Saturday, January 31, 2009

Worst Idea of the Week, Redux

Call it Spook's First Law of Defense Procurement: Bad ideas don't improve over time, particularly when they involve (1) Members of Congress; (2) Billions of your tax dollars and (3) A critical military acquisition program.

Case in point: The Air Force's next-generation tanker program. As readers of this blog--and other defense forums--are painfully aware, the service's efforts to field new air refueling planes has been mired in scandal and partisan bickering for most of this decade. The first attempt, a lease deal with Boeing, was scuttled after it was revealed that the USAF's senior acquisition official had secured employment guarantees for herself (and members of her family) with the defense contractor.

More recently, a contract with Northrop-Grumman and its European partner, EADS, was cancelled after the Government Accountability Officer upheld a protest from Boeing. Both teams are now in the process of submitting new bids, but regardless of who wins, there will almost certainly be a new round of protests and delays.

That means that Air Force tanker units won't be getting new aircraft until 2013--at the earliest. Meanwhile, the service has grounded a number of its older KC-135s, which rolled off the Boeing assembly line during the Eisenhower Administration. As more tankers reach retirement age, the USAF will find it more difficult to sustain air refueling mission, a critical component of combat and mobility operations worldwide.

How to resolve the tanker impasse? A growing number of defense officials and analysts believe the only solution is a "split buy," purchasing equal numbers of new refueling aircraft from Boeing and Northrop-Grumman/EADS.

As Amy Butler of Aviation Week reports, the split buy option will be a topic of conversation when Pennsylvania Congressman Jack Murtha visits the Alabama plant where the Northrop-Grumman tanker would be built. Murtha's endorsement is considered essential in mustering Congressional support for the split buy option.

So far, the King of Defense Pork has not revealed his position on the issue. But convincing Congressman Murtha and his colleagues may not be difficult. In the early stages of a recession, no politician wants any part of a decision that would elminiate thousands of high-paying aerospace jobs, many of them filled by union members.

That's why officials close to the tanker program say dual sourcing by is the "only politically palatable way" to move forward. Under the split buy approach, Boeing and Northrop-Grumman would build 90 tankers each, creating (or saving) more than 80,000 defense jobs across the country.

What exactly will the Air Force--and taxpayers--be getting for their money? While buying tankers from two different contractors will win support on Capitol Hill (and in places like Mobile, Alabama and Seattle), dual sourcing is a terrible idea, for a number of reasons.

First, there's the issue of unit cost. Buying fewer aircraft from a particular supplier drives up the price tag. The B-2 became a billion dollar bomber because the projected purchase dropped from 132 aircraft, to only 21. Both the Boeing and Northrop-Grumman tankers are based on commercial airliners, but the same production rules apply. Buying 90 aircraft from one contractor and the same number from another will raise the project's cost well beyond the current $40 billion dollars.

Still, the duplication doesn't end there. To support two different tankers, the USAF will be required to create two aircrew training programs, and separate schools for technicians who will maintain the Boeing aircraft and those assigned to the Northrop-Grumman jet.

Keeping the new tankers will require different maintenance and logistics systems, and a major re-working of operational plans. The twin-engine KC-767 (based on the Boeing airliner) and the Northrop-Grumman tanker (built on the Airbus A330) have different offload capabilities, cargo capacities and operational "footprints." In some situations, the KC-767 can operate from forward airfields that can't handle the larger Airbus. On the other hand, the Northrop-Grumman entry is better suited for some longer-range missions.

At least one key official has expressed opposition to the split buy option. In a recent interview with Aviation Week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted that buying both tankers would "greatly complicate" the Air Force's life, leaving the service with four different refueling aircraft in the inventory (the USAF plans to retain some KC-135s along with the KC-10s it purchased in the 1980s). As Dr. Gates observed, the multiple training, logistics and maintenance systems would quickly become an expensive "nightmare."

Unfortunately, that reality doesn't exactly square with Washington politics--and the reality of today's hyper-partisan defense procurement process. Fact is, the "split buy" idea has been around for some time. It surfaced several years ago, when the Pentagon suggested successive rounds of tanker purchases, under programs dubbed KC-X and KC-Y. That idea was quickly shelved, in favor of a single "buy" for 179 tankers, provided by a single vendor.

But the dual purchase proposal made a comeback last summer, after the Northrop-Grumman contract was cancelled. Former Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne--a veteran of years in the defense industry--suggested that a split buy might be the only option. As the economy declines (and political pressures build), support for the "two tanker" scheme has only grown.

Purchasing different refueling aircraft from both Boeing and Northrop-Grumman is simply unfathomable, but apparently, it's an idea whose time has come. It's a testament to a broken defense procurement system and the politics of defense pork. Forty billion dollars is too much money to ignore; that's why a growing number of folks--in the Pentagon, the defense industry and on Capitol Hill--are willing to saddle the Air Force with an additional tanker it doesn't need, and stick taxpayers with the bill.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Return of the Speech Police?

Air Force Commander Bans Negative Comments About Obama, But Policy has Legal, Enforcement Problems

by Nate Hale

Less than two weeks after Barack Obama became commander-in-chief, a senior Air Force officer has cautioned subordinates about publicly criticizing the new president and his administration.

Colonel Jack Franz, who leads the 677th Aeronautical Systems Group (AESG) at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, recently sent an e-mail to all members of his command. In the message, Colonel Franz expresses concern about "several political comments in the local media, and I am sure, around Wright-Patterson AFB."

"Our local news radio station (WHIO) is playing up Rush Limbaugh's comments about our new president and his cabinet," Franz wrote. The Colonel was referring to the talk show host's comment that he "doesn't want Obama to succeed."

In a recent interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News Channel, Mr. Limbaugh made it clear that his opposition to Obama was based on the president's policies.

"If he's going to do FDR--if he's going to do the New New Deal...why would I want him to succeed?" the talk radio titan asked. "If his agenda is a far-left collectivism--some people say socialism --why would I want socialism to succeed?"

But Colonel Franz described the radio host's comments as "inappropriate and un-American." And he made it clear that similar criticism would not be tolerated in his organization.

"We need to be very clear," the commander stated in his e-mail. Our mission is to support and defend the constitution of the United States. That means supporting our elected officials, as well as the officers appointed over us, and ensuring they succeed."

Franz warned that similar comments in the workplace "or at any official function" would be "grounds for removal." Colonel Franz stated that the policy applies to military personnel, government civilians, contractors and even visitors to the group.

In the e-mail's final paragraph, Franz encouraged members of his command to "correct individuals on the spot" if they cross the line of political criticism. "Do not walk away from a problem or allow issues to grow," he cautioned.

The 677th is one of several aeronautical systems groups at Wright-Patterson. The units are charged with the development, test, production and sustainment of various Air Force weapons systems.

A typical AESG includes hundreds of military personnel, civil service employees and contractor representatives. Many of the groups administer multi-billion dollar annual budgets.

Colonel Franz did not respond to an e-mail request for comment from this blog. Queries to various public affairs offices at Wright-Patterson AFB also went unanswered.

While the commander's ban on anti-Obama comments apparently remains in effect, some have questioned its legality and enforceability. An Air Force Judge Advocate General who reviewed the "policy" described it as "no way" and "way over the line."

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the legal officer noted that the speech limitation could not be applied to DoD civilians, or contractors working in the organization. He laughed at the notion of trying to enforce the rule on visitors to the 677th AESG.

As for military personnel, the JAG acknowledged that there are limits on their speech that can be enforced by commanders. While members of the armed services can privately disagree with the policies of their superiors, they cannot make disparaging remarks while on duty.

Colonel Franz's edict also drew chuckles from a retired Chief Master Sergeant who served in First Sergeant and Senior Enlisted Advisor positions during a career that spanned more than 20 years. "Always run this stuff through JA (Judge Advocate) and even PA (Public Affairs) before you publish," he advised.

But the e-mail also has a chilling effect, according to the former senior enlisted advisor. He compared it to written and verbal guidance issued during the Clinton Administration, when Air Force members were reminded to be respectful to the president.

The retired chief, who also requested anonymity, recalls a steady stream of "e-mails, briefings and constant reminders" warning against negative comments about Bill Clinton during his time in office. He remembers seeing the directives during successive assignments in Washington, D.C., Florida, Europe and Georgia, and they continued until Mr. Clinton left office in 2001. The various communications reminded Air Force members of potential punishment if they violated the ban.

Under Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, "any commissioned officer" of the armed forces may be court-martialed for making "contemptuous remarks" about the President, Vice-President, members of Congress and other senior officials, while on duty, or "present."

During the Clinton era, at least one senior Air Force officer ran afoul of that regulation. Major General Harold Campbell was forced to retire in 1993, after describing the president as "draft-dodging," "womanizing" and "pot-smoking" at an awards dinner in Europe.

