Saturday, July 31, 2010

Despite good news out of Farnborough, avionics suppliers still expect slow recovery

Posted by John McHale

I spent the past week all over the west coast visiting supporters of our avionics shows -- Avionics USA and Avionics Europe -- in California. Everyone was aware about the good news coming from the Farnborough International Airshow last week regarding commercial aircraft sales, but they are remaining cautious about any potential market recovery.

I spent the past week all over the west coast visiting supporters of our avionics shows -- Avionics USA and Avionics Europe -- in California. Everyone was aware about the good news coming from the Farnborough International Airshow this month regarding commercial aircraft sales, but they are remaining cautious about any potential market recovery.

At Farnborough the major airplane manufacturers announced airplane orders in the hundreds, signaling an upswing in the market, however it will be a while till this good news trickles down to the avionics level.

The commercial aviation market ramped down awfully fast, but it will not ramp up as quickly, cautioned Ben Daniel, business manager for avionics at GE Intelligent Platforms in Goleta, Calif. It will be a slow recovery but people will still be buying airplanes and designing avionics systems, he added.

Air Electro president Steve Strull in Chatsworth, Calif., told me he is excited about the airplane orders and that his aviation connector business has been steady, weathering the economic times well -- as Air Electro's connectors were designed into the aircraft manufacturing systems as well the finished aircraft systems.

Retrofits for aircraft are also a growth market, Strull added.

Designers of military avionics systems, say it's a matter of waiting and seeing where the Obama administration is going to spend dollars and if they are going to spend dollars. "We're seeing lots of activity in terms of proposals, but no one is sure how much Obama is going to cut out of the defense budget to pay for his social programs," said Doug Patterson, vice president of sales and marketing at Aitech Chatsworth, Calif.

When the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter and the F-22 Raptor cancellations were announced many in the defense industry thought funding would go toward upgrading older aircraft platforms, but Patterson said that such retrofits may also be curtailed as well depending on what the Obama administration will do.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Democrats in Congress move to get their pound of flesh from the military while they still have time

Posted by John Keller

JULY 23, 2010. Interesting story in The New York Times on Thursday, entitled Pentagon Faces Intensifying Pressures to Trim Budget. The thrust of the story is this: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down, which leads the Democrat majority in Congress to consider reducing current and future defense budget requests for the first time since 9/11.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, meanwhile, is trying to stave off Pentagon budget cuts by convincing Democrats in Congress that he can make the military more efficient, and use money saved to pay for military procurement, operations, military research and development, and other costs.

Nevertheless, the story goes on, Democrats in Congress are trying to move more quickly than the Pentagon had expected in trimming the DOD budget request for next year. Best of all, The Times writes, "And in the longer term, with concern mounting about the government’s $13 trillion debt, a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission is warning that cuts in military spending could be needed to help the nation dig out of its financial hole."

Let's see, the Democrat majority in Congress, with backing from the Obama Administration, domestically has shoved through extremely expensive, unpopular, mostly ineffective measures concerning economic stimulus, health care, and jobs security, but it's up the nation's military "to help the nation dig out of its financial hole." This just doesn't make sense, and it's not what's really going on.

The Democrats are about to lose control of Congress in November, little more than three months away; they know it, and we know it, so if they are going to shove any more unpopular measures through, then they have to do it quickly. They have little more than three months before the November elections -- a period in which Congress won't do much because Democrats will spend that time fighting for their political lives on the campaign trail -- and the three months of a lame-duck congressional session before the new Congress is seated next January.

I rarely, if ever, trust Democrats when it comes to the military. Except for a few, most mouth platitudes about supporting the troops and the nation's defense, but at heart many of the Democrats in Congress today loathe the military on a visceral level, a phenomenon most likely left over from the '60s generation, of which many of today's serving lawmakers are members. These Democrats would like to gut the military and use the money saved for their favored domestic social programs that buy them votes. Since 9/11, however, their hands have been tied politically. Moreover, many Democrats in Congress believe that defense has gotten more than its fair share of the federal budget since George W. Bush took office in 2000, and now's their chance to get even, but the clock is ticking down.

