Roll Call: The News Source of Capitol Hill Since 1955
May 6, 2015

Why Do We Scrutinize Drone Strikes More Than Manned Airstrikes?

Walter Pincus looks at the different levels of scrutiny applied to targeted strikes by manned and unmanned aircraft.

“[O]ver a 24-hour period ended last Friday morning, U.S.-led coalition aircraft carried out 11 air strikes in northern Syria using manned and remotely piloted aircraft (drones) against Islamic State terrorists… Those 11 Syrian strikes in one day were more than double the five CIA drone strikes in Pakistan this year. If confirmed, the 52 alleged civilian deaths in Syria from those manned and unmanned air attacks represent a far larger number of civilian casualties than the two non-combatants reported as killed this year in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.”

“Is the underlying concern about drones based on the secrecy that surrounds CIA involvement, or is it the idea that armed drones are unmanned — and that no American is directly in harm’s way as weapons are dropped on a target?”

Military Admits Two Civilian Deaths in ISIS Airstrikes

“An internal military investigation has concluded that two civilians were killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike against the self-proclaimed Islamic State…marking the first time the U.S. military has acknowledged killing a civilian since the air campaign began nine months ago,” The Daily Beast reports.

“Previously, the U.S. military had said it had no evidence that a civilian had ever been killed in the air campaign against ISIS, a claim that even military officials privately acknowledged was hard to believe, given the high odds of unintended mistakes. Indeed, with no U.S. soldiers on the ground to assess the damage inflicted by airstrikes, the coalition’s air campaign is built on U.S. intelligence collected from drones, satellites, and reconnaissance aircraft, as well as information from local troops.”

“U.S. officials have said they take great care to avoid civilian casualties, and there have even been charged by some local forces on the ground of the U.S. military being overly cautious. But the steady stream of accusations, coupled with the U.S. military’s inability to say with certainly that such claims are false, has only reaffirmed fears that an untold number of civilians have been killed in the fight against ISIS.”

Gulf States Set Price for Support of Iran Deal

“Leading Persian Gulf states want major new weapons systems and security guarantees from the White House in exchange for backing a nuclear agreement with Iran,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

“The leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, plan to use a high-stakes meeting with President Barack Obama next week to request additional fighter jets, missile batteries and surveillance equipment.”

“The challenge Mr. Obama faces at Camp David is to assuage growing fears among those Sunni countries that want military superiority over Shiite-dominated Iran, while not undermining longtime U.S. security guarantees to Israel. Current law mandates that the U.S. uphold Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.”

B-1 Bomber Fleet Celebrates 30 Years

The U.S. Air Force’s B-1 bomber fleet marks its 30th anniversary with a celebration this weekend at Dyess AFB, Abilene, Texas. First rolled out in June 1985, the Boeing B-1 is a supersonic bomber that has long been the backbone of America’s bomber fleet because of its versatility in today’s battlespace. The B-1, with wings based at Ellsworth and Dyess AFB, performs missions in Syria and Iraq as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. Boeing also maintains the nation’s fleet of B-52 bombers.

The U.S. Air Force B-1 fleet has transitioned from being a strategic nuclear-deterrent to its current role as a conventional bomber, a change the USAF completed in 1990s. Between 2006 and 2008, as bombers increasingly performed close air support for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Boeing integrated the sniper targeting pod to the B-1, resulting in increased effectiveness and safety.

The nation’s 62 B-1 bombers will continue to have a major role in the defense of our nation for decades to come, as it continues to be modernized. Boeing’s latest upgrades include an “integrated battle station” that features fully digital cockpit displays. This upgrade also provides greater situational awareness, agility, and improved targeting capabilities.

Check out this video about maintaining the B-1 fleet for 30 years:

Pentagon Contracting Out Portions of Cyber Command

“The emerging Pentagon division that coordinates military cybersecurity and cyberattacks is asking private contractors to help finish standing up the Cyber Command,” reports Aliya Sternstein.

“Among the tasks to be assigned under a request for proposals issued Thursday are support for eavesdropping to detect threats and assistance with repelling hacks equivalent to an armed attack against the nation. The potentially five-year contract is capped at $475 million and covers nearly 20 task areas.”

