Category Archives: Geopolitics

Pentagon Declares Lockheed F-35 “Too Big to Fail”

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F-35 Too Big to Fail

(Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Staci Miller/US Air Force)

“DEFENSE NEWS” By Michael P. Hughes

“Officially begun in 2001, with roots extending back to the late 1980s, the F-35 program is nearly a decade behind schedule, and has  failed to meet many of its original design requirements.

It’s also become the most expensive defense program in world history, at about $1.5 trillion before the fighter is  phased out in 2070.

The F-35 was billed as a fighter jet that could do almost everything the U.S. military desired, serving the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy — and even Britain’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy — all in one aircraft design. It’s supposed to replace and improve upon several current — and aging — aircraft types with widely different missions. It’s marketed as a cost-effective, powerful multi-role fighter airplane significantly better than anything potential adversaries could build in the next two decades. But it’s turned out to be none of those things.

The unit cost per airplane, above $100 million, is roughly twice what was promised early on. Even after U.S. President Donald Trump lambasted the cost of the program in February, the price per plane dropped just $7 million — less than 7 percent.

And yet, the U.S. is still throwing huge sums of money at the project. Essentially, the Pentagon has declared the F-35 “ too big to fail.” As a retired member of the U.S. Air Force and current university professor of finance who has been involved in and studied military aviation and acquisitions, I find the F-35 to be one of the greatest boondoggles in recent military purchasing history.

Forget what’s already spent

The Pentagon is trying to argue that just because taxpayers have flushed more than $100 billion down the proverbial toilet so far, we must continue to throw billions more down that same toilet. That violates the most elementary financial principles of capital budgeting, which is the method companies and governments use to decide on investments. So-called sunk costs, the money already paid on a project, should never be a factor in investment decisions. Rather, spending should be based on how it will add value in the future.

Keeping the F-35 program alive is not only a gross waste in itself: Its funding could be spent on defense programs that are really useful and needed for national defense, such as  anti-drone systems to defend U.S. troops.

Part of the enormous cost has come as a result of an effort to share aircraft design and replacement parts across different branches of the military. In 2013, a study by the think tank Rand found that it would have been cheaper if the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy had simply  designed and developed separate and more specialized aircraft to meet their specific operational requirements.

Not living up to top billing

The company building the F-35 has made grand claims. Lockheed Martin said the plane would be far better than current aircraft — “four times more effective” in air-to-air combat, “eight times more effective” in air-to-ground combat and “three times more effective” in recognizing and suppressing an enemy’s air defenses. It would, in fact, be “ second only to the F-22 in air superiority.” In addition, the F-35 was to have better range and require less logistics support than current military aircraft. The Pentagon is still calling the F-35 “ the most affordable, lethal, supportable, and survivable aircraft ever to be used.”

But that’s not how the plane has turned out. In January 2015, mock combat testing pitted the F-35 against an F-16, one of the fighters it is slated to replace. The F-35A was flown “clean” with empty weapon bays and without any drag-inducing and heavy, externally mounted weapons or fuel tanks. The F-16D, a heavier and somewhat less capable training version of the mainstay F-16C, was further encumbered with two 370-gallon external wing-mounted fuel tanks.

In spite of its significant advantages, the F-35A’s test pilot noted that the F-35A was less maneuverable and markedly inferior to the F-16D in a visual-range dogfight.

Stealth over power

One key reason the F-35 doesn’t possess the world-beating air-to-air prowess promised, and is likely not even adequate when compared with its current potential adversaries, is that it was designed first and foremost to be a stealthy airplane. This requirement has taken precedence over maneuverability, and likely above its overall air-to-air lethality. The Pentagon and especially the Air Force seem to be relying almost exclusively on the F-35’s stealth capabilities to succeed at its missions.

Like the F-117 and F-22, the F-35’s stealth capability greatly reduces, but does not eliminate, its radar cross-section, the signal that radar receivers see bouncing back off an airplane. The plane looks smaller on radar — perhaps like a bird rather than a plane — but is not invisible. The F-35 is designed to be stealthy primarily in the X-band, the radar frequency range most commonly used for targeting in air-to-air combat.

In other radar frequencies, the F-35 is not so stealthy, making it vulnerable to being tracked and shot down using current — and even obsolete — weapons. As far back as 1999 the same type of stealth technology was not able to prevent a U.S. Air Force F-117 flying over Kosovo from being located, tracked and shot down using an outdated Soviet radar and surface-to-air missile system. In the nearly two decades since, that incident has been studied in depth not only by the U.S., but also by potential adversaries seeking weaknesses in passive radar stealth aircraft.

Of course, radar is not the only way to locate and target an aircraft. One can also use an aircraft’s infrared emissions, which are created by friction-generated heat as it flies through the air, along with its hot engines. Several nations, particularly the Russians, have excellent passive infrared search and tracking systems that can locate and target enemy aircraft with great precision — sometimes using lasers to measure exact distances, but without needing radar.

It’s also very common in air-to-air battles for opposing planes to come close enough that their pilots can see each other. The F-35 is as visible as any other aircraft its size.

Analysts weigh in

Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon say the F-35’s superiority over its rivals lies in its ability to remain undetected, giving it “ first look, first shot, first kill.” Hugh Harkins, a highly respected author on military combat aircraft, called that claim “a marketing and publicity gimmick” in his book on Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35S, a potential opponent of the F-35. “In real terms an aircraft in the class of the F-35 cannot compete with the Su-35S for out and out performance such as speed, climb, altitude, and maneuverability,” he wrote.

Other critics have been even harsher. Pierre Sprey, a co-founding member of the so-called fighter mafia at the Pentagon and a co-designer of the F-16, calls the F-35 “inherently a terrible airplane” that is the product of “an exceptionally dumb piece of Air Force PR spin.” He has said the F-35 would likely lose a close-in combat encounter to a well-flown MiG-21, a 1950s Soviet fighter design. Robert Dorr, an Air Force veteran, career diplomat and military air combat historian, wrote in his book “Air Power Abandoned”: “The F-35 demonstrates repeatedly that it can’t live up to promises made for it. … It’s that bad.”

