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Catch the "Buzz"

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz revealed in his major speech at the Air Force Association conference that the service began a wide-ranging technology study to come up with approaches that may help the service answer some of its pressing mission challenges and help find technologies that should underwrite our future..

Schwartz told reporters after the speech that the study is being led by the services chief scientist, Werner Dahm. The horizon study was launched in July and should be finished by next summer. One promising technology ahs already been identified, Schwartz said. Virtual machines could be used to help protect the utility and integrity of the services networks. That technology is close at hand. I would not have known about that if our chief scientist had not told me, Schwartz noted.

Schwartz also addressed a wide range of other acquisition issues, including that the Quadrennial Defense Review may result in the service losing some capabilities it hoped to develop. It may e that in many areas we might, in (Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. James) Hoss Cartwrights word, not end get as exquisite systems as perhaps the service had planned for.

Schwartz on other programs:

The tanker RFP: Speaking personally, Schwartz said he wants the Air Force to run the KC-X program but ultimately this is a decision for the Secretary of Defense to decide. He also said service had done a much better job of communicating with the companies since the GAO protest was issued. I think Jim Albaugh (Boeing) and Ron Sugar (Northrop Grumman) and Paul Meyer (Northrop) will tell you that there has been far better communication than had been the case he said.

Read the rest of this story and more coverage of the Air Force Association 2009 conference at DoD Buzz.

– Colin Clark

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I attended the same interview at the Pentagon with Colin and Greg Grant where MGen. Terry met with a select group of reporters. It’s too bad he didn’t say much, but I’ll go ahead and give Colin some props for spinning out a story on it and getting the debate started.

The incoming commander of the famous 10th Mountain Division, Maj. Gen. James Terry, sat down with defense reporters today to talk about the future of Army modernization. Terry, a very personable commander with a refreshingly candid approach, wouldnt offer specific answers about what the Armys Brigade Combat Team Modernization would look like. After all, its one of the biggest acquisition decisions the service will make for years and its not unreasonable for him to go slow. But there is a larger issue that a major general dares not address in public are the Pentagon and Army moving in the right direction when it comes to redesigning the force? The answer we got from a respected analyst is a resounding No!

Terry knows a great deal about the past and future of Army modernization from his job as director of TRADOCs Future Force Integration Directorate, known fondly as FFID. But he is also an officer in the chain of command and the Army is in the midst of deciding just what the successor to FCS will be, so he couldnt say much.

Terry did say that the Army is probably going to do more of taking Operational Needs Statements from commanders in the field and turning them into programs of record, those wonderful budgeting tools that allow the service to build a program into its regular annual funding plan. At the end of the session, I asked him if the Army was moving from a force bent on fundamental change which the service declared was the case with the development of FCS to a more incremental approach. Terry said he thought the service was probably headed to something much closer to a step by step approach.

Eager to get some perspective on whether the service is generally headed in the right direction since the demise of the Manned ground Vehicle program, I called one of the best outside analysts who follows the Army, Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute. Goure was adamant. The Army has, under enormous pressure from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, begun to turn into an institution planning for the last war one of the greatest sins of which a military can be accused.

The Armys current course almost guarantees surprise, technical and operational surprise in our next conflict because the service is rebuilding to cope with the wars it has most recently fought Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates has declared repeatedly that he is acting to rebalance the US military in light of the lessons he has learned since coming to the Pentagon.

Why would you think you are going to get yourself in the same situation in five years” Goure asked. On top of that, Army officials have said repeatedly they are planning for uncertainty and for the long war. The Army uses the term uncertainty thats not a plan for the future, he said. Instead that leads the service, Goure opined, to operating without a greater vision, a greater purpose than the immediate fight. And that takes us back to his initial premise, that the current course of the Army will place the country in peril because it will be vulnerable to an enemy able to target our technology that has been developed with the current fight in mind. You dont have a core purpose for the Army, whether it might be developing the capability to read and react to an enemy attack, mobilize quickly and stop the enemy in its tracks almost anywhere in the world, pacify the Indians or stop the Soviets at the Fulda Gap.

Read the rest of this story and join the discussion over at DoD Buzz.

– Colin Clark

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One of the reasons I listen closely to Gen. James Mattis is that he is an avid student of history, and uses lessons from past wars to guide the work he and other folks down at Joint Forces Command are doing to re-craft operational concepts.

Mattis says future wars will be of the hybrid variety, characterized by a mixture of conventional and unconventional operations blending both high-tech attacks, such as cyber, and low tech, such as IEDs, all on the same battlefield.

