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Army's Wireless Combat Network Enters Critical Phase
By Sandra I. Erwin



The Army's multibillion-dollar project to replace outdated combat communications systems with modern wireless networks for troops in war zones is about to reach a pivotal point.

The new network has lurched forward over the past several years in fits and starts, and its future is still in flux. The program has been marred by technical, budgetary and bureaucratic troubles, but the Army is pressing ahead.

The linchpins of the network — a family of digital tactical radios and a mobile satellite-communications system — face key milestones in the coming months with make-or-break implications for the entire project.

Army leaders have insisted the tactical communications network is essential to modernize the force. "These are difficult times in the defense budget, and the Army is having to prioritize everything, but modernization of the network is among the very highest priorities," Undersecretary of the Army Brad R. Carson told a reporter in May during a visit to Fort Bliss, Texas.

Much of the responsibility for building the network is in the hands of Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes, the Army's program executive officer for command, control and communications-tactical, or PEO C3T. His office is overseeing a major procurement of new tactical radios that have been 15 years in the making and have run up $9 billion in development costs.

The Pentagon gave the Army the green light in May to start buying large quantities of tactical radios under the "handheld, manpack, small form fit" (HMS) program. A final request for proposals could be released later this year, said Josh Davidson, spokesman for PEO C3T. "We are moving forward," he said in a statement to National Defense. "The program is working to finalize the draft HMS manpack RFP. Additionally, we are in the final coordination phase of the HMS rifleman radio RFP with the Army Contracting Command." He said both RPFs should be released and open for industry bids during the first quarter of fiscal year 2015. It would take at least another year to test the radios. Once vendors are selected, production would begin in fiscal year 2017.

The HMS manpack has been in development since 2004 and in low-rate production since 2011. It is made by General Dynamics C4 Systems and Rockwell Collins Corp. The HMS rifleman variant also is in low-rate production by General Dynamics and Thales Defense.  The new RFP would open up the radio market to other vendors. Potential contenders like Harris Corp. and Exelis would offer commercially developed radios that are not in the HMS program.

But even as this major procurement gets under way, industry and government officials said the Army continues to rethink the structure of the network and is considering adding another radio to the mix in response to concerns about the performance and utility of the HMS devices.

In the face of shrinking budgets, the Army also is revisiting its earlier plans to supply rifleman radios to every soldier and manpack radios to every platoon. In the early days of the HMS program, vendors were hoping for future sales of up to 120,000 rifleman radios, 71,000 manpack radios, 2,000 vehicular four-channel radios and 7,000 small airborne networking radios. Those numbers now seem unrealistic.

In recent weeks, Army official have discussed the possibility of curtailing the single-channel rifleman radio buy and add a new variant, a two-channel handheld radio for small-unit leaders. This is in response to recent combat exercises where soldiers concluded they were better served by a two-channel radio that runs the SINCGARS waveform for voice communications and the soldier radio waveform, or SRW, for data services. The HMS manpack variant runs two channels, but the radio received poor reviews. A June memorandum — signed by Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, commander of the Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, in Fort Benning, Georgia — lists several performance shortfalls of the manpack radio that was tested by dismounted soldiers, including excessive weight.

Industry and government sources told National Defense that while the HMS program is not in danger, the Army indeed is having second thoughts about the larger radio portfolio and officials are raising concerns about its affordability.

Over the course of seven technology rehearsal exercises at Fort Bliss, which the Army calls "network integration evaluations" and other tests at Fort Benning, Army leaders collected feedback from soldiers and concluded that they should reconsider the types of radios that would be fielded to mounted and dismounted soldiers. "That analysis is ongoing," an Army official said.

McMaster's criticism, particularly, has prompted questions about the density and placement of radios in Army formations. One of the changes could be adding a two-channel portable for dismounted soldiers and install the heavier manpack in vehicles instead. One proposal is to provide rifleman radios to team leaders, two-channel handheld devices to squad and platoon leaders, and manpacks to company commanders.

The official said this level of analysis is to be expected in complex programs such as the Army's network and is a sign that the Army is gaining a better understanding of what it needs.

The Army so far has made no decision regarding the two-channel handheld radio, and it could be months or years before such a requirement is approved and funded. These radios already are available for the military market. Vendors such as Thales and Harris are developing two-channel handheld radios for U.S. Special Operations Command.

Industry insiders point out that the Army has had a requirement for a two-channel handheld radio since 2006, but it was never funded. The Army now could amend the so-called "capabilities production document" that allows it to buy the rifleman radio and expand it to include a two-channel handheld which would operate the SINCGARS and SRW waveforms. The ongoing debate on this would explain why the request for vendor proposals for the HMS radios has been delayed for months.

HMS program officials are still anxiously awaiting the results of operational tests conducted by the Pentagon's independent tester J. Michael Gilmore.  Any bad review from Gilmore would only compound the program's woes in the wake of McMaster's report.

Also unnerving Army officials is the upcoming operational test of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) increment 2. The system provides high-speed voice, data and video communications in moving vehicles, at the company level.

