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

When Drones Fall From the Sky

The Washington Post has a fascinating piece on the lesser known aspect of drone operations: crashes.

“Crashing drones are spilling secrets about U.S. military operations. A surveillance mission was exposed last week when a Predator drone crashed in northwest Syria while spying on the home turf of President Bashar al-Assad. U.S. officials believe the drone was shot down, but they haven’t ruled out mechanical failure…The mishap in Syria follows a string of crashes in Yemen, another country where the U.S. military keeps virtually all details of its drone operations classified.”

“Although they malfunction less often than they used to, they still crash at a higher rate than other military aircraft. Of the 269 Predators acquired by the Air Force over the past two decades, more than half have wrecked in major accidents.”

Army Charges Bergdahl With Desertion, Misbehavior

Yahoo News reports that “Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive for five years by the Taliban, was charged Wednesday by the U.S. military with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and could get life in prison if convicted.”

The Washington Post has more on the specific charges: “The desertion charge carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison, along with a possible reduction in rank and loss of pay and allowances. But the charge of misbehavior before the enemy carries a maximum punishment of confinement for life, a dishonorable discharge, a reduction to private and total forfeiture of pay and allowances since the time of his disappearance.”

US Takes Over Fight Against ISIS in Tikrit

“U.S. warplanes began airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Tikrit in what American officials said was a sign of the failure of Iranian-backed forces to retake the city,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

“The offensive to retake the city has been stalled for more than a week and American officials on Wednesday said they began the strikes after the Iraqi government formally requested help… U.S. officials said the difficulty in Tikrit exposed the weakness of Iranian support for Iraq’s government, adding that they hope to use those difficulties to drive a wedge between Iraq and Iran.”

GPS Keeps Getting Better

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The ninth GPS IIF is launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV on Wednesday. Liftoff occurred on time at 2:36 p.m. Eastern. (United Launch Alliance photo)

Chances are that every day, you benefit from GPS. Whether it’s to complete an online banking transaction, or taking a plane trip, the benefits of GPS extend to every aspect of daily life. Equally important, GPS equipment is keeping U.S. service men and women around the globe safer and more secure.

Making sure that GPS is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, falls to the U.S. Air Force, which manages the constellation of GPS satellites that circle the earth to provide the position, navigation and timing information that is the heart of GPS.  A new generation of GPS satellites, built by Boeing, are being launched to sustain the constellation and strengthen its accuracy and security. Four were launched in 2014, and the first of three planned for 2015 is now on orbit.

The steady launch tempo means that GPS keeps getting better.

View the Delta IV GPS IIF-9 launch highlights video here.

House Budget Boosts Defense Spending in Off-Budget Account

After a complicated series of votes, Politico reports House Republicans successfully produced a budget that “includes $20 billion in military spending beyond what the Budget Committee had approved last week.”

Reuters has more on the defense spending portion: “The winning budget proposes to add $38 billion to an off-budget war funding account above the amount requested by President Barack Obama without any offsetting savings. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry said the added war funding was a placeholder for future negotiations to ease ‘sequester’ budget constraints enacted in 2011.”

Coming Soon: Autonomous, Invisible Ships

Defense One reports on the latest program by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA: “a 132-foot autonomous boat to track quiet, diesel-powered submarines.”

“To little notice, the system earlier this year passed a critical test, moving much closer to actual deployment… Most importantly, the tests showed that the robot boat could execute a difficult military mission without violating the maritime laws outlined in the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea. They also provided a critical proof-of-concept for machine-learning systems at sea, showing that big robots can, indeed, navigate the open seas along with cruise ships and shrimp boats.”

“The world’s waters could soon be crowded with robot ships that almost never hit land.”

Building a Silicon Valley for Cybersecurity

Christian Science Monitor: “The global cybersecurity market was $67 billion in 2011 and is projected to grow as high as $156 billion by 2019… Seeing a window of opportunity, state governments and pro-business groups from California to Texas and Florida are positioning themselves to win federal contracts and score venture capital investment. Some are going to extraordinary lengths to build what they call ‘a cybersecurity ecosystem.'”

