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Eat DT's Dust

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We sure do like being first…and beating the NY Times to boot!

From today’s NYT front page:

In July, in a sharp break from tradition, the Army began encouraging its personnel from the privates to the generals to go online and collaboratively rewrite seven of the field manuals that give instructions on all aspects of Army life.

The program uses the same software behind the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and could potentially lead to hundreds of Army guides being wikified. The goal, say the officers behind the effort, is to tap more experience and advice from battle-tested soldiers rather than relying on the specialists within the Armys array of colleges and research centers who have traditionally written the manuals.

For a couple hundred years, the Army has been writing doctrine in a particular way, and for a couple months, we have been doing it online in this wiki, said Col. Charles J. Burnett, the director of the Armys Battle Command Knowledge System. The only ones who could write doctrine were the select few. Now, imagine the challenge in accepting that anybody can go on the wiki and make a change that is a big challenge, culturally.

And from Defense Tech’s front page (virtually) on July 15 (nearly a month before the Times):

In a conversation today with Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the head of the Army’s Combined Arms Center in Leavenworth, Kans., we learned that the Army is getting all Wiki on us.

Basically Caldwell is embracing the Web 2.0 phenomenon of making reference material available online in an easily updatable fashion by creating so-called Wiki pages based on the popular Wikipedia online reference source.

Back at my old paper we used to whine and moan when the Times or the Post ran a story we’d reported months ago. The line went “it isn’t news unless it’s in the Times or Post or AP…” Well, I’m not going to engage in such childish behavior. I will say, however, that this does in some way illustrate the idea that blogs and online media are becoming far more agile and newsworthy than they once were. And it’s also a tribute to the new media center at the Pentagon which has gone to great lengths to arrange interviews for bloggers on a diverse range of subjects often long before they’re noticed by the MSM.

So bravo to us and naaa naaa na na naaa to the Times (see, no childishness)…

– Christian

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OK folks, so I’m headed to the 2009 Annual SHOT Show in Orlando. It’s my first time there so I’m pretty psyched, if not a little intimidated by its scope.

I will be updating the blog on cool things I run across and other new gear news and information. I’m taking both still and video camera, so stay tuned for “multi-media” updates.

Also, several of our contributors will be there, including the mad-scientist Dave Woroner, the nut jobs at BreachBangClear and our friend, the editor of SoldierSystems blog. Also, I’ll be hanging out with the folks from Tactical​-Life​.com and my old friend and compadre Robert Brown from Soldier of Fortune magazine. It should be a great collection of rogues and scoundrels.

In the meantime, here’s the latest on the FNH-USA submission for the Marine Corps Infantry Automatic Rifle.
FN IAR Description

Publish at Scribd or explore others: Military Technology marines rifle

Also, feel free to send suggestions on things you’d like me to check out.

– Christian

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With his decision to tap Gen. Norton Schwartz to be the next Air Force chief of staff, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has done two things.

First, he has smashed an Air Force culture ceiling by putting into the top job a pilot who does not come out of the fighter or bomber community.

Second, Gates has put into place someone who can help heal the rift between the Air Force and the Army, one that has grown in recent years over the Air Force’s heavy-handed move to take ownership of the Joint Cargo Aircraft — originally an Army program — its seeming stinginess in getting to ground commanders badly-needed UAV assets and the service’s lack of interest in sending Airmen to help out on Army missions.

“A couple of things about ‘Norty’ Schwartz that a lot of folks didn’t realize [before] — he spent a lot of time in the special ops arena,” said a retired four-star who, like Schwartz, once headed U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. “And any of our blue suit guys who have spent time in the special ops arena have a tendency to be closer to our Army brethren and others. I think that’s a positive thing.“

According to several former field and general Air Force officers, there does need to be some fence-mending after the last five or six years.

Terry Stevens, a retired colonel and personnel officer familiar with Air Force manpower and budget issues, said it was Moseley who fought the “in-lieu-of” program that helped the Army flesh out its ranks in Iraq and Afghanistan with Airmen. Moseley also balked at aggressively getting unmanned aerial vehicles into theater until Gates and Congress recently insisted he deploy them.

And at a time when Air Force missions around the world already were stretching its personnel thin, Moseley ordered a force restructuring that envisioned cutting 40,000 positions so that the money could be redirected to weapons programs such as the F-22 Raptor.

