Category Archives: Geopolitics

How to Destroy Afghanistan: Establish a Private Contractor Army

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Desertpeace.wordpress.com

Image: Desertpeace.wordpress.com

“THE NATIONAL INTEREST” By Molly Dunigan

” The Department of Defense already has a relatively large number of operational contractors working in Afghanistan (23,525 in total as of July 2017).

In recent weeks, two major players in the private security industry proposed that Trump administration officials privatize U.S. military operations in Afghanistan to an unprecedented degree.

Erik Prince, former owner of the now-defunct firm Blackwater Worldwide, proposed a scheme that would entail the appointment of a viceroy to oversee operations in Afghanistan, and the use of “private military units” to fill in gaps left by departing U.S. troops. Meanwhile, Stephen Feinberg—owner of DynCorp International, which holds numerous major U.S. government security contracts at present—similarly proposed that the Trump administration privatize the military force in Afghanistan, though his conceptualization of such a force calls for it to be placed under CIA control.

Luckily, Defense Secretary Mattis reportedly has so far declined both offers. Research overwhelmingly indicates that replacing U.S. military personnel with contractors is not likely to be a militarily effective solution for the Afghanistan problem.

First, research has shown that security contractors tend to decrease military effectiveness when working alongside regular military units in large numbers, primarily due to coordination issues fed by convoluted command-and-control systems and resentment and misperception between the two types of forces. Coordination problems between the military and contractor forces lead contractors to have a negative impact on the military’s integration, responsiveness, and skill when the two groups are co-deployed in the field.

Second, while security contractors operating on their own—free from any alliance with an extensive force of friendly military troops—have been shown in some instances to increase operational effectiveness and achieve tactical and strategic goals, this has primarily occurred when they have been sent into an area without clear state support. In such cases, they can operate covertly and with “plausible deniability” for the state actor supporting them, which may allow for looser interpretations of the norms of international humanitarian law. In other words, contractors can be effective, but it may not always be pretty. Notably, current Department of Defense policy mandates compliance with standards of behavior may preclude such activities—but may also explicitly preclude some of what Prince is proposing.

Perhaps more relevant in this case is the fact that the tactical and strategic effectiveness of contractors who are operating without longer-term military support typically lasts only as long as the contract is in place. In Sierra Leone, in the late 1990s, paramilitary firm Executive Outcomes was successful in securing enough of the country to hold the first free elections in thirty years, but the peacefully-elected president was then ousted in a coup within eighty-nine days of the contract expiration.

Third, in a counterinsurgency effort such as Afghanistan, U.S. military policy focuses on establishing legitimacy with local civilians. The use of armed contractors has been shown to be risky in this regard: a survey of 152 U.S. troops showed in 2007 that 20 percent of them had at times witnessed armed contractors performing unnecessarily threatening, arrogant or belligerent actions in Iraq. Similarly, nearly 50 percent of a sample of 782 surveyed State Department personnel who had experience working alongside armed contractors in Iraq showed in 2008 that armed contractors did not display an understanding of—or sensitivity to—Iraqi people and their culture.

Both recruitment and retention are critical here. At key points during the contracting surge in the early years of the Iraq War, private security company vetting and hiring standards varied and were at times relaxed in order to hire a large number of contractors quickly. A company’s recruitment policy could therefore affect the quality of the force.

Moreover, the labor pool for highly skilled contractors is limited, and both retention of such skilled personnel and their overall effectiveness could be hindered by deployment-related health effects: a 2013 study indicated that 25 percent of a large, multinational sample of contractors screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a rate higher than among civilians (6 percent have PTSD) or even U.S. service members (8–20 percent). Even more troubling, 23 percent of those who were deployed overseas at the time of the 2013 survey had probable PTSD, and most were not being treated for it. In contrast to the numerous mental-health resources available to members of the U.S. military, very few (if any) resources are available to help private contractors struggling with deployment-related mental health problems, and seeking help is highly stigmatized across this population. Research has found that untreated mental-health problems reduce productivity and attentiveness—setting the stage for decreased effectiveness and even the potential for harm in an operational environment if left untreated.

