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Archive for February, 2005


Monday, February 28th, 2005

Give us more money, or soldiers aren’t going to get paid. That’s the cynical game the Pentagon’s leadership has been playing with the Army’s budget in recent months. And now, it’s crunch time.
rummy_what.jpgSince the fall, Rumsfeld & Co. have been dipping into the Army’s day-to-day funds — like money for soldiers’ paychecks — and then daring Congress not to make up the difference with a second, “supplemental” pile of cash.
The tab comes due this Spring, Defense Daily reports. The Army needs $41 billion of that supplemental kitty by then, or else it is going to go broke, without cash left to pay G.I.s.

Already, the service has pulled forward some $11 billion in funds from the third and fourth quarters of its [fiscal year 2005] budget, a senior Army budget officer said at a briefing on Friday.
I think its early May when we run out of money, the official said. The most money is being spent on operations and maintenance. What were doing right now is taking monies from the fourth quarter and the third quarterwere already spending, you know, my September paycheck.
Weve pulled in about the last five and a half months to spend in the first six and a half.

That same official said that this sort of spending has no practical effect on soldiers, according to Defense Daily. And he’s probably right, for the moment. What politician would vote to deprive a soldier of his paycheck?
But key members of Congress, like Sen. John McCain, are getting increasingly fed up with this backdoor effort to add tens of billions to the defense budget by essentially holding G.I.‘s livelihood hostage. Sooner or later, things are going to come to a head.


Sunday, February 27th, 2005

The Homeland Security Department has been using pilotless spy planes to patrol the Mexican border for nearly a year. Vigilante groups have been putting unmanned eyes in the sky for even longer. But a new report from the Congressional Research Service is warning that there could be some pretty major drawbacks to using robotic border guards.

The technical capabilities of the UAVs have been tested in a military context, but serious safety and technical issues need to be addressed if the program is to be expanded domestically
hermes_small.jpgThere are concerns regarding UAVs high accident rate. Currently, the UAV accident rate is 100 times higher than that of manned aircraftIf control systems fail in a manned aircraft, a well-trained pilot is better positioned to find the source of the problem because of his/her physical proximity. If a UAV encountered a similar system failure, or if a UAV landing was attempted during difficult weather conditions, the ground control pilot would be at a disadvantage because he or she is removed from the event. Unlike a manned pilot, the remote pilot would not be able to assess important sensory information such as wind speed
Another consideration is how well the [border patrol] could respond to UAV imagery. Are there enough border patrol resources to investigate all UAV identified targets? Would the lack of human resources render high technology like UAVs less effective?…
A final potential question pertains to civil liberties such as personal privacy. Some are concerned that UAVs deployed over the United States may provide government agencies a new ability to clandestinely monitor citizens

However, the report suggests, there is an alternative to the drones: aerostats, “the helium-filled blimps that dont fly horizontally but are instead tethered to the ground with a cable that provides power. Like UAVs, aerostats are unmanned and can loiter for long periods of time. But the blimps crash less, have had extensive testing in civil settings, and may not cost as much as putting robots in the skies.
(thanks to Nick for the tip)


Sunday, February 27th, 2005

The bosses here have come up with a nifty little application for the military-minded: a toolbar that gives one-click access to defense headlines, photos and videos from the site’s “Shock & Awe” grab bag, and discounted gear for service members. Click here to check it out.


Friday, February 25th, 2005

aegis_test.jpgWe give the missile defense program a pretty hard time around here, especially when they don’t even manage to pass their own dumbed-down tests. So give the Star Wars crowd some credit: one of their interceptors successfully downed a mock warhead on Thursday. It’s “the fifth success in six such tests of the fledgling U.S. anti-missile shield’s sea-based leg,” according to Reuters. The ground-based component of the missile shield has, obviously, not performed nearly as well.
The target rocket was fired from the U.S. Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, Kauai, and was hit a few minutes later from a Standard Missile-3 interceptor fired from the USS Lake Erie guided missile cruiser. The ship used the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Weapon System to track the target. By year’s end, the U.S. Navy wants 18 ships equipped with the system, Defense Daily notes.
“Last fall,” Reuters observes, “the Japan-based Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Curtis Wilbur became the first component of the anti-missile shield to be put on patrol in the Sea of Japan to guard against North Korean attack.“
Philip Coyle, the Pentagon’s former chief of testing and evaluation and a normally vicious skeptic of the missile defense system, was muted in his reactions to yesterday’s test. But he did have this to say:

I assume that the intercept took place so soon after interceptor launch — just two minutes — because they wanted to demonstrate the capability intercept a short range enemy missile, and at relatively close range from the launching Aegis ship. Depending on the actual geometry and conditions, such tests can be highly scripted to be successful on such a short time scale.

