Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Egypt’s president is U.S. critic, but he could be an ally

At first glance, Egyptian president-elect Mohamed Morsi might appear like a nightmare for Washington’s interests in the region. The low-key Islamist has spoken vitriolically about American policy in the Middle East, refers to Israelis as “tyrants” and has expressed doubts that the Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by terrorists.

And yet, U.S. officials and analysts express guarded optimism that Washington can build a strong working relationship with the veteran Muslim Brotherhood politician, whose victory was confirmed Sunday. Morsi and his aides say that they, too, are upbeat about the future of Egypt’s relationship with the United States, though not without caveats.

Much of the hope is based on pragmatism: At least in the immediate future, any ideological objections to U.S. policy are likely to take a back seat to Morsi’s need to stabilize Egypt and improve its floundering economy — both of which will require help from Washington, analysts say.

“The U.S. will have leverage with the Brotherhood because the Brotherhood needs the U.S. and Europe for Egypt’s long-term economic recovery,” said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Center who has met with Morsi and several Brotherhood leaders in recent months. “They are going to need billions of dollars in loans and investments if they want to turn around their economy.”

Friday, June 22, 2012

German air force brings Eurofighter, skills to Eielson AFB

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFNS) -- After a nearly 5,000-mile trip across the world, 150 members of the German air force recently arrived here with eight German Eurofighter Typhoons.

It is the first time the German airframe has deployed overseas, according to German officials. In fact, it is the very first of the Eurofighter's participation in any U.S. exercise.

German air force Col. Andreas Pfeiffer, the commander of Fighter Wing 74, at Neuburg air base, Germany, said training here is a completely different experience for the German air force, specifically because Alaska provides more air space and accommodates high-caliber coalition training. Most importantly, though, it is host to the 18th Aggressor Squadron.

"The (18th) Aggressor Squadron, which provides us with the best training on Earth, is unique -- there is no other training partner like the Aggressors," Pfeiffer said. "If you put all of the factors together, this is probably the highest quality training you could possibly get in modern air combat."

One of the most valuable aspects the 18th AGRS provides is dedicated adversary support that the German air force might not find back home, giving a new perspective for German flying and tactics, said Capt. Cory Farrer, an 18th AGRS F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot.

"It allows us to fly with another ally and integrate with them as well as giving them a large piece of airspace to train in," Farrer said. "The Eurofighter is a very capable and formidable airframe, and it's a great and valuable asset (for our allies)."

The German air force's aim with Red Flag was to bring the Eurofighter into an environment in which its pilots could show their proficiency with the aircraft while being able to learn and enhance their experience level, Pfeiffer said.

"The goals we have for this Red Flag exercise are focused on our wing capabilities, both in terms of logistics as well as techniques, to prove that the Eurofighter is capable of coping with all of the challenges of modern air combat," said Pfeiffer. "At the same time, it's for us to increase our own technical performance and capabilities."

In addition to months of training in Europe, the Germans arrived in May to participate in Distant Frontier in order to prepare for Red Flag. Since then, Pfeiffer said his forces have learned valuable lessons.

"We are learning that we are flying and fighting on a common tactical basis," he said. "Although we are flying alongside coalition forces on a regular basis (in Europe), what we learn here is a completely different dimension ... and we are able to prepare ourselves for possible future operations anywhere."

While the German air force has participated in previous exercises like Maple Flag in Canada and other Red Flags at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., the Eurofighters have never participated in such a large-scale exercise.

"We have some really experienced pilots, but this is a huge challenge for most of them -- it's the first time they've done something like this," Pfeiffer said. "Even so, I'm surprised about the performance of both our jets and our crews. Our guys and our systems are ready to face the challenges ahead."

Keeping the future in sight, Pfeiffer is eager to return to Alaska for future Red Flags, attributing the success of his forces to the hospitality and support of Eielson Air Force Base.

"I feel privileged to have the opportunity to participate with my wing and with a new jet in such an outstanding exercise," said Pfeiffer. "This is the highest quality training you could get worldwide; it is unique and simply a privilege."

Full spectrum: Army pilots, Unmanned Aircraft Systems operators to team up on battlefield

Serving as an Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems operator once meant providing video feed and hoping someone was looking at the computer screen besides you.

Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, will take on a new role as a Combat Aviation Brigade, or CAB, element with the upcoming deployment this fall of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Because of a CAB redesign, UAS operators and helicopter pilots will now be better synched to support the ground commander's mission and save lives, said Col. Paul Bontrager, 101st CAB commander, during the 101st CAB's Aviation Training Exercise at Fort Rucker in June.

"It's value added in having a UAS platform up, and Apache pilots and Kiowa pilots are both seeing benefits of utilizing UAS. When the operation is occurring the UAS operator has the understanding and the information needed for him to proactively use that asset. He's not just a person waiting to be told what to do. He's actually part of the mission now," Bontrager said.

