Situation Report

Hagel seeks changes to court-martial system; Chiefs have made recommendations on DWM; Why doesn’t Seoul have an Iron Dome?; Chesty got his EGA but who is Figgie?; And just a little more.

By Gordon Lubold  Chuck Hagel wants to limit commanders’ power under the UCMJ. The Pentagon announced yesterday that it would ask Congress to overhaul the court martial system that is used to prosecute military cases and reduce the power of commanders, who now have the ability to overturn rulings. The push comes after Air Force ...

By Gordon Lubold 

Chuck Hagel wants to limit commanders’ power under the UCMJ. The Pentagon announced yesterday that it would ask Congress to overhaul the court martial system that is used to prosecute military cases and reduce the power of commanders, who now have the ability to overturn rulings. The push comes after Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin dismissed the charges against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, found guilty of aggravated sexual assault and sent to prison for a year. Franklin’s reversal of Wilkerson’s sentence — at a time when concern about sexual assault within the military is growing — was apparently a bridge too far. "In the military system, the move was completely legal and cannot be appealed to any higher authority, including Hagel, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or President Obama," the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron writes. The Pentagon will ask Congress to remove some of the power of the so-called convening authority, which gives a commander control over a court martial.

Second thoughts on the Dee Dubya Emm. Hagel asked each of the service chiefs to review the Distinguished Warfare Medal, or so-called drone medal, after outcry from inside the building and outside groups that the new medal denigrated acts of valor on the battlefield. Those recommendations are now all on Hagel’s desk, a Pentagon source tells Situation Report. The drone medal, announced by Leon Panetta in his last days as defense secretary, recognizes achievement by drone pilots across the services. Most uniforms and others have no problem with that. It’s the precedence of the medal — above a Bronze Star (and therefore, above a Bronze Star with a combat ‘V’ device) — that has so many people upset because it seems to put joystick work above battlefield combat. Hagel’s decision to review the matter,  due this week, seems likely to recommend a change. But these chiefs are the same ones who would have, presumably, okayed the medal in the first place. So it is unclear just what they are now recommending. It’s possible the new DWM, which will be awarded sparingly and for highly classified operations, will be placed just under the Bronze Star — but over the Purple Heart.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings, and military stories of success or excess.

Today Hagel will meet with POTUS and Pentagon department officials, as he prepares to return to the Hill this week for budget hearings and tomorrow’s release of the Pentagon budget.  

Why Seoul doesn’t have an Iron Dome. Everyone’s been marveling at Israel’s missile defense, but now in the middle of the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, one wonders why Seoul doesn’t have a similar system. Baron wondered, too. From the E-Ring: "Nearly 11 million people live in South Korea’s capital, roughly 35 miles from the Demilitarized Zone. North Korea is threatening to make it rain artillery and missiles on its sworn enemy. And Israel is desperate to find a buyer for the incredibly expensive missile defense system. South Korea sure could use Iron Dome right about now. But a series of blown multibillion-dollar deals with Israel over the past two years has left South Korea instead rushing to beef up the patchwork network of American and Korean missile defenses, including Patriot missile batteries on land and Aegis-equipped destroyers deployed at sea."

And: "Pyongyang’s arsenals are so stocked and varied that it would take far too many Iron Dome batteries to have any real effect on protecting the city, other than for a few, select high-value targets. Even then, the system may be too expensive to justify the investment. But South Korea has tried. Since 2011, military officials have sought to acquire Iron Dome and hoped that Israel would in turn purchase South Korean fighter jets, ships, helicopters parts, or more. Instead, Seoul lost out to better or cheaper competitors."

Budget cuts are forcing the Air Force to ground combat air squadrons. The Air Force’s budgetary problems will force it to ground 17 ground combat air squadrons, starting today, as part of some 44,000 flying hours that must be eliminated between now and September, according to documents obtained by Defense News. "The Air Force’s budget for flying hours was reduced by $591 million for the remainder of fiscal 2013, making it impossible to keep all squadrons ready for combat, according to a memo signed by Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, director of operations for Air Combat Command," the story said. The grounding includes F-22s, F-16s, B-1B Lancers, A-10 Warhogs and B-52s from a number of bases.

