Rocky Confirmation Hearing For Carson, O’Connor, and Weiler

Last week the Senate Armed Services Committee convened to discuss the nominations of:

  • Mr. Brad Carson to be Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and
  • Ms. Jennifer O’Connor to be General Counsel of the Department of
  • Todd Weiler to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and
    Reserve Affairs.

Causes for Concern

Mr. McCain started the hearing by welcoming the families of the nominees, before tearing into Mr. Carson. An excerpt of his speech is quoted below for effect.

Mr. Carson, the Department of Defense recently announced two rounds of Force of
the Future proposals. However, the Department has never provided this Committee
any information whatsoever on these proposals.
I am informed that you are the main architect of the Force of the Future. As an
individual who previously appeared before this Committee as a nominee to be the
General Counsel of the Department of the Army, and later as Undersecretary of the
Department of the Army, your failure to provide information to this Committee stands in stark contrast to the commitment you have previously made, to provide witnesses and briefers in response to Congressional requests. The Department has repeatedly ignored my requests for more details and refused to brief me or my staff. You will be expected to answer questions from the Committee today, on the record.
Many of these Force of the Future proposals appear to be solutions in search of a problem. We are eager to learn what clearly identified problems you propose solving with your proposals, and of course, we want a full description of the background research, cost analysis, and analysis of the impact on military readiness that served as the foundation for the development of such proposals. I find it deeply disturbing that you are proposing to add expensive fringe benefits allegedly aimed at retention during a time when we are asking 3,000 excellent Army Captains to leave the service who would have otherwise chosen to remain on active duty.
From my perspective this initiative has been an outrageous waste of official time and resources during a period of severe fiscal constraints. It illustrates the worst aspects of a bloated and inefficient Defense organization. I look forward to your explanations and empirical data on this important matter.

To his credit Mr. Carson claimed that he had attempted to reach out to the SASC before and had been rebuffed. He also claimed that he had briefed staffers on the Force of the Future initiative before this hearing.

Senators also requested that Mr. Carson conduct a command-climate survey as a formality due to disgruntled claims by employees about his prior leadership in the Department of Defense.

Prior-Service and a Taliban Hostage Swap

Ms. O’Connor received sharp words as well, including a barbed question about why she was fit to serve as DoD Counsel despite never serving in the military herself. She was also continually asked to state her opinion on last year’s transfer of Taliban hostages for the freedom of Army hostage Bowe Bergdahl.

Bottom Line

Much of the hearing went off without trouble, but I highlighted the negative excerpts to show that there is an unusually high level of fraction between the SASC and these high-level DoD nominees. This doesn’t bode well for the upcoming year, in a time where DoD and Congress desperately need to cooperate on key issues like personnel reform and high-level restructuring a la Goldwater-Nichols.


Explosive Ordnance Disposal – Legislative Priorities

Last week Congressman Rick Crawford (R-AR) appeared before the House Armed Services Committee and briefly laid out his legislative priorities for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) matters in next year’s National Defense Authorization Act. He only spoke for two and a half minutes and his appearance flew under the radar, so I want to highlight his comments below.

Priorities for Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal

  • Research Development and Acquisition (RDA) – Rep. Crawford requested that DoD develop a fullyjoint RDA program with Navy as the lead executor. He noted that the Secretary of Navy is currently the single-service manager for EOD training, which presents a ‘nightmare for logistics.’
  • Expressed concern with overlap of capabilities between Army EOD and the Chemical Corps– Rep. Crawford stated that there is overlap between EOD and Chemical battalions currently, that the Chemical Corps has taken credit for EOD successes post-9/11, and that the Chemical Corps has not deployed to execute their primary mission-set in the past 15 years. [Disclosure: Rep. Crawford is a prior-service EOD tech and some of these claims are extreme]
  • EOD Should Have Its Own Branch in the Army – Rep. Crawford expressed a desire to remove EOD from the overarching Chemical Branch and establish its own. He recommended that the FY17 NDAA should require Army stakeholders to research and develop a report for the Secretary of the Army on the feasibility of this proposal. But it is difficult to see this happening, as that would require additional headquarters allocations and 1-2 general officer billets.