However, the UCMJ does not apply to the military's civilian employees, or defense contractors. The Hatch Act, which covers campaign activities by civil servants, does not limit their political speech.

It is unclear if any contractor or civil service employees in Franz's command have challenged the new policy.

There are no reports of other organizations at Wright-Patterson following the example of the 677th AESG.


Here's the e-mail from Col Franz, in its entirety:


Over the past week there have been several political comments in the local media and I am sure probably around Wright Patterson AFB. Our local news radio station (WHIO) is playing up Rush Limbaugh's comments about our new President and his cabinet. These comments are totally inappropriate and I feel un-American.

We need to be very clear. Our mission is to support and defend the constitution of the United States. That means supporting our elected officials, as well as the officers appointed over us, and ensuring they succeed. Comments in the work place, or any at any official function, contrary to our role to support any of these individuals is grounds for removal. This rule pertains to military, government civilians, contractors or any visitors.

If an individual crosses this line, it is everyone's duty to correct them on the spot. Do not walk away from a problem or allow issues to grow. The political debates and campaigns are over; we are now focused on moving forward to continue to defend America. We all can have pride in that the 677th AESG has always dealt directly and openly with questionable issues and kept any discrimination out of our work place. Let's keep it that way.



677th AESG, Commander (AFMC)

Today's Reading Assignment

Professor John Yoo, a member of the law faculty at Berkeley, on the folly of Barack Obama's decision to shut down Guantanamo Bay, and end the "coercive" interrogation of terrorism suspects. A few particularly salient paragraphs from his op-ed, which appeared in today's Wall Street Journal:

"...In issuing these executive orders, Mr. Obama is returning America to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001. He's also drying up the most valuable sources of intelligence on al Qaeda, which, according to CIA Director Michael Hayden, has come largely out of the tough interrogation of high-level operatives during the early years of the war.

The question Mr. Obama should have asked right after the inaugural parade was: What will happen after we capture the next Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or Abu Zubaydah? Instead, he took action without a meeting of his full national security staff, and without a legal review of all the policy options available to meet the threats facing our country.


The CIA must now conduct interrogations according to the rules of the Army Field Manual, which prohibits coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America. Mr. Obama has also ordered that al Qaeda leaders are to be protected from "outrages on personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment" in accord with the Geneva Conventions. His new order amounts to requiring -- on penalty of prosecution -- that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.

Eliminating the Bush system will mean that we will get no more information from captured al Qaeda terrorists. Every prisoner will have the right to a lawyer (which they will surely demand), the right to remain silent, and the right to a speedy trial.


It is naïve to say, as Mr. Obama did in his inaugural speech, that we can "reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." That high-flying rhetoric means that we must give al Qaeda -- a hardened enemy committed to our destruction -- the same rights as garden-variety criminals at the cost of losing critical intelligence about real, future threats.

We expressed similar reservations in a recent post, noting the headaches associated with moving scores of terror suspects to U.S. jails and (presumably) putting them on trial in our court system. But such concerns haven't deterred the Obama Administration, which is determined to go ahead with its plans.

As a member of the Bush Justice Department from 2001-2003, Yoo played a leading role in drafting anti-terror policies that have helped keep the nation safe for more than seven years. He clearly understands the threat we face--and the challenges involved in bringing terrorists to justice.

Sadly, Professor Yoo has been one of the few legal scholars to publicly question the new administration, and its return to the "law enforcement" method of fighting terror. That speaks volumes about the status of our legal profession--and the officials now running the War on Terror.

Oh that's right. That Bush-era term--"War on Terror" has been removed from the official lexicon. We're still waiting for Robert Gates, Robert Gibbs or even President Obama to give us the politically correct term for what we're fighting now. Last week's war is (apparently) this week's policing problem, both in name and in deed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama Gets Rolled

McKittrick at Closing Velocity said it best: "Moscow Rolls Obama, Euro Missile Defense Apparently Shelved." He refers to Russia's recent announcement that it will not deploy nuclear-capable ballistic missiles to the Kaliningrad region, near the Polish border. In that location, the Russian missiles could have targeted U.S. interceptor missiles, scheduled to be based in Poland.

And what caused Moscow's sudden change of heart? According to the U.K. Telegraph, the Obama Administration has signaled that it "will not prioritize" Bush Administration plans for ballistic missile defenses in eastern Europe. Plans for the shield were accelerated last year, after the conflict between Russia and Georgia.

The proposed defensive system was the culmination of years of careful diplomacy and technological development. Bush Administration officials carefully lobbied their counterparts in Poland and the Czech Republic, winning their approval for a warning radar in Czech territory and the interceptor missiles on Polish soil. The system is aimed at protecting Europe from a missile attack from a rogue state.

Russia viewed the deployment as a military threat--never mind that the interceptors perform a purely defensive function, as compared to the strike mission of the Iskander missiles, which Moscow threatened to station in Kaliningrad.

President Bush steadfastly resisted Russian bluster and arm-twisting. They also stepped up military aid to the Czech Republic and Poland, rewarding those countries for their courageous stand.

Now, leaders in Warsaw and Prague must be shaking their heads. Years of promises and assurances from the U.S. were undone by the Obama Administration in its first week in office. And don't think that Washington's little ploy has gone unnoticed in the other capitals of eastern Europe--nations that looked to the U.S. for security and leadership in countering the latest threat from Moscow.

From the Baltic to the Black Sea, pro-western governments are feeling isolated and apprehensive. If Barack Obama will retreat on missile defense, there's no reason he won't backtrack on other security arrangements. That leaves our European partners wondering: exactly who in Washington can be trusted these days, and what--if anything--can they believe.

Liberals are hailing the "dawn" of better relations with "Old Europe," the same appeasement crowd that is equally anxious to cut a deal with the Kremlin. Never mind that such agreements come at a cost--our ties to the new democracies of eastern Europe, which represent a vital (and in some respects) a more important alliance for the United States.

Holding Pattern

The first leader of Global Strike Command? Major General Douglas Raaberg has returned to a "placeholder" job at Langley AFB, Virginia. But his experience in bomber and nuclear operations makes him a strong contender for the Global Strike job. The new command is expected to become operational later this year and shift to a permanent home, possibly at Minot AFB, North Dakota (USAF photo).

The Air Force's Global Strike Command is still months away from becoming fully operational. For now, a provisional strike command is operating from temporary offices at Bolling AFB in Washington, D.C., while USAF leaders--and politicians--decide where the permanent headquarters will be located.

Six bases are under consideration for Strike Command headquarters, but sources tell In From the Cold that Minot AFB, North Dakota seems to be the clear favorite. Minot is the only base among the finalists that hosts both nuclear capable bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Global Strike Command will consolidate the Air Force's strategic nuclear mission under a single organization.

Announcement of the organization's first commander is also a way's off, but like the basing option, a front-runner has emerged. In today's announcement of new assignments for five general officers, the Air Force announced that Major General Douglas Raaberg is returning to Langley AFB, Virginia, where he'll serve as a special assistant to the Commander of Air Combat Command (ACC).

For the past eight months, General Raaberg has served as Deputy Combined Air Force Component Commander for U.S. Central Command, the number two officer for all of our air assets in the Middle East. And by all accounts, he's done a fine job, so his return to Langley isn't a case of being put out to pasture for poor performance.

During his previous tour at the Virginia base, Raaberg served as Director of Operations for ACC, the Air Force's largest command. A career tanker and bomber pilot, General Raaberg was something of an anomaly in running ops for the command, which is dominated by fighter pilots.

But his expertise proved invaluable in the aftermath of the August 2007 nuclear incident at Minot, when six nuclear tipped cruise missiles were inadvertently shipped to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana on a B-52 bomber. General Raaberg headed the USAF's initial inquiry into the mishap, winning praise for his work. He briefed preliminary findings to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has set a high priority for fixing the Air Force nuclear enterprise.

And, the formation of Strike Command is a key part of his action plan. As the new organization moves toward operational status, Gates and the Air Force brass are looking for someone with the right background to get command up and running. With command experience in both the B-1 and B-2, Raaberg certainly fits the profile of a potential Strike Command leader.

So why the move to Langley? As we've noted in previous posts, "Special Assistant" positions are nothing but placeholders for senior officers on their way up--or out. There are no indications that Raaberg is planning to hang it up anytime soon, so the post at Langley will give him a desk until something else opens up--with Strike Command at the top of the list.

The thinking goes something like this: the new command will be led by a three-star, given its specialized focus and (relatively) limited resources. General Raaberg will nominated for his third star in the near future and head for Minot as a Lieutenant General select, then actually pin on his new rank in 2010.

A second possibility for Raaberg is command of 24th Air Force, the new cyber organization that will become part of Air Force Space Command. But General Raaberg's real expertise lies in bomber and nuclear operations, the qualities sought for the Strike Command leader.

