Monday, October 31, 2011

Guns, guns, guns

Posted by Skyler Frink

The musket revolutionized the battlefield when it was unveiled. The rifled barrel, which allowed muskets to fire with some degree of accuracy, also altered the battles of the future. After the rifled barrel it was repeating weapons, which could be fired more than once before reloading, that shaped the wars of the day. As warfare carried on, so did the technology behind the weapons that soldiers carried onto the battlefield. Why is it, then, that new guns seem to have stopped being released?

Is it that we have reached the pinnacle of technology with our guns? Have we run out of ways to fire more accurately, with more power or at greater distances?

I don't think so.

The lack of new guns represents a change in how war is fought. As surely as tanks made cavalry obsolete, placing men and women on the front lines is becoming less and less necessary thanks to modern advancements in technology.

No longer do we need to place soldiers directly in harm's way to secure a building. Rather than risk attack, an unmanned vehicle can be tossed into the room to acquire intelligence. Instead of sending soldiers on reconnaissance missions, we can take pictures with satellites or send an unmanned aerial vehicle to survey the area. Rifles are only useful when you have people who will be engaging the enemy directly, and technology is making it so direct contact is no longer a necessity.

On the ever-changing battlefields of today it's only a matter of time before infantry are not required to secure an area or win a battle. As the dangerous jobs are slowly pushed into the realm of unmanned vehicles, we will eventually see the dangers of direct combat be relegated to similar devices.

Business aviation: a boon to corporate 'fat cats' or job creator for the local community?

Posted by John Keller

Hearing the Obama Administration's rhetoric on business aviation, and you'd think anyone who rides on a private jet is a criminal. Look up Obama corporate jets, and you get a litany from proposed increased taxes on business aviation, to accusations of fat-cat corporate executives who not only don't pay their fair share of taxes and fees, but who also, when using business aviation, somehow are robbing from the less fortunate.

It sounds like outright warfare waged by the Obama Administration on anyone who uses a business jet -- whether he or she needs it or not. There are some corporate leaders for whom private jets make sense, as using this general aviation asset helps keep their companies running and ahead of the competition, but that's beside my point.

I read a story in The Telegraph of Nashua, N.H., on Sunday, which clearly lays out some of the benefits of business aviation to the community at large, not just the so-called "fat cats" who use corporate jets.

The story, headlined "Ceremony will celebrate construction of new runway at Boire Field in Nashua," discusses construction of a new runway at the general-aviation airport in Nashua, N.H., called Boire Field. This $16 million project, to be paid for primarily by grants from the FAA and New Hampshire Department of Transportation, breaks ground this week on a 6,000-foot level runway, which ultimately will replace an ageing 5,500-foot runway that has one end 10 feet lower than the other.

What caught my eye is the economic influence this project is expected to have. To begin with, the project will create more than 40 full-time jobs, and will be "a boon to most of the 30 businesses that revolve around the airport," reads the story, authored by The Telegraph's Joseph G. Cote.

A 6,000-foot runway isn't long enough to accommodate commercial aircraft, so don't expect to take an airline flight into our out of Boire Field anytime soon. Still, that extra 500 feet of runway should make all the difference for the business jets that use the airport.

The existing 5,500-foot runway isn't long enough for large corporate jets like the Gulfstream V to take off from Nashua with full fuel tanks -- especially on hot, humid days when all aircraft display relatively sluggish aerodynamic performance. That extra 500 feet of runway, however, will enable the biggest private jets operating from Boire Field to take off fully fueled, which increases range and efficiency.

The story points out other community benefits of the general aviation airport improvement project. The new runway also could mean more money for the airport from fuel taxes and for pilots who could take on more passengers per flight, the story reads.

So a project that on the surface might look to benefit only corporate "fat cats" actually will create jobs, enhance the local tax base, and improve efficiency for the local corporations that operate jets at Nashua.

Maybe we ought to think about this next time we hear President Obama or others in his administration attacking business aviation as only benefitting the rich.

