US military options for Iran’s nuclear program

As I write this post, nuclear negotiations with Iran are nearing a conclusion. I have no idea whether a deal will successfully be made or not.

During the heated debate about the wisdom of a negotiated settlement, I’ve noticed an almost complete lack of informed opinion about military options. I have a nagging suspicion that few involved in this controversy have actually thought through what military strikes would look like.

One group of people who have thoroughly examined this issue is the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). A well-respected Washington DC think tank, they have published Analyzing the Impact of Preventive Strikes Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities.”

CSIS’s comprehensive analysis contains highly detailed scenarios of military actions against Iran and their aftermath. The report is a bit dated (2012), but it’s the best analysis that I have encountered. You can download or read it here.

In brief, CSIS is not enthusiastic about using military strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The three big lessons I draw from the report are:

  1. Only the US can use military force to significantly hinder the Iranian nuclear program. Israel does not have and never has had the capability to do so.
  2. The most plausible military actions against Iran are unlikely to affect its nuclear program for more than a few years.
  3. Even limited military actions could lead to severe consequences for virtually the entire world. There is no way of estimating accurately the full scale of these consequences.

One person whose views fueled CSIS skepticism is the legendary General James Mattis.  You can read his opinion here.

Some of you might dispute the report’s conclusions. Whether or not you agree with CSIS, powerful people take this sort of analysis seriously, and plan accordingly. I strongly recommend you at least take at least a brief look at the entire report.

Why can’t the DoD pass an audit?

On February 6, 2014, Defense and media personnel gathered in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, not to award a medal – which is the hall’s normal use – but to celebrate a bookkeeping milestone. The Marine Corps had done something that no other military branch had done: passed an audit.

The labyrinthine Defense budgets have proven immune to normal accounting procedures. The Department of Defense (DoD) is the only government agency that has failed to comply with a 1992 law that all departments get their records in order. No one is even going to try to audit the Pentagon itself until 2017. The Marines had been the only service to pass an audit.

Unfortunately, the number of military services that have passed an audit have once again returned to zero. On March 23, 2015, the DoD’s Office of the Inspector General revoked their earlier glowing recommendation of the Marines’ record keeping. There are allegations of sloppy paperwork, missing records, and independent auditors who may not be so independent.

According to news articles, folks high up in the Inspector General office ignored their team’s report on the inadequacy of the Marine’s accounts. Furthermore, a civilian auditing team that was supposed to bring in an outside point-of-view may have been compromised.

This is not a small matter. As the Reuters’ news service noted:

“Chronic pay errors damp troop morale. Incompatible logistics and personnel systems complicate deployments. And the lack of reliable accounts conceals huge sums lost to waste, fraud and mismanagement.”

Reuters’ did an investigative piece about the failed audit (evidently a few investigative reporters still exist). To read it, click here.

We asked for an opinion from Rob Culver, AMREL’s Director of Business Development, DoD Programs. In addition to his career in Special Forces, he spent a number of years in procurement.  As someone who has been an end-user, a vendor as well as an acquisition officer, he has a unique perspective.

According to Mr. Culver:

“Part of the problem is the fact that DOD is not a team.  There are more than 30 different bureaucratic entities involved in procurement and financial management. Don’t forget the sixteen Assistant Secretaries of Defense, four Deputy Secretaries of Defense, five Undersecretaries, Joints Chiefs of Staff with their ten subordinate directorates and on and on.

“Most of the above is duplicated by the individual military services (USA, USN, USAF, USMC). This doesn’t include the fifteen+ independent agencies under OSD as well as the nine Unified Combatant Command. Of course, there are the ever present meddling fingers or Congress and the Whitehouse.

No one, absolutely no one in any of these individual fiefdoms, is ever rewarded for cooperating outside their own little DoD entity. Employees are rewarded for protecting their bosses’ turf.

“I don’t have an answer. I’m just pointing out the inherent dysfunction of DoD’s highly politicized, bureaucratic labyrinth. Soldiers don’t run DoD; civilian politicians and political appointees do.  DoD is criticized for not being able to pass an audit, but I suspect the last thing Congress wants is for DoD to completely and unabashedly open its financial kimono.”