Wanna know what China’s new J-31 stealth fighter looks like? Click here for Killer Apps’ John Reed’s posted pic. 

SIGAR blasts Army Corps of Engineers — again. The top watchdog overseeing the reconstruction of Afghanistan has found no shortage of problems that have arisen from mixing billions of American dollars with "Afghan good enough" oversight. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers knowingly built more than 1,000 structures for the Afghan Army that are virtual firetraps. The E-Ring’s Kevin Baron writes: "Sopko says in the letter to Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, commanding general of the Corps, that he has issued field commanders an ‘urgent safety alert’ because the Corps, it claims, has decided to keep building Afghan buildings ‘in a manner that can pose a serious fire and life safety risk. More than 1,000 structures in southern Afghanistan alone could be at risk due to construction with non-compliant foam insulation and thermal barrier systems.’" The buildings are known as K-span structures, those arched metal buildings that dot military installations across Afghanistan. Three of them have caught fire while still under construction. Read Sopko’s letter.

Looking smug, Chesty XIV is given Marine status. The Marine Corps made another bulldog, Chesty Number 14, their newest mascot yesterday at the Marine Barracks at 8th and I. The Corps picked a content-with-himself looking bulldog to be the newest in a line of mascots. The WSJ’s Julian Barnes has the exclusive: "With the entire Marine Barracks Washington force watching, Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, promoted the young bulldog from recruit to Private First Class and pinned on him the service’s symbol, the Eagle Globe and Anchor. PFC Chesty XIV will begin taking on duties during the Marines Friday Night Parade this year. The young Chesty is mostly white with some brindle markings and a small black mark under his left eye, as if he stepped out of a bar fight while on shore leave." Chesty XIII, who is apparently retiring, had a famous run-in with Panetta’s Irish Setter, er, Golden Retriever, Bravo. The two squared off during a ceremony in August.

Hagel’s water dog is named Figgie. Hagel has a Portuguese water dog — the same kind of dog as the Obama’s "Bo" — named Figgie. Unclear if Figgie will be quite as ubiquitous as Bravo, who was rumored to be applying for his own Pentagon building pass. And Figgie might have the upper paw. A senior defense official told the WSJ: "As a Portuguese Water Dog, Figgie knows how to navigate some tough sea…. Chesty should remember that the Marines are part of the Department of the Navy." Read why the Marines have a bulldog as their mascot, here.

Former SecDef Harold Brown talks lessons learned. Today at noon, Center for National Policy President Scott Bates talks with Brown about his new book, Star Spangled Security: Applying Lessons Learned Over Six Decades Safeguarding America. Brown will talk "aligning US values, interests, and the defense budget to meet America’s ongoing and future needs," and discuss "innovative defense concepts; how to avoid conflict with China while protecting our interests in the Pacific; dealing with the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea; facing what’s next in Afghanistan; US influence in the Middle East, and more," according to a teaser release from CNP. Watch the livestream here. When was Brown secdef? Under Carter, between 1977 and 1981.

You’ll also hear a lot about North Korea today. Adm. Sam Locklear of U.S. Pacific Command testifies today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. It’s a normal posture hearing for budget season. But an educated guess? North Korea might come up. Dirksen G-50, 9:30 this morning.

Also testifying today: Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict Michael A. Sheehan; and Special Operations Command Commander Navy Adm. William H. McRaven all appear before the SASC’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities today at 2:15pm, Russell 222.

Noting

  • AP: U.S. to arm, train Somali forces.  
  • Danger Room: Danger Room’s convo with Mark Mazzetti, author of "The Way of the Knife."
  • Battleland: SecDef Hagel’s not-so-flawed defense spending premise.
  • Navy Times: CNO commits to F-35 despite tailhook problems.
  • CFR: The future of U.S. Special Operations forces.
  • The New Yorker: Radical feminism in the birthplace of the Arab spring.
  • The Atlantic: First responders and robots to the rescue.  
 Twitter: @glubold

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