The upcoming test at Fort Bliss will be WIN-T's third operational test and evaluation. Sources close to PEO C3T said Hughes sees the coming test as a decisive one. If the Army fails to show progress with WIN-T increment 2, Congress could take away future funding. A successful operational test would allow WIN-T, which is made by General Dynamics, to go into full-rate production. This would give Hughes the freedom to introduce "engineering change proposals" to make the system easier to operate — he has said he wants to make it more user friendly — and to synchronize the procurements of WIN-T and HMS radios. Not being able to sync up these programs has complicated efforts to build the network thus far, one industry expert said. "It is not an excuse. It's the reality. There's been a lack of synchronization."

Being able to reengineer parts of WIN-T hardware and software is key to its success, one official said, but procurement rules dictate that major changes cannot be made to a major weapon system, so it has to clear operational tests in its current configuration.

Photo:
Undersecretary of the Army Brad R. Carson toured the site of the Network Integration Evaluation 14.2. (Army)

Top Army General: More U.S. Ground Forces Might Be Needed in Iraq
By Sandra I. Erwin



During a recent visit to the 9/11 museum in New York City, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno took a look back in time. He was particularly struck by eerie similarities between threats made by al-Qaida in the early 1990s and those being made now by the Islamic State.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIL, is rapidly destabilizing the Middle East as it captures more territory in Iraq and Syria. But Odierno is convinced that its ultimate goal is to attack the West, especially the United States.

“If you don't believe they want to attack the West, and America, you're kidding yourself,” Odierno told reporters Sept. 19 during a breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C.

Odierno predicts that ISIL could become an “existential threat” if the United States and its allies are not able to contain its expansion within the next two to three years.

The current plan is to train and equip Iraqi forces and Syrian rebels to do the heavy fighting on the ground, with the United States providing air power and intelligence support. The Obama administration approved the deployment of 1,600 military advisors to help the Iraqi government coordinate air strikes and train its army. The president has been adamant that he will not send U.S. troops to fight on the ground.

Odierno just returned from Europe, where he got into political hot water for suggesting that ground forces would be needed to defeat ISIL. He insisted that by “ground forces,” he meant Iraqi troops. But he cautioned that he could not rule out the possibility that the United States might have to increase its presence on the ground if the current strategy does not show tangible progress over the next two to three years.

“I don't ever rule anything out,” said Odierno. “We all agree with the current strategy,” he said of Obama’s plan. “But if down the road, ISIL becomes an existential threat to the United States and we haven't achieved our objectives, you always have to reassess, that's all I'm saying.”

Odierno stood behind controversial comments made by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Sept. 16. Dempsey said he would recommend to the president that U.S. advisors accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against ISIL targets if and when he reaches the point when he believes that will be necessary.

“This is not a short term fight,” Odierno said. “We have to adjust as we go along. … There is no rush to have lots of people there —1,600 is a good start.”

For now, “we have the right strategy,” said Odierno. “We have to allow time for it to work.” In a perfect world, it would be the Iraqis who defeat ISIL on their own, but if they fall short over the next couple of years, “we have to reassess,” he said.

Odierno said the fight against ISIL will require “air, ground and 'whole of government' capabilities” such as diplomacy, political means and economic development. The population has to be protected from the “incredible violence that ISIL brings to the community,” he said. The Iraqis and whoever else joins the coalition will be trained in counterinsurgency warfare. “That is what I believe needs to be done,” he said. “As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it's our responsibility to provide advice to the defense secretary. But ultimately the president makes the decisions.”

One of Odierno’s biggest concerns about the current strategy is that it hinges on political developments in Iraq, and whether the Iraqi population rallies behind its army to help flush out ISIL. “You have to have the population supporting you to defeat ISIL,” he said. “Air strikes alone will not defeat or destroy ISIS, it will slow their advance.”

He worries that the Iraqi government is moving too slowly in building a consensus government that includes Sunnis and Kurds. “They have not yet appointed a minister of defense or a minister of interior, so we are watching that very carefully,” Odierno said.

The government there must be one in which Iraqis believe, he said. “If that doesn't happen, we're going to have a lot of trouble inside Iraq.”

Odierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq and served as the Commanding General, Multi-National Corps Iraq, and was the top commander of Multinational Force Iraq and United States Forces Iraq. When he left the country in 2010, Odierno never imagined the army he helped build would collapse so suddenly.

“It has been disappointing to watch what's happened in Iraq,” he said. Just four years ago, “I truly believed security was good, the economy was growing, a government was elected.” He blames the Shiite government’s sectarian policies for the breakdown of the military — as Sunni leaders were replaced by government loyalists — which allowed ISIL to exploit the divide and swoop in.

Iraq’s leaders have to “rebuild the trust,” he said. “They need the support of Sunni tribes. That has to be a major effort.”

The current plan is to train and equip 26 Iraqi brigades. Only half of the existing army is “trainable,” he said. The other half includes sectarian militias that the U.S. military sees as problematic. “We certainly are not going to train militias,” Odierno said. Iraqi forces will be trained both in counterinsurgency and combat tactics to fight ISIL. They also have a large arsenal of U.S. weaponry.

