Thursday, December 20, 2012

Military & Aerospace Electronics gives unmanned vehicle technology the attention it deserves

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 20 Dec. 2012. The growing importance of unmanned vehicles stands as a testament to the evolution of military technology, and that's the reason that Military & Aerospace Electronics is introducing an unmanned vehicles section in the monthly print magazine, and a companion monthly e-newsletter that goes to subscribers on the third Tuesday of every month.

Unmanned vehicles, which operate on and below the oceans, in the air, in space, and on the ground, enable fundamental improvements in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and are poised to take center stage as front-line weapon systems that help keep humans out of harm's way.

It stands to reason that Military & Aerospace Electronics should be paying unmanned vehicles the kind of attention that this new technology deserves. You can view our inaugural Unmanned Vehicles eNewsletter online at http://newsletters.pennnet.com/mae_enl/183815081.html.

When we look at military history, we can point to a handful of technological breakthroughs over the past 5,000 years that transformed warfare, and gave almost an overwhelming advantage to the forces that had these new technologies.

These breakthroughs include the chariot, which for the first time gave speed and mobility to fighting forces and laid the groundwork for the cavalry (chariots also set the standard gauge for modern railroads, but that's another story).

Sailing ships brought warfare to the oceans. The cannon rendered castles and fortresses obsolete. The machine gun neutralized the infantry and cavalry charge. The submarine to this day remains the only true stealth technology. Paratroopers and helicopter air assault forces did for 20th century warfare what the chariot gave to the ancient world. The aircraft carrier defined the notion of power projection, and the atom bomb remains the most powerful weapon known to man.

These technological breakthroughs initially made their users invincible. It took time, espionage, innovation, and a lot of clever thinking to come up with ways to defeat these technologies. For a good long time, each one was king of the battlefield.

So against this sweep of history, how might unmanned vehicles fit in? Are they as transformative as the chariot, the cannon, the aircraft carrier, or the atom bomb? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Time will tell the true advantages of the unmanned vehicle.

In history, cataclysmic battles and events clearly demonstrated the might of history's military breakthroughs. The 1274 BC Battle of Kadesh between the Egyptian and Hittite empires in modern-day Syria was the chariot's finest hour. The Ottoman siege of Constantinople in 1453 was perhaps the first devastating use of the cannon. The Battle of Midway in 1942 made the aircraft carrier king of the seas, and Hiroshima in 1945 ushered in the nuclear age.

Have we seen a Kadesh, Constantinople, Midway, or Hiroshima involving unmanned vehicles? Not yet, and perhaps not ever. Still, it's hard to argue that unmanned vehicles represent a transformative technology that can't be ignored.

The intelligence-gathering value of unmanned vehicles is well demonstrated. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can remain on station over areas of interest sometimes for days at a time, making them one of the most valuable persistent-surveillance platforms available.

The real combat value of the unmanned vehicle today is far more political than it is military. Unmanned vehicles help keep humans out of harm's way. As a result, battlefield casualties can be reduced, and UAVs cut down on the possibility that a human aircraft pilot will be shot down, taken captive, and remain in the headlines for months, if not years.

As a weapons platform, the UAV with its light missile armament has killed terrorist leaders and taken out attacking forces in the Middle East. As an air-to-air fighter, however, UAVs have yet to demonstrate their prowess in combat. Most of today's UAVs are relatively slow and clumsy, and make easy targets.

Still, the Northrop Grumman X-47 prototype unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) is in advanced tests from aircraft carriers, so its proving day may be close at hand.

So, unmanned vehicles are of growing importance to the U.S. military, and they are to us, too. Subscribe to the monthly Unmanned Vehicles eNewsletter online at www.militaryaerospace.com/newsletters.html. The link should be effective shortly after the first of the year.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The decline of the laptop

Laptops used to be the best way to have portable computing. They could be made light, rugged, and powerful and were used everywhere. Now, all you see are tablets and smart phones, and there's good reason for that.

Tablets and smart phones are easy to use, with touch screens being one of the simplest user interfaces imaginable. The rise of small processors has also made tablets and phones more attractive, while making laptops seem cumbersome in comparison. The only time a laptop seems appropriate for portable computing at this point is if you're running very demanding applications, or absolutely need a keyboard (though giving a tablet a keyboard is as simple as docking it).

Even in the world of business, where typing is common, the laptop almost seems archaic. They are typically heavy and awkward to carry, and absolutely can't be used while moving about. In the military, where the front lines have no real need to type, and maintenance workers still value portability over performance, the laptop has completely fallen out of favor. Being outmatched by desktops in performance (and made obsolete much quicker), and overshadowed by tablets and smart phones in portability and usability, the laptop seems to be fading into obscurity.

While the laptop will probably have a niche for journalists (we type on the go quite a bit) and a few other industries, it looks as if it will fade away in the military market. Maybe thin clients and cloud computing in general could revive it, but even in the consumer market laptops have become less and less popular. The endless rows of laptops at electronics stores have gone and been replaced by smart phones and tablets on display.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

U.S. anti-submarine capability is eroding, and it may be too late to turn it around

Posted by John Keller

Here's a not-so-comforting thought. The U.S. Navy's anti-submarine warfare (ASW) skills are getting rusty during the same period that quiet submarine technology in China and Iran is improving at a noticeable rate.

I wish that were the only bad news on the submarine warfare front, but it isn't. We have U.S. ASW capability going backward, submarine capability of U.S. strategic adversaries going forward, and U.S. Navy capability as a whole in decline, according to a top Navy official.

"We're long past the point of doing more with less," says Under Secretary of the Navy, Robert Work. "We are going to be doing less with less in the future."

Work was quoted in an AOL blog by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. headlined U.S. Military Will Have To Do 'Less With Less': Hill Must Vote On Money.

Freedberg wasn't finished there, however. "The capacity of the US and allied navies to hunt enemy submarines has suffered even as potential adversaries like China and Iran have built up their sub fleets," he blogged in a piece headlined Navy's Sub-Hunting Skills Declined While China, Iran Built More Submarines.

The subtle message here is that vital U.S. Navy ASW capability is eroding due to a longtime emphasis on counter insurgency, and with strong prospects for a dwindling future Navy budget, it might already be too late to turn around the ASW decline.

Yikes.

