Wednesday, August 12, 2009

USAF Plots Needs for a Fantastic Future

AVWK- Bill Sweetman

One of the most ambitious forecasting projects of late is the U.S. Air Force’s Blue Horizons II, which wrapped in 2008, and was presented at a conference here in May by Col. John Geis, director of the Center for Strategy and Technology at Maxwell AFB, Ala.

Ambitious? How does a giant nuclear-powered flying laser sound; or a hypersonic bomber that launches satellites; or a tactical fighter firing laser and microwave beams?

The project began in 2005 because 10 years had passed since the last such venture, Air Force 2025. Conducted by USAF’s Air University, Blue Horizons II was led by seven faculty members aided by 49 researchers. Seven out of 10 people involved, Geis notes, were “rated operators” of Air Force systems.

The goal was to determine what technologies USAF would be best advised to support. The starting point was a range of possible future scenarios for global conflict. The next step was to evaluate capabilities, from the near-term to the futuristic, in each scenario. Finally, the team looked at what basic technologies would be needed to provide those capabilities.

The team picked four scenarios: a peer China, Middle East jihadist insurgency, failed state and a resurgent Russia. No real surprises. Geis emphasized that “China will be the supreme power on earth by 2040.” The study envisioned China having the world’s largest GDP by 2030, although “militarily it will take some time after that for them to catch up.” Internal dissent and China’s demand for energy and food will be potential sources of international friction.

One surprise was a finding that runs counter to accepted wisdom at top levels of the Pentagon: The same capabilities, by and large, proved to be most valuable in all scenarios—that is, there was no dichotomy between low-tech counterinsurgency weapons and what the Air Force would use to discourage antisocial behavior by China’s future leaders. Where there was a difference, it was for specific reasons. The study participants, for example, don’t expect non-state actors to develop counterspace weapons, so systems that were aimed at defeating such attacks scored low in insurgent and failed-state scenarios.

The overall top-scoring weapon concept was a UAV dubbed Pathfinder, an autonomous, stealthy vehicle incorporating powerful electronic jamming arrays, which could launch and control smaller UAVs, or operate as an autonomous wingman to manned aircraft.

Second on the list was a “cyberspace UAV,” an autonomous antivirus program that propagates over the Internet and detects cyberthreats before they affect U.S. defense systems.


USAF Global Strike Command to Activate Friday

USAF Global Strike Command to Activate Friday: "

If you want to watch a little bit of USAF history in the making, tune in Friday on the Pentagon Channel online to watch the air service stand up its new Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. The AFGSC, one of 10 USAF commands, will provide combat forces to conduct strategic nuclear deterrence and global strike operations. Here are a few more notes of interest from USAF HQ:

-- When fully operational, the AFGSC will encompass 23,000 Airmen from 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. and 20th Air Force at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., consisting of six operational wings and two squadrons, the 576th at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. The AFGSC will emphasize the development and sustainment of strategic, operational, and technical nuclear expertise as well as increasing the number of experienced nuclear personnel to fill key leadership positions.

-- The AFGSC organizational construct will clearly align nuclear missile and nuclear capable bomber units and other deterrence capabilities under a single command and demonstrate a visible commitment to the nuclear deterrence mission while taking full advantage of the existing Air Force field organizational structure.

-- Over the next few months, the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile forces, B-2 and B-52 bombers operational responsibility will transfer from Air Force Space Command and Air Combat Command, respectively, to AFGSC. AFGSC will bring together different missions of six wings under the 8th and 20th Numbered Air Forces, and Air Force Space Command and Air Combat Command. Together, these units comprise two-thirds of the nation’s nuclear deterrence forces and global strike mission as a component MAJCOM of U.S. Strategic Command.  

Of course, what USAF HQ wont tell you so readily is how all of this began: a series of mishaps in the service’s handling of nuclear responsibilities in recent years. Thats what led Defense Secretary Robert Gates to fire the last Air Force secretary and chief of staff. Before F-22s and UAVs came to rule the headlines of late, the USAF was under tremendous criticism for taking its eye off the nuclear realm. AFGSC is supposed to rekindle that fire.

UPDATE: here's the USAF secretary and chief of staff talking about the new command yesterday.


(Via Ares.)

What's Next for UAVs?