“The Cyber National Mission Force comprises three types of teams, focused on defending military networks, aiding troops worldwide with offensive maneuvers and deflecting hacks against U.S. organizations.”

Official: CIA Exacerbated Arab Spring Missteps

The Washington Post previews a new book by former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, The Great War of Our Time, which finds that “U.S. intelligence agencies ­badly misjudged al-Qaeda’s ­ability to take advantage of political turmoil in the Middle East and regain strength across the region after Osama bin Laden was killed.”

“Senior U.S. intelligence officials have previously acknowledged failures to anticipate the Arab Spring movement, which toppled governments in the Middle East and North Africa. But the former official, Michael ­Morell, wrote that the CIA compounded those errors with optimistic assessments that the ­upheaval would prove devastating to al-Qaeda.”

“U.S. intelligence agencies failed to anticipate the Arab Spring in part because the CIA and other U.S. spy services had over time become deeply dependent on their counterparts in Middle Eastern governments for insights.”

US Escorts Ships Through Strait of Hormuz

U.S. naval forces have begun accompanying U.S.-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, a senior U.S. defense official said Thursday. The announcement comes two days after Iranian forces seized a cargo ship sailing under the flag of the Marshall Islands and forced it to anchor off the Iranian coast,” Defense One reports.

“On April 28, patrol boats belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, or IRGCN, fired a shot across the bow of the container ship Maersk Tigris, directed it toward an Iranian port, and have prevented it from leaving. Iranian officials say they are acting legally to resolve a 10-year-old dispute with the Maersk shipping company over 10 shipping containers. Maersk officials have said they are working to resolve the situation and free their ship and crew.”

“The current episode is part of a long history of confrontations between U.S. and Iranian naval forces. In 1987-88, the Gulf was the scene of Operation Earnest Will, the most intensive escort operation since World War II. The operation involved dozens of U.S. warships shepherding convoys of reflagged Kuwaiti tankers through the strait during the Iraq-Iraq War.”

New Test Stations Ensure Faster Aircraft Avionics Components Testing

Boeing and its U.S. Navy customers recently celebrated a newly upgraded piece of ground-support equipment that will enable faster and more efficient testing of aircraft avionics components. The Navy unveiled an upgraded version of the Reconfigurable Transportable Consolidated Automated Support System (RTCASS) automated test station recently at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego. This new configuration is known as RTCASS-D — the D stands for “depot” — is designed to aid military maintainers in diagnosing problems with combat aircraft while also consolidating depot-level testing into a single test station.

For the Navy’s fleet-readiness centers, the RTCASS-D will enable maintainers to test and troubleshoot electronic systems on platforms like the F/A-18 Hornet, V-22 Osprey, AV-8B Harrier, EA-6B Prowler aircraft and the rest of the Navy and Marines Corps aviation platforms in a more efficient and cost-saving manner, program officials said. Boeing is under contract to produce 10 RTCASS-D stations, nine of which are scheduled to be deployed at fleet-readiness centers this year.

Is This the Future of the American Military?

Newsweek: “To be sure, the United States won the Cold War without battling Soviet troops. But since its humiliating defeat in Vietnam, America has engaged in a string of significant military conflicts and emerged the clear winner in only two—ousting Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991 and bombing Serbia to the negotiating table in 1995. More recently, even quick, dramatic triumphs in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned into grinding guerrilla wars, the seeds of which sprouted into the Islamic State, or ISIS.”

“So on the 40th anniversary of Saigon’s collapse, it seems timely to ask: Can America win a war? And what does winning look like in this seemingly endless era of murky counterinsurgencies, rogue nuclear states, Russian intrigues and Chinese encroachments?… In this forever war, the best the United States can hope for is the effective management of threats.”

ISIS Force Authorization Increasingly Unlikely

“As lawmakers continue to spar with President Obama over his use of executive power on an Iran nuclear deal and a slew of domestic matters, most appear willing to let him have his way on at least one issue — the war against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and potentially beyond,” writes The Washington Post.

