Tuesday, December 14, 2010

DARPA makes Lockheed Martin sit for three months on one of 2010's most important military technology stories


Posted by John Keller

Here's the good news: military electro-optical systems designers at the Lockheed Martin Mission Systems & Sensors (MS2) segment in Akron, Ohio, announced today that they are building several One Shot laser-based military sniper fire-control systems that improve accuracy and reduce the possibility of detection under terms of a $6.9 million contract from One Shot program sponsor, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va.

Here's the bad news: Lockheed Martin won that contract at the end of September, and had to sit on an official announcement for nearly three months because the public affairs folks at DARPA wouldn't give permission to announce the follow-on contract for the One Shot fiber optic laser-based system that is designed to help military snipers compensate for cross winds to hit their targets with their first shots.

The One Shot program, and Lockheed Martin's latest contract, haven't been a secret over the past quarter, however, while DARPA dithered on authorizing an announcement. We here at Military & Aerospace Electronics had been covering the story from the beginning.

Our original story, Lockheed Martin to continue One Shot program electro-optics work to help snipers hit targets in crosswinds, which ran on 1 Oct., also received considerable attention in other media -- most notably Fox News and Popular Science.

Fox News picked up the story a couple of days after we broke it, and posted a well-read story online entitled Self-Aiming Sniper Rifles Coming Next Year. Popular Science, meanwhile, posted a story entitled Darpa's Self-Aiming "One Shot" Sniper Rifle Scheduled for Next Year.

Fox News and Popular Science very graciously posted links back to the original story in Military & Aerospace Electronics, which as of today has received 10,591 page views and has been our most-read online story of 2010 -- by far.

It's too bad the public affairs folks at DARPA didn't place the same level of importance on this military technology story that the reading public of Military & Aerospace Electronics and other major online media did ... and kudos to the public relations shop at Lockheed Martin MS2 for showing such patience.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Security holes are everywhere even in secure virtualization systems, says Green Hills Software CEO


Posted by John McHale
If the Wikileaks scandal shows anything it proves that no system is secure as people may think it is -- especially software virtualization systems, said Dan O'Dowd, chief executive officer of Green Hills Software during the company’s Software Elite Users Technology Summit. "Virtualization adds nothing to security," he added.

O'Dowd pointed out that virtualization systems have less code, "but that just means they are less bad, not more secure. Running bug-ridden operating systems in virtual machines does not solve the security issue unless the virtualization system itself is secure."

He then made a point that I think resonates well beyond virtualization systems. "The security claims of popular virtualization systems are just marketing fluff to exploit the desperate need of all computer users for security," O'Dowd says. These systems have only been evaluated to the National Security Agency's (NSA's) Common Criteria EAL4+.

According to the Common criteria EAL4+ "makes them appropriate for protecting against 'inadvertent or casual attempts to breach system security,'" O’Dowd said. It's as if they have five doors to their house but only locked four, he added.

O'Dowd was working up to making the case for his company's EAL6+ secure virtualization software, but, I think he's also right on that this is not just a virtualization security phenomenon.

People are lazy when it comes to securing their computers. They all want their systems to be secure, but typically buy into the marketing fluff of certain technology because they like the convenience it provides. However, in the long run they are setting themselves up for security breaches.

It reminded me of something an export compliance officer at a major aerospace company once told me that he tells his employees who travel overseas. He says they need to assume that their emails are being read and their phone conversations are being listened to. It doesn't make you paranoid, it makes you vigilant, he said.

Speaking of vigilance, let's get back to the secure virtualization discussion.

During their work in this area O'Dowd's engineers found security vulnerabilities in standard device drivers in virtual machines. He said they attempted to use I/O memory management units (MMUs) to improve the security of virtual machines, but found that "it doesn't work.

"We weren't looking for vulnerabilities, we were just trying to make the device drivers work," O'Dowd said. "Modern I/O devices often contain huge software control programs consisting of hundreds of thousands lines of code and they have just as many security vulnerabilities as traditional operating systems."

He made the case that if users want to be vigilant with their virtualization systems they need to use an EAL6+ secure system like that offered by Green Hills. Makes sense but with that vigilance also comes cost.

Systems like Green Hills do not come cheap, so it becomes a matter of managing risk. Military and avionics systems cannot take that chance, but companies in less mission/life critical applications may be able to get away with it.

What's more expensive paying for the security ahead of time or not paying and hoping nothing happens? I guess it depends on whether or not you think you, your company, or your technology is actually a target.

Security holes are everywhere even in secure virtualization systems, says Green Hills Software CEO


Posted by John McHale
If the Wikileaks scandal shows anything it proves that no system is secure as people may think it is -- especially software virtualization systems, said Dan O'Dowd, chief executive officer of Green Hills Software during the company’s Software Elite Users Technology Summit. "Virtualization adds nothing to security," he added.

O'Dowd pointed out that virtualization systems have less code, "but that just means they are less bad, not more secure. Running bug-ridden operating systems in virtual machines does not solve the security issue unless the virtualization system itself is secure."

He then made a point that I think resonates well beyond virtualization systems. "The security claims of popular virtualization systems are just marketing fluff to exploit the desperate need of all computer users for security," O'Dowd says. These systems have only been evaluated to the National Security Agency's (NSA's) Common Criteria EAL4+.

According to the Common criteria EAL4+ "makes them appropriate for protecting against 'inadvertent or casual attempts to breach system security,'" O’Dowd said. It's as if they have five doors to their house but only locked four, he added.

O'Dowd was working up to making the case for his company's EAL6+ secure virtualization software, but, I think he's also right on that this is not just a virtualization security phenomenon.

People are lazy when it comes to securing their computers. They all want their systems to be secure, but typically buy into the marketing fluff of certain technology because they like the convenience it provides. However, in the long run they are setting themselves up for security breaches.

It reminded me of something an export compliance officer at a major aerospace company once told me that he tells his employees who travel overseas. He says they need to assume that their emails are being read and their phone conversations are being listened to. It doesn't make you paranoid, it makes you vigilant, he said.

Speaking of vigilance, let's get back to the secure virtualization discussion.

