Air Force personnel are worried about budgetary uncertainty, and service leaders pledge to be transparent about priorities and programs available as the service moves forward, Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning said here today.
Speaking to the Defense Writers Group this morning, Fanning told reporters he has heard from quite a few airmen about their concerns about the force.
"The main thing I promised is to continue to be transparent and to try and make decisions to get us to whatever the new normal is as quickly as possible," he said. "This has not been easy, because we still don't know what that is going to be."
None of the services can really plan beyond fiscal year 2015 because of the specter of sequestration spending cuts the following year. The Budget Control Act of 2011 is still the law of the land. While Congress passed a law giving some relief from sequestration in fiscal 2014 and 2015, the law will go back into full effect in fiscal 2016.
If full sequestration is triggered, the Air Force will have to reduce the number of airmen further, and in a much steeper manner, Fanning said. "We've made proposals on force structure and making the Air Force smaller, but we have to see what Congress will approve," he added. "Certainly, there is a lot of angst out there for what the future holds."
Some airmen have complained that the service appears to value equipment more than people, the undersecretary said. "I read a lot of these blogs too," he said. "There are a lot of airmen who understand that part of our commitment to them is if we're going to send them into harm's way, we're going to send them with the best equipment and the readiest that we can."
The service must balance among capacity, capability and readiness, Fanning told the defense writers, noting that spending money on personnel only makes sense if those personnel are ready and equipped to fight the nation's battles.
"I think [airmen] understand the decisions we are making in terms of investing in the technology that sets the Air Force apart and gives them the edge in a fight," he said.
Air Force leaders still are committed to giving airmen the time to adjust to whatever decision comes forth, Fanning said. "We are still committed to using voluntary programs to the maximum extent possible before we will do anything in an involuntary way," he added.
The air fleet is getting older and smaller by the year, the undersecretary said, so the service must invest in next-generation platforms. "We've been fighting a war in two theaters where we owned the airspace in a way that we won't in other types of conflicts that are more contested," Fanning said.
In the fiscal 2015 budget request, the service focuses specifically on capability over capacity. "That's why you see the Air Force aggressively trying to get rid of its older fleets and older infrastructure," he said. As this continues, he added, the Air Force’s advantage in tactical airpower and in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets will increase.
"These are two areas where we will see significant advancement," Fanning said.
The undersecretary said he also expects improvements across the board from investments in space and cyber technology.
"We cannot, in this environment, afford to invest in all the recapitalization and all the platforms we want to," Fanning said. But amid all the budget issues the U.S. Air Force is still the most potent air arm in the world, he said, and it must be ready to fight today and in the future.
"That balance between the fight today and the fight tomorrow is a struggle that we are going to be dealing with for a long time because of these budget numbers," Fanning said. "But we still are, by far, the best Air Force in the world -- even in any of the scenarios we project out over 10 years. The issue is with the budget you have, and you stack that up against the missions you are assigned. That's the metric I use."
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)
The impact of sequestration, the drawdown in Afghanistan and the situation in Ukraine were among the topics Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva addressed before the Senate Armed Services Committee here today during his confirmation hearing to lead U.S. Transportation Command.
If confirmed by the Senate, Selva would succeed Air Force Gen. William M. Fraser III as Transcom’s commander. He currently commands Air Mobility Command, Transcom’s air component.
If sequestration spending cuts resume in fiscal year 2016 as current law requires, Selva told the senators, there will be “two significant impacts” on Transcom.
“The first will be as an industrially funded organization, where our users that use transportation services pay out of their operations and maintenance accounts for those services,” he said. “The decrease in the availability of those funds is likely to cause a decrease in that demand signal.”
The corollary effect to that, Selva said, is that this would force Transcom to spend more of its own operations and maintenance dollars to achieve the training it could accomplish as a byproduct of fulfilling transportation requirements around the world.
“So there is a bit of a two-sided coin there on the impact of sequestration on the readiness of those fleets,” he told the Senate panel.
On Afghanistan, Selva was asked when Transcom would be at risk of being unable to move all U.S. cargo out of the country by the end of the year in the absence of a signed bilateral security agreement. Last month, President Barack Obama directed the Defense Department to begin planning for a full withdrawal by the end of the year, because U.S. forces would not remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 without a signed agreement in place.
“My understanding, from consulting with the Transcom staff, … is that through the early fall, we still have sufficient capacity in the variety of networks that we’re using to redeploy cargo from Afghanistan to be able to make the decision at that point,” the general replied. If confirmed, he added, he would consult with Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, to provide a more definitive answer.
Selva did note, however, that he is confident the command is on track, as tasked, to remove all necessary equipment from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Asked for his assessment of U.S. flexibility in determining time frames for a post-2014 presence in Afghanistan, the general said the options decrease as the time draws nearer. “I would say we have the greatest flexibility that we have had in the past several months,” he said. “But, as each day passes -- as you’re probably aware -- our options decrease. There is a limit to the capacity of the networks to bring back equipment and [get] those personnel out.”
The general said he would commit to consulting with Austin and with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top commander in Afghanistan, for their assessments on the specific limits of those networks.
“In Transcom,” Selva said, “our obligation is to make sure that the transportation layer and the distribution layer of those networks is prepared for the capacity of whatever comes at us.”
On Ukraine, Selva said he’d make alternative planning for working with Russia a priority if he is confirmed. “I do know as the air component of Transcom, and working directly with the Transcom director of operations, that we have been building alternative plans,” he said.
“The Northern Distribution Network, part of which flows through Russia, consists of five different options for how we move cargo in and out of Afghanistan,” Selva said. Transcom may have to look at alternatives to overflight or transit through Russia, he added.
“If the Russians were to take action to constrain our access to the Russian segments of the Northern Distribution Network, we have other options to move that cargo in and out of Afghanistan,” Selva said, responding to a later question.
“The singular item that moves across that network that would concern me, at this point, is the subsistence cargoes in the form of food and noncombat articles.”
About 20 percent of the subsistence cargoes move through that network, Selva said, adding that Transcom does have several options in the network that don’t include transiting Russia.
Selva expressed his gratitude for the “trust and confidence” he’s received from Obama and the Defense Department leadership in nominating him as the next Transcom commander.
“If confirmed,” he said, “I look forward to working with the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of United States Transportation Command.” This also includes their civilian counterparts, he added, and the vast network of commercial partners that provide the distribution and logistics networks that make the command successful.
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)
The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review isn’t like previous reviews, a senior Defense Department official said here yesterday.
Christine E. Wormuth, deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and force development spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The QDR is a congressionally mandated review of DOD strategy and priorities. It is intended to set the course for the department to address current and future conflicts and threats. The review this year was completed in about half the usual time, Wormuth said, and in an environment marked by tremendous uncertainty.