Anything these Democrats want to do, they have to do it fast; desperation is starting to show. So now their gaze falls on the military, which has been struggling to slog through the tasks assigned it in South Asia now for nearly a decade. Desperation often results in rash action. Look for the rhetoric in Congress to become increasingly down on the military and military expenditures in the coming months, as Democrats attempt to lay the groundwork for big DOD budget cuts while they still have the time to do so.

Now obviously the military can find ways of increasing efficiencies and streamlining procurement, and Defense Secretary Gates seems to be going in the right direction in that regard. This, unfortunately, is not what many Democrats in Congress want to see, however. Instead, I believe many of them want to do the military material harm between now and next January.

The only way to avoid damage to the U.S. military during that time is to find any way to stall Congress until the clock runs out.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Working the Farnborough air show, backwards and in high heels

Posted by John Keller

FARNBOROUGH, England, 19 July 2010. There are plenty of amazing here at the Farnborough International Airshow -- reportedly the largest air show in the world this year. Jet fighters, bombers, widebody jumbo jets, aircraft stunt teams. Still, nothing is more amazing to me here than the number of women wearing high heels -- and not just any high heels, but really tall ones.

Working this show one can literally walk miles in the course of a day. Those minding the booths are on their feet all day -- and these are long days -- and I can't imagine many more torturous things than to do it in high heels.

The ladies wearing those really tall heels don't look like they're in pain yet, but I should give them time; it's only 11 a.m. I'll check facial expressions again later in the day, but my bet is most of them will be looking fresh as ever.

I'm reminder of Ginger Rogers, the dancer of movie fame, who often was paired with Fred Astaire in some of the silver screen's most breathtaking dance numbers on film. Folks always seemed to wonder why Ginger Rogers always seemed to play second-fiddle to Astaire.

Rogers fans often asked why she didn't have equal billing to Astaire, since she did everything he did -- except she did it all backwards and in high heels. Seeing all these women at the Farnborough air show remind me of Ginger Rogers. They're probably working at least as hard as the guys, except they're doing it backwards in high heels.

So as I stroll the aisles and static displays this week, I'll be looking for more than just the latest avionics, the most advanced jet fighters, and the biggest commercial jetliners. I'll also be looking for women wearing sensible shoes.

Stay tuned; I'll let you know.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ryan Reynolds as the Green Lantern: I think I have an idea what he's talking about

Posted by John Keller

15 July 2010. The movie buzz is heating up concerning actor Ryan Reynolds as the Green Lantern, starring in a superhero movie scheduled for release next summer. I'm particularly excited about this upcoming movie because it could have a connection to Military & Aerospace Electronics.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we don't end up on the cutting room floor, but last March, at the movie producer's request, I sent off several print copies of Military & Aerospace Electronics for potential use in the upcoming Green Lantern movie, starring Ryan Reynolds.

How could this happen, you might ask? Well, story goes that the Green Lantern is a test pilot who is granted a mystical green ring bestowing him with otherworldly powers, as well as membership in an intergalactic squadron tasked with keeping peace within the universe. It just so happens that he reads Military & Aerospace Electronics. That's what the producers told me, anyway.

If we're lucky, moviegoers will see print copies of Military & Aerospace Electronics lying around the test pilot's ready room. I'm hoping, I'm hoping, I'm hoping those copies make it into the move.

The latest Green Lantern buzz revolves around an interview with Reynolds in Entertainment Weekly, in which he discusses flying at high speeds during his stunts. "The first time you do it, you're deeply considering an adult diaper," Reynolds is quoted as saying.

I think I know what he means. I might need the same attire as I have to wait another whole year to see if we make it into the move.


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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is there anyone out there who isn't a world leader?

Posted by John Keller

Quick show of hands: who out there isn't a world leader at something? Anyone? I thought so.