How did we get here?

How did the F-35 go from its conception as the most technologically advanced, do-it-all military aircraft in the world to a virtual turkey? Over the decades-long effort to meet a real military need for better aircraft, the F-35 program is the result of the merging or combination of several other separate and diverse projects into a set of requirements for an airplane that is trying to be everything to everybody.

In combat, the difference between winning and losing is often not very great. With second place all too often meaning death, the Pentagon seeks to provide warriors with the best possible equipment. The best tools are those that are tailor-made to address specific missions and types of combat. Seeking to accomplish more tasks with less money, defense planners looked for ways to economize.

For a fighter airplane, funding decisions become a balancing act of procuring not just the best aircraft possible, but enough of them to make an effective force. This has lead to the creation of so-called multi-role fighter aircraft, capable both in air-to-air combat and against ground targets. Where trade-offs have to happen, designers of most multi-role fighters emphasize aerial combat strength, reducing air-to-ground capabilities. With the F-35, it appears designers created an airplane that doesn’t do either mission exceptionally well. They have made the plane an inelegant jack-of-all-trades, but master of none — at great expense, both in the past and, apparently,  well into the future.

I believe the F-35 program should be immediately canceled; the technologies and systems developed for it should be used in more up-to-date and cost-effective aircraft designs. Specifically, the F-35 should be replaced with a series of new designs targeted toward the specific mission requirements of the individual branches of the armed forces, in lieu of a single aircraft design trying to be everything to everyone.”

http://www.defensenews.com/articles/what-went-wrong-with-lockheeds-f-35-commentary

This article was originally published on The Conversation .

About the Author

Image result for Michael P. Hughes is a professor of finance at Francis Marion University.

Michael P. Hughes is a professor of finance at Francis Marion University. He served more than 21 years in the U.S. Air Force. During that time, he spent more than 14 years in nuclear treaty monitoring and related activities, while the initial 7 years were in the aircraft maintenance and engineering (propulsion) arena with F-4 and F-15 aircraft.

http://departments.fmarion.edu/business/hughes-michael-p.html

Big Industry Winners in the Saudi Weapons Offer

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(Photo Credit: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

“DEFENSE NEWS”

“The big winner, at least on the platform side, is Lockheed Martin, with an estimated $29.1 billion in potential sales.

That includes seven THAAD missile defense batteries ($13.5 billion), and three KC-130J and 20 C-130J aircraft ($5.8 billion), as well as four multi-mission surface combatant ships ($6 billion)

Now that details of the $110 billion arms package offered to Saudi Arabia are known, Lockheed Martin appears to be the clear winner among American defense firms.

First, a caveat: Defense News broke the details of the roughly $84 billion in unknown weapons offerings that President Donald Trump brought with him on a May 20 visit to the Kingdom. But by the nature of how foreign military sales are completed, dollar totals are best-guess estimations and likely represent the ceiling for what could be spent. The figures listed may well come down, and the timeframes listed may well change, based on final negotiations around the equipment.

the company’s Sikorsky arm also benefited, with two types of Black Hawk variants: 14 MH-60R Seahawk rotorcraft ($2 billion) and 30 UH-60 rescue helicopters ($1.8 billion). That could potentially grow. A statement from Lockheed, released after the visit to Saudi Arabia, claimed that a deal was being reached with Saudi company Taqnia to “support final assembly and completion of an estimated 150 S-70 Black Hawk utility helicopters for the Saudi government.”

A few other companies also fared well.

Boeing cashed in with an eight-year sustainment deal ($6.25 billion) for their F-15 aircraft, along with a relatively small $20 million deal to run a study on recapitalizing Saudi’s older fleet of F-15 C/D aircraft.

Raytheon’s big win came from an unknown type of enhancement for the Patriot missile system ($6.65 billion). BAE, meanwhile, hopes to bring in $3.7 billion worth of work on its Bradley vehicle, with a pair of contracts – one to modify 400 existing vehicles, and another to produce 213 new ones. (The company may also cash out on an order for 180 Howitzers, worth $1.5 billion.)

There is also a $2 billion order for an unknown number of Mk-VI patrol boats, produced by SAFE Boats International.

The previously unreported list includes roughly 104,000 air to surface weapons, including 27,000 GBU-38 designs ($1.24 billion, Boeing), 9,000 GBU-31v3 designs ($690 million, Boeing), 9,000 GBU-31v1 designs ($490 million, Boeing), 50,000 GBU-12 designs ($1.67 billion, Lockheed and Raytheon) and 9,000 GBU-10 designs ($370 million, Lockheed and Raytheon.)

Known unknowns
But there is a chance for more growth, based on a set of unspecified aircraft and satellite programs. The list includes $2 billion for a light air support aircraft, type and quantity to be decided later. It also includes another $2 billion for four new aircraft to replace the Kingdom’s Tactical Airborne Surveillance System, which serves a similar role to the U.S. Air Force JSTARS.

The light air support seems to have a fairly small list of options: either Textron with it’s AT-6 (or, perhaps, its Scorpion jet, still in search of a first customer) or the Embraer/Sierra Nevada team’s A-29 Super Tucano. Both the UAE and Jordan have ordered the A-29, so buying the Super Tucano would give the Kingdom commonality with two of its closest allies.

The wildcard may be the U.S. Air Force’s OA-X experiment, which is holding a flyoff between the Scorpion, AT-6 and A-29 this summer. In theory, the Air Force is looking at replacing the A-10 with one of the three planes, but the service has been careful to stress this summer’s action is more of a fact-finding exercise than a downselect. At the same time, if the USAF shows a preference for one of the jets, the Saudis may look in the same direction.

As to the TASS replacement, the first question is whether the Saudis look to glom onto the JSTARS recapitalization, which should be awarded sometime in fiscal year 2018. If so, Boeing, a Northrop Grumman/L-3/General Dynamics team and a Lockheed Martin/ Bombardier team would benefit here.

