Monday, December 22, 2008

Pentagon Eyes Orbiting Power Station - The Pentagon's shopping list - Obama Interview: Major address (earlier suggested Jakarta visit)

Pentagon Eyes Orbiting Power Station

Dec 9, 2008

By Frank Morring, Jr.

Military planners responsible for finding space resources to support troops on the ground think the time may be ripe to advance the 40-year-old space solar power concept to help reduce the logistics train behind forward-deployed forces.

The concept of collecting solar energy above the atmosphere and beaming it to the ground as microwaves or lasers has long been seen among military freethinkers as a way to get electricity to remote airfields, fire bases or other distant outposts without having to haul fuel for diesel generators.

But that out-of-the-box concept may be gaining new life as the incoming administration looks for "green-energy" technologies to reduce reliance on foreign oil, and technologists home in on the hardware that would be needed to orbit deployable sunlight collectors measuring kilometers across and get power down from them to troops on the ground. Engineers studying space solar power (SSP) believe a pilot plant could be orbited fairly soon.

"The end game needs to have a pilot plant in operation within 10 to 12 years," said John Mankins, chief operating officer of Managed Energy Technologies and a longtime SSP advocate. "By pilot plant I mean a small but full-scale operational system delivering megawatts of power to the Earth."

The price tag would be relatively small by Pentagon standards, at least initially. Mankins estimates an end-to-end systems study, with some early lab work and low-cost flight-tests, would cost about $100 million and take about three years.

The Pentagon's National Security Space Office proposed just such a study in a report on SSP as "an opportunity for strategic security" released in October 2007. "It's being talked about," said a defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity in the absence of policy guidance. "Part of the problem has to do with perception... It's [about] roles and responsibilities, and having people get over the giggle factor, that this is actually something that's real."

Mankins said a pilot plant delivering 5-10 megawatts "does mesh nicely" with a notional military requirement for a system to deliver power from space to forward-deployed forces. To meet the 10-year timeline for a pilot plant, he said, it would take another three years after the systems study to put together a flight demonstration in low-Earth orbit, and another four to six years after that to get a pilot plant in geostationary orbit.

The National Security Space Office concluded that "while significant technical challenges remain, space-based solar power is more technically executable than ever before and current technological vectors promise to further improve its viability," according to the 2007 report. "A government-led demonstration of proof-of-concept could serve to catalyze commercial sector development."

For the Pentagon, there would be distinct tactical benefits even from a pilot plant. It could be a "disruptive game changer on the battlefield," the report said, providing "energy on demand" across a military theater and potentially supporting "entirely new force structures and capabilities such as ultra long-endurance airborne or terrestrial surveillance or combat systems to include the individual soldier himself."

Building collectors in space with the multiple-kilometer apertures needed would require advances in space-deployable structures and robotic assembly, the report said. The ground footprint of the rectifying antenna that would convert the microwave beam into direct current "would probably require a fair amount of space in order to do a rectenna," the defense official said.

"It's not trivial in size, the rectenna," the official continued. "It could be fairly large, but it's not a complex piece of equipment either. It's just a wire mesh that's laid over the ground, elevated a little bit over the ground, that captures all the microwave energy."

Photo of sun: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

US Military Tries, Again, to Improve Its Acquisition

09-Dec-2008 20:08 EST

Burn rate concerns

"When it comes to procurement, for the better part of five decades, the trend has gone toward lower numbers as technology gains have made each system more capable. In recent years, these platforms have grown ever more baroque, have become ever more costly, are taking longer to build, and are being fielded in ever-dwindling quantities. Given that resources are not unlimited, the dynamic of exchanging numbers for capability is perhaps reaching a point of diminishing returns." (US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates)

Weapon projects are inherently difficult. Many are custom systems that use a wide array of new technologies, and have production runs that are incredibly small by civilian standards. Even commercial aerospace efforts tend to stumble under these pressures; as demonstrated by Airbus' A380 super-jumbo and Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, a pair of top-priority "bet the company" planes. Both will finish about 2 years late, and well over budget. Faced with a continuous stream of similar experiences, military and political observers have tried various flavors of military acquisition reform over the past several decades, in the USA and abroad. Britain recently began moving forward on its Smart Procurement reform plan and its Defence Industrial Strategy. On the other side of the globe, Australia's Kinnaird Review [PDF] has led to major reforms – though results have not always followed suit. The 2008 Mortimer Review aims to take the next step down under.


