Roll Call: The News Source of Capitol Hill Since 1955
March 1, 2015

U.S. Military Plan Evolves for ISIS Offensive

Time Magazine reports that “every U.S. military official says degrading and defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria isn’t a job that can be done by the Pentagon alone. But it also cannot be done without the Pentagon. That’s the bind President Obama finds himself in as he seeks a way to cripple ISIS without putting U.S. combat boots on the ground inside Iraq and Syria (beyond the 3,100 now there to train Iraqi forces and protect the U.S. embassy and other facilities).”

“So far, the American heavy lifting in the fight against ISIS has come from the skies, where U.S. warplanes have dropped more than 8,200 bombs and missiles on ISIS targets in 2,500 air strikes in Iraq and Syria dating back to August. While Syrian rebels, largely Kurdish, have been able to hold on to the town of Kobani, they haven’t regained any ground. In Iraq, the Pentagon estimates that the Kurdish pesh merga forces have retaken a scant 1.3% of the contested territory ISIS has seized in the past year.”

“But U.S. officials believe, with sufficient training—and continuing allied airpower—the Iraqi army, Kurdish forces and moderate Syrian rebels will be able to defeat ISIS and take back the territory it seized over the next several years.”

Conversation with Air Force Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs

Defense News runs an interview with Heidi Grant, Air Force Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs: “The last year of conflicts has shown that more and more, the United States is forced to rely on its allies to help police the world. In Europe and the Middle East, the US Air Force has worked extensively with international partners on operations, while in Africa France has taken the lead in operations that previously might otherwise have been US-led.”

“To Heidi Grant, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, that’s a good thing. Grant works to expand partnerships with international air forces, in part through helping allies figure out what areas to invest their resources in, and whether US industry can help them.”

U.S. Military’s Ebola mission in Liberia Ends

Reuters reports that “the United States military officially ended a mission to build treatment facilities to combat an Ebola outbreak in Liberia on Thursday, months earlier than expected, in the latest indication that a year-long epidemic in West Africa is waning.”

“Washington launched the mission five months ago and the force peaked at over 2,800 troops at a time when Liberia was at the epicenter of the worst Ebola epidemic on record.”

“Nearly 10,000 people have died in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea over the past year. More than 4,000 of those deaths were in Liberia, but the number of new cases has plummeted in recent months, leaving many treatment centers empty and the mission has already begun winding down.”

Chinook to the Rescue; Mission Accomplished

Boeing -- Chinook

Photo courtesy of California National Guard

Rescuing stranded hikers isn’t unusual for the U.S. Park Service. However, calling in a Chinook to rescue a stranded hiker is not an everyday occurrence.

Early in February, snow storms engulfed the peaks at Yosemite National Park. Midday on Feb. 5, Park Officials were alerted that a young man was reported to be alone and disoriented near Iron Mountain at an elevation of 9,000 feet.

Park officials coordinated with the local Sherriff’s office, who alerted the Office of Emergency Services and the California National Guard Joint Operations Center. The report stated a 22-year-old male did not know his location and had spent the previous night alone with no food, water or shelter in four feet of snow. The California Highway Patrol dispatched a helicopter to search for the missing person, but due to strong gusty winds, their helicopter couldn’t fly at the high altitudes.

“We had a CH-47D Chinook crew in Sacramento and ready to respond,” said Capt. Benjamin D Bowman, commander, Company B, 1-126th General Support Aviation Battalion, California National Guard.

The crew diverted to Stockton, Calif., where it took on rescue equipment, reconfigured the aircraft for a hoist rescue and brought on an additional pilot to assist with the operation. “We were able to contact the stranded hiker on his still-operable cell phone,” said Bowman. “We talked him through the procedures for the rescue. Because he was on the side of a steep slope, surrounded by 100-foot trees and unable to hike out, we planned to hoist him out on the rescue seat.”

Bowman relayed information from the hiker to the Chinook crew by phone, guiding the aircraft to the hiker’s location until the crew could see him among the trees. The flight engineer lowered the rescue seat while the pilots worked the aircraft controls to hold a stable hover in very strong, gusty winds. The young hiker climbed into the seat and was slowly lifted to safety just more than three hours from notification to rescue.

