Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sea Hunter - Drones of the Sea

It is no surprise that China’s military has been growing over the last 5-10 years. This increase in force size has been projected into the South China Sea and been a major headline for the last few years. The interesting aspect of China’s increased force size is the composition. For example, China has focused on growing their attack submarines. China now operates a greater number of attack subs than the U.S. Navy. However, while they outmatch us in force size, the quality of these subs is still lacking compared to the U.S. counterparts. Additionally, projections say that within the Asia Pacific region, China will operate around 80 subs while the U.S. will operate 30.

How will the U.S. combat this increased sub force size by China? Turning to DARPA, the U.S. Navy has adopted the Sea Hunter, a trimaran drone built from carbon composite. This lightweight fast moving design allows the Sea Hunter to keep pace with quicker subs and an array of sensory technology will allow for detection in different environments.

Once the Sea Hunter locks on to an enemy sub it will track it. The connection via satellite allows for real time information to be shared through the command structure allowing for a better visualization of the battlefield. Additionally, the Sea Hunter is an economical choice for the future of sub hunting. While a diesel submarine costs roughly $400 million, the Sea Hunter costs around $40 million. The Navy is looking toward the future as they look to build a new force and the Sea Hunter will play a major part in this. DARPA’s Sea Hunter’s price and technology make it a great fit for the current military dynamic the U.S. faces.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I Spy . . . Nothing?

The recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium revealed the incompetency of the European security apparatus to handle major threats.  Anticipation had been growing that jihadists were plotting attacks in the country, yet Belgium, and the greater European Union, seemed to lack the "know-how" to combat the threat.  Security officials from the United States lambasted the Belgian security forces efforts against the infiltration of radical jihadists.  It is clear that European governments have been totally taken by surprise by the latest spate of attacks committed by the Islamic State (IS), and European intelligence agencies are confounded as to what to do.  

In fact, and paradoxically, European solidarity has proven to be detrimental in handling potential terrorist attacks.  The IS terrorist network within Europe is “taking advantage of the openness that is foundation to the European Union.”  A French security official remarked that “We are victims of solidarity with the European Union.”[1]  While Europeans are permitted to cross borders without trouble, information from individual European security agencies does not. 

 Instead, intelligence within the EU is stove piped in the absence of a centralized counterterrorism agency.  The result of disorganization has been bloodshed, and without a coherent strategy that involves all intelligence agencies throughout Europe, the streets of Europe will continue to run red. 

This disturbing fact is coupled with a report that security officials have indicated that IS has trained at least 400 militants and sent them to Europe conduct attacks against the West.  These reports demonstrate that European leaders remain out of touch with reality and continue to underestimate the scope of the threat.  These attacks are not anomalies that will simply go away with time but instead represent a systematic approach by a sophisticated terrorist network to undo Western civilization. 

The implications are clear: The European Union must engage in systemic reform of its security apparatus, or Europe will slowly disintegrate into a chaotic battlefield where no citizen remains safe.  


The Art of a Deal

On January 16, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had fulfilled its requirements to reduce its nuclear program as specified by the agreement reached in 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 powers.  “Implementation Day” was celebrated by the Obama administration as a “milestone in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” – reassuring the American people that “Iran is being subjected to the most comprehensive, intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.”[1]  That Iran has complied with its commitments is an achievement for the Obama administration – and indeed, history may show that this deal is the zenith of the “Obama doctrine.”  However, Mr. Obama must tread lightly.  The hard part is really just beginning.

First, it should come as no surprise that Iran has obeyed so far.  It was politically expedient for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to see that the stipulations of the nuclear deal were met.  Mr. Rouhani was preparing for the parliamentary elections held in February and was desperate to see sanctions lifted in order to appease his moderate constituency.  It worked – allies of Rouhani won a landslide victory in Tehran.  Now that Mr. Rouhani has achieved his political and economic goal, will Tehran continue to comply with the terms of the deal? 

 Second, Iranian hardliners still rule the country and they loathe the deal.  The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, continues to lament “American imperialism” and accuses Washington of being hostile to Iran.  “Iranians may want to reform and open up economically, but what’s become clearer since the nuclear deal was signed is that culturally and socially almost nothing has changed.”[2]  If anything, Iran has become more brazen since the nuclear deal.  Iran has tested ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads and extended its reach in the Middle East through its proxies.  The U.S. must be wary ­– If Iran continues to violate international law in other circumstances, should Washington expect the nuclear deal to be the exception?