I just love company press releases, I really do. Those safe harbor statements, always a howl, never cease to entertain. Press announcements typically begin something like this ...

... Some such corporation, the greatest company that's ever been, has just introduced something or other that is undeniably the greatest thing since sliced bread. Oh, and I forgot, and the company (the greatest company that's ever been) is the first company (and the only company) to ever do so (or ever will be).

Now I know all you good PR folks out there (the greatest PR folks that have ever been, I acknowledge) get paid more than me, and I fully realize that you deserve it. Still, I feel for you, writing that stuff. It's even more painful to know that most of you are more talented and better writers than I am.

At any rate, my favorite PR-ism lately is "a world leader," which usually in the first couple of sentences -- right there beside "the greatest company that's ever been." I swear, every company out there is a world leader in whatever it does ... not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, I go to sleep easy every knight knowing that all the companies I cover (the greatest companies that have ever been, of course) are all world leaders in what they do.

God, is this a great country, or what?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Soldier systems focus on infantry technology to achieve the mission and get the fighters home alive

Posted by John Keller

Soldier systems -- wearable computers, networked sensors, pocket-sized navigation and guidance systems, and other soldier electronics -- have been on my mind lately. I often wonder what the American infantryman about the storm the beaches at Normandy would think of the wearable electronics on today's soldiers on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the Normandy beaches, the average infantry technology consisted of a rifle, ammunition, water, food, rudimentary first-aid gear, helmet, extra socks, and really not a lot else besides the soldier's uniform and boots. some carried radios, but not many. Don't get me wrong, he had a back-breaking load to carry, but fundamentally not a lot different from the soldier in the ranks during the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, and before.

Today's soldier technology is a whole lot different. There is amazing capability, ranging from night-vision goggles and rifle sights, networked radios not much larger than a deck of cards, global positioning system (GPS) receivers and computers the sizes of cell phones, and more. The choices today's soldier faces also are much more complex than the fighting man of decades past.

All that new capability means extra weight to carry, not only in terms of the electronic and electro-optic devices available, but also for the batteries to power these devices. Depending on the mission, the soldier today and his commanders must decide if they want to carry sensors or a second canteen of water, radios or more food, handheld computers or extra ammunition.

The point is, today's soldier must strike the right balance between capability, firepower, and survival equipment that will enable him to perform his mission and then get back home alive.

One of the primary goals of those specifying and designing soldier systems technology is to keep these critical choices to a minimum, or more to the point, help soldiers make choices of ammunition, water, food, AND sensors, communications, and computers, rather than the other way around.

Soldier systems today, however, are not just about piling on capability to the warfighter in the field. Soldier technology also is about helping infantrymen fight smarter, and to give them new ways not only to help them fight, but also to survive and thrive long after returning home to their homes and families.

Soldiers in the field take a beating, from the elements, from stress and fatigue, and of course from bullets and explosives during battle. Explosions -- especially those from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted along roadsides, have the potential to create far more serious injuries than meets the eye.

A soldier might get caught in an IED explosion, and simply get up and dust himself off after waiting for the stars and spider webs to clear from his head. Yet head injuries from concussive forces like roadside bombs can cause lingering injuries that might take days or weeks to make themselves known.

Now picture this. What if a soldier had a motion sensor embedded in his helmet able to measure the concussive force of an explosion on the soldier wearing it? What if a little red LED in this helmet sensor started flashing if the force of the explosion were more than a human being should be able to withstand safely over the long term?

No need to speculate anymore; that technology's here, and is being deployed in the field. It's just one of the aspects of soldier systems that are making the modern soldier ever-more effective, deadly, and survivable.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

F-15 Silent Eagle stealth fighter could be considered as alternative to F-35 joint strike fighter amid tight budgets

Posted by John Keller

The Boeing Co. may be stealing a march on rival defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. with the radar-evading F-15 Silent Eagle stealth fighter, designs for which made a demonstrator flight last week in St. Louis. As a stealth aircraft, the 1970s-vintage F-15 jet fighter may be a viable near-term alternative to the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighter in some applications.

