Posts tagged ‘intelligence’

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: SOCOM Wants to Kick Addiction to Airborne Recon

SOCOM’s ISR Roadmap.

An MQ-9 Reaper takes off in Afghanistan (Air Force photo)

An MQ-9 Reaper takes off in Afghanistan (Air Force photo)

TAMPA, Florida — U.S. commando forces have a virtual “chemical dependence” on air assets for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data, and U.S. Special Operations Command wants to kick the habit, says SOCOM’s intel capabilities and requirements chief.

U.S. Air Force Colonel Matthew Atkins says 80 percent of SOCOM’s ISR comes from air assets, both manned and unmanned. “This is where our spending and our resource investment has been,” Atkins told a briefing at a special operations conference Wednesday (May 20) on SOCOM’s ISR Road Map.

The ISR roadmap calls for sustaining existing large and expensive ISR air assets like the Air Force MQ-9 Reaper or the Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle — both of them unmanned aircraft — while investing in newer, simpler aircraft. The roadmap makes “one thing abundantly clear,” according to Atkins. “We need to reduce our reliance on airborne platforms,” he said, adding that airborne ISR “is not always available and is often the most costly” way to gather intelligence.

So SOCOM will be putting considerable energy into exploring and expanding ground-based and maritime-based ISR, “because that’s where we see the most cost benefit analysis,” Atkins said. Space and cyber-based capabilities will also be studied to enhance special ops missions and to deliver precision intelligence.

The command will need technological help from industry to solve the data transport problem. And because SOCOM will be relying increasingly on partner militaries, it will require ISR platforms to be affordable and employable by partners, with the intelligence sharing components “essentially baked in” to facilitate cooperation.

MQ-7 Raven small unmanned aircraft  (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. First Class Michael Guillory)

RQ-11 Raven small unmanned aircraft
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. First Class Michael Guillory)

Atkins said SOCOM is seeing a tremendous demand from partner nations to teach — not only ISR acquisition — but how to use the information in what SOCOM calls foreign internal defense — training foreign militaries how to defend their territory and people themselves and rely less on U.S. assistance.

“A lot of these countries know how to fly the Scan Eagles (a small drone) and other things that they buy, but they don’t necessarily know how to use them” to process information and turn that information into useable intelligence, Atkins told a standing room only audience during the 2015 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference sponsored by TAMPA-headquartered SOCOM and the National Defense Industrial Association. The conference ended today (May 21).

May 21, 2015 at 1:45 pm Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPS/INTELLIGENCE: Michael Vickers Retiring from Pentagon Intel Post

Ex-Green Beret, Ex-CIA, Now Ex-Pentagon Official.

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers (center) discusses U.S. counterterrorism strategy at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado. Moderator Brian Ross of ABC News (left) ,John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice  Department.  (Defense Dept. photo by Claudette Roulo)

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers (center) discusses U.S. counterterrorism strategy at the 2014 Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado with moderator Brian Ross of ABC News (left) and John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department.
(Defense Dept. photo by Claudette Roulo)

Michael Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence for the past four years, announced Thursday (April 30) that he was stepping down.

A former U.S. Army Green Beret, CIA operations officer, and top Pentagon official since 2007, Vickers was the first person to hold the position of assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities from July 23, 2007 to March 17, 2011. President Obama asked Vickers to stay on in that post when his administration took office in 2009.

Vickers is probably best known as the principal strategist for the largest covert action program in the CIA’s history: the paramilitary operation that drove the Soviet army out of Afghanistan — popularly known from a non-fiction book and movie as “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

But success doesn’t come easy or all the time, Vickers told DoD News. He noted the United States and the West were caught by surprise by Russia’s aggressive behavior in Ukraine, slipping in Russian special ops soldiers pretending to be Ukrainians. But Vickers said “the intelligence community quickly adapted to the situation and was able to track things very well since then.”

He noted that the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS or simply the Islamic State) and their rapid advance through Iraq were also surprises.

Obama nominated Vickers to be the third Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence  on September 29, 2010, and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on March 17, 2011. Vickers served as Acting USDI for about two months in early 20111. As USDI, he played a critical policy and planning role in the operation that hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden.

