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20 Aug 20. DOD Can Lead Microelectronics Manufacturing Back to U.S.. For a variety of reasons, while many of the microelectronics available in the United States are designed here, they are manufactured overseas. This presents problems for national security, and for the Defense Department, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment said.
Ellen M. Lord discussed the state of microelectronics during a prerecorded “fireside chat” today as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative Summit.
“While we still design components, [field-programmable gate arrays], [application-specific integrated circuits], and printed circuit cards in the U.S., the majority of fabrication, packaging, testing etc., is done offshore,” Lord said. “We can no longer clearly identify the pedigree of our microelectronics. Therefore, we can no longer ensure that backdoors, malicious code or data exfiltration commands aren’t embedded in our code.”
The United States must find a path to domestic sources for the important microelectronics that are used in defense weapons systems now, and for the microelectronics that will be needed for future use, Lord said.
“I believe that we in defense need to lead,” she said. “Working with my colleagues in the administration, both inside and outside of DOD, we are charting a path forward to bring microelectronics fabrication, packaging and testing back to the U.S. in order to ensure a secure and resilient microelectronics supply chain.”
The U.S. government, through public and private partnerships, can provide capital and a “demand signal” for domestically manufactured, tested and packaged microelectronics to encourage manufacturers to bring microelectronics production back home, Lord said.
“Then we partner with other industrial sectors to sustain that,” she said. “And we have a pretty strong demand signal in order to be able to do that.”
Over the last several decades, Lord said, things such as governmental policies and regulations, environmental constraints, safety constraints, wages, and taxes drove up the cost to manufacture microelectronics in the United States, and that this was one of the causes of industry moving manufacturing overseas.
“That’s what we need to reverse,” she said.
The Defense Department isn’t just interested in reshoring microelectronics manufacturing, Lord said. The department also has an interest in developing the talent needed to manufacture microelectronics.
“DOD not only drives research and development, but we also work on developing the workforce of the future we need,” she said. “We can partner with our other government agencies and together fund schools in terms of education … to develop the workforce we need to be able to deal with the automation to produce these, to continue to design. If you take a holistic approach, I think we can create a sustainable microelectronics industry, but it’s not just about that first plant with some equipment in it. It’s about the workforce. It’s about all the policy, nationally, to make this attractive.”(Source: Defense News)
19 Aug 20. Skyborg: Bold Example Or Another Joint Mistake? Is the Air Force about to make the same mistakes with Skyborg that it made with the F-22 and F-35? Sure, they created the most capable aircraft in the world, but they neglected to give them the capacity to share their assessment of the air battlespace situation with our other fighters—and sharing data is the crux of joint operations.
While the Air Force is moving full speed ahead on Skyborg, we don’t know if it’s working with the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) to ensure data sharing — interoperability — in the program. And that goes for the Navy and its efforts to develop its own autonomous platforms.
This is especially troubling since unmanned systems will be a major part of the Defense Department’s future force structure, and Skyborg, the Air Force’s autonomous combat drone program, is on the leading edge of that effort.
Last month, the Air Force announced a big step forward, awarding four companies contracts to develop prototypes. At this pace, the program will be on track to deliver one or more unmanned combat aircraft for flight evaluation by 2023.
Technologies developed within the Skyborg program will inform a range of future Defense Department of Defense investments as the Pentagon prepares to dominate contested environments such as airspace within the umbrella of Chinese and Russian surface-to-air missile systems (SAMS). Success will require all the services to evolve joint concepts of war-fighting that team manned platforms with autonomous weapons systems.
Skyborg is expected to blaze the trail for this sort of manned/unmanned teaming effort, so it is important the program embrace joint and interoperable processes and touchstones throughout its development.
A layered approach comprised of NGI, Aegis BMD and THAAD could be available in the mid to late-2020s, which strengthens our defense against a rogue state missile attack.
Unfortunately, the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) and its governing body, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), have created an overly burdensome process that the services often try to stiff-arm. The process often fields extraordinary capabilities, but its complexity drives the services to find “workarounds” that then allow interoperability gaps to form along the way. It can take years of effort—and large sums of money—to close those gaps.
One example is the F-22A fighter. It is the most dominant air-superiority fighter ever developed. Yet it was fielded with an intra-flight data link (IFDL) that prevented it from sharing data—and, thus, its extraordinary air battlespace picture—with fourth generation fighters.
It was not an isolated incident. When the F-35 was developed, its Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) couldn’t share its data with the F-22A either.
A seamless sharing of threat and targeting details is critical to winning a fight against a foe who possesses a numerical advantage and near technological parity. So, how did it come to pass that America’s most advanced combat aircraft are not able to talk to each other?
A war with China would lean heavily on joint concepts like Distributed Maritime Operations and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations, both of which rely on intra- and inter-service interoperability. The United States can’t afford for Skyborg to suffer the same mistakes endured with the F-22 and F-35. And yet, it appears the Air Force is heading down that same path.
There’s one worrisome sign. There is no mention of working out the interoperability opportunities or challenges Skyborg presents with the other services or with the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (the organization created to meld together the Pentagon’s artificial intelligence efforts).
The Navy is equally guilty in this regard. It recently announced formation of a Rapid Autonomy Integration Lab (RAIL) to speed development of its autonomous platforms. Its announcement makes no mention of linking the lab’s efforts with either Skyborg or the JAIC, whose mission is specifically to integrate “technology development, with the requisite policies, knowledge, processes and relationships to ensure long term success and scalability.”
As unmanned systems proliferate across the US military, it is both operationally critical and fiscally prudent to ensure that Skyborg fits into and enhances department-wide investments.
With recent history as a guide, the Air Force and Navy must mount a conscious effort to build interoperability into their future unmanned fleets. If they are doing this, both services would do well to make it clear that their efforts are being smartly coordinated with both the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and the Joint Requirements Oversight Council. This would go a long way toward all. (Source: glstrade.com/Breaking Defense.com)
18 Aug 20. Navy Quietly Starts Development of Next-Generation Carrier Fighter; Plans Call for Manned, Long-Range Aircraft. After nearly a decade of fits and starts, the Navy has quietly initiated work to develop its first new carrier-based fighter in almost 20 years, standing up a new program office and holding early discussions with industry, USNI News has learned.
The multi-billion-dollar effort to replace the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and electronic attack EA-18G Growlers beginning in the 2030s is taking early steps to quickly develop a new manned fighter to extend the reach of the carrier air wing and bring new relevance to the Navy’s fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
Navy acquisition chief James Geurts told reporters last week that the service created a program office for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) initiative.
“We’re working to outline that program and the acquisition approach and all that as we speak,” Geurts said.
Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) recent establishment of the NGAD program office comes as the Pentagon faces a constrained budget environment while trying to adjust to a new defense strategy focused on combatting Russian and Chinese threats in the Indo-Pacific theater.
A New Manned Fighter
The service is likely moving toward the pursuit of a manned fighter aircraft that would include many of the capabilities on the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter, but with updated technology and expanded range, Bryan Clark, a naval analyst and senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, told USNI News this week.
“The idea would be that you would take those same capabilities forward and have them be built into an architecture that’s designed around a 21st-century model. So you’d get more seamless fusion and integration of all these sensor inputs, and better ways of interacting with the pilot, and more incorporation of autonomous operations,” Clark said. “So even more so than with the F-35, you’d end up with an aircraft where the pilot is really operating a computer that is flying the airplane and operating its systems, more so than today.”