This excerpt was short and sweet, but brings to light an important turf-battle that rarely surfaces in public view.

Hearing – FY17 Army Budget Request

Last week the House Armed Services Committee heard testimony from senior Army officials about the Army’s budget request and readiness.


  • General Daniel Allyn, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army
  • Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans
  • Lieutenant General Gustave Perna, Deputy Chief of Staff – G-4

Relying Upon Reserve Component Forces

Lieutenant General Anderson stated that National Guard Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) were critical to lessening the load on active-duty units. He said that active-duty BCTs are currently running between a 1 and 1.6 deploy-to-dwell ratio, which must be reduced.

He also referenced an increase in 12304 Bravo funding which refers to a US Code authority to pay for reserve units to serve on active-duty in support of the Combatant Commanders. LTG Anderson stated that 12304B funding had increased to 1,800 man years recently, up from 1,636.

The generals also noted that the Guard and Reserve are building 21 cyber protection teams charged with defending critical infrastructure; a program which is just now being stood up.

Readiness Concerns

Combat Training Centers (JRTC at Fort Polk and NTC at Fort Irwin) have been sufficiently funded for decisive action/combined arms maneuver training, and General Allyn said that by the end of 2016 roughly 50% of brigades in BCTs will have completed more than one decisive action rotation. Despite this, he admitted that home-station training and installations have fallen behind in recent years.

He also said that the primary limiting factor for achieving full spectrum readiness is personnel manning. LTG Anderson added that:

You’re talking about manning levels right now at about 90% of what the authorized strength is for these units. And…we’re hovering around a 10% availability issue in each of our formation, based on medical and admin and legal types of things. So when you’re talking about getting an 80 to 85% of the structure that actually is deployable, that continues to drain what we have in our readiness available pool.

Regionally Aligned Forces?

LTG Anderson also appeared to suggest that the Regionally Aligned Forces initiative may be set up for failure.

The challenge is, as we try to streamline how we focus units on particular parts of the globe…unfortunately we can’t do that. So – we would like to say that our 4th Infantry Division in [Fort] Carson is all things Europe. Well, the reality is, the 1st Brigade is the rapid reaction force for NORTHCOM, the 2nd Brigade is is going to Afghanistan, the 3rd Brigade is going to be the rotational unit into Europe, and the Combat Aviation Brigade is in Afghanistan.

Pacific Forces Posture -PACOM Testimony

PACOM Commander Admiral Harry Harris Jr. and Commander of US-Republic of Korea Combined Forces Command General Curtis Scaparrotti testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. Broadly they discussed the status of the Pacific region, including challenges from China, North Korea, and Russia.

Regional Challenges


Senators questioned the witnesses about the continued militarization of islands in the South China Sea, including the recent installation of radar and a sophisticated Surface-to-Air missile system on Woody Island. Admiral Harris agreed that these developments were troubling, and suggested that ‘freedom of navigation’ efforts in which U.S. vessels sail through the international waters around the islands should be continued. Admiral Harris also stressed that China’s ship-to-ship missiles out-range current missiles in the American arsenal, and that this asymmetry must be fixed.


Both witnesses agreed that Russia has continued to assert itself in the Pacific theater, including bomber flights near Japan. They also discussed the formidable new ballistic missile submarines Russia has deployed in the region.

North Korea

General Scaparootti noted that North Korea boasts the 4th-largest military with the largest arsenal of artillery in the world. He spoke at length about how to deter North Korea and defend regional allies. He also stressed that cyber attacks were a growing threat, and that North Korea is committed to advancing their capacity.

Budgets and Equipment

Admiral Harris told the SASC that PACOM was well-supported in the FY17 budget request, which is a bold move when testifying. On a follow-up he added that he could always use more Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets and submarines. Admiral Harris confirmed that he only receives about 62% of the attack submarines he needs to adequately supply the region.

