Posts filed under ‘Washington’
Better Late Than Never.
Seven weeks past a congressional deadline, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued proposed rules for the use of unmanned aircraft in commercial operations such as monitoring crops, inspecting infrastructure like bridges and smokestacks and filming television programs and movies.
The FAA announcement Sunday (February 15) doesn’t mean small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) will delivering pizza or books to your home anytime soon. “What we are releasing today is a proposed rule,” cautioned FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. In a conference call with reporters Huerta added: “Today’s action does not authorize wide spread commercial use of unmanned aircraft. That can only happen when the rule is final.” In the meantime, he noted, commercial operators must still go through the current process for a waiver or exemption to fly.
And that process, which can take many months to complete, has limited the number of business and institutions — including police and other emergency responders — that can fly UAS.
The proposed rules apply only to unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds (25 kilograms). If approved, they would limit commercial UAS flights to daylight hours on days with a visibility of three miles from where the operator is. Other limitations: a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour (87 knots) and a maximum altitude of 500 fee above the ground. The idea is to keep small drones, which aren’t required to have sense and avoid technology like that on manned aircraft, out of the way of commercial planes which usually fly at higher altitudes. The rules also would require the operator to maintain line of sight control of the aircraft. In other words, no autonomous flight out of the operator’s sight (whether it be over the horizon or just behind a hill or building). Operators would not have to obtain a pilot’s license, but would be required to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center and then pass a recurring aero knowledge test every 24 months. Operators must be a minimum of 17-years-old and would also have to be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration (a unit of the Homeland Security Department).
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is to be published in the Federal Register and can be found here. Additional information is on the FAA website. In addition to the 60-day period where the public can comment on the proposed rules, the agency said it would hold public meetings at the six FAA-approved UAS test sites around the country.
New Pentagon Chief.
The U.S. Senate today (February 12) confirmed the nomination of Ashton Carter to be Secretary of Defense — the fourth since Barack Obama became president.
Carter, 60, a former No. 2 civilian executive and acquisition chief at the Pentagon in the Obama and Clinton administrations, will replace Chuck Hagel as defense secretary.
As expected, Carter’s nomination by President Barack Obama made it through the Senate fairly swiftly. The president named him to succeed Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska and Vietnam Army combat veteran, in December. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted unanimously February 10 to recommend Carter to the full Senate, which approved the nominee, by a vote of 93-5, just two days later.
Carter will inherit an array of defense and foreign policy challenges that are likely to help define the remaining two years of Obama’s presidency, Bloomberg Business noted. He must guide the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan when many military officers and some members of Congress want to slow it. He also will be a central figure in the debate over Obama’s request for congressional authorization for the war against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.
In a White House statement, Obama praised Carter as “a key leader of our national security team in the first years of my presidency” adding that “with his decades of experience, Ash will help keep our military strong as we continue the fight against terrorist networks, modernize our alliances, and invest in new capabilities to keep our armed forces prepared for long-term threats.” Yet the president passed over Carter in favor of Hagel two years ago. Hagel, who announced his resignation in November, stepped down “under pressure from Mr. Obama,” the New York Times noted, “over the mounting conflicts in the Middle East and agitation from Republicans, including those with whom Mr. Hagel once served in the Senate.”
Carter will be back before the Senate Armed Services Committee early next month to defend Obama’s $585.2 billion defense budget request for fiscal year 2016 (October 1, 2015-September 30, 2016), which is about $35 billion above the funding cap set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 — which could impose severe budget cuts through the process known as sequestration again in FY 2016.
At his confirmation hearing, Carter called across-the-board sequestration cuts risky, adding that they cause “turbulence and uncertainty that is wasteful.” At that hearing Carter also said he was inclined to support giving “lethal arms” to Ukraine’s military in its battle against Russian-backed separatists. He also said the violent extremist organization which the U.S. military calls ISIL (for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is the “most immediate threat” among many facing the United States. Despite threats from the Middle East and pressure on NATO allies and partner nations from Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Carter said he supported the administration’s strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific area.
Fort Bowyer Besieged Again.