Because of a hybrid enemys adaptability and fluid nature there is no single template for the threat, such as there was in Cold War days when one could template a Soviet Motorized Rifle Battalion down to the individual vehicle. But there is a textbook example of a hybrid war, Mattis says: Israels fight in south Lebanon against Hezbollah in 2006. Frank Hoffman, who writes extensively on hybrid threats, said the Lebanon war is the Grozny for the 21st century; a contemporary war that will be picked apart and analyzed for potential lessons.

In our continuing exploration of hybrid threats and their implications for doctrine and organization, we drill down a bit deeper into some of the lessons Israel took from that conflict. Long revered as one of the most formidable militaries in the world, military professionals took notice when the IDF was roughly handled by Hezbollah. The Israeli military itself launched some 50 internal probes to determine what went wrong.

IDF Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, former leader of the IDFs Intelligences Research Division, was tasked with re-writing IDF doctrine and operational methods to avoid a repeat of the militarys dismal performance. I was passed along a briefing given last year by Brun summarizing lessons learned. He called the war a wake-up call, and his analysis of the Hezbollah hybrid archetype is interesting.

Brun defined Hezbollah as a terrorist organization with the structure and capabilities of a state-like regular army and with a guerrilla mode of operation. Hezbollahs strategic concept was victory through non-defeat; which meant Israels tactical victories were of little to no importance. Hezbollah began the war with some 10,000 fighters equipped with vast quantities of anti-tank guided missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, a large arsenal of rockets, some 1,000 long range (up to 250 km) and 13,000 shorter range, an air unit equipped with aerial drones and a naval unit with anti-ship missiles. Hezbollahs operational concept was the continuous launching of rockets into Israels cities even in the face of a significant IDF ground maneuver.

Hezbollah pursued what Brun called a strategy of disappearance: command posts and arms stored in civilian buildings; launching rockets from civilian surroundings and sensitive sites such as mosques and schools; use of low signature weapons including rockets, mortars and anti-tank missiles; and Hezbollah employed extensive camouflage and field fortifications such as tunnels and bunkers. As military analyst and former general Bob Scales told me, Hezbollahs ability to fire rockets, move fighters and resupply when the Israeli Air Force had complete air dominance, was one of the big surprises of the war.

Read the rest of this story over at DoD Buzz…

– Greg Grant

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Some people are willing to forgive the defense establishment for its zeal in pursuing high-tech solutions. Gen. James Mattis, commander of Joint Forces Command, is most definitely not one.

In a wide ranging critique of defense planning over the past decade, Mattis blasted the wrongheaded thinking of recent years that led military planners to seek technological solutions to solve wars fundamental challenges and naively dismiss wars unchanging reality. We embraced some wishful thinking, we espoused some untested concepts and we ignored history, he said yesterday at CSIS in Washington.

Mattis didnt mention the previous Pentagon leadership by name. But it was former SecDef Rumsfeld who turned transformation into the catch-all buzzword signaling the militarys embrace of a Toefler-certified digital future. Phrases such as information dominance and Effects Based Operations filtered into doctrine manuals. In the new American way of war, near-perfect intelligence gathered from unblinking electronic eyes would replace the fog of war that causes confusion, casualties and uncertain outcomes with predictability in American military operations.

Mattis is determined to bury that notion. Defense planners will not be allowed to adopt a single preclusive view of war, he said. War cannot be precisely orchestrated. By its nature it is unpredictable. You cannot change the fundamental nature of war.

The military has swung too far in its embrace of high-technology, Mattis said, using as an example what he called over-centralized command and control. That over-centralization can create a single point of failure, he warned. The U.S. military is the single most vulnerable military in the world if we overly rely on technical C2 systems. In future wars, technical systems will be under attack and will go down, he said, so forces must disaggregate authority and decision-making to much lower levels. Were going to have to restore initiative among small units and individual leaders.

Tasked with crafting a force for the combatant commander after next, Mattis is striving to prevent the military from repeating past mistakes such as grabbing concepts that are defined in three letters, and then wondering why the enemy dances nimbly around you. He recently decreed that EBO be dropped from the American military lexicon. The rhetorical battle over EBO was largely between those who see troops on the ground as the linchpin of future conflicts, versus airpower enthusiasts, who believe just the right amount of precision weaponry applied at just the right point can produce, well, most any desired effect.

[Continue reading…]

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The first Quadrennial Defense Review I covered also the first QDR there ever was included what I thought was a productive and provocative tool, a panel of outside defense experts who were charged with critiquing the QDR as it went along and basically grading it when it was done.