Organic UAS is one impact of the "full-spectrum" brigade re-design that makes the 101st CAB the Army's first Full-Spectrum CAB.

"The Full-Spectrum CAB design includes attack, reconnaissance, lift and unmanned systems. The modular, standardized CAB structure is optimized to deliver maximum aviation capabilities in the most timely and flexible manner," said Ellis Golson, director, Capability Development and Integration Directorate for the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence.

The goal of Army UAS within the CAB is to give greater situational awareness and tactical flexibility to CAB and ground commanders, and UAS operators within the 101st CAB feel the structural difference already.

"We haven't been integrating manned and unmanned systems before to this extent. We're part of their team now and we can provide pilots another set of eyes," said Sgt. Mark Lunday, UAS operator for Task Force Saber, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment.

Part of that difference is the sharing of information and mission planning.

"Now we are going into briefs with the scout weapons team, getting the same information. We all know what's going on, and we can go out with a mission set. They know how we work, we know how they work. We're much more involved in what goes on," said Spc. Tory Puetz, 2-17th UAS operator.

The impact on Apache pilots is integrating a new type of teammate to the brigade, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joshua Wanaka, 2-17th AH-64D Instructor Pilot.

"It's like another air team going out. Scouts use the UAS as another scout. Instead of having to hope a UAV is going to be there, or try to research where they will be, I can call and ask them to come to my location and help me right then. Before, that was out of our reach," Wanaka said.

Apache and Kiowa pilots have the ability to receive a video feed from the UAS, send their feed to a ground unit, to a wing man and to each other, so that the ground commander and the pilots have a clearer picture of the battlefield.

"In the past, ground commanders had to put a lot of trust in what's being said. It had to be a picture built with words, whereas now they can actually see what we're telling them, as we're telling them. They can know that we're looking at the same thing they're looking at. In the past you never would have had that ability," Wanaka said.

"The ground commander can look at UAS feed or my own feed, and he can know. And I'm either wrong and he can correct me on the spot, or I've got what they're looking for and there's no questions about it," Wanaka said.

The UAS help ground commanders and CAB commanders to make better decisions.

"We're there for everyone else. It's why we fly," Lunday said.

At the end of the day, it's about saving lives.

"It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when you're talking to this guy and you can't get there soon enough. Now we can look at their video, so it's going to increase the speed in which we can do things, react on things, so hopefully when you get there you can at least stop it. You don't want to not be able to help that guy. If I can keep the ground forces coming back to the forward operating base every day, it's a win," Wanaka said.

McHugh discusses Army of today, Army of 2020

The Army's not going anywhere, Secretary of the Army John McHugh reassured Soldiers, Army civilians and their families in a recent interview.

In fact, as he told Congress while testifying in February, he gets "a little red behind the ears" when people assume that the Department of Defense's increased attention on the Asia-Pacific region means a focus on air and sea power only, or that the Army will somehow no longer be either relevant or needed.

"There's a lot of air and there's a lot of water, but there are a lot of people," he explained. "If you really look at that region, most of the nations for which we have concern and or attention are army-centric. The principal military force in almost every country in that part of the world is the army. We think that, as has been true in the past, the United States Army's future in that region is right. It's not as though we've been nonexistent as a military force in that part of the world."

In fact, he pointed out that between Soldiers and civilians, the Army currently has 75,000 people in Asia, and that last year it had more than 120 meetings, exercises and other activities with its Asian-Pacific counterparts.

"We see our role there as very, very important, and whether it's in the Asia-Pacific region or anywhere else in the world, at the end of the day, if you're really going to control land and bring stability and bring peace, the Army's the force to get that job done," he added. "I think both the president and the secretary of defense have made very clear that their main objective, which is ours as well, is to preserve this magnificent land force that's been built over the last 10 years, and ensure we remain in the future what we are today: the greatest land power the world's ever seen."

McHugh and other Army and DOD leaders are committed to maintaining that strength in the face of mounting budget cuts: Over the next 10 years, the DOD plans to cut $487 billion from its budget. The Army's fiscal year 2013 budget request is $184.6 billion, about $18 billion less than fiscal year 12. The current numbers are manageable, McHugh said, but one of his biggest concerns is the sequestration measure under the 2011 Budget Control Act, which would cut another $500 billion from the defense budget over the same period, beginning in January 2013. Those additional cuts would have a "devastating impact," he told the House Armed Services Committee in February, "not only on the Army's programs, systems and readiness, but also on our Soldiers, civilians and their families."

After past conflicts, he said, leaders historically drew the Army down too far and too fast, leaving a hollow force behind. He's determined not to repeat these mistakes. Balance is the key to avoiding that, the key to retaining "what a Soldier needs to be ready to go to war, to go out and do the hard work of freedom when they're called upon." To achieve that balance, Army experts and leaders spent about eight months developing a budget that continues funding for readiness, training and modernization.