No power, no content: the October snowstorm from Hell

Posted by John Keller

First things first, I have to apologize for the lack of new content on the Military & Aerospace Electronics and Avionics Intelligence websites on Sunday. It's normally my job to post on Sundays, but my efforts on 30 Oct. were frustrated when one of the biggest October snowstorms on record rolled through New England where I live and work.

October. Snowstorm. Not even here in New Hampshire do those two words go together very often. Okay, maybe a dusting here and there ... maybe. What we actually got was 13 inches of heavy, wet snow. Still, it's New England; that shouldn't be such a big deal.

The problem, however, is we still have trees fully foliated with green leaves, and the weekend snowstorm hit us hard. Fall was funny this year. We never got a hard freeze -- until this morning -- and the autumn season has kind of been sputtering forward with only subtle foliage color. The long and short of it, however, is we still have lots of leaves on the trees, and a foot of heavy snow ... well, you can just imagine.

Trees down, power lines shredded, transformers exploded, roads closed ... mayhem, in other words. Where I live in Milford, N.H., the power went out sometime around 1 a.m. Sunday. It's still out, by the way, and is likely to remain so for as long as week. Still, the office power is on here in Nashua, so at least I can get back to work.

No such luck Sunday. Instead of posting content yesterday, as I normally do, I was shoveling snow ... heavy, wet snow ... or did I say that already?

Moving forward, I'll promise have Sunday content on our Websites for you, barring disaster like we had this past weekend. Temperatures this week are supposed to be in the 50s and 60s -- typical fall weather, in other words -- so maybe that 13 inches of snow will be just a memory in a few days ...

... or not. I'm expecting the last of Sunday's snow to melt sometime next April. In the meantime, I have a bit of cheerful news: winter doesn't start officially for about another seven weeks.

Wish us luck.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Is it time for widely recognized industry standards for anti-tamper?

Posted by John Keller

Aerospace and defense electronics have to do much more than that simply fulfill the capabilities for which they are designed. Nowadays they also have to prove they are safe and reliable, per standards such as the FAA's DO-178B and DO-178C safety-critical software standards.

Growing trends in aerospace and defense electronics, however, mean today's designs have to do more than be safe and reliable. Now they must have provisions to prevent unauthorized tampering or disassembly in an adversary's attempt to learn their secrets.

Anti-tamper technology today is just as important as capability, reliability and safety, so isn't it time for government and industry to put their collective heads together and craft a widely recognized standard for anti-tamper?

Certainly there are government standards for adherence to encryption guidelines, such as FIPS 140-2, and the U.S. Department of Defense has begun requiring anti-tamper technology in most mission- and life-critical military systems at risk for enemy tampering.

Anti-tamper technology first became a hot issue a decade ago during the so-called Hainan Island Incident when a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries four-engine turboprop reconnaissance aircraft was operating about 70 miles away from Hainan Island, China. In response, China scrambled jet fighters to intercept.

One of the Chinese fighters made two close passes beside the slower and less-maneuverable Navy EP-3, and started a third close pass when the fighter collided with the reconnaissance aircraft, causing the fighter to break apart and crash, and the Navy EP-3 to drop into a steep dive before its pilot regained control of the aircraft. The stricken aircraft's pilot had no choice but to land at a Chinese military base on Hainan Island.

The crew of the Navy plane was held in China for 10 days. Their aircraft and equipment were dismantled, stripped, closely examined. The Chinese were able to gain valuable intelligence data from their examination of the aircraft and its equipment. U.S. authorities never want such a thing to happen again, even though advanced U.S. military technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) routinely operate in risky areas where they could be shot down and examined by U.S. adversaries.

So we need anti-tamper technologies, but military procurement authorities approve them one at a time. Perhaps a more unified approach is in order. How about a guideline similar to DO-178B and DO-178C that would spell out anti-tamper standards, as well as procedures to comply with anti-tamper requirements.