Lastly, the Government Accountability Office (GOA) recently released a report that outlined concerns with the IAEA’s ability to verify Iranian compliance.  According to the report, “the IAEA may face potential challenges in monitoring and verifying Iran’s implementation of certain nuclear-related commitments in the JCPOA.”[3]  GOA cited the difficultly in detecting covert means to acquire or create a nuclear weapon and the IAEA’s lack of resources to accomplish the mission.  Without a viable means to verify that Iran is upholding the deal, the United States must rely on blind faith.  For a country that has rarely had qualms with going ‘outside the box’ to accomplish its goals, the U.S. Obama administration should remain concerned. 

The Iranian deal has been rightly celebrated as a diplomatic success and it may cement Mr. Obama’s foreign policy legacy.  However, the easy part is now over.  With access to new money and trade, the Iranian moment has come.  The future will show if Iran appreciates the art of a deal. 


[1] Obama, Barrack. “Implementation Day.” Speech to the American public, White House, Washington, D.C., January 16, 2016.
[2] Ross, Dennis. “Why the Nuclear Deal Hasn’t Softened Iran’s Hard-Line Policies.” Politico. March 6, 2016.
[3] Rubin, Jennifer. “GAO points to problems with the Iran nuclear deal.” Washington Post. February 24, 2016.

G.I. Robots

Robotics is everywhere. It makes life easier, faster and more convenient. The military has been a huge part of this. Some of the every day technologies we use are straight from the military, like the GPS on our phones. The military also focuses on the fact that robotics can be safer in combat. Not only are they safe, they are successful. With this in mind we’ve seen an increased use of drones over the past few years under President Obama. At least once a month in the news reports that another terrorist site has been struck by a successful drone attack. Examples of this are the March 9, 2016 drone-strike on ISIS commander Omar Shishani and the March 7, 2016 drone strike on Al-Shabab that reportedly killed 150 Somali extremists.[1] All of these successful attacks are completed without putting a soldier in potential danger. Drones are piloted from remote areas. While pilots in fighter jets may replace a soldier’s presence on the ground in combat zones, a pilot still encounters the possibility of bodily harm. A drone completely removes this potential.
In 2012, Leon Panetta used this approach to try and cut the United States military budget by $487 billion over the next decade.[2] With an increased emphasis on drones, the budget called for reducing the need for additional F-35’s and decreasing the size of the army by 80,000 troops.[3] In association with the cuts, drone Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) would increase by 30 percent.[4] In 2015, the new proposed budget allocated $2.9 billion out of $48.8 billion for aircraft and related systems across the services for a variety of unmanned systems.[5] This is almost double the $25.6 billion for shipbuilding and maritime systems.[6]
How far can military electronics go? Drones can only do so much until you need to send combat troops in. So will we ever see a time when we can replace them too?  Unfortunately, it seems that the closest we will get in the near future is a robot dog that sounds like s a lawnmower and carries heavy supplies next to troops.[7] Until the distant future we will just have to continue to watch movies like Iron Man or the reboot of RoboCop and just leave the possibilities to the imagination.

[1] BBC Associated Press; “Islamic State Commander Omar Shishani Targeted in US Strike in Syria”; BBC News; March 2, 2016; BBC Associated Press; “US Air Strike ‘kills 150 Somali militants’”; BBC News; March 7, 2016;
[2] Hudson, John; “Pentagon Is Doubling Down on Drones to Save Money”; The Wire; Jan. 26, 2012;
[3] Supra note 4.
[4] Martinez, Luis; “Pentagon: Fewer Soldiers, More Drones Will Save Money”; ABC News; Jan. 26, 2012;
[5] Gettinger, David; “Drones in the Defense Budget”; Center for the Study of Drones; Feb. 4, 2015;
[6] Id.
[7] Associated Press; “US military shelves Google robot plan over ‘noise concerns’”; BBC News; Dec. 30, 2015;

Friday, March 25, 2016

Out of the Ashes of the Hindenburg: Blimps Rising

Since the Hindenburg went down in a ball of fire on May 6, 1937 in New Jersey, the blimp is thought to have reached its limit as a means of advertisement and broadcasting above sporting events. Over the course of World War II, however, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company produced over 100 blimps for the US Navy, known as “K-ships”, used as convoy escorts, submarine and mine spotting, and rescue missions. Today, several companies have taken steps toward a “blimp revival”. A Lockheed Martin - Hybrid Enterprises partnership and Airlander with an airship-plane hybrid are among those that are competing to build these next generation blimps. 