At the same time, the dynamics described by SecDef Gates have created a crisis in American defense procurement that has grown big enough to jeopardize its military status. DID has covered the defense procurement spiral and tendency of the US Defense Department to begin more programs than its budget can afford, as well as growing bi-partisan legislative concern at rising weapons costs. There are strong indications that both the Air Force and Navy's long-term procurement plans are seriously flawed, the Future Combat Systems linchpin of the Army's long-term modernization plan is under growing budgetary attack and criticized as conceptually wrong, the Marines have run into serious performance and affordability issues with their keystone MV-22 and EFV programs, and the Coast Guard's future Deepwater acquisition strategy has been forced into a complete reorganization. Amidst these challenges, "political engineering," less-than-credible initial program estimates, and Congressional interfere create a continuous churn of reallocation and cancellation that raises the cost of surviving programs.

The past few years have seen efforts at organizational defense transformation in the USA – including attempts to give combatant commanders more say in the acquisition process. On the eve of a new Presidential administration, the US military is launching another acquisition reform effort, with new guidelines for weapon procurement. The Secretary of Defense, who will be staying on under a Democrat administration, added himself to the mix with an article in the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine….

The Pentagon's shopping list

Here are some of the major weapons programs and their outlook.
December 10, 2008

The shopping list

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who will remain in his job under President-elect Barack Obama, has several decisions to make about equipment and weapons systems. Here are some of the major programs and their outlook:


Manufacturer: Boeing Co. (Chicago) and SAIC Inc. (San Diego)

Price tag: $160 billion

What it is supposed to do: The next generation of heavily armored ground vehicles is supposed to replace Bradley fighting vehicles, tanks and Paladin artillery.

Outlook: Likely to be delayed to make room for less-pricey and proven systems.


Manufacturer: Lockheed Martin Corp. (Bethesda, Md.)

Price tag: $142 million apiece; critics say cost is higher.

What it is supposed to do: Penetrate enemy air defenses and spot targets with sophisticated radar.

Outlook: The Air Force wanted 381 F-22s. The present budget provides for 183. The Defense chief may support some additional planes but not as many as the Air Force wants.


Manufacturer: Not selected

Price tag: Unknown

What it is supposed to do: Replace the 50-year-old B-52s. The Air Force wants a plane that can fly 2,000 miles without refueling and carry 28,000 pounds of bombs.

Outlook: Officials may favor cheaper alternatives: unmanned drones that can deliver bombs at a fraction of the cost.


Manufacturer: General Dynamics Corp. (Falls Church, Va.)

Price tag: $5.6 million to $7 million per vehicle. (Original cost was about $3 million.)

What it is supposed to do: Strykers were to be an interim system for moving large numbers of ground troops around dangerous urban environments.

Outlook: The versatile vehicles have been valuable in Iraq. The Pentagon may decide to delay the Future Combat Systems and build more Strykers instead.

Source: Washington bureau research

Donor: Obama suggested Jakarta visit

Barack Obama told a group of donors in California early last year that his first international trip would be to Muslim Indonesia, a supporter who was present recalled today.

Obama promised during the campaign to convene a Muslim summit, and the New York Times speculated today on where he would deliver a major, early address to a Muslim audience, settling on Egypt as the likeliest.

The Obama donor, Los Angeles real estate executive Ted Leary, recalled that Obama spoke of his plan to donors at a February 20, 2007 breakfast fundraiser at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, soon after announcing his run for president.

"Obama told the 20 or so of us at breakfast that 'his first trip as President would be to Indonesia - the world's most populous Muslim country,'" Leary recalled.

"He then said when he got off [Air Force One], he would say 'xxxxxxxx' - which we, of course, didn't understand," Leary emailed. "He said that it was Indonesian (which he speaks) for, 'I am back, dudes.'"

As Leary notes, there's a logic to an Indonesia trip: It's giant, Muslim, democratic -- and a place Obama lived as a child.

He said Obama told donors to "imagine if on January 20, 2009 a guy named Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in on the US Capitol steps as the President of the United States, what that would say to the world, especially the Muslim world, about our nation."

Obama plans major address in Islamic capital: interview

Wed Dec 10, 3:30 am ET

Obama plans major address in Islamic capital: interview AFP/File – The director of Rome's wax museum "Museo delle cere" Fernando Canini adjusts the head of …

WASHINGTON, (AFP) – President-elect Barack Obama plans to give "a major address" in an Islamic capital soon after taking office as he seeks to mend America's image in the Muslim world, a Chicago Tribune interview said.

"I think we've got a unique opportunity to reboot America's image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular," Obama said in the interview published late Tuesday on the Tribune's website.

Obama promised an "unrelenting" desire to "create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership in countries and with peoples of good will who want their citizens and ours to prosper together."

The world "is ready for that message."

While he described a fresh approach to diplomacy, Obama said his administration would not shrink from the struggle against terrorism, referring to the recent attacks on India's financial capital.