The stealthy version of the F-15 uses special surface coatings, conformal internal weapons bays, and other advanced technologies that enable the F-15 Silent Eagle to evade some kinds of air-to-air radar systems, although experts say the stealth version of the F-15 may not be able to avoid sophisticated ground-based air-defense radars. Conformal weapons bays also may enable the aircraft to function as a stealth bomber.

Israel is watching the F-15 Silent Eagle closely, and may consider the Boeing aircraft to be a more affordable and more available combat aircraft than the F-35. Some in the Israeli defense ministry favor buying the F-15 Silent Eagle in the face of expected additional delays in the F-35 development. The Silent Eagle also reportedly is one-third less expensive than the F-35.

Israeli purchases of the F-15 Silent Eagle would enhance the aircraft's credibility in the international market, which is precisely Boeing's target for the new aircraft. Boeing developed the Silent Eagle in response to international user requirements for a cost-effective, high-performance fighter aircraft to defend against future threats.

The F-15 Silent Eagle offers unique aerodynamic, avionics, and radar cross section reduction features that provide the user with maximum flexibility to dominate the ever-changing advanced threat environment. The aircraft's Conformal Weapons Bays can carry a variety of air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground weapons.

With the U.S. defense budget under increasing pressure to downsize, who knows? If the Silent Eagle catches on internationally, perhaps it could find a home in U.S. fighter squadrons.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

DARPA wants electronic warfare systems that learn from their mistakes to keep pace with the latest communications technology

Posted by John Keller

Jamming RF signals in electronic warfare operations is getting a lot harder these days. It seems the ability of many military wireless communications devices like cell phones, battlefield radios, and command-and-control networks are developing the ability to adapt automatically to their environments to maintain the highest-quality signals possible.

This phenomenon is called adaptive communications -- or the notion of communications devices able to change quickly in response to conditions in the environment to make sure their signals get through. That presents a problem to the electronic warfare guys -- those whose job it is to jam the bad guy's signals to prevent them from getting through.

Unfortunately, today's adaptive communications technology seems to be outpacing electronic warfare. That means -- for the U.S., at least -- that the bad guys can change their communications faster to keep information flowing than the electronic warfare systems experts can tweak their electronic jammers to keep pace. Now DARPA is trying to change all that with the Behavioral Learning for Adaptive Electronic Warfare program.

This program -- BLADE, for short -- seeks to develop machine learning technology to enable future electronic warfare systems to adapt their jamming techniques just as quickly as the adversary adapts his communications.

Imagine that: an electronic warfare system that sniffs around for changes in the communications patterns of the enemy, learns his system, and sends out the appropriate jamming signals in response. In other words, fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, shame on me. Sounds like DARPA is on the right track.

It worries me, though, that commercial off-the-shelf communications technology seems to be able to turn inside developments in electronic warfare technology, but that's fodder for a future blog.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Embedded computing information for aerospace and military embedded systems all in one place

Posted by John Keller

If you're looking for information on embedded computing for aerospace and military embedded systems organized in one easy-to-find location, then you've come to the right place. Military & Aerospace Electronics is introducing its comprehensive embedded computing section for those interested in embedded computer technology, single-board computers, electronics chassis and enclosures, and everything else embedded computing on the Military & Aerospace Electronics Website at

embedded computing for aerospace and defense applications has always been our forte, and now we are consolidating all our coverage on military embedded systems, embedded computing, single-board computers and everything else embedded computing in one easy-to-find place. Just surf on over Military & Aerospace Electronics, click on the Embedded Computing section in the navigation bar just beneath the M&AE logo, and see everything of interest to you with regards to embedded computing.

It's easy; just come on over. Everything we've written about embedded computing is here. Products, features, analyses, design-in case studies, and more is right at your fingertips, just one click away. Want to see for yourself? Just click here.