You can talk about stealth aircraft technology all you want, but there's really only one kind of military stealth vehicle on the planet, and that's the submarine.

Stealth aircraft might have low radar cross sections, but they still can be seen with the naked eye, and heard from long distances. Aircraft, no matter what their futuristic shapes, have a difficult time hiding from ever-more-sophisticated electro-optical sensors.

Land vehicles? They still have substantial infrared signatures, and they can be seen and heard just like aircraft. Surface ships? Please. Big metal objects against a cool, flat surface. Not much ability to hide there.

But submarines, they're a different story. It's true that ASW technology is advancing throughout the world, and today's advanced diesel-electric submarines are as close to silent as you can get.

The ocean, however, is a difficult and unpredictable environment in which to hunt submerged vessels. Water columns at different depths, water densities, and salinity levels often can be a difficult, if not impossible, barrier to even the most sophisticated sonar sensors.

Sophisticated U.S. submarines for decades have enjoyed the ability to hide from almost everyone. Today, however, it's getting tougher to do as adversaries make up technological ground quickly.

It wouldn't seem to be the most advantageous time to see U.S. ASW capability slipping, but there it is. Something else to think about as we careen ever-closer to that fiscal cliff.

Monday, December 10, 2012

As the DOD prepares itself for sequestration, communication is key

The Department of Defense has been instructed to pursue internal planning to meet budget cuts if sequestration goes into effect. While the DOD has been hoping that sequestration will be avoided, the Office of Management and Budget has forced the DOD to begin planning for $500 billion in potential cuts over the next ten years.

With the cuts coming ever closer, it's time for the DOD to look at what will happen when sequestration hits.

Right now, the DOD is examining the potential impacts of sequestration, and are creating a baseline for what needs to be planned against. During a Pentagon press availability, Dr. George Little, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said "We have a lot of internal constituencies to reach out to -- service members, their families and the civilian employees of the Department of Defense -- and we're talking active, Guard and Reserve. Three million people work inside this department. One out of 100 Americans work for the secretary of defense. That is a big number and it's a big communication challenge should sequestration take effect."

The problem is communicating with the millions of Americans whose jobs hang in the balance. When the cuts come, and they will be here in less than a month if they aren't stopped, everyone needs to be prepared. The DOD is just trying to figure out how to tell people bad news if Congress fails to stop sequestration.

Ultimately, the DOD needs to figure out what programs will be cut, and how sequestration will affect the U.S. military. While sequestration goes into effect on January 3 there will be a phased-in approach to dealing with it. Little said the DOD should have the first few months of 2013 to handle the issue. With that problem forestalled, the DOD is just trying to get a big enough bullhorn to distribute information to the masses of people who will be affected by the cuts.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Conspicuous gallantry: Doris Miller at Pearl Harbor was one of World War II's first heroes

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 7 Dec. 2012. Seventy-one years ago today, U.S. Navy Ship's Cook Third Class Doris Miller had finished serving breakfast to the crew of the battleship USS West Virginia moored along Ford Island at the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii.

As the African American native of Waco, Texas, was gathering laundry shortly before 8 a.m. that Sunday, the first of nine Japanese torpedoes hit the West Virginia, as that battleship and others moored along Battleship Row -- including the Arizona, the Pennsylvania, the Nevada, and the Oklahoma -- came under sustained air assault with bombs and torpedoes as the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor began on December 7, 1941, plunging the U.S. into World War II.

Miller was the West Virginia's main cook. At the time, the ship's mess and laundry were some of the only Navy jobs available to Black Americans. When the attack hit, Miller ran to his battle station at an antiaircraft battery magazine, but found a torpedo already had destroyed it.

Instead, he moved along to the intersection of two main ship's passageways where sailors tended to congregate. There he received orders to help move the ship's captain, Mervyn Sharp Bennion, who had been wounded on the bridge.

Then Miller moved along to the ship's conning tower where he helped load .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns. Without specific orders, Miller manned one of the machine guns and began firing at attacking Japanese aircraft.

Although never getting credit for shooting down any aircraft, Miller said later he thought he shot one down, and witnesses said he may have shot down as many as six. When he ran out of ammunition, Miller helped move the ship's mortally wounded captain away from fire and smoke.

After that, he helped move wounded sailors through oil and water to the quarterdeck, "unquestionably saving the lives of a number of people who might otherwise have been lost," according to the ship's after-action report. He abandoned ship only when the West Virginia sank at its moorings.

For his actions, Miller was recognized as one of the first heroes of World War II. In awarding Miller the Navy Cross, Adm. Chester Nimitz cited " ... distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard of his personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller despite enemy strafing and bombing, and in the face of serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety and later manned and operated a machine gun until ordered to leave the bridge.”

Miller later was promoted to Mess Attendant First Class, and reported onboard the escort carrier USS Liscome Bay, which was part of the U.S. attack on the Pacific island of Tarawa in November 1943. During the battle, a Japanese submarine-launched torpedo hit the Liscome Bay in the stern, detonating the ship's aircraft bomb magazine.

The explosion that resulted sank the escort carrier in minutes. Miller was not among the ship's 272 survivors. Later, a granite marker was dedicated at Moore High School in his hometown of Waco, Texas, to honor Miller.

Today is Pearl Harbor Day. Please take a moment to remember this pivotal day in American history.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Russian air power steps forward with deliveries of Su-30SM super-maneuverable jet fighters

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 28 Nov. 2012. The Russian air force took delivery this month of the first two of a planned 30 Sukhoi Su-30SM jet fighters. This aircraft, an advanced version of the Su-30MKI fighter that Russia developed together with India, takes Russian military aviation a big step forward.

At first glance, the new Su-30SM twin-engine fighter has a profile that looks similar to the U.S. Air Force Boeing F-15E jet fighter-bomber. It has straight up-and-down twin tails and big square engine intakes. Suffice it to say, this aircraft isn't stealthy like the U.S. Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35 combat aircraft.

The Su-30SM presents a big fat radar cross section, which could make it detectable at long ranges. Still, I don't think surprise and stealth is a big part of this new aircraft. The Su-30SM is big, powerful, and looks like it's designed for close-up dogfighting.

Although the Su-30SM is weak in stealth capabilities, its major ace-in-the-hole is its maneuverability. The aircraft has one of the most modern thrust vectoring systems in the world, and most likely would be a match even for the world's most advanced jet fighters in close-quarters combat.

