Category Archives: Geopolitics

Doing the Most with the Least – The Coast Guard Dilemma

Standard

Lean Coast Guard

National Security Cutter Munro completed builder’s sea trials in August. HII Photo

“U.S. NAVAL INSTITUTE”

“No other service over the last decade has been hit harder by budget cuts and sequestration than the U.S. Coast Guard.

In a time when our maritime services have been asked to do more with less, the Coast Guard has been engaging increased maritime threats with its leanest force in decades.

While today’s focus is being steered towards the U.S. Navy’s 2016 Force Structure Assessment (FSA), which called for a 355-ship Navy, there has been relatively little discussion about increasing the size of the U.S. Coast Guard.

“We are depleted of resources.” Coast Guard commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft recently stated to a packed audience at the annual West 2017 conference in San Diego. “When you add both transnational criminal organizations, plus the Arctic…we need to move from being a bantam-weight fighter to being a welter-weight fighter.”

The mission requirements for the Coast Guard are mind-boggling.

Today, the Coast Guard protects and defends more than 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and inland waterways. Additionally, it has the imposing requirement to safeguard an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) encompassing 4.5 million square miles stretching from the far reaches of the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific and from the Caribbean/Atlantic to Guam in the Western Pacific. This U.S. EEZ is a vast area that includes nine time zones and is one of the largest EEZs in the world.

Map

In President Donald Trump’s recent address to Congress, he said, “We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross – and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.” The salient point here is that a majority of illegal drugs, cocaine in particular, come into this country via the maritime routes – where the drugs are in their most concentrated and in their most vulnerable form. A critical asset in the campaign to combat this illicit trade is the Coast Guard’s Legend-class National Security Cutter.

During the Surface Navy Association symposium in January, Zukunft listed the accomplishment of the crew of latest NSC cutter USCGC Hamilton (WMSL-753) that included response to Hurricane Matthew and the interdiction of more than 52,000 tons in cocaine.

A significant shortfall in the force structure of the Coast Guard fleet is the current shortage of High-Endurance Cutters. During the height of the U.S. drug interdiction efforts, the Coast Guard had a fleet of 12 Secretary-class 378-foot High-Endurance Cutters. Today, only five remain in service and the cost to maintain these 50-year old ships has become an unsustainable burden on the Coast Guard’s budget.

In 2008, to start the replacement of the aging High-Endurance Cutters, the Coast Guard commissioned the USCGC Bertholf (WMSL-750), first of the Legend class. Shortly after commissioning in 2009, Bertholf completed an extended operational deployment and exceeded all operational expectations of a “first-of-a-class” vessel.

The major concern with the current planned Coast Guard force structure is that it calls for only eight (now nine) National Security Cutters to replace 12 High-Endurance Cutters. Since the commissioning of the Hamilton-Class High-Endurance Cutters in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the maritime security landscape for our nation has changed dramatically. With the Department of Defense heavily involved overseas, the Coast Guard has taken the lead, appropriately so, in protecting and securing America’s homeland and our own backyard, as illustrated in the Commandant’s Western Hemisphere Strategy (September 2014).

US agencies stop semi-submersible, seize 12,000 pounds of cocaine

“If you look at DoD’s statement of key priorities, they are not focused on the Western Hemisphere. We have the responsibility by default and design,” Zukunft stated. Stressing the Coast Guard’s force structure deficiency to combat illegal drugs and illegal migrants in the southern approaches to the U.S., Zukunft went on to say, “The Navy’s Perry-class frigates have gone away. On the best of days, you have three Coast Guard ships in the Caribbean. That is your entire force to deal with threats in that region.”

The Coast Guard’s focus on the Western Hemisphere also includes the Arctic, as illustrated in the Commandant’s Arctic Strategy. In fact, increasing activity from cruise ships, eco-tourism, oil exploration, fishing vessels, and commercial cargo vessels seeking a shorter route between Asia and Europe have necessitated the need for the National Security Cutters to go where they never planned to go before: the unforgiving, icy waters of the Arctic.

In addition, with China’s expansion in the South China Sea and the U.S. Navy’s shortage of assets in the region, there has been discussion of the Coast Guard providing a more persistent presence in the area. The Coast Guard would be the perfect service to work with our allies in the region. If assigned, the National Security Cutter – with its 12,000-nautical-mile range and its 60-day endurance – would be the ideal ship to perform this mission.

In summary, as the new administration strives to enhance our overall national security posture, there should be serious consideration given to building at least 12 National Security Cutters to replace the 12 retiring ships in the High-Endurance Cutter program. A “one-for-one” NSC for HEC replacement strategy would better secure our nation and help the U.S. Coast Guard combat a host of emerging national security threats on multiple flanks.”

https://news.usni.org/2017/03/09/opinion-doing-the-most-with-the-least-the-coast-guard-dilemma

 

  

 

Science Offers Peace-building Mechanism in South China Sea Dispute

Standard

science diplomacy

“GEOPOLITICAL MONITOR”

“Territorial claims among China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei in the South China Sea remain a serious threat to the political and ecological security of Southeast Asia.

Science diplomacy is not a completely new approach to international relations, and, at the moment, has raised two important questions in efforts to successfully settle the South China Sea dispute, namely: Should we do it? And will it work?  The answer to both is, “yes.”

Protecting marine environments and ensuring the ocean’s sustainability is a global issue that is vital for all life, and nowhere is this more important than in the South China Sea.As such, environmental degradation remains at the center of South China Sea scientific policy conversations, and for an increasing number of policy shapers and scientists, there’s an urgent need to address acidification, biodiversity loss, regional impacts of climate change, coral reef destruction, and fishery collapses.

Enter science diplomacy. Defined by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as science being used to inform foreign policy decisions, promote international scientific collaborations, and establish scientific cooperation to ease tensions between nations, science diplomacy is a widely accepted method that environmental policy planners use to contribute to conflict resolutions and, for several decades, has been adopted as a diplomatic tool for peace-building by many countries. During the Cold War divide, scientific cooperation was used to build bridges of cooperation and trust.

Science diplomacy helps directly and indirectly promote confidence-building among the parties involved in the South China Sea dispute, offering a much-needed strategic pause in rising regional tensions. The probability that science diplomacy can successfully manage the South China Sea dispute is quite high because of timing, creditability, and the potential for support from major powers. It offers more advantages than not in terms of economics, politics, social responsibility, and beyond. Most importantly, there’s already a rising tide of cooperation in the exchange of data and information, consensus on the value of marine protected areas, and an increase in joint research expeditions.

