PublishedSep 16, 2019, 2:36 am SGT
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Maritime operations, missile tests, landing exercises: the Pentagon has been sharply stepping up its efforts to counter China’s growing military power, seen increasingly as a threat.
On Friday an American warship approached the Paracel Islands, an island chain claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea, to affirm international “freedom of navigation” in the region.
The USS Wayne E. Meyer, a guided-missile destroyer, passed near the islands to contest Beijing’s sweeping claims to the seas around the archipelago, which is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
The Chinese claim would block “innocent passage” by other countries’ ships and is “not permitted by international law,” a US Seventh Fleet spokeswoman, Commander Reann Mommsen, said.
Friday’s was the sixth “freedom of navigation operation” – or FONOPS in naval jargon – this year, a clear acceleration in pace.
There were a total of eight in 2017 and 2018, and only six during the entire Obama presidency.
On Wednesday, the US Marine Corps announced it had conducted exercises on the Japanese islet of Tori Shima, hundreds of miles south of Tokyo, to practice landings on “hostile” shores and the seizure of landing strips.
The exercises were clearly designed to highlight the ability of the American military to invade a disputed island and establish a supply base for aerial operations.
“This type of raid gives the commanders in the Indo-Pacific region the ability to project power and conduct expeditionary operations in a potentially contested littoral environment,” one of the officers in charge, Commander Anthony Cesaro, said in a statement.
Such a forthright description, coming from a Pentagon hardly known for unguarded talk, reflects the fresh impetus Defense Secretary Mark Esper has given to the US policy of “strategic rivalry” with China and Russia.
Esper, who chose Asia for his first overseas trip only weeks after being sworn in as Pentagon chief, has made clear that the US wants to rapidly deploy new missiles in Asia – possibly within months – to counter China’s rising military power.
TO ‘CHANGE THE GEOMETRY’
On Thursday, acting US army secretary Ryan McCarthy, speaking in a Senate confirmation hearing, defended the development of such new missiles.
He said the new medium-range conventional missiles Washington wants to develop – now that the US is no longer constrained by the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which the Trump administration abandoned last year – would “change the geometry within Southeast Asia.”
“If we can get the appropriate partnerships, expeditionary basing rights with partners within the region,” McCarthy said, “we can change the geometry and basically reverse anti-access, area-denial capabilities that have been invested by near-peer competitors” – jargon for pushing back against sovereignty claims by China and Russia.
Last month the Pentagon chose the Pacific Ocean for its first test of a conventional medium-range missile since the end of the Cold War – effectively driving a nail into the coffin of the INF treaty, which banned the use of land-based missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500km.
And in late August, Washington formally established its Space Command, or Spacecom, a new unified command charged with ensuring US domination in space, where China has been increasingly active.
Beijing rattled US military officials in 2007 when it launched a missile that located and then destroyed a Chinese satellite, in a dramatic demonstration of China’s growing ability to militarise space.
Source: Straits Times “Pentagon steps up efforts to counter China’s rising power”
Note: This is Straits Times’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.
PLA white paper confirms space operations a strategic priority for confronting U.S.
Bill Gertz – July 26, 2019 5:00 AM
China’s strategy for developing advanced space weapons were disclosed this week in Beijing’s first defense white paper issued in years.
The defense strategy report produced by the People’s Liberation Army was made public Wednesday and drops earlier veiled references by bluntly identifying the United States as Beijing’s main adversary that is undermining world peace.
The report—part policy statement and part propaganda—also claims the United States seeks “absolute military superiority.”
“The U.S. has adjusted its national security and defense strategies, and adopted unilateral policies,” the report said. “It has provoked and intensified competition among major countries, significantly increased its defense expenditure, pushed for additional capacity in nuclear, outer space, cyber and missile defense, and undermined global strategic stability.” (This blogger’s note: That is but a statement of the fact.)
