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July 30, 2014

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.”

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U.S. Nuclear Material Vulnerable to Theft

From Five by Five:

“The Senate Appropriations Committee is perturbed at a whole host of things contributing to large quantities of nuclear and radiological materials — including in the United States — being ‘still unsecure and vulnerable to theft.’”

“That’s the word from John M. Donnelly, writing for subscribers. He details how the panel, in its fiscal 2015 Energy-Water bill committee report, restores nuclear non-proliferation funding and chides the administration for abandoning a 2025 goal of securing 2,900 buildings, such at medical facilities and universities, where there is ‘little or no security.’”

Pentagon Has Lost Track of Thousands of Firearms Given to Afghans

“The Pentagon has been unable to locate more than 40 percent of the firearms it has provided to Afghan security forces at a cost of $626 million, according to a report by a government oversight agency made public Monday.,” Fox News reports.

“The report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) states that the Defense Department’s two information systems that track weapons sent to Afghanistan are full of errors. That has sparked fears that at least some of the weapons may be available on the black market, with militants among the potential purchasers. ”

“According to the report and an article in The Washington Times, the Pentagon has sent 747,000 weapons and auxiliary equipment, mostly small arms, to Afghan forces over the past decade. The paper reported that of the 474,823 serial numbers recorded in the tracking database, 203,888 — approximately 43 percent — had missing or duplicate information. The Times reported that auditors had discovered that 24,520 serial numbers were repeated at least once in the database, and 50, 304 serial numbers had no shipping or receiving dates recorded for them. “

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.

Photo credit: Boeing

Navy Missile Tests Schedule for CA in Autumn

Defense News reports that “the littoral combat ship USS Coronado will get a chance at an historic LCS first this fall when it launches a surface-to-surface missile in tests off Southern California.”

“The US Navy confirmed this week that the Coronado is scheduled to test-launch the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) off Point Mugu, California, where the Naval Air Warfare Center maintains an extensively-instrumented missile range.”

“The test will follow a successful NSM launch July 10 from the Norwegian frigate Fridtjof Nansen during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises near Hawaii. The frigate fired a single NSM at the decommissioned amphibious ship Ogden and scored a direct hit.”

Navy ‘Pivot’ Towards Pacific Continues; Will Send Combat Ships, Destroyers

Stars and Stripes reports that “the Navy will send new stealth destroyers, littoral combat ships and an amphibious ready group to the Pacific, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Monday, reiterating the U.S. commitment to its military ‘pivot’ to the region.”

“’The rebalance to the Pacific is real,’ Mabus told sailors gathered at Yokosuka’s Fleet Theater for an all-hands call.”

“President Barack Obama announced plans for the Pacific pivot as the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were winding down. But conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and Gaza have since heated up, raising questions about the best use of forces amid dwindling military budgets. Obama reassured Pacific allies of his support during a recent visit against a backdrop of Chinese expansionism and North Korean threats.”

SpaceX Lawsuit Against USAF Gets Boost

The Washington Post reports that “a federal judge has ordered a review of a U.S. Air Force contract to put dozens of military satellites into orbit. The contract, which was awarded to longtime federal partner United Launch Alliance, is being contested by SpaceX over claims that the bidding process was non-competitive.”

“In a filing this week, Judge Susan Braden of the Court of Federal Claims said that United Launch Alliance, or ULA, would need to hand over details of a contract with the U.S. Air Force that it secured last year. The terms of the agreement are expected to shed light — behind closed doors, anyway — on the cost to taxpayers of using United Launch Alliance’s rockets.”

“The decision marks an early victory for SpaceX, which in April sued the government and accused it of simply giving the $11 billion dollar contract away without providing ample opportunity for competition. The Defense Department expects to spend as much as $70 billion on the wider launch program by 2030 — but SpaceX has claimed it can put payloads into orbit for far cheaper than ULA.”

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:

U.S. Says Photos Show Russian Involvement in Ukraine

The Wall St. Journal reports that “the Obama administration released photographic evidence on Sunday it says shows Russian forces fired rockets across the border into eastern Ukraine and that Moscow-backed separatists used heavy weaponry sourced from Russia inside Ukraine.”

“The evidence bolsters the administration’s assertions Thursday that the conflict has taken an ominous turn with direct Russian military involvement. Its release comes as administration officials say they expect European leaders to adopt stringent new economic sanctions against Moscow, based partly on the evidence showing that Russian support for separatists has only increased since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down earlier this month.”

“The U.S. says one of the images from the Director of National Intelligence that was released by the State Department, an aerial shot taken over the weekend and depicting magnified impact craters and blast marks, shows Russians fired “multiple rocket launchers into Ukraine.”

Veteran’s Bill Likely Dead

“Negotiations between the House and Senate over legislation reforming the Veterans Affairs Department melted down on Thursday, raising the probability that Congress will leave for the August recess without approving a bill,” The Hill reports.

“Leaders of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committees released rival proposals that illustrated the two sides are billions apart on how to fix the problems at the VA, where veterans waited hundreds of days to get appointments.”

Roll Call has more details on the story.

Can the Pentagon Convince Republicans on Climate Change?

“Faced with mounting scientific evidence that humans are causing climate change, Republicans are having an increasingly hard time denying the facts. Those denials became even more laughable Tuesday, when one of the party’s favorite agencies, the Department of Defense, told Congress that climate change is hurting military operations,” the New Republic observes.

“At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, a Department of Defense representative laid out how climate change is exposing its infrastructure in coastal and Arctic regions to rising sea levels and extreme weather, and that it’s even impacting decisions like which types of weapons the Pentagon buys. This is only the latest in a series of recent warnings from the military, which raised the issue as far back as George W. Bush’s second term. In March, the Pentagon warned, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, that the effects of climate change ‘are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.’ In other words, increased drought and water shortages are likely to trigger fighting over limited resources. The military has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas footprint 34 percent by 2020—and it’s already well on its way to that goal.”

“When the DOD says it needs something, Republicans usually listen. Perhaps the military can convince conservatives that climate change is real enough to obstruct national security?”

Our Path from the Moon to Mars


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.

America’s Top Threats in Space Are Lasers and Nukes

Defense One: “The U.S. thought it won the space race long ago, but no victory lasts forever. On Tuesday, Gen. William Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command, speaking at the Atlantic Council, said that U.S. dominance in space will be confronted by some real threats in the years ahead. When Defense One asked what those threats might consist of specifically, he replied jammers, lasers and tactical space nukes.”

“The nature of these threats hasn’t evolved much since the publication of this 2001 report by the Commission to Assess Untied States National Security Space Management and Organization, chaired by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. One of the chief findings of the commission was that U.S. reliance on space was going to grow—making U.S. satellites and space assets an increasingly attractive target for those who mean us harm.”

“But while the threats themselves haven’t changed in some 13 years, the technology behind them has made some more likely. Let’s take a look at each.”

Detail Emerge on Army ‘Drawdown’

Stars and Stripes reports that “of the more than 1,100 Army captains notified last month their military careers would soon end, 87 were deployed worldwide and 48 were serving in Afghanistan at the time, Army officials said Wednesday.”

“The Army has been talking for months about the need to separate the captains as well as more than 500 majors this summer as part of the broad Army drawdown, but it’s the first time details have emerged about the sobering business of delivering pink slips to troops in harm’s way.”

“The separations have become an issue on Capitol Hill, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., questioning ISAF commander Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford about it during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week.”

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