Archive for February, 2013

AFRICA: Mali Developments

France in Mali

French Rafales jets in Mali.(Copyright French Ministry of Defence)

French Rafale jets in Mali.
(Copyright French Ministry of Defence)

Fighting against Islamist extremists in the mountains of northern Mali is turning out to be taking longer than first projected, says French officials who acknowledged today (Feb. 28) that their troops will likely remain in the North West African nation until July, the Associated Press reports.

The French military intervention, which began with helicopter and fighter jet airstrikes Jan. 11, was expected to be a quick in and out operation — officials had been talking about a March pullout. But now several French officials tell the AP that the 4,000 French troops in Mali will have to stay longer.

German Mali Mission Approved

Germany's Transnall aircraft have provided  transport services in Mali.(Bundeswehr photo by Bicker)

Germany’s C-160 Transall aircraft have provided transport services in Mali.
(Bundeswehr photo by Bicker)

German lawmakers have given their permission for German military advisers to begin training Mali’s battered army. The mission was approved by lawmakers Feb. 27. As many as 350 German troops could be sent to Mali. About 180 troops will provide training, while another 150 German troops will provide logistical support including air transport and aerial refueling. But German troops will not be deployed in combat operations, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Weller (DW).

German troops have had some experience in Mali. Between 2005 and the military coup last year that spiraled into unrest and chaos, Bundesweher (German Federal Defence force) advisers have been permanently stationed in Mali, the German defense ministry told DW. Those advisers help Mali’s army set up an engineers unit.

Top Insurgent Commander Killed?

Algeria(CIA World Factbook)

(CIA World Factbook)

French forces fighting in Mali are believed to have killed a top commander of al Qaeda’s North Africa wing according to an Algerian TV channel, Reuters reports. The TV channel said Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, was killed in operations against Islamist fighters in northern Mali. The television channel Ennahar of Algeria said Abou Zeid was among 40 militants killed three days ago near the border with Algeria. Reuters said Ennahar is well connected with Algeria’s security services. French and Chadian troops have been trying to dislodge fighters from northern Mali since mid-January.

February 28, 2013 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

WASHINGTON: Hagel Takes Over at Pentagon

Chuck in Charge

Chuck Hagel is sworn into office as the 24th defense secretary by Michael L. Rhodes, the Defense Department's director of administration and management, as Hagel's wife, Lilibet, holds a Bible at the Pentagon, Feb. 27, 2013. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

Chuck Hagel, with his wife, Lilibet watching, is sworn into office as defense secretary by Michael Rhodes, the Defense Dept. director of administration and management. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) was sworn in today as the 24th Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon.

In an address to uniformed and civilian workers at the Pentagon, Hagel called for teamwork with allies — “working with old allies and reaching out to new allies.” He added: “We must lead with our allies. No nation, as great as America is, can do anything alone.”

Mentioning the looming budget cuts posed by the sequestration deficit reduction measures scheduled to take effect March 1, Hagel said: “That’s a reality. We need to figure this out …we need to deal with this reality.”

After he was sworn in, Hagel said he spent some time at the Pentagon’s memorial to the 9/11 attack. He noted that Thursday (Feb. 28) will be the 22nd anniversary of the end of Operation Desert Storm, the first war in Iraq. In the time between those two events he said, one “starts to see a pattern of different kinds of threats,” Hagel said.

He noted that the military, and the country as a whole, faces a continuing number of challenges. “If nothing else, what we’re all dealing with is the uncertainty of the planning, the uncertainty of the commitments, the uncertainty of what’s ahead,” he said. Hagel promised to a defense secretary who “will be straight with you.” Then with a grin, he ended the brief session saying: “Now I’ve got to go to work.”

Defense Dept. photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy.

Defense Dept. photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy.

February 27, 2013 at 11:21 am Leave a comment

WASHINGTON: Senate Confirms New Defense Secretary

Obama’s Choice Approved

Now Leon Panetta can finally retire to his farm in California. The U.S. Senate today (Feb. 26) voted to approve — by a narrow margin — the nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense.

