Apple, Amazon, and Google long since outstripped the Pentagon in information technology. But as the military and intelligence community try to take advantage of commercial IT innovation, especially in cloud computing, they have run into harsh limits. Security, long-range bandwidth and the sheer volume of data have created problems for the Pentagon that current commercially available cloud services can’t solve, two senior defense officials told me recently….
Google’s search engine is so powerful that it’s become a verb. Amazon’s algorithm for recommending other items you might like is so individualized it’s uncanny. But they do exactly the opposite of what intelligence analysts and officers need, said the DIA’s chief innovation officer, Doney, a problem which will require some fundamental research to fix.
“The models that dominate this information discovery problem are popularity-based,” Doney told me: The more people click, link to, or purchase something, the higher its rank and the more often it shows up in searches. (The underlying mathematics is called a Pearson correlation). But an intelligence analyst who only looks at what lots of other people have already seen is, by definition, not doing their job.
“In the intelligence community we want what’s new, what’s different,” Doney said. “Novelty and popularity are almost inverse,” which means Google and Amazon-style popularity-rank searches would make the most important new intelligence the hardest to find.
What’s more, Doney added, “novelty is a very complex thing.” It doesn’t simply equate to “most recently posted,” which is how Google News sorts articles on a given topic. “New” has to be new substance, not the latest regurgitation of what’s been previously reported, not a minor variation on what the analyst already knows.
You might have thought that the lesson would be obvious. In the past year, we’ve had an elementary tutorial in the uses of raw military power: in Ukraine, where Russia manufactured a “rebellion”; in Iraq, where the Islamic State expanded its footprint; and in Asia, where China harassed ships of nations claiming islands China considers its own. But the implications of these events seem to have escaped the Obama White House and Congress.
They are systematically reducing U.S. military power as if none of this had happened. Defense spending has become just another line item in the budget, increasingly disconnected from our strategic interests and potential threats. It’s a money pot of possible reductions to pay for burgeoning retirement benefits, mainly Social Security and Medicare, which are largely immune to cuts.
Our strategic needs are twisted to fit available defense dollars, as opposed to defining realistic military missions and then estimating their costs. An example: The Pentagon rules out future “prolonged stability operations . . . on the scale of Iraq and Afghanistan.” Big savings! Unfortunately, it’s easy to imagine such a need: say, a lengthy occupation of Middle East oil fields on which the world economy depends….
Meanwhile, potential missions multiply: fighting terrorism; deterring cyber-attacks; protecting Europe (after Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine gambit, more troops are needed there); coping with Iran’s nuclear program; containing North Korea; maintaining open shipping lanes; dealing with a resurgent China (termed “the pivot to Asia”). Harrison chides the administration for neither spending enough to meet its strategic goals nor downsizing the goals to fit smaller defense budgets.
More scathing is a unanimous report from a congressionally mandated task force, the National Defense Panel. It warns that defense cutbacks “constitute a serious strategic misstep [that has] caused significant investment shortfalls in U.S. readiness and . . . have prompted our current and potential allies and adversaries to question our commitment and resolve.” The report wasn’t the work of cranks. The panel was co-chaired by William Perry, defense secretary in the Clinton administration from 1994 to 1997, and retired four-star general John Abizaid; it also included Michèle Flournoy, President Obama’s undersecretary of defense from 2009 to 2012.
Since World War II, U.S. global leadership has rested in part on military might. It has often provided the stability that gave political and economic policies the time to succeed.
A F-22 Raptor performs a high-speed pass during the Arctic Thunder Open House on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, July 26, 2014.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Capt Joel Cooke)
Our landings in the Cherbourg-Haver area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.
My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available.
The troops, the air, and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 5 June 1944. Message if the D-Day invasion failed.
General Eisenhower’s D-Day message to the troops
Tank landing ships unloading supplies on Omaha Beach, preparing for the break-out from Normandy, 6 June 1944 (via Dark Roasted Blend)
The Pentagon wants to set up a network of seafloor-bedded “nodes” that would include anything from supplies to weaponry to be called to the surface for military action when needed.
