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From the monthly archives:

June 2010

Last week, we wrote that the Air Force Council, the blue suiters board of directors that advises the air chief, was considering deep cuts to force structure to meet aggressive savings targets laid out by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. One option they are reportedly considering is early retirement of all 66 B-1B Lancer bombers, last delivered in the late 1980s.

Yesterday, the Lancer fleet got a hearty shout-out from new installed Afghan commander Gen. David Petraeus. “It is a great platform,” he told senators at his confirmation hearing. “It carries a heck of a lot of bombs… and it has very good intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.”

It can loiter for long periods of time in a combat-air patrol, using its Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod which contains a laser designator, 3rd Gen. FLIR and digital cameras that function well both day and night to search out insurgent movements or IED emplacers. “It is almost like having another unmanned aerial vehicle in terms of full motion video and so forth,” he said.

“So it’s not just a case of a very, very capable bomber just boring holes in the sky waiting to open the bomb-bay doors, it is also the case of a platform that’s very capable even as it is just flying around in circles.”

So take heart Lancer pilots!

Of course Petraeus isn’t just randomly throwing out compliments to aging bombers, he was prompted by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.); the Lancer equipped 28th Bomb Wing operates out of Ellsworth Air Force Base in Thune’s state.

– Greg Grant

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Chinese media reports that beginning today the People’ Liberation Army (PLA) will hold six days of military exercises in the East China Sea, a message, analysts say, to the U.S. Navy not to steam its carrier battle groups too close to Chinese shores.

While a Chinese military official said the drills are routine, observers say the anti-carrier exercise is intended to pressure the U.S. Navy not to hold joint exercises with the carrier USS George Washington and South Korean ships in the Yellow Sea.

Respected China analyst Andrew Erickson says the live fire training aims to demonstrate China’s ability to attack a U.S. carrier strike group and may include the first test of China’s long talked about anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). He sees hints that China’s Second Artillery, a powerful organization within the Chinese military which operates the country’s missile force, may be at a point where it’s ready to test an ASBM.

Recent indications include the reported completion of a DF-21D rocket motor facility in 2009 and the recent launch of 5 advanced Yaogan satellites, three of which were apparently placed in the same orbit on 5 March–thereby perhaps offering better coverage of critical areas along China’s maritime periphery. Another possible indication is a recent news release attributed to China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC) citing Wang Genbin, Deputy Director of its 4th Department, as stating that the DF-21D can hit “slow-moving targets” with a CEP (circular error probable, meaning half of missiles fired will strike within) of dozens of meters.

[Continue reading…]

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At his senate confirmation hearing yesterday, new Afghan commander Gen. David Petraeus said Afghan president Hamid Karzai denies ever meeting with a leader of the Haqqani network, the most dangerous of the numerous insurgent groups operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

An Al Jazeera press report over the weekend said that Karzai had met with Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has largely taken over day-to-day operations of the insurgent network from his father and famed mujaheddin commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, and members of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence directorate, the ISI. Karzai’s office issued an official denial of the report.

Petraeus told senators that he had spoken with Karzai multiple times by phone and had received his personal guarantee that press claims of a meeting with Haqqani were false.

U.S. intelligence officials now tell Bill Roggio that a face-to-face meeting between Karzai and Sirajuddin was impossible if for no other reason than Karzai is always accompanied by a heavy American security detail. The same officials do not dispute that backchannel talks to broker some sort of reconciliation and power sharing deal are underway between Pakistani intelligence, the Haqqanis and Karzai.

The Afghan insurgency is made up of three main groups: the Quetta Shura Taliban, Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), and the Haqqani Network (HQN). The Haqqani network is based in eastern Afghanistan and the Taliban controlled area of North Waziristan in Pakistan and is noted for its expertise in IED and complex attacks.

– Greg Grant

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Incoming Afghan commander Gen. David Petraeus told senators today at his confirmation hearing that he has no intention of changing the rules of engagement or the “tactical directive,” which guides the use of air strikes, put in place by his predecessor.

What he will do is ensure that those rules are being uniformly applied by commanders in the field and that overly cautious officers at various levels are not imposing their own maximalist interpretation of the ROE and directive, and thus slowing the responsiveness of fire support when troops’ lives are on the line. “We have to be absolutely certain that the implementation of ROE and tactical directive is consistent across the force.”

Petraeus was questioned by a number of senators about his views on the tactical directive guiding the use of airpower and artillery issued by former Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal that was designed to curtail the growing number of civilian casualties that was posing a threat to the entire Afghan mission. The Afghan people, and the Karzai government, were growing increasingly enraged by the rising civilian death toll.

In counterinsurgency, the human terrain is the decisive terrain, Petraeus said, and he intends to do everything he can to keep the civilian loss of life as low as possible.

The ROE in Afghanistan are straightforward and largely the same as have guided military operations over the past few years, including operations in Iraq, he said. When troops are taking fire from a house, and they’re not sure whether civilians are in the house, instead of dropping a bomb on it, they should break contact and observe the house for a time, Petraeus said.

– Greg Grant

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The Marine Corps Operating Concepts — Third Edition, has been released and I wanted to make it available to readers. I’ll be writing much more about this document after I get some time to thoroughly read it. For now, I wanted to highlight this bit from the first chapter:

While Marine Corps forces may perform a variety of missions across the range of military operations, two stand at the forefront of what we do.

First, as part of the naval team we assure littoral access by bridging the difficult seam between operations at sea and on land. This is accomplished through a combination of activities ranging from military engagement, crisis response, and power projection (both soft and hard). This capability contributes to overcoming diplomatic, geographic and military challenges to access and assists the Nation in it strategic objectives of preventing conflict, protecting national interests, assuring access to engage partners and to defeat aggression when necessary.