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel speaking in 2012. (Defense Dept. Photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel speaking in 2012. (Defense Dept. Photo by Glenn Fawcett)

The Senate voted 58-to-41 to confirm Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska and Vietnam combat veteran, as the 24th Defense Secretary. It was the closest vote on a nominee for the Pentagon post since it was created in 1947, the New York Times reported.

The nomination was held up by his former Republican colleagues who staged a de facto fillibuster before Congress took a Washington’s Birthday break earlier this month.

In the end, only four Republicans voted for Hagel: Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Richard Shelby of Alabama, the Times reported.

Hagel’s opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq and sanctions against Iran earned him the enmity of conservatives. And comments critical of Israel’s influence on Capitol Hill and an openly gay nominee for an ambassadorship created more enemies who sought to discredit him for what he had said or written in years past. Senate opponents also raised questions about whether — after leaving the Senate — he was paid by foreign governments and organizations hostile to the United States. No evidence was found.

The delay in Hagel’s nomination process forced Panetta to come back to Washington from an anticipated retirement to travel to a NATO defense ministers  meeting in Brussels this month. Hagel earned two Purple Hearts during service as an Army sergeant, and served as senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2009. He is scheduled to be sworn in Feb. 27

February 26, 2013 at 10:51 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA Update: Mali, Meth in West Africa

Mostly Mali

Fierce fighting continues in northern Mali as French troops and their allies from Mali and Chad battle to clear violent Islamist extremists from mountain strongholds.

French troops supported Malin forces battling insurgents in Gao [see map below]Copyright Ministry of Defense

French troops supported Malian forces battling insurgents in Gao [see map below]
Copyright French Ministry of Defense

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today (Feb. 26) that the fighting in the Ifoghas region – near the Algerian border – is targeting an area where the “most radical terrorist groups” have gone, according to the Voice of America.

Because of that, Le Drian says says it’s too soon to talk about withdrawing troops from the former French colony in West Africa, although costs of the nearly two-month intervention are growing.

The defense minister told France’s RTL radio that the French intervention in Mali has cost more than €100 million ($133 million), the Associated Press reported.

Mali [click on image to enlarge]CIA World Factbook

Mali [click on image to enlarge]
CIA World Factbook

France began airstrikes Jan. 11 against insurgents that have seized control of almost half of Mali and were threatening Bamako, Mali’s capital. There are now about 4,000 French troops in Mali and Paris has said it wanted to pull them out as soon as the threat diminished — perhaps as soon as March.

Late last week, officials in Chad announced 13 of their soldiers had been killed and five wounded in fighting with the militants in northern Mali. Officials said 65 insurgents were also killed.

To see some striking Aljazeera photos of the fighting and its aftermath in the northern Mali town of Gao, click here.

Meanwhile, Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Charles Koffy Diby says it will cost more than 700 million euros to pay for a multi-national West African military force to replace the French in Mali. The military option was approved in December by the United Nations Security Council and organized by the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which includes Mali and Ivory Coast.

The peacekeeping force is supposed to consist of 6,000 troops from ECOWAS countries and another 2,000 from Chad, which is not an ECOWAS member but borders Mali. More than 1,000 Chadian troops are already on the ground in Mali, as are contingents from Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

According to the South African Press Association, Diby, whose country holds the ECOWAS chairmanship this year, estimated it would cost 715 million euros – more than twice the amount pledged by donor nations in January. Diby said the sum he had in mind took into account “the demands of an asymetrical war or a drawn-out conflict that the narco-terrorists … could bring about.”

Transnational Crime Threat

A United Nations report released today (Feb. 25) warns that the production of methamphetamine is on the rise in West Africa.

Powder meth in foil packet.(Justice Dept. photo)

Powder meth in foil packet.
(Justice Dept. photo)

While cocaine trafficking is the most lucrative criminal activity of transnational crime groups operating in the region, one “worrying development” is the emergence of meth production and related trafficking, according to the report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The main market for West African-produced meth is East Asia, although it is also going to South Africa.  Income from West African-made meth “is remarkably high” for a product that’s new to the market, the report said, adding that competition from drug rings in East Asia is likely to cut into those profits in coming years.

