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01 Apr 21. Defense Secretary Highlights Commitment to Allies, Partners, Kirby Says. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said the efforts of the countries known as the “Quad” — the U.S., Japan, Australia and India — are important in countering the malign influence of China in the region, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said at today’s press briefing.
Kirby discussed Austin’s commitment to allies and partners around the world and noted that the secretary spoke by phone today with several key defense leaders, including Ukrainian Defense Minister Andrii Taran.
In the call with Taran, Austin reaffirmed unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and condemned recent escalations of Russia’s aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine, Kirby said.
Austin reiterated the U.S. commitment to building the capacity of Ukraine’s forces to defend more effectively against Russian aggression, Kirby added.
In turn, Kirby said that Taran expressed gratitude for the open dialogue and continued support.
In a conversation with Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Austin underscored commitment to the U.S.-Turkish bilateral defense relationship and collective security through NATO, Kirby said.
The secretary thanked Akar for the significant role Turkey is playing as part of the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan and in support of the ongoing peace process there, Kirby said.
The leaders also discussed the positive diplomatic developments and efforts to reduce all tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, where the secretary welcomed ongoing exploratory talks between NATO allies Turkey and Greece and the commitment of both governments to this process, Kirby said.
In addition, Austin highlighted cooperation among allies and partners in the Black Sea region, including recent exercises that comprised U.S. Navy and Turkish naval assets, Kirby said.
And Austin and Akar discussed the instability along NATO’s eastern and southern flanks, including challenges posed by Russia, he said.
Kirby said Austin noted the importance of working to strengthen U.S-Turkey military-to-military cooperation, and he urged Turkey not to retain the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
In a conversation with Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos, Austin reaffirmed the strong and deepening security partnership between the United States and Greece, Kirby said.
Austin thanked Panagiotopoulos for hosting U.S. forces at Souda Bay in Crete and expressed appreciation for Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s visit to the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower on March 23, Kirby said.
The secretary highlighted strong bilateral defense cooperation marked by an expansion of the presence of the United States in Greece during the past year and the homeporting of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams expeditionary mobile base at Souda Bay, he said.
Austin also noted that “our deepening relationship is a dividend of the 2019 update of the U.S.-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement,” Kirby said.
In addition, Kirby said the two leaders discussed the positive diplomatic developments and efforts to reduce tensions in the eastern Mediterranean; the secretary welcomed ongoing exploratory talks between NATO allies Greece and Turkey and the commitment of both governments to this process.
Kirby added that the two leaders committed to being vigilant regarding threats to stability in NATO’s southern flank, including from Russian malign influence. (Source: US DoD)
31 Mar 21. Biden’s infrastructure plan includes billions to develop emerging tech the military needs. President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan released Wednesday calls for $180bn in new research and development spending on emerging technologies expected to define the coming decades and drive military innovation. The American Jobs Plan, which would total $2trn in new spending over a decade through corporate tax increases, addresses concerns that a lack of federal investment in research and development risks the U.S. seceding the position of the world’s top technological innovator to China. Leading the world in technology is “critical to both our future economic competitiveness and our national security,” Biden’s plan stated.
If Congress accepts the proposal, the government would try to counter China by pushing bns into emerging technologies — including quantum computing, artificial intelligence and microelectronics — that underpin weapon systems and will help the Pentagon compete in increasingly digital battlefields.
“Investing $180bn in R&D across the federal government and civilian agencies would be a significant down payment on the future of innovation at a time when federal R&D is its lowest in decades as a percentage of GDP,” Tony Samp, senior policy adviser on artificial intelligence and defense for law firm DLA Piper, told C4ISRNET. “And when game-changing technologies touch so many sectors of the economy, there are certainly ancillary benefits to this kind of civilian investment to national security and the Department of Defense.”
