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From the monthly archives:

July 2010

CSBA’s whip smart strategist Jim Thomas contends that as precision targeting and guided weapons proliferate, both high-end and low-end wars will unfold in far less “permissive” operating environments. Battlefield advantage has swung back in favor of the defender, he says, with the further maturation of reconnaissance-strike networks warfare may be entering the “post-power projection era.”

The weapons acquisition choice, Thomas said, is either to go cheap and disposable, with drones, long range missiles and robots that can be thrown at an enemy’s missile magazines without much regret, or ultra-costly, high-end and stealthy and try to slyly maneuver your way past an enemy’s defenses.

A good example of that debate is going on right now in Israel as it considers whether to spend $2.7 billion for the first 19 of a larger planned buy of the stealthy fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, or, to upgrade the current fleet of attack jets with better sensors and very-long range guided missiles. Not to say that Israel’s current fleet of modified F-15s and F-16s are cheap and disposable, but as Aviation Week’s David Fulgham reports, some in the Israeli brass think hanging newer and more standoff missiles on the jet’s wings is smarter than spending so much on the platform itself.

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By Colin Clark
Defense Tech Chief Pentagon Correspondent

It’s wide. It’s not light. It’s learned lessons from MRAPs and is survivable. It manages bandwidth so big fat transmission pipes like the doomed T-Sat satellites aren’t needed. It’s BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman’s offering for the Ground Combat Vehicle (a larger pic can be found here).

The base version is 53 tons. Going into a highly lethal environment? Then commanders may well want their troops to bolt on modular armor and storage pods that bring the weight up to 75 tons. Powering this vehicle that looks an awful lot like a tank, is a hybrid electric drive, technology that worries some in the Army who don’t believe it is sufficiently tried and true yet.

Mark Signorelli, BAE’s vice president and general manager for ground combat vehicles, told reporters that the decision to go with hybrid technology –“key enabling technology for the vehicle” — was one of the most “painful I’ve gone through.” The drive, produced by QintiQ NA, is the same as was proposed for BAE’s FCS offering. Signorelli said he knows the Army is split on the technology’s risk and benefits but argues that the commercial sector has used them for almost a decade in heavy construction equipment. Hybrid technology has “gone from being a radical idea to something we all ride” in on America’s streets, he said.

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Defense Tech has been doing some document exploitation over the last couple of days to help provide some interesting tidbits to our readers from the release of US military reports dumped by WikiLeaks. We know you’re all busy, so our team will keep reading them so you don’t have to.

In our first couple of scrapes, we noticed some pretty intensive use by SOF of the AC-130 gunship. In the following excerpt, check out the amount of ordnance expended during their gun runs…

Hell hath no fury like a Spectre scorned.

(17957)At 1300Z TF Bushmaster reported the enemy ambushed an ANA convoy SE of FOB Tagab at the mouth of the Tagab Valley.  The ANA reportedly detained multiple enemy.
At 1538z TF Bushmaster reported recieving SAF from 2x pax w/AKs
1700Z SE 44 TAKING RPG AND SMALL ARMS FIRE, CAS REQUESTED AND WILL BE PROVIDED BY F-18s,  1725Z MIRAGE WILL BE ON STATION, LOCATED AT CHECK POINT 4, 1724Z CAS AND JTAC ATTEMPTING TO GAIN CONTACT, 1747Z SE 44 JTAC IS IN CONTACT WITH AIRCRAFT, 1744Z JTAC IS IN CONTACT WITH CAS WHICH IS 2 F-18s, 1813Z AC-130 IS SCREENING THE ROUTE TO SE 44s FRONT, 1830Z SE 44 JTAC HAS RELEASED F-18s, 1830Z A-C130 IS ENGAGING TARGETS, 1833Z SE 44 IS BEING ENGAGED WITH SAF AND RPG AT LOCATION 42S WD 599 614, 1848Z SE 44 IS IN A LINEAR AMBUSH AT THIS TIME, 1854Z LEAD ELEMENT OF SE 44 CONVOY FOUND AN IED, SE 44 WILL MARK IT WITH A CHEM LIGHT AND C-130 WILL DESTROY IT WITH DIRECT FIRE, LOCATION OF IED IS 42S WD 590 607, 1931Z SE 44 MOVING BACK TO FIRE BASE LOCATION IS 42S WD 59563 60670, 1934Z AC-130 (SLASHER) REPORTS ESTIMATED 27 ENEMY KIA, IED WAS DESTROYED AND CAUSED NO DAMAGE,  2008Z SE 44 CALLED IN AT CHECK POINT TWO WITH NO FRIENDLY BDA AND APPROXIMATELY 4K UNTIL THEY REACH FIRE BASE TAGAB,  2036Z SE 44 HAS REACHED CP1, 2039 AC-130 EXPENDED 202 X 40MM ROUNDS AND 52 X 105MM ROUNDS,  2049Z SE 44 HAS RETURNED TO FIRE BASE TAGAB AND CALLED TIC COMPLETE