Taken together with the more widely known controversies — including nuclear weapon snafus, corruption scandals and impolitic budget manipulations — Moseley was seen as the head of a service with serious problems.

“I believe that General Moseley is an honorable man with the best interest of the Air Force in his heart, but he was not as politically aware as he should have been,” Stevens said. “He also couldn’t seem to see the big picture from the Department of Defense’s perspective.”

[Continue reading…]

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Raytheon Co. won a $400 million Pentagon contract this week to move a missile defense radar from the Marshall Islands to the Czech Republic.

So far, the company has only received about $5 million to start planning for the transfer. But more work under the contract could be in train before long — a Missile Defense Agency spokesman said Thursday that a permission deal with the Czech Republic could come “within weeks.“

The U.S. wants to put an X-band radar in the Czech Republic to work with a missile interceptor site in Poland, to defend Europe against attack from Iran. Neither Poland nor the Czech Republic has given final go-ahead, however, and Russia continues to oppose the deal. For its part, the U.S. insists the interceptors would pose no threat to Russia, or even change the current military balance between Russia and Europe.

Raytheon’s new award is an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract that extends through 2013. The initial task order covers money only for “site surveys, studies, analysis, planning, design, and similar activities,” as provided for in the 2008 defense budget. Congress restricted what MDA can spend on the plan until the host countries have given the all-clear.

[Continue reading…]

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Sometimes I can pull a rabbit out of a hat…

I had this scheduled for the last day of my embed in Iraq but was grounded in Baqubah because of weather and missed it. But he graciously rescheduled, and we’re happy to bring it to you literally hours after we spoke with the man in charge on the ground in Iraq.

Click HERE to listen to the PodCast from the Editor’s Desk with Gen. David Petraeus.

– Christian

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Here’s a story we’re posting tomorrow morning at Military​.com, but I thought I’d give DT readers a little preview. It’s like manna from heaven: an M4 story and a body armor story all in one week!

FROM TOMORROW MORNING’S MILITARY​.COM FRONT PAGE:

The Army has opted to delay testing of new body armor designs that can stop powerful armor piercing bullets and vests that contain flexible plating much like the controversial Dragon Skin armor.

Citing industry requests, the Army’s top gear buyer told Military​.com the test firing on so-called XSAPI and FSAPI armor would be held off until March 2008.

“Some body armor manufacturers told us they needed a little more time to get long-lead materials and to test new designs before they could submit them to us,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, head of the Fort Belvoir, Va.-based Program Executive Office Soldier.

Brown said the new armor designs would likely be tested at Aberdeen Test Center, Md., beginning in March and finished up by June. Testing on the new designs was previously set to begin last fall.

[Photo: HP White Labs]

Christian

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Well, the results are in…and it doesn’t look good for the M4 carbine.

You’ll remember that Defense Tech and Military​.com were on top of the story of worries over the M4’s reliability in the dusty conditions found in Iraq and Afghanistan. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn insisted the Army conduct side-by-side testing between the M4, SCAR, 416 and XM8 in an “extreme” dust environment.

Well, the tests are complete and it seems the M4 came in dead last against its competitors. And, guess what…the Army’s not budging. The M4 is still the best.

I’ll have the full story posted tomorrow morning at Military​.com, but here’s a preview: Ten of each weapon; 6,000 rounds per weapon; 120 rounds fired per “dust cycle” (and when they say dust, they mean DUST…testers had to wear respirators and Tyvec suits); wiped and light lube every 600 rounds, fully cleaned and lubed every 1,200 rounds.

XM8: 127 Class I, II and III stoppages.

Mk16 (5.56 SCAR): 226 Class I, II and III stoppages.

HK 416: 233 Class I, II, and III stoppages.

M4: 882 Class I, II and III stoppages.

Army top gear buyer, Brig. Gen. Mark Brown: “The M4 carbine is a world-class weapon. Soldiers “have high confidence in that weapon, and that high confidence level is justified, in our view, as a result of all test data and all investigations we have made.”

An “in the know” congressional staffer: “These results are stunning, and frankly they are significantly more dramatic than most weapons experts expected. It’s time to stop making excuses and just conduct a competition for a new weapon.”