Thrust vectoring means the Su-30SM has the ability to manipulate the direction of its engine thrust to control speed and turning. Few other of the world's aircraft have this capability. In the U.S. only the F-22 and F-35 have any thrust vectoring capability at all, and perhaps not as advanced as the Su-30SM.

When we think of jet fighters, we usually think speed; the faster the aircraft can get to the fight, the more effective it will be. Still, the main advantage of the Su-30SM might be its ability to fly slowly.

The jet's thrust vectoring gives it the ability to hang in the air virtually motionless without stalling. When it does that, everyone else just flies right past it. Few other combat aircraft in the world may be as maneuverable as the Su-30SM.

In addition to thrust vectoring, the new Russian fighter -- like its Su-30MKI predecessor -- has avionics appropriate for fighters, ground-attack capabilities, and canards and a long-range phased-array radar system for the air-superiority role.

For proponents of advanced fighters like the F-35, F-22, and the Eurofighter, looks like there's a new game in town.

Monday, November 26, 2012

DARPA Robotics Challenge promises advances in robot autonomy

In December 2014, robots will be tested in a disaster scenario to see if they can accomplish complicated tasks such as driving utility vehicles, removing debris blocking entryways, climbing ladders and traversing industrial walkways, and using power tools.

The Robosimian
All of this will be part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DPC). The challenge aims to develop ground robots that can perform complex tasks and use available human tools, such as vehicles. The goal is to advance the robotic technologies of supervised autonomy, dismounted mobility, dexterity, and platform endurance. By using supervised autonomy, the robots developed will be able to be controlled by non-expert operators and enable effective operation despite low fidelity communications.

The program also hopes to reduce cost by expanding the supplier base for these systems and their software.

What makes this program special is what these robots can do, they are meant as human stand-ins for situations where humans can't perform certain tasks. Because of this, the robots tend to look an awful lot like people, though there are some that are bizarre looking, such as the Robosimian, a design which has been proposed by the NASA-Jet Propulsion Lab. It looks like a four legged spider with robotic hands on each foot.

These machines are meant to use human tools, which has several obvious defense applications. They can operate weapons, navigate obstacles (for a preview, look at the Atlas Robot video below), and do just about anything a human can do physically. These are meant for much more than warfighting, however, and will be used for disaster relief and other dangerous non-combat situations.

It will be exciting to see what sort of advanced technology comes out of this competition. Whether the robot that wins is humanoid or something completely different, this competition stands to change the face of robotics.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pentagon stirs up semiconductor industry with its requirement to mark parts with unique DNA

Posted by John Keller

A new anti-counterfeiting requirement from the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) at Fort Belvoir, Va., is triggering pushback from semiconductor manufacturers, who claim the new requirement is not an appropriate cure for electronics counterfeiting, does not adequate authenticate legacy semiconductors, has not been tested adequately, and will increase semiconductor manufacturing costs.

The DNA-marking mandate, which became effective on 15 November requires all semiconductors sold to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to be marked with DNA-based materials unique to each government contractor.

The intent is to prevent counterfeit parts from entering the DOD supply chain by authenticating each piece with a unique DNA-based signature. Using DNA -- sort for deoxyribonucleic acid, or the biological building block of all life -- is intended to provide a fool-proof fingerprint for each semiconductor the DOD buys to rule out the possibility of counterfeiting.

Use of counterfeit parts, which often are substandard, defective, or simply empty packages, can lead to critical system failures in military equipment, or even to foreign manipulation of electronic parts without traceable pedigrees.

Despite this intent, however, the semiconductor industry is telling DLA officials that this DNA-based marking approach will not succeed in keeping counterfeit parts out of military systems, and ultimately threatens to undermine established practices for screening out counterfeit parts, industry officials say.

In addition, confusion in the semiconductor industry -- at least for now -- is causing semiconductor suppliers to avoid bidding on DLA semiconductor contracts, and eventually could cause shortages in the DOD of replacement electronic parts.

In a lengthy letter to the DLA dated last August, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) in Washington said "the Defense Logistics Agency proposed DNA marker solution will not solve current counterfeit, reliability, or performance problems faced in procurement. It significantly burdens manufacturers and does not reduce risks to people, systems, and missions."

The SIA, which represents the U.S. semiconductor industry, has asked DLA to postpone implementing the DNA-marker program until more testing has been conducted, and until more questions are answered in response to semiconductor industry concerns.

Nevertheless, Christine Metz, Technical & Quality Process Owner in the DLA, and the agency official overseeing the DNA marking program, said in an e-mail on 19 Nov. that DLA has "not postponed implementation" of the program.

The JEDEC Solid State Technology Association in Arlington, Va., which oversees global standards for the microelectronics industry has formed the JEDEC JC-13 Committee -- a DNA Marking Task Group -- to look into industry concerns about the DLA program, and has posed a list of questions to the DLA's Metz.

Members of the JEDEC task group will meet in January in San Antonio, Texas, and say they expect DLA to provide answers to questions on DLA's overall intent, on company liability, marking of legacy semiconductors, and other issues. JEDEC formerly stood for Joint Electron Device Engineering Council.

JEDEC officials also are concerned about whether the DNA marking program meets all military specifications for permanency; non-nutrient to fungus; minimum and maximum storage temperatures; outgassing; and conductivity.

As of now, only one supplier is authorized to provide DNA marking material to meet DLA requirements -- Applied DNA Sciences Inc. in Stony Brook, N.Y. -- and the industry has voiced concerned about competition as well as about the threat of counterfeiting the counter-counterfeiting DNA material.

"We believe this type of authentication is easily circumvented because a counterfeiter need only mimic the material of the marker when counterfeiting a product," reads the SIA letter to the DLA.

Among the most serious fallout from the DLA semiconductor-marking requirement involves the cost and difficulty of implementation. "If Applied DNA's process were to be implemented by semiconductor manufacturers for all of their products, they would be required to modify longstanding qualified manufacturing flows installed in existing billion-dollar facilities," reads the SIA's letter.

Until now, as a result, many semiconductor manufacturers and licensed electronics distributors are choosing not to bid on DLA contract opportunities, some industry officials say.

