About Spy Technology Caught In Military Turf Battle
By Team Infidel on October 3rd, 2007
More than a month after it was sent, the Marines' request for Angel Fire was still under review by military officials in Baghdad. That led Marine Lt. Col. Susan Murray, an intelligence officer, to write in an e-mail dated Oct. 24, 2006, that "critical" needs such as Angel Fire are "supposed to be turned around in a matter of a couple days, not a few weeks!"
That's not always true, says Len Blaisol, director of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Integration Division. An urgent plea for winter clothing for a battalion in Afghanistan can be filled in a few weeks, says Blaisol, while a system such as Angel Fire may require months of testing before it's fielded.
One unit that had to approve the Marines' request was Multi-National Corps-Iraq, the top military command in Iraq. There, Fultz, an Army science and technology official, was involved in handling the request. In an Oct. 28 e-mail to Army officers, he called it "not executable." He asked the Marines to rewrite their request and instead consider Constant Hawk, which he helped develop.
"As always, the problem is ground truth capabilities versus marketing," Fultz wrote, suggesting the Marines might have oversold Angel Fire's potential.
The Army said last week that Fultz did not want to comment, and he could not be reached by USA TODAY. The Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command, where Fultz works, gave him an award this year for his work developing Constant Hawk.
Fultz's position enraged Angel Fire's developers. Chudoba, the Marine colonel, fired off a response to Fultz and other Army officials on Oct. 30, arguing that Angel Fire "is the quick win that can place a powerful capability in the hand of our Marine and Army users NOW." He said Smith, a four-star general, agreed.
Also on Oct. 30, Gary Stradling, the Angel Fire project leader at Los Alamos, e-mailed Marine and Air Force officials to warn them the Army was pushing Constant Hawk "specifically to pre-empt USMC/Angel Fire." Stradling said Constant Hawk cost $18 million in 2005 compared with $4.5 million for Angel Fire. "That is more than a factor of four cheaper, for a more capable product."
He also urged the Marines and Air Force to seek help from members of Congress, including Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. Los Alamos is in New Mexico. Stradling was not available to comment, the Air Force said. Los Alamos did not respond to a request for comment.
Other e-mails were sent directly to staff members at the Senate and House of Representatives, urging them to raise the issue with their bosses and help speed delivery of Angel Fire.
The competition came to a head in December, when backers of both systems sought funding from the Joint IED Defeat Organization. That month, Angel Fire received approval and the $20 million in funding from the IED group. By March, the system was being tested in Iraq. Domenici supported appropriations for Angel Fire that jumped from $5.5 million in 2006 to $55 million in 2007, says Courtney Sanders, a spokeswoman for the senator. JIEDDO spent $84 million on Constant Hawk in 2007. On its website, the Army listed Constant Hawk as one of its top inventions of 2006.
Today, the two systems have "totally different" missions, says Christine Devries, spokeswoman for JIEDDO. Constant Hawk provides wide-area surveillance, she says, while Angel Fire serves as an "eye in the sky" for fighters. "There's really not a competition."
In an interview Tuesday, Chudoba said, "There were in fact some friction points. However, we were able to candidly discuss them with the Army and worked around whatever friction there was."
USA TODAY was asked by the Marine Corps and the Air Force to limit descriptions of the Angel Fire system and its capabilities, to safeguard the security of the troops. USA TODAY agreed to that request.
The changing face of surveillance
Aerial surveillance has evolved from still photos from spy planes to video from drones to the replayable images on the most advanced systems.
•Angel Fire and Constant Hawk aerial systems provide real-time video with the ability to zoom in and replay images. Both systems have been undergoing testing in Iraq.
The MQ-1 Predator flew its first mission in 1996 in Bosnia. The unmanned plane can stay aloft for 24 hours and its cameras provide real-time video. It also carries missiles and has been used extensively in Iraq to hunt for terrorists.
•The U-2 debuted in 1955. It flies as high as 70,000 feet and requires pilots to wear a pressure suit similar to those worn by astronauts. The U-2 flew missions over the Soviet Union and detailed the missile buildup in Cuba in 1962. The planes, with technology updates, still fly today.
Sources: U.S. Air Force, Globalsecurity.org
|Military Planners In Iraq May Soon Be Seeing 'Red'|
|New Law Could Subject Civilians To Military Trial|
|British officer slams US military tactics, attitudes in Iraq|
|Kerry Unveils Plan To Overhaul Military|
|Military quote on technology|