Roll Call: The News Source of Capitol Hill Since 1955
August 1, 2014

U.S. Military Considers Robotic Cargo Movers

National Defense Magazine reports that “the K-MAX unmanned helicopter was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 to haul cargo in and out of warzones. It allowed U.S. forces to cut ground convoys that were vulnerable to roadside bombs. Although initially scheduled only for a six-month deployment, the aircraft is still supporting operations in theater three years later, having flown more than 1,900 missions in which it carried 5.5 million pounds of cargo.”

“The success of the K-MAX is indisputable, military officials have said. However, it still relies on operators to remotely control the aircraft. A fully autonomous aircraft or vehicle able to carry supplies and equipment in and out of challenging, dynamic environments remains a technology of the future.”

“To move closer to that goal, industry has bankrolled internal research and jumped aboard various technology development initiatives led by the services.”

About Topic A

Policy Analysis, Commentary & Discussion

Topic A is a digital meeting place for industry and policy experts to exchange ideas and viewpoints on the most pressing questions facing the national security community.

Some of the content is from Roll Call and some is original to this blog. It includes Sponsor Content clearly marked.

The blog is curated by an independent team of editors hired by Roll Call.

Read more about Topic A

Helping Aircrews Stay Cool

Armed with Science, a U.S. Defense Department science blog, reports that “helicopter pilots have for years kept cool by plugging into aircraft-mounted microclimate cooling systems, but their crews have used them less frequently to avoid becoming entangled in the tethers that connected them to the systems.”

“That’s why researchers at the Natick Soldier Systems Center have been testing the Light-Weight Environmental Control System, or LWECS, a body-worn microclimate cooling system that allows crew members to move around inside the aircraft without tripping on tethers, and to exit the aircraft while still being cooled.”

“’Basically, it’s a small refrigeration device,’ said Brad Laprise, a mechanical engineer with the Warfighter Directorate, Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC.”

Congress to Break Without Iron Dome Funds Approval

Defense News reports that “the US Congress will leave town for five weeks without providing hundreds of millions of dollars requested by Israel to replenish its Iron Dome interceptor missiles.”

“House Speaker John Boehner was forced to pull his $659 million border security supplemental on Thursday because he lacked ample Republican votes to pass the bill. Unlike its much larger Senate counterpart, it contains no funds for Iron Dome. The Senate, meanwhile, could vote Thursday on its $3.5 billion supplemental, which includes $225 million requested by Israel and the Pentagon for Iron Dome.”

“Even if that measure passes, however, any House movement on the Iron Dome funding will have to wait for September.”

Harrier Wing Converted During Prototype Program

Boeing is using its resources to develop a way to help sustain the U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier fleet by successfully implementing an innovative prototype design to convert the wing of a British Harrier variant – the Royal Air Force GR9 – into a USMC Harrier wing.

The U.S. Marines have GR9 assets in stock, purchased from across the pond in 2011, and needed help to determine how to best utilize these for their current fleet. AV-8B wings can be challenging to repair because of their extensive use of composite materials and manufacturing techniques that are no longer state of the art. Major repairs can be costly and time-consuming.

Boeing sustainment teams stepped up to support with a prototype sustainment solution. The best part – converting these wings will provide a low-cost, ready inventory of spare wings to the Marines.

The prototype wing will be tested at the Naval Weapons Testing Center at China Lake, Calif., early next year to confirm functional compatibility on a USMC AV-8B Harrier. When testing successfully completes, other GR9 wings will be converted for use in the fleet.

Boeing’s sustainment help is critical as the U.S. Marine Corps plans to extend the life of the jet to 2025 and will need these spares for the aircraft to maintain fleet readiness.
MCF92-C22-510-61

Photo credit: Boeing

NATO Commander: We Must Redefine Responses to New Threats

Stars and Stripes reports that “NATO’s top military commander on Thursday said the alliance should redefine its core commitment to defend its members from external aggression by factoring in new and unconventional threats such as cyberwarfare and irregular militia operations.”

