Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Flash of Opportunity

ROME - The Via Tiburtina, the old Roman road that heads east out of the Italian capital, is home today to various Finmeccanica outposts. But amid the units of the state-controlled giant stands Elettronica, the small family-run firm that has become a leading light on Europe's electronic warfare scene.
Sixty years after its founding, Elettronica is pushing into a new market it believes will help secure its future: infrared (IR) countermeasures for aircraft that do a better job than flares at playing havoc with the IR guidance systems of shoulder-fired missiles.
"With directional infrared countermeasures [DIRCM], we will be covering transport aircraft, helicopters and VIP platforms ... so we are moving into the world of homeland security," CEO Enzo Benigni said. "We see the market value for DIRCM rising above the 1 billion euro [$1.44 billion] mark."
Elettronica's supply of electronic warfare (EW) systems to large European programs like FREMM frigates, the NH90 helicopter and the Eurofighter Typhoon has allowed it to build revenue from 165 million euros in 2006 to 195 million in 2010. But Benigni knows the likes of the Typhoon program are due to wind down, and has been seeking new opportunities.
The firm's new DIRCM product, the ELT/572, is based on technology initially developed by Elbit Systems. Elettronica jointly funded the program and is now co-owner, divvying up potential markets with the Israeli company.
"Elbit proved to have the most advanced know-how to develop and industrialize the DIRCM, based on fiber laser, dual-color principles," Benigni said.
South America, India and the Middle East are key markets, he said. But the launch customer is the Italian Air Force, which has signed a 25 million euro contract to install five ELT/572 systems, each based on two turrets, on C-27J and C-130J transport planes and AW101 utility helicopters.
The ELT/572 also may be flown on the Air Force's new 767 tankers, P180 VIP/light transport and ATR maritime patrol aircraft and the Army's new Chinook helicopters.
Gen. Giuseppe Bernardis, chief of the Air Force, has said that Northrop Grumman DIRCM was unavailable in time for military export.
With its own product, Elettronica can exploit the demand for systems that lack U.S.-made components subject to Washington's International Traffic in Arms Regulations. The company also may stress the technical advantages the ELT/572 offers, with officials citing a potentially faster reaction time between the missile warning alert and the laser flash.
The new countermeasures work follows a series of joint initiatives planned with Israeli industry, a useful partnership for Italian industry after it was excluded from EW workshare on the international F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
"Our work on Eurofighter helped us evolve to a level that gives us an undisputed technological advantage," Benigni said.
If Italy decides to acquire a new signals intelligence aircraft and opts for Israeli systems, he said, Elettronica would be a partner.
"And if Italy sells an armed version of the M346 jet trainer to Israel, we would be exploiting that opportunity, too," the CEO said.
The firm already has a strong presence in the United Arab Emirates, with business worth 1 billion euros contracted since the 1980s and a local joint venture. Electronic warfare, electronic support measures and electronic intelligence systems have been supplied for Dash-8 maritime patrol aircraft, new ships, including Baynunah corvettes, ground systems and Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets.
Orders from outside Europe now account for 9 percent of the firm's revenue, a figure Benigni said he would like to see rise to 40 percent within 10 years, alongside an overall revenue increase of 5 percent per year.
Benigni said he is encouraged by the Italian government's newfound desire to back defense exports.
"The [Ministry of Defense] is really assisting us, which is a huge change from the past," Benigni said. "Marketing in India requires a good deal of political support, particularly in the fighter contest, where I would not exclude the U.S. fighters re-entering the competition."
Founded by Benigni's uncle, Elettronica employs the CEO's son and daughter, suggesting the family tradition will continue. Stakes held by Finmeccanica (33 percent) and French company Thales (32 percent) are stable, he said. That leaves Benigni the majority shareholder.
DIRCM apart, Benigni said a second trend to watch is the combining of different emitters in one turret, which is attached to an aircraft's exterior.
Elettronica signed up in 2005 to an Italo-Swedish program to combine radar, EW and communications into one system with no interference. Though limited funding for research into the Multifunctional Active Electronically Scanned antennas was in the Italian defense budget last year, Benigni said funding is stalled.
"This was a missed opportunity," he said. "We know it's the future, and the first country to do it will have big advantages."
In the meantime, Elettronica will continue to benefit from ongoing work on the defensive aids systems it supplies for the Typhoon. Last September, a 400 million pound ($656 million) deal was handed to a European consortium, including Elettronica, to supply the Praetorian self-protection system for 112 Tranche 3A Typhoons.
But with no more Typhoon buys in the cards from Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain, what has been a solid revenue stream looks set to wind down. Benigni said a large part of the 80 percent of Elettronica revenue that comes from European programs came from Eurofighter.
"Elettronica is ... dependent on Eurofighter but has developed other technologies which are bearing fruit and can therefore maintain a good position in the market," said Michele Nones, head of the security and defense department at Rome think tank Istituto Affari Internazionali.
"Having Thales and Finmeccanica as shareholders could present problems since they are competitors, but they tend to balance each other out," Nones said. "And the firm has the attention of the Italian government since it is considered strategic. Italy believes it needs EW capability."
With a focus on engineering, Benigni said Elettronica's small size and niche status is an advantage.
"A big company does not have the same mentality. The Israelis have shown that," he said.
Elettronica recently fought off tough Israeli competition to win a contract for a naval electronic support measures system from an East Asia customer, the CEO said.
Benigni said the victory came thanks in part to Elettronica's focus on what he called "the science of architecture" - the arrangement of components in an electronic system that leaves room for growth.
About Elettronica
2010 revenue: 195 million euros.
Employees: 754.
Sectors (percentage of total revenue):
■ Fighter aircraft (44).
■ Product support (35).
■ Naval vessels (8).
■ Helicopters/maritime patrol aircraft/transport aircraft (12).
■ Land (1).