The plan calls for a $50 bn investment in the National Science Foundation, where the Biden administration wants to create a new technology directorate to “collaborate with and build on existing programs across the government.” The directorate would focus on semiconductors, advanced computing, advanced energy technologies and biotechnologies. The proposal is half of the $100bn plan introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for a similar NSF technology directorate.
Biden also calls for a $40bn investment in upgrading research labs across the country, “including brick-and-mortar facilities and computing capabilities and networks.” Some of the funds would be allocated across the federal R&D agencies. Half the money would be reserved for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions, a core aspect of Biden’s plan to provide new opportunities to underserved communities. The U.S. Department of Defense also recently opened a networking center of excellence at the University of California, Riverside, as part of its Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions Research and Education Program.
Megan Lamberth, research associate at the Center for a New American Security, said that the White House plan harkened back to public investments by the federal government during the Cold War that led to the development of the internet and other advanced technologies
“The plan itself focuses on what I see as the bedrock of U.S. innovation. It touches on our people, our infrastructure and our investments,” Lamberth said.
The Biden plan seeks to address the semiconductor supply chain challenges faced by the U.S. government by spending $50bn on manufacturing and research. Semiconductor manufacturing largely takes place outside the U.S., raising security concerns about the core technology for everything from smartphones to 5G networks to fighter jets. The Biden proposal matches a $50bn investment in semiconductors from a bipartisan bill called the CHIPS Act passed in last year’s defense authorization bill.
Supply chain concerns spurred Biden’s proposal for $50bn to create a new office at the Department of Commerce to support domestic production of technologies.
The plan includes $35bn for climate science and related “technology breakthroughs,” an area impacting the military more as severe weather affects some military operations and installations, and a warming planet contributes power struggles in the Arctic. On top of that, the plan includes $15bn for “demonstration projects” for numerous climate R&D priorities, including quantum computing, energy storage, and separation of rare earth elements, which are used in many defense systems.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for government and industry collaboration,” Lambert said. “There’d be less pushback from industry to work on issues related to climate change, and I think it’s just a really important issue to the public. It’s an issue that people can rally around.”
If approved, the plan would deliver over half of Biden’s campaign promise to invest $300 bn in research and development over four years. In recent months, U.S. officials have ramped up calls for broader federal spending on innovation, particularly after the release of a National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence report that recommended billions in spending on AI and microelectronics research.
U.S. investment in basic R&D has fallen from almost 2 percent of gross domestic product in 1964 to just 0.7 percent in 2016, alarming experts that the U.S. isn’t spending enough to harness technological breakthroughs.
“By including technology innovation and R&D in its infrastructure and jobs package to ‘out-compete’ China, the Biden administration is smartly tapping into bipartisan concerns and making a broader jobs package more appealing,” Samp said. “The R&D portion would strengthen the U.S.’ ability to stay competitive in technologies of the future and create jobs at home.” (Source: Defense News)
31 Mar 21. Biden Arms Sale Freeze Likely To Thaw, Including UAE’s F-35s.
Strategic relations between the US and UAE remain clear and stable. “We may sometimes disagree, but the UAE will not yield to any decision that contradicts its vision and plans,” retired Staff Maj. Gen. Abdullah A.Al Hashmi told me in an interview. “We have our own plans and strategies, and the US is interested in preserving the relations with the Gulf states.”
UAE is likely to receive its first F-35s by 2027, Bilal Saab, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and former Pentagon official in charge of security cooperation in the Middle East tells Breaking Defense.
“The Gulf country is still trying to figure out how to integrate these jets into its national defense strategies and when received, they will need to know how to sustain them,” he said. “That’s one huge challenge that requires high cooperation from the U.S but let us see how Biden will handle it.”
The State Department recently halted new sales of weapons to the UAE and Saudi Arabia and ended U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, regional officials and experts say the moves should not affect the strategic relations that exist between the US and the Mideast states.