…and this one…

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As independent panel reports go here in Washington, D.C., this one just released by the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, co-chaired by former Bush administration National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Clinton-era defense secretary William Perry, is really awful.

It recommends buying more of pretty much every weapon system or at least replacing the current inventory on a one-to-one basis, maintaining ground forces at current levels, expanding the Air Force, greatly expanding the Navy’s battle fleet and to pay for all of that the panel recommends increasing the defense budget.

For an example of how unserious this report truly is, the panel took as its force planning default the 1993 Bottom Up Review. How a strategic analysis conducted in 2010 can look backwards 17 years to come up with a force planning model is beyond me. Has the strategic landscape not changed dramatically over the past two decades?

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At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week, newly nominated Central Command head Gen. James Mattis reaffirmed his support for a turboprop aircraft to provide ground pounders with long loitering time, on-call recon and strike. The project called “Imminent Fury” was run out of the Navy’s irregular warfare office.

Mattis described it as a test program to see if inexpensive turboprops could replace the much more costly jets currently used in counterinsurgency battles. As we’ve described it before, the sought after design falls somewhere between the Vietnam era OV-10 Bronco and A-1 Skyraider.

While the Navy’s request for additional funds for the program was recently denied, Mattis said he’s still trying to build support for the concept, to at least gather data that could inform future spending decisions.

He’s going to have his work cut out for him as sources from the Navy’s irregular warfare community recently told Defense Tech the program is as dead as Julius Caesar. Who killed it? The Air Force, we’re told, and its powerful fighter community, which was not at all interested in sticking their pilots in a low and slow ground support aircraft. The Air Force is still having trouble choking down the “drone driver” mission.

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Newly installed Afghan theater commander Gen. David Petraeus has issued new “Counterinsurgency Guidance” to troops under his command. The 24 points are largely plucked from Field Manual 3–24 Counterinsurgency and David Kilcullen’s 28 COIN principles albeit with an Afghan flavor; for example, it includes the familiar “human terrain” is the “decisive terrain” and “people are the center of gravity.”

Petraeus has brought lessons from his Iraq command experience to Afghanistan, urging troops to get out and live among the people by positioning “combat outposts” as close to the people as feasible, similar to changes he implemented in Baghdad in 2007. Troops are told to get out of their vehicles and walk, another less from Iraq. While patrolling on foot troops should ditch the high-speed shades: “Situational awareness can only be gained by interacting face-to-face, not separated by ballistic glass or Oakleys.”

The new commander’s guidance includes many of the rules laid down by the previous commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, behave politely while in foreign lands and don’t do stupid things that piss off the locals. “Alienating Afghan civilians sows the seeds of our defeat.”

On the always hot-button rules of engagement issue, Petraeus’ new guidance doesn’t say a whole lot; it’s quite likely that a separate “guidance” will address ROE in more detail. It does say that troops must fight with discipline, using only the “firepower needed to win a fight.” As is repeated in every COIN tome, the document says killing civilians or damaging their property serves as an excellent recruiting tool for the insurgents.

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As frenetic stock-picking, carnival barker Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s Mad Money, says: listen to company quarterly earnings reports, you can learn a lot. On Lockheed Martin’s 2nd quarter conference call yesterday, CEO Bob Stevens told Wall Street analysts (transcript here) the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program was at a “critical juncture” as it transitions from development into production.