It's impossible to predict exactly what the Army of 2020 will look like or need, "but what we are trying to do is to build a joint force that evolves and keeps up with the most modern technology, that reacts to the realities of the global military posture of both our allies and those who don't wish us the best of futures," McHugh said. "And, most importantly, produce an Army that, at any given moment is able to, as (Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno) says, deter win and shape the future.

"We never want to have to go to war again, but we know we have to maintain an Army that deters an aggressor, that sends the clear message that if you engage in aggression, you'll have to pay a terrible price. We want an Army as well that, should it be called upon to go to war, has what it needs, (is) fully ready (and) is trained and equipped with the latest, most advanced weaponry to win and to come home quickly. That is our objective for 2020."

Fulfilling that objective involves several main areas of focus, including next-generation vehicles such as the joint light tactical vehicle and the Bradley tank's replacement. In fact, McHugh said that the ground combat vehicle program and providing MRAP-like protection to keep Soldiers safe are top priorities.

And whether it's in those vehicles, existing vehicles or through hand-held technology, "it's absolutely critical that you extend to the edge of the battlefield and to the … individual Soldier and the lowest units, full tactical and strategic awareness on the battlefield, and have those information lines and communication lines throughout our entire force," McHugh said.

In addition, he said that Army and DOD networks are probed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times each day by "outside sources," so cyber security is "one of the things that we're most challenged by and, frankly, one of the things that we still consider ourselves vulnerable to." McHugh therefore sees increased emphasis on the importance of Army and defense cyber commands over the next few years.

He stressed that overall funding for family programs will continue unchanged, saying that "taking care of families is part of our moral obligation as an Army. They are part of us and we have to make sure that they have the programs available to them that are necessary for their quality of life. It's also a question of readiness. If you're going to send a Soldier thousands of miles away and ask him or her to engage in combat and take on some other mission, be apart from that family, the last thing we want them to do is to unnecessarily worry about if their spouses and their children are taken care of."

With the new budget limitations, however, something has to give, and "we're going to have to ask hard questions about every dollar that we spend. We've got to make sure that underperforming or nonperforming programs either turn around their fortunes or will have to be cancelled," McHugh acknowledged. "It's the responsible thing to do, both from the tax payer's perspective, but also from the Soldier's perspective. We want to make sure we're focusing upon those programs that are productive, (programs) that actually can be fielded and meet an urgent need."

McHugh believes the Army has enough Humvees, for example, and while discussing the budget request, Army Budget Director Maj. Gen. Phillip E. McGhee and Deputy Budget Director Barbara L. Bonessa told reporters that other programs that will be cut include enhanced medium-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, the medium tactical vehicle program, the Mounted Soldier System and the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System.

The active Army's end strength will fall by approximately 70,000 Soldiers to about 490,000 over the next five years. To do this, McHugh said that the Army is "aggressively" controlling recruiting, so it can keep not only a healthy mix of new Soldiers and experienced noncommissioned officers and officers, but also the best of the best. That may mean giving some deserving Soldiers the opportunity to change military occupational specialties, because "the last thing we want to do is force out a Soldier who's answered the call of duty." If Soldiers do need to leave the service, he said that the Army would provide them with all possible transition and job search assistance.

The same is true of Army civilians, he added, noting that although the Army has thus far shrunk its civilian ranks without resorting to a reduction in force, RIFs "will likely be probable. The last thing -- on the civilian side as well -- we want to do is force out otherwise good people who've done a good job for us. But budget numbers are inescapable. We'll work these numbers as carefully as we can, but at some point, we have to deal with the reality of what the Congress and the administration gives us in terms of resources."

For example, President Barack Obama asked Congress to establish an outside commission to examine the military retirement system. It's worth looking at, McHugh said, echoing former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' suggestion that servicemembers be allowed to receive some form of benefit before the 20-year mark. All of the DOD leaders, McHugh continued, believe current servicemembers should be grandfathered under the existing system.

"There might be better ways to do these kinds of things," he said, "We owe it to the American public, but we also owe it to the future Soldiers to take a look at that."

TRICARE patients will see some changes as well -- something McHugh says is unpleasant but necessary to preserve the program for the future, especially given skyrocketing health care costs. He said the military health care program has almost doubled in 10 years. Retirees will see higher, tiered enrollment fees for TRICARE Prime and TRICARE-for-Life based on their retirement pay, and pharmacy copays will increase incrementally from $5 to $9 for generics and $12 to $34 for brand-name medications by fiscal year 2017.

"At the end of the day," he said, "if these increases were adopted and implemented in the timelines that have been requested, the military health care plan would still be among the most, if not the most, generous anywhere in America, and that's the way it should be."

