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Congressional Staffers Visit Natick Soldier Systems Center

Friday, November 13th, 2015

A Congressional staff delegation consisting of Professional Staff Members from the House and Senate Armed Services`1qw Committees visited key DoD research & development facilities in the Boston area this week. Among other stops, the staff spent time at the Natick Soldier Systems Center where they were briefed on the base’s cutting-edge R&D work. Natick Soldier Systems Center is a crucial part of the development process for warfighter gear and equipment, with groundbreaking work on individual items ranging from combat helmets and soldier electronics to combat feeding and shelter systems.
The base itself consists of four key units including, the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, the U.S. Army Institute of Environmental Medicine, Program Manager Field Sustainment, and the Integrated Logistics Support Center….. it truly is “all about the solider.” And as one of the main industry liaisons, the base serves as an integral player in the DoD’s R&D efforts on improving gear and equipment for the end-user. Natick Soldier Systems Center maintains capabilities and technologies that are one of a kind, such as the Doriot Climatic Chambers, which was recently upgraded in partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The base’s location also provides a unique ability to bring some of the nation’s greatest minds due to its proximity to some of the nation’s greatest research institutions such as Harvard University, MIT, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Massachusetts system.

Terry Baldwin on Civilian Control of the Military

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Recently, a post regarding a Senator’s position on a pending government procurement resulted in some rather interesting comments on civilian control of the military. I exchanged some messages with LTC Terry Baldwin (USSF, Ret) and we agreed that it needed to be addressed.  This is what he came up with. It’s a good historical reference, and well worth the reading, whether you are an informed citizen or a student of the profession of arms.

There is legitimate purpose, coherent logic and sound reasoning behind every element and mechanism associated with our Constitutional Republic. None is more fundamental to our form of government than iron clad civilian control of the military. In peace and war. In June of 1787, James Madison addressed the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on the dangers of a permanent army. “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.” Based on the European model of his day Madison declared. “The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.” The fact that Madison, one of the most vocal proponents of a strong centralized government—an author of the Federalist papers and the architect of the Constitution—could evince such strongly negative feelings against a standing army is significant and telling(1).

The final draft of the Declaration of Independence contained numerous references to King George’s militarism (particularly his attempts to render the army independent of civilian authority). By the end of the War of Independence, distrust and even hatred of a standing army had become a powerful and near-universal article of faith among the American people. Many felt that the professional British army was nothing less than a “conspiracy against liberty.” The Quartering Act, which required colonists to provide housing and provisions for troops in their own buildings, was an especially obnoxious symbol of the corrupting power represented by the army. An issue which was later directly addressed in the 3d Amendment of the US Constitution. Many colonists held the sentiment that the redcoats stationed in the colonies existed not to protect them but to enforce the king’s unpopular policies at bayonet-point(1).

Other members of the founding generation worried that an armed, professional force represented an untenable threat to the liberty of the people generally. As Samuel Adams wrote in 1768, “Even when there is a necessity of the military power, within a land, a wise and prudent people will always have a watchful and jealous eye over it”. In our Republic that watchful oversight on behave of the people is exercised by our elected officials. Moreover, in Federalist No. 51, Madison argued that no single branch of government ought to have control over any single aspect of governing. Thus, all three branches of government must have some control over the military, and the system of checks and balances maintained among the other branches would serve to help control the military(1).

The powers of the individual Branches of government concerning the United States Military are clearly outlined in the Constitution. The separation of those powers concerning their duties and responsibilities are precise and distinct to each Branch. Article I which covers the governmental responsibilities of the Legislative Branch distinctly places the responsibility of provision for and maintenance of the military specifically in the duties of the United States House of Representatives and Senate. Article I, Section 8 – The Legislative Branch – “To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy.” Article II, Section 2 – The Executive Branch – “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.”

Most military professionals, myself included, are in fact strong advocates of civilian control. Highly respected writing on War from Clausewitz to Sun-Tzu universally recognized and advocated an unbreakable link between political goals and military means. Historically where unrealistic or poorly defined political objectives became unsynchronized or decoupled from operational and tactical military actions, National mission failure is the likely result. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan would be some recent examples. Given the broad strategic implications that a decision to declare a war, invade a country, or end a conflict, have on the citizens of the country, those deliberations are best guided by the will of the people (as expressed by their elected representatives), rather than left solely to an elite group of military experts. The military serves as a special government agency, which is supposed to implement, rather than formulate, policies that require the use of certain types of physical force. Dr. Kohn succinctly summarizes this view when he writes that: “the point of civilian control is to make security subordinate to the larger purposes of a nation, rather than the other way around. The purpose of the military is to defend society, not to define it.”(2)