As the SO/LIC&IC assistant secretary, he was, in effect, the civilian chief of all U.S. Special Operations Forces, and the senior civilian adviser to the Secretary of Defense on counterterrorism, irregular warfare and special activities.  He played a central role in shaping U.S. strategy in the war with al Qaeda and the war in Afghanistan, and led the largest expansion of SOF capabilities and capacity in history.

From 1973 to 1986, Vickers served as an Army Special Forces enlisted man and officer, and CIA Operations Officer. He had operational and combat experience in Central America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia. His operational experience spans covert action and espionage, unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and foreign internal defense, according to his Pentagon bio.

April 30, 2015 at 11:07 pm Leave a comment

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: FAA Picks Six Test Sites to Integrate Drones into U.S. Airspace

A Good Start

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees private and commercial aircraft operations, has chosen six sites to test the best ways for introducing unmanned aircraft into the crowded National Airspace.


The sites are located in six states: Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Virginia and Texas. The entities – three universities, an aiport and two state governments were all picked for their climate, research facilities and air traffic conditions. “In totality, these six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity and help the FAA meet its UAS research needs,” the FAA said.

Congress has ordered the FAA to develop a program for the safe introduction of commercial unmanned aircraft, usually known as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS – although most people call them drones – into the already crowded National Airspace System by 2015.

Currently only government, industrial and academic UAV operators are allowed to fly them in highly restricted air zones — mostly for research — once they have received a certificate of authorization (COA). The COAs limit when and where they can fly their drones. Hobbyists may fly a small UAS no higher than 300 feet above ground and must always maintain visual contact with the drone. No commercial drone activity is allowed at this time although proponents say they would be useful for monitoring traffic during a mass evacuation, crops and livestock, wild animal migration, forest fires, oil and gas pipelines, Arctic sea ice and emergency response operations.

As we noted in November, the FAA has issued its initial plans, or roadmap, for integrating UAS into U.S. skies, but the process is expected to take 15 years.

UAS supporters worry that the outrage raised by U.S. drone strikes against militants and terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere — that have led to civilian casualties — has made the American public leery of drones flying overhead. There is also concern about privacy and other civil rights being violated by a camera-equipped UAS flown by law enforcement or intelligence agencies. That worry is largely driven by last summer’s revelations of covert cell phone and email meta data gathering by the National Security Agency.

So the Aerospace States Association, the American Civil Liberties Association and other groups have developed suggested guidelines for state laws concerning drones that will protect civil liberties without pulling the plug on an industry with the potential  to create thousands of jobs and add billions of dollars to the national economy.

AUVSI Unmanned Vehicles 2013 conference. (4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

AUVSI Unmanned Vehicles 2013 conference.
(4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

And the companies that provide services ranging from translators to aircraft for humanitarian aid and relief  organizations are exploring how UAS might help them with security and finding refugees or survivors of natural and man-made disasters in undeveloped countries, according to the programs and operations director of the International Stability Operations Association.

December 30, 2013 at 10:41 pm Leave a comment

COUNTERTERRORISM: Connecting the Dots and the Issues it Raises

9/11 2013

National Operations Center (Dept. of Homeland Security photo)

National Operations Center (Dept. of Homeland Security photo)

As we mark the 12th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, we’re reminded of the continuing tension between gathering all the information needed to protect the United States from another attack and safeguarding the privacy and civil liberties of the people being protected.

Two seemingly unrelated events this year — the Boston Marathon bombing and the revelation of far reaching U.S. domestic spying programs – underscore the nagging problems a constitutional democracy faces while trying to protect itself.

The 9/11 Commission Report, issued by a blue ribbon panel following the 2001 attacks, recommended restructuring the U.S. Intelligence Community to eliminate structural barriers to performing joint intelligence work. “The importance of integrated, all-source analysis cannot be overstated. Without it, it is not possible to ‘connect the dots,” the Commission Report stated.

The Boston tragedy resurrected questions that surfaced after 9/11 about the ability of law enforcement and intelligence analysts to “connect the dots” that might indicate a potential terrorist threat. The domestic spying disclosures involving the National Security Agency (NSA) called into question how much intelligence the government needs to protect Americans and why all the data collected still hadn’t prevented an incident like the Boston bombing.
To read the rest of your 4GWAR editor’s article, click here to call it up on the website of the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.

September 10, 2013 at 11:23 pm Leave a comment

TECHNOLOGY: Intel That Leaders Can Act On

Avoiding Nasty Surprises

The uproar over the National Security Agency’s wide-ranging cell phone and Internet surveillance revived a national debate about the necessity of intelligence gathering and what the federal government does with what it learns.

