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Archive for March, 2010

The Army’s FCS Hangover

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

One of these days, a story is going to come out on where all the money went in the Army’s Future Combat Systems program. According to the Congressional Budget Office (.pdf), by 2008 the Army had spent some $16 billion on FCS development. Add to that the $3.6 billion in 2009 and the $3 billion requested in 2010 and now we’re at $22.6 billion in FCS research and development.

When the Army restructured its modernization, after Defense Secretary Robert Gates cancelled FCS, it planned to get those component parts closest to prime time, the “spin outs,” to the troops in the field as quickly as possible.

So what has that $22.6 billion in FCS development money bought? Here’s where it gets real ugly. GAO just came out with its annual assessment of major weapons systems (.pdf) and they looked at the first increment of those spin outs which includes unattended munitions, including the Non-Line-Of-Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS), sensors, a small hovering drone, a small robot, new radios and software.

The small iRobot-type robot, hundreds of which have been in use in Iraq and Afghanistan, “could not provide infrared imagery necessary to recognize a person at required distances,” GAO said. The hovering “beer keg” is far too noisy, and could only operate for 4 hours before failure, instead of the required 23. The unattended ground sensor was supposed to operate for 127 hours, it only works for 5 hours. Army officials say the images it produces are terrible.

The NLOS-LS, as we’ve written about here, failed in recent tests to hit its intended target in four out of six tries. Army Maj. Gen. Keith Walker, the service’s Future Force Integration Directorate Commander, told us last month he suspects the missiles issues are serious. Remember, most of this stuff has been in development since 2003.


Update From the Fighting in Eastern Afghanistan

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Much of the attention in Afghanistan is focused on the pending offensive to retake Kandahar from the Taliban. NATO officials peg the start date for that offensive for some time in June. It will be a difficult offensive because the insurgents operate in the shadows and mainly through intimidation; this won’t be a Fallujah style highly kinetic offensive, but rather a prolonged process to re-establish security and some element of Karzai government presence in the city.

That last bit, of course, is the weak link in Afghan commander Gen. Stanly McChrystal’s whole strategy, but more on that later. If NATO is able to reclaim, and hold and build in Kandahar, recognized far and wide as the birthplace of the Taliban, and a major conduit for weapons and fighters from Pakistan, it will be a huge step towards realizing progress in southern Afghanistan.

Often forgotten in the once forgotten war as all eyes focus on the south are continuing operations in eastern Afghanistan. Defense Tech friend and independent correspondent David Axe has a good report from the Chowkay Valley in Kunar Province, much of which is considered a no-go zone for NATO troops.

“The Chowkay is one of those places on Afghanistan’s fringes that are all but off-limits to foreign forces. The existence of such no-go zones, eight years into the Afghan war, represents a huge obstacle to NATO’s efforts to uproot criminality and violent extremism. A lack of resources on NATO’s part and the total absence of the Afghan government mean the zones are unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

The Chowkay shura, led by local elder Abdul Ghafai, was the last stop on a mission lasting several hours for elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. It was also a rare event: The last time NATO ventured deep into the valley was in February. Missions that far into the Chowkay are a roughly monthly occurrence, Snowden said. With small contingents of just a few hundred soldiers, each one responsible for several large valleys apiece across eastern Afghanistan, more frequent missions to the more remote locations are impossible.

The Afghan government, for its part, never ventures into the Chowkay unless as part of a NATO patrol. A low-ranking district agricultural official was the only Afghan government representative at the March shura.

An earlier NATO foray into the Chowkay had resulted in the death of an American soldier. “Every time we go into that valley, we lose a guy,” said one brigade soldier. He was exaggerating, but only barely. Much of the Chowkay lies beyond the “red line” that demarcates relatively safe territory from that in which patrols must make arrangements for extra support.


GAO Flags LCS Missile Problems

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

A couple of weeks back we posted a story about how the failure of the Army’s Non Line-of-Sight-Launch System (NLOS-LS) Precision Attack Missile (PAM) to hit its targets in a recent series of live fire tests could prove problematic to the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). See, the LCS is to be fitted out with interchangeable modular mission packages, such as various weapons, aerial drones and helicopters, so the same ship can be custom tailored to different missions.

One of the primary missions of the LCS is to act as a screen for larger fleet ships, fending off small boat swarms in coastal waterways. The standard package for that mission is the Surface Warfare module (SUW), which includes a 30mm cannon and the NLOS-LS. According to a report released today (big .pdf) by the auditors at the Government Accountability Office, the Navy took delivery of a SUW package in 2008, minus the launcher and missiles (see page 98).

GAO says the launcher was tested last summer, but failed due to a malfunctioning sensor and battery connector. The Navy expects delivery of another SUW package this year, this time with the launcher, but minus the missiles. As we noted in our previous write up, Army officials told us they think the missile’s targeting problems are pretty serious ones, considering how far along the NLOS-LS is in development. They’ve hinted they may look at a low cost alternative to the NLOS-LS.