The Navy plans to seek a wholly new design, rather than a derivative design of aircraft already on the production line, for the sixth-generation fighter, despite the service receiving suggestions to combine Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and Boeing’s F/A-18 designs with modern technology for the future aircraft, Clark said.
“I think that’s not a great idea because it’s going to be inherently more costly than simply a derivative design in an environment where the Navy’s not going to have the kind of budget flexibility that it’s had in the recent past,” Clark said.
Compared to the F-35’s 700 nautical miles of combat radius, Clark said his “impression” is that the Navy hopes to build a new fighter with a radius of more than 1,000 nautical miles.
While the service’s objective for fielding the new fighter aircraft had been the 2030s, when the Super Hornets would begin to reach the end of their service lives, the Navy will try to speed up that timeline because the Super Hornets are likely to reach their maximum flight hours sooner than previously anticipated, according to Clark.
The combination of desires for program acceleration and a new design could be difficult for the Navy at a time when the Pentagon is preparing for flat or declining budgets.
“The Navy is trying to accelerate the timeline to get to NGAD so that they can begin fielding the new airplane to replace the Super Hornets, which, … when they want a new design that incorporates what’s probably going to have to be a new engine, they’re driving the technology risk higher. And at the same time they’re going to ask for an accelerated schedule that increases the schedule risk in an environment where they don’t have additional money to cover those,” Clark said.
“Normally, if you increase the level of technological sophistication or you want to accelerate the program, you pay more for it, right, so you just throw more money at the problem,” he continued. “They don’t have more money to throw at the problem, so you’re creating challenges in all three dimensions of a new program: cost, schedule and performance.”
Pentagon and Navy officials have repeatedly referenced impending budget constraints when discussing programs and spending over the last year. In addition to those concerns, the Navy in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget submission sought to curtail the Super Hornet program and make FY 2021 the last year the service would buy the aircraft, at the end of the current multi-year contract in place with manufacturer Boeing. At the time, the Navy said it would save $4.5bn across its five-year budget plan and put the funds toward the NGAD effort.
While the Navy has not pegged any cost assessments to the NGAD initiative, a January 2020 report from the Congressional Budget Office estimated the service could spend approximately $67bn to replace the F/A-18E/F fleet from 2032 to 2050 and $22bn to replace the Growlers.
“That estimate does not include the potentially substantial cost to field new jammer pods or upgrade existing ones that might be carried by a future electronic-attack aircraft,” the report reads. “For example, the Navy currently estimates that 128 Next Generation Jammer pods that it plans to buy for the EA-18G will cost about $4bn.”
New Program Office
After the Navy wrapped up an analysis of alternatives for NGAD in July 2019, the defense secretary’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office issued the AOA’s “sufficiency” in September 2019, Connie Hempel, a spokeswoman for NAVAIR, told USNI News.
To kick off the NGAD initiative, the Navy formally stood up the Next Generation Air Dominance program office, which the service is calling PMA-230, in May and tapped Capt. Al Mousseau to serve as the program manager. Mousseau officially started the job in May, after previously serving as the program manager for the Mission Integration and Special Programs Office, also known as PMA-298.
The Navy has already begun convening industry days for NGAD, according to a source familiar with the ongoing process. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are the three likely competitors for the manned fighter, USNI News understands.
Asked when the Navy plans to issue a request for information, Hempel said the service is working on underlying documents that would inform future steps and timelines for the program.
The Navy has provided few details in recent years as to what the successor for the Super Hornets and Growlers may look like, but the service in 2016 began forecasting plans to seek a family-of-systems approach, now known as NGAD, instead of buying one fighter aircraft, an initiative known as F/A-XX.
The family of systems approach could see the Navy going down a path similar to the Air Force’s NGAD pursuits, according to Clark, in which the Navy buys a manned fighter and uses different unmanned systems to supplement the mission.
“They could say, ‘well maybe we back off on some of the requirements when it comes to weapons payload, and maybe stealth or something, but so we keep the speed. We keep the range. We keep the C4ISR sophistication, but we relieve some of the requirements in terms of how much it carries and maybe how penetrating it can be into any airspace,’” Clark said. “And we offload those to unmanned systems, so there’s this family of systems now that instead of having five F-35s go do some mission, you’d send two of these new airplanes with some unmanned systems to do the same mission.”
Because the new manned combatant would require stealth capabilities, speed, and range, carrying heavy equipment like missiles could fall to the unmanned platforms within the family of systems.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said at a forum in Washington, D.C. late last year that the Navy’s future aviation combatant could include a combination of both manned and unmanned systems, but he conceded he did not yet know what kind of platform would be used to launch the aircraft, leaving open the possibility that they could operate off of something other than today’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
Despite the Navy sketching out a plan for its new fighter aircraft, Clark argued the service still needs to contend with an adversary’s ability to use lower-cost long-range missiles to target aircraft carriers.
“The idea of just continuing to build new manned aircraft with longer ranges to try to overcome the ability of a China or an Iran even or a Russia to shoot long-range missiles at the carrier, it’s sort of a losing game because the missiles are cheap,” he said. “The airplanes are expensive. So you’re in a bad cost exchange situation.”
Combining the manned fighter with unmanned systems could help the service confront this issue.
“That may be a way to get around this cost exchange problem, where maybe the airplane doesn’t need to fly as far,” Clark said.
“You know, the airplane could go a thousand miles, and it doesn’t matter if the enemy has a two-thousand-mile anti-ship ballistic missile because your manned airplane is not going to fly that whole distance. He’s going to stop at a thousand miles and then these unmanned systems go the rest of the way.” (Source: glstrade.com/USNI)
19 Aug 20. Crucial Combat Tests on F-35 Jets Slip Further on Covid-19 Delay. A phase of rigorous combat testing meant to evaluate how well the next-generation F-35 jet will fare against sophisticated Russian, Chinese and Iranian air defense threats has slipped five more months due to Covid-19-related delays. Versions of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 have flown hundreds of aerial exercises, deployed for overseas operations by the Marines and Air Force and attacked Taliban targets in Afghanistan. Despite all that, the $398bn fighter program hasn’t been evaluated against the most stressing threats in simulators meant to replicate and then go beyond what’s likely to occur in real-world flying. A one-month, 64-sortie simulator exercise will be the capstone of a testing regime required by law before Lockheed can proceed into a full-rate production phase and assure customers from South Korea to Poland that the plane is effective and can be maintained. It’s also a key hurdle to clear before the Pentagon can buy the bulk of the aircraft destined for the U.S. military. The latest delay means the program won’t complete all its combat testing until year’s end. A decision to move the program into full-production — the most important phase in the life of a weapons systems and typically the most lucrative for a contractor– would probably be stalled beyond a March 2021 target. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Bloomberg News)
18 Aug 20. U.S. Must Retain Technology Edge in Face of Threats. The United States must retain its technological edge to outmatch China and Russia in the great power competition, the acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering said in recorded remarks during the virtual 2020 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Electronics Resurgence Initiative Summit.
Michael J. Kratsios said an emboldened and increasingly aggressive Chinese Communist Party has been building and deploying some of the most advanced weapons in the world, while using their newfound economic and technological power to undermine the safety, security and freedom of the United States and its allies and partners.
Nonetheless, he said in today’s summit, the United States still has the most advanced innovation ecosystem in the world. “The federal government, private sector and academia all operate in concert to produce advances other nations can’t even dream of,” he added.