The Chinook is called in when conditions keep other helicopters from flying. With its tandem rotor configuration, the CH-47 can operate at high altitudes and crosswind conditions with the precision that enables a safe rescue like this one. The Chinook is capable of supporting multiple missions including troop transport, special operations, equipment transport, Search and Rescue, humanitarian relief, fire fighting, MEDEVAC and logistical supply.

For coverage from the California National Guard on this incredible rescue, click here.

The Role of Veterans in Government

New York University ran a fascinating panel called “Boots on the Ground: The Role of Veterans in Government” that can be seen here: “Law ’84 Alum Rep. Scott Peters and NYU CAS ’87 Alum Colonel Patrick Mahaney, Jr, United States Army, with special guests Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL-16), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2), and Michael D. Lumpkin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict discuss the role of military service in government and policy. The panel focused on questions such as:”

  • “How does the role of a veteran policymaker shape a person’s ability to affect military policy?”
  • “What is the proper role of technology in warfare and how can policy keep up with innovation?”
  • “In what ways can veterans influence policy, and take an active role in electoral politics?”

Army Secretary Hopes Congress Can Avoid Sequestration

National Defense Magazine reports that “with a second round of sequestration looming over the Pentagon, John McHugh, the secretary of the Army said he was hopeful Congress could avert the mandatory budget cuts.”

“’I wouldn’t use the word ‘confident.’ I would use the word ‘optimistic,” he said Feb. 25 during a meeting with defense reporters in Washington, D.C.”

“As the Ryan-Murray deal — an agreement brokered by Congress in 2013 to offer sequestration relief — expires in fiscal year 2016, military leaders are bracing for potential funding cuts across the Defense Department budget”

Military Budget: Enlisted Leaders Tell Congress Uncertainty Threatens Morale

Stars and Stripes reports that “top enlisted military leaders said Wednesday that servicemembers and their families are stressed and worried about looming changes to compensation, benefits and support services.”

“That anxiety is threatening overall morale, and appears well-founded: Tight budgets for the coming year call for slashing such spending and will mean forcing out quality troops who in the past could have served a full 20-year career, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force leaders testified to House lawmakers.”

“The testimony is part of a budget drama playing out on Capitol Hill, in which Congress is scrambling to find a solution to budget caps it passed in prior sessions. A defense spending cap due to kick in this fall has triggered dire warnings from the Pentagon and many lawmakers, who say anemic funding is damaging the military’s ability to defend the country and fight wars.”

Breaking Ground on the Commercial Crew Access Tower

Boeing rendering

Boeing rendering

Construction has begun at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a Commercial Crew access tower.

The crew access tower, being built by United Launch Alliance at Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41), will be used for launches of Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft atop an Atlas V rocket. The tower will be 200 feet (61 meters) high and include an elevator, as well as means for quick evacuation from the structure in case of an emergency.

The CST-100 is designed to transport up to seven passengers or a mix of crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit destinations such as the International Space Station (ISS) and the Bigelow planned station. Its first flight is slated for 2017.

Report: Defense Cuts Degrading Military

Fox News reports that “the United States military does not currently have the ability to fight two major wars simultaneously, according to a new report, a significant reduction from the capacity enjoyed by defense officials for decades.”

“The Heritage Foundation’s ‘2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength‘ concludes that the armed forces ‘would be ill-equipped to handle two, near-simultaneous major regional contingencies (MRC).’ The two-MRC goal was largely attained during the Cold War, when U.S. forces engaged in a conflict every 15 to 20 years while maintaining ground forces in other regions to ensure stability and deter aggressors.”

“That strategy enables the U.S. military to defeat one adversary in a conflict while preventing another aggressor—seeking to take advantage of the United States’ preoccupation with the first conflict—from defeating it in a separate theater.”

U.S. Military Vehicles Join Parade Next to Russian Border

The Washington Post reports that “U.S. military combat vehicles paraded Wednesday through an Estonian city that juts into Russia, a symbolic act that highlighted the stakes for both sides amid the worst tensions between the West and Russia since the Cold War.”