Whatever you think of Donald Rumsfeld, Mr. Culver feels he hit the nail on the head with this speech, given early in his term as Secretary of Defense:

“… The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America. This adversary is one of the world’s last bastions of central planning. It governs by dictating five-year plans. From a single capital, it attempts to impose its demands across time zones, continents, oceans, and beyond. With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas. It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk.

“Perhaps this adversary sounds like the former Soviet Union, but that enemy is gone: our foes are more subtle and implacable today. You may think I’m describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world. But their day, too, is almost past, and they cannot match the strength and size of this adversary.

“The adversary’s closer to home. It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy. Not the people, but the processes. Not the civilians, but the systems. Not the men and women in uniform, but the uniformity of thought and action that we too often impose on them.”

See you at SOFIC

SOFIC 2015 v2

 

Get a sneak peek!  AMREL will show off its new rugged Android tablets & handheld devices at this year’s SOFIC!

AMREL will feature a preview of some its newest, most advanced rugged computing solutions including:

  • Android/Windows solutions, such our new Android handhelds.
  • Super-slender laptops, such as  the ROCKY RV11 the thinnest, rugged laptop on the market that has a 15.6” display.
  • Powerful handheld & tablets, including our new Flexpedient Android tablet.

 We customize, design, prototype, and deliver solutions faster than anyone

 Learn more at: computers.amrel.com

The Russian Robots are Coming [VIDEOS]

Supposedly, by 2025, 30% of Russian military equipment will be unmanned. This goal is part of an ambitious program to upgrade Russia’s military. Currently, 10% of its military equipment qualifies as “modern.” They want that figure to rise to 70% by 2020.

It is tempting to dismiss Russian technology with the same snark that American defense analysts reserve for the transparently phony “super-weapons” seen in Iranian parades. See the video below of Russian strongman and Chuck Norris wannabe, Putin, watching the humanoid “Avatar” drive around in circles. Superficially, it looks like a crude cosplay of a Cylon robot.

While the “Avatar” looks ridiculous, not all Russian robots deserve disdain. Much more impressive are the firefighting Uran-14 and the minesweeper Uran-6. The latter has been used in the battle-scarred Chechen republic. Watch below.

The Russians have announced that they are developing search-and-rescue systems for the Arctic areas. We have previously reported on the Great Powers’ interest in the Polar regions as well as the opportunities in disaster relief unmanned applications. The Russians have had great success in designing equipment and vehicles for extremely cold environments, so their efforts are worth watching.

The Russians have heavily promoted their weaponized Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV), specifically the Wolf-2 mobile robotic system and the grenade launching Platform-M. We do not know their true capabilities. Do they have non-Lone Of Sight operation? What about sliding autonomy? What are their pathfinding, navigation, and internal map-making capacities? Despite the press releases and vivid photographs, there is more unknown than known about these UGVs.

It would be wrong to assume that the above weapon platforms are merely empty shells. Yes, corruption and brutal regimes has yielded Russian achievements that are more cardboard than real. However, I have worked personally with Russian scientists and engineers. Given the right environment, they can be astonishingly effective. While I am not worried about Americans losing their dominance in the unmanned field, we shouldn’t be too surprised if the Russians do something surprising.

To read about the Russian unmanned efforts in the Arctic, click here.

For a good summary of their military unmanned systems, click here.

 

AUVSI 2015: Impressions & Rumors

AUVSI Unmanned Systems Conference was bigger and better than ever. AMREL was there of course. What did our team think of this tradeshow?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) explosion

UAVs were everywhere. It seemed as if everyone was peddling their own UAV or looking for one to invest in.

Not all were impressed with the proliferation of UAVs. “They all look the same,” complained one person. “Like quadcopter toys from a hobby shop.”

One unusual UAV that got people’s attention was the Goose BRAVO from Mist Mobility Integrated Systems Technology (MMIST). An upgrade of the CQ-10A that supported Special Forces, it is a modern version of an old technology: gyrocopter (autogyro). Usually, a gyrocopter is something you see in 1930’s movies, not in modern skies. Yet, it can lift 600 pounds, fly 70 mph, and reach 18,000 feet.