There are strong ties among scientists across Southeast Asia and China, partly due to a series of international scientific projects, conferences, and training workshops, such as those associated with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s South China Sea Fisheries Development and Coordination Program from the mid 1970s to the mid-1980s. Informal “Track 2” working groups and associated fieldwork throughout the 1990s and up to the early 2000s included many regional scientists and their projects aimed at promoting peaceful joint resource management in the South China Sea. The UNEP and Global Environment Facility sponsored a South China Sea environmental analysis and management project from 2002 to 2009, and efforts are underway to initiate a follow up project. Other such confidence-building activities are under discussion.

These proposed science collaborative measures are essential in the face of the rampant overfishing and coral reef degradation that has occurred across the South China Sea, in part because the conflicting territorial claims have made ecological analyses and management actions difficult. There are strong indications of impending collapses of fisheries and potential species extinctions. Given the fact that the South China Sea hosts a large proportion of known marine species, including threatened giant clams, sea turtles, and marine mammals, there is no time to waste.

The prospect of a fisheries apocalypse in the South China Sea should weigh heavily on all claimant nations, all of which rely on fish protein to feed a burgeoning population of roughly 1.9 billion people. Challenges around food security and renewable fish resources are fast becoming a hardscrabble reality for more than fishermen. In 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity warned that it could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly headed towards extinction by mid-century.

Nevertheless, it’s encouraging that Chinese scientists have been engaged in science diplomacy in polar regimes for the past three years. This includes cooperative fishing regulations research and especially their participation multilateral diplomacy efforts in the central Arctic Ocean. Although Beijing’s role is still limited, they are preparing to play a substantial role in good governance in the Arctic.

Despite the intractable SCS sovereignty issues, and difficulties in securing permissions for environmental field work, even in non-disputed areas, a focus among regional scientists on environmental protection and fishery issues may prove far less difficult than problems in the Arctic.

Science diplomacy seems quite affordable for all claimant countries. In fact, while it is hard to draw an exact comparison of the expenditures a government provides for other ways of solving the South China Sea dispute, science diplomacy would prove very cost effective. Because military and economic initiatives, especially the transformation of reefs into military outposts, unlike scientific ones, are often seen as the actions of one country protecting its sovereignty and is directly related to national defense, any non-state actor’s involvements are inevitably sensitive subjects and considered inappropriate.

The key is to encourage international scientific cooperation. Through joint marine research surveys, the region’s scientists can provide policymakers with the data and information they need to make informed and responsible decisions in the South China Sea.

Science initiatives are more widely accepted as efforts to solve global issues that require contributions from all players in the international relations arena. This not only makes science diplomacy-related initiatives financially possible, but also leads to broader dissemination of results and enhances their impacts on policy decision-making and capacity-building on the regional level.

Most SCS states have adopted marine protected areas to address present and future environmental issues, and there are plans to include areas that fall within disputed waters. Existing MPAs play important roles in the development of the marine economy; they improve the livelihoods of coastal fishing communities and also serve as an excellent directed science policy model. If sovereignty concerns could be set aside in treaties implementing freezes on claims and claim-supportive activities, as has been done in the Antarctic, these and other natural resource management tools could be used far more effectively to secure fisheries and biodiversity, and also to promote sustainable tourism.

Secondly, science diplomacy is a safe and neutral approach to international relations for all governments. While economic or military cooperation requires strong consideration for signs of foreign policy direction, scientific cooperation is much more neutral, even in conflict-torn countries, since they can cooperate with each other in scientific projects “to affirm and to improve human life” without worrying about misleading the international community about their foreign policy orientation or invoking domestic anger because of shaking hands with the “wrong partners.”

Finally, science diplomacy serves essential needs in the lives of human beings. While other types of diplomacy tend to only solve issues at the state level, like sovereignty or territorial integrity, the science research cooperation in the South China Sea aims at a more “down-to-sea” approach, namely ensuring that fishers can fish safely, marine products for human beings are unpolluted, and marine resources are protected correctly.

Looking at science diplomacy from a broader perspective, it provides collateral benefits to resolving the South China Sea dispute. Last year, Fidel V. Ramos, the former president of the Philippines (1992-1998), and a member of the ASEAN Eminent Persons Group stated that environmental cooperation could promise to bring about “mutually beneficial efforts to improve tourism and encourage trade and investment, and to promote exchanges among think tanks and academic institutions on relevant issues.”

Science diplomacy offers a peace-building mechanism for South China Sea scientific advisors to demonstrate their roles as “resource analysts, trend spotters, science communicators, and applied-policy advisors.”

With natural resource politics steering the South China Sea narrative, science diplomacy offers the dual hope of protecting coral cathedrals, marine habitats, and fish species, and it can serve as a peace-building model for similar environmental conflicts elsewhere.”

https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/science-offers-peace-building-mechanism-in-south-china-sea-dispute/

 

 

 

What Mark Thompson Has Learned Covering the Military for 40 Years

Standard
550-billion-pentagon-budget-cartoon-600x396_orig

Image:  “Otherwords.org”

“Scant public interest yields ceaseless wars to nowhere”

 

“Straus Military Reform Project – Center for Defense Information at POGO”

“It turns out that my spending four years on an amusement-park midway trying to separate marks from their money was basic training for the nearly 40 years I spent reporting on the U.S. military.

Both involve suckers and suckees. One just costs a lot more money, and could risk the future of United States instead of a teddy bear.

But after 15 years of covering U.S. defense for daily newspapers in Washington, and 23 more for Time magazine until last December, it’s time to share what I’ve learned. I’m gratified that the good folks at the nonpartisan Project On Government Oversight, through their Straus Military Reform Project, are providing me this weekly soapbox to comment on what I’ve come to see as the military-industrial circus.

As ringmaster, I can only say: Boy, are we being taken to the cleaners. And it’s not so much about money as it is about value. Too much of today’s U.S. fighting forces look like it came from Tiffany’s, with Walmart accounting for much of the rest. There’s too little Costco, or Amazon Prime.

There was a chance, however slight, that President Trump would blaze a new trail on U.S. national security. Instead, he has simply doubled down.

We have let the Pentagon become the engine of its own status quo.

For too long, the two political parties have had Pavlovian responses when it comes to funding the U.S. military (and make no mistake about it: military funding has trumped military strategy for decades). Democrats have long favored shrinking military spending as a share of the federal budget, while Republicans yearn for the days when it accounted for a huge chunk of U.S. government spending. Neither is the right approach. Instead of seeing the Pentagon as the way to defend against all threats, there needs to be a fresh, long-overdue accounting of what the real threats are, and which of those are best addressed by military means.

The Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review, which is supposed to do just that every four years, has become an engine of the status quo. The Pentagon today is little more than a self-licking ice cream cone, dedicated in large measure to its growth and preservation. Congress is a willing accomplice, refusing to shutter unneeded military bases due to the job losses they’d mean back home. The nuclear triad remains a persistent Cold War relic (even former defense secretary Bill Perry wants to scrap it), with backers of subs, bombers and ICBMs embracing one another against their real threat: a hard-nosed calculus on the continuing wisdom of maintaining thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert.