Admiral Harris also called for a “separate CYBERCOM functional combatant command,” as well as an enduring theater cyber capability within PACOM.

Lastly, Admiral Harris highlighted the increasingly-contested space environment. He cited a need for a resilient satellite communications capability since China is “pursuing a broad and robust array of counterspace capabilities, which include direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, co-orbital anti-satellite systems, computer network operations, ground-based satellite jammers and directed energy weapons.” I find myself repeating this often on the blog, but continue to keep an eye on space operations as we move forward.

Final Quote

“Acronyms kill, ma’am.” – Admiral Harris



Defend The Hill – Congressional Week Ahead (21 Feb 2016)

Tuesday February 23rd

9:30: U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Forces Korea (SASC)

  • Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., Commander, United States Pacific Command
  • General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, Commander, United Nations Command / Combined Forces Command / United States Forces Korea

2:30: Defense Health Care Reform (SASC)

  • Bernadette C. Loftus, Associate Executive Director and Executive-in-Charge for the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group
  • Dr. A. Mark Fendrick, Director of the Center for Value-Based Insurance Design and Professor in the Departments of Internal Medicine and Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan
  • Mr. David J. McIntyre, Jr., President and CEO of TriWest Healthcare Alliance
  • Dr. John E. Whitley, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defense Analyses

2:30: Department of Energy – Atomic Energy Defense Activities and Programs (SASC)

  • Honorable Frank G. Klotz, Under Secretary for Nuclear Security, Department of Energy
  • Honorable Anne M. Harrington, Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration
  • Honorable Monica C. Regalbuto, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environmental Management, Department of Energy
  • Admiral James F. Caldwell Jr., Deputy Administrator for Naval Reactors, National Nuclear Security Administration
  • Brigadier General Stephen L. Davis, Acting Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs, National Nuclear Security Administration
  • Mr. David C. Trimble, Director, U.S. and International Nuclear Security and Cleanup, Government Accountability Office

Wednesday February 24th

2:00: DoD Science and Technology Programs: Defense Innovation to Create the Future Force (HASC)

  • Stephen Welby, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering
  • Mary Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology
  • Rear Admiral Mathias W. Winter, Chief of Naval Research and Director, Innovation Technology Requirements, and Test & Evaluation (N84)
  • David Walker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Science, Technology and Engineering
  • Arati Prabhakar, Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

2:30: CLOSED: Iran’s Intelligence and Unconventional Capabilities (SASC)

  • Dr. Andrew Exum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy
  • Mr. Christopher P. Maier, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Combatting Terrorism
  • Brigadier General Gregg P. Olson, Deputy Director for Political-Military Affairs (Middle East), J-5 Joint Staff
  • Colonel Mark W. Visconi, Regional Operations Division Chief Deputy Director for Special Operations, J-3 Joint Staff

3:30: U.S. Strategic Forces Posture (HASC)

  • The Honorable Brian McKeon, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
  • Admiral Cecil Haney, Commander, U.S. STRATCOM

5:00: Defense Health Agency: Budgeting and Structure (HASC)

  • Johnathan Woodson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs
  • Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, Director, Defense Health Agency

Thursday February 25th

9:30: Confirmation Hearings (SASC)

  • Honorable Brad R. Carson to be Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
  • Ms. Jennifer M. O’Connor to be General Counsel of the Department of Defense
  • Mr. Todd A. Weiler to be an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs

10:00: Full Spectrum Security Challenges in Europe and their Effects on Deterrence and Defense (HASC)

  • General Philip M. Breedlove, Commander, United States European Command

2:00: Department of the Navy 2017 Budget Request and Seapower and Projection Forces (HASC)

  • The Honorable Sean J. Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Research, Development, and Acquisition
  • Vice Admiral Joseph P. Mulloy, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Integration of Capabilities and Resources (N8)
  • Lieutenant General Robert S. Walsh, Deputy Commandant, Capability Development and Integration