Care for wounded warriors, which McHugh called a "sacred" obligation, will continue for as long as there's a need out there. "This is not something that you can sit down and say 'here's how many wounded warriors we're going to have and here's how long we're going to have to care for them.

"These are incredible men and women and every time I travel, I try to go by the wounded warrior unit and say 'Hi' to those folks. I always wonder what I can do to lift their spirits when in fact they always lift mine with their courage, their determination. We need to and we will stand by them."

U.S. Mulls New Covert Raids in Pakistan

U.S. military and intelligence officials are so frustrated with Pakistan's failure to stop local militant groups from attacking Americans in neighboring Afghanistan that they have considered launching secret joint U.S.-Afghan commando raids into Pakistan to hunt them down, officials told The Associated Press.

But the idea, which U.S. officials say comes up every couple of months, has been consistently rejected because the White House believes the chance of successfully rooting out the deadly Haqqani network would not be worth the intense diplomatic blowback from Pakistan that inevitably would ensue.

[Read: New Pakistan PM Candidate Faces Arrest Warrant.]

Members of the Haqqani tribe have been targeted by pilotless U.S. drone aircraft, but sending American and Afghan troops into Pakistan would be a serious escalation of the hunt for terrorists and could potentially be the final straw for Pakistan, which already is angered over what it sees as U.S. violations of its sovereignty.

Navy, Northrop Grumman Complete X-47B Flight Testing at Edwards Air Force Base

The first major phase of flight testing the X-47 B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator aircraft came to a successful conclusion on May 15 when Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy wrapped up testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The first major phase of flight testing the X-47 B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator aircraft came to a successful conclusion on May 15 when Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy wrapped up testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The airworthiness test phase, which comprised 23 flights by two air vehicles, proved that the X-47B will perform properly at all speeds, weights and altitudes associated with the Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. The flights included tests of several aircraft maneuvers required in the carrier environment, helping to reduce risks associated with operating a tailless, unmanned aircraft from a Navy aircraft carrier.

Navy, Northrop Grumman Complete X-47B Flight Testing at Edwards Air Force Base

The first major phase of flight testing the X-47 B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator aircraft came to a successful conclusion on May 15 when Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy wrapped up testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The first major phase of flight testing the X-47 B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator aircraft came to a successful conclusion on May 15 when Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy wrapped up testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The airworthiness test phase, which comprised 23 flights by two air vehicles, proved that the X-47B will perform properly at all speeds, weights and altitudes associated with the Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program. The flights included tests of several aircraft maneuvers required in the carrier environment, helping to reduce risks associated with operating a tailless, unmanned aircraft from a Navy aircraft carrier.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

DOD reassessing plans for new medical center near Ramstein

Defense Department officials say they are reassessing plans for a new military hospital to replace Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. A recent congressional report found calculation errors, improper documentation and other problems with the department’s initial proposal.

The Pentagon is conducting an analysis as requested by Congress to ensure the project is “properly sized and scoped to meet current and projected healthcare requirements taking into account manpower decreases, economic conditions and feasibility of using more of the German healthcare network,” Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said in an email.

“It would be inappropriate at this time to comment on the outcome of that study prior to its completion,” Smith said.

Smith did not say when the department expected to complete the study.

But the office of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been notified that the reassessment is complete “and that it should be ready to come to us in the next few weeks,” Kathleen Long, a spokeswoman for Levin’s office, said in an email Monday.

Smith also did not say whether the new analysis takes into account the planned troop reductions in Europe.

Renewables no fix for U.S. military fuel woes: study

Renewable fuels for U.S. military ships and jets are likely to remain "far more expensive" than petroleum products absent a technological breakthrough, a study for the U.S. Air Force found on Tuesday, questioning a Pentagon push for alternative energy.

The study by the RAND Corporation think tank said that while the U.S. Defense Department is a huge consumer of fuel at about 340,000 barrels per day, that figure is a tiny fraction of the 87 million barrels per day of global demand, too small to influence price significantly.

Efforts to make fuel from seed or algae oils are not producing at the scale or price necessary to meet the military's demand at a reasonable cost, said James Bartis, the RAND researcher who authored a volume of the report.

"Pending a major technical breakthrough, renewable jet fuel and marine fuels will continue to be far more expensive than petroleum-based fuels," he said.

That assessment is likely to stoke the current confrontation in Washington over the Pentagon's efforts to promote alternative fuels. U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has angered members of Congress by pushing development of biofuels for use in ships and aircraft.

Lawmakers in both houses of Congress have proposed a measure that would bar military spending on biofuels unless they are competitively priced with petroleum.

Who will lead Afghanistan after Karzai?

Afghanistan’s next presidential elections are scheduled for 2014. However, President Hamid Karzai recently announced that he may call elections a year earlier.