Yet, the Navy is going ahead with delivery of the launcher. Why is the Navy taking delivery of a problematic launcher to fit in a mission module for an unproven missile? I’m guessing they’ve already sized the module for the NLOS-LS and at this stage it may be tool late to redesign it for another launcher without incurring serious costs. Absent a functioning SUW package, the LCS is not mission capable for its primary function as a small surface combatant. We’ll try and get some answers from the Navy on whether they have another launcher and missile on-deck in case the NLOS-LS doesn’t pan out.

– Greg

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love China’s Carrier Killing Missile

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

A big part of the U.S. military — that would be the Navy — is working itself into knots over the “anti-access” challenge, potential enemies possessing large arsenals of long-range, precision guided missiles, stealthy submarines and over-the-horizon radars. In fact, the Navy, with the Air Force in tow, is thinking through a new warfighting doctrine known as AirSea Battle intended to come up with ways to counter enemy missile magazines and allow ships freedom of access in offshore waters (we wrote about it a few weeks back).

The biggest, baddest threat in the anti-access arena is China’s DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), ominously known as the “carrier killer.” The DF-21 is not fully operational. That China has been working on such a missile for some time is well known. In testimony before (.pdf) the House Armed Services Committee last week, the head of Pacific Command, Adm. Robert Willard, said China is “testing” the weapon. A soft kill terminal guidance warhead is thought to be in the works that would detonate above a carrier and riddle its deck with thousands of steel flechettes.

Defense Tech friend Craig Hooper has a new piece out in the April issue of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings that says hyping China’s ASBM threat has done little but upset America’s regional allies and legitimized an unproven weapon. “This self inflicted blow to U.S. stature in the region requires an adroit diplomatic response.”

First off, the defense community must stop assuming American flattops are the only or even primary target of such weapons. Chinese ASBMs pose a far greater threat to regional allies, such as Japan, South Korea and Australia, each of which is developing smaller “pocket-carriers,” that can operate helicopters and STOVL aircraft. “Modern Asian navies are becoming important co-guarantors of stability in the Pacific Basin… Asia’s growing fleet of tiny flattops is far more vulnerable to ASBM strikes than any U.S. carrier.”


Former AF Sec Wynne Says 75 More F-22s a Bargain at $173 Million Per

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Unabashed F-22 advocate former Air Force secretary Michael Wynne, sacked by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2008, penned a piece yesterday over at the Second Line of Defense site making the case for a limited buy of 75 more of his cherished aircraft.

After a somewhat convoluted argument that ventures across industrial base issues and the eventual production of a sixth generation fighter, Wynne argues that at $173 million per copy, the F-22 is a “bargain,” particularly as a hedge against what appears to be a very delayed delivery of the F-35 JSF. He urges Congress, as the final arbiters, to examine the cost of continuing F-22 production versus developing a sixth generation fighter that wouldn’t be fielded for many years.

The $173 number comes from the RAND team, which calculated the per unit F-22 cost if the production line was shut down for two years and then restarted ($20 billion total cost). An alternative option RAND considered found that continued production of 75 more F-22s from a hot production line would yield a unit cost of $139 million per aircraft. RAND went with 75 aircraft because it’s consistent with previous production lot sizes.

With F-35 development approaching $40 billion, and delayed, compared to $20 billion already invested to develop the F-22, Wynne argues that another $20 billion put into a shutdown and restart gets you “75 deployable aircraft almost as a bonus and you get them in five years, instead of twenty.”


NORK Mine May Have Sunk South Korean Ship

Monday, March 29th, 2010

I’ve hesitated to write anything on last Friday’s sinking of a South Korean navy ship until official word came out from one of the parties involved. Today, South Korea’s defense minister said he is not ruling out the chance that a North Korean mine may have sunk the 1,200 ton missile corvette Cheonan. According to the AP, 58 crewmembers were plucked from the sea and 46 Korean sailors are still missing.

North Korean military officials said the exact cause would not be known until the ship was salvaged. Rough waters hindered rescue efforts, but today divers were able to reach part of the rear hull, where some survivors were thought to be located, but there was no response from hammering on the hull.

The AP story says 3,000 Soviet made mines were planted by North Korea since the 1950s in the disputed waters around the peninsula, though most were cleared. A mine was last found in 1984. Joshua Stanton, over at the One Free Korea site, providing some of the best updates on this emerging story, surmises that its unlikely the mine was a leftover; more likely that it was recently placed.