The systems development and demonstration phase is about 80 percent complete, he said. Of the 19 planned test aircraft, 15 have been delivered; only 13 will actually fly, the others are for structural tests. Nine of the “flyers” have so far completed a total of 136 test flights: the F-35A has flown 56 times; the F-35B short-takeoff and landing version has flown 74 times: and the carrier variant F-35C has flown six times.

While the 74 test flights of the F-35B might look impressive, its actually behind schedule; it was supposed to have flown 95 times by now, Stevens said. “Higher than predicted” failure rates of component parts have grounded some F-35B test aircraft. Stevens described the failing parts as sub-components, not major parts such as the engine, which has been performing well.

“The components that are failing are more of the things that would appear either smaller or more ordinary like thermal cooling fans, door actuators, selected valves or switches or components of the power system.”

Yet, testers have had to pull the engines out to access those failed components and the follow-on maintenance has taken far longer than expected, Stevens said. Lockheed and its suppliers are trying to figure out whether the problems lie in botched manufacturing (Friday jobs), whether the design of the parts must be changed or whether the program needs to buy more spares. Stevens said the problem is fixable.

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By Kevin Coleman
Defense Tech Cyber War Analyst

Private contractors have proven vital in the current wars, providing services that range from security and fighting in battles to training and supply chain management. Recently there has been a lot of attention being given to the number of contractors used within both theaters of operations – Afghanistan and Iraq.

Well, if they think the ratio for conventional military operations is too high, wait till they see what it is in the cyber domain! While I can find no real numbers, actual experience suggests that the private sector is where the hard-core cyber talent is. After all, the private sector was responsible for creating the vast majority of hardware and software used by the military, intelligence and homeland security organizations.

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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak arrives in Washington, D.C., next week. And he’s coming with a list of demands for U.S. defense officials. Topping that list: Israel wants money to build-out its multi-layered missile and rocket defense shield and it wants to get its hands on advanced technology from the Joint Strike Fighter program.

If it gets what it wants, Barak suggested Israel wouldn’t oppose the proposed U.S. sale of F-15s to Saudi Arabia; although perhaps not in the numbers being discussed. In an interview with the Washington Post last week, Barak evoked Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME), suggesting that Saudi Arabia’s acquisition of dozens of brand new F-15 fighters could tilt the regional military balance.

“[W]e would appreciate it if we could be compensated and the qualitative edge will be assured as well as certain aspects of the quantity. Beyond certain point, quantity turns into quality especially when the planes themselves are extremely sophisticated one.”

Israel isn’t in a position to dictate who the U.S. sells advanced weaponry to, Barak said; although it really is. If Israel so desires, it can mobilize its powerful allies in Congress to hold up arms sales to Arab nations, especially when it’s something as big as the sale of 84 F-15s.

So what does Israel want for compensation? Barak said he wants money to erect a multi-layered rocket and missile defense shield over Israel, which has been his “vision from day one” in office. Hostile non-state actors such as Hezbollah and Hamas have turned to the poor man’s strategic bomber, the rocket, to menace Israeli cities.

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The chart above shows monthly IED “incidents,” defined as IEDs placed by insurgents and either found or detonated, in Afghanistan from January 2004 to April this year. It comes from an alarming report from the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) that was provided to CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman.

The JIEDDO data shows an astounding jump in IED incidents occurred beginning summer 2009 — coinciding with the Marine offensive in the Helmand River Valley — and IED attacks have steadily mounted. There were more than 1,000 IED incidents during March, April and May of this year; nearly half of total incidents involved IEDs detonating. As the JIEDDO brief notes, a “significant number” of IEDs may have been emplaced but were never found or detonated.

The JIEDDO data shows “that IEDs have become the equivalent of the Stinger in allowing irregular forces to pose a major threat even to the most advanced military forces in the world,” Cordesman writes. While the jump in insurgent IED attacks is indeed alarming, the data does show some good news: “the counter-IED effort has kept successful attacks far below the rate of increase in total attacks.”

As can be seen from the chart labeled “Lethality of IEDs Over Time,” the number of deaths per IED attack has “stabilized” at below 20 percent since April 2009. In March of this year, 434 IEDs detonated, resulting in 22 coalition troops killed and 252 wounded. In April, 475 IEDs detonated, resulting in 17 killed and 230 wounded. In May, 544 IEDs detonated, killing 34 coalition troops and wounding 250.

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