However, adversaries such as China “spend more time, treasure and talent stealing our ideas rather than creating their own,” he said. “We must protect that innovation.”
Kratsios outlined two approaches the Defense Department is taking to foster innovation:
- In the first approach, DOD is working closely with innovators in the private sector and academia, seeking new, game-changing technologies. For example, in June, DOD announced 5G network experimentation at five installations. By the end of this fall, Kratsios said, testing will begin at seven more. The development of 5G will also enhance augmented reality and virtual training, he said, and will make air operations centers safer, more mobile and more secure. These and other advances will improve warfighting capabilities and will also aid the private sector, Kratsios said, as small businesses and startups are increasingly taking the lead in many cutting-edge technologies that have applications that could assist warfighters.
However, small companies that are unaccustomed to working with DOD have faced challenges in navigating the complex and voluminous acquisition and contracting paperwork, he acknowledged. To mitigate the paperwork problems small businesses often face, the department recently created the Defense Innovation Unit, which has the necessary authorities to streamline the process.
DIU has successfully engaged small companies in such areas as machine learning to predict component failure; and in remote unmanned, underwater vehicles, he noted.
- The second approach to fostering innovation, Kratsios said, is engaging closely with like-minded nations that also value freedom, democracy and fair competition. Partnerships in research and engineering with allies and friends, along with American companies and universities, include developing new technologies in areas like microelectronics, network improvements, hypersonics, quantum computing and artificial intelligence, he said. (Source: US DoD)
18 Aug 20. The defense industry remains in dire straits. Congress must pass another relief package. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, recently wrote in an op-ed on Defense News that Congress “cannot panic and hand out blank checks to defense contractors.” They were concerned with a “lack of detail” in the Pentagon’s stimulus funding request.
Pentagon officials have responded with said requested detail. It’s clear the defense, shipbuilding and aerospace industrial base — an “essential” workforce as designated by the Department of Homeland Security — is indeed in need of help. These critical firms need financial support to the tune of about $11bn to support more than 100,000 direct jobs. Nor should the military have to take it out of hide, as suggested by some.
According to the Defense Department, the data from industry is showing 30-40 percent inefficiency across the defense industrial base, but certain sectors like shipbuilding are experiencing 50-60 percent inefficiency. At shipyards, for example, blue-collar worker attendance ranges from just half to 70 percent. Other short-term sectors at risk include textile manufacturers, body armor suppliers and small business electronics suppliers, who feed guidance systems and wiring harnesses in Army vehicles and aircraft.
A sampling of specific reasons for inefficiency include:
- Confirmed cases or quarantines
- Government facility closure/standdown test delays
- Closures due to travel restrictions
- Logistic implications caused by travel restrictions requiring commercial freight
- Availability of parts and supplies
- High absentee rates
- Local and state lockdowns
- Foreign government lockdowns
- Supplier shutdowns
Pentagon leaders are worried about the near term, but also permanent damage. Officials are “concerned with a potential loss of critical labor skills,” such as welders. Shipbuilders are in dire straits given the “significant touch labor” required to build a ship and “greater facility impact from social distancing.” The potential shutdown of one of the “big seven” private shipyards is a real risk right now.
The Virginia-class attack submarine is currently experiencing delays in its production line, as Newport News Shipbuilding has “prioritized its available workforce on supporting maintenance for in-service submarines and aircraft carriers.” If electricians, engineers and solderers shift from the Virginia assembly line elsewhere, the work is slowed and “the opportunity for the cost to come down on each successive submarine hull is diminished.” Congress has repeatedly supported this program above recent budget requests and presumably cares greatly about this unanticipated cost overrun through no fault of nor negligence by the contractor.
The Air Force is experiencing major program delays due to the impact on the aerospace industrial base — both primes and suppliers. Programs impacted include the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and KC-46 tanker due to facility shutdowns in the U.S., England, Italy and Japan. These two aircraft programs will likely miss major milestones — therefore delaying the time when they become available to the war fighter.
Aircraft engine-maker GE Aviation is a “fragility concern” across the armed forces. For the Air Force, the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile and the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile are “being impacted by reduced workforce and facility availability.” The Small Diameter Bomb motor supplier is being pulled to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency with motors for hospital beds. Aerospace firms with commercial work are reporting problems given the massive decline in commercial demand, which affects defense.
Contrary to the assertion that the Pentagon doesn’t need more stimulus money to support contractors, the services are “concerned about large commercial companies, like Boeing and GE that are critical to our defense industrial base facing negative cash flow and other associated impacts from COVID-19.”
Small businesses and subcontractors are particularly vulnerable as they have far less slack to respond to crises. Many live contract to contract, as indicated by a 2018 Pentagon report. According to the Defense Department, “small businesses … have been the hit the hardest due to unfamiliarity that [the] defense industrial base is exempt from most local shelter-in-place orders.”
The Pentagon’s request for more stimulus money is not a case of pork for primes. This industry has “a notably high rate of subcontracted work flow and systems with high component volumes, driving job loss directly to program partners and the supply chain.” So while virtually all of the Pentagon’s missiles are built by two primes, 98 percent of the subcontractors making parts for U.S. munitions are the only source for these items. If these unique businesses fail, there may not be any replacements.
A study last year by George Mason University found “contractor workforce challenges have a direct impact on the government’s ability to ramp up quickly.” Budget fluctuations are particularly hard on small companies that “do not have large enough portfolios to shift people between projects. The contractor workforce loses skills or move on.” These firms operate with “thin margins and low lines of credit.”
The additional costs to respond to COVID-19 were not part of the original contracts the companies are currently performing, and warrant stimulus money. Hopefully, Chairman Smith and Sen. Durbin now agree. (Source: Defense News)
18 Aug 20. The government spent tens of millions on a treatment for chemical weapons exposure. The company that makes it won’t say whether it works. In June 2017, a director of regulatory affairs at the government contractor Emergent BioSolutions told colleagues that she objected to claims the company was making in a brochure for one of its newer products: a drug injector for victims of exposure to nerve agents.
“Functionality testing has not been successful in this device,” Brenda Wolling wrote in comments obtained by The Washington Post. Regarding a claim that the injector was designed to withstand “challenging operational and logistical conditions,” she wrote, “No testing ever conducted.” Even to describe the product as a “treatment of nerve agent poisoning,” Wolling wrote, “implies that we have efficacy data showing it works.”
Three months later, the Trump administration awarded Emergent a $20m no-bid contract to supply those very injectors to the State Department. The firm later received a second contract, worth up to $100m, to supply the agency with more of the injectors — sold under the name Trobigard — and related treatments.
A Post examination found that after a number of production problems, Emergent last year quietly began to recall tens of thousands of Trobigard units from foreign buyers and removed Trobigard from the official product line on its website and in its securities filings. The examination shows that Emergent secured contracts to supply an unproven medical treatment at a time when the mission of protecting U.S. diplomats against chemical attacks had taken on fresh urgency, in an effort the government code-named Project Mandrake.
The Post obtained internal company records, reviewed emails from Emergent staffers and government officials, and interviewed nine people involved in making, selling or buying the Trobigard injectors.
Separate from its work for the State Department, Emergent is among the largest suppliers of vaccines to the Strategic National Stockpile. The company built its market position by acquiring biodefense competitors and the rights to various treatments, as it did in the case of Trobigard.
Nina DeLorenzo, an Emergent spokeswoman, said in a statement that Wolling’s views were “taken seriously” but “do not and did not necessarily represent the company’s position.”
