By Jon Harper and Allyson Versprille
BAE Systems' offering for ACV 1.1
The Marine Corps on Nov. 24 chose BAE Systems and SAIC to build 32 prototypes of a new fighting vehicle designed to replace its fleet of aging amphibious assault vehicles.
They were two of five competitors on the amphibious combat vehicle program. Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics Land Systems and Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems did not make the cut on the engineering development and manufacturing (EMD) phase.
The $1.2 billion program aims to build 204 vehicles. BAE’s EMD contract is worth $103.8 million and SAIC’s is for $121.5 million, a Marine Corps statement said. Marine Corps documents call for the two winners to provide 13 vehicles each, with an option for an additional three each depending on future funding.
This is the Marine Corps’ third attempt to replace the aging amphibious assault vehicle. The service ultimately wants vehicles that can be launched from beyond the horizon, swim at high speed toward a landing area, then continue to fight on land with enough armor to protect them from such weapons as roadside bombs.
This wish list has proven to be a technological bridge too far, so the service decided on an incremental approach with ACV 1.1 featuring some of the desired capabilities, and other more challenging requirements tackled later.
Col. Rodger Turner, director of the capabilities development directorate for the Marine Corps, said in a press conference prior to the announcement that the ACV 1.1 "will allow us to be lethal, mobile, expeditionary and it provides MRAP-level protection to the forces, which is a key attribute of the future operating environment, or even the current operating environment."
The testing phase for the ACV 1.1 will inform requirements for the ACV 1.2, he said. The ACV 1.1 is expected to have the same swimming capability as the legacy amphibious assault vehicles and also be capable of being transportable by connectors. The AAV travels in water at a little over 8 mph.
The Marines expect the first delivery by the fall of 2016, with a 24 to 30 month period when Marines will put the prototypes through operational tests. The final winner for low rate initial production will be decided in late spring or early summer 2018, with initial operating capability expected in 2020, Marine Corps officials said.
Deepak Bazaz, director of new and amphibious vehicles at BAE Systems, in a statement said: “Our vehicle was designed to be fully amphibious with exceptional ground mobility and protection. Our ACV solution will provide the Marine Corps with a mature, cost-effective solution with significant growth capacity.”
BAE is partnering with IVECO Defence Vehicles of Turin, Italy, which has manufactured some 30,000 armored military vehicles. The BAE prototypes will be built “from the ground up,” the statement said, and can carry a crew of three and 13 troops.
James Hasik, a senior fellow for defense at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security said: "Both winners are working with highly mature foreign designs. The decision "makes a heck of a lot of sense for the Marine Corps. They're going to get something that works and they're going to be highly assured that it is going to work."
He said the win would be a boon for both SAIC and BAE.
"BAE could definitely use the work," he noted.
Executives at SAIC, which is more often considered a services company, "probably were very strategic about figuring out where they wanted to bid to be a system integrator." They were most likely looking for a program where they would be believable and convincing as a prime contractor, he said. "And they have found it."
"The folks that probably are most discomfited by the decision would be Lockheed Martin," he said. "They have had … big aspirations to get into the armored ground vehicle business." The joint light tactical vehicle seems to have not worked out although the protest is spending, and now this hasn't panned out for them, he said.
"They are having a problem entering into a market that has excess capacity in which multiple companies have a reputation for quality products," which can be really hard, Hasik said. "They may think twice about this and decide that helicopters are more profitable."
Testing of the swim capabilities for the vehicles will occur at the Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch in Southern California, said John Garner, program manager for advanced amphibious assault. Other facilities at Aberdeen, Maryland, Yuma, Arizona, and the Nevada Automotive Test Center will also be used during that phase.
In testing, "We're going to focus on the swim capability. We will do blast testing so we clearly have to demonstrate the protect capability." Ground mobility and carry capabilities will also be tested. Each of those four factors were treated with equal importance in the ACV 1.1 selection, he said.
However, in addition to those four factors, the Marine Corps identified other requirements that companies could work toward, which would act as "extra credit,” Garner said. "Those emphasis areas were weighted toward the amphibious capability of the vehicle because there are some very capable ground vehicles out there, but fundamentally this vehicle has to be an amphibious vehicle," he noted. "That's what makes it different from other vehicles that are currently fielded of this type."
Meanwhile, the Corps will be looking at the 1.2 version, which can be launched and recovered from ships independently and a 1.3 version that can reach higher water speeds.
The Marine Corps plans to buy 490 of the second iteration, which would include a mix of personnel, command-and-control and recovery variants, the officials said.
Photo Credit: BAE Systems
By Sandra I. Erwin
Few Washington policy makers truly understand how the Pentagon develops and acquires weapon systems, and they tend to throw barbs at the Defense Department based on innuendo rather than hard data, said Air Force Assistant Secretary William LaPlante, who leaves office this week after three years as the service’s top weapons buyer.
“That’s what surprised me when I got into this job,” he told reporters Nov. 24.
There is an abundance of data that show a sharp drop in cost overruns and improved performance in Air Force big-ticket programs in recent years, but the widespread conviction on Capitol Hill and among the general public is that military procurement is broken. LaPlante believes there is a wide gap between perception and reality, and that has been a constant source of frustration. He announced last week he would leave his post to join The Mitre Corporation. He had planned to leave sooner, over this summer, but decided to stick around until the completion of the contract award for the Air Force long-range strike bomber, the service’s largest procurement in decades. Richard Lombardi, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, is expected to take over as acting assistant secretary.