Chinese propaganda outlets sought to portray the white paper as furthering Beijing’s questionable assertion that the large-scale buildup of conventional, nuclear, space, and cyber weapons poses no threat. (This blogger’s note: No threat to any other countries but a threat to US hegemony)
The white paper, however, bluntly warned that China is set to use military force against Taiwan if the self-ruled island seeks formal independence. (This blogger’s note: That is nothing new. It has been a warning for decades.) Taiwan is a quasi-U.S. ally and the United States is obligated under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to defend it from mainland attack. (This blogger’s note: The US does not openly support Taiwan independence. However, if it supports, when China uses force to deter Taiwan independence, the US has to fight a war with China. No wonder China has to develop capabilities to deal wih such a potential danger. Therefore, the arms race has been caused by US threat. Everybody is aware of that; therefore, China’s military modernization threatens no one but those who support Taiwan independence.)
Beijing, in another threatening announcement, said this week the PLA is prepared to dispatch forces to Hong Kong (This blogger’s note: Beijing says nothing about that. However, PLA has always been prepared to help Hong Kong maintain stability as provided by the Basic Law. There is no need to make announcement about that), the former British colony that has been rocked by anti-Beijing protests over a new extradition law seeking to undermine democratic rule. (This blogger’s note: This article seems a propaganda to support a small number of Hong Kong people to splatter black ink on Chinese national emblem. It can spread lies to demonize China but cannot insult China in that way though it will be glad to.)
On space warfare, the PLA report states that threats to space “loom large” and as a result space security is now among eight vital Chinese strategic interests. (This blogger’s note: That is a factual description of US plan to set up US space force.)
Other key interests include deterring attacks, opposing Taiwan independence, and “safeguarding national political security”—a reference to the PLA’s ultimate mission of keeping the ruling Communist Party of China in power.
“Outer space is a critical domain in international strategic competition,” the report said.
While insisting China favors the peaceful use of space, the white paper states that China is developing “relevant technologies and capabilities” for safeguarding satellites while maintaining the ability to safely enter, exit, and openly use space.
Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was asked during a security forum in Colorado last week if the United States is falling behind China and Russia in military space systems.
“I can’t tell you who’s in front and who’s behind,” Ashley said of the space weapons race.
Chinese ASAT missile / DIA report
Space has become contested and China and Russia have direct ascent ASAT missiles that “literally can go up and target a satellite,” Ashley said July 18.
On the threat from co-orbital satellites, Ashley said small satellites are being outfitted with robotic arms.
“If that satellite nestles up against yours, then you have the ability to damage a sensor,” he said. “You can cut lines. You in fact could disable that with a co-orbital satellite.”
Other space weapons involve the use of electronic warfare that can jam synthetic aperture radars and other kinds of satellites from both the ground and space.
“So we’re seeing a period of great competition that is moving its way into space, and the risks there are obviously from war fighting standpoint is precision navigation and timing,” Ashley said. “We have great dependence on that.”
Weather satellites and missile early warning satellites also could be targeted in a future conflict.
“There’s a multitude of things that are potentially at risk,” the DIA chief said, declining to discuss U.S. efforts to harden satellites against attack, and to stockpile rapidly deployable replacements. “And that is being addressed,” he said.
The PLA report made no mention of China’s space weapons or anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles, like the ground-fired missile used to destroy a Chinese weather satellite in a 2007 test, leaving thousands of pieces of dangerous floating debris that threaten both manned and unmanned spacecraft.
China has developed several types of anti-satellite missiles, including DN-2 and DN-3 missiles capable of attacking orbiting satellites in both high and low orbits.
China’s other space weapons include ground-based lasers that blind or damage orbiting satellites, and orbiting robot satellites capable of grabbing and crushing satellites. (This blogger’s note: All those weapons are described by this article instead of China’s defense white paper, how can the article says, “China’s strategy for developing advanced space weapons were disclosed this week in Beijing’s first defense white paper issued in years.” The paper has disclosed nothing about China’s advanced space weapons so that the article’s statement is a pure lie.)
“China continues development of multiple counterspace capabilities designed to degrade and deny adversary use of space-based assets during a crisis or conflict,” the Pentagon’s most recent annual report on the Chinese military states.
