At the British ambassador's residence in Washington, British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond sat with the E-Ring the for an exclusive one-on-one discussion about the United Kingdom's defense priorities and challenges amid shrinking military budgets, the threats along NATO's Middle Eastern and North African boundaries, and its role in collective security post-Afghanistan.
In 2010, nearly 20 percent of the British army was still in Germany, manning heavy armor against a Cold War threat from the Soviet Union. Today, the United Kingdom wants to build a more affordable, yet shared defense. That requires Hammond to convince European NATO partners to do more while convincing the Pentagon to treat its allies more as partners in collective security, rather than as add-ons to its missions.
The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
E-RING: I'd like to talk about how you see the U.K.'s role in interoperability or "Smart Defense" for Europe and beyond, elsewhere in the world. What are some of your ideas of where the U.K. should be or doesn't need to be? But in the immediate future, Syria and the possible responses to come brings about the criticism of Libya, and what capabilities Europe was exposed to have lacked: ISR, tankers --
HAMMOND: We have not fixed those problems. In our own case, we're well on the way to fixing our tanker capability problem. We're still using, at the moment, 50-year old VC-10s but they're -- within the next 12 months, maybe sooner, they will have been replaced by the new air-to-air refuelers that we've bought. They're already in service in their trooping role, but there are still some teaming problems on the air-to-air refueling thing which we're confident are now solved. So that's a work in progress. But as of right now, we in the U.K., and certainly across Europe, still have a lack of the air-to-air [capability].
E-RING: Refuelers are a good example. How long before those become fully operational and your pilots are trained?
HAMMOND: The pilots are trained already. It's a technical problem around the basket and we're not fitting a U.S. basket. The program slipped, I mean, these aircraft should have been in service now. The VC-10 should have gone out of service before its 50th anniversary. [The first should be ready by September and fully operational by March.]
E-RING: With the downsizing and defense budgets, realistically what is the plan to correct those wrongs, if you call them, the capabilities that Europe didn't have? Or is that not the plan, is there a sense of, well this is what the Americans are going to provide so we're going to provide something else?
HAMMOND: No, there's not a sense of that. The most important thing is the planning. It's the NATO planning process and looking at the overall capability that European NATO needs to be able to field and making sure that in the next planning framework horizon we get the capabilities we need, we deal with the surpluses. Because the truth is, we have surplus capabilities in some areas and inadequacies in other areas, and it's about shaping the pattern of investment across the alliance to address those gaps, those inadequacies, and to do it efficiently by collaborating together, "pooling and sharing" where that's possible. Although, "pooling and sharing" is a term that's been coined and frequently used and is not so easily delivered into an operational context.
E-RING: That was my immediate thought. How long does it take to do this?
HAMMOND: I think our approach, the U.K.'s approach, is so long as we sit around a very big table talking about "pooling and sharing," nothing will happen. So our preference is to start doing some small bilateral deals with individual partners and allies where we have sensible arrangements that we can build or build on. In fact, you got those things we already do, long before the term "pooling and sharing" was invented, that we can build upon.
But the real key, the real win here, as NATO has to address trying to do the same with less, is driving deployability and operability -- effectiveness of NATO forces. Of course there's an issue, as [former U.S. Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates very clearly pointed out, about inadequate budget contributions in European NATO countries. I wouldn't for a moment dispute that. I would caution about putting too much hope on being able to resolve that in any time soon, or maybe in any time, absent a major shock of the scale of 9/11 to the system. [It] isn't clear to me what would persuade European public opinion to devote greater proportions of national resources to defense.