Not only might such a standard help keep U.S. military secrets out of the hands of adversaries and make it easier for U.S. defense contractors to provide reliable anti-tamper technology, but such move also might spawn development of a new class of design and development tools designed to help meet anti-tamper standards, and to ensure standards compliance.

It might be worth a discussion.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

An exclusive look into the editorial mission of Military & Aerospace Electronics (and a renewal reminder)

By Ernesto Burden, Publisher -

If you read Military & Aerospace Electronics - the print or digital edition of the magazine - you know what a special experience that is, and how distinct an experience it is from reading the website. The rest of the post is going to be an elaboration on the reasons why Military & Aerospace Magazine is so important, and therefore, why you ought not to delay in renewing your (free!) subscription. And while I think what I'm about to say is interesting and worth your consideration, if you're a cut-to-the-chase absolutist, just click here and take a minute to renew your subscription. Trust me, you would have been convinced had you kept reading. Everyone who's interested in a deeper look into the soul of Military & Aerospace Electronics, read on.

Last month, I met with the editors of Military & Aerospace Electronics for a couple of days of deep discussion about where they envisioned taking this magazine in the year to come. We started the meetings with a discussion of the magazine's core values. I'll tell you, no group of editors could have been more passionate about a topic than ours were about this. Here are the guts of what they said:
  • Our editorial content serves you, the reader, first
  • We will strive to understand you, our readers, well enough so that every piece of content we publish will be useful to you, and we will add value to every piece of content we publish
  • In order to achieve these goals, we don't sell editorial space; there's a clear distinction between advertising and editorial content in our magazine (at the end of the day, of course, this fundamental integrity makes our publications more effective vehicles for advertising, as well)
But what does it mean to put the reader first, or to add value to each piece of content we publish? What do these points all mean in terms of real world actions and results? They mean our editors wake up every day thinking about how to:
  • Save you time and energy
  • Provide data that can help your business run better
  • Provide insights that will give you a strategic advantage over competitors
  • Provide tools to improve your work and that of your employees
We took those core ideas and used them as lens through which we viewed all of our strategic initiatives in the coming year - including a very important one, the addition of a new editorial position in the Aerospace & Defense Group. In mid-October we hired Skyler Frink, who joined John Keller and Courtney Howard on our editorial team. Skyler is a human face on a big idea - that we're going to keep growing the value of Military & Aerospace Electronics for you - in print, on the web, email newsletters, mobile apps, video blogs, social media and more.

But looking at that cool list of media channels by which we can get you our content brings me back to the initial proposition and the question implicit therein. Why should you hurry to renew your print subscription?

Our website and digital products provide you critical, time-sensitive data anytime and anywhere, and you need that timely information to make quick decisions in an evolving market. But that's a lot of data to synthesize into long-term thinking and strategy.

Our print (and digital edition) magazine provides you that utility: it's the "best of" section of our content, a place to dive deep and think even more deeply. Need to know that you've covered the most essential news of the month, and need that packaged in, as our editor in chief, John Keller says, "a portable wireless product with an intuitive graphic interface"?

That's the print edition, and for all intents and purposes, the digital edition as you can read it on your iPad via standard digital edition download or our custom iPad app.

So there you have it - just as our editors relish saving you time and energy and improving your business with the content they create, I hope I can do the same for you with this reminder. We know you value the content, and we'll help you out by reminding you to renew as needed, it'll save you time if you take a minute to fill out this form on the web. Here's the link:

And while you're waiting for your next issue, please feel free to take a minute and drop any of our editors, or me, a note about how we can do even better in our mission to help you do better in yours.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of Military & Aerospace Electronics and Avionics Intelligence. He can be reached at and on Twitter @ aero_ernesto.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

NBAA 2011, Social, Mobile and the Year of the iPad

By Ernesto Burden -

Walking the floor at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) show last week in Las Vegas, it was hard to miss just how much mobile devices have influenced the conversation - from the exhibits and technology showcased to the operations of the show itself. iPads were literally everywhere - used as tools within the displays, on display themselves to show off electronic flight bag (EFB) and cabin control technologies, and as props to demo a plethora of mounting systems and cases.

