March 1, 2023

Defense One: Time to Treat the VA’s Problems as DOD’s Problems

Defense One, the new all-defense site by The Atlantic Media Group, featured a new opinion piece I authored arguing that the VA’s issues and struggles should be viewed through a military readiness lens, given that Americans will factor the potential post-service experience into their decision calculus on whether or not to volunteer to serve in the armed forces. As a result, the VA’s problems are also DOD’s problems.

“By now it should be clear: The VA’s miscalculations and letdowns over the past decade are not just a VA problem; they are the Department of Defense’s problem, as well. Although the two may be administratively distinct, the fate of each is intimately tied into the other in a circle of recruitment, service and care, and the impact of what happens at each stage of that cycle on future recruitment.”

Read the entire piece over at Defense One.

The Hill: The VA’s backlogs epidemic

Last week, The Hill ran an op-ed I wrote for their Congress Blog about the multi-dimensional backlog problem at the VA, beyond the regular claims backlog that everyone already knows about and which the VA has sought recently to redefine. Check out the full piece here, but here’s the gist:

Backlog #1: 

“Everyone in Congress knows by now that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a massive claims backlog problem that has outraged the American public…”

Backlog #2: 

“However, as the VA makes one step forward in one area, it is making two steps backward in another, as the backlog of claims appeals is now growing to a staggering level…”

Backlog #3:

“Equally frustrating for Congress, however, is yet another growing VA backlog - the VA’s backlog of information requests from members of Congress….”

For more on the individual veterans stuck in backlogs 1 & 2, visit The Wait We Carry. For more on the congressional info requests comprising backlog 3, visit Trials in Transparency.

Doing Right by Veterans With College Tuition Fairness

The United States has one of the most well educated and education-minded fighting forces ever. Many new recruits come into the force — both the enlisted and officer ranks — already with college degrees, and most have ambitions to continue their education both during and after military service. Needless to say, educational opportunities are important to those who serve, which is why the GI Bill has been a critically important benefit to our veterans and an important investment for our country for more than a half-century.

In 2008, IAVA strongly advocated for the successful passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to modernize this important and well deserved benefit for those who have carried the burden of fighting our nation’s wars. And while this “New” GI Bill was a giant leap forward for our veterans, it also required prudent follow-up legislation and continued advocacy to protect and improve the benefit.

When I went into the Army back in 2001, I had already completed my freshman year of college and I entered onto active duty from the place I was living at the time — Greensboro, NC. I was not a resident of North Carolina then, so I naturally had to pay the out-of-state tuition rate to attend a public university in that state. However, when I later ETSed from the Army and returned to finish college in my home state of South Carolina, I was surprised to learned that both North Carolina and South Carolina no longer considered me a resident for in-state tuition purposes…

Read the rest here on The Huffington Post.

McClatchy’s Misguided Definition of Terrorism

This week, a journalist for McClatchy, Amina Ismail, asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a news conference about the Boston bombings if civilian collateral deaths in Afghanistan make U.S. forces “terrorists” there too. When I first started seeing the reports of this, I had to seek out the original transcript of the exchange to get clarity and make sure I wasn’t misreading or misinterpreting Ms. Ismail’s question. Surely, I thought, a professional with sense enough to get a job with a reputable news service like McClatchy would have at lease the most basic of understandings of the concept of terrorism.

But after reviewing this reporter’s actual question, I find myself disappointed not only in her journalistic and intellectual capabilities, but also in McClatchy’s quality standards if this is who they chose to send to the White House on their behalf.

Ismail: “I send my deepest condolence to the victims and families in Boston. But President Obama said that what happened in Boston was an act of terrorism. I would like to ask, Do you consider the U.S. bombing on civilians in Afghanistan earlier this month that left 11 children and a woman killed a form of terrorism? Why or why not?”

I have no clue where Ismail was educated, but someone there evidently forgot to teach her what the concept of terrorism is all about - intent. If one’s intent is to instill terror within a civilian population, then we’re talking about true terrorism. However, if a nation’s armed forces are targeting another nation’s military or an insurgent force, even one that hides within civilian facilities and populations, that, by definition, is not terrorism.

Mr. Carney’s response was also concerning. Telling Ms. Ismail that he would need to get more information and refer her to the Defense Department when asked if the U.S. had committed an act of terrorism in Afghanistan was the wrong answer. The first response from any White House or U.S. government spokesman should have been an unequivocal “no.” The White House should not need to gather more information or check with the Pentagon to figure out whether the Obama administration uses terrorism as a strategy or tactic. I feel confident in speaking for Mr. Carney in saying that it does not, even without checking with the Pentagon.