Although a successful security handover hinges on an effective political transition from the current administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to a new leadership, Afghan leaders inside and outside of the government say Mr. Karzai hasn't done enough to set up a political system that will support a new president.

"For example, [Karzai] didn't encourage a young generation of Afghan leaders to emerge. He didn't support the development of strong multiethnic political groups or parties, nor did he form his own party, which leads one to believe that he had a political agenda and did not want to build the political capacity of the country," says Hamidullah Farooqi, spokesperson for the Truth and Justice Party and former minister of transport and civil aviation under Karzai.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Air Force launches first special tactics wing

U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command stood up the 24th Special Operations Wing in a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 12 to meet the growing demand for the unique capabilities special tactics Air Commandos provide.

AFSOC commander Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel said creation of this new brand of wing better prepares the special tactics community to meet the swiftly evolving requirements of a global special operations forces partnership.

"While the pace of global special operations has been demanding throughout this past decade, we cannot expect to slow down over the next," he said.

It is this pace that makes the activation of the 24 SOW so monumental.

America has been at war running operations for more than a decade with a volunteer force, Fiel said. The special tactics Airmen who have been a constant presence in these operations comprise less than half of a single percent of the population.

In assuming command of the 24 SOW, Col. Robert Armfield recognized the magnitude of what is being asked of his Airmen and what they are accomplishing under a highly demanding operational tempo.

Since Sept. 11, special tactics Airmen have been awarded five Air Force Crosses, 29 Silver Stars, 217 Bronze Stars with Valor and 96 Purple Hearts.

The special tactics career field is among the most decorated career field in the Air Force, Fiel said. But more notable is the fact that almost every month, one special tactics Airmen is critically wounded or killed.

We've got to be able to look the fathers and the mothers, the wives and the husbands, and the kids straight in the eye and tell them we have done everything possible to make them successful in battle and bring them back," Armfield said. "That's what this new wing is all about."

The 24 SOW will be successful, he added.

"Our challenge now is to take this investment that you've made in resources and turn it into combat capability for the AFSOC portfolio, and we're going to do it," Armfield said.

The mission of the 24 SOW is to provide special tactics forces for rapid global employment to enable airpower success.

"Establishment of the 24th Special Operations Wing allows a single commander to lead the recruiting, training and development of our special tactics warriors and ultimately provide combatant commanders with world-class Airmen to accomplish their mission," Fiel said.

By creating the 24 SOW, not only is a single special tactics commander enabled to lead, but pressure is alleviated by removing the responsibility of logistical planning from the groups so they can concentrate on the operational mission.

Capabilities of the Wing include airfield reconnaissance, assessment and control. Special tactics Airmen also engage in joint terminal attack control, personnel recovery, weather and environmental reconnaissance.

The 24 SOW, activated June 1, will comprise the 720th Special Tactics Group and the Special Tactics Training Squadron based at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The 724th Special Tactics Group, Pope Field, N.C. and 16 recruiting locations will also fall under the wing.

The 24 SOW will be the third wing under AFSOC alongside the 1st Special Operations Wing located here and the 27 Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

With Armfield's promotion to commander of the 24 SOW, Col. Kurt Buller assumed command of the 720 STG.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

US Weighs Its Costly Afghanistan Supply Route Options

Pentagon pulled a negotiation team out of Pakistan on Monday after a negotiation over a NATO supply route failed to materialize.

The route in question was used by coalition forces for transporting supplies by land from Karachi to Afghanistan until November, when Pakistan shut its border to NATO convoys after an air strike mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Since then, Pakistan has demanded a fee increase from $250 to $5,000 for every truck that crosses the border. The United States has offered to pay $1,000.

Talks to reopen the route are stalled, but the withdrawal of the team of "low-level" specialists does not indicate a significant break in U.S.-Pakistan relations.

Report: US military admits to mistakes in Iraq, Afghanistan

When President Obama announced in Aug. 2010 the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, he complimented the soldiers who had served there for completing “every mission they were given.” But some of military’s most senior officers, in a little-noticed report this spring, rendered a harsher account of their work that highlights repeated missteps and failures over the past decade, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

There was a “failure to recognize, acknowledge and accurately define” the environment in which the conflicts occurred, leading to a “mismatch between forces, capabilities, missions, and goals,” says the assessment from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. The efforts were marked by a “failure to adequately plan and resource strategic and operational” shifts from one phase of the conflicts to the next.

From the outset, U.S. forces were poorly prepared for peacekeeping and had not adequately planned for the unexepected. In the first half of the decade, “strategic leadership repeatedly failed,” and as a result, U.S. military training, policies, doctrine and equipment were ill-suited to the tasks that troops actually faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These self-critical conclusions appear in the first volume of a draft report titled “Decade of War” — part of a multi-volume survey of “enduring lessons” from the past ten years of conflict. When completed, “it will be used by senior leaders” to develop U.S. military forces for the future, according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Fields, a Joint Staff spokeswoman.