The Defense Department could begin field testing its “Upward Falling Payloads” anytime after October, according to the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency.
The system will be made up of a payload – a surveillance or communications system, for example – that goes into action once it reaches the surface in its “riser,” an ocean-resting pod and launch system, and the communications link that will trigger the “riser” to launch, according to DARPA.
[I only see articles about this program in April. I am still not sure that this isn’t a prolonged April Fool’s joke.]
Among the many striking displays at the recent Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition was this marvel — an amphibious warfare ship adapted for Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), with three times the radar size and missile capacity of current BMD vessels, as well an electromagnetic rail gun that can launch shells to the edge of space….
Forward of the superstructure, you see what looks like a standard five inch gun, the kind one finds on the Ticos and Burkes. But an engineer responsible for this design explains that’s not what it represents. In fact, it’s an electromagnetic rail gun.
At least two other companies at the Expo exhibited their work on rail guns. The contractors speak of equipping surface combatants with 30+ mega joule (MJ) systems sometime in the 2020s. Elevated for maximum range, those barrels can throw shells a hundred miles away. Elevated higher, they can shoot projectiles to the edge of the atmosphere and possibly beyond.
That capability has caught the attention of missile defense thinkers because the shells might be able to intercept incoming warheads from ballistic missiles. With muzzle velocities of Mach 7, shells accelerated by 30MJ weapons would retain enough speed to engage re-entry vehicles as they fall back into the atmosphere, and possibly enough to chase maneuvering re-entry vehicles (MaRVs) trying to dodge them.
They’re also relatively cheap. Part of the difficulty of missile defense is economic. BMD interceptors like SM-3 often cost several times more than the missiles against which they defend. Using rail guns for BMD could flip that ratio, allowing multiple rounds to be economically expended on a single target. Even if a MaRV has greater kinetic energy than each round – which would confer a maneuvering advantage – it would face difficulty avoiding multiple interceptors while maintaining a course that ends at its target. This is particularly true if when the rounds approach they explode into clouds of hypersonic shards, which is what Boeing has in mind….
Unfortunately, there’s not enough money in the budget right now even for a handful. Too bad. It’s a fascinating concept, but in today’s fiscal environment, that’s probably all it’ll ever be … that, and the world’s coolest key chain.
Wow! It’s not very often someone manages to catch a classified aircraft ‘in the wild’ but it appears that’s exactly what happened to veteran interceptors Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett in Amarillo on March 10th. Their story has made headlines in Aviation Week and The Aviationist blog among other news outlets. So what exactly have Steve and Dean snapped a photo of here? There are several theories being floated at the moment, so let’s take a look at each one.
Mystery Aircraft Over Texas || Ares
… the basic shape - while it resembles Boeing’s Blended Wing Body studies or the Swift Killer Bee/Northrop Grumman Bat unmanned air system - is different from anything known to have flown at full size, lacking the notched trailing edge of Northrop Grumman’s full-size designs.
The aircraft seen here was accompanied by two others. This and the fact that Steve picked up some apparently related voice traffic suggests that the aircraft is piloted: I doubt that you’d dispatch three large, classified unmanned aircraft anywhere in formation. The risk of a midair would be present, and such an event would be non-career-optimal.
It’s not merely logical to expect that numerous classified aircraft programs exist: it’s almost a necessity under the principle of Occam’s Razor, because if they don’t, you have to contrive some sort of explanation for what Area 51 has been up to all these years.
[I love aviation geeks so much]
“This is pretty unprecedented,” Thornberry tells National Defense in a recent interview. “There are Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, plus [officials] in the Obama administration and in industry who have all agreed to work together on this.”
All parties have committed to help flick through giant stacks of procurement regulations and laws, and identify the points of failure. The task is daunting, at best, Thornberry says. “It doesn’t mean everyone is going to agree on every proposal. But having everybody on the same page in this day and age is significant.”