Underground Weapon

ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER - The Israeli Army has developed a new tool in its seemingly Sisyphean struggle against the hundreds of underground tunnels used for smuggling weapons from Sinai into Gaza, or as subterranean staging grounds for cross-border strikes into Israel.
A collaborative effort between the Army's special technology division and EMI, a local explosive materials manufacturer, the system - known here as Emulsion - injects into the ground a blend of commercial-grade liquid explosives, each of which remains nonsensitive to mishandling or even improvised bomb attack until blended and deployed.
"It's all automatic, carries minimal risk to troops and creates maximum, irreparable damage to the tunnels," said Maj. Isam Abu Tarif, director of the special technology division of Israel's Ground Forces Command.
Abu Tarif said the recently completed prototype is actually a second-generation system, following less efficient versions deployed in Gaza in the last seven or eight years. The newest Emulsion-2 prototype is self-navigating and programmed for precision deployment of explosive materials and optimum penetration of the destructive mixture.
"Earlier versions didn't provide optimum destruction, allowing the enemy to dig around the destroyed section," Abu Tarif said. "With this second-generation system, they're better off digging a new tunnel."
First reported in the latest editions of B'yabasha (On the Ground), the official Hebrew-language journal of Israel's Ground Forces Command, the latest Emulsion prototype is mounted on eight-wheeled armored trucks. Future versions will be smaller, tailored for more challenging operational conditions and designed to be towed into high-threat areas by tank.
Deployment of the latest prototype has allowed the Army to amend its doctrine for more effective, force-protective anti-tunnel combat, Abu Tarif said.
"Under our old doctrine, our forces had to endanger themselves while transporting the explosive materials to the target," he said. "Then they had to physically get into the tunnel to perform the mission. ... And there were cases where soldiers died en route or inside the tunnels.
"But now, the two substances are housed separately and are impervious to accidental or enemy-initiated detonation," he said. "Emulsion-2 is designed to withstand [a rocket-propelled grenade] attack. And once we neutralize the threat on approach, automation takes over with the injection of materials for optimum effect."
Finally, Abu Tarif said the Emulsion-2 carries "a huge quantity" of two-component explosive material, allowing specialty units to destroy multiple tunnels in a single deployment to high-threat areas.
"Before, we were limited to the amount of explosives carried in an [armored personnel carrier], but now the carrying capacity is safe and unlimited ... and the effect of the liquid explosive blend creates a chain reaction that extends well beyond the target penetration area," he said.
Overwhelming Threat
Security sources here estimate a network of many hundreds of tunnels of varying levels of sophistication have been built between Gaza and Egypt. While most tunnels are built to sustain Egypt's thriving smuggling industry for appliances, vehicles, livestock and other commercial goods into Gaza, an alarming number are used to deliver primarily Iranian-supplied missiles, anti-tank rockets, other weaponry and even military instructors into the strip via Sinai.
Another category of tunnels - some nearly a kilometer in length - are built for commando strikes and kidnapping attempts on Israel's side of the Gaza border. Security sources here peg the number of so-called terror tunnels built to support subterranean combat operations against Israel in the dozens.
In Israel's Cast Lead incursion into Gaza in late December 2008, the Air Force destroyed 40 smuggling tunnels in the first two days of the 22-day campaign. Since then, the Israeli military claims to have destroyed or heavily damaged 190 tunnels, 150 of them smuggling routes along the Gaza-Egyptian corridor.
Military sources here said another 40 tunnels destroyed in recent years were built to support infiltration operations similar to Hamas' successful June 2006 attack on an Israeli tank. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in that strategically important strike, while one - Pvt. Gilad Shalit - remains in captivity. Shalit's plight has traumatized the Israeli public and taunted a string of successive political and military leaders who have failed to secure his release.
"Combating terror tunnels is a top priority," said Capt. Barak Raz, an Israeli military spokesman. "The orders are maximum readiness to defend our citizens and soldiers from kidnapping attempts and deny the enemy any opportunity for another strategic achievement."
Avi Dichter, an Israeli lawmaker and former director of the Shin Bet security service, said Egypt's decision to open its Rafah border crossing with Gaza will not erode the need for persistent and coordinated military and intelligence anti-tunnel operations.
The late May opening of Egypt's border crossing with Gaza and its 1.5 million residents is a reversal of deposed President Hosni Mubarak's policy of isolating and neutralizing the militant, Islamist Hamas authority in the Strip. And while Israel must remain watchful of those exiting and re-entering Gaza via Egypt, Dichter said more than 90 percent of illicit smuggling will continue to be conducted via underground tunnels.
"As much as we lament the passing of the Mubarak era, we have to admit that he could have done a hell of a lot more to blunt the arms smuggling industry," Dichter told a seminar of Israeli military officers May 26.
"For that matter, when we had control of Philadelphi [the corridor linking Sinai to the southern part of Gaza], we, too, missed a lot of activity," he said. "Bottom line, the tunnel threat is an eternal mission requiring very close cooperation between security forces and all branches of the Israel Defense Forces."