If other nations decide to join the coalition, he said, they will be trained and equipped as well, and the United States will provide them intelligence and targeting support.

Although U.S. air strikes so far have inflicted damage on ISIL, a major worry for U.S. commanders is the possibility that insurgents will use women and children as human shields. If civilians are killed, that will turn Iraqis against the United States and that could deal a major blow to the current strategy.

“That's the worst thing that could happen for us, if we start killing innocent Iraqis,” said Odierno. “We have to be careful and precise.” The targets pursued so far, such as armored vehicles and artillery, have been clearly identifiable. “They're very difficult to hide in the middle of the desert,” he said. Odierno fears ISIL fighters are going to start “infiltrating back into the population. That's when it's going to become more difficult. That's why you have to have the Iraqi forces trained to go in there.” This is the same problem that U.S. forces faced over a decade of war in Iraq.

With regard to Syria, Odierno said he backs the administration’s plan — and approved by Congress Sept. 18 — to train 5,000 Syrian rebels over the coming year. But he hinted that this is only the beginning of a much bigger effort.

“Five thousand is a good number to start,” he said. More than that would be tough to handle now because these fighters have to be individually vetted to make sure they are not militants with extremist agendas.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

New Pentagon Procurement Rules Seek to Create Culture of Innovation
By Sandra I. Erwin



The U.S. military is in a technology rut. American weaponry has ruled for decades, but that lead is at risk as countries like China continue to chip away. And although the Pentagon has far and away the world's biggest arms budget, military equipment is showing its age and efforts to modernize are sluggish at best.

These are the uncomfortable realities that shaped the latest update of the "better buying power" procurement rulebook the Pentagon unveiled Sept. 19. The new version, BBP 3.0, is a call to arms to engineers, researchers and technologists.

"It's motivated in part by my continuing concern with technological superiority and the fact that our capabilities in the world are being contested by others — people developing, modernizing, and building systems that threaten our superiority," said Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall.

Kendall has been sounding alarms about the U.S. technology slump for years, and believes the Pentagon must rev up the innovation engine so it can deploy more advanced weaponry in the coming years. Also behind this new emphasis on technological achievement is Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, who is leading a separate study on military technology gaps that will shape future budgets.

Better Buying Power 3.0
is the third of a series that began in 2010 when Kendall's predecessor Ashton Carter unveiled BBP 1.0, followed by 2.0 in 2012. The first two iterations dealt with contracting methods and with the process of buying things. BBP 3.0 is less about how the Pentagon acquires products and services, and more about what it needs to buy.

In that vein, the Pentagon will more closely monitor the military services' research-and-development programs to ensure they are investing wisely, said Kendall. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering Stephen Welby will oversee long-term R&D plans for the entire department. "Given the resource constraints that we have, focusing our long-range R&D on the things that are the highest payoff and that are strategically significant to us is especially important right now," Kendall said during a meeting with reporters at the Pentagon.

One of the reasons the military is falling behind the technology curve is that weapons systems are not engineered for easy upgrades. So what might be cutting-edge technology at the outset of a program becomes outdated by the time it gets in the hands of military service members. Kendall does not see weapon development cycles getting much shorter, but he wants to be able to update weapon systems in response to emerging threats, without having to start over with new a design. He will direct procurement officials to stay in touch with the intelligence community and keep up with technology advances around the world that could potentially undermine U.S. weapons systems. Kendall will ask intelligence analysts to help Pentagon program managers understand what enemies might be doing to counter U.S. technology, "so we can anticipate that and account for that in our designs." Electronic warfare technology, for example, is advancing rapidly and U.S. systems should be designed to be easily retrofitted with new countermeasures. Navy warships, which stay in service for decades, should be modified as anti-ship weapons become more sophisticated. In hindsight, Kendall said, the Navy's littoral combat ships might have been designed with better survivability had there been more awareness of potential threats. "That's the type of change I'm thinking of," he said.

Other countries, especially China, have "watched very carefully what we had done and reacted to it. And they've been reacting for the last 25 years," said Kendall. The United States, meanwhile, continues to rely on technologies that, although still dominant, are several decades old. "So it's time to think about another cycle of capabilities."

Some of the buzzwords in BBP 3.0, such as “technology insertion” and “refresh,” are not new, but “need to be emphasized,” said Kendall. “We have pushed for modular, open systems for a long time. We've had mixed success with that,” he said. “I think a lot of it has to do with successful management of intellectual property and managing design interfaces.”

To become more technologically agile, the Pentagon has to change its hidebound culture, Kendall said.

Productivity has to increase both in industry and government, he said. The Pentagon believes that competitive market forces motivate suppliers to improve products and lower prices. "We're going to continue to emphasize incentive-type contracts," said Kendall. "Whether they're cost-plus or fixed-price, you tend to get the same type of improved results in either case."

The Defense Department is often criticized for favoring a handful of top prime contractors and not opening up the market to outsiders. Kendall said one of the goals of BBP 3.0 is to "lower the barriers" to competitors. This is imperative as most of the R&D investment now comes from the private sector. "There are a lot of technologies that are moving more quickly in the commercial world than they are in the military-unique technology world," Kendall said. "We want to be able to capitalize on them as much as we can." He suggested it would benefit the Pentagon to seek sources of technology globally and not just in domestic markets.

