“They will include for the first time requiring women between the ages of 18 and 25 to register for potential conscription in the event of a prolonged war, as all young men are currently required to do.
Big changes are expected to come to the Selective Service System in coming years, but exactly what is still unclear.Leo Shane III
The idea has gained traction among some women’s rights groups and complaints from some conservative activists in recent years. In the past, courts have ruled against adding women to the draft because certain combat posts were closed to them, but Pentagon officials in recent years have lifted nearly all those restrictions.
In a statement on Tuesday, House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, praised the commission’s work and promised to closely consider the findings.
“Opening Selective Service to women is just one of their recommendations,” he said. “I look forward to examining the data and arguments the commission has compiled more closely.
“In the meantime, it is important that my colleagues have an opportunity to hear from the Commission directly. I believe that public hearings in the Armed Services Committee and other relevant committees are essential.”
When those public hearings might be held is unclear. Currently, nearly all congressional hearings have been postponed indefinitely because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. President Donald Trump earlier this month recommended keeping any public gatherings to fewer than 10 people in an attempt to slow the spread of the illness.
Legislative proposals have stalled out in Congress, over both concerns with traditional family roles for women and the viability of the Selective Service System itself. The system costs about $23 million a year to maintain.
Congress will have to adopt new legislation in order to make the change of adding women to the draft. Or they could opt to get rid of the Selective Service System altogether.
Recent legislative proposals regarding registration of women have stalled out in Congress, over both concerns with traditional family roles for women and the viability of the Selective Service System itself. The system costs about $23 million a year to maintain, and several studies have questioned how effective it would be if officials needed it to replenish troop levels.
That hasn’t happened in more than 40 years, and Pentagon officials have repeatedly said they prefer the current all-volunteer force to the idea of a mostly conscripted military.
Men between the ages of 18 and 25 who don’t register for the draft face possible fines and jail time, and may be ineligible for benefits like federal student loans. Advocates for adding women to the registration system have argued in the past that levying those penalties only on men is unfair.”
The largest contracts — worth more than $550 million total — went to 21 companies to develop “big bet” technologies. Those companies are Aerial Applications, Analytical Space, Anduril Industries, Applied Minds, Elroy Air, Enview, Edgybees, Essentium, Falkonry, ICON Technology, Orbital Insight, Orbital Sidekick, Pison, Privoro, Shift.org, Swarm Technologies, Tectus Corp., Virtualitics, Wickr, Wafer and one company that the Air Force has not disclosed.
“For all these awardees, you’re on a four-year, fixed-price contract that we believe, if successful, will disrupt part of our mission in a way that will give a huge advantage for our future airmen,” said Will Roper, the Air Force’s acquisition executive.
The value of the contracts awarded by AFWERX may seem small compared to the multibillion awards for major defense programs. However, these awards go a long way in helping technology firms overcome the “valley of death” between technology development and production, when a lot of companies are vulnerable to failure, said Chris Brose, head of strategy for Anduril Industries, which specializes in developing artificial intelligence technologies.
“For a company like ours or companies of that size, It’s quite significant. It allows us to really kind of do more of the good work that we’re doing, to scale and grow and work with new partners, and it makes a huge difference,” Brose said.
Brose declined to detail the precise nature of Anduril’s contract with the Air Force, but said that the general objective is to prove that an unmanned aerial system can deliver a mass of swarming drones capable of performing complex missions. While a human would still be “in the loop” overseeing the network, certain tasks — such as steering the drones, moving their sensors and processing gathered data — would be automated.”
“The Pentagon, in a move to boost cash flow to large and small defense companies during the coronavirus crisis, will temporarily increase the percentages paid to contractors, known as periodic progress payments.
For small businesses the rate will go to 95% from 90% of incurred cost.”
“Public interest groups called for the policy to be closely monitored.
The change comes as the U.S. Department of Defense was touched by a coronavirus fatality for the first time. A contractor who tested positive for the virus and worked at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency in Crystal City, Virginia, died on Saturday, the Pentagon said.
The Pentagon’s Director of Defense Pricing and Contracting issued a “Deviation on Progress Payments” memo late Friday that increases the rate for contracts to 90% of incurred costs from 80% for large businesses, Pentagon spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said in a statement on Sunday.
For small businesses the rate will go to 95% from 90%.
“This is an important avenue where industry cash flow can be improved,” Andrews said. The department also “is accelerating payments through several means to prime contracts, and directing prime contracts to expedite payments to subcontractors,” Andrews said.
In addition, the agency that manages contracts is working with the Pentagon’s accounting organization that makes the payments “to ensure that invoices are continuing to be paid in a timely manner,” Andrews said.
Pentagon acquisition head Ellen Lord on Friday issued guidance to industry that defense contractors are “expected to maintain their normal work schedules” — within recommended guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — amid the coronavirus outbreak because they’re considered “critical infrastructure.”
Byron Callan, a defense industry analyst for Capital Alpha Partners, said in an email that the new policy “will work if the large contractors assist smaller ones that are typically small and private. Think of the $50 million machining parts company that has 70% of sales for commercial aerospace and 30% of defense.”
The industry also risks negative blow-back if the increased payments are abused, he said. “If the large public companies use this change to accelerate share buybacks, I would expect management to be tarred and feathered,” he said.
“It’s important to help employers to keep paying people during this crisis, but the Pentagon needs to do more than just trust the better angels of these companies’ nature to prevail,” Mandy Smithberger, a director for the Project on Government Oversight, which monitors military spending, said in an email.
“They should require companies that receive these funds to commit that this money won’t go to dividends, salaries, and stock buybacks, but to the employees on the front lines who are most vulnerable.”
