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

Pentagon Voices Worries Over Defense Industry Mergers

Defense One looks at Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition Frank Kendall’s concerns that mergers between major defense companies will reduce market competition.

“The Pentagon’s top arms buyer worries that Lockheed Martin’s upcoming $9 billion acquisition of Blackhawk helicopter maker Sikorsky is part of a bad trend in which large defense firms get bigger and competition wanes… Pentagon leaders have been expecting an uptick in industry mergers for several years. In 2011, Ash Carter — then the acquisition chief, now defense secretary — warned that the Pentagon would not support mergers among the biggest companies.”

“Kendall called the Lockheed-Sikorsky deal the most significant change to the defense industry since the general consolidation that followed the Cold War… Despite their concerns, the Defense Department leaders did not ask the Justice Department, which reviews such deals for antitrust concerns, to block the acquisition. The world’s largest defense company by revenue, Lockheed is the lead contractor on the $400-billion-plus F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. But it does not build helicopters, which are Sikorsky’s specialty, and so the Justice Department approved the deal last week.”

Russian Airstrikes Target CIA-Backed Syrian Revels

“Russia launched airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, catching U.S. and Western officials off guard and drawing new condemnation as evidence suggested Moscow wasn’t targeting extremist group Islamic State, but rather other opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s regime,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

“One of the airstrikes hit an area primarily held by rebels backed by the Central Intelligence Agency and allied spy services, U.S. officials said, catapulting the Syrian crisis to a new level of danger and uncertainty. Moscow’s entry means the world’s most powerful militaries—including the U.S., Britain and France—now are flying uncoordinated combat missions, heightening the risk of conflict in the skies over Syria.”

“U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Russia’s approach to the Syrian war—defending Mr. Assad while ostensibly targeting extremists—was tantamount to ‘pouring gasoline on the fire.’… American officials were taken aback by Russia’s decision to announce the strikes by sending a three-star Russian general to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday. The general gave U.S. officials an hour’s notice before he arrived, delivered the message that Russia was going to start bombing, said American aircraft should get out of Syrian airspace and left.”

American Ground Forces Assist Afghans in Battle for Kunduz

“American Special Operations troops and on-the-ground military advisers from the NATO coalition joined Afghan forces trying to retake the northern city of Kunduz from Taliban militants Wednesday,” according to The Washington Post.

“Personnel from the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan were on a mission near the Kunduz airport, where hundreds of Afghan troops had gathered after retreating from the city, when they were engaged by insurgents and called in an airstrike… The increased support from the coalition comes amid growing signs that Afghan forces are struggling to repel the Taliban fighters, who were able to seize Kunduz in a lightning strike Monday, dealing a major blow to Afghanistan’s Western-backed government.”

“An Afghan official from Kunduz confirmed that coalition advisers are engaged in the effort to drive the Taliban from the city… The rules of engagement for U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan allow them to fight if they are threatened by insurgents.”

KC-46 Tanker Program Achieves Aviation History on Historic Air Force Day

The U.S. Air Force’s new KC-46A Pegasus tanker completed its historic first flight on Sept. 25. That paves the way for additional testing, including aerial refueling, and to Boeing providing the Air Force with the first of the next-generation aircraft in 2016.

During the four-hour flight in the skies above Washington state, Boeing test pilots checked the engines, flight controls and environmental systems. During future flights the test team will deploy the aircraft’s refueling boom and wing aerial refueling pods before actually providing fuel in flight to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.

The KC-46A, derived from Boeing’s 767 commercial airplane, is a multi-role tanker that will refuel U.S. and allied and coalition military aircraft along with being able to carry passengers, cargo and patients.

Boeing is building four test aircraft – two 767-2Cs and two KC-46A tankers. The 767-2Cs enter flight test as commercial freighters prior to receiving aerial refueling systems, while the KC-46As are fully-equipped tankers. The different configurations are used to meet FAA and military certification requirements. The program’s first test aircraft, a 767-2C, has completed more than 170 flight hours since its inaugural flight in December.

The KC-46A’s first flight coincided with another historic Air Force event. On Sept. 25, 1947, President Harry Truman appointed Gen. Carl Spaatz chief of staff of the new United States Air Force. Coincidentally, when he was a major in 1929, Spaatz commanded the historic aerial refueling demonstration, code name “Question Mark”, involving a Fokker C-2 and two Douglas C-1 aircraft.

Check out this video of the U.S. Air Force’s new tanker on its first flight:

Putin Takes Advantage of Obama’s Efforts to Contain the Middle East

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon & Molly O’Toole: “President Obama used the pulpit of the United Nations General Assembly to condemn Russian military meddling in Syria and implore world leaders to back his own strategy: contain the conflict militarily while seeking a political exit for Bashar al Assad. And at all costs, avoid U.S. ‘boots on the ground’ in yet another Middle Eastern conflict. But Moscow’s buildup of troops and assets in Syria in avowed support for Assad underlines the limits of this approach.”