But there is huge headroom, even within the money we're spending now, which is too little -- but even within that, vast amounts of it are wasted. They're wasted because of national duplication. They're wasted because they're being spent on the wrong things: excessive force size without deployable capability. I'm thinking of some allies in particular, where a focus on reshaping how we spend the budgets [inaudible] to smaller more deployable, more agile forces properly equipped for the kinds of tasks we need to do [that are] interoperable with the U.S. so that they can effectively deploy alongside either a U.S-led operation, or an Anglo-French led operation if it is a European-only mission. That is the way to go, and we have quite a lot of headroom within the NATO and European budget. Yes, it's a small -- too small budget overall. But if you walk through that budget and scrubbed all the stuff on which we are spending money that delivers no real military effect at all, you would find that you have a large pot which was usable to deliver real effect.
E-RING: So, thinking of public opinion, the desire to spend on defense, there's a sense here that over the last few years as the U.S. withdraws out of Afghanistan and draws down its own budget, one of the things debated is pulling somewhat out of Europe and asking Europe, per Gates' speech, to pay for its own defense a little more. But is there really that desire in Europe to have more? To have a bigger military? The kind of military the Americans envision? Or is there a sense in Europe that a much smaller vision of that is okay? That we're comfortable with our defense, we're comfortable saying out loud, as you just did [in an earlier media roundtable], that we don't see state-on-state war happening with a Russia, so we're going to give up that entire capability?
HAMMOND: It's not a homogeneous picture. The further east you go, the more of the concern remains that we should be prepared for a -- maybe not full-blown state-on-state conflict -- but we need to be prepared to protect the borders of NATO against incursions, probings, mischief-making, ethnic trouble.
If you go to Poland, for example -- you probably in your daily life are not focused on the Kaliningrad enclave -- but if you go to Poland to talk about defense, the Kaliningrad enclave is the number one issue on the Polish agenda. So I think we have to recognize that many of the Eastern European partners joined NATO as an insurance policy against Russia, and now they are slightly alarmed at seeing NATO turning away from Russia to focus on other threats, including asymmetric threats.
So there's definitely not a single European view of this. But the further away you get from Russia -- so this is not just an East European/West European question. The Norwegians are closer to the Poles' thinking than they are on our thinking on this. But the further away you get, and certainly by the time you get to the U.K., the idea that somehow we need to configure ourselves to be dealing with the Russian threat doesn't feel very real to public opinion. Although, of course at a strategic level, the Russians do still pose the most credible potential threat.
E-RING: So you have a lot to balance. East versus West, state-on-state versus asymmetric, and then you just mentioned the strategic deterrent. Going back to the budget, the New York Times just questioned the value of the Tridents.
HAMMOND: Well, we consider it has a very high value. We have no intention of giving up our independent nuclear deterrent. And that is not the view -- the New York Times' opinion is not the view of the U.S. administration, which places a high value on having a second nuclear deterrent within NATO.
But it is clear that when we talk about how we configure European NATO defense, we have to be clear what we're trying to defend against -- where the threat is coming from. Certainly among most NATO countries, we see the most immediate threat being from North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East region and delivered in the form of an asymmetric threat, terrorist-based threat, rather than state-on-state warfare. Although, Libya, Syria, Iran are reminders state actors can have an important role to play.
So, I think it's wrong to think about the debate in Europe as whether we put more troops in Europe to replace U.S. troops being taken out of Europe. The debate we should be having is whether European NATO is prepared to extend its focus of operations into an area where traditionally the Americans have led -- in the Middle East, Near East, Horn of Africa, North Africa.
And there are some political challenges. Britain and France recognize this demand and recognize our responsibilities in those regions. There will be some issues, some challenges where U.S. leadership is always required -- Iran, Syria. There will be others -- Mali, for example -- where it is possible for the Europeans to do things without active U.S. engagements. Certainly without U.S. leadership.
But we also have to recognize that some of the European partners are not yet at the point where they can embrace this agenda for political reasons -- most obviously Germany. The idea of -- NATO is well established in the German public's mind, and well understood and well accepted. But as we move NATO to look more like the basis of expeditionary forces into areas like North Africa, Horn of Africa, this becomes much more difficult for some of the allies.