However, the TASS and JSTARS setups are somewhat different, and it may be the Saudis would look for a custom solution.

Meanwhile, the Kingdom has been offered a clutch of satellites, with as-yet-unknown designs: two “Remote Sensing Satellites” estimated at $800 million and two satellite communications & space based early warning systems estimated at $4 billion.

Given the focus on missile defense, the space based early warning systems could well be a derivative of Lockheed’s Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile defense satellite. If so, the U.S. may be able to seek an arrangement with the Kingdom on information sharing, which would widen the overall capability of the missile tracking system.

How quickly these contracts can be pushed through the system is an open question. Roman Schweizer, an analyst with Cowen Washington Research Group, wrote in a note to investors Friday that “precision munitions and missile defense remain top priorities for the Kingdom.”

“We think the elements of the package will probably go through as individual items, which could reduce opposition. We think some of the more easily defined items that have been either sold to Saudi before or to other countries could proceed quickly (such as THAAD, Patriot, precision munitions, helicopters, F-15, C-130Js, etc.),” he wrote.”

Military Veterans Take to Twitter to Fight Discrimination

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(Photo Credit: Douglas E. Curran/AFP)

“MILITARY TIMES”

“A group of veterans are fighting anti-immigration messages one tweet at a time.

Vets Fight Hate has partnered with Southern Poverty Law Center with the goal of reminding people that they are all much more than just their looks or ancestry.

Their Twitter account  @VetsFightHate targets users who post hateful messages and possess a large number of followers. They reply to these hateful messages with personalized messages of their own — messages of immigrants who have served in the U.S. military.

“Veterans are one of the most respected and honored groups of Americans, and they have an important voice in fighting back against those spreading hatred,” SPLC spokeswoman Wendy Via told the Huffington Post.

The organization’s very first post introduces us to Roy who tells his story: “I joined the US Army at 17 to defend America. I’m from Germany, but I was willing to fight for this country because it accepted me. Immigrants are what make America great.”

Another veteran named Lawrence responded to a hateful message that said “immigrants are a disease to this country.”

“I’m an immigrant; I’m a citizen; and I’m a veteran. I served in the U.S. Air Force and fought for you, your family, and people I don’t even know. I risked my life for a free and inclusive country. This country was built by immigrants. Respect us. This is our home too,” Lawrence replied.

Approximately 11 percent of all U.S. veterans come from an immigrant background, whether they immigrated themselves, or their parents did. That’s the equivalent to nearly two million veterans, according to  migrationpolicy.org.”

http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/military-veterans-take-to-twitter-to-fight-discrimination-with-vetsfighthate

The Media Ignores What Matters More

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Media pbworks dot com

Image:  pbworks.com

“WAR IS BORING”

“Hey Big Media, here are two dozen matters to which you’re not giving faintly adequate thought and attention.

The New York Times has even unveiled a portentous new promotional slogan — “The truth is now more important than ever.” For its part, TheWashington Post grimly warns that “democracy dies in darkness,” and is offering itself as a source of illumination.

Meanwhile, National Public Radio fundraising campaigns are sounding an increasingly panicky note. Give, listener, lest you be personally responsible for the demise of the republic that we are bravely fighting to save from extinction.

Some examples of national security issues that presently receive short shrift or are ignored altogether by the Fourth Estate.

Accomplishing the ‘mission’

Since the immediate aftermath of World War II, the United States has been committed to defending key allies in Europe and East Asia.  Not long thereafter, U.S. security guarantees were extended to the Middle East, as well.

Under what circumstances can Americans expect nations in these regions to assume responsibility for managing their own affairs? To put it another way, when if ever might U.S. forces actually come home?

And if it is incumbent upon the United States to police vast swaths of the planet in perpetuity, how should momentous changes in the international order — the rise of China, for example, or accelerating climate change — affect the U.S. approach to doing so?

American military supremacy

The United States military is undoubtedly the world’s finest.  It’s also far and away the most generously funded, with policymakers offering U.S. troops no shortage of opportunities to practice their craft. So why doesn’t this great military ever win anything?

Why in recent decades have those forces been unable to accomplish Washington’s stated wartime objectives? Why has the now 15-year-old war on terror failed to result in even a single real success anywhere in the Greater Middle East? Could it be that we’ve taken the wrong approach? What should we be doing differently?

America’s empire of bases

The U.S. military today garrisons the planet in a fashion without historical precedent. Successive administrations, regardless of party, justify and perpetuate this policy by insisting that positioning U.S. forces in distant lands fosters peace, stability and security.

In the present century, however, perpetuating this practice has visibly had the opposite effect. In the eyes of many of those called upon to “host” American bases, the permanent presence of such forces smacks of occupation. They resist. Why should U.S. policymakers expect otherwise?

Supporting the troops

In present-day America, expressing reverence for those who serve in uniform is something akin to a religious obligation. Everyone professes to cherish America’s “warriors.” Yet such bountiful, if superficial, expressions of regard camouflage a growing gap between those who serve and those who applaud from the sidelines.

Our present-day military system, based on the misnamed all-volunteer force, is neither democratic nor effective. Why has discussion and debate about its deficiencies not found a place among the nation’s political priorities? 

Prerogatives of the commander-in-chief

Are there any military actions that the president of the United States may not order on his own authority? If so, what are they?  Bit by bit, decade by decade, Congress has abdicated its assigned role in authorizing war.

Today, it merely rubberstamps what presidents decide to do — or simply stays mum. Who does this deference to an imperial presidency benefit? Have U.S. policies thereby become more prudent, enlightened and successful?

Assassin-in-chief

A policy of assassination, secretly implemented under the aegis of the CIA during the early Cold War, yielded few substantive successes. When the secrets were revealed, however, the U.S. government suffered considerable embarrassment, so much so that presidents foresworepolitically motivated murder.

After 9/11, however, Washington returned to the assassination business in a big way and on a global scale, using drones. Today, the only secret is the sequence of names on the current presidential hit list, euphemistically known as the White House “disposition matrix.”