As for organization's Vice-Commander, there are two possibilities. Brigadier General James Kowalski currently heads the provisional strike command, and is leading efforts to necessary to "stand up" the permanent organization. Kowalski is another veteran bomber pilot and his organizational knowledge would be invaluable in creating the permanent command.

But assigning General Kowalski to the #2 job would aggravate the missileer community, which represents the "other half" of Global Strike Command. While Kowalski is also certain to wind up as a part of the permanent command, the missileers will expect their own representation among the senior ranks, and someone with a "pocket rocket" will eventually wind up as the Vice Commander, or the CINC.

Of course, that assignment is still somewhere down the road. In the interim, there's the herculean challenge of transforming Strike Command into an operational organization, with a permanent home--and integrating various bomber and missile units that now fall under ACC and Air Force Space Command. But one thing seems certain; barring something unforeseen, General Raaberg will play a key role in the early, operational history of Global Strike Command.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Two Minutes Until Midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is best known for its "Doomsday Clock," featured on the cover of each issue and the publication's website. It represents how close humanity is catastrophic destruction--the proverbial midnight--and "monitors the means humankind could use to obliterate itself." In the 1940s and 50s, the clock symbolized man's proximity to nuclear destruction but with the end of the Cold War, the doomsday monitor was expanded, to include the "threat" from climate change and biological weapons. The clock now sits at five minutes to midnight.

A decidedly liberal publication, the Bulletin's articles (and its clock setting) have been the subject of vigorous debate down through the years. But there's little doubt that the Doomsday Clock put an obscure magazine on the map, and it's a rather convenient mechanism for depicting our proximity to potential ruin.

With that in mind, it may be time to create a second clock. This one would illustrate the likelihood of an Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear sites. Using the same methodology as the Bulletin, the clock would start at ten minutes before midnight. Recent events--including Iran's expanded efforts at uranium enrichment, vows to "wipe Israel off the maps, and acquisition of the S-300 air defense system--would move the hands closer to midnight.

By that standard, we'd say the "Israeli strike clock" began 2009 at four minutes 'till midnight. As we've noted in recent posts, Tehran's accelerated efforts to develop nuclear weapons (and pending deployments of the S-300) have greatly increased chances for an Israeli air strike. According to recent media reports, the Israeli government approached the Bush Administration about supporting the effort, but that request was rejected.

But the Israeli Air Force remains capable of conducting a strike on its own, and its best chance for success (with minimal losses) will occur before the S-300 arrives in Iran. That could indicate an attack during the first half of 2009, before the advanced surface-to-air missile (SAM) system becomes operational around Tehran's nuclear site.

However, it may be time to advance the hands again, based events in the past 24 hours. First, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has just released a new estimate, predicting that Iran will have enough enriched uranium for a nuclear device by the end of the year. While reaching that milestone doesn't equal a ready-to-use weapon, it highlights Tehran's steady march toward a nuclear capability. The IISS report also casts doubt on that infamous U.S. nuclear assessment (released in late 2007), which claimed Iran had halted work on its weapons program.

If the IISS is correct--and other analysts concur with their assessment--then Iran is at (or rapidly nearing) the point of no return in its nuclear effort. Left unchecked, Tehran can accelerate enrichment efforts and disperse the process--making future air strikes almost pointless. Creating a significant delay in the Iranian program means hitting nuclear facilities before there's a large stockpile of fissile material--the foundation for a small arsenal of missile warheads or gravity bombs.

But there was a second event today that will also give the Israelis pause. In his first media interview since becoming President, Barack Obama sounded quite conciliatory toward Iran. Here's his exchange with the Arab network Al-Arabiyah on Tehran and its nuclear program:

Q Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran? And if not, how far are you going in the direction of preventing it?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.

Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past -- none of these things have been helpful.

But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.

Readers will note that President Obama's remarks did not include the "tough" rhetoric of last year's presidential campaign, when he announced that a nuclear-capable Iran would be unacceptable.

You can probably guess how this interview played in Tehran. With America firmly committed to the diplomatic track--the same approach that has yielded nothing over the past three years--the mullahs have deduced that they have nothing to fear from an Obama Administration. Crank up those centrifuges at Natanz, and see if the North Koreans have any bomb designs that we can borrow. Iran's long dream of being a nuclear power is now within reach.

In Israel, the Obama comments had a chilling effect, although no officials have offered a public comment. The Israelis now find themselves facing Iran virtually alone, and with little time to act. Watch for the IAF to ramp up training in the coming weeks, and we wouldn't be surprised to learn of movements by special forces platforms and other support elements.

The countdown for an Israeli strike against Iran is accelerating; it's now two minutes until midnight, with little hope of turning back the clock.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Raptors Over the Pacific

With little fanfare, roughly 20% of the USAF's F-22 Raptor fleet has deployed to the Far East in recent weeks.

The rotations began in mid-January, when 12 Raptors flew from Langley AFB, Virginia, to Kadena AB on Okinawa. A week later, 12 more F-22s from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska deployed to Guam. Collectively, these movements represent the largest Raptor deployment to the Pacific region.

During their three months in the Pacific, both units will train with Air Force and other U.S. military assets. So far, the deployments have gone smoothly--a sharp contrast to the first F-22 deployment to the region in 2007. During that rotation, a software glitch caused navigation and communications problems as the jets crossed the International Dateline. After a return to Hawaii (and a software fix), the deployment went ahead as planned.

As David Fulghum of Aviation Week observes, the latest rotation is not without its risks. While operating in the Far East, the F-22s will be subject to intel collection by Chinese and Russian assets. SIGINT-capable TU-95 Bears have flown near Guam during the past year, and China has a significant, covert collection capability on merchant vessels that pass near Okinawa.

North Korea represents a third collection threat. A USAF intelligence officer tells In From the Cold that "a significant number" of North Korean nationals live in apartment buildings just off the end of Kadena's runway. Part of the large, ethnic Korean population in Japan, the Kadena contingent is believed to include intelligence operatives who monitor U.S. military activities on Okinawa. The Raptor deployment will provide another significant target for Kim Jong-il's spies.

While the F-22 rotations are a symbol of U.S. power and deterrence in the Pacific, they also underscore the limits of the current Raptor inventory and basing scheme. With production of the stealth fighter expected to end at 183 aircraft, the USAF will not have enough F-22s for permanent squadrons at Kadena or Andersen AB, Guam, two of the most important military installations in the Far East.

Instead, F-22 units based in Alaska, Hawaii and the CONUS will continue their deployments to those bases. While the aircraft can easily handle the assignment--and the rotations provide excellent training for pilots and ground personnel--the deployments come at a price. Sending a squadron half-way around the world for three months isn't cheap, and frequent rotations erode unit morale.

Despite such drawbacks, these deployments represent the only viable option for maintaining an F-22 presence in a vitally important region. The stand-up of two Raptor squadrons at Holloman AFB, New Mexico (part of the 49th Fighter Wing) will help, as will the conversion of the Hawaii ANG from F-15s to F-22s. But the New Mexico squadrons are still working toward their initial operational capability (IOC), and the Hawaii guard squadron won't begin receiving their Raptors until next year.

Until then, airmen from Langley and Elmendorf can look forward to more time in the Pacific.

ADDENDUM: Aviation Week also reminds us that cruise missile defense is a key mission for F-22s in the Far East. Both Kadena and Guam are within range of cruise missiles launched from Chinese or Russian bombers. With the AIM-120D and active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, the Raptors are well-suited for defeating that threat.

Incidentally, the current Raptor deployments were planned months in advance, and are not related to any recen military events in the region. However, the rotations do coincide with the latter stages of North Korea's annual Winter Training Cycle, and offer the "side" benefit of sending a message to Pyongyang.

Only in America

Meet Micah Grimes. Until recently, Mr. Grimes was the head girls' basketball coach at The Covenant School, a small Christian academy in Dallas. Coach Grimes was reportedly fired Sunday, after refusing to apologize for his team's 100-0 victory over Dallas Academy.

More details from KTVT, the local CBS affiliate:

Kyle Queal, the headmaster for Covenant School, said in The Dallas Morning News online edition that he could not answer if the firing was a direct result of Grimes' e-mail disagreeing with administrators who called the blowout "shameful."

Queal did not immediately answer phone messages or e-mail from CBS 11 or The Associated Press.

On its Web site last week, Covenant, a private Christian school, posted a statement regretting the outcome of its Jan. 13 shutout win over Dallas Academy.

"It is shameful and an embarrassment that this happened. This clearly does not reflect a Christlike and honorable approach to competition," said the statement, signed by Queal and board chair Todd Doshier.

In various media accounts, Covenant has been lambasted for running up the score on Dallas Academy, a private school that specializes in students struggling with "learning differences" such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. For what it's worth, the Dallas Academy girl's team hasn't won a basketball game in the past four seasons.

