Roll Call: The News Source of Capitol Hill Since 1955
September 4, 2015

U.S. Helps Saudi Arabia Beef Up Military Capabilities

“Saudi Arabia is in advanced discussions with the U.S. government about buying two frigates based on a coastal warship that Lockheed Martin Corp is building for the U.S. Navy, and could reach agreement by the end of the year,” Reuters reports.

“The frigate sale, valued at well over $1 billion, will be the cornerstone of a long-delayed multi billion dollar modernization of the Royal Saudi Navy’s Gulf-patroling eastern fleet of aging U.S. warships and would include smaller patrol boats. It underscores the strong business and military ties between the two countries, despite tensions over the U.S.-led Iran nuclear deal.”

“The Saudi Naval Expansion Program II has been under discussion for years, but U.S. sources say Saudi Arabia’s concerns about Iran have accelerated the effort… Saudi and U.S. officials are also finalizing details of a deal worth $1.9 billion to buy 10 MH-60R helicopters, which can be used for anti-submarine warfare and other missions.”

Has Selling the Iran Deal Produced Bad Policy?

Roula Khalaf: “In the administration’s quest to prove it has no intention of appeasing the Islamic Republic despite the compromise on Tehran’s nuclear programme, it has fallen into the trap of appeasing Iran’s rivals. The consequences will be difficult to untangle.”

“The US sent the wrong message by resuming military aid to Egypt this year, having suspended it in 2013 when an elected Islamist president was overthrown in a popularly-backed military coup. The only leverage Washington had over Mr Sisi was squandered. In Bahrain too, the US lifted restrictions on arms sales in June, claiming Manama had made significant progress on human rights.”

“But it is in Yemen that the US mollification of Arab allies could have the most destructive impact. At a time when the US priority is — and that of all its allies should be — the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group known as Isis, Washington has supported a Saudi-led military campaign that has spread more chaos… But appearing to oppose the Gulf campaign while trying to sell the Iran deal in Washington and in the Middle East would have left the Obama administration open to charges that it was going soft on Iran, and letting down its Arab allies. Grudgingly, it has gone along with it, even if the war has undermined its anti-jihadi fight.”


Obama Has Enough Votes to Declare Victory on Iran Deal

“President Barack Obama has secured the support of 34 Senate Democrats for the nuclear deal with Iran, ensuring sufficient backing to sustain his veto of any legislation aimed at derailing the agreement,” NBC News reports.

“Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland on Wednesday became the 34th Senate lawmaker to announce that she’s supporting the deal… Momentum has been building in the White House’s favor all month. Just two Senate Democrats — Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey — have announced opposition to the measure, while all other Democrats have said that — despite some concerns with the agreement — it presents the best available option to prevent a nuclear threat from Iran.”

“The next question will be whether or not Democrats muster sufficient support to block consideration of the measure entirely. If 41 senators back the Iran deal, Democrats will be able to filibuster legislation opposing it and block the disapproval measure from coming to the Senate floor.”

Modernizing the supersonic B-1 bomber from wings to wiring

One of the most distinctive sounds in aviation today is the “aerial roar” of the B-1B Lancer Bomber as pilots stroke the afterburners. From the nation’s heartland to strategic operating areas overseas, the sound of the B-1 echoes across the skies.

Though it celebrated 30 years of service this year, the “Bone” is as relevant as ever, thanks in no small part to continuing upgrade work. Boeing employees are developing important upgrades that keep the bomber on the cutting edge of performance. From wings to wiring, the aircraft is undergoing a thorough modernization.

Read more about it in the latest issue of Frontiers magazine.

Check out this video as the B-1B Lancer celebrates 30 years of service:

U.S. Begins Drone Strikes in Syria

“The CIA and U.S. Special Operations forces have launched a secret campaign to hunt terrorism suspects in Syria as part of a targeted killing program that is run separately from the broader U.S. military offensive against the Islamic State,” according to The Washington Post.