“I want to look at the barriers to people selling to the government,” he said. One is the fact that the Defense Department buys in small quantities. Another is the cost accounting system and contracting requirements. Defense buyers need to know what keeps suppliers from engaging with the government, said Kendall. “I would like to work with industry to understand those barriers and see what we can do to remove them where it's possible to do so.”

With the Pentagon's R&D budget on a downward slide — from $80 billion in 2010 to $63 billion in 2014 — officials are feeling pressure to show results. The Pentagon reimburses defense contractors about $4 billion a year for R&D projects, and the return on that investment is not clear, said Kendall. More oversight is in order, he said. Government-owned laboratories will be scrutinized, too. "We're going to take a hard look at the DoD laboratories," said Kendall. "We've spent a lot of money there and are trying to get a higher return out of our laboratories."

Many of the initiatives in BBP 3.0 aim to motivate the private sector to invest in military-relevant R&D and to help the Pentagon avoid costly procurement fiascos.
A long-standing gripe of defense contractors is that they have little time to respond to DoD solicitations, particularly those for complex systems. Kendall will be directing program officials to release requirements in draft form to industry early, to give contractors a chance to start to prepare for future acquisitions, “and also to give us some feedback on those requirements from the point of view of costs and technical feasibility and risk.”

Kendall insists that financial incentives are what ultimately influence contractor behavior. He insists the Pentagon will increase contract awards based on “best value,” as opposed to picking the lowest cost bid. “We're going to continue the practice of letting industry know what we're willing to pay for better performance so they can bid intelligently.”

The Defense Department has over the years wasted billions of dollars on programs that, from the outset, were doomed because the technology promised by the contractors was out of reach. Under the current system, contractors are rewarded for gee whiz Powerpoint slides rather than for being straight about the art of the possible. Kendall wants to change that by involving contractors earlier in the cycle and getting candid assessments of what is realistic and financially doable.

After the release of BBP 3.0, the Pentagon will allow two to three months for the public to comment before the document is finalized early next year.

Analysts and industry insiders are skeptical that documents like BBP 3.0 will substantially change the status quo. The tenets of BBP 3.0 are motherhood and apple pie, but turning them into actionable policies will be a tall order, they contend. The highly bureaucratic procurement system — which emphasizes oversight, monitoring, reporting and top-down direction — is a hindrance to innovation, said military analyst Daniel Gouré, of the Lexington Institute, a think tank funded by top defense contractors.

“Russia and China are catching up technologically not because they are smarter or more inventive but because they are unencumbered by an archaic acquisition system,” he wrote in a blog post. “The real game changer would be if the Pentagon could acquire and field new capabilities in half the time and at reduced cost. Of equal significance would be using commercial best practices in maintenance, sustainment and supply chain management to lower the life cycle costs for military systems.”

He credits BBP 3.0 for promoting greater use of modular and open systems architectures and for suggesting contractors should be informed about military requirements earlier in the acquisition process. Gouré also gives Kendall kudos for seeking to remove obstacles to procuring commercial items from the global market.

“BBP 3.0 is a move in the right direction. But it is not a game changer,” Gouré said. “If we want a true defense revolution, get the acquisition system out of the way.”

Industry insiders have argued for years that, to be more nimble, the Pentagon should take a page from the book of one of its own organizations, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA has been ahead of the rest of the Defense Department in recruiting new vendors and pushing the technology envelope, industry analysts point out. Its productivity also is significantly higher. With a $3 billion budget, DARPA can do the job with 1,000 people. The military’s major laboratories have smaller budgets but much larger workforces. Until the Pentagon tackles its bloated overhead, analysts said, it will be financially difficult to invest in equipment modernization.

Experts also question the Pentagon’s avowed commitment to market competition as the ticket to lower costs and better technology. Most of the Pentagon’s technology dollars are captured by a small group of prime contractors, and these firms likely will continue to have a stranglehold on the available budget. That puts greater pressure on the rest of the industry and on smaller firms that generate much of the innovative technology the Pentagon wants. Having the preponderance of defense R&D dollars concentrated in a handful of firms with huge overhead costs is unproductive, one executive noted.

Small businesses are now a hotbed of innovation, but getting their foot in the door is a Sisyphean climb. It is not clear how BBP 3.0 will change that reality.

Dealing with the defense procurement system is a “battle we face every day,” said Sean Varah, CEO of MotionDSP. The Silicon Valley firm develops image processing software used by military and intelligence analysts across the government.

MotionDSP’s software is an example of a product the government didn’t know it needed until it saw it. There are thousands of technologies funded by the private sector that might be of use to the military, if only government buyers knew where to look. “They need to be able to buy more readily available commercial products,” Varah said. The Defense Department pays contractors hundreds of millions of dollars to write government-owned software from scratch that becomes obsolete within months, while better and cheaper products already exist, he said. “Private funding is investing in commercial R&D and creating products, at no taxpayer cost.”

Photo:
Frank Kendall (Defense Dept.)