Cyber operations at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas (U.S. Air Force photo by William Belcher)

Cyber operations at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas (U.S. Air Force photo by
William Belcher)

But the accumulation of “Big Data” – millions and millions of phone calls, text messages and emails — whether by government agencies or private corporations, underscores the urgency of acquiring intelligence that can be acted upon in real time. This is especially true in an era when the United States is confronted by near peer competitors like China and Russia, hostile nation states such as North Korea and Iran and non-state, violent extremist networks like al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Actionable intelligence is simply that: information gleaned from a range of sources that enables decision makers – from political leaders to field commanders – to take appropriate and timely action when faced with a security threat like an imminent terrorist attack or the shipment of weapons of mass destruction.

 The bottom line: preventing nasty surprises.

To read more of this story, go to the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) website or click here.

June 12, 2013 at 3:18 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

DEFENSE BUDGET: Where to Make the Cuts

Counter Terrorism Effort Funded

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps will shrink as will the number of Air Force fighter squadrons and Navy cruisers under the Obama administration’s 2013 budget request, but Special Operations Forces and other irregular warfare programs will continue to see steady funding.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff outlined their plans for cutting personnel, programs and units to meet congressionally-mandated spending cuts during a Pentagon briefing session Thursday (Jan. 26).

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff brief the media on major budget decisions. (Defense Dept. photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

The Defense Department will ask Congress for $525 billion in funding for Fiscal Year 2013 which runs from Oct. 1 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013. That’s about $33 billion less than Congress approved for the Pentagon in 2012 9$531 billion). Panetta and military leaders are also seeking an additional $88.4 billion to fund the war in Afghanistan and other overseas contingency operations around the world like this week’s hostage rescue mission in Somalia. That figure, too, is lower than the $115 billion approved by Congress last year.

Earlier this month, Panetta and Dempsey unveiled the Pentagon’s strategic guidance which called for a shift in priorities after a decade of war in iraq and Afghanistan. It calls for focusing more on the Asia-Pacific area while keeping an eye on the Middle East – especially in the area of the Persian Gulf.

But the 2013 budget request is also being driven by pressure from Congress to cut the enormous U.S. Budget deficit. The 2011 Budget Control Act requires the Defense Department to reduce spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years.

“We have to retain the kind of leverage the lessons of recent conflicts have given us,” Panetta told the press briefing. “And we need to stay ahead of the most lethal and distruptive threats that we’re going to face in the future,” he added.

That means protecting – or increasing – investments in things like cyber cabailities, projecting power in denied areas and Special Operations Forces “the kind that we saw that conducted the bin Laden raid and the hostage rescue operation.” Panetta said. Other investments to be protected include homeland missile defense and countering weapons of mass destruction.

Dempsey and other Pentagon officials noted that while the amount of money was directed by Congress, the decisions on where to make the cuts were driven by the strategic guidance and the concdept of matching the size and needs of the military to the missions of the future. “This budget is the first step,” Dempsey said, adding: “It’s a downpayment as we transition from an emphasis on today’s wars to preparing for tomorrow’s.”

Details of the Pentagon’s 2013 budget request will be released after President Obama issues the full budget on Feb. 13. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials outlined some of the proposed cuts and changes:

The Army will be reduced in size from a high of 570,000 in the years after 9/11 to 490,000 by 2017. The Marine Corps will shrink during the same period from a peak of 202,000 to 182,000 personnel.

There are also plans to cut six of the Air Force’s 60 tactical air fighter squadrons. “None of that will impact our ability to police the skies,” Panetta said. The budget also calls for retiring 27 aging C-5As – the massive four-engine intercontinental cargo airlifters – and 65 of the oldest C-130s – smaller turbo-prop transport aircraft. That will still leave the Air Force with 52 modernized C-5Ms and 318 C-130s as well as 222 jet-powered C-17 cargo aircraft.

The Navy will retire seven cruisers ahead of schedule but maintain its 11 nuclear-powered, big deck aircraft carriers, which are deemed essential for projecting power in an era when the number of U.S. overseas bases is shrinking. There are also plans to base one of the new Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore and the Marine Corps will have a small but steady presence in Australia.