According to the 2019 report, Chinese military writers have stated the goal of PLA space warfare is “destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance … and communications satellites” along with navigation and early warning satellites. The objective is to “blind and deafen the enemy.”
The PLA air force is in charge of integrating air and space forces and “coordinating offensive and defensive operations,” the PLA report said, adding that the service is “accelerating the transition of its tasks from territorial air defense to both offensive and defensive operations,” the white paper says.
China also has created a Space Corps within a new service-level Strategic Support Force. The corps is believed to be the key space warfighting unit.
China space ops control station / DIA report
The Pentagon is establishing its own Space Force that will be under the Air Force.
However, the United States appears to be lagging behind China in developing space weapons. An anti-satellite missile program was killed in the 1980s. However, a Navy anti-missile interceptor was used to shoot down a falling U.S. satellite in 2008, demonstrating some ASAT capabilities.
By contrast, a 2018 intelligence report by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) stated that China is among the most advanced nations in building space weapons.
“Through military reforms, China and Russia have organized new military forces devoted to the employment of space and counterspace capabilities and regularly integrate them into military exercises,” the report said.
“Meanwhile, these countries continue to develop, test, and proliferate sophisticated anti-satellite weapons to hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk.”
The weapons include kinetic kill interceptors that destroy satellites by slamming into them at high speeds. Other space weapons include satellites armed with radiofrequency jammers, lasers, chemical sprayers, high-power microwaves, and robotic arms.
Orbiting satellite maintenance and debris removal systems now in the testing and research phase could be used to damage satellites, the report said.
Steve Lambakis, a former official at the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said a key PLA objective is to use space weapons to cripple operations of the Hawaii-based Indo-Pacific Command during a future conflict by attacking American satellites.
“These operations would likely start with disruption and destruction of [command, control, communications, and intelligence] capabilities with cyber and kinetic attacks on satellites and ground assets in support of other Chinese kinetic capabilities,” Lambakis said
Michael J. Listner, a China expert who specializes in space issues, said the latest white paper continues the earlier theme of outer space as a “commanding height” for the PLA but with the new facet identifying space as a critical domain for strategic competition.
The section on space in the white paper appears to be part policy and part propaganda in response to the United States’ labeling of space as a domain of warfare. (This blogger’s note: The article has to admit the fact that what the white paper says is but a response to US labeling of space as a domain of warfare.)
“In doing so, the defense white paper overtly points to the United States as the aggressor in outer space, which is a common refrain of western, non-governmental organizations focused on outer space security, and postures its outer space capabilities as a deterrent response as opposed to an active counterspace capacity,” said Listner, principal with Space Law and Policy Solutions, a think tank.
The PLA also is employing lawfare—legal warfare—techniques in promoting Beijing’s claims to be adhering to four major space law treaties and agreements.
“As with all policy positions taken in other domains, the PRC’s true intents in outer space are better gauged by its actions as opposed to its words,” Listner said. (This blogger’s note: That proves that the article is spreading fake news by saying, “China’s strategy for developing advanced space weapons were disclosed this week in Beijing’s first defense white paper issued in years.”}
The white paper states that China is seeking international dialogue and agreements setting rules for space.
The NASIC report on space said establishing international norms for military activities space “remain elusive” and that China’s efforts regarding space arms control are duplicitous.
“China and Russia continue to endorse a draft ‘Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT),” the report said.
“While this draft promotes ‘no first placement’ of weapons in space, it fails to address a variety of anti-satellite weapons and lacks meaningful verification mechanisms,” the report said. “Furthermore, despite publicly insisting that space is a peaceful domain, these competitors are continuing development of several anti-satellite weapons.” (This blogger’s note: The report has to admit the truth in the above paragraphs though with groundless qualifications.)
In addition to space weaponry, China also is building cyber warfare capabilities and the white paper notes that cyber security “poses a severe threat to China.”
“China’s armed forces accelerate the building of their cyberspace capabilities, develop cyber security and defense means, and build cyber defense capabilities consistent with China’s international standing and its status as a major cyber country,” the report said.