There was a utility aspect to the mobile-friendly tone of the event as well. The NBAA's own conference and expo application was available for the iPad, iPhone, Android and Blackberry platforms, and if for some reason you couldn't use one of those, there was a mobile Web site that you could browse from the floor. The show app was a pretty good one - beyond the basic map and directory of exhibitors (handy at such a huge event), it included a schedule of sessions, news updates, live Twitter feed capturing the #nbaa2011 hash tag. This last was particularly interesting, because even as great conversations were happening on the show floor, attendees were conducting parallel discussions via mobile social media tools. These conversations were aggregated and displayed streaming on large screens in the registration and concession area between the two halls - a constant reminder of how much sales, marketing and business in every industry are changing under the influence of social media and mobile technology.

But while mobile and social media were prominent, the iPad was the star of the mobile show. I chatted with folks who are using the iPad in all kinds of ways, from the folks at AIS, Inc. who are rolling out an iPad app that will allow a mechanic under a plane to search out and order a part without leaving his position, to iPads as EFBs and even, as in the case of Heads Up Technologies' Lumin Cabin Management System, as a method of passenger-specific cabin environment control and communication - on their own devices! (For an in-depth roundup of iPad and other mobile apps for flight and cabin tools, check out this story at AIN:

I'll leave the debate over what all this infusion of Steve Jobs' technology vision (yes, I know touch screens and mobile devices weren't all and only him) will mean in terms of aviation and avionics, and simply point out that however you interpret that meaning, it's big and getting bigger. It has changed our expectations of how we interact with technology - whether we are aircraft passengers, pilots, technicians. How many of us have instinctively reached out and touched a display only to realize its one of those old fashioned things that has to be interfaced with via a keyboard and mouse? It's also changing our expectation of connectivity. WiFi on an airplane? De rigueur. We don't want to sit in the cabin and watch the same movie everybody else is watching. We've become an iPod species and have an expectation that the content we consume will be curated, packaged and delivered just to us. Turn off the light above my seat or hit the call button for a flight attendant? You can bet that pretty soon, there's an app for that.

By the way - miss the show? One interesting Tweet that caught my eye as I reviewed the app to write this - @ludozone (Ludo Van Vooren) posted this video on YouTube, the entire show floor, two halls and 900 exhibitors, in 124 seconds:

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of Military & Aerospace Electronics and Avionics Intelligence. He can be reached at and on Twitter @ aero_ernesto.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Notable NASA news dominates desktop

By C.E. Howard

Color me impressed. (What color is that, anyway?) I am a space nerd, who loves all things space-oriented. I, like many others, recoiled in fear and mild horror last year when it was revealed that some NASA programs would be cancelled and government-funded human space exploration would be put on “the back burner,” to put it mildly. Yet, today, NASA-related news dominates my desktop.

The Obama Administration came under considerable fire for the decision, but I am tremendously pleased with what has transpired since then. The private human spaceflight/commercial spacecraft industry has taken off (pun intended), with help from some of the world’s best and brightest. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs—including Elon Musk, Sir Richard Branson, Robert Bigelow, and others—have invested time, thought, and considerable funds in advancing human space travel in the commercial realm.

NASA officials aren’t resting on their laurels, however. In fact, over the past few months, NASA has been making headlines each week—far more often than it had in the past several years. The organization is increasingly partnering with technology companies in the aerospace industry, as well, announcing contract opportunities and hosting industry events.

Just this month, in fact, NASA personnel have revealed an undersea mission, a next-gen space observatory, student competitions, tweetups (I shudder at the thought of this “word” making it into the dictionary), and the need for expendable launch vehicles, propulsion systems, and much more.