But does assassination actually advance U.S. interests? Or does it merely recruit replacements for the terrorists it liquidates? How can we measure its costs, whether direct or indirect? What dangers and vulnerabilities does this practice invite?

The war formerly known as the ‘Global War on Terrorism’

What precisely is Washington’s present strategy for defeating violent jihadism? What sequence of planned actions or steps is expected to yield success? If no such strategy exists, why is that the case?  How is it that the absence of strategy — not to mention an agreed upon definition of “success” — doesn’t even qualify for discussion here?

The conflict commonly referred to as the Afghanistan War is now the longest in U.S. history — having lasted longer than the Civil War, World War I and World War II combined. What is the Pentagon’s plan for concluding that conflict? When might Americans expect it to end? On what terms?

The Persian Gulf

Americans once believed that their prosperity and way of life depended on having assured access to Persian Gulf oil.

Today, that is no longer the case. The United States is once more an oil-exporter. Available and accessible reserves of oil and natural gas in North America are far greater than was once believed. Yet the assumption that the Persian Gulf still qualifies as crucial to American national security persists in Washington. Why?

Hyping terrorism

Each year terrorist attacks kill far fewer Americans than do auto accidents, drug overdoses or even lightning strikes. Yet in the allocation of government resources, preventing terrorist attacks takes precedence over preventing all three of the others combined. Why is that?

Deaths that matter and deaths that don’t

Why do terrorist attacks that kill a handful of Europeans command infinitely more American attention than do terrorist attacks that kill far larger numbers of Arabs? A terrorist attack that kills citizens of France or Belgium elicits from the United States heartfelt expressions of sympathy and solidarity.

A terrorist attack that kills Egyptians or Iraqis elicits shrugs. Why the difference? To what extent does race provide the answer to that question?

Israeli nukes

What purpose is served by indulging the pretense that Israel does not have nuclear weapons?

Peace in the Holy Land

What purpose is served by indulging illusions that a “two-state solution” offers a plausible resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? As remorselessly as white settlers once encroached upon territory inhabited by Native American tribes, Israeli settlers expand their presence in the occupied territories year by year.

As they do, the likelihood of creating a viable Palestinian state becomes ever more improbable. To pretend otherwise is the equivalent of thinking that one day Trump might prefer the rusticity of Camp David to the glitz of Mar-a-Lago.

Merchandizing death

When it comes to arms sales, there is no need to Make America Great Again.  The United States ranks number one by a comfortable margin, with long-time allies Saudi Arabia and Israel leading recipients of those arms.

Each year, the Saudis — per capita gross domestic product $20,000 — purchase hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. weapons. Israel — per capita gross domestic product $38,000 — gets several billion dollars worth of such weaponry annually courtesy of the American taxpayer.

If the Saudis pay for U.S. arms, why shouldn’t the Israelis? They can certainly afford to do so.

Our friends the Saudis, part one

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis. What does that fact signify?

Our friends the Saudis, part two

If indeed Saudi Arabia and Iran are competing to determine which nation will enjoy the upper hand in the Persian Gulf, why should the United States favor Saudi Arabia? In what sense do Saudi values align more closely with American values than do Iranian ones?

Our friends the Pakistanis

Pakistan behaves like a rogue state. It is a nuclear weapons proliferator. It supports the Taliban. For years, it provided sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden. Yet U.S. policymakers treat Pakistan as if it were an ally.

Why? In what ways do U.S. and Pakistani interests or values coincide? If there are none, why not say so?

Free-loading Europeans

Why can’t Europe, “whole and free,” its population and economy considerably larger than Russia’s, defend itself? It’s altogether commendable that U.S. policymakers should express support for Polish independence and root for the Baltic republics.

But how does it make sense for the United States to care more about the wellbeing of people living in Eastern Europe than do people living in Western Europe?

The mother of all ‘special relationships’

The United States and the United Kingdom have a “special relationship” dating from the days of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Apart from keeping the Public Broadcasting Service supplied with costume dramas and stories featuring eccentric detectives, what is the rationale for that partnership today?

Why should U.S. relations with Great Britain, a fading power, be any more “special” than its relations with a rising power like India? Why should the bonds connecting Americans and Britons be any more intimate than those connecting Americans and Mexicans? Why does a republic now approaching the 241st anniversary of its independence still need a “mother country”?

The old nuclear disarmament razzmatazz

American presidents routinely cite their hope for the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons. Yet the United States maintains nuclear strike forces on full alert, has embarked on a costly and comprehensive trillion-dollar modernization of its nuclear arsenal and even refuses to adopt a no-first-use posture when it comes to nuclear war.

The truth is that the United States will consider surrendering its nukes only after every other nation on the planet has done so first. How does American nuclear hypocrisy affect the prospects for global nuclear disarmament or even simply for the non-proliferation of such weaponry?

American policymakers take it for granted that their country’s sphere of influence is global, which, in turn, provides the rationale for the deployment of U.S. military forces to scores of countries. Yet when it comes to nations like China, Russia or Iran, Washington takes the position that spheres of influence are obsolete and a concept that should no longer be applicable to the practice of statecraft.

So Chinese, Russian and Iranian forces should remain where they belong — in China, Russia and Iran.  To stray beyond that constitutes a provocation, as well as a threat to global peace and order.

Why should these other nations play by American rules? Why shouldn’t similar rules apply to the United States?

Double standards, part two

Washington claims that it supports and upholds international law. Yet when international law gets in the way of what American policymakers want to do, they disregard it. They start wars, violate the sovereignty of other nations and authorize agents of the United States to kidnap, imprison, torture and kill.

They do these things with impunity, only forced to reverse their actions on the rare occasions when U.S. courts find them illegal. Why should other powers treat international norms as sacrosanct since the United States does so only when convenient? 

Double standards, part three

The United States condemns the indiscriminate killing of civilians in wartime. Yet over the last three-quarters of a century, it killed civilians regularly and often on a massive scale. By what logic, since the 1940s, has the killing of Germans, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, Afghans and others by U.S. air power been any less reprehensible than the Syrian government’s use of “barrel bombs” to kill Syrians today?