Robert Gates' Victory Lap

Before stepping down as U.S. secretary of defense in a few weeks, Robert Gates is taking a victory lap, warning the country - and implicitly, his successor, Leon Panetta - that cuts in military spending would increase risk to the force and the country. But the secretary exaggerates the threats facing us, and he misconstrues the benefits that we derive from our enormous military.
Most important, Gates focuses on the risk of spending too little without considering the risks associated with spending too much.
During his long tenure as defense secretary, Gates could have overseen a serious review of roles and missions; he refused, believing that he could fend off deep cuts in spending while preserving a military posture designed to defeat the Soviet Union. His failure to re-evaluate the purpose of the U.S. military merely postponed the inevitable day of reckoning and has increased the risk that our overburdened force will be asked to do more with less.
Gates has scored some successes and deserves credit for his willingness to ax a few unnecessary and costly weapon systems. These decisions, Gates likes to claim, saved more than $300 billion. But that amounts to less than 5 percent of projected military spending over the next decade. Plus, a number of these programs were already slated for cancellation, the cuts might never materialize, and Gates intended that much of the savings from cuts be plowed back into the Pentagon, not returned to taxpayers or devoted to deficit reduction.
A military that costs less needs to be smaller and do less. Thankfully, we can cut military spending and reduce the burdens on the force without undermining U.S. security. Indeed, we are extraordinarily secure, by any reasonable measure.
What makes us secure? The combination of nuclear weapons and favorable geography. We can effectively rule out the prospect of land invasion (most countries can't), and a million-man amphibious operation from the sea is extremely unlikely. Any leader foolish enough to launch an overt attack on the United States would have to get past the Navy and the Air Force. These forces exist to deter attacks, and win a decisive military victory if deterrence fails.
Most of the growth in spending over the past decade, however, has gone to the Army and Marine Corps, to fight very different sorts of conflicts: nation-building operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that are indecisive by their nature. But as those missions draw to a close, both forces can be returned to pre-9/11 levels. After all, Gates has said that we are unlikely to attempt "forced regime change followed by nation-building under fire" any time soon.
This wise judgment reflects the fact that such missions are enormously costly, unpopular with the American people and unlikely to achieve their stated objectives in a reasonable amount of time.
Most important, they aren't necessary. Good counterterrorism, which is to say effective counterterrorism, is cheap. It includes operations that have successfully degraded al-Qaida's capabilities over the past decade - like the one that killed Osama bin Laden. These occasionally rely on the precise application of force. But stationing 100,000 or more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, or anywhere else for that matter, is at best irrelevant, and often counterproductive.
The U.S. needs to focus its military efforts in a few key areas that are vital to U.S. national security, and call on other countries to do more for their own defense and in their respective regions.
Gates suggests that shedding certain roles and missions, and shifting burdens to others, entails intolerable risks. People in other countries might choose not to direct some money from generous social welfare programs to defense. Perhaps they will refuse to share some of the costs of keeping the oceans free from pirates, or fail to keep local troublemakers in their respective boxes.
According to Gates, that is a risk not worth taking. He seems to believe that every problem, no matter how small or distant, will inevitably arrive on our shores. Therefore, we cannot rely on other countries to do more - or anything, really - to defend themselves and their interests. As he told graduates at the University of Notre Dame, "make no mistake, the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power - the size, strength and global reach of the United States military."
But our military power doesn't do all that he says that it does, and understanding the limits of that power is both prudent and wise. The United States is an exceptional nation, but we are not the indispensable nation.
Today, American taxpayers provide half of the world's military spending, while our share of the global economy has fallen to less than one quarter. It isn't realistic to expect 5 percent of the world's population to bear these costs indefinitely. Gates seems to think that it is, or, at least, that there is no alternative. But if there is no alternative to U.S. power, then that is largely a problem of our own making. And it is one that we can solve.
Gates failed to do so; it is not clear that he even tried. Here's hoping that his successor does.