And this is not a static position. Germany's government position has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years. I mean, if you had said 20 years ago the Germans would have 1,000 troops dug in, in the middle of Central Asia somewhere conducting combat operations, nobody would have even believed that was even conceivable, and yet now it's -- I won't say it's popular in Germany but it's accepted by the German public that Germany has to engage in these types of operations. But this is work in progress, it may take another 20 years to get Germany to the place where we'd ideally like it to be.
E-RING: Give us a sense of British support of the military back home. Is there a sense of good feelings or reestablishment coming off of Afghanistan that the British military that is well respected, hundreds of years old, with a purpose? Or is there a conflict? Look at America's pivot, rebalancing to Asia, is there no vision to be part of that, to have a more global sense beyond the Middle East and North Africa?
HAMMOND: First of all, public opinion on the backs of significant losses in Afghanistan is very favorable to the military. But public opinion distinguishes, as I suspect U.S. opinion does, between the men and women who make up the fighting force and the institution of the military, and certainly the political institutions that sit over it. The support for "our boys," as the tabloid media call them, does not translate into support for the generals and the politicians who make the decisions necessarily. There's a skepticism about the senior leadership which persists.
There is also a question mark in the minds, I think, of quite a lot of people, including military charities, about how long post-Afghanistan this hagiography will continue, this public mood of unquestioning support for the armed forces will continue. It's not a given that the public mood has shifted permanently in the favor of the armed forces.
On the question of Britain's ambitions, part of our strategic defense and security review in 2010 was about trying to be realistic about making sure that we add value in what we do. In many cases, that will be adding value to U.S. operations. We expect to operate normally in partnership, and most likely in partnership with the U.S. So we're focused on making sure that we deliver components of a combined force which will have real value to our allies -- genuine interoperability and niche skills and capabilities, rather than trying to have global broad-span reach. We're too small to do that effectively and credibly.
So we will have, we do have, involvement in the Pacific, but it's very limited. We have a commitment to something called the Five Powers Defense Arrangement around the defense of peninsular Malaya. So it's Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. That's our principal defense commitment in the Asia-Pacific region.
We are an Indian Ocean nation, in the sense that we retain British Indian Ocean territory and we, therefore, own some numbers of millions of square miles of the Indian Ocean. And so we have a seat at the table when Indian Ocean matters are being discussed. But as with Diego Garcia, we try to leverage that with our allies to the maximum alliance effect. It's much more effective for the U.S. to use Diego Garcia than for us to be sitting on it. It gives more value to the alliance.
So we're trying to maintain a capability to deliver our own sovereign national tasks, including if I may make a more political point, including the defense of the Falkland Islands, where we have to assume that we do that alone. And to some extent that distorts the shape of our military. If we knew that our allies would support us were we ever called upon to defend the Falkland Islands, we would not need to shape our military in the way we do to carry out that particular national [inaudible] pretty much the rest of our military effort is focused around making the best contribution to the alliance that we are able and being as interoperable as we possibly we can with, principally the U.S., but also the French more and more.
There's a kind of hierarchy here. We seek to be interoperable with the U.S. We seek to shape our military so that U.K. units can operate effectively as part of a U.S.-led force. Other, smaller NATO partners like Denmark work with us with the same aspiration, to shape their military so that Danish units can embed with our forces and work effectively with them. So there's a kind of hierarchical structure which I think is quite practical way to do it.
E-RING: How was the recent meeting of our Joint Chiefs and yours? Is there going to be any announcement?
HAMMOND: I don't think there's to be a formal agreement. I mean, the sense was obviously it came together in the context of a very important historical event. But it was an opportunity to take stock of the extraordinary level of cooperation and collaboration we already have. I mean, it's been described -- and I would absolutely endorse this, in many areas -- the level of collaboration that we have is about as far as it is possible to go while remaining sovereign. And I think that's what we aspire to do: the maximum level of collaboration between our nations, which is compatible with maintaining our individual sovereignty.