“There is no significant impact or harm in these changes because we always look at the positive side,” retired Staff Maj. Gen. Abdullah A.Al Hashmi told me in an interview. “These are matters that may happen, but there is a clear Gulf vision towards common interests, and we cannot go beyond our Gulf national security.”
He added that no matter the changes under Biden’s administration, the strategic relations remain clear and stable. “We may sometimes disagree, but the UAE will not yield to any decision that contradicts its vision and plans,” he said. “We have our own plans and strategies, and the US is interested in preserving the relations with the Gulf states.”
This is mainly because most of the Mideast countries have enough weapons for at least the next two decades and are discreetly backed up by military-industrial complexes, retired Kuwaiti Air Force Col. Zafer Alajmi told me.
“It is not easy for a new administration to start cutting jobs within the military–industrial complex; they need us as much as we do,” he said. “This is where the influence of the defense lobby and industry is quite paramount, and I don’t think the relationships will truly be affected.”
Saab agrees. “There is no doubt that in early stages, both parties will make it public that real changes are happening, especially when it comes to human rights violations, but I am almost certain that they are going to go back to defense sales,” he said. However, he also said they will probably be in “smaller volumes.”
Khattar Abou Diab, professor of geopolitical sciences at the Paris Centre for Geopolitics, told me that even though the freeze is not out of the ordinary at the beginning of a new administration, it looks much “firmer under Biden’s management because “he is aiming at eliminating Trump’s legacy to the fullest.
In all cases, “Saudi Arabia took a track of diversification, but like the UAE, is keen to demonstrate its significance to Washington’s strategy and stability,” he said.
Saab suspects that the Gulf countries biggest priority is not going to be acquisition – since they’ve done their biggest moves during the Trump administration – but will instead seek to keep the purchases not yet realized going.
“Right now, their biggest priority is how to sustain the deals, because acquiring new equipment after the massive splurge during the last couple of years would be ridiculous, especially now that they have major defense transformation efforts going, at least in the UAE and KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia),” he said.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, however, have no imminent defense needs or requirements, Saab believes. “They knew they would get favorable deals under Trump’s administration, which they did, and now they know it’s over. A smart mutually beneficial relationship to say the least.”
In short, Gulf countries will have to give the new administration some time to figure out its policies towards the region, “which will definitely be tied to the issue of Iran’s nuclear deal,” Saab added.
Another important fact is that the Pentagon moved Israel into Central Command to boost cooperation with Arab states, retired Lebanese Brig. Gen. Naji Malaeb told me.
“Are Arab countries really ready to work with Israel in terms of joint trainings, common air defenses, and technical works?” he questioned. “I believe that the U.S administration will somehow force them to do so before renewing any arms contracts.”
From a U.S perspective however, President Biden and his administration have major decisions to make about their approach to the Middle East.
“Biden will be the third U.S. president in a row who wanted to diminish the U.S. military presence and involvement with the region, but they have all struggled with how best to do that,” Michele Dunne, director of the Middle East program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says.
The Trump administration suggested arming allies such as Israel and the UAE with advanced weapons as a way for the U.S. to exit, but there are many in the Biden administration and Congress who question what the results might be. “Early indications are that the Biden administration would prefer to sell mainly defensive weaponry and use diplomacy to settle conflicts, particularly Yemen,” she said.
A relatively stable relationship with the new administration lies ahead for Egypt. Although it is unlikely that the US will sell new weapons that might change the balance of power in the region, the Egyptian administration “will try to pursue some vital agreements,” Mohamed Al-Kenany, military researcher and defense analyst at the Arab Forum for Policy Analysis in Cairo told me.
“We will try to get deals related to upgrading the Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, M-1 Abrams tanks and Perry frigates, as well as finalize the 10 Apache AH-64E Guardian helicopters deal, while upgrading the current fleet to the same new standard,” he said, expecting that this could happen in the midst or at the end of Biden’s term.