Shay Assad, the Pentagon’s long-time top official on pricing and contracts financing, said in an email the new effort reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the regulations already in place that already provide for generous reimbursement rates. Assad retired in 2019.
“The fact is that cost of borrowing” from banks “is negligible” and doesn’t require additional Pentagon intervention, Assad said. “There is absolutely no reason to change the progress payment rates for large businesses. Large business is more than capable of using their own cash or borrowing at minimal interest rates. This is a taxpayer rip-off.”
Assad estimated that the top five defense contractors generated $93 billion in free cash flow between 2012 and 2017. “They bought $90.5 billion of their own stock during that same time frame,” he said. “There is no cash-flow intervention required.”
“This is no way to treat Soldiers returning from war,” one soldier told The Associated Press in an email.
The soldiers posted notes on social media about the poor conditions. Their complaints got quick attention from senior Army and Pentagon leaders. Now changes are under way at Fort Bliss and at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where the first soldiers placed under quarantine also complained of poor, cramped conditions.
Quarantining troops on military bases is becoming a greater challenge for military officials. While continuing missions and training, they also have to try to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus by enforcing two-week quarantines of soldiers who have spent months overseas.
In one of Bragg’s remote training areas, large white tents have popped up over the past few days to house hundreds of 82nd Airborne Division troops returning to the base from Afghanistan and Middle East deployments. The tent city, being called Forward Operating Base Patriot (FOB Patriot), materialized almost overnight, after commanders realized the limits of the barracks when troops began arriving on Saturday.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said senior leaders were looking into soldiers’ complaints and seeking answers from Fort Bliss. Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters that Defense Secretary Mark Esper had heard about the problems and “his response is, we can do better and we need to do better.”
Hoffman said the commander at Fort Bliss has met with all of the quarantined soldiers and “talked through some of their concerns. The spokesman added, “We are going to do better. This is something unusual for all these bases to be handling, and they are doing the best they can.”
In the early days of the quarantine, soldiers at Fort Bliss posted photos on social media showing foam food trays dotted with small piles of peas and rice. On Thursday, in an email statement, Fort Bliss described changes that have been made.
“The dining facility we initially used could not keep pace with demand,” said the statement. “The portions were inadequate, and led to our number one complaint. Fort Bliss leaders saw photos and immediately took action.”
One soldier, in an email to the AP, said when soldiers got off the plane from Afghanistan, they were loaded onto buses and did not get water or permission to use the bathroom for hours.
“We can’t walk down the hall, go outside, or exercise. We finally received drinking water at 0900 this morning,” said the soldier, describing Day Two. “The Army was not prepared, nor equipped to deal with this quarantine instruction and it has been implemented very poorly. ”
The AP is not identifying soldiers who described the conditions, in order to protect their identity so they could speak freely and not worry about potential reprisals.
Fort Bliss said that the food service plan has already increased to give troops three hot meals a day and that soldiers are now getting donated snacks and are allowed to order food and have it delivered to a central location. The troops are also allowed to go outside more and will get more access to gym equipment.
Another soldier at Bliss, who had been deployed to Kuwait, said in a message that the food has gotten better and troops are now allowed to go outside more. But as they begin Day Six there, packages have been held up and there has been no access to laundry facilities.
At Fort Bragg, some of the first soldiers to return on Saturday were sent to rooms in barracks that had been quickly emptied. Soldiers previously living in those rooms were moved to make room.
According to officials, soldiers are being separated into groups that returned from overseas together for the two-week quarantine. But realizing the need for more space, the 82nd Airborne decided on Saturday to build a new facility, and on Monday morning the first tent stakes were being pounded into the ground.
Because the area has been used for training in the past, workers were able to quickly bring in and hook up shower and toilet trailers and set up food tents and other facilities. By Thursday, several hundred troops had already moved in.
The 82nd Airborne’s 3rd Brigade has been deployed to Afghanistan, and is steadily returning home. Members of the 1st Brigade had gone to Kuwait and Iraq to help bolster security due to threats from Iranian-backed militias. Some members of that group have also come home.
According to Army Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne, FOB Patriot will be able to hold as many as 600 soldiers, but numbers have been changing as adjustments are made. He said Maj. Gen. James Mingus wanted to ensure that the returning troops knew “we were proud of what they accomplished and were doing everything we can to take care of them and stop the spread of the virus.”
Of the 1,700 82nd Airborne troops that have returned so far to Bragg, a bit less than half are housed in barracks and at FOB Patriot, and the rest are in quarantine in their homes. As of Friday about 200 were at FOB Patriot.
Anyone who exhibits symptoms of the virus will go into isolation and medical treatment.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three weeks to six weeks to recover.”
‘It is really important to adjust and amend contracts so that contractors can continue to work with the government counterparts.’ If that’s teleworking, that’s teleworking, if it’s moving to a different location, it’s moving to a different location.”
“As millions of Americans prepare to work from home in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Defense Department managers and the companies that support them are waiting for guidance on just how they should be clearing their offices.
Set aside the workers who build planes, ships, tanks and other weapons on special assembly lines around the country. Plenty more are holders of security clearances who can’t do their jobs without special computers and facilities that protect classified information. Among them: analysts, war planners, and engineers designing next-generation weapons.
But the situation is murky even for the hundreds of thousands of government contractors who don’t need access to secret information. As the Pentagon begins sending nonessential employees home, it’s unclear what’s going to happen to them.
“There’s almost no guidance going out about contractors,” said David Berteau, a former Pentagon official who is now CEO of the Professional Services Council, an organization that advocates for government contractors. “Part of that problem is, contractors are managed on a contract by contract basis.”
And in many cases, these employees’ contracts don’t even mention remote work.