Special Operations Forces, like these Army Rangers, will be funded in the 2013 Pentagon budget request. (U.S. Army photo)

Pentagon leaders say the U.S. will be engaged in counter terrorism operations around the globe, so in addition to the emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, there will be a focus on Special Operations Forces like Navy Seals, Green Berets and Army Rangers. Unmanned air systems (UAS) are also getting a boost with funds aimed at sustaining the Air Force MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. The Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle is also being funded in the next budget.

One UAS that is being cut is the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 program. Panetta said the high flying unmanned surveillance aircraft had proved to be just too expensive at more than $200 million apiece. Instead the Defense Department is extending the Cold War era U-2 spy plane program. Other versions of the Global Hawk, such as the Block 40 and the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance system will continue. Other programs that provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are also being shielded from the budget ax.

January 27, 2012 at 12:40 am Leave a comment

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: Iran Won’t Return Downed Drone

Finders Keepers

Not only is Iran refusing a U.S. request to return a downed unmanned spy plane, the Islamic Republic is demanding an apology from Washington for violating its airspace.

Photo: Islamic Republic News Agency

On Monday (Dec. 12) President Obama told reporters the U.S. had asked for the drone to be returned – as if. But it took only a day for officials in Tehran to say “نه” (No.) In fact, Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi was reported by Iranian media as saying the drone will remain in Iran “as part of its assets,” the New York Times reports.

Iran first announced that it had shot down the aircraft on Dec. 4, 140 miles inside its territory and identified it as an R-170 Sentinel, one of the newest and most secretive of U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Tehran later changed its story, saying it had brought the high-flying aircraft – not by missile strike or gunfire – but by hacking into the UAV’s control systems and forcing it to land. Iran broadcast video of what it said was a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

In video and photographs made publuic last week, Tehran showed its captured prize although drapery covered the drone’s landing gear, so it was hard to tell if it was an actual RQ-170 or some sort of mockup created for publicity and propaganda purposes, as some observers claimed.

Meanwhile, Iran, still furious about the drone – said to have been flown out of Afghanistan to spy on Iranian nuclear weapons developments – is demanding an apology from Washington, saying that must happen before Tehran even considers giving the drone back.

Iran is now claiming it is in the final stages of deciphering the drone’s top secret radar-evading technology. According to news reports, Iranian officials say they are nearing completion of reverse engineering the unmanned aircraft to unlock its secret stealth technology. Iranian news organizations say Russian and Chinese officials have asked to inspect it.

However, the folks over at Aviation Week say the information Iran can glean from the downed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is minimal.

In video and photographs made public last week, Tehran showed its captured prize although drapery covered the drone’s landing gear, so it was hard to tell if it was an actual RQ-170 or some sort of mockup created for publicity and propaganda purposes, as some observers claimed.

Meanwhile, Tehran is complaining loudly about the violation of its airspace by a U.S. drone. The Afghan ambassador to Iran was summoned to the foreign ministry to hear complaints about Afghanistan’s part in the incident. The drone is believed to have been operated by the CIA out of an airbase in Afghanistan.  Iran also says it is going to the United Nations to complain about the incident.

Reports by the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press indicate the U.S. was considering a covert strike to destroy the drone and its high tech equipment.

December 13, 2011 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment


CIA World Factbook Via Wikipedia

Iran in Venezuela

While the U.S. devoted its attention, first to Iraq, and now to Afghanistan, Iran has been making inroads in Latin America Lt. Col. Phillip R. Cuccia says in an op-ed piece carried in this month’s Strategic Studies Institute newsletter.

Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, Iran has opened six new embassies in South America. Cuccia worries that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez “is flirting just a little too much with Iran.” Additionally, he notes, Venezuela is signing oil deals with China, buying arms from Russia and threatening war with Colombia.

UAV Data Firehose

Christopher Drew writes in Monday’s New York Times that U.S. military and intelligence officials are having a hard time keeping up with all the data they’re getting from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). “Air Force drones collected nearly three times as much video over Afghanistan and Iraq last year as in 2007,” the piece notes. That’s 24 years’ worth of video if viewed continuously.

Big Brother, Big Bother

George Orwell, your “Minority Report” is ready. Airport security of the not-too-distant future might include technology that can assess what a person is thinking when confronted by images only a would-be terrorist would recognize, according to an Associated Press report published in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere.

January 11, 2010 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment


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