“With each of Russia’s moves in Syria and now Iraq, both NATO and the Obama administration have said they were caught off guard — but critics say there’s little surprise that an all-in Putin would step beyond Obama’s red line in the ISIS fight. Putin answered Obama in his own United Nations address, questioning U.S. resolve and outlining his own version of the situation, which he said requires military action against ISIS — and to support Assad… As Russia moves its military assets into Syria, it is also helping to determine the next phase of the bloody conflict — and to show that Moscow, not Washington, is now shaping the region.”

Drone Strikes Take Toll on Militant Leadership

“A dedicated manhunt by the CIA, the National Security Agency and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command has been methodically finding and killing senior militants in Syria and Iraq, in one of the few clear success stories of the U.S. military campaign in those countries,” according to AP.

“The drone strikes — separate from the conventional bombing campaign run by U.S. Central Command — have significantly diminished the threat from the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaida cell in Syria that had planned attacks on American aviation, U.S. officials say. The group’s leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, and its top bomb-maker, David Drugeon, were killed this past summer.”

“In an effort that ramped up over the last year, intelligence analysts and special operators have harnessed an array of satellites, sensors, drones and other technology to track and kill elusive militants across a vast, rugged area of Syria and Iraq, overcoming the lack of a significant U.S. ground presence and the awareness by U.S. targets that they can be found through their use of electronic devices. The strikes won’t defeat the Islamic State, but they are keeping its leadership off balance.”

“But unlike in Pakistan and Yemen, JSOC, not the CIA, has been pulling the trigger in Syria and Iraq, officials say. JSOC’s armed drones operate separately from, but in concert with, a conventional bombing campaign run by U.S. Central Command, which has overall responsibility for the war… Even in a post-Edward Snowden era in which U.S. electronic spying is widely understood, al-Qaida and Islamic State operatives in Syria can’t avoid using electronics to communicate.”

U.S. Launches Airstrike in Afghan Effort to Retake Kunduz From Taliban

The Washington Post looks at U.S. participation in the Afghanistan government’s efforts to reclaim the city of Kunduz from the Taliban.

“The showdowns took shape before dawn — less than 24 hours after Taliban militiamen stormed into Kunduz — as Afghan reinforcements poured into the area after a U.S. airstrike helped clear the way. The fight to reclaim Kunduz — Afghanistan’s sixth-largest city and a strategic gateway to Central Asia — serves as one of the Afghan military’s biggest tests in the 14-year-long war against the Taliban insurgency and raised questions about the withdrawal timetable for U.S. and other coalition troops.”

“A spokesman for the international military coalition in Afghanistan said the U.S. air attack sought to ‘eliminate a threat to the force.’ Coalition officials did not specify the target or whether the airstrikes will be followed up by others… The U.S. military still has 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, but it was unclear whether any American personnel were stationed near Kunduz, about 150 miles north of Kabul.”

KC-767 Tanker Certified to Refuel a U.S. Air Force Jet

In a major milestone for the U.S. Air Force and the Italian Air Force, Italy’s Boeing-built KC-767 air refueling tanker is now certified to refuel a U.S. fighter jet. It’s a first for any international Air Force, and its successful completion is a key strategic step for both nations as they strengthen interoperability capabilities.

Boeing provides Performance-Based Logistics support for Italy’s tanker fleet, delivering the full spectrum of maintenance, repair, and overhaul services, field support operations, and other support services.

Check out this video for a behind-the-scenes look as operators maneuver the KC-767 boom for a successful refueling:

U.S., China Reach “Understanding” on Economic Cyber Espionage

“President Barack Obama announced on Friday that he had reached a ‘common understanding’ with Chinese President Xi Jinping on curbing economic cyber espionage, but threatened to impose U.S. sanctions on Chinese hackers who persist with cyber crimes,” according to Reuters.

“The two leaders said they agreed that neither government would knowingly support cyber theft of corporate secrets or business information. But the agreement stopped short of any promise to refrain from traditional government-to-government cyber spying for intelligence purposes. That could include the massive hack of the federal government’s personnel office this year that compromised the data of more than 20 million people.”

“Xi reiterated China’s denial of any government role in the hacking of U.S. corporate secrets and said the best way to address the problem was through bilateral cooperation and not to ‘politicize this issue.’ ‘Confrontation and friction are not the right choice for both sides,’ he said. China has routinely insisted that it too is a victim of cyber hacking.”

U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Surrender Arms to Al Qaeda

The Long War Journal reports that “US-backed rebels in the so-called ‘New Syrian Forces’ (NSF) have turned over at least some of their equipment and ammunition to a ‘suspected’ intermediary for Al Nusrah Front, US Central Command (CENTCOM) conceded in a statement.”

“The admission further jeopardizes the unit’s ability to receive American arms in the future. Rebels belonging to Division 30, a group supported by the US, suffered losses immediately upon entering the Syrian fray earlier this year. More than 50 members of Division 30 were sent into Syria in July. But Al Nusrah quickly thwarted their plans, even though the US-backed rebels intended to fight the Islamic State, Al Nusrah’s bitter rival.”