“You don’t want to change contracts from the top down,” Berteau said. “But you can send out guidance to contracting officers that says, ‘It is really important for you to adjust and amend contracts so that contractors can continue to work with the government counterparts.’ If that’s teleworking, that’s teleworking, if it’s moving to a different location, it’s moving to a different location.”
For years, the U.S. government has done drills and exercises to prepare for scenarios where workers cannot access secure facilities, said Berteau, who served as assistant defense secretary for logistics and materiel readiness during the Obama administration.
But: “We have not taken those lessons from the simulations seriously enough that we’ve done the preparation necessary to execute it,” he said. “So now we’re having to do it in real time. It’s important that we get it done. It’s important that we keep the government working. It’s important that contractors are part of that keep the government working goal. And it’s important that they have guidance [and] it’s integrated across the government in order to make that happen.”
As for the government workers and contractors who must access classified information, there’s no alternate, for now at least, to having a secure government facility.
“You can’t go home on your laptop and plug it in and get classified data,” Berteau said. “It’s my personal belief…that we could do a lot more than we are doing.”
But, he noted, it would likely cost a lot to buy the equipment needed to make that happen.
“We have got to be taking notes as we go about what we need to do better … so we’re more ready the next time it comes,” Berteau said. That would be a federal government, executive branch, responsibility, but it would also be a congressional responsibility to make sure it happens and that the resources are available to do it.”
“The United States was the largest exporter of major arms from 2015-2019, delivering 76 percent more materiel than runner-up Russia, according to a new study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute think tank.
The study found that the U.S. provided major arms — defined by the think tank as air defense systems, armored vehicles, missiles and satellites, among other materiel — to 96 countries in those five years, with half of the weapons going to the Middle East.“
“The U.S. contributed about 35 percent of all the world’s arms exports during that five-year time period, partly supported by the increased demand for American advanced military aircraft in Europe, Australia, Japan and Taiwan, said Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at SIPRI.
From 2015-2019, Russia’s major arms exports decreased by 18 percent; France’s increased by 72 percent, making it the third largest exporter; and Germany’s increased by 17 percent, making it the fourth largest exporter.
Worldwide arms exports rose nearly 6 percent in 2015-2019 from 2010-2014, and increased 20 percent from since 2005-2009, SIPRI said.
Arm exports to countries in conflict in the Middle East increased by 61 percent in 2015-2019 compared to 2010-2014, the study showed. Saudi Arabia, the country to which the U.S. exported the most arms, was the largest importer globally in 2015-2019. The kingdom’s imports increased 130 percent compared to the previous five-year period. Armored vehicles, trainer aircraft, missiles and guided bombs were among the leading arms purchased by the kingdom.
Despite attempts in Congress to restrict arms exports to Saudi Arabia, the delivery of major arms, including 30 combat aircraft ordered in 2011, continued in 2019 as the U.S. provided 73% of Saudi Arabia’s imports.
In May, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration to push through an $8 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries for precision-guided bombs and related components. In July, he said blocking the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia would “weaken America’s global competitiveness and damage the important relationship [the United States] share with [its] allies and partners.”
U.S. arms exports to Europe and Africa increased by 45 percent and 10 percent, respectively, in 2015-2019. U.S. arms exports to Asia and the Oceania region decreased by 20 percent, as a result of fewer arms exports to India, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
Since 2018, the U.S. has exported almost 100 major weapons to international organizations like the United Nations, the African Union and NATO, the report said, noting that Russia did not send weapons to these organizations.
Among the top 10 arms exporters outside Europe and North America, Israel and South Korea showed the biggest increase in exports. Israeli arms exports increased by 77 percent in 2015-2019 — a record for the country, according to the study. South Korea, which showed a 143 percent increase during that same time period, more than doubled its number of export clients.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following two articles by a Middle East war veteran at West Point and a Navy military lawyer contemplating warfare technology and the law should be carefully read by the American Public. These young gentlemen are highly visible in their fields. They and their peers are the future leadership of our country.
“MODERN WAR INSTITUTE AT WEST POINT”By Matt Cavanaugh
“Victory’s been defeated; it’s time we recognized that and moved on to what we actually can accomplish.
We’ve reached the end of victory’s road, and at this juncture it’s time to embrace other terms, a less-loaded lexicon, like “strategic advantage,” “relative gain,” and “sustainable marginalization.”
A few weeks back, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Harvard Professor Steven Pinker triumphantly announced the peace deal between the government of Columbia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). While positive, this declaration rings hollow as the exception that proves the rule – a tentative treaty, however, at the end, roughly 7,000 guerrillas held a country of 50 million hostage over 50 years at a cost of some 220,000 lives. Churchill would be aghast: Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.
One reason this occasion merited a more somber statement: military victory is dead. And it was killed by a bunch of cheap stuff.
The term “victory” is loaded, so let’s stipulate it means unambiguous, unchallenged, and unquestioned strategic success – something more than a “win,” because, while one might “eke out a win,” no one “ekes out a victory.” Wins are represented by a mere letter (“w”); victory is a tickertape with tanks.
Which is something I’ll never see in my military career; I should explain. When a government has a political goal that cannot be obtained other than by force, the military gets involved and selects some objective designed to obtain said goal. Those military objectives can be classified broadly, as Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz did, into either a limited aim (i.e. “occupy some…frontier-districts” to use “for bargaining”), or a larger aim to completely disarm the enemy, “render[ing] him politically helpless or military impotent.” Lo, we’ve arrived at the problem: War has become so inexpensive that anyone can afford the traditional military means of strategic significance – so we can never fully disarm the enemy. And a perpetually armed enemy means no more parades (particularly in Nice).
Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.