During their work in this area O'Dowd's engineers found security vulnerabilities in standard device drivers in virtual machines. He said they attempted to use I/O memory management units (MMUs) to improve the security of virtual machines, but found that "it doesn't work.

"We weren't looking for vulnerabilities, we were just trying to make the device drivers work," O'Dowd said. "Modern I/O devices often contain huge software control programs consisting of hundreds of thousands lines of code and they have just as many security vulnerabilities as traditional operating systems."

He made the case that if users want to be vigilant with their virtualization systems they need to use an EAL6+ secure system like that offered by Green Hills. Makes sense but with that vigilance also comes cost.

Systems like Green Hills do not come cheap, so it becomes a matter of managing risk. Military and avionics systems cannot take that chance, but companies in less mission/life critical applications may be able to get away with it.

What's more expensive paying for the security ahead of time or not paying and hoping nothing happens? I guess it depends on whether or not you think you, your company, or your technology is actually a target.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Revealing the flight plan of Santa; what else are we giving potential terrorists?


Posted by John Keller

On the heels of devastating WikiLeaks revelations of U.S. State Department secrets, causing irreparable damage to U.S. diplomacy around the world, comes news that the U.S. government itself is about to publicize detailed movements and locations of one of the most important Christmas icons of Western Civilization -- Santa Claus.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., announced plans today not only to track the movements of Santa Claus during his Christmas Eve rounds, but also to report his every location on a public Website, www.noradsanta.org.

We live in dangerous times; no one at NORAD needs to be told that. This is an organization that regularly scrambles jet fighters to intercept any aircraft in violation of U.S. controlled airspace, yet these people are about to put a holiday symbol of the magnitude of Santa Claus in jeopardy by revealing his whereabouts to the potential terrorists and other adversaries.

Think about what could result from this ill-advised scheme. The hooves of those eight tiny reindeer are more than enough to set off a well-placed improvised explosive device (IED). That sleigh laden with gifts would be a fat target for any nefarious character with a shoulder-fired missile. I won't even mention the damage that a suicide bomber could wreak.

To be sure, we're not just talking about the possibility of some disappointed good little girls and boys here; this could shake Western culture to its core. Think of the disruptions to national economies. It could spell an end to Christmas as we know it.

NORAD simply must rethink such a cavalier plan that puts so much in danger. If nothing changes, we risk a Christmas Eve disaster more profound than any other in memory of this or past generations, and I'm appalled.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank you to all that serve


Posted by John McHale
A few years ago during a internal company presentation our team at Military & Aerospace Electronics described what we do as "covering the technology that helps protect those who protect us." By "those" we mean the men and women who make up the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. Thanks to all of you for your service.

The sacrifices our military personnel make today in Iraq and Afghanistan and those made by veterans of past wars are very humbling. It has been an honor to cover you and get to know many of you during the 14 years I've covered the defense industry.

On behalf of my colleagues at Military & Aerospace Electronics I wish you a Happy Veterans Day. Please know you are appreciated.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

FACE consortium tries to succeed where others have failed in crafting open-systems avionics computers


Posted by John Keller

Embedded computing providers, in unguarded moments, often blurt out their frustration with major avionics computer designers who make just enough tweaks to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and software to create what are essentially proprietary solutions with what ought to be open-systems avionics components.

We've all seen these before. Remember the Common Integrated Processor (CIP) design for the F-22 Raptor advanced tactical fighter? It was developed two decades ago by what was then Hughes Aircraft (bought later by Raytheon), and was based on the Intel 80960 processor. Hughes promoted the CIP as an open-systems computer, but anyone who took a look at it quickly realized that Hughes held the keys to the architecture, and no third-party suppliers could participate in the CIP without the approval and support of Hughes.

Today an industry group called the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) consortium is trying to change all that. This group, launched last July, is attempting to formulate industry standards for a common operating environment in avionics computer systems.

To date the FACE consortium has backing from the U.S. Navy Air Combat Electronics Program Office, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research and Engineering Center, and 19 defense industry avionics suppliers -- including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Rockwell Collins, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Harris Corp.

The group was formed to address the lack of common standards among aircraft systems, which has hindered interoperability while increasing the cost and time necessary to develop, integrate, and maintain modern avionics computers, consortium officials say.

Other FACE consortium members include ATK, CMC Electronics, Elbit Systems of America, Green Hills Software, Wind River Systems, LynuxWorks, Objective Interface Systems, Physical Optics Corp., Real-Time Innovations, Stauder Technologies, System Planning Corp., and
ViaSat.

Truly open-systems avionics have been a long time in coming, and many of us over the years have seen failed attempts in this direction. The Joint Integrated Avionics Working Group (JIAWG), which tried to come up with open-standards avionics for the F-22 and the long-cancelled RAH-66 Comanche attack helicopter, immediately come to mind.

It will be a long, uphill climb for proponents of the FACE consortium, but efforts will be worth it if this organization can succeed where others have failed.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Counter-MANPADS for commercial aircraft, where'd it go?


Posted by John McHale
Counter-MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems) for commercial aircraft got a lot of press after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and I covered it quite a bit in our Homeland Security Solutions magazine back then, but I have not heard much about it in recent years till this week at the AUSA in Washington, DC.

Some of the technology explored for Counter-MANPADS was based on the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures (ATIRCM) system from BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H. I learned this while interviewing Burt Keirstead, director of integrated ASE (aircraft survivability equipment) at BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H., this week at AUSA about the ATIRCM.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Counter-MANPADS program was basically shelved due to reluctance from the airlines to spend money on the system unless subsidized by the government or if there is an attack from a shoulder-fired missile on a commercial airliner causing COutner-MANPADS to be mandated, Keirstead said.

Technologically "it was a success story," he said. BAE System's solution flew about 5,000 hours on a Boeing 767 back forth between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles and John F. Kennedy airport outside of New York, Keirstead continued. A couple of the flights included celebrities such as Brittany Spears and Liza Minelli, he added.

It was mounted upside down about 10 feet in front of the fuselage and painted white, Keirstead said. The system was optimized for use on commercial jets with a different cockpit display and a lightening protection unit, among other adjustments, he added.

