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Archive for February, 2010

Benchmarking Against China

Friday, February 26th, 2010

I’m working my way through CSBA president Andrew Krepinevich’s latest on a new war fighting concept (.pdf) under development called “AirSea Battle.” The concept is intended to ensure Navy and Air Force power projection against China’s rapidly growing arsenal of what the military terms anti-access weapons, such as aircraft carrier killing ballistic missiles, stealthy cruise missiles, stealthy submarines, dense air-defense networks, anti-satellite and cyber war weaponry.

AirSea Battle is focused on China, with Iran as the lesser included case. Krepinevich’s paper titled “Why AirSea Battle?” sets out to answer just that question. A follow-on report promises to flesh out the actual concept. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but what I’ve read so far is familiar territory, mostly details about new and more long-range precision weapons and their implications for U.S. forces in the Pacific.

Krepinevich and CSBA have written a lot about China’s growing military power, which is understandable, as the CSBA team is heavily influenced by the research priorities of Pentagon futurist Andy Marshall, who has long warned of the rise of China.

Krepinevich writes that China’s burgeoning anti-access arsenal is intended to, “raise the US cost of power-projection operations in the Western Pacific to prohibitive levels, thereby deterring any American effort to meet its defense obligations to allies in the region while setting the conditions for a potential latter-day Chinese Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere of influence.”

I think it’s obvious that as our strategic focus during the 20th century was Europe, and although in the last decade the Middle East, for the 21st century it will be Asia. It’s important to remember that there are actually two rising powers in Asia, China, of course and India; there is every chance that India’s economy may pass China in the next decade.

I see the value in developing the AirSea Battle concept as it focuses the services on a specific strategic and operational challenge. But I also worry that it focuses the services on too specific a challenge. It continues the process of “benchmarking” two thirds of the U.S. military against a single opponent, that being China.

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F-35B Jumpjet Comes In For Short Landing

Friday, February 26th, 2010

F-35B engine maker Pratt & Whitney put this video up yesterday of the new jet making a short landing. You can see the downward-swiveling tailpipe and the big open panel behind the cockpit that allows air into the central lift fan.

This Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) version of the JSF is the one the Marines are hoping they’ll get soon to replace their Harrier jumpjets. Yesterday, Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Conway told lawmakers on the Hill that continued delays in the F-35 program are having a “serious” impact on Marine readiness since the Corps hasn’t bought any new attack jets in years in anticipation of the F-35B coming on line.

– Greg

Pentagon Increasingly Vocal About Shoddy Weapons Builders

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

This article by Amy Butler first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Complaints from Pentagon officials — from Defense Secretary Robert Gates down through the ranks — are mounting about the quality of products from the aerospace industry.

David Altwegg, executive director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), grabbed journalists’ attention during his Fiscal 2011 budget briefing on Feb. 1. He railed that contractors had been delivering poor quality. “We continue to be disappointed in the quality that we are receiving from our prime contractors and their subs — very, very disappointed,” he said. “Most of these contracts are cost contracts … [a problem that] costs the taxpayer more.”

Although Altwegg declined to “name names,” he cited one example. A C-17-launched target failed to execute its mission, bringing an entire Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense (Thaad) system to a halt in December. The target, made by Coleman Aerospace (which is owned by L-3 Communications), was found to have a “big-time quality problem,” Altwegg said. “Along about 20,000 ft. [altitude], the booster motors light off and the target assumes the trajectory toward the firing unit. We all sat there and watched the target fall into the water.”

The MDA has had issues with other targets, as well as earlier problems with Boeing’s quality of work in the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense program. Also, a Raytheon SM-3 Block IA interceptor failed during a flight test in July because of poor adherence to processes at the assembly line in Tucson, Ariz.

Read the rest of this story here.

About that 70 Ton GCV (Updated)

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

I choked a bit when I read that Reuters story the other day saying the Army pitched chief Pentagon weapons buyer Ashton Carter on plans for a new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) that tipped the scales at 70 tons. I know the Army has done some really dumb things acquisition wise in recent year (see FCS), but building a 70 ton infantry fighting vehicle sounds pretty far fetched.

Army officials have been clear that the GCV’s design is being driven by survivability, which means lots of armor and some type of underbelly blast-defeating hull design. But that’s not the only parameter. To repeat what Army Chief Gen. George Casey said about the GCV: “Our goal is for the GCV, carrying an infantry squad, to equal or surpass the under-belly protection offered by MRAP, the off-road mobility and side protection of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and operational mobility of the Stryker.” Now that’s asking a lot of a single vehicle.