Be sure to check out the full story tomorrow morning at Military​.com.

Christian

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Here’s a piece I wrote today for the Daily Standard discussing the turnaround in MRAP demand. Don’t say I didn’t tell you so
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It was the cause du jour for the 110th Congress; a silver bullet that would save lives in an increasingly unpopular war, make even the most superfluous lawmaker look like they were on top of defense issues, and bolster the military credentials of any Pentagon-hostile Capitol Hill denizen.

It even had a catchy acronym: MRAP.

The so-called “Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected” vehicle became the latest symbol of the Bush administration’s callous treatment of men and women in uniform–it was the new “body armor shortage” issue. And the “V-shaped hull” behemoths were easy to latch onto for lawmakers looking for a hardened steel club to batter the White House’s handling of the war and equipping of America’s troops.

“This is outrageous and another example of this Administration’s gross mismanagement of this war. Our troops are being killed and these vehicles save lives. No more delays; no more excuses,” Democratic presidential candidate and outspoken MRAP advocate Joseph Biden (D-Del.) said in an August 24 statement.

Most people didn’t realize that MRAP vehicles were already in the Iraqi theater–used primarily by explosive ordnance disposal units that cruised the main supply routes for roadside bombs. When the issue exploded into the political debate, however, Congress flooded the Pentagon with money and mandates to outfit nearly every patrol with the IED-hardened vehicle–with some calling for a one-for-one replacement of up-armored Humvees.

A new defense secretary fresh out of confirmation hearings and eager to make nice with a Democratic Congress acceded to lawmakers’ demands and launched a crash program to get as many MRAPs to the field as industry and logistics could bear.

But if anyone spoke for caution in this plan (and I was one of them), they were quickly shouted down as chicken hawks–dismissed as ignorant of the risks and deadly violence of plying Iraq’s bomb-strewn roads.

But now the game has changed. Finally sober minds are beginning to prevail and the services are finding the courage to push back. Let’s say the surge gave them the “breathing room” to take a moment to really examine whether these vehicles fit their battle plans or were, as one defense researcher termed them, just a “million dollar Kleenex.“

To be sure, MRAPs have their place in a counterinsurgency. The Marine Corps was blamed early this year for taking too long to purchase their MRAPs. But the head of the Corps’ Systems Command, which buys all Marine gear, rightly called the MRAP a “boutique vehicle”–one that had very specific uses but could not be employed in place of Humvees in all cases. In October, the first fissures emerged in the MRAP debate when Marine Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson revealed Marine commanders in Iraq were asking Pentagon leaders to slow down their shipment of the vehicles to Iraq. The vehicles come in three different sizes–from 10 to 25 tons–and even the smallest versions are too heavy for some bridges and roads and too wide for village streets. Nevertheless, the Pentagon, at the behest of Congress, began to flood the zone with orders, shipping the vehicles almost as soon as they came off the line.

“I would say ‘relax.’ We don’t know how we’re going to use them, nobody does,” Nicholson told me. “And anyone who says ‘this is exactly how many we need and this is exactly how we’re going to use them’ is not being truthful.“

Nicholson was speaking for Marine commanders, but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to figure his sentiment was shared by Army leaders in Iraq as well.

Many also wondered how the large, intimidating vehicles would work in a counterinsurgency campaign that emphasized interaction with the population and a “hearts-and-minds” approach. Not to mention that if the surge strategy worked, the IED risk to troops would drop and billions would have been spent on a vehicle that had outlived its usefulness.

“Our concern is there seems to be this rush to judgment on spending a fairly large amount of money on a program that hadn’t been planned for and not much discussion about how you actually plan to operationalize this and incorporate it into the force,” said Dakota Wood, former Marine transport officer and co-author of the CSBA analysis report “Of MRAPs and IEDs: Force Protection in Complex Irregular Operations.“

Unfortunately, any reasonable approach to fielding these vehicles was shouted down by war opponents.

But since arguments against the surge are harder to come by these days, the services are taking the first steps in slowing the MRAP freight train. Late last month, the Marine Corps announced it would cut 1,300 vehicles from its order, saving the Pentagon $1.7 billion and removing the logistical headache of moving the weighty vehicles to the field and trying to find something to do with them.

