Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
An Air Force A-10 launches a Maverick missile. The Pentagon has confirmed that A-10s, along with AC-130 gunships, are now flying combat missions over Libya. Their presence suggests that U.S. "kinetic" operations will continue for some time, and these platforms may be working with American or NATO ground controllers (USAF photo).
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast reported yesterday that Ms. Couric is "almost certain" to leave the anchor chair at the CBS Evening News in June. Meanwhile, the search for her replacement is already underway, while The Perky One contemplates her future plans, including a possible foray into daytime TV.
News of Couric's departure came as a bit of a surprise. Reports in recent weeks suggested that CBS wanted to extend her contract, keeping her on the Evening News through the 2012 political season. If Howard Kurtz is correct--and no one at CBS has disputed his report--the network is bringing the Couric experiment to a close, after an investment of four years, and more than $60 million in compensation alone.
What did The House that Murrow Built get for its money? Lousy ratings, a bit of publicity, and that's about it. With Couric in the anchor chair, the Evening News remained mired in third place, well behind front-runner NBC and second-place ABC. CBS executives liked to brag about the awards won by the Evening News with Couric as anchor, but they added nothing to the bottom line. Meanwhile, affiliates complained Couric's low ratings left them at a disadvantage with competitors, particularly in markets where the Evening News airs before local news broadcasts.
Indeed, the CBS broadcast generates less revenue (and profits) than NBC Nightly News or ABC's World News, with no signs of improvement. That alone made it impossible to keep Couric at her current salary. Even pundits who predicted Couric would stay at CBS admitted that any new deal would include a significant salary cut. Why pay $15 million a year for a last-place anchor when you could put someone else in the chair--at less than half her salary--and generate similar ratings?
Early speculation about a successor is focused on Scott Pelley, the former CBS White House Correspondent who now serves as a co-anchor for 60 Minutes. While no one disputes his hard news credentials, his live anchoring experience is limited. One CBS insider noted that Pelley was rejected in the past for the morning, evening and weekend anchor slots before landing on the network's flagship news program. His problem? A perceived lack of personality and charisma, based on previous focus group testing. Those traits were viewed as less of a liability on 60 Minutes, which plays to his strengths as a reporter and interviewer.
But Pelley isn't the only candidate. The new Chairman of CBS News (Jeff Fager) and his division president, David Rhodes, are reportedly looking at other possibilities. Mr. Fager, who doubles as executive producer of 60 Minutes is a long-time fixture at CBS, but David Rhodes cut his teeth at Fox News Channel, where he climbed the ranks from the assignment desk to the executive suite. Mr. Rhodes was instrumental in the rise of FNC and he was clearly influenced by Ailes's bold, take-no-prisoners style. How that will work at CBS is anyone's guess, but some have suggested that Rhodes might favor an outsider for the anchor chair, someone like his former FNC colleague, Shepard Smith.
Ol' Shep in the anchor chair once occupied by Uncle Walter? Yeah, it's a stretch, but times have changed. Smith is one of the few anchors who's managed to build and hold an audience over the past decade, though he clearly benefited from the rise of FNC as the dominant force in cable news. But even before Fox became #1, Smith was trouncing Brian Williams in the cable ratings, a fact not lost on those searching for Couric's replacement. Smith currently makes an estimated $8 million a year at FNC; even with a "raise" from CBS, he'd still be cheaper than Couric, and there's some belief that he would attract a younger audience than the current Evening News anchor.
On the other hand, Smith's skills as a foreign correspondent and political reporter are considered weak. He doesn't anchor FNC's election coverage (a task handled by Bret Baier) and his overseas reporting has been limited to coverage of the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah; the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and in recent weeks, the disaster in Japan. However, Smith is a master at ad-libbing and extended live coverage of breaking news--essential skills for any network anchor.