On what basis should Americans accept Pentagon claims that, when civilians are killed these days by U.S. forces, the acts are invariably accidental, whereas Syrian forces kill civilians intentionally and out of malice?

Why exclude incompetence or the fog of war as explanations? And why, for instance, does the United States regularly gloss over or ignore altogether the noncombatants that Saudi forces, with U.S. assistance, are routinely killing in Yemen?

Moral obligations

When confronted with some egregious violation of human rights, members of the chattering classes frequently express an urge for the United States to “do something.” Holocaust analogies sprout like dandelions. Newspaper columnists recycle copy first used when Cambodians were slaughtering other Cambodians en masse or whenever Hutus and Tutsis went at it.

Proponents of action — typically advocating military intervention — argue that the United States has a moral obligation to aid those victimized by injustice or cruelty anywhere on Earth. But what determines the pecking order of such moral obligations? Which comes first, a responsibility to redress the crimes of others or a responsibility to redress crimes committed by Americans?

Who has a greater claim to U.S. assistance, Syrians suffering today under the boot of Bashar Al Assad or Iraqis, their country shattered by the U.S. invasion of 2003? Where do the Vietnamese fit into the queue? How about the Filipinos, brutally denied independence and forcibly incorporated into an American empire as the 19th century ended?

Or African-Americans, whose ancestors were imported as slaves? Or, for that matter, dispossessed and disinherited Native Americans? Is there a statute of limitations that applies to moral obligations? And if not, shouldn’t those who have waited longest for justice or reparations receive priority attention?

Let me suggest that any one of these two dozen issues — none seriously covered, discussed or debated in the American media or in the political mainstream — bears more directly on the wellbeing of the United States and our prospects for avoiding global conflict than anything Trump may have said or done during his first 100 days as president.

Collectively, they define the core of the national security challenges that presently confront this country, even as they languish on the periphery of American politics.

How much damage Trump’s presidency wreaks before it ends remains to be seen. Yet he himself is a transient phenomenon. To allow his pratfalls and shenanigans to divert attention from matters sure to persist when he finally departs the stage is to make a grievous error.

It may well be that, as the Times insists, the truth is now more important than ever. If so, finding the truth requires looking in the right places and asking the right questions.”

http://warisboring.com/in-obsessing-over-trump-the-media-ignores-what-matters-more/

 

 

Confronting America’s Misguided Drone Program

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Misguided Drone Program

Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt

“THE NATIONAL INTEREST” By

“American citizens deserve to be protected and defended by our government, and that must never change.

But when the instrument that government and military leaders use to accomplish that goal instead causes serious emotional damage to the citizens operating the equipment, kills and alienates those we wish to protect overseas, and perversely creates more enemy fighters than it ever removes from the battlefield, dramatic changes are required.”


“The use of armed drone warfare by the United States has proliferated since 9/11. Advocates of the program say it is essential to American national security. These claims are far from convincing—more on that below. What gets very little examination one way or the other, however, is the effect these operations have on the U.S. personnel that serve within the drone-warfare system, and virtually none on the so-called “collateral damage” inflicted on innocents by errant or mistaken strikes.

That begins to change on Monday night, with the airing on PBS of National Bird, winner of the 2017 Ridenhour Documentary Film Award, a film that beautifully—and hauntingly—illuminates both.

Longtime investigative journalist and filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck was doing research on the drone program in 2013. “I had seen lots of commentary and opinion in media on the subject,” Kennebeck told me in a recent interview, “but couldn’t find a lot of verifiable facts or reactions from people directly involved.” The more she discovered, the more fascinating she found the subject matter, and the greater her interest in broadening the scope of the project. There came a key moment, however, when she realized the project deserved to be more than simply an opinion article.

One of the subjects of the film, Heather (only first names are used in the documentary), had recently left the Air Force after serving as an intelligence analyst in the drone program. “When I met Heather the first time she told me not only had she’d struggled with suicide because of all she had seen and experienced, three of her former Air Force colleagues from the program have already taken their own lives. At that point I knew I had to do a film,” Kennebeck explained.

As the documentary details, Heather struggled mightily after she left the Air Force because of the role she played in the deaths of numerous people that were killed in drone strikes. Very often, she explained, when targets were killed with the missile, many people around them were obliterated, body parts flying in all directions. The film also featured the experiences of two other American operators, Daniel and Lisa, who suffered trauma similar to Heather.

One of the reasons Kennebeck produced this film was to shine a light on aspects of the program that get little to no public exposure. “The public needs to understand how many people are being killed,” she said, “what countries drones are being operated in, and ultimately there needs to be more regulation because the technology has outpaced our legal and moral frameworks. Policy and rules need to catch up.”

The drone program’s efficacy in attaining U.S. security objectives desperately needs to be assessed. Advocates of drone warfare virtually dismiss the problems without examination, and instead focus on what they cite as the compelling justification. A Brookings report in defense of drone warfare argued that the United States “cannot tolerate terrorist safe havens in remote parts of Pakistan and elsewhere, and drones offer a comparatively low-risk way of targeting these areas.” Like other reports advocating the use of drones, the Brookings study cites the body count as evidence of success.

“U.S. drones have killed an estimated 3,300 al Qaeda, Taliban, and other jihadist operatives in Pakistan and Yemen,” the report’s authors claim. What is not addressed, however, is the extent to which these operations reduce terrorist threats to the United States. By any rational assessment, the terrorist threat has continued to dramatically increase—not decline—as the use of drones has risen. If more than three thousand Al Qaeda terrorists had been killed, we should have seen a serious degradation in their capability and a corresponding increase in our security. Instead, Dr. Michael Shank, professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, has considerable experience on the ground in the locations where many drone strikes occur, and provides a sobering on-the-ground perspective.