The system works and could be added in on to the aircraft if it is ever mandated, Keirstead said.

Let's hope it's not necessary.

Counter-MANPADS for commercial aircraft, where'd it go?


Posted by John McHale
Counter-MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems) for commercial aircraft got a lot of press after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and I covered it quite a bit in our Homeland Security Solutions magazine back then, but I have not heard much about it in recent years till this week at the AUSA in Washington, DC.

Some of the technology explored for Counter-MANPADS was based on the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures (ATIRCM) system from BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H. I learned this while interviewing Burt Keirstead, director of integrated ASE (aircraft survivability equipment) at BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H., this week at AUSA about the ATIRCM.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Counter-MANPADS program was basically shelved due to reluctance from the airlines to spend money on the system unless subsidized by the government or if there is an attack from a shoulder-fired missile on a commercial airliner causing COutner-MANPADS to be mandated, Keirstead said.

Technologically "it was a success story," he said. BAE System's solution flew about 5,000 hours on a Boeing 767 back forth between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles and John F. Kennedy airport outside of New York, Keirstead continued. A couple of the flights included celebrities such as Brittany Spears and Liza Minelli, he added.

It was mounted upside down about 10 feet in front of the fuselage and painted white, Keirstead said. The system was optimized for use on commercial jets with a different cockpit display and a lightening protection unit, among other adjustments, he added.

The system works and could be added in on to the aircraft if it is ever mandated, Keirstead said.

Let's hope it's not necessary.

U.S. defense officials may be getting serious about crafting defenses against EMP attack


Posted by John Keller

I came across an interesting industry sources-sought notice in the government solicitations this morning. Scientists in at the Army Research Lab are looking for companies with know-how and experience in shielding against the effects of electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The spectre of an EMP attack is a scary one.

EMP is among the effects of a nuclear explosion, and would cause devastating power surges in the electric power grids, automobiles, computers, and modern electric appliances that could shut the power off in large areas for long periods. Want more on EMP? See this week's story in USA Today entitled One EMP burst and the world goes dark.

A worst-case scenario has a high-altitude nuclear explosion over Kansas City, which could kill the power grid in the United States for as long as a year.

Think about that -- a year without electricity all over North America. Fuel, food, and drinking water would disappear quickly -- especially in the large cities; transportation and manufacturing would grind to a halt; cell phones and land lines would fall silent; little, if any, information would be available as the Internet would disappear; radio and TV stations would stop broadcasting, and newspapers and magazines would quit publishing; stores, restaurants, and hotels would be padlocked; hospitals would close; financial transactions would cease; the mail would stop; and companies would suspend business because their lights and machinery would not operate, and their employees could not get to work.

I could go on, but turn off the power in this country for a year and probably 80 percent of the population dies. The old, the very young, and those with medical conditions would go first. I'm an insulin-dependent diabetic, so I wouldn't survive long. Neither would most of the people I know.

So I'm heartened to see the military putting effort and money into finding ways to defend against EMP. The program the Army is talking about eventually could turn into a $7 million contract over five years. That's not a whole lot, by DOD standards, but it's a start.

It's long past time that the U.S. military and industry should start taking the EMP threat seriously.

Miniaturization of electronics, theme at AUSA


Posted by John McHale
Interviewing and speaking with people at the AUSA show in Washington this week, the common requirement from the Army seems to be miniaturization
of electronics or as some term it low size, weight, and power (SWaP) -- and in some cases SWaP-C, with C being cost.


Some vendors don't like the C part, as their parts will never be considered low-cost, but it seems as if everyone's latest design is smaller than the last one.

Whether it's in rugged computers with the new rugged PDA from VT Miltope, the rugged Armor tablet PC from DRS Technologies ,or the tactical rugged tablet from Lockheed Martin -- they're all trending smaller with plans for even smaller designs.

The same is true for display maker Barco, who is shrinking their rugged computer boxes while to squeeze into wheeled or tracked vehicles. Meanwhile engineers at Cobham are designing data links that can fit in the palm of your hand or be concealed for undercover operations. One of Cobham's other designs takes two radio downlinks and puts them in one device -- that once again fits in the palm of your hand.

Pretty soon we'll see tracking devices and radios so small they can fit under the skin. It's exciting to think about the possibilities for nanotechnology as well.

AUSA keeps getting bigger -- two floors at the Washington, DC convention center next year -- but the technology is shrinking.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Could we someday see a rugged iPad?


Posted by John McHale
I wondered out loud to a rugged tablet designer at AUSA today about whether we would ever see a rugged iPad used by warfighters in the field.

Julie Briggs, vice president of rugged systems program development at VT Miltope laughed and said she and colleagues were just talking about that. She doesn't think it would really be applicable because the iPad like many consumer devices does not have the backward compatibility with older equipment based on military standards that is necessary for this market.

Just because a military system designer has money for a new computer, doesn't mean he can afford to overhaul the entire system to have the new device be compatible with all his legacy components, Briggs said.

Something tells me that if someone tried to make an iPad rugged, it really wouldn't be an iPad anymore. Its appeal is that it is sexy, lightweight, and flexible. Those are not necessarily adjectives you would apply to a rugged tablet -- at least the sexy and lightweight part.

However, if you drop your rugged tablet, spill coffee on it, or try to blow it up it will still work. Makes up for the lack of sexiness doesn't it?

AUSA annual meeting, fun and crowded as usual


Posted by John McHale
The Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting in Washington is one of my favorite shows to attend as a journalist. All the primes are there and you get access to many interesting programs in one place. Also where else can you check out a helicopter on the second floor of an exhibit booth -- Sikorsky Booth #2124.

I also enjoy visiting the rugged computer suppliers at AUSA, just to check out their latest rugged tablets and rugged PDAs. However, I have yet to be able to get them to let me take one home at night -- just to kick around, run my car over it etc. You know ... all things journalists do to test ruggedability.

I'm not the only AUSA fan as this year's event is crowded once again and not only with Army uniforms, but many engineers and business development men and women in dark business suits.