It can also be argued that militaries possess capabilities that are too powerful to be placed at the discretion of just a few people. Rather, they must be at the service of all citizens and used in accordance with the democratic will of the people. So concerns about maintaining an appropriate subordinate relationship between the military and civil authorities elected or appointed over them did not end in the 18th Century. In 1961, President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address of a military-industrial complex, where the military could wield indirect power or undue influence over Congress by enlisting arms manufacturers to lobby for increased military spending to benefit themselves and incidentally the military. This very real and troubling dynamic represents a potential end run around effective civilian control. And also presents an effective argument in favor of more civilian scrutiny and oversight of the military not less.

Of course, the most important institution supporting civilian control must be the military itself. The fundamental assumption behind civilian supremacy is the abstinence by the military from intervention in government and political life. The military should advise civilians, represent the needs of the military inside the government, but not advocate military interests or perspectives publicly in such a way as to undermine or circumscribe civilian authority. While a country may have civilian control of the military without democracy, it cannot have democracy without civilian control. Democracy is a disorderly form of government, often inefficient and always frustrating. Maintaining liberty and security, governing in such a manner as to achieve desirable political outcomes and at the same time military effectiveness, is among the most difficult dilemmas of human governance.(2)

Our Founding Fathers envisioned and built a most amazing governing construct. A mechanism designed with component gears that purposely grind against one another rather than mesh. An apparatus that is maintenance intensive and that we the people have a sacred duty to constantly repair and preserve. A machine that intentionally doesn’t save time, energy or manpower. An engine of liberty that deliberately works better when more of us participate and yet will still never function smoothly. A strange and marvelous instrument indeed. Ensuring that the military always remains firmly subordinate to civilian control was and remains a critical cog in that machine. Every aspect of when, where, why, against whom and how the Nation goes to war, prosecutes a war, or prepares for war is the peoples’ business. Attempting to argue that the military should have the autonomy or discretion to somehow dodge that oversight in time of war is simply wrong and directly contradicts our history and our Constitution.

For the purposes of this article I modified and paraphrased a great deal of the work of the two gentlemen below. But I happen to firmly believe in everything that is stated above. TLB

(1)Historian Christopher Hamner teaches at George Mason University, serves as Editor-in-Chief of Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800, and is the author of Enduring Battle: American Soldiers in Three Wars, 1776-1945.

(2)Richard H. Kohn is professor of history and chairman of the Curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as executive secretary, Triangle Institute for Security Studies. Further, he is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of American Diplomacy.

What The Warrior Protection and Readiness Coalition Has Been Up To

Monday, October 12th, 2015

On this first day of the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army I find it fitting to tell you about a considerably smaller group of industry advocates. While lesser known, I occasionally write about the Warrior Protection and Readiness Coalition (WPRC).

For the most part, I write about a very narrow segment of the defense industry; those businesses that concentrate on protecting our service members. As I’m sure you’re aware, the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment (OCIE) industry historically has had a minimal presence on Capitol Hill, to the detriment of the needs of both the warfighter and industry. But not anymore.

Back in 2009, at the urging of DoD leadership, industry leaders took the initiative to bring a fragmented group of nine American companies together to speak with one voice to Congress on the need to sustain a industrial base. Never before in the history had the armed forces relied so heavily of rapid industrial innovation and production of personal protective equipment. No one wanted to see that capability go away due to the lack of a planning process. The result was the Warrior Protection and Readiness Coalition (WPRC), which has grown into a not-for-profit that enjoys an active membership of more than 40 companies dedicated to ensuring US warfighters and peacekeepers alike are properly supported and equipped for the full spectrum of missions.

I am proud to host this site and discuss many of these issues. Those of you who read, comment, and support this site through advertising are engaged daily not only with the US Department of Defense but also increasingly with foreign militaries. As our defensive posture continues to evolve and opportunities to sustain the domestic industrial base have diminished, the procurement process has become even more difficult at a time when the industry that supports the warfighter is extremely stressed.

Sequestration is our number one defense issue. The current standoff taking place between the President and Congress over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is an example of the collateral damage caused by sequestration. To adequately fund DoD around the constrictions of the sequester, Members of Congress have used the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to add almost $85 billion dollars to meet the critical demands of our national defense. President Obama has repeatedly called this effort a “gimmick” and has threatened to veto the NDAA altogether. Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees just approved a Conference Report containing this OCO funding. If the President vetoes the measure, more uncertainty remains around the necessary funding for the Department of Defense.