February 8-12, Mississippi Territory
Repulsed at New Orleans, the Royal Navy is now at anchor near the entrance to Mobile Bay in Mississippi Territory (now the state of Alabama). Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, the overall commander of the British invasion of the southern United States is looking to recoup his losses and reputation after the disaster in Louisiana by taking the small city of Mobile.
Standing in the way, however is a small sand and log fort, Fort Bowyer — which repulsed a British attack in September. Army Major William Lawrence, the commander who beat back a combined land and sea attack in 1814 with just 160 men of the 2nd U.S. Infantry Regiment, now has 375 soldiers. But instead of the 60 Royal Marines and about 100 Indian allies he faced the previous Fall — the British have landed more than 1,000 troops on shore with a dozen canons and rocket launchers. And there are now scores of British ships surrounding the point where the fort sits, compared to the four used in the unsuccessful September attack.
While the fort and the Royal Navy exchange gunfire, the British land troops take three days to dig trenches within 30 yards of the fort and deploy their artillery. Outnumbered and outgunned, Lawrence agrees to surrender and on February 12 his troops march out of the fort. Cochrane plans taking Mobile — and maybe attacking New Orleans again, from the North.
February 11 New York City
The British sloop HMS Favorite arrives in New York harbor with the peace treaty negotiated by British and American representatives in Ghent, Belgium on Christmas Eve. The document has been signed by the Prince Regent, acting for his father King George III. The war is still on until the U.S. Senate ratifies the document.
The treaty reaches Washington City on the evening of February 14 and Secretary of State James Monroe presents it to President James Madison. Word leaks out and celebrations erupt around the capital, battered by a British invasion force less than six months earlier. Madison, who is living at the Octagon House across the street from the burned out White House, plans to keep quiet about the agreement until he presents it for ratification on the 15th.
February 14 Mobile Bay, Mississippi Territory
Admiral Cochrane gives up his plans to attack Mobile when another British ship arrives with word of the Prince Regent’s signing the Treaty of Ghent.
The attack on Fort Bowyer, considered the last land engagement between U.S. and British forces during the War of 1812, costs the British 30 killed and wounded. The U.S. casualties total 10 killed and wounded.
The head of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and the civilian executive in charge of the command’s equipment acquisition will be among the speakers at this year’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition this week in Washington.
Sponsored by the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA), the gathering brings together Special Operations leaders from all the U.S. armed services and several foreign countries, as well as industry, foreign embassies and academics to discuss the role of Special Operations Forces in a rapidly changing world.
U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, SOCOM’s new commander is slated to be the keynote speaker Tuesday (January 27), the gathering’s first full day. Later Tuesday, Michael Dumont, a civilian and principal deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) will be the luncheon speaker.
On Wednesday, attendees will hear from James “Hondo” Geurts, SOCOM’s acquisition executive, who is expected to outline what products are required to meet the needs of troops involved in SO/LIC activities.
As in past gatherings, money constraints are expected to be a hot topic as SOCOM deals with terrorism in Africa and the Middle East, countering ISIS and training local defense forces in places like Latin America. Special Operations Forces number about 67,000 — one of the fastest growing segments of the military. American SOF are working as trainers and observers at any given time in 90 countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Djibouti, Colombia and the Philippines. Their portfolio also includes rescuing hostages or capturing leaders of violent extremist organizations .
Special Operations Forces include Army Green Berets, Rangers and Special Ops aviators, Navy SEALS and Special Warfare Combatant-craft crews, Air Force Pararescue jumpers and combat air controllers, Marine Corps Corps critical skills operators and special operations combat services specialists.
Coordinating U.S. Arctic Efforts.
President Barack Obama has signed an executive order establishing a new panel that will advise the U.S. government on preserving the Alaskan Arctic.
Obama said he was establishing the Arctic Executive Steering Committee to help juggle more than 20 tribal, scientific, corporate, and federal interests at play in the Arctic, where temperatures have risen at twice the rate as the rest of the United States, The Hill reported.
“As the United States assumes the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, it is more important than ever that we have a coordinated national effort that takes advantage of our combined expertise and efforts in the Arctic region to promote our shared values and priorities,” the executive order, signed Wednesday (January 21), noted.