Unfortunately, it’s getting worse as partisan enmity grows. It’s quaint to recall the early congressional hearings I covered (Where have you gone, Barry Goldwater?), when lawmakers would solemnly declare that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” The political opposition’s reactions to Jimmy Carter’s failed raid to rescue U.S. hostages held in Iran in 1980 that killed eight U.S. troops, and to the loss of 241 U.S. troops on Ronald Reagan’s peacekeeping mission in Beirut in 1983, was tempered.

But such grim events have been replaced Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi and Donald Trump’s Jan. 29 special-ops raid in Yemen. Rancid rancor by both sides cheapens the sacrifice of the five Americans who died. It only adds a confusing welter of new rules designed to ensure they aren’t repeated. Yet mistakes are a part of every military operation, and an unwillingness to acknowledge that fact, and act accordingly, leads to pol-mil paralysis. It’s amazing that the deaths of Glen Doherty, William “Ryan” Owens, Sean Smith, Chris Stevens and Tyrone Woods seem to have generated more acrimony and second-guessing than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which 6,908 U.S. troops have died.

There is today a fundamental disconnect between the nation and its wars. We saw it in President Obama’s persistent leeriness when it came to the use of military force, and his successor’s preoccupation with spending and symbolism instead of strategy. In his speech to Congress Feb. 28, Trump mentioned the heroism of Navy SEAL Owens, but didn’t say where he died (Yemen). Nor did he mention Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, where nearly 15,000 U.S. troops are fighting what Trump boldly declared is “radical Islamic terrorism.”

But he did declare he is seeking “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” His $54 billion boost would represent a 10% hike, and push the Pentagon spending, already well beyond the Cold War average used to keep the now-defunct Soviet Union at bay—even higher.

“We are going to have very soon the finest equipment in the world,” Trump said from the deck of the yet-to-be-commissioned carrier Gerald R. Ford on Thursday in Hampton, Va. “We’re going to start winning again.” What’s surprising is Trump’s apparent ignorance that the U.S. military has had, pound-for-pound, the world’s finest weapons since World War II. What’s stunning is his apparent belief that better weapons lead inevitably to victory. There is a long list of foes that knows better.

It’s long past time for a tough look at what U.S. taxpayers are getting for the $2 billion they spend on their military and veterans every day. It would have been great if Trump had been willing to scrub the Pentagon budget and reshape it for the 21st Century. But the U.S. has been unwilling to do that ever since the Cold War ended more than 25 years ago. Instead, it simply shrunk its existing military, then turned on a cash gusher following 9/11.

I know many veterans who are angered that their sacrifice, and that of buddies no longer around, have been squandered in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I recall flying secretly into Baghdad in December 2003 with then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The bantam SecDef declared on that trip that the U.S. military had taken the “right approach” in training Iraqi troops, and that they were fighting “well and professionally.” Last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the fifth man to hold that job since Rumsfeld, declared in Baghdad that the U.S. training of the Iraqi military is “developing very well.” His visit, like Rumsfeld’s 14 years earlier, wasn’t announced in advance.

Even as Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, tries to chart a path forward in Iraq, it’s worth remembering that he earned his spurs 26 years ago as a captain in a tank battle with Iraqi forces.

If we’re going to spend—few would call it an investment—$5 trillion fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Syria, and Yemen), don’t we, as Americans, deserve a better return?

The problem is that the disconnect between the nation and its wars (and war-fighters) also includes us:

  • Our representatives in Congress prefer not to get their hands bloodied in combat, so they avoid declaring war. They prefer to subcontract it out to the White House, and we let them get away with it.
  • Through the Pentagon, we have subcontracted combat out to an all-volunteer force. Only about 1% of the nation has fought in its wars since 9/11. We praise their courage even as we thank God we have no real skin in the game.
  • In turn, the uniformed military services have hired half their fighting forces from the ranks of private, for-profit contractors, who handle the critical support missions that used to be done by soldiers. The ruse conveniently lets the White House keep an artificially-low ceiling on the number of troops in harm’s way. We like those lower numbers.
  • Finally, we have contracted out paying for much of the wars’ costs to our children, and grandchildren. We are using their money to fight our wars. They’ll be thanking us in 2050, for sure.

Until and unless Americans take responsibility for the wars being waged in their name, and the weapons being bought to wage them, this slow bleeding of U.S. blood and treasure will continue. “We have met the enemy,” another Pogo once said, “and he is us.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/03/military-industrial-circus-national-security-column.html

mark-thompson-230

2By: Mark Thompson, National Security Analyst

Mark Thompson Profile

Mark Thompson writes for the Center for Defense Information at POGO.

 

America’s “Unsinkable Little Aircraft Carriers”

Standard
united-bases-of-america

Image:  Richard Johnston National Post

“GEOPOLITICAL MONITOR”

“America’s approximately 800 military bases spread across more than 70 countries is perhaps the biggest indicator of the sheer size and unparalleled reach of the US military.

Some forget just how dependent Washington is on a network of small, rarely-mentioned countries that act as its “unsinkable aircraft carriers.”

The Trump administration’s first special operations attack certainly didn’t go as hoped. On the night of January 28, in a village in central Yemen, the first raid authorized by the new president allegedly killed 14 Al-Qaeda fighters, at least 11 women and children, and one US commando. In addition to causing the deaths of civilians and a member of the US military, it’s questionable if the attack even achieved its stated objective. While the raid succeeded in killing its target, Abdel Raouef Dhahab, a suspected leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), it might well cause unintended consequences. Farea Muslimi, chair of the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, claimed that his death will merely stoke anti-US feelings, since “he is a tribal sheikh and has nothing to do with AQAP.”

It’s well known that the US’ history of killing civilians only plays into the hands of the terrorists they are supposedly targeting. And Trump’s statements that he believes torture works, his comments that he might revive CIA-operated “black site” prisons, and his attempts to ban visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries, are likely to backfire, giving terrorists more motivation to attack US targets.

However, one of the most insidious holes in US counterterrorism policy is likely to be Djibouti, the very base that serves as a launch pad for the administration’s war on terror in Yemen and East Africa. Despite Trump’s oft-repeated quip that he would take out the families of terrorist suspects – a clear infringement of the Geneva Convention that amounts to nothing less than a war crime – there is one black swan event that could make him rethink the entire drone program: China’s moves inside Djibouti. How the former real estate mogul negotiates this relationship will have drastic consequences for America’s relations with other small and medium countries that are nevertheless important for national security.