What Mr. Carney may not have known off the top of his head when answering Ms. Ismail’s question at the news conference was that the air strike to which she was referring also killed six Taliban insurgents, including two senior Taliban leaders, Ali Khan and Gul Raouf, who the Afghan Interior Ministry itself confirmed had been leading attacks within Kunar Province northeast of the city of Jalalabad along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Sometimes our intelligence in the most remote parts of the world is wrong and such strikes may miss their intended targets. But this time those targets are confirmed to have been successfully eliminated in this air strike. Unfortunately for the civilians who were killed in the process, these insurgents and Taliban leaders chose to hide by embedding themselves around innocent civilians. This is a hallmark tactic of cowardly insurgents, who constantly remind us that they still have no regard for even the lives of their families and neighbors.

Those in positions of access and responsibility, like journalists covering the White House, especially when those journalists are sanctioned and employed by legitimate news services like McClatchy, should know better. Shame on this “journalist.” And if this is the type of “journalism” that McClatchy endorses now, then shame on them too.

Tiangong-1: Another Sputnik for the U.S. to Respond To?

China marked an historic milestone in its space program when it launched and orbited its Tiagong-1 space module on September 29, 2011. The module, whose name means “heavenly place,” was launched by a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center located in China’s northwest desert area, otherwise known as the Gobi Desert. Coincidentally, the module was launched less than a week before the 54th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik-1.

Tiangong-1 is held out publicly to be the cornerstone of the technology and procedures for an independent space station to be put in place starting in 2020. The module’s mission will include a rendezvous and docking by three Shenzhou spacecraft, of which two will be manned. Beyond that China has made no public statements about its plans for Tiangong-1; however, given what is known about China’s space program some presumptions can be made.

It should be noted that the launch of Tiangong-1 is not part of a space race between the United States and China. As noted by Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation, China has been interested in developing a space capability since 1949 with focus on space systems that would facilitate economic development, and only recently has its focus shifted to national security concerns. Thus, while China is rightfully waving the flag over its achievement and to some extent rubbing it in the United States’ face, Tiangong-1 and its successor missions do not represent a present or future space race with the United States.

Although much has been made of Tiangong-1′s scientific and technological goals, it is prudent to expect that the launch of the module and its successor missions have a military purpose in addition to its scientific functions. The likelihood of the Tiangong series of missions performing a military role is not without precedence. During the Shenzhou-7 manned mission, in addition to the first space-walk by Chinese taikonauts, Shenzhou-7 released a small micro-satellite registered as BX-1 in the official satellite catalog. The purpose of the BX-1 publicly released by the PRC was to photograph the Shenzhou-7 and its taikonauts from a distance and demonstrate the ability to inspect the capsule and conduct limited proximity operations. However, it has been concluded by some experts that the BX-1 could have been a test-bed for a co-orbital anti-satellite weapon or the test of a rudimentary satellite inspection capability. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the PLA would use the the Tiangong series of missions as an opportunity to test dual-use technology or perform military missions such as manned reconnaissance the likes of that intended for the United States proposed Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) and the former Soviet Union’s Almaz space station. This becomes more likely with China’s soft power organs posturing the Tiangong series of flights being performed for scientific purposes. This terminology is often proffered by China for activities which have a military purpose and in fact which China has used when publically touting their newly refurbished aircraft carrier.

Aside from Tiangong’s utility as a platform for China’s furthering of its space program, it also serves as a basis to expand China’s ability to build on its soft power and in turn its political and diplomatic clout. Even before the launch of Tiangong-1, China took the opportunity to again proclaim its long-used diplomatic position that China was committed to the peaceful use of outer space, and the fact that the launch of Tiangong-1 was broadcast live for the world to see lends credence to the supposition that China regards this achievement as a means to enhance its national prestige as well as its technical capabilitiest. Most notably, this achievement runs in stark contrast to the United States whose manned space program is no floundering with no certain goals for future after leading in the realm of outer space for over 50 years. This fact is not lost on China and with a vibrant, visible space program, China recognizes the opportunity to upstage the United States in terms of prestige in the area of manned space flight even if they publicly deny that is their intention.