CIA’s Brennan: ISIL Must Be ‘Cauterized Immediately’
By Stew Magnuson



The director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan called the Islamic State in the Levant a threat to the stability of the Middle East, including vital U.S interests.
 
“This is something that has to be cauterized immediately and destroyed as quickly as possible,” he said Sept 18. He called the organization a “murderous, barbaric, criminal gang.”
 
Yet the United States will have to take a more holistic approach to defeating the ISIL ideology, he said. “We can’t kill our way out of this.” Policymakers must understand the “drivers” that are sustaining ISIL and allowing it to gather more adherents.
 
“This is something that is going to be with us for a generation,” he said.
 
Brennan spoke along with the directors of the National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington, D.C.
 
Navy Adm. Michael Rogers, head of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, said, “Don’t underestimate how success can breed change in others.” The group’s power may snowball if it continues to have success, he warned.
 
If ISIL’s tactics are seen by similarly minded individuals around the world as successful, more of them will want to “get on that train.”
 
“If this idea expands beyond a single group — right now rather geographically focused in its disposition — to something even broader, that’s really bad,” Rogers said.

ISIL is particularly adept at using social media and the Internet to spread its messages and recruit, the directors said.

If the answer to destroying the ISIL is more than just a “killing our way out of this,” as Brennan said, then the intelligence community must be able to explain to policymakers the underpinnings that are providing support to the organization. Then other elements of the nation’s power can be brought to bear against it, Rogers said.
 
The heads of the four three-letter agencies all agreed that the proper name for the organization was ISIL, rather than ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It’s propaganda, and leaders have ambitions far beyond Syria’s borders, they said.
 
“That is why the ‘L’ is a much more accurate description in the acronym than the ‘S’ because it is in fact about Lebanon, Jordan and beyond,” said Acting DIA Director David Shedd.
  
All four leaders gave their organizations high marks when it came to spotting the current crises in Iraq and Ukraine ahead of time. As for ISIL, the rise of the organization, which first came to being as al-Qaida in Iraq before joining forces with radicals fighting the Assad regime in Syria, was somewhat unexpected.
 
“I certainly think that the intelligence community did a very good job on both those issues as far as trying to ensure that policymakers were informed about the evolving threats on the ground,” Brennan said.
 
“We had been looking at for many months how the former al-Qaida in Iraq, which then combined forces with elements inside Syria were growing in ability in Anbar, Fallujah and those areas, and how they were expanding their reach,” he added
 
The NGA gave strategic warning, but all those indicators don’t give intelligence agencies “intent,” its director Letitia Long said. “And that is the most difficult thing to do.”
 
Rogers said the NSA did well on the Ukraine, but did not do as good a job on the rise of ISIL. “If I’m honest with myself, I wish the transition of ISIL from an insurgency to an organization that was also focused on holding ground, territory, the mechanisms of governance … I wish we had been a little bit stronger.”
 
Answering criticism that the intelligence agency did not foresee the collapse of the Iraqi army, Brennan said it is hard to predict such events.
 
“Looking back over the past several months on both those issues, I think we teed up the right issues for policymakers … [but] these are very very complex, difficult issues and you’re never going to get perfect insight into those developments that are going to allow you to foresee the future,” Brennan said.
 
It was more difficult to assess the ability of the Iraqi army to withstand a concerted effort on the part of ISIL to take territory. That, and the Sunni’s disaffection from the Iraqi government, allowed ISIL “like a water leak, to move forward without any resistance.”
 
Iraqi forces at outposts were totally overwhelmed by ISIL’s barbarism. That resulted in a cascading effect that is hard to calculate and assess, he said. No longer having a permanent presence in the nation was a hindrance, he added. “Unless you’re actually there, you’re getting second- and third-hand information.”


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

DHS Working to Stop Syrian War Combatants From Entering the United States
By Yasmin Tadjdeh



The Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to stop radicalized foreign fighters in Syria from entering the United States, Secretary Jeh Johnson said.

As foreigners including U.S. citizens, travel to Syria to fight with rebel forces against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the department has become increasingly worried that they could return with terrorist sympathies and training.

“We’re very focused on those who leave their home countries, including the United States, to travel to Syria to take up the fight against the regime there,” Johnson said Sept. 17 at the Air Force Association’s annual Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

“We’re concerned that these individuals may hook up with extremists and become indoctrinated by their ideology and return to their home countries motivated to commit terrorist acts,” he said.

One of these organizations, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has emerged as a particularly violent group, Johnson said.

“ISIL is by all accounts a dangerous terrorist organization. They have both the elements of a terrorist group and an insurgent army,” he said. “They are a band of murders, rapists and terrorists.”

To ensure that foreign fighters do not return to the United States, DHS has since July enhanced its screening policies at last point of departure airports overseas, before potential terrorists can arrive in the country, he said.

“We’re making progress building more pre-clearance capabilities overseas,” Johnson said. “Together with our law enforcement and intelligence community partners, we are doing a better job … of tracking foreign fighters, of sharing information concerning foreign fighters.”

DHS is also evaluating if more information should be required from those traveling from visa-waiver countries to the United States, Johnson said.

