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Archive for August, 2009

US Army Defining Modernization Plan

Monday, August 31st, 2009

[EDITOR’S NOTE: I have traveled out to Ft. Bliss to participate in a media event intended to outline the Army’s modernization effort for its brigade combat teams. I’ll be out in the field tomorrow shooting video taking some stills and doing interviews (and generally getting smart on the program) and will provide data dumps here as comms permit. The following article from our Av Week friends helps set the scene.]
This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

By early October, the U.S. Army will have a new program executive office (PEO) in charge of its Brigade Combat Team Modernization (BCTM), a sweeping effort to restructure its controversial Future Combat Systems (FCS) program.

The new PEO will effectively act as the integrator for BCTM, looking across the board at how to integrate so-called capabilities sets into Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), according to Paul Mehney, associate director for BCTM. Additionally, a product manager role will be established in various sectors, including one for the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), which will replace the cancelled Manned Ground Vehicle (MGV).

The Armys much-touted network, the backbone of FCS, could become a point of contention as the services Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) wrestles with how much information will go to whom and how it will get delivered. The MGVs were essentially the hub of the network, and without them, TRADOC will have to determine new requirements for hosting the network and how much information the new structure will relay to the field.

The fully equipped, 15-brigade FCS structure is off the table as well, forcing the Army to figure out how to incorporate Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles and up-armored Humvees into the new BCT formations. All 73 Army BCTs will now be mobile and tailor-able, according to Mehney, capable of performing the full spectrum of operations — offensive, defensive and stability — no matter the brigades configuration.

Capability sets will replace so-called spin outs, with the BCTs benefiting from upgrades and improvements on a rotating basis every few years. That system may help the program avoid the technical maturity issues it faced over the course of development for FCS. Paul Francis of the congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified June 16 before the Senate Armed Services air-land subcommittee that he thought the requirements were set before we knew what was technically feasible. So I think theres been a lot of work to rationalize.

Still, the end-product may not be that far from the original vision, albeit adapted to new budget realities, one Washington think tank analyst says in an Aug. 26 report. Given the continued development of the network and a number of additional FCS components, it seems unlikely that the new modernization program will be substantially different from the previous one, says Evan Braden Montgomery of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The Army may need to be far more selective in its modernization efforts, replacing some but not all of the different types of vehicles in its armored fleet.

The new process will take longer, however. The Army will start with a first increment in 2011, but it will take until 2025 to completely field all the capability sets.

Read the rest of this story, see how the Iraqi air force is gaining planes, read about the dead Rendon contract and hear the generals roar from our Aviation Week friends, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian

Friday Funny: Obama Axes Plan for Billion Dollar Tank in Shape of Dragon

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Another defense acquisition disaster…

Obama Axes Pentagon Plan To Build Billion Dollar Tank In Shape Of Dragon
–John Noonan

Fighter Order Rekindles Russian Air Force

Friday, August 28th, 2009

This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Russian air force ambitions stretch far beyond the $2.65-billion Sukhoi fighter order at the MAKS 2009 show. Aspirations include fielding an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) alongside its fifth-generation fighter and developing a next-generation strategic bomber.

The fighter deal is a fillip to the air force and Sukhoi. The military will acquire 48 Su-35S fighter aircraft from 2010–15, along with 12 Su-27SMs and four Su-30M2s. Delivery of the last two versions of the Flanker should be completed by 2011.

Securing an air force order bolsters Sukhoi’s export aims for the Su-35, while also providing production work for its Komsomolsk-on-Amur site.

Maj. Gen. Oleg Barmin, chief of procurement for the Russian air force, says the Su-35S offer was particularly attractive to his service. “We are not bearing any development costs, and it is saving us money,” he told a press briefing here last week. If MiG is able to do the same with its MiG-35 development of the MiG-29 Fulcrum, this would benefit a possible purchase, he noted.

The S-35S will operate with the air force’s fifth-generation fighter, known as PAK-FA, when it enters service.

The PAK-FA’s radar design was unveiled at the show, with Russian manufacturer NIIP showing a prototype of the active, electronically scanned array (AESA) device. The radar had initially remained covered on the company stand, since government clearance was needed to show the design.

The 1,500-element array is a slight ellipse, likely reflecting the cross section of the PAK-FA nose. While NIIP officials say they have looked at an AESA design in which the antenna face can be moved, the approach being taken with PAK-FA is for a fixed antenna. Test flights of the radar are due to begin in 2010. The first PAK-FA prototype is still expected to fly before year-end. The aircraft design also could use secondary conformal array antennas to provide additional angular coverage.