As noted earlier, the launch of Tiangong-1 occurred almost 54 years to the date of the launch of Sputnik-1. The launch of former achieved many laudable scientific goals and even contributed unwittingly to customary international law regarding the free passage of space. However, perhaps the most significant accomplishment from the perspective of the Soviet Union was the reaction of the American public and members of the United States government that Sputnik-1 represented a clear and present threat to United States in terms of its security and leadership. This perception fueled the Soviet propaganda machine and spurred the United States into a full-fledged space race with the Soviet Union. While the launch of Tiangong-1 and China’s public plans may raise concern in light of the United States current manned-spaceflight predicament that China is gaining the lead over the United States, that concern is not the same as the panic that led to public outcries that fostered the seeds of the space race.

Still, concerns have been raised in Congress about China’s growing space capabilities and in at least one instance that growing space capability has been put forward as a reason to rush ahead with the enormous expenditure of building a heavy lift rocket without any tangible mission to utilize it. The answer to China’s growing capabilities in space is not to panic and take the nation into a space race with China, which China as noted before is not looking for; however, should U.S. space policy and strategy decide to engage China in a tit-for-tat competition in space, it will find that China, unlike the former Soviet Union, will not directly engage the United States but rather use the United States’ challenge to fuel its own propaganda by pointing out the rashness and folly of the United States’ approach to space in comparison to its own. Additionally, the answer to China’s growing space capabilities does not lie in cooperation with in outer space. China would only consider such cooperation if it stood to benefit technically and politically, notwithstanding that agreeing to cooperation would only bolster China’s soft power in terms of United States’ acquiescence to China’s growing space capabilities.

Given this, the question is not whether the United States should engage China in the realm of outer space, but rather how it should engage China. In that regard, Dean Cheng, Research Fellow for Asian Studies at the Heritage Foundation outlined recommendations to policy makers in his recent web-memo “Five Myths About China’s Space Program” to prevent China from surpassing the United States’ preeminence in outer space.

In order to effectively compete with China in outer space, Mr. Cheng recommends that United States’ policymakers and strategists must recognize the significance of space to American power and security. Mr. Cheng states in his memo that a variety of U.S. interests are effected by space capabilities and without a strong space capability and the industry to support its space systems, the underpinning of American power will deteriorate.

Mr. Cheng goes on to advise that policymakers need to understand that China is not engaged with a space race with the United States. China is in a power competition with the United States with outer space as one of many arenas to play out that competition, and as long as the two nations are in competition, outer space will be a major setting for that competition. Because of the significance outer space plays in this competition, Mr. Cheng notes that China is unlikely to be swayed by diplomatic overtures regarding conduct in space or meetings with the heads of America’s civilian space program.

Finally, Mr. Cheng suggests that policymakers need to recognize the political significance of a space presence or the absence of such. According to Mr. Cheng, United States’ policymakers would be well advised to look at the significance of having a solid space capability through the eyes of China. Mr. Cheng notes that China understands that a strong space capability coupled with highly visible achievements serves a significant terrestrial purpose whether by advertising technical prowess or sending a strong political message to its allies and adversaries. Relinquishing the role of manned space flight to China or even the Russian Federation has a global impact beyond that of the space community.

In addition to the recommendations outlined by Mr. Cheng, U.S. policymakers would do well to coordinate official responses to China’s growing space capabilities both publicly and internally to minimize the propaganda and soft power value inured to China. Specifically, the United States should be proactive towards China’s achievements and not to publicly dismiss or otherwise denigrate China’s efforts. The United States should publicly assuage China’s cultural sense of honor and respond to China’s achievements not with threats or dismissive comments, but rather with a demeanor of congratulations deserving of their achievements. The approach of recognizing China’s accomplishments such a Tiangong-1 and its successor missions would serve to negate the propaganda value that China might otherwise find in a dismissive response that the United States might otherwise have. Out of the public eye; however, the United States should be calculating how China’s achievements affect the standing of the United States in terms of its outer space capabilities and hence its position in the scheme of the world competition between the two countries.

United States’ preeminence in space is seeing its most significant challenge since the launch of Sputnik-1 and the beginning of the space race with the former Soviet Union. The challenger to the United States’ preeminence this time takes a different view of the role of outer space capabilities and understands that preeminence in that arena will pay dividends in the grander competition it is engaged in. The advantage in outer space capabilities that the United States has enjoyed since winning the space race against the former Soviet Union can be lost simply if it chooses to let China take it. To that end, United States’ space policy and strategy would do well to resist the impulse to simply react to Chinese achievements in outer space and at the same time pursue policy and goals that will not only maintain its lead in outer space capabilities but augment them as well.