“There are large numbers of foreign fighters from [coming to the United States] countries … from which we do not require a visa to come to this country. So the concern is that someone could go to Syria from another country, become radicalized, indoctrinated, come back to their country and then travel to our country without the need for a visa,” he said.

So far, intelligence reports have found no credible threat from ISIS to attack the homeland, Johnson said. Still, the organization is of particular concern.

The group takes in over $1 million a day in revenue, he said. ISIS is currently occupying large swaths of Iraq and Syria and violently killing those in its way.

Its wealth and use of propaganda makes them unique, Johnson said.

“ISIL is very adept at social media, propaganda [and] recruitment. Their social media, their literature is as slick as any terrorist organization’s that I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Another measure DHS — along with the Department of Justice and the FBI — is taking is educating people about ISIS’ violent work and stopping misinformation, Johnson said.

“I believe that it’s important that we deliver the message here at home that ISIL is neither Islamic nor a state. They are a band of terrorists. They are not out to defend or free Muslims. They kill Muslims,” he said.

Johnson said he took this message to a Syrian-American organization in Chicago earlier this year, and will go to a Somali community organization next week in Columbus, Ohio.

DHS is also working to counter violent extremism at home, especially those from ‘lone wolf’ actors, he said. Lone wolf attacks are characterized by the presence of a single terrorist who is influenced by the goals of a terror organization but works without any formal support from the group.

“It is still a huge agenda item … [to counter] those who read the literature, who may become indoctrinated from a distance. That is a major, major initiative of ours,” Johnson said. “In many respects, this type of terrorist threat is harder to detect than the terrorist threat from overseas. It could strike at any moment.”

Photo: Jeh Johnson
at the 2014 Air Force Association Air & Space Conference (Defense Dept.)
Boeing CEO: Defense Industry Must Evolve
By Valerie Insinna


Boeing ScanEagle

Shrinking Pentagon budgets are changing the makeup of the defense industrial base, and it’s up to contractors to look for innovative ways to develop cost-effective new technologies, said the head of Boeing’s defense business.

“We in industry are going to have to step up and solve this, not just ask you, our customer, for more funding,” Chris Chadwick, CEO of Boeing Defense, said during a Sept. 17 speech at the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.

“You’re seeing commercial companies, commercial technologies start to impinge on areas where we’ve always been strong. Look at space. Look at cyber. Look at data analytics," he said. Defense contractors should take advantage of those technologies and infuse them into products for the military.

Boeing is increasingly partnering with its competitors, as it is doing with Sikorsky on the Army’s future vertical lift rotorcraft program and with Lockheed Martin on the Air Force’s long range strike bomber, Chadwick said.

“It has become the norm,” he said. In the bomber program, industry should leverage the investment that’s already been made by the U.S. government, he said. "Let’s not reinvent the future. Let’s leverage … [current] capability and provide a seamless, integrated approach that we hope positions us well as the competition goes forward.”

As defense spending falls, Boeing is monitoring its supply base, particularly third- and fourth-tier vendors, many of which are difficult to replace. Some believe that the cost of doing business with the U.S. government is prohibitively high and have decided to focus on the commercial market, Chadwick said.

“We’ve established new suppliers,” he said. “There’s often opportunities, especially in the small disadvantaged business arena, where we can team with entrepreneurs and new businesses to create new capability.”

Both industry and the military need to make smarter investments in research and development, Chadwick said. Companies must look at new technologies through the lens of customers. One example is the transportation company Uber, a smartphone based app that allows users to hire a taxi or privately-owned car. “The app leverages GPS, wireless communications and mobile payments, all embedded in something we carry every day,” but combines those existing technologies with a new business model, he said.

The defense industry should apply the same way of thinking to legacy defense equipment, Chadwick said. “Rather than just relying on innovation alone, what if we had another way to get new value out of existing platforms? What if we could bring new leaps in capability, not just by spending more, but by thinking differently?”   

Chadwick cited Boeing subsidiary Insitu’s ScanEagle unmanned aircraft, which evolved from an aircraft that helps fisherman track tuna. “Today, ScanEagles are catapulted from U.S. Navy ships and have flown 800,000 combat hours.”

Photo Credit: Boeing
Hagel: China, Russia Nipping at Heels of U.S. Air Power Dominance
By Sarah Sicard



The Air Force's continued budgetary constraints are limiting its ability to maintain dominance over competitors such as China and Russia, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall said Sept. 17.

"Today, the predominance that our military has enjoyed for decades confronts powerful enemies," Kendall said at the Air Force Association's annual conference at National Harbor, Maryland. Kendall was pinch-hitting for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who could not make it to the keynote address. Rather than deliver his own speech, Kendall read from Hagel's prepared remarks.

The Air Force is tasked with being the greatest air power in the world, he said, but is being asked to maintain its edge with fewer resources. And the reason it has fewer resources is the current budget environment, he said.

"While the budget agreement reached last year has provided temporary relief for fiscal years 2014 and 15, sequestration remains the law of the land," Kendall said. "It will return in 2016 if it is not repealed."

"Continued sequestration would further erode the Air Force's readiness, which has taken too many blows already," he added.