“The situation in Air Force acquisition is pretty good right now,” LaPlante said. “Our net costs continue to come down. I have all the data.”
Naysayers can always choose to ignore the data, which is the reason why many lawmakers and analysts do not give the Pentagon credit for recent improvements, LaPlante said. The conventional wisdom that has taken hold stems from past embarrassments such the failed refueling tanker procurement in the early 2000s and a grossly over-budget logistics system that the Air Force terminated after a wasting a billion dollars. To say acquisition is broken is in vogue, but “maybe that was true 10 years ago.”
The tanker controversy still lingers in the air after all these years. “They assume it’s happening all over the place. But you can’t look at the highlights to know who won the game. You have to look at the holistic picture. And that’s not being done,” LaPlante insisted. “As people understand it more, you notice some of the rhetoric changes.”
The international arms market speaks volumes about the performance of U.S. weapon systems, LaPlante added. If Pentagon procurement were broken as critics contend, and “if it is the case that we can’t build anything, why are they screaming for American equipment overseas?”
While LaPlante defended the performance of major Air Force programs, he acknowledged that many systems are behind schedule, and that is not necessarily bad news. “Everyone tells you time is money,” but that is not always true in military procurements, he said. “In most programs you can push cost, schedule and performance but you probably are going to have to pick two out of three.”
A case in point is a new smart munition, called the “small diameter bomb” or SDB II, that the Air Force is buying from Raytheon under a fixed-price contract. The target price was $180,000 per weapon but the company produced it for $117,000 per unit. Because additional development to fix problems and testing was required, the program fell 18 months behind schedule. “The performance now is outstanding,” said LaPlante. “They still came in under price even with the delay.” How did that happen? During the 18-month lag, Raytheon reassigned its engineers to work on other projects rather than keeping an idle “standing army” that adds cost to the program.
Programs generally tend to be late, he said. “I don’t think we have a mechanism to encourage the system to go faster.” The law requires the Pentagon to produce “independent cost estimates” for each major program, and “everybody is incentivized to beat it. We don’t have anything like that on schedule.” Shortening schedules would be hard to do because of how the Pentagon works. “If I go faster, somebody has to find more money earlier to move it up. Programmers are always trying to balance things. They say, ‘If you go faster I don’t know where you get the money.’” Air Force leaders have launched a new experiment to speed up schedules, but it is too early to predict results.
LaPlante delivered the following parting shots on some of the Air Force's key programs:
Long-Range Strike Bomber. “I feel confident” that the Air Force will prevail in an ongoing protest lodged by Boeing and Lockheed Martin that challenges the award made to Northrop Grumman. “I feel good about the program,” he said. “It’s not perfect. The challenge will be in the integration” of multiple technologies, he said. “We’ve been humming on all cylinders. After my departure, I have no concerns.”
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Air Force is scheduled to declare its F-35A variant operational next summer. “It will happen,” said LaPlante. “Every year there’s a surprise with F-35, there’s always something — the engine, the helmet,” that is just the nature of this program. “The real challenge,” he believes, will be logistics support. There are 150 aircraft in the fleet today. There will be 1,000 in four years. “That is the challenge: the global sustainment, maintainers, training.”
JSTARS Recapitalization. The Air Force wants to replace its aging fleet of joint surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, known as JSTARS. But LaPlante warned the program faces an uncertain future. “There is still a debate in the building, outside the Air Force, on whether we do this or do something else,” he said. Senior defense planners are questioning why the Air Force should spend billions of dollars on JSTARS when there are other platforms, like the Global Hawk high-altitude drone, that could do aerial surveillance. “The requirement is where all the debate has been,” he said. “This discussion has been going on for years. These debates keep happening in a tough budget environment.”
Global Positioning System. The next-generation GPS III operational control system known as OCX has been in trouble for some time and it’s not getting any better. “OCX is going badly,” said LaPlante, declining to elaborate. According to the Government Accountability Office, the program needs $1.1 billion and four years more than planned to deliver “due to poor acquisition decisions and a slow recognition of development problems.”
Space Launch. The Air Force is in a bind following the shocking announcement that the military’s sole provider of sensitive satellite launch services United Launch Alliance will bow out of an upcoming competition to put GPS III spacecraft in orbit. ULA said it could not compete unless it received a waiver to circumvent a congressional requirement that bans the company from using Russian-made RD-180 engines in its rockets. ULA dropping out would leave startup SpaceX as the only viable competitor. LaPlante suggested that the waiver might be necessary. “You can get competition, two independent ways to get to space, or get off the Russian engines. I don’t think how you get all three in the next four years,” he said. “We’ve explained this over and over in congressional hearings. The space launch situation is serious.”
Photo: William LaPlante speaks at the Air Force Association annual symposium (AIR FORCE)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Gen. David Perkins
HALIFAX, Canada — As the Army takes advantage of advancements in artificial intelligence, automation and biotechnology, it must keep ethics at the forefront, said the commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
“The first thing we focus on with regards to any capability we give our soldiers … starts actually when they come to basic training,” said Gen. David Perkins. “We give classes on what we call the Army profession and values before they ever go to the rifle range.”