If manufacturers and licensed distributors opt out of bidding DLA solicitations, this would leave only electronics parts brokers, which are considered to be among the highest-risk companies for allowing counterfeit parts to slip into the Pentagon's supply chain.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Are we taking Cybersecurity seriously? Congress shoots down bill

A recent bill that called for cybersecurity reform was blocked from the Senate floor last week. The bill would have forced the providers of critical infrastructure, defined as a system or asset that damage or unauthorized access could reasonably result in the interruption of life-sustaining services, including energy, water, transportation, emergency services, or food sufficient to cause a mass casualty event that includes an "extraordinary number of fatalities" or "mass evacuations with a prolonged absence", to improve their security.

The bill calls for companies to have a third party assess their security measures and then bring them up to speed. There is much more to the bill, but the main push is to get companies that provide critical infrastructure to protect themselves adequately. We already know there are groups that want to attack us. We have been attacked. Other countries have been attacked. The threat of a network attack isn't some specter that people are using as a scare tactic to pass other laws, it is a real defense issue.

While the Department of Defense already provides civilian agencies with help on cybersecurity, the bill would have been a matter of making sure critical infrastructure is safe by helping companies protect themselves and punishing those who did not take the right steps. The government has already said a serious attack can be grounds for war, so why can't we act and actually protect our vital assets?

The Obama administration may be issuing executive order to shore up cybersecurity in the mean time.

The full text of the bill is available here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pentagon looks to international business to keep U.S. defense industry viable

It's more than a bit unsettling when the Pentagon starts developing weapon systems in a way that indicates the needs of the U.S. military simply are no longer sufficient to support the U.S. defense industry.

Still, that's what we're starting to see.

Defense News ran a story this week headlined Pentagon Aims to Reduce Time, Cost for Weapons Design that says Pentagon leaders are considering designing new weapons that would make it easier for foreign nations to buy them.

Now why would the Pentagon have an interest in that, and why now? It sounds like they're concerned about a rapidly contracting domestic defense industry that's facing nearly half a trillion dollars in budget cuts over the next 10 years due to a congressional process called sequestration.

Another term for sequestration is the fiscal cliff, which daily is looking more difficult to avoid.

The Pentagon needs a viable defense industry to supply its weapons and equipment needs over the long term. If the U.S. military can't provide enough business to keep the defense industry solvent, then what might be the next best thing?

Increasingly, it looks like the Pentagon is looking to international military forces to pick up the slack. Established allies typically don't have much problem buying from U.S. defense companies. So what's up with this new policy, which some are calling Better Buying Power 2.0?

Plans under consideration call for enhanced exportability within development programs, and include one program for a radar and another for an electronic warfare system that will serve as pilots for this effort, according to Defense News.

I can just envision a new position in the Pentagon -- deputy undersecretary of defense for marketing. Foreign militaries, have we got a deal for you? C'mon down!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Strike-one for the defense industry

Posted by John Keller

A week or so I wrote that economic hard times for the defense industry no longer are on the horizon; they're here.

In that blog, entitled "Military business slows to a trickle; now a matter of how hard things will get," I pointed out three things to watch for to get a sense of how hard military business is going to be hit: the presidential election, sequestration, and the 2014 Pentagon budget request.

As for the first item, as you probably know by now, Barack Obama -- bringing his hostility to the military in general and for defense spending in particular -- has been re-elected president.

Strike-one.

Obama is no supporter of military technology development, and his continued presence in the White House bodes ill for the defense industry. We're potentially heading down a slope that perhaps could lead to lows in defense spending that we haven't seen in nearly two decades, perhaps even longer.

Now we wait for sequestration, or across-the-board defense cuts of nearly half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years. The lame-duck Congress might do something th head-off sequestration, but it's not really in anyone's interest to do so -- except for the military and the defense industry.

Letting automatic defense cuts happen absolves anyone of blame for the results. It's a political gift from heaven, if you're in elected office. Sequestration will be the second strike.

Then we have the Pentagon's budget request next February for federal fiscal year 2014. That, perhaps, will be the clearest leading indicator of prospects for the defense industry in the near term. The proposed budget will help sort out winners and losers, and give the industry a hint of the military's long-term technology priorities.


We're in for a tough slog -- more dire than many have imagined. Over the next couple of years I predict program cancellations, major consolidation in the defense industry, and a noticeable abandonment of the military market by electronic component suppliers.

So what's it mean for us?

First, it means we have to dust off our boots and put our cowboy hats on straight. The defense industry in two or three years is going to look much different from how it is today.

Those who remain in the defense industry must push technological innovation to the limit to provide U.S. military forces with the most capable technology possible at the most affordable prices for the military's most pressing needs, like persistent surveillance and IED detection.

It's possible to do -- I've seen it before -- but it won't be easy, and it won't be painless. The last big defense downturn in the early 1990s during the Clinton Administration saw widespread implementation of commercial off-the-shelf technology or COTS.

No one ever had heard of COTS before then, and what we'll eventually see out of this defense downturn, well, no one's ever heard of what that will be, either. Before we get there, though, there will be casualties and pain.

Still, I'm optimistic that whatever comes out of this defense downturn, we'll be the better for. Remember, out of pressure and heat come things like hard steel and diamonds.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Electrical grid attacked, cybersecurity more important now than ever

Last month an attack was carried out on the Telvent, the maker of software and services meant to be used with smart grid networks. The attack was announced as a breach of Telvent's internal firewall and security systems, and Telvent officials said the attack included the installation of malicious software and the theft of project files for OASyS SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition), software that bridges the gap between enterprise networks and activities in the field.

In a time where these SCADA systems are used to regulate the electrical grid through the Internet or over phone lines, a serious attack can result in electricity being denied to hundreds of thousands of people. Attacks on the infrastructure of our country are a real threat to the lives of citizens.

The attack on Telvent was believed to have come from a Chinese hacking team called the "Comment Group", according to Joe Steward, director of malware research at Dell SecureWorks.

Last year, the White House wrote a report titled International Strategy for Cyberspace. In that report it was written that

"When warranted, the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would to any other threat to our country. All states possess an inherent right to self-defense, and we recognize that certain hostile acts conducted through cyberspace could compel actions under the commitments we have with our military treaty partners. We reserve the right to use all necessary means—diplomatic, informational, military, and economic—as appropriate and consistent with applicable international law, in order to defend our Nation, our allies, our partners, and our interests."