NIIP previously developed a variety of passive, phased array radars; however, the shift to an active array poses a leap in technology — not least of all in manufacturing the transmit/receive modules.

The air force procurement chief maintains that fielding the Su-35S will provide his service with a near-term counter to the U.S. Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

In addition to the PAK-FA, the air force is looking at its UCAV needs. Barmin suggests it will carry “the same weapons as the fifth-generation fighter.“

MiG and Sukhoi are already working on UCAV developments. Two years ago, MiG unveiled its Skat project and showed a mockup of the design. The company is continuing its UCAV work, although its exact status is unknown. Sukhoi General Designer Mikhail Pogosyan, who also leads MiG, suggests the development of a UCAV could be the first common effort between the two fighter manufacturers. Both are to form the combat aircraft business unit of Russia’s United Aircraft Corp (UAC), with Sukhoi as the dominant element.

(more…)

IMINT Alert! — Who Are These Guys?

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Ok dear readers, here’s one for you.

The following photo ran with the following generic caption: U.S. troops keep a watchful eye out as people go to the polls for the country’s 2nd Presidential elections, August 20, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Security is on high alert as the Afghan people go the the polls. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the democratic election. — Kate Brooks, Getty Images

My question: Who are these guys? Camo? Not US issue. Helmets, callsign patches, ballistic eyewear, M4 with all the whistles and bells? US-issue looking. But definately high-speed US unit issue if so. The one tell-tale I see is the guy on the right’s pistol holster — looks a little too chinsy for a US operator.
Troops-in-Kabul-mystery.jpg

What say you IMINT analysts?

— Christian

New Source: Counter IED Plus Up in The ‘Stan

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

MRAP-afghanistan.jpg

First of all, dearest readers…lighten UP! Yesterday’s post on the Russians buying an amphibious assault ship from the French was tongue in cheek, and if you don’t get the irony, watch Spinal Tap or Tropic Thunder a few more times.

OK, so I want to introduce to you an exciting new source we’ve secured for Military​.com, DT and DoD Buzz content from the Christian Science Monitor. We’ve highlighted a couple stories from my good friend and former colleague Gordon Lubold, who is the Pentagon Correspondent for the Monitor. Well, after months of negotiations, we’ve earned the right to post Gordon’s content on our sites, which is a huge coup considering his solid sourcing, great analysis and top-notch writing.

Today, we ran a Lubold story on Afghanistan commanders’ increasing counter IED capabilities in-country, including pulling in more EOD Techs, MRAPs and countermeasures.

The U.S. military is responding to the dramatic rise of roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan by significantly stepping up its efforts to combat the No. 1 killer of American troops in the war.

It is sending thousands of new bomb-resistant trucks there, increasing by 50 percent the number of explosive ordnance disposal experts, and importing “lessons learned” from the war in Iraq to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan.

The effort is not expected to weaken “counter-IED” capability in Iraq. That will stay put for now, with the military increasing its efforts in Afghanistan.

But Afghanistan is a much different IED environment than Iraq, with aspects that make it easier and harder to counteract the threat. For example, IEDs are easier to emplace and conceal in Afghanistan, since 90 percent of its roadways are unimproved — digging in a roadside bomb is a lot easier to do and cover up than on a paved surface like most of the roads are in Iraq. Also, most of Afghanistan’s IEDs are made from homespun materials, making the forensics and interdicting of the explosives etc. harder to do.

But IEDs are much less sophisticated in Afghanistan and while deadly, we haven’t seen the kind of triple stack anti-tank mine setups, Senao base station activators or EFPs we saw in Iraq. Most are crude, command detonated IEDs which put the insurgents at much greater risk.

Nevertheless, IED attacks are spiking…

In July 2007, there were 230 IED “incidents” in Afghanistan the Pentagon’s terminology for roadside bombs that were detonated or detected. These killed 12 members of coalition forces. Last month, there were 828 incidents that killed 49 members of coalition forces, according to the Joint IED Defeat Organization, an arm of the Pentagon.

In Iraq, by contrast, there were 170 incidents last month, down from the 2,137 reported in July 2007, according to the organization.

…but deaths from IEDs are not. According to Gordon’s numbers, the rate of KIA per IED attack has ticked up a fraction of a percent, now at about 5.7 percent. By contrast, in Iraq the May 2007 death rate for IEDs was 90 troops in about 1200 attacks, or about an 8 percent KIA rate.