Whether it is artificial intelligence, neuro-prosthetics or unmanned systems, these new technologies “are a way to reduce collateral damage because we can discriminate much better,” he said during a panel discussion at the Halifax International Security Forum Nov. 22.
Neuro-prosthetics are brain implants that can potentially improve the performance of a soldier, said Annie Jacobsen, an investigative journalist and author of “The Pentagon’s Brain,” a book about work being done at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
“DoD has been involved in this area, biotechnology, for 25 years. So the people I think are behind the curve and DoD is way ahead of the curve particularly with DARPA,” she said. Brain implants could enable faster reaction times for soldiers, or could help troops recognize targets from satellite photos, she said.
Perkins said he was on board with such technology, but noted that it was all about how it is used. “Quite honestly I’m less interested in putting a chip in their brain than I am making sure the soldier doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder,” he said. “There are lots of ways to improve their cognitive capability. We have a performance triad which is nutrition, exercise, sleep. Those things have nothing to do with microprocessors.”
In its 2015 Human Dimension Strategy, the Army said it wants to optimize the human performance of every soldier and Army civilian in the total force. “Emerging advances in science and technology provide the Army the opportunity to improve training, education, leader development and talent management in pursuit of optimal performance,” the strategy said.
It focuses on three aspects: how to have cognitive dominance; how the institution of the Army deals with the human dimension; and how it trains for it.
On the automation side, the military is investing heavily in unmanned systems but there are no plans to take humans out of the loop, Perkins said. In terms of morality and ethics, “the weapon systems is not going to have the values [a soldier has] and all those kind of things, but that’s why the person employing and using it has to have it.”
“There are comments [that say], ‘Well, if you have autonomous operations or robots there are moral or ethical issues involved with that.’ There are moral and ethical issues involved with using a bayonet. So the moral and ethical issues have nothing to do with the technology quite honestly,” he said.
A soldier could easily cause another harm irresponsibly with a bayonet, he added.
Photo Credit: Halifax International Security Forum
By Sandra I. Erwin
Small teams of U.S. Army soldiers can be found across Africa on any given day teaching local militaries how to become professional fighting forces.
American special operations forces for decades have trained African militaries but only recently has the conventional “Big Army” made it part of its regular duties. Army leaders are championing these efforts as an important piece of the U.S. strategy to fight the “long war” against Islamic extremists. For the Army, it also is an opportunity to carve out a niche at a time when the United States has little appetite for “boots on the ground” and Pentagon budget cuts are prompting a debate about the size and shape of the armed services.
The Army over the past two years has rotated teams in and out of Africa from three different brigades for the mission known as “building partner capacity.” It is part of a broader initiative the Army started in 2013 to “align” combat brigades with major regional commands. The intent is to sharpen the skills of Army combat units to make them more responsive to unpredictable crises and more culturally attuned to areas of the world where security is fragile.
U.S. soldiers in Africa who train local militaries “have done a great job preparing themselves and understanding the environment before they head over there,” said Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command, based in Stuttgart, Germany. The program so far is “working very well,” he told reporters last week at a breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C.
The task is daunting on many levels. The continent is huge, with 54 countries and territory nearly three times the size of the United States. The security threats are growing and becoming increasingly treacherous, as Islamic extremist groups have sprouted in different regions. A deadly attack in Mali last week was attributed to a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. Another al-Qaida affiliate based in Somalia, Al Shabaab, has wreaked havoc in eastern Africa. Nigeria’s homegrown Islamic State offshoot Boko Haram terrorizes the west. The group was named the world's most deadly extremist organization by the Global Terrorism Index. “They run neck and neck with ISIS with the horrific attacks and kidnappings,” Rodriguez said. Worsening the situation is the collapse of Libya which has turned the country into an ISIS hotbed and staging base to get into Europe, and militants continue to pour in from the Middle East.
The challenge for the United States in Africa is not only to build resilient national forces that can combat these groups but also to collaborate with civilian law enforcement, Rodriguez said. “These networks are criminal networks. They can move anything, drugs, fuel, technology, equipment, skills. We are concerned about that throughout the region.”
Big Army is taking on a role that historically has been owned by Green Berets. Rodriguez cautioned that the depth and breadth of skills differ between conventional and special operations forces, but they all contribute to “grow capacity.” Army Special Forces, for instance, specialize in training battalion-level organizations whereas the conventional Army has focused on small units.
Army effort to train forces in Africa is a “good microcosm of the U.S. strategy writ large of working through partners,” said Joshua Meservey, Africa and Middle East policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
It is still too early to predict whether this program will succeed, Meservey said. The effort is worthwhile, though, he added. “To really build a competent force is a long-term project."
For American soldiers, the mission in Africa is a refreshing and welcome change from Middle East and Afghanistan deployments, said Army Col. Barry “Chip” Daniels, commander of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. The brigade was assigned to support Africa Command from January through September. Of the brigade’s 4,500 troops based in Fort Bliss, Texas, as many as 1,100 were deployed in Africa at one time, Daniels said during a meeting with reporters last week at the Pentagon.
“We did theater security cooperation across the continent. About 100 missions in 26 countries,” he said.