And the chiefs certainly are energized about strengthening the possibilities for strengthening collaboration in areas where, perhaps, we've not gone as far as we can. And on both sides of the Atlantic, the chiefs are looking at some very difficult resource challenges and are seeing one strand of the solution: additional levels of cooperation.
We're very excited about the prospect that, possibly, the U.S. is willing to engage in a planning process for its capabilities that envisages incorporating the capabilities of allies into its core plan. Whereas for many years the U.S. has built its -- has used as a planning assumption that it will be fighting on its own and if allies come along then that's a bonus. The idea that we may be able to embed some core capabilities as part of U.S. planning is something that we're very enthusiastic about.
As an example, in the [Persian] Gulf, where we provide countermine capabilities as part of the combined U.S.-U.K. effort, that is a vital capability, of course, nobody can move without countermine in the kind of environment that we're looking at there. And we know that we have a task and an obligation and a responsibility by taking that on, but we have to deliver. And therefore it's a very high priority in our own spending.
Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday that the U.S. was rethinking its opposition to arming Syria's rebels, the first on-record acknowledgement by a senior Obama administration official that the president was considering that course.
"So you are rethinking -- the administration is rethinking its opposition to arming the rebels?" asked CNN's Barbara Starr, in a Pentagon press conference with Hagel and British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond.
"Yes," Hagel said, while stating repeatedly that the U.S. was rethinking all of its options.
The administration has revealed its deliberations over whether to arm Syria's rebels cautiously. Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey has said publicly for months he did not see a "good" military option in Syria, including arming rebels whose ranks include anti-Western terrorists. But he has also said that if the identity of some rebels can be verified he would support arming them.
"We have a responsibility, and I think Gen. Dempsey would say the same thing, to continue to evaluate options," Hagel said. "That doesn't mean that the president has decided on anything."
Hammond stressed the decision also depends on establishing international legal authority to act on evidence of chemical weapons use.
Hagel would not reveal if he favors arming the rebels and said he has not come to a conclusion on the question.
"We are exploring all options," he said.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said that Britain backs President Barack Obama's insistence on "conclusive" evidence that Syria used chemical weapons before moving forward with any military intervention.
The defense leader said on Thursday that Britain's physiological samples, which led them to declare that they believed sarin gas had been used in Syria, was "compelling but not conclusive" and did not meet courtroom-worthy standards required to muster international support for a military response.
"For that evidence to have any chance of being admitted in court, it would need to have been collected under controlled conditions, secured through a documented chain of custody to the point where it was tested," Hammond told a small group of defense reporters at the British Embassy in Washington. "We do not yet have samples that meet that standard of evidence."
The unknown chain of custody for that evidence, Hammond said, may impede a quick response. But while the evidence continues to be analyzed, Britain was pressing to build international legal support and authority for a military intervention, if needed. Short of that, London is already seeking legal alternatives to acting without United Nations approval, he said.
The purity of the evidence that Bashar al-Assad's forces employed chemical weapons is particularly important to convincing Russia to end their support for the regime and support a U.N. Security Council authorization of the use of force. It is also important for Arab allies in the region that likely would be called upon to join an international intervention.
For the British public, however, Hammond said the Iraq war looms large, fueling a nationwide skeptical streak about the prospect of going to war on inconclusive intelligence.
"We in the U.K. are particularly sensitive to this. There is a strong sense in U.K. public opinion that we went to war in Iraq on the back of evidence that proved not to be correct -- what in British political space is called ‘the dodgy dossier,'" he said, of the Bush administration's claim of Iraq's imminent use of weapons of mass destruction.
Hammond said he does not know what evidence the United States may possess in addition to what Britain has shared, but that he would discuss it with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon, later on Thursday.
"I don't think there is a gap between us," Hammond said of the evidence. "I think we're now in a place where we both recognize that there is compelling but not conclusive evidence that chemical weapons have been used."