Djibouti, a barren, forgotten “sandlot” of a country roughly the size of New Jersey, is the host of America’s only bricks and mortar base in Africa. Camp Lemonnier, leased for $60 million per year, houses 4,500 troops and contractors who lead missions against Al-Shabab in Somalia and AQAP. The US military bought the base from the French soon after 9/11, seizing on its strategic potential. They selected Djibouti for its relative stability in a volatile region and for its position, close to both East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Since then, other powers have taken note of Djibouti’s increasingly critical placement. The country also hosts Japan’s only overseas base, Spanish and German anti-piracy soldiers, and Saudi Arabia is set to start building its own installation as well.

Despite Djibouti’s undeniably choice location, US officials might have made a deal with the devil in choosing to partner with such a government. Ismail Omar Guelleh, the four-term president that rules with impunity over this pin sized country, is now one of China’s closest allies. The Middle Kingdom is the biggest investor in the East African nation, prompting the Djiboutian finance minister, Ilyas Moussa Dawaleh, to say that relations with China are “much more important than any other long-standing partner.”

What’s more, Beijing decided to break with decades of foreign policy restraint and open its first foreign military base here. In 2015, the US was reportedly ordered to vacate a supply base in the Obock region so that it could be turned over to the Chinese. Guelleh has also attempted to give Beijing a concession over its key port, which would force the US military to run key supplies through a Chinese-run zone.

It’s highly unlikely that the new US administration will look kindly on Djibouti’s efforts to play both sides while still receiving injections of US funds. Trump himself has sharply questioned the value of foreign aid during his campaign, saying the US should stop sending such funds to “countries that hate us.” As a candidate, he said little to nothing about US policy in Africa, only recently breaking the silence to ask State Department staff a series of questions that only further demonstrated his skepticism about aid to the continent.

When considering Trump’s hostile stance towards China, it’s not impossible to see the White House deciding to take a step back and scaling down its drone wars in East Africa while the relationship with Djibouti is reassessed. Were Camp Lemonnier compromised by Chinese counterespionage – as the US ambassador there worried – the short-fused Trump would likely take drastic action and simply move the base or start a proxy war with Beijing.

And therein lies the rub: while many analysts worry about US alliances with other G20 members (as the ruckus over the call with the Australian Prime Minister showed), some forget just how dependent Washington is on a network of small, rarely-mentioned countries that act as its “unsinkable aircraft carriers.” Djibouti is just one example out of many: Lithuania, Austria, and Greece hosted CIA black sites and participated in the “extraordinary rendition program,” Romania boasts the American missile defense shield, and Kuwait has no less than four camps used by US forces. Each of these countries has a special interest in working with the Trump White House, but their US allegiances should never be taken for granted. Greece has been flirting with Russia, the Austrians are deeply skeptical of the U.S., and Kuwait has historically been one of Iran’s closest allies.

Moving forward, it’s important to take note of these undercurrents streaming across the global landscape.”

https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/the-weakest-link-in-trumps-war-on-terror/

Eric Prince Of “Black Water” Fame is Back in the Business Working for China

Standard

a-chinese-blackwater

“BUZZFEED”

“Erik Prince — founder of the private military company Blackwater,  brother to the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and frequent Breitbart radio guest  has been offering his military expertise to support Chinese government objectives

“He’s been working very, very hard to get China to buy into a new Blackwater,” said one former associate.

“He’s hell bent on reclaiming his position as the world’s preeminent private military provider.”

The move could put him at odds with Trump, who has often taken a hard line against China, and could also risk violating US law, which prohibits the export of military services or equipment to China.

Former associates of the 47-year-old Prince told BuzzFeed News that the controversial businessman envisions using the bases to train and deploy an army of Chinese retired soldiers who can protect Chinese corporate and government strategic interests around the world, without having to involve the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

In December, Frontier Services Group, of which Prince is chairman, issued a press release that outlined plans to open “a forward operating base in China’s Yunnan province” and another in the troubled Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Frontier Services Group provided a statement and strongly disputed that the company was going to become a new Blackwater, insisting that all of its security services were unarmed and therefore not regulated. “FSG’s services do not involve armed personnel or training armed personnel.” The training at the Chinese bases would “help non-military personnel provide close protection security, without the use of arms.”

“Mr. Prince and Mr. Trump know each other and share mutual respect,” the statement added.

White House spokespersons did not respond to emails requesting comment for this story.

Frontier Services Group trades on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and its largest shareholder is an investment fund owned and controlled by the People’s Republic of China, CITIC. Until last year Frontier claimed to be merely a logistics and transportation company, steering clear of Prince’s specialty of providing private military capabilities for operations — though last March The Intercept news organization ran a story saying that Prince, sometimes using his role at Frontier, was pitching security and paramilitary services. In the story, Frontier denied the company was involved.

When Frontier later told its board it was shifting into security services — largely to assist China’s international development policy — the development disgusted two American executives at Prince’s Hong Kong company.

Gregg Smith, the former CEO of Frontier, said he was ready to quit last March if Erik Prince was not removed from the company. Then, at a board meeting late that month, he said a company official made clear that Frontier would be providing security services in support of Chinese government objectives. “That was the final straw,” he told BuzzFeed News.

Retired US Admiral William Fallon, a Frontier board member, was at the same board meeting. He resigned too when he heard that the firm was providing security services. “That wasn’t what I signed up for,” he said in an interview.

President Donald Trump has talked tough about China. To be sure, he recently reaffirmed that the United States will formally recognize only mainland China and not Taiwan, a crucial point for Beijing. But Trump has installed a sharply anti-China critic as the head of his National Trade Council. Before winning the presidency, Trump called China an “enemy.” Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, who interviewed Prince on Breitbart frequently, predicted last year that the US will be at war with China “in the South China Sea in five to 10 years.” And even if no hot war breaks out, many experts believe Trump is gearing up for a trade war with the country that manufactures much of the world’s goods (including some Trump brand products.)

During the campaign, Prince donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory Committee, which supported both Trump’s election bid and the Republican Party. Jeremy Scahill, a journalist who has long covered Prince, recently wrote that the businessman is advising the Trump Administration.

Just four days before the election, Prince gave an interview to Breitbart radio, part of the media empire that Bannon used to run, in which Prince pushed an unfounded theory that the NYPD had been about to announce arrest warrants in the Clinton investigation but was blocked by the Justice Department, and that Hillary Clinton had been to a “sex island” with a convicted pedophile “at least six times.” Prince’s bizarre claims were prominently displayed on Breitbart’s website leading up to the election and were widely distributed on right wing websites.

Now, however, Prince’s new business foray could put him at odds with Trump.

Former executives said that Frontier’s “forward operating bases” will be training former People’s Liberation Army soldiers to work as discreet non-uniformed soldiers for hire.

