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Archive for March, 2009

DT/Milcom on TV

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Last night I appeared on the Federal News Tonight show on Washington, D.C.‘s, News Channel 8 to discuss the controversy over the Navy’s awarding Rep. John Murtha the Distinguished Public Service award.

I thought I should at least share how stupid I look on TV…


– Christian

Europe Warms to Missile Defense as US Cools

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.

This week’s NATO summit was supposed to serve as a catalyst to drive missile defense activities forward in Europe. But with Washington still defining its policy stance, the brakes are being put on expectations.

In another key area of alliance concern — Afghanistan — U.S. efforts to enlist greater European force commitments are also not likely to materialize, says Robert Hunter, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and senior adviser at the Rand Corp. The Apr. 3–4 summit in Germany and France comes about six months too early for the Obama administration to have worked out a number of issues, he indicates.

Arms control and disarmament constitute a concern that the alliance’s strategic concept needs to address, says German defense minister Franz Josef Young. “We need new initiatives for conventional arms control,” he argues.

But for European missile defense efforts, the summit had been regarded as a key venue in which to urge members to embrace the concept of continental defense. The Pentagon’s push for a European site for the ground-based midcourse system — with a radar in the Czech Republic and interceptors in Poland — would be the centerpiece. But the Obama administration has yet to articulate a clear path forward on the third site, which Russia has strenuously opposed. As a result, the Czech government this month decided not to seek parliamentary endorsement for the radar construction.

In addition, it was hoped that working groups would be asked to study architectures for expanding the alliance’s current emphasis on theater missile defense into a network covering all of Europe, and to begin cooperatively developing key new components such as early warning systems and interceptors. A German military official has warned that without U.S. sites in Europe, there would be no missile defense shield built on the continent.

However, not everyone shares that assessment. “Dropping the third site would have no impact from a capability standpoint; there are other solutions available,” says Richard Deakin, senior vice president of Thales Air Systems Div., although he concedes there would be political repercussions from the U.S.‘s backing away from the so-called third site (augmenting those in Alaska and California).

“We think BMD [ballistic missile defense] will be less important in Strasbourg than initially expected,” says MBDA CEO Antoine Bouvier. “The likely result,” he notes, is that there will be more of a focus on expanding air defense capability to cover a range of new threats, using a building-block approach, rather than a pure BMD program. MBDA is pursuing a dual-track approach, with the Aster 30 Block 1 for the SAMP/T system providing a capability against short-range ballistic threats. The Aster Block 2 design, with its high endoatmospheric-intercept capability, would be able to counter medium-range weapons.

Bouvier suggests that Aster Block 2 would be capable of engaging weapons such as the SS-26, which follows a flattened trajectory and can begin terminal maneuvers at altitudes of roughly 25,000 meters (82,000 ft.).

The Block 2 missile is intended to be compatible with both land and naval launchers for the Aster 30.

France, which is expected to fully return into the NATO structure, is stepping up its interest in missile defense. In contrast, European efforts are largely fractured, with countries having been unable to agree on a common approach. That leaves European governments charting different courses.

For example, at the end of the development period for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (Meads) lower-tier anti-missile program, the Italian air force will decide whether to acquire 2–4 batteries. The country’s navy is more committed to missile defense but hasn’t yet determined whether to embrace a European or U.S. interceptor.

Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made missile defense a priority. The 2009–13 military spending plan, now before parliament, includes a number of items earmarked for this area. The most notable are an early warning satellite/radar network and a Block 2 Aster air defense system that are supposed to be operational by 2020.

Further funding is expected to come from a 2.3-billion ($3.1-billion) French government economic stimulus package for aerospace and defense projects approved last year, says Bouvier. With President Barack Obama willing to give U.S. allies a more equitable role in common defense, “it’s an opportunity for Europe to make its voice heard and contribute in kind, not just with funding,” he says.

“[Territorial BMD] will require no real technology breakthroughs, but it will be costly,” says Michel Mathieu, CEO of Thales Raytheon Systems. Although it would make sense to split the burden without duplicating efforts, he says, U.S. technology restrictions appear to make this unfeasible — at least for sensitive technologies such as radar, interceptors and seekers.

The cornerstone of territorial BMD will be NATO’s Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) and notably its Air Command and Control System (ACCS), which is being supplied by Thales Raytheon Systems. ALTBMD is effectively the backbone to link NATO’s disparate systems, ranging from Patriot and Meads batteries to ships and potentially a U.S. interceptor site in Poland.

After a long development period that ended with factory acceptance testing last year, NATO is preparing to deploy the ACCS at 15 sites in 13 countries, although the system’s full functionality remains to be further enhanced. A framework contract for the deployment phase, known as Replication, will be issued in June and contracts let in batches, starting in November and continuing through 2012. The initial operating capability will be reached in 2010 or 2011, depending on which software version (factory acceptance or Block 1 upgrade) is used, says Mathieu. Upgrade 1 renders the system compatible with NATO’s latest planning/tasking requirements and provides new automation, interactivity and real-time data features, as well as the ability to interface with existing hardware. Full operating lower-tier capability will be reached in 2013 and full upper tier in 2014–16.