Come back often to see the latest developments in military embedded computing. If you'd like to see your latest products and other announcements related to military embedded computing go up in this section, just e-mail John Keller at

If embedded computing is your line of business, we'll see you there.

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Aviation safety story questioning Boeing 787 Dreamliner crashworthiness takes unfair jabs at Boeing, FAA

Posted by John Keller

4 July 2010. I'm taking a skeptical look at an aviation safety investigative report appearing in today's editions of the Chicago Tribune that call into question the survivability of the future Boeing 787 Dreamliner in a crash. Here's the problem: the headline of the story reads "Composite material used in Boeing 787 raises safety questions," yet the text of the story -- far down in the story -- points out that these questions have largely been answered.

It doesn't look to me that this story is being fair to Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), or to the engineers that initially uncovered potential weaknesses in the fuselage of the 787 in crash scenarios, and then went on to deal with these issues after rigorous testing. The fuselage of the 787 Dreamliner is made of lightweight, yet tough, composite materials, while most commercial jetliners are made from lightweight metals.

Based on information in the story, it looks like Boeing and the FAA have done a pretty good job of designing the Boeing 787 to be a safe commercial aircraft. While defendable, the story's headline strongly and unfairly suggests otherwise. For good or ill, no one is going to know exactly how safe the aircraft will be until -- God forbid -- one experiences a serious runway crash.

This story goes on for 26 paragraphs -- extensively citing five-year-old data -- before first mentioning that concerns about the 787's composite structure in a crash have been addressed with structural modifications that have satisfied experts at the FAA.

After 26 paragraphs, the story does give detailed treatment of how the 787 has been structurally improved since 2005, yet leaves readers with nagging doubts by quoting a "composite-materials expert" who hasn't worked for Boeing for 10 years, and left the company at least five years before Boeing experts started making modifications to improve the aircraft's crashworthiness.

I think I can see why the Tribune held this story for a slow holiday Sunday.

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

The junkyard space satellite

Posted by John Keller

The U.S. Air Force is getting ready to launch a surveillance satellite that, much like a junkyard dog, will keep watch over the castoff debris orbiting the Earth from space missions past.

If all goes according to plan, the Air Force will launch the Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., that will keep watch on everything in orbit, from the most sophisticated and important satellites to the countless pieces of space junk that menace manned and unmanned space missions alike.

It's like air traffic control surveillance for all the stuff in orbit. While it's easy to giggle about a high-tech orbiting junkyard dog, space junk is no laughing matter. Chunks of old spacecraft such as fuel tanks and pieces of dead satellites often pose threats to the International Space Station, the space shuttle, and vital communications, navigation, and surveillance satellites.

For the first time, the SBSS satellite will be a full-time monitor of where satellites and space junk are, and where these objects are headed.

This spacecraft also could be the first piece of an important space surveillance network that much like the future NextGen air traffic management system for commercial aircraft, could make it safe to increase the density of spacecraft orbiting the Earth and pave the way to make communications, navigation, and cable television programming even better than it is today.

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Iranian early warning radar in Syria: is this a real threat, or just more posturing from Iran?

Posted by John Keller

I'm wondering about reports of an Iranian surveillance radar system being installed in Syria
, ostensibly to give Iran early warning if Israel attempts to bomb Iran's nuclear weapons research sites. If true, this development represents an even more severe escalation of tensions in this already-tense region that we've seen in recent months.

The Iranian early warning radar alleged to have been installed in Syria -- located on the Mediterranean coast just to the North of Israel and Lebanon -- is supposed to be a sophisticated system able not only to give Iran early warning of any Israeli air attack, but also able to help with Syrian anti-air missile defenses.

It's not clear, however, just how sophisticated the radar system might be, or if Israel could circumvent it simply by flying south over Saudi Arabia and over the Persian Gulf on the way to Iranian targets.

If this sincerely is a sophisticated long-range radar system, then it could add a new dimension to the complicated military and diplomatic situation in the Middle East. If it isn't however, it might just be another example of Iranian blustering and propaganda.

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