In their on-line response to school officials, Coach Grimes and his players offer a different perspective on the game. Turns out that Covenant isn't exactly an "elite" program (as described by the media) that kept draining three-pointers on the hapless Dallas Academy squad, in an effort to run up the score:

The Team. We are hardly the “elite basketball powerhouse” that we are described as in the National and local media. Up until 3 years ago, we rarely had a winning season. In fact, during my first year at Covenant four years ago, we experienced one of our worst seasons - a losing record of only 2 wins and 19 losses that sunk to an 82-6 low in a game that forever changed us and how we approached the game of basketball. Two years later we made the first Final Four appearance in the school’s history. Like Dallas Academy, Covenant is a small Christian school, which is why we are in the same district. We don’t have a home gym so we rent out facilities or gym space in the community so we can practice, and then watch game film at the home of one of the players. We’ve never had a full roster. Only about 30 high school girls attend Covenant and only 8 of those girls play basketball. During many of the games this year, we played with 6 girls, and sometimes only 5. When players fouled out, we’ve had to finish the game with 4. But we always finished the game.

The Game. The game started like any other high school basketball game across the nation. The teams warm-up, coaches talk, the ball is tipped, and then the play begins. We started the game off with a full-court press. After 3 minutes into play, we had already reached a 25-0 lead. Like any rational thinking coach would do, I immediately stopped the full-court press, dropped into a 2-3 zone defense, and started subbing in my 3 bench players. This strategy continued for the rest of the game and allowed the Dallas Academy players to get the ball up the court for a chance to score. The second half started with a score of 59-0. Seeing that we would win by too wide of a margin, running down the clock was the only logical course of action left. Contrary to the articles, there were only a total of four 3-point baskets made; three in the first quarter, and only one in the third quarter. I continued to sub in bench players, play zone defense, and run the clock for the rest of the game. We played fair and honorably within the rules and in the presence of the parents, coaches, and athletic directors for both Covenant School and Dallas Academy.

We should also note that the blowout didn't become a public issue until Barry Horn of the Dallas Morning News picked up the story. Apparently, Mr. Horn didn't have a problem when Covenant was on the losing end of that 82-6 score. But, when the Christian school put up 100 on Dallas Academy--despite constant substitutions and running down the clock--it became a question of "fairness."

Coach Grimes and his players have nothing to apologize for. True, some Covenant fans were still screaming for points late in the fourth quarter, but there's no indication that the players or their coach broke the rules, or deliberately tried to humiliate their opponents.

In case you're wondering, there is no "mercy rule" in the private school league that includes Dallas Academy and Covenant. There is a golden rule that discourages blowouts, by keeping the clock running or allowing the losing team to simply throw in the towel. To their credit, Dallas Academy decided to keep playing, despite the lopsided score.

From our perspective, the only "shameful" behavior in this matter has been demonstrated by Covenant administrators and the Morning News. Since the one-sided game became a national story, school leaders have actually tried to forfeit their victory and issued that feckless public statement. Somewhere, Vince Lombardi is spinning in his grave.

As for the News, you'd think they could find better use for their shrinking pages. But that 100-0 victory was simply too good to pass up, despite the fact that blowout wins are not uncommon in prep basketball--a fact the paper readily acknowledges.

Unfortunately, the Covenant girls' basketball team has become an unwitting victim of its own success. In a culture obsessed with "feelings" and "participation," matters like winning an losing become trivial. That may be fine in tee ball, but at some point, kids must learn that life doesn't offer trophies to all participants, and being the best at something does matter.

And that's a lesson that is sometimes learned the hard way. Competitive sports is filled with heartbreak and most of us have been on the short end of a score. There's nothing worse than the bus ride home after being crushed by the other team. But that experience is also a powerful motivator, or at least, it used to be.

Instead, the Dallas Academy girls are being hailed as heroes. Mark Cuban, the owner of the local NBA team, has invited them to a game, and there's been a national outpouring of support for the losing team. Meanwhile, the Covenant squad has been vilified as bullies of the hardwood--or worse).

There's something wrong with this picture. Americans have long admired athletes and teams that display grit and determination in defeat--and the young women of Dallas Academy certainly fit in that category. But the ladies of the Covenant School also deserve their due. They played hard and won against an over-matched opponent. It happens in sports. Life is unfair, as John F. Kennedy once observed. That's another long-forgotten lesson worth remembering.

As for Coach Grimes, he won't be out of work very long. A coach who can transform a 2-19 team into a state title contender will find plenty of schools that aren't ashamed of winning, even by out sized margins.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Real Global Command Center in the Sky

An E-4B in flight (USAF photo)

We're looking forward to "On Board Air Force One," the documentary that airs Sunday night at 8 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel. The producers were given unprecedented access to the aircraft, its crew and support personnel during the recent transition period. The film includes George W. Bush's last trip to the Middle East--including a visit to Baghdad--and Barack Obama's first flight as commander-in-chief.

While the documentary promises to be entertaining and informative, a minor correction may be in order. On its web site, National Geographic identifies the VC-25 presidential aircraft (Air Force One is the call sign used when the commander-in-chief is on board) as a "global command center in the sky." While the VC-25 has impressive communications capabilities, the aircraft would not serve as a flying command post in the event of a national contingency.

That role is reserved for another military aircraft, the E-4B. Like the presidential transport, the E-4B is based on the Boeing 747-200 airframe. However, there are key differences between the flying command post and the VC-25. The E-4B, dubbed the National Airborne Operations Center (NOAC), has extensive hardening for electromagnetic pulse and other nuclear effects. It carries a crew of up to 112 people (including the president) slightly larger than the capacity of the VC-25.

At least one E-4B (and crew) are kept on alert at all times. In the event of a national emergency, the aircraft would rendez-vous with Air Force One or Marine One, allowing the president and his senior advisers to manage the crisis from the NOAC.

There are noticeable differences in the appearance of the VC-25 and the E-4B. The NAOC aircraft has more austere paint scheme, and a slight (but noticeable) hump aft of the flight deck. That blister is believed to contain communications gear.

Air Combat Command provides the flight crew for the E-4B, which is assigned to the 55th Wing at Offut AFB, Nebraska. But alert aircraft sometimes deploy to other bases, including Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; Andrews AFB, Maryland; Seymour-Johnson AFB, North Carolina and Columbus AFB, Mississippi. NAOC operations are directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and executed through U.S. Strategic Command, which also provides many of the airborne battle staff personnel.

It will be interesting to see if National Geographic mentions the role of the E-4B in supporting the commander-in-chief. When the president travels abroad, the NAOC is always in tow, usually operating from a U.S. airfield in the region. Those deployments are never publicized, but they are a key element of any foreign trip by the commander-in-chief. If the event of the unthinkable, the E-4 would become the flying command post, not the VC-25.

No wonder it's sometimes referred to as the "Doomsday Plane."

ADDENDUM: Viewing the program, our suspicions were confirmed; there was no discussion of the E-4B in the documentary about Air Force One. But the mission of the NAOC remains unchanged and it remains our dedicated "command post in the sky," in the event of a national contingency.

However, last night's documentary did offer a unique perspective regarding Air Force One's activities on 9-11. As the terrorist attacks unfolded in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, the presidential jet quickly scrambled from Sarasota, Florida (where Mr. Bush was participating in an education event) and headed over the Gulf of Mexico, which had been cleared of other air traffic.

With fighter escort, the VC-25 eventually headed to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, where President Bush made a brief public statement. In his comments to the film makers, Mr. Bush indicated that the Barksdale stop was necessary because (in those days), Air Force One lacked an onboard video downlink capability--a deficiency that has since been corrected.

After leaving Barksdale, the presidential aircraft flew on to Offut AFB, Nebraska. Offut is home to U.S. Strategic Command, which still utilizes the famous "SAC Underground," the hardened, subterranean command center that is buried 60 feet below the surface. While at the Nebraska installation, Mr. Bush participated in a secure video teleconference with his advisors, then gave the order for Air Force One to return to Washington.

Of course, Offut is also home to the E-4B fleet. One of the unanswered questions about 9-11 is why the president elected to stay on Air Force One, despite the availability of a better crisis management platform at Offut.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Little Unfinished Inaugural Business

Among all the inaugural hoopla this week, there were a few incidents that we found disturbing--if not down-right offensive--because they took a direct shot at the nation's military heroes, and the out-going commander-in-chief.

And we're not referring to the smattering of boos and the refrain of "nah-nah-nah-nah, hey, hey...goodbye" that greeted George Bush as he arrived at the inauguration on Tuesday morning. These events occurred after Mr. Bush left town, at galas that commemorated the swearing-in of Barack Obama.

If you haven't heard about these incidents, don't feel bad. They've been all-but-ignored by the mainstream media (what a surprise). The only place you'll read about these affronts is in papers like the Washington Times, or the conservative blogosphere.