DeLorenzo said the brochure on which Wolling commented “is old and has been superseded.” Asked whether it had been shown to State Department officials, she said: “We are contractually restricted from discussing this.”
deficiencies in auto-injectors sold to the United Arab Emirates. (Obtained by The Washington Post)
DeLorenzo attributed the recalls of Trobigard from the militaries of the United Arab Emirates and Italy to a flaw detected by Emergent’s “rigorous quality processes” in a small minority of injector devices She said no injectors sold to the State Department were affected.
DeLorenzo said the subsequent decision to move Trobigard from the “products” section of Emergent’s website and securities filings to a “pipeline” of products in development was part of a “wide-ranging internal review” and was not due to any “specific concerns about the product.”
Asked directly whether Trobigard works, DeLorenzo said, “While we are restricted in what claims we can make about Trobigard under applicable law, it is considered by government customers to be an essential defense against a chemical weapons attack and we stand by it.” She added, “We have conducted studies to assure ourselves and our customers that the auto-injector device will perform as our government customers expect.”
Although Emergent is seeking approval for Trobigard from health authorities in Belgium, it has not sought approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — a circumstance that bars the product’s sale in the United States. The State Department told Emergent that it had obtained a legal opinion from the FDA’s general counsel saying the department could buy Trobigard for use by U.S. diplomats overseas, according to a company record.
A State Department spokesman, Ruben Harutunian, declined to comment on The Post’s findings.
In addition to the State Department deals, Emergent has been awarded contracts worth up to $75m by the Defense Department to develop other injectors for potential use by troops to counter certain kinds of chemical attacks.
New to the market
Government officials, including at the State Department and the national stockpile, had previously bought FDA-approved auto-injectors of nerve agent antidotes from Meridian Medical Technologies, a division of Pfizer. But in 2013, Meridian halted manufacture of its injectors after some were found to be faulty. This set off shortages across the government as the devices expired and could not be restocked.
In August 2015, Emergent, primarily a vaccine maker at the time, entered the drug-injector market. The company bought the rights to an injector from an Austrian firm in a licensing deal and rebranded it as Trobigard. Emergent said the Austrian firm previously sold the injector with the same drug combination to military buyers.
Over the following year, Emergent secured contracts with governments such as the UAE and Kuwait for tens of thousands of Trobigard devices, which are spring-loaded “auto-injectors” that allow individuals to administer the antidote to themselves merely by pressing the injector firmly against a thigh.
But little testing was performed to check that the drug combination worked, The Post found. Wolling, the regulatory director, warned colleagues in a June 2016 email to “exclude efficacy claims” about Trobigard from pitches to potential buyers.
“We have not substantiated that this co-formulated product is efficacious or safe, and have never tested against nerve agents as an antidote,” Wolling wrote.
Referring to the two drugs in Trobigard, DeLorenzo acknowledged that “Emergent has not tested the safety or efficacy of atropine and obidoxime co-formulated.”
“Emergent made clear to government agencies interested in procuring Trobigard that they were doing so based on their own determination of need, without this type of safety or efficacy data from Emergent,” DeLorenzo told The Post.
But she noted that the combination was consistent with a recommendation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that nerve agent attacks be countered by administering atropine and an oxime, a class of drugs that includes obidoxime. The drugs in Trobigard also are listed as treatments for nerve agent poisoning in a federal government emergency health database, and they previously have been combined in injectors sold by smaller companies overseas.
Wolling, who has since left Emergent, declined to comment.
In October 2016, Dan Mallon, then an Emergent executive on the Trobigard program, acknowledged to colleagues that Emergent sales representatives had made unsupported claims about Trobigard to clients and said the practice would end, according to two former company employees familiar with his remarks. The former employees, like several others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matters publicly.
Mallon, who also has left Emergent, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
DeLorenzo said Emergent initially used sales materials produced by Trobigard’s prior owner but later “upgraded” them. Asked whether unsupported claims were made to the State Department, DeLorenzo said Emergent “responded truthfully and accurately” to a solicitation.
By 2017, production problems had begun to arise. A discoloration was found on some Trobigard injector units after sterilization. The “red spots” issue, as it was known internally, led to a company review, Emergent documents show.
DeLorenzo said the cause was a chemical used inside the injectors, which was occasionally found deposited on the outside of devices. She said that the discoloration had “no adverse impact to product quality beyond visual appearance” but that discolored units were discarded.
“We have made improvements to reduce the number of times a situation like this can occur,” she said.
More concerning was that Emergent scientists also discovered that greater physical force was needed to activate some injectors than was expected, according to company records and interviews. Former Emergent employees said the problem was so persistent that some in the Trobigard team had T-shirts made with the slogan: “May the activation force be with you.”
Sales were disrupted. In January 2017, a senior Emergent executive wrote to the UAE acknowledging “production challenges.” Emergent sent the UAE 20,000 injectors needing extra activation force on the condition that they be labeled “emergency use only.”
In an email to colleagues in March 2017, Mallon said that the source of the problem had not been identified and that “the root cause may be multi-variate.”
DeLorenzo said Emergent “encountered some issues with activation force that have since been addressed.” She said a company study found “men and women with varying hand and arm strength” were able to use the devices. “All pharmaceutical products and drug-device combinations encounter hurdles in development,” she said.
In June of 2017, Wolling raised the flags about the assertions in the Trobigard product brochure. She posted 17 comments on a PDF version of the document that was circulated to colleagues. Also among them was an objection to a claim that the injector devices had been “designed to meet military requirements.”
Around this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention needed to replenish stocks of injectors in the national stockpile. After conducting market research, it opted for a rival product from a firm in Israel. The Israeli firm, Rafa Laboratories, received an emergency FDA approval for its product in April 2017.
Unusual steps taken
By September 2017, State Department officials were increasingly alarmed at chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime and the Islamic State and were anxious to boost protections for U.S. diplomats. The agency gave Emergent a one-year contract worth $20.5m to supply auto-injectors. Under the deal, Emergent delivered 456,845 auto-injectors — enough to provide several for each of 58,000 Foreign Service officers and local employees overseas.
No bid competition was held, on the grounds that there was “unusual and compelling urgency” after Pfizer’s production halt, according to contract records. The injectors were needed to protect officials who “operate in countries with active and/or assumed chemical [redacted] programs,” the records show.
“It is vital to rapidly establish new sources of autoinjector countermeasures to maintain the safety of deployed Department employees,” the documents said.
Emergent’s 2017 deal with the State Department entailed a sharp increase in spending by the department above earlier plans. In August 2015, the department had been preparing to pay Meridian $750,000 per year for five years to replace expiring devices, according to records of an abandoned deal.
The Emergent deal called for replacing the State Department’s entire stock of Meridian injectors with Trobigard, a department spokesperson said.
The lack of FDA approval for Trobigard led both sides of the deal to take unusual steps, according to former company employees with knowledge of the arrangement.
Rather than selling Trobigard through its company structure in the United States, company documents show, Emergent used a small subsidiary in Britain. Injectors were assembled in Germany and Switzerland and transported to U.S. embassies directly from Europe.
Six weeks after the State Department signed the deal, Emergent’s first study of Trobigard’s drugs was completed. The company-funded study in the Netherlands tested the drugs on guinea pigs exposed to sarin gas and recorded positive findings. As they published their work in a scientific journal, the study’s authors warned that the results “cannot be directly extrapolated to the human situation.”