The past 18 months of fiscal uncertainty have pushed the department into a near-continuous cycle of evaluation and planning, she said. A break usually follows the department’s annual program review cycle, the deputy undersecretary said, but last year, the department went straight into planning for sequestration.
“We then undertook the Strategic Choices in Management Review, and then … segued straight into the QDR 2014 process, as well as the next program review cycle,” Wormuth said. “So, it's been a very challenging time.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel thought it was important to take this QDR -- the first since he took office -- as an opportunity to look at the security environment and re-examine the strategy to lay out his vision for the department, she said.
"He gave us a lot of upfront guidance -- the day-to-day process was co-chaired by then-Deputy Secretary Ash Carter, and our vice chairman, Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, [and] they were very, very involved,” Wormuth said.
Carter and Winnefeld also were co-chairs of the budget review, she noted, which allowed for ideas to cross over between the two processes. And although it was a shorter, more compressed QDR than usual, she said, the department made every effort to continue the tradition of having the QDR be inclusive, transparent and collegial.
“We had representation from all of the services, all of the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] organization, all of the combatant commands, etc.,” Wormuth said. “So, we really tried to sort of involve everyone. That, of course, doesn't mean that every organization was happy with where we wound up, but I think it's fair to say that all parts of the building had a voice in the process, and that's very important to having a coherent … result at the end that has integrity.”
The final QDR report outlines three broad themes: an updated defense strategy, the rebalance of the joint force and the department’s commitment to protecting the all-volunteer force, she said.
The updated strategy is one that the department believes “is appropriate for the United States as a global leader,” Wormuth said. “It's a strategy that we believe helps us protect our interests and advance those interests in the world and helps us sustain our global leadership role.”
The second objective addresses managing the joint force given the current strategic and fiscal environments, Wormuth said.
And the third piece of the QDR report outlines how the department will continue to recruit and retain service members while becoming more efficient and effective, she said. In particular, the deputy undersecretary said, this section looks at reining in the growth of compensation packages to maintain a balanced force going into the future.
The underlying theme in the report is the kinds of risks that the department believes the return of sequestration in fiscal year 2016 poses to the defense strategy going forward, she said.
The 2014 QDR is an evolution of strategy as opposed to a revolution in strategy, Wormuth said.
“The administration had our strategic priorities pretty much right in the 2012 defense strategic guidance,” she said. “So we really went from the 2010 QDR, which was very focused on the two current wars at the time [in] Iraq and Afghanistan to the 2012 defense strategic guidance, where we tried to lay out some of the important defense priorities for the 21st century.
“And now, with the QDR 2014,” she continued, “[we are] building on that set of priorities to try to put the strategy in a slightly broader framework and really look forward to the kinds of challenges and opportunities we face in the future.”
The review process started with a discussion of the security environment, Wormuth said. “And I think it's fair to say we see the security environment as … continuing to be quite challenging,” she added. “It's volatile. There are a lot of threats out there.”
But, she said, there is also opportunity.
“So, in that context, we've tried to lay out an updated strategy that has three basic pillars,” the deputy undersecretary said.
The first pillar is protecting the homeland, she said. This is a shift from the 2012 defense strategic guidance, Wormuth said, which didn’t cover the department’s role in managing the consequences of natural disasters, for example.
Building global security is the second pillar in the strategy, she said. This includes things such as building partnership capacity, joint exercises, military-to-military engagement and port visits, she explained.
“And really, the goal of that part of our strategy is to try to deter conflict at the earliest point possible,” Wormuth said, “to try to prevent coercive behavior, for example, and to sort of proactively and positively shape the environment, so that we're trying to prevent conflict rather than having to deal with it after it's already manifested.”
The third pillar of the strategy is projecting power and winning decisively, she said.
“Whether that's to be able to respond to conflict, or whether it's to come to the aid of a country like the Philippines when they were dealing with their typhoon,” she said, “we want to be able to do both of those, and, if necessary, to deal with aggression when and if it happens.”
The QDR report emphasizes innovation and adaptability, Wormuth said.
“I think in the past,” she told the audience, “the department has often talked about innovation or efficiency in the context of sort of better business practices. … Here, we're trying to think about that, certainly, but to go beyond that and thinking about how can we build in innovation into the strategy itself -- into how we try to execute that strategy.”
To that end, the department conducted an extensive review of the operational concepts for some of its war plans to try to push innovation in those areas, Wormuth said. “We've also done things like looking carefully at the way we deploy forces to conduct forward presence activities,” she added.
And, Wormuth said, the department is pursuing innovation with some of its closest allies and partners. “We've had extensive dialogue with the Brits, in particular, looking at how we can do more in terms of joint training, how we can leverage the fact that they will be buying joint strike fighters, and how we can do more to train for, say, carrier operations, but also to work with them on strategic planning activities,” she said.
The big-picture view, she said, is that at the president's budget level, which is $115 billion more than the cap imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2013, DOD can execute the strategy outlined in the QDR, “although we will experience increased risk in some areas.”
For example, Wormuth said, the department will have some challenges in terms of readiness that will cause it to be more selective in the kinds of engagement activities that it can do.
The report also talks at length about rebalancing the force to align it to the new strategic pillars, she said.
“What we're trying to do, given the fiscal environment, is to reshape the force in such a way that it remains in balance between capacity -- the size of our forces -- capability, which is sort of shorthand for the level of modernization of our forces, and also the readiness level of our forces.”
To do that, Wormuth said, the department will have to undertake some of the steps outlined in the department’s budget proposal, including reducing the size of the active Army and Marine Corps and cutting platforms such as the Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-support fighter.
The department will continue to make investments in capabilities important to executing the strategy, she said, such as counterterrorism and cyber.
And, Wormuth said, DOD remains focused on continuing to fight sexual assault and suicides and is making sure that programs that support families, transition assistance and wounded warriors are protected.
The current rate of growth for compensation programs is not sustainable over time, Wormuth said, and so the department has proposed a series of “relatively modest reforms” in the 2015 budget proposal to try to slow the growth.
“So, things like slowing the size of the pay raise, for example, or making some reductions to our base housing allowance program or reducing, to some extent, the subsidy for our commissaries,” Wormuth said. “Those are all things that we think we have to do in order to keep our force healthy overall.”
If sequestration spending cuts return in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, she said, “we believe that the risk to our strategy will rise significantly.” The department would have to reduce the size of the force further, Wormuth said, adding that the active Army would be reduced to about 420,000 personnel. The Marine Corps would come down to 175,000 personnel, the Navy would lose a minimum of one carrier, and the Air Force would lose the KC-10 Extender tanker.
“We would also have to go into the modernization accounts and cut those much more deeply,” she said, “which we think would put at risk our ability to keep pace with [anti-access/area-denial] developments, for example.”