No Consensus on Cyber Attacks

The U.S. government still lacks a consensus about how to ward off and retaliate against cyberattacks, analysts said after a week in which the world's largest defense contractor and other companies acknowledged their computer networks had been infiltrated.
"Although Lockheed [Martin] nipped this attack in the bud, it's pretty obvious that the federal government isn't prepared to cope with the kind of cyber onslaught that it's facing," said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, Arlington, Va.
Each government agency - and even the military services within the Defense Department - has a different picture of what cyber is and how it contributes to the mission, according to Charles Dodd, a cybersecurity consultant in Washington who has advised Congress and other government agencies.
"The biggest problem is they look at the data security and the way forward only as it pertains to their mission," Dodd said. "What they miss is that cyber isn't different. It doesn't change just because your mission does. How you use it does."
U.S. government computer networks are attacked about 1.8 billion times per month, according to a recent Center for New American Security (CNAS) report, and Dodd said the weeks since U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden have seen an uptick.
So-called hacktivists tend to "stretch their cyber legs" following major world events - and state-sponsored entities are starting to behave similarly, he said.
"The techniques of both these groups are kind of the same," he said.
Lockheed Martin, the largest supplier of weapons to the U.S. military, acknowledged last week that its network had been breached.
In a May 29 statement, company officials said the May 21 attack was detected "almost immediately," and that no customer, program or employee data had been compromised.
The FBI is leading an investigation into the intrusion, according to Robert Butler, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for cyber policy.
"The analysis on these activities ... is challenging, it's diffuse, and lots of different pieces have got to be put together," said Butler, who spoke June 2 as part of a panel at a CNAS conference.
Coordination Efforts
The CNAS report said deterring and preventing cyberattacks will require "stronger and more proactive leadership" by the federal government. It suggested the White House create an office of cyber policy.
The Obama administration is striving to get government agencies on the same page. In May, the White House sent a package of proposed cybersecurity legislation to Capitol Hill, largely dealing with securing networks and defining the Department of Homeland Security's role.
But federal officials and analysts said that more legislation is needed; in particular, stricter laws to deter cyber offenders.
"The penalty for cyber criminals [is] not adequate at this point in time," Rand Beers, DHS's undersecretary for its national protection and programs directorate, said at the CNAS conference. "We're going to have to fix that."
Dodd said those who use bullets or bombs face far greater, or at least clearer, consequences than online attackers.
"These groups are attacking these networks, and there's just no fear of retaliation," he said. "I think that that's going to start bringing these other more guerilla-style tactics from groups we haven't seen in the past."
The CNAS report agreed, recommending the government lay out a declaratory policy that explains how it will retaliate, at least in certain situations.
In coming weeks, the Defense Department is expected to release its own strategy for cyber warfighting. That document will create a framework for training and equipping forces, as well as call for more international cooperation in this evolving domain, Mary Beth Morgan, Pentagon director for cyber strategy, said in March.
Dodd said the fruits of the effort would likely become apparent only after a major cyber attack.
"There has to be a uniformed way to move forward pertaining to the threat, not how we use the network and not how we defensively posture ourselves, because these [attackers] are looking at things offensively," he said.
The CNAS report also recommends the U.S. strengthen its international cybersecurity agenda.
Butler concurred.
"We can make the greatest inroads on the international side with working to develop norms, understanding ways that we can help each other to think about a safe and secure, reliable cyberspace," he said.
Thompson said that since many of the attacks appear to originate in countries such as China and Russia, the U.S. should treat them as a national security challenge rather than a law enforcement one.
He questioned DHS's ability to adequately defend U.S.-based networks from cyberattacks, and opined that the U.S. National Security Agency might be better positioned for the task.
But Dodd said NSA lacks the resources to protect such a large number of systems.
Cyber tools, both defensive and offensive, remain among the most classified systems in the U.S. arsenal. DoD and industry officials frequently remain tight-lipped on attacks and their success, or lack thereof, that an intruder has achieved.
"We have a wide range of physical, electronic, computing and personnel policies/ practices to investigate suspected issues," said Boeing spokesman Dan Beck. "Boeing takes the security of its people, products and information very seriously, and we have systems in place for detection and prevention."
Similarly, Northrop Grumman spokesman Randy Belote said his company "continuously monitors and proactively strengthens the security of our networks, and is vigilant to protect our employee, customer and program data and systems."
But Dodd, the cybersecurity consultant, said he believes the defense industry has been "completely arrogant" about the capabilities it possesses and is not fully prepared to combat a state-sponsored entity.
"This is not the stage for arrogance," he said. "You've brought a stick to a gunfight, and you're arrogant about your capabilities?"
Thompson said, "Lockheed probably has the most sophisticated network defenses of any company in the United States, bar none … and even they had a problem. So what does that tell you?"