Pierre Lapaque, the West and Central Africa representative for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says meth is an attractive product for West African criminals because it is easy to make, the Voice of America reported.  “You can do that in your kitchen, if you wish,” he said, adding: “You go on the internet, you get the recipe and you cook.”

Although the flow of cocaine out of West Africa peaked at 47 tons in 2007, officials believe cocaine trafficking is back up to 30 to 35 tons a year.

Much of that cocaine comes from Brazil where Nigerian crime groups are exporting the drug.  the report said, adding that those crime groups have been using containerized consignments and maritime shipping to smuggle the drugs. The small country of Benin on the West Coast of Africa is seeing more use as a departure point for air couriers headed for Europe, the report said.

The report also noted that while human trafficking between West Africa and Europe had declined in recent years, there are still problems with pirates off the coasts of Nigeria and Benin as well as trafficking in firearms and fraudulent medicines.

“The recent flood of 10,000 to 20,000 firearms from Libya does represent a serious threat to stability in the region, a threat that appears to have been realized in northern Mali,” the report said.

February 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm Leave a comment

AFGHANISTAN: Afghan President Wants U.S. Special Operations Out

Special Operators Told to Leave

Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Army file foto.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Army file foto.

U.S. Special Operations forces are getting the boot from a strategically important Afghan province outside the capital.

On Sunday (Feb. 24), Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered all U.S. special operations troops out of Wardak Province southwest of Kabul, the capital. Karzai blamed “this suspicious force,” in a statement issued by his office for “harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people,” the Washington Post and other news outlets reported. A Karzai spokesman, seeking to clarify that statement, said the Kabul government actually blamed Afghans “working within these Special Forces groups” for the abuses.

The strategically significant, central province of Wardak has been the recent focus of counter-insurgency operations, noted the BBC.

The Afghan statement said all special operations forces must be gone from Wardak in two weeks.

NATO said Monday it has found no evidence to support Karzai’s allegations, CNN reported. The U.S. military has said it is investigating and officials of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force plan to hold talks about the allegations with Afghan officials.

Karzai’s demand is “an ominous development for future U.S. and NATO plans, which are expected to rely heavily on special operations forces to take on a greater role as the bulk of conventional forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan” in 2014, according to The Long War Journal.

Wardak Province is located below and to the left of Kabul in the map below.

Institute for the Study of War map

Institute for the Study of War map

February 25, 2013 at 10:04 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: U.S. Troops in Niger to Aid French in Mali

White House Informs Congress

Map of Niger(CIA World Factbook)

Map of Niger
(CIA World Factbook)

U.S. troops have been deployed to the North African nation of Niger to aid French military operations against Islamist militants in neighboring Mali.

In a letter to congressional leaders today (Feb. 22) President Barack Obama said approximately 40 military personnel entered Niger two days earlier — with Niger government approval — bringing the U.S. contingent in the desert nation to 100.

Obama said the U.S. troops were in Niger to “provide support for intelligence collection” and “facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali.

The announcement confirms previous news reports that the U.S. was setting up an airfield in Niger to accommodate unarmed surveillance drones to monitor the situation in Mali and elsewhere in the region.

The Pentagon’s news service reported that most of the U.S. contingent were Air Force specialists. U.S. Africa Command recommended placing unarmed drones in Niger “to support a range of regional security missions and engagements with partner nations,” the American Forces Press Service reported.

Last month, the United States and Niger signed an agreement on the status of American forces in Niger.

Niamey, Niger's capital, at night.(Photo via wikipedia)

Niamey, Niger’s capital, where the drone base will be located.
(Photo via wikipedia)

French forces began an airstrike campaign last month — at the request of Mali’s president — against insurgents who were threatening the West African nation’s  capital, Bamako. The U.S. Air Force began airlifting French troops into Mali shortly after the French began their counter insurgency campaign.

