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Archive for February, 2009

Defense Budget Released (kind of)

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Here’s the Pentagon specific portion of the Obama budget, just released. No commentary as of yet, still have to read it.
Update – Reader Bdwilcox had me laughing with this comment, down below: Why bother reading it? Congress voted on an $800 billion “stimulus package” without reading it, so why should we hold you to a higher standard? Just comment away…
Heh, right on.
–John Noonan

Her Majesty’s Royal Coast Guard

Friday, February 27th, 2009

David Axe reports:

Under current plans, the Royal Navy circa 2020 will be a very strange force. There will be just six high-end warships to protect two 65,000-ton super-carriers, plus a mixed flotilla of old Type 23s and FSCs numbering just over a dozen. Itll be a top-heavy force with too few destroyers to escort the carriers into a shooting war, and too few frigates to perform day-to-day patrolling during peacetime. Its a fleet optimized for nothing.

For the past few decades, Her Majesty’s Armed Forces have steered away from the preservation of empire and colonies, instead configuring themselves in such a way that they can provide a solid bulwark to the US Armed Forces, while operating independently in a single theater, Falklands style scenario.
But, the backbone of any British strategy –from the pre-Victorian age all the way up until the Labour Party victory in the mid 1990s– has always been a powerful Royal Navy. The fleet’s demise over the past several years has been one of the great tragedies in recent memory. There was a time when the Union Jack protected every major sea lane and trade route on the globe — today the British can barely protect their own coastline. That’s a terrible fall for what was once a mighty sea-faring empire.
What’s troubling about this report, to me at least, is that the Brits are shaping their fleet in such a way that it will be largely reliant on American protection. Instead of existing as a powerful, independent ally that can operate jointly or independently with its US counterpart, the Royal Navy is becoming a welfare case — where supporting it with anti-sub and anti-air protection becomes more of a drain on our own resources than a benefit.
Watching the British lose confidence in themselves, the oft-lamented “Suez Syndrome,” is terrible. But, as much as it pains me to say so, perhaps it’s time we look for new, stronger allies for our special defense relationship — perhaps in the Aussies or Japanese.
–John Noonan
HT - Goldfarb

To Kill or not to Kill

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Kim Jong II
Back in 2008, US Pacific Command scored big when they knocked down a decaying US satellite with a sea-launched interceptor. Now ABC reports that CINCPAC, Adm. Timothy Keating, is ready to break out the flyswatter again — this time under operational conditions.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, Adm. Timothy Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Commands, said that the military is prepared to shoot down any North Korean ballistic missile — if President Obama should give the order.
If a missile leaves the launch pad we’ll be prepared to respond upon direction of the president,” Keating told ABC News. “I’m not a betting man but I’d go like 60/40, 70/30 that it will, they will attempt to launch a satellite. There’s equipment moving up there that would indicate the preliminary stages of preparation for a launch. So I’d say it’s more than less likely.”

With plenty of Aegis assets floating around the ring of fire, ground-based interceptors at Vandenberg AFB, CA and Alaska, and a whole mess of radars that put Superman’s x-ray vision to shame.… there’s no doubt we could pull this off. But, like with all things defense, the question is whether or not we should.
Sure, the idea might appeal to those of us whose responsibility for national security and statecraft stop at the “publish” button on our blogs — watching the Norks hopes for both a space program and a credible nuclear deterrent dissipate in a cloud of interceptor smoke sure to hell appeals to me– but what about the State department wonks who are responsible for turning off the North Korean nuclear program? What happens if the North Koreans step up raids along their borders, seize an American ship, or send nuclear scientists and supplies to Iran — or Syria?
The North Koreans are, by nature, aggressive creatures. But that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. In the fifty plus years since the ceasefire, they’ve frequently pushed us right up to our absolute, no shit limit, then quickly backed down. It’s a strange amalgamation of diplomacy, politics, and warfare –a harsh calculus of slaps and handshakes– that the Norks have mastered in their half-century of dealing with the West.
In other words, Kim Jong Il is damned good at being a gigantic pain in the ass.
So do we provoke him? Is it necessary? Does the benefit outweigh potential cost? I venture a cautious yes (let our new CiC play a little hardball), but what say you?
–John Noonan

Which to Kill: Raptor or Lightning Deus?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Okay, folks, something’s gotta give, money-wise. As we dicussed in a recent post and podcast, the VH-71 is in the crosshairs for severe reductions if not outright cancellation. These are bad times to be a program 100 percent over budget and a couple of years behind schedule.