“What’s happened since September of 2006 has been absolutely amazing by most counts. We have not lost nearly the numbers of vehicles that we were experiencing because attacks have gone down dramatically,” said Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway at a Pentagon press conference a few days ago. “And I will say that in incorporating greater use of the vehicles, we found that especially the heavy variants don’t give us the combat flexibility that a smaller, lighter vehicle does. And commanders in the field have said off-road, you know, it’s just a little problematic in places.”

[Continue reading…]

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One of the distinct advantages of working for a place like Military​.com and Defense Tech is that on occasion you get to spend a day at the firing range slingin’ lead from the latest in military weaponry.

Our boy Bryant Jordan went down to Blackwater USA to test fire the Kriss .45 cal. submachine gun a couple weeks ago, and I just had the pleasure of spending the day out at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland getting some trigger time on a variety of weapons the service is pushing to troops in the field.

First of all, it’s a big deal to even be allowed on base at Aberdeen. Some of the U.S. military’s most closely-held testing and evaluation of armor, ballistics and explosives goes on there and officials are loath to let anyone in — especially the press — to get even a preliminary glance at what they’re up to.

But thanks to an invitation from the Fort Belvoir, Va.-based PEO Soldier, Aberdeen opened its doors on Wednesday for a small group of journalists to come out and learn more about Army weapons. On hand were program managers, test directors, engineers and everyday Joes to answer questions and give the ground truth on what’s being developed.

Testers showed off six different systems either already deployed to the field or ready to be fielded with units in the Sandbox, including:

XM320 Grenade Launcher — Pretty close to my favorite one to shoot, the XM320 is a major upgrade for the M203, 40mm grenade
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slinger attached to the barrel of M4s and M-16s. Finally H&K has gotten through to the Army about its side-eject under-barrel grenade launcher. The Army plans to field about 71,600 XM320s in a one-to-one replacement of the M203 beginning in late 2008 and it’s a good thing. The XM320 can be detached from your combat rifle and fired as a stand-alone weapon (which is how we fired it at Aberdeen) but I’ll tell you, it’s tough to handle in that configuration for tall people like me since the butt stock doesn’t extend very far.

The best part of the system, however, is the integrated electronic sighting system that comes with it. Developed by Insight Technology, the optic uses an iron sight reticule that’s precision balanced. A soldier uses a hand-held range finder to determine the distance to a target, dials in the yardage in five-yard intervals on the XM320 sight and a handy green/red light and digital bar tells the shooter whether he’s on target and shooting level. I hit the target at 150 yards on my first shot. The rifle-mounted laser illuminator can be used at night with the system to find a target even in darkness, making the new grenade launcher far more effective in all conditions, said Maj. Larry Dring, assistant product manager for individual weapons with PEO Soldier.

M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System (MASS) — Here was another modular weapon that’s pretty cool, but a little more M26.jpg
difficult to use than the grenade launcher. Mounted under the combat rifle — or configured as a stand-alone weapon using a standard M4 pistol grip and collapsible butt stock, the M26 is designed to fire both standard 12 gauge rounds and non-lethal munitions. The M26 has an extendable choke-tube that allows the shooter to place breeching rounds against a door frame from a safe distance with the shotgun attached to his rifle — a method that eases the transition between shotgun and rifle in combat situation, said Sgt. 1st Class William Kone, test and evaluation NCO at Aberdeen.

That’s all well and good, but I found the cocking mechanism to be clunky and inefficient. Instead of an under-barrel pump-gun style action, a metal bar attached to the bolt extends out to the side, forcing the shooter to transition his hand position to load another round into the breach. I’m sure with practice, I could have gotten as fast on the action as Kone, but I wasn’t the only one with that complaint. The Army plans to field 38,000 MASSs beginning in late 2008 to replace its Mossberg 12ga. pump guns.

Read the rest of my weapons report from the Aberdeen range at Military.com’s Warfighter’s Forum

Christian

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A quick head’s up here. My friend Paul Solman, the economics correspondent for PBS’s News Hour show, just broadcast his package on the body armor procurement controversy.

While he doesn’t mention Defense Tech by name, he did afford us a screen shot and pulled documents from my previous work on the story with Marine Corps Times newspaper.

Follow this LINK to watch the program.

– Christian

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