At Wednesdays House Armed Services Committee budget hearing, Rep. Mac Thornberry, one of the most consistently thoughtful and effective legislators on the House Armed Services Committee, asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates if he thought such an outside panel would be a good idea. Gates made the classic bureaucrats move of preempting the questioner, telling Thornberry he had already ‚made a move in that direction, naming Andy Marshall, head of the elect Office of Net Assessment, and Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of Joint Forces Command, as his red team.

Gates said he wanted to avoid any groupthink and so had charged Marshall and Mattis with doing critical analyses of both the QDRs scenarios and its outcomes. With the smart folks we have among our readers, Id like to get a Buzz debate going about whether this is a good idea to follow in this QDR. This is a chance to perhaps help a good idea get crucial support it might not otherwise or a chance to kill a flawed idea before it grows too big, depending on where you come down.

Generally speaking, I really like the idea of an outside panel to help drive the QDR teams to greatness. Heres one reason why. While I cant remember a lot of the details, I do remember getting my hands on a letter the National Defense Panel wrote during the first QDR in the last quarter of the process. That letter sparked considerable discussion about the direction of elements of the QDR and resulted in substantial changes being made to the final QDR product.

But another reason is that people whose jobs dont depend on the conclusions they reach are often willing to offer solutions or analyses that those closer to where the rubber hits the road may fear to tread. Put a few eminence grises such as Paul Kaminski or John Hamre on it to lead, spice it up with a few defense iconoclasts like Loren Thompson or Robbin Laird and add a few solid industry experts and you could end up with one heck of an interesting alternative vision of what the QDR should become.

The kind of red team effort I see working would be one that met this sort of standard. An old special forces buddy told me years ago about a successful raid his red team made on a nuclear sub base, slipping aboard a boat, entering offices and slipping away before the security forces could react. It led to a fair amount of turmoil at the base but demonstrated gaping holes in their security that were then filled. While Gates is clearly willing to make hard decisions, I say he can use all the help he can get from a robust red team that is not too closely tied to the building.

What say you, dear readers?

– Colin Clark

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At a naval strategy conference I attended back in 2007, Stephen Carmel, VP of Maersk Shipping, said that while piracy was a problem for regional coastwise trade, it didnt really register for international shipping. There was an unfortunate tendency, he said, to conflate petty thieves in bumboats, something we have been dealing with forever, with the the threat of hijacking on the high seas. I make a distinction between a 300,000 ton [supertanker] loaded with crude and a barge carrying a couple cups of Crisco. Stowaways, Carmel said, concerned him more than pirates. Efforts to get an update from Carmel have so far proven unfruitful; Maersk is a bit inundated with calls these days.

To be fair to Carmel, Maersk operates a fleet of some 1,000 ships across the entire world. To get a sense of why he tended to downplay piracy, and also why that particular part of the Indian Ocean that abuts Somalia has become such a happy hunting ground for pirates, go to the U.S. Coast Guards AMVER web site and click Density Plots on the left hand column. The plot shows the shipping bottleneck that forms in the Gulf of Aden as ships go to and from the Suez Canal. It also shows the extent of global shipping; it is truly global, with ships literally covering the worlds ocean surface. Now take a look at the Live Piracy Map, updated by the International Maritime Bureau. It illustrates just how localized the piracy problem is, most activity is concentrated in the Gulf of Aden.

The real challenge is the vast ungoverned, Hobbesian space called Somalia that provides pirate gangs a conveniently located home port, says Martin Murphy, a maritime strategist with CSBA. The unique characteristic of Somali piracy, he says, is the sanctuary that allows pirates to hold hostages for ransom, without threat of capture, until shipping companies reach the pirates monetary demands. Once ashore in Somalia, the hostage takers are truly in the drivers seat, which is one of the reasons the Navy was so determined to prevent Captain Phillips captors from reaching shore.

Lately, the pirates have moved operations further out to sea, adopting their own version of the U.S. Navys seabasing strategy intended to provide large offshore operating platforms for ships and amphibs. Pirates attack much further from the Somali coast, well into shipping lanes, staging from a mother-ship, usually a large fishing vessel, and then running down slow moving freighters with small, fast Zodiac or Boston whaler type boats. Its a very effective business model, akin to a whaling fleet roaming the oceans hunting prey, occasionally putting in at foreign ports to resupply, but able to remain at sea for long periods.

Since ransoms run into the millions of dollars, there is a huge incentive for more parties to enter the marketplace. Piracy is becoming an established piece of the underground economy. Once such huge market incentives are in place, the problem becomes nearly impossible to eradicate. Sweeping up pirates wont work either as there is an inexhaustible supply of willing freebooters in a country like Somalia where there are so few economic options. Even if you catch pirates in the act, what do you do with a bunch of teenagers who just tried to hijack a ship? Shooting hostage takers is one thing, shooting cargo hijackers is another. The enforcement at sea problems become ever more complex, Murphy says, and for the worlds navies, its a particularly daunting security challenge.