The down economy does not seem to affect attendance at this event. However, one exhibitor told me that the usually long wait list to get a place on the floor was only 20 this year and not 50. Hey there is still a wait list, not many shows can say that. Believe me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Neil Armstrong on being there


Posted by John McHale
I saw a great quote from Neil Armstrong on a board at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) show here in Atlanta that I'd love to use for our Avionics Europe Event. "You can settle with e-mails and conference calls, but there's nothing like being there. Trust me on this."

I agree with him, even though I've never been to the Moon. Live events and in-person meetings cannot be completely replaced by webinars and e-mails. Pressing the flesh and looking people in the eye is how you build relationships, not by just trading e-mails.

Maybe we can hold Avionics 2030 in a lunar base and get Mr. Armstrong to speak. Just a thought.

Maritime nuisance: unmanned surface vessels designed to harass enemy submarines


Posted by John Keller

Imagine an oceangoing unmanned surface vessel designed to detect, track, and even harass potentially hostile quiet diesel-electric submarines virtually unsupported, anywhere in the world. That's the idea behind the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has awarded a first-phase design contract to the QinetiQ North America Technology Solutions Group in Waltham, Mass.

The project is interesting enough on its own: an unmanned boat or small ship that searches sensitive areas of the world's oceans for today's extremely quiet diesel-electric submarines, which are virtually impossible to detect -- even with today's most sensitive sonar gear.

For more, see Unmanned surface vessel able to track quiet enemy submarines is objective of DARPA ACTUV contract to QinetiQ.

Still, what caught my eye about this project is the complete lack of covert means to detect and track submarines. In fact, one of the stated goals of the program is the "overt" tracking of enemy submarines.

This project is about using unmanned surface vessels to track submarines in the open -- on the surface and making propulsion noises. In other words, Designers of this ASW system want the enemy to know the system is there, and on his tail.

It's pretty hard to hide when there's noisy nuisance following you. Perhaps the first of these unmanned surface vessels could be named the USS Chihuahua.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Owning my own jet vs. flying commercial


Posted by John McHale
On the flight down to my first National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) show in Atlanta this week, I contemplated what it would be like to own my jet -- a Gulfstream or Embraer Phenom jet. Then I remembered I'm a journalist -- in other words not rich. So I'm stuck flying commercial, which can be good and bad.

The good is the occasional low fare, the safety of air travel in the U.S., and meeting interesting people. The bad is the myriad of ways airlines look to charge you, their bizarre rules, lost luggage, etc.

My most recent headache involved a trip to Germany on Lufthansa. I called the night before my return trip to the U.S. to reserve my seat. I was given 52C. The next day I get to the airport and was told I was put on standby. Of course I asked HOW CAN THAT BE? I had a seat, who moved me to standby?

Apparently Lufthansa can bump your seat if they oversell their aircraft. Essentially it becomes the German Southwest overnight, by making it first come, first serve to the airport.

Seems pretty silly, doesn't it? It was especially insane to the guy behind me in the standby line. He bought his ticket and reserved his seat in January! Funny thing, the Lufthansa agent neglected to tell him and me that the seats were not guaranteed. All we got was "enjoy your flight."

Despite all that silliness, I did enjoy my flight. I still got an aisle seat and lucked out with an interesting seat mate -- a recent Boston College law school graduate returning from a trek through Europe.

She had some crazy stories from her vacation. The strangest had to be the one about moped-riding, wristwatch thieves in a less elegant part of Naples, Italy. Apparently they are quite common and dangerous, ripping women's Rolexes right off their wrist as they speed by.

Yes, I've gotten off topic a bit, but the moped thieves story really stuck with me.

Back to business jets. I still want one. I put my business card in a bowl at a Boeing press conference, hoping to win one -- no dice. It was a model airplane, but I have to start somewhere.

Maybe I'll have better luck on the show floor tomorrow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fiber laser technology is common critical enabler in precision-engagement projects at Lockheed Martin


Posted by John Keller

Lockheed Martin Corp. certainly is making the most of its acquisition two years ago of a fiber laser company in Bothell, Wash., called Aculight Corp. Lockheed Martin is capitalizing on Aculight's fiber laser technology for a variety of precision-engagement systems such as the One-Shot military sniper targeting system, the Dynamic Image Gun sight Optic (DInGO) initiative, and the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System.

The common denominator among One-Shot and these other programs at Lockheed Martin is a small, lightweight fiber laser that is able not only to illuminate targets covertly at night, but also literally to reach out and touch the air column between shooter and target to measure crosswind conditions, provide compensation, and enable snipers and other military weapons experts to hit their targets with the first shot, nearly every time.

The One-Shot program is for military snipers working with specialized precision-targeting rifles who are engaging targets at extremely long ranges, often from hidden locations. The DInGO program, meanwhile, seeks to help every soldier be a marksman by enhancing the ability to hit targets at ranges from 10 to 2,000 feet.

What's truly exciting to Lockheed Martin executives, however, is the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System, which enables snipers to work remotely from safe locations to operate rifles mounted to manned and unmanned helicopters, as well as fixed-site towers. The chief enabling technology, all these programs, is the Aculight fiber laser.

I think Lockheed Martin officials would agree that the Aculight acquisition was one of the smartest moves at this company in a long time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Battlefield tours: a new twist on the golf game to build business relationships


Posted by John Keller

GETTYSBURG, Pa., 29 Sept. 2010. The golf game is a tried-and-true way for business associates to get to know one another and strengthen their relationships. Few doubt that a lot of business is conducted on the golf course.

Still, I think we've discovered a way here at Military & Aerospace Electronics to put a new spin on the outdoor business meeting as an alternative to the venerable day on the links -- battlefield tours.

I spent the day yesterday with Adam Vasquez, director of global e-business and marketing at Tyco Electronics in Harrisburg, Pa., and his wife, Susan, tramping over fields and trails at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pa., touring and re-living the struggles of soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg in well-known places like Cemetery Ridge, Culp's Hill, The Peach Orchard, Devil's Den, and Little Roundtop.

I'm no golfer, myself, so I'm not really in a position to say, but I think this battlefield tour approach as an alternative to the traditional golf game has real potential. Adam and I discovered we have many interests -- and much historical knowledge -- in common as we trod the hills and valleys of the Gettysburg battlefield, trading stories of what we know of this monumental event, and of our various trips there in the past.