Mali has been in turmoil since a March 22 military coup emboldened Tuareg separatists to sweep down from the north and take control of more than half of Mali. The largely secular Tuaregs nationalists were shouldered aside by hardcore Islamist militants shortly after their battlefield successes against Mali’s army. The extreme Islamists, like Ansar Dine which has linked to al Qaeda and other terror groups, introduced strict Muslim religious law in the captured territory, and meted out harsh punishments like limb amputations and floggings.

Obama notified House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Patrick Leahy, the president pro tempore of the Senate, that he was sending in the troops “in furtherance of U.S. national security interests.”

Ancient home in Zinder(Photo by dotlavi from Milano via wikipedia)

Ancient home in Zinder [see map]
(Photo by dotlavi from Milano via wikipedia)

February 22, 2013 at 7:06 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (February 22, 2013)

Hitting the Beach

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Katelyn Hunter

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Katelyn Hunter

U.S. Marines and sailors speed ashore on combat rubber raiding crafts (Try saying that three times fast!) as part of exercise Cobra Gold 2013 in Hat Yao, None, Thailand, on Feb. 15.

Cobra Gold is an annual exercise that includes multilateral events ranging from amphibious assaults to non-combatant evacuation operations. The training aims to improve interoperability between the United States, Thailand and other participating countries, like South Korea. For more Cobra Gold photos click here.

For still more photos of jungle survival instruction conducted by Thai Marines, click here. Be forewarned, some of the things they have to eat are pretty gross. So don’t view this slideshow over breakfast. We warned you.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world …

U.S.Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Chelsea Mandello

U.S.Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Chelsea Mandello

Sailors on a ship boarding team race across the Atlantic Ocean on a rigid hull inflatable boat during a training exercise with the support vessel USS Prevail (TSV 1). The sailors are attached to the amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD 50). Carter Hall is participating in Composite Training Unit Exercise off the east coast of the U.S. in preparation for a deployment this spring.

Defense Department officials have warned that training will be among the activities that will be severely curtailed if Congress fails to reach a compromise on reducing the deficit and massive budget cuts kick in under sequestration starting March 1.

February 22, 2013 at 1:53 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: New Medal for Drone Pilots and Cyber Warriors Sparks Controversy

Medal Mishigas *

The Defense Warfare Medal (Courtesy of the Defense Dept.)

The Defense Warfare Medal (Defense Dept. photo)

You’ve probably heard by now that the Defense Department has created a new commendation medal for  members of the military who do extraordinary things off the battlefield. The pilots of unmanned aircraft and cybersecurity/cyberwarfare operators come to mind.

At his last official press briefing at the Pentagon on Feb. 13, retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the creation of the new Defense Warfare Medal, saying it “recognizes the reality of the kind of technological warfare that we are engaged in, in the 21st century.”

“I’ve seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely piloted platforms and cyber systems, have changed the way wars are fought.  And they’ve given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar,” Panetta said.

Now the DWM will provide “distinct department-wide recognition for the extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but that do not involve acts of valor or physical risk that combat entails,” he added.

According to the Defense Department,  the Distinguished Warfare Medal will be awarded to members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps “whose extraordinary achievements, regardless of their distance to the traditional combat theater, deserve distinct department-wide recognition.”

In the hierarchy of military awards, the DWM is slated to rank just below the Distinguished Flying Cross and above the Bronze Star medal. Both of those medals may be awarded for acts of heroism or acts of merit. When awarded for heroism, the medal is awarded with a “V” for valor device.

But that hierarchical placement has veterans groups like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars — up in arms. Many of their members feel the new medal’s standing diminishes older medals like the Purple Heart, the decoration given to those wounded in battle.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the criteria for the award “will be highly selective and reflect high standards.”

But critics say a medal for singular service far behind the lines should not take precedence over a valor medal like the Bronze Star.

But at a blogger’s roundtable this week (Feb. 20), a Pentagon official tried to set the record straight.

Juliet Beyler, acting director of Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management, noted that only about 2 percent of the Bronze Stars awarded since 9/11 came with the “V” device. “So by far the vast majority of Bronze Stars are not issued with the “V” device,” said Beyler, a retired Marine Corps combat engineer officer who served two tours in Iraq.  She added that there are have been several medals “far lower in precedence that are also eligible to have a ‘V’ device.”