The former associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Prince “is making Frontier Services a full-on private military company.”

As of the summer, this person continued, “the plan was to set up Blackwater-like training facilities specifically to train the Chinese.”

Another former ally of Prince said: “The idea is to train former PLA soldiers in the art of being private military contractor. That way the actual Red Army doesn’t have to go into these remote areas.”

Asked about Frontier’s claim that Prince was planning “unarmed” security projects, both sources dismissed it, and emphasized that was not their understanding. It is “ridiculous,” said one.

“Are they using sonic weapons,” joked the other. “Is it psychic powers?”

Prince is best known as the founder of Blackwater, a private military company — Prince objects to the term “mercenary” — that did phenomenal business during the war on terror. The firm was frequently embroiled in scandal: Four of its employees were killed in Fallujah in 2004, leading to a Marine Corps onslaught on the city; several former employees pleaded guilty to arms violations in a lengthy investigation; and still others were convicted in a wild shooting spree in Baghdad in which 17 civilians were slaughtered.

Typically, Prince has been involved in ventures that he claims are in line with US foreign policy goals. He has reportedly helped the United Arab Emirates set up a military unit of former Colombian soldiers; pushed for an anti-piracy operation in the Puntland region of Somalia; and tried to sell a mercenary operation in Nigeria.

The current China plan appears to be different. China is widely understood to have interests that are adversarial to the US, and the two powers compete for world influence. And US law bans US citizens from exporting defense-related services or equipment to the country.

Frontier’s December press release said the Yunnan base would “allow FSG to be able to better serve companies in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.” The Uighur region, which would be home to the company’s second base, abuts Afghanistan.

According to the press release “these bases will provide training, communications, risk mitigation, risk assessments, information gathering, medevac and joint operations centers that coordinate security, logistics and aviation.”

The press release said the company was “expanding its security offerings” to include “training for personnel,” as well as “Personnel Protection” services, which is industry jargon for providing bodyguards. The December press release did not state that the security offerings would be unarmed.

Frontier’s expansion into China, its December press release said, was designed to help clients take advantage of China’s new development plan, “One Belt One Road,” a massive program that many experts believe aims to increase Chinese economic and political sway.

China expert Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute said US regulators would likely take a dim view of security operations in China’s Uighur areas. “It’s at odds with the American government view that we don’t want to help the Chinese oppress the Uighurs in Xinjiang.”

https://www.buzzfeed.com/aramroston/betsy-devoss-brother-is-setting-up-a-private-army-for-china?utm_term=.ld1jVAKaN#.vhL4oNrnE

What We’re Fighting For

Standard

what-we-fight-for

Image: United States Army soldiers transported Iraqi detainees captured during Operation Steel Curtain in 2005. CreditJehad Nga

“THE NEW YORK TIMES” 

After spending 13 months in Iraq, I think back to the stories that defined, for me, what it meant to be an American at war, and the reasons I was proud to wear the uniform.

After seeing violence go down not because we managed to increase our lethality but because we improved our ability to work with Iraqis, I became convinced that there were other stories of war equally important for Americans to understand.

When his convoy was ambushed during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, First Lt. Brian Chontosh ordered his Humvee driver to head straight into the oncoming machine gun fire. They punched through, landing in a trench full of heavily armed Iraqi soldiers. Lieutenant Chontosh and his Marines leapt out and he ran down the trench firing away, dropping one enemy soldier after another. First his rifle jammed, then he ran out of ammunition, so he switched to his pistol. He shot it dry, reloaded, and shot it dry again. So he picked up an AK-47 from a dead Iraqi, fired that dry, picked up another AK, fired that dry, picked up a rocket-propelled grenade, fired it, and led the group back to the Humvee, their attack having almost completely cleared the trench. Almost.

One Iraqi was playing dead, fiddling with the pin of a grenade. Lieutenant Chontosh had no ammo, but on the ground were a couple of M-16 rounds from when his rifle had jammed. He grabbed one, loaded, and before the Iraqi could pull the pin, Lieutenant Chontosh locked eyes with him and shot him dead. All told, according to the journalist Phil Zabriskie’s account of the ambush in “The Kill Switch,” Lieutenant Chontosh had killed about two dozen people that day.

When I was a new Marine, just entering the Corps, this story from the Iraq invasion defined heroism for me. It’s a perfect image of war for inspiring new officer candidates, right in line with youthful notions of what war is and what kind of courage it takes — physical courage, full stop. We thought it was a shame more Americans didn’t know the story.

Midway through my deployment a Marine arrived on base with severe wounds. He’d been shot by an enemy sniper, and the medical staff swarmed around his body, working frantically, skillfully, but it wasn’t enough. He died on the table.

Normally, there’d be a moment of silence, of prayer, but the team got word that the man who killed this young Marine, the insurgent sniper, would be arriving a few minutes later. That dead Marine’s squadmates had engaged the sniper in a firefight, shot him a couple of times, patched him up, bandaged him and called for a casualty evacuation to save the life of the man who’d killed their friend.

So he arrived at our base. And the medical staff members, still absorbing the blow of losing a Marine, got to work. They stabilized their enemy and pumped him full of American blood, donated from the “walking blood bank” of nearby Marines. The sniper lived. And then they put him on a helicopter to go to a hospital for follow-up care, and one of the Navy nurses was assigned to be his flight nurse. He told me later of the strangeness of sitting in the back of a helicopter, watching over his enemy lying peacefully unconscious, doped up on painkillers, while he kept checking the sniper’s vitals, his blood pressure, his heartbeat, a heartbeat that was steady and strong thanks to the gift of blood from the Americans this insurgent would have liked to kill.

This wasn’t just a couple of Marines and sailors making the right decision. These weren’t acts of exceptional moral courage in the way Lieutenant Chontosh’s acts were acts of exceptional physical courage. This was standard policy, part of tradition stretching back to the Revolutionary War, when George Washington ordered every soldier in the Continental Army to sign a copy of rules intended to limit harm to civilians and ensure that their conduct respected what he called “the rights of humanity,” so that their restraint “justly secured to us the attachment of all good men.”

American soldiers outside Mosul, Iraq, in 2008. CreditJoao Silva/The New York Times

From our founding we have made these kinds of moral demands of our soldiers. It starts with the oath they swear to support and defend the Constitution, an oath made not to a flag, or to a piece of ground, or to an ethnically distinct people, but to a set of principles established in our founding documents. An oath that demands a commitment to democracy, to liberty, to the rule of law and to the self-evident equality of all men. The Marines I knew fought, and some of them died, for these principles.

That’s why those Marines were trained to care for their enemy. That’s why another Marine gave his own blood to an insurgent. Because America is an idea as much as a country, and so those acts defend America as surely as any act of violence, because they embody that idea. That nurse, in the quiet, alone with that insurgent, with no one looking as he cared for his patient. That was an act of war.