Operator Control Unit (OCU) explosion

Since AMREL is the premier supplier of OCUs, we were especially interested in the control units. Again, individuals in our staff were not impressed. There were as many control units as there were UAVs. Every developer was controlling their UAVs with devices that were dedicated to their specific offering. It seems that the Pentagon’s decades long campaign for interoperability is being completely ignored.

“Nobody is paying them to make interoperable control units,” explained Rob Culver, AMREL’s Director of Business Development, DOD Programs.  That’s because…

Defense is no longer the key target market

UAV developers are going after the civilian market big time. Targeted applications include photography, videography, filming, mapping, inspection, logistics (delivery), crowd control, patrolling, spot spraying fields, seeding farms, mining, herding, follow me, and of course the old standby, reconnaissance.

Defense is increasingly seen as a troublesome market. Lots of grumbling on the tradeshow floor about congressional shenanigans creating uncertainty in military funding.

At first glance, the UAV developers’ fixation with civilian applications seems warranted. Consumer Electronics Association predicts 1 million flights a day in American airspace during the next 20 years. Investors are looking forward to a billion dollar commercial market once the FAA permits non-Line Of Sight operation.

Indeed, at the conference, the FAA raised everyone’s hopes with its announcement about the Project Pathfinder initiative. Project Pathfinder is an agreement with CNN, PrecisionHawk and BNSF Railway to explore civilian applications.

However, the Defense market is far from finished. At a presentation at the conference, Derrick Maple, principal unmanned systems analyst for IHS Aerospace, predicted a global defense and security UAV market of $11.1 billion by 2024, a doubling of the current one. The US military may be slowing down its procurement of UAVs, but other countries are ramping up their purchases. Maple cited “Australia, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the Middle East region” as areas of opportunities for American manufacturers.

In addition, the major obstacles to commercial UAV applications are not going away soon. There are solid reasons why FAA has been dragging its heels on integrating UAVs into civilian airspace. No one has yet solved the fundamental challenges of poor visibility and collision avoidance. This isn’t even mentioning such problems as radio frequency conflicts, which will become more significant as commercial UAVs increase.

Seems like an awful lot of people are betting an awful lot of money that the FAA will overcome these problems soon. I hope they aren’t expecting a quick return on their investment.

Hot rumor#1: The rugged vs. non rugged debate lives on

Not all the talk at AUVSI 2015 was about unmanned systems. There was a rumor about the military’s utilization of non-rugged mobile handhelds.

Some have argued that Defense doesn’t need rugged mobile devices. Ordinary commercial devices have a better supply train, are more advanced, and are cheaper. Just stick a protective case on them, and you have a solution that is “rugged enough.”

Rugged proponents counter that using a protective case on a commercial mobile device is like trying to fly by sticking wings on a car. Looks good, but it just won’t work. To be truly tough, one needs a device built rugged from the ground up.

Way back in 2011, we reported on rumors of end-user discontent following the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE). Soldiers didn’t like the fragility of the commercial handhelds. Sand, high temperatures, and sunlight readability were significant problems.

Despite these negative results, the vision of buying off-the-shelf smartphones for soldiers proved too alluring. The non-rugged advocates preserved.

Commercial handhelds advocates may not have gone away, but neither have the problems. According to rumor, there is continued end-user dissatisfaction with non-rugged smartphones. Again, sunlight readability is a problem. Turns out the protective case does an OK job guarding against shock and drop, but actually makes temperature and vibration problems worse (An enclosed case around an electronic device causing heat problems? Should have been obvious).

Despite the latest brouhaha, it remains to be seen if the non-rugged advocates will finally concede to reality.

Hot rumor#2: ARMY aviation shake-up

Traditional aviation personnel are among the people who have had the most difficulties adjusting to the unmanned era. In their eyes, the Air Force exists so pilots can fly. Predator UAVs may be cool, but are obviously secondary to the thrill one feels at operating a jet going Mach 2.