Space flight in service of science, China Daily, September 30, 2022

Brian Weeden, China’s BX-1 microsatellite: a litmus test for space weaponization, The Space Review, October 20, 2008.

Dean Cheng, “Five Myths About China’s Space Program”, The Heritage Foundation, September 29, 2022

With Friends Like These…

So first, our man in Kabul, Mr. Karzai, declares the U.S. one of his top three enemies, and now our man in Baghdad, Mr. Maliki, is publicly backing spiraling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as the U.S. slowly - too slowly in the opinion of some - backs away from Mr. Assad in disgust. Hell, even the Saudi king is condemning the Syrian leader. When the absolute monarch of the world’s only country in which women can’t even drive or appear in public alone says your regime is going too far, you’ve got problems.

We Americans really need to be zooming out and taking a long hard look at what exactly we’ve created in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sure, getting rid of the Taliban government in Afghanistan was a noble deed that dramatically changed the course of events in the region and even the world. But could we not have exerted a little more influence in the restructuring of post-Taliban Afghanistan so that its corrupt leader isn’t publicly calling the United States one of his top three enemies while we’re still there providing his security? Perhaps we could have insisted on more transparency within Afghanistan’s largest bank, now it’s most corrupt. Or perhaps we could have discouraged the creation of an “Islamic Republic” to replace the “Islamic Emirate” of Mullah Omar and the Taliban.

The same could also be said for Iraq. While the elimination of a brutal, bellicose dictator was also noble, even if we now disagree on whether it was ever necessary, allowing the creation of a corrupt and non-functioning Islamic government in Baghdad that is allied with Tehran to replace a corrupt but functioning secular government that hated Tehran might not have been the best course of action during the rebuilding of a post-Saddam Iraq. Since we basically built their new government from the ground up, writing many of their new laws and creating their new institutions ourselves, could we not have insisted upon a few things in the process - like maybe progress as opposed to regression?

Sometimes it feels like the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction in our conduct of international relations. Whereas we used to march around the planet and disregard local cultures, histories, and sensitivities, now it seems like we cater to them too much sometimes, especially to traditional patterns of behavior that are not truly endemic to a particular region or culture but rather to less developed societies generally (i.e., oppression of minorities, corruption, etc.).

When we defeated Germany and Japan after World War II, we occupied those countries, forcefully subdued their lingering insurgencies, reconstructed their governments, and set them on a course to become the dominant economic powers in their respective regions. Perhaps had our occupation and reconstruction strategies been a little less politically correct - with respect to both regional politics and domestic American politics - yet still respectful, both Iraq and Afghanistan might be in a much different place now - a better place. And perhaps, just perhaps, we’d be supporting our friends in Kabul and Baghdad instead of self-declared enemies.

Should a Post-Assad Syria Be Our Ally?

As NATO continues to forcefully suppress Libyan leader Mohamar Qaddafi’s ability to slaughter his own people, the world is largely standing by and watching while Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad does exactly that to in Syria. If the Syrian people eventually succeed in overthrowing their dictator, what incentive do they have to ally themselves with Western nations that simply stood by and watched their slaughter from web browsers and cable television clips?

I’ve written before on the dangerous lack of a consistent U.S. foreign policy throughout the Arab world. While we encourage and incentivize democratic reforms in Tunisia, we tolerate the harshest denials of basic human rights, such as allowing women to shop and drive alone, in Saudi Arabia. While we fiercely oppose an Islamic government in Egypt, we help create one in Iraq. And while we intervene militarily in Libya when its leader only threatens to slaughter his people, we stand by in Syria while its leader actually does.

The Arab people are not blind to the West’s disparate treatment of the various Arab nation-states of the Middle East. In fact, they are much more aware of it than we are, and it is a cause of significant anger and resentment on the Arab street. It significantly erodes our moral authority and weakens our prominent stance in the international community when we engage in such blatant hypocrisy.

After the revolution in Egypt that overthrew long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak, many Egyptians took to the American television cameras on the streets of Cairo at the time to ask, “Where was the U.S.? Where was Barak Obama?” Of course it doesn’t matter who the current president is, but the inconsistent U.S. foreign policy and the lack of even an expression of strong moral support for the Egyptian revolution in the beginning are what those Egyptians were reacting to.