These engagements are nothing like the standard Army brigade deployment, Daniels said. For one, the teams bring a much lighter footprint than what the Army is accustomed to. Only one battalion of about 800 soldiers was in Djibouti for the entire nine-month tour. The rest of the brigade stayed back at Fort Bliss. “We would rotate small teams of three to 130 people to conduct theater security cooperation and exercises,” he explained. “They may go for a week to four months.”
With so many teams moving back and forth, “We developed expertise as travel agents,” Daniels said, making a point that the logistical hurdles of traveling in Africa are tougher than most Americans could imagine.
The brigade participated in four major military exercises with African and European nations that have far more experience and knowledge of the continent than their U.S. counterparts.
“Soldiers enjoyed this mission for the most part because it was very different than what the Army has been doing,” said Daniels. American troops there are not providing security but training others to “export” security. Countries want trained troops to participate in UN peacekeeping operations or to join the African Union's new 25,000-strong multinational force that is gearing up to combat terrorist groups.
“We were helping the Africans build the capacity they need,” Daniels said. Compared to forces in the Middle East that “consume” security, he noted, militaries in Africa are motivated to do the work. “These are countries that are exporting security, genuinely interested in stabilizing their own back yard. Seeing that level of motivation was inspiring. Even our junior soldiers picked up on it.”
Some nations’ forces obviously are better than others, Daniels said. “We were particularly impressed with the Ugandans. They are serious about securing East Africa through a regional approach.” The armies of Cameroon, Ethiopia and Rwanda also were impressive, he said. “They have a genuine desire to become more professionalized and serve as stabilizing forces.”
U.S. officials wanted to avoid the pitfalls of past attempts to train foreign troops. Many efforts failed because local forces could not sustain the program after the American trainers left. The Army wants to make sure that trainees can replicate what they learned on their own and within their financial means.
Mentoring Africans has been a learning experience for U.S. soldiers, Daniels said. “Zambians were teaching us how to build huts with grass and sticks,” he said. “We were pretty rudimentary and expeditionary which is probably the right way to go. We want to leave them with a capability that they can continue to do on their own. We didn’t want to take in a lot of our high-tech large footprint type equipment and then take it all back when we leave.”
One of the most demanding tasks is to set up communications systems that everyone can share, Daniels said. The Army decided to not bring its expensive communications systems and instead use what the Africans use, mostly high-frequency radios.
American commanders have been surprised that the top request from African countries is for training in logistics and medical services, more so than for “trigger pulling” skills. Daniels said. “They were focused on sustainment.”
One lesson from these deployments is that U.S. soldiers do not necessarily require language training to work with African forces. “There is a lot of emphasis in the Army on language training,” Daniels said. “In hindsight I wouldn’t do that, and instead put more emphasis on cross cultural training. Enough of them are English speaking that it wasn’t a problem.”
On whether the program is accomplishing the intended results, it is too soon to tell, Daniels said. Some of his initial observations are positive. “Things are beginning to stabilize in east Africa,” he said. “Al Shabaab is losing territory, even though it still has the capability to launch attacks.” In western Africa, it is “encouraging to see countries come together to deal with Boko Haram which originally was seen as a Nigerian problem.” Cameroon, Benin and Chad are “coming together in a regional approach. Boko Haram is losing access to safe havens. They can still attack, but in the long term they may begin to lose credibility in their narrative.”
The United States has to take the long view, said Daniels. “We tend to want results right away. It’ll take a long time to assess how effective this model can be. But I just think it’s got to be cheaper and more efficient than some of the things we’ve found ourselves doing in the last several years.”
The 3rd Brigade in October was replaced by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division. The Army is setting up a “lessons learned” process so units can pick up where the other left off. “We need to assess if this is working,” he said. “Is this preventing the outbreak of conflict? Containing extremist threats? We need to assess this over three to five years.”
The cost of this mission, Daniels said, will be a “better investment than putting a large force on the ground once hostilities spill over. You end up with a western force in a part of the world that is not western, trying to convince people of a narrative.” A better way is to “enable Africans to secure their own part of the world using their own narrative. Time will tell.”
Meservey, of the Heritage Foundation, noted that the U.S. military has a mixed track record building African forces. A military officer trained by the United States led a coup d’etat in Mali in 2012 that overthrew a democratically elected government. “Clearly he hadn’t internalized the lessons the U.S. Army tries to teach their counterparts about respect for civilian rule. That makes people wonder about U.S. training programs.” Conversely, in Burundi, on the heels of a turbulent political crisis, the country’s U.S. trained army has been even handed and has remained largely impartial, said Meservey. “They have behaved with professionalism so far.” These successes, however, “have received less attention.”
The U.S. Army appears to be trying to cement its role in Africa, he said. “No doubt, the Army is ramping up their engagement on the continent. There are about 2,000 soldiers in Africa at any given time,” Meservey added. “But I don’t think they’ll ever replace Special Forces” who have more experience working in the region and excel at low-footprint counterterrorism training.
The Army has to be patient, he cautioned. “It’s a long, difficult process to build a national army.” It is somewhat encouraging that African armies are focused on logistics training, Meservey said. “To field a professional military, you have to have a very professional logistics operation, especially if you want a sustained presence in an area. It’ is a critical part of building a professional military, and it’s very difficult.”