The Unforgiving Minute

Monday, March 30th, 2009

UnforgivingMinute_L.jpg I’m not really one for book reviews. These days, with Amazon codifying this sort of unwieldy, cookie-cutter “how-to” form for dead tree appraisal, the whole process is just too much of a pain in the ass for me churn out quality copy.
With that said, I know what I like. I know how to express what I like. And –at the risk of sounding like a simpleton– I really liked Craig Mullaney’s The Unforgiving Minute.
This is an extraordinarily scribed journey, the odyssey of an 18 year old as he navigates the perils of West Point, US Army Ranger School, Oxford, and eventually war torn Afghanistan — and yes, as the book’s title implies, the crusade does usher him into manhood. Beautifully written and deeply moving, TUM transcends basic autobiographical storytelling and becomes something more. As Mullaney finds his voice, most evident in his interactions with fellow West Point cadets and his soldiers, the story undergoes a profound metamorphosis, with Mullaney defying the traditional soldiering stereotypes and resurrecting a species long believed extinct: that of the warrior-poet (evident enough in the title, which invokes Kipling’s legendary poem “If”).
Like the great British war poets of the First World War, Mullaney doesn’t glorify war or try to hide its ugly head. Instead, his writing ebbs and flows on a tide of brutal honesty and fierce self-determinism. He struggles with the awesome responsibility of leading men, slays his inner-demons (some of which, he admits, are of his own construction), and denies any inclination or temptation of self-glorification.
The Unforgiving Minute is the first real war autobiography of our time. In fact, as this long war begins to approach the decade mark, Mullaney may well have offered up the most important, thought provoking, and definitive book of the so-called 9/11 generation. By holding up the mirror and transcribing what Mullaney –the soldier– sees, so the audience also reflects on what a long, strange war its been.
You can listen to Military.com’s podcast with Craig here.
–John Noonan

Boots on the Ground — Cyber War Edition

Monday, March 30th, 2009

In this episode, we talk to DT contributor Kevin Coleman who takes on his critics, talks breaking news on new cyber warfare organizations and discloses previously unreported vulnerabilities in computer hardware that may be impossible to secure.

– Christian

The Dragon in the Phone Line

Monday, March 30th, 2009


Back in January of this year Alex Allan, Chairman of the British Joint Intelligence Committee, briefed a ministerial committee on the rapidly growing threat of cyber attacks and espionage from China. In that briefing, Allan expressed his growing concern because government departments, the intelligence services and the military were all exposed to the threat from computer and network hardware that came from foreign suppliers — he specifically mentioned China.

British Telecom’s new communications network has been installed by Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which is allegedly funded by Beijing and has links to the People’s Liberation Army. The ministerial committee on national security was told that Huawei components that form key parts of BT’s new 10 billion pound network might be constructed with compromised hardware that contains malicious elements waiting to be activated by China. The Times Online quoted intelligence officials, as saying, “In case of a war like situation, China could use BT to halt critical services such as communications, power, and water supplies.” Security experts supported the intelligence chiefs’ concerns and warning. They said if an adversary were able to gain control of the communications equipment, the network’s mode of operation could be altered. This would give them the ability to basically turn the network off!

Another real possibility is that traffic could be rerouted to network nodes that are controlled by the attacker. While British Telecom has taken preventive security measures to reduce this risk, the government is said to believe that the enhanced security measures would not be effective against deliberate attack by China. It is widely believed that China is already equipped to make “covert network modifications” or to “compromise equipment in ways that are very hard to detect” and that might later “remotely disrupt or even permanently disable the network.” It is unknown if British security experts have hard evidence of network hardware espionage or they are just being cautions.

These words of warning came on the heels of multiple reports of the discovery of a vast cyber espionage network (GhostNet) that is controlled from China which has infiltrated government and private 1,295 computers in 103 countries.

INTEL: The British intelligence services and their military all use the new British Telecom network.

INTEL: A Huawei’s head executive is Ren Zhengfei, the former director of an arm of the three million-strong People’s Liberation Army who was responsible for telecommunications research.

– Kevin Coleman

More on Murtha

Friday, March 27th, 2009


I know I’m going to catch flak from the technophiles out there, but I wanted to forward along to you all the story I wrote yesterday on the Navy awarding its highest civilian honor to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). No, this is not specifically “defense tech,” but it does relate to someone who has a lot of influence on who gets it.

Anyway, I reported yesterday in a story that has hit the Drudge Report today that former SecNav Donald Winter awarded Murtha with the Navy’s Distinguished Civilian Service medal. This has rubbed some vet groups the wrong way, since Murtha’s anti-war outrage boiled over in May 2006 when he disclosed private briefings from Marine officials who told him civilians had been killed by grunts in Haditha in 2005 and there was an investigation going on about why.