Fields said the 36-page, May 2012 report remains an internal document and is not available to the public, but a copy was posted Thursday on the website of a trade publication called "Inside the Pentagon" (accessible only to regular or trial subscribers).

Its criticisms are largely familiar to anyone who closely followed the two wars’ fitful progress or who read author Thomas Ricks’ seminal, bestselling 2006 account of the U.S. military’s early failings in Iraq, bluntly titled “Fiasco.” An internal Army War College assessment in 2005 cited in Ricks’ book reaches similar conclusions.

US-Pakistan talks on reopening NATO supply routes stall

The United States has withdrawn negotiators from Pakistan after talks failed to reopen vital NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, officials said Monday.

The move signaled further strain in troubled Pakistani-US relations and followed harsh criticism last week from US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that saw Pakistan's army chief refuse to meet a senior Pentagon official.

The negotiators had been in Pakistan for about six weeks, as US officials believed they were close to a deal with Islamabad to lift the blockade.

Pakistan shut its border to NATO supply convoys on November 26 after a botched US air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

But no breakthrough was imminent and there was no scheduled date for a resumption of the talks, Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.

U.S. braces for action in Persian Gulf

Amid dimming expectations that next week's talks in Moscow will defuse the U.S.-Iranian confrontation in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy has sent four additional mine countermeasures ships to the region to oppose an Iranian threat to close the vital oil artery.

The deployment doubles the number of mine-hunting warships the U.S. 5th Fleet, which has headquarters in Bahrain, will have operating in the region, through which one-fifth of the world's oil supplies pass.

The U.S. Navy has identified the mine-hunters as the Avenger class USS Sentry, USS Devastator, USS Pioneer and USS Warrior out of San Diego.

These slow-moving 1,379-ton ships, all transported to the gulf aboard heavy-lift vessels, will join their forward-deployed sister ships USS Scout, USS Gladiator, USS Ardent and USS Dextrous.

The British navy also has four mine countermeasures vessels in the gulf.

The Americans plan to deploy at least four mine-sweeping MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters to the gulf as well.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Smoke Over Flame: Who Is Behind Super Cyber Spy Tool?

Cyber security experts around the world are racing to dissect Flame, the largest cyber espionage program ever discovered, as clues in the code and vague statements from Western officials fueled speculation as to whether the U.S. or Israel may be behind what researchers are calling a potential game-changer in the burgeoning arena of cyber warfare.

The existence of Flame, an unprecedented intelligence-gathering program designed to track and record basically everything an infected computer does, was disclosed Monday by two international cyber security firms as well as the Iranian government, which said Flame had been discovered on its networks.

One of the firms, Kaspersky Labs, reported the malware had been discovered in several countries in the Middle East, mostly in Iran, and had been operating for at least two years. Kaspersky Labs, along with a Hungarian cryptology lab called Crysys that also analyzed Flame, said that because of the expertise, time and funding required to create such a large and sophisticated program, it was likely some government agency had created the malicious code, rather than a group of cyber criminals or rogue hackers.

Clues in the code, such as the names of processes like "Beetlejuice" and "Platypus," led some experts to believe it could have been written by native English-speakers, but others pointed out that English is a common coding language in many countries.

Back to Stuxnet: the missing link

Two weeks ago, when we announced the discovery of the Flame malware we said that we saw no strong similarity between its code and programming style with that of the Tilded platform which Stuxnet and Duqu are based on.

Flame and Tilded are completely different projects based on different architectures and each with their own distinct characteristics. For instance, Flame never uses system drivers, while Stuxnet and Duqu’s main method of loading modules for execution is via a kernel driver.

But it turns out we were wrong. Wrong, in that we believed Flame and Stuxnet were two unrelated projects.

Our research unearthed some previously unknown facts that completely transform the current view of how Stuxnet was created and its link with Flame.

Flame spy virus gets order to vanish

US computer security researchers said Sunday that the Flame computer virus that smoldered undetected for years in Middle Eastern energy facilities has gotten orders to vanish, leaving no trace.

Anti-virus company Symantec said in a blog post that late last week, some Flame "command-and-control servers sent an updated command to several compromised computers."

"This command was designed to completely remove (Flame) from the compromised computers."

Flame malicious software (malware) appears to have been "in the wild" for two years or longer and prime targets so far have been energy facilities in the Middle East, especially in Iran.

The discovery of Flame immediately sparked speculation that it had been created by US and Israeli security services to steal information about Iran's controversial nuclear drive.

Obama hits back at 'offensive' leak allegations

US President Barack Obama hit back Friday at accusations that the White House was somehow involved in leaking classified national security secrets, labeling the allegations "offensive."