What will the MATV bring? Not sure. Look, I’ll meet my critics half way and say that an MRAP robustness in a lightweight package is a better call than flooding the zone with, what my boy Dave Woroner likes to call, bank vaults on wheels. But I wonder if, given McChrystal’s new guidelines, the MATVs are still not COIN-centric enough to do that job effectively.

What won the IED battle in Iraq? Not “banging trons” from Prowlers or MRAPs or even the uparmorest of uparmored Humvees. It was turning the population against the IED layers and boots on the ground (which I include snipers, who I say are the best counter IED weapon in the US/Coalition arsenal).

So please read the rest of Gordon’s story on Military​.com and be sure to keep a scan on other CSM content relevent to your interests. We’re glad to have them aboard and look forward to further news on tactical development and strategic events.

– Christian

Russian Marines Getting New Ride

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

mistral.jpg

And we’re WORRIED about the Russians?

Russia said Wednesday it plans to buy a new helicopter-carrying assault warship from NATO-member France in an unprecedented deal experts say reflects Kremlin efforts to accelerate military modernization.

The agreement for purchase of one Mistral-class naval ship also equipped with hovercraft and landing craft will be completed by the end of the year, the Russian chief of staff, General Nikolai Makarov, said.

He did not name a price, but the Russian government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported this month that the ship, which can carry 16 heavy helicopters, 470 airborne troops and other gear, costs 700 million euros (995 million dollars).

So Ivan wants to build an amphibious capability for what? An invasion of Georgia…OK, good luck with that MedvedevPutin. And your defense manufacturing and shipbuilding infrastructure is so moribund you have to buy from the French!? Ouch, that’s gotta hurt Mr. “Multi-polar World” guy.

But, oh yeah, you want to do “joint” production later — uh, huh…

Makarov also said Russia wanted to forge a deal with France on joint production of more ships.

“We also want to establish production of a series of at least four or five ships of this class,” he said.

Makarov, an influential proponent in Russia of modernizing the country’s conventional armed forces quickly through procurement from Western suppliers, admitted the military needs equipment that Russia cannot produce at present.

“No country in the world can do everything” on its own, he said, adding: “Some things will have to be purchased” from foreign producers.

Hey, I know…We have an F-22 manufacturing line Congress wants to keep open — the Russians are “looking to the West” to modernize — Obama’s reaching out to rebuild strained ties — hmmm.

How ironic would it be to turn the F-22 argument on its head and say it’s needed to supply the very enemy it was designed to fight?

…I guess I need some more coffee.

– Christian

Up Periscope! — BAM You’re Dead

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

trench-periscope.jpg

Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I ran across a perfect example of that over at Soldier Systems blog which features a neat little post on an updated version of the trench periscope.

With all these walled compounds and impromtu urban sniper postions, the US Tactical Supply Scout Sniper Periscope Kit is a back to the future update of the Dough Boy sharpshooter’s best friend.

U.S. Tactical Supply offers the Scout Sniper Periscope Kit (NSN 1240–01-571‑5004). The kit is comprised of am anodized aluminum tripod mount handle with 1/4 20 threads, Desert Camo SwatScope 3M Camoclad Wrap Kit, aluminum hard case, belt hook, AN/PVS-14 Adapter, flashlight attachment, and a soft sling case. Its everything you need to put the periscope immediately into action and can be used for a variety of observation applications in addition to use by a Sniper section.

Sometimes it’s not about UAVs, thermal imagers and ground bots…sometimes it’s just a simple matter of refraction, defraction and a sneak peek above the roof line to zero in on the bad guys.

Maybe US tactical has an adaptor kit to attach the periscope to a M110 or M40 rifle…?

(Gouge: SS)

– Christian

Floating Down on Bed Sheets

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

From missile defenses to parachutes…you never know where Defense Tech will take you.

It sort of jibes with Noonan’s last video post — which I’m still wiping the tears off my face from laughing so hard — but the Army has begun fielding — for the first time in 50 years — a new parachute for its general purpose airborne forces. By that I mean, it’s a replacement for the 1950s-era T-10 “mass tactical, non-maneuverable parachute system.”

The new parachute — developed by Natick — takes up a bunch more surface area than the T-10 and slows the decent of a Soldier by nearly 50 percent, PEO Soldier says. One Soldier was quoted as saying it looks like you’re floating down on a fitted bed sheet, since instead of the old-school rounded canopy, the T-11 sports a more squared off one.

Now, officials say this new chute is designed for today’s heaver Soldier with more gear and helps increase the Soldier’s effectiveness in the field by giving him a much less jarring ride to the ground.

