Posts filed under ‘Washington’
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.”
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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.”
Christmas Drone Concern.
Concerned that “tens of thousands” of adults and children may be getting small drones for Christmas, three unmanned aircraft trade groups and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a joint education program today (December 22) to ensure that people unfamiliar with flying rules operate their small planes and helicopters safely.
In a teleconference with reporters announcing the launch of the “Know Before You Fly” program’s website officials said they were concerned that people ignorant of what they are and aren’t allowed to do when flying their new “toys” might cause accidents in the air or on the ground. The program is a joint effort of the world’s largest robotics trade group, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), as well as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and the Small UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicle) Coalition – along with the FAA.
AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano, said small unmanned aircraft were drawing a lot of interest as the “must have holiday gift” and he anticipated “tens of thousands” would be under Christmas trees this season.
“This is an issue of growing concern,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.”The price of unmanned aircraft has come down and this newer and more powerful technology is more affordable to more people, yet many are unfamiliar with the rules of flying,” he said, adding that retailers and manufacturers were offering UAS, often mini helicopters, for prices ranging from $20 to thousands of dollars.
The program seeks to make new UAS owners aware of best practices such as: Don’t fly above 400 feet; Keep your aircraft within sight and don’t fly within five miles of an airport without first notifying FAA air traffic control or the airport operator. “We urge you to join a model airplanet club to learn how to safely operate and enjoy your aircraft,” Huerta said to new drone owners.
While FAA rules bar commercial operations like professional photographers or farmers from flying drones to assist their work, Congress has mandated that model airplane enthusiasts and hobbyists can fly remotely operated aircraft at low altitudes without a permit or license as long as they follow a few simple rules. By contrast, universities, designers, government agencies, including police and fire departments, must submit to a lengthy and slow process of certification by the FAA before they can fly UAS under stringently limited circumstances.
The makers and operators of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are increasingly frustrated at the FAA’s slow pace in determining when commercial interests can fly unmanned vehicles for profit, while any member of the public can fly a UAS without any training or registration. Toscano said he believes most people would follow the rules once they are made aware of them. “As more and more of this technology is introduced, the rules will get more refined,” he said. As for “rogue entities out there,” he added, “if they misuse the technology, then they have to be held accountable and we have laws out there to do that.”
Congress has mandated that the FAA develop rules to integrate drones into the National Airspace System by 2015, but observers believe the agency, which is charged with operating the air traffic control system and maintaining aviation safety, won’t make that fast-approaching deadline. Huerta would not be pinned down on when the FAA would release its proposed rules for small commercial UAS flights. “We’re very focused on getting it out quickly,” he told reporters.
A front page story in the Washington Post today (December 22) reports that FAA officials may be ignoring the concerns of some of their own safety experts in allowing seven film and video-making companies, as well as entities in a few other business sectors, to fly drones commercially under much reduced restrictions. The paper noted that one film company had already lost control of one of its camera drones which flew off and crash-landed harmlessly in rough terrain not far from he movie set. But Huerta dismissed the notion that the FAA has been soft on safety.
“With any new technology, you’re going to have different points of view and different opinions and we welcome that because that’s how we get to ensuring that we can develop the best regulations and the best mitigations are put in place,” said Huerta. “I’m very confident we have a very open process and a thoughtful and transparent process that is focused on how we stage integration into the National Airspace System, but to do it in a safe manner,” he added.
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.
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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.
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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.
Commonality, Interoperability, Affordability.
TYSONS CORNER, Virginia — For years, advocates of unmanned systems — robots, drones and autonomous vehicles — have repeated the mantra “dirty, dull and dangerous.”
In other words, unmanned systems can free humans from tasks that are inherently “dirty, dull or dangerous,” and in most cases do it faster, longer, safer and cheaper than people. Now, the mantra is “commonality, interoperability and affordability” — at least around the Pentagon — where the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are all facing new demands and adversaries but with less money.
That’s been the take-away this week from the Unmanned Systems Program Review 2014, sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the leading trade group for all things robotic — civilian and military. Until recently, the three-day annual event, which ended today (November 6) has been a platform for the armed services and other government agencies like NOAA and DARPA, to explain what they are looking for in the way of unmanned ground, air on maritime vehicles. They also outline how their existing programs — like Navy counter mine warfare robots (see photo below) or reconnaissance drones for the Army — are doing and what changes in design or mission are likely in the future.
But as one speaker after another addressed the audience of manufacturers, academics and reporters outside Washington, they noted that defense budgets are tight and likely to get even tighter if Congress resumes across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration in Fiscal Year 2016. “We don’t really know how much [money] we’re going to end up with,” said Tom Dee, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Expeditionary Program and Logistics Management. Uncertainty in funding really puts the squeeze on, driving Defense Department program managers to focus on what they can afford. And that includes programs where the aircraft fly and the submarines and boats sail without a human on board. Major General Robert Dyess, director of Force Development in the financial management (G-8) section of the Army Staff, called sequestration a “large black cloud.”
The budget restraints come at a time when America and its military are facing a widening array of threats and challenges from violent extremist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIL in the Middle East and al Shabaab in Africa, criminal narcotics cartels based in Latin America but spreading to Africa and Europe, disease outbreaks like Ebola and natural disasters like Haiti’s earthquake or Japan’s tsunami. Military peers like Russia and China and near peers like Iran and North Korea pose additional concerns. Pentagon leaders have been saying for months that the U.S. military will have to do more with less and unmanned systems could be a way to drive down costs..
So the military in general, and unmanned systems program managers in particular, are looking for commonality in controls and other equipment. Dyess said the Army wants common controllers for unmanned ground vehicles and small unmanned aircraft systems like the Raven, Wasp and Puma, so they can work in unison.
The Defense Department’s Joint Staff Robotic and Autonomous Systems Team is trying to identify advanced applications for increased interoperability between manned and unmanned systems, according to Army Colonel Charles Bowery, the team’s officer in charge. “Interoperability is probably the most important thing we are doing now,” said Chris O’Donnell, Tactical Warfare Systems staff specialist for the Joint Ground Robotics Enterprise in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Most speakers advised the conference that the Defense Department had little use for proprietary technology that makes it impossible to swap out failing parts or add new modular equipment like cameras or sensors to robotic equipment. “Open architecture is critical,” Captain Eric Wirstrom, Maritime Operation Director at Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, said today. On the issue of affordability, he was emphatic in his advice to industry about selling unmanned underwater vehicles and the sensors they can carry: “I need it cheap.”
Your 4GWAR editor learned a lot about the future path or unmanned systems in the military over the three-day AUVSI event and we’ll be summing it up on Saturday. Please check back with us this weekend.