Flash back to Inauguration night, and the "Heroes Red, White & Blue Ball," sponsored a non-profit group called Citizens Helping Heroes. A number of wounded warriors from Walter Reed Medical Center were in attendance, along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, JCS Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and CNN host Larry King.

Headlining the evening's entertainment was funk musician George Clinton and his band. At one point, a vocalist with Clinton's group unfurled a white towel with the large letters that read "F--K GEORGE." A number of military guests interpreted that as an insult to their former commander-in-chief and they began to walk out. Event organizers were quick to apologize:

Obviously we and the Heroes Ball coordinators were unaware that the sign existed and did not support their actions, especially considering our non-partisan mission and treasured military audience," said ball spokeswoman Carrie Foster.

A spokesman for the group claimed the sign was aimed at George Clinton--not Mr. Bush. But, as Carrie Sheffield of the Washington Times observed, many attendees clearly didn't get the "joke," and began heading for the exit. Another member of Clinton's band quickly tore down the sign, but that didn't stop the exodus.

Unfortunately, the expletive towel wasn't the only inaugural insult endured by military members. The FBI and Secret Service are currently looking for Dante Hayes, promoter of a black-tie gala for active duty military personnel and veterans. Army Times reports that Mr. Hayes was promising "three or four action-filled days," culminating in a gala that would (supposedly) be visited by the commander-in-chief.

But Hayes disappeared about a week before the inauguration, leaving a string of unpaid bills and disappointed veterans. As you might have guessed, money collected for the event is also missing. No one has said how much money is involved, but tickets for the ball were selling for $385 for veterans and $500 for non-veterans.

By comparison, the quadrennial "Salute to Heroes Ball" went on as planned, just as it has on every Inauguration Night since 1953. But this year's event was noteworthy for its most prominent no-show: the new commander-in-chief. Barack Obama was the first president to skip the event, breaking a tradition that began with Dwight D. Eisenhower.

To his credit, Mr. Obama did attend the Commander-in-Chief's ball, but the Heroes gala is no ordinary event. It's been a staple of the inauguration for six decades and it's chief sponsor is a powerful organization (the American Legion) that has been courted by every recent president and presidential candidate. Among those honored at the Heroes ball are the nation's Medal of Honor recipients. This year, 47 of the 99 living MOH winners were at this year's ball, where they were honored by Vice-President Joe Biden and other dignitaries.

Obviously, the president can't make it to every inaugural event, but nine commanders-in-chief found time to attend. As for President Obama, he found time to attend something called the "Neighborhood Inaugural Ball," aimed at D.C. residents. Apparently, living inside the federal district puts you higher on the social register than winning the nation's highest decoration for military valor.

Change we can believe in.

H/T: This Ain't Hell.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SIGINT Agencies (and Hackers) of the World Unite...

...President Obama is keeping his BlackBerry. As the AP reports:

The first family settled into their new lives in the White House on Thursday as President Barack Obama won an important personal victory: He gets to keep his BlackBerry.

Obama will be the first sitting president to use e-mail, and he has been reluctant to part with his ever-present handheld device. Its use will be limited to keeping in touch with senior staff and personal friends, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.


"...the BlackBerry victory is a big concession. Obama said earlier that he was working with the Secret Service, lawyers and White House staff to keep the device.

Gibbs said the president will limit its use, and security has been enhanced to ensure that Obama can communicate in a way that's protected. Only a small number of senior staff members and personal friends would be given his e-mail address.

Previous presidents chose not to use e-mail because it can be subpoenaed by Congress and courts and may be subject to public records laws. And Gibbs said the presumption from the White House counsel's office is that Obama's e-mails will be subject to the Presidential Records Act, which requires the National Archives to preserve presidential records.

But he also said there are exceptions for "strictly personal communications."

There's no mention of potential monitoring by hostile intelligence service, or attacks by computer hackers in the AP article. However, this account by the Atlantic's Marc
Ambinder claims that Obama will carry a Blackberry with a "super encryption" package, probably developed by the National Security Agency.

Other source suggest that the agency has created a more secure pathway for Obama's Blackberry traffic. E-mails from the commercial version of the PDA move across a server in Canada, raising more fears about potential intelligence collection.

A White House spokesman says that Obama's BlackBerry will be used for "limited" communications with senior aides and a few close friends. However, there has been no confirmation that the President will "step up" to the most secure PDA, the General Dynamics Sectera Edge, a device that's been approved by the NSA for Top Secret voice communications and the transmission of data (including e-mails) at the Secret level.

As for his beloved Blackberry, the Department of Homeland Security lists at least 14 vulnerabilities for the device, and some experts still worry about the PDA's security, despite the NSA upgrade.

We'll make a prediction: Mr. Obama will retain his BlackBerry until one of three events occurs: 1) His PDA communications becomes public; 2) They are subpoenaed as part of an investigation, or 3) the NSA Director quietly informs him of a security breach that has allowed foreign intelligence agencies to monitor his conversations and e-mail transmissions. At that point, the President will suddenly "retire" his BlackBerry.

H/T: ZDnet

Speaking of Finalists

Six Air Force bases are also in the running to host 24th Air Force, the USAF's new cyber component.

The cyber organization was originally envisioned as a stand-alone command, by was down-sized to a numbered Air Force by the service's Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz. His decision came after other services accused the USAF of attempting to "monopolize" the cyber mission, and senior DoD officials questioned the need for another Air Force command.

Instead, the cyber organization has been designated 24th Air Force, and will join Air Force Space Command next spring or summer. It's predecessor, the (provisional) Air Force Cyber Command, has been operating at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana since last October.

Not surprisingly, Barksdale is among the bases vying to host 24th Air Force Headquarters. Also on the list are Scott AFB, Illinois; Lackland AFB, Texas; Scott AFB, Illinois, Offut AFB, Nebraska and Peterson AFB, Colorado.

Among those contenders, Barksdale and Lackland are believed to be the early front-runners. Having the provisional cyber command on base gives Barksdale a minor advantage, since many of the personnel who will form the 24th Air Force cadre are already in place.

Lackland is home to the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (Agency), a key player in signals intelligence and information operations for both the USAF and Strategic Command. That means the Texas base already has the "connectivity" sought for the new numbered Air Force, possibly giving Lackland a leg up in the final competition.

But the other installations can't be ruled out. Offut is home to U.S. Strategic Command, which has overall responsibility for the cyber mission. Air Force Space Command, the parent organization for 24th Air Force is based at Peterson, while Scott is home for the Air Force Communications Agency (AFCEA), and two operational customers: Air Mobility Command and U.S. Transportation Command. Langley AFB hosts one of the cyber unit's most important clients, Air Combat Command.

Scott was once considered something of a long shot, but with a new commander-in-chief from Illinois, the base's stock seems to be rising. The installation that eventually "wins" 24th Air Force will get an organization with 5-6,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $5 billion.

Given the size of that prize, the political tug-of-war over the cyber organization will only intensify in the coming months. But we'll be surprised if 24th Air Force doesn't wind up at either Barksdale or Lackland.

In the Running

The Air Force has released a list of six bases, under consideration to host the headquarters of the recently-formed Global Strike Command.
  • Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana
  • F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming
  • Malmstrom AFB, Montana
  • Minot AFB, North Dakota
  • Offut AFB, Nebraska
  • Whiteman AFB, Missouri

Five of the six installations host nuclear-capable bomber units or ICBM wings, which will form the core of Strike Command's mission. The remaining base (Offut) is home to the headquarters of U.S. Strategic Command, which controls all of the nation's nuclear bombers, ICBMs, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Strike Command is currently operating from a temporary headquarters at Bolling AFB in Washington, D.C. A decision on the command's permanent home is expected by late spring or early summer.

Sources tell In From the Cold that Minot AFB has emerged as an early favorite for Strike Command Headquarters. The North Dakota installation currently hosts a B-52 wing and an ICBM unit. It is the only Air Force base that currently has both a nuclear bomber and missile mission.

But an Air Force official downplayed Minot's supposed advantage. Major General C. Donald Alston, the USAF's Assistant Chief of Staff for Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration said he didn't think the presence of B-52s and ICBMs would prejudge one base ahead of another.

Only bases with active nuclear missions were considered in the nomination process.

Global Strike Command is part of recent nuclear reforms within the USAF. It will eventually control of all CONUS-based strategic nuclear missions, including those performed by B-52 and B-2 bombers, and Minuteman III ICBMs. The changes came after a pair of embarrassing incidents involving weapons at Minot and the transfer of nuclear components from Hill AFB, Utah.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And Then What?

Determined to keep one of his best-known campaign promises, Barack Obama is already making plans to shut down the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Associated Press reports that the Obama Administration, on its first full day in office, has already began circulating a draft executive order on the detention facility. It calls for closing the prison camp within a year and in the interim, suspending military tribunals for terror suspects.

Closing the facility in Cuba “would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice,” read the draft prepared for the president’s signature.