Vietnam Confirms Kilo Sub Buy at Shangri-La

SINGAPORE - Vietnam will procure six Russian-built Kilo-class attack submarines "to defend" the country. Vietnam's Defense Minister, Gen. Phung Quang Thanh, made the comment June 5 at the 10th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore 5. Analysts put the price tag for the deal at just over $3 billion.
Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. General Phung Quang Thanh speaks June 5 during the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. (Roslan Rahman / Agence France-Presse)
The announcement comes in the wake of official protests lodged by Hanoi over a May 26 incident when three Chinese vessels operated by the State Oceanic Administration harassed the Binh Minh 02, a Vietnamese oil exploration seismic survey vessel belonging to the Vietnam Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam). One of the Chinese vessels cut the ship's survey cable. The incident occurred within Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone.
The incident causes "considerable concern on the maintenance of peace and stability in the East Sea [South China Sea]," he said. Further, Vietnam has "exercised patience in managing the incident with peaceful means in accordance with the international laws and the principle of determinedly protecting our national sovereignty."
The incident caused outrage in Vietnam, resulting in public protests at the Chinese embassy and hacker attacks on Chinese government websites.
Thanh met with Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie at a bilateral meeting during the Shangri-La to discuss issues, including the incident. The Dialogue is organized by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) and held annually each June in Singapore.
Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh, Deputy Minister of Defense, also confirmed the Kilo submarine deal and added that Vietnam was also buying "Su-30 fighters and surface-to-air missiles." However, the procurements were not tied to the May 26 incident and were "part of our weapons appreciation program for enhancing our capabilities." He said Vietnam has a "legitimate need to upgrade our military capability."
Vinh emphasized that the recent incident with China was a "civilian clash" and not a military issue. Vietnamese law enforcement and maritime agencies are responsible for these types of problems, he said. "What happened, happened" and it must he handled within the guidelines of international law by peaceful means. However, Vinh stressed that Vietnam would use "all means to protect our national sovereignty."
China's military has been expanding its capabilities and influence in the South China Sea with a new submarine base on Hainan Island, and preparations are underway to begin sea trials of its first aircraft carrier.
China and Vietnam have been bumping into one another in the South China Sea since the 1970s. In 1974 China took the Paracel Islands by military force from then-South Vietnam, and Hanoi has continued to claim sovereignty over the islands. Periodic arrests of Vietnamese fishermen in the area have also caused frustration in Hanoi.
In 1988 China and Vietnam fought over the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea. China sank two Vietnamese naval vessels and opened fired on Vietnamese troops occupying the reef. A video documentary widely aired in Vietnam, dubbed the "Spratly Islands Massacre," available on YouTube, allegedly shows a Chinese frigate gunning down around 30 Vietnamese soldiers on the reef.
The latest incident has raised concerns China is becoming aggressive in the South China Sea and risks sparking a conflict. However, a member of the Chinese delegation attending the Shangri-La Dialogue said the Chinese vessels involved in the May 26 incident might be acting unilaterally without the consent or encouragement of Beijing. The State Oceanic Administration and other non-military maritime patrol and law enforcement organizations have in the past acted carelessly, he said. These organizations are often fighting over budgets and attempting to justify their existence, thus they sometimes "act muscularly."