There are only three medals awarded solely for valor: the Medal of Honor; the services crosses (Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Air Force Cross); and the Silver Star medal. There are other medals like the Legion of Merit which are higher in precedence than the Bronze Star but they are for meritorious service over a period of time like 24 months, she said.

A blogger from the American Legion wondered why the new medal was created instead of awarding non-combat zone troops an existing decoration like the Meritorius Service Medal.

Beyler said the Defense Department wanted to “recognize distinct impacts on combat operations.” She added that the Defense Warfare Medal concept was vetted and approved by Dempsey and the other members of the Joint Chiefs as well as by the secretaries of the Army, Navy (who also oversees the Marine Corps) and Air Force. Those service secretaries will determine who receives the new medal, which won’t be ready for distribution for several months. No one has been cited for the DWM yet.
*For the uninitiated, mishigas is a Yiddish word that can mean ‘craziness’ or ‘nonsense.’


SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

February 21, 2013 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Kidnappings in Cameroon and Nigeria, Brazil meets Angola, Tunisian Unrest

Kidnappings on Rise

Cameroon-mapWesterners, particularly French nationals, are being targeted for abduction by Islamist militants, angered over France’s campaign against anti-government Islamist insurgents in Mali, according to The Africa Report website.

Analysts suspect that terrorist groups in Nigeria, Mali, Chad and Niger are working together to avenge what they see as a war on radical Islam, the website said.

The latest attack came Tuesday (Feb. 20) when a family of French tourists – including four children – were kidnapped in Cameroon by armed men on motorbikes. The seven French nationals were seized near a wildlife sanctuary in northern Cameroon and were taken across the border into Nigeria. No group has taken credit for the attack although authorities suspect Ansarum, an offshoot of the violent Nigerian Islamist group, Boko Haram.

The incident brings to 15 the number of French nationals being held by kidnappers in Northwest Africa. Seven French nationals are being held by an al Qaeda affiliate – al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Another Frenchman was taken by Ansarum last June, according to the BBC.

On Saturday, seven foreigners were kidnapped during an attack on a Lebanese construction site in northern Nigeria. Ansarum has taken responsibility for that attack, saying it was in retaliation for France’s attack on militants in Mali. Islamist extremists have been responsible for the deaths of numerous foreigners in Nigeria including North Korean doctors and Chinese construction workers, according to The Guardian.

Brazil, Angola Seek Closer Ties

Angola in Africa(CIA World Factbook)

Angola in Africa
(CIA World Factbook)

The governments of Brazil and Angola have agreed to form a joint defense committee to supervise cooperation and annual meetings to be held in both countries, the Angola Press Agency (ANGOP) reports.

The agreement was announced in a communique issued at the end of a two-day visit to Angola’s capital, Luanda, by a Brazilian delegation headed by Defense Minister Celso Nunes Morim.

Morim, who was accompanied by several business people on the trip, told a press briefing at the Angolan Foreign Ministry that Brazil is looking to cooperate with Angola on defense issues like training and joint exercises, according to ANGOP. “The simple fact that these business people have come to Angola shows that the interest is not restricted to selling alone, but also to seek partnerships and joint investment possibilities as this is important for the country’s development,” Nunes Morin stated.

Angola is looking to Brazil for support to strengthen its own defence industry, to reduce the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA)’s dependence on foreign military equipment sales, according to Angola’s defense minister, Cândido Pereira dos Santos Van-Dunem.

Brazil has the strongest economy in South America and has been looking for foreign partners to supply equipment and manufacturing technology to strengthen its defense forces and defense industry.

Both countries are former Portuguese colonies.

Tunisia Uproar

Tunisia in Africa(CIA World Factbook)

Tunisia in Africa
(CIA World Factbook)

Tunisia, the North African country — where the Arab Spring began more than two years ago — has been lurching through a political crisis since Feb. 6 when leftist politician and opposition leader  Chokri Belaid was assassinated.

