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Archive for October, 2009

While Obama ‘Consults’

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Seriously? Another meeting with the Joint Chiefs, another strategic trial balloon with the “McChrystal lite” strategy and we’re going to study each province and its political needs? Are you freaking kidding me!?

Meanwhile, our troops fight on with what they have…

…while Washington does its “solemn duty”…whatever…

– Christian

Don’t be Too Quick to Dis the Contractors

Friday, October 30th, 2009

So here’s a little sidebar story from the Oct. 28 suicide attack on the UN guest house in Kabul.

Turns out a contract truck driver held off Taliban attackers with his AK while 15 UN workers were barricaded in a laundry room behind him. John “Chris” Turner was pouring 7.62 down range during the 2 hour gunbattle, saving the lives of the UN workers cowering in the cubby…

“I am armed. I carry an AK-47 and I kept firing it to keep the attackers away from the group I was guarding,” he said, describing how he shot from the entrance of the laundry room. The group later jumped over a back wall to take refuge in a house behind the guest house.

…he told the Associated Press in Kabul.
What a badass!

I’ve bumped into a ton of these cowboy types in both theaters and it doesn’t surprise me for one second that Turner did what he did. While the third country nationals are less ballsy, the Americans I’ve met transiting through the AO are by in large adventurers, self-reliant and extremely patriotic. They work hard as hell, put up with poor living conditions and I’ve never seen them complain or act bitterly towards the troops they help keep comfortable.

I’ll never forget when we came back from a week out on patrol in Afghanistan and we’d been ambushed twice — once on our way back to the FOB — and we arrived into Salerno pretty late. The KBR workers opened the chow hall for us and whipped up some grub for the platoon that came back battle and served it to us with a smile. They seemed genuinely happy to do it.

Guys like Turner do it for more than the money — part eccentric, part thrillseaker, part patriot — they do it in part because to them there’s a sense of service to their duties. They genuinely like being around the troops and doing what they can to make their lives easier and safer so they can do the job of taking it to the bad guys.

Here’s a video Turner made back in the day when he traveled to Afghanistan to do a doc on the drug trade there (and to get a bit of the whacky tobaccy for himself).

Great walk-off from his dad:

“He said he was burned a little, but that he wasn’t hurt,” the father said. “He’s got more guts than a Missouri mule.”

So the next time you hear the poobahs whining about how F-ed up “contractors” are in the war zone, remember they’re talking about guys like Chris Turner, a man who put fear aside and slung lead to keep the UN workers he was living with safe from the evil doers…

– Christian

Mystery Drone Revealed

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Well, I’m sure it’s not a mystery to some people, but when I saw this video on Military​.com, I scratched my head wondering: “Is this a new SkunkWorks project or am I having Terminator flashbacks?”

Let’s put it this way…when the JSF gets canned, at least Lockheed has a fallback.

– Christian

Land Warrior Going to Special Forces

Thursday, October 29th, 2009


It looks as if high speed operators are about to go digital — very digital.

According to PEO Soldier program manager for the Ground Soldier System — the son of the cancelled Land Warrior program — a Special Forces battalion will be outfitted with the high-tech network gear next year for use in combat operations. Col. Will Riggins said the unit is as yet unknown, but this time instead of each team leader getting the suite of gear, each SF team member will be issued the Soldier Warrior system.

“It’ll be a new use for that system,” Riggins said. “The suite we’ll be giving them is pretty similar to what we’ve done for OEF.”

So the operators will get a Soldier-worn computer packed with Army battle command software with an improved graphical user interface, a network-linked radio with an “over the horizon” capability — in other words the Special Forces variant will have SatCom built in — “so that we’re not restricted to line of sight.”

“One of the things we’ll be working with the unit on as we begin to integrate into their formation is going to be how we can smartly choose what goes over the line and how often it goes over,” Riggins explained, adding that operators won’t have to wield that cumbersome weapon sight that’s currently part of been cut from the Land Warrior suite.

“That was a big lesson learned is that right now the technology isn’t ready,” Riggins said. “The biggest reason is that right now we’re restricted to cables,” he explained, adding that PEO is trying to go wireless with all the LW components.

“Once we’re there I think we’re going to have another huge jump in capability,” he said.

Riggins said the SF guys will get the same configuration that the Army’s 5th Brigade of the 2nd ID in Iraq Afghanistan right now — which is not too different from the 4/9 suite in terms of weight and complexity.

“We’re not seeing any substantial change in the footprint or the weight of that system,” he said.