Read the latest NASA news, especially as it relates to requests for proposals (RFPs) and upcoming contract award opportunities, at

Related articles:

NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations undersea mission launches

Lockheed Martin builds NASA MAVEN spacecraft primary structure

Help Wanted: NASA seeks astronauts

Friday, October 14, 2011

An open letter to GPGPU-based embedded computing providers

Posted by John Keller

I've noticed a very strange and perplexing thing going on lately in the embedded computing industry concerning products based on general-purpose graphics processing units (GPGPUs). Everyone wants to be the first ... well, no matter what it is -- first for this, first to provide that, first, first, first.

I know of at least three companies out there involved in nasty sniping matches over who was the first to do some sort or other with the GPGPU, and it's getting old, quite frankly.

Now the GPGPU is great technology; no argument there. It's a powerful parallel processing engine broadly applicable to digital signal processing for radar, sonar, electro-optical sensor processing and a broad range of other applications central to the aerospace and defense industry.

But I have to ask an obvious question: who cares who's first? First this, first that, biggest, best, fastest, prettiest, whatever. I care about capability and applicability to challenges that aerospace and defense systems designers have, not who's the first at anything in this market, and I'll wager your embedded computing customers feel the same way.

Let's have a competitive discussion about the capabilities of GPGPU-based devices, and how these powerful devices can help military and aerospace electronics systems designers solve their most difficult problems.

Let's restrain ourselves over who's first, and leave that argument for the bar after work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Imagine that: COTS component lifecycle support that sees integrators through design and production

Posted by John Keller

Rapid obsolescence and a perceived lack of support continue to give commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components and subsystems a black eye, and over time have led to a lack of faith in COTS products among prime aerospace and defense contractors.

And who could blame the contractors for their skeptical attitude toward COTS? No wonder many of them still want to design and manufacture their own components rather than patronizing COTS suppliers. The primes have to develop and maintain military systems over long lifecycles sometimes lasting decades, while component suppliers typically are concerned with moving on the next generation of technology.

Put these two interests together, and it can be a recipe for disaster. A major airborne radar program, for example, was brought to a screeching halt when the supplier of the system's embedded computers obsoleted those parts before the system was even deployed.

Think about it. A major systems integrator goes through the long and laborious process of designing, testing, and qualifying an airborne radar system. This can take years, as this one did. At long last, when the system was ready for production, and the systems integrator was ready to start buying those embedded computers in bulk, the manufacturer had stopped making them. How many component manufacturers, after all, are going to keep making a specific part for years or even decades. Technology moves much faster than that.

Well, put yourself in the shoes of the systems integrator. It's not always their fault that military systems development takes so long. Designing a complex military system like an airborne radar is complex. Qualification takes time, too, to ensure the system works correctly in all conditions. Is it too much to ask that component suppliers involved on the program support the systems integrator for the duration of the program?

Well, Aitech Defense Systems in Chatsworth, Calif., put themselves in the shoes of their customers and came up with a solution called COTS Lifecycle+ that is such a no-brainer that it's a wonder this didn't gain widespread acceptance long ago.

It's a simple as this: Aitech will guarantee support for its embedded computing products for 12 years from product introduction. In most cases, that's ample time for systems integrators using Aitech products to get their platforms designed, qualified, and produced.

A simple enough solution, and I think we're going to see a lot more of this in the future.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New to NBAA

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

The 64th annual National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) meeting and convention opened today, 10 Oct. 2011, with an inspiring, thought-provoking General Session. NBAA’s president and CEO, Ed Bolen, revealed that 25,000 professionals are in attendance at this year’s event—an increase over last year’s numbers, before cutting the ribbon on the expansive exhibit floor.

Business aviation has experienced what many on the show floor have characterized as a “roller coaster ride”—with extreme highs and lows. In just a few months, however, the market seems to have stabilized; the mood is high and both attendees and exhibitors are optimistic about the short and long term. Yet, as speakers at the NBAA General Session indicated, it’s not all smooth sailing.

“We are in a fight for our industry,” Bolen described, referring to business aviation coming under fire. “The industry is being bullied.”