Source: Washington Free Beacon “China Outlines Space War Plans”
Note: This is Washington Free Beacon’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views. In fact I have added quite a few notes to show my views on it.
fort-russ.com describes F-35’s troubles in its report “HERE WE GO AGAIN: Useless and Over-priced, Row with Lockheed Martin Means Interrupted F-35 Deliveries”, full text of which is reblogged below:
HERE WE GO AGAIN: Useless and Over-priced, Row with Lockheed Martin Means Interrupted F-35 Deliveries”
By Drago Bosnic On Jul 15, 2019
WASHINGTON DC –
This is how Lockheed Martin defines the F-35:
“The F-35 Lightning II is a single-seat, single-engine, stealth 5-gen fighter aircraft designed for many missions with advanced, integrated sensors built into every aircraft. Missions that were traditionally performed by small numbers of specialized aircraft, such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and electronic attack missions can now be executed by a squadron of F-35s, bringing new capabilities to NATO and other allied air forces.”
There are many other definitions of this aircraft and many are complete antipodes to that of Lockheed Martin, but they all boil down to this – the most expensive flying turkey ever built. Since the aircraft first took flight in 2006. 13 critical flaws have been officially detected. However, independent media have cited sources claiming over 100 critical flaws. Lockheed Martin and other defense corporations involved in JFS program have been successful in hushing the media about all but the mentioned 13 flaws. Despite facing all these, potentially dangerous problems, over 400 jets have been built by June 2019.
The real reason is more of a political and economic nature rather than military. Lockheed Martin notes the following:
Of the original nine partner countries – Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States – six have received their first jets. There are also three foreign military sale (FMS) customers – Israel, Japan and the Republic of Korea. In addition, the F-35 is being evaluated by the Belgian government as a possible replacement for their F-16 fleet and the Finnish government as a possible replacement for their F/A-18C/D fleet.
Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, UK, US, Israel and Japan have pilots and maintainers either fully trained or at some point in the training process.
Suppliers in all nine of the program’s partner countries are producing F-35 components for all aircraft, not just those for their country. And in addition to the Fort Worth plant, there are two Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facilities outside the United States: one in Cameri, Italy, where the first jet was delivered in December 2015; and another in Nagoya, Japan, where the first jet was delivered in June 2017.
This is where we get to one of the key critical flaws – corrosion “exceeding technical limits”, according to a Pentagon inspection.
At the moment, the heart of the dispute is the USAF inspection of the Lockheed Martin’s quality control department during production, which failed to discover problems with the fastenings, the sources said.
Another dispute with Lockheed Martin over a production mistake on the F-35 has prompted the Pentagon and at least two foreign countries from accepting delivery of new aircraft.
“Corrosion ‘exceeding technical limits’ was discovered during routine maintenance at Hill Air Force Base (AFB) last year. The Pentagon determined that the ‘lack of protective coating at the fastening point’ between the carbon fiber exterior panel and aluminum airframe to be the cause.”
Currently, the dispute revolves around paying Lockheed Martin technicians to travel around the world to remedy the issue on jets based overseas.
Last year, USAF stopped accepting new F-35s for an entire month after discovering corrosion where panels were fastened to the airframe. This is an issue that affected more than 200 of the stealthy jets, out of around 300 delivered by that point. The fix was devised, the deliveries resumed, Lockheed hit its target aircraft delivery numbers for 2017, but crawling frustrations due to other flaws continued.
A Lockheed spokeswoman said on Wednesday:
“Production on the F-35 program continues and we are confident we will meet our delivery target of 91 aircraft for 2018. While all work in our factories remains active, the F-35 Joint Program Office has temporarily suspended accepting aircraft until we reach an agreement on a contractual issue and we expect this to be resolved soon.”
This, however, wasn’t the end of F-35s troubles.
As stated before, at the moment, the heart of the dispute is the Pentagon’s inspection of the planes during Lockheed Martin’s production, which failed to discover problems with the fastenings. Because neither party caught the issue at the time each is pointing the finger at the other to pay for the fix.
The delivery pause is just the latest of a plethora of production issues that have arisen in America’s most expensive weapons program in history and comes at a time when Trump’s administration has heavily criticized the cost of the fighter.