There is a real risk that these sorts of pirate whaling fleets may begin to spread across the globe, moving up the adaptation chain, using better ships and technology to stay linked to each other and to track shipping, constantly refining tactics. Murphy says the recent spread of piracy along major shipping lines likely stems from Somali mother ships motoring ever further from homeport hunting vulnerable freighters.

The initiative is with the pirates, Murphy says. Theyre evolving their tactics and their ability to shift their operating area much more quickly than we can respond. The worlds navies simply dont have enough ships to patrol the more than 2 million square miles of Indian Ocean, let alone the entire global commons. Then there is the identification challenge. How do you tell a local fishing boat from a pirate boat? How do you tell a dhow from a pirate mother ship? Murphy asks. While some vessel configurations may look suspicious, you have to prove it, which can require boarding the ship in question and looking under the tarpaulin, or catching them in the act. Helicopters and aerial drones flying off Navy ships greatly expand the area that can be patrolled. But the eye-in-the-sky hardly solves the positive identification challenge as the pirates swim in a sea crowded with fishing vessels.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please read the rest of Greg’s story at DoD Buzz along with SecState’s new policy on countering piracy. Also, keep in mind that yesterday the chairman of the House Armed Services committee Ike Skelton called for “counter piracy operations on Somali territory”…

I encourage you to pursue these pirates beyond the waters we are currently patrolling and into the safe havens where they are operating. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution requires no less. Furthermore, established authorities such as United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1846 and 1851 have expanded the ability of international forces to conduct counter-piracy operations within Somali territory. This does not have to be a large operation. In most cases we already know the cities in which they are operating and often even the names of those organizing the attacks. Pirate attacks and rhetoric have only become more brazen in recent months and cannot be allowed to continue.

Until a long term solution to the lack of governance in Somalia is found, the only way we can sufficiently protect our interests in the region is by seeking out the criminals who are responsible for these attacks and hijackings and bring them to justice.

Get ready for more on this as Congress comes back from spring break.

– Greg Grant

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Regardless of who won and lost in Gates’ plan, what will really matter now is how Congress reacts. So far, Hill reaction to the Gates’ moves is cautiously supportive. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) called it a good faith effort but pointedly noted that, “the buck stops with Congress which has the critical Constitutional responsibility to decide whether to support these proposals.”

Rep. Murtha praised Gates for taking “an important first step in balancing the Departments wants with our nations needs. For far too long, the Defense Department has failed to address these challenges, and I applaud the Secretary for conducting this comprehensive review.” But he echoed Skeltons comments that Congress will have the next say in how the nation spends its treasure.

The ranking Republican on the HASC, Rep. John McHugh (NY), was much more critical. He said that Gates’ decision to move substantial amounts of funding that had been in supplemental spending bills into the baseline budget “will be tantamount to an $8 billion cut in defense spending” without an increase in the budget topline. He noted that the GOP supports building such funding into the regular defense budget, just not at the expense of overall spending.

McHugh also questioned Gates on missile defense, saying that the defense secretary’s decision to move money to the SM-3 and THAAD programs and to effectively freeze Ground-based Midcourse funding “places unnecessary risk to the homeland. Just a day after North Korea launched a long range ballistic missile the Secretary missed an opportunity to re-commit to investment in missile defense capabilities.”

Overall, Gates has made some dramatic decisions. But Winslow Wheeler, a former Congressional budget staffer and now an analyst at the Center for Defense Information, wonders how much will actually change.

“While Washington DC hisses and spits over the secretary’s hardware recommendations, it is probably more important to ask, what has changed, and if anything has, where are we now going? It does not appear that the basic DOD budget has changed; this set of decisions may be budget neutral, or it may even hold in its future expanded net spending requirements,” he said. “While many decisions were made, the Pentagon ship of state appears to be very much on the same basic course.”

– Colin Clark

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President Barack Obama is expected to approve a new constellation of highly classified multi-billion dollar spy satellites in the next few days, injecting a major new expenditure into the Defense Department budget that was not planned when the administration began its budget deliberations.

The debate between the intelligence community and the military over this system has been particularly sharp. In the words of one Hill source familiar with the issue. A deep path has been worn between the Pentagon on this one, the source said.

Gates and Blair signed a classified memo approving the program on March 30, according to two sources familiar with the program. Details of the program are highly classified. A DNI spokesman had not responded by the time we posted this story but may provide details later.

However, we have obtained a few details in the meantime.