"We need hard evidence. The kind of evidence that would be admissible in court," about what, when, where, and by whom, said Hammond. "We don't yet have evidence that would pass our own legal systems tests."
In the meantime, Britain will continue to pressure the Syrian regime to allow in U.N. inspectors to establish "definitively" if chemical weapons had been used. [The team, however, has a goal to determine if chemicals were used, not necessarily the custody chain.
Hammond showed no movement toward providing direct lethal aid to the Syrian rebels.
"No decision to provide lethal aid has yet been made," he said. No options are off the table, either, but Britain is giving all it can, he said.
"We are currently providing support to the [rebels] right up to the maximum level that we can without crossing the line into lethal aid." Britain most recently provided armored 4x4 vehicles, body armor, and night vision goggles.
Hammond also defended Obama's "red line" over the use of chemical weapons and the international community's right to deliberate over a larger military intervention in Syria. An estimated 70,000 Syrians already have died in conventional fighting.
"Use of chemical weapons is specifically illegal under international law. It is a war crime, and therefore it takes the level of culpability of the regime to a new level. It crosses a new threshold."
If the U.N. is unable to pass a resolution, Britain is preparing other legal frameworks to act on its own, if needed.
"We are exploring other options under British interpretation of international law, under the doctrine of humanitarian necessity, which may allow us scope to act," he said. That unilateral determination was Britain's justification for military action in Bosnia, he said.
Hammond reiterated that due to sensitivities of "the neighborhood" and Russia, Middle Eastern countries must take a role in any military response, as well as in helping crafting a political future for a Syrian opposition that the West can support.
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images
How different is the Pentagon's attitude toward Asia and the Pacific today than in the last decade?
Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, commanding general of the Army's I Corps, which is tasked to Pacific Command (PACOM), recalled the difficulty in getting approval to send a single hospital ship to visit Pacific nations when he was executive assistant to then PACOM commander Adm. William J. "Fox" Fallon, in 2006.
"It took us six months to convince the secretary of defense to allow the USS Mercy to do a mission in Southeast Asia because of the cost. They were like, ‘What is the relevance of that?'" Brown said, during a Washington visit last week. "Well, now no one questions that."
Indeed, finding its role in the Obama administration's "rebalancing," the Army today is figuring out how to approach and manage the threats, relationships, and military capabilities across the vast Asia-Pacific region like never before. That's why Brown and other commanders gathered in a small Residence Inn conference room in Arlington, Virginia, at the invitation of the think tank CNA, to discuss how to position more equipment and employ more people in Asia, while making friends with allies and breaking through to, well, other countries.
Army officials by now like to remind audiences that although the Pacific Ocean invokes images of the navy, most of the people in Asia live on land. All of them, in fact. (insert laughter) And most countries rely on large armies, which means the U.S. is going to rely on army-to-army relationships to ensure continued access to bases and, notably, ports.
"Seven of the 10 largest armies in the world, 21 of the 27 defense chiefs in the Pacific, are army," said Brown. "So, obviously, when we talk about working with Pacific nations, the armies hold a lot of influence, power, and there's a huge role."
Pacific counterparts in other nations have taken notice already that the U.S. Army Pacific commander is being elevated from a three-star to a four-star position.
"That really resonated extremely well on my last trip across the Pacific. It was pretty clear to them, ‘Oh, I see, Europe going from a four-star and U.S. Army Pacific becoming a four-star.'" Lt. Gen. Vincent Brooks is expected to take command with his fourth star in July.
And more firepower is coming, as well. Three additional Stryker Brigades will be tasked to PACOM, Brown said. One is already there, and two of the three that have deployed to Afghanistan will not return there again.
"They will not go back to Afghanistan. They're going to the Pacific. In fact, one of them is already there, the one that got back three months ago," Brown said.
At the same time, Army planners are discussing which threats the service should be best prepared to face. In North Korea, Brown said, the Army's "most likely traditional threat, if you will, is humanitarian assistance and disaster response. That's the most likely thing we will respond to." But his list also includes air and missile defense, civilian evacuations, cyberattacks, IEDs, and terrorism.