“Working in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan, it’s clear that drones are creating more enemies than the U.S. claims to ever kill,” Dr. Shank wrote in a recent email message. “Drones are quickly turning the general population – many of whom the U.S. would classify as the ‘good guys’ – against America.”

The United States generally considers its enemy population to be a finite number of bad people that can be eliminated, he explained, but such thinking exposes a limited understanding of physics (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) and psychology. “For every so-called ‘bad guy’ killed by a drone strike,” Dr. Shank wrote, “there will be another person who witnessed that strike and who is motivated to assume the newly dead adversary’s antagonism.”

National Bird provides a moving example of how American drones impact those we otherwise seek to defend. In 2010, the United States admitted it accidentally struck a three-vehicle convoy in Afghanistan with Hellfire missiles and rockets that it mistakenly thought was affiliated with the Taliban. Instead, the vehicles contained mostly members of an extended family—twenty-three of whom were killed in the attack, including a number of children—that had no relation to the insurgency. There is a telling moment in the film when the surviving members are sitting outside, telling the story of that day, when helicopters happen to fly overhead. Their faces immediately register palpable fear as they relive that harrowing moment.”

National Bird premieres on Independent Lens Monday, May 1, 2017, 10:00-11:30 PM ET (check local listings) on PBS.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after twenty-one years, including four combat deployments.

Image: An MQ-9 Reaper flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/confronting-americas-misguided-drone-program-20428?page=2&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=EBB%204.02.2017&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

Untangling the Web of Russia’s Cyber Operations

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Image: “toinformistoinfluence.com

“STRATFOR”

“The Kremlin has every incentive to exploit its access to some of the world’s most sophisticated hackers.

Though investigators in the United States and France will keep working to dismantle Moscow’s hacker networks and arrest the architects behind them, digital interference in foreign elections will be a hallmark of Russian intelligence operations for years to come.”


“Forecast Highlights
  • If the Russian state falls into another period of crisis, the cyber operatives working for the Kremlin could turn against it, much as Moscow’s criminal contacts have in the past.
  • Still, the benefits of hiring criminal hackers to conduct cyber operations abroad will continue to outweigh the risks for the Russian government.
  • As investigators around the world keep working to dismantle Moscow’s hacking networks, digital meddling in foreign elections will remain a mainstay of Russian intelligence operations.

Russia’s interest in foreign elections didn’t end with the U.S. presidential race. Two days after the first round of the French presidential election on April 23, a cybersecurity firm based in Japan reported that Russian hackers had targeted Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in the runup to the vote. Macron, one of two candidates who advanced to the runoff slated for May 7, had accused the Kremlin of discrediting his campaign, and his staff complained of constant, sophisticated phishing attempts throughout the race. Phishing, though not the most advanced technique, has proved highly effective for conducting criminal activity and espionage; the Kremlin allegedly used the same tactic to interfere in the U.S. vote. Recent developments have shed light on the apparent ties between Russia’s state security apparatus and the world’s most sophisticated cybercriminals.

Laying Out the System

On April 12, Russian media published a letter from Ruslan Stoyanov, a former security expert at Kaspersky Lab who is currently in prison in Russia on charges of treason. Stoyanov alleged in his letter that the Kremlin had recruited hackers to help with its various cyber campaigns in exchange for immunity from prosecution for their criminal exploits abroad. Allegations like Stoyanov’s are difficult to confirm, but the pattern of activity outlined in his letter conforms to previous suspicions over Moscow’s cyber strategy.

About a month before Stoyanov’s letter surfaced, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted four individuals for their alleged involvement in stealing credentials from 500 million Yahoo accounts. Two of the four defendants are agents with Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB) who, according to the indictment, used their offices to protect two “hackers for hire” — Alexsey Belan and Karim Baratov. The hackers profited off the breach, incorporating it into their existing spamming campaign. Cooperating with the Kremlin, moreover, afforded the cybercriminals protection, just as Stoyanov later described; the circumstances surrounding Belan’s escape from arrest in Europe in 2013 suggest he had official help. For the FSB, meanwhile, the intrusion offered access to information on figures of interest, including Russian journalists, government officials and high-profile businesspeople. One can imagine that this kind of intelligence collection may have also proved useful in Russia’s efforts to influence the U.S. election, although no evidence has linked the two incidents.

A Symbiotic Relationship

Moscow’s ties to the world of cybercrime are just the latest manifestation of a well-established trend. The Russian state has been entwined in crime since long before the dawn of the internet, often in a kind of symbiosis with criminal organizations. Under Soviet rule, for example, Russian officials generally turned a blind eye to smugglers, who then sold them contraband luxury goods. The black market was the closest thing to a free market for most of the Soviet era, and it offered the Kremlin a way to relieve pressure on the Soviet people and economy. But even after the liberal reforms of the late 1980s and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Russian capitalism struggled to break free of its corrupt roots. The early post-Soviet years were a period of plunder. Criminals took advantage of the state’s weakness to line their pockets. Then, as Russia regained its footing, the country’s gangsters and bandits began to cooperate with the government — a pattern that has played out in several countries over the years.

Many of the most successful criminals to emerge during the 1990s were themselves a part of the crumbling Soviet system. Military personnel and KGB agents stationed around the world capitalized on their access to valuable arms and intelligence to keep themselves afloat as their government imploded. Soldiers and intelligence officers made the most of their precarious position by selling off state property — including, in at least one instance, a submarine — for their own profit. Viktor Bout, a former army linguist and officer in Russia’s Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU), offers perhaps the most infamous example. Before his arrest in 2008, Bout had become one of the world’s most prolific arms dealer, alternately preying on and working with the Kremlin to suit his business.

Today, Russia is enjoying a period of strength relative to the chaos of the 1990s. If history is any guide, however, its fortunes could easily change, and with them, the criminal class’s allegiances. Stoyanov’s letter warned of the danger that the hackers currently in the Kremlin’s employ could turn against it one day.