Egypt will also push for acquiring naval helicopters for anti-terrorism missions and reconnaissance drones. “We will pressure them through the ongoing military relations with European, Russian and Chinese countries, so it is likely that the US arms companies would exert greater pressure in the Congress due to these qualitative heavy ongoing deals,” Al-Kenany said.
Regarding anti-terrorism and border security equipment, Al-Kinany expects no changes. “Both countries are keen on maintaining relations in this field, especially in terms of training exercises, and the fight against terrorism in North Sinai and the Western region,” he concluded. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
31 Mar 21. Partnership Expands Opportunities for New and Small Businesses to Work With the Department of Defense, Expand National Security Innovation Base. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP), the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on small business matters, and the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), an innovation unit within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, signed a memorandum of agreement on March 5 to collaborate on expanding the national security innovation base.
The new partnership links two DOD organizations with a common mission to establish an annual, joint program plan to leverage OSBP and NSIN resources to achieve shared objectives:
- Collaborate to develop events and programs to engage small businesses in the National Technology and Industrial Base.
- Prototype operational concepts related to emerging technologies and accelerate the transition of technologies and services into acquisition programs and operational use.
- Support partnership between DOD and academic institutions, commercial firms, accelerators, incubators, and nonprofit organizations whose missions relate to national security innovation.
- Enhance the capabilities of the DOD in market research, source selection, partnerships with private capital, and access to commercial technologies.
“The effects of the past year have demonstrated the importance of small businesses in maintaining a strong supply chain and knowledge base within the national security and technology industrial base. The partnership between NSIN and OSBP is an important step towards building a resilient industrial base and engaging innovative small companies.
“In line with President Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) Recovery Plan, the initiatives developed in conjunction with NSIN will provide new pathways to American manufacturers and small businesses to offer critical emerging technologies to the Department,” said Farooq Mitha, OSBP Director.
The OSBP and NSIN partnership enables more DOD collaboration and support between small businesses, academic institutions, commercial firms, accelerators, incubators, and nonprofit entities whose missions include national security innovation.
Morgan Plummer, NSIN Manager Director explained, “NSIN and OSBP share a deep belief that the ideas, technologies and talent that are needed to build a robust defense industrial and innovation base exist in small businesses and startups across the country, and must be deliberately engaged in partnership with the Department.
“This partnership will combine OSBP’s expertise in leveraging small businesses to close capability gaps for our armed forces with NSIN’s nationwide network of non-traditional problem solvers in the academic and startup communities to create a holistic way to increase the number of small businesses contributing to the work of the Department of Defense.”
Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP)
OSBP is the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on small business matters and maximizes opportunities for small business to contribute to national security by providing combat power for our troops and economic poser for our nation. OSBP is also responsible for the health and resiliency of the small business industrial base, leverages small businesses to eliminate gaps and vulnerabilities in the national technology and industrial base and words to expand the number of small businesses in the national technology and industrial base.
National Security Innovation Network (NSIN)
The NSIN mission is to “build networks of innovators that generate new solutions to national security problems.” NSIN is headquartered in Arlington, VA, and has regional offices in 11 commercial innovation hubs throughout the United States. Through its headquarters, regional hubs, and embedded university partnerships, NSIN builds a national network of innovators and delivers programming that solves real-world, DOD problems through collaborative partnerships with non-traditional problem-solvers within the academic and early-stage venture communities. (Source: US DoD)
31 Mar 21. Air-Land chairman talks F-35 costs and ‘Buy America’ in the next defense bill. Last year’s defense policy bill passed without language championed by Rep. Donald Norcross that would have gradually increased “Buy American” requirements for major defense programs to 100 percent by 2026.
But the New Jersey Democrat, whose proposal faced criticism it would lock out allies, told Defense News in an interview last week that he plans to have the conversation again when this year’s National Defense Authorization Act is drafted.
“I expect to have a Buy American provision in there, and I’m told that our allies on the other side of the aisle will work with us. But as [President] Ron Reagan said, we will trust but we will verify,” said Norcross, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.