It’s a buyer’s market in war, and the baseline capabilities (shoot, move, and communicate) are at snake-belly prices. Tactical weaponry, like AK-47s are plentiful, rented, and shipped from battlefield to battlefield, and the most lethal weapon U.S. forces encountered at the height of the Iraq War, the improvised explosive device, could be had for as little as $265. Moving is cost-effective too in the “pickup truck era of warfare,” and reports on foreign fighters in Syria remind us that cheap, global travel makes it possible for nearly anyone on the planet to rapidly arrive in an active war zone with money to spare. Also, while the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba shut down the megacity Mumbai in 2008 for less than what many traveling youth soccer teams spend in a season, using unprotected social media networks, communication has gotten even easier for the emerging warrior with today’s widely available unhackable phones and apps. These low and no-cost commo systems are the glue that binds single wolves into coordinated wolf-packs with guns, exponentially greater than the sum of their parts. The good news: Ukraine can crowdfund aerial surveillance against Russian incursions. The less-good news: strikes, like 9/11, cost less than three seconds of a single Super Bowl ad. With prices so low, why would anyone ever give up their fire, maneuver, and control platforms?
All of which explains why military victory has gone away. Consider the Middle East, and the recent comment by a Hezbollah leader, “This can go on for a hundred years,” and his comrade’s complementary analysis, that “as long as we are there, nobody will win.” With such a modestly priced war stock on offer, it’s no wonder Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agrees with the insurgents, recently concluding, of the four wars currently burning across the region, the U.S. has “no prospect” of strategic victory in any. Or that Modern War Institute scholar Andrew Bacevich assesses bluntly, “If winning implies achieving stated political objectives, U.S. forces don’t win.” This is what happens when David’s slingshot is always full.
The guerrillas know what many don’t: It’s the era, stupid. This is the nature of the age, as Joshua Cooper Ramos describes, “a nightmare reality in which we must fight adaptive microthreats and ideas, both of which appear to be impossible to destroy even with the most expensive weapons.” Largely correct, one point merits minor amendment – it’s meaningless to destroy when it’s so cheap to get back in the game, a hallmark of a time in which Wolverine-like regeneration is regular.
This theme even extends to more civilized conflicts. Take the Gawker case: begrudged hedge fund giant Peter Thiel funded former wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the journalistic insurrectionists at Gawker Media, which forced the website’s writers to lay down their keyboards. However, as author Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out – Gawker’s leader, Nick Denton, can literally walk across the street, with a few dollars, and start right over. Another journalist opined, “Mr. Thiel’s victory was a hollow one – you might even say he lost. While he may have killed Gawker, its sensibility and influence on the rest of the news business survive.” Perhaps Thiel should have waited 50 more years, as Columbia had to, to write his “victory” op-ed? He may come to regret the essay as his own “Mission Accomplished” moment.
True with websites, so it goes with warfare. We live in the cheap war era, where the attacker has the advantage and the violent veto is always possible. Political leaders can speak and say tough stuff, promise ruthless revenge – it doesn’t matter, ultimately, because if you can’t disarm the enemy, you can’t parade the tanks.”
“A new chapter of the international order The automation of war is as inevitable as conflict itself. Less certain, however, is the international community’s collective ability to predict the many ways that these changes will affect the traditional global order.
The pace of technology is often far greater than our collective ability to contemplate its second and third order effects, and this reality counsels cautious reflection as we enter a new chapter in the age-old story of war and peace.“
“Robots have long presented a threat to some aspect of the human experience. What began with concern over the labor market slowly evolved into a full-blown existential debate over the future of mankind. But lost somewhere in between the assembly line and apocalypse stands a more immediate threat to the global order: the disruptive relationship between technology and international law.
Jus ad Bellum
Jus ad bellum is the body of international law that governs the initial use force. Under this heading, force is authorized in response to an “armed attack.” However, little discussion has focused on how unmanned technologies will shift this line between war and peace.
Iran’s recent unprovoked attack on one of the United States’ unmanned surveillance aircraft provides an interesting case study. Though many saw the move as the opening salvo of war, the United States declined to respond in kind. The President explained that there would have been a “big, big difference” if there was “a man or woman in the [aircraft.]” This comment seemed to address prudence, not authority. Many assumed that the United States would have been well within its rights to levy a targeted response. Yet this sentiment overlooked a key threshold: could the United States actually claim self-defense under international law?
Two cases from the International Court of Justice are instructive. In Nicaragua v. United States, the Court confronted the U.S. government’s surreptitious support and funding of the Contras, a rebel group that sought to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. Nicaragua viewed the United States’ conduct as an armed attack under international law. The Court, however, disagreed.
Key to the Court’s holding was the concept of scale and effect. Although the U.S. government had encouraged and directly supported paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, the Court concluded that the scale and effect of that conduct did not rise to the level of an armed attack. Notably, this was the case regardless of any standing prohibition on the United States’ efforts.
So too in Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States, more commonly known as the “Oil Platforms” case. The Court analyzed the U.S. government’s decision to bomb evacuated Iranian Oil Platforms in response to Iranian missile and mining operations throughout the Persian Gulf. Among other things, the Iranian operations injured six crew members on a U.S. flagged oil tanker, ten sailors on a U.S. naval vessel, and damaged both ships. The Court nonetheless rejected the United States’ claim of self-defense because the Iranian operations did not meet the Nicaragua gravity threshold and thus did not qualify as “armed attacks.”
Viewed on this backdrop, however contested, it strains reason to suggest that an isolated use of force against an unmanned asset would ever constitute an armed attack. Never before have hostile forces been able to similarly degrade combat capability with absolutely no risk of casualty. Though the Geneva Conventions prohibit the “extensive destruction” of property, it is another matter completely to conclude that any unlawful use of force is tantamount to an armed attack. Indeed, the Nicaragua and Oil Platforms cases clearly reject this reasoning. This highlights how the new balance of scale and effect will alter the landscape that separates peace and war.