Moreover, these are bad times PERIOD. Now I understand that the JSF and F-22 are designed to meet separate Air Force requirements. The JSF meets the LOW requirement and replaces the F-16; the F-22 meets the HIGH requirement and replaces the F-15. But the fiscal situtation now and in the FYDP might not support both.

We had a similar situation back in the day when carrier aviation, due to budget concerns primarily, was forced to choose between the A-6 and the F-14. Long story short, the Intruder went away and the Navy enhanced the Tomcat’s resident bombing capability. (The rest is OEF and OIF history, of course.)


So with Christian on the road for the next few days and me minding the store, I wanted to open up the discussion to you guys, the awesome and erudite in defense matters DT readers. What do you think? If the USAF decison-makers are made to choose one or the other, which should they pick?

Wikipedia (the source of all modern knowledge) “apples-to-apples” unit flyaway price comparison: F-22 - $137.5 million; JSF - $83 million. And I know the Raptor does things the JSF doesn’t, but does that capability validate the additional cost considering the current (and projected) threat and budgetary situation?

The comments board is now open.

– Ward

The Russians are ‘Pushing’ Again

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009


Russian manipulation has led to the government of the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan telling the United States that it must cease using its Manas air base. The base is of major importance to U.S. operations and support of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Until 1991, Kyrgyzstan had been a part of the Soviet Union. And, like Afghanistan, it is a land-locked state.

Large-scale U.S. military operations in Afghanistan began shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Because no countries in the region — including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which the United States had defended in 1991 — would permit U.S. forces to fly combat missions from their airfields, initial U.S. air support came from aircraft carriers operating in the Persian Gulf. These included the carrier Kitty Hawk (CV 63) serving as an afloat base for special forces and their helicopters. Other flights to Afghanistan had to fly lengthy routes, with overflight permission need from several countries.

Thus the Kyrgyzstan base of Manas has been of great importance. About 500 tons of material and 15,000 U.S. troops move through the base every month. The United States has been paying the country just over $17 million per year for use of the facility.

Talks between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan governments are continuing as this is written, but the point has been made: The president of Kyrgyzstan announced the end of American use of the base at a joint press conference with Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev. This was another demonstration of the “new” Russia being a major player in world events.

Other recent examples of this attitude include the Russian invasion of Georgia last year, the difficult negotiations over energy pipelines to Europe through the Ukraine, the recent visit of a naval task force — including a nuclear-propelled cruiser — to Venezuela to boost the prestige of U.S. antagonist Hugo Chavez, the operation of a Soviet carrier task force in the Mediterranean, planted rumors that Russia is seeking to reestablish a naval base in Syria, and the periodic long-range flights toward NATO countries by Russian bombers.

These activities are not meant to provoke a conflict — but perhaps crises. The “new” Russia is in no condition for a conflict beyond border incursions into neighboring countries (as the Georgia episode). But while the slow and expensive attempts to rebuild the country to be a significant military force, the political-military activities enumerated above will, in Russian eyes, contribute to the country again having a major role in world affairs.


An Alternative Future for the US Mil…

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009


Our boy Greg Grant has a great piece on a presentation given by Steven Biddle and T.X. Hammes on the future of warfare over at DoD Buzz.

I think it’s a good companion piece to the interview we just did with Dakota Wood at CSBA and also dovetails nicely with Greg’s previous piece on proposals from Mattis on how to better organize the Marine Corps.

Gates is heading in the right direction with a return to threat-based planning versus the capabilities-based portfolio planning of his predecessor that produced unaffordable procurement plans, Hammes said at the Washington gathering. Trying to guess the exact type or nature of future war the U.S. is likely to fight is the wrong way to go as more often than not youre going to end up with the wrong force. Instead, develop a force that can fight well enough across the spectrum of conflict to buy time to work your way up the learning curve. No matter what type of war, youll be forced into a game of adaptation, as that is wars true nature, and the outcome usually comes down to who can adapt the fastest.

I agree 100 percent with this and am frustrated when analysts use China and Russia as examples of “near-peer” competitors that we need to equip ourselves to fight. In fact, for all their excellent analysis, the CSBA tends to default to that contention — but I don’t think it’s out of some xenophobic reaction, just a way to compare apples to apples.