Norcross represents a portion New Jersey’s Delaware Valley, with an eye on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Picatinny Arsenal and shipbuilding efforts at the nearby Philadelphia Navy Yard.
He was named this month to a new House Armed Services Committee task force on defense supply chain vulnerabilities, which is expected to tee up fast legislative fixes for inclusion in the NDAA. It follows an order from President Joe Biden on the topic.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are your priorities as subcommittee chairman?
Each year the NDAA provides us the opportunity and mandate to review our priorities for the country’s defense. For the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, that means looking over the programs in our jurisdiction, and modernization, and making strategic decisions.
The pandemic impacted virtually every part of our lives, including defense. Our goal is always to train and equip [U.S. military personnel] with the best available equipment to make sure that they go into a fight way ahead of the game and better than anybody else. The last 12 months has taught us a critical supply chain includes a skilled workforce, and made us ask: “Where does that material come from?” This plays into the new task force, but there are some other areas that we’re looking at. One is the ammunition-industrial base and the challenges there, and how the next generation of workers will make sure the best equipment is available.
The president is expected to submit a flat defense budget proposal, but there are progressive efforts to cut steeply as well as GOP efforts to boost defense by 3-5 percent. What’s the right path? How does this play out with the slim Democratic majorities in Congress?
It’s a great question, and it’s certainly on everybody’s minds. The new administration is reviewing where our priorities are, where the risk is — not only now but where it’s going to come from. Our chairman has said a number of times ― and I’m perfectly aligned ― that we’re going to make sure that we have the resources to defend our country. That is a very simple and direct answer, and then it gets complicated, reviewing every program and what the risks of not funding are versus other priorities. We are expecting a flat top line, which normally is a straight answer. But what is a flat top line? Because there are those who are saying a 3 percent increase is a flat top line when adjusted [for inflation]? I look at it as a review of our present spending and where can we do it better.
There seems to be extra pressure on the F-35 fighter jet. HASC Chairman Adam Smith recently called F-35 spending a “rat hole,” suggesting the U.S. cut its losses by investing in a mix of of other fighters. Where are you on slowing or cutting the F-35 buy?
You suggest there’s some extra scrutiny. There has always been a tremendous amount of oversight, and there should be on the most expensive program in the history of the United States. It has been in development for many, many years, and those production costs are dropping somewhat. One of the real challenges is the sustainment end of this equation. And that’s not a surprise. Seventy percent of the aircraft’s life-cycle cost is defined by maintenance and sustainment. Historically, there’s not as much focus there, but it’s where the dollars are and certainly what we’re being challenged with today. It has to be affordable, or its coming out of another program, and that’s a problem.
That’s where you review these things and say: “Can we do it better?” I don’t think the costs are a surprise because we’ve been talking about it. The surprise, if anything, is how do we fix it. We’ve been chasing this, and it’s a major focus of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.
The Government Accountability Office reported that the program’s software development is lagging and that development costs have grown by roughly $2bn since 2019. What kind of action are you looking at? Is Congress looking to buy fewer F-35s if costs don’t come down?
In the history of airframe production, the original target cost, generally, is never going to be the same at the end because we learn things across the development. So we need to hear from Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin on some very issues you brought up. The ALIS [Autonomic Logistics Information System software] system has been written about for years, and we’re finally going to [replace it with a newer system]. Extremely important, there. But we also need to hear from the service chiefs. They’re all looking at how is this going to fit into today’s world, but also five years, 10 years down the road. It takes quite some time to develop new platforms.
On budgetary trade-offs, the A-10 aircraft is one platform that’s been particularly hard to kill, even when the Air Force wanted to do so. If the service’s upcoming tactical air study proposes retiring the A-10 before the 2030 time frame that the Trump administration wanted, will Congress finally allow it?