If we had to venture a guess, we'd say that CBS will ultimately select someone like Scott Pelley or former morning show anchor Harry Smith, proven commodities who are far less expensive than Ms. Couric. Not that it really matters; it takes years for a network newscast to show any movement in the ratings, and viewers are deserting the "dinner hour" broadcasts in droves. As we noted years ago, Tom Brokaw had a larger audience anchoring a third place Nightly News in the 1980s than he did with a #1 broadcast in 2004. Whoever winds up in the CBS chair may very well be the last anchor of the Evening News.
As for Ms. Couric, she's apparently angling to be the next Oprah. With Winfrey departing daytime TV for her struggling cable network, the field for new talk shows is wide open. But Katie will discover that the world of syndicated TV is even more cutthroat than the evening news wars.
True, daytime TV can be exceptionally lucrative. Through salary, syndication fees and profit-sharing Couric can make a fortune (the reigning queen of daytime TV, Judge Judy, earns $48 million a year), but only if she delivers. Local stations won't stick with a talk show that fails to attract an audience, particularly if it serves as a lead-in for their all-important local news. Katie and her program will have about a year to establish themselves, or the affiliates will move on to something else. Given that reality, Couric could find herself "permanently retired" from the business in another two years, wishing she'd never left that comfortable couch on the "Today Show."
Thursday, March 24, 2011
“The designers of the F-22 had a dilemma, which is whether to have the connectivity that would allow versatility or to have the radio silence that would facilitate stealthiness. What they opted for was a limited set of tactical data links,” said Loren Thompson, an analyst and chief operating office at the Lexington Institute, Arlington Va.
The F-22 can only connect with other F-22s via an intraflight data link, and can only receive, but not transmit, over the standard Link-16 data link found on most allied aircraft.
Radio emissions from various data links could potentially give away the aircraft’s position, Thompson said.
As such, while the Raptor is the stealthiest operational aircraft in the world, it lacks much of the connectivity found on other warplanes, he said.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Previously, U.S. military officials said that American jets would not commence their operations until Sunday at the earliest, although they gave no timetable for the expected cruise missile strike. Among the Libyan installations hit by the missiles were long-range SA-5 SAM batterys and surveillance radars.
File this under "sights we never thought we'd see."
French military resolve and tenacity are often the butt of international jokes, but not this time around. While the U.S. and NATO work out the details of the Libyan No-Fly Zone, French combat aircraft are already enforcing the mandate, approved yesterday by the United Nations.
According to various media accounts, French fighters are conducting combat air patrols over the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, and may expand their operations later today, by conducting strikes on forces loyal to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Libyan tanks and other armored vehicles are reportedly advancing towards Benghazi and the rebels may not be able to halt their attack without air support. From the Associated Press:
Mirage and Rafale fighter jets are flying over Benghazi and could strike Gadhafi’s tanks later Saturday, a senior French official told The Associated Press.
The official said the jets are flying over the opposition stronghold and its surroundings. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation.
Meanwhile, the cease-fire announced by the Libyan government on Friday proved to be nothing more than a head fake, as Fox News reported:
Libyan forces struck Saturday at the heart of the rebellion against Muammar al-Qaddafi, shelling the outskirts of the rebel capital and launching airstrikes in defiance of international demands for a halt to the fighting.
The fighting galvanized the people of Benghazi, with young men collecting bottles to make Molotov cocktails. Some residents dragged bed frames and metal scraps into the streets to make roadblocks.
As of early Saturday afternoon (EDT), U.S. military forces were not yet participating in combat operations over Libya. Indeed, some early reports suggested American forces would play only a supporting role, providing logistical support and additional E-3 AWACS aircraft to the coalition effort.
But, as the French began air patrols over Benghazi, the outline of U.S. support began to change. Officials in Washington said that Air Force F-16s from Aviano AB, Italy would be ready to join the enforcement effort by Sunday. Sources also told Fox News that U.S. Navy vessels in the Mediterranean were planning a cruise missile strike against Libyan air defense and command-and-control nodes. There were suggestions that initial American involvement would be limited to reduce chances of a "friendly-fire" incident with French aircraft already operating over Libya.