If cybersecurity is so important we can go to war over it, isn't it about time we made sure our important infrastructure is safe from attack? It's unsettling to think that malware could make it into the systems that control electrical grids, and while the Department of Defense has been taking cybersecurity very seriously, attacks such as these are not targeting the government, they are targeting companies.

The military may need to step in and force companies that provide important infrastructure to increase their security offerings. A successful attack will do more than hurt the companies that are directly involved, after all.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy hits trade shows, cancels flights, strands travelers along the entire East Coast

Posted by John Keller

So much for travel plans that fall in the path of a hurricane.

Flights cancelled, trade shows abandoned, all due to Hurricane Sandy, a 1,000-mile-wide tropical cyclone that's smashing into the U.S. East Coast causing rain, flooding, blizzards, high winds, and power outages from Key West to Quebec.

Two big aerospace and defense shows were scheduled for this week in Orlando -- AFCEA MILCOM, which has become THE military embedded computing conference, and National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) annual meeting and convention. MILCOM's cancelled, while NBAA appears to be on.

I made plans to attend both shows, but here I remain in New Hampshire, with no flights available today and probably tomorrow, as well. We'll be lucky if commercial air travel is back to normal by the end of the week.

AFCEA MILCOM officials made the decision Sunday to cancel the show after determining that at least 40 percent of exhibitors and attendees most likely would not be able to make it to Orlando. Count all of us here in the Northeast as part of that 40 percent.

Only one of our staff, Courtney Howard, will be able to make the NBAA show, and it's only because she's traveling from the West Coast where flights remain unaffected by the gathering hurricane.

I was optimistic about making it out before the effects of the hurricane hit. Still, as of this morning, flights were cancelled. It's not just our staff who can't get flights out. Evidently thousands of European travelers are stuck on the East Coast until the big weather event passes.

I can't imagine the amount of money being lost, just in the cancellation of MILCOM. Companies have shipped booths and equipment, made hotel reservations, bought plane tickets, and made all kinds of other arrangements, all for nothing.

My condolences go out to all the companies and attendees who will have to wait until next year for MILCOM 2013. We await attendance results of the NBAA show to see how Hurricane Sandy has hit that conference.

As for me, I'm still here in New Hampshire, posting content until the power goes out. Good luck to everyone in the path of the hurricane.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Military business slows to a trickle; now a matter of how hard things will get

Posted by John Keller

We've been hearing for a long time about hard times coming for the military and aerospace business. In fact, I've been hearing about a defense downturn since long before President Obama even took office.

Still, the beginning of federal fiscal year 2013, which was the first of this month, has left me with little doubt that the hard times no longer are coming.

They're here.

I pay fairly close attention to the Pentagon's contract solicitations and awards. Everything was proceeding normally until the end of September. Then at the end of the month and the beginning of October we had a flurry of activity -- particularly in contract awards. That's to be expected, as program managers try to use their annual allotments.

Then a couple of days into the new fiscal, the Pentagon's money spigot slowed to a trickle. I don't have numbers of contracts and dollar amounts to cite. What I have is anecdotal evidence and a gut feel, but military business activity felt like it dropped off a cliff somewhere around the fourth or fifth of this month.

At first I thought the dropoff in military contracts and solicitations was some sort of anomaly -- it still may turn out to be so -- but with each passing day I see more of the same.

It's not just that contracting has dropped off; it's the kind of awards and solicitations being announced. Most of it involves maintenance, services, and small research projects. Even many of the technology upgrade programs have disappeared. Those that remain are intended to keep hold on the status-quo, not to make substantial improvements in capability.

It's a clear indication that the military is shrinking at an accelerating pace. In fact, the trends indicate that the Pentagon right now is hard-pressed to keep what they already have in acceptable working order. In short, our military structure is being placed in mothballs, that is, until more money becomes available, or until some military crisis hits.

I wish I had some good news, but things could get even tougher, as we face a congressionally mandated "fiscal cliff" of sequestration in January if lawmakers can't agree on controlled cuts. Make no mistake, we're in for a rough go for at least the next six months to a year.

Things to look for: the results of the presidential election; whether or not Congress heads off sequestration; and the Pentagon's fiscal year 2014 budget request next February.

If Mitt Romney wins, it's better for the defense industry, but it won't represent an immediate turnaround. Government money is tight, and is likely to remain so.

Congress could do something about sequestration in a lame-duck session, but I'm not optimistic. Even if sequestration is avoided, defense still faces cuts. It will simply be a question of horrible, or merely miserable.

The Department of Defense budget request in February will be an important indicator, not only for how much money the Pentagon plans to spend, but also where that money will go if Congress approves.

So if you're in the defense business, cross you fingers. It's not a question of whether things will get more difficult, but a matter of just how difficult things will get.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Alpha Dog demonstrates what quadruped robots can do

Quadruped robots have fantastic utility, being able to traverse most forms of terrain that ground troops can move makes them incredibly versatile, but certain limitations have always held them back. Historically these robots have been slow moving, loud, and incapable of picking themselves up if they fall down (and eventually any machine will make a mistake regardless of how well built or programmed it is).

Well, Boston Dynamics has once again proven that quadruped technology is more than just a pipe dream. Their Alpha Dog robot has now demonstrated the ability to move on flat surfaces at 7 mph, traverse rocky, unstable terrain at 3 mph, and even right itself when it falls on its side. It even does all of this while carrying a 400 lb. load.

Not only is the Alpha Dog much more capable than previous quadruped robots, it can automatically follow soldiers who are carrying a mobile device while avoiding obstacles, and operates more quietly than ever before. Those who have tested the robot have said it is now possible to carry on a conversation while walking alongside it, a huge improvement over the very noisy Big Dog robot.

DARPA plans on using these robots alongside soldiers in operational exercises, where these robots will be considered for deployment. With advances like these being made it's only a matter of time before we see them trotting alongside soldiers, lightening their loads and, perhaps, performing other duties as well. There's a lot you can do with a robot that can travel anywhere, sense objects and carry 400 lbs.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Looming fiscal cliff threatens to strike after the presidential election

Posted by John Keller

The so-called fiscal cliff of sequestration, which threatens to take a deep gouge of nearly half a billion dollars out of the U.S. defense budget over the next 10 years, is still as much of a threat today as it ever was, but you'd never know it with so much media attention riveted on the presidential election.