Securing further orders from the State Department was an explicit part of Emergent’s company strategy. A corporate strategy document for 2018 said the company aimed to “secure State as anchor tenant for Trobigard product” and “maximize funding for State” to buy more products. Such funding depends on appropriations by Congress.
In November 2017, Emergent hosted senior State Department officials at a facility in southern Germany where Trobigard is manufactured. The trip left a good impression on William Walters, who is a physician and was the senior department official overseeing the contracts, according to another official.
“Dr. Walters and team enjoyed the visit and facility walk more than I thought possible,” the U.S. official, Klemens Schmidt, told Emergent executives in an email the following Monday. “You hit a home run with the entire event.”
Trouble with the product
In August 2018, regular testing by Emergent revealed that some sample devices retained from batches sold to the UAE failed to deliver a full dose. “Plunger did not fully expel the drug contained in the cartridge,” said part of the text on a slide included in an internal presentation to executives.
An internal inquiry blamed an “inadequate silicone layer in the barrel of the cartridges,” records show. Emergent formally recalled eight batches of the auto-injectors from the UAE, beginning with 61,000 units in January 2019.
Emergent’s contract with the State Department said it must report “any issues with the safety and efficacy of delivered or ordered products and/or manufacturing or quality of the production lines” within two business days.
Company leaders concluded that the UAE recall did not trigger this obligation because batches used for the State Department’s orders were not affected, current and former company officials said.
DeLorenzo declined to comment on that decision. “We are contractually restricted from commenting on our interactions with the State Department,” she said.
Emergent’s management team was told of the recall in a Jan. 24, 2019, email from two senior executives. The email was labeled “for internal use only” and noted that the company would not be making a public statement.
Emergent was then on the verge of securing another deal with the State Department. Late the following month , the company announced a new contract, for up to $100m, to supply the department with more Trobigard, lotion for treating chemical burns and other treatments . Emergent was the sole bidder.
Around that time, two senior U.S. officials assisted Emergent as it sought to sell Trobigard to foreign governments, The Post found.
In March 2019, Walters told an executive at Emergent that his counterparts in Japan wanted to buy auto-injectors and offered to broker an introduction, according to a State Department official. Walters declined to comment.
After a visit to Japan, President Trump’s health preparedness chief, Robert Kadlec, an assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, also advised Emergent’s top in-house lobbyist, Christopher Frech, about the potential opportunity in Japan, according to two people familiar with the matter.
A spokeswoman for Kadlec, Carol Danko, said, “Dr. Kadlec was contacted by Japanese senior government officials asking for American suppliers of medical countermeasures in preparation for the Olympic Games, and Kadlec provided them contacts with multiple suppliers.”
Records show that Emergent is the largest contractor to Kadlec’s office at HHS, which now controls the national stockpile. In the years before he joined the administration, Kadlec was a paid consultant to Emergent and formed a start-up firm with Emergent’s chairman. Kadlec and Emergent previously told The Post that their past work together has no impact on Kadlec’s work at HHS.
Before pandemic, Trump’s stockpile chief put focus on biodefense. An old client benefited.
DeLorenzo declined to say whether Japan ultimately bought Trobigard.
Further testing in May 2019 found that samples drawn from Trobigard injectors sold to Italy showed problems similar to those that led to the UAE recall. Six batches of the injectors provided to Italy were recalled. In this case, the company alerted the State Department and other customers.
DeLorenzo said the company concluded that the silicone problem was “strictly limited” to the batches that were recalled. “Emergent continues to monitor Trobigard batches for conformance to the product specifications throughout the product’s shelf life,” she said.
In July, Emergent leaders ordered that Trobigard sales materials be scrapped and that the device be moved to a portion of the company’s website that lists products in development, the company confirmed. They also told staffer to make sure all future sales materials for Trobigard were approved by the company’s medical, legal and regulatory departments.
Emergent put together evidence that all injectors bought by the State Department were safe, former employees said. Government officials ultimately agreed. In September 2019, the State Department authorized the payment of a $10 m contract installment to Emergent. (Source: Washington Post)
17 Aug 20. SOCOM blew more than $800m on gear it wasn’t even sure it needed. U.S. Special Operations Command spent hundreds of millions of dollars on specialized equipment over two years, despite the fact that the command wasn’t even sure they needed it, according to a new audit from the Defense Department inspector general.
The DoD Office of the Inspector General audit, publicly released on Friday, set out to examine whether Special Operations-Peculiar (SO-P) equipment was thoroughly assessed as meeting mission requirements ahead of fielding to special operations forces from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2019. SO-P equipment specifically refers to fancy tech unique to SOCOM units and runs the gamut from communications and surveillance gear to specialized vehicles and aircraft.
The audit covered 10 of SOCOM’s most expensive programs, totaling more than $1.4bn and included: the AC-130J Ghost Rider Precision Strike Package Modification ($659.1m); the wearable Tactical Local Area Network: Field Computing Device ($136.8m); Small Glide Munition ($53.1m); and Non-Standard Commercial Vehicle ($145.5m); among others.
Of those 10 SO-P programs, only four, valued at around $494.1m, were either completely validated by SOCOM personnel through testing and evaluation or at least fielded with their key performance shortfalls logged by SOCOM personnel for future adjustments.
But for the remaining six SO-P programs that culminated in the fielding of fresh gear — valued at an eye-popping $815.8m — SOCOM personnel “did not verify” whether the gear had passed the required testing and evaluation prior to fielding to special operations forces, meaning the equipment was fielded “without verifying that the equipment meets user needs,” according to the audit.
Translation: SOCOM fielded hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment without ensuring that it actually met special operations forces’ needs for a particular mission set.
You’d think that the command responsible for training and equipping the U.S. military’s most elite forces might pay closer attention to the efficacy of its expensive equipment, but the DoD OIG report details exactly how sloppy the testing and evaluation process for some gear truly was. Consider this little excerpt on the Next Generation Tactical Communications program:
The USSOCOM program manager for Next Generation Tactical Communications program provided T&E documentation for the KPP that consisted of e-mails between a user and the equipment contractor in which the user stated that the equipment “worked great.” The e-mail communication did not provide sufficient information or evidence that the KPP was tested or passed T&E; therefore USSOCOM could not verify that KPP was tested and meet the requirements of the KPP outlined in the capability document.
This isn’t the first time SOCOM has run into trouble with the DoD OIG over the management of its SO-P programs. In 2018, a similar audit found that SOCOM bought at least $26.3m in extra gear ranging from handheld radios to night vision goggles.
“For example, USSOCOM did not identify that the U.S. Army Special Operations Command had 17,571 handheld radios according to its property records but was allocated only 13,351 in the capability documents, for an excess of 4,220 radios,” the DoD OIG reported at the time. “USSOCOM did not identify excess SO-P equipment because the authorized allowance and allocation data in the [USSOCOM Table of Equipment Distribution and Allowances] were not accurate or complete, and could not be reconciled with inventory.”
After years of mismanagement, it appears that SOCOM is finally paying a price. As National Defense Magazine notes, President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget request included just $2.3bn for procurement for SOCOM, 12 percent reduction compared to 2020, and a 26 percent drop compared to 2019.
“The FY 2021 budget for [Special Operations Forces] investments procures, modernizes, and/or modifies SOF-peculiar aviation, mobility, and maritime platforms, weapons, ordnance, and communications equipment,” the DoD said in its budget overview, per National Defense. “The FY 2021 budget sustains SOF growth and readiness, and increases lethality through modernization and recapitalization, and investing in new technologies.”