But such claims seemed to be little more than a smokescreen. Truth be told, prospects for a "blue-on-blue" engagement were decidedly slim. As we've noted in the past, the number of Libyan fixed-wing aircraft sorties against the rebels has been low, and there were no reports of Qaddafi's jets leaving the ground after one was shot down by opposition forces on Saturday afternoon (it was later confirmed that the fighter, a MiG-23 Flogger, belonged to the rebels and not the Libyan Air Force). That event, coupled with the arrival of French jets, was enough to keep the Libyan Air Force on the ground. As of this writing, the only combat aircraft flying over Libya belong to the French, not Qaddafi's regime.
Additionally, there were no reports of the Rafales and Mirages being engaged by Libya's ground-based air defenses, raising some questions about the need for a massive cruise missile strike. Most of Qaddafi's radars and surface-to-air missiles are systems dating from the 1960s and 70s, easily countered by aircraft jamming pods and anti-radiation missiles. If the French are flying with impunity over Libya, it's a safe bet that Qaddafi's air defense crews are unwilling to illuminate their radars, and risk an early meeting with Allah.
Truth be told, it's painfully apparent that the U.S. is following--not leading--in Libya. Less than two weeks ago, American officials warned about the complexities of establishing and sustaining a no-fly zone. Never mind the fact that our military has decades of experience in running those operations over Iraq and Bosnia, and the need for American support platforms (read: ISR and tankers) to maintain a no-fly zone for any length of time. Apparently, the French weren't bothered by our initial reluctance and Nicholas Sarkozy sent his jets into action just hours after the U.N. approved no-fly operations. That statement alone speaks volumes about the current state of U.S. foreign policy and its architect-in-chief, Barack Obama.
To be fair, a No-Fly Zone is no substitute for a final diplomatic or military solution. Saddam Hussein remained in power during a decade of no-fly operations over Iraq, and in the Balkans, countless atrocities were committed on the ground while NATO jets loitered at 30,000 feet.
Speaking from personal experience, I can testify that the No-Fly Zone over Bosnia was almost worthless in many respects. With rare exceptions, Serb aircraft remained on the ground and the approval process for strikes against ground targets was almost comical. It went something like this: the request from air support went from a tactical air control party (TACP) on the ground, to an airborne command element on AWACS or ABCCC. From there, it was relayed to the allied tactical air force headquarters in Vicenza, Italy, then on to the U.N.'s senior diplomat in Zagreb, Croatia. After he mulled it over, the airstrike request went on to New York for final approval, then back down the chain for execution. On a good day, you could get a response in 45 minutes; on a bad day, it took hours. In the interim, you could imagine what was happening on the ground.
But when NATO began a systematic targeting of Serb ground assets in 1995, the No-Fly operation took on a new dimension, and the air operation became much more effective. Based on early French actions in Libya, it appears that Paris has learned the lessons from Bosnia and their jets are going after the real threat--Qaddafi's tanks and artillery on the ground. And, as the ground attacks begin, readers should remember there are two basic schemes for conducting air strikes. You can establish a "kill box" around enemy forces and anything inside that zone is fair game.
The other option is putting a TACP or special forces team on the ground, to "call in" air strikes and brief pilots on their targets. Obviously, there are advantages to this latter approach, particularly in a situation like Libya where government and rebel forces are operating the same types of tanks and armored personnel carriers. We're guessing that French commandos are already on the ground, and directing strikes on Qaddafi's forces.
It will take several weeks to determine the effectiveness of allied military action in Libya. But
the French credit, along with their British allies (after all, Prime Minister David Cameron was one of the early advocates for a No-Fly Zone). In the absence of American leadership, they filled the void and spurred the vaunted "international community" into action.
Too bad we can't say the same thing for the supposed Leader of the Free World.