The goal is to identify the most pressing issues that need reform and include them in next year’s defense authorization bill. Congress is going to have to fight the urge to write massive pieces of legislation that keep piling up over existing laws and don’t really fix the root causes of military procurement failures, says Thornberry.
“We are determined to not just pass a new law, or create another oversight office or new regulations,” he says. “We are going to take time to understand what the problems are and why previous efforts have not been successful.”
Informal surveys have confirmed what Thornberry and other lawmakers already suspected: Reforms will never work unless procurement managers in the mid-level bureaucracy are incentivized to make smart decisions and are also held accountable for those decisions. Thornberry would support giving program managers more flexibility to make decisions, but he would also expect them to be held accountable when they make bad ones.
National security is often synonymous with secrecy. But when it comes to software development, the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment can be surprisingly open.
This week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — or DARPA, the research arm of the U.S. Defense department — published a list of all the open source computer science projects it has funded, including links to source code and academic papers that detail the code’s underlying concepts.
Anyone is free to not only peruse the source code and add to it, but actually use it to build their own software — and that includes foreign governments. The belief is that because anyone can contribute to these projects, the quality of the code will only improve, making the software more useful to everyone. It’s an approach that has paid off in spades among web companies from Google and Facebook to Twitter and Square, and the government has now realized that it too can benefit from the open source ethos.
RevMedx recently asked the FDA to approve a pocket-size invention: a modified syringe that injects specially coated sponges into wounds. Called XStat, the device could boost survival and spare injured soldiers from additional pain by plugging wounds faster and more efficiently than gauze.
The team’s early efforts were inspired by Fix-a-Flat foam for repairing tires. “That’s what we pictured as the perfect solution: something you could spray in, it would expand, and bleeding stops,” says Steinbaugh. “But we found that blood pressure is so high, blood would wash the foam right out.”
So the team tried a new idea: sponges. They bought some ordinary sponges from a hardware store and cut them into 1-centimeter circles, a size and shape they chose on a whim but later would discover were ideal for filling wounds. Then, they injected the bits of sponge into an animal injury. “The bleeding stopped,” says Steinbaugh. “Our eyes lit up. We knew we were onto something.” After seeing early prototypes, the U.S. Army gave the team $5 million to develop a finished product.
But kitchen sponges aren’t exactly safe to inject into the body. The final material would need to be sterile, biocompatible, and fast-expanding. The team settled on a sponge made from wood pulp and coated with chitosan, a blood-clotting, antimicrobial substance that comes from shrimp shells. To ensure that no sponges would be left inside the body accidentally, they added X-shaped markers that make each sponge visible on an x-ray image.
The sponges work fast: In just 15 seconds, they expand to fill the entire wound cavity, creating enough pressure to stop heavy bleeding. And because the sponges cling to moist surfaces, they aren’t pushed back out of the body by gushing blood. “By the time you even put a bandage over the wound, the bleeding has already stopped,” Steinbaugh says.
The dispute began in 1991, when then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney canceled the $4.8 billion stealth attack aircraft, run by General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas, which has since been acquired by Boeing. It was terminated in part due to the government’s conclusion that contractors were not meeting cost and schedule targets. The Navy demanded that contractors repay $1.3 billion to the government.
The prime contractors sued the government, arguing the government should make penalty payments because the contract was canceled for “convenience,” not a failure to perform. The case festered in the court system, eventually reaching the Supreme Court.
In 1999, as the case was bound for federal claims court, Michael Mancuso, who was General Dynamics’s chief financial officer at the time, said he was “optimistic that a settlement could be reached soon.” That settlement never came to be.
Fourteen years later, another opportunity to resolve the case presented itself. At that time, all three parties had been shackled with significant legal costs for more than a decade. The Pentagon was budgeting $10 million annually for legal fees in this case alone.
[Emphasis added. $10 million times 23 years equals $2.3 billion, which is more than the contractors wanted when they filed their suit (if I recall correctly). In Pentagon dollars, $10 million is a rounding error, and I’m not sure how to account for inflation, but still.]