“They are commissioning economic impact studies, developing tax incentives to attract companies to their regions and even hiring PR firms to devise branding strategies. They are competing over government contracts, even investing in startups with money from state coffers. With as many as 300,000 cybersecurity jobs across the country unfilled last year, according to security company Symantec, they are crafting academic programs for public universities to win research grants and generate the next crop of highly skilled workers poised to make six figures– and stay local.”

Aerospace Suppliers Talk Ex-Im, Sequestration with the Hill

Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Chris Chadwick addressed sequestration and acquisition reform issues with Aerospace Industries Association suppliers. (Photo courtesy of AIA/Dan Stohr)

Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Chris Chadwick addressed sequestration and acquisition reform issues with Aerospace Industries Association suppliers. (Photo courtesy of AIA/Dan Stohr)

The Aerospace Industries Association brought more than 100 supplier representatives to Washington Tuesday for discussions with Department of Defense and industry leaders about pressing issues they face, including reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, alleviating the severe defense budget strain caused by sequestration, and the need for reforming government acquisition rules. Suppliers are urging lawmakers to address these issues so the U.S. aerospace industry can remain globally competitive and able to provide the products and services that the U.S. military needs to meet national security objectives.

Many people don’t realize that the Export-Import Bank supports both the defense and commercial aerospace sectors. If Congress doesn’t pass long-term reauthorization by June 30 the aerospace industry could face devastating consequences including billions of dollars of lost business, and tens of thousands of jobs in jeopardy. During the supplier meeting, Boeing Senior Vice President of Government Operations Tim Keating spoke about the benefits of the Export-Import Bank to promote growth and to level the playing field for American exports. He urged suppliers to tell their story on Capitol Hill. More information about the‎ Ex-Im Bank can be found at: Ex-Im Coalition.

Defense budget cuts implemented and looming, as a result of the law commonly known as sequestration, have forced the aerospace industry to make difficult decisions amid persistent uncertainty. During his remarks to suppliers, Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Chris Chadwick outlined what the company has had to do to remain competitive, including difficult employment reductions over the last five years and cutting billions of internal costs.

Despite those changes, Chadwick said, there’s more to do. If sequestration continues, the industry may have to close additional facilities, watch talent flee to other industries, and degrade its ability to support military readiness and capabilities. The longer such activities persist, the more expensive it will be to reconstitute capabilities in the future, he said.

Chadwick also discussed with the suppliers how each defense dollar needs to count more, which makes acquisition reform – a topic that’s been studied and talked about for decades – more important than ever. He urged suppliers to work together with customers to support defense acquisition reforms that streamline how the government buys commercial items, and restore a balanced approach to protecting intellectual property rights. Both of these initiatives would lower costs, enabling industry to provide more affordable, technologically advanced solutions.‎

The Tricky Politics of the Defense Budget

The Washington Post editorial board looks at the political obstacles facing bipartisan efforts to boost defense spending and avoid the drastic cuts left over by sequestration.

“Mr. Obama proposed matching the defense increase with an equal amount of added domestic spending, but the Republican budget plans exclude that. That may make it difficult to win the floor votes, if Democratic support is needed, and Mr. Obama might eventually resist a defense increase if there is no domestic counterpart.”

“While the administration added its additional defense spending to the base budget, Republicans tried to balance fiscal and military hawkishness by leaving the sequester-mandated base budget unchanged and pouring additional funds into a contingency account meant to cover temporary war expenses. That tactic has been used before, but it is a poor way to do business that may end up constricting spending on long-term defense needs. At a minimum, it means a necessary fight over the base budget will have been kicked down the road.”

U.S. Likely to Extend Stay in Afghanistan

After Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to the White House yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reports that “President Barack Obama is expected to back a revised U.S. troop withdrawal plan that would keep more American forces in the country for a longer period than initially planned.”

“While regular U.S. troops no longer carry out combat missions in Afghanistan and the size of the American military force in the country has been cut to 10,000 troops from 100,000 since 2012, Mr. Ghani wants to ensure that American forces remain in the country for years to come.”