Even assuming an attack on unmanned technology might constitute an armed attack under international law, there arise other complications regarding the degree of force available in response. The jus ad bellum principles of necessity and proportionality apply to actions taken in self-defense, and the legitimate use of “defensive” force must be tailored to achieve that legitimate end. A failure to strike this balance runs contrary to long-held principles of international law.
What, then, happens when a robotic platform is destroyed and the response delayed? Does the surrogate country have a general right to use limited, belated force in reply? Maybe. But a generalized response would likely constitute armed reprisal, which has fallen into disfavor with customary international law.
To be lawful, the deferred use of defensive force must be tailored to prevent similar attacks in the future. Anything short of this would convert a country’s inherent right to self-defense into subterfuge for illegal aggression. Thankfully, this obligation is simply met where the initial aggressor is a developed country that maintains targeting or industrial facilities that can be tied to any previous, or potential future, means of attack. But this problem takes on new difficulty in the context of asymmetric warfare.
Non-state actors are more than capable of targeting robotic technology. Yet these entities lack the traditional infrastructure that might typically (and lawfully) find itself in the crosshairs following an attack. How, then, can a traditional power use force in response to a successful, non-state assault on unmanned equipment? It is complicated. A responsive strike that broadly targets members of the hostile force may present proportionality concerns that are unique from those associated with traditional attacks that risk the loss of life.
How would a country justify a responsive strike that targets five members of a hostile force in response to a downed drone? Does the answer change if fewer people are targeted? And what if there is no question that those targeted were not involved in the initial act of aggression? These questions aside, a responsive strike that exclusively targets humans in an attempt to stymie future attacks on unmanned equipment does not bear the same legal foundation as one that seeks to prevent future attacks that risk life. The international community has yet to identify the exchange rate between robotic equipment and human lives, and therein lies the problem.
Jus in Bello
Robotic warfare will also disrupt jus in bello, the law that governs conduct during armed conflict. Under the law of armed conflict, the right to use deadly force against a belligerent continues until they have been rendered ineffective, whether through injury, surrender, or detention. But the right to use force first is not diminished by the well-recognized obligation to care for those same combatants if wounded or captured. An armed force is not required to indiscriminately assume risk in order to capture as opposed to kill an adversary. To impose such a requirement would shift risk from one group to another and impose gratuitous tactical impediments.
This sentiment fades, however, once you place “killer robots” on the battlefield. While there is little sense in telling a young soldier or marine that he cannot pull the trigger and must put himself at greater risk if an opportunity for capture presents itself, the same does not hold true when a robot is pulling the trigger. The tactical feasibility of capture over kill becomes real once you swap “boots” for “bots” on the ground. No longer is there the potential for fatality, and the risk calculus becomes largely financial. This is not to say that robots would obligate a country to blindly pursue capture at the expense of strategy. But a modernized military might effect uncontemplated restrictions on the traditional use of force under international law. The justification for kill over capture is largely nonexistent in situations where capture is tactically feasible without any coordinate risk of casualty.
Design is another important part of this discussion. Imagine a platoon of “killer robots” engages a small group of combatants, some of whom are incapacitated but not killed. A robot that is exclusively designed to target and kill would be unable to comply with the internationally recognized duty to care for wounded combatants. Unless medical care is a contemplated function of these robots’ design, the concept of a human-free battlefield will remain unrealized. Indeed, the inherent tension between new tech and old law might indicate that at least some human footprint will always be required in theater—if only after the dust of combat settles.
Reports from China suggest that robots could replace humans on the battlefield within the next five years, and the U.S. Army is slated to begin testing a platoon of robotic combat vehicles this year. Russia, too, is working to develop combat robots to supplement its infantry. This, of course, raises an important question: what happens if the most powerful, technologically adept countries write off traditional obligations at the design table? Might often makes right on the international stage, and given the lack of precedent in this area, the risk demands attention.
Law of the Sea
The peacetime naval domain provides another interesting forum for the disruptive effect of military robotics. Customary international law, for example, has long recognized an obligation to render assistance to vessels in distress—at least to the extent feasible without danger to the assisting ship and crew. This is echoed in a variety of international treaties ranging from the Geneva Convention on the High Seas to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. But what becomes of this obligation when ships of the future have no crew?
Navies across the world are actively developing ghost fleets. The U.S. Navy has called upon industry to deliver ten Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle ships by 2024, and just recently, the “Sea Hunter” became the first ship to sail autonomously between two major ports. This comes as no surprise given the Navy’s 2020 request for $628.8 million to conduct research and development involving unmanned surface and sub-surface assets. The Chinese, too, have been exploring the future of autonomous sea power.
This move highlights the real possibility that technology may relieve the most industrially developed Navies of traditional international obligations. Whether fortuitously or not, the size of a ghost fleet would inversely reflect a nation’s ability—and perhaps its obligation—to assist vessels in distress.
This would shift the humanitarian onus onto less-developed countries or commercial mariners, ceding at least one traditional pillar of international law’s peacetime function. This also opens the door to troubling precedent if global superpowers begin to consciously design themselves out of long-held international obligations.
The move to robotic sea vessels also risks an increase in challenges to the previously inviolable (and more-easily defendable) sovereignty of sea-going platforms. In 2016, for example, a Chinese warship unlawfully detained one of the United States’ underwater drones, which, at the time, was being recovered in the Philippine exclusive economic zone. The move was widely seen as violating international maritime law. But the Chinese faced no resistance in their initial detention of the vessel and the United States’ response consisted of nothing more than demands for return. Unlike their staffed counterparts, unmanned vessels are more prone to illegal seizure or boarding—in part because of the relatively low risk associated with the venture.