Lawmakers have fumed this week over a series of news reports, some quoting anonymous administration officials, that reveal details of covert US operations. Some Republicans have suggested the information was leaked to boost Obama's image of a tough commander-in-chief in an election year.

"The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive," Obama said. "It's wrong. And, you know, people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office."

Several explosive stories have emerged recently, including Obama's push for cyber attacks on computers that run Iran's nuclear facilities; an apparent "kill list" of counterterrorism targets against whom Obama has authorized lethal action; and a secret drone campaign against terrorists in Yemen.

The New York Times reported that sources for their articles on the covert programs included former or current administration officials.

"We're dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people, our families, or our military personnel, or our allies. And so we don't play with that," Obama said.

"Whether or not the information they received is true, the writers of these articles have all stated unequivocally they didn't come from this White House, and that's not how we operate."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Israel: Military Intelligence Unit 8200 and Cyberwarfare

Israel's highly secretive Unit 8200 of Military Intelligence is increasingly seen to have played a leading role with the United States in developing a powerful new cyberweapon known as W32.Flame that attacked Iran's oil industry in April.

Veterans of the unit, the equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters, have in recent years been at the cutting edge of building Israel's formidable high-tech sector into what the Financial Times calls a "global technology powerhouse."

Indeed, the proliferation of Unit 8200 alumni across the spectrum of Israel's high-tech industry suggests that they probably run it and that there are strong security links between the unit and civilian high-tech outfits.

Ex-Spy Telescope May Get New Identity as a Space Investigator

Contested, Congested and Competitive:
US Space Security Posture and Military Space Forces

Outer space has become the new strategic high ground. Whether commercial or military, space assets are vital to everything from weather forecasting to communications to strategic and tactical reconnaissance. Western nations must be concerned as rival (and sometimes overtly hostile) actors increase their own space presence. No nation is more dependent on space for its national security and economic welfare than the technology-oriented, globally active USA. This issue of HRISQ will focus on US space security policy and space strategy, and examine the armed forces components dedicated to space operations.
The phone call came like a bolt out of the blue, so to speak, in January 2011. On the other end of the line was someone from the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the nation’s fleet of spy satellites. They had some spare, unused “hardware” to get rid of. Was NASA interested?

So when John Grunsfeld, the physicist and former astronaut, walked into his office a year later to start his new job as NASA’s associate administrator for space science, he discovered that his potential armada was a bit bigger than he knew.

Sitting in a room in upstate New York were two telescopes the same size as the famed Hubble Space Telescope, but built to point down at the Earth, instead of up at the heavens.

NASA, struggling to get human space exploration moving again, had spent the previous year trying to figure out how good these telescopes were and what, if anything, they could be used for. Working with a small band of astronomers for the past couple of months, Dr. Grunsfeld, famous as the Hubble telescope’s in-orbit repairman, has now come up with a plan, which was presented to the public on Monday at a meeting at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington.

It is to turn one of the telescopes loose on the cosmos, pointing in its rightful direction, outward, to investigate the mysterious dark energy that is speeding up the universe’s expansion.

Do Cyberattacks on Iran Make Us Vulnerable?

It is now clear that the United States was involved in cyberattacks that damaged Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities. But such actions may open the door to bolder attacks against the United States. A leading Russian cybersecurity expert, who discovered another virus afflicting computers in Iran, has called for an international treaty banning cyberweapons. By pursuing cyberattacks against foreign nations, is the United States protecting itself or risking far greater danger?

Elite Military Forces Are Denied in Bid for Expansion

In late April, the military’s Special Operations Command presented the State Department and Congress with an urgent request for new authority to train and equip security forces in places like Yemen and Kenya.

The request, which included seeking approval to train foreign internal security forces that had been off-limits to the American military, was the latest effort by the command’s top officer, Adm. William H. McRaven, to make it easier for his elite forces to respond faster to emerging threats and better enable allies to counter the same dangers.

Given the command’s influence in shaping American strategy toward extremism, the proposal seemed to have momentum. President Obama and his Pentagon’s leadership are tapping Special Operations troops more to hunt militants and train foreign security forces in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. And Admiral McRaven is a White House favorite, especially after he oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

But in a rare rebuke to the admiral and his command, powerful House and Senate officials as well as the State Department, and ultimately the deputy cabinet-level aides who met at the White House on the issue on May 7, rejected the changes. They sent the admiral and his lawyers back to the drawing board with orders to use security assistance programs already in place, particularly one created last year by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the defense secretary at the time, Robert M. Gates, for just these types of issues.

“Right now, anything Socom wants they pretty much get — they’re hot,” said one senior Congressional aide involved in the deliberations, using the command’s nickname. “But this was a nonstarter. They were overly zealous.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

Delta Force: Army’s ‘quiet professionals’

As Navy SEALs bask in the limelight for daring missions, some in the Army are wondering whether the other half of the nation’s counter-terrorism covert warriors — Delta Force — is being upstaged and left in the shadows.