In combination, all of those things would have a very damaging impact on the defense strategy and place the nation’s security at risk, both home and abroad, the deputy undersecretary said.
“Because of capacity challenges under permanent sequestration, it would be harder to build security globally,” Wormuth said. “We would have a harder time generating sufficient forward presence to do all of the partnership activities that we think are necessary around the world.”
It’s because of these kinds of risks that the president and the secretary decided to put forward a defense budget that is significantly higher than the Budget Control Act-level caps, Wormuth said.
“We think that the strategy we've put forward is the right strategy for the country,” she added, “and we think the additional resources are needed and warranted to be able to execute that strategy.”
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @rouloafps)
An active-duty soldier and seven Army veterans are competing this week in the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Staff Sgt. Jen Lee of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program is backup goalie for the USA sled hockey team that beat Italy, 5-1, and South Korea, 3-0, over the weekend and faces Russia today.
Army veterans on Team USA include:
-- Retired Staff Sgt. Rico Roman, of Portland, Ore., who also is on the USA sled hockey team;
-- Retired Staff Sgt. Heath Calhoun of Clarksville, Tenn., who is competing in alpine skiing;
-- Former Spc. Joel Hunt, of Kokomo, Ind., scheduled to compete in the men's standing giant slalom March 15;
-- Retired Staff Sgt. Bryan Price of Belton, Mo., competing in Nordic or cross-country skiing;
-- Former Spc. Andy Soule of San Antonio, competing in biathlon and cross-country skiing;
-- Former Sgt. Jeremy Wagner of Nanakuli, Hawaii, who is competing in biathlon events;
-- Former Pfc. Patrick McDonald of Madison, Wis., who is competing in wheelchair curling, in which Team USA lost 6-4 to Slovakia and 9-5 to South Korea on March 8. On March 9, they beat Norway, 8-5. Yesterday, Team USA lost 7-2 to Canada and 6-5 to Russia.
Calhoun finished fourth in the Super-G-sitting skiing event March 9 with a time of 1 minute, 24.65 seconds, behind Japan's Akira Kano, who took gold with a time of 1:19.51. Japanese teammate Taiki Morii took silver with a time of 1:21.60, and Canada's Caleb Brousseau took bronze with 1:22.05. Calhoun will compete in the combined Super-G today.
Soule finished fourth March 8 in the 7.5-km sitting biathlon competition with a time of 21:48.5. Russia's Roman Petushkov took the gold with a time of 21:03.7. Ukraine's Maksym Yarovy took the silver, and Japan's Kozo Kubo won the bronze. Soule and the other top three finishers never missed a target, finishing with a perfect shooting score.
Soule finished fifth in the 15-km cross-country skiing event March 9 with a time of 42:53.8. Russia's Petushkov took the gold with a time of 40:51.6. Russia's Irek Zaripov won the silver, and Russia's Aleksandr Davidovich took the bronze.
Soule is scheduled to compete in the men's 12.5-km biathlon event today, as is Wagner, who finished 18th in the 7.5-km sitting biathlon competition March 8 with a time of 26:16.1.
On March 9, Price finished 19th in the men's 15-km sitting cross-country event with a time of 53:56.6. He is scheduled to ski the 1-km sprint tomorrow, the 4x2.5-km open relay March 15, and the men's 10-km on March 16.
The U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command congratulated all members of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic team last week and offered special encouragement to the eight Army athletes.
"The Warrior Transition Command encourages every wounded, ill and injured soldier to have a sport to call their own," said Army Lt. Col. Keith L. Williams, head of the Warrior Transition Command's adaptive reconditioning program. "When soldiers face injury or illness, they can still participate in sports and other physical activities. These activities significantly enhance their physical and emotional recovery … . The soldiers and Army veterans on this year's Paralympic team represent the enduring strength and resilience of the Army."
(A Warrior Transition Command news release contributed to this article.)
More U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons will deploy to Poland in the coming days and weeks, a Pentagon official said here today.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak spoke yesterday, and Siemoiniak thanked the secretary for looking at options for basing, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
“No decision [have been made] on numbers yet,” he added. “That decision has not been finalized.”
U.S. European Command would provide the aircraft once a decision is made, the colonel told reporters.
The decision has been made to increase the size of the U.S. aviation detachment in Poland, Warren said. Ten U.S. Air Force personnel are stationed at Lask Air Base in Poland, “but there is no permanent jet presence there,” he added.
The airmen support quarterly rotations of U.S. F-16s and C-130s for joint training with the Polish air force. They are part of the 52nd Fighter Wing based in Spangdahlem, Germany.
Typically, there are four annual aircraft rotations to the air base, with at least two weeks of flying per rotation.
“What we are doing is reassuring our allies that we are there for them,” Warren said. “This is an important time for us to make it crystal clear to all our allies and partners in the region that the United States of America stands by them.”
This is just one of the visible actions the United States has taken since the Russian incursion into Ukraine. The United States sent six more F-15C Eagle aircraft to beef up the air policing mission in the Baltics. In addition, the USS Truxton has been deployed to the Black Sea.
These are examples, Warren said, of U.S. commitments to allies and partners in the region.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)
The military’s top enlisted leader praised service members and their families at Joint Base Langley–Eustis, Va., March 7 for their professionalism, flexibility and tenacity during a time of impending change for the Defense Department.
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke during Air Combat Command’s annual awards dinner, where he lauded troops for their service and their families for their unwavering commitment.
“I just want to say how tremendously proud we are of the service members and civilian workforce that comprise our total force,” he said.
Also, Battaglia said, it takes a very special family to endure the frequent and lengthy separations and household moves inherent in military life, especially while shouldering hardships awaiting the return of loved ones.
“We hope you share our excitement and pride that our military family is the heart and soul of our force,” he said, leading a round of applause for military spouses in attendance.
While families are the military’s heart and soul, the sergeant major said, “our serving men and women stand tall as the center of gravity.”
“Despite the impending changes to our force,” he said, alluding to uncertainty in the defense budget and the nation’s transition from a 13-year wartime footing. “We’ll forge through it and adapt to upgrades and modernization. It may sting, but we shoulder a duty and responsibility to our country and its citizens.”
Some areas of change, such as pay and compensation, may take a little longer to return to normal than others, Battaglia said, but the military’s leaders hope to do this just once.
“Our professionalism, tenacity and moral obligation will see us through,” he said. “We can never forget that we are a loyal, patriotic and professional organization our society respects and admires, and an organization that many nations, in fact, envy.”
The senior enlisted advisor said each service member -- no matter their rank or status -- has attained the credentials and privilege to proudly wear the uniform, earning their coveted title of soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. He said it is “professionally humbling” and that he feels “very fortunate” leading and representing a force of more than 2 million enlisted men and women -- active duty, Reserve and National Guard -- and their families.