While some of the detainees currently held at Guantanamo would be released, others would be transferred elsewhere and later put on trial under terms to be determined.

It was not known when Obama intended to issue the order. He has been a longtime critic of the Bush administration’s decision to maintain the detention facility, which was opened after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Also unanswered are two, equally salient questions: First, what happens to those prisoners who "will be transferred elsewhere?" And secondly, how will those detainees be put on trail? (assuming that the Obama team scraps the current system of military tribunals)

With the closing of Guantanamo--and the end of military trials--it's a safe bet that remaining terrorist detainees will wind up in American prisons and the federal court system.

The most dangerous suspects may wind up at the federal SuperMax prison in Florence, Colorado. Several convicted terrorists are among the high-profile prisoners currently housed at the facility. They include the so-called "19th hijacker," Zacarias Moussaoui; shoe-bomber Richard Reid and Ramzi Yousef, a key figure in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

But there won't be any Al Qaida reunion parties at the SuperMax. Inmates spend 23 hours a day inside their cells, leaving only for an exercise period in a room that's the size of two automobiles.

Unfortunately, the SuperMax can't hold all of the terror suspects who will be leaving Guantanamo. And so far, the Bureau of Prisons hasn't explained how it plans to incarcerate the accused terrorists, before, during and after their trials. With facilities already over crowded--and gang violence on the rise--prison officials aren't exactly enthused about housing dangerous terrorists in their institutions, and keeping them away from the general population.

Then, there's the matter of actually putting the suspects on trial. The Moussaoui case illustrates the problems with prosecuting terror suspects in a federal court. Mr. Moussaoui was captured by alert FBI agents before 9/11, and he was indicted only three months after the Al Qaida attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and rural Pennsylvania.

It would take another four years to convict and sentence Mr. Moussaoui. During the interim, he tried to make a mockery of his trial (and the U.S. justice system), changing his plea, hiring and firing attorneys and at one point, offered a psychiatric evaluation of the trial judge, Leonie Brinkema.

Now, multiply the "Moussaoui" effect by the dozens (perhaps hundreds) of terror defendants that will soon clog our courts in eastern district of Virginia and the southern district of Manhattan, where Al Qaida operatives committed their crimes. Judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys can block off their schedules for years at a stretch, while other legal matters are pushed to the back burner. The government will also spend millions for more security. The court houses where the trials are held will become terror targets, necessitating additional measures to keep the buildings--and their employees--safe.

To address those (and other concerns) a number of legal experts have suggested the creation of National Security Courts. Those forums would be staffed by judges and lawyers with expertise in a wide range of national security matters, from intelligence gathering to the prosecution of suspected terrorists.

Presumably, the security courts would be located in facilities that are less vulnerable than federal courthouses. Most of those latter structures are poorly equipped for important terrorism trials; due to security concerns, they often become armed fortresses with restricted access, slowing the resolution of other legal matters. Located in secure facilities--and with their specialized focus--the security courts would circumvent many of the problems associated with terrorist trials in federal district courts.

But creating that special court system would take time--well over a year--and President Obama hasn't voiced support for that concept. If he sticks to his timetable for shutting down Gitmo, we can expect a flood of terrorist detainees in federal prisons later this year, and exasperating "trails" that will stretch out into the next decade.

And that prospect is preferable to shutting down Guantanamo, and ending the military tribunal process? As Mr. Obama receives plaudits for his plan to shutter that "terrorist prison," he's about to discover that the devil's in the details. That surge of suspected terrorists is inching closer to our prison and courts system. Then what, Mr. President?

What's New in Space

Craig Covault of SpaceFlight Now reports that the Pentagon has recently unveiled a new--an exceptionally promising--space surveillance capability.

In late December and again in early January, a pair of classified "Mitex" inspection spacecraft, built by Lockheed-Martin and Orbital Sciences, maneuvered in close proximity to a dead Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite. The operation gave U.S. military and intelligence officials their first, close-up look at another spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit.

While the maneuver was used to inspect another American satellite, the implications of the Mitex experiment are clear:

Since the U.S. is now demonstrating the ability to do such up close rendezvous and inspection of American spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit, it means USAF now has at least a "call up capability" to do the same to non-U.S. spacecraft like those from Russia and China.

The operation, at nearly 25,000 miles altitude, reveals a major new U.S. military space capability, says John Pike who heads GlobalSecurity.Org, a military think tank.

"There is not much we do in space any more that is really new, but this is really new," Pike tells

Although being used in this operation to obtain data on a failed U.S. spacecraft, such inspections of especially potential enemy spacecraft, is something the Pentagon has wanted to do since the start of the space age, Pike says.

The Mitex satellites have been in orbit since 2006. Until last month, the two platforms were tasked to rendez-vous with each other and carry out inspections. Weighing only 500 pounds each, the Mitex platforms are tiny in comparison to other satellites in geosynchronous orbit. The failed DSP satellite, used as the target for the Mitex experiment, are more than 30 feet long and weigh 2.5 tons.

Word of the inspection effort is bound to anger China, which tested its own "killer" satellite system just two years ago. Availability of the Mitex system would not only allow the U.S. to inspect suspicious platforms in geosynchronous orbit, it could also be used in an offensive role, targeting enemy surveillance and communications platforms--or their anti-satellite systems. On the other hand, word of the U.S. program could spur Beijing

The Mitex craft are part of a classified program, run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). As a result of the DSP inspection (and previous tests), both inspection satellites are believed to be low on propellant. As they reach the end of their service life in the coming years, the Mitex birds will be moved into "graveyard" orbits, above those of geosynchronous platforms.

While the Mitex program shows great promise, it faces an uncertain future. On the campaign trail last year, President Barack Obama pledged that he "would not weaponize space." In some quarters, the inspection satellite is considered an offensive system, and covered by Mr. Obama's pledge.

However, the president's vow has no bearing on Russia or China, which are developing space-based weapons that pose a growing threat to our military and commercial satellites. Mr. Obama should consider that reality before restricting our space-based systems.

ADDENDUM: Aa Mr. Covault notes, the failure of DSP 23 is yet another reminder of the serious problems affecting our surveillance constellation. The DSP birds are designed to provide early warning of enemy missile launches (and other major IR events). DSP 23 was designed as a gap filler, providing additional detection capability until the new Space Based Infrared Satellite (SBIRS) program becomes operational.

But SBIRS has suffered a host of development problems and won't be operational until the next decade. With the loss of DSP 23, the Air Force is now scrambling for another, gap-filling satellite.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

General Arnold Sends His Regrets

Perhaps she was tired after a long, leg-tingling day of inaugural coverage. Or maybe NBC's Ann Curry doesn't know much about the history of the U.S. military, or its rank structure.

Whatever the reason, Ms. Curry was a bit off in her reporting from last night's Commander-in-Chief's Ball in Washington. Chatting with anchor Brian Williams, the "Today" show news reader observed that "there won't be many five-star generals" at the evening's biggest military gala.

This may come as a surprise to Ann Curry, but by our count, there weren't any five-star flag officers at the event, for a simple reason: all the Americans who attained the rank of General of the Army or Fleet Admiral are long-deceased.

The last of the nation's five-star officers, General Omar Bradley, died in 1981, just months after attending Ronald Reagan's first inaugural. Bradley was the nation's last General of the Army on active duty before his retirement in 1953.

Other generals who attained five-star rank--Dwight Eisenhower, Henry "Hap" Arnold, George C. Marshall and Douglas MacArthur--left active duty in the late 1940s or early 1950s, and passed away well before General Bradley. The same applies to the Navy officers who reached the rank of Fleet Admiral: Ernest J. King, Chester Nimitz, William Leahy and "Bull Halsey." Nimitz, the Navy's last surviving five-star officer, died in 1966.

Technically, both General of the Army and Fleet Admiral are wartime ranks, authorized by Congress for only a handful of senior officers. While the ranks still exist on military charts, no officer has attained five-start status since the Korean War and many believe the rank was "retired" with the passing of General Bradley. There was some talk (in the early 1990s) of awarding a fifth star to Colin Powell and Norman Schwartzkopf, but both men retired at four-star rank.

Little wonder those Fleet Admirals and Generals of the Army were conspiciously absent from the Commander-in-Chief's ball. Memo to Ms. Curry: if any of those legendary officers were on hand last night, it was strictly in spirit. We hope she didn't waste too much time trying to land an exclusive interview with General Marshall.

Now We Know...

...why The New York Times was so anxious to secure that $250 million loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

Apparently, few of us genuinely understood the depth of the financial woes being faced by publisher Pinch Sulzberger. Along with dropping ad revenue, bloated newsroom staffs and media properties that have plummeted in value, there's that little matter of Maureen Dowd's expense account.