In April, the United States will take over from Canada the chairmanship of the eight-member Arctic Council — Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. The council, created in 1996, is a high level intergovernmental forum seeking to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States — with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities — on issues like environmental protection, oil and gas development, shipping and climate change.
Obama did not mention the Arctic specifically in his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday (Jan. 20) but he said climate change posed the greatest threat to future generations, USA Today reported. And while he didn’t announce any new climate initiatives in his speech, he did say he was “determined to make sure that American leadership drives international action.”
*** *** ***
Russian Arctic Buildup
Russia’s continuing activities in Eastern Ukraine are drawing criticism from NATO and other western nations. But in the Arctic, which is expected to grow more accessible as melting sea ice opens up shipping lanes, Moscow’s military buildup is also being noticed with some concern.
According to the Ottawa (Canada) Citizen, Russia is to looking to have 14 operational airfields in the Arctic by the end of 2015 as it pushes ahead with its plan to boost its military presence in its Northern region. Four airfields are already operational. Ten more will be built in the coming year, Russia’s deputy defence minister Dmitry Bulgakov told the country’s Sputnik news agency, the Canadian newspaper noted.
Newsweek notes that … A detachment of about 800 servicemen from Russia’s Northern Fleet has been stationed in the Russian town of Alakurtti, Murmansk region, just 50 kilometers from the Finnish border. It’s part of a large-scale expansion of Russian military facilities in the country’s northwest according to a press statement (here’s a link to the statement, in Russian) by the unit’s commanding admiral Vladimir Korolev.
The rest of the fleet are expected to be stationed there “soon” according to Korolev. The base will be one of the key strongholds in Russia’s northernmost territories, designed to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities from the west, and improve their territorial claims over areas in the Arctic, said Newsweek.
At full force, Russia’s Northern Fleet consists of about 3,000 ground troops trained for combat in Arctic conditions, along with 39 ships and 45 submarines. Its arrival in Murmansk follows Russia’s decision last year to create a united command for all of its units designated with protecting Russia’s interests in the country’s northern regions, the news website noted.
And UPI notes (via Military.Com ) that Russia’s military press service has confirmed the country will be sending drones to the Arctic in early 2015.
“Before the end of the current year specialists with several Orlan-10 sets will arrive at the permanent service base,” the press service told Russian news agency Tass. Test flight will begin in the next few months. The drones are allegedly meant to do surveillance over coastal areas and to help sea vessels navigate, according to UPI.
The Orlan-10 is a Russian drone with a front propeller, resembling a traditional manned aircraft. The aircraft was first discovered to be in use in early 2014, when one was shot down in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, The Moscow Times wonders if the worldwide drop in the price of oil, the driving force in Russia’s economy, could slow Russia’s activities – military and commercial – in its Arctic region.
ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the High North. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region, where we seek to meet our national security needs, protect the environment, responsibly manage resources, account for indigenous communities, support scientific research, and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”
Senate Sanctions Venezuela.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for approval.
The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act, if enacted, would direct President Barack Obama to take action against any current of former Venezuelan government official who violated the rights of anti-government protestors this year, according to The Hill newspaper in Washington. Sanctions could include freezing assets and denial of visas to travel to the United States
Passed on a voice vote Monday (December 8), the bill was introduced by Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, after reports of peaceful protestors being tortured and killed. The Venezuelan government said opposition leaders incited protesters to violence and planned a coup against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Thousands of activists taking part in anti-government protests that started February 4, were arrested. More than 40 people were killed in the protests that raged from February to May, according to the BBC.
*** *** ***
Brazil’s Torture and Execution Legacy.
The Brazilian government routinely used torture, summary executions and forced disappearances against dissidents during that country’s 20-year military dictatorship, according to a National Truth Commission report released Wednesday (December 10).
The three-year investigation concluded the violence of the anti-leftist campaign amounted to official policy. “During the military dictatorship, repression and elimination of political opponents became state policy, designed and implemented from decisions emanating from the presidency of the republic and the military ministries,” the report said, according to the Brazilian newspaper Estadao (according to Al Jazeera).