Similarly, aviation personnel in the ARMY have been unenthusiastic about Tactical UAVs (TUAV). While foot soldiers value their backpackable TUAVS, the ARMY aviation folks would rather forget these toys, and concentrate on helicopters and their few fixed wing assets.

According to rumor, the responsibility of TUAVs will be transferred from ARMY aviation to the ground pounders. Undoubtedly, the once unloved TUAVS will now be greeted with affection and enthusiasm by their end-users.

The military doing something smart? We could use a lot more rumors like that.

Heard a hot rumor lately? What were your impressions of AUVSI 2015?  Send your stories to editor@amrel.com.

Why Joining ISIS is Bad for Your Career

Someone on the social media website Quroa asked “Why should or shouldn’t I join ISIS?”  With tongue firmly planted in cheek, AMREL’s Web Marketing Specialist, Richard Barrios, drew on his Marine experience to provide the following authoritative answer:

I really don’t think joining ISIS will be a good step in your career for these reasons:

1) Poor health plan
2) Little or no pay
3) Really bad 401K
4) Bad travel benefits
5) Experience and job duties do not transfer well to another job, if you make it back home
6) When you do travel back home you will most likely be arrested
7) Perks are only available upon death (72 virgins).  However, considering the overwhelming amount of people collecting on that perk, there maybe a shorten supply
8) Most life insurance plans do not have a Jihad rider
9) Having to learn a new language.
10) Very little formal training is available.  Most training is “on the job”.  But I suggest looking at your local community college for any classes or job placement programs. I understand C.A.I.R. is a great resource
11) Retirement is very rare, due to job hazards.
12) It is difficult to explain your job, during career day, at your child’s school
13) Most of the equipment you will be using won’t be cutting edge and sometimes dangerous to operate (bomb vest, IEDs, AK47, RPGs)
14) You will most likely lose a lot of current Facebook friends due to their lack of understanding of your struggle.  However, you will gain others who think the same as you.  So your social media outreach may be a wash.
15) Your company or class picture will be in black and white, with cross-hairs in the middle.  And “Declassified video” printed on the picture.  But the good news is, it will be on youtube.com within a few months.
16) Most likely, Amazon.com will not deliver to your location.
17) Internet access will be unreliable.
18) Many professional American “head” hunters will be seeking you out.  Their main form of communication to you will be the M40A7 sniper rifle. Warning: The message tends to be delivered very quickly and they guarantee, only one attempt is needed to make a connection.

I hope this helps you with your decision on whether or not to join ISIS. Good luck with your endeavors.  And please update us how everything is going.

AMREL at AUVSI 2015

Visit AMREL at Unmanned Systems 2015

auvsi 2015.jpg 3Among the products on display will be the ROCKY RS11, the lightest, thinnest, rugged laptop in the world. Weighing only 5.5 lbs and just an inch thick, it’s a super-strong laptop that you don’t need to be super-strong to carry.

An onsite demonstration will pair AMREL computing platforms with Silvus’ Teamster MIMO radios to form a comprehensive mesh network that integrates a mix of UAVs, UGVs, sensors, and other IP-enabled devices.

 To learn more about AMREL unmanned solutions, click here.

 

 

DARPA’s self-guided bullets [VIDEO]

Every once in a while, we learn of a new technology that’s scary. This is one of those times.

Very few people in the current military are as respected or as well trained as the sniper. Along with unmanned systems and Special Forces, snipers have come to embody the modern face of war.

Snipers have a long history. Their skillset has continually transformed as weapon technology itself has been constantly upgraded. For example, once upon a time, snipers were expected to be proficient in making their own ammunition. Familiarity with the idiosyncrasies of their particular ordinance was vital to their ability to successfully make a long shot. Obviously, standardization and good quality control has rendered this particular talent obsolete.

Snipers are expected to be able mentally calculate wind direction, elevation, and other factors that affect the trajectory of a bullet. Ballistic computers have downgraded the importance of these mental gymnastics, but many snipers still learn the necessary mathematics. Like the ballistic computer, a self-calibrating smart scope also threatens to render certain sniper skills archaic.

