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From the monthly archives:

August 2010

China’s 10,000 ton hospital ship “Peace Ark” left Zhoushan Port today en route to the Gulf of Aden on its first overseas medical mission, according to a Chinese government announcement. It says the ship carries 428 “soldiers, officers and medical workers.” During its 87-day mission the ship’s medical staff will provide treatment to people in Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles and Bangladesh.

The Chinese are adept (and becoming more so) at the use of soft power in all its forms, not just economic, as this deployment makes clear. Taking a page from the U.S. Navy playbook, the hospital ship will become a major tool in China’s soft power exploits.

The Peace Ark’s deployment should be seen in the same light as China’s PLA Navy participating in anti-piracy patrols: maximizing the strategic and messaging value of the limited number of ships it’s able to maintain on long patrols. Undoubtedly, a major public relations campaign will follow the hospital ship’s various port calls.

Very few world navies have purpose built hospital ships and it’s rather significant that the Chinese built such a large one. That they did goes to the drivers behind China’s naval expansion. The Peace Ark is another signal that the PLA Navy is moving beyond the defending territorial claims imperative into more far ranging economic interests.

China must secure raw materials to supply its voracious economic growth, Africa is a source of many of those resources, hence the peace Ark goes to Africa. China must also worry about the safety and health of its overseas workers, thousands of which are working across the African continent.

– Greg Grant

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In a must read article on rising weapons costs and defense spending, the Economist puts up an interesting chart from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) showing that China now has more warships than the U.S. While IISS apparently uses its own definition for what is and is not a warship (the chart puts U.S. warships at a very debatable 150), the long term trend is unmistakable.

As the Economist notes, declining U.S. fleet numbers reflect sharply rising unit costs:

“At some point, as unit prices rise, one of two things must happen: countries must either scale back their ambition, or seek game-changing technology, as they did when the battleship gave way to the submarine and aircraft-carrier.”

– Greg Grant

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Defense Tech readers who followed our Afghan embed coverage back in May will remember Capt. Josh Powers, Angel Company Commander, 3rd Batt., 3–187 BCT. We met Josh at the first shura we attended at Yahya Khel — right before the insurgents mortared the nearby city center. Josh immediately impressed us with his demeanor, attitude, understanding of the locals, and overall war fighting expertise.

We spent a number of days in his company, doing everything from dismounted patrols, lunch with Sharana’s deputy chief of police, and an air assault against a suspected Taliban supply center.   He was always impressive in every situtation — a great example of the modern infantry officer and leader.

The photo above shows Josh a few days ago receiving the Purple Heart for wounds he sustained when the vehicle he was riding in hit an IED.  We’re pleased to report that he (and the other three Soldiers he was with) are all returning to the fight after a few days of light duty around FOB Rushmore.  At the same time, this event reminds us (in a very personal way) of the daily hazards facing our forces.

Here are a couple of the videos we shot during the embed.  This one shows Capt. Powers talking to the people of Mest in Paktika Province:

And this one captures him leading the company out of the Chinook during a raid on Ateh Khanek:

Josh, we’re glad you’re okay.  Carry on, Rakkasans!

– Ward and Christian

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By Kevin Coleman
Defense Tech Cyber Warfare Analyst

An interesting question, well more than a question, it was an out and out argument that I got brought into via email last week. I thought this was the perfect venue to address the disagreement. The disagreement centered around the difference between IO (information operations) and CW (cyber warfare).


JP 3–13 defines Information Operations (IO) as — “the integrated employment of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception, and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own.”

It should be noted that this term and its definition modify the existing term and its definition and are approved for inclusion in the next edition of JP 1–02. Read more here.

At this point there is NO formally accepted definition of cyber warfare. It is hard to believe but no one has come up with a decent answer to this extremely important question. At this point there are no clear and distinct rules for behaviors in the cyber warfare domain. Some believe the Obama administration has purposely delayed a formal definition of cyber war so that a response by the U.S would not be pushed if a cyber event meeting the criteria were to take place.

The question remains – what is the difference, if any, between “cyber warfare” and information operations? Using the IO definition above, we want to hear from you.

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Our friends at Popular Mechanics are reporting that “DARPA has selected two companies to proceed with the next stage of its Transformer, a fully automated four-person vehicle that can drive like a car and then take off and fly like an aircraft to avoid roadside bombs. Lockheed Martin and AAI Corp., a unit of Textron Systems, are currently in negotiations with DARPA for the first stage of the Transformer project.”

The gee-whizzery is undeniable here, and the article points out that DARPA has $40 million to spend on developing a’TX,’ as the project is known.  But having spent a few years around military procurement and several weeks in Afghanistan recently, I have doubts about the craft’s ability to make it to the front lines — literally and figuratively.

Who’s going to fly/drive it?  Do we specially train Joes or do infantry units add dozens of pilots?  What kind of RW gear will it have?  (The threat immediately jumps from IEDs to RPGs and SAMs once you get airborne.)  Who’s going to work on it around the FOBs and COPs?  And what’s the cost per copy?

Read the entire PopMech story here.

(Gouge: KOH)

(Photo: DARPA)

– Ward

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The Army has canceled the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) solicitation because the service decided, after an internal and external review, that the current Requests for Proposal (RFP) do not accurately reflect Army requirements and a changing acquisition strategy, sources tell us.