THERE’S MORE: Canada decided yesterday not to join in the American anti-missile effort. And that elicited a rather odd reponse from U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci: “We simply cannot understand why Canada would in effect give up its sovereignty its seat at the table to decide what to do about a missile that might be coming towards Canada.“
Right. Canada makes its own decisions about how best to spend its money and defend its citizens. And that means it’s giving up its sovereignty. Whatever you say, Paul.
(thanks to RC for the pointer)
AND MORE: “What the U.S. Ambassador is saying is that the U.S. has arrogated to itself the right to invade Canada’s airspace in order to fire at an incoming missile that may be aimed at Canada, the U.S., or Mexico, even if Canada objects to such an action,” Defense Tech Dad Tom Shachtman says over on the forum. “This in effect negates Canadian sovereignty over its own airspace.“
Jeff Quinton points out that a retired Canadian general has just made a similar point — that, as Jeff puts it, “NORAD/Northern Command… are set up to provide security for the whole continent and that Canada could be shut out of the planning process.”

“Canadians will not have any participation in the actual decision-making or the rules of engagement or anything to do with ballistic missile defence,” lieutenant-general George MacDonald, the former vice-chief of defence staff and now a consultant, tells the National Post. “We will simply be feeding the system.”

AND MORE: “Prime Minister Paul Martin said Canada must be consulted before the U.S. decides to fire on missiles that enter Canadian airspace, despite Ottawa’s refusal to participate in America’s missile defence program,” the CBC reports.

“I don’t think that anyone expected that there would be any other finger on a button than the Americans,” Martin said Friday, a day after his decision not to join the program.
“But in terms of Canadian airspace, yes we would expect to be consulted. This is our airspace. We’re a sovereign nation. And you don’t intrude on a sovereign nation’s airspace without seeking permission,” Martin said.


Friday, February 25th, 2005

During the early days of the Iraq invasion, some Marines were forced to use as many as seven different radios to communicate with colleagues and superiors. That’s why the Defense Department has been working so feverishly on “Jitters,” or JTRS, the $5 billion Joint Tactical Radio System effort to replace 750,000 old-school radios with software-based models.
But now, National Defense magazine reports, Jitters may be in trouble.

jtrs.jpgEncryption problems and an array of other technical shortcomings are throwing the entire project into question, said industry sources…
The JTRS version known as cluster 1, intended for use aboard Army helicopters and ground vehicles, is scheduled for a major Defense Department review this summer.
An Army technical review, known as early operational assessment, is slated for April. In January, however, the Army ordered the contractors to halt JTRS-related work for at least six weeks.
Technical challenges were encountered during development and integration that indicated the need for upgrades in performance and modifications in design, said Timothy Rider, spokesman for the Army Communications and Electronics Command.
This marks a sharp reversal of fortune for JTRS, which was hailed by Pentagon officials in 2002 as a transformational program that would underpin the Defense Departments vision of an interconnected network-centric military force…
The Army declined to elaborate on what exactly the technical issues are that potentially could derail this program. Industry sources contacted by National Defense indicated that one key area of concern is the encryption technology, which is overseen by the National Security Agency. Changes in the JTRS security architecture requested by the NSA potentially could delay the deliveries of JTRS cluster 1 by two years. Unlike previous generations of military radios, JTRS is entirely software-based, making the system more susceptible to hacking and prompting NSA to tighten the encryption requirements.

THERE’S MORE: NSA concerns aren’t the only reason Jitters is being delayed, Inside Defense notes.

The systems processing and memory capacity included no room for growth. Studies showed that the limit of the systems random access memory was likely to be exceeded and would lead to possible erratic performance that would be difficult to isolate, said Tim Rider, a spokesman for the Army’s the Communications-Electronics Life Cycle Management Command.
As a result, program officials determined that moving from the prototypes early limited functionality to the final design would not be possible, Rider said…
Program officials realized the challenges would lead to cost increases by October 2004, Rider wrote in response to questions. There were three key signs. First, Boeing needed more resources to finish hardware and non-waveform software requirements that would address memory shortfalls. Next, new baseline requirements emerged. Also, evolving operational scenarios and the development of the Defense Departments Global Information Grid expanded the understanding of a networked system of systems, which has driven upgrades to the radio system architecture that are needed to comply with National Security Agency standards…
In January 2004, the program received a reserve fund of $159 million for potential financial risks that were known to exist before the contract award. Boeing and the Army program office are preparing a plan and cost estimate for any additional cost increases and cannot provide specific figures until that process is complete, Rider said.