In 2016, a fix for insulation problems in the fuel tanks and lines of the jets caused a slowdown in deliveries, which in turn increased the production costs. Again.
Source: fort-russ.com “HERE WE GO AGAIN: Useless and Over-priced, Row with Lockheed Martin Means Interrupted F-35 Deliveries”
Note: This is fort-russ.com’s report I reblog here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’s views.
Rep. Jim Cooper says Congress shouldn’t accept a government topped by acting political appointees.
June 27, 2019
“For all of our love of technology, we could have a greater human problem than we do a tech problem, because you need Senate-confirmed people of ability, competence and vision,” Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said Thursday at the Defense One Tech Summit.
The position of Defense Secretary has been vacant since December, when Jim Mattis abruptly resigned. Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan served in an acting capacity for nearly six months, the longest time that the Pentagon has gone without a Senate-confirmed leader. President Trump said he would nominate Shanahan for the position, but Shanahan withdrew his name from consideration and resigned as deputy defense secretary last week after details of a messy divorce became public.
Army Secretary Mark Esper is now the acting defense secretary. David Norquist, the Pentagon comptroller and chief financial officer has been performing the duties of the deputy defense secretary since Mattis’ departure. Ryan McCarthy, the Army undersecretary is now the acting Army secretary.
“You can’t have a government with ‘actings’…and that’s sadly what we increasingly have,” Cooper said. “Our tolerance for that should be zero.”
On June 21, President Trump said that he would nominate Esper, Norquist, and McCarthy to serve permanently. The White House has yet to send those nominations to Congress.
Heather Wilson stepped down as Air Force secretary last month to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso. Trump has said he would nominate Barbara Barrett for the top Air Force job, but the White House has yet to send a formal nomination to Congress.
Moving further down the chain, the vacancies and lack of political appointees has created a dominos effect where deputies are serving as principals. Below that, many underlings have essentially moved up one rung on the org chat. The Pentagon has an acting chief management officer since last year when Mattis dismissed John Gibson.
The lack of key leaders even extends beyond Senate-confirmable positions. Fred Kennedy, head the brand new Space Development Agency, abruptly resigned over reported disagreements with his boss Mike Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. InsideDefense reports that Derek Tournear, who works for Griffin, has been named acting director of the organization tasked with making satellite buying more commercial.
Chris Shank, director of the Strategic Capabilities Office, the office known for modifying existing weapons with new capabilities, resigned on June 14, Breaking Defense reports. David Honey, a senior Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency official, has been tapped as his replacement, Inside Defense reports.
Source: Government Executive “Lawmaker: Human Problem at Pentagon Worse than Tech Problem”
Note: This is Government Executive’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.
The Defense Department can’t afford to alienate its largest workforce.
By Tobin Harshaw
May, 17, 2019
Tobin Harshaw is an editor and writer on national security and military affairs for Bloomberg Opinion. He was an editor with the op-ed page of the New York Times and the paper’s letters editor.
Read more opinion
Follow @TobinHarshaw on Twitter
Pop quiz: Which of the Department of Defense’s many divisions is the largest? Is it the Army, despite the slashing of troop strength since the winding down of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Or the Navy, which Congress is gifting with new batches of aircraft carriers, submarines, frigates and more? How about the Air Force, in line to get more than 1,700 state-of-the-art F-35 fighters? Perhaps the Marine Corps, which transformed itself admirably into a ground force in the current wars?
The answer is: none of the above. The Pentagon’s biggest workforce wears not uniforms but white collars: its 776,000 civilian personnel, topped only by Walmart on the list of largest U.S.-based workforces.
These civil servants play a crucial role in the nation’s defense — from planning policy at the highest levels to overseeing hundreds of billions a year in acquisitions to making sure the troops have housing, health care and other necessities.