No one took responsibility for the fatal shooting but Belaid’s supporters blamed the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party — which vehemently denied any hand in the murder — according to AFP via

The politician’s murder sparked violent street protests and strikes. Then-Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali tried to defuse the situation by announcing plans to create a non-Islamist cabinet of technocrats. The proposal failed and Jebali, resigned.

Now Presidentr Moncef Marzouki has been holding meetings with top politicians to pull the country out of the crisis.

Meanwhile, according to‘s Middle East Channel, the political instability is hurting Tunisia’s fragile economy. Remember: It was protests about high unemployment and food prices as well as government corruption that precipitated regime change in January 2011. Now Standard and Poor’s has downgraded Tunisia’s credit rating because of the “risk that the political situation could deteriorate further…”

February 20, 2013 at 11:53 pm Leave a comment

UNMANNED SYSTEMS: Budget Constraints Shrink Army’s Ground Robot Fleet

More than 2,000 Older Systems to Go

U.S. Army photo

A soldier prepares to send a small ground robot into a tunnel (U.S. Army photo)

ARLINGTON. Virginia – The U.S. Army has spent $730 million since 2003 on unmanned ground vehicles – mostly small robots on caterpillar tracks – but with the current budget crunch, it doesn’t expect to spend much more in the near future.

“When you see the president’s budget that’s going to be submitted in about a month,” Maj. Gen. Robert Dyess, head of the Army’s Force Development Directorate, told an unmanned systems industry group recently, “you’ll question if the Army is actually committed to unmanned ground systems.”

“Our hands are tied,” Dyess told the attendees at the 2013 review of government robotic programs sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicles Systems International Systems (AUVSI), a three-day conference that ended last week (Feb. 14).

The problem, he said, is the threat of sequestration – a blunt and last ditch deficit reducing tool that will cut Defense Department spending by nearly $500 billion over the next five years if it goes into effect March 1. On top of that, Congress failed to pass a defense budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2012. Under a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government going, Congress has frozen spending at 2012 levels – meaning no new programs can be started and there is little leeway to move money around within the department from uneeded programs to ones desperatley short of funds.

Last week Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told a congressional hearing the cuts imposed by the CR and the sequestion – if they go forward – would amount to about $12 billion – mostly to operation and maintenance activities. That would be on top of the estimated $160 billion in cuts to the Army budget over the next nine years under the Budget Control Act of 2011, which trims almost $500 billion from the total defense budget over the next decade.

“If you’re expecting really positive from me today, I just cannot give it to you,” said Dyess, the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference, which focused on ground vehicles. He added that the Army and other armed services will attempt to save money by divesting themselves of some robots and repairing the rest of their inventory in-house.

The plan calls for resetting existing unmanned ground systems (UGS) like Talon and Packbot by bringing them home from Afghanistan and elsewhere to be repaired and upgraded at Army facilities rather than by defense contractors. The Army plans to divest itself of 2,469 older UGSs – sending them to other departments and agencies. While the final recipients haven’t been determined yet, Dyess expected some of the ‘bots might go to allied militaries and local U.S. law enforcement.

That will leave about 2,700 UGSs in service. Rather than buy many more up-to-date robots, the Army and other armed services will seek to upgrade the robots they already have with so-called applique kits that add capabilities or improve existing ones.

Dyess noted that the Army has spent $730 million on unmanned ground systems since 2003. “That has saved countless lives, limbs and [the] eyesight of our soldiers,” he said, adding: “a very, very, very good investment.”

In the future, Dyess said, Army leadership will be looking for modularity of robot features like reconnaissance or bomb disposal equipment to encourage interoperability within units and other services. The Army is turning its focus to smaller unmanned systems that can be operated at the squad level, connected to a network and work with other assets like aviation. Autonomous operation of robots without constant of radio or telemetry control by humans is also a goal for operations, such as convoys.

“The Army is not going to buy a large ground robot, but we are very interested in turning any vehicle we have into a large ground robot” to meet the requirements of individual commanders, Dyess said.

February 18, 2013 at 2:27 am 1 comment

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