The challenge is preventing the services from defaulting to planning for another Cold War by substituting China for the Soviet Union. Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of going to war with your de-facto banker, Hammes said there is the little discussed issue of Chinas nuclear arsenal. A U.S. air and naval campaign against China would target the countrys command and control. How do you do that without threatening their nukes and national command authority? The Chinese lack a reliable second strike capability, attacks on their command and control could be perceived as an effort to take out their nuclear capability, possibly triggering a use-it or lose-it scenario. The Chinese know they cant stop individual aircraft attacking the mainland, instead, theyre building ballistic missiles to target airstrips and carriers to force the U.S. to fight at the extreme limits of range, taking short range fighters out of the equation. As for the Russians: in Georgia, the Russians drove a single division 60 miles after three months preparation. Not a threat.

Thank goodness there are at least some sober minds to help advance the debate in a more “middle ground” approach. Rather than swinging all the way to the left and say China isn’t a threat because they’ve just adopted a different political structure, or to go all the way to the right and say they are a threat because of it, misses the point. It’s about capabilities. When more than 3/4 of your population doesn’t have running water, I’m sorry but that’s not “near peer.” By the same token, we get all freaked out about Russian bombers flying close to Alaska or some such, but don’t realize that the pilots are so happy to just get the flight hours they don’t give a crap where they’re flying.

However, I do remember an article in the Atlantic about a year ago postulating how we’d fight China (it was part of Robert Kaplan’s series) and it made me think about something: How comfortable would I feel looking off the shore of my mother’s house in coastal North Carolina and seeing a Chinese aircraft carrier steaming nearby as apposed to a British or a French or a Japanese one? I’ll let you answer that one for yourselves.

Lethality in hybrid warfare is certainly increasing, as the vulnerability of even the most heavily armored vehicles will attest. Biddle questions the notion that situational awareness will prove adequate: In a hybrid form of warfare, the ubiquity of cover and concealment makes it possible for reasonably skilled opponents to stay out of our information grid. If we cant find them then we cant include them in a networked form of situational awareness. Instead of adding armor to vehicles or looking to information superiority to provide a battlefield edge, Biddle said the U.S. will be forced to adopt more hybrid war like tactics: dispersion, cover and concealment, combined arms, fire and maneuver.

A clear swipe at FCS…And this great line:

The U.S. military may be forced to undertake two transformations. If winning today means the military must transform for low intensity conflict, with larger ground forces and less emphasis on high-tech modernization, and then transform once again, after these wars are concluded, for a different kind of war, then thats probably the right path to take, as inconvenient and expensive as that may prove.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but I think Biddle’s right.

Be sure to check out the entire story on DoD Buzz.

– Christian

European Contractors Worry About Slowdown

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Concerns are mounting at European defense companies that the global economic downturn will drive down military spending.

Although such cuts by major European nations have not yet emerged, there are signs among smaller states that budgets will be affected. Croatia has deferred its fighter competition, Romania may do the same, and Estonia already has slashed its allocations for defense.

Kongsberg CEO Walter Qwam says there is “a lot of fear that defense spending will be cut.” Moreover, the current economic climate could drive protectionist procurement practices, he notes.

Estonia, with its economy in sharp decline, has already moved to trim annual military spending by around 14%. The defense ministry has to give back approximately $54 million and bring the top line down to roughly $345 million.

The budget action will mean Estonia will fall short of its target of raising defense spending to 2% of gross domestic product by 2010, says Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo. This is also undermining planners’ efforts to bring more stability to the defense arena. Several procurement programs are being put on hold as a result of the budget adjustment.

In Sweden, financial uncertainty surrounds the budget and its potential impact on industry. Saab — the country’s largest defense and aerospace contractor — is worried about the government’s spending plans. Company officials also are pondering how Saab’s bottom line may be affected as a result of its supplier role to Airbus and Boeing.

The Swedish government is expected to put forward a new spending bill next month, although discussions about long-term defense allocations could drag on for much of the year, says Saab CEO Ake Svensson. The government is trying to align funding priorities with the need to protect certain defense industrial capabilities, he adds.

In parallel with its budget review, Stockholm is looking at other reforms that could be implemented to support industry. Changes in the acquisition organization and procurement processes may result, as well as greater support for Swedish manufacturers in defense exports. Local industry often grumbles about receiving less backing from its government than some of its rivals.