It was a day well spent. We got to know one another on a more personable level than we could on a trade show floor, discovered common interests, and even conducted a little business. I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful tradition.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Freescale may be rethinking its commitment to AltiVec technology in its latest QorIQ family of processors


Posted by John Keller

The aerospace and defense embedded computing industry is buzzing with rumors that Freescale Semiconductor Inc. in Austin, Texas, may be rethinking its commitment to AltiVec vector processing technology and its provision for floating-point processing in Freescale's latest family of QorIQ high-performance microprocessors.

AltiVec technology had been an extremely popular part of Freescale's venerable PowerPC processors, which for years had been the de-facto standard for aerospace and defense signal processing applications. The PowerPC processor was unique in that it was able to perform general-purpose processing, as well as digital signal processing (DSP) in an era when these two computer tasks typically were performed by separate processor chips.

Freescale had disappointed the aerospace and defense industry, however, when its leaders decided not to include AltiVec technology in its latest QorIQ processors. The company's decision to abandon AltiVec in its QorIQ family has led leaders in the aerospace and defense embedded computing industry to embrace the latest processors from Intel Corp. for high-performance embedded signal-processing applications.

Intel moved to fill the void when the company announced support in its latest microprocessors aimed at embedded systems applications for the kind of floating point processing that aerospace and defense systems designers need most. In recent months designers of high-performance embedded processing, such as Mercury Computer Systems of Chelmsford, Mass., have announced their commitments to the Intel processor roadmap.

The coming week may hold some interesting announcements, not only from Freescale, but also by some well-known embedded signal processing companies concerning the QorIQ and AltiVec. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ada is not nearly as dead a language as Latin


Posted by John McHale
The Ada programming language has been said to be an obsolete language for years. However, it is still used throughout the defense and avionics communities and still taught in the schools, although it is not as popular a course selection as C or C++.

Ada is mostly a higher-course level subject at universities, Greg Gicca, director of safety and security at AdaCore in New York, told me during the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston last week. It would be nice if it could be offered as a 101 course to students because it would give them a better understanding of software fundamentals, object-oriented programming, etc., than say C or C++, he adds.

Adacore works with many colleges and universities across the country, educating new students in Ada code, Gicca says. The military and avionics world keeps Ada alive and provides a steady revenue stream for companies like AdaCore, he adds.

It is the professors who are driving the ada course load, but there is plenty of interest from students as well, Gicca says.

DDC-I, a designer of Ada products in Phoenix, also provides education services to universities such as Georgia Tech, says Greg Rose, vice president of marketing at DDC-I.

The Ada language was created for the U.S. Department of Defense about 30 years ago to better handle safety-critical programming in mission-critical military systems and since then has also become a staple of commercial avionics software programs.

According to Wikipedia it was named after, Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace also known as Augusta Ada Byron, daughter of the Poet Lord Byron. She is considered by some to be the world's first computer programmer after writing what is considered to be the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine -- for her work on an early mechanical general-purpose computer, designed by Charles Babbage, according to her Wikipedia entry.

Ada is not nearly as dead a language as Latin


Posted by John McHale
The Ada programming language has been said to be an obsolete language for years. However, it is still used throughout the defense and avionics communities and still taught in the schools, although it is not as popular a course selection as C or C++.

Ada is mostly a higher-course level subject at universities, Greg Gicca, director of safety and security at AdaCore in New York, told me during the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston last week. It would be nice if it could be offered as a 101 course to students because it would give them a better understanding of software fundamentals, object-oriented programming, etc., than say C or C++, he adds.

Adacore works with many colleges and universities across the country, educating new students in Ada code, Gicca says. The military and avionics world keeps Ada alive and provides a steady revenue stream for companies like AdaCore, he adds.

It is the professors who are driving the ada course load, but there is plenty of interest from students as well, Gicca says.

DDC-I, a designer of Ada products in Phoenix, also provides education services to universities such as Georgia Tech, says Greg Rose, vice president of marketing at DDC-I.

The Ada language was created for the U.S. Department of Defense about 30 years ago to better handle safety-critical programming in mission-critical military systems and since then has also become a staple of commercial avionics software programs.

According to Wikipedia it was named after, Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace also known as Augusta Ada Byron, daughter of the Poet Lord Byron. She is considered by some to be the world's first computer programmer after writing what is considered to be the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine -- for her work on an early mechanical general-purpose computer, designed by Charles Babbage, according to her Wikipedia entry.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Archie Bunker, counter-terror expert


Posted by John McHale
On a JetBlue flight to Phoenix this week, I took a break from a story I was writing on software defined radio and the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) and caught a couple episodes of "All in the Family" playing on JetBlue's in-flight entertainment system.

You only see shows like that on cable or premium channels like HBO, the language and Archie's very un-PC rants scare networks away. Exemplified in the first episode I watched on the flight where Archie was arguing with his son-in-law Mike (Meathead), about gun control. They had just seen a local TV station manager give a speech on gun control and Archie demanded equal time.

Archie's premise was that if more people had guns there would be less crime. Then he delivered this bit of counter-terrorism advice: "you could end sky-jacking tomorrow by arming all the passengers. The airline would hand out guns at the beginning of the flight, then collect them all when they land."

Just as he said this the flight attendant was coming by with headphones... weird.

Some 88-year-old woman had a break-in at her house, and Archie argued it wouldn't have happened if she had a gun.

Mike: "How would 88-year old walk around carrying a gun?!"

Archie: "I don't know, maybe put in her stocking next to her varicose vein!"

Some more lines: Archie's daughter, Gloria, shouts out statistics about how many people are killed by guns. Archie: "Would it make you feel any better if they were pushed outta windows, little girl?"

Mike mentions Supreme Court rulings in favor of gun control. Archie responds with "the Supreme Court ain't got nothin to do with the law!"

Fun stuff, although I left out the more ethnic-oriented comments from Archie -- thought it best to stay away from those. However, there was some funny dialogue from the other episode on the flight, which had Archie and his wife Edith visiting cousin Maude (Bea Arthur). Maybe this was the episode that launched that show -- "Maude."