Well, the A-10 is still to some degree a great platform, and in the Middle East we saw the value of that. The F-35 was going to take the role of many different platforms, and this comes down to whether the F-35 will be a multidomain platform. That certainly is in question. We continue to invest in the A-10, and the wings were just part of an update that’s going on. The service chiefs need to weigh in here in terms of cost and affordability.
While that platform performed extremely well in the Middle East, will it be the platform we’re going to need against a near-peer competitor? We don’t know. Certainly there’s a lot of questions, but the service chiefs are doing a study of what that will look like and the basis for where we invest in the future. That’s all coming together as we speak.
With a flat budget, what part of your portfolio as chairman is under pressure?
What I’m not going to do is show my cards. Again, everything is measured against what your threat is, and the threat of a year ago could be very different in the future. Our competitors are increasing their capabilities, and that impacts [U.S. investments in] every platform. Is the F-35 that was in the planning stages almost 20 years ago equal to the task it’s going to face against Russia or China? Because they very much understand our capacity and technologies, and they’re trying to defeat them. If measured against nothing, then [the U.S. arsenal is] fine where it is, but they’re increasing their ability to challenge us, particularly in the air.
You’re on the new supply chain task force, and previously championed “Buy American” language in the NDAA. The task force’s co-chair, Rep. Mike Gallagher, wants to emphasize a “Buy Allied” approach. Is there tension between those two ideas or room for compromise?
I’d say there’s little daylight between Rep. Gallagher’s statement and where we are. He was part of a conversation almost six years ago when the Navy was bidding out a new frigate and the propulsion system wasn’t domestically supplied ― and that started a much heavier debate. Each year we have discussed trying to increase the domestic content of only major acquisition programs. But let’s be clear that this is a massive issue and we were just taking a bite out of programs we have control over.
We didn’t know four years ago there was going to be a pandemic, but the things we talked about then ― building up our workforce and critical supply chain, that we should “Buy American” ― were just proved through this pandemic. Obviously, we have partners and allies, and we import and we export, and this in no way means that we’re going to shut off our friends and allies. But certainly we can increase our capacity. We did it years ago and still have friends and allies, and I think we can again, incrementally, by focusing on critical areas where there are material and workforce capacity challenges. We have to identify those, set the goals and start working toward them in a predictable way that industry can follow. I believe the NDAA this year will start focusing on bringing some of that back, along with our allies and partners.
What areas of American manufacturing are ripe for reshoring? What action is coming in the NDAA?
We have to have control of those critical supply chains. Remember: The Chinese are very focused on trying to have a boot on the throat of America so that it can cut off some of those critical supplies. I think we’ve done a decent job of trying to identify them, but each time we make a move, there’s somewhere else. If we go to those allies, and obviously there’s private suppliers, who owns them? So it’s very deep and complicated. It’s not just about the first tier but the second and third tiers. So the executive order by the Biden administration is a great way to start, looking at where those cracks in the foundation are.
This is going to be an ongoing issue and not a “one year and done.” With the one-year review, you have a pathway where we’re going to try to bring back some of that capacity. As important as the materials are to a product, [building the blue-collar] workforce to produce it is just as important. The narrative in America has been that the only way to make it is go to college, and that’s extremely important for those who want to. But we still need welders and electricians, and those who can build our ships and our aircraft, and they’re not all PhDs or come from the Ivy League. Men and women in this country just need a chance to work in an area that builds our capacity.
The “Buy American” approach doesn’t say forget about our allies; it says we need to work through this together. But honestly, look at what happened in Turkey [with the F-35], and that’s just one indication of how critical and how fragile sometimes this supply chain is. I expect to have a “Buy American” provision in there, and I’m told that our allies on the other side of the aisle will work with us. But as Ron Reagan said, we will trust but we will verify. (Source: Defense News)
30 Mar 21. Army Won’t Repeat Mistakes of FCS: Gen. Murray. “There are a lot of differences between the FCS experience and the path we’re on,” the Army Futures Command chief told us. This time, he said, “I don’t think there is hubris. I think there’s actually humility.”