The result of this situation for our industry is continued uncertainty. Let’s face it. If there’s no budget, there are no orders for goods, and companies may well turn their efforts elsewhere, or close up shop altogether. This obviously directly effects the military. OCO funds are used with broad discretion, and while they may serve as a bandaid, they also create some havoc with the bean counters and lead to “feast or famine” situations for the military as well as their suppliers. You can’t conduct any long-term planning when the budget process is broken. Specific to our industry, you get a glaring lack of line item visibility for both PPE and OCIE. On top of that, the constraints of the Budget Control Act and sequestration have led procurement authorities to rely heavily upon lowest price/technically acceptable (LPTA) contracting methods in order to make those limited funds stretch as far as possible. While it sounds great on paper, choosing the lowest price over quality and best value for PPE and OCIE is a recipe for disaster both for the domestic industrial base as well as our warfighters.

Confronting these challenges head on may seem like an impossible task. You know as well as I do that not only are there current growing threats around the world (Russia, Syria, ISIS, North Korea) but the Berry compliant industrial base must be ready to meet unforeseen challenges within a moment’s notice. How many times to do we have to repeat history? Time and time again we have allowed our military’s industrial base to descend into disarray. The goal here is sustainment of capabilities; military as well as industrial.

The WPRC was founded to not only ensure the best available equipment for our warfighters and peacekeepers but to advocate on behalf of the American companies and manufacturers who provide the best available PPE and OCIE. Members and non-members alike have benefitted from their work. The WPRC has led the effort to discontinue the use of reverse auctions (RA) and Lowest Price/Technically Acceptable (LPTA) contracting for PPE/OCIE product categories. Margins are already thin and these types of purchases have resulted in winning bids that are just too good to be true. Over time these methods of procurement have led to missteps, including the procurement of substandard PPE. Just this year, the companies who are part of the WPRC worked together to successfully secure language in the NDAA that states:

“The Secretary of Defense shall ensure that the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, in procuring an item of personal protective equipment or a critical safety item, use source selection criteria that is predominately based on technical qualifications of the item and not predominately based on price to the maximum extent practicable if the level of quality or failure of the item could result in death or severe bodily harm to the user, as determined by the Secretaries.”

This language is an important step in a continued process to ensure that our warfighters not only maintain a significant combat advantage but are as safe as possible while doing so. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Chair of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee have been champions for this issue in Congress.

Here’s another win that I bet you haven’t heard of. The WPRC has also achieved a notable success by supporting legislation that requires DoD to provide line-item funding for PPE and OCIE in future budgets. Beginning next year, Program Managers and industry will have visibility into the spending plans of the service branches, allowing for far better planning within the government and industry on the best way to allocate precious resources to support the service branches. Up to now, everything has been haphazard. This is huge and will help planners get their arms around what has been happening.

There’s still a lot of work to be done. I urge companies to pay attention to the work being done by this non-profit association and consider adding their efforts to the advocacy work that leads to these types of accomplishments. It’s critical to our industrial base and to all those who serve in uniform, and it deserves our support. Congress needs feedback from the uniformed services as well as from industry. If we let it operate in a vacuum it will never know how to improve the acquisition process.  

Unfortunately, what they do day-to-day is often missed but if I had to sum it all up in a single sentence, I’d refer to them as “Our Voice of Industry on Capitol Hill.” While it has taken time to gain momentum, this voice has been pretty effective so far, and the more that companies band together to alleviate uncertainty, the better they can concentrate on providing the best support to our troops. 

AUSA Disappointed In Budget ‘Train Wreck’

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

I received this statement from AUSA earlier today and had to share it.  I agree completely.  

Statement of Gordon R. Sullivan, USA retired, Association of the U.S. Army President and CEO

“It is disappointing we sit on the sidelines watching the train wreck that is our defense budget process.

“Here we are at the start of a fiscal year with a patchwork appropriations that keeps our military funded only through Dec. 11, and with a veto threat over the defense policy bill. Everything that is happening was avoidable, if only our executive and legislative branches would work together in the name of national security.”

“In an increasingly uncertain world, failure to do something so essential as passing a defense budget does nothing to help the morale of our soldiers and other service members, nor being a credible friend and ally and a formidable foe.”

The National Guard Association Of The United States – The Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

The National Guard Association of the United States is currently seeking additional support of H.R. 1604, the Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act. H.R. 1604 will allow Veterans to seek immediate mental health care at any non-VA facilities eligible to receive reimbursement through the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. H.R. 1604 is sponsored by Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-NJ, a strong supporter of Veteran care.

