Roll Call: The News Source of Capitol Hill Since 1955
January 29, 2015

GOP Senators Seek to Put Focus Back on VA Scandal

A group of Republican senators hopes to return attention to accountability issues at the Veterans’ Affairs Department that have disappeared from the headlines, Roll Call reports.

“The television cameras may have turned their focus elsewhere, but we will not,” Kansas GOP Sen. Jerry Moran said in a statement Thursday announcing he’s spearheading the Senate companion to a bill designed to give more power to the VA secretary to discipline senior executives engaged in improper practices.

“Despite the passage of the Choice Act last year, the VA is still not doing enough to hold those responsible accountable for their corrupt behavior when treating our nation’s veterans,” Moran said, calling for dismantling of a “system that rewards mediocrity and failure.”

He’s joined on the effort by Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Marco Rubio of Florida, according to an advance release obtained by CQ Roll Call. McCain has consistently said that more needs to be done in the aftermath of the scandal that originated out of the VA hospital in Phoenix.

Congress: Panel Urges Changes to Military Health, Pension Benefits

Stars and Stripes reports that “a panel created by Congress recommended on Thursday sweeping changes to pensions, health care and other troop benefits following its two-year review of the military’s compensation and retirement systems.”

“The White House and Capitol Hill lawmakers should consider creating a mixed retirement system that would allow the bulk of troops to separate with some pension before the 20-year mark, according to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission.”

“Tricare insurance should be replaced with an array of insurance options similar to the system already offered to civilian employees, the commission said.”

Could Biometrics Replace Passwords for U.S. Military?

ZDNet reports that “the US military is investing millions of dollars in a biometric identification system which could replace the traditional password for web users.”

“As reported by Sky News, the US military has signed a multimillion-dollar deal for researchers at West Point, the home of the agency’s military academy. The team is working on what are called “cognitive fingerprints,” which do not use physical characteristics to identify someone, but behavioral traits.”

“West Point hopes to develop cognitive fingerprint algorithms which learn and recognize patterns of behavior based on how someone uses a mobile device. Whether this relates to how someone swipes their smartphone screen or moves a cursor, patterns are identified and applied to a user in order to verify who they are.”

Ready, Set, Seek: US Navy Approves F/A-18 Super Hornet Infrared Search and Track System

The F/A-18 Super Hornet infrared search and track (IRST) system, developed and integrated by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, received approval from the U.S. Navy to enter low-rate initial production.

An F/A-18 Super Hornet prepares for landing during flight testing. Lockheed Martin photo

An F/A-18 Super Hornet prepares for landing during flight testing.
Lockheed Martin photo

The IRST system consists of Lockheed Martin’s IRST21™ sensor, the GE Aviation FPU-13 Fuel Tank Assembly and the Meggitt Defense Industry Environmental Control unit. The system demonstrated its production readiness through a series of extensive assessments and reviews, including flight tests.

The long –range sensor IRST21 sensor uses infrared search and track technology to detect, track and enable the Super Hornet to engage threats with air-to-air weapons.

“This ‘see first, strike first’ capability can be used in a variety of threat environments and is a game changer for our warfighters as we combat future adversaries,” said U.S. Navy F/A-18 program manager Capt. Frank Morley.

In addition to detecting airborne threats, IRST significantly enhances multiple target resolution compared to radar, providing greater discrimination of threat formations at longer ranges. Data from the IRST21 sensor is fused with other on-board F/A-18 sensor data to provide maximum situational awareness to the warfighter.

IRST is expected to deploy on the F/A-18 Super Hornet in 2017.

US Military Classifies Afghan Troop Information

ABC News reports that “citing security concerns, the U.S. military in Afghanistan has now deemed as classified specific statistics about Afghanistan’s security forces that for years it routinely provided for public release to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).”

“The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan says providing that kind of information could help the Taliban in planning attacks and creates security risks for the 10,600 U.S. troops serving as trainers in Afghanistan.”

“For six years, the SIGAR has produced regular reports that track the progress of the $65 billion the United States has spent to build Afghanistan’s infrastructure, development and security forces. Those reports have included information about the Afghan security forces such as troop numbers, attrition rates, salaries, training and equipment.”

Boeing 747-8 to Serve as Next Air Force One

Talking Points Memo reports that “the Boeing 747-8 will serve as the next Air Force One, the aircraft used by the president, the US Air Force announced on Wednesday.”

“‘The presidential aircraft is one of the most visible symbols of the United States of America and the office of the president of the United States,’ Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement. ‘The Boeing 747-8 is the only aircraft manufactured in the United States (that), when fully missionized, meets the necessary capabilities established to execute the presidential support mission, while reflecting the office of the president of the United States of America consistent with the national public interest.'”

Defense News adds that “the president is flown in a heavily modified Boeing 747-200B. When he is on board the plane, it is known as Air Force One.”

The USAF release is here.

U.S. Defense Budget: Top Issues to Watch

Defense News offers “25 Issues To Watch In the Coming DoD Budget.”