Thursday, February 24th, 2005

I’ve been fascinated by cosmic rays, ever since they turned Ben Grimm, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, and her kid brother Johnny into world-saving superheroes. So I was glad to hear that Los Alamos scientists had figured out a way to use the rays to detect smuggled nuclear material. Government Executive explains:

ff107.jpgThe technique involves the use of muons, which are produced when cosmic radiation decays as it hits the Earth. Los Alamos researchers have developed a system that uses muon radiography to detect uranium, plutonium or other dense materials. A suspect object, such as a cargo container, is passed through two pairs of detectors — one set above the object and one below — that record muons’ paths before and after they pass through the object. Analysis of the energy and trajectory of the muons results in a three-dimensional map of the inside of the suspect object…
Muon radiography has several advantages over detectors now deployed at U.S. borders, which use either X-rays or gamma rays, according to the laboratory. For example, gamma-ray detectors are less penetrating than those using muons, produce results that require additional interpretation and require the use of hazardous material such as cobalt.
Los Alamos scientists are now working to develop a set of muon radiography detectors large enough to scan large metal objects within 60 seconds. As the process develops, inspectors using the detectors may be able to clear a vehicle within about 20 seconds of muon exposure, the laboratory release says.
“We believe we’ve worked through all of the major obstacles to building a prototype system for a range of security issues,” Chris Morris of the laboratory’s Physics Division.

There’s no word, yet, on whether the detector could serve as an early warning system, should the Skrulls invade, or Galactus decides to return to eat the planet.


Thursday, February 24th, 2005

ST_28_security3_f.jpgBeing Big Brother can be such a drag, staring at walls of black-and-white security monitors all day. It’s a one-way trip to napville. And it doesn’t exactly make for tight security, either. One person can only watch six to eight surveillance screens for about twenty minutes before everything goes blurry, according to the watcher’s rule of thumb.
An Atlanta start-up, Vistascape, has been livening things up for monitor jockeys, with a bowl full of eye candy, to keep them engaged in what they’re doing. Screen banks are replaced with a single, 3D-view of a facility that lets a security officer “fly” around the area from his desktop, and focus on a single intruder. The U.S. Navy, the port of Corpus Christi, and several private energy companies are all using the system. About 20 other installations including Boston’s Logan Airport — are scheduled to get in on the fun soon. My article in this month’s Wired magazine has an example of how it works.
THERE’S MORE: Patrick Di Justo has a hot article in today’s Times on the dangers of unsecured webcams. Teenagers in panties are mentioned.


Thursday, February 24th, 2005

34! Send flowers!


Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005

dog_con_camera.jpgThere’s been a new edition to Defense Tech’s headquarters staff — Pablo, a cute-as-hell retriever-lab blend on loan from the girlfriend’s sister. Pablo has been helpful about getting the folks here out of the house (for once). But he hasn’t been enlisted for surveillance duty. Yet.
That may change, as Defense Tech considers following the lead of the Northumbria Police Department, and outfitting Pablo with a mini camera and wireless transmitter that sits on the top of the pooch’s head. (via Gizmodo)
THERE’S MORE: Hopefully, these spy-doggies will get a nice set of K-9 armor when they’re out on patrol.


Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005

Former Centcom intelligence analyst and Defense Tech pal Kris Alexander has some advice for our spyboys in this month’s Wired magazine: start blogging.

It’s an open secret that the US intelligence community has its own classified, highly secure Internet. Called Intelink, it’s got portals, chat rooms, message boards, search engines, webmail, and tons of servers. It’s pretty damn cool… for four years ago…
The first step toward reform: Encourage blogging on Intelink. When I Google “Afghanistan blog” on the public Internet, I find 1.1 million entries and tons of useful information. But on Intelink there are no blogs. Imagine if the experts in every intelligence field were turned loose — all that’s needed is some cheap software. It’s not far-fetched to picture a top-secret CIA blog about al Qaeda, with postings from Navy Intelligence and the FBI, among others. Leave the bureaucratic infighting to the agency heads. Give good analysts good tools, and they’ll deliver outstanding results.
And why not tap the brainpower of the blogosphere as well? The intelligence community does a terrible job of looking outside itself for information… If intelligence organizations built a collaborative environment through blogs, they could quickly identify credible sources, develop a deep backfield of contributing analysts, and engage the world as a whole. How cool would it be to gain “trusted user” status on a CIA blog?

Sign me up, Kris!