But all these technological advances pale in comparison with DARPA’s self-guided bullets. Everybody’s favorite mad scientists are running an Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program. In other words, a self-steering bullet for difficult, long-distance shots.

“True to DARPA’s mission, EXACTO has demonstrated what was once thought impossible: the continuous guidance of a small-caliber bullet to target,” said Jerome Dunn, DARPA program manager.

Dunn went on to describe a live-fire demonstration that utilized a standard rifle.  “… EXACTO is able to hit moving and evading targets with extreme accuracy at sniper ranges unachievable with traditional rounds. Fitting EXACTO’s guidance capabilities into a small .50-caliber size is a major breakthrough and opens the door to what could be possible in future guided projectiles across all calibers.”

As demonstrated by the video below, an EXACTO bullet can change direction in mid-flight. How is this accomplished? One source states that:

“Each ‘self-guided bullet’ is around 4 inches in length.  At the tip lies an optical sensor that can detect a laser beam being shone on a far-off target. Actuators inside the bullet gather information from the bullet’s sensor allowing them to steer using tiny fins to guide the bullet accurately to its intended target. The bullet can self-correct its navigational path 30 times a second, all while flying more than twice the speed of sound!”

Bear in mind that the above quote was taken from an unconfirmed source. Fins on a rifled bullet? Could a laser-guided projectile adjust for fog and dust?  No one knows how DARPA is performing this magic trick and they are not talking.

What’s so scary about a self-guided bullet? Not the fact that people will be able to shoot around corners. Heck, that’s just one of the myriad ways a modern combatant can get killed. Also, there’s a real possibility that self-guided bullets will reduce collateral damage. Imagine a Predator UAV firing self-guided .50 caliber bullets instead of Hellfire missiles. The greater accuracy may mean a smaller impact area and consequently fewer casualties.

What’s so scary about the self-guided bullet is that, as the video demonstrates below, an untrained novice hit a long-range target the first time he used this technology. Snipers will no longer constitute a rarefied elite with difficult-to-learn skills. Virtually anyone will now be able to use ordinary rifles to hit targets a mile away.

That’s scary.

WIN-T sees the light of day

After more than a decade of hit-and-miss and one-step-forward/two-steps-backward development, the CS-13 (Capability Set 13)  is finally being deployed with combat troops.

CS-13 includes:

  • Nett Warrior (squad leader networking)
  • Win-T (Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2)
  • BFT 2 (Blue Force Tracking 2)
  • Company Command Post
  • Tactical radios such as AN/PRC-117G and Rifleman Radio
  • Combat smart phones

Even allowing for the usual mess of confusing acronyms, these communication programs have been exceptionally difficult to track. In response to rapidly changing technology, end-user feedback, as well as new requirements, they have undergone constant transformation. Nett Warrior alone has gone through more changes than a nervous teenage girl preparing for a date.

Strategy page has a detailed look at this complex and multilayered communications initiative. Their article is reprinted in full below:

After two years of testing the U.S. Army is putting its new communications system; Win-T (Win-T Increment 2) into service with combat troops. This comes after lots of development and testing. Back in 2013 four combat brigades were equipped with CS-13 (Capability Set 13), which includes Win-T, for testing under realistic conditions. That resulted in several changes to the hardware and software and final approval of the system. Now units headed for combat are being equipped. The first two units to receive Win-T are Stryker brigades in Texas and Washington State.

CS-13 consists of several different technologies the army has been developing since the 1990s. Some of these items have already been in combat. CS-13 includes Nett Warrior (an effort to get networking down to the squad leader), Win-T (Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2, a battlefield Internet), BFT 2 (Blue Force Tracking 2 for tracking troop location in real time), Company Command Post (giving company commanders more data), and tactical radios like AN/PRC-117G, Rifleman Radio, and combat smart phones. CS 13 is the result of over a decade of effort to create better battlefield communications, including a combat version of the Internet. The final selection took between 2011 and 2013 as 115 systems were tested by troops and those found wanting (most of them) dropped.

