The Complex

Pentagon To Help In Search For Missing Nigerian Schoolgirls

The Pentagon isn't sending a team of special forces or a unit of Marines to Nigeria anytime soon to help free the hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped last month.

Instead, Washington is sending a team of U.S. officials, including small numbers of uniformed military personnel, to help the Nigerian government locate the girls and bring them back safely. The leaders of Boko Haram, the militant group behind the kidnapping, are now threatening to sell the girls as slaves.

"Obviously it's a heartbreaking situation," President Obama told ABC on Tuesday. "We've already sent in a team to Nigeria - they've accepted our help through a combination of military, law enforcement, and other agencies who are going in, trying to identify where in fact these girls might be and provide them help."

The abduction of 276 teenage girls from a rural school in the northeastern region of the country on April 14 sparked widespread outrage around the world and prompted violent protests against the government of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Jonathan and offered a package of U.S. law enforcement, intelligence and military assistance to help rescue the girls.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, at a press briefing two hours after Kerry and Jonathan spoke, hinted that the American response would come from a number of U.S. government agencies, including the Pentagon.

"It would include U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations, as well as officials with expertise in other areas that can be - that may be helpful to the Nigerian government in its response," Psaki said.

That fed speculation that the U.S. was considering sending in a company of Marines or a Special Forces unit that could potentially find and rescue the girls. Not far away, in Uganda, the Pentagon has deployed more than 150 Special Forces troops to aid in the capture of fugitive rebel commander Joseph Kony.

But it's unlikely anything of that scope is envisioned in Nigeria, at least for now. The only plan currently under consideration is to send a small number of military personnel as part of a larger U.S. team, a Pentagon official said.  "We're going to provide all the help we can to the Nigerians," said the official, adding that there are no plans to deploy a full unit of troops.

Currently, there are no U.S. forces on the ground in Nigeria other than the small contingent of military personnel, including Marine security guards, that would be typically assigned to the U.S. embassy in Abuja. The Pentagon had not yet received a request from the Nigeria government for assistance, Defense Department officials said.

The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the girls Monday. In a video message released to Nigerian news outlets, a man purporting to be Shekau said his group had kidnapped the girls, referred to them as slaves and claimed he would "sell them in the market, by Allah."

Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP

National Security

Does My Face Look Funny? Aging Tomahawk Missile Getting a Nose Job

The U.S. Navy's iconic Tomahawk cruise missile has been launched many hundreds of times since the Gulf War in 1991, but, like a star in show business, the weapon is starting to show its age. It's only fitting then that the main defense contractor behind the missile is taking a page from the Hollywood playbook and giving it a nose job.

Raytheon Missile Systems, of Tucson, Ariz., is experimenting with a variety of new high-tech sensors that could go on the nose cone of the missile. The Tomahawk was first fielded by the Pentagon in the 1970s and has since been used in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and a variety of other countries where the U.S. military wanted to strike targets at long ranges. The missile typically has a 1,000-mile range and carries a 1,000-pound warhead, and can be launched from a variety of ships and submarines. It's also frequently among the first shots the United States fires in a conflict. In 2011, for example, the U.S. and British militaries launched more than 160 Tomahawks into Libya in one 12-hour period to take out anti-aircraft weapons and command centers before Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi could use his military against his own civilians.

The 18-foot long Tomahawk faces an uncertain future, however. The Pentagon called for the end of its production after this year in its proposed 2015 budget, even though a potential replacement is years away. The move has raised serious concerns for some Capitol Hill lawmakers, who question whether halting production is a wise way to save money as military budgets shrink after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The proposal is still alive, though, leaving Raytheon to plan for future upgrades to the existing arsenal of Tomahawks without knowing whether or not more will be built. Each missile costs more than $1 million, the Navy told the Center for Public Integrity in 2011.

Despite the Navy's planned end of production on the Tomahawk, there is still more than $140 million in improvements to the existing arsenal planned in coming years, said Chris Sprinkle, who also work on upgrades planned to the missile for Raytheon. In February, U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan, expressed interest in a new, bunker-busting warhead for the missile known as the Joint Multiple Effects Warhead System. It is not yet clear whether the Pentagon will buy it.

Other upgrades are set to go in place soon. The most recent version of the Tomahawk, the Block IV, includes an on-board camera and the ability to change speeds to loiter over a potential target longer. Like earlier versions of the Tomahawk, however, the decade-old system is ill-suited to strike moving targets. Raytheon's now trying to change that. On April 14, it took a modified Tomahawk missile nose cone fitted with new sensors, attached it to a T-39 jet, and tested to see whether it could track moving targets by the electronic signals they emit -- a so-called "passive seeker" test. The plane simulated the flight path of a Tomahawk in an effort to make it realistic.

"Right now the Tomahawk hits stationary targets on land," said Roy Donelson, Raytheon's Tomahawk program director. "What this is designed to do is clear the way for us to improve the missile and modernize it so it can hit moving targets on land or on sea. This is a major step in the direction of getting the Tomahawk more capability."

Raytheon also is planning an "active seeker" test early next year. Like the test conducted in April, it would fit new equipment to a Tomahawk nose cone attached to a test plane. The next case will show whether or not the new computer processors on board can not only find moving targets, but transmit that radar data to the U.S. troops - a key step to hitting the right moving targets on land or at sea.

Other missile upgrades are underway, too. On Feb. 19, for example, Raytheon and the U.S. Navy teamed to launch a test missile from the USS Sterett, a guided missile destroyer, that had new communications equipment on board capable of receiving updates from a simulated operations center at sea. Throughout the test flight, the missile received updates on its target, demonstrating that it could loiter overhead and be redirected to a new target, Raytheon officials said.

The ongoing upgrades to the remaining Tomahawk arsenal could be sped up to account for the Navy halting production of the existing missile line, Navy officials said. Unless that happens, the changes Raytheon is working on now likely won't reach operational missiles until 2019.

U.S. Navy photo