Lockheed Martin’s proposal is to have blimps in Africa reaching remote mining locations, potentially saving mining companies millions of dollars. For example an estimated $7 billion could be saved by not building infrastructure such as roads to reach a $20 billion iron ore plant in Guinea. The blimps are currently going through Federal Aviation Administration certification, and are not scheduled for launch until 2018. While the blimps have not been characterized as being used for other purposes just yet, with capacity for carrying 20 tons, and speeds of 60 knots, there may be a potential for the military to use such blimps to supply forces in a timely and cost effective manner to remote regions. “It will land on water, sand, a filed, even ice,” according to a Hybrid Enterprise’s spokesperson, and without an airport, it just needs the area of a two or three football fields. The new blimps are expected to cost tens of millions of dollars each. When compared to Lockheed’s C-130 Hercules, each carries about the same tonnage and the Hercules costs about $30.1 million per unit, however the blimp carries that added benefit of not needing an airfield or any infrastructure to reach the location.
 In “The Science of War”, there is discussion about the Rwandan genocide: while many called for swift action, the estimated time for deployment with all personnel and goods would have been close to three weeks. In Chris Hill’s book “Outpost”, the former Ambassador talks about celebrity visits taking up airfield space that could be used for supplies and helping refugees. Both of these situations could be alleviated by the capabilities of Lockheed Martin’s ability to land in remote areas without airfields. Blimps could carry supplies and personnel where regular fixed-winged aircraft either cannot go or where they are being obstructed, while also potentially replacing the truck as the dominant mode of supply transportation. This would allow greater flexibility for the military (whichever branch chose to utilize them). While blimps could be somewhat vulnerable, the blimps could be supported by air from aircraft carriers or bases within range, depending on where they would be operating.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Robotics- Move Over Drones Iron Man Is On The Way

Drones might be the talk about town in policy circles, but they are not what’s exciting in robotics. The real future is in human enhancement. The fundamental barrier between man and machine is eroding more and more each day. Soon it will be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The impact of those changes will be no less than revolutionary on human society, and the United States Armed Services are not about to be left out in the cold.
            The Defense Advancement Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, has been pursuing this field for decades. In 1985 retired four star general Paul F. Gorman published a paper for that organization detailing his version of the so called “Super Suit” or “Iron Man” suit in today’s terms. He envisioned an exoskeleton that would protect its wearer from two of the most dangerous conditions on the battlefield- fear and fatigue. The advanced armor would be able to stop a .50-caliber bullet, neutralize chemical and biological, and even inhibit certain types of radiation. All the while the wearer would enjoy the benefits of personalized visual, audio, and haptic enhancement, and the comfort of a climate controlled environment.[i] Needless to say the computing power to operate such a complex machine was light years away, but that did not stop Gorman and his colleagues from dreaming about what was to come.
            Now,30 years later that future is almost here. Multiple DARPA funded projects are dedicating millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours each year into making Gorman’s dream a reality. The Warrior Web Project is one particularly promising innovation. While not exactly a “Super Suit,” this tidy little exoskeleton could make life on the battlefield an entirely different experience. The 40lbs device is designed to assist the wearer in performing typical combat tasks-lifting heavy loads, walking long distances, jumping over obstacles. It may even get some past the infamous “4-minute mile” mark, all while drawing on less than 100 watts of power.[ii] Imagine the difference that could make for service members on their third, forth, even fifth deployment, or for Special Forces operators tasked with doing the impossible.
            The Warrior Web isn’t the only new toy making a splash though. The HULC or Human Universal Load Carrier, a Lockheed Martin design, will allow soldiers to carry over 200lbs at a walk or a run, something that could come in handy while hauling around crates of ammunition or evacuating a wounded soldier.[iii] Meanwhile, the Navy is experimenting with tethered operating suits like the XOS 2 from Raytheon that can increase productivity in shipyards by as much a 200%.[iv] And then there is of course the TALOS (short for Tactical Light Operator Suit). This is really the embodiment of Gordon’s original vision.  In addition to enhanced physical protection and sensory abilities, this modern marvel is equipped with a hemorrhage control system and an oxygen supply that could save the wearers life in the event of catastrophic injury. [v]
            We won’t see the TALOS or machines like it on the battlefield for several more years, but in an age where billions of dollars are being spent to build bigger and better guns, or faster and smarter planes, it is nice to know that the government still cares about protecting the lives of our fighting men and women.