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June 19, 2014
Notes from the Pentagon

Air Force general appeals for new bomber for aging fleet
A senior Air Force general made an appeal Tuesday for building a new long-range strategic bomber that he said is urgently needed to replace the aging bomber fleet.

“We need to actually have an unemotional debate about what’s going on and how we need to modernize, and how we need to protect America from its only existential threat,” Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak said during a defense industry breakfast on Capitol Hill.

“Ladies and gentlemen, bombers are as needed today as they ever were,” said Gen. Harencak, assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration.

His remarks followed the publication of a June 4 Congressional Research Service report that said some in Congress believe U.S. strategic bombers are becoming “increasingly irrelevant.”

Gen. Harencak said other legs of the nuclear triad (long-range bombers, land-based missiles and nuclear-armed submarines) also need modernizing. Minuteman III missiles, the land-based leg of the triad, is “a 1970 weapon,” he said. And strategic missile submarines also are in need of replacement.

However, the general focused most of his comments on the need to build a bomber to replace the current force of B-52s, B-1s and B-2s. The youngest bomber, the B-2, is 24 years old, and the B-52 force, first deployed in 1955, is 50 years old.

Gen. Harencak said his son, now a pilot at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, has flown the exact same B-52 that he flew early in his career, and he argued that his 6-week-old grandson could end up flying that same aircraft “because we’re told the United States Air Force will keep the B-52 flying till 2040.”

He asked whether the American people are “willing to send your grandchildren into combat in 80-year-old airplanes and send them then to the depths of the sea in 55-year-old hulls?”

“That’s what you’re telling us to do here if you don’t let us modernize, if you don’t let us build a long-range strike bomber,” Gen. Harencak said.

The comments about the need for the new bomber were made amid a defense budget crisis caused by the combination of steep Obama administration defense cuts and congressional sequestration funding cuts.

The remarks also indicate that the Air Force is battling to save production of the new long-range bomber from further delays. The Air Force hopes to field up to 100 new Long Range Strike Bombers, as the service calls the jets, by the mid-2020s. The main reason is that current bombers are increasingly at risk from air defense systems.

Gen. Harencak said the new bomber will bring “persistent, long-range strike capabilities that provide practical alternatives for global security, regional stability in all phases of combat operations.”

“It provides our president with prompt options to hold any target at risk at any point on the globe,” he added.

The most important feature of the new bomber will be its ability to penetrate increasingly capable air defenses in places like Russia, China and Iran.

CIA Director John O. Brennan, who has been nearly invisible to the public since he took over the agency in March 2013, this month defended the CIA’s use of cyberspace as a spying domain.

Mr. Brennan said U.S. spy agencies are “at a crossroads” and facing a re-examination of the work of intelligence as a result of new technologies and enhanced public scrutiny.

The agency has come under criticism for too much focus on drone strikes against terrorists and not enough on spying on foreign adversaries such as China and Iran.

The CIA’s new challenges, bolstered by advanced technology, include “cyberattacks unfolding on a massive scale, as rival nations, criminal gangs, and ‘hacktivists’ seek to exploit vulnerabilities in the digital domain,” Mr. Brennan said in a speech at Georgetown University.

For the CIA, Mr. Brennan said, a major challenge is spying in cyberspace.

“For the intelligence community, the cyberworld is a double-edged sword,” he said. “Digital footprints may enable us to track down a suspected terrorist, but they may leave our officers vulnerable as well.”

The Internet can reveal the inner workings of tyrannical regimes and can inspire violence.

“And while our networks allow us to communicate instantly across the globe, they can also be targeted by hackers seeking to disrupt our operations and steal our information,” Mr. Brennan said.

The private sector faces similar threats as businesses and other institutions fight off cyberattacks aimed at intercepting communications, shutting down networks and stealing know-how.

For spy agencies, “the problem is about much more than cyberattacks, per se,” Mr. Brennan said. “It is also about the technologies that make it possible to study bomb-making on the Internet, to case a target remotely, and to coordinate among far-flung associates to carry out a sophisticated attack.”

Cyberspace is being used by a range of attackers, from nation states to small groups and individuals who “now have the power to sow enormous destruction, greatly expanding the number of threats that our government must monitor to keep our nation safe,” he said.

Few intelligence problems today are not impacted by the cyber realm.

“It is where so many of life’s basic transactions are now taking place — social, financial, political, commercial, educational, and more,” Mr. Brennan said. “Yet it still remains our planet’s new and relatively uncharted frontier. If we are to understand the world we cover, and to provide our policymakers with the intelligence they expect, we must immerse ourselves in that frontier and adjust our tradecraft accordingly.”

After a hiatus of several months, the CIA this month renewed its deadly drone strikes against al Qaeda, Taliban and other Islamic terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The most recent drone missile attack took place June 12 in Pakistan’s remote North Waziristan, killing senior members of the Haqqani network and the Taliban, said a U.S. official who confirmed press reports of the strike.

The resumption of lethal drone strikes, which had been halted by the Obama administration over concerns about civilian casualties, followed an al Qaeda-linked terrorist attack days earlier on Pakistan’s Karachi International Airport.

The Haqqani network commander who was killed was identified as Haji Gul, who died along with several other senior terrorists in an airstrike in the Dand-i-Darpakhel area of North Waziristan, across the Afghan border from Khost. The bombing also targeted vehicles filled with explosives that were to be used by the terrorists in Afghanistan.

Senior Taliban commanders reportedly killed in the raid were identified as Mutifi Sofian and Abu Bakar. Other key Taliban commanders killed in the raid were Yasin Gardezi, Abdullah Khan, Commander Jamil and Commander Asadullah.

The al Qaeda-linked Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) stated June 12 on its website that the group was behind the June 9 attack on the Karachi airport that the group claimed destroyed several commercial aircraft and “three U.S. drone aircrafts,” a claim that was not confirmed by the U.S. official.

The TTP website said the drone strike took place in the early morning of June 12 in retaliation for the airport attack.

The website said 12 missiles were fired in two areas, killing 15 people. The notice said the TTP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan jointly carried out the airport attack.

The TTP in May reportedly divided into several factions, and the most violent arm, the Mehsud faction, is believed to have been behind the Karachi attack.

Pakistan’s air force launched several bombing strikes after the airport attack, reportedly killing scores of militants also in North Waziristan, according to Pakistani officials quoted in press reports.

  • Contact Bill Gertz at @BillGertz.

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