They are also, according to Foreign Policy, “an increasingly hollow and demoralized workforce, with staffers feeling they no longer have a seat at the table.” Things have gone far downhill since the days when it was more or less taken for granted that a Pentagon job was a job for life. And while job turnover hasn’t reached crisis levels, it’s hitting some of the most vital areas — more than 4,000 civilian cyber workers fled last year. A study by the Center for a New American Security found that within the office of the secretary of defense between September 2016 and September 2018, the number of “those with five to nine years federal service has decreased by 24 percent.”
An Army of Civilians
A major part of the problem is the failure of the department to create for its civilians the same sorts of opportunities for advancement, education and outside experience that are available to those in uniform.
Here is a partial list of the benefits of being in uniform:
- Leave for those being groomed for high rank to get graduate degrees at top universities. (My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Admiral James Stavridis got both a Ph.D. in international relations and a masters in law and diplomacy at Tufts.)
- The GI bill and other college tuition assistance, with many military training programs counting toward course credit.
- Classes at the National Defense University and the service branches’ war colleges. (Small numbers of civilians are eligible.)
- Guaranteed home loans and life insurance at favorable rates.
- Tricare, arguably the best health-care plan on the planet, and the VA hospital system.
- Low-cost meals and goods even after leaving the military through the commissary and exchange system.
- Half-pay in retirement after serving at least 20 years.
Thousands of assignments — from motor-pool mechanics to nuclear technicians to fighter pilots — that provide background for high-paying jobs in the private sector.
For civilian employees the perks are, to put it kindly, less enticing: transit subsidies, 13 days of sick leave per year, overtime pay for working on Sundays, and other similar benefits that most full-time workers in the private sector get.
Some might feel this is only fair, given that life in the services is so grueling and involves risk of losing life and limb. But the Defense Department employs so many civilians — a third of its workforce — precisely because they are vital to supporting every aspect of those troops’ lives and, by extension, protecting all Americans. And not all civilians work at desks; thousands have served on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In recent years, the overall number of civilian positions has held steady or even increased as the service branches have shrunk. But turnover and new hiring requires expensive training for new hires. Things have gotten worse since the 2012 budget agreement created spending caps across the department, leading to widespread hiring freezes and occasional furloughs.
How can the Pentagon boost morale and lessen turnover? It of course can’t lock civilians up for six years like new Army recruits, and giving them benefits such as early retirement, Tricare and the GI Bill would be prohibitively expensive. But it can do far more to reform its personnel system on the cheap.
First, it must recognize that some of the biggest complaints of civilian employees involve bureaucratic inefficiencies and performance reviews. As a former research and development engineer described in great detail for War on the Rocks, many if not most people take these jobs out of a sense of service, willing to take modest pay compared what they could make in the private sector.
“However, federal personnel policies — especially within DOD — are so hidebound that it is nearly impossible to get things done quickly even in response to urgent mission requirements,” wrote the engineer, Rob Albritton. “I left along with a fairly steady flow of other hard-chargers who had grown increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with the current personnel system for civilians.”
Second, while other long-time civil servants who have left the department told me things were not that bad, they said the Pentagon failed to recognize or develop those who show management potential. The result is many workers being promoted to higher levels with no experience in managing, coaching and mentoring their subordinates — skills in which officers on the uniformed side have been exhaustively trained before they take charge of their first platoon.
As the private sector has shown, there is more bang for the buck recognizing those with management potential at the early stages of their careers and putting them on a fast track. The department could also emulate many new-economy companies by experimenting with a so-called flat organizational structure, removing most of the levels of middle management between staff and executives. The Pentagon’s elite policy-planning shop made some progress along these lines in the early 2010s under former Under Secretary Michele Flournoy, but that largely fizzled out because of changeover at the top and budget cuts.
Third, it’s nearly impossible to fire unproductive workers — and hiring freezes paradoxically force the department to hold onto poor performers just so they have bodies to fill desks and push paperwork. The Pentagon enacted a pay-for-performance system in 2006, but it failed — largely because DOD managers, who came up through the status quo, were unqualified to distinguish the bumps on a log from the phoenixes. It needs to learn from its mistakes and try again.