Part of this budget reduction is likely due to the Pentagon’s reorientation from counterinsurgency and counterterrorism in the Middle East and North Africa — areas where SOCOM has regularly served as the tip of the spear — towards so-called “great power competition” against more traditional adversaries like Russia and China.
But as one expert rightly pointed out to National Defense, the reduction also means a harsher spotlight on how SOCOM procures and evaluates fresh gear and equipment — and, potentially, more attention to how the command fails to evaluate its needs amid a slowly-changing mission set. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/https://taskandpurpose.com/)
17 Aug 20. Defense revenues of the top 100 defense companies in the world climbed for a fourth straight year, pushed upward by U.S. defense spending growth combined with strong foreign military sales.
Fiscal 2019 defense revenues recorded in Defense News’ Top 100 list totaled $524bn, up about 7 percent from $488bn in fiscal 2018, according to numbers compiled by Defense News as part of the annual Top 100 list.
“The single most striking thing about these data is the year-over-year growth, the median of which is 7 percent,” said Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Steven Grundman. “For an industry generally regarded as mature, revenue growth that runs at two times global GDP is downright sporty.”
Click here to see the Defense News Top 100 list. https://people.defensenews.com/top-100/
The defense industry remained top heavy, as the top 10 firms accounted for 50 percent of total defense revenue on this year’s list, and the top 25 companies accounted for about 75 percent of the total.
Geographically, U.S. firms made up seven of the top 10, and 10 of the top 25. The combined defense revenue of the 41 U.S. firms in the Top 100 list comprised more than half of the total defense revenue.
China this year had five firms in the top 15 companies versus six last year. Eight Chinese firms made the Top 100 list this year, with a combined $95bn in defense revenue for FY19 ― which is $11.7bn shy of the list’s total for Europe and Turkey.
The Aviation Industry Corporation of China, which appeared with other Chinese firms for the first time last year, fell from No. 5 to No. 6, though its defense revenue grew by a percentage point over last year. China South Industries Group Corporation fell from No. 11 to No. 18, as its revenue declined 26 percent, from about $12bn to around $9bn.
China is unquestionably a defense giant in the Asia-Pacific region, dwarfing its nine neighbors (excluding Russia) on the list. Their 2019 defense revenues totaled $21bn.
The combined revenues of the Chinese firms marks the country as the rising superpower it’s billed to be in political and strategic circles, said Daniel Gouré, a senior vice president with the Lexington Institute.
“For all the discussions we have been having over the last weeks and months about China as a potential threat and challenges, they are building all kinds of blue-water ship classes that mirror the U.S. Navy,” he said. “For a country that was once thought of as a continental or near-shore power, it’s amazing the stuff they’re building, and its reflected in these companies.”
From Europe and Turkey, a NATO ally, there were 35 firms across the list. The combined defense revenue there comprised roughly 20 percent of the Top 100 total. Seven Turkish firms made the list, with FNSS Savunma Sistemleri A.S., and Havelsan A.S. joining the list at No. 98 and No. 99 respectively.
For Russia, some past participants declined to provide data this year for unknown reasons. The two that participated made it into the list: Almaz-Antey placed 17th, with $9.2bn in defense revenue for 2019, and Tactical Missiles Corporation JSC placed 35th, with $3.5 bn in defense revenue.
The annual Defense News Top 100 list relies for the most part on self-reporting from companies, many of whom provide estimates rather than definitive data for their defense percentages. That means that while the list is the industry standard, the numbers come with some variance.
Heritage firms dominate
Lockheed Martin was a lock for No. 1, for the 21st year in a row, with defense revenue that represents nearly 11 percent of the total. Its defense revenue jumped 12 percent between FY18 and FY19, from $51bn to $57bn ― with Boeing trailing at No. 2 at $34bn in defense revenue for FY19.
Within the top five, General Dynamics climbed back from No. 6 last year, passing both Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.
Northrop fell from No. 3 to No. 4, likely based on a full-year accounting of its acquisition of Orbital ATK in 2017, said analyst Roman Schweizer, managing director of Cowen and Company.
GD led Northrop by $912m in defense revenue, with Raytheon (5th place) trailing Northrop by $1.2bn in defense revenue.
Ten companies increased their defense revenue by $1bn or more, and Lockheed Martin led the pack with a $6bn boost.
The merger between L3 Technologies (18th place last year) and Harris Corp. (26th place last year) saw a new entry, L3Harris Technologies, take the No. 9 spot, with $13.9bn in defense revenue ― just ahead of United Technologies Corp., which acquired Rockwell Collins in 2018 and whose merger with Raytheon should be reflected in next year’s list.
At the same time, the data doesn’t support the argument that the defense industry is growing progressively more concentrated, according to Grundman.
“The top-quartile of firms account for exactly three-quarters of the revenue both in 2018 and 2019,” he said. “Looking back at the data for 2013, the top quartile took 73 percent of the revenue, but that’s not appreciably less than last year.”
Still, despite the Pentagon’s push to work with nontraditional suppliers, the top of this year’s list, and the list overall, is almost like the automotive sector, it’s so dominated by familiar names, said Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners.
“The interesting thing is just the relative stability of this,” Callan said. “For all of DoD’s emphasis to get new entrants into the sector, and reach out to innovative suppliers, you just don’t see it. When you compare it to the technology sector, we’re all using things made by companies that weren’t even household names 10 years ago. … Where is the Tesla [of the defense sector]?”
It’s not out of the question that the list changes over the next five years, if the U.S. Department of Defense and foreign militaries make good on their promises to boost innovation, Callan said.
For all the DoD’s discussion of the growing role of software, artificial intelligence and machine learning, there’s no company known for those things on the list, Gouré observed.
Beyond General Dynamics, which completed its acquisition of IT services giant CSRA in 2018, “AI, software, IT aren’t there because they’re still subcontractors,” Gouré said. “Microsoft and Amazon Web Services, they aren’t anywhere on the list.”
That’s not to say there isn’t massive spending on all of the above, but it remains a subcomponent within companies, and therefore not captured on the list, Gouré said.
“If we keep saying it’s the kill chain, the network matters and the country with the best AI will win, are we not investing enough, are we doing the right thing?” Gouré wondered. “There are more questions than answers.”
(Booz Allen Hamilton, No. 26 this year, did win an $800m Pentagon artificial intelligence contract. But as that occurred in May 2020, it will likely impact future lists.)
For now, the large, multiplatform firms dominate and should continue to do so, even if government defense spending declines, Gouré said. “These guys are showing it’s good to have a finger in many pies.”
Furthermore, the data tend to contradict the conventional wisdom that defense is an industry of mostly large-scale, pure-play firms, according to Grundman.
“In fact, the median [defense] revenue of the top 100 is only $2bn. And on average, only slightly more than half each firm’s revenue … derives from defense sales,” he said.
The consensus among analysts is that government defense spending will level off amid the coronavirus pandemic, and its effects as well as the result of the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November will be reflected in future lists.
“Successful years of investment spending growth appears to be ending, but outlays are still growing due to the surge in spending over the last three years. But they are starting to taper significantly after this year,” Schweizer said.
Schweizer sees foreign spending softening, at least in the short term due to COVID-19, but he predicts defense budgets, backlogs, outlays and foreign military sales will hold together for at least 12-18 months to help defense firms weather the unprecedented damage visiting the commercial aerospace sector.