What's Next for UAVs?: "

U.S. Navy specialists have gathered near Patuxent River, Md. for NavAir’s annual UAV demonstrations to look into the future of unmanned sensors, platforms and operations.

‘Fire Scout is a good example of progress beyond the initial EO-IR sensors [and communications suite],’ say Rear Adm. (lower half) Bill Shannon, program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons. ‘We have already added AIS, the maritime version of IFF [specifically for ship targets]. It helps sort the good guys from those we don’t know. It’s very important for counter-piracy and counter-drug operations.’

The next thing that gets added is radar. Development starts in 2010. There are three technologies being considered as Navy officials balance the available money and schedule against technical complexity: a straight mechanically scanned radar, a mechanical that can be upgraded to an active electronically scanned array (AESA) and, finally, a  pure AESA.

As a follow on to the radar payload, the Navy is looking at a payload called Cobra, a multi-spectral sensor that can see objects in shallow water for mine detection. In the out years and so far unfunded, Navy specialists are looking at a hyper-spectral system for even greater discrete selectivity in a range of electromagnetic frequency spectrum bands that can discover things hidden by camouflage, water and sand. So far, planning is focused on over-water missions and does not include laser based technologies to find underground facilities and analyze activities taking place in them although the subject is of continuing interest.

The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAV (a variant of the Air Force’s Global Hawk design for long-endurance missions with a payload of  more than 3,000 lb.) has an AESA radar in the baseline system. Radar and electronic surveillance will offer 360-degree coverage and a gimbaled EO/IR sensor will range over 270-degrees.

For positive visual identification of ships, BAMS must be able to operate as low as 10,000 ft., says Gary Kessler, deputy PEO for unmanned aviation.

The second BAMS increment upgrades the on-board communications suite to a ‘flying network node’ that would provide ‘significant benefits’ if there is a ‘loss of access to [communications] satellites,’ Shannon says. ‘It gives the battlegroup the ability to move data from one ship through BAMS to another ship.’

In discussion of a BAMS third variant, there is consideration of signals intelligence packages for intercepting and creating refined targets for precision weapons.  That capability will be influenced by the sensor capabilities offered by the Navy’s new P-8A patrol aircraft (replacing the P-3) and EPX sigint and electronic attack aircraft (replacing the EP-3E).

Electronic attack – primarily jamming of communications and sensors – is not yet a requirement for BAMS.

‘Would some of our platforms have the space, weight and  power [for electronic attack]?’ Shannon says. ‘It could. But we don’t have a requirement and it isn’t in our plans. BAMS will have ESM [electronic surveillance] so it will be able to detect emitters. In the future, a sigint package could give additional levels of specificity [about the type and location of emitters]. Its multi-mode radar will have both ISAR [moving targets] and SAR [stationary targets] capability which should help refine the target set.’

The Navy’s idea is to get the technologies into the field and in working with them, the un-thought of potential uses will reveal themselves.

‘We put hard points on the wings to hang pods, whether its for sigint or some other capability,’ Kessler says. ‘Of course, down the road, Navy UCAS will also have that.  We’ve tried, on our larger systems like Fire Scout and BAMS, to leave some degree of flexibility for future [internal and podded] sensors.’

‘Another operational pull that we get – from the Marine Corps in particular – is to find a way to resupply forward operational bases that are often in remote areas and hard to get to,’ Shannon says. ‘Convoys are vulnerable to IEDs, so the Marine Corps is looking for a UAS cargo variant. Can you use an unmanned helicopter to conduct autonomous resupply and thereby reduce the number of people on the road? The Marines are announcing a couple of awards for companies – the Boeing Humming Bird and Lockheed Martin’s KMAX to provide demonstration of a cargo helicopter with a basic cargo payload of 750 lb. at Afghanistan-representative altitudes – perhaps 10,000-15,000 ft.’


(Via Ares.)


from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 68
August 12, 2009

Secrecy News Blog:



If it wanted to, the Obama Administration could instantly increase oversight of the national security classification system by tasking the Office of Inspector General (IG) at each of the major classifying agencies to assume some responsibility for secrecy oversight. In coordination with the Information Security Oversight Office, those IGs could perform periodic audits of classification activity to ensure that agencies are complying with declared policies (the urgent need to revise those policies is a separate issue) and they could flag excessive use of secrecy in the course of their other duties, for further investigation by the ISOO.