This dynamic may increase a nation’s willingness to unlawfully exert control over another’s sovereign vessel while simultaneously decreasing the aggrieved nation’s inclination (or ability) to use force in response. This same phenomenon bears out in the context of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, for which the frequency and consequence of hostile engagement are counter-intuitively related. But unmanned sea vessels are far more prone to low-cost incursion than their winged counterparts. This highlights but one aspect of the normative consequence effected by unmanned naval technology, which, if unaddressed, stands to alter the cost-benefit analysis that often underlies the equilibrium of peace.”
Joshua Fiveson is an officer in the U.S. Navy and a graduate of Harvard Law School. Fiveson previously served as the youngest-ever military fellow with the Institute of World Politics, a national security fellow with the University of Virginia’s National Security Law Institute, a national security fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a leadership fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. Fiveson also served as a John Marshall fellow with the Claremont Institute and a James Wilson fellow with the James Wilson Institute.
“The Air Force is poised to begin reorganization of how it will transform space acquisition at the end of March and that will require legal changes only Congress can make, says Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson.
The report to lawmakers will make “recommendations for what a new acquisition approach should look like,” he told reporters here in Orlando late yesterday. “As you know, Congress gave us established in law the Space Acquisition Council. That already has formed its set of initial recommendations about how that body is going to function, and a whole series of recommendations to approve primarily the acquisition approach for the Space Force.”
The new council, along with the creation of a new assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, was mandated by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. That person will oversee SMC, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (SpRCO), and the nascent Space Development Agency (SDA). In October 2022, whoever holds that position will also become the Air Force service acquisition executive for space systems and programs.
As Breaking D readers know, one idea rolling around the Pentagon is to lump SMC, SDA and SpRCO together under a new Space Force entity called Space Systems Command. However, there is internal disagreement on whether all the organizations must be moved and a reluctance to change anything hastily, given that DoD has two years to decide what it wants to do regarding space acquisition and perhaps even convince Congress to change its mind. In particular, there is some question as to whether SDA’s acquisition authority will move from Undersecretary for Research & Engineering Mike Griffin to the new space acquisition secretary.
Thompson suggested that the recommendations would go beyond simply laying out the role of the new secretary.
“The good news is, we’ve been given such a tremendous opportunity that we don’t have to stop there,” he said. For example, “we’re looking at the requirements approach.”
Further, he said, it will include requests to Congress to give the Air Force the “authority to create that 21st century, rapid, clean, agile acquisition force.”
But, he cautioned, while there will be a number of “very specific recommendations,” the report will not include “the full and total and complete bounds of the last dotted i and crossed t of every specific aspect.”
In another of the monthly reports on Space Force due to Congress, the Air Force will explain its “total force management approach” for figuring out how many, and by what process, airmen will be shifted to the Space Force.”
“Nearly 4 million veterans and caregivers who were granted privileges to shop at commissaries and exchanges Jan. 1 can finally enjoy access to online features, a Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) news release said.“
“However, the new patrons’ access to American Forces Travel (AFT), the official Morale, Welfare and Recreation travel site, is still spotty, according to the latest AFT Facebook post.
Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans with any service-connected disability, and caregivers registered with the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program became eligible to shop at commissaries, exchanges and MWR facilities beginning Jan. 1.
Since then, these new shoppers have experienced issues, including not being able to bring guests on base and trouble accessing MyCommissary and AFT online portals.
DeCA officials said they had to work with Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), which is used to confirm shopping privileges, to let new patrons register their Commissary Rewards cards online to access coupons and to use, as available, the Click2Go curbside service.
“In the event a new shopper is still receiving an error message when trying to create an account, they should check with the [Department of Veterans Affairs] to ensure their information and privileges are correctly entered into the system,” DeCA system engineer Clayton Nobles said in a statement. “For those receiving a new Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC), there may be a delay between when the veteran receives the card and when the system allows them access. This delay can take up to 30 days.”
Eligible veterans must have a VHIC to access bases for shopping or MWR use.
Customers who had access before Jan. 1, such as retired service members, Medal of Honor recipients and veterans with a service-related disability rating of 100%, are not affected.
Meanwhile, AFT is still updating its customer database of “millions of records.”
“We have sent examples to DMDC and they were able to see why some patrons are having issues,” AFT said on Facebook, the only place it is providing updates on the issue. “We will let you know when that resolve has been made and then ask you to try logging on again. Records are being updated every hour.”
But some veterans are getting tired of waiting.
“No luck today. Last week they said it would be fixed this week,” one Facebook user wrote. “The week before, it was going to be fixed last week. I sent a private message this afternoon and got an automated response to call the DMDC help desk at 1-800-727-3677. That number is for the Commissary. After 35 minutes, someone answered the phone and said they could not help me to get verified.”
“Call it a colossal victory for a Pentagon that hasn’t won a war in this century, but not for the rest of us. Congress only recently passed and the president approved one of the largest Pentagon budgets ever. It will surpass spending at the peaks of both the Korean and Vietnam wars. As last year ended, as if to highlight the strangeness of all this, the Washington Postbroke a story about a “confidential trove of government documents” — interviews with key figures involved in the Afghan War by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction — revealing the degree to which senior Pentagon leaders and military commanders understood that the war was failing. Yet, year after year, they provided “rosy pronouncements they knew to be false,” while “hiding unmistakable evidence that the war had become unwinnable.”
Given the way the Pentagon has sunk taxpayer dollars into endless wars, in a more reasonable world that institution would be overdue for a comprehensive audit.