None of these research findings bode well for the long-term stability and security of Afghanistan if contractors are used to replace U.S. troops in the country. While operational contractors are now an entrenched part of the Department of Defense’s “total force” and are here to stay, large-scale privatization of the U.S. force in Afghanistan is unlikely to be effective.”

Molly Dunigan is a senior political scientist and associate director of the Defense and Political Sciences Department at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and a lecturer in Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy.

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/how-destroy-afghanistan-establish-private-contractor-army-21886

 

 

$9.29 Billion In F-35 Fighter Contract Awards to Lockheed in July 2017

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F-35 Award

F-35As at Luke Air Force Base

“BREAKING DEFENSE”

” [Friday, July 27 2017] – A $3.69 billion contract was awarded Lockheed Martin for 50 foreign F-35s and work on the Lot 11 LRIP.

Separately, Lockheed won an interim payment of $5.6 billion in early July to help pay for the 91 American F-35s jets in LRIP 11.”


“After the markets closed on a sleepy and rainy summer Friday afternoon, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was ousted and DHS Secretary John Kelly named to take his place, and, oh, by the way, a $3.69 billion contract was awarded Lockheed Martin for 50 foreign F-35s and work on the Lot 11 LRIP.

What’s in play here?

Most of the money, $2.2 billion, goes to buy one British F-35B, one Italian F-35A, eight Australian F-35As, eight Dutch F-35As, four Turkish F-35As, six Norwegian F-35As aircraft, and 22 F-35As for Foreign Military Sales customers.

The F-35 Joint Program Office said the Pentagon would continue to negotiate the 11th low rate initial production contract with Lockheed Martin and expected an agreement by the end of 2017. The full contract should be finished by the end of the year, the JPO said in a statement. At the same time, they said they are negotiating a separate deal with Pratt & Whitney for the F135 engines, which should be done about the same time.”

http://breakingdefense.com/2017/07/one-big-f-35-contract-2-8b-of-3-7b-for-foreign-planes/

The U.S. And North Korea – Warpath Paved With Rational Decisions?

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Stratfor U.S. and N. Korea War

“STRATFOR”

“Neither wants war; each side strongly prefers an alternative path to resolve the core issues underlying the crisis.

Yet their differing strategic imperatives and desired end states leave little room for compromise.

War is rarely the first option for countries trying to preserve or enhance their strategic positions. The United States and North Korea alike would rather avoid a conflict on the Korean Peninsula, which would be complicated and costly for all parties involved.

As North Korea draws closer to achieving long-range missile capabilities, something it sees as a security guarantee, the United States faces mounting pressure to act. But as Washington tries to coerce North Korea to end its quest for more sophisticated arms, Pyongyang feels compelled to accelerate its nuclear weapons and missile development. Each country is merely acting to preserve its interests. But their interests are driving them closer to a physical confrontation.

The Rational Assumption

Geopolitics teaches us to assume rationality on the part of actors on the international stage. The assumption doesn’t suppose that individual leaders are somehow beyond the influence of emotion, misinformation or miscalculation. Rather it acknowledges the deeper forces at work, from the interactions of place and people that shape national characteristics and strategic culture to the systems and structures that develop in countries over time. No leader operates free of these constraints and compulsions. Though they still have leeway to shape their policies and actions, leaders, as individuals and as a collective group, do so within limits defined in large part by the environments in which they emerged. The rationality we assume from leaders is not universal; it is the product of their place and time under the influence of factors such as history, geography and economics.

The key, then, is to understand what guides the rationality of a country’s leadership, on an individual level and in the government as a whole. After all, no one individual rules a country, since no single person could extend power over an entire population without the help of intermediaries. And each layer of leadership adds another set of constraints to the exercise of power. Disagreements arise in governments and in the populations they preside over. But the forces that influence the options available to leaders are far larger than the concerns of the individual. It is an analyst’s job to understand and explain these factors, and a policymaker’s job to take them into account when considering how to achieve a desired outcome.

Even so, it is sometimes simpler in international relations to assume one’s adversaries are crazy. They don’t follow the desired path or react in the anticipated way, so they must be acting irrationally. If one makes the wrong assumptions of an adversary (or even of an ally), however, the response to a given action may be far from what was intended.