WIN-T was designed to allow troops to simultaneously exchange text, data, video, and voice data using a new generation of radios. Personal computers and smart phones (including both off-the-shelf and “ruggedized” military models) can hook into WIN-T and use the future improved communications and networking. In effect it is wi-fi for a combat zone that provides Internet-like capabilities to troops who are under fire.

One of the new devices that have been in action the longest have gone through several generations of upgrades. Thus JBC-P (Joint-Battle Command Platform) is the latest version of BFT and has several improvements. The most welcome improvement was much faster (almost instantaneous) updates of information. The satellite signals are now encrypted and work no matter the weather, temperature of distance. While every vehicle is equipped with one of these devices, Individual troops on the ground now have a smartphone type BFT device that allows them to chat and quickly shows on the display the location of nearby JBC-P users and has a zoom capability similar to Google Earth. Troops can quickly update enemy locations, bombs or otherwise dangerous areas. These smartphones are typically worn on the forearm for easy use in combat. The purpose of all these improvements is to enable troops arriving (by land or air) in an area where contact with the enemy is expected to immediately go into action knowing where everyone (on foot or in vehicles) is and where they are moving to.

Company Command Post gives a company commander the ability to quickly send and receive (and sort out) text, voice, and data with his troops (three platoons consisting of nine squads and special teams of snipers and machine-guns). This provides company commanders, using a laptop and other gear that can be carried while on foot, the same kind of command post capabilities previously restricted to battalion, brigade, and larger headquarters.

The key radios in CS 13 are the AN/PRC-117G, the AN/PRC-154, and the combat smart phone. AN/PRC-117G is a 5.45 kg (12 pound) radio that can be carried or installed in vehicles. About a third of its weight is the battery. It has a maximum output of 20 watts and handles FM, UHF, and VHF signals, including satellite based communications. On the ground max range is 20 kilometers (depending on hills and the antenna used). The U.S. has been using the AN/PRC-117 since the late 1990s, as an interim radio, and found it a solid piece of equipment. The AN/PRC-117 is based on a commercial design (the Falcon series) that several foreign armed forces and many civilian operations use. The AN/PRC-117 has been regularly upgraded in that time (going from version A to the current G). AN/PRC-154 (or RR for Rifleman Radio) are lightweight (1 kg/2.2 pound) voice/data radios for individual infantrymen. RR includes GPS and a battery good for over ten hours of use. The RR has been undergoing tests since 2010. For most of 2012, U.S. Army Rangers have been using them in Afghanistan. By itself, the two watt RR has a range of up to two kilometers. But it can also automatically form a mesh network, where all RRs within range of each other can pass on voice or data information. During the field tests this was done to a range of up to 50 kilometers. The RR can also make use of an aerostat, UAV, or aircraft overhead carrying a RR to act as a communications booster (to other RRs or other networks). The mesh network enables troops to sometimes eliminate carrying a longer range (and heavier) AN/PRC-117 for the platoon leader. The combat smart phone is a ruggedized Android smart phone, equipped to handle military communications via the mesh network.

CS-13 provides capabilities that, before September 11, 2001, where not expected until the 2020s. But because of all the American troops seeing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were opportunities to try out new equipment under combat conditions, and this accelerated the development process.

 

F-35 and Defense’s Biggest Problem

Nothing illustrates the problems of Defense procurement better than the troubled program of the F-35.  Every year the 5th generation combat plane seems to grow more expensive, less capable, and more delayed in schedule.

What both American critics and proponents of the F-35 often forget is that it’s a multinational project. The US strategy is to spread the cost of this advanced plane among its allies.

One ally invested in the F-35 is Israel. I was curious what its Defense establishment thought of this plane. While not immune to political shenanigans, Israel’s military likes to thinks of itself as ruthlessly practical. Could they cut through the agenda-driven arguments that dog the F-35 in America?

A Times of Israel article details the debate within Israel about the F-35.  Some of the criticism will sound familiar to American military analysts.

The F-35:

The expense criticism is somewhat ironic, since US aid will pay for most of the F-35s’ cost. Still, some Israelis think the aid money could be better spent.