Additionally, the Army is working closely with the Marines, given the likelihood that in any crisis response, soldiers will be moving from ship to shore in Asia, as well.
"[Lt. Gen. John] Toolan [commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force] and I are exchanging officers, working together, as we're both on the West Coast there," Brown said. "We've having a seminar here coming up on the Pacific, and we're exploring, again, how we each fit in those roles and learning from each other, so that we truly are capable of doing these unique missions, not set in a box of kind of stuck in the past of: ‘Here's what we would do; here's what you would do.' The world is not like that. It's gotten much more complex. We're going to have to work together a lot more."
One partner not yet ready to work together: China. Brown said he recently met with a People's Liberation Army officer who was unconvinced the American pivot to Asia was nothing more than a containment strategy against China.
That perception may be Brown's biggest challenge of all.
"Cooperation and collaboration. It's the only way to solve things. Everybody wants prosperity and growth. Who in their right mind would want to go the other direction and go back into a cold war of containment? It doesn't make any sense."
U.S. Army photo
With the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan underway, Afghans are leaving their security forces faster than Americans and NATO allies can recruit them.
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials confirmed on Wednesday that Afghan recruiting has slowed since last year, citing an unexpected level of attrition, or troops exiting the ranks, in the Afghan army.
The U.S. government's lead watchdog over wartime spending, John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), sounded an alarm in his latest quarterly report to Congress, released on Tuesday. Spoko said that ANSF troop totals had fallen by 4,000 last year and were 20,000 short of the end-strength goal of 352,000 personnel.
U.S. officials long have stated that a key factor governing the yet-to-be-determined speed and size of the American troop withdraw is the ability to stand up in their stead the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which includes military and police personnel.
"Lower recruitment, coupled with several months of higher than average levels of attrition in the ANA [Afghan National Army], resulted a net decrease," ISAF said, in a statement provided to the E-Ring through Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks.
As of March 2013, the ANSF stood at 336,365 personnel. ISAF said as the total ANSF nears its 352,000 end-strength target, "fluctuation" was expected and "recruitment targets were lowered to slow growth."
"While the coalition and the Afghan government have placed a ceiling of 352,000 on the total strength of the ANSF," ISAF argued, "the focus of the training mission is now on the quality of the force; developing the right balance of seniority, skills, and specialization that are vital to their long term sustainability and success."
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan National Security Forces have shrunk by 4,000 troops and policemen from last year and are still 20,000 people short of the numbers they expect to have in place by the end of next year, according to the government watchdog overseeing Afghanistan war spending.
The growth of a trained ANSF is considered one of the most important components of the U.S.-NATO plan to pull Western troops home and end international participation in combat there. Top Pentagon and congressional leaders frequently track and point to the importance of building Afghan forces.
The total number of people, or "end-strength," has shifted in the past year, however, as allies lowered their expectations for what size force Afghans could build and reconsidered what was needed to fill the gaps left by departing international troops.
For several years the U.S. worked to build an Afghan force of 352,000 personnel. Last May, NATO leaders meeting in Chicago agreed to a smaller force of 228,500. But in February at NATO headquarters in Brussels, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the allies and Afghan President Hamid Karzai were reconsidering the ANSF end-strength goal of 352,000.
But the Afghan army, air force, and police all are short of their goals, said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in his latest quarterly report to Congress, released Tuesday. Sopko's two primary concerns as U.S. troops withdraw are overseeing the billions in direct assistance given to Afghanistan and examining the security needed to protect contractors and other government agencies still working there.
There is some confusion about what date that ANSF end-strength goals are to be met, Sopko contended. According to the inspector general, DOD has stated that the target of 352,000 ANSF is tied to December 2014. But previously DOD had stated the Afghan army and police personnel goals were set for December 2013.