“Mr. Obama wants to withdraw most of the remaining U.S. forces before he leaves office in 2017, but that hope is being tested by Islamic State-affiliated fighters and Taliban militants opposing Afghan security forces… Mr. Obama is likely to pursue efforts to create a more-limited American presence to help advise Afghan forces, collect intelligence on militants in the region and carry out limited counterterrorism operations.”

Marines Burdened With Unfunded Mandates

As Congress begins work on the military’s budget for fiscal year 2016, Bloomberg reports that the Marine Corps has over $2 billion “in requirements not funded in FY16 Pentagon budget request.”

“High among needs is $1.05b for 6 more Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighters; $24.5m for 3 Bell H-1 helicopters; $180m for 2 Lockheed KC-130J aircraft.”

V-22 Gets Presidential Treatment

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Marine Helicopter Squadron One Marines, past and present, family members and friends mingle on the flight line with the newest addition to the squadron, a MV-22 B ‘Osprey,’ after a MV-22B Introduction Ceremony in the HMX-1 hangar on May 4, 2013. HMX-1 is scheduled to receive 11 more MV-22B by next summer.(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Rebekka S. Heite/Released)

The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey is an aircraft that utilizes tiltrotor technology to combine the vertical performance of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed wing aircraft. This gives the aircraft the ability to fly at a higher altitude and twice as fast as a helicopter, resulting in a much longer range. It’s because of these unique capabilities that the V-22 is used by the military for a wide-range of missions. One of these unique missions is with the Marine Corps as part of their HMX-1 Presidential Airlift Squadron.

The V-22 plays a vital role in HMX-1 supporting presidential travel transporting presidential material and support personnel passengers, as well as members of the media. To ensure smooth transport during these highly-visible missions, Marine aviators train using two Bell Boeing V-22 containerized flight training devices recently delivered to the squadron’s headquarters in Quantico, Va. These training devices replicate the flight environment and allow pilots to practice standard flight maneuvers and procedures, and rehearse complete, realistic missions without leaving the ground. This greatly reduces fuel use and wear and tear on the V-22s.

The Marine Corps currently have 12 V-22s within the HMX-1 Presidential Airflift Squadron.

The Drone Debate: Do Drones Solve or Create Conflict?

“Drones are going to revolutionize how nations and nonstate actors threaten the use of violence,” writes Amy Zegart, and “the U.S. is in a strategy race with other countries engaged in drone programs.”

“Today, the true test of political resolve is not initiating combat but sustaining it. Adversaries used to be sure that, over time, pressure would mount in the U.S. to bring troops home. The drones of future combat won’t have families or come back in coffins… Artificial intelligence and autonomous aerial refueling could remove human limitations even more, enabling drones to keep other drones flying and keep the pressure on for as long as victory takes.”

On the other hand, Karen Greenberg says drones have a much more important cost: “As military insiders have warned, tactics have swallowed strategy. Assassination by robot is bound to inspire rather than curtail extremism… One could almost have predicted the emergence of the Islamic State from this chaos — hopeless, fearless and violent. Having helped to generate the crisis, America and its allies find themselves sadly — but not surprisingly — lacking a novel and effective response.”

The US Needs a New Foreign Policy Strategy

Christopher Preble argues that “U.S. foreign policy is crippled by a dramatic disconnect between what Americans expects of it and what the nation’s leaders are giving them.”

“For the most part, American taxpayers, and especially American troops, have borne the burdens of ‘benevolent hegemony,’ while U.S. allies have been content to focus their attention on domestic spending, while their underfunded defenses languish.”

“Can U.S. elites credibly claim that the economic benefits of U.S. foreign policy greatly outweigh the costs? The assertion that U.S. hegemony delivers a net gain to the U.S. economy was always on shaky ground – and is shakier still. In short, if the core rationale of our grand strategy remains, as it has been, to discourage other countries from defending themselves, can our leaders explain it that way to the American people and sustain popular support?”

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