Second, we fight what have historically been called “small wars,” operations that require a high degree of adaptability along with versatile, comprehensive skills. We have a long track record of success in solving; spanning recently from Al Anbar province, to the Barbary Wars and suppression of the slave trade in the early 19th century. These are complex problems in which purely military solutions will not suffice—because the fundamental causes of the conflict are often a complicated combination of security, economic, political and social issues.

– Greg Grant

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Gen. David Petraeus, the newly nominated Afghan commander, goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning in what is expected to be a breeze of a confirmation hearing. Regrettably, much of the questioning from senators will undoubtedly focus on the issue of timelines and July 2011 when U.S. forces are to begin withdrawing.

Hopefully one or two senators will ask some relevant questions such as: How Petraeus plans to knock the insurgency on its heels before next summer? Also, what exactly is his campaign plan and will it differ from that of former commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal? How will Petraeus measure success over the next year, and which metrics, (e.g. body counts, IED attacks), will he use to show whether or not ISAF has reversed insurgent momentum?

The current ISAF campaign plan, which was provided to CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman, (worth a close read by the way), shows a military command struggling to define success against a maddeningly resilient insurgent enemy and somehow re-craft the public narrative of the war to prevent public abandonment of the whole effort.

In the wake of the failed Marja offensive, McChrystal and the ISAF staff realized that they must redefine expectations to realize “strategic patience” through at least 2015, the ISAF brief shows. The briefing says ISAF has “bet the war on”:

[Continue reading…]

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The era of rapidly rising defense budgets has ended; its time to end the waste and abuse that became standard practice while the money spigot gushed over the last decade; its also time for defense firms to stop charging outlandish sums for late and underperforming weapons systems; we’re going to “incentivize” industry to be more productive and efficient; oh, and expect more program cuts going forward.

That was the message delivered to defense industry executives yesterday by the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer Ashton Carter, a message he relayed to military acquisition officials and then to the press later in the day. Read Carter’s memo here.

He questioned why weapons systems always increase in cost every year when in the private sector most products and services prices drop over time. “Your computer costs less every year, why not defense weapons?”

Its all part of Defense Secretary Robert Gates effort to wring savings out of the defense budget top line that can then be reinvested into weapons for the wars we’re fighting today. Gates’ ambitious target is to realize 2–3% annual growth in spending on “warfighting capabilities” without increasing the DoD budget.

“We want our managers to acquire weapons for what they should cost,” Carter said, and his office will use historically informed independent cost estimates to arrive at that “should-cost” figure.

On all new weapons programs, “affordability and not just appetite must be designed in from the start.” Carter said affordability will be the mandate in new programs such as: the SSBN-X, the presidential helicopter, the Ground Combat Vehicle, and the Air Force/Navy long range strike family of systems.

[Continue reading…]

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President Obama has threatened to veto the defense authorization bill if congress includes money for an alternate engine to power the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. At a press roundtable this morning, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he doesn’t believe the White House threats:

[Levin] said he “can’t imagine” President Obama would veto the defense policy bill over the F136 engine. He strongly rebutted Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recent claim that the F136 had been competed and the winner — Pratt & Whitney — won. “By the way, there’s never been a competition on that engine,” Levin said. “Did he [Gates] say there has been competition? Then he’s wrong.”

In totally expected news, Levin said the Senate will confirm Gen David Petraeus as Afghan commander (Petraeus will appear in front of the SASC tomorrow).

– Greg Grant

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The Pentagon isn’t talking but senior defense industry execs certainly are, and they are mighty worried. Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, summoned execs from leading defense industry firms to Washington for a hastily called meeting today to discuss cost cutting, efficiency and policy changes in the way the military buys weapons.

The calls from Carter’s office went out Friday morning, sending anxiety through the executive suites of the big defense firms. Our own Colin Clark reports:

“This is so last minute,” said one industry observer, noting that the Pentagon has shared no information with industry yet. “If this was seen as collaborative effort on how to fix challenges you would see much less anxiety since it would then be predictable.”

Another defense source said “industry “is quite apprehensive about what cumulative impact this may have on profits.”

Carter will meet this morning to brief industrialists on what’s coming at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, located on the K St. corridor in Washington, D.C. A second meeting with military acquisition officials is scheduled for this afternoon at the National Defense University.

[Continue reading…]

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Fox News, outgoing Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s least favorite news channel (he banned it from the televisions in his HQ), reports that one of the first moves of incoming Afghan commander Gen. David Petraeus will be to loosen the controversial rules of engagement in Afghanistan to allow more artillery and air strikes. Troops in Afghanistan complain they’re fighting with one hand tied behind their back because of the various “directives” issued by McChrystal restricting the use of indirect fires in an effort to curtail civilian casualties.

Not so fast, reports Leo Shane with Stars and Stripes, who asked Petraeus’ spokesman, Col. Erik Gunhus, if the Fox report is true. Gunhus said Petraeus has made no such decision. Once he arrives in Kabul (he still has to pass Senate confirmation on Tuesday, which will be a formality), Petraeus will review the ROE and determine whether they should be modified.

At a Pentagon press conference yesterday, Joint Chief’s chair Adm. Mike Mullen said Petraeus is mindful of the sensitivity of Afghans to civilian casualties and that he also signed off on McChrystal’s directives, that have ranged from instructing troops on polite driving techniques on Afghan roads to curtailing raids on Afghan homes in the middle of the night, but that he also has the flexibility to “make changes as he sees appropriate.”

– Greg Grant

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