Playing in favor of the U.S. mission in Africa is that host countries have welcomed the United States, AFRICOM chief Rodriguez said. When the Bush administration created U.S. Africa Command in 2007, the reaction was mostly unfavorable. Rodriguez said there is no desire to establish a permanent command headquarters on the continent, and countries prefer a rotational approach with trainers coming in to work with local militaries. “I don’t detect too many places that have a negative perception of what we’re doing,” he said. “They welcome our help.”
Photo: U.S. soldiers participate in a U.S. Africa Command-sponsored exercise (U.S. ARMY AFRICA)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
HALIFAX, Canada — The United States must come to grips with a new security environment as surging powers like Russia and China challenge American power, said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work.
“Great power competition has returned,” he said Nov. 20 during a panel discussion at the Halifax International Security Forum.
“Russia is now a resurgent great power and I would argue that its long term prospects are unclear. China is a rising great power. Well, that requires us to start thinking more globally and more in terms of competition than we have in the past 25 years,” Work said
During the 1990s and the early 2000s, the United States enjoyed a period of dominance that gave it an “enormous freedom of action,” Work said. “I would argue that over that period of time … our strategic muscles atrophied.”
Work defined a great power as one that can engage with conventional forces and that has a nuclear deterrent that can survive a first strike.
Both Russia and China are challenging the order that has been prevalent since the end of World War II, he said. The United States will have to compete and cooperate with them.
“I believe what is happening in the United States is we’re now trying to rebuild up our strategic muscles and to rethink in terms of global competitions and I believe the next 25 years will see a lot of give and take between the great powers,” he said.
The United States’ strategy to deal with Russia is “strong but balanced,” he said. The United States must respond, though not necessarily militarily, to Russia’s incursions. The United States must also “build up ... [the] resilience of our allies and partners so that they can respond to aggression from Russia.”
“Whenever great powers can cooperate on big problems good things can happen. The Russians help immeasurably in getting the deal with Iran to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Russia since the late 1990s has built up its military extensively, Work said. “The Russians decided in the late ‘90s that the way their path back to being a great power was to a put lot of money into their military capabilities. And between 1999 and about 2009, primarily because of the oil prices and their being able to divert a lot of money into their military power, they were able to rebuild a lot of the pieces.”
He said that the Pentagon is not overhyping the threat posed by Russia. Up until 2010 the Defense Department believed that Russia would want to have a better relationship with the West but “that clearly is no longer the case right now,” he said.
Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of the military committee at NATO, said Russia’s aggression is already resulting in some NATO member countries investing more heavily in their militaries, he told National Defense during a private meeting at the forum.
During last year’s NATO Summit in Wales, leaders launched an effort known as the defense investment plan that sought to reverse a trend of declining military budgets. NATO nations agreed to bolster their spending over the next decade.
“Several countries have already reversed the trend to growing budgets. Several countries have already achieved ... 2 percent GDP and several allies are still struggling with their budgets, but overall in NATO the trend has been reversed for growth,” he said. “Of course Russian annexation of Crimea [is] speeding up the process.”
Pavel declined to say which countries have increased their spending, but said that 12 nations are expected to raise their defense budget this year. NATO nations have a goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. Only five countries — the United States, Great Britain, Poland, Greece and Estonia — have reached that target.
Still that metric might not always tell the full story, he said. Germany investing 1 percent of its GDP toward defense would make a larger difference then if the Czech Republic did.
Threats from the Islamic State are also fueling increased spending by NATO countries, he said.
"Threats from ISIL and especially recent events will have certainly an impact on the nations' spending on security both external and internal," he said. "Many nations especially in Europe will have to spend more on border protection, internal security, police forces [and] intelligence."
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Adm. Harry Harris
HALIFAX, Canada — The United States continues efforts to improve its relationship with China, but it is proceeding cautiously, leaders said Nov. 21.
“I do not believe that conflict with China is inevitable,” said Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command. “The U.S. and China must move forward with our relationship deliberately and with an eye on the long term.”
Tensions have been increasing rapidly in the Asia-Pacific region since China began developing man-made islands in disputed territory in the South China Sea, Harris said in remarks at the Halifax International Security Forum. .
“Longtime U.S. policy is clear, that we don’t take sides on disputes over sovereignty. That said, we’re also clear about our strong stance that all claims be based on international laws,” he said. He called China’s efforts to build these islands the “Great Wall of Sand.”
Harris said no one should be surprised that at U.S. Navy vessel was near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea recently.
“The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international allows. The South China Sea is not and will not be an exception,” he said. “No one should be surprised by these operations, we’ve done them before in the South China Sea and we’ll do them again.”
China must follow the same rules as everyone else, he added.
“There’s one global standard for freedom of navigation, not a double standard when China can fly, sail and operate whenever international laws allows while other nations cannot. International seas and airspace belong to everyone and are not the dominion of any single nation,” he said.
He noted that U.S. operations in the regions shouldn’t be considered a threat.
Harris said the United States’ shift to the Asia-Pacific region comes at the right time. He referenced a quote by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky who said: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
“President Obama skated to where the puck is going to be by initiating America’s strategic rebalance to this vital region,” he said.
U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific are carefully watching the relationship between the United States and China, he said.