A contract for the new vehicle was very close to being awarded, we’re told. A restart of the GCV competition is expected fairly soon, a new RFP may be out within 60 days, and the Army intends to stay within the original seven year timeline to field a new vehicle.

A contentious debate has taken place among Army officials regarding the new infantry fighting vehicle’s lengthy requirements list, a debate fed by an Army and OSD staffed “Red Team” analysis which scrutinized vehicle proposals and the lethality of modern and future battlefields, as well as disagreement among leadership about the service’s GCV acquisition strategy. The new RFP will reflect the Red Team’s findings as well as the Army’s analysis of alternatives.

The proposed GCV, which is intended to replace the Army’s Bradley fleet, was getting a bit unwieldy, sources say, as builders attempted to meet the many requirements. The Army will issue a formal announcement this afternoon. Lawmakers (the few who are available in late August; more like their secretaries) were notified of the GCV cancellation this morning.

[Continue reading…]

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Being an outgoing Marine Corps Commandant gives you a hell of a lot more leeway in calling it like you see it. Short timer CMC Gen. James Conway has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Obama administration’s push to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Today, the typically (and now, with his post-retirement fishing hole in sight, even more so) blunt spoken Conway took aim at the administration’s Afghanistan policy, saying the July 2011 withdrawal deadline may be boosting Taliban morale. “In some ways, we think right now, its probably giving our enemy sustenance… we’ve intercepted communications that say, “Hey we only have to hold out for so long.”

Yet, the enemy is getting tired, Conway said, recent interrogations of Taliban prisoners show a level of exhaustion and frustration with the endless fighting, “they’re getting hammered.” U.S. and NATO troops have wrenched the initiative from the Taliban, he said, constant strikes against Taliban supply lines have made it harder for them to move bomb making materials to the battlefield.

The 2011 withdrawal date really doesn’t mean much to his Marines fighting in southern Helmand province, Conway said, as they’re not going anywhere for years to come. It will be years before the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan will allow the Marines to turn over security to Afghan troops. The CMC’s message was meant for his Marines as much as anybody else, saying they must adjust their “mindset” for a prolonged stay in Afghanistan.

[Continue reading…]

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Every time I listen to outgoing Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway talk about the perennially challenged Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program, it sounds like he really wishes there was some alternative. Problem is, there isn’t; there just aren’t a lot of companies out there building armored amphibians.

The Marines need something, anything, to transport them from ships offshore to the beachhead and then get them inland at least some distance; oh, and it has to be fast, both at sea and on land, carry lots of Marines and keep them under armor during the whole process. So, after investing lots of time and money into the General Dynamics EFV, the Marines have the EFV. It’s a costly and so far anyway, unreliable vehicle. But it’s all they got.

“It is not the platform it’s the capability,” Conway said, the Marines need an armored amphibian as the Marines get back to the sea and onboard ships. “It’s not necessarily the EFV made by General Dynamics that goes 25 knots, its the capability that we need to be wed to… if that program were canceled outright we would still be looking to come up with that capability.”

He said the new batch of eight EFVs provided by General Dynamics for extensive testing are more reliable than the original prototypes and the Marines hope they’ll show marked improvement. “It has been a beleaguered program,” Conway said today at a Pentagon presser. “We are looking at affordability of the program in the out years… we have to ask ourselves are 573 (EFVs) affordable.”

[Continue reading…]

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The Navy has postponed the much anticipated decision as to which of two very different Littoral Combat Ship designs it intends to buy. The service had initially said a down-select would be made by the end of the summer. Now, the Navy says it is “taking the time necessary” to “diligently” and “thoroughly” analyze the competing design proposals.

In 2004, the Navy decided to have two companies, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, build and compete different LCS designs for an anticipated buy of some 55 total ships in the class; the Navy has already bought two ships from each builder.

The Navy said it’s currently “engaged in discussions” with both companies and will request Final Proposal Revisions (FPRs) “soon,” according to an emailed statement from Navy spokesman Cmdr. Victor Chen. The Navy expects tor receive the FPRs by September and the revised offers will remain valid for 90 days. The email said:

“We understand there is keen public interest in this competition, but our duty to protect the integrity of the source-selection process, as well as the confidentiality of the information submitted by the offerors, significantly limits our ability to provide additional details about the ongoing competitive procurement at this time.”

– Greg Grant

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By Kevin Coleman
Defense Tech Cyber Warfare Analyst

Investigators looking into the crash of Spanair Flight 5022 at Madrid International Airport on August 20, 2008, killing 154, found that the airline’s central computer system used to monitor technical problems in its fleet was infected with malware, according to this news report. The central computer system should have warned the airline that Flight 5022, an MD-82 aircraft, was having repeat mechanical problems.

The plane’s onboard computer that should have alerted the crew by an audible alarm that the flaps and slats were retracted — NOT in the proper position for takeoff — failed to do so, multiple times. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board preliminary investigation found that no audible alarm had been heard.

“The accident on take-off happened after pilots had abandoned an earlier take-off attempt and a day after two other reported problems on board. If the airlines’ central computer was working properly a take-off after three warnings would not have been allowed, thereby averting the tragedy.”

There are so many unanswered questions about this incident and what it will mean for transportation safety in general and specifically how it will impact the airlines industry.

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