After I left the Marine Corps, I met a veteran named Eric Fair. He was quiet. He wrote strange and affecting stories about guilt and alienation, and at first he didn’t tell me much about his past. Only over time did I learn that he’d been an Army Arabic linguist before Sept. 11, and then had signed up as a contractor and gone to Abu Ghraib prison in January 2004, all things he would later write about in his memoir “Consequence.”

Back then Abu Ghraib was a mess, he told me. Thousands of Iraqis, some of them insurgents, plenty of them innocent civilians caught up in the post-invasion chaos, and far too few qualified interrogators to sort it out. And the information they were seeking — it was literally life or death.

So Eric began crossing lines. Not legal lines — he followed the rules. But moral lines, personal lines, lines where it was clear that he wasn’t treating the people in his interrogation booth like human beings.

One time, it was with a boy captured with car batteries and electronic devices. The boy said his father used the batteries for fishing, an explanation that Eric found absurd. So, he used the approved techniques. Light slaps, stress positions. The boy eventually broke and, weeping, told Eric about a shop where his father delivered the electronics.

When a unit was sent to raid the shop, it found half a dozen partly assembled car bombs. “It was an enormous adrenaline rush,” he told me. He’d used techniques he now considers torture and, he thought, saved lives.

So, naturally, he kept using them. There were a large number of detainees caught with car batteries, all of them with the same story about fishing. With them, Eric would go right to the techniques designed to humiliate, to degrade, to make people suffer until they tell you what you want to hear. But Eric didn’t get any more results. No more car bomb factories. Just a lot of broken, weeping detainees.

Eventually, he told a fellow contractor the ridiculous fishing story, and how he wasn’t falling for it, and the contractor told him: “Of course they fish with car batteries. I used to do it in Georgia.” The electric charge stuns the fish, a simple method for an easy meal.

Eric isn’t sure how many innocent Iraqis he hurt. All he knows is how easy it was for him to cross the line. Just as with that wounded insurgent there was a codified set of procedures set in place to help guide Marines and Navy medical personnel to make moral choices, choices they could tell their children and grandchildren about without shame, for Eric, there was a codified set of procedures beckoning him to take actions that he now feels condemn him.

He doesn’t even have the consolation of feeling that he saved lives. Sure, they found a car bomb factory, but Abu Ghraib was a turning point. In 2003, thousands of Iraqi soldiers had begun surrendering to the United States, confident they’d be treated well. That’s thousands of soldiers we didn’t have to fight to the death because of the moral reputation of our country.

Abu Ghraib changed things. Insurgent attacks increased, support for the sectarian leader Moktada al-Sadr surged, and 92 percent of Iraqis claimed they saw coalition forces as occupiers rather than liberators or peacekeepers. WikiLeaks later released a United States assessment that detainee mistreatment at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo was “the single most important motivating factor” convincing foreign jihadists to wage war, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal said, “In my experience, we found that nearly every first-time jihadist claimed Abu Ghraib had first jolted him to action.” Our moral reputation had started killing American soldiers.

So, yeah, they found a car bomb factory. Once.

Eric has a relationship to his war that’s much different from mine. Yet we were in the same war. And Eric did what our nation asked of him, used techniques that were vetted and approved and passed down to intelligence operatives and contractors like himself. Lawyers at the highest levels of government had been consulted, asked to bring us to the furthest edge of what the law might allow. To do what it takes, regardless of whether such actions will secure the “attachment of all good men,” or live up to that oath we swear to support and defend the Constitution.

What to make of that oath, anyway? The Constitution seems to mean different things at different times and places — whether in my unit’s dusty little combat hospital, or in Eric’s interrogation booth, or in a stadium where a crowd cheers a presidential candidate vowing to torture his nation’s enemies. We live in a democracy, so that document can be bent and twisted and re-formed to mean whatever we want it to.

If we choose to believe in a morally diminished America, an America that pursues its narrow selfish interests and no more, we can take that course and see how far it gets us. But if we choose to believe that America is not just a set of borders, but a set of principles, we need to act accordingly. That is the only way we ensure that our founding document, and the principles embedded within, are alive enough, and honorable enough, to be worth fighting for.

Which brings me back to Brian Chontosh, that man with such incredible skill at killing for his country. Years after I left the Corps I was surprised to learn that he didn’t really put much stock in his exceptional kill count. He told Mr. Zabriskie this about killing: “It’s ugly, it’s violent, it’s disgusting. I wish it wasn’t part of what we had to do.”

When people ask him if he’s proud of what he did, he answers: “I’m not proud of killing a whole lot of people. That doesn’t make sense to me. I’m proud of who I am today because I think I’ve done well. I think I’ve been honorable. I’ve been successful for my men, for the cause, for what’s right.”

Brian Chontosh doesn’t dwell on the dead, but he does wonder whether there were times when, perhaps, he need not have killed. One of these is that last soldier in the trench. He’ll remember him, trying to pretend he’s dead but wiggling a bit. “It’s not a haunting image,” he told Mr. Zabriskie. “It’s just — man. I wonder. I wonder if I would have just freaking grabbed the dude. Grabbed his hand, thrown the grenade away or something. I could have got him some medical treatment.”

If he had, then that enemy soldier would have ended up with a unit like mine, surrounded by doctors and nurses and Navy corpsmen who would have cared for him in accordance with the rules of law. They would have treated him well, because they’re American soldiers, because they swore an oath, because they have principles, because they have honor. And because without that, there’s nothing worth fighting for.”

Phil Klay is the author of the short-story collection “Redeployment.”

2014 National Book Awards

Phil Klay

 

DHS Estimates Border Wall May Take $21 Billion Over 3 Years to Build

Standard
border-wall

AP Photo/Christian Torres

“WASHINGTON EXAMINER”

“Congress is expected to allocate funding for the project in April or May, with construction starting in September.

The internal estimate, reported by Reuters, states the project would be divided into three phases of construction.

President Trump‘s executive order to complete the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border will cost $21.6 billion and take approximately three and a half years to build, according to a Homeland Security Department report that surfaced Thursday evening.

During his campaign, Trump predicted it would cost $12 billion to finish the 1,250 miles of fencing that is still missing following the 2006 Fence Act. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had estimated $15 billion for the project.

DHS Secretary John Kelly is expected to formally announce the price tag of the operation in the coming days.

Currently, 654 miles of the border has an efficient barrier. The first phase of the project — estimated to cost $360 million — would focus on 26 miles of the border where illegal immigration levels are among the highest: San Diego, Calif.; El Paso, Texas; and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

The second phase would cover 151 miles of land near the Rio Grande Valley; Laredo, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; El Paso, Texas; and Big Bend, Texas. The final leg would cover an estimated 1,080 remaining miles of land.