“I believe that the U.S.-China relationship is more constructive than destructive,” he said. The “areas where the U.S. and China work together don’t get as much press as those areas where we disagree.”
For example, China and the United States both want to find a peaceful way to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, he said.
Adm. Mike Rogers, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency, said he is hopeful that China will stop launching cyber attacks against the United States.
China has become known for hacking computers to steal intellectual property and create an economic advantage for its country, he said. Rogers noted that he was “somewhat surprised” that Chinese President Xi Jinping committed to President Obama that his country would step away from such cyber attacks during a meeting in September.
“We’re two months into this. We’ll see how it plays out over time,” he said, while noting it was a positive development.
“I openly acknowledge [that] I am interested in understanding advanced military technology around the world, technology that could potentially be employed against the United States and its interests or allies and friends,” he said. “At the same time as I generate those insights, I do not turn to the private sector of the United States — pick a large company, Boeing or Lockheed Martin or whatever — and say, ‘Let me share with you what country X is doing right now, that this is what you’re going to have to compete with.’”
Rogers warned his Chinese counterparts that they aren’t the only ones who can launch cyber attacks. “I would remind them increasingly that you are every bit as vulnerable as any other major industrialized nation state,” he said.
The United States does want a good relationship with China, he added.
“We want a constructive relationship with China. It is in the best interest of the Chinese. It is in the best interest of the United States,” he said.
Photo Credit: Halifax International Security Forum
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Harjit Singh Sajjan
HALIFAX, Canada — In the wake of terror attacks in Paris, Canada remains committed to fighting the Islamic State, but it will stick with plans to withdraw from the air campaign, said its minister of defense Nov. 20.
During remarks at the Halifax International Security Forum, Harjit Singh Sajjan said Canada will stop flying its CF-18s over Iraq and Syria but stressed that the country has a part to play in the fight against the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant, or ISIL.
“I want to reaffirm that the government of Canada maintains its steadfast commitment to our coalition partners in the fight against ISIL,” he said. “While we are exploring options to adjust our approach, I can assure that we want to maximize the use of the Canadian skill set, offer valuable contribution to the coalition effort and have a truly enduring and meaningful impact on the situation on the ground.”
Recent terror attacks around the world — in the Sinai peninsula, Beirut, Paris, Mali and more — have proven that “we live in an era of instability, uncertainty and surprise,” he said.
“We need to move forward as a collective force. Together we can leverage our individual experiences and expertise. In fact, the principal of cooperation is based on the acknowledgement that no one country can do everything. Instead we can each put our own unique skill set on the table and we can build up on those,” he said.
While Canada will no longer participate in the bombing campaign, it intends to continue training Kurdish peshmerga troops, Sajjan said.
Navy Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of North American Aerospace and Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, said that coalition partners must strike at the ISIL message to effectively counter it.
“Quite frankly we feel that Daesh’s center of gravity is their message — that they’ve established caliphate. So we have to counter that,” he said, while referring to ISIL as “Daesh,” an increasingly popular alternative name for the group. “You go after where they have power, you go after where they have money but we really need to go after their messaging.”
One way to hit at the terror group’s message is by calling it “Daesh,” he said. Calling them the Islamic State “actually bolsters them. It helps their message,” he noted. One name “that they really dislike is Daesch which has more of a connotation of darkness and evil. So fundamentally I think it more accurately reflects the nature of this group of very … dark and evil people.”
During the first day of the forum, nearly every participant used the term Daesh.
Sajjan agreed that the coalition must work harder to counter extremist narrative: “How do we demonize that message? That’s the real key.”
Gortney said he found it “amazing” that despite the violence of the Islamic State’s propaganda some people still find it attractive.
“If you look at the horrors, how they execute their government … how they go about it, that someone would find that message attractive is just amazing,” he said.
The United States has a good pulse on U.S. citizens and residents who actively communicate back with terrorist groups, but not necessarily with those who just receive information, said Gortney.
“The ones that I’m most concerned about in that particular regard are those that are not communicating back,” he said. “If they’re communicating back, we may have the tools that might pick them up.”
Gortney expressed concern that ISIL may one day go after soft targets in the homeland — places such as homes or supermarkets. “If I’m going to be attacked, I’d rather be attacked where I have a good defense where I have a good base and I think they’re smarter than that,” he said. “They are going after these soft targets as we saw … in Paris.”
Photo Credit: Halifax International Security Forum
By Stew Magnuson
In an effort to encourage more students to enter the aerospace field, United Launch Alliance will offer free rides to orbit for small satellites built by universities, the company announced Nov. 19.
“I have made it a personal goal to make space more accessible to everyone,” ULA president and CEO Tory Bruno said at the Colorado state capitol building, while announcing the program.
ULA, a partnership between The Boeing Co., and Lockheed Martin, will provide up to 12 berths on an Atlas 5 rocket for university teams that have cubesats with experimental payloads. Cubesats generally weigh about three pounds and are sent to low-Earth orbit. They are used for low-cost experiments or to test new technologies that may end up on larger spacecraft.
The problem is that university science, technology and engineering programs have to wait for long periods to find available space on rocket launches, Bruno said. The lack of “rideshare” space is stunting the growth of cubesat and small satellite programs, he said.
“We are going to change that,” he said. The program will double the global capacity to launch cubesats when it begins in 2017, he said.