"The message I want to send is that we will be unyielding in stamping out the terrorist extremism we saw in Mumbai," said Obama, who gave the interview from his transition team's offices in Chicago.

The Tribune wrote that Obama "plans to give a major address in an Islamic capital as part of his global outreach" but did not quote him directly.

Obama also said he would be sworn on January 20 using his full name, Barack Hussein Obama.

During the presidential campaign, some of Obama's political opponents would refer to his middle name in an attempt to portray him as a secret Muslim.

But the Christian president-elect said he would follow tradition for the inauguration ceremony.

"I think the tradition is that they use all three names, and I will follow the tradition," Obama told the paper. "I'm not trying to make a statement one way or another. I'll do what everybody else does."

Looking for the Ideal Spot to Make a Speech

Published: December 4, 2008

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama's aides say he is considering making a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office. 

So where should he do it? The list of world capitals is long, and includes the obvious —Riyadh, Kuwait City, Islamabad — and the not-so-obvious — Male (the Maldives), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Tashkent (Uzbekistan). Some wise-guys have even suggested Dearborn, Mich., as a possibility.

Clearly it would be cheating for Mr. Obama to fly to Detroit, talk to Dearborn's 30,000 Arab residents and call it a day. And Male and Ouagadougou, while certainly majority Muslim, can't really be what Mr. Obama's aides have in mind when they talk about locales for a high-profile speech that would seek to mend rifts between the United States and the broader Muslim world.

So Burkina Faso and the Maldives are out. But that leaves a whole swath of Islamic capitals, all ready to be spruced up for Mr. Obama to make his speech. I've thought hard about this, and asked a few people — diplomats even — which capital Mr. Obama should pick.

The consensus, after an entire day of reporting, is Cairo.

Why Cairo? It's a matter of elimination. I called Ziad Asali, the president of the American Task Force on Palestine, to gauge his thoughts. "Damascus would be cool, except it would look as if he was rewarding the Syrians and it's too soon for that," Mr. Asali said.

True. Maybe in a year, if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gets around to a land-for-peace deal with Israel. But for right now, I'm not really seeing Damascus as the spot for the big speech.

What about Ramallah, I asked Mr. Asali, thinking it would show solidarity with the Palestinians.

"I would object to that on so many levels," he shot back, irate. "Are you forgetting that Palestinians seek Jerusalem as their capital?"

Right. And giving the speech in Jerusalem would just open up a Pandora's box full of problems. So that's not happening.

My colleague, David Sanger, heard me talking about it and came over to my desk. "I think he's going to pick Jakarta," he said. "It would be a big homecoming-type trip."

But Jakarta's too easy. Mr. Asali thought so too: "Jakarta? People would yawn about that." Sure, Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim-majority country — some 177 million Muslims live there — but the very fact that Mr. Obama once lived and went to school there would make choosing it seem like cheating.

Baghdad? Definitely out-of-the-box, but it could appear to validate the Iraq war, which Mr. Obama opposed. Beirut? Too many Hezbollah members — Secret Service would flip its collective lid — and anyway, the Lebanese president has always been a Christian.

Tehran? Too soon for that. Amman? Been there, done that. Islamabad? Too dangerous. Ankara? Too safe. Plus the Turks aren't going to be too crazy about being used for outreach to the Muslim world when they're trying to join the European Union.

I asked a senior Turkish diplomat what he thought. He immediately started acting, well, diplomatic. "We don't have a problem with our Islamic identity," he said. "But our system is secular."

Riyadh? Mr. Obama's national security aides say no.

Kuwait City? Abu Dhabi? Doha? "I don't think it will be in the Gulf," one foreign policy adviser to Mr. Obama said.

See? It's got to be Cairo. Egypt is perfect. It's certainly Muslim enough, populous enough and relevant enough. It's an American ally, but there are enough tensions in the relationship that the choice will feel bold. The country has plenty of democracy problems, so Mr. Obama can speak directly to the need for a better democratic model there. It has got the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that has been embraced by a wide spectrum of the Islamic world, including the disenfranchised and the disaffected.

The Secret Service won't like it one bit, but Cairo is no Islamabad. I called the Egyptian Embassy in Washington to ask officials there what they thought. Someone from Mr. Obama's team had already mentioned the possibility, although embassy officials said Egypt has not been approached about a possible presidential trip to Cairo.

Still, Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian ambassador, e-mailed me a statement. "Needless to say, the President of the United States is always welcome in Egypt," it said. "Delivering such a speech from Cairo would no doubt reinforce the intended message. Cairo has long been a center of Islamic learning and scholarship, in line with Egypt's central role in the Middle East."

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