Strange this fiscal cliff has not been more of an issue in either the Romney or Obama campaigns. This ticking time bomb, initiated by a Congress that's much more concerned with partisan political trivia than with the faltering U.S. economy, because this legislative device threatens hundreds of thousands of American jobs, as well as U.S. military preparedness.

Sequestration threatens to lop off $1.2 trillion from about 1,200 federal programs over the next decade. Moreover, sequestration threatens to make these cuts in indiscriminate ways that have the potential to hurt people and programs in brutal ways.

Sequestration was set up by Congress to trigger automatic deep cuts in federal spending in early January if lawmakers are unable to agree on more-controlled spending drawdowns. This proposed remedy is so severe that it reminds me of incidents during the Vietnam War when soldiers said they had to destroy villages in order to save them.

It was absurd then, and the sequestration approach is absurd now. Indiscriminate and abrupt cuts in federal spending will cause hundreds of thousands of Americans to lose their jobs, but consider the long-term ramifications of that.

Imagine the private businesses that provide goods and services today to those people who could be out of a job before the end of this calendar year. What happens when those laid-off people have to cut their household budgets drastically just to survive. How many businesses would be forced to close as a result of big reductions in disposable income?

No congressman or senator who had a hand in any vote that authorized this sequestration monster deserves your vote on November 6.

Not one.

Remember that, also, when the senators not facing the voters this year come up for re-election.

Those in the House and Senate should have thought of this, but they didn't, because sequestration was never supposed to happen. Instead, it was supposed to be "incentive" for members of Congress to work together to head off this disaster.

No deal has been hammered out, thus far, to head this off. When and if sequestration hits, the resulting pain and suffering of thousands of Americans will make us forget quickly about the trivial campaign issues dominating media attention leading up to the election -- things like contraception, Big Bird, binders of women, and perceived glass ceilings.

One might think that Congress and the Obama Administration might act with some sort of a sense of urgency as the sequestration deadline creeps closer, but instead the issue simply has become ever-more politicized.

If the law were to be followed, thousands of U.S. defense industry employees would receive layoff notices the Friday before the presidential election on 6 Nov. Oh but we can't have that, can we? While the law says defense contractors must notify employees at least 60 days before layoffs take effect, it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

In response to pressure from the Obama Administration, Lockheed Martin, the nation's largest defense contractor, in early October backed down from plans to issue layoff warnings to employees just before the November election.

The Obama administration has, company leaders said, gave them assurances that it won’t immediately kill any major defense contracts when automatic spending cuts go into effect in January.

This will solve nothing. If sequestration hits, some defense programs will be reduced or eliminated, defense employees will be laid off, and unemployment will start rising immediately. Delay only might keep some otherwise angry defense employees from taking their frustrations out in the voting booth.

In short, we face a mess that won't go away from ignoring it. This willful denial of what needs to be done for too long is what got into this in the first place.

Here's hoping that, whoever wins the presidential election in November, that Congress will do something -- anything -- to stop sequestration during a lame-duck session. How hard can it be? Members of Congress, after all, are experts at kicking the can down the road.

If they don't, then whoever is sworn in as president in January will face a monumental catastrophe.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Stealing a drone by spoofing, is it that easy?

Spoofing, which is essentially cyber forgery, has been proven to be capable of taking control (or at least misguiding) unmanned vehicles that use GPS as part of their navigation systems.

Spoofing is one of the ways Iran could have gotten access to the drone they received late last year, the one that landed unharmed in hostile territory with barely a scratch. It looks like the U.S. military is concerned about this kind of attack, as they have seen it fit to saddle Rockwell Collins with the task of developing technology "to locate and classify an adversary's attempts to interfere with GPS signals and disrupt military operations."

GPS spoofing isn't new, it's been around for as long as GPS, but with UAVs and other GPS guided unmanned vehicles becoming more popular this sort of misdirection is now a threat. GPS spoofing is simple, a device pretends that it is a GPS satellite and tells another device, such as a drone, that it is at a certain location, rather than its actual position. Since many unmanned vehicles use GPS as part of their navigation system, it is possible to force them to behave in certain ways. Tell a UAV it's too high and it will attempt to go lower, tell it it's too far to the East and it will move West, simple stuff.

Now, GPS spoofing isn't necessarily a serious threat to the military, which uses encrypted GPS signals and several methods of navigation on important systems (though if Iran actually spoofed the drone down it is, we may never know). GPS spoofing is more of a minor annoyance to the military. The problem is that civillian airspace is going to be opened up to drones eventually, and in the next few years it might not be unusual to see drones being used by police forces or even commercial companies.

GPS spoofing is a threat because GPS is cheap and easy to use, making it popular in these unmanned vehicles that could be flying around your neighborhood in the future.

Cyber warfare is a serious thing, and it's good to see the defense industry preparing itself for some of the newer forms of attack that have emerged.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Drone operation? There's an app for that.

Soldiers on the battlefield may eventually be able to get supplies delivered directly to them via unmanned rotorcraft by using a smart phone, or similar device, to control a drone with a simple application.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has given contracts to Lockheed Martin and Aurora Flight Science to develop an unmanned rotorcraft to deliver cargo on the battlefield. The ultimate goal of this project? To allow warfighters to operate unmanned rotorcraft with a smartphone-esque device.

With the Department of Defense's (DOD) interest in automation, as evidenced by UAV swarms, unmanned underwater vehicles (UVVs), and submarine-tracking unmanned surface vessels, this seems like a logical extension of improved autonomous vehicle controls. The program itself is a five-year effort, which will include the development of sensors and control technologies for autonomous rotorcraft.

Smartphone applications have also been a tool that has seen more and more use by the DOD as time goes on, with applications designed to help soldiers make smart choices at home and for rapid response in disaster scenarios. The idea that each soldier will be connected to the web and have a GPS device on them is allowing the DOD to create applications to provide important services to soldiers.

This possible application will help prevent casualties by putting fewer manned convoys into harms way to deliver supplies, along with making important supplies more accessible to soldiers on the front lines.