The U.S. is always in a precarious position when it comes to how much support to give to foreign protest movements. Almost certainly, we give covert support to most if not all of these pro-democratic movements, but that does not help the U.S. image abroad. Such help will be kept quiet even after a given movement has either succeeded or failed. But a balance must be struck, and we have not always succeeded in finding that proper balance.

There was a definite need to let the Egyptian people fight their own battle against their own dictator, and the first public trial of a former Arab leader by his own people is an historic accomplishment that the Egyptian people can be proud of. But perhaps the U.S. could have been a little more forthcoming with moral support for the revolution earlier in its development. That’s all the youthful Egyptian revolutionaries wanted, and it might have sped the end of the Mubarak regime and possibly saved some lives in the process. The U.S. eventually came around, but to many Egyptians it was too late for the U.S. to be given credit for actually helping.

We are at the same point now with Syria, except with much more dire consequences for the Syrian people. The pro-democracy, anti-Assad movement in Syria is being systematically slaughtered by the regime and its military forces, a step beyond what prompted us to intervene in Libya, yet neither the U.S. nor NATO is coming to their rescue. Will anyone blame the Syrians if they eventually succeed in overthrowing the Assad regime but are then sour toward the West for not being more helpful in that effort?

It’s a difficult position for the U.S. and the West to be in. We surely can’t get away with being involved in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria all at the same time. But nevertheless, our current hands-off approach to the escalating violence in Syria is not sufficient either, especially given our continued military aid to the Libyan rebels. Whatever the outcome of the Arab Spring in the end, our inconsistent policy toward the Arab states is sowing the seeds of yet another generation of anti-American and anti-Western sentiment in the region, but for a whole new set of reasons.

China’s Beidou Global Navigation System

The China news agency Xinhua reported on July 27, 2022 that a Long March-3A carrier rocket launched the next satellite in the Beidou global navigation constellation from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China’s Sichuan Province. The launch is the second this year of a satellite for the system and is part of China’s plan to deploy more than thirty satellites, which will provide global navigation much to the extent that the dominant GPS system controlled by the United States provides. There are currently eight Beidou satellites deployed, with Wednesday’s launch adding the ninth. The satellites will provide commercial global positioning for civilian use as well as an enhanced signal for military use, both of which could provide China with a dominant strategic advantage in the Asia-Pacific region.

The seeds of China’s global navigation project were planted in 1983 after a proposal was made by Chen Fangyun to develop a regional navigation system using two satellites in geosynchronous orbit in contrast to the system utilized by the United States’ GPS. In 1989, using two in-orbit DFH-2/2A communications satellites, the two-satellite concept was proven comparable to the United States’ GPS in terms of precision. The Beidou-1 program was approved in 1993 after this successful demonstration using the DFH-3 satellite as the platform, and the first two indigenous Beidou experimental navigation satellites were launched in 2000. The final Beidou-1 constellation consists of four geosynchronous satellites: Two operational satellites and two satellites to serve as backups.

The two-satellite concept achieved similar accuracy to the United States’ GPS, but it did have its drawbacks. On the other hand, it did provide for a China with only two satellites an indigenous, independent, high-accuracy military navigation system that could function in anything less than total war with a major military power as well as support military communications.

Despite the success of the two-satellite system, the geosynchronous system was limited to the Asia-Pacific region in terms of coverage and that along with its other limitations prevented its marketability in certain areas of the commercial global navigation market. To meet this challenge, China formed a private company to develop the commercial capabilities of the Beido system and a announced in 2006 the deployment of a supplementary system to the geosynchronous Beido system.

This second phase, Bediou-2, was envisioned to consist of a constellation of 35 satellites. Five of the satellites would reside in geostationary orbit. The other thirty satellites of the system were to occupy medium-earth-orbit (12-hour, 55 deg inclination, 11,339 nautical mile (21,000km) altitude circular orbits) and use the same navigation principle as the United States’ GPS. These thirty satellites were planned to provide two-levels of service. The first, a public service, would be free to China’s citizens and have an accuracy up to 10 meters. The second service would be a more accurate military signal that would also provide system status information for the constellation and the capability to manage military communications.

The ultimate goal of the Bediou-2 medium-orbit global navigation system was to represent a new regional independence from foreign global navigation systems for China’s civilian-sector and for the use of commerce, and to provide a lucrative income for China’s private subsidiaries, who currently look to systems such as the GPS.