Looking at that date, last December, the Afghan National Army ranks were 11,559 people short of its final goal of 187,000 personnel. The police, by February 2013, were 6,000 people short of its final goal of 157,000. The Afghan Air Force has a final target of roughly 6,000 personnel by the end of next year, yet remains 1,000 short.
"This quarter, the ANSF force strength was 332,753 (181,834 assigned to the ANA and Afghan Air Force and 150,919 assigned to the ANP). This is 4,763 fewer than the 337,516 ANSF force strength in March 2012, and 19,247 fewer than the end strength goal," Spoko wrote.
The decline from 2012 is because Afghanistan previously was counting its civilian personnel in its troop totals, further masking the shortfall of uniformed personnel.
In short, the Pentagon has no reliable way of tracking ANSF troop totals, he found.
"SIGAR and others have reported that determining
ANSF strength is fraught with challenges. U.S. and Coalition forces rely on the
Afghan forces to report their own personnel strength numbers, which are often
derived from hand-prepared personnel records in decentralized, unlinked, and
inconsistent systems. [Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan]
reported last quarter that there was no viable method of validating personnel
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno's shouting match with Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calf., in Thursday's House hearing did not surprise Army Secretary John McHugh, who on Tuesday said Odierno was right to reject Hunter's complaint about the Army's effort to develop a high-priced cloud-computing network.
"The chief spoke for himself," said McHugh, in a nod to the outspoken general, during a breakfast with reporters in Washington known as the Defense Writers Group.
Odierno, in the rare public outburst last week, lost his cool after the congressman upbraided the two Army leaders during a budget hearing before the House Armed Services Committee. McHugh was trying to respond to the congressman when the general jumped in.
Hunter had scolded the duo for not responding to his office's complaints relating to the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), basically a network to link hundreds of intelligence sources to ground soldiers.
Odierno took offense at the implication that his staff did not care about the well-being of soldiers and let loose in a video going viral within military circles, first reported by Military Times.
McHugh, on Tuesday, revealed that Gen. John Campbell, vice chief of staff of the Army, spent "considerable time" with Hunter the night before the hearing discussing the program. But McHugh said he was not surprised the next day when the congressman posed a hostile question during the sparsely attended hearing.
"I was a member of Congress for 17 years, I'm not surprised by anything," said McHugh.
Here's what happened: Hunter, offering "not really a question," claimed that the 3rd Infantry Division was not being given an off-the-shelf cloud computing product already being used in Afghanistan. Hunter said that he wanted the Army to do more to use "innovation that exists in the open market in places like Silicon Valley" that already does what the Army wants. He cited Google and Apple cloud products.
"What we want is the best for the warfighter," he said, and began to walk off the bench.
"May we respond?" McHugh asked Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., prompting Hunter to return, saying, "We can talk all we want to, it's not going anywhere."
Odierno suddenly lit up.
"First off, I object to this. I'm tired of somebody telling me I don't care about our soldiers and we don't respond," the imposing general loudly interjected. "Everybody on my staff cares about it, and they do all they can to help. So if you want to bring up an anecdotal incident, let's sit down, talk about it, and we'll give it a response."
Hunter then said the Army had intelligence gaps, but before he could finish the thought, Odierno erupted, saying that the Army had "20 times" the intelligence capability at the division commander level than he did in 2003, and refused to yield to Hunter's attempts to respond.
On Tuesday, McHugh backed Odierno's argument.
"The example that he used was not correct," McHugh said, challenging Hunter's objection. "The commanding general [of the division] ultimately withdrew [the request]."
"I think it's important where we have discussions, even if we have disagreements, that we all are coming from the same basics and the same facts. I didn't get a chance to talk to him about that," McHugh said, and took some of the blame himself.
"I think the Army didn't do as effective a job, in retrospect, as I would have liked in setting the narrative on this discussion," he said. Too many people view it as an "either-or" choice between two systems, both of which McHugh says the Army needs.