With a goal of getting a flight demonstration into the air in 18 months, soldiers may soon find themselves in a situation where if supplies are low they don't need to worry; there's an app for that.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

NASA Radiation Belt Storm Probes Mission to yield new information on rad-hard electronics

Posted by John Keller

NASA is working with industry and academia to do the most comprehensive-ever mapping of the radiation belts around Earth so that space experts have a clear idea of the locations and intensities of radiation concentrations to help future satellites and manned spacecraft effectively avoid them.

NASA launched two test and instrumentation satellites in August on the Radiation Belt Storm Probes Mission to learn in minute detail how the radiation belts are populated with charged particles, what causes them to change, and how these processes affect the upper reaches of the atmosphere around Earth.

NASA will use information from the two-year mission to better protect satellites and understand how space weather affects communications and technology on Earth. The mission also is helping researchers in the microelectronics industry learn even more about radiation-hardened electronics.

"We get single-event upsets every time we go through those belts," says Brian Orlowski, program manager of space products at rad-hard electronics designer BAE Systems Electronic Systems in Manassas, Va.


BAE Systems is providing rad-hard synchronous dynamic random-access memory (SDRAM) and chalcogenide random-access memory (CRAM) chips that are part of the radiation-measuring instruments and other electronics aboard the Radiation Belt Storm Probes Mission satellites.

This mission also is the first space flight of qualified CRAM chips, Orlowski says. Chalcogenide is an alloy of germanium antimonide and tellurium, for which BAE Systems has a sole license for building the technology for space applications, he says.

BAE Systems makes the CRAM chips together with partner and phase-change semiconductor memory technology expert Ovonyx Inc. in Sterling Heights, Mich.

BAE Systems also is using error detection and correction (EDAC) technology aboard the NASA satellites to detect and repair single-event upsets, which are bit flips in solid state memory caused by impact with charged particles in or near radiation sources.

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes Mission spacecraft also are equipped with BAE Systems RAD-750 computers, as well as the RTAX-2000 radiation-hardened computer from Microsemi Corp. SoC Products Group in Mountain View, Calif.

Thus far all components are working as expected, BAE Systems officials say. By the time this mission is scheduled to end in 2014, rad-hard experts will have much more information for advanced chip designs.

Monday, October 1, 2012

BAE and EADS speak about possible merger, claim expansion rather than contraction

When news dried up on the possible merger between BAE and EADS all that was left was speculation, and speculate we did. With shrinking defense budgets and many companies preparing for armageddon it makes sense that mergers would occur. However, Ian King, the Chief Executive of BAE Systems and Tom Enders, the Chief Executive of EADS, have now gone on the record saying the possible combination is not because of financial trouble.

The two chief executives explained that they hope to obtain a wider customer base, more scalability and a greater potential to ride the cycles of civil aviation and defense spending.

What I can't quite put my finger on is the purpose of the Op-Ed by the two chief executives. Is the goal to reassure investors and governments that the merger will be beneficial to all? Is it a response to the sudden $5.2 billion drop in EADS share values since news of the talks broke?

The message is meant to be one of prosperity, but one quote in particular is less than promising for current BAE and EADS employees.

The release, which was posted on the BAE website, reads "Clearly, there will be scope for efficiency savings when two companies of our size come together, but great benefit will derive from our ability to exploit new business opportunities. That has to be good for jobs and economic prosperity in the long term."

While growth in the long term is good, the statement seems to imply that the short term will result in employees being lost and facilities being closed.

Whatever happens in the current merger talks, this will have a large impact on the defense industry, and we at M&AE will be watching closely to see what happens next.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Marines experience their worst air disaster in nearly half a century

Posted by John Keller

You may not have heard it like this, but earlier this month one of the worst U.S military air disasters in nearly half a century happened during a terrorist attack on the airfield at Camp Bastion in Southern Afghanistan.

U.S. Marine Corps Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), based at Yuma Marine Corps Base, Ariz., not only had two Marines killed, but also had six late-model AV-8B II Harrier jump jets destroyed, and another two of the aircraft damaged likely beyond repair.

That's eight sophisticated combat aircraft out of commission. A Marine attack squadron normally has a complement of about 12 aircraft, which means VMA-211 effectively is out of business. The attack has been called the worst Marine Corps aviation disaster since the Vietnam Tet Offensive in 1968.

This squadron has a storied history, and it's unclear what will be the ultimate resolution of this situation. The AV-8B -- designed by Boeing predecessor McDonnell Douglas -- hasn't been manufactured in years, so replacing those aircraft is probably out of the question.

It's possible the squadron eventually could refit with F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters, or perhaps even with the new F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters, but whatever happens, it probably won't happen quickly.

For a squadron to switch aircraft is not a trivial process. Pilots must be retrained, ground crewmen must requalify on new aircraft, logistics, support, and maintenance must be retooled. Suffice it to say, this squadron as an independent unit effectively will be grounded for quite some time.

VMA-211 is nicknamed the Wake Island Avengers. It's a name its members take to heart.

On 8 Dec. 1941 -- one day after Pearl Harbor -- the Japanese attacked U.S. forces based on Wake Island in the Western Pacific. In the initial attack, VMA-211 had seven of its 12 Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter aircraft destroyed on the ground. The remaining five were destroyed in action, after which VMA-211 became a ground unit until the surrender of Wake Island on 23 Dec. 1941.

VMA-211's Henry T. Elrod, was the first U.S. Marine airman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II.

In the terrorist attack in Afghanistan earlier this month, Taliban attackers wore American military uniforms, which added to the confusion. All the attackers reportedly were killed in a firefight, but the damage was done.

We'll have to wait and see what ultimately happens to VMA-211.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

BAE and EADS stand to form the largest defense company in the world

BAE and EADS are currently discussing a possible combination of the two companies. This combination comes in face of shrinking defense budgets and very high competition for defense contracts. The two companies already work together on several different defense projects, such as the Typhoon jet and a joint missile project.

When combined BAE and EADS eclipse the world's current largest defense company, Lockheed Martin, having earned over $20 billion more than Lockheed Martin in sales last year.

BAE and EADS expect there to be many benefits from the potential merger, citing benefits including cost savings, such as from procurement and sourcing efficiencies available to the enlarged group, and substantial new business opportunities.

