nro-satellite-lgmdsparthiresWASHINGTON: They could have a decent career singing the sequestration lament in 4/4 time. Three of the top men in American intelligence brought it home yesterday, wailing the sequestration blues.

OK, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s speech sometimes lacked rhythmn. But Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, hit a few high notes and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn laid down the back beat with his classic straight-ahead delivery.

But the message of their song of woe is worth hearing since many people, even in the Pentagon, believe that intelligence is so important that is must have gotten an exemption from sequestration’s idiotic impact. It did not, DNI Clapper reminded everyone at the Intelligence National Security Alliance’s first conference.

Will it matter, or will black money quietly flow in to make things good? “Will sequestration affect intelligence quality?” Clapper called out. “Of course it will. You don’t take cuts of that magnitude without losing capability.” No one cried out but the room was pretty quiet, After all, it was full of 450 some intelligence officials and contractors.

The real crunch for intelligence, which has feasted on billions and billions in operations and maintenance (O and M) money annually for much of the last 12 years on top of its various base budgets, occurs because O and M dough gets hits the hardest by sequestration. A lot of it isn’t stuff with a line item but is based on “historic averages” or what a few smart people think the department will need for the next year, even though they aren’t really sure.

Chairman Rogers told me on his way out of the conference that the intel programs were not hit hard through fiscal year 2013 but will get hit hard beginning next month, when 2014 begins.

“Some of these programs will get hit 17 percent and some of them will just go dark,” he said as we walked.

Flynn sang a spare and straight line. In his world, “demand is skyrocketing but resources are constrained” and he’s just “making sure we can manage sequestration.”

But Clapper introduced a powerful downbeat. There’s a much bigger problem for the intelligence community as it manages its major acquisition programs like the next-generation spy satellites being built by Lockheed Martin. Traditionally, the National Reconnaissance Office, builder and operator of the nation’s spy satellites, as well as the NSA and its sister agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, have relied on 50 percent program reserves. Reserves like that — unthinkable in the traditional world of defense acquisition — allow the IC to pursue enormously complex and technically advanced systems and not stumble, slow and end up costing even more over time when they hit an unanticipated technical challenge or someone screws up.

That money, wailed Clapper (OK, he didn’t wail, but I’m trying to keep the whole “blues thing” going here), may be in peril. “One year you can do that,” he said, “but after that it gets very problematic. We don’t have any way to manage that problem.” And, as we keep hearing about sequestration, that is the problem. No one can manage well around it because it’s so rigid.

Yeah, those intel sequestration blues, baby!

 

 

 

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Comments

  • Don Bacon

    Those poor intel people with their Spartan $80 billion budget – why, they’ll have to rely on YouTube videos now on hot-spots like Syria! (Oh that’s right, they did.)

    Saturday night is your big night. Everybody used to fry up fish and have one hell of a time. Find me playing till sunrise for 50 cents and a sandwich. And be glad of it. And they really liked the low-down blues. — Muddy Waters

  • M&S

    Intel buys loyalties because that’s how things work in the parts of the world where we have to have eyes and ears but will likely never have real presence as _intent to change_ the status quo. Backing/Running out of SWA is one way to ensure that the more things change, the less they really do.
    We really need to have backroom contacts whose actionable intel we can use to hold to account a target government filled with at least nominally honest (embarrassable?) people. Instead, we continue to support unipower regimes whose totalitarian power gives us reasonable assurance of neutral behavior so long as we pay off the right people. But that list is long and expensive.
    As for the satellites, White Cloud was a multi-con and I doubt if any followon will change much, if only because the U.S. doesn’t like look through on their intelligence payloads, even in the clean room as bus scabs.
    Instead, I would suggest four options:
    NIRTS Sats.
    Microminiaturized payloads using the same capabilities as developed for LEAP and Brilliant Pebbles and launched on a new orbital insert platform (XTV-2 meets X-37 as LO polar orbital inserter) using a very cheap booster akin to a scaled militarized Pegasus. Indeed, given what was done with Spaceship One, it is even possible that a very high flying platform (B-52 on steroids) would be able to do an SSTO _if the payloads are small_.
    Small payloads in turn equate to a lot of mini-Sputniks, zipping back and forth with constantly overlapping coverage footprints.
    Big Eyes.
    The next bet is folded optics and adaptive optics combined so that you get a 5m telescope as linear area putting micro mosaic images onto individual detector arrays through something like a Klein Bottle prismatic focusing optics whose combined output is electronically synthesized as the reverse of Argus-IR. In theory, if you can compensate for atmospherics, this gives you a 1,000nm cross-track look like a super-SYERS out of a very narrow package.
    Why Not Drive?
    Next, I would offer the potential for microgravitic drives. Boeing became ‘interested’ in this a long time ago (mid-90’s) and then all discussion went dark. An acquaintance of mine said that the applications were valid but only in a micro-G environment (1/10th to .25G shunt) and that they required a large power draw as mini-RTG based nuclear systems besides. But in turn, they were more efficient than ion drives because they didn’t require the backend shielding and could be made nearly invisible to uplook sensors, even in LEO because the quantitative media requirements (he would not say ‘fuel’ as propellant) were relatively small.
    If you can continually vary your mechanic and are reasonably trashcan-ovoid low RCS except perhaps for an uplink antenna into one of the commsat constellations, you can go places where your presence is not always known. That we are now actively messing with gravitic fields would be it’s own huge event of course.
    High-Hang Time.
    Satellites fall because there is insufficient density to hold an LTA in place. They fall forwards at incredible speed to essentially pull away from the gravity well at the same rate as they want to fall back into it. What if there is a something along the lines of a new UAV/Satellite hybrid that changes the game by changing the way we think about orbital geometries altogether? Again, the likeliest culprit is minor gravity nullification but it doesn’t have to be the only way forwards.
    USAF wants to dump the RQ-4 for reasons that make no sense at all given the persistent dwell, not impossible ABSAA and relatively easy route-around on storm fronts that are required to beat the otherwise equivalent CPFH on the U-2.
    But as there have been rumors for years that Tier-3/TR-3 never went away so much as left the tactical community for ‘continued development’, it would make some sense if what we are looking here is not a satellite at all but a strategic misdirect for a new, very long persistence, HALE of some kind.
    S-400 and certainly S-500 can both reach out and touch something operating at a measely 60-70K. But not so much something at 200K. Especially if it is high-threshold VLO. Up in the deep dark night where all is bright.