The report, based on over 1,000 testimonials, was presented to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, herself a former Marxist who suffered imprisonment and torture during the dictatorship, which ran from 1964 to 1985. The report documents 434 politically motivated killings and disappearances and provides nearly 400 names of those responsible – including more than 200 military officers, almost 70 of them generals, the Brazilian paper reported.
Other South American countries – Argentina, Chile and Uruguay – have all prosecuted those responsible for atrocities under their own military dictatorships in the 1970s and ‘80s. But Brazil, like South Africa is one of the few whose truth commission named not just the victims but those responsible for the crimes, Al Jazeera reported.
*** *** ***
Rap Ruse Ripped.
Newspapers in Cuba and Venezuela report that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was trying to foment discontent among Cuban young people through music – particularly rap and hip hop.
But Cuban rapper Aldo Rodriguez Baquero, a member of the popular hip hop group Los Aldeanos, says he never received money from (USAID), despite published reports Thursday (December 11) to the contrary, according to the Spanish version of the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald.
The publications cited an investigation by the Associated Press. Rodriguez Baquero said he didn’t know that Serbian promoter Rajko Bozic was a subcontractor of Creative Associates International, which held a contract with USAID. The Cuban rapper said he was unaware the company was working on a project to “recruit” him to “unleash a youth movement against the Cuban government,” according to the AP.
On at least six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program; they also confiscated computer hardware that in some cases contained information that jeopardized Cubans who likely had no idea they were caught up in a clandestine U.S. operation. Still, contractors working for USAID kept putting themselves and their targets at risk, the AP investigation found.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who chairs a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department, said the conduct described in the AP report “suggests an alarming lack of concern for the safety of Cubans involved, and anyone who knows Cuba could predict it would fail.” Leahy added that USAID “never informed Congress about this and should never have been associated with anything so incompetent and reckless.”
Obama Makes Change at the Pentagon.
UPDATES with Obama announcing selection of Ashton Carter to be next Secretary of Defense — subject to Senate confirmation.
It’s official, President Barack Obama has picked veteran Pentagon official Ashton Carter as his nominee to succeed Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.
In remarks at the White House, Obama characterized Carter as someone who knows the Defense Department “inside and out.” The president added that Carter would “hit the ground running” if the Senate confirms the nomination — which most observers expect.
Carter was deputy defense secretary under Leon Panetta, but Obama passed over him in early 2013 to tap Hagel as SecDef. Numerous news outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times indicated earlier this week that Carter was Obama’s choice this time around.
While he has never served in the military, Carter held key posts in the Clinton and Obama administrations at the Pentagon. In addition to serving as the No. 2 official at the Pentagon from October 2011 to December 2013, Carter, 60, has served as the Pentagon’s chief of acquisition, technology and logistics – the head weapons buyer for the military.
“As a top member of our Pentagon team for the first five years of my presidency, including two years as deputy secretary, he was at the table in he Situation Room; he was by my side navigating complex security challenges that we were confronting,” Obama said.
Carter is known for a keen, well-educated mind – he has a doctorate from Oxford in theoretical physics and degrees in physics and medieval history from Yale. Your 4GWAR editor was impressed by Carter’s candor, intelligence and laid-back but articulate manner at the 2013 Aspen Security Forum, explaining the expansion of cyber security in the wake of the mess caused by the National Security Agency revelations and other disclosures by rogue contractor Edward Snowden.
While the White House hasn’t confirmed Carter’s nomination, the choice isn’t expected to run into much opposition on Capitol Hill. From the moment Hagel’s resignation was announced last month, Carter was among the names Washington insiders considered most likely for the post. The reported front-runner, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy, took her name out of contention, as did Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and former Army Ranger who sits on the Armed Services Committee.
The fact that Hagel’s departure was announced without a successor standing by, surprised Washington pundits, who speculated that it showed more disorder in an Obama White House, contending with a shooting war in Iraq, Russian belligerence, global jihad and Taliban resurgence while the United States is winding down its combat role in Afghanistan – all with less money from Congress.
But CNN reported that Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, declined to accommodate his resignation announcement until the White House settled on a nominee. On Thursday (December 4) Hagel discounted reports that he resigned over differences with Obama, Reuters and other news outlets report. However, Hagel did not attend today’s White House event with Carter, according to The Hill.
All we can say is … Stay tuned.