However, as the latest Pentagon budget shows, no matter the revelations, there will be no reckoning when it comes to this country’s endless wars or its military establishment — not at a moment when President Donald Trump is sending yet more U.S. military personnel into the Middle East and has picked a new fight with Iran. No less troubling: how few in either party in Congress are willing to hold the president and the Pentagon accountable for runaway defense spending or the poor performance that has gone with it.
Given the way the Pentagon has sunk taxpayer dollars into those endless wars, in a more reasonable world that institution would be overdue for a comprehensive audit of all its programs and a reevaluation of its expenditures. (It has, by the way, never actually passed an audit.) According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, Washington has already spent at least $2 trillion on its war in Afghanistan alone and, as the Post made clear, the corruption, waste, and failure associated with those expenditures was (or at least should have been) mindboggling.
Of course, little of this was news to people who had read the damning reports released by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in previous years. They included evidence, for instance, that somewhere between $10 million and $43 million had been spent constructing a single gas station in the middle of nowhere, that $150 million had gone into luxury private villas for Americans who were supposed to be helping strengthen Afghanistan’s economy, and that tens of millions more were wasted on failed programs to improve Afghan industries focused on extracting more of the country’s minerals, oil, and natural gas reserves.
In the face of all this, rather than curtailing Pentagon spending, Congress continued to increase its budget, while also supporting a Department of Defense slush fund for war spending to keep the efforts going. Still, the special inspector general’s reports did manage to rankle American military commanders (unable to find successful combat strategies in Afghanistan) enough to launch what, in effect, would be a public-relations war to try to undermine that watchdog’s findings.
Making Sense of the $1.25 Trillion National Security State Budget
Our final annual tally for war, preparations for war, and the impact of war comes to more than $1.25 trillion—more than double the Pentagon’s base budget.Read More
All of this, in turn, reflected the “unwarranted influence” of the military-industrial complex that President (and former five-star General) Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans about in his memorable 1961 farewell address. That complex only continues to thrive and grow almost six decades later, as contractor profits are endlessly prioritized over what might be considered the national security interests of the citizenry.
The infamous “revolving door” that regularly ushers senior Pentagon officials into defense-industry posts and senior defense-industry figures into key positions at the Pentagon (and in the rest of the national security state) just adds to the endless public-relations offensives that accompany this country’s forever wars. After all, the retired generals and other officials the media regularly looks to for expertise are often essentially paid shills for the defense industry. The lack of public disclosure and media discussion about such obvious conflicts of interest only further corrupts public debate on both the wars and the funding of the military, while giving the arms industry the biggest seat at the table when decisions are made on how much to spend on war and preparations for the same.
Media Analysis Brought to You by the Arms Industry
That lack of disclosure regarding potential conflicts of interest recently came into fresh relief as industry boosters beat the media drums for war with Iran. Unfortunately, it’s a story we’ve seen many times before. Back in 2008, for instance, in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series, the New York Timesrevealed that the Pentagon had launched a program to cultivate a coterie of retired-military-officers-turned-pundits in support of its already disastrous war in Iraq. Seeing such figures on TV or reading their comments in the press, the public may have assumed that they were just speaking their minds. However, the Times investigation showed that, while widely cited in the media and regularly featured on the TV news, they never disclosed that they received special Pentagon access and that, collectively, they had financial ties to more than 150 Pentagon contractors.
Given such financial interests, it was nearly impossible for them to be “objective” when it came to this country’s failing war in Iraq. After all, they needed to secure more contracts for their defense-industry employers. A subsequent analysis by the Government Accountability Office found that the Pentagon’s program raised “legitimate questions” about how its public propaganda efforts were tied to the weaponry it bought, highlighting “the possibility of compromised procurements resulting from potential competitive advantages” for those who helped them.
While the program was discontinued that same year, a similar effort was revealed in 2013 during a debate over whether the U.S. should attack Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime. You probably won’t be surprised to discover that most of the former military figures and officials used as analysts at the time supported action against Syria. A review of their commentary by the Public Accountability Initiative found a number of them also had undisclosed ties to the arms industry. In fact, of 111 appearances in major media outlets by 22 commentators, only 13 of them disclosed any aspect of their potential conflicts of interest that might lead them to promote war.
The same pattern is now being repeated in the debate over the Trump administration’s decision to assassinate by drone Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani and other Iran-related issues. While Soleimani clearly opposed the United States and many of its national security interests, his killing risked pushing Washington into another endless war in the Middle East. And in a distinctly recognizable pattern, the Intercept has already found that the air waves were subsequently flooded by defense-industry pundits praising the strike. Unsurprisingly, news of a potential war also promptly boosted defense industry stocks. Northrop Grumman’s, Raytheon’s, and Lockheed Martin’s all started 2020 with an uptick.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) have offered legislation that could shut down that revolving door between the major weapons makers and Washington for good, but it has met concerted resistance from Pentagon officials and others still in Congress who stand to benefit from preserving the system as is. Even if that revolving door wasn’t shut down, transparency about just who was going through it would help the public better understand what former officials and military commanders are really advocating for when they speak positively of the necessity for yet another war in the Middle East.
Costly Weapons (and Well-Paid Lobbyists)
Here’s what we already know about how it all now works: weapon systems produced by the big defense firms with all those retired generals, former administration officials, and one-time congressional representatives on their boards (or lobbying for or consulting for them behind the scenes) regularly come in overpriced, are often delivered behind schedule, and repeatedly fail to have the capabilities advertised. Take, for instance, the new Ford class aircraft carriers, produced by Huntington Ingalls Industries, the sort of ships that have traditionally been used to show strength globally. In this case, however, the program’s development has been stifled by problems with its weapons elevators and the systems used to launch and recover its aircraft. Those problems have been costly enough to send the price for the first of those carriers soaring to $13.1 billion. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jet fighter, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, has an abysmal rate of combat readiness and currently comes in at more than $100 million per aircraft.