Politicians are scrutinizing, and looking to impose a tax on, general aviation. Reportedly, politicians began subjecting the general aviation industry to scrutiny, accompanied by accusations of corporate greed and excess, as a kneejerk reaction to disgust over CEOs of “the big three” automakers flying on private jets to Washington to plea for bailout money back in 2008.

“General aviation is a good industry, and business aviation is a proud part of that,” Bolen continued. He called for the industry to push back against negative characterizations, as well as to come together, unite, and make its voice heard.

Avionics Intelligence wants to hear your voice. How do you feel about the proposed tax on, and the recent personification, general aviation?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Aerospace and defense electronics industry consolidation proceeding at a rapid pace

Posted by John Keller

Don't look now, but we're in the throes of a fairly substantial business consolidation in the aerospace and defense electronics industry. I know company executives have been nervous for a while now, what with threatened cuts in the U.S. Department of Defense budget, leaving few with any clear idea of where the cuts will come.

It's a fair bet that big new military programs will be hit the hardest from the defense cuts we know are coming. Less clear is how defense cuts will influence electronic component and subsystem suppliers, who as we speak are re-inventing themselves as key enablers for electronic systems upgrades that will keep existing platforms in the field for as long as possible to save money.

Another result of gathering defense cuts, as well as the continued sluggish economy, is a defense electronics industry consolidation. I don't have scientific evidence for this, but I know what I've been seeing for about the last three months in announced company mergers and acquisitions.

At Military & Aerospace Electronics we try to cover the most substantial company mergers and acquisitions that are relevant to our industry. I am not, however, claiming that we cover ALL relevant mergers and acquisitions, but we do our best.

Having said that, I counted nine mergers and acquisitions in September, four mergers and acquisitions in August, and eight more in July. That's 21 mergers and acquisitions in the last quarter, and that's also only counting what we have covered at Military & Aerospace Electronics. The actual number is mostly like higher.

When's the last time anyone in our industry has seen industry consolidation happening at this pace? I can't remember when, myself. I just know it's going on, and I see few factors that cold slow the process down. The real question is what will our industry look like when mergers and acquisitions finally slow down.

I wish I knew, because it's starting to look scary out there.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Drones don't kill people, people kill people

By Ernesto Burden, Publisher

A headline in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye Saturday morning: “Drone Kills Top Al Qaeda Figure.” Something about the ambiguity of this language bothered me – in English, do we more often cite the weapon that kills someone, or the consciousness that directs the weapon? In the case of a hostage standoff in which police are forced to shoot the hostage taker, do we say, “bullet kills captor,” or “gun kills captor,” or do we say, “police shoot hostage taker?” Unless the gun was acting autonomously (impossible), or maybe fell out of a holster and went off accidentally, I’d say, “police shoot hostage taker,” is a better reflection of reality.

The "Drone Kills" headline referred to a CIA counterterrorism program attack on U.S.-born Al Qaeda recruiter, Anwar al-Awlaki. The CIA used a drone to kill al-Awlaki, and sure, in some sense, he was "killed by drone" in the same sense that someone might undergo "death by hanging." But to lead a story by saying a man had just been killed by a rope would paint a rather surreal picture.

I'm not just asking this question based on a single the WSJ headline. As the day progressed and other mentions of this incident popped up, on the radio, television, the Web, so many of them included this "Drone Kills..." construction that one has to conclude it is the accepted media term. But does it obfuscate both the reality of the situation, the necessary and practical questions that arise as the line between military and intelligence operations blurs in the era of unmanned vehicles?