“The armored personnel carriers and other U.S. Army vehicles that rolled through the streets of Narva, a border city separated by a narrow frontier from Russia, were a dramatic reminder of the new military confrontation in Eastern Europe.”

“The soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Second Cavalry Regiment were taking part in a military parade to mark Estonia’s Independence Day. Narva is a vulnerable border city separated by a river from Russia. It has often been cited as a potential target for the Kremlin if it wanted to escalate its conflict with the West onto NATO territory.”

Growing Bipartisanship in Support of a Slower Withdrawal of U.S. Troops From Afghanistan

It’s starting to look like the United States will keep military forces in Afghanistan longer than planned. A growing number of key Senate Democrats have quietly joined Republicans and Pentagon leaders in advocating a slower withdrawal and a longer stay for U.S. troops because of concern about the security situation, Roll Call reports.

Republicans have long criticized the administration for setting dates for the withdrawal, and now Democrats who oversee the Pentagon have gradually begun to agree — and they have done so more and more openly. They appear concerned that without U.S. troops, the situation in Afghanistan could quickly deteriorate, as it did in Iraq after U.S. forces left more three years ago.

“Back home in West Virginia, they want to know, ‘Do we have to go back and re-buy it all over like we do in Iraq? Can we prevent that in Afghanistan?,” Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III asked at a Feb. 12 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Afghanistan.

If enough Democrats who have been criticizing the Afghanistan timetable join Republican opponents and military leaders, it would be more difficult politically for President Barack Obama to hold to his plan. The mounting congressional pressure could raise the odds that the president will extend the presence of U.S. forces beyond 2016 if Kabul agrees, or at least slow the pace of the pullout.

Some signs suggest it’s working.

Demand Signal Growing to Convert Dumb Bombs to Smart Weapons with JDAM


Boeing rendering

From extensive use during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, to today’s high operations tempo, there’s increasing demand for Joint Attack Direct Munition (JDAM) guidance kits to convert existing unguided free-fall bombs into accurately guided “smart” weapons.

The JDAM guidance kit upgrades existing dumb bombs to add control and lift as well as a Global Positioning System aided Inertial Navigation System (GPS/INS) for precise targeting capability. Guiding free-fall bombs to targets reduces collateral damage, compared with an un-guided bomb, and also reduces the number of weapons needed to neutralize targets. This level of precision and reliability has made JDAM the preferred precision guided munition for the U.S. and 27 international allies.

Last year, international allied nations filled orders exceeding 11,000 JDAM guidance kits – a record order quantity. Boeing Weapons & Missile Systems in St. Charles, Mo., where the low cost kits are built, is responding by increasing production to meet U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and international demand that’s expected to continue into 2015 and beyond.

JDAM kits can be built up in the field based on mission requirements. Additional add-on capabilities such as a laser sensor kit allow JDAMs to hit moving targets. There’s also an extended range wing kit for JDAM being developed and tested by Boeing and the Commonwealth of Australia to extend the range of a conventional JDAM from approximately 15 miles to more than 40 miles. In a shrinking budget environment, the JDAM system offers a cost effective and flexible option for global military operations.

Kerry to Senate: ‘No Way Possible’ for ISIS Ground War

Defense News reports that “there is ‘no way possible’ for the White House’s proposed Islamic War authorization measure to lead to a third massive US military ground conflict in the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry told senators Tuesday.”

“Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a White House-crafted authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) would authorize ‘no long-term combat.’ He added the Obama administration is not asking ‘to build up to a new Iraq or Afghanistan.'”

“‘That’s not what we’re doing,’ he said.”

Head of V.A. Apologizes for False Claim, Says He’ll ‘Do Better’

The New York Times reports that “Robert A. McDonald, the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, pledged Tuesday to “do better” and brushed aside any suggestion that he would resign after he apologized publicly for having falsely claimed to have served in the Special Forces.”

“In a hastily called news conference here, Mr. McDonald, a former corporate executive who has been on the job at the scandal-plagued department for seven months, said his focus was to connect with veterans and to ensure they received care and benefits.”

“’I made a mistake, and I apologize for it,’ he said during a brief question-and-answer session with reporters outside the department, a block from the White House, which on Monday announced Mr. McDonald’s apology.”

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