Last year, the Air Force was forced to ground 13 squadrons, losing tens of thousands of planned flying hours. Concerns over budget cuts prove detrimental in a time where competitors are ramping up spending and capabilities, said Kendall.

"China and Russia are making long-term investments strategically focused on military modernization programs," Kendall said. "They are investing in anti-ship, anti-air, and counter space weapons."


The U.S. Air Force's mission is to dominate the skies, space and cyber space, all areas that may be compromised by continued sequestration, he added. Today, the current average for training hours per year is 160, roughly half of what it was just a decade ago, he said.

"Chinese and Russian counterparts meanwhile, are moving to the opposite direction, some averaging more than a hundred hours of training per year, with lead squadrons flying up to 200," Kendall said.

Not only is the Air Force flying fewer hours, the fleet itself is aging, he said.

"Today, our fighters and bombers are, on average, about twice as old as they were in 1995," Kendall said. "We now have the oldest Air Force fleet in history."

Countries like China and Russia continue to bolster their air power efforts, causing further concern.

"They are developing advanced electronic warfare and special operations capabilities," said Kendall. "Combined, these investments are tailored to counter the air, space and cyber superiority that the [U.S.] Air Force provides."

Kendall cited Hagel as doing everything in his power to prevent the Air Force from sliding back from where it is today.

"Our military as a whole, and the Air Force in particular is being tested by protracted uncertainty, technological and commercial transformations, and the changing character of war," he said.

Though impressed by the Air Force's handling of continued adversity, Kendall decried sequestration as dangerous to international peace and security.

"The Air Force, and our military as a whole, needs Congress to be a partner in responsible and long-term planning and budgeting," Kendall said.

Hagel, who could not attend the conference because of a commitment with U.S. Central Command, requested that Kendall assure those in attendance that he and his administration would continue advocating on behalf of the military in the interest of global stability.

Photo Credit: Air Force
Outgoing Air Force Combat Command Chief Slams Congress
By Valerie Insinna



The Air Force can maintain its dominance in the skies, but only if politicians allow military leaders to cut programs such as the A-10 Warthog and to close redundant bases, the head of Air Force Combat Command said.

“We have to be able to make some very hard decisions now and through the next several years,” said Gen. Mike Hostage in a Sept. 16 speech at the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference at National Harbor, Maryland. “The challenge we face is that politics are not likely to let us make these hard decisions.”

During his speech and final press conference before his retirement in November, Hostage said he tried throughout his tenure to provide the best military advice possible to civilian leaders. Whether they take that guidance is up to them.

The problem is that it doesn’t look like Congress is going to take that advice, which will force the Air Force to make sacrifices to readiness, he said.

“My job is not to complain about whether I have enough resources,” he said. “My job is to produce as much combat power as possible with whatever resources the nation will provide me.”

The best way for the service to dramatically shrink its budget is to eliminate entire weapons systems and the training and logistics costs associated with them, he said. This means that legacy systems like the A-10 and U-2 spy plane must be cut to preserve long-term capabilities such as the F-35 and long range strike bomber.

“I don’t want to cut the A-10 or the U-2, and I don’t have direct replacements for those systems,” he said. “I have the need for both the capacity and the capability those systems deliver. However, I just don’t have the resources to retain them and still have a ready and capable force.”

While individual lawmakers accept that logic, others are loathe to eliminate aircraft fleets that may affect their constituency’s industrial base and employment numbers, he said.

One of the reasons the Air Force must cut the U-2 is because Congress has not allowed the service to terminate the expensive Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned aircraft program, he said. At one point, the service needed the Global Hawks because of increased combatant commander demands for intelligence.

Now that those requirements have been reduced, the Air Force cannot afford to keep a mixed fleet, he said. Congress, for its part, has mandated that the service retain its Global Hawks, even though there aren’t enough of them to get the same coverage as the U-2 provides.

“The problem is that the Global Hawk will take eight years before it can meet 90 percent of the current capability of the U-2, so the combatant commanders are going to suffer for eight years and the best they're going to get is 90 percent,” he said. "We'll make the Global Hawk work ... but it's not the optimum military solution.”

Hostage said he understands troops’ affection for the A-10 and its unique qualities. The aging aircraft, more commonly known as the Warthog, is built for one purpose: protecting ground forces with its heavy 30 mm cannon.

“I hesitate to use the word elegant in the same sentence as the A-10 [but] nothing does 30 mm [close-air support] as elegantly as an A-10. There’s no one out there with a 30 mm cannon,” he said. “And there’s something very reassuring about the roar of that cannon when you’re under fire.”

But there are numerous weapons — precision bombs or Hellfire missiles — that can disperse enemies and provide support to land forces, he said. “In the end, that’s what the ground force cares about. In fact, 70 percent of close-air support missions in Afghanistan were flown by platforms other than the A-10, including B-1s, F-15s and F-16s.

Furthermore, the A-10 would not be able to survive combat against an adversary with modern integrated air defenses. “The idea of doing an opposed [close-air support] in an environment where an A-10 could survive, that’s an anachronism of the past,” he said.