U.S. Indictments of Russian Hackers

No Risk, No Reward

Notwithstanding the risks of hiring criminals, the ends of such an arrangement often justify the means. Relying on agents for hire to carry out certain operations may be an economic necessity for cash-strapped governments. As states vie for primacy — or at least strategic advantages — in the cyber realm, they have to compete to recruit the best people in the field. And they don’t come cheap. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security suffers from high turnover in its cybersecurity leadership roles, in part because it can’t keep up with the private sector’s salary offerings. Peter Levashov, another Russian spammer arrested earlier this month, purportedly charged $500 dollars for every 1 million messages he sent, a rate that could have earned him up to $750,000 a day. The Russian government can never hope to match that pay. It can, however, offer other incentives to draw in experts like Levashov, including legal immunity.

Keeping cyber operatives off the books also affords governments a degree of plausible deniability. After all, listing one of the world’s most notorious spammers on its payroll would reflect poorly on Russia’s image, and on its tradecraft. Most countries with advanced intelligence capabilities maintain operatives under non-official cover. These agents don’t receive the same protections that registered foreign officials enjoy, but by the same token, they don’t attract the same scrutiny. Consequently, they have much more latitude to conduct sensitive operations. Creating and maintaining non-official cover is a daunting task, though, especially in the age of social media. An even safer bet for governments is to avoid establishing an official relationship with cyber mercenaries in the first place.

Common Practice

Russia isn’t the only country reaping the economic and practical benefits of working with unofficial agents. China’s intelligence services routinely recruit Chinese nationals living abroad and working in strategic sectors to conduct operations on their behalf. In January 2016, for example, U.S. authorities uncovered an industrial espionage scheme in which Chinese operatives apparently tried to poach Chinese-American scientists from GlaxoSmithKline PLC to start a rival company. The intelligence officials set up their recruits with their own firm in China, and in exchange, they received exfiltrated proprietary information — all without adding anyone to their payroll.

The Kremlin has every incentive to exploit its access to some of the world’s most sophisticated hackers. And despite the damning allegations in Stoyanov’s letter, the Russian government has so far maintained its plausible deniability, offering its word against that of a man in prison for treason. Though investigators in the United States and France will keep working to dismantle Moscow’s hacker networks and arrest the architects behind them, digital interference in foreign elections will be a hallmark of Russian intelligence operations for years to come.”

https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/untangling-web-russias-cyber-operations?utm_campaign=LL_Content_Digest&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=51350628&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–6uKnrLm-s4to9ibk2czWajY9Jj2mMF4KofjC5qpmP0zUEBgS7U-WJ7PbKV451sYgdr7CPJwirsV6uHeVpHa91ddOD0w&_hsmi=51351201

 

Wars to Keep the Military Industry in Demand

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Image: Batr.org

The defense industry in America has utilized the threat of war and self-fulfilling prophesies to promote engagements by our country in several countries over the last 15 years. They pay more in lobbying costs each year than they pay in taxes.
There have been two major factors in the U.S. approach to undeclared warfare:
1. The motives of the U.S. and International Military Industrial Complexes, USAID and other western USAID counterparts in fostering continued warfare during this period, netting billions in sales of weapons to the war fighters and massive construction and redevelopment dollars for international companies who often operated fraudulently and fostered waste, looting and lack of funds control.
It is common knowledge that many of these corporations spend more each year in lobbying costs than they pay in taxes and pass exorbitant overhead and executive pay cost on to the tax payer in sales, thus financing their operating personnel riches while remaining marginally profitable to their stockholders.
I watched this from the inside of many of these companies for 36 years. Here is my dissertation on that subject. You can read it on line at:
Here is an example of how the lobbying and behind the scenes string pulling worked:
2. The complete lack of cultural understanding between U.S. and Western decision makers and the middle east cultures they were trying to “Assist” by nation building.
The only real understanding that existed during the period was in the person of General Schwarzkopf who spent much of his youth in the Middle East with his father who was an ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He was fascinated by the Arab culture, commended their respect and like Eisenhower led a coalition during the Gulf War. He then astutely recommend no occupation of Iraq, went home and stayed out of government. Norman, like Ike, knew the power of the MIC and he wanted no part of it.
The U.S Tax payer has funded billions in USAID and construction projects in Iraq and wasted the money due to a lack of cultural understanding, fraud and abuse. POGO documents many:
There is history repeating itself here – much like Vietnam the above two factors are deeply at play with the lack of astute learning in our government as we look back over our shoulder.
We must come to the understanding, like a recent highly respected war veteran and West Point Instructor has, that military victory is dead.
“MODERN WAR INSTITUTE AT WEST POINT”
“Victory’s been defeated; it’s time we recognized that and moved on to what we actually can accomplish. “
Frank Spinney is an expert on the MIC. He spent the same time I did on the inside of the Pentagon while I worked Industry. You may find his interviews informative.

The One Year Budget Cycle Must Go

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         Photo Courtesy “Dabble With” dot com     

By  Ken Larson                               
Having  dealt with the funding process in the government contracting industry  (both large and small business) for over 40 years through many  administrations and much frustration, I can discuss with  some  credibility a major weakness in the huge machine we call the US  Federal  Government — the one year budget cycle. Its tail end is whipping everybody this month and we have undergone previous sanctimonious “Shutdowns”, with the promise of more to come.

A huge reason for much of the largess in this entire area is the one year budget cycle in which the US Government is entrenched.

About mid-summer every agency begins to get paranoid about whether or not they have spent all their money, worried about having to return some and be cut back the next year. They flood the market with sources sought notifications and open solicitations to get the money committed. Many of these projects are meaningless.

Then during the last fiscal month (September) proposals are stacked up all over the place and everything is bottle-necked. If you are a small business trying to get the paperwork processed and be under contract before the new fiscal year starts you are facing a major challenge.

Surely the one year cycle has become a ludicrous exercise we can no longer afford and our government is choking on it. It is a political monstrosity that occurs too frequently to be managed.

Government must lay out a formal baseline over multiple years (I suggest at least 2 fiscal years – ideally 4 – tied to a presidential election)  – then fund in accordance with it and hold some principals in the agencies funded accountable by controlling their spending incrementally – not once year in a panic mode.