The two launches slated so far will have berths for up to 24 cubesats in a special carrier that is located in the second stage of the rocket. Six free slots will be offered to universities per launch, a fact sheet stated.
“Since its inception, ULA has been committed to science, technology, engineering and math education initiatives and programs such as this help to motivate, educate and develop our next generation of rocket scientists and space entrepreneurs,” said Bruno.
The first confirmed university to have a slot on the program will be the University of Colorado-Boulder, he said. ULA has not come up with a name for the initiative, but is inviting students and universities to make suggestions.
Other interested U.S accredited colleges and universities have until Dec. 18 to notify ULA that they are interested in participating, a company press release said. In early 2016, ULA will release a request for proposal for the first competitive cubesat launch slots. The selected universities will be announced in August 2016, the statement said.
How long the program will last remains in question because ULA earlier in the week announced that it couldn’t compete for an Air Force contract to launch GPS satellites beginning in 2018 because it will run out of Atlas 5 engines.
Congress banned the further purchase of Russian-manufactured RD-180 rocket engines for national security launches in the aftermath of the Russian actions in the Ukraine and Crimea. ULA has asked for a waiver until a U.S.-built replacement engine can be developed, but hasn’t received one yet.
ULA in a statement listed three reasons why it could not bid on the contract.
The RFP required the company to certify that funds from other government contracts will not benefit the GPS III launch mission. “ULA does not have the accounting systems in place to make that certification, and therefore cannot submit a compliant proposal,” it said.
“In addition, the RFP’s lowest price technically acceptable structure allows for no ability to differentiate between competitors on the basis of critical factors such as reliability, schedule certainty, technical capability and past performance,” it stated.
“Further, under the restrictions imposed by the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, ULA does not currently have any Atlas engines available to bid and therefore is unable to submit a timely proposal.”
Declining to bid on the program leaves rival launch provider SpaceX as the only company certified to launch national security payloads.
“We look forward to working with the Air Force to address the obstacles to ULA’s participation in future launch competitions to enable a full and fair competition,” ULA said.
Photo: An Atlas V rocket launches with the Juno spacecraft payload (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
By Sandra I. Erwin A wide-ranging personnel reform proposal unveiled by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter could put the Pentagon in a better position to compete with the private sector for talent.
The proposals that Carter announced Nov. 18 would be the most far reaching personnel reforms the Pentagon has seen since the United States eliminated the draft and moved to an all-volunteer force more than 40 years ago.
Under a project that Carter dubbed “Force of the Future,” the Defense Department will seek to “harness the best talent America has to offer,” he said in a speech at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs.
Carter launched the effort in April out of concern that the military is struggling to recruit and retain top talent at a time when commanders need people with specialized skills in areas that also are in high demand in the private sector — international affairs, foreign languages, cyber security and all manner of information technology.
The reforms appear to be particularly motivated by recent struggles in the Army to recruit qualified soldiers and to retain its most skilled officers. These challenges are seen as a bellwether for potentially long-term recruiting and retention troubles.
The “Force of the Future” review is being led by Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson, who enlisted more than 150 subject matter experts from the military services and academia. The group reviewed over 100 studies and commission reports on civilian and military personnel issues, talent management, and private sector human resources practices.
According to a senior defense official, Carter was insistent that the Pentagon move away from an industrial-age personnel system where human resources is about “soul annihilating box checking,” in favor of “best practices” that are followed in the private sector but haven’t made their way to the Defense Department.
A key goal is to increase the flow of personnel and ideas between the public and private sector. There should be "on ramps" for private sector talent to come into the Defense Department to help tackle tough technical projects, Carter said.
“That’s why we’re creating the Defense Digital Service, which will bring in talent from America’s technology community to work for a specific period of time, or for a specific project, to apply a more innovative and agile approach to solving DoD’s complex IT problems.” This approach was used by the White House to fix the healthcare.gov website.
Carter also wants to offer "off ramps" for military service members to “connect with ideas and innovators outside the Pentagon.” This means having the option to take sabbaticals. DoD will ask Congress to lift the pilot restrictions on the existing “career intermission program” that lets service members take a sabbatical for a few years while they are starting a family, exploring different career opportunities or pursuing a degree without having to leave the military. The current programs are not widely used because officers fear they will not be promoted. Carter will push the services to encourage these sabbaticals.
“We’ve always been mindful that the military is a profession of arms. It’s not a business,” Carter said. “The key to doing this successfully is leveraging tradition and change. While the military cannot and should not replicate all aspects of the private sector, we can and should borrow best practices, technologies, and personnel management techniques in commonsense ways.”
With only a year left in the Obama administration, it is unclear what, if any, of these reforms will have a chance to take hold before Carter leaves office. The senior defense official said time is of the essence. “We’re all in a hurry,” he said. “Progress will be measured in weeks, not months.”
In a Nov. 18 memo, Carter set a Dec. 15 deadline for the military services to submit their plans for how they will implement these reforms. “The secretary wants to do things he can put his stamp on,” the official said. “This is really his vision.”
One of the proposals includes creating an online job matching system for service members to “shop around” as they would on LinkedIn. They would be able to search for jobs using data that has not typically been captured by the department.