The system may cost $3.5 billion to get started, if earlier estimates are accurate. It may cost up to $10 billion, over the next five years depending on which technical approach was approved and on how many satellites will be built.

The Hill source said that the DNI and Pentagon would have great trouble paying for the system. I dont think they can come up with enough to pay for two-plus-two, the source said, refusing to add any details.

Read the rest of this exclusive story at DoD Buzz.

– Colin Clark

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The Army has let slip one of the worst-kept secrets in the world — that Israel has the bomb.

Officially, the United States has a policy of ambiguity regarding Israels nuclear capability. Essentially, it has played a game by which it neither acknowledges nor denies that Israel is a nuclear power.

But a Defense Department study completed last year offers what may be the first time in a unclassified report that Israel is a nuclear power. On page 37 of the U.S. Joint Forces Command report, the Army includes Israel within “a growing arc of nuclear powers running from Israel in the west through an emerging Iran to Pakistan, India, and on to China, North Korea, and Russia in the east.”

The single reference is far more than the U.S. usually would state publicly about Israel, even though the world knew Israel to be a nuclear power years before former nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu went public with facts on its weapons program in 1986.

Several years later investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published “The Samson Option,” detailing Israels strategy of massive nuclear retaliation against Arab states in the event it felt its very existence was threatened. Israels nuclear arsenal has been estimated to range from 200 to 400 warheads.

Yet Israel has refused to confirm or deny its nuclear capabilities, and the U.S. has gone along with the charade.

As recently as Feb. 9 President Barack Obama ducked the question when asked pointedly by White House correspondent Helen Thomas whether he knew of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons. Keeping the blinders on is necessary politically in order to avoid a policy confrontation with Israel.

By law, the U.S. would have to cease providing billions of dollars in foreign aid to Israel if it determined the country had a nuclear weapons program. Thats because the so-called Symington Amendment, passed in 1976, bars assistance to countries developing technology for nuclear weapons proliferation.

Given the U.S.s long history of selective blindness when it comes to Israeli nukes, its unlikely that the Joint Operating Environment 2008 report compiled by the Army amount to much more than a minor faux pas.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in a March 8 article on the report, observed: “It is virtually unheard of for a senior military commander, while in office, to refer to Israels nuclear status. In December 2006, during his confirmation hearings as Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates referred to Israel as one of the powers seen by Iran as surrounding it with nuclear weapons. But once in office, Gates refused to repeat this allusion to Israel, noting that when he used it he was ‘a private citizen.’”

– Bryant Jordan

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Two great Pentagon business stories today, one from Defense Tech friend and congressional defense beat reporter Josh Rogin and another scoop from our boy Colin Clark at DoD Buzz.

As our readers know, Pentagon chief Gates put a major clampdown on any leaks from the Obama defense budget planning. My colleagues on the budget beat have been majorly frustrated with the lack of string for story-hungry editors (myself included).

As the “April” deadline for specifics on the ’10 budget details approaches, cracks are starting to form.

First off, Rogin reports at Congressional Quarterly that the Obama admin has decided to delay purchase of a new tanker by five years and cut out altogether the Next Gen Bomber program (though he’s quick to point out no final decision has been made).

Both of these are huge mistakes, in my opinion. The KC-135 has a few more years left on it for sure, but delaying it another five means delaying it another 10 in reality. It’s one of those unsexy things that aren’t that much fun to buy, but “you’re sure glad you have them when you need them” kind of things that pushed off into the future could mean serious problems for a force as expeditionary as ours.

And the NGB…again, bombers have proven themselves to be highly adaptable platforms for a wide range of missions and munitions. They last a long time and evolve well to the threat. Our current fleet is either too small (B-2) or too old (B-52) to meet the long loiter, long range, heavy payload demands of operations, so it seems a big error to shunt this one to the side as well.

Also, Colin has an excellent grab from sources on the JSF/F-22 plans coming out of DoD. He hears that the F-22 line will be kept open, with production funding for as many as 40 more planes, and that the F-35 will be trimmed back from plans in 2010, but ramp back up in 2011 and the POM (though he has no numbers to attach to Lightning II buys).

This info would seem in line with persistent rumors that Gates and Co. will salami slice the F-22 buy, largely because they know that Congress will fund it, desperate to keep those jobs going. The F-35 trim is apparently the tactical trade-off for continuing the F-22 production. The strong out-year funding would be proof that the Pentagon remains strongly committed to the F-35, a signal that allies will peer at as closely as an anthropologist watches a rare ceremony celebrating, say, fertility.

Couldn’t have said it better myself…We know how Congress works, don’t we?

– Christian

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