Jeff Bercovici at Conde Nast has the scoop on Ms. Dowd's recent, pricey excursion to South Beach:

"... these are lean times at The New York Times. On Friday, the paper handed down new, tighter guidelines for employee expenses. Among the new strictures: a $50-per-head limit on meals and an end to reimbursement for entertaining fellow Times colleagues.

So there was predictable outrage after op-ed star Maureen Dowd published a travel piece yesterday about her weekend spent scoping the scene at a new high-end spa in Miami. Dowd and another Times writer, TV critic Alessandra Stanley, spent a few day getting massages and detoxifying -- taking time out to have dinner with the city's chief of police at a swanky private club-- ostensibly in the name of researching whether the down economy is causing "spa guilt" among the well-to-do.

Better yet, when Mr. Bercovici began asking about who picked up the tab for MoDo's trip, her assistant lied, claiming that the Times' columnist paid her own way. Later, a spokesman for the paper clarified that position, stating that Ms. Dowd was seeking reimbursement for her expenses.

And just how much will Sulzberger pay for that little travel piece? According to the spa's web site, a one bedroom suite with an ocean view starts at "only" $550 a night. Assuming that Ms. Dowd and her colleague spent three nights at Canyon Ranch, plus meals, airfare and incidentals (like that "body ritual" massage enjoyed by Ms. Stanley), we're guessing that the total tab was at least $5,000.

All for a 1,000-word fluff piece on "spa guilt," an emotion that clearly isn't shared by staffers at the NYT.

If Mr. Sulzberger is really interested in trimming expense accounts, we'd be happy to provide some assistance (as highly-paid consultants, of course). For starters, he could implement something along the lines of the per diem tables used by government employees. The General Services Administration or GSA, establishes lodging and meal rates for various destinations around the country, setting limits on what federal workers can spend for their hotels, meals and incidental expenses.

Looking at the current GSA per diem rates for the Miami area, it's obvious that Ms. Dowd and Ms. Stanley could never hack it as government employees. The present daily rate for Miami-Dade County is only $208 a day; $149 for lodging and $59 for meals and incidental expenses. Incidentally, that per diem rate is for all of the day's meals, not just one.

Of course, such parsimony would never pass muster at the Times. Two hundred bucks a day? Why, that's not even enough for one night at the Canyon Ranch, let alone that 80-minute, body ritual massage. We certainly can't expect the "op-ed star" and her TV critic pal to go slumming at the Marriott, or God forbid, a Holiday Inn Express.

No wonder the Times has been burning through money like a drunken sailor, or senior executives at General Motors. Send Ms. Dowd to a few more high-end spas, and Pinch Sulzberger will be making another bailout call to Carlos Slim.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Today's Reading Assignment

David Fulghum of Aviation Week, on the continuing development of cyber-weapons:

In a few years, the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps expect to be delivering airborne electronic fires and cyber-attacks for ground troops with a fusion of radio battalions, EA-6B Prowlers, EA-18G Growlers and a range of UAVs.

Who actually commands and controls the technology operationally and strategically remains an open question. The uncertainty was illustrated by the formation of Air Force Cyber Command, followed by its months-long pause in bureaucratic limbo and, finally, its re-designation as a numbered air force under U.S. Strategic Command. The institutional tangle was compounded because the services have still not produced a unified plan for electronic warfare and attack. It also contributed to two failures to get the Air Force back into electronic attack with an EB-52 long-range (80-100-naut.-mi.) standoff electronic attack aircraft. The design included the capability to electronically map and attack enemy networks.

"It's not about putting iron on targets anymore; it's about fighting the networks," says a U.S. EW specialist and senior technology officer. "But there is the difficulty that no one has owned cyberwarfare in the past. Now with the massive [cyber] attacks on Estonia and Georgia, it's a real threat and nobody has the charter [to combat it]."

"The organizations and lines of responsibility are still being worked," agrees Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). "Let me be honest, we're still at the stage of understanding what cyber is. Cyber-operations broach everything from the tactical to the operational to the strategic. How it is used determines what it is.

As Mr. Fulghum notes, emerging cyber and electronic attack (EA) technologies make it difficult to distinguish between cyber-warfare, EA, intelligence gathering and other disciplines. Beyond that, there's the matter of trying to effectively integrate those concepts--and capabilities--into something called hybrid warfare.

Read the whole thing. The article also discusses existing "holes" in the development effort, including the lack of a cyber "range," allowing attacks to be planned and practiced, without affecting existing IT networks--or tipping our hand to potential adversaries. DARPA recently awarded $25 million in start-up money for the range project.

However, there are a couple of "missing" elements in the story. First, the Air Force's organizational issues are, in part, a reflection of turf and budget battles in the Pentagon. The other services (and Defense Secretary Robert Gates) saw the USAF's proposal for a new cyber-command as little more than a mission--and resource grab--in an era of tightening DoD budgets. So instead, the cyber-command was downsized to a numbered Air Force, under USAF Space Command.

It's also worth noting that the "compromise" command relationship (a numbered Air Force under U.S. Strategic Command) is somewhat similar to existing arrangements for information warfare. Among his other duties, the STRATCOM CINC is the U.S. military's executive agent for IO. But execution of that mission is the responsibility of the USAF Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (AFISRA), located at Lackland AFB, Texas, part of an IO command structure that includes 8th Air Force, STRATCOM's element for global attack. Until recently, AFISRA "owned" most of the assets charged with the cyber-warfare mission.

Not surprisingly, the newly-activated 24th Air Force has "acquired" some of these units for its cyber mission. At the top of the list is the 67th Network Warfare Wing, the service's first dedicated cyber-warfare unit. The wing still falls under 8th Air Force, which (as far as we know) still handles the IO mission for STRATCOM.

Still unanswered is the division of responsibilities between AFSPACE cyber assets, and those supporting STRATCOM tasking. Since that delineation is often difficult to detect, it seems certain that the ISR Agency is also a major player in supporting 24th Air Force, and the Space Command cyber mission.

An Early Showdown

The Obama Administration is facing an early showdown with Congress over a rather unlikely program--the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter.

Roxana Tiron of The Hill reported late last week that a group of influential senators, led by Democrat Patty Murray of Washington and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, are pressing Mr. Obama to extend production of the fifth-generation fighter. Raptor production is currently scheduled to end in 2011, after delivery of 183 aircraft to the Air Force:

A group of 44 senators — 25 Democrats and 19 Republicans — sent Obama a letter with the request. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), a defense authorizer who represents a state where Lockheed Martin builds the fighter plane, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a defense appropriator whose state is home to Boeing’s operations, headlined the letter. Boeing is a subcontractor for the F-22.

“Continued F-22 production is critical to both the national security and economic interests of our country,” Murray said in a statement. “At a time when we are looking to create jobs and stimulate the economy, eliminating the $12 billion in economic activity and thousands of American jobs tied to F-22 production simply doesn’t make sense.”

Under the 2009 Defense Authorization bill, Mr. Obama must decided by 1 March on continuing F-22 production. The Air Force says it needs at least 250 Raptors to maintain air superiority, but senior Pentagon officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, favor ending F-22 production in favor of the less-expensive, multi-national Joint Strike Fighter or JSF.

Among the Senators who signed the letter are Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts; John Thune of South Dakota and Susan Collins of Maine. The lawmakers note that 70,000 American workers owe their jobs to the F-22 program. That includes employees for Lockheed-Martin and Boeing (the primary contractor and sub-contractor, respectively); Pratt & Whitney (which supplies engines for the Raptor) and almost 1,000 other supplies in 44 states.

Despite the recent show of support, Senators still face an uphill battle in extending F-22 production. Not only is Mr. Gates opposed; the Obama Administation is expected to have its own ideas about defense priorities.

Case in point:
a recently-released Congressional Budget Office study, which recommends deep cuts in defense procurement programs. The plan would save an estimated $440 billion over a 16-year period, between 2010 and 2026.

Among its various proposals, the CBO suggests:
  • Reducing the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10.
  • Cancelling the Army Future Combat System (FCS) program in favor of upgrades to existing tanks and armored vehicles.
  • Eliminating the Air Force's next-generation tanker (KC-X) and spending part of that money on modifying 50-year-old KC-135s and KC-10s that date from the 1980s.
  • Limiting Marine Corps purchases of JSF to the number needed to replace the AV-8B Harrier
  • Cutting the Air Force JSF buy in half.
  • Delay acquisition of the Navy's next-generation cruiser (CG-X) for a decade.

Reading the study's "Evolutionary Approach" to defense spending, it becomes readily apparent that there's barely room for a down-sized JSF program--and no money for continued Raptor production. In fact, there's no mention of the F-22 in the CBO analysis. You don't have to be a policy wonk to understand the implications of that omission.

The CBO study is also significant because that organization's former director, Peter Orszag, will head the Office of Management and Budget under Barack Obama. In announcing Orszag's appointment last November, Mr. Obama pledged to go through the budget "line by line" to eliminate wasteful spending.