One difference between American and Israeli commentators is that the latter do not worship at the altar of the new and more readily embrace the virtues of older, more established systems. As quoted in the Times of Israel, Yiftah Shapir, of the Middle East Military Balance Project, said:

“Take the army we had in 1985 – the F-15 and F-16 A and B; the Merkava Mark I and II, and all the rest – and ask yourself whether the IDF,” using those weapons, “could defend Israel today against its enemies,”

His answer is an unhesitating yes. Not every technological leap is one Israel is forced to take, he said.

While some in America have also argued that upgrading older fighters would be a better use of resources, it is hard to imagine any of our military analysts blithely dismissing the “latest and greatest.” For example, one of the F-35 strongest critics is Moshe Arens, former Defense minister and a trained aeronautical engineer. He boasted that Vietnam War-era armored personnel carriers were effective in the latest Gaza incursions. When was the last time you heard an American military leader argue that we do not need to invest in new technology?

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) point man for the F-35 is “Lt. Col. B” (Israeli military and intelligence leaders are often granted anonymity in the media). He counters Arens’ arguments with dire predictions of declining Israeli air superiority. Furthermore the comparisons of the early models of the F-35s with the latest versions of the F-16s and F-15s are inappropriate. Rather, “…the first model of the F-35 should be compared to the F-16’s first model and not the plane that has been steadily improved for the past 35 years.”

“Lt. Col. B” continued:

“The question,” he said, “is where to place the seam between the present and the future” – in other words, when does it no longer pay to continue to upgrade the existing platform…”

“Lt. Col. B” bolstered his arguments with a detailed historical perspective. Virtually, all new jet fighter purchases were opposed by the IAF at the time.

Some advocate abandoning the F-35 and waiting for unmanned fighters to become practical. While it is possible that the F-35 will be the last manned combat aircraft, waiting for unmanned fighters is not a practical strategy. Granted, the US Navy has done amazing things with Unmanned Combat Aircraft Vehicles (UCAV), such as carrier landings and aerial refueling. However, basic problems remain. UCAVs crash more often than their manned counterparts, and remote operators hate the poor visibility. In one famous incident an operator flew a UCAV upside down without realizing it.

Since Russia’s announcement of the sale of S-300 Integrated Aircraft Defense Systems to Iran, F-35 advocates have become embolden. According to “Lt. Col. B,” the problem with operating in the depths of enemy territory is not lack of fuel, but inadequate intelligence. The pilot of an F-35 has vastly superior situational awareness than his counterpart in the F-16. This difference is literally a matter of life and death.

Those of you who have been following the sale of the S-300 to Iran may be a little confused by the last paragraph. Depending on who you listen to, the S-300 sale is game changing or a nuisance that can be overcome. Indeed, even without the F-35, Israel has already conducted training exercises against the S-300. Does the S-300 sale strengthen the case for F-35 acquisition or not? This last question depresses me, because I cannot get a good objective answer.

Defense procurement in Israel suffers the same limitations as its American counterpart. For example, Moshe Arens, who was mentioned earlier, is an informed expert on Israeli defense issues. However, he has been waging a decades’ long campaign to restore Israel’s ability to build its own homegrown jets. No matter how legitimate are his criticisms about the F-35, it is entirely possible that no non-Israeli jet would ever satisfy him.

This is the central problem in both American and Israeli Defense procurement. Competent people of good will are involved, but everybody is driven by their own personal agendas. It is impossible to get an unbiased neutral judgment.

The American solution is to ignore the difference of opinion, and try to satisfy everyone. Politicians can’t decide what areas of the world constitute core American interests? Fine, we need the capability to project power everywhere simultaneously. The Pentagon can’t figure out what kind of war we will fight? We will simply prepare for every kind of war. No one really knows what a 5th generational fighter should be? Great, we’ll simply build a plane that is all things to all people.

Obviously, such a policy is not sustainable, not mention ruinously expensive. I do not know what the solution is. I dread that 20 years from now, as commentators examine the latest over-budget weapon system, the F-35 program will look like a model of efficiency and economy.