Fourth, the Defense Department has to broaden the horizon of civil-service career paths. The uniformed side is moving that direction. Last year’s congressional budget bill made many changes to the promotional process to give junior officers a clear path to promotion based on performance rather than tenure. Many vital assignments that were formerly career dead ends, such as the drone programs and language specialists, are now to be recognized for their worth. While the department’s civil service does have a specified promotion ladder through the GS system, it’s far more arbitrary than the military’s and does little to encourage unconventional career paths.
Finally, all government agencies are hampered by red tape, but the mega-billion Pentagon acquisitions process takes dysfunction to a new scale. Congress just makes things worse, adding 250 new measures complicating the purchasing system between 2016 and 2018 alone. The Pentagon needs to take a page from Silicon Valley and learn how to bring products from conception to rollout before technology becomes outdated.
It used to be that joining the Pentagon felt akin to entering the priesthood. Now, if the military can’t provide career opportunities competitive with the private sector, don’t be surprised when civilians feel called to work for Walmart instead.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Source: Bloomberg “The Pentagon’s Civilians Are Unhappy. That’s Dangerous for Us All.”
Note: This is Bloomberg’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.
By Anthony Capaccio May 15, 2019
- Lawmakers riled by TransDigm’s refusal to provide information
- Law weighed to require more disclosure for spare parts deals
The Pentagon is weighing legislation that would give contracting officers the power to demand back-up data on spare parts costs after its inspector general said TransDigm Group Inc. could be paid about 9,400% in excess profit for a half-inch metal pin.
The Defense Logistics Agency could end up paying TransDigm $4,361 for the “drive pin” in a July contract that should cost $46, according to a Pentagon review endorsed by the inspector general.
The review found potential excess profits for 98 of 100 parts sampled and concluded the Pentagon may end up paying TransDigm $91 million more in coming years for parts valued at $28 million, with excess profit per part of 95% to the 9,380%, the Defense Department’s inspector general said in an audit labeled “For Official Use Only” and obtained by Bloomberg News.
As the Pentagon weighs whether to recommend legislation to require more disclosure by contractors, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will review the audit and TransDigm’s pricing policies in a hearing on Wednesday.
The inspector general’s report “exposes how a company entrusted with supporting our military men and women took advantage of American taxpayers by overcharging the government more than $16 million” in parts sales sold between 2015 and 2017, Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said in a statement. The hearing will “investigate whether these pricing issues are more widespread, and demand answers,” he said.
From 2013 through 2015, according to the audit, the contractor increased the price of a valve that opens and closes to change the pressure of fuel moving through an engine to $9,801 from $543. In those years, TransDigm also charged $1,443 each for a “non-vehicular clutch disk” that cost $32 to make.
The Pentagon’s inspector general first raised pricing concerns over TransDigm in a 2006 report, followed by the one this year that was released in redacted form in February.
TransDigm manufactures spare parts for airplanes and helicopters including the AH-64 Apache, C-17 Globemaster III, F-16 Fighting Falcon and the CH-47 Chinook. From April 2012 through January 2017, DOD issued 4,942 contracts valued at $471 million to TransDigm.
Liza Sabol, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland-based company, said in an email “that we are not providing comments on specific questions related to the IG report.”
“TransDigm has been and remains committed to conducting business within the framework of applicable laws and regulations,” she said. “The IG report does not make any assertion of wrongdoing on TransDigm’s part with respect to its pricing.”
The underlying debate is over laws and acquisition regulations that hamstring Pentagon contracting officers from demanding back-up data on parts contracts. Legislation from the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 to recent defense policy bills sought to encourage commercial contractors to conduct business with the military by freeing them from providing information that could be competitively sensitive and onerous to collect, according to the inspector general’s report.
The provisions discourage contracting officers from asking for the data when “determining whether a price is fair and reasonable,” it said. The inspector general “previously identified contracting officers’ limited success in negotiating fair and reasonable prices for sole-source parts dating as far back as 1998,” a spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday.
In a sample of contracts awarded from 2015 through 2017, TransDigm “refused to provide uncertified cost and pricing data to contracting officers when requested” for 15 of 16 contracts, the audit found. “Contracting officers had limited options once TransDigm refused.” TransDigm earned $2.6 million in excess profits on the parts, the inspector general said.