Aside from the commercial applications of Beidou, the placement of an independent global navigation system would give China a considerable strategic military advantage in the event hostilities should break out in the Asia Pacific Region. Most notably, such an advantage would be useful in countering foreign naval forces and with particularity those of the United States. Of late, China has been posturing its desire to obtain the ability to eliminate United States’ aircraft carriers through the use of it Dongfeng 21D ballistic missile. With an active GPS such as Beidou in place, China could theoretically use that capability in combination with drones to accurately guide these anti-ship missiles to their targets. Such an advantage could prove useful in deterring or hindering the ability of the United States or even India to project air power to intervene with any military operation China decides to take againt Taiwan, the Philippines or any other interests China has in the South China Sea.

Of course, the military utility of Beidou would not be limited to engagements with the United States. China’s neighbor India as well as Vietnam and Taiwan itself could find itself a target of munitions guided by the Beidou system, and given China’s heavy reliance in its doctrine of using missiles to destroy fixed targets, the utility of Beidou is apparent.

All this is overshadowed by China’s proven ASAT capability. With the ability to destroy or disable satellites within the United States’ GPS system, either through direct-ascent ASATs or ground-based lasers or ECM, China can selectively deny military GPS coverage for the United States and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region. Such a move would leave China as the only power within the region with a viable global-positioning capability for military use. Moreover, the loss of GPS coverage would also deny consumers the use of global-positioning service in the Asia-Pacific region and leave China’s system as the only viable option to fill the void for consumers and international commerce. Therefore, China in essence could in one action gain a significant military and economic dominance in the Asia-Pacific Region.

Of course, this all presupposes that China will attempt to assert itself militarily against its neighbors in the near future, but if it chooses to do so, it is likely that it will be prepared to assert the advantage offered by its global-positioning system while denying the same capability to its adversaries. With the potential that exists for China to gain the upper-hand in the Asia-Pacific region the need for the United States and its allies to bolster the security of their collective space assets, including GPS is apparent, as is the importance to resist veiled diplomatic overtures by China and others that would otherwise compromise that security.


Thanks to Mark Wade and Encyclopedia Aeronautica for the background on the Beido navigation system.

Forty-Two Years After Apollo 11, the Russians Win the Space Race

On July 21, 2011, almost 42 years to the day since the United States won the race to the moon and supposedly the space race, the United States sent its manned space program on a course with an uncertain future. The final space shuttle mission, STS-135, not only marked the end of thirty years of manned space flight for the United States with the space shuttle system, but it also marked a new era for the space program inherited by the Russian Federation from the former Soviet Union.

With no successor to the space shuttle launch-ready, the United States is taking a lesson in supply/demand economics from Russian Federation, who is the only country now able to provide transport for United States’ astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The Russian Federation is taking this lesson to heart and is charging the Unites States $63 million dollars per seat to fly its astronauts to the ISS, which was primarily possible by the financial and space resources of the United States.

Politicians and pundits tout that the United States won’t be out of manned spaceflight forever and point to the federal government’s investment into commercial space to replace the space shuttle and take over the responsibility of manned spaceflight from NASA. Of the companies involved, Space X and its Dragon capsule are the closest to actually producing a man-rated spacecraft. However, the federal government has made no firm commitments to these space entrepreneurs with regard to manned launches and may decide it isn’t worth the investment given the availability of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

There is also the possibility that the Russian Federation may seek to preserve its new-found monopoly on manned spaceflight and use a portion of the money it is collecting from the United States to lobby Congress and the White House to preserve the status-quo. It may well also use its clout under the International Space Station Agreement to ensure that commercial spacecraft are either stalled or canceled by placing impediments to commercial spacecraft docking with the ISS or insisting on sweeping international regulations for commercial spacecraft.

Aside from the speculation of where we are going, there is the question of how the United States found itself in this situation. It could be argued that the political environment of the United States today seems to accept mediocrity and not the excellence exemplified during the era of Apollo and the space shuttle program. A more likely scenario, however, is that having won the race to the moon 42 years ago, the United States has become like the hare who decided that the race against the tortoise was already won and that it need not race anymore.

An anonymous author once said the race does not always go to the swift, but to the ones who keep running. Clearly the Soviet Union never stopped running after the United States declared victory 42 years ago when Armstrong stepped on the Moon, and its successor now finds itself holding the prize willingly relinquished by its former competitor in the realm of manned spaceflight. So, to the victor go the spoils and with it the consequences that follow.