Battaglia provided an overview of the challenges that lie ahead for the department, troops and their families.
“It should be no surprise to anyone here that as we have returned forces from Iraq and continue to methodically redeploy forces from Afghanistan, we are also restructuring and reshaping our total force,” Battaglia said. “Like we have after every major conflict, readjustment in personnel and equipment comes as part of that post-conflict cycle.”
While the armed forces may be leaner tomorrow than they are today, Battaglia said, they will remain ready, relevant, trained, poised and postured to meet any emergent requirement as the president directs to defend the nation.
The sergeant major said every service and component will be reshaped in some manner, but there will be a slight build-up in cyber warriors and special operations forces.
“You know the capability they bring,” Battaglia said. “Cyber is certainly a viable and current challenge to our country’s security. Freedom is not free.”
The sergeant major noted that the fiscal challenges the nation faces will affect the armed forces as well.
“It shows us from multiple perspectives that war, through all phases, comes with a cost,” he said. “We have some state-of-the-art equipment and technology that has allowed our forces to not only defeat our enemy … but prevent and avoid engagement partly because of advanced technology.”
Battaglia said he uses “freedom is not free” means that keeping adversaries out of reach comes with a monetary cost to supply operational forces. But more importantly, he said, freedom comes with a human cost: the lives of service members who gallantly have given their full devotion.
With the sacrifices of those serving over the last 13 years, Battaglia said, “no dollar amount can be placed to that price.”
“It is one of the sacrifices that every one of you who have sworn the oath carries with you each day,” he added. “On any given day, you are prepared to support and defend [it] at all costs.”
Battaglia acknowledged more than 90 award nominees “who have gone the full mile, and a handful within that group who happened to go even a little further.”
“All of them,” he said, are “honorable in their actions and courageous in their hearts. They are the members of our team who have set a fine example [with] not only their past performance, but rather their future potential.”
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)
Whether it’s how to replace a lost military service medal, ship a package to overseas troops or get the details of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, there’s a good chance the Defense Department’s Knowledge Base will have the answers.
A DOD information tool to answer public inquiries, the database offers about 18 pages of 180 Defense questions and answers that address the hottest topics of public concern, said Nancy Kuck, a public affairs specialist working in community and public outreach for the office of the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
“We are an avenue to ask questions,” Kuck said of the Knowledge Base.
Anyone can use the database, and Kuck encourages people to first look at Knowledge Base’s frequently asked questions to find the information they need. If the answer to a question is not listed, information-seekers can submit questions and receive electronic responses.
If the staff of three full-time employees doesn’t know the answer to a question, they will research a topic and find the answer, Kuck said. The staff answers more than 40,000 inquiries a year submitted through the Knowledge Base and by letters, emails and phone calls, she said.
Two of the most popular questions are how to replace an identification card, and how to obtain a DD 214, the certificate of release or discharge from active duty, she said.
Additionally, if Kuck’s office sees a trend in questions or concerns -- such as last year’s furlough, -- the staff researches and gathers the information for posting on the Knowledge Base so it’s readily available to the public, she said.
The Knowledge Base is “the big umbrella” of DOD information, although some questions are military service-specific, Kuck said, noting that directly contacting the appropriate branch of service is sometimes faster to get an answer.
“If it’s service-specific, we encourage people to go to them, because they would know more than we would,” she said. The public will find contact information for various organizations at http://www.defense.gov/landing/comment.aspx, she added.
“Our team does its best to address the questions and concerns of the general public,” Kuck said, “because they have a voice, and we are there to answer them,”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkAFPS)
The United States continues to assist the Malaysian government in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared the night of March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.
The USS Pinckney and USS Kidd - Arleigh Burke-class destroyers - are on station in the Gulf of Thailand conducting search-and-rescue operations, Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters today.
The ships are using a "creeping-line” search method, Warren said. The Pinckney investigated a possible debris field yesterday, he added, but it was not the missing aircraft.
Two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters are flying off the ships to aid the search, using forward-looking infrared pods to search at night. A P-3 Orion from Kadena Air Base, Japan, also is being employed in the search, Warren said. The Orion, operating in the western search area, brings long-range search, radar and communications capabilities to the efforts. It can loiter about nine hours at a time.
In addition, the USNS John Ericsson, a fleet replenishment oiler, is providing logistics support for the U.S. effort.
American ships are working with ships from Malaysia, China and Singapore in the search effort.
Air traffic controllers lost the signal about two hours after the Boeing 777-200 airliner took off with 239 people aboard.
Earlier reports of an oil slick in the Gulf of Thailand proved to not be from the aircraft, Malaysian aviation officials in Kuala Lumpur told reporters today.
The Defense Department needs to hammer home to service members what it means to be members of the profession of arms, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said March 7 on the PBS “Newshour” program.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Judy Woodruff that ethical lapses such as the recent cheating scandals in the Air Force and Navy and the failures of some Army and Marine Corps officers are an urgent matter for senior department leaders.
Dempsey gave his best guess on what’s causing these lapses. “I think what happened … is we’ve gotten a little careless, maybe sloppy, over the last 10 years with the mechanisms that used to provide oversight, checks and balances – a safety net, if you will, for professionalism,” he said.
Military personnel became consumed with preparing for deployment, deploying, coming back and then getting ready to go again, he said. “We stopped sending young men and women to our professional military education when they should have gone,” Dempsey said. “We stopped doing things like command climate surveys. We got sloppy with contracting oversight.”
The military must “go back to the small disciplines that really make a difference in defining ourselves as a profession,” Dempsey said. “And we will.”
The chairman stressed that it is a small number of service members who have tarnished the profession. “We need to deal with those, but we also need to continue to reinforce what it means to be a professional,” he said.
Dempsey cautioned that the lapses run the gamut and cannot be treated the same way or lumped together. Some of the lapses are criminal, and others are ethical and behavioral issues, he said. Still others are “sophomoric cultural issues, and some of them are just plain stupidity, and each of those has to be dealt with in a different way,” he said.
“I understand the desire of some for me to be more public about this,” he added, “but don’t … underestimate the degree to which this has my attention internal to the profession.”
On the subject of sexual assault in the military, Dempsey stressed that the military must produce results. A bill that would have placed prosecution for sexual assaults in the military out of commanders’ hands was defeated in Congress. But a bare majority of those in the Senate -- the bill required a supermajority to pass -- voted for the bill.
President Barack Obama gave DOD leaders a year to review the situation and put in place corrective measures. “We’re nowhere near me declaring that we’ve turned the corner on this thing,” Dempsey said. Still, he said, some young women and men are coming forward to report assaults that occurred years ago, a sign that the propensity to report may be increasing. “And that seems to me to be a positive sign,” he added. “But we haven’t turned the corner yet. We’re working on it.”