– Greg

Female “Black Widow” Suicide Bombers Strike Moscow Metro

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Ugly news out of Moscow where two female suicide bombers detonated explosive packed vests in two separate and very crowded subway stations this morning. The death toll from the two blasts separated by about 40 minutes currently sits at 37 with more than 100 injured. The suicide bombers were reportedly from the “Caucasus Emirate’s ‘Black Widows,’ a female suicide bomber cadre, mostly widows and daughters of fighters killed in the wars against the Russians in Chechnya.

As always, Bill Roggio over at the Long War Journal is on it and provides some good detail on the al-Qaeda linked Caucasus Emirate and the Black Widows. Female attackers from the Black Widows were involved in both the 2003 Nord-Ost Moscow theater attack (129 killed) and the attack on a Beslan school in North Ossetia (334 killed).

Russian security forces reportedly recovered the heads of the suicide bombers at the blast sites (I saw this oddity a few times over in Iraq, a suicide vest typically shreds the torso and lower body of the bomber but often leaves the head either completely or semi-intact).

Caucasus Emirate’s leader Doku Umarov threatened suicide attacks in the heart of Russia in a February interview with a pro-terrorist publication Kavkaz Center. The Chechen insurgent group reignited the long running war with Moscow last spring with a wave of suicide bombings across the Caucuses, Roggio says.


All Raucous On Cyber War Front

Monday, March 29th, 2010

By Kevin Coleman

Defense Tech Chief Cyber War Correspondent

Last week’s events combined to be perhaps the most significant series of cyber events since the Pentagon breach in November 2008. Last week Google pulled its .cn search operations, domain registrar GoDaddy publically stated its intent to leave China, and rumors began circulating that computer giant Dell may be considering leaving China as well.

If that did not make for a full week, add to it a senior U.S. military officer issued a stark warning about the Chinese cyber threat. U.S. Navy Admiral Robert Willard testifying before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee stated that U.S. Pacific Command is facing “increasingly active and sophisticated threats to our information and computer infrastructure.”

Then, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair began his testimony explaining the U.S. communications network is “severely threatened” and that the government lacks the ability to “protect the country’s information infrastructure.”

Add to all of that the fact that according to Steven Chabinsky, Director of the Joint Interagency Cyber Task Force, “The cyber threat can be an existential threat — meaning it can challenge our country’s very existence, or significantly alter our nation’s potential.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified up on Capitol Hill that China used the last decade to perfect cyber warfare and the threat that poses to the United States.


Military Struggles How to Measure Success in Afghanistan

Friday, March 26th, 2010

How do we know whether we’re winning or losing a war if nobody knows how to measure success? That’s the problem we face in Afghanistan, according to Marine Lt. Gen. John Paxton, director of operations for the Joint Staff, who spoke this morning at a Brookings Institution sponsored conference.

When President Obama gave Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal his marching orders, he said McChrystal had about 12 to 18 months to prove his population centric counterinsurgency strategy was working. The “agreement” between Obama and McChrystal was that instead of a counterterrorism strategy, McChrystal would pursue a “fully resourced COIN strategy,” Paxton said, and the “first increment” of that resourcing would be 30,000 additional troops. U.S. officials are trying to negotiate additional troop contributions from the NATO allies.

While there is uncertainty as to when the clock began ticking, whether it was June when the Marines arrived in southern Afghanistan or when McChrystal’s strategic assessment was delivered in August, military commanders are keenly aware that time is running out. “We know it is a finite amount of resources in terms of people and a finite amount of time,” Paxton said.

Both military and civilian officials are struggling to come up with some way of measuring success or failure in Afghanistan. “What is a true measure of effectiveness? How do you measure stability and security on the ground?… What are those metrics, how do you state them, how do you measure them, how frequently do you look at them… That’s the exact debate the commanders on the ground are having, the PRTs and the inter-agency teams in the theater are having and that we’re going to have back here in Washington.”


Conway Wants His Marines To Start Shedding Weight

Friday, March 26th, 2010

How do you squeeze two Marine Expeditionary Brigades onto 33 amphibious ships when in reality they require 38? You make them shed the weight they gained over the past seven years fighting on Iraq’s IED strewn battlefields, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway yesterday in an editorial board with Military​.com.

Lifting two full MEBs with their mounds of equipment, up-armored vehicles and aircraft requires 38 amphibious ships; the current shipbuilding plan gives the Marines 33. Conway wants a return to the days when the Marines weren’t viewed as a second land army and is determined to shoehorn two MEBs onto those 33 amphibs.

Today’s Marine battalions are much heavier than the battalions Conway took cross the Kuwait border into Iraq in 2003, “heavier because we’re defending against IEDs, heavier because with a large vehicle comes a large weapons station, heavier because we’re carrying so much more communications equipment.” Marine platoons conducting distributed operations today in Afghanistan have as much communications gear typically found in a battalion, he said.

Where will the weight savings come from? He’s looking at vehicles as the main culprits in overloading his Marines, singling out the massive MRAPs and the planned Army-Marine Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program.