U.S. Military Needs a Stronger Sexual Assault Policy

In June 2006, in order to conform to the mandate of the 2005 National Defense Authorization Act, the Office of the Secretary of Defense issued an instruction to the Pentagon’s Inspector General to develop a policy to oversee sexual assault investigations in the military. In a report issued last month, five years after this official instruction, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the DOD IG “has not performed these responsibilities.”

The GAO reports that the DOD IG “believes it has other, higher priorities.” Yet ensuring that our troops are able to serve in a safe environment must be a primary goal of our military leadership. Therefore, it is the height of irresponsibility for DOD not to have a strong policy to combat sexual assault in the military.

Sexual assault in the military disproportionately affects servicewomen. One in three women who serve in the military is a victim of sexual assault during her service. Sexual assault in the military is not a new problem now, nor was it a new problem in 2006. But as women join the military in greater numbers and take on increasingly central roles in U.S. operations, the issue has become more and more pressing.

In the five years since the Office of the Secretary of Defense ordered that the Pentagon develop a policy on sexual assault investigations, almost 15,000 active-duty servicemembers have reported being the victims of a sexual assault. The Department of Defense estimates that 80% of sexual assaults in the military go unreported, so the true number may be as high as 75,000. The problem has been compounded by the military justice system. In the past five years, only 8% of the reported cases have been prosecuted—meaning only 1.6% of the more likely number of cases that have actually occurred have led to a prosecution.

The Department of Defense has done little to address the problem of sexual assault within the ranks, enhance the safety of the women and men who serve, or bring the perpetrators to justice. In addition to reporting mechanisms and legal services, sexual assault survivors need access to support services and treatment. While DOD created the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) after the passage of the 2005 NDAA, Anuradha Bhagwati, Executive Director of the Servicewomen’s Action Network (SWAN), has criticized the military for understaffing and ignoring this “tiny” department, which, she notes, “is not even headed by a military officer.”

The GAO report also cites a number of more specific problems in the way the Department of Defense deals with the crime of sexual assault. As mandated in the 2005 NDAA, the DOD IG has two major responsibilities on this issue: developing a military-wide policy for investigating sexual assaults and monitoring the investigations undertaken by the services. According to the GAO report, the DOD IG has failed to perform either of these tasks.

Among the problems that result from this inaction at the level of the Secretary of Defense and his staff are the inconsistencies within and among services in the investigations of assaults. The GAO found that the Army, Navy, and Air Force had different policies and procedures in six out of nine areas related to sexual assault investigation, making it impossible to hold commanders to a clear, universal standard. The report further found “no evidence” that the DOD IG conducted oversight of any of the 2,594 investigations of alleged sexual assault reported in 2010. By not conducting oversight on these investigations, the Department of Defense has no way of knowing if the services are performing them well.

And reports of individual victims show that the services are not performing these investigations well. The low prosecution figures—8% compared to 40% in the civilian world—tell only part of the story. Ignoring survivors’ accounts, laughing them off, or even reporting them for lying or adultery can have devastating effects on servicemembers’ health and careers. Issuing “non-judicial punishments” (or no punishments at all) to perpetrators often forces survivors to continue working in the same office as their attackers, causing further psychological harm and opening the door to repeated assaults.

Representative Niki Tsongas (D-MA) has introduced legislation that would enhance the legal rights and protections of servicemembers who have been victims of sexual assault. This legislation, known as the STRONG Act, would provide sexual assault survivors with access to a lawyer, ensure confidentiality with victim advocates, and grant base transfer requests. It would further require the creation of high-level positions at DOD and in all of the services to coordinate and oversee sexual assault investigations. As the recent GAO report demonstrates, there is an urgent need for the Department of Defense to live up to its obligations under existing legislation. Passage of the STRONG Act would underscore this need and would demonstrate that the country will not accept the continued mistreatment of our men and women in uniform.

West Point’s class of 2011 included 225 women, the highest number of female cadets in a single class since women were first allowed to attend the U.S. Military Academy in 1976. Current statistics suggest that 75 of these servicewomen will likely be victims of sexual assault during their time in the military. Those numbers are unacceptable, and the Secretary of Defense must do everything he can to protect those who serve from betrayal, assault, and abuse. He has no more important responsibility.