“’We need to mature the way we think about cyber, the way we think about irregular warfare, so that we can define in NATO what takes it over that limit by which we now have to react,’ Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander, said during a stop at a U.S. Patriot antimissile site in southern Turkey. For NATO, Article 5 of the alliance’s founding treaty has long served as the bedrock of the 28-nation pact, ensuring that an attack on one member demands a collective response from all. Its roots are in the Cold War when the threat was singular — overt military action from the Soviet Union. Now, Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its involvement in eastern Ukraine show how threats in Europe have morphed, Breedlove said.”

House Passes $17B VA Bill

Stars and Stripes reports that “the House overwhelmingly passed a $17 billion emergency bill Wednesday that brings comprehensive reform of the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs health care system one step closer to reality.”

“The 420-5 vote shifted all attention toward the Senate, where a floor vote had yet to be scheduled with only days left before Congress leaves for its August recess.”

“Lawmakers struck a last-minute deal Monday that would inject $10 billion into expanding veteran access to outside health care providers and $5 billion into hiring new medical staff to ease long wait times at VA hospitals and clinics across the United States.”

USAF Defends F-35s

Air Force Times reports that “despite ongoing restrictions on the fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the US Air Force’s top general warned against being ‘alarmist’ when discussing the fifth-generation jet’s engine.”

“’Pratt & Whitney has been making pretty darn good engines for single-engine airplanes for a long time for the United States Air Force,’ Gen. Mark Welsh, service chief of staff, told reporters during a media briefing. ‘What we found in the program so far, with these almost 9,000 sorties so far, is this engine works pretty well, too. That day it didn’t, and we need to figure out why.’”

“’It would be a little alarmist to assume we have a problem with the F-35 engine,’ Welsh said. ‘The F-35 is the answer, the only answer, to ensure future air campaigns are not a fair fight.’”

Laser Weapons No Longer a Figment of the Imagination

Directed Energy weapons are no longer confined to the imaginations of science fiction aficionados. Boeing has taken an innovation dreamt by the warfighter and made it a reality.

Boeing’s High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator team has used a solid state laser to destroy mortars and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The laser destroys targets with pinpoint precision within seconds of acquisition, then acquires the next target and keeps firing – all without reloading, endangering the warfighter, or revealing unit location.

Using a Boeing-owned radar system for cueing, Boeing recently demonstrated the 10-kilowatt laser demonstrator’s capabilities in a maritime environment. The system acquired and tracked targets repeatedly, proving that laser systems are no longer a weapon of the future. Laser weapon systems are effective against a wide variety of air and missile threats…the right solution at the right time – now.

To see directed energy in action, watch the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator video:

Air Force Plan Calls for High Tech Arms

The New York Times reports that “in an acknowledgment that the military may be pricing itself out of business, the Air Force on Wednesday called for a shift away from big-ticket weapon systems that take decades to develop and a move toward high-technology armaments that can be quickly adapted to meet a range of emerging threats.”

“An Air Force strategic forecast, looking 20 years into the future and spurred in part by looming budget constraints, also calls for a faster pace, with lower price tags, in developing both airmen and the technology they use, warning that the current way of acquiring warplanes and weapons is too plodding.”

“The report, described as a ‘call to action’ by Secretary Deborah Lee James of the Air Force, limits itself to how the country’s most tech-heavy military service can adapt to looming threats and budget constraints. But it is also a warning to and an admission from the entire Defense Department that with military compensation and retirement costs rising sharply, the country may soon be unable to afford the military it has without making significant changes to the way it does business.”

Some Flight Restrictions on F-35s Removed

Defense News reports that “the Pentagon has lifted some flight restrictions on F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, while inspections will continue for the foreseeable future, according to a Defense Department official.”

“Speed restrictions were relaxed late last week from Mach 0.9 to Mach 1.6, while maneuverability restrictions were increased slightly from 3 Gs to 3.2, the official said.”

“Other restrictions remain, however, including borescope inspections of the front fan section of each F135 engine every three hours.”

“The restrictions are the result of a June 23 fire that severely damaged an F-35A model and led to the Pentagon grounding the fleet for a time while the cause of the problem was discovered. On July 15, the Pentagon allowed the plane to begin flying again within limited parameters.”