The T-11 Parachute : Soldiers Speak from PEO Soldier on Vimeo.

Check out the PEO Soldier video — I don’t know about you, but I might feel a bit like a sitting duck floating down into enemy territory so slowly like that. But then again, I’ve never jumped out of a perfectly good airplane.

– Christian

Land-Based SM-3 Seen as Frontrunner

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.

The likelihood of the U.S. establishing a fixed Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) missile interceptor site in Poland appears to be waning as the Pentagon is more sharply focused on the quick fielding of a land-based SM-3 system to protect Europe from an Iranian ballistic missile threat.

Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says part of the rationale behind capping the number of operational three-stage Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) (GMD’s missile segment) was a miscalculation of the intercontinental ballistic missile threat. “The reality is it did not come as fast as we thought it’d come,” he told an audience at the Space and Missile Defense Conference 2009 here last week. Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry (Trey) Obering, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) director through 2008, said the ICBM threat was expected to materialize in 2015, and that drove the time line for establishment of the European missile field. Cartwright did not cite a new date by which intelligence experts predict an ICBM threat could materialize.

Iran has demonstrated a space launch capability and, despite a third-stage failure of North Korea’s Taepo-Dong 2 during a recent test, experts at the conference this week say Pyongyang is making some headway. Uzi Rubin, retired Israeli general officer and expert on the threat, says the Iranians have made considerable headway with solid rocket motors. And the pace of ballistic missile-testing in Iran is impressive, he says.

Still, the 30 GBIs — 26 at Ft. Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. — are deemed sufficient to counter the “rogue” threat of a long-range ballistic missile attack on the U.S. from North Korea or Iran. “That is a heck of a lot more than [needed for] a rogue,” Cartwright added. An X-band tracking radar, which is slated for the Czech Republic, is needed in the region regardless of where the interceptors are based, he noted.

Despite a rush from then-President George W. Bush to establish a site for 10 two-stage GBIs in Poland in advance of the 2015 threat, the proposal has suffered setbacks. It has not been ratified there. And it has sparked ire from Russia, which sees it as destabilizing and threatening to Moscow’s nuclear deterrent capability at a time when Washington is negotiating a follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start), which expires at the end of the year. Cartwright says it would take five years from approval until deployment of the GBIs in Poland.

The Obama administration has begun a wholesale review of what is needed to defend allies in Europe and U.S. forces there from an attack. This shift away from GBIs could represent an attempt by the White House to continue fielding missile defenses, but also to steer clear of the fast and long-range GBIs as well as the very-high-speed and mobile Kinetic Energy Interceptor. Termination of KEI was proposed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the Fiscal 2010 budget, and program execution was cited among the reasons. The mobile GBI and KEI could be viewed as more destabilizing for regional powers such as Russia and China. One retired senior Pentagon official suggests KEI could have been a “sacrifice” to get Russia to agree to some other form of missile defenses in Europe and in light of the Start talks.

“We have to walk a fine line as we deploy and develop a system to counter North Korea,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of Strategic Command, in a speech here last week. Deployment of missile defense systems that could be seen to threaten Russia’s and China’s nuclear deterrent could spark an arms race that is unaffordable in this recession, he noted.

Read the rest of this story, check out the Russky’s hot Su-35S, see if the new ICBM threat is worth worrying about and see the gaps in missile defense from our friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian

Boots on the Ground: The Blackwater Contracts

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I just finished an interesting Podcast with Jake Allen, former PMC contractor and Marine officer who’s in the private security biz and a regular contributor to Defense Tech and The Private Military Herald online e-zine.

Jake and I had a conversation about the stories surrounding the CIA contracts with Blackwater to form al Qaeda kill/capture squads and service lethal drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

While Jake never worked for Blackwater, he’s got many colleagues who have and he’s well enough connected within the industry to deliver thoughtful insights into the controversy and some unique perspectives on how the CIA contracts and what their capabilities are.

To Jake, the CIA hit team contract shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to anyone except that it was with Blackwater — a company whose image personifies everything that was bad about the Iraq war. And on the Predator servicing contract, Jake said “if it were Raytheon, Lockheed Martin or any of the other big named aerospace contractors that could have done this kind of work nobody would have batted an eye…”

Agreed…

But Jake wasn’t necessarily defending Blackwater. He did say the company had benefitted from a lack of government oversight and that more should be done to keep an eye on how taxpayers’ dollars are being spent by PMCs.

Be sure to listen (or download) the entire interview and be sure to check back next month when the hearings kick off on both controversial programs.

– Christian