Because of ambiguities in both its defense business and commercial activities, Saab management hesitates to give an outlook for the year, beyond noting that sales are likely to be flat. The civil aircraft business pummeled last year’s earnings, with a fourth-quarter writedown of 953 million Swedish kronor ($108.6 million) related to delays Airbus and Boeing experienced on some of their programs. Saab also took a 232-million-kronor provision for further anticipated losses. That does not yet reflect the potential fallout from the cancellations and deferrals that Airbus and Boeing are experiencing.

Compounding the financial charges on the commercial front were ongoing problems in the defense sector. The combined effect was 1.8 billion kronor in nonrecurring financial items in 2008 that drove Saab’s full year results to a 242-million-kronor loss. Saab is making adjustments as a result of repeated write­downs because of problems in development programs. The company intends to be more judicious in how it accounts for such projects, which will have the near-term effect of depressing the 2009 profit margin by four percentage points.

Read the rest of this story, hear a great podcast, see vid from a French drone and check out operation DIESEL from our friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian

Speaking with Dakota Wood

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Here’s the interview with Dakota Wood, senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments on VH-71, EFV, MV-22, JSF, Seabasing and distributed operations.


– Christian

Boots on the Ground — Inside the Marine One Program and Other Corps Initiatives

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

You all know by now that Sen. John McCain raised the issue of the VH-71 Kestrel helicopter program — the so-called “Marine One” buy — at the “fiscal summit” yesterday at the White House.

Defense Tech has been on the story for a while but had a hard time getting details on it (sensing the political implications of the program and it’s international component, the program’s been a bit locked down a la F-22).

One thing we did know is that McCain’s defense staff had eyed this program for cancellation months ago. Not sure why they targeted this one in particular, but I have some background on the program from my reporting of the pre-downselect wrangling between Sikorsky and LockMart/Augusta-Westland a few years ago.

I’m not really sure of the urgency of the program — in other words I don’t have a clear sense of how long the VH-3 aircraft are going to be “airworthy” or what the cost-benefit of keeping them in the air vs. buying a new helo really is. My sense was that the award to LockMart/A-W was a bit more risky than the Sikorsky platform, since Sikorsky is cranking out H-60s and was offering an S-92 derivative for the new Prez chopper (it’s just a stretched out version of the 60). How much of the LockMart award was a reach-out to Euro allies is unclear, but more than a few sources say it clearly was.

Program allies have been saying that the increased costs are a result of increased requirements — particularly nuclear hardening and other high-tech add ons. And that may be true. But it seems to me this program was awarded in an environment when these sorts of cost escalations could be expected and accommodated with some grumbling…and I wonder how much the program relied in the idea that “hey, we can’t cut corners with the president’s helicopter” to give them a pass.

Well, looks like the chickens have come to roost.

So, in an effort to give DT readers a bit more perspective, I’m scheduled a live podcast with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments’ Dakota Wood, a former Marine Officer and subject matter expert on Marine programs and organization. We’ll use the opportunity to talk to him a little bit about this and other Corps initiatives at 1430 EST today.

Hope you’ll listen in…

– Christian

Give Peace a Chance — n’t

Monday, February 23rd, 2009


Our boy Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal has a breaking piece on a new alliance between insurgent groups and al Qaeda in Pakistan.

This occurs of course as the US begins it’s mini-“surge” of forces into Afghanistan (which I guarantee you won’t last more than a year) and the recent “treaty” between Pak government at the militants allowing some areas to be governed by Sharia law (yeah, that’ll work).

So in the spirit of friendship, the Pak militants say “all hail al Qaeda”…Let’s just give diplomacy a chance. Mr. Holbrook, you want some more frequent flier miles?

The three senior most Taliban leaders in North and South Waziristan joined forces to wage jihad against Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US at the behest of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The new Taliban alliance said it openly supports Omar and bin Laden in its war against the US, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and South Waziristan leaders Mullah Nazir and Baitullah Mehsud put aside differences last week and created the Council of United Mujahideen. Nazir and Bahadar had feuded with Baitullah due to tribal disputes as well as Baitullahs rising power at the senior leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

The three leaders had pamphlets distributed throughout North and South Waziristan to announce the formation of the Council of United Mujahideen. The Taliban leader united according to the wishes of Mujahideen leaders like Mullah Muhammad Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Laden, The Nation reported.

The Taliban alliance supported Mullah Muhammad Omar and Osama bin Ladens struggle against US President Barack Obama, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administrations.

The new alliance said it was waging war in an organized manner to stop the infidels from carrying out acts of barbarism against innocent people just as Omar and bin Laden were waging war against Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US.