I fired off an email to Army spokesman Paul Mehney trying to get some clarity on the GCV weight issue. Here’s his response:

“Discussion on the weight class of the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) is premature as the government has yet to release the GCV request for proposal and therefore the PEO has not received industry proposals on potential vehicle weight.

The first phase of GCV technology development will focus on obtaining competing designs and assessing their ability to meet requirements in the Request for Proposal. One of those requirements is that the GCV include a modular armor approach, which will allow the attachment of different armor modules to meet specific threats. Therefore, even when the vehicle is fielded, its’ overall weight may vary based on the tactical situation. It will be the commander’s decision as to what level of protection is appropriate and suitable for the mission and the operational environment.”

The modularity part is key. As we’ve seen throughout the history of armored vehicle design, once contact is made with the enemy, extra armor is added. World War II provides plenty of examples, as do the various Arab-Israeli wars, Vietnam and of course Iraq. I would expect the baseline GCV to come in around 30 tons, then bolt-on armor packages could increase that weight by up to 20 tons.

That GCV RFP is expected any day now so we’ll soon find out what the key performance parameters really are.

The RFP has been released and I’ve posted it over at sister site DOD Buzz.

– Greg

What Comes Next In Marja?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

The Wall Street Journal reports today that Afghan officials raised a flag over the new government offices in Marja, marking a tipping point in the battle for that southern Afghan town and surrounding area. I think the celebrations may be a bit premature and agree with what comments by Marine Commandant Gen. Conway in an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee. “Marja will be contested for a while until the Taliban pack it up. The nature of an insurgency is that they could well be back,” he said.

Insurgents typically melt away, either into the population or the countryside, when confronted with a massive military offensive. I smiled a bit when I heard British Army Maj. Gen. Nick Patrick Carter, ISAF commander for RC South, briefing reporters on the massive air assault that spearheaded the Marja operation. By landing troops at 11 different locations, using some 60 helicopters in 11 assault waves, “as if it were on a railway timetable drawn up in Germany,” Carter said the air assault “entirely dislocated” the insurgent defenses in the area within the first 24 hours of the operation.

Now, one of the key points to keep in mind is that insurgents do not hold ground. That’s a big war conventional way of thinking. Guerrilla fighters prefer to operate in the shadows where they won’t be targeted by ISAF’s overwhelming firepower. Those Taliban that stayed and fought it out with the Marines over the last few days? Those were most likely young guns for hire, brought in from Pakistan, used as cannon fodder by the Taliban. We’ve seen that before, repeatedly.

It remains to be seen whether the Afghan government can move in and establish some kind of authority in Marja and provide security for the locals without the predatory activities of corrupt officials and police. I’m not so sure the Karzai government is capable. At least they haven’t proven to be up to this point.

Australian counterinsurgency adviser David Kilcullen explains a standard insurgent tactic is to surrender control of an area so the government must move in and administer the area and then governance problems rise. Then, slowly over time, the insurgents move back into the area as the population becomes disgruntled. “The insurgents move forward by pulling back,” he said.

This will be the real challenge of ISAF commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s strategy, trying to connect the government to the people, but reforming the government at the same time. That’s a tall order.

In his briefing, Carter said it would be another 120 days or so before they know whether the local population has decided to go all in with ISAF and the Afghan government or will simply wait for the insurgents to return someday.

He then described the next phase in the campaign plan: “The next big effort that my headquarters will be doing, in conjunction with the U.S. civilian platform that supports and is integrated with it, will be to turn its attention to how Kandahar can be resolved during the course of the next three to six months.” There are around 1 million people living in and around Kandahar. While the city isn’t the insurgent stronghold along the lines of Ramad or Fallujah in Iraq, the Taliban do exert political control there, he said.

Textron Unveils Bolt-On Armored Capsule For Humvee

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I spoke to some folks from Textron today about a new vehicle they’re unveiling down at the Army’s annual winter symposium underway in Florida. Called the Small Combat Tactical Vehicle Capsule (SCTVC), it’s a bolt-on armored capsule that fits onto the existing Humvee chassis, giving the vehicle Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) level protection from IED and mine blasts.

With the new vehicle (shown next to a Humvee), Textron hopes to get a piece of the Army’s $1 billion plus, 60,000 vehicle up-armored Humvee recap contract due out sometime this spring. The SCTVC also appears to be a good fit for the Marines who are trying to shed some weight from their battle fleet, said Mark Savarese, a spokesperson for Textron’s Marine and Land Systems.

The Marines have awarded Textron a contract for 3 upgraded Humvee test vehicles, after putting the SCTVC through a series of blast and ballistic tests; further testing will focus on mobility and durability.