Friday February 26th

8:00: Department of the Army 2017 Budget Request and Readiness (HASC)

  • General Daniel B. Allyn, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army
  • Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans (G3/5/7), U.S. Army
  • Lieutenant General Gustave F. Perna, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, U.S. Army

9:00 Ensuring Medical Readiness in the Future (HASC)

  • Major General Joseph Caravalho, The Joint Staff Surgeon General
  • Rear Admiral Terry J. Moulton, Deputy Surgeon General
  • Brigadier General Robert Tenhet, Deputy Surgeon General




Contextualizing the National Commission on the Future of the Army

The National Commission on the Future of the Army released it’s report and recommendations two weeks ago and recently testified on the Hill. They looked at the army’s mission, budget, force structure, readiness levels and more. Many others have already commented in depth on the report’s findings and I don’t seek to compete with them here. Instead, I want to highlight the context within which the Commission is working.

Context: Helpful Until It Isn’t

Context is great. It provides details and depth to subjects that are never as simple as we would like them to be. In fact, lack of context (through ignorance or otherwise) drives many of our problems. But the pendulum swings both ways, and delving too deeply into nuance and context can drown your argument. It also makes you sound like an undergrad who is three weeks into a Philosophy course. The trick is finding the proper level of detail.

This brings us to the topic at hand: a commission examining complex, intertwined issues in one of the largest organizations in the world. Anyone coming into this discussion thinking that Congress and the Secretary of Defense can just implement the commission’s 63 recommendations to fix all of our problems will be swiftly disappointed. Every single recommendation impacts thousands of people; civilian and military alike.

Consider one example: the commission’s recommendation to retain 4 Apache helicopter battalions in the National Guard instead of pulling them all into the Active Army. Any adjustment to the balance affects the combat-power of the National Guard and Active Army, as well as the jobs of pilots/mechanics/crew chiefs tied to the current regional locations of the helicopters. Countless lobbying groups, currently-serving and retired service-members from both components, and Representatives from the affected areas all have a differing dog in the fight.

No Easy Answers

The tough answer is that the commission cannot solve the Army’s problems, because no Congressional commission can. The sheer number of people, jobs, interests, and unknown second and third-order effects involved complicate even just one recommendation. But this is not a failing of the commission; rather it is a common occurrence

Consider developing the economy or devising a foreign policy. The goals seem easy: create jobs and boost wages; kill our enemies and strengthen our friends. But nothing is that simple. Different groups have different priorities and beliefs on how to achieve these goals. This dissension is based on differing personal experiences, worldviews, educational backgrounds, and a thousand other factors.

The same concept applies here. It may not make fiscal sense to keep some Apaches in the National Guard, but this 4-batttalion solution mollifies the Guard and keeps some aviation attack power in their hands. National Guard leadership is wary of losing resources and status, especially after their fair share of deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. The active component wants more resources and capabilities because this is their full-time job and they’re first on the hook when the next deployment order comes. And all of the components likely think that they can push Congress to add more money to their top-line in next year’s budget, so why not fight for more?


No side is ‘right,’ it’s a matter of perspective. Just keep in mind that for every recommendation, proposal, or suggestion in the report there are a thousand competing interests. Expect the commission’s report to spur heated debate on the issues until a mangled compromise can be reached, and then torn apart and negotiated again the year after.

A good compromise is one that leaves all sides unsatisfied, right?

John McCain and Russian Engines

New challenge: In “To The Point” posts I’ll break down an interesting news story in 75 words or less, for the busy readers in the world. Here we go.

Russian Engines

Russia provides engines for American satellite launches. But Russia has pissed off the U.S. with incursions into Ukraine, and we are sanctioning them. Senator Durbin pushed a bill to let companies buy unlimited Russian engines because it’s cost-effective. Senator McCain does not want us relying on Russian engines anymore.