Of course, understanding the other side doesn’t guarantee the desired outcome, either. Irreconcilable differences in interests and perceptions of risk can get in the way of compromise. The most viable solution often is to constantly adjust one’s actions to manage these contradictions, even if they prove insurmountable. At times, though, the differences can be so intractable as to drive nations into conflict if each side’s pursuit of contrary interests leads to fear and insecurity for the other. Moves by one nation to constrain the threatening behavior it perceives from another then perpetuate the cycle of action and reaction. In the case of North Korea and the United States, the contradiction in their interests is growing ever starker as Pyongyang accelerates its nuclear weapons program and nears its goal of developing a missile capable of striking the continental United States.

As Pyongyang draws closer to the deliverable long-range nuclear weapon it has long pursued, Washington will be forced to decide whether to accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state and live with that reality or to take the necessary steps to disarm it.

A Mutual Misunderstanding

Misunderstandings, misapplied assumptions and mismatched goals have characterized relations between the United States and North Korea for decades. Washington expected — or at least hoped — that North Korea would collapse on its own under the force of economic and social pressures. The evaluation misjudged the country as the Asian equivalent of an Eastern Bloc state waiting for the Soviet Union’s demise to break free from the shackles of a foreign-imposed power structure. North Korea hasn’t collapsed. In fact, in times of trouble, its neighbors (and even the United States) have helped stabilize the government in Pyongyang for fear that the consequences of the country’s failure would be more dangerous than the risks entailed in its survival. North Korea, meanwhile, considered itself a fixture on the United States’ target list, a remnant of the Cold War that Washington was trying to toss on the ash heap of history.

The two have had many opportunities for some form of reconciliation over the years. Time and again, though, progress has run afoul of perceived threats, diverging commitments, changing priorities, domestic politics and even extraregional events. As Pyongyang draws closer to the deliverable long-range nuclear weapon it has long pursued, Washington will be forced to decide whether to accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state and live with that reality or to take the necessary steps to disarm it. The cost of action is high, but so is the perceived threat of inaction.”

STRATFOR – On a Warpath Paved With Rational Decisions

Eric Prince on “Fixing” Afghanistan – His Private Army – Your Tax Dollars

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Blackwater Govexec dot com

Image: Govexec.com

“THE ATLANTIC” By Sean McFate

“The privatization of war is already underway. Prince sees how it can be harnessed for U.S. interests and is pushing his proposal, as are others in the industry. The big idea here is that they could extricate U.S. soldiers from this quagmire, and somehow solve it.

For Prince, a large mercenary force inspired by the British East India Company would be Blackwater 2.0, a phenomenal business opportunity for someone with White House connections. (His sister is Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education.)


Here’s a crazy idea floating around Washington these days, outlandish even by today’s outlandish standards: The United States should hire a mercenary army to “fix” Afghanistan, a country where we’ve been at war since 2001, spending billions along the way.

Not surprisingly, the private-military industry is behind this proposal. Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private military company Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, each see a role for themselves in this future. Their proposal was offered at the request of Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.

It could get worse. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Prince laid out a plan whereby the fighting force would be led by an American viceroy who would report directly to Trump. Modeled after General Douglas MacArthur, who ruled Japan after World War II, the viceroy would consolidate all American power in a single person. His mission: Do whatever it takes to pacify Afghanistan. No more backseat driving of the war from pesky bureaucrats in Washington, or restrictive rules of engagement imposed on soldiers. An American viceroy with a privatized fighting force would make trains run on time in Afghanistan—if they had trains.

Who would this viceroy be? Probably Prince had himself in mind, and that should worry everyone. Under his watch, Blackwater military contractors opened fire in a city square in Baghdad, killing 17 civilians in one of the worst episodes of the Iraq war. When asked by Congress how he addressed potential wrongdoing among his employees in 2007, he said: “If there is any sort of … problem, whether it’s bad attitude, a dirty weapon, riding someone’s bike that’s not his, we fire him. … If they don’t hold to the standard, they have one decision to make: window or aisle.”

