TYSON’S CORNER, VA: With the wars that spawned the drone revolution subsiding, if not entirely ending, the U.S. armed services are taking stock of what they’ve learned and sorting out what to do next to bolster or better the fleets of unmanned aircraft they’ve accumulated since 2001. One thing is clear: war or peace, the technology is here to stay.
A dozen years ago, a drone was still just a bee with a lousy work ethic. Today, the word isn’t just the colloquial expression for unmanned aerial systems (UAS), as most experts call them, or RPAs (remotely piloted aircraft), as the Air Force prefers. Drones are now a military necessity – especially for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). Keep reading →
We’ve heard national security leaders at the highest levels say it repeatedly: we are not prepared for cyber war. Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, made it clear when he rated America’s readiness for addressing a catastrophic cyber attack “three on a scale of ten.” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has discussed the imminent threats of a breach that “shuts down part of the nation’s infrastructure in such a fashion that it results in a loss of life.” And Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has often been quoted saying that a large-scale attack on our critical infrastructure could wreak havoc on a scale “equivalent to Pearl Harbor.”
In mid-June, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta took a seat in front of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee and warned of the dangers of large, across-the-board reductions in national military spending. Panetta called such cuts “a disaster” that would severely compromise American security.
The Secretary is right. Even in times of severe fiscal challenges, the government needs to keep financing military development programs that genuinely enhance the safety and efficacy of our American soldiers. Blind penny-pinching puts their lives at risk. Officials should identify particularly promising projects and focus their dollars on them. Keep reading →
CAPITOL HILL: The US must not go ahead with planned cuts to the Afghan National Army and police, a panel of experts urged the House Armed Services Committee today. Instead, we must keep spending $6 billion a year to support 350,000 Afghan security personnel, go slowly on drawing down our own forces — and escalate the drone war in Pakistan by striking Taliban sanctuaries previously off-limits. Keep reading →
ARLINGTON, VA: At $2.6 million, the contract award that Lockheed Martin will announce today to upgrade something called the Distributed Common Ground System is a rounding error in the aerospace giant’s $46.5 billion annual revenue. But in an age of austerity, when mega-programs like Lockheed’s flagship Joint Strike Fighter are under ever-increasing scrutiny, small can be beautiful. The DCGS approach — modest, incremental, and based on free open-source software — is an interesting model for a difficult era.
DCGS does what’s called “fusion,” combining “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance” (ISR) data from different kinds of drones and manned aircraft into a single coherent picture for analysts on the ground. The different services all have their different variants, with something called the DCGS Integrated Backbone (DIB) supposed to connect them. That’s the kind of complex IT integration challenge that has bedeviled programs like the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) and the Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) — for which Lockheed also did fusion work before its cancellation in 2009 — and at one point DIB seemed headed down that same, well-trodden road to nowhere. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: The House Armed Services Committee is giving the US Air Force both marching orders and money to operate its eighteen “Block 30″ Global Hawk UAVs instead of warehousing them as the service proposed. The Administration’s fiscal 2013 budget request cancelled the Block 30 program and provided no funds to operate the 18 drones already bought from prime contractor Northrop Grumman, arguing they were less effective and more expensive to fly than the venerable U-2, the manned spyplane they were intended to replace. But the HASC’s mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013 includes $260 million to keep the Block 30s operational. Keep reading →
More missions, less money: That’s the dilemma the U.S. Army faces as it looks beyond Afghanistan. The service is certainly grateful that the all-consuming commitments of the last decade are finally winding down, but it’s still struggling to shift gears on a shrinking budget. After ten years of optimizing itself for protracted counterinsurgency – a mission explicitly disavowed by the Administration’s new strategic guidance – the Army has to relearn how to do a wide range of missions all around the world, from advisor work to disaster relief to all-out combat against adversaries like Iran. With limited resources of money, manpower, and training time, there’s a big debate within the Army over how to prioritize. The intellectual storm center in this debate is the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where the service trains its next generation of generals. Keep reading →
Libyan rebels, Somali pirates, Osprey tiltrotors, and a long, long time at sea: The future of the Marine Corps post-Afghanistan can be seen in what you might call “Yoda and Bart’s Great Adventure,” an extraordinary ocean journey that began a year ago Friday. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: Congress needs to take a larger role in deciding how to get unmanned technologies into the hands of American allies while keeping them out of hands of U.S. adversaries, according to a new congressional study.
The use of unmanned systems on the modern-day battlefield has increased significantly over the past decade. Unmanned aircraft have become the weapon of choice for U.S. military and intelligence agencies in counterterrorism missions across the globe. So far, American defense firms have been the biggest beneficiaries of this boom in the drone market. But as the rest of the industrialized world begins to catch up in unmanned technology, there are concerns the U.S. could fall to second place — or further — to a number of near-peer countries. “Much new business is likely to be generated in the [unmanned systems] market, and if U.S. companies fail to capture this market share, European, Russian, Israeli, Chinese, or South African companies will,” analysts from the Congressional Research Service claim in a Jan. 3 report. Competition for unmanned technologies will only get more intense as U.S. firms begin to look to overseas markets to bolster their bottom lines. Keep reading →
Washington: The Navy is beginning to make good on former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead bet that unmanned drones would be the future of the service.
Naval Sea Systems Command delivered the first mini-ship like drones to Navy Riverine Group One stationed at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek in Virginia on Nov. 1. The unmanned vessel, known as the Modular Unmanned Surface Craft Littoral, will be the main intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance drone for those forces, according to a command statement released today. The drone can be launched from the Navy’s fleet of small assault and patrol boats. Once underwater the drones will “real-time monitoring of suspicious vessels, personnel, and activity along waterways, shorelines, and under bridges and piers,” according to NAVSEA. Members of Riverine Group One will begin evaluating the drone’s performance and functionality in real-world combat environments, command officials say. Keep reading →