Trump has promised to reimburse taxpayers by billing Mexico though the administration has not nailed down a specific method for getting compensated.”

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/dhs-estimates-border-wall-may-take-21-billion-over-3-years-to-build/article/2614449

 

Congressional Vote to Gut Anti-Corruption Law

Standard
pwyp-dundee-university-23-728

Image:  “Dundee University”

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)”

“POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said:

“By gutting this anti-corruption rule, lawmakers have showed us they have no guts.

Without the rule, taxpayers will remain the dark, which is where the companies want to keep us. We have no idea right now how much, if any, the industry is paying in taxes. The Cardin-Lugar rule would’ve opened their books to public scrutiny.

The claim that Cardin-Lugar would damage the ability of American companies to be globally competitive was always bogus – as international companies are already subject to similar rules. Rather, it’s about keeping vital information away from the public, lest we find out, for example, that the US government isn’t receiving its fair share of taxes from natural resources extracted from public lands.”

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) emphatically condemns Congress’ vote to eliminate an important anti-corruption measure critical to ensuring American taxpayers can hold the government accountable for its dealings with the oil, gas, and mining industries.

The rule, known as the Cardin-Lugar provision, or Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act, required oil, gas, and mining companies listed on US stock exchanges to disclose the royalties and taxes they pay to the US and foreign governments in order to extract natural resources, including those that are publicly owned.  This protected U.S. national security and energy security interests by preventing secrecy and government abuse abroad.

Since the 1990s, POGO’s investigations into the federal government’s oversight of the oil, gas, and mining industries have uncovered widespread corruption and ethics violations that allowed the extractive industries to cheat billions of dollars of potential income from U.S. taxpayers.

The Cardin-Lugar provision is widely supported by investors, citizens, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, and governments around the world. It is a key element of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global transparency standard in which the US participates. Companies operating in the European Union (EU) are also required by law to make similar disclosures.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/02/pogo-condemns-congressional-vote-gutting_anti-corruption-law.html

$4 Billion Stealth Destroyer DDG-1000 Biggest Trials Lie Ahead

Standard

uss-zumwalt-in-water1

BREAKING DEFENSE

“Problems developing and testing a weapon system at the same time.

It’ll be two more years before combat systems delivery occurs, and then the ship can begin IOT&E (Initial Operational Test & Evaluation) and starting the training cycle to deploy.

As shipbuilder Bath Iron Works laid the keel for the third and final destroyer of the DDG-1000 class, the Navy and industry were struggling to understand embarrassing breakdowns on the first ship, the USS Zumwalt. Congress fears there could be worse to come. “The hard work hasn’t really begun yet in terms of delivering the capability of the ship,” frets one Hill staffer. “We don’t even know really what we don’t know yet about the combat systems because they hadn’t done testing.”

On DDG-1000, there are months of testing still to come even as the third ship, the future Lyndon Baines Johnson, is nearly 60 percent complete (in the form of pre-assembled modules yet to be attached to the keel). “There’s definitely a lot of concurrency,” the staffer said. “It’ll be two more years before combat systems delivery occurs, and then the ship can begin IOT&E (Initial Operational Test & Evaluation) and starting the training cycle to deploy.”

Naval Sea Systems Command is still working out the root causes of engine breakdowns that, among other things, required the $4 billion ship to be towed out of the Panama Canal. But that’s the easy part. What failed in Panama was a relatively simple component called a lube oil cooler, something ships have used “since Noah had an ark,” lamented NAVSEA’s commander, Vice Adm. Thomas Moore. What the Navy has yet to test — indeed, what the Navy has yet to turn on as a single, integrated, ship-wide system — is the ship’s far more complex array of unique, high-tech combat systems:

  • the “integrated fight-through power” system to distribute the ship’s massive amount of electrical power to the highest-priority equipment while re-routing around battle damage, a lot like the fictional starship Enterprise;
  • the two 155 mm Advanced Gun System (AGS) cannon, designed to fire rocket-propelled precision shells that proved so costly the Navy is looking at cheaper but shorter-ranged replacements;
  • the AN/SPY-3 radar, which is new to the Zumwalt destroyers and the similarly troubled carrier USS Ford;
  • and the unique ship-wide computer system meant to control it all, the Total Ship Computing Environment Infrastructure, with over five million lines of code, based on open-source Linux software.

Even when the Zumwalt appears to resemble earlier classes, it’s significantly different. For instance, the Mk 57 Vertical Launch System that allows the Zumwalt to fire a wide variety of missiles is slightly different than the Mk 41 VLS on the Navy’s mainstay warship, the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class. In particular, the Zumwalt‘s missile tubes are squeezed in around the periphery of the ship, rather than forming one easy-to-load central block as on an Arleigh Burke.

“The combat system testing is a significant concern, since so much of it is new,” said Bryan Clark, a retired Navy commander now with the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments. “The Mk57 VLS launcher, AGS, SPY-3, and volume search radar are all unique to DDG-1000. While each system has been tested individually to some degree, the integration testing of all these new systems is likely to identify unforeseen problems, and subsequent delays in the ship’s first deployment.

Guns and Voltage

Even once everything is working and all systems are go aboard ship, Clark continued, the Navy will need to build a support infrastructure on shore. That means special training programs for the crews of the three DDG-1000s, distinct from other destroyers, he said, “because of all the DDG-1000’s unique systems, including a different electrical system, generators, propulsion system, combat systems, and hull equipment.” The DDG-1000 even draws a different voltage of power from other destroyers, he said, which means it’ll compete for high-voltage pier space with big-deck amphibious assault ships and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

Then there’s the cost of ammunition. The ship was built around its two 155 mm guns, a caliber used by no other ship in the Navy. The Advanced Gun System in turn was built to fire a unique hybrid of artillery shell and missile, the rocket-boosted Long-Range Land-Attack Projectile (LRLAP), able to strike targets about 100 nautical miles away. Unfortunately, as the DDG-1000 program kept getting cut back, and the production run of ammo with it, the cost-per-round rocketed to somewhere around $800,000. Now the Navy’s not actually buying LRLAPs and instead looking at the Excalibur round, which is precision-guided but not rocket-boosted: Excalibur costs about $70,000 a shot — less than 10 percent the LRLAP’s price — but can hit targets at most 26 nautical miles away — about 25 percent the LRLAP’s range.