Prince has been developing these ideas for a while. In his Journal op-ed, he wrote that the British East India Company should be the model for U.S. operations in Afghanistan. This private company was the instrument of British colonization of India for centuries, led by a viceroy with monarchical powers and a private army to rule the natives. Prince’s solution for Afghanistan amounts to neo-colonialism.

There are other problems with Prince’s proposal. MacArthur was fired by President Harry Truman for abuse of power—hardly a venerable model for a viceroy. Also, the armies of the British East India Company did much harm in India, and bankrupted the company. British taxpayers had to bail it out in 1770, and then the government had to seize control in 1874.

For Prince, a large mercenary force inspired by the British East India Company would be Blackwater 2.0, a phenomenal business opportunity for someone with White House connections. (His sister is Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education.) But he’s also got inroads of his own. In January, he held secret meetings in the Seychelles, allegedly to establish a back channel between Trump and Vladimir Putin (a spokesman for Prince denied to the Post that the meeting had anything to with Trump). Or perhaps he just wants to come home. After the Iraq fiasco, he went into self-exile, helping Abu Dhabi raise a secret army in the desert and working for China in Africa.

Despite the ridiculousness of all this, the idea appears to be gaining traction in Washington. Bannon recently went to the Pentagon to push for it, and others in the private military industry are lobbying in support. Their interests are more likely profit than concern for Afghans. The fact that the idea has champions in the West Wing sends a message to the whole galaxy of private military contractors: Business may be booming once again! If America entertains the possibility of outsourcing one of its most intractable foreign policy boondoggles, it may well push the market to spit out huge numbers of these fighters. It is supply and demand, generating tens of thousands of soldiers of fortune.
One might think these are different times—that the abuses of the British East India Company are irrelevant to the current age. That would be wrong.Like Prince, I was a private military contractor for years. I worked mostly in Africa, where I helped stop a genocide before it started, demobilized warlords, helped UN peacekeeping missions, transacted arms deals in Eastern Europe, and raised small armies for U.S. interest. Based on my experience, I would submit that not everything Prince suggests is crazy. We are seeing a new breed of conflict-entrepreneur roam the battlefield, selling war to anyone who can afford it. They are not just lone soldiers of fortune toting AK-47s, but small armies with armed aircraft and special-forces units. Despite the claims of those who have never seen an actual battle, these privately contracted fighters can be quite effective, and this is why the industry is flourishing.The truth is, countries are increasingly turning to private military solutions to solve their problems, all in the shadows. Two years ago, Nigeria secretly hiredmercenaries after a six-year struggle against Boko Haram, a jihadi terrorist group. They showed up with attack helicopters and special forces teams, and accomplished in weeks what the Nigerian military alone could not: Push Boko Haram out of much of the territory it held in Nigeria. Some quietly wonder if the same thing could be done against the Islamic State or al Shabaab.Nigeria is not unique. Russia, the Emirates, Uganda and even terrorist groups, hire private fighters to wage secret wars everywhere. Ships enlist them as “embarked security” to fight pirates. There are even private cyber warriors, called “hack back companies,” who hunt hackers that attack their clients. In some ways, the Trump administration is just making this furtive trend fully apparent, a final stroke and affirmation of what has been building for nearly two decades now.

However, as an ex-military contractor, I cannot think of a worse solution for Afghanistan. There are many concerns about the safety, accountability, and morality of going into business with these types of outfits. When I was in the industry, I had multiple opportunities to go “off contract” and form a Praetorian Guard. In ancient Rome, this infamous imperial bodyguard assassinated 14 emperors, appointed five, and even sold the office to the highest bidder on one occasion. Praetorianism is a real thing, and something Prince or a viceroy could not easily control.

Alternatively, what would happen if Russia, China, or Pakistan offered this private army a better deal? There would be a bidding war for the loyalty of the force, something I saw warlords do in Africa. Unlike soldiers, these fighters would be akin to products on an eBay of war.