Adm. William H. McRaven, a SEAL who commanded the Joint Special Operations Command when SEAL Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year, favors his guys over Delta, some say.

“All I’ve heard and observed is that he is obviously pro-SEAL and that explains why Delta has been sidelined,” said a retired ArmyGreen Beret who still conducts special operations as a government contractor.

A spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command, where Adm. McRaven is now the top officer and the second SEAL in a row to lead the force, declined to comment. “There are some units we do not discuss,” he said.

SEAL Team 6 has won heaps of public praise since dispatching the world’s most wanted terrorist in May 2011. Months later, real SEALs starred in an action movie, “Act of Valor.” Later this year, Hollywood will release another SEAL-related film on the hunt for bin Laden.

'No alternative' but boost China military ties: US

There is "no other alternative" for the United States and China but to boost military-to-military relations to manage disputes, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Saturday.

A robust security dialogue between the two powers is key to the prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, Panetta told delegates to the Shangri-La Dialogue, a security conference held in Singapore annually.

"Our relationship with China -- we approach it in a very clear-eyed way. We are not naive about the relationship and neither is China," he said in response to a question after a speech.

"We both understand the differences we have, we both understand the conflicts we have but we also both understand that there really is no other alternative but for both of us to engage and to improve our communications and to improve our military-to-military relationship."

Alliances challenged as US, China compete in Asia

Washington's planned strategic shift to Asia will challenge existing alliances as nations try to balance strong economic ties to China with defence links to Washington, a conference heard Sunday.

Many Asian countries have major business relations with China but are also defence allies of the United States.

"The political, economic and cultural ramifications of a newly-empowered Asia are bound to impact existing security and economic relationships," Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a conference on security issues.

Space Realities Require New Way of Thinking

Contested, Congested and Competitive:
US Space Security Posture and Military Space Forces

Outer space has become the new strategic high ground. Whether commercial or military, space assets are vital to everything from weather forecasting to communications to strategic and tactical reconnaissance. Western nations must be concerned as rival (and sometimes overtly hostile) actors increase their own space presence. No nation is more dependent on space for its national security and economic welfare than the technology-oriented, globally active USA. This issue of HRISQ focuses on US space security policy and space strategy, and examine the armed forces components dedicated to space operations.

The U.S. has fine-tuned its methods to promote responsible use of space and strengthen international partnerships, Ambassador Gregory L. Schulte, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said during the 2012 Women in Aerospace Conference.

In his keynote address at the conference, Schulte outlined the plan to protect U.S. advantages and sustainability in space as directed by the National Security Strategy for Space issued by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and national intelligence officials.

"Space is no longer a pristine environment," Schulte said. "We have to think differently about how we cooperate with others in space."

Schulte explained that burgeoning interest in space by a number of nations is both an asset and a liability.

"Allied capabilities can augment ours, add resilience and increase our ability to operate in a contested space environment when adversaries may be trying to take away our space capabilities," he said.

"As there are more and more actors in space, it becomes more important that we bring a certain amount of order to that domain, that we encourage countries to act responsibly."

As such, Schulte said, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Strategic Command, based at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., have weighed in this year to take deliberate steps in negotiating space situational awareness agreements with countries across the globe.

The discussions have united "European Union and other space-faring countries to develop an international voluntary code of conduct meant to encourage countries to act responsibly and call out those who act irresponsibly," Schulte said.

The norms, Schulte asserts, aim to help U.S. and coalition countries share information on an emergency basis, encourage best practices to buffer the uptick of mishaps and control the creation of additional debris in space.

"[Stratcom] tracks over 20,000 pieces of debris - and that's just what they can see," Schulte said. "NASA estimates there are probably hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris up there."

Harnessing international partnerships also includes a plan to expand the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., into a coalition asset by integrating Canada's first operational military space-based telescope system, Sapphire.

A larger constellation of satellites supplied by international partner nations provides greater coverage and bandwidth, Schulte said, and also creates an international space alliance that can act as a deterrent to threats against the U.S. and its allies.

Israel fitting nuclear arms on German-supplied subs

Israel is arming submarines supplied and largely financed by Germany with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, influential German news weekly Der Spiegel reports in its issue to be published on Monday.

The magazine said in a cover story that Berlin had until now denied any knowledge that German submarines were being used as part of an Israeli atomic arsenal.

But former high-ranking officials of the German defence ministry told Der Spiegel that the government always assumed Israel was putting nuclear warheads on the Dolphin-class vessels.

The article, based on a months-long probe, cited files from the foreign ministry in Berlin indicating the West German state was aware of the practice as early as 1961.