Some exchanges:
Maude: "I happen to be a Hubert Humphrey Democrat."
Maude's daughter Carol: "What does that mean?"
Maude's husband Walter: "It means she's not against anything."

One more!

Walter to Carol: "Why are you wearing white for your wedding?"
Maude chimes in: "Because white has always been a symbol of innocence and purity in marriages."”
Walter: "Married before ... multiple affairs ... so how did she manage that tricky u-turn back to innocence and purity?"

Those shows made the flight ... lotta laughs.

Archie Bunker, counter-terror expert


Posted by John McHale
On a JetBlue flight to Phoenix this week, I took a break from a story I was writing on software defined radio and the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) and caught a couple episodes of "All in the Family" playing on JetBlue's in-flight entertainment system.

You only see shows like that on cable or premium channels like HBO, the language and Archie's very un-PC rants scare networks away. Exemplified in the first episode I watched on the flight where Archie was arguing with his son-in-law Mike (Meathead), about gun control. They had just seen a local TV station manager give a speech on gun control and Archie demanded equal time.

Archie's premise was that if more people had guns there would be less crime. Then he delivered this bit of counter-terrorism advice: "you could end sky-jacking tomorrow by arming all the passengers. The airline would hand out guns at the beginning of the flight, then collect them all when they land."

Just as he said this the flight attendant was coming by with headphones... weird.

Some 88-year-old woman had a break-in at her house, and Archie argued it wouldn't have happened if she had a gun.

Mike: "How would 88-year old walk around carrying a gun?!"

Archie: "I don't know, maybe put in her stocking next to her varicose vein!"

Some more lines: Archie's daughter, Gloria, shouts out statistics about how many people are killed by guns. Archie: "Would it make you feel any better if they were pushed outta windows, little girl?"

Mike mentions Supreme Court rulings in favor of gun control. Archie responds with "the Supreme Court ain't got nothin to do with the law!"

Fun stuff, although I left out the more ethnic-oriented comments from Archie -- thought it best to stay away from those. However, there was some funny dialogue from the other episode on the flight, which had Archie and his wife Edith visiting cousin Maude (Bea Arthur). Maybe this was the episode that launched that show -- "Maude."

Some exchanges:
Maude: "I happen to be a Hubert Humphrey Democrat."
Maude's daughter Carol: "What does that mean?"
Maude's husband Walter: "It means she's not against anything."

One more!

Walter to Carol: "Why are you wearing white for your wedding?"
Maude chimes in: "Because white has always been a symbol of innocence and purity in marriages."”
Walter: "Married before ... multiple affairs ... so how did she manage that tricky u-turn back to innocence and purity?"

Those shows made the flight ... lotta laughs.

Friday, September 17, 2010

September 17: It's still known as America's bloodiest day


Posted by John Keller

On this date, September 17, more Americans were killed, wounded, or missing than on any other single day in American history -- not on 9/11, not in the Argonne Forest, not even at Pearl Harbor. It was outside of a sleepy little town in Western Maryland called Sharpsburg, along a meandering stream locally known as Antietam Creek.

The year was 1862, and this quiet place -- as relatively unpopulated today as it was then -- was where two great armies of the American Civil War crashed into each other in dawn-to-dusk bloodshed that produced 22,717 casualties on both sides -- 3,650 killed, 17,300 wounded, 1,770 captured or missing -- in an epic fight that ultimately resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation that freed Americans held in slavery.

It was America's bloodiest day.

Why it happened along Antietam Creek was largely an accident. Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, for the first time, was invading the North, largely to relieve Virginia, which had been under prolonged Union attack for more than a year.

Mountains and Rebel cavalry screened Lee's movements from prying federal eyes, and Union commander George Brinton McClellan had no idea where the Confederate army would strike ... until five days before the battle when a Union private from Indiana found in the grass where he was camped a piece of paper wrapped around three cigars.

The brand of cigars and who got to smoke them is lost to history, but the paper containing them turned out to be General Lee's Special Order 191, which detailed the Southern army's entire plan for the invasion. It didn't take long for that lost order to make its way to General McClellan, who managed to get his lumbering blue-clad army moving to intercept the Confederates, on a course for Antietam Creek.

The sun rose that September 17 with the Union and Confederate armies facing each other over terrain that came to have ominous names -- the West Wood, the Cornfield, the Bloody Lane, and the Burnside Bridge. When fighting ended, the Confederate army was still intact, but damaged so severely that General Lee ordered it back across the Potomac and into Virginia, ending the invasion.

The next time these armies would face one another on Union soil would be less than a year later around a small Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Executive layoffs at Boeing, Lockheed Martin signal tough times ahead


Posted by John McHale
Boeing and Lockheed Martin leaders call it re-aligning, focusing on core competencies, better positioning for the future, empowering the younger generation, yadda, yadda, yadda... but what they really mean is that the Obama Administration's next Department of Defense budget is likely to be a lot smaller than in years past and the big primes want to hoard their cash now by eliminating high-level executive salaries -- about 600 in the case of Lockheed Martin.

I'd heard rumblings in my travels this summer from defense electronics suppliers that there could be trouble in the defense market. These recent announcements from behemoths -- Lockheed Martin and Boeing -- are probably only the beginning. It's not that hardware and software solutions won't be needed it's just that there will be fewer opportunities.

The growth areas will continue to be unmanned systems and electro-optics for unmanned and other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms. Electro-optical companies should still see steady growth. A sign of this might be the recent acquisition of electro-optical systems and multispectral sensors specialist OASYS Technology LLC in Manchester, N.H., by BAE Systems.

As one system integrator told me at the AUVSI unmanned systems show this summer in Denver "we know there will be unmanned platforms getting funding, but guessing the right one will be the trick."

Do not fear Lockheed Martin and Boeing are not in trouble and they are still cash cows, but they are letting go of some experienced good people and that is unfortunate to say the least.

This reminds me of something someone once told me when there were layoffs at a publishing company I'm somewhat familiar with. A long-time manager was let go not due to cause or because his property was performing poorly, but rather to maintain the property as a cash cow -- that at the end of the day it's all about maintaining cash cowness.