For more information, and for access to a contact form to show your support to your representative, click on ‘NGAUS Legislative Alert #15-14′ at the following link:

2015 NDAA Does Not Strike Requirement For Common DoD Camo

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Despite deliberations throughout this year, the 2015 NDAA aka the Carl Levin and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 does not repeal the provisions of last year’s Enyart Amendment requiring DoD to move toward common camouflage patterns and combat uniforms.

According to the Joint Explanatory Statement to Accompany 2015 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015:

Revised policy on ground combat and camouflage utility uniforms

The Senate committee-reported bill contained a provision (sec. 352) that would amend section 352 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (P.L. 113-66) that established a policy that the Secretary of Defense shall eliminate the development and fielding of Armed Forces-specific combat and camouflage utility uniforms and families of uniforms for specific combat environments to be used by all members of the Armed Forces.

The House bill contained no similar provision.
The agreement does not include the Senate provision.
(Emphasis added)

We note that the guidance for the military services and combatant commands required by section 351 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (P.L. 113-66) to implement this policy is late and has not yet been delivered. We also note that the implementation plan is also late and necessary to ensure proper implementation of the Department of Defense’s guidance to establish and publish joint combat uniform standards and performance criteria.

For more info on the 2014 NDAA provisions for camouflage read this:

Updated – What I understand this language is doing is tapping DoD on the head to let them know that they aren’t following last year’s NDAA by providing information Congress asked for. It looks like Congress is still very keen on the subject and that they need to get their act together.

Congressional Accountability For Broken Military Programs Is Catching On – But Are They Blaming The Right People?

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Late last week we saw the release of a letter from Rep Duncan Hunter (R-CA) to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Director, National Intelligence LTG James Clapper (USAF, Ret) regarding the impending nomination of US Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, LTG Mary Legere to take the place at Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, of the out going LTG Mike Flynn. What makes this letter so interesting is that Rep Hunter is in opposition to LTG Legere’s appointment. LTG Legere is a career Military Intelligence Officer with a varied tactical intelligence background. I don’t believe that her experience is in question.

To read the letter click the link:
Rep Duncan Hunter on New DIA Nomination

Rather, Rep Hunter’s opposition all pivots around the long-plagued Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) program, and in particular its migration to a classified cloud computing environment which would allow users to access more data, from more locations. For those of you unfamiliar, DCGS-A is the Army’s primary system to post data, process information, and disseminate Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) information about the threat, weather, and terrain to echelons. DCGS-A provides commanders the ability to task battle-space sensors and receive intelligence information from multiple sources. Analysts claim it requires extensive contract support, is often down, is not intuitive and generally difficult to use. What they do like is a computer program called Palantir. Named after mythological Seeing Stones, Palantir was developed with help from the not-for-profit In-Q-Tel venture fund which is designed to assist promising technologies to support the US Intelligence Community. According to everyone who uses it, it works, and works well. How well? The data to track down arch-terrorist Usama bin Laden was reportedly analyzed and developed in a Palantir environment.

On one hand, it’s refreshing to see that members of Congress are keeping an eye on how well programs actually work. But, I’m concerned that Rep Hunter is shooting the messenger and not the folks actually at fault. In addition to LTG Legere, Rep hunter also calls out US Army Intelligence and Security Command’s Commanding General MG Stephen G. Fogarty, who like LTG Legere, is a career Intelligence Officer with a combination of tactical and strategic intelligence assignments including numerous tours in SOF. What both of these officers have done is briefed Congress on numerous occasions about the health of the system their forces use. As DCGS-A is far from a model program, INSCOM has reportedly attempted to create a duplicate cloud in order to make things work. Additionally, LTG Legere has not been as forthcoming with Congress as Rep Hunter would like regarding program details. But ultimately, the development and fielding (not use) of the actual program of record belongs to PEO Intelligence and Electronic Warfare Systems’ PM DCGS-A. That office is part of Army Material Command and not INSCOM or any other part of the Intelligence Community. If PEO IEWS was in a line and block chart of the IC, it would be a dashed line way off to the side.

Some would blame ‘The System’ for DCGS-A’s failure. Rep Hunter chooses to blame Army Intelligence leadership. But I suggest something more radical. I say we place responsibility on a broken program where it belongs; with the Acquisition community that developed it. Whether it’s an intelligence analysis system, an aircraft, or a camouflage pattern, the offices that manage the life cycle of these programs must be held accountable not only for schedule and budget but also, how well they actually work.