Half the US forces in Afghanistan may be coming home, but K-MAX, the little unmanned helicopter, will stay until the end. A pair of the remote-controlled cargo choppers arrived in Afghanistan in late 2011 for what was billed as a short-term experiment, but the Marines liked it so much that the trial deployment was repeatedly extended, and now the military has confirmed it will keep them on “indefinitely.” (The extension was first reported yesterday by Reuters). Three love letters to the remote-controlled cargo chopper from military officers, obtained exclusively by Breaking Defense, show why.
Technologically, K-MAX is just plain neat. It’s a small one-man chopper built by Kaman Aerospace Corp. – originally for logging operations, where it airlifted tree trunks out of tight areas . It was converted to a remotely piloted vehicle by Lockheed Martin. Tactically, K-MAX allows delivery of supplies to forward outposts by air, without risking human pilots or, worse yet, sending ground convoys through the gauntlet of Taliban ambushes and roadside bombs.
“What stood out most in my mind … was the permanent scorch marks burnt into the earth up and down ‘ambush alley,’” recalled Marine Corps Maj. Kyle O’Connor, who served in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2011. So many improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had gone off in one narrow mountain pass, an unavoidable chokepoint for US supply convoys, that “that stretch of road continually had scars marking where explosions had scorched the earth,” O’Connor wrote in a letter endorsing the K-MAX for the prestigious Collier Trophy. “Those memories,” he went on, “are what drove me to be part of a program meant to save lives by limiting the amount of exposure our ground convoys had to danger”: the unmanned K-MAX, whose first six-month deployment had O’Connor in command. Keep reading →
This November, the Defense Logistics Agency will require companies selling microcircuits to the military to stamp their products with an unlikely seal of authenticity: plant DNA.
It’s an innovative initiative in the fight against counterfeit computer chips, which has been a major concern in the Senate, but it’s only one piece of the answer. DLA plans to put out a formal Request For Information sometime this month to ask industry to offer other, complementary authenticity-checking technologies, and Congress is watching closely. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: As the wars draw down and budgets shrink, the massive Army Materiel Command — 70,000 military and civilian personnel at arsenals, depots, and other facilities in all 50 states — is shifting gears and taking on new missions.
Some longstanding efforts are winding down, explained Lt. Gen. Patricia McQuistion, AMC’s new deputy commander, at a breakfast hosted this morning by the Association of the US Army. The command is buying less ammunition and more of what it buys will be training ammo as opposed to live rounds for combat. Likewise, after a massive investment in uparmored Humvees and MRAPs, the Army has more trucks than it expects to need, and it’s up to AMC to get rid of them. “As tactical wheeled vehicles come down, we’ll be able to divest some of those,” McQuistion said. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: After months of deadlock and $2.1 billion in extra costs to the Pentagon, Pakistan agreed to reopen NATO supply lines to Afghanistan after getting the high-level civilian apology it had long sought from the US. The price besides American pride? Zero. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: As the United States military begins to leave Afghanistan, the Defense Logistics Agency is emptying its warehouses there of stockpiled supplies such as copper wire and shipping them back to the States, says DLA Director Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek.
Harnitchek expects the supply agency’s spending will shrink from a wartime peak of $46 billion last year to a bit over $30 billion once (most) US troops leave the country in 2014. Although he doesn’t plan to cut the agency’s workforce of 27,000 civilian and military personnel, Harnitchek said at this morning’s Defense Writers’ Group breakfast that he is seeking another 10 percent in savings through efficiencies in how DLA buys supplies, from holding “reverse auctions” to reducing inventories. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: Two retired colonels are moving in to the office of the Deputy Chief Management Officer, which has the herculean task of improving the Pentagon’s business practices. One is a former Marine logistician who worked on the reconstruction of Iraq, the other a former Air Force IT expert, a rare African-American woman in her high-tech field who published a book about her grandmother’s legacy.
Since Mary Gillam retired from the uniformed Air Force in 2010, she’s been working for the Air Force Secretary’s chief information officer as a contractor, through mega-consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. As an SESer, she’ll work for the Deputy Chief Management Officer, Elizabeth McGrath, as the DCMO’s director for technology and innovation. That’s a long way from one of Gillam’s first assignments as a young lieutenant, when she told a reporter from her alma mater, the University of Phoenix, that she had to take command of an Air Force tactical control center where she was the only female officer. “This was my first taste of what it was like to be a leader, and I had to get in there and learn really fast,” she said in that interview. “My grandma taught me not to be afraid to ask questions because if I was going to be a leader, I had to understand the job.” Gillam later published a memoir of her grandmother, who raised her and died while she was stationed in Korea, entitled I Never Said Good-Bye. Keep reading →
US ARMY WAR COLLEGE: It’s a week into the war, and things are getting ugly. Fifty American and allied troops are dead, four hundred are wounded — some in city fighting against Islamic militants, some when the surprisingly sophisticated foe shot down their aircraft with shoulder-fired missiles and anti-helicopter mines. Keep reading →
Washington: If there is one thing the Pentagon takes really seriously, it’s making plans. It has contingency plans for its original plans and if all else fails, well, there’s a plan for that too. But as far as anyone knows, the U.S. is pulling out of Iraq by the end of this year.
So when Alan Estevez, the Pentagon’s nominee to lead its logistics and materiel readiness office, told lawmakers at his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday afternoon there are “multiple plans” in place to support a continued American presence in Iraq past the New Year, it raised a few eyebrows in the audience. Keep reading →