That’s a tactical tradeoff that undermines the whole raison d’etre of the Zumwalt class, shore bombardment, argued naval historian and analyst Norman Polmar. “Less range? It doesn’t have enough range now (with LRLAP)!” Polmar told me. With everyone from China and Russia to Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemeni Houthis boasting anti-ship cruise missiles nowadays, “amphibious forces have to stay at least 25 and preferably 50 miles off shore,” Polmar said. With modern aircraft like the V-22 Osprey and the CH-53K helicopter, he went on, “we’re not going to land troops on the beaches…. We’ve got a capability of going more than a 100 miles inland easily.” So adding the distance ships must stand out to sea and the distance ground forces will go inland, you get ranges that even the LRLAP couldn’t cross, let alone Excalibur.

So what does DDG-1000 do? “It was designed for a mission that’s no longer relevant,” Polmar said, but bombardment of land targets with big guns isn’t the only mission the Zumwalt can do. Take away the guns and, “what do you have? A large ship with a lot of electricity,” he said. “The ship has phenomenal capabilities in terms of its power plant, so let’s get rid of the guns and let’s start putting lasers and other high-tech weapons on the ship.”

“The best things about DDG-1000 have to do with its electrical power (76MW) and internal volume,” agreed Clark. “It will be a great testbed and developmental platform for electric weapons like lasers, high-power radio frequency weapons, and railguns.”

The Hill staffer wasn’t so sure: “The idea that you would reopen the shipbuilding contract to put in a railgun begs for more trouble” on a program that’s already seen plenty. (That doesn’t rule out expensively extracting the 155mm guns and replacing them with railguns later, though).

On the other hand, the contract structure and the advanced state of construction makes it impractical to cancel the third ship, as the Pentagon once studied doing. “(DDG-)1001 and 1002 both are on fixed price contracts,” the staffer said. “The idea of not building the third one doesn’t make any sense; we’ve already paid for it” — all but $200 million — “so we’d better get a ship.”

So what, at this stage, can be done to fix and improve the Zumwalt class? The Navy is reviewing the ships’ missions and studying Concepts of Operation (CONOPS), which will likely reflect the reduced range of the guns. Congress will watch the combat systems testing closely, and it’s already reformed one aspect of shipbuilding. After the Navy commissioned the Zumwalt in October and formally accepted delivery of the ship from Bath, Congress enacted language in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (Section 7301) defining delivery to occur only when “all systems contained” are ready and ordering the Navy to amend the Zumwalt class’s delivery dates accordingly. That statute should help prevent concurrency from rearing its troublesome head on future shipbuilding programs.

Then there’s the longer-term lesson of the DDG-1000 and similarly ambitious ships like the aircraft carrier Ford and the Littoral Combat Ship. On both sides of the Potomac, the emerging consensus is that the hoped-for 355-ship fleet should be built with incremental upgrades of proven classes, not with more ambitious, leap-ahead ships packed with new technologies like the Zumwalt.

“I think the ship has a lot of potential,” the Hill source said, “but we shouldn’t believe it until we see it demonstrated.”

http://breakingdefense.com/2017/02/stealth-destroyer-ddg-1000s-biggest-trials-lie-ahead/

 

Turbulent Times for Civilian Defense Workers

Standard

penagon-parking-lot

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“Per congressional mandate, performance will be used as the “primary retention factor.”

This marks a dramatic departure from current provisions that base retention on tenure, veteran’s preference, length of service and performance, in descending order.

Civilian employees of the Defense Department are starting to come to terms with a new reality. Significant new policies — some initiated by the Trump administration and others by Congress — are being put in place and rattling the status quo.

In a major policy shift, the Pentagon on Jan. 26 unveiled a new process for deciding who gets laid off when “reductions in force” are required.

The new process was signed into law in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, and affects the entire cadre of defense civilians, or about 750,000 employees. The intent was to prevent the Pentagon from letting go high-performing workers in across-the-board downsizing drills.

The overhaul in RIF procedures was announced just three days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order that freezes federal hiring across the entire U.S. government, setting off concerns within the Pentagon and across the federal workforce about what all this bodes for the future.

Defense Department spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the new policy that protects the most valuable people from the budget axe should not be read as an omen of impending layoffs. “These are changes in response to the 2016 NDAA,” Davis said. “To be clear, RIFs happen all the time, at the local levels, at the installation levels, at individual commands.” All this new policy does is change the process for how senior leaders go about determining who gets cut when reductions must be done. “Our civilian workforce is one of our most important assets,” said Davis. “There are, unfortunately, times when the department must make difficult decisions, and in doing so it’s imperative that we continue to execute our national security missions.”

The law requires that when reductions must happen, the determination of employee terminations be made primarily on the basis of performance. The NDAA also extends the “probationary period” before civilians are hired to two years and allows military departments to extend probationary periods. This allows managers more time to assess new hires and extends by one year their authority to fire poorly performing employees.

Seeking to ease anxiety, the Pentagon stated it will “continue to consider every reasonable action to mitigate the size of reductions, including the use of voluntary early retirement authority or voluntary separation incentive payment, hiring freezes, termination of temporary appointments, and any other pre-RIF placement options.”

Trump’s Jan. 23 executive order, meanwhile, mandates a hiring freeze for federal agencies as the administration considers options for downsizing the workforce over the long term. The policy bans all executive branch agencies from filling vacant positions as of Jan. 22, 2017. Military personnel are exempted. Some exceptions could be made for civilians, however. “The head of any executive department or agency may exempt from the hiring freeze any positions that it deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” The director of the Office of Personnel Management also could grant exemptions in special cases.

The Office of Management and Budget and OPM were given 90 days to draw up plans to shrink the federal workforce through attrition.

These personnel moves by the administration have drawn stern rebukes from members of Congress, federal employee unions and others who worry about the ramifications of a draconian hiring freeze on agency morale and ability to fulfill their missions.

Advocates of defense reform for years have called specifically on the Pentagon to rebalance its civilian bureaucracy and free up resources to shore up military personnel. The defense workforce is “bloated in some areas yet stretched thin in others,” said national security analyst Mackenzie Eaglen, in an April report by the American Enterprise Institute. Rather than “whack-a-mole” cuts, the Defense Department should take a holistic look at its civilian talent, and reallocate resources, Eaglen suggested. “While federal defense civilians form the backbone of the Pentagon’s day-to-day operations, an unnecessarily large civilian workforce is detracting from the Pentagon’s raison d’être: the production and employment of hard combat power in the service of deterring and winning wars.”

Civilians should be “realigned with care,” Eaglen noted. “Hiring freezes and across-the-board reductions at headquarters and agencies, such as the effort announced in March 2016, simply give the appearance of action while lowering morale.”

One of the biggest impediments to “right-sizing” the defense civilian workforce,” she said, is the unwillingness of Congress to authorize a new round of base closures. The Air Force and Army estimate that they currently carry 32 percent and 33 percent excess infrastructure, respectively. Without a new base closure round, it will remain difficult to downsize the workforce.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=2407