The Army’s drive for “decision dominance” through AI networks is not a repeat of the failed Future Combat System’s high-tech quest to “see first, shoot first,” the head of Army Futures Command says.
On FCS, Gen. Mike Murray said, the Army wrote a detailed wish list of performance requirements before it knew what was actually possible. Today, it’s diligently experimenting to see what’s possible with technology – technology that’s had more than a decade to advance since FCS was cancelled in 2009. Those advances should make it possible, military leaders say, to coordinate sensors, command posts, and weapons systems across land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace through an overarching Joint All-Domain Command & Control (JADC2) meta-network.
“We’re in the experimentation mode to understand what technology can and can’t do,” Murray told me and BD’s Theresa Hitchens in an exclusive interview. [Click here to read part I]. “I really do think that there are a lot of differences between the FCS experience and the path we’re on. [Today], I don’t think there is hubris. I think there’s actually humility.”
Or, as the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, put it last week on a Brookings webcast: ““We don’t want to aim low – but we don’t want to aim too high either…. Where we are now, which is different than Future Combat Systems, is I think the technology is in a different place — and the things that we’re talking about are here already, the speed is there.”
When FCS was cancelled 11 years ago, Netflix still mailed you DVDs, self-driving cars were in their DARPA-funded infancy, and the iPhone was only two years old. Apple had just released the 3GS, whose high-end model boasted a whopping 32 gigabytes of memory: Today’s top-flight 12 Max Pro has 512 GB – sixteen times as much.
So it’s only reasonable to say technology’s evolved, particularly in the realm of sensors, networks, and artificial intelligence. But – as Army leaders have reminded us for years – the fundamental character of war itself remains the same: chaotic, brutal and ultimately intractable, defying all human efforts to bring clarity to what Clausewitz called fog and friction. The problem with FCS wasn’t just the specific technologies, a networked set of 18 interdependent sensors, robots, drones, and manned ground vehicles. It was the essential hubris of claiming that anything could allow you to consistently “see first, shoot first” – or as a later and more bureaucratic FCS formulation put it, “see first, understand first, act first, and finish decisively.” And “understand first” is the most hubristic part of that arrogant assertion.
Yet the “see first, shoot first” catchphrase has resurfaced in some parts of the Army, to the alarm of at least one general. And now Gen. McConville and Gen. Murray have started talking about “decision dominance,” which depends on using technology — especially artificial intelligence – to process information faster and more accurately than the enemy, making faster and better decisions.
But that doesn’t imply some FCS-like high-tech infallibility, Murray told us in our interview. “I don’t think it will ever be perfect,” he said. “It just has to be better than our opponents are doing.”
And what if the enemy hacks and jams your network, taking away all your digital information? “That’s why we plan for the worst,” McConville told the Brooking webcast. “That’s why you have highly trained, disciplined, fit…and lethal forces that can operate when these systems do go down.”
“That’s all part of the Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency-type plans that you build into your organizations,” McConville continued – a philosophy of quadruple-redundant backups known by the Army acronym PACE. “So if you have a system where everything is just working perfectly, [then] you’ve got tremendous overmatch, [but if] someone takes that down…that’s where you start to go to your backup plans.”
If the system works, however, it should allow the Army to take out targets faster and more accurately – and that’s at minimum. What Murray really hopes, he said, is that having better information from networked sensors, all helpfully organized for you by AI, could fundamentally improve military decision-making at every level, tactical to strategic.
“The decision dominance piece, Sydney, is much bigger than the targeting piece,” he said. “What we tried to do in Project Convergence 2020 and to a larger degree, what we’ll do in ’21 in terms of sensor to shooter work — I would argue that is only a very small part of decision dominance.”
Most important is “the ability for a commander to make a good decision, not a perfect decision, faster than their opponent on a future battlefield,” Murray said. “I believe it is going to be an asymmetric advantage, because you’ve been around long enough to know the Military Decision Making Process and how long and laborious that can be.” (There’s an 118-page field manual on how to do the formal MDMP).