Mercenaries also breed war and suffering. For-profit warriors proliferate armed conflict—as long as there is someone to pay, there will always be a war to start, expand or prolong. History shows us that they often maraud between contracts, preying on the innocent. In the Middle Ages, they would sometimes extort whole cities in racketeering schemes, as happened to Siena, Italy 37 times between 1342 and 1399. Others set up de facto kingdoms of their own, or just took one over, as the happened to Milan in the 1400s. Sometimes they were hired to commit atrocities, sparing their clients from this nasty work. In 1377, the Pope’s private army was ordered to annihilate the town of Cesena, massacring all its inhabitants.

But contractors are not intrinsically evil; in fact, they can be a force for good. They are a tool, like fire—they can burn down a building or power a steam engine. What good could they do? They can prevent mass atrocities, police warlords, hunt terrorist groups, augment peacekeeping missions, raise legitimate armies or enforce the rule of law—I know because I did these things. This is doable, but requires a small force under certain conditions and proper oversight. It is wholly different than the massive mercenary army Prince seems to envision to rule Afghanistan.

But America is not ready for such a radical idea, and may never be.”

About the Author:

Sean McFate CSPAN dot org

Image: CSPAN.org  Sean McFate is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the co-author of Shadow War: A Tom Locke Novel.

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/07/afghanistan-erik-prince-trump-britain/533580/

 

 

 

 

Cyber Training and Education Must Be Continuous

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Cyber Training

(Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes/Air Force)

“C4ISRNET”

“Today, very few organizations have as a requirement for employees and contractors the upkeep of cyber security knowledge.

That must change immediately if we are to keep pace with the ever-changing cyber threat environment.

Times are certainly changing. Politics, regulation, threats, conflict and so much more are changing; but it can be difficult to adapt to all the new and emerging technologies and their applications. There is little doubt that the world’s reliance on computers and their use continue to increase rapidly. Arguably, digital transformation is the leading driver of change. All these are producing a significant amount of new data and data communication paths that are all potential targets for cyberattacks by our adversaries and criminals. The sum of all this equals changes to our knowledge base, education requirements and the cyberthreat environment. Let’s take a look at some of the stats.

Cyberattack surface area

In 2016, there were multiple numbers that clearly showed just how large the cyberattack surface area has become. It was estimated that in 2016, internet of things, or IoT, devices rose to 17.6 billion. In 2016, there were an estimated 12.5 million connected cars produced and put into operation. Also in 2016, an estimated 45 percent of Americans had either a smart home or invested in smart-home technology, according to a survey by Coldwell Banker.Now we should also include robots. In the forth quarter of 2016, robot orders in North America surged by 61 percent. The increases in robot sales has led analysts projecting that robots will take/occupy 6 percent of all U.S. jobs by 2021.

Here is something that provides a partially over-arching perspective: data storage. IDC projects data storage growth by 35 to 40 percent per year for external storage and 33 to 38 percent for internal storage. Finally, consider Gartner’s projection that “manufacturers, consumer goods companies, medical device providers and their supply chain vendors are expanding the use of 3-D printing.” Think of the data files flowing to those printers! Think about the value of those files. Theft of those files enables counterfeit products, for sure. Think about all the changes in technology and to the cyberattack surface area the above data represents.

Threats

Consider the following metrics as an indication of the current pace of change to the cyber environment. In just one quarter of 2016, Panda Labs stated there were 18 million new strains of malware identified/captured. That equates to about two and one-third new pieces of malware being identified every single second. That is what was found! It is anyone’s guess what was actually released. In 2016, ransomware continued to grow in number. In fact, some place the growth rate at approximately 300 percent. That means in 2016 there were on average approximately 4,000 ransomware attacks occurring every day. That equates to two and three-fourths ransomware attacks per minute. We shouldn’t forget about the growing use of cryptocurrencies for payment in ransomware attacks! At the time of writing this, there were more than 850 differentcryptocurrencies with a total market capitalization equal to or over $97 billion. Think about all the nefarious activities that cryptocurrencies could be used to fund. It’s proven to be so relevant that a recent cryptocurrency webinar had approximately 3,000 professional attendees.
Distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks in 2016 were up in frequency, intensity and the amount of flooding data. In fact, we saw the largest DDoS attack of its kind in history. One company reported DDoS traffic of 1.2 terabytes per second. But hold on. Think about the potential for a highly distributed IoT bot net. That is a distinct possibility evolving right before our eyes.

