Posts filed under ‘Washington’

HOMELAND SECURITY: Customs and Border Protection Exploring Small Drone Use

Wearable Drones.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is exploring the use of wearable sensors -- including a wrist-mounted drone -- to keep agents safe and efficient. (CBP  photo)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is exploring the use of wearable sensors — including a wrist-mounted drone — to keep agents safe and efficient.
(CBP photo)

WASHINGTON — Wolf Tombe has been the chief technology officer of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) since 2003.

He says his mission is to find or develop new gizmos that will enhance the safety of CBP’s 46,657 officers and agents and increase mission effectiveness – all while reducing costs.

“Everything is about ‘How do we train and equip our officers to do their job better?,” he told attendees at a Border Management industry conference this week.

And toward that end, he is looking at wearable technology like heart rate monitors and wearable cameras he told the conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. Among the technologies CBP, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, is considering are small unmanned aircraft, including a drone mounted on the wrist.

Such technology would meet CBP new technology requirements: enhancing officer safety, increasing mission effectiveness — and reducing costs, he said. If it does any or all of those things, “bring it in and we’ll look at it,” he told conference attendees Wednesday (February 25).

Threats to the homeland, whether a disease outbreak like Ebola or lone wolf terrorists, are evolving and “we need to evolve with them, to stay ahead of it,” Tombe said.

CBP Chief Technology Officer Wolf Tombe

CBP Chief Technology Officer Wolf Tombe

In addition to the wrist drone, Tombe said CBP was considering the benefits of small hand-launched drones that Border Patrol agents and other CBP law enforcement officers could carry in their vehicles to get a better situational picture in remote and rugged areas like the deserts of the Southwest or the big woods along the U.S-Canadian border.

“All this technology is consumer grade,” Tombe said, meaning it is generally less expensive than equipment designed for the Defense or Homeland Security departments. He said manufacturers of wearable heart rate monitors and football and batting helmets helmets equipped with impact sensors that can text a high school coach or parent need to consider their law enforcement applications.

While the wrist drone is just in the “late prototype stages” and only stays aloft for 3 to 5 minutes, Tombe said “we’ll bring it in and take a look at it.” Meanwhile, his office plans to test the efficacy of slightly larger handheld drones with DHS operational units as well as local law enforcement departments like the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.

February 26, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

COUNTERTERRORISM: Obama Strategy for Countering Violent Extremist Groups

Long War Strategy.

President Barack Obama and National Security Adviser in the Oval Office. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama and National Security Adviser Susan Rice in the Oval Office.
(White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama says the United States is not at war with Islam. Rather,  “we are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” he told officials from more than 60 nations at a three-day summit on countering violent extremism that ended Thursday (February 19).

The White House called the Washington gathering — following a wave of recent terrorist attacks in Canada, France, Australia and Denmark — to develop an international coalition to wage an ideological battle against violent extremist organizations such as the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in parts of Syria and Iraq, and radical Islamist groups like Boko Haram in West Africa and al Shabaab on the Horn of Africa in the eastern part of the country.

Among the tactics proposed was delivering a strong message to young people to counter the propaganda and recruitment efforts of extremist groups through social media. “We must acknowledge that groups like al Qaeda and ISIL, are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslin youth,” Obama said, adding: Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics therefore have a responsibility to push back, not just on twisted interpretations of Islam, but also on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilizations; that America and the West are somehow at war with Islam or seek to suppress Muslims; or that we are the cause of every ill in the Middle East. ”

As a step in that direction, Obama said the United States was joining with the United Arab Emirates (UAE, a Gulf State), to create a new digital communications hub to work with religious and civil society and community leaders to counter terrorist propaganda.

Obama also called on foreign leaders to cut off funding “that fuels hatred and corrupts young minds.” He also called for free elections, religious and ethnic tolerance.”We have to address the political grievances that terrorists exploit.” But a number of the countries represented at the meeting, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uganda, are far from democratic and tolerant, the New York Times noted.

And conservatives and Republicans criticized Obama’s emphasis on expanding human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue. “The solution here is not expanded Medicaid. The solution is the full force of U.S. military power to destroy the leaders of ISIS,” Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and possible presidential candidate told Politico. “They have declared war … jihad on the United States. Jihad is another word the president doesn’t say.”

Critics like Cruz have also complained that Obama doesn’t use terms like “Muslim,” “Islamic” or “jihadist,” when talking about Middle East terrorism. The White House says its part of strategy to avoid giving credence to the IS doctrine that the West is at war with Islam.

February 20, 2015 at 12:58 am Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (February 15-February 21, 1815) [Update]

Peace.

COLUMBIAN CENTINEL, Boston, Massachusetts, February 22, 1815

COLUMBIAN CENTINEL, Boston, Massachusetts, February 22, 1815

Updates to add details to items on Harford Convention and USS Constitution and correct number of canon balls embedded in Constitution’s hull.

February 15-18, Washington City

The day after the peace treaty (already ratified by the British) arrives in Washington, President James Madison submits it to the Senate, which under the Constitution, must ratify all treaties for them to take effect. On February 16, the Senate ratifies the treaty unanimously — even though it does not resolve any of the issues that led to war: the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy; British attempts to incite Native Americans in the Upper Midwest against U.S. settlements; freedom of the seas for U.S. naval and merchant vessels. Instead both sides agree to return to borders and boundaries before the war: the British will evacuate Maine and the areas of the Upper Midwest they have seized and the United States will relinquish the bit of Upper Canada (Ontario) it captured.