“It has been nearly three months since Obama, responding to congressional demands and his own pledge to seek legislative blessing, sent proposed war authorization language to Capitol Hill. Now, the subject appears to be dying a quiet death.”

“Unlike virtually every other issue before lawmakers, it is the Democrats who have argued for narrowing Obama’s latitude. They worry that vague language in his proposal, including about the possibility of ground troops, would deprive Congress of its ability to check executive action and allow Obama or his successor unlimited expansion of global military actions. Republicans have said the language is too restrictive and would limit U.S. ability to respond effectively to a global threat.”

Navy Needs to Rethink New Persian Gulf Fleet

David Axe argues that the Navy’s plan to replace the Cyclone-class patrol boats in the Persian Gulf with the new multi-mission Littoral Combat Ship is a mistake.

“Each multi-mission Littoral Combat Ship was supposed to cost a little over $200 million, but the actual price today is more than twice that. The ship is meant to be equally adept at hunting for sea mines and fighting submarines and surface ships, but it’s too lightly armed for any one of those tasks. It is also more than twice as long as a Cyclone and 10 times heavier, yet comes equipped with only slightly more weaponry.”

“It just so happens that Bollinger Shipyards, the same Louisiana shipyard that built the Cyclones, is building Sentinel-class boats for the Coast Guard that are roughly the same size as the Navy vessels, far more modern and reasonably priced at just $70 million a boat. If the Navy bought 10 fewer Littoral ships and acquired 10 new patrol boats for $70 million apiece instead, it would represent a net savings of more than $3 billion in ship construction costs while also boosting national security.”

Surveying the former USS Independence on the Ocean Floor

Echo Ranger undergoes pier side testing at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, Calif.  (Boeing Photo)

Echo Ranger undergoes pier side testing at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, Calif. (Boeing Photo)

Autonomous underwater vehicles are expanding the realm of the possible in oceanic exploration and knowledge. Diving to depths untouched, they use sonar and other technologies to explore crevices, map the ocean floor and make new discoveries in seeing what lies beneath the surface.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently partnered with Boeing and Coda Octopus to re-discover and survey the former USS Independence, a World War II aircraft carrier that was scuttled by the U.S. Navy in 1951 and has been resting peacefully on the ocean floor just 30 miles off the coast of Half-Moon Bay, California, ever since.

Echo Ranger, Boeing’s bright yellow autonomous submersible, dove 2,600 feet deep to capture new sonar imaging of the ship to date, using Coda Octopus’ 3D Sonar imaging technology. NOAA now has better sonar imaging of this ship than ever before and will use this information to study the ship and the surrounding environment to learn more about how the ship has fared over the last 64 years.

As this technology continues to advance, the possible achievements in the world of marine and ocean science will continue to amaze.

Watch this video of Echo Ranger’s sonar mapping mission of the USS Independence to see it in action:

Poison Pill Amendments Threaten Prospects of Iran Bill

“Sens. Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio used a hardball procedural tactic on Thursday to force contentious votes on a bill allowing congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran, a move that jeopardizes the measure’s future,” according to Politico.

“After being blocked by Democrats for several days, Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rubio (R-Fla.) used a parliamentary procedure to try to compel votes on amendments that would make Iran relinquish its nuclear facilities before getting economic sanctions relief and require that Iran recognize Israel’s statehood as a condition of any nuclear deal.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “and his deputies have taken a hands-off approach and delegated much of the floor management to Corker and Cardin, but a number of GOP lawmakers, including presidential contenders like Rubio, have battled for votes on provisions that could unravel the coalition backing the bill if they were adopted.”

“On Wednesday evening, the Senate killed a proposal from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) that would require that President Barack Obama certify that Iran is not sponsoring terrorism against Americans.”

As US-Japan Ties Strengthen, Obama Says China Shouldn’t Worry

“President Obama said Tuesday that China has “benefited” from the U.S. presence in Asia and rejected the notion that new defense guidelines between the United States and Japan should be viewed as a provocation in Beijing,” according to The Washington Post.

“Obama’s remarks came a day after the United States and Japan announced a revised defense agreement that would allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to take a more active role in regional security. The changes, which are relatively modest, allow Japan to act when U.S. forces are threatened by a third country.”

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