“That could be in a sensor-to-shooter scenario like we demonstrated” in the Project Convergence wargames last fall, Murray said. “Or] that could be, ‘what are my opponent’s tendencies in terms of their targeting priorities and their operational priorities?’ That could be, ‘what’s going on from a public sentiment standpoint?’”
“I hesitate to say that I know exactly where we’re going to end up,” Murray said. “So this is a journey to see what’s possible.”
“[Once] we understand the technology, we understand the integration challenges, we understand how to make these things work together, [then] let’s write the requirements document for what it is we’re going to build,” he said. FCS did it the other way around – and that, Murray argues, is ultimately why it failed. It’s a mistake he says the Army won’t make again. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
29 Mar 21. ‘We trusted that our equipment would work,’ says Army vet, as U.S. trial over 3M earplugs begins. When U.S. combat veteran Dave Henderson completed his first deployment to Iraq in 2010, he began to experience ringing in his ears and struggled to hear what others around him picked up with ease.
Henderson blames the hearing damage on an earplug that the military bought by the millions from 3M Co and he is one of more than 200,000 veterans and service members suing the company, claiming it covered up known design defects from the Department of Defense.
“We had no choice but to use the 3M earplugs,” said Henderson, 36, who earned a Bronze Star Medal while in the Army from 2007 to 2013. “We trusted that our equipment would work.”
Henderson, who lives in Philadelphia, said he now sleeps with a fan on to help blur “out the ringing in his ears” and sometimes can’t hear when one of his two children is crying.
On Monday, jury selection begins in a “bellwether” trial against 3M in Pensacola, Florida. The trial consolidates three lawsuits, will be used to assess key evidence and damages and potentially shape a deal to resolve thousands of other cases, brought mostly by Army veterans between the ages of 30 and 49.
More than 1 million veterans receive compensation for hearing loss, which is the leading service-related disability, according to 2015 government data.
At the heart of the trial is a question that’s central to all the lawsuits: Did earplug designers at Aearo Technologies, which was acquired by 3M, manipulate test results, hide design shortcomings and fail to instruct the military in proper use of the earplugs?
3M has said the Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2, which according to court records cost 85 cents to make and were sold for $7.63, worked and were safe when used and fitted properly. The company has denied the plug was defectively or negligently designed or that the plugs caused injuries, and said in a statement that it will “vigorously defend ourselves against such allegations.”
The Department of Defense, which is not named as a party, said it does not comment on pending litigation.
The litigation is the largest mass tort ever brought in federal court, and one of the many legal risks facing 3M, the maker of Post-it notepads, ACE bandages and the leading U.S. manufacturer of N95 face masks.
Since the start of 2018, 3M’s stock has fallen about 20%, weighed partly by litigation over alleged water contamination caused by a discontinued compound used in firefighting foam.
VETERANS AND HEARING LOSS
In 1997, the Army asked Aearo Technologies, which 3M bought for $1.2bn in 2008, to provide an earplug that allowed close communications while protecting against intense noise such as firing a shoulder-launched rocket.
The result was a football-shaped plug consisting of three stacked cups on each end that the military used from 2003 to 2015.
For the earplugs to work properly, the flexible cups on the side protruding from the ear sometimes had to be folded back. If not, the plugs would slowly loosen and noise would seep in.
3M has said designers informed the government of the need to fold the plugs, and that it was up to the Department of Defense to convey that information to soldiers.
Veterans argue the military was kept in the dark until the information came to light through separate litigation, which the plaintiffs say prompted 3M to discontinue the earplugs.
Henderson said he hopes that the jury will conclude that 3M failed to protect soldiers, who put their lives on their line for their country.
“This isn’t just about ringing in the ears or hearing loss, it’s about not being able to ever feel truly at peace,” said Henderson. (Source: Reuters)
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