Friday, March 18, 2011
The presence of the Enterprise in that area suggests that Washington is focused on the situation in Yemen and Bahrain. If the governments in those countries collapse, the U.S. would need the "Big E" to support evacuation operations in one (or both) locations. Put another way, you don't keep a fleet carrier (with dozens of fighter aircraft) out of the Libya operation unless you're worried about other contingencies.
Almost without notice, ships of the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain slipped from their berths and headed into the Persian Gulf early Saturday. An "extended" exercise with Oman was the official reason given, but few believe it. As the security situation in the Manama continues to deteriorate, the Navy cannot afford to have even a single vessel--and its crew--in a port that may be hostile in a few days (or less).
Monday, March 14, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
The Commission heard an abundance of expert testimony about the physical differences between men and women that can be summarized as follows:
Women's aerobic capacity is significantly lower, meaning they cannot carry as much as far as fast as men, and they are more susceptible to fatigue.
In terms of physical capability, the upper five percent of women are at the level of the male median. The average 20-to-30 year-old woman has the same aerobic capacity as a 50 year-old man.
The same report also cited a West Point study from the early 90s which discovered that, in terms of fitness, the upper quintile of female cadets achieved scores equal to the lowest quintile of their male counterparts (emphasis ours).
So, what's a chief diversity officer supposed to do (don't laugh--the commission recommends creation of that very post, reporting directly to the SecDef). Water down the standards so more women will qualify for combat service, removing that "barrier" to reaching the flag ranks? Or create some sort of double-standard, allowing females to punch their resumes in the right places and continue their climb to the stars. Either approach is unacceptable, yet some sort of "modification" is inevitable, to open up more combat billets to women.
As for minorities, their under-representation in the ranks of generals and admirals reflects another set of problems. For starters, there's our failing education system which impacts blacks and Hispanics more than the general population. Because many young men and women in those groups receive an inferior education, they tend to score lower on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery ASVAB, which sets the cognitive baseline for military service, and what jobs will be open to recruits who achieve a passing score.
For many minority candidates, the ASVAB has become a barrier to military service. We noted last December that, according to a recent study, 29% of Hispanics and 39% of African-Americans failed to achieve the minimum score (31) to enter the U.S. Army. In other words, more than 25% of young Hispanics and almost 40% of their African-American counterparts couldn't score high enough to enlist in the Army, which has the lowest qualifying score of any branch of the armed services. Obviously, if a young man or woman (regardless of their ethnic background) can't pass the enlistment test, they have no chance of becoming an officer and reaching the highest military ranks.
The Lyles' report also suggests that minorities who serve would do well to broaden their horizons. Past studies indicate that many non-whites in the military select jobs that have applicability in the civilian world. Nothing wrong with that, but such choices also exclude many minority NCOs and officers from combat jobs that would enhance their promotion prospects. In fact, one assessment cited in the study found that some minorities believe that individuals in certain military jobs hold "racist" attitudes.
For example some racial/ethnic minority service members interviewed by researchers said Special Forces "A" Teams and Ranger Regiments were viewed as "white-only" organizations with racist views. Of course, there isn't one shred of evidence to support that contention, and it must come as a shock to the scores of African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities who have completed Ranger training, or served in special forces. The Lyles commission believes the military needs to do a better job of mentoring to help overcome these barriers.
Did we mention that the armed services already spend a lot of time and money on mentoring? And they devote considerable effort towards recruiting minority candidates, particularly for officer training programs. Years ago, while serving as an Air Force ROTC instructor, I spoke with a member of our headquarters staff, who lamented the high wash-out rates for minority pilot and navigator candidates who graduated from historically black colleges and universities.
But despite that trend, the service remains committed to those institutions, which have produced leaders like General Lyles (who graduated of Howard University) and General Lloyd "Fig" Newton, a product of Tennessee State). Abandoning those schools would deprive the military of future leaders of that caliber, something we simply cannot afford. In that regard, the armed services are going above and beyond in their search for outstanding minority officers.