And what about the technology behind it? Is there a suggestion in that persistently constructed "drone kills" headline that the drone is autonomous? It's not, but it's not hard to imagine – at least technically – many aspects of warfare carried on with humans out of the loop entirely. Science fiction writers have done a bang-up job imagining frightening visions of that future. Perhaps we in the media should be clearer and more accurate in our language, if not for the sake of preventing the public from developing a blind spot to an important ethical arena in warfighting, then at least for the sake of the language itself.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of Military & Aerospace Electronics and Avionics Intelligence. He can be reached at and on Twitter @ aero_ernesto.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Help Wanted: NASA seeks astronauts

NASA needs astronauts. No, really. Next month, NASA officials will start accepting applications for the next class of astronaut candidates. The Astronaut Candidate Class of 2013 will support not only long-duration missions to the International Space Station (ISS), but also future deep-space exploration.

Let me “say” that again: The Astronaut Candidate Class of 2013. How cool would it be to add that to your resume and list of accomplishments? Game over—I’d be one satisfied customer. After you literally shoot for the moon, what else is there? Eh, I’m sure I’d find something… but it’s all for naught; I’m out of the running.

This latest NASA news is all the more reason for students to pursue an education and occupation in STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Applicants for the newest Astronaut Candidate Class must have a bachelor's degree in engineering, science, or math and three years of relevant professional experience to be considered. As can be expected, however, successful applicants typically have significant qualifications in engineering/science or extensive experience flying high-performance jet-aircraft.

"For scientists, engineers, and other professionals who have always dreamed of experiencing spaceflight, this is an exciting time to join the astronaut corps," says Janet Kavandi, director of flight crew operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "This next class will support missions to the station and will arrive via transportation systems now in development. They also will have the opportunity to participate in NASA's continuing exploration programs that will include missions beyond low Earth orbit."

After applicant interviews and evaluations, NASA expects to announce the final selections in 2013, and training to begin that August. For more information, visit or call the Astronaut Selection Office at 281-483-5907.

Also, be sure to learn all the latest space news, including the latest and greatest satellite electronics and spacecraft avionics advancements and applications, at It's the place to learn what's happening in space!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

It's time for clear explanations of why software is important in aerospace and defense systems

Posted by John Keller

It's difficult to overestimate the importance of aerospace and defense software in ever-more-sophisticated military electronics. Software is perhaps the most crucial enabling technology, as well as the riskiest vulnerability in military weapons, communications, navigation and guidance, and most other applications that give U.S. warfighters a crucial technological edge over their adversaries.

Nevertheless, it never fails to astonish me the difficulty that software companies have in explaining how their tools, operating systems, integrated development environments, services, and other expertise represent the enabling technologies they truly are.

When I talk to software companies, as I did this past week at the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston, I always want to hear in a clear, concise way, what their software engineers bring to the table for the aerospace and defense systems designer and the military platform integrator.

More often than not, however, I get a tortured and long-winded explanation of software capabilities, new or upgraded tools, and why some such software widget is better than the one offered from competitors. I rarely get a straight answer to my question of how this particular piece of software can benefit the guy designing a communications system, electronic warfare suite, radar or sonar system, or avionics flight control.

For this, however, I can't always blame the folks at the software companies. Explaining why software is important is hard. You can't pick up a piece of software, hold it in your hands, turn it over, and feel its heft like you can with hardware.

Software, by nature, is an abstract thing, and explaining its importance to people like me who aren't software engineers is a daunting task. Still, it shouldn't feel like you have to be in the club to get it.

I'm sure software companies do a great job of explaining themselves to other software people. On many levels, I think it takes a deep knowledge and appreciation of the challenges of developing software that works, doesn't hog processor and memory resources, can be maintained and upgraded easily, and can't be hacked by the bad guys to understand the latest software products.

Still, I'm always frustrated when I come away from a software show, as the Embedded Systems Conference has become, because I have a nagging feeling that I've missed something. There just has to be some understandable explanation between "my software makes electronics work better," and the gory details of what the software actually does.

That's what I'm after, and it's a big challenge to get anywhere close, it seems.

Related stories

-- Military use of consumer computing like iPads and Android software raise concerns for safety and security;

-- Safety- and security-critical avionics software; and

-- Software middleware providers acknowledge the need for security and safety.