Madison signs to treaty and on February 18 proclaims the United States and Great Britain are at peace officially. The war declared by the U.S. Congress on June 18 1812 is finally over.

Sometime between the word of Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and the delivery of the peace treaty, delegates from the Hartford Convention in New England arrived in Washington. They had  with them proposals hashed out in private in Hartford, Connecticut in late December 1814-to-early January 1815. All the New England states (except and Maine which was still a part of Massachusetts and not yet a state in its own right), sent at  least one delegate to Hartford. Secret_Journal_of_the_Hartford_Convention

New Englanders, mostly members of the Federalist Party, were disturbed that the war, which they did not support, was ruining their economy — especially maritime commerce after the British extended their naval blockade to New England.  They also felt that the Southern and new Western states and the Democratic-Republican Party were taking over the country and its political system. While there were brief discussions about possible secession from the union, it was not taken seriously. Instead, delegates drew up several proposed amendments to the Constitution. They ranged from requiring a two-thirds majority vote for all future declarations of war to limiting presidents to one term and ending the three-fifths compromise language of 1787, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of both representation in Congress and the direct taxation of states. Another proposal would have barred men from the same state from succeeding each other as president.  (Except for Massachusetts’ John Adams, every U.S. president up until then had hailed from Virginia — including pro-war-with-Britain Thomas Jefferson and Madison).  With the war with Britain over, and patriotic fervor at a fever pitch following the victory at  New Orleans, the Hartford Convention’s ideas are ignored or laughed off in Washington.

February 20, Off the West Coast of Africa

The 44-gun frigate USS Constitution, unaware that peace has come, plies the South Atlantic looking to disrupt British commerce. Four days after the peace treaty is ratified,  the fabled ship — known as “Old Ironsides” encounters two Royal Navy ships, the 34-gun HMS Cyane and the 21-gun HMS Levant off the coast of Africa.

USS Constitution takes on HM Cyane and HMS Levant. (usconstitutionmuseum.org)

USS Constitution takes on HMS Cyane and HMS Levant.
(usconstitutionmuseum.org) C

Constitution’s captain, Charles Stewart, first defeats, Cyane, and after a running gun battle, Levant strikes her colors. The British ships suffer about 40 killed and 80 wounded, while Constitution’s  losses are four killed and 11 wounded. Constitution suffers little damage although 12  32-pound British canon balls are found  embedded in Old Ironsides’ hull — but none penetrated the ship’s interior.

Stewart  places some of his officers and crew aboard the two British ships to sail them back to the United States as prizes of war. But after a stop in the Cape Verde Islands, Constitution and her two prizes encounter a three-ship British squadron, which re-captures Levant. But Stewart and his other prize get away. Cyane reaches a U.S. port in April. Constitution continues its raiding cruise but during a stop in Brazil to drop off her British prisoners, Stewart hears a rumor the war may be over and sets sail for America, arriving in New York May 15.

Following the rules of the day, Cyane is ruled a prize of war and not returned to Britain, but renamed USS Cyane and absorbed into the U.S. Navy.

February 16, 2015 at 12:58 am Leave a comment

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: FAA Issues Proposed Rules for Commercial Drone Flight

Better Late Than Never.

Small UAS in Alaska (Courtesy of University of Alaska-Fairbanks)

Small UAS in Alaska
(Courtesy of University of Alaska-Fairbanks)

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.

FAA-uas-test-site-operators-large

 

 

February 15, 2015 at 5:45 pm Leave a comment

WASHINGTON: Senate Confirms Ash Carter as Defense Secretary

New Pentagon Chief.

U.S. Senate confirms Ash Carter as 25th Defense Secretary.  (Defense Dept. photo)

U.S. Senate confirms Ash Carter as 25th Defense Secretary.
(Defense Dept. photo)

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.

February 12, 2015 at 6:28 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (February 8-February 14, 1815)

Fort Bowyer Besieged Again.

February 8-12, Mississippi Territory

The Fall of Fort Bowyer, 1815. Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

The Fall of Fort Bowyer, 1815.
Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

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.

Fort Bowyer at the entrance to Mobile Bay 1814-1815. (Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Fort Bowyer at the entrance to Mobile Bay 1814-1815.
(Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

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.

President James Madison (Courtesy, The White House Historical Association)

President James Madison
(Courtesy, The White House Historical Association)

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.

February 8, 2015 at 8:00 pm Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: SOCOM Leaders to Speak at Industry Conference and Expo

SO/LIC.

Air Force special tactics forces navigate their Zodiac

Air Force special tactics forces navigate in a Zodiac boat.  (U.S. Air Force photo.)

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.

Members of the U.S.  Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines work side-by-side with Philippine troops in a non-combat, training and advisory role to battle terrorists.  (Defense Dept. photo)

Members of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines work side-by-side with Philippine troops in a non-combat, training and advisory role to battle terrorists.
(Defense Dept. photo)

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.

January 26, 2015 at 10:11 pm Leave a comment

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