The story notes that “on Feb. 2, the Pentagon will submit its fiscal 2016 budget request to Congress. Defense News reporters teamed up with budget analytics firm VisualDoD to highlight the most important issues to watch.” Issues include:

  • Cyber, IT spending
  • Tactical aviation changes
  • Missile defense
  • Navy shipbuilding and aircraft plans

Mighty B-52 Bomber Now with GPS-Guided Weapons in Bay

Across from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City sits a wealth of engineering expertise on the B-52 Stratofortress – the Air Force bomber that has been a symbol of American might for more than five decades. The close proximity to Tinker has helped Boeing’s engineers partner with the Air Force in the latest upgrade to the B-52 bomber.

Engineers have developed and built three prototypes for a new weapons launcher to be equipped in the weapons bay of the B-52, and close cooperation with the U.S. Air Force allowed all three prototypes to be delivered ahead-of-schedule.

In December, the U.S. Air Force and Boeing successfully installed the first prototype of the new launcher to transform the B-52 weapons bay enabling deployment of GPS-guided “smart” weapons for the first time. The new launcher also increases weapons capacity, providing crew members with greater flexibility to adapt to changing conditions on the ground.

Military crews will continue field testing the new launcher prototypes at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. until March, when flight tests commence.

Check out this video on the latest technology to upgrade the weapons bay and expand B-52 capabilities:

Report: Obama to Request Military Budget Hike

Stars and Stripes reports that “President Barack Obama will ask Congress for a hefty, almost 8 percent boost for the Pentagon, including $5.3 billion to equip and train Iraqi soldiers and moderate Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State militants in the Middle East.”

“Obama will ask for $534 billion for the core budget of the Defense Department — a $38 billion increase — according to “pre-decisional” Pentagon documents obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday. That means there could be some slight changes when the budget actually comes out Monday.”

“The Pentagon witnessed major budget cuts with the imposition of so-called budget sequestration in 2013 and has been held at a freeze since then. Military brass say the bleaker budgets have forced cuts in flying hours, troop training and maintenance of military equipment. The agency was due for just a $3 billion increase under caps set in a 2011 budget pact.”

European Military Cuts Raise Concerns with Russian Threats

NPR reports that “as Russia’s military becomes more aggressive, European leaders fear they do not have the military power to deal with this new threat.”

The piece continues: “After the Cold War, Sweden and the rest of the continent believed they had entered an era of European peace and unity. Lately, Russia has proven them wrong — and not only by seizing part of Ukraine.”

China Weapons That Could Affect U.S. Military Advancement

Business Insider reports that “China is in the midst of a major military buildup that includes fifth-generation planes, prototypes for hypersonic missiles, and ballistic missile submarines.”

“But the real threat to the US from China comes from its anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), Lyle J. Goldstein writes for the National Interest.”

SHARCs on the Prowl in Pacific Ocean

It might look like you could ride the waves with Liquid Robotics’ SHARC, but don’t try to hang ten off this board – it moves at only three knots. Instead, the device, produced by Boeing partner Liquid Robotics at their Sunnyvale, Calif. facility, is an ocean-based unmanned vehicle used for observation, data collection and monitoring.

The SHARC connects intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities provided by Boeing assets ranging from satellites, manned aircraft, UAVs like the ScanEagle and sub-surface crafts, providing broad-area, continuous maritime surveillance.  In 2014, Boeing and Liquid Robotics signed a multi-year agreement to enhance the unmanned marine vessel’s capabilities. Ultimately, the collaboration will develop total integrated solutions for anti-submarine warfare and other maritime defense applications, offering the customer communications and sensing from seabed to space.

The SHARC is the militarized version of Liquid Robotics’ Wave Glider system that uses both wave power and solar energy to propel the craft through challenging ocean conditions. This makes it ideally suited to operate in high currents, hurricanes and other weather conditions in which using a manned vehicle would be unsafe or otherwise not possible.

This video shows how SHARCs maneuver through ocean waters to provide this “seabed to space” information connection.

Snow Slows House Border Security Bill

Defense News reports that “as a winter storm grips the east coast and snarls air travel, House leaders are delaying votes on a border security bill calling for increased aircraft patrols.”

“With more than a foot of snow expected in some parts of the northeast, House GOP leaders on Monday afternoon issued a revised schedule for the week. It does not mention H.R. 399, a border-security bill approved last week by the chamber’s Committee on Homeland Security.”

“A schedule released Monday morning, however, listed the measure as hitting the floor Wednesday.”

Dominican Republic, U.S. Military Increase Cooperation

Dominican Today reports that “Dominican Republic and the United States … agreed to expand military cooperation, with American personnel temporarily present for training, joint exercises, humanitarian aid and other operations including the war on transnational crimes.”

“Foreign minister Andrés Navarro and US ambassador James W. Brewster signed the agreement in a ceremony attended by Defense minister Lt. Gen. William Muñoz and US Southern Command chief, Gen. John Kelly.”

“Navarro said the agreement provides facilities on visits, training, exercises and other activities to US staff and contractors temporarily in the Dominican Republic, as well as the means to achieve common objectives and interests.”

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