I hope that someday I find my own cash cowness...

Executive layoffs at Boeing, Lockheed Martin signal tough times ahead


Posted by John McHale
Boeing and Lockheed Martin leaders call it re-aligning, focusing on core competencies, better positioning for the future, empowering the younger generation, yadda, yadda, yadda... but what they really mean is that the Obama Administration's next Department of Defense budget is likely to be a lot smaller than in years past and the big primes want to hoard their cash now by eliminating high-level executive salaries -- about 600 in the case of Lockheed Martin.

I'd heard rumblings in my travels this summer from defense electronics suppliers that there could be trouble in the defense market. These recent announcements from behemoths -- Lockheed Martin and Boeing -- are probably only the beginning. It's not that hardware and software solutions won't be needed it's just that there will be fewer opportunities.

The growth areas will continue to be unmanned systems and electro-optics for unmanned and other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms. Electro-optical companies should still see steady growth. A sign of this might be the recent acquisition of electro-optical systems and multispectral sensors specialist OASYS Technology LLC in Manchester, N.H., by BAE Systems.

As one system integrator told me at the AUVSI unmanned systems show this summer in Denver "we know there will be unmanned platforms getting funding, but guessing the right one will be the trick."

Do not fear Lockheed Martin and Boeing are not in trouble and they are still cash cows, but they are letting go of some experienced good people and that is unfortunate to say the least.

This reminds me of something someone once told me when there were layoffs at a publishing company I'm somewhat familiar with. A long-time manager was let go not due to cause or because his property was performing poorly, but rather to maintain the property as a cash cow -- that at the end of the day it's all about maintaining cash cowness.

I hope that someday I find my own cash cowness...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Is your embedded system supplier "board agnostic?"


Posted by John McHale
I know what you’re thinking -- please not another marketing buzz term. I hope "board agnosticism" or "board agnostic" doesn't fall into that category, because I fear I may have accidentally coined it this week at the AUVSI show in Denver while talking to embedded systems designers.

It came up during conversation with Michael Humphrey of APLabs, now a part of Kontron about how they are still going to use Kontron's competitors' single-board computers in the rugged electronic systems and chassis APLabs designed, and not become a Kontron-component only shop.

So I went around the corner and asked the folks at Curtiss-Wright Controls Electronic Systems if they were board agnostic too? Curtis Reichenfeld, their chief technical officer, replied "yes, we are board agnostic, absolutely, we give the customer what they want. I love that term by the way!"

I thought oh hell, I just gave the embedded community another marketing mumbo jumbo phrase, like ecosystem, or thought leader. I'm going to see board agnostic in a flurry of press releases the rest of the year, and know I only have myself to blame.

Could be worse, a company could say that their board product is "best of breed"... Ugh. It drives me nuts when I see an electronic chip or software tool labeled as best of breed like it's an entry in the Westminster Kennel Show.

I got one other linguistic gripe before I end this -- whiteboarding. A colleague recently told me we need to back to the office and whiteboard our goals.

Whiteboard is NOT a verb.

Is your embedded system supplier "board agnostic?"


Posted by John McHale
I know what you’re thinking -- please not another marketing buzz term. I hope "board agnosticism" or "board agnostic" doesn't fall into that category, because I fear I may have accidentally coined it this week at the AUVSI show in Denver while talking to embedded systems designers.

It came up during conversation with Michael Humphrey of APLabs, now a part of Kontron about how they are still going to use Kontron's competitors' single-board computers in the rugged electronic systems and chassis APLabs designed, and not become a Kontron-component only shop.

So I went around the corner and asked the folks at Curtiss-Wright Controls Electronic Systems if they were board agnostic too? Curtis Reichenfeld, their chief technical officer, replied "yes, we are board agnostic, absolutely, we give the customer what they want. I love that term by the way!"

I thought oh hell, I just gave the embedded community another marketing mumbo jumbo phrase, like ecosystem, or thought leader. I'm going to see board agnostic in a flurry of press releases the rest of the year, and know I only have myself to blame.

Could be worse, a company could say that their board product is "best of breed"... Ugh. It drives me nuts when I see an electronic chip or software tool labeled as best of breed like it's an entry in the Westminster Kennel Show.

I got one other linguistic gripe before I end this -- whiteboarding. A colleague recently told me we need to back to the office and whiteboard our goals.

Whiteboard is NOT a verb.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I wanna go to UAV school


Posted by John McHale
Journalism school was fun, but how cool would it be to enroll in a college and declare your major as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations? Well you can! L-3 Link Simulation & Training and the University of North Dakota (UND) in Grand Forks, N.D., are jointly creating an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) Training Center located on UND's campus and Grand Forks Air Force Base, beginning operations in March 2011.

It will be a non-military educational that provides initial qualification and continuation training for operators of the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. All you have to be is a U.S. citizen, according to L-3 Link officials.

It makes sense, as most students coming out of school today find operating electronics, computers, video games, the Wii entertainment system, etc., to be second nature.

It reminds me of -- now I'm dating myself -- of a movie called "The Last Starfighter" from the early 1980s about an alien race that rigs a video game on Earth so that the kid who gets the record qualifies to fly their starships, and they kidnap him to help them win a galactic war.

I don't think it would crazy for the UND or the Air Force to put a video game out there involving UAV operation, and rewarding the highest scorer with a scholarship to the UAS Training Center.

Not as far-fetched as that campy 80s movie...

I wanna go to UAV school


Posted by John McHale
Journalism school was fun, but how cool would it be to enroll in a college and declare your major as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations? Well you can! L-3 Link Simulation & Training and the University of North Dakota (UND) in Grand Forks, N.D., are jointly creating an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) Training Center located on UND's campus and Grand Forks Air Force Base, beginning operations in March 2011.

It will be a non-military educational that provides initial qualification and continuation training for operators of the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. All you have to be is a U.S. citizen, according to L-3 Link officials.

It makes sense, as most students coming out of school today find operating electronics, computers, video games, the Wii entertainment system, etc., to be second nature.

It reminds me of -- now I'm dating myself -- of a movie called "The Last Starfighter" from the early 1980s about an alien race that rigs a video game on Earth so that the kid who gets the record qualifies to fly their starships, and they kidnap him to help them win a galactic war.