Naturally exigencies can occur. A management reserve can be set aside if events mandate scope changes in the baseline due to unforeseen circumstances. Congress could approve such baseline changes as they arise.

There is a management technique for the above that DOD, NASA and the major agencies require by regulation in large government contracts.    It is called “Earned Value Management” and it came about as a result of some of the biggest White Elephant overruns in Defense Department History.

http://www.smalltofeds.com/2008/…

I contend we have one of the biggest White Elephants ever in front of us (a National Debt approaching $20 Trillion)

We need to get this mess under control, manage our finances and our debt or it will manage us into default.

 

Revolving Door Picking Up Speed at the Pentagon and Homeland Security

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Pentagon Revolving Door

“THE INTERCEPT”

“Defense firms have eagerly watched as Trump recently unveiled a budget calling for $54 billion in additional military spending next year.

President Trump has weaponized the revolving door by appointing defense contractors and their lobbyists to key government positions as he seeks to rapidly expand the military budget and homeland security programs.”


“The spending spree will provide a brand new opportunity for defense lobbyists to get business for their clients. And the most effective lobbying generally involves contacting former colleagues in positions of power.

Two Department of Homeland Security appointments Trump announced Tuesday morning are perfect examples.

Benjamin Cassidy, installed by Trump as assistant secretary for legislative affairs, previously worked as a senior executive at Boeing’s international business sector, marketing Boeing military products abroad. Jonathan Rath Hoffman, named assistant secretary for public affairs, previously worked as a consultant to the Chertoff Group, the sprawling homeland security consulting firm founded by former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. The firm has come under fire for advising a variety of firms seeking government contracts, including for full-body scanners deemed invasive by privacy activists. Hoffman also led a state chapter of a neoconservative military-contractor advocacy organization during the 2016 presidential campaign. Neither position requires Senate confirmation.

Personnel from major defense companies now occupy the highest ranks of the administration including cabinet members and political appointees charged with implementing the Trump agenda. At least 15 officials with financial ties to defense contractors have been either nominated or appointed so far, with potentially more industry names on the way as Trump has yet to nominate a variety of roles in the government, including Army and Navy secretaries.

Before their confirmations, Jim Mattis and John Kelly, the secretaries of the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, were primarily paid by defense firms.

Mattis was paid $242,000, along with up to $500,000 in vested stock options, as director of General Dynamics, a company that produces submarines, tanks, and a range of munitions for the military. Mattis also received speaking fees from several firms, including Northrop Grumman. Kelly previously served in a number of roles at defense contracting consulting and lobbying firms and worked directly as an adviser to Dyncorp, a company that contracts with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Major lobbying groups for the arms companies, including the National Defense Industrial Association and the Aerospace Industries Association, welcomed the selection of Secretary Mattis, who has already scheduled meetings with industry executives. Secretary Kelly has pledged to work more closely with the private sector, promising greater collaboration with private firms to accomplish his agency’s goals.

To carry out this private-sector friendly agenda, defense officials have taken major roles throughout Trump’s administration.

Pat Shanahan, nominated last week by Trump to serve as deputy secretary of defense, is a vice president at Boeing who formerly led the company’s missile defense subsidiary. Disclosures show that Elaine Duke, the nominee for deputy secretary of homeland security, previously consulted for Booz Allen Hamilton, General Dynamics, and the Columbia Group, a small contractor that builds unmanned naval drones.

The nominee to lead the Air Force, former New Mexico Congresswoman Heather Wilson, worked as a consultant to a Lockheed Martin subsidiary after retiring from public office. The company sought Wilson’s help to maintain a $2.4 billion a year contract to manage Sandia National Laboratories, the premiere nuclear weapons research facility, and to keep the contract closed to competition. “Lockheed Martin should aggressively lobby Congress, but keep a low profile,” Wilson urged the company in a memo revealed later by an inspector general report.

Trump’s pick for national security council chief of staff, retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, has worked at a variety of defense contracting companies. After serving in senior roles in Iraq’s provisional government after the 2003 invasion, Kellogg left the government for the private sector. He told the Washington Post in 2005 that he joined Oracle to “establish a homeland security business unit” at the firm, and later joined CACI International, a company with major contracts in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following CACI, Kellogg joined Cubic Defense in 2009 to develop the company’s combat training business.

A list of temporary political appointees recently published by ProPublica reveals a number of less-known influence peddlers who have taken senior roles in the administration.

Chad Wolf and Lora Ries, two recently appointed advisers at the Department of Homeland Security, are formerly registered defense lobbyists. Wolf lobbied for Harris Corp. and the United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Ries previously lobbied for a range of defense and homeland security contractors, including Altegrity, Boeing, Implant Sciences Corp., General Dynamics, L1 Identity Solutions, and TASC Inc.

In the White House, one of the newest members of the National Economic Council staff is Michael Catanzaro, formerly a registered lobbyist working for both Boeing and Halliburton.

Palanatir Technology’s Justin Mikolay, formerly a chief in-house lobbyist for the company who worked to win over billions of dollars in Army contracts, was quietly appointed to serve as a special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Several appointees are associated with SBD Advisors, a consulting that firm that advertises its ability to facilitate “engagements between the technology and defense sectors,” and is advised by a high profile team of former government leaders, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Adm. Mike Mullen and former National Security Agency Director of Operations Ron Moultrie.

SBD Advisors’d Sally Donnelly and Tony DeMartino work as temporary political appointees at the Office of the Defense Secretary, according to the list assembled by ProPublica. Kristan King Nevins, recently appointed as chief of staff to Second Lady Karen Pence, also previously worked at SBD Advisors as the director of communications.

The Trump administration is the “military-industrial complex personified,” said William Hartung, director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Hartung noted that while the administration is bringing arms industry officials into government, it is also demanding a massive increase in military spending and appears to be escalating conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

In short, the Trump proposals are an armsmaker’s dream come true,” he said. “

https://theintercept.com/2017/03/21/revolving-door-military/