One of the big problems with the Humvee when hit with IEDs is that its flat bottom acts as a gas trap, concentrating the blast energy upward into the vehicle. The original design also had lots of gaps and holes in the frame that allowed flames inside.

Textron’s bolt-on SCTVC capsule has a V-shaped bottom, so the interior is completely encapsulated in steel armor, including the fuel tank. The hull itself is lifted further off the ground than the up-armored Humvee, providing all important clearance between exploding ordinance and the crew compartment. More space is available inside, allowing troops to get in and out more quickly. Savarese said. While the SCTVC adds armor, it doesn’t tax the Humvee engine and drive train. “The brilliance is in the simplicity of the design,” he said.

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Tanker Brief

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

We got our hands on the Power Point slides from today’s Tanker RFP brief from Deputy SecDef William Lynn, chief weapons buyer Ashton Carter and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.

Tanker RFP Final Power Point

– Greg

Big Tanker Day

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

So Air Force KC-X tanker news is coming pretty fast and furious today. The final request for proposal (RFP) is due out sometime this afternoon; lawmakers are reportedly being briefed on contract details this morning. This is a big one, a $35 billion order for 179 new tankers.

Amy Butler over at Ares, AvWeeks’s blog, reports that Northrop Grumman/EADS officials told lawmakers they predict a 96 to 98 percent chance that they won’t even bid on the RFP because they think it’s so stacked in favor of Boeing. They don’t think its worth the cost and effort to put together a proposal. Northrop/EADS has the larger tanker based on the Airbus A330 while Boeing’s offering is based on the smaller 767 airframe. Apparently size doesn’t matter on this one.

Deputy SecDef William Lynn, chief Pentagon weapons buyer Ashton Carter and Air Force chief Gen. Norton Schwartz will brief reporters at 4 p.m. this afternoon on the RFP. We’ll bring you updates as they come in.

– Greg

Tracking The Taliban Leadership

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

When military officials describe the insurgency in Afghanistan they often refer to it as a “syndicate,” or collection of many different fighting groups that typically coalesce for operations and then rapidly disperse. As we’ve come to learn from Iraq and now Afghanistan, clear “chains of command” often don’t exist when fighting today’s networked enemy. “Hydra-headed” is a common description, but actually pretty appropriate when describing insurgent leadership.

Thankfully, the invaluable Bill Roggio over at Long War Journal has put together a detailed analysis of the top leadership, key players and regional military structures of the Afghan wing of the Taliban. Its one of the best open source reports I’ve come across.

Briefly, as I urge you to read and save the link to Roggio’s report, the Afghan Taliban is nominally led by the Quetta Shura (QST) leadership council, based in Quetta, Pakistan. The one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Omar sits at the top of the QST, but it was the recently seized Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who was the real operational leader, which is why his capture by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence agents was so significant.

Roggio notes that members of the Taliban’s leadership council are moving from Quetta to the port city of Karachi to avoid increasingly accurate U.S. drone and direct action strikes. That’s bad news. Blending in with a population of some 15 million, many who are refugees from the border fighting and sympathetic to the Taliban, the QST leadership will likely be harder to target in the sprawling city of Karachi than Quetta.

Roggio also provides a list of Taliban leaders who have either been killed or captured, noting:

“The Taliban have a deep bench of leaders with experience ranging back to the rise of the Taliban movement in the early 1990s. On prior occasions, younger commanders are known to have stepped into the place of killed or captured leaders. It remains to be seen if the sustained US offensive and possible future detentions in Pakistan will grind down the Taliban’s leadership cadre.”

Another useful link is Roggio’s constantly updated page tracking U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. There have been 17 strikes carried out so far this year, according to the site.

– Greg

Air Force Chief Passes On Airborne Laser

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Headlines were ablaze earlier this month reporting the successful destruction of a ballistic missile by the Airborne Laser (ABL). While certainly a milestone in directed energy weapons development, the military appears not the least bit interested. As my colleague Colin Clark reports, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee today, Air Force chief Gen. Norton Schwartz unequivocally quashed any notion the Air Force would buy the flying vat of chemicals.

“Rep. Michael Turner, ranking member of the HASC strategic forces subcommittee, raised the recent success of the Airborne Laser in shooting a target. He asked if that would lead the Air Force to increase its commitment to directed energy weapons. Schwartz poured a fair amount of cold water on the Boeing program, calling the ABL test “a magnificent technical achievement” but “this does not represent something that is operationally viable.” The future “coin of the realm” is solid state lasers, Schwartz said, not the chemical laser that Boeing built.”

– Greg