It’s a fact of life that the depth of budget reductions and the draconian way they are applied will affect military readiness and increase risk, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said March 7 on the PBS “Newshour” program.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told Judy Woodruff that “risks are beginning to accrue” and that it is imperative that the military get some sort of fiscal consistency for planning purposes.
The fiscal 2015 budget request would be a good place to start, he said. That budget supports the military strategy, and allows the department to plan for the future. Still, there are problems, the chairman said.
“Even at the budget level that has been submitted by the department, which is about $115 billion over the Budget Control Act, most commonly known as sequestration,” he said, “at that level we can still be the most powerful military in the world in 2020, which is about where we project out to.”
Under the budget request, there will be more than 1 million active duty service members, which rises to almost 2 million when the reserve components are included. “We have forward operating bases,” Dempsey said. “We have close, strong alliances. This is not a military in decline, nor will it be [in decline] at the level of budget we submitted.”
But if the Defense Department must implement the full sequestration reductions of the Budget Control Act in fiscal 2016, he added, “then we will have what I think would be too much risk.”
Budgeting one year at a time also imposes its own risks, the general said, because the government writ large tries to adapt to the future and to future budget realities each year, rather than by a plan. “We need to have the flexibility to be able to use the money that we’re given in a responsible way to build the joint force we need,” he said, “and right now I don’t know that we’re going to get that flexibility.
“If we are able to manage the budget in the way we’ve articulated in our budget submission, [if] we get flexibility we need, if we do that and live up to the promises that are actually articulated in the Quadrennial Defense Review, we will be able to manage this at moderate risk,” he continued. “If we don’t get that flexibility, the risk in certain areas becomes very high.”
The 2014 Paralympic Winter Games opened in Sochi, Russia, March 7 with a ceremony called "Breaking the Ice," honoring the strength of the human spirit.
Army Staff Sgt. Jen Lee, a goalie for the USA sled hockey team, was among athletes at Fisht Olympic Stadium and the sports complex along the Black Sea where the closing of the XXII Olympic Winter Games took place last month.
At the Paralympics Opening Ceremony, spectators watched a two-hour performance about the power of the human spirit overcoming obstacles to limitless potential. Central to the story was a mythical firebird that linked all scenes of the show, which included 150 performers with physical impairments, along with popular Russian opera singers and entertainers.
The USA sled hockey team competed first against Italy, winning 5-1 on March 8. USA then went on to beat South Korea yesterday, 3-0.
NBC and NBC Sports Network will provide eight hours of sled hockey coverage, including Team USA vs. Russia at 3 p.m. EDT tomorrow on NBCSN. Live coverage of the semifinal games will air March 13 on NBCSN, with the first game beginning at 5 a.m. EDT and the second game at noon. The sled hockey final will air on NBC March 15 at 1 p.m. EDT.
Team USA is led by team captain Andy Yohe, who was a member of the USA squad that won gold in the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, B.C., and goaltender Steve Cash, who did not allow a single goal in five games in Vancouver.
The team also boasts four military veterans, including active duty soldier Lee, the back-up goalie, who are with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.
Other veterans on the USA sled hockey team include Marine Corps veterans Paul Schaus and Josh Sweeney and Army veteran Rico Roman. All three are Purple Heart recipients.
The U.S. Navy is contributing to the international search effort for a Malaysia Airlines jet that dropped off the radar of Subang, Indonesia, traffic controllers early Saturday morning while over the South China Sea, according to a statement from the U.S. Seventh Fleet public affairs office.
Flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200 aircraft, departed Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. Saturday local time and was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6:30am Beijing time. The flight has 227 passengers from 14 nations, mainly China, and 12 crewmembers. According to the Malaysia Airlines website, three Americans, including one infant, were also aboard.
Today, the USS Pinckney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer homeported in San Diego, was dispatched to the southern coast of Vietnam to join teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam in search and rescue efforts already underway, according to the Malaysia Airlines website.
Pinckney was conducting training and maritime security operations in international waters of the South China Sea. The ship could be in vicinity of the missing jet within 24 hours and carries two MH-60R helicopters that can be equipped for search and rescue.
The Seventh Fleet PAO says a P-3C Orion aircraft also will depart shortly from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, bringing long-range search, radar and communications capabilities to the efforts.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those affected by this tragic event,” PAO officials said in the statement, which also requested that all questions about the event be directed to the Navy Office of Information, or CHINFO, duty officer.
The Navy also has released file video of USS Pinckney at the websites below.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinAFPS)
March is National Save Your Vision Month, and the Defense Department wants service members to take care of their eyes by wearing eye protection when performing dangerous work, reducing eye strain and routinely undergoing eye examinations.
Dr. Robert Mazzoli, an ophthalmologist at the Vision Center of Excellence at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., noted the Iraq and Afghanistan wars of more than a decade produced a historic high in the percentage of eye injuries.
“When we were first going into Iraq, eye injuries accounted for 25 percent of all combat casualties,” he said. “That's because people weren't wearing their eye protection.”
That was when warfare was different and comprised mostly of artillery, Mazzoli said. After the introduction of improvised explosive devices, he said, eye injuries dropped to about 10 to 15 percent, which still is higher than it’s been in the U.S. history of war.
After witnessing fellow troops with compromised or lost vision, service members eventually began to understand the importance of wearing their protective eyewear, he noted.
The military is assertive about its service members wearing protective eye wear, Mazzoli said.
“If you can't see, you can't shoot [and] that becomes ineffective to the unit and the service member,” he said.
The military spent a lot of money on improving its eyewear, Mazzoli said.
“We have continually modified, improved and refined combat eye protection,” for such issues as visual clarity, he said, adding that the combat eye protection the military is fielding is bulletproof and can stop fragments. And since about 2005, commercial eyeglass companies have contracted with the military to make combat eyewear a bit more fashionable too, the doctor said.
“Prevention is always better than treatment,” Mazzoli said. “The No. 1 point is to wear eye protection even when you don't think you need it, because that's when you're going to wish you had it.
“Eye injuries are completely avoidable,” Mazzoli said.
Even outside the combat arena, some 90 percent of eye injuries that happen at home could be prevented by wearing eye protection, he said.
Simple activities such as using a hammer, stretching a bungee cord or using weed eaters are common causes of eye injuries when protective eyewear isn’t used, Mazzoli said.
Recreational activities also can take a toll on eye injuries. Basketball is a common source of eye injuries, he said.
“Even LeBron James [of the NBA’s Miami Heat] wears a big plastic mask because he got elbowed and broke his nose,” he said.
When an eye injury occurs, it is critical to not apply pressure to the eye before seeing a doctor to avoid further damage, Mazzoli emphasized. Unlike tight tourniquets and compresses used to stop bleeding in other parts of the body, eye injuries should not be patched, he said.
