he said. “We are losing on the home front … groups like ISIS have started to permeate our society with terrifying speed. There are people right here in our country intent on striking from within.”

Alleged ISIS supporters like Alexander Ciccolo, who was arrested near Boston July 4 after purchasing materials to make pressure cooker bombs, and Justin Nolan of North Carolina, who was arrested June 19 for plotting a large terror attack, are just a few of the Americans acting in the name of ISIS, according to a statement from the majority staff of the House Homeland Security Committee.

ISIS followers have been arrested in at least 19 states, prompting FBI Director James Comey to open investigations in all 50 states, the committee stated.

With more than 200,000 ISIS tweets daily, through secure communication applications known as “dark space,” intelligence officials struggle to handle the situation, he said. “Sadly, while extremist recruiters are moving at broadband speed, we are moving at bureaucratic speed.”

McCaul said: “This isn’t terror as usual, this is terror gone viral. They communicate in darkness and we can’t shine a light on that darkness.” Laws and policy haven’t kept pace and few resources are dedicated to combating and preventing radicalization, he added.

Many call for a more proactive approach in identifying radicalization early on in attempt to stop it. “A lot of these guys have a lot of flags going up before they kill people. If we can identify those flags beforehand and de-radicalize [them] that would be very helpful,” McCaul said.

“I will not stand on the sidelines asking for more reports and studies while terrorists plot inside our communities, murder our people, murder our military, kill our U.S. Marines and servicemen and seek to divide our nation,” he said.

David Inserra, a homeland security and cybersecurity policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said it’s “critical” that the U.S. be more proactive in combating terrorism rather than treating it like a crime punishable after the fact.

“Terrorists are happy to — and sometimes even want to — die in pursuit of their goal … [and] criminal punishment after the fact is not an effective deterrent,” he said. “Law enforcement needs to have the lawful intelligence tools … to put together the intelligence dots and to make sure that the public is never put in danger. We have to improve the way that the U.S. goes about countering violent extremism to make sure that we are preventing individuals from radicalizing to begin with.”

However, identifying potential American-born threats over social media enters a gray area, as not everyone who posts radical opinions plans to act violently, said Kenneth Rapuano, advanced systems policy director at MITRE Corp.

“We have a Constitution that protects free speech [and] free thinking,” he said. “Holding radical views doesn’t necessarily progress to violent extremism. We see a lot of people who are highly disenchanted who have very extreme thoughts but most of them don’t evolve into violent extremists.”

Previous attempts to identify members of American-Muslim communities who may be prone to radicalization has resulted in the alienation of those communities, “cultivating a sense of paranoia and persecution,” Rapuano said.

It’s important to not antagonize and alienate the majority of the populations that don’t hold extremist views, or at least don’t act on them, he added.

McCaul promoted the creation of a counter narrative to offset ISIS propaganda spread to American citizens via social media, to expose the brutality and “naked tyranny” of life under Islamist terrorist groups.

“Recruits will realize that they are headed to a prison instead of communal paradise. They need to know if you go to Syria, it’s not Disneyland. You’re going to get put on the front lines, [and] probably blown up. Your wife and kids will be taken away,” he said. “The strategy should draw on all elements of American power to promote liberty and human dignity as a great alternative to oppression fear and terror.”

Rapuano agreed that counter narratives should be used to deal with the radical ideology of Islamist terrorist groups, however it enters a “very dangerous space” when trying to produce a counter narrative against what some perceive as a “conservative interpretation of their theology.”

“We’ve got this great majority of a population that are prize citizens of their countries and we don’t want to create more alienation. That’s the piece that we’ve wrestled with and not done a very good job,” he said.

Photo Credit: iBrabo

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