The biggest risk is the U.S. budget trajectory, which is likely to be flat, at best, or decline in mid-single digits, at worst, over the next five years, Schweitzer added. He anticipates a drop of 3-5 percent, but with the Pentagon’s eye on Russia and China, the department will likely make trade-offs to protect core modernization areas.
As global growth rates slow, future lists may see some familiar companies grow leaner.
“These companies are going to figure out what their growth businesses are so they can shrink to grow,” Callan said. “They all say they’re well positioned [for slower defense spending], but what the hell does that mean? They can’t all be right.”
Other notable moves included Reston, Virginia-based engineering and construction company Bechtel, which fell to No. 47 from No. 31 last year; the firm’s defense revenue declined 39 percent, from $3.7bn to $2.3bn.
In France, Safran’s defense revenue jumped from $1.6bn in FY18 to $4.4bn in FY19, bumping it from No. 56 to No. 28. However, the company told Defense News that it attributes the large rise to a difference in calculation for this year’s list. Since 2015, the data from Safran were made up of Safran Electronics & Defense activities. This year, the firm changed its approach by adding the military activities of the group’s other subsidiaries.
Also in France, Dassault nearly doubled its revenue from $2.9bn in FY18 to $5.7bn in FY19 ― jumping from No. 38 to No. 22.
Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries vaulted back onto the list to No. 21, with $6.6bn in defense revenue. However, it’s worth noting that defense revenue numbers reflect awards made by the Japanese Ministry of Defense, which leads to more year-over-year volatility among Japanese firms.
The three Israeli companies on this year’s list — Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems — moved up in the ranking. The sole South American company on the lsit, Embraer, also moved up, from No. 84 to No. 79.
Meanwhile, the only non-U.S. North American company on this year’s list — Canada’s CAE — dropped four spots to No. 74, but its defense revenue grew by a percentage point. (Source: Defense News)
17 Aug 20. New Pentagon Plan To Link CoComs, Services Faces ‘Flat’ 2022 Budget. The 2022 budget “probably looks to be flat,” Vic Mercado, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, says. “We still have to look to the future, maybe take some risks in the near-term, and make some investments in those technologies that we’re going to need in the future like hypersonics, artificial intelligence.”
Pentagon leaders are working on an ambitious new strategy they hope will provide a path for technological innovation, drive major new acquisition programs, and pull the services together into a tightly knit joint force.
It’s a lot to ask of a single document, but officials insist the Joint Warfighting Concept will be ready by the end of the year.
“It’ll drive some of our investments, it is all about great power competition,” Vic Mercado, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, told a small group of reporters last week.
The new concept is being built on the back of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which identified China and Russia as the pacing military challenges facing the US in the near future. The Joint Warfighting Concept will take that strategy a step further and add detail to the call for operating as a joint force from space down to the tactical level on the ground.
“We have never had the ability to look 10 years in the future and project how we would fight and win a war against a great power,” Mercado added. The old way of planning for potential future conflict has revolved around updating current operational plans. The new concept will reflect the work of all the services and the Joint Staff pulling together to identify capability gaps and assign roles.
The project appears to align with calls from Indo-Pacom commander Adm. Philip Davidson to increase investments in a network of training ranges across the region where all of the armed services can train together to develop the new kind of tech-centric war the Pentagon says it wants.
In a speech delivered this past March, Davidson said he’s looking to develop an ‘Indo-Pacific Warfighting Concept’ that includes fully integrated ground forces, special operations forces, cyber, space forces all backed up by long-range fires. “For its backbone,” he said, “we need a joint — joint — network of training ranges capable of meeting the exercise, experimentation, and innovation objectives of the new warfighting concept.”
As coronavirus cases continue to rise in the United States, the need for employees to work remotely appears likely to linger for months to come. Already, the vast majority of federal employees have been teleworking—some one week on, one week off. The fact that some agencies have been rotating workers illustrates the fact that remote…
Significantly, Davidson said these forces and their systems need to be meshed together permanently, and not as “an ad-hoc joint force shaped to respond to a crisis only after it occurs.”
His plan received a warm welcome on Capitol Hill, where both the Senate and House versions of the 2021 defense spending bill included money to begin flashing out the project.
Any strategy that purports to influence future defense spending and develop new communications technologies to knit the services together will require not only the buy-in from the Office of Secretary of defense, but all five services. Senior leaders will also have to grapple with the choices that a ballooning national debt will impose.
Mercado was frank about those realities. “Some of the assumptions we made with regard to the budget, where we need 3 to 5 percent annual growth — we’re probably not going to see that.”
The 2021 budget saw no real growth from the previous year, and the 2022 budget “probably looks to be flat” as well, he said. The plans will try and take that into account. “We still have to look to the future, maybe take some risks in the near-term, and make some investments in those technologies that we’re going to need in the future like hypersonics, artificial intelligence,” he said.
The effort comes alongside several other large budget commitments. Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered a series of deep dives on the various combatant commands which should wrap up in September, and Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist is expected to deliver the Navy’s long-delayed 30-year shipbuilding plan and force structure assessments this fall.
“I can tell you there’s some critical components [from those reviews] — how you command and control the forces, how you do logistics; there are some common themes in there in a joint war-fighting concept,” he said.
Having so many reviews looking to drive force structure and budgets come out one after the other is a heavy lift for the department, especially if the Trump administration is voted out in November and a new team, with new priorities, comes aboard in early 2021.
“If we had that concept right now, we could use it to influence the ships that we are building, the amount of ships that we need, what we want the [combatant commands] to do,” Mercade said. “This warfighting concept is filling a gap — I wish we had it now — leadership wishes we had it now, it would inform all of the decisions that we make today.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
14 Aug 20. Fake News Is Wreaking Havoc on the Battlefield. Here’s What the Military’s Doing About It. Texas-based soldiers were training in Poland last year when leaders at U.S. Army Europe spotted some alarming social media posts.
A member of 1st Armored Division had allegedly killed a Polish soldier, stolen a car and was on the run. The posts referenced the soldier’s unit, which actually was in the country at the time, and used his real photos.
“The first thing we think when we see it is, ‘Yeah, right — this is bull,'” said Col. Joe Scrocca, director of public affairs at Army Europe. “But then we start searching, and it’s like, ‘Oh wow. The soldier really is in that unit, and these pictures are not fake.”
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The unit was in the field, so it took time to track it down. Once they did, Scrocca said they confirmed their initial instinct: The posts were fake news. The soldier was with his unit doing what he was supposed to be doing, but the social media posts — part fact, part fiction — show how bad actors’ efforts to sow discord about U.S. troops’ presence in Europe and elsewhere are getting more sophisticated.
The fake story about the 1st Armored Division soldier followed several others like it in recent years.
In 2018, a story appearing to be from a top Lithuanian news site claimed that a U.S. Army armored vehicle hit a local boy riding his bike, killing him. Raimundas Karoblis, Lithuania’s defense minister, told Reuters it was a textbook example of deceitful news meant to discredit a NATO exercise in the Baltics.
A year before that, a top NATO general said Russia was behind an email sent to the speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, claiming German troops operating in that country cornered a teenage orphan near their barracks and raped her.
Czech Army Gen. Petr Pavel, then NATO’s top military officer, told Reuters that NATO troops and civilians in Europe should expect more fake news from Russia.
“It will get stronger,” Pavel said. “… But we will be transparent, consistent.”
Now, Russian disinformation efforts are a massive problem in the U.S. and other democracies. Fake news stories that originate in Russia — often on highly divisive and partisan topics — have made their way into Americans’ social media feeds.