We've heard similar promises in the past, but as OMB Director, Mr. Orszag will be in a powerful position to block funding for additional F-22 production. In fact, some defense insiders believe the CBO study will serve as something of a template for future Obama defense budgets.

Obviously, Congress will have a say in the matter, and the Air Force is clearly encouraged by the Senate letter. But at this stage, the Raptor has few friends at the White House, the OMB, or among the Pentagon's most senior civilian officials. A lot can happen between now and March, but extended F-22 production is still a longshot--at best.


ADDENDUM: Readers will note that the CBO study makes no mention of a compelling reason to buy more Raptors--the global proliferation of "double digit" SAMs, like the SA-20s heading to Iran. By all accounts, the F-22 is the only existing jet that can effectively operate in that sort of air defense environment, but the CBO advocates the purchase of more fourth-generation aircraft (like the F/A-18 Super Hornet) that would be highly vulnerable to advanced SAMs.

H/T: The Weekly Standard blog.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

On Alert Along the DMZ

South Korea's military remained on alert for a second day, after North Korea threatened military action in response to Seoul's recent, tougher stance against its communist neighbor.

ROK forces went to a higher state of readiness on Saturday, after a DPRK spokesman described South Korean President Lee Myung-bak a "traitor," and accused him of preparing of preparing a "military provocation." For good measure, the statement was read by a military officer, not a TV news anchor.

Pyongyang said it was adopting "an all-out confrontational posture" and warned of a "strong military retaliatory step." South Korea immediately put its forces on alert.

Seoul's Yonhap news agency reported Sunday that the South has significantly beefed up forces along its heavily armed land border with the North and near their disputed western sea border. But the presidential office and the Defense Ministry denied the report.

Pyongyang is upset because Mr. Lee has ended unconditional aid to the DPRK, a hallmark of recent South Korean governments. President Lee understands that Kim Jong-il's regime has used nuclear negotiations to extract more aid from his country and the United States. While the current ROK government is open to more talks, it is demanding that North Korea comply with existing agreements.

Seoul's tougher policy stands in stark contrast to the outgoing Bush Administration, which has tolerated Pyongyang's stalling and obfuscation on the Six Party nuclear deal. The accord is currently stalled over the verification of North Korea's nuclear activities. Before that, the release of DPRK funds--frozen in a Macau bank--delayed the agreement.

The current round of saber-rattling clearly has two goals: first, Pyongyang is hoping to force the Seoul government into a more flexible position, and secondly, it wants Barack Obama's attention on Inauguration Day.

So far, the Blue House shows no sign of backing down. Defense sources in Seoul suggest that ROK forces along the DMZ have been beefed up. They also report that North Korean units have not made any "unusual moves" that might foreshadow a further escalation, or a limited attack.

The DPRK threat comes at a time of year when North Korea military readiness is nearing its peak. Pyongyang's armed forces carry out their most important drills during the annual Winter Training Cycle (WTC), which runs from early December through the end of March.

North Korea's winter training period follows a building-block approach, beginning with small-unit drills in December, and moving on to division-level exercises in January. Training at the corps level usually begins in February and the cycle concludes with nationwide exercises in March. The winter training cycle is considered the most important for North Korean Army and SOF units. Air Force drills also increase in the winter, although bad weather--and occasional accidents--reduce sortie levels. Training for the DPRK Navy is limited during the WTC, due to conditions in the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan.

How will Mr. Obama react to an obvious challenge from Pyongyang? So far, the President-elect seems wedded to the diplomatic track initiated by his predecessor. During her confirmation hearings last week, Secretary of State designate Hillary Clinton promised that the Obama team will engage friends and foes "more quickly" than the Bush Administration.

It has also been revealed that Christopher Hill, the lead U.S. negotiator with North Korea, will be staying on at State under Mrs. Clinton. Suffice it to say that the Six Party Process will continue, despite the change of administrations.

And that underscores the real trouble with American policies toward the DPRK. Not only is Pyongyang bound to test the new President (believing it has no more to fear than it did under Mr. Bush), the Obama White House is also facing a potential rift with its allies. Both Seoul and Tokyo have grown tired of North Korea's antics, and favor a tougher line toward Kim Jong-il.

As a result, our most important allies in east Asia will put immediate pressure on Mr. Obama to use more sticks than carrots in dealing with Pyongyang. If he refuses go along, the new president may find it tough going on other issues which require assistance from South Korea and Japan.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mr. Obama, Please Call General Alexander on the Gray Phone

It's obvious that President-elect Barack Obama has never heard of communications security (COMSEC).

If he had any familiarity with that term--and what it entails--Mr. Obama might be a bit more flexible on his plan to retain a Blackberry. As AFP reports, Obama wants to hang on his smartphone, despite security and legal concerns:

Interviewed by CNN Friday, Obama said the Blackberry was among the tools that he would use to stay in touch with real Americans and avoid becoming trapped inside the presidential "bubble."

"I think we're going to be able to hang on to one of these. My working assumption, and this is not new, is that anything I write on an email could end up being on CNN," he said.

"So I make sure to think before I press 'send'," he said of his Blackberry, which was an ever-present fixture on his belt or in his hand on the campaign trail.

Obama did not divulge just how he will overcome legal constraints, given the requirement of the post-Watergate Presidential Records Act of 1978 to keep a record of every White House communication.

As an attorney, you'd think Mr. Obama would be wary of any device capable of voice and data communications that could be subject to subpoena or other legal action. Let's assume the next president keeps his Blackberry. When his administration hits its first scandal, Mr. Obama's communications will be the first target of political opponents, or groups like Judicial Watch. Better get those "executive privilege" arguments ready.

But, from our perspective, security concerns pose a far better reason for Barack Obama to temporarily "retire" that Blackberry. He should understand that hostile intelligence services operate "outside" the presidential bubble, and they must be salivating at the prospect of a presidential PDA. Several foreign embassies in Washington, D.C., house SIGINT operations and our major adversaries can collect cell phone traffic around the world.

We'll assume that President Obama will be utilizing a Blackberry with some sort of encryption software. But the security of that phone will only be as good as its encryption system. Virtually any cypher can be broken, given enough time and the right tools. Obviously, the world's major intelligence services have access to those tools, and it's a sure bet that "cracking" the encrypted PDA would be a high priority, to sustain collection on Obama's communications.

While no one has divulged details on the president-elect's Blackberry, the device will clearly have security features beyond those available on the standard phone. But Mr. Obama wants to "make sure that people can still reach me.

"If I'm doing something stupid, somebody in Chicago can send me an email and say, 'What are you doing?'

"I want to be able to have voices, other than the people who are immediately working for me, be able to reach out and send me a message about what's happening in America."

But there is a tradeoff between security and accessibility. Mr. Obama's desire to "reach out" to virtually anyone will place certain constraints on the security of his Blackberry. And as security decreases, the phone becomes an easier target for hostile intelligence collection.

That's one reason that presidents don't send e-mail, or carry cell phones or PDAs. The security risks have been judged as unacceptable, at least until now. True, security technology for mobile devices has improved dramatically in recent years, but no encryption system is perfect, or invulnerable to deciphering. History is filled with examples of secrets that were lost because a nation--and its leaders--believed their cyphers were impenetrable.

Upon entering the Oval Office, a president loses certainly "rights" that many of us take for granted. Among those is the ability to pick up a cell phone, or dash off an e-mail. The potential security and legal ramifications are simply too high.

But Mr. Obama believes those risks can be mitigated. Predictably, the AFP story doesn't address the obvious questions surrounding the president-elect and his Blackberry. First, has the National Security Agency (NSA) been consulted on the matter? And beyond that, did the agency director, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander, try to dissuade the president-elect from maintaining his Blackberry. We can't imagine that General Alexander is exactly thrilled with the prospect of a president "reaching out" on his cell phone.


ADDENDUM: Before he makes that first Blackberry call from the White House, Mr. Obama might consider the example of Bill Clinton. There are reports that his phone conversations with Monica Lewinsky were intercepted (and recorded) by Israel's intelligence service, the Mossad. That claim has never been fully verified, but in one call, Clinton told Ms. Lewinsky that he suspected a foreign embassy was tapping his phone conversations.

We also know that the Clinton team reportedly stopped the search for a high-level Israeli mole (nicknamed Mega), after the Tel Aviv government began blackmailing the president over his affair. And it all began with the Mossad's access to Monica Lewinsky's cell phone.

Then, there's a problem called "electronic spillage," the storing of classified data on laptops and other systems (including PDAs) that aren't cleared for that material. According to Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, the Navy is spending at least $5 million a year to remove classified files from unauthorized systems. There's been no estimate on how much information is being compromised by the spillage problem.

All the more reason for Mr. Obama to give General Alexander a call (on a secure phone) and reconsider the Blackberry plan.