"I certainly admit to that."
McHugh said last year the Army signed a new agreement with Palantir, which makes in intelligence integration software popular with deployed troops. But the system does not work within the Army's DCGS. McHugh said the Army is ahead of Hunter and already is trying to help get their system "integrated into DCGS, so that we can have the information that is gathered through [Palantir's] system embedded into DCGS as strategic, analytical capabilities."
McHugh said he still has "great respect" for Hunter.
"We have committed ourselves to working with him."
UPDATE: Hunter's office contacted the E-Ring to object to McHugh's assertion on Tuesday that the command had rescinded its request for the Palantir system because the 3ID was not going back to Afghanistan after its upcoming return home.
Hunter's spokesman, Joe Kasper, said they were surprised to see McHugh's remarks. Following Thursday's argument in the hearing, Hunter's staff thought they had an agreement with Army officials to avoid any additional public back-and-forth over the issue.
However, Kasper argued that the Army ran the clock out on soldiers deployed in Afghanistan who had been begging for Palantir for nearly a year. He also objected to McHugh's assertion that Hunter was mistaken about the request still being active, telling the E-Ring that Hunter was fully aware that the 3ID headquarters at Fort Stewart had ordered a "hold" on the request from Afghanistan, and referenced it during Thursday's hearing.
"There've been repeated requests for it that go back a year," a frustrated Kasper said, providing a list of requests and denials dating to May 2012.
Kasper said their side of the story is simple: Hunter talked to Gen. Odierno in February 2012, after which Odierno approved the use of Palantir for soldiers from the 82nd Airborne in one location in Afghanistan. When members of the 3ID paid a pre-deployment visit to the site, they saw the Palantir system and determined they wanted it, too. Rather than ask for approval for one site, the 3ID asked for "reach back" capability so that entire unit could use it. But that approval never came, which Hunter argues left an intelligence "capability gap" in the unit.
The Palantir system's attractiveness to some soliders in the warzone, Kasper said, is its ability to "detect IED incidents" by determining patterns in intelligence data.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Stand down, Twitterverse, the littoral combat ship USS Freedom isn't going down, flooding, or even leaking, really. But she's not going anywhere, either.
Ten days after arriving in Singapore for her maiden deployment, the Freedom is dead in the water, awaiting repairs to her propulsion system, according to Navy officials at Pacific Fleet in Hawaii.
A tweet on Monday caused a bit of alarm when it suggested the Freedom was taking on water.
"Over the weekend USS Freedom started taking in seawater, port side," wrote Raymond Pritchett, author of the maritime-focused blog Information Dissemination, known widely online as "Galrahn."
"They were seeing seawater where they shouldn't see seawater," Lt. Anthony Falvo, spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet in Hawaii, explained to the E-Ring.
But hang on. The ship's propulsion system is designed to bring seawater into the ship to cool lube oil and propulsion fluids. When the crew took some lube oil samples, they noticed seawater was getting into some of the lube oil, Falvo said.
"Basically what had happened was, there was some alarms that went off in the engineering spaces."
The problem affects the ships reduction gears, the E-Ring was told, which in English means seawater contaminated the lubricant for the drive shaft that spins the propeller.
This problem is not unique to the Freedom or other LCS vessels. Other ships that use the same propulsion system have had similar problems. But given the eyes watching the LCS on her maiden voyage, the Navy wanted to get the word out quickly that the problem, while serious, was not taking down the ship.
"It's not uncommon for some of these tubes to fail, from time to time," Falvo said. "The crew was never in danger."
Engineers on board in Singapore requested outside assistance from Commander Naval Surface Force Pacific headquarters in San Diego, which is responsible for maintenance of all Pacific-based ships. Officials there are reviewing the problem and deciding who to send to Singapore for the fix. Until then, the Freedom is unable to move.
PACFLEET said the Freedom likely will not fall off schedule because she has no upcoming events requiring her to sail immediately.
JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images
Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.