Can Congress Pass VA Reform Bill?

Stars and Stripes reports that “Capitol Hill lawmakers signed off Monday night on a detailed $17 billion compromise to overhaul the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs.”

“The plan cracks down on employee wrongdoing but also directs billions into growing and studying the department after a nationwide scandal over long wait times and falsified records.”

“A conference committee of House and Senate leaders on veteran issues agreed to the deal, but its future is far from certain. The far-reaching legislation must pass both chambers, and lawmakers were working against the clock Tuesday to orchestrate floor votes before a month-long recess that begins Friday.”

Meanwhile, Army Times reports that “with a new Veterans Affairs secretary in place and an August recess looming, Congress is likely to move quickly to approve a compromise bill to refurbish the VA and improve veterans’ health care.”

“The House could vote on the $17 billion bill as early as Wednesday, with a Senate vote expected soon after as lawmakers rush to complete their work before leaving town this weekend for a five-week recess.”

Our Path from the Moon to Mars

next-giant-leap-notext

NASA photo

Just 66 years after America achieved first flight at Kitty Hawk, a new generation of pioneers landed a man on the Moon, fulfilling NASA’s promise to be first to plant its flag on extra-terrestrial terrain. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin launched on a Saturn V from Earth July 16, 1969 and Armstrong took that first step onto the lunar surface on July 20.

“Many of us vividly remember sitting with family and friends watching history play out in grainy black and white television 45 years ago when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon’s surface,” said John Elbon, Boeing Space Exploration vice president and general manager. “That moment impacted a lot of lives and set young people around the world on the path toward careers in science and engineering. Those space enthusiasts in turn launched decades of incredible technological advancements.”

Later generations were engaged by the Space Shuttle program, as it launched again and again to transport crew and cargo to build the world’s first on-orbit space station, realizing NASA’s dream of off-planet habitation to foster new discoveries in science, medicine and technology.

“Future scientists, engineers and researchers are looking to us to achieve the next great accomplishments in space exploration that will inspire them to dream and work for a role in tomorrow’s space adventure beyond Earth and on to Mars,” said Elbon. “Our teams are making history, giving shape to NASA’s vision for near Earth and deep space exploration. The work we are doing today is opening doors all around the world where new generations are hoping for their own Apollo 11 moment.”

NASA today is maintaining the International Space Station, building a Commercial Space Transportation System to resupply the ISS and transport crew, while also building Space Launch System (SLS). In labs all over the country, teams are working on a number of advancements in propulsion, materials, and new capabilities to enable deep space exploration.

It may be the journey that matters, but we’ll all remember the moment when we take that first step onto Mars terrain.

U.S. Military Special Ops Leader to Become UT Chancellor

The Associate Press reports that “University of Texas System regents on Tuesday selected one of the top U.S. military special operations leaders as the lone finalist for the job of chancellor, overseeing the system’s 15 campuses and $14 billion budget.”

“Navy Adm. William McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, has been credited with spearheading the operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden in a raid on his compound in Pakistan in 2011.”

“‘Admiral McRaven is a nationally and internationally respected leader and a true American hero,’ Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster said after the unanimous vote to approve McRaven.”

The Terrifying State of U.S. Nuclear Weapon Security

John Oliver delivered a devastating commentary on the state of U.S. nuclear weapons security:

Said Oliver: “Let’s recap: Within the last 12 months we were in a situation where in the event of us launching a nuclear strike, the president’s command would theoretically have gone through a man gambling with fake poker chips, who would’ve then tried to call a drunk guy wrestling with a Russian George Harrison, who would’ve then needed to send someone with a bag full of burritos to wake up an officer and tell him to go grab an LP-sized floppy disk and begin the solemn process of ending the world as we know it.”

Tim Starks: “And while it sounds funny if you just read that paragraph out of context, Oliver masterfully builds toward that brutal summary. Which makes it so much less funny, in a way.”

Sign In

Forgot password?

Or

Subscribe

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

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...