I don't think it would crazy for the UND or the Air Force to put a video game out there involving UAV operation, and rewarding the highest scorer with a scholarship to the UAS Training Center.

Not as far-fetched as that campy 80s movie...

Robot convoy


Posted by John McHale
Remember the Sam Peckinpah movie Convoy starring Kris Kristofferson from the 1970s about outlaw truck drivers? Imagine if all the trucks were robots.

Lockheed Martin engineers are working on such an unmanned vehicle convoy concept. Ok, not exactly robots, but a system that enables military convoys to be unmanned, thereby cutting down on casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The Lockheed Martin concept is called Convoy Active Safety Technology, or CAST, and it uses kits that turn military transport vehicles into autonomous vehicles. According to the Lockheed data sheet it uses Lockheed's AutoMate sensor and actuation kit that enables lateral and longitudinal control of different tactical wheeled vehicles relative to a lead vehicle within a five-vehicle convoy.

Lockheed Martin officials claim that CAST reduces fatigue, eliminates rear-end collisions, and enhances operator situational awareness. The system also has night-vision capability.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

AUVSI traffic in Denver steady, but it lacks DC excitement


Posted by John McHale
The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI show) in Denver this week had steady traffic, and exhibitors were pleased with the leads they had, but the majority I spoke to said there was more of a buzz in Washington at last year's event.

Organizers of the event said that traffic was up over last year with more than 6,200 as of Thursday afternoon. Last year they said the event in Washington attracted close to 5,500 attendees. It should be noted that the numbers are for total attendance -- including exhibitors and there were 110 more exhibits this year.

Attendees definitely see unmanned systems as a major target for Department of Defense funding over the next few years, but right now there is uncertainty as to which systems will get funding. They put that down to the uncertainty of what the Obama administration will cut.

There were more embedded systems suppliers exhibiting at this show than in years past such as Bittware and Extreme Engineering. Seems like a no-brainer to me as unmanned systems requirements focus on small size, low weight and low power -- right up the alley of the embedded military systems designers. If they're not here, they should be.

AUVSI traffic in Denver steady, but it lacks DC excitement


Posted by John McHale
The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI show) in Denver this week had steady traffic, and exhibitors were pleased with the leads they had, but the majority I spoke to said there was more of a buzz in Washington at last year's event.

Organizers of the event said that traffic was up over last year with more than 6,200 as of Thursday afternoon. Last year they said the event in Washington attracted close to 5,500 attendees. It should be noted that the numbers are for total attendance -- including exhibitors and there were 110 more exhibits this year.

Attendees definitely see unmanned systems as a major target for Department of Defense funding over the next few years, but right now there is uncertainty as to which systems will get funding. They put that down to the uncertainty of what the Obama administration will cut.

There were more embedded systems suppliers exhibiting at this show than in years past such as Bittware and Extreme Engineering. Seems like a no-brainer to me as unmanned systems requirements focus on small size, low weight and low power -- right up the alley of the embedded military systems designers. If they're not here, they should be.

Thermal management name change good move for Parker, Spraycool


Posted by John McHale
This week at AUVSI in Denver Dan Kinney of Parker Hannifin Aerospace Thermal Management Systems in Cleveland pulled me into his booth to show all their new thermal management products and briefly tell me on how they are branding themselves.

Kinney came with Parker's acquisition of Spraycool in Liberty Lake, Wash., a company which had its ups and downs over the years, but always had interesting technology, that is now backed by Parker’s capital .

Hence the name change -- taking Parker's Advanced Cooling Systems and Spraycool and combining them into a Thermal Management Systems Group.

The term "thermal management" is pretty much the buzz phrase from what I've seen in the industry for cooling electronics in military systems where heat and power must be kept to a minimum -- a tougher challenge every year as processors continue to generate excessive amounts of heat.

We've used the term to describe our coverage of this topic for articles, webcasts, and conference sessions.

Thermal management is not hot right now, but it is cool.

Yeah, I know, but I couldn't resist...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Manned or unmanned aircraft ... is there a choice?


Posted by John McHale
During diner with a buddy of mine last week -- Peter L. -- I mentioned that I would be at the AUVSI show this week in Denver. Peter is a big military technology buff and likes my job even more than I do, but I was surprised to hear him say we should stop making new fighter jets and focus solely on the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) -- not an opinion I often hear from those outside the military industry, as fighter jets and fighter pilots are a bit more glamorous than spy drones.

His main argument was fiscal -- UAVs cost less to make and can go places human-piloted planes cannot. I'd add to his list that UAV flight training costs less than manned flight training. Many folks are making the same argument and taking it a step further asking if it is even necessary to have trained fighter pilots flying UAVs.

I've always been in favor of manned missions over robotic missions when it comes to space exploration, but when it comes to the battlefield -- the more unmanned systems the better because quite simply they save lives from the unmanned ground systems that recon urban hot zones to the armed Predator UAV that take out enemy forces in Afghanistan.

However I don't think we should do away with the manned fighter aircraft, they are as essential as the UAVs to success on the battlefield. One of the big themes I'm hearing this week is the push toward manned and unmanned teaming on the battlefield.

It is already happening in some circles such as the VUIT-2 system on Apache helicopters, which enables Apache pilots to access UAV-generated intelligence. UAVs can enter areas, which might be too risky for the fighter pilot to make precision strikes or to provide the necessary reconnaissance before manned aircraft can enter the area.

David, Vos, of Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said during a briefing this week that manned/unmanned teaming should not just be thought of as a military scenario, that it can happen in civilian space too.

Vos also says that at some point planes will be pilot optional -- in other words if the pilot doesn't feel like flying he doesn't have to, the autonomous controls will handle everything -- including emergencies. "Before I'm in the ground I want to be able to get in the cockpit flying to see my mother-in-law, and decide that I don't feel like piloting, so I will read the paper instead and enjoy a cup of coffee."

My friend Peter is right on one point -- UAVs are the future of military airpower and will be essential to every mission -- however they will not replace manned aircraft, but rather make them even more capable, effective, and more deadly to enemy forces.