Carter also will launch a comprehensive compensation study. Today, everyone is paid the same based on rank, time and grade, the defense official said. “That’s not how leading companies do that.”
Benefits also will be reviewed. Some of the most controversial proposals involve maternity and paternity leave policies. According to the official, these recommendations are still being debated.
Carter said the Pentagon is updating and modernizing retirement benefits. He believes this is essential to attract young people to join the military. Today, troops have to serve 20 years before getting any retirement benefits, but 80 percent don’t serve that long, which means they leave with no retirement benefits at all. “Starting in the next few years, we’ll be able to offer a portable 401k-like plan, which all who serve can take with them whenever they move on — whatever’s next in life,” Carter said.
These reforms are only the beginning, said Carter. “So stay tuned in the coming months. We’re taking a serious look at making some commonsense reforms to our officer promotion system. We’re also looking at ways to improve how we manage our civilian personnel.”
Other initiatives proposed under “Force of the Future” include:
• College internship programs that would increase the likelihood of participants receiving full-time jobs in the Department of Defense.
• Entrepreneur-in-residence program to embed up to three entrepreneurs in different parts of the department to work on special projects sponsored by senior leaders.
• The designation of a “chief recruiting officer” within the office of the secretary of defense to lead executive recruitment throughout the department and to function as an executive headhunter.
• Expansion of the secretary of defense “corporate fellows” program that assigns service members to work at top U.S. corporations and bring back what they learn.
Photo: Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (Defense Department)
By Allyson Versprille
Congressman Randy Forbes, R-Va
As U.S. naval forces become increasingly stressed and overworked, rivals such as Russia and China are bolstering their maritime assets, former military officials and lawmakers said Nov. 18.
Potential adversaries see weaknesses in U.S. naval capabilities and are moving to close the gap, said House Armed Services Committee member and defense hawk Randy Forbes, R-Va.
The report, titled, "Deploying Beyond Their Means: America's Navy and Marine Corps at a Tipping Point," describes the state of the Navy and Marine Corps fleet at a time when ships are deployed overseas at higher rates even as the size of the fleet shrinks.
The Navy's battle force, which is currently composed of about 271 ships, has shrunk about 20 percent since 1998 when the service had 333 ships, the report said. At the same time, the number of ships deployed overseas remained roughly constant at 100. "As a result, each ship is working harder to maintain the same level of presence," the report said.
Additionally, "the percentage of time each ship spent at sea went up over the last decade, since the size of the fleet went down and the number of ships underway rose or stayed the same," the report noted. This has resulted in an unsustainable operating tempo that affects readiness by deferring needed maintenance and giving sailors and Marines less time to train. The high operating tempo can also hinder the efforts of the services to retain talented people because of the long time away from their families, the report said.
"The force is not as ready, and then when you have the Russians and the Chinese who are having a more ready force to fight at the higher tempo, we're going to be less ready," said retired Adm. Sinclair Harris, former vice director for operations on the joint chiefs of staff. Furthermore, "they [the Chinese and Russians] don't care about the cost per ship and per man. They see that gap, and they see an opportunity."
The Marine Corps is strained in part because of a shortage of amphibious vessels. The service has a stated requirement of 38 amphibious ships. However, it has accepted greater risk, "bringing the needed amphibious shipping down to 30 ships and the overall amphibious ship requirement to 33," the report said.
Bryan Clark, a naval analyst who co-authored the report, noted that the Marine Corps' shrinking personnel numbers are further adding to the problem. "The Marine Corps is drawing down to about 182,000 Marines by 2017. That's going to make an operational force of about 108,000 Marines," he said at the briefing. "At the level of deployed presence we have with the Marine Corps today to maintain a one-to-two deployment to dwell ratio requires about 108,000 Marines, meaning in 2017 when the Marines draw down to that level, they will be using their entire operational force to do the continuous forward deployed operations that they're currently tasked with."
The increased operating tempo and reduced availability of ships has also impacted the ability of the Marine Corps and Navy team to respond to crises, said a joint press release from CSBA and the Navy League, an advocacy group that sponsored the study. "The current carrier gap in the Persian Gulf is a result of high operational tempo and backlog maintenance caused by sequestration," the release said.
A second carrier gap will occur in the Pacific in 2016 and gaps will reoccur intermittently in both the Persian Gulf and the Pacific until 2021 when the USS Gerald R. Ford becomes operationally available, according to the CSBA report.
One way to alleviate the strain on the Marine Corps and Navy would be to build more ships, but that option is unlikely, the report said. The Navy's current shipbuilding plan is $5 billion to $7 billion more per year than the historical average over the last 30 years, and the service may be compelled to revise this plan to meet fiscal constraints, it said.
Over the next three decades, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that the Navy’s fiscal year 2016 shipbuilding plan will require over $552 billion (in constant 2015 dollars) worth of ship purchases. If the plan is executed as written, the average cost of new-ship construction would be approximately $18.4 billion per year, 32 percent more expensive than the Navy’s historical average annual shipbuilding budgets.
The CSBA report examined the Navy's shipbuilding plan in addition to three alternate plans averaging $13 billion, $11.5 billion and $10 billion per year, respectively. "None of the shipbuilding plans — including the Navy’s own plan — would enable the Navy to sustain the global presence it maintains today," the report said.
Photo Credit: Navy League