Shielding the eye with glasses or sunglasses is acceptable as long as they do not touch the eye, Mazzoli said.
Another approach to keeping eyes healthy is to take breaks from electronics, such as computer monitors, smartphones, tablets, GPS units and other items with screens, because they strain the eye from “near work,” he said.
Activities such as crocheting, woodworking and reading books also qualify as “near” work, he pointed out
Televisions usually don’t apply because they are not close enough to cause eyestrain, Mazzoli said.
For “near” activities, Mazzoli suggests the “20/20/20 rule:” Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Routine eye examinations are important to maintaining healthy eyes, he said, adding that a family eye history of a disease such as glaucoma or diabetes dictates how often people should visit their eye doctor.
Wearing sunglasses with ultraviolet protection year-round also is important for healthy vision, he said.
The eye “is the window to the body, because [certain] diseases such as hypertension and diabetes can be seen in the back of the eye,” Mazzoli said.
“If we see diabetic changes going on in the eye, there's a good chance those kinds of changes are happening in the kidney, brain, heart, liver and everywhere else in the body,” he pointed out.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkAFPS)
The Department of Defense (DoD) would get an additional $26 billion in FY2015 under a funding initiative proposed by President Obama in the federal budget request submitted to Congress this week.
The president’s Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative requests $56 billion in FY2015 for additional investment in defense and nondefense programs to “spur economic progress and strengthen our national security.”
The additional $28 billion in domestic would go to education, research and innovation, infrastructure and jobs, opportunity and mobility, public health and safety, and to promote a more efficient and effective government, according to budget documentation. Another $28 billion would go to defense programs to improve DoD readiness and support modernization and to provide “effective sustainment of the nuclear weapons stockpile.”
This increased funding would be offset from spending and tax reforms proposed by the president.
DoD Comptroller Bob Hale explained to reporters when the budget was released how DoD would allocate its share ($26.4 billion) of funding from the initiative. He said about 40 percent would be used for “direct readiness enhancements,” about 40 percent for “modernization improvements,” and about 10 percent for “installations support increases, sustainment, and military construction.”
Secretary Hagel strongly endorsed the president’s initiative in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. He said DoD’s share of the initiative’s funding is necessary to close near-term gaps in readiness and modernization that have arisen due to required funding cuts.
He emphasized that this proposal was not meant to satisfy a “wish list of unfunded priorities or unfunded requirements,” perhaps referring to the request by the House Armed Services Committee for such a list from the military services. He said the additional $26 billion is expressly for “bringing unit readiness, equipment, and facilities closer to standard after the disruptions and large shortfalls of the last few years.”
Hagel listed specific examples of how the additional funding would be allocated.
The Army would use the funds to address training needs and buy Blackhawk helicopters.
The Navy would fund aviation depot maintenance and logistics and increased investment in the P-8 Poseidon, E-2D Hawkeye, and Joint Strike Fighter programs. The Marine Corps share would fund unit level training and provide needed investment in the H-1 and KC-130 aircraft programs.
The Air Force would also fund readiness and training support and provide investment funding for the F-35, C-130J, and MQ-9 Reaper aircraft programs.
And, Hagel said all services would allocate funding from the initiative to fund needed base sustainment and military construction projects.
The use of overseas contingency operations funding has relieved some pressure on the Defense Department’s base budget, but as the war in Afghanistan winds down, those base budget requirements are at risk as future contingency funding faces uncertainty, a senior Pentagon official said yesterday.
John B. Johns, deputy assistant secretary of defense for maintenance policy and programs, discussed budget concerns and stability as they relate to national security at Aviation Week’s Defense Technologies and Requirements Conference.
“In many ways, what we have done to try to get away from the pressure on the base budget is we have invented a term called OCO,” Johns said. “Overseas contingency operations [are] relatively immune to the pressures of the base budget. If you look in the past and how budgets have been executed, the basic idea of doing this is really not that novel.” But the amount of money that is going into OCO, compared to the overall defensive budget, is relatively large, he added.
The problem, Johns said, is OCO funding eventually will go away.
“We have shifted, with as legitimate an argument as we could possibly make, base budget requirements into OCO,” he said.
“We’ve done it legally, because we can make an argument that it can fit. But they have never been there before.” Johns explained this was done because the department has “taken a hit in the base,” but knows those requirements still need to be satisfied.
“So we have moved them into the OCO budget, which puts them at risk when OCO goes away,” he said. Since the peak period of 2009 to 2011, he added, OCO funds have seen a 25-percent reduction. “And while the out-year budgets, as reflected in the 2015 budget submission, appear to be relatively stable, OCO is highly uncertain,” Johns said.
Pressure on the base budget will continue, he said, and DOD cannot rely on stabilization at that level. “At minimum,” he said, “sometime in the relatively near future, especially if we pull out of Afghanistan, … that OCO budget is going to be under pressure.”
Johns said that around this time last year, Pentagon officials “were predicting the sky was falling.”
“The entire sustainment community rallied behind this message that if we get the full effect of continuing resolutions, sequestration and OCO shortfalls,” he said, “we will have major impacts on readiness driven by huge deferrals across the board in every service.” This message was so coherent, impactful and effective, Johns said, that it never happened because the Defense Department got additional funding and reprogramming authority to protect areas believed to be at the greatest risk.
“I consider that to be a huge success of a unified community,” he said. “If we could just duplicate that in the future, we could be very successful in fighting some of the challenges that we’re going to face, I think, in the very near future.” However, said he added, he doesn’t believe that argument can be sustained.
“I’m not sure it’s going to work again,” he said. “We need to be collectively prepared for that situation where that does not work.”
Johns cautioned that when OCO funding does go away, he doesn’t believe the money will be rolled into the base budget. “We need to move and transition the critical enduring requirements that are currently being resourced in OCO into the base program,” he said. “Without that, some really bad decisions are going to be made.”
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)
Leaks to the media of classified information and the need for cyber legislation were key elements of a speech this week by Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency.
“What's going on in media leaks directly affects our ability to get cyber legislation,” Alexander told an audience at Georgetown University, “and we have to address both as a nation and amongst nations. We've got to get this right.”
Recent media leaks include those by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who last year fled the United States for temporary asylum in Russia, after stealing 1.7 million intelligence files from NSA concerning the agency’s surveillance activities and later disclosing thousands of documents to reporters at London’s Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post.
The Justice Department has since charged Snowden, now a fugitive, with espionage and theft of government documents. The massive leak launched a continuing public debate, a presidential review of NSA intelligence-collection practices, and a range of intelligence reforms announced Jan. 17 by President Barack Obama.
On media leaks, Alexander offered his own perspective on a Feb. 19 ruling by a British high court against David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald who had published articles and was planning to produce more stories based on Snowden’s stolen NSA data.