In fact, the IGs already do some classification-related oversight, but only on a sporadic, ad hoc basis. In 1992, the Defense Department IG investigated and confirmed (pdf) an allegation made by the Federation of American Scientists that a secret nuclear rocket program called Timber Wind was improperly classified as an unacknowledged special access program.

But instead of combating wrongful secrecy, it seems that Inspectors General are more often called upon to investigate unauthorized disclosures of controlled information.

Most recently, the IG of the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) examined (pdf) the unintended publication of a report to the International Atomic Energy Agency listing U.S. civilian nuclear sites and facilities and marked as "sensitive." Secrecy News discovered the document on the GPO web site in late May, and it subsequently made headlines around the world. ("US Declares Nuclear Sites to the IAEA," Secrecy News, June 1, 2009.) After the New York Times and other news organizations picked up the story on June 3, "a torrent of media activity ensued," the GPO IG report said.

"Our investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of GPO or its employees," the IG concluded last week (as first reported by Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post, August 10). Rather, GPO simply acted at the direction of its client, the House of Representatives, which transmitted the report for publication.

The GPO IG did not independently evaluate the actual sensitivity of the document (large pdf), and did not inquire whether it disclosed any information that was not previously in the public domain or, if so, what the consequences were likely to be. (Our view is that while the report may be diplomatically sensitive, given that such national declarations to the IAEA are not normally published, it does not reveal sensitive technology or security information.) A separate investigation of the publication of the report on nuclear facilities is still being conducted by the General Accounting Office.

In another recent case, the Inspector General at the Library of Congress (LOC) was asked to investigate the unauthorized publication of thousands of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports last February by, a website which publishes confidential or restricted documents. Although more, and more recent, CRS reports had previously been disclosed by, FAS, and others, the audacity of the Wikileaks move set off alarms at CRS and among some in Congress.

"My question is, have you taken steps necessary to prevent it from happening again and determine how it is that it happened in the first place?" asked Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) at an April 29, 2009 House Appropriations Committee hearing (at p. 285 in a very large pdf file).

"We have left it for the IG to do that and to then report how it happened," replied CRS director Daniel Mulhollan.

This seems like an exceptionally poor use of the IG, especially since throughout Mr. Mulhollan's tenure the supposed confidentiality of most CRS reports has been routinely violated, without adverse effect and arguably to the benefit of CRS. Broad public disclosure of CRS reports has increased the Service's stature in the press and elsewhere, and has also permitted the correction of published errors in those reports. (CRS memoranda that are prepared for individual Members are generally protected more effectively than the CRS reports that are intended for general distribution.) For the past decade and longer, new CRS reports have been published for sale nearly every day by commercial vendors of CRS products such as PennyHill Press, Gallery Watch, and Lexis-Nexis-- yet somehow it is only free access for members of the public that triggered official outrage and led to an IG investigation.

The LOC Office of the IG did not respond to an inquiry from Secrecy News this week concerning the status or outcome of its investigation of the disclosure of CRS reports to Wikileaks.

As a rule, we believe IGs could be more productively employed by pursuing unnecessary or inappropriate restrictions on disclosure of government information. In particular, the forthcoming Obama executive order on national security classification could authorize and direct executive branch agency IGs to help identify cases of needless secrecy, and to help fix them.


The United States provided around $15.4 billion in overt aid to Pakistan between Fiscal Years 2002 and 2009, according to a newly updated Congressional Research Service tabulation. The U.S. aid included military training, equipment and other forms of assistance. An additional $3.6 billion is requested for FY 2010. See "Direct Overt U.S. Aid and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY2002-FY2010" (pdf), updated August 3, 2009.


The Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez "is moving forcefully to silence critics by introducing a Media Crimes bill that would give it sweeping authority to jail journalists, media executives, and bloggers who report on anything that the government considers to be harmful to state interests," said a new assessment (pdf) by the Intelligence Community's Open Source Center (OSC).

The Chavez government "is simultaneously moving to shut down more than 200 radio stations," the OSC report said, and may take over the opposition news station Globovision. "Silencing his critics would allow Chavez to completely control the media message, but it would also deprive him of his long-standing scapegoat of what he describes as the oligarchic media," the OSC said.

Like most other OSC analyses, the latest report has not been approved for public release, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See "Venezuela -- Chavez Moves to Silence Opposition Media," Open Source Center, August 3, 2009.


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