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Software licensing issues delay Pentagon's computer security plan

By Aliya Sternstein // September 29, 2011

A forthcoming DVD containing standard security settings for quickly configuring computers on the battlefield likely cannot be used departmentwide until each service's multiyear software licenses expire, Pentagon officials said.

The point of the unified master gold disk, set to become available during the first quarter of 2012, is to reduce the money and energy components are spending to develop similar gold masters that only work servicewide. Golden masters, typically code stored on a DVD disk, are replicas of operating systems and security settings required to run a computer safely.

But the cost-efficiency of the Defensewide program hinges on the ability to negotiate enterprise, or department-level, license agreements, which allow an unlimited number of troops to use it without paying additional user fees. The military services cannot enter into those deals until their current software contracts end, Defense Department officials said.

In the meantime, there is confusion among service components about the various disks under development.

"There are three separate efforts all with very similar names," said Alana R. Casanova, Defense Information Systems Agency spokeswoman. "Our program is the gold disk program. The Army has a gold master program and then there is a unified gold master program. A lot...

New satellite could revolutionize battlefield communications

By Bob Brewin // September 26, 2011

The Naval Research Laboratory on Tuesday launched an experimental, $75 million satellite that U.S. ground forces can use for on-the-move communications with standard military handheld or back radios.

The Tactical Satellite-4 (TacSat-4) will zoom around Earth in an elliptical orbit at altitudes ranging from 435 miles to 7,470 miles, keeping the spacecraft far closer than the 22,000-mile orbit of geostationary communications satellites, according to the Operationally Responsive Space Office at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., which funded the launch and first six months of use.

Michael Hurley, head of spacecraft development for the Naval Research Lab, said in an email from the TacSat-4 launch site in Kodiak, Alaska, the low orbits will allow ground forces for the first time to communicate with a military satellite using omnidirectional antennas on their radios while on the move, rather than stopping to set up a satellite antenna.

TacSat-4, Hurley said, will support troops in Afghanistan equipped with An/PRC-148 and AN-PRC-152 handheld radios, manufactured by Thales and Harris respectively, and the Harris AN/PRC-117 backpack radio, as well as the AN/PSC-5 portable satellite terminal from Raytheon fielded to Special Forces units. Hurley said all these radios communicate with...

Lawmakers urge Army to use consumer batteries on the battlefield

By Bob Brewin // September 23, 2011

The Senate Appropriations Committee thinks the Defense Department should look to the Energizer Bunny for inspiration in powering combat radios. In a report earlier this month, it directed the Army to examine the possibility of using common AA and AAA consumer batteries in communications gear and other electronic gadgets.

At a press briefing on alternative energy sources Wednesday, Katherine Hammock, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, said the Army needs to develop a standard battery, noting that the number of electronic devices carried by troops, such as GPS receivers, computers and night vision goggles, has proliferated. Hammock, commenting on a report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts Clean Energy Program, said every soldier deployed to Afghanistan carries seven types of batteries, with a total weight of 15 pounds.

Pew reported that a typical soldier used the equivalent of seven pounds of batteries every day on patrol, and estimated that a typical infantry battalion burned through $150,000 worth of batteries on a one-year deployment. "Lighter, longer lasting batteries can reduce the weight soldiers must carry and extend their range, agility and endurance in the field," the Pew report said.

The Senate, in its report on the...

Report: By 2030, Defense will double investment in alternative energy

By Bob Brewin // September 22, 2011

The Defense Department plans to almost double its investment in advanced, alternative clean energy technologies from $1.2 billion in 2009 to $10 billion by 2030, the Pew Charitable Trusts Clean Energy Program said in a report released Wednesday.

Defense, as one of the largest energy consumers in the world, leads the way in the use of clean and alternative energy sources, including electric vehicles, biofuels and solar power, Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Clean Energy Program, said at a press briefing on the report "From Barracks to Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America's Armed Forces."

Security concerns and the price volatility for petroleum fuels have driven the change -- Cuttino said it takes 22 gallons of fuel per day to support each soldier deployed to Afghanistan.

Fuel convoys account for 80 percent of all supply convoys into landlocked Afghanistan, with numerous convoys attacked, resulting in casualties for one in 46 convoys, she said. In addition, the military services have deployed 125,000 diesel generators, which consume $3.5 billion to $5 billion a year in fuel, Pew reported.