– Christian

UK Gives Eyes To FIST

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

AW_fist_110309This article first appeared in Defense Technology International.

Thales U.K. has been awarded a �150-million ($245-million) supply and in-service support contract for the Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) suite of FIST, the U.K. Defense Ministry’s Future Integrated Soldier Technology program.

The STA suite will, Thales says, comprise weapon sights, observation equipment and target-location systems from various suppliers that are designed primarily for close-quarters battle (CQB).

FIST will improve the capabilities of dismounted infantry in all environments, day and night. The program follows a requirements-driven approach to equipping teams of soldiers with an integrated fighting system that can be networked. Other parts of the program include command-and-control software, communication systems, situational awareness devices and body armor. Some 35,000 FIST systems will be deployed with the British Army, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force.

Thales is a prime contractor. Details of the STA award were disclosed on Sept. 8, during the Defense Systems and Equipment International show in London.

The STA package consists of almost 11,000 suites of equipment. Initial deliveries are planned for November 2010, in time for training infantry units prior to their deployment to Afghanistan in early 2011. Full contract deliveries are due to be completed in June 2014.

The first package includes thermal sights supplied by Qioptiq of the U.K. Thermal imaging systems are reportedly the best choice for Afghanistan, where the level of starlight or ambient light from manmade sources is too low to support image-intensifying systems. Thermal imaging also has benefits in improving the ability to see through camouflage and aiding soldiers in identifying concealed weapons and improvised explosive devices. While concealed manmade objects can be invisible to the naked eye, they stand out in stark contrast against their background on infrared (IR) spectral bands.

In the next five years, Qioptiq is scheduled to deliver more than 4,000 weapon sights, designated FIST Thermal Sight. The sight is equipped with an uncooled thermal core and a 640 X 480-pixel format. It offers an enhanced man-machine interface, integrated IR laser aimer for improved target identification and an integrated red-dot CQB sight.

Qioptiq will additionally convert more than 4,000 Common Weapon Sights from Pilkington Optronics and its own Maxikite2 night-vision sights for operation with the red-dot CQB sight.

Read the rest of this story and check out a host of other great stories from our friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian

Stryker Camo a Good Idea?

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009


An interesting take from our friend Michael Yon in the National Review on the story we ran yesterday about painting Strykers desert tan…

The Strykers currently in Afghanistan probably should be painted brown, but it is not true that the military dragged through these years without noticing, or that Gates, Petraeus, McChrystal, Mellinger, and Prosser didn’t ask for something they needed. Stars & Stripes plays a valuable role as a military watchdog, but this time, they’re barking up the wrong tree.

Yon has spent a lot of time in the shit, so his analysis should be taken with a huge amount of credence. But I will say, even though he argues the Strykers have been operating in Iraq without the desert tan to great effect for years, it doesn’t make sense to me that it took this long to get in gear and paint them to match the environment. I was with a Stryker unit in Baquba back in Jan. ’08 and I will say the green camo vehicles stuck out like a sore thumb.

Now I’ll agree with Yon that if the CSM and CG wanted them painted tan, they’d be tan in a jiffy. The vehicles were frequently used as transport of senior staff on the battlefield and you can bet a dollar for doughnuts they’d want their vehicle draped in the best camo scheme possible.

– Christian

Army Picks up Pistol Search Where AF Left Off

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Another interesting couple factoids from yesterday’s chat with PEO Gen. Fuller and some of his top honchos is the Army’s search for a new, so-called “modular” pistol.

According to Col. Doug Tamilio, the PM for Soldier weapons, the Army basically took over where the Air Force (who for some reason were running the original program for an M9 replacement) left off. The requirement has been approved already, and the JROC is on board, but the Air Force decided not to fund the program in ’09. But the Army is picking up where the Air Force dropped the ball and taking it through development.

Basically, the Army wants a handgun that can be both modular in caliber, barrel length and grip size.

“Not only in the form, fit function of the weapon, but in the caliber,” Tamilio said.

That seems like a tough requirement to achieve. I know of only a couple handguns on the commercial market that can switch out easily, but this could turn into an armorer’s nightmare in the field.

“Guys who are in air crews may want a specific caliber. And those in direct combat may want a larger caliber,” Tamilio said. He added that the Infantry School has taken a look at the Air Force’s requirement and is preparing a letter to put on top of that that blesses the findings and sends it on to TRADOC and the G-3 for a blessing, then it goes into the POM process for a competition.

My colleague at Army Times Matt Cox asked a good question on top of that, wondering what a new modular combat pistol would do to the service’s search for a personal defense weapon.