Congress has also forced the military to retain infrastructure, blocking any attempts to restart the base closure and realignment process.

“Right now I could close one in three bases across Air Combat Command and still have sufficient infrastructure to support myself. But politically, closing a base is just not going to happen,” Hostage said.

The worst-case budgetary scenario is if the Air Force is not allowed to cut any force structure, nor is given any additional funding to keep it, he said. That would force him to cut either readiness or future investments. “Neither of those is a good choice,” but he would sacrifice readiness and accept the added risk.

“I’ve got some ideas on how to distribute that risk to have the least damage to our ability to produce combat power, but we’ll wait and see how the budget actually comes out.”

Photo: Gen. Mike Hostage at the 2014 Air Force Association Air & Space Conference (Air Force)

LaPlante: Air Force Must Improve Relationship with Industry
By Yasmin Tadjdeh



The Air Force needs to improve its acquisition processes, which can be done by working more collaboratively with industry, said the service’s assistant secretary for acquisition Sept. 16. 

“It’s always better when ... you’re used to working together on common problems, so when a difficult challenge comes up you know each other and know how to work together,” said William LaPlante during a speech at the Air Force Association’s annual Air & Space Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.

The Air Force is currently working on its 20-year acquisition strategy plan, LaPlante said. One of the key priorities of the strategy is to foster better relationships with industry and become more transparent, he said.

Already the Air Force is working on a series of best practices, LaPlante said. Consulting with industry trade groups such as the National Defense Industrial Association — the publisher of National Defense — and the Aerospace Industries Association, the Air Force has come up with as many as 30 initiatives, he said.

One example is an effort to shorten the time needed to award a company a contract. It currently takes 17 months on average from the time a request for proposals is issued to when a company is awarded a contract, LaPlante said.

“There are a whole lot of things we can do together with industry to make this happen faster. It’s just unsatisfactory,” he said. “We’re going to try and bring that number down, maybe even in the single digits.”

The key is not to change the negotiation process, which should remain the same, but to arrive at that point more quickly, he said.

“We are about ready to issue a memo to all our PEOs and program managers with a lot of these best practices. We’re hoping to do the same thing with a lot of our industry counterparts with their companies so we can start to measure our progress against this,” LaPlante said.

Another priority in the 20-strategy will be to keep acquisition programs on track, he said. The service’s priorities include the F-35 joint strike fighter, the KC-46A tanker and the long-range strike bomber, he said.

The joint surveillance target attack radar system recapitalization program and the T-X trainer replacement effort are also important Air Force initiatives, he added.

Other goals mentioned included creating a long-term acquisition strategy and building upon Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall’s “Better Buying Power” procurement guidelines.

LaPlante did not say when the strategy would be released, but noted it is currently in the draft stage.

Air Force acquisition is currently the best it has been in the last five years, he said.

“We’re at full strength. We’re having time to put strategy together and align it with the Air Force strategy. We’re aligning it with the field of lifecycle sustainment and acquisition and it’s coming together,” LaPlante said. “[There are] a lot of good things going on, a lot of momentum. This is actually a great time in Air Force acquisition.”

Photo: William LaPlante (Air Force)
Air Force Chief Reveals Parts of New Master Plan
By Sarah Sicard



Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh said the service is working on a plan to move forward while assuring solvency in the face of a diminishing budget.

“We need a map,” he said. “We have to think differently. We have to unlock ourselves from the things we’re used to,” Welsh said at the Air Force Association's annual conference.

That map is the Air Force master plan for 2015, which seeks to secure the Air Force’s future in shaky economic times. It will serve as “a call to the future, a 20 year look,” said Welsh. He did not say when it will be released.

It will spell out how the Air Force intends to balance its budget for 10 years, he added.

The Air Force will focus on several key efforts. It plans to keep all “must-have” acquisition programs on track and within budget, put in a nuclear weapons modernization program, oversee the live, virtual constructive operational training flight plan, and continue focusing on infrastructure, Welsh said.

The Air Force will turn its attention to an effort he called “big cyber.”

“We need to think about what cyber does in the air component,” he said.

This effort will allow the Air Force to continue helping the National Security Agency with cyber security, while establishing a new cyber innovation center.

The goal for cyber and air power is vigilance, accountable leadership, and strategic flight partnership plans, Welsh said.

There are potential setbacks, he noted.

“Airplanes are falling apart, there are just too many things happening because our fleets are too old,” Welsh said.

He added that a major part of moving forward was leaving the old behind.“When we find something that doesn’t work, we throw it out.”

He highlighted leadership as a key element in the process of determining best practices for coming years, echoing the sentiments of Air Force secretary Deborah Lee James.

Overall, the Air Force’s goal is to move forward efficiently, and to continue its history of excellence. For that, Welsh thanked the airmen who have made that possible. “It’s not just the weapons. It’s not just the pilots. The Air force reflects America’s spirit,” Welsh said.

Welsh quoted Air Force chief of staff special assistant Jason Yaley saying, “It’s time to become the Air Force we need to be, not the Air force we used to be.”

Photo: Gen. Mark A. Welsh at the 2014 Air Force Association Air & Space Conference (Air Force)

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