Officers Advocating for More F-35s Often Had Financial Stakes
It’s clear that many of those advocating for more F-35s are far from independent and impartial experts.Read More
And yet, somehow, no one ever seems to be responsible for such programmatic failures and prices — certainly not the companies that make them (or all those retired military commanders sitting on their boards or working for them). One crucial reason for this lack of accountability is that key members of Congress serving on committees that should be overseeing such spending are often the top recipients of campaign contributions from the big weapons makers and their allies. And just as at the Pentagon, members of those committees or their staff often later become lobbyists for those very federal contractors.
With this in mind, the big defense firms carefully spread their contracts for weapons production across as many congressional districts as possible. This practice of “political engineering,” a term promoted by former Department of Defense analyst and military reformer Chuck Spinney, helps those contractors and the Pentagon buy off members of Congress from both parties. Take, for example, the Littoral Combat Ship, a vessel meant to operate close to shore. Costs for the program tripled over initial estimates and, according to Defense News, the Navy is already considering decommissioning four of the new ships next year as a cost-saving measure. It’s not the first time that program has been threatened with the budget axe. In the past, however, pork-barrel politics spearheaded by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), in whose states those boats were being built, kept the program afloat.
The Air Force’s new bomber, the B-21, being built by Northrup Grumman, has been on a similar trajectory. Despite significant pressure from then-Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the Air Force refused in 2017 to make public or agree upon a contract price for the program. (It was a “cost-plus,” not a “fixed price” contract, after all.) It did, however, release the names of the companies providing components to the program, ensuring that relevant congressional representatives would support it, no matter the predictably spiraling costs to come.
Recent polling indicates that such pork-barrel politics isn’t backed by the public, even when they might benefit from it. Asked whether congressional representatives should use the Pentagon’s budget to generate jobs in their districts, 77% of respondents rejected the notion. Two-thirds favored shifting such funds to sectors like healthcare, infrastructure, and clean energy that would, in fact, create significantly more jobs.
And keep in mind that, in this big-time system of profiteering, hardware costs, however staggering, are just a modest part of the equation. The Pentagon spends about as much on what it calls “services” as it does on the weaponry itself and those service contracts are another major source of profits. For example, it’s estimated that the F-35 program will cost $1.5 trillion over the lifetime of the plane, but a trillion dollars of those costs will be for support and maintenance of the aircraft.
Increasingly, this means contractors are able to hold the Pentagon hostage over a weapon’s lifetime, which means overcharges of just about every imaginable sort, including for labor. The Project On Government Oversight (where I work) has, for instance, been uncovering overcharges in spare parts since our founding, including an infamous $435 hammer back in 1983. I’m sad to report that what, in the 1980s, was a seemingly outrageous $640 plastic toilet-seat cover for military airplanes now costs an eye-popping $10,000. A number of factors help explain such otherwise unimaginable prices, including the way contractors often retain intellectual property rights to many of the systems taxpayers funded to develop, legal loopholes that make it difficult for the government to challenge wild charges, and a system largely beholden to the interests of defense companies.
In for a TransDigm, Out for Billions
While it is easy to blame TransDigm, Congress created the problem, and agencies are placed in the undesirable position of relying on outdated, and often outrageous, prices.Read More
The most recent and notorious case may be TransDigm, a company that has purchased other companies with a monopoly on providing spare parts for a number of weapon systems. That, in turn, gave it power to increase the prices of parts with little fear of losing business — once, receiving 9,400% in excess profits for a single half-inch metal pin. An investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee found that TransDigm’s employees had been coached to resist providing cost or pricing information to the government, lest such overcharges be challenged.
In one case, for instance, a subsidiary of TransDigm resisted providing such information until the government, desperate for parts for weapons to be used in Iraq and Afghanistan, was forced to capitulate or risk putting troops’ lives on the line. TransDigm did later repay the government $16 million for certain overcharges, but only after the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on the subject that shamed the company. As it happens, TransDigm’s behavior isn’t an outlier. It’s typical of many defense-related companies doing business with the government — about 20 major industry players, according to a former Pentagon pricing czar.
A Recipe for Disaster
For too long Congress has largely abdicated its responsibilities when it comes to holding the Pentagon accountable. You won’t be surprised to learn that most of the “acquisition reforms” it’s passed in recent years, which affect how the Department of Defense buys goods and services, have placed just about all real negotiating power in the hands of the big defense contractors. To add insult to injury, both parties of Congress continue to vote in near unanimity for increases in the Pentagon budget, despite 18-plus years of losing wars, the never-ending gross mismanagement of weapons programs, and a continued failure to pass a basic audit. If any other federal agency (or the contractors it dealt with) had a similar track record, you can only begin to imagine the hubbub that would ensue. But not the Pentagon. Never the Pentagon.
A significantly reduced budget would undoubtedly increase that institution’s effectiveness by curbing its urge to throw ever more money at problems. Instead, an often bought-and-paid-for Congress continues to enable bad decision-making about what to buy and how to buy it. And let’s face it, a Congress that allows endless wars, terrible spending practices, and multiplying conflicts of interest is, as the history of the twenty-first century has shown us, a recipe for disaster.”
Mandy Smithberger rejoined POGO as the director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information in December 2014. Previously she was a national security policy adviser to U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) worked on passing key provisions of the Military Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act into law, which expands protections by increasing the level of Inspector General review for complaints, requiring timely action on findings of reprisal, and increasing the time whistleblowers have to report reprisals. Previously an investigator with POGO, she was part of a team that received the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sunshine Award for contributions in the area of open government. Ms. Smithberger received her B.A. in government from Smith College and her Masters in Strategic Studies and International Economics from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. She also served as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency and U.S. Central Command.