Pages from the U.S. State Department’s Global Engagement Center report released on Aug. 5, 2020, are seen in this photo. The State Department says Russia is using a well-developed online operation that includes a loose collection of proxy websites to stir up confusion around the coronavirus by amplifying conspiracy theories and misinformation. The department detailed a Russian-backed misinformation cycle that spreads false information online through state officials and state-funded media reports, by infiltrating U.S. social media conversation, and leveraging a deceptive internet framework of websites. (Jon Elswick/AP Photo)
And it’s not just fake news about political candidates, gun control, race relations or other hot-button items meant to divide Americans. Earlier this year, top military leaders warned that Russia and China were both spreading lies about the global coronavirus pandemic. Now, the U.S. is struggling to control widespread outbreaks of COVID-19, the sometimes-fatal illness caused by the new virus, after issues such as mask-wearing and whether to trust leading infectious disease experts have divided swaths of the country.
Those pushing fake news campaigns in Europe and elsewhere often have different goals when it comes to influencing the way people feel about U.S. forces and their NATO allies. Those efforts frequently center around vilifying the powerful, decades-old alliance that serves as a major counterbalance to Russia in Europe and elsewhere.
And rank-and-file troops, like that soldier with 1st Armored Division, are getting caught up in it.
U.S. military leaders are taking significant steps to prepare their forces for possible conflict with far more sophisticated enemies than those they faced off against in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 2018 National Defense Strategy warned that troops face an “ever more lethal and disruptive battlefield” that will pose challenges across domains — information warfare included.
Each of the services has created new positions or units to deal with renewed information warfare threats. The Navy has added shipboard information warfare commanders to aircraft carrier strike groups. A new information warfare-focused Air Force unit was activated earlier this year. The Army is in the process of standing up a new cyberwarfare battalion that will have a dozen teams capable of being dispatched to support operational forces.
The Marine Corps in 2017 established a three-star billet to oversee the service’s information-warfare efforts — a new deputy commandant of information position. Its efforts also include three new Marine expeditionary force information groups, known as MIGs, each of which has about 4,000 personnel organized to spot and respond to a host of threats.
“If you [wonder] how important a concern … this disinformation, this information environment is, I think the creation of a MIG is a signal that the Marine Corps takes it very seriously,” said Col. Brian Russell, commanding officer of II MEF’s information group in North Carolina.
One of the top challenges troops face in combating disinformation campaigns is determining who exactly is behind the flood of false posts, he added.
Marine Corps Col. Jordan D. Walzer, outgoing commanding officer of II Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, gives his remarks during a change of command ceremony for II MEF Information Group at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, June 10, 2020. Walzer relinquished command of II MIG to Col. Brian E. Russell and has been ordered to report to the Deputy Commandant for Information at Headquarters Marine Corps Arlington, Virginia. (Caleb T. Maher/U.S. Marine Corps)
“That is something we have to stay vigilant about and continue to work to really understand what the threat is and who the threat is,” Russell said. “I think that’s the challenge of the modern information environment. There’s so much information out there, and so many people [with] malicious intent are trying to hide the fact that it’s them contributing.”
Scrocca, with Army Europe, agrees. While some misinformation comes from known sources, such as state-run Russian media, it can be a lot tougher to tell who’s behind something like social media disinformation campaigns or the hacking of a news outlet.
In May, for example, ahead of another big exercise in Poland called Defender Europe, hackers cracked into real European news outlets’ websites. They posted a fake interview in which Army Europe’s new German chief of staff disparaged his Polish allies.
“We must be doing something right!” Army Europe tweeted about the interview, calling it #FakeNews. The command directed followers to the exercise’s official webpage, adding that the comments in the fake interview were “totally fabricated by those who seek to tear apart our great Alliance.”
The fake story is believed to have originated in Cyprus, Scrocca said, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether there were ties to a specific government.
“That’s much harder,” he said. “We know who it benefits and who doesn’t, but that’s about as far as we go.”
That matches what Emerson Brooking, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, sees in his studies of disinformation campaigns targeting NATO allies. It would be easy to blame the Russian government for executing or directing the fake news efforts, since the campaigns often match the Kremlin’s strategic goals, Brooking said, but the reality is much more complex.
“Within any of these Baltic nations, there are segments of the population who are quite disenchanted with NATO and the West, and who are in fact much more sympathetic toward Russia,” he said. “… It may well be people … who may wish that they were part of Russia who are independently spreading this sort of disinformation.”
Troops won’t only face misinformation in the Europe theater, military leaders and experts say. Spreading misinformation is cheap, fast and sometimes effective, making it an attractive option for adversaries worldwide.
In the Middle East, Scrocca said misinformation often comes in the form of false reports of civilian casualties. The best way to combat the efforts, he added, is by being proactive, transparent and truthful.
Army Europe not only has personnel dedicated to monitoring the information environment to quickly spot fake posts and alert NATO allies, it’s also posting information ahead of time about upcoming exercises and other events to try to prevent any confusion about what U.S. troops are doing on the continent.
Putting out materials to illustrate the real narrative can help prevent the spread of misinformation, Brooking said.
“That information lets inhabitants of these countries understand the important work that NATO is doing,” he said.
A member of Russell’s command, who spoke to Military.com on the condition of anonymity, citing operational security concerns, said that was an important part of what II MIG did during Exercise Trident Juncture in Norway last year. They knew they’d be operating in an information-contested environment, he said, and fake news stories began hitting about the exercise.
“Both during and before the exercise, we actually saw several news stories and social media narratives claiming that the exercise was a facet of NATO and Western expansionism or aggression,” he said.
Capt. Ronald Ellsworth Jr., a cyber officer who participated in that exercise, said they saw evidence of “several Russian trolls, activists and synthetic online users and extremist groups dedicate a lot of time to pushing an anti-Western, anti-NATO narrative in the form of blatant [propaganda].”
Members of II MIG worked with communication strategy and operations Marines, cyber defense units and NATO allies to combat that narrative, the Marines said.
At Army Europe, Scrocca said the challenges posed by fake news have bolstered partnership between U.S. troops and their NATO allies.
“That’s one of the silver linings of this, is just the network and the tight coordination that goes on now, on a daily basis, between us and our allies and partners is amazing,” he said.
Troops also have a role to play in keeping their information safe. Russell said they’re encouraging Marines to apply some of the same tactics they used to spot improvised explosive devices in Iraq or Afghanistan to disinformation efforts.
“You kind of have to have a natural suspicion about what might appear to be normal things,” he said. “… When the computer is acting a little bit slow, that might not just be a network issue — you need to tell someone that the computer is acting up or working slow because that might be the first indication that you have a cyberattack going on.”
Scrocca said they’re also constantly reminding troops to keep their social media accounts on lockdown, using the example of the soldier whose unit and photos were riffed from his Facebook page to spread fake news that he was on the run after supposedly killing a Polish ally.
But Brooking offered a different take when it comes to social media, saying it could prove an important tool in helping get the word out about the real work U.S. troops are doing on different continents. There are ways to protect operational security while still offering people a transparent look about what troops in their country are doing, he said.
“The fact is that people engage much more with authentic content, so content that comes from young people who are part of these exercises sort of candidly sharing their experiences and thoughts,” he said. “I’ve always seen that [as] really a valuable and underutilized asset. … We do have to start thinking about these sorts of social media presences as a tool.” (Source: Military.com)
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