As you all know, Murtha called the Marines (and one Navy corpsman) “cold blooded” killers and has refused to recant his position or apologize for his remarks despite the Marines’ acquittal in military courts on all counts.

Well, I just got off the phone with a Navy official who gave me a few more details on how the award was bestowed and why.

Bottom line, it was a unilateral decision by then SecNav Donald Winter, who, just days before he left office, gave these awards to key members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committee, and the House and Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel. In other words, he gave them to the folks who gave the Navy money and gear. The official was unable to provide me with a list of exactly whom these medals were awarded to (pretty special award, huh?).

The Navy official told me a typical civilian can be nominated for the award and the nomination goes before a board where it’s forwarded to the SecNav who makes the final call. But that didn’t happen this time.

Also, I asked for official Navy reaction to the outcry from some vets groups and the petition drive to rescind the award from Murtha and he said, “I’m not going to go down that spiral with you.”

Q: Does the Navy stand by the award?…

A: “The Secretary of the Navy has the authority to present this award, and he did so.”

Case closed…

And, even more mysteriously, you’d think that if the Navy was going to bestow its highest civilian award on not just one, but several civilians at one time, they’d have a pretty big ceremony or something, right? Well, the official couldn’t provide me with any information on when the awards were given, where the ceremony — if any — was held, or whether the awards were simply mailed to the recipients with a nice letter.

The official said he’d get back to me when he found that out, so I’ll update you when he does.

– Christian

Obama’s War

Friday, March 27th, 2009


I’m gratified to hear the leaking coverage of President Obama’s upcoming speech today on his new Afghanistan policy.

As you know, we at DT and DoD Buzz read the tea leaves and saw a strong pull toward a “minimalist” approach to the Afghan war, dumbing down the goals to “containment” and pushing responsibility on Pakistan for any failure.

But today’s coverage of the upcoming speech seems to indicate that Obama sided with the Petraeus’ of the world (and credit where credit is due, the Clinton approach) and decided that he’d throw all his chips on the table to win in Afghanistan.

I strongly believe that those of us who were pushing for the so-called “all-in” approach were buttressed by a little known Army officer who’s done some extraordinary work in the White House — one Lt. Gen. Doug Lute.

He’s the so-called “war czar” at the White House, shepherding the competing interests of State, intel, the DoD and White House into a cohesive strategy that makes military strategic sense. I guarantee it was his wise counsel that helped tip the balance toward a more robust approach and a rejection of the idea that we abandon the Afghans. (And I also bet he was the source of the pre-speech stories — and oh by the way, he’s a Bush holdover)

I’m glad to hear that more troops, more money, and, more importantly, more influence on making Afghanistan “work” is going to be Obama’s approach. We’ll keep a close eye on how this unfolds — both from Washington and the field — to make sure we don’t let the strategy get hijacked when things get tough.

– Christian

“We’ll be here for another hour…”

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

A friendly Friday post to take the edge off, courtesy of the USMC (and an old Jarhead college pal who sent it my way). Mild content warning for naughty language, they are Marines after all.

–John Noonan

Friday — Fire for Effect

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

A war by any other name is still a war
COIN or CT in the ‘stan?
Surprise! China’s defense expenditures soaring
Whodunit? America or Israel?

White resigns (sigh)

The freaky-deaky yet surprisingly awesome Japanese trailer for Cat Shit One

–John Noonan

Army’s ‘Subcompact’ Rifle Search in Doubt

Thursday, March 26th, 2009


From this morning’s headlines at Military​.com…

It could be a perfect fit for cramped cockpits and truck cabs — a weapon potent enough to penetrate body armor, but sporting a bantam package that won’t turn maneuvering in tight spaces into a Houdini act.

Though the Army says it’s interested in putting a so-called “subcompact” carbine into the hands of certain Joes, the effort is likely to get kicked to the curb in favor of a new, full-sized carbine — the victim of withering budgets and the service’s focus on updating the M4.

Late last summer, the Army embarked on an ambitious analysis of the latest weapons the small arms industry had to offer. The effort focused mainly on possible alternatives to the M4 carbine, but its secondary goal was to look at subcompacts, or so-called “personal defense weapons.“

These handy little guns can be anything from a submachine gun to a chopped-down carbine. The Army first announced it was interested in such a weapon in 2007, to give pilots, tankers and truck drivers a little more firepower than the Beretta M9 9mm pistol.

The service’s interest prompted gun makers to gin up a variety of these James Bond-style weapons in multiple calibers and barrel lengths. Gun companies showed off their new designs at an Army industry day in November, but Army weapons officials still have no concrete plans for the effort’s future.

“The subcompact has to serve a lot of different people … it’s much too early to say this is what we are looking for,” Jim Stone, the head of the Soldier Requirement’s Division at Fort Benning, Ga., told Military​.Com recently.

Such a cautious approach has veteran gun makers doubtful that these new, compact weapons will ever make it to formal testing, let alone into Soldier’s hands.

“I see this as an uphill battle,” said C. Reed Knight Jr., owner of Knight’s Armament Company. “The government still doesn’t know what it wants.”