Basically, Tamilio said that some people who might get PDWs would instead get pistols. The Army wants carbines across the force, Tamilio said but “there’s a lot of guys exiting trucks, that don’t need to fight the 300–500 meter range, they need that short 200 meter range in. And that’s where the personal defense weapon comes in.”

The pistol will still be issued to “augment the force” for machine gunners, officers and senior NCOs.

“So instead of saying we have a requirement for 275,000 pistols, that may get cut down — so now we say we want 200,000 of those and 50 or 60,000 of the PDWs,” he said.

So in sum, the Army will have a new pistol requirement, a PDW search, a new Improved Carbine requirement and eventually “a new long gun requirement for within the squad.”

It’s a good time to be a gun maker, huh?

It Was Dragon Skin All Along

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009


I just got back from an hour and a half briefing with PEO Soldier Gen. Pete Fuller and top PMs for the service’s primary gear buying office.

I’ll be spiraling out tidbits throughout the day, but one thing I wanted to throw out there was to close the loop on the flexible small arms protective insert and vest testing issue and the Army’s rejection of the system as portrayed in the GAO report.

It turns out that only one vendor submitted a design to fulfill the Army’s requirement for a flexible armor system and you guessed it, it was Pinnacle, maker of Dragon Skin.

According to officials in the room, the vest suffered “catastrophic failures” during preliminary design review tests at Aberdeen a year ago.

“The flexible vendor had a direct penetration,” Fuller said flatly. Because of feedback from the Hill, the Army opened up the contract to any vendor — not just hard plate makers — to provide X and E SAP capability.

“We have shown that flexible is not working the way everybody thought,” Fuller added.

But the Army hasn’t given up on a flexible armor system…

“Fort Benning has asked me pretty regularly ‘is there anything out there that would work in a weight we’d like?’” said the program manager for Army armor, Col, Bill Cole. “We’re still looking. We haven’t ruled it out completely but we haven’t seized on anything that meets our requirements.”

– Christian

The China CyberSyndrome

Monday, October 26th, 2009


Another report was released last week that warned of China’s growing cyber capabilities. It went on to discuss China’s cyber military training program and warned that expansion of personnel training in Information Warfare Specialties that include offensive network attack skills may expand to meet the demand among field units for skilled cyber personnel. While China’s growing capabilities and training in the cyber domain are a growing risk, the threat does not stop there! What was missing in the report was a warning that China is not the only adversary the United States faces in the cyber warfare domain! It is important to note that the commission that funded the study was purely focused on China. However in the testimony I gave before this same commission back in April 2009 Russian capabilities, and the capabilities and activity of terrorists groups and criminal organizations’ cyber ambitions came up and was also discussed by a colleague from Canada that reported on GhostNet.

We cannot allow ourselves to have tunnel vision and fixate on China alone. A recent report on malicious activity showed that we must address the significant number of compromised computers used in acts of cyber aggression within the U.S. borders as well as those compromised computing assets in a number of countries. Many people fail to realize that by far, the largest percentage of computing capabilities used in several attacks against the United States and our Interests were compromised computers within our own borders. Cyber defense must be elevated by the Obama Administration to a top national priority and the answer is a public/private/industry/military partnership that addresses this national security threat.

– Kevin Coleman

JSF Hits Money Wall

Friday, October 23rd, 2009


Colin has advanced the story broken by InsideDefense​.com this morning about huge cost estimates that could dramatically restructure the Joint Strike Fighter program.

A preliminary Pentagon cost estimate that the F-35 could cost as much as $17.1 billion more than currently planned is prompting calls from congressional sources for the program to be reassessed and restructured.

The congressional sources also wryly noted this seemed to raise questions about the wisdom of Defense Secretary Robert Gates recent trip to the F-35 plant in Fort Worth to show his support for the program. One aide scoffed that the new cost estimates were no surprise to anyone who hasnt drunk the JSF Kool-Aid.

The new cost estimate comes from the JSF Joint Estimate Team, formed this summer by Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn.

Two congressional aides familiar with the program said. the cost estimate seemed to indicate that the approach of developing, building, flying and testing planes as they come off the assembly line known as concurrency may pose too much program risk in the short term and should lead Defense Secretary Robert Gates to scale back the emphasis on producing and testing planes and trim the number of planes the Pentagon wants to buy in next years budget.

Be sure to read the entire story and to troll over to Inside for the the JET gouge. As one intelligent observer noted when he heard the news: “this could mean the end of manned combat flight”…

– Christian