“The CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) are flying drones over Syria in a collaboration responsible for several recent strikes against senior Islamic State operatives, the officials said. Among those killed was a British militant thought to be an architect of the terrorist group’s effort to use social media to incite attacks in the United States.”

“The clandestine program represents a significant escalation of the CIA’s involvement in the war in Syria, enlisting the agency’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) against a militant group that many officials believe has eclipsed al-Qaeda as a threat.”

How to Read the Latest Court Ruling on NSA Surveillance

Benjamin Wittes explains exactly what the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals did—and did not—decide in its recent ruling on the National Security Agency’s bulk telephone metadata collection program.

“The D.C. Circuit panel—composed of Judge Janice Rogers Brown and Senior Judges David Sentellle and Stephen Williams—agreed that the case was not moot. They also all agreed that the lower court decision by Judge Richard Leon—which had gotten a lot of acclaim when it came out but which everyone with a D.C. Circuit pulse knew was DOA—was, in fact, DOA. Two of them, Judges Brown and Williams, agreed that the case should be remanded to the district court for further proceedings, though they did not entirely agree on why. Judge Sentelle, meanwhile, argued that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs lack standing.”

“First, it does not speak well of the Supreme Court’s institutional performance in Clapper that this question is still sufficiently open that these three judges could disagree over this point. I don’t have strong views of what the answer to this standing question should be, but I do have strong views that the lower courts should have sufficient guidance that three judges can’t reasonably split—with one arguing there is standing, another arguing there isn’t standing, and a third arguing there isn’t standing yet but the plaintiffs should get another try.”

“Second, the standing picture gets only weirder when you factor in the Second Circuit’s approach to the question, which differed from that of all three D.C. Circuit judges.”

Why U.S.-Trained Foreign Fighters Keep Failing

“The collapse of the American trainee force in Syria should not come as a surprise to anyone who watched a few hundred ISIS fighters rout 30,000 Iraqi troops, who dropped their weapons and ran (or raced away in cars) abandoning the city of Mosul,” writes Amitai Etzioni.

“This is after the Iraqi army was trained by the US for 12 years — and recently beefed up by thousands more American trainers and advisors and, of course, support from the US Air Force and boatloads of cash… The armies the US trains are corrupted to the core, as are the nations they are supposed to fight for. (Afghanistan is ranked the fourth most corrupt country in the whole world; Iraq the sixth.) Officers buy and sell their commissions, take a cut of the salaries of those under their command, and do not think about going near the front. Weapons and ammunition meant for the Iraqi Army ends up on the black market and in the hands of ISIS.”

“No wonder that despite the US providing ‘100 million rounds of ammunition, 62,000 small arms, more than 1,000 Hellfire missiles,’ and 300 mine-resistant patrol vehicles by April 2015, the Iraqi forces defending the city of Ramadi ran out of ammunition before surrendering.”

Boeing Offers Holistic Solution to Help Address U.S. Navy Super Hornet Shortfall


ARABIAN GULF (Aug. 21, 2015) An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Knighthawks of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 136 launches from the flight deck during flight operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Theodore Roosevelt is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, strike operations in Iraq and Syria as directed, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anna Van Nuys/Released)

At a recent discussion on Navy and Marine Corps aviation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, Naval Air Force commander, highlighted a Super Hornet Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) as part of the solution for the Navy’s shortfall of F/A-18 E/Fs in the mid-2020s.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good plan right now to move forward and avoid a significant impact to our strike fighter inventory as those airplanes come out of service to get repaired and get back into service,” Shoemaker says of upgrading F/A-18s. “It’s not an inconsequential challenge we have ahead of us.”

Boeing is having ongoing dialogue with U.S. Navy officials to offer a holistic solution to help solve their inventory management issues. As described in an article from National Defense, the company is working to help accelerate the SLEP program to help provide continual maintenance and extend the life of the Super Hornet fleet. The Navy plans to extend the Super Hornet’s life from its 6,000 hour design limit to 9,000 hours but still faces significant strike fighter inventory issues even with this life extension.