In 2010, the Marine Corps tested solar power at bases in Afghanistan and in one case cut generator fuel use...

GOP claims White House interference in LightSquared's broadband plan

By Bob Brewin // September 20, 2011

The battle over whether or not a cellular network planned by startup LightSquared interferes with GPS receivers has now entered the political realm, with Republican members of Congress charging that the Obama administration has intervened to aid the company, backed by billionaire Philip Falcone, a major contributor to Democratic campaign coffers.

This spring a series of tests conducted by LightSquared, the GPS industry and a federal agency technical working group showed that the planned LightSquared cellular system interfered with GPS receivers, particularly when the network was using the upper portion of its spectrum closest to the GPS band. In June, the company floated a new plan to initially deploy its network using only the lower portion of its spectrum, which is further away from the GPS band. Such a move would require additional tests focused on highly precise receivers used by the military, aviation, surveying and agricultural industries.

LightSquared said its can develop filters to prevent interference between its system and high-precision GPS receivers. But Gen. William Shelton, commander of the Air Force Space Command, told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee panel hearing last Thursday that this would require retrofitting more than 1 million military GPS receivers, a...

Defense to grow industrial base cyber program, DHS may expand to other sectors

By Aliya Sternstein // September 19, 2011

The Pentagon this fall expects to make permanent and expand a test program through which the Defense Department shared classified intelligence on cyber threats with select contractors to better secure commercial networks serving the military. The trial that ran from May 9 through Sept. 15 thwarted hundreds of attempted breaches at the roughly 20 participating firms from the defense industrial base, Pentagon officials said.

The Defense Department, in coordination with the Homeland Security Department, established the cyber pilot to help contractors and their Internet service providers safeguard networks critical to military operations. DHS deals with intrusions on critical civilian networks, such as power grids. As hacks and service disruptions increasingly jeopardize economic and national security, some experts say the armed forces should be playing a larger role in protecting those civilian systems. But many citizens and privacy advocates say they do not want the Pentagon snooping into private networks.

Last week, independent evaluators commissioned by the department initiated a month-long review to help officials more fully understand the experiment's strengths and weaknesses, Defense officials said.

"This fall, following completions of the independent evaluation, the DoD hopes to make the pilot a permanent effort and, working in conjunction with our...

Senate appropriators take a dim view of Pentagon satellite lease plans

By Bob Brewin // September 19, 2011

The Senate Appropriations Committee viewed with skepticism plans by the Defense Information Systems Agency to spend $416 million on a long-term lease of a commercial communications satellite to serve forces deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, according to its report on the 2012 Defense Department budget approved by the committee last Thursday.

Bruce Bennett, DISA's director for satellite communications told Nextgov in April that forces deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq expect the same kind of broadband experience they have in the United States, and the only way to do that is with a satellite. But, Bennett said, short-term satellite leases are expensive, which is why the agency kicked off a project to lease a commercial satellite to serve forces deployed in the U.S. Central Command area of operations for 15 years in March.

The Senate Appropriations Committee said in its report that DISA did not factor in the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq "nor the possibility of more efficient, multiyear leases of satellite communications from existing constellations" in its break-even analysis.

The committee directed DISA to examine a number of alternatives to the long-term lease plan, such as buying additional military satellites, adjusting the acquisition strategy for...

Latest tumbling satellite fails to warrant space intercept: U.S. officials

By Elaine M. Grossman // September 16, 2011

An out-of-control satellite is expected to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere in the next couple of weeks, but U.S. officials say they have determined that the risk to humans does not warrant a pre-emptive intercept .

"This is the largest NASA satellite to come back uncontrolled for quite a while," NASA official Nicholas Johnson told reporters last week. However, he said, "I hope [people] don't get too concerned, because this is something which is ... a very, very low probability of anyone being hurt, or anybody's property being damaged."

Satellite debris enters the Earth's atmosphere on average more than once daily, but most fragments are small and fall harmlessly into water, according to NASA officials. By contrast, large pieces of the size expected before month's end tumble out of space typically just once a year.

The impending re-entry of NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite -- or "UARS" for short -- is reminiscent of another dysfunctional U.S. spacecraft that in early 2008 was on the brink of leaving orbit and hurtling toward the Earth's surface.

Then-President Bush decided the Defense Department would shoot down the "USA-193" spy satellite using a specially modified sea-based Standard Missile 3, which...