Miranda was detained for nine hours Aug. 19 after two British counterterrorism-unit police officers searched him at Heathrow Airport and found he was carrying encrypted material derived from NSA data stolen by Snowden. He was held under the authority of paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 7 of the United Kingdom Terrorism Act 2000, and filed an application for judicial review of the detention, which he said took place without legal authority.
On Feb. 19, a court dismissed Miranda’s application.
“We’re now in an interesting situation as a nation,” Alexander said of the wide-ranging debate over the Snowden leaks, adding that the U.K. justices in the Miranda case determined that “journalists have no standing when it comes to national security issues.”
In the Miranda case, the British court found that journalists have a “professional responsibility to take care so far as they are able to see that the public interest, including the security of the state and the lives of other people, is not endangered by what they publish.”
But the court called such a safeguard inadequate for lives and security because of what was described as the “jigsaw” nature of intelligence information -- a range of data and facts pieced together over time by different agencies -- and because journalists have their own take on what serves the public interest, and added that “constitutional responsibility for the protection of national security lies with elected government.”
“I just put that on the table,” Alexander said, “because that’s a key issue that we as a nation are going to face.”
The general said the leaks have caused “grave, significant and irreversible damage to our nation and to our allies. It will take us years to recover from it. In some areas like terrorism, I feel like someone else is going to pay the price for what’s [been] done.”
The latest large distributed-denial-of-service attacks, one in May and one in June 2013, Alexander said, caused more than $180 million in damage to systems in South Korea.
“There is a great need for our nation to get cyber legislation and work with other nations [to] set up norms” to help defend against the rising number of adversaries.
Media leaks have made it necessary to address such issues as a nation, the general said, including public discussion in the United States about what the government should and should not do as part of its cyber security responsibilities.
Alexander said that in preparation for an evolving cyber future, Cyber Command is working on five priorities:
-- Establishing a defensible architecture -- a thin virtual cloud architecture that turns the advantage to those who defend the networks and that offers the ability to fix vulnerabilities at network speed.
-- Maintaining a trained and ready force by educating everyone, including those at Cyber Command, to the high standard used for NSA’s elite forces.
-- Establishing cyberspace operational concepts and command and control for the many teams operating there. Alexander said Cyber Command is working on virtual and physical command and control, and streamlining command and control from the president and defense secretary to Cyber Command and others.
-- Developing shared situational awareness in cyberspace as a way to visualize it and everything that can happen there so military leaders can understand what they’re facing and what’s needed to deny the adversary that capability. “If we can’t visualize [cyberspace] and transfer that thought to someone else, we won’t have a common way of stopping [adversaries],” the general said. “For the cyber courses we have to have it, so we’re building a common operational picture.”
-- Giving NSA and Cyber Command authority to share back with industry malware signatures and information about cyber attacks or cyber exploits.
A final critical issue, the general said, is for the nation to determine a way for the government and other nations to work together in cyberspace, “so everybody understands what the norms and the red lines are and how we'll track them.”
Alexander added, “Why do we need cyber legislation? NSA has great insights, as does Cyber Command, about threats against our nation. Wall Street, the power companies and the rest of government don't have a way to protect themselves [if we don’t work] together with them.”
Today, NSA and Cyber Command probably wouldn’t see an incoming attack or exploit against Wall Street, he said.
Despite everything that’s been said about the domestic collection capabilities of NSA, “the fact is we don't have the ability to see [such commercial activity], and Internet service providers and others are forbidden to share that information with the government – the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, NSA and Cyber Command -- because of restrictions put forth in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act.”
The issue, he said, is that “we have capabilities to help defend the nation, but we don't have a way to share them back and forth. And if we did share something, we'd have to figure out how to work liability with those companies so they're protected from the facts we've given them.”
Such liability protection would shelter companies from customer civil suits based on company cybersecurity activities performed as partners with government agencies, he explained.
“This is a team sport -- [it’s] not just NSA and Cyber Command. It’s DHS, FBI and many others,” Alexander said. “The government has to work with industry, we have to have the … policies and we’re working our way through [them], but the key thing we need is legislation.”
NSA and Cyber Command, FBI and other agencies may know something about an adversary’s ability to exploit or attack a network, he explained. “If it’s classified, how do we share that?” he asked. “And if we share that, how do they give that information back to us?”
Much needs to be accomplished between government and industry and within the U.S. government to get the authorities issue right, the general said. “We have a lot of capabilities in our government that we ought to share, analogous to the way we share capabilities to defend our nation in physical space,” he added.
“If a bank is attacked by another nation state [in cyberspace], our country shouldn’t say to that bank, ‘Good luck with that.’ Because if that bank were attacked in physical space with missiles, we wouldn’t say, ‘You have to have your own missile defense system.’ In this space we have to figure out how that government-industry partnership will work.”
Alexander said the nation has to handle issues that have arisen because of the media leaks before it tackles cyber legislation.
“I think we are going to make headway over the next few weeks on media leaks,” he said. “I’m an optimist -- I think if we make the right steps on media-leaks legislation, then cyber legislation will be a lot easier.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)
The Defense Department’s nuclear deterrent is the ultimate protection for the United States while also assuring distant allies of their security against regional aggression, a senior Pentagon official told Congress yesterday.
Elaine Bunn, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee that while Defense Department modernization goals largely have not changed since 2010, some adjustments are on the horizon.
One such change, she reported, involves the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty force structure. “The administration is considering how to reduce nondeployed strategic delivery vehicles to comply with the limits of the new START treaty by February 2018,” she said, “and we will make a final force structure decision and inform Congress prior to the start of fiscal year 2015.”
Bunn expressed concern about Russian activity that appears to be inconsistent with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. “We've raised the issue with Russia,” she told the senators. They provided an answer that was not satisfactory to us, and we told them that the issue is not closed.”
With regard to recent ethical issues involving Air Force and Navy nuclear personnel, Bunn noted that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has created both internal and external special review panels. “Those reviews are not about assigning blame,” she said. “They're about identifying, assessing, and correcting any systemic deficiencies that we may uncover and in applying the best practices for carrying out our nuclear mission across the nuclear force.”
Bunn also said the recently released 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review makes clear the key role of nuclear forces in the DOD strategy.
“It … supports our ability to project power by communicating to potential nuclear-armed adversaries that they cannot escalate their way out of failed conventional aggression,” Bunn said. The department's budget request for fiscal year 2015 supports DOD’s nuclear policy goals as laid out in the 2010 nuclear posture review, in President Barack Obama’s June 2013 nuclear employment strategy, and in the 2014 QDR, she added. As a result, Bunn reported, Pentagon officials will continue to ensure that the current and future administrations have suitable options for deterring, responding to, and managing a diverse range of situations, including regional deterrence challenges.