This spring, the Chief of Naval Operations testified before Congress that the Navy was facing a Super Hornet shortfall of two to three squadrons, or 24 – 36 aircraft. The Navy requested 12 Super Hornets as a top unfunded priority this year.

With the unmatched capability of the carrier strike group and its embarked air wing, funding the 12 aircraft in fiscal year 2016 is critical to not only address the Navy’s near-term needs, but also to keep the door open so Boeing can provide an integrated solution to be sure the Navy has enough Super Hornets – the workhorse of our Nation’s carrier fleet – not only now but through 2040.

Intelligence Court OKs Final Metadata Order Before Reforms Kick In

“The secretive federal court overseeing U.S. spying operations granted the final order on Friday allowing the National Security Agency to collect millions of Americans’ phone records,” writes The Hill. “When the existing order runs out on Nov. 29, legislation passed by Congress earlier this summer will go into effect, killing the NSA’s controversial phone records program.”

“On Nov. 29, the NSA will be forced to halt the collection of Americans’ records and shift to a new system in which the spy agency obtains a court order before searching private phone companies’ records for a narrower set of suspects’ records. That new plan is the result of a reform bill that passed through Congress earlier in the summer with the support of the White House.”

“Friday’s court order came hours after a top appeals court dismissed a preliminary injunction against the NSA’s controversial spying. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declined to rule on the merits of the data collection, but nonetheless tossed out a lower court ruling finding the program likely unconstitutional. The lawyers and activists who brought the case lacked sufficient standing to sue and receive the injunction, the court said.”

White House Nears Decision On Response To Chinese Cybertheft

The Washington Post reports that the “Obama administration is developing a package of unprecedented economic sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals who have benefited from their government’s cybertheft of valuable U.S. trade secrets.”

“The U.S. government has not yet decided whether to issue these sanctions, but a final call is expected soon — perhaps even within the next two weeks… Issuing sanctions would represent a significant expansion in the administration’s public response to the rising wave of ­cyber-economic espionage initiated by Chinese hackers.”

“The sanctions would mark the first use of an order signed by President Obama in April establishing the authority to freeze financial and property assets of, and bar commercial transactions with, individuals and entities overseas who engage in destructive attacks or commercial espionage in cyberspace… The executive order authorizes the Treasury secretary, in consultation with the attorney general and secretary of state, to impose the sanctions on companies, individuals or entities that have harmed national security, or the nation’s economy or foreign policy. It’s not clear how many firms or individuals will be targeted.”

Pentagon Acquisition Chief Walks Back Proposal on Internal Research

“The Pentagon’s chief arms buyer announced on Thursday he was revising his plan to increase oversight of weapons makers’ internal research and development projects that could be billed as overhead,” according to Reuters.

“Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said he no longer planned to require companies to seek a ‘technical sponsor’ before beginning an internal research program but would instead propose they be required to brief an appropriate defense official before and after such work.”

“Ellen Lord, president of Textron Systems, a unit of Textron Inc and other key industry executives had challenged the proposed rule, arguing that micromanaging internal company investments would be counter-productive.”

Harnessing the Power of Renewable Energy

image001-9Energy storage is a critical component to supply local energy generation for both grid and off-grid connected facilities and communities, enabling localized grid independent energy secure power in cases of emergencies or unreliable traditional grid use. Given the energy security requirements and cost of importing fuel to islanded grids, such as Diego Garcia, Hawaii, and Guam the US Navy is aggressively exploring onsite power generation with alternative and renewable energy technologies.

Energy storage is crucial to balancing the inherent variability of renewable energy generation such as solar photovoltaic, reducing fuel consumption, and providing critical power in the event of power outages. Solar photovoltaic, wind and other renewables are widely being adapted by the Navy for utility and micro-grid energy production.