Impact on cyber training and education

The pace at which the cyberthreat environment is changing creates a huge challenge for our military and intelligence communities. Keeping up with these changes is a large and growing task. Considering the pace with which technology is advancing and implemented, it is easy to see just how essential continuous education has become. With all of the changes that have taken place and continue to take place, updating the curriculum must be an ongoing activity; the same goes for the knowledge and skill-set requirement of professionals in the cybersecurity field. Today, very few organizations have as a requirement for employees and contractors the upkeep of cybersecurity knowledge. That must change immediately if we are to keep pace with the ever-changing cyberthreat environment.”

 http://www.c4isrnet.com/articles/cyber-training-and-education-must-be-continuous

 

US Should Stand Off In Syria; Not A Core Interest

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Standoff in Syria

“BREAKING DEFENSE” By 

“It is praiseworthy that American policymakers want to end the suffering of so many in Syria and Iraq, and seek to eliminate the terror threat of ISIS.

But more than two decades of clear policy failures and an analysis of the current convoluted environment makes it clear that a major change of policy towards Syria and the Greater Middle East are necessary.

After a U.S. F-18 shot down a Syrian fighter-bomber last week, Assad’s ally, Russia, declared that it would consider shooting down any U.S. aircraft west of the Euphrates river. The White House defiantly declared the US would defend itself if attacked. Risking a war with a nuclear power over a Syrian policy that does not advance core American interests is foolhardy. We must make an immediate change in strategy. 

The overriding imperative for the U.S. Government is to ensure the security of the U.S. Homeland and its people abroad. Secondly, it is to expand global trade and improve the domestic U.S. economy. While fostering and encouraging the spread of democracy abroad remains a U.S. interest, it is not a core interest on par with the first two. Given these criteria, our current Middle East and Syria policies require considerable and immediate adjustment.

The primary justification for U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war is the requirement to destroy Daesh’s (aka the Islamic State) self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. To accomplish that goal, the Pentagon supports indigenous forces with airpower and select U.S. ground troops. But even if that goal were one day accomplished, it would neither solve the civil war nor remove the threat of Islamic terrorism to the United States. The region is a volatile, violent mix of a myriad of aggressive and competing interests.

Ansar al-Islam, al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, Daesh and numerous other violent Islamic terror groups will continue to operate in Syria and seek to expand globally, regardless of the Raqqa outcome. Yet some in the United States continue to believe that the security situation will stabilize there if Daesh is driven out of Raqqa.

Effective U.S. policy can only be formed if we acknowledge this highly complex and volatile mix of competing forces. Even a cursory examination makes it abundantly clear that Daesh is only one of a myriad of factors at play in Syria and the greater Middle East. Even if they are completely destroyed – and the loss of Raqqa will not accomplish that objective – the cyclone of the remaining constituents will continue churning without pause. It is necessary, therefore, to step back and consider what are the true American national security interests in the region and decide what policies have the best chance of securing those interests.

If the United States were to engage again in aerial combat with a Russian jet, the risk of conflict with a major power becomes acute. Adding a spark to the already tense relationship could result in escalatory measures that quickly get out of control.

It is time for hard, but proper choices to be made. As events of the past several decades have conclusively proven – and painfully reinforced throughout the Middle East since 2011 – the United States cannot impose a political solution by military means, period, full stop. The challenges faced by that region are far more complex than even this short article can convey. The only path to stability will be found by those who have to live with the results.

We can and should actively engage diplomatically with any party in the Middle East that seeks a reduction in violence if that accomplishes our national security priorities.  The U.S. should also increase humanitarian aid to those in dire need, further advocating for freedom throughout the world.

What must be studiously avoided, however, are any actions or policies that place at risk American security or inhibits global trade. Taking actions that could lead to any level of hostilities between Washington and Moscow would harm core American interests, possibly gravely, and must therefore be prevented.”

Daniel Davis, a former Army lieutenant colonel who retired in 2015, is a defense expert at the Washington thinktank, Defense Priorities.”

http://breakingdefense.com/2017/06/us-should-stand-off-in-syria-not-a-core-interest/

 

 

 

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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“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