“Al Nusrah Front has consistently resisted the West’s meager attempts to build a reliable opposition force. Late last year, al Qaeda’s branch pushed the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), which had reportedly received some support from the West, out of its strongholds in the Idlib province… Recent events demonstrate that the US is consistently underestimating al Qaeda’s presence and capabilities in Syria, and does not have a true strategy for the multi-sided conflict.”

Administration Working Group Shies Away From Proposing Encryption “Backdoors”

The Washington Post reports on the latest in the battle between technology companies and federal law enforcement over the inclusion of “backdoors” into encrypted communications.

“An Obama administration working group has explored four possible approaches tech companies might use that would allow law enforcement to unlock encrypted communications — access that some tech firms say their systems are not set up to provide. The group concluded that the solutions were ‘technically feasible,’ but all had drawbacks as well… The approaches were analyzed as part of a months-long government discussion about how to deal with the growing use of encryption in which no one but the user can see the information… ‘Any proposed solution almost certainly would quickly become a focal point for attacks,’ said the unclassified memo, drafted this summer by officials from law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic and economic agencies for eventual consideration by Cabinet members.”

“The first potential solution called for providers to add a physical, encrypted port to their devices. Companies would maintain a separate set of keys to unlock devices, using that port only if law enforcement had physical access to a device and obtained a court order to compel the company’s assistance… The second approach would exploit companies’ automatic software updates. Under a court order, the company could insert spyware onto targeted customers’ phones or tablets — essentially hacking the device… A third idea described splitting up encryption keys, a possibility floated by National Security Agency director Michael S. Rogers earlier this year. That would require companies to create a way to unlock encrypted content, but divide the key into several pieces — to be combined only under court order… Under the final approach, which officials called a “forced backup,” companies under court order would be required to upload data stored on an encrypted device to an unencrypted location.”

Boeing Satellites Help the World Run on GPS Time

Reflecting the efficiency and precision of the company’s most advanced production lines, Boeing-built Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF satellites are rolling out of the factory and into orbit. Dan Hart, vice president of Boeing Government Space Systems, notes that as each satellite is added to the GPS constellation, the Boeing IIFs are enhancing accuracy and strengthening its anti-jamming security. 

This new generation of GPS satellites underpins the U.S. Air Force initiative to modernize GPS and sustain the most reliable and durable navigation and timing system in the world.

Since early 2014, the Air Force has deployed six of 12 Boeing-built GPS IIF satellites. The launch tempo is the most robust since the GPS network first became operational in the 1990s. Two launches have already occurred in 2015 and another one – the 11th in the series – is slated for October.

The benefits are tangible, not only for the military and government, but for commercial users. One study estimates that in just three key U.S. commercial market areas alone where GPS technology has yielded especially strong advantages – crop farming, surveying and mapping, and commercial surface transportation – the  annual economic benefit is in the tens of billions  of dollars.

While the latest performance improvements are subtle and may not be obvious to the average user of a GPS device driving a car or using a smartphone, they are part of the foundation that helps GPS continue as the gold standard. No other system can deliver the highly accurate positioning, timing and navigation information to the U.S. military, its allies and the global user community like GPS.

For more info, click here or on the image below:


NSA Chief Says Ending Bulk Collection Will Make Job Harder

“The head of the National Security Agency on Thursday told Senate lawmakers that preventing his agency from collecting Americans’ information in bulk would make it harder to do its job,” according to The Hill.

“Under questioning before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Adm. Michael Rogers agreed that ending bulk collection would ‘significantly reduce [his] operational capabilities.’… In response to the NSA head’s comments, Wyden pointed to a 2013 White House review group, which found that one controversial NSA bulk collection program ‘was not essential to preventing attacks’ and that the information obtained by the NSA ‘could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using’ other means.”

“Though the phone records database has been the NSA’s most prominent bulk collection program, it is not the only one. The agency’s collection of vast amounts of Internet data has alarmed many privacy advocates and is the target of a current lawsuit from Wikipedia and the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Petraeus: More Troops Needed to Defeat ISIS

“David Petraeus, the former Army general credited with turning the tide against al Qaeda in Iraq more than eight years ago, told a Senate panel the U.S. should increase military support in the Middle East,” The Wall Street Journal reports, “including sending combat advisers into Iraq, significantly deepening Washington’s role there.”

“Mr. Petraeus, now working for a private-equity firm in New York, recommended the U.S. increase support for the Iraqi Security Forces, Sunni tribal forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, to include embedding American advisers there. He also believes the U.S. should deploy American ground spotters known as joint tactical air controllers to coordinate coalition airstrikes.”

“Those two initiatives alone could require as many as 10,000 American troops—more than twice the 3,500 troops who now operate in relative safety ‘inside the wire’ on U.S. bases and not on the battlefield… Mr. Petraeus, who became director of the Central Intelligence Agency before resigning in disgrace after an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, hasn’t testified on Capitol Hill since leaving government in 2012. But he returned to a familiar role, testifying on Capitol Hill and telling the mostly sympathetic audience of the Senate Armed Services Committee that while the current policy has had some success, more needed to be done to defeat Islamic State. Mr. Petraeus first apologized for the indiscretions that led to his forced resignation.”

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