“We continue to work closely with our allies, some of whom live in very dangerous neighborhoods, to ensure continuing confidence in our shared national security goals, including assurance of our extended nuclear deterrence commitments,” she told the Senate panel.
Critical to maintaining a safe, secure and effective force is the preservation of the nuclear triad: strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, Bunn said.
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleAFPS)
Two countries that have long concerned the United States in terms of national security -- North Korea and Iran -- are mentioned first in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, a document that a senior Defense Department official told reporters this week has a renewed emphasis on protecting the homeland.
The congressionally mandated review of national defense strategy establishes priorities for defense spending, assets and a rebalancing of the military in anticipation of the security challenges the nation is likely to face in the coming years, all in light of an increasingly tight fiscal situation.
In explaining the objectives to foreign journalists this week, Christine E. Wormuth, deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and force development, said the United States remains concerned about North Korea in particular, which she called a “major challenge” for the United States in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The regime remains very insular and closed, and has engaged in a series of provocations,” Wormuth said, adding that the United States is working closely with South Korea to ensure stability on the Korean Peninsula.
“I think we’ve developed, together with [South Korea], a counter-provocation plan that’s designed to help us coordinate and respond to potential future provocations more effectively than ever before,” she said.
North Korea tested a long-range missile this week in what was described as a reaction to annual U.S. and South Korean military exercises. “I think we feel confident that with the force that we have going forward and the strategy that we have, that we will be able to meet our responsibilities with [South Korea] to address threats that we might see from North Korea,” Wormuth told reporters a day after the missile test.
Wormuth called the U.S. military’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region announced two years ago an important part of the U.S. strategy and said U.S. officials are paying close attention to China’s military modernization.
“We would like to see more transparency in terms of Chinese intentions behind the various elements of its modernization,” she said. China this week announced plans to increase defense spending by more than 12 percent.
The Quadrennial Defense Review also says the United States must stay ahead of the ballistic missile threat posed by Iran. To that end, Wormuth said, the strategy highlights the importance of investing in national missile defense in light of Iran’s growing capabilities, and added that the strategy anticipates a lot of continued instability in the Middle East in general, especially involving ongoing Sunni-Shia tensions and the consequences of revolutions rooted in the Arab Spring.
(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @SimeoneAFPS)
The strength of coalition bonds in Afghanistan can be demonstrated by a recent helicopter recovery effort that involved four of the eight countries deployed to Regional Command Southwest, said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Walter Lee Miller Jr., former commander of the regional command and the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
A mechanical failure caused a British Apache AH-64 helicopter pilot to jettison his fuel pods and make a forced landing near the Nawzad district of Helmand province, Miller said in an interview with the Pentagon Channel.
A U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Chinook returning from a mission heard the mayday call from the British crew and picked them up, he said. At the same time, an Estonian patrol secured the jettisoned fuel pods and a Georgian patrol secured the downed aircraft until a joint U.S. and British recovery team arrived and transported the helicopter back to friendly lines.
“It doesn’t get more coalition than that,” the general said. “The only decision I had to make was who was in charge of the total mission.”
The eight countries that represent the International Security Assistance Force in Regional Command Southwest -- the United States, the United Kingdom, Georgia, Jordan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tonga, Estonia and Bahrain -- come from three different continents, Miller said. Operational meetings can require five different interpreters. “And it works,” he added.
Miller assumed command in February 2013 and turned over command of the region, which is bordered by Iran and Pakistan, to 1st Marine Expeditionary Force last month. In that time, he said, the mission evolved from advising combat troops at the kandak, or battalion, level, to institutional advising at the brigade and division level.
Last June, coalition advisors across Afghanistan turned over security responsibility to the Afghan security forces -- the army, as well as the various police organizations. In Helmand and Nimruz provinces, this represents a total force of about 32,000, the general said.
The brigade-level advise and assist mission at three of the four Afghan army brigades in the region will end sometime this summer, he said, noting that the fourth already is operating on its own.
That brigade, the 1st Brigade, is responsible for an area in the southern portion of command’s area of responsibility that includes the districts of Garmsir and Marjah -- an area that U.S. Marines fought hard for, Miller added. Those are now model districts, he said, “perhaps for all of Afghanistan in how they're dealing with their own security.”
Afghanistan’s security forces have been preparing for April’s elections, the general said. In Regional Command Southwest, the Afghans developed a layered security plan, Miller said, noting that the plan will cover 177 polling places.
“What they're doing is preparing so the security is there at the polling sites so that people feel comfortable attending for fair and impartial elections,” the general said. “Around the polling sites, you would find that the national police are providing the internal security, the external security will be provided by the army outside the polling sites and outside the city.”
Miller said he expects the election to be a constructive step for Afghanistan. A generation of Afghans has grown up since the U.S. first arrived, he said.
“And those young people, for the first time, will have an opportunity to vote,” he said, “so I expect to see some really positive changes coming here in the very near future.”
Encouraging changes already happening are, the general said.
“I'll tell you about a patrol I was on,” he said. “I was in the north of Sangin … on a patrol with an old gentleman, grizzly guy, missing an eye, been at war for 30 years. And he and I as two old guys, we walked up on top of a hill and had a little discussion.
“I asked him, 'Why are you still in this fight? Why do you keep coming back each day?'” the general continued. “And he's the leader of the local police in the area, he's got about 200 to 250 fighters that operate under his command, and he said, 'Take a look at that dirt road back there. See the kids playing in the street? They have cell phones. I don't have a cell phone. They talk to Kabul. They talk to the outside. If you take a look over here, you'll see there's a paved road. It's Route 611 that the U.K. and the U.S. built. We've never had a paved road. The Taliban gave us nothing. The local government has given us this road. We can now move from Lashkar Gah all the way up to Kajaki. We can participate. We can see family. We're not going back.'"
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter @rouloafps)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe "Boogie" Yaalon yesterday afternoon and received a briefing on Israel's interdiction operation in the Red Sea that seized a suspected Iranian shipment of advanced weapons bound for terrorist organizations operating in Gaza.
In a statement summarizing the phone call, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Adm. John Kirby said the secretary congratulated Yaalon on the operation’s success and reiterated the U.S. commitment to holding Iran accountable for its destabilizing activities in the region, “even as we continue efforts to resolve our concerns over Iran's nuclear program through diplomacy.”
“Secretary Hagel made clear that illicit actions by Iran are unacceptable to the international community and in gross violation of Iran's U.N. Security Council obligations,” the press secretary added.
The Defense Department and the Israeli Defense Ministry have been in consistent touch on Israel's interdiction operation, Kirby said, coordinating extensively through military and intelligence channels.
“The secretary and the minister pledged to continue this close consultation as Israel completes its final inspection of the vessel,” he said, “and reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-Israel defense relationship.”