As with utility grid operators, the US Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Engineering & Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC EXWC)  is being faced with the challenges of intermittent and variability in energy production from such renewables.  As a result, utility operators must reduce their primary load generation to offset the incoming renewable energy.  In cases in which renewable generation is high, and consumption is low, the primary power generators must be reduced to their minimum operating load and excess renewable energy must be curtailed if energy storage is not available.

To meet the Navy’s goals toward net zero emissions, NAVFAC EXWC has been looking towards novel energy storage technologies and power systems to supply clean renewable energy to their facility operations.  There has been particular interest in reversible solid oxide fuel cells (RSOFCs) in the energy sector for energy storage, grid stabilization and improvement to power plant system efficiency due to favorable thermodynamic efficiencies of high temperature steam electrolysis.

In these systems, excess grid energy or curtailed power generated by renewables is sent to the system operating in electrolysis mode to produce H2. The H2 is stored and then used in the system’s fuel cell mode to provide supplemental power to the grid during peak hours or as needed. Boeing has been active in the development of both PEM and SOFC system development and is working with NAVFAC EXWC to develop a novel fully integrated, grid tied RSOFC system for remote islands, military forward operating base microgrids and commercial utility energy storage.

The RSOFC system is the largest fully integrated grid tied reversible solid oxide fuel cell system to be demonstrated, scalable from 50 kW to several MW (enough to fuel 40 average size homes for 12-24 hours) and can be utilized in nearly any location to help ensure energy secure and steady power supply while at the same time utilizing renewable energy sources. Its modular design helps support rapid deployment of energy solutions for the Navy and commercial utilities.

The system is currently under operational testing and will be fully deployed in 2016.

The fuel cell stack passed all tests conducted onsite at the manufacturer’s (Sunfire) factory in Dresden, Germany in July.  The stack will be integrated with the system in Huntington Beach in September 2015.  Of note the RSOFC only requires two resources to operate in a perfect hydrogen economy 24/7 with degradation less than 1%/1,000 hours of operation:  water and electricity (from the sun via solar photovoltaics).

Obama Administration Could Propose “Guantanamo North”

“The Obama administration is considering the option of building a ‘Guantánamo North’ from scratch as it writes a proposal to Congress on how to close the controversial prison camps in southeast Cuba by moving some captives to lockups in the United States,” the Miami Herald reports.

“The draft plan is being written for Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s signature, according to those who have seen it, and includes legislative fixes that would allow construction or renovations of facilities in the U.S., transfers of detainees and might include housing for guards. Such a move would likely require fast-track appropriations for military construction.”

“A Pentagon contractor would likely get the job to build the so-called Guantánamo North. But a community could get economic benefits — more military families, more housing construction, goods and services… If approved by Congress, it’s unclear how swiftly such a prison could be built.”

Laws Pose Obstacle to Hacktivist Efforts Against ISIL

“Hacker-activists across the world have launched an online war against the so-called Islamic State, targeting the web-savvy jihadists’ vast Internet network of supporters and suspected sleeper cells,” writes The Christian Science Monitor, “But bureaucracy at a wary FBI and stringent US laws against hacking are slowing these efforts to take down the IS web forums and social media accounts.”

“Various groups of anonymous citizen hackers are taking on the jihadists, including Ghost Security, an alliance of 12 like-minded hackers with military and intelligence backgrounds. Known as GhostSec, the group seeks to monitor and flag various web forums and social media accounts allegedly used by the group to communicate to its followers.”

“The FBI remains wary of anonymous hacker groups and skeptical of their tip-offs, forcing groups such as GhostSec to go through third-party intelligence firms to provide federal officials with information gathered from IS sites… Moreover, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) criminalizes the distribution of malicious code or the unauthorized altering of US-hosted computers and servers. With many of GhostSec’s members operating from within the US or fearing US prosecution, the hacktivists instead alert concerned US authorities and web administrators to take down IS-linked web forums and social media accounts themselves. Going through the proper legal channels at times takes weeks.”

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...