The watchdog office recommended legislation “to compel companies to provide cost data when required.” The Pentagon responded by issuing a memo in mid-March to jump-start a moribund system requiring contracting officers to report and share the names of recalcitrant companies.
“We are considering potential options for legislation proposals and weighing the ‘pro’s and cons’ of how that could impact the entire industrial base, including our desire to reach more non-traditional defense contractors,” Lieutenant Colonel Michael Andrews, a Pentagon acquisition spokesman, said in an email.
TransDigm shares have climbed more than 36% this year. It drew 34% of its 2017 sales from defense, up from 24% in 2006. In its 2017 annual report, TransDigm estimated 80% of its sales revenue that year came from products for which it’s the sole supplier.
Patrick Mackin, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency, said the agency is managing the July 2018 contract that was questioned by the review in a way that “limits ordering” due to “the potential overpricing and scrutiny” of TransDigm.
He said the agency can’t “unilaterally change pricing outside of the contractual repricing periods” but will assess the contract at its first chance in 2021. The agency is “currently seeking alternatives to support these items where such alternatives may exist.”
Among the parts of concern in the current contract, according to the review:
TransDigm charged $803 for a retainer bearing that should have cost $32.
A part described as a “ring” for which TransDigm charged $4,835 apiece should cost $71.
TransDigm charged $67 for a lug used in the auxiliary power unit of an F-15 jet that should have cost $3.
TransDigm charged $8,819 apiece for a valve assembly check oil pump that should cost $369.
The inspector general’s report also outlines the history of a three-inch TransDigm coupling with a “quick disconnect” that illustrates the problem that Pentagon contracting officers confront.
While TransDigm estimated the coupling cost $287 to make, the contractor’s pricing has “contained excess profits” since the Defense Logistics Agency first purchased the part in 2007 for $1,239 apiece, the unredacted report said. The price increased to $7,325 by 2017.
Source: Bloomberg “Pentagon Contractor’s 9,400% Profit on Half-Inch Pin Challenged”
Note: This is Bloomberg’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.
Michael Fabey, Washington, DC – Jane’s Navy International
20 August 2018
The Pentagon’s recent annual report on the Chinese military spotlights growing Chinese naval capability, underscoring the narrowing gap between the Asian power’s maritime forces and those of the US Navy (USN), as well as drawing attention to China’s increasing dominance in the Western Pacific.
The report, ‘Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018’, was released on 16 August and also highlights the global naval ambitions of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) – which are far beyond the traditional perimeters of its land-based defence systems.
“The PLAN continues to develop into a global force, gradually extending its operational reach beyond East Asia and the Indo-Pacific into a sustained ability to operate at increasingly longer ranges,” the Pentagon reported. “The PLAN’s latest naval platforms enable combat operations beyond the reach of China’s land-based defences.”
In particular, the Pentagon said, “China’s aircraft carrier and planned follow-on carriers, once operational, will extend air defence coverage beyond the range of coastal and shipboard missile systems, and enable task group operations at increasingly longer ranges.”
The PLAN’s emerging requirement for sea-based land-attack will also enhance China’s ability to project power,” the US Department of Defense said. “Furthermore, the PLAN now has a sizable force of high-capability logistical replenishment ships to support long-distance, long-duration deployments, including two new carrier operations. The expansion of naval operations beyond China’s immediate region will also facilitate non-war uses of military force.”
China continues to learn lessons from operating its first aircraft carrier, Liaoning , the Pentagon pointed out.
“[China’s first domestically produced aircraft carrier was launched in 2017 and is expected to be commissioned in 2019 – the beginning of what the PLA states will be a multicarrier force,” the Pentagon reported. “China’s next generation of carriers will probably have greater endurance and be capable of launching more varied types of fixed-wing aircraft, including EW [electronic warfare], early warning, and ASW [anti-submarine warfare] aircraft.
Source: Jane’s 360 “Pentagon notes Chinese naval global expansion and regional control”
Note: This is Jane’s 360’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.