Still, even that sort of partnership can be carried to the point of exaggeration. On page 58 of the Lyles' report has a graphic that shows the location of Air Force ROTC detachments, in relation to large populations of black and Hispanic students. The study notes three "potentially rich markets" in Texas, Southern California and the Mid-Atlantic Region that are under-served, suggesting the Pentagon create a BRAC-style commission to decide which ROTC units should be closed and detachments that should be moved, in order to produce more minority officers.
Looking at the same graphic we noted our own trend: the wholesale lack of Air Force ROTC detachments in Montana. Using the logic behind the Lyles report, white and Native American students in that state are a less important recruiting target for the Reserve Officer Training Corps program. Besides, if they really want to participate in Air Force ROTC, they can always move to Idaho, Wyoming or Utah.
And that example truly illustrates the folly of the commission's report. When you start developing independent commissions to move ROTC programs to generate more minority participation and mandate annual "barrier analysis" (to see how many obstacles still remain), you're losing focus on the military mission. To be fair, General Lyles insists that military performance and effectiveness remain the real bottom line, but if the commission's recommendations are fully implementing, the armed forces will be walking a very fine line.
No one disputes the benefits of more flag officers who are women or members of minority groups. But the real emphasis should be on demanding excellence from all who aspire to flag rank, and promoting those who meet--and exceed--a very high bar. Some of the "remedies" outlined in the Lyles report seem closer to social engineering, particularly when you introduce the notions of "measurement" and "metrics."
Sunday, March 06, 2011
Thursday, March 03, 2011
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
The Navy said it had lost confidence in Borchers' ability to address what it called a pattern of unprofessional behavior by his crew that included fraternization, orders violations and disregard for naval standards.
According to the AP, the "top aide" who was fired (along with Commander Borchers) was the ship's top enlisted sailor, Command Master Chief Susan Bruce-Ross.
Borchers is being replaced by Commander Sylvester Steele, the former executive officer of the USS Ramage, another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. The Navy has also selected Commander Master Chief Anthony Cole to replace Bruce-Ross. CMC Cole was most recently assigned at Naval Surface Force Atlantic HQ in Norfolk.
A Navy spokesman said Borchers and his command chief were relieved after an investigation revealed a "substandard command climate" aboard the Stout. The probe began following a series of drunken incidents involving Stout sailors during port visits in foreign nations. While those locations were not disclosed, the ship's blog said the guided missile destroyer visited Palermo, Sicily, Haifa, Israel and the Greek island of Crete this year, and Faslane, Scotland last year.
A 6th Fleet spokesman emphasized that neither Borchers nor Bruce-Ross were involved in the misconduct ashore. However, the Navy has removed one officer, five chiefs and one petty officer from the Stout in connection with the incidents.
The announcement of the command change on the Stout may explain why the vessel wasn't ordered into a Libyan port to evacuate Americans. With Borchers' leadership in question--and an investigation nearing completion--the 6th Fleet wasn't about to send the destroyer on a sensitive mission to a port city in the throes of revolution--and without key members of its "middle management" (the officer and chiefs removed from the ship). Instead, the Stout was relegated to escorting the civilian ferry hired to transport U.S. citizens from Libya to Malta.
With Commander Steele coming aboard later this week, tasking for the destroyer may quickly change. We're guessing the new skipper of the Stout won't get much time to turn his ship around, and get her ready for more assignments off Libya.
ADDENDUM: Various Navy blogs report that Borchers assumed command of the Stout just three months ago. He apparently inherited a troubled ship, but was unable to fix the problems in his command. Under another skipper, the Stout failed a major inspection three years ago, leaving it "unfit for sustained combat operations." Since then, the DDG has passed 13 major evaluations but those recent incidents ashore (and the poor command climate) prompted the firing of Borchers, along with his command chief.