Any agreement on the terms of a potential combination will require approval by the boards of EADS and BAE Systems. Prior to any such agreement, EADS will inform the relevant bodies representing the interests of its employees in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. If, after completion of the processes described above, EADS and BAE Systems reach definitive agreement on the terms of any combination, completion would be subject to, amongst other things, a number of governmental and regulatory approvals, the approval of ordinary shareholders of both BAE Systems and EADS, and certain conditions that are customary for a transaction governed by the City Code on Takeovers and Mergers.

There is no certainty whether the discussions will lead to any mergers.

Any merger announcement will need to be made by October 10, 2012, though BAE has stated its intention to request an extension if talks are still in place at that point.

If these two companies do merge the result will be a force to be reckoned with. Both EADS and BAE have a lot of strength and long histories in the defense industry. The benefits of the combination seem plentiful, with both companies standing to benefit from the manufacturing capabilities, locations, and established customer base of the other.

Keep following M&AE to find out more as news on the possible combination breaks!

Monday, September 10, 2012

U.S. government takes threat of bird flu pandemic seriously; spends $25 billion for medical countermeasures

Posted by John Keller

Evidently the U.S. government is taking the threat of a global bird flu pandemic very seriously, as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded five contracts collectively worth as much as $25.36 billion for medical countermeasures to the H5N1 avian influenza virus.

There is ample reason to take the threat of an H5N1 bird flu pandemic seriously, too. Over the last decade there have been 608 confirmed cases of H5N1 in humans, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. Of those, 359 died; that's nearly a 70 percent mortality rate.

Of those confirmed cases of H5N1 and their resulting deaths, most have been in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Egypt. No cases have been reported in the U.S. -- yet.

To keep any potential H5N1 bird flu pandemic in check, HHS officials on 4 Sept. awarded contracts potentially worth $9 billion to Novartis Vaccines and Diagonostics Inc. in Boston; $8.2 billion to MedImmune LLC in Gaithersburg, Md.; $4.7 billion to Sanofi Pasteur Inc. in Swiftwater, Pa.; $2 billion to GlaxoSmithKline LLC in Philadelphia; and $1.5 billion to CSL Biotherapies Inc. in King of Prussia, Pa.


All contract awards are the maximum amount possible. The contract duration is three years with options for two additional years. Awarding the contracts was the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

The companies will provide the U.S. government with vaccines, support, and medical storage not only for pre-pandemic medicine to help prevent the spread of the H5N1 virus, but also for medicines to treat the virus after it is contracted to alleviate symptoms and prevent deaths.

U.S. health officials are determined to blunt the effects of any potential H5N1 avian influenza pandemic, which could overload hospitals, threaten children and the elderly the most, and could threaten the working of the military and government agencies if large numbers of employees were to be incapacitated by the virus.

Three severe flu pandemics spread throughout the world in the 20th century, the most recent of which was the 1968-1969 Hong Kong Flu pandemic, which involved the H3N2 virus, and is estimated to have killed 1 million people.

In 1957 and 1958 an Asian Flu pandemic involving the H2N2 virus killed an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people. The 20th century's worst flu outbreak was the 1918 to 1920 Spanish Flu pandemic, which involved the H1N1 virus and killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New modified COTS device helps repair engines and airframes before they break

The U.S. Navy has developed a new device that they describe as "doing for aircraft inspections what colonoscopies have done for cancer detection." This device, called the borescope, inspects aircraft and engines while providing real-time digital images and video for examination.

Recognizing cracks and engine debris allow aircraft to last longer by preventing some of the most common reasons for aircraft damage. If a chunk of debris falls into a running engine the blades will often be damaged, or if a crack is allowed to expand the entire aircraft can be rendered inoperable. By recognizing these problems early both lives and money can be saved.

Borescopes were used to detect engine debris in the past, but the systems generated low-quality black and white images and used a rigid probe that prevented the borescope from providing a full inspection of the aircraft and engines it was looking into. The new system features a long, flexible insertion tube with a color screen that allows inspectors to get a 360-degree view of the aircraft or engine, enabling them to find problems previous systems could not locate.

The system is based off of a COTS product, making the system significantly cheaper than legacy borescopes. The new systems cost roughly half the price of old borescopes.

This is a great example of modified COTS products replacing older, more specialized systems while providing better service at a cheaper price. When it comes to repairs and inspection, COTS products make sense as they aren't mission critical devices. Could COTS be part of the solution for surviving on the shrinking defense budget?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Remembering Neil Armstrong, and what he meant to a generation of Americans

I remember as a kid back in the late '60s how friends and I liked to argue over who was the most famous person in the world. Several names popped up in those debates: Wilt Chamberlain, who had scored more points in a basketball game than anyone else; Bob Hayes who at the time was considered to be the world's fastest man; and President John F. Kennedy, whose presence we still felt keenly after his assassination in Dallas.

When my fourth-grade school year ended in June 1969 our arguments over who was the most famous were still strong and animated. When we returned to our classrooms the next fall, however, all debate had ended, for everyone knew by then who the most famous person in the world was: it was Neil Armstrong, who less than two months before had become the first human to set foot on the moon during America's space program.

I remembered those heady days when I learned that Neil Armstrong -- the undisputed most-famous person of my childhood -- died last Saturday at the age of 82.

The end of our most-famous debate that fall 43 years ago didn't apply just to new fifth-graders in their spiffy new school clothes. The first moon landing was an incredibly big thing for most Americans, as only those who were around at the time can understand.

My parents and grandparents always could say where they were when they first heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Members of younger generations than mine could tell you where they were the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. For the same token, there's no one of my generation who couldn't tell you where he or she was that day July 20, 1969, when the Apollo 11 lunar module, touched down on the moon's surface.


It was lunchtime on a Sunday as I camped with my family near a Southern California beach, and we listened to the moon landing on a transistor radio. Everyone at that campground was doing the same thing, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

The actual first moon walk didn't happen for several hours after the landing. We'd packed up and arrived back at home by then. It was just after supper, and my family huddled around our black-and-white television set to watch a grainy live-TV broadcast of Armstrong as he slowly descended the ladder of the lunar module. When he set foot on the lunar surface, I remember looking up at the clock. Then I wrote the time and date down on a scrap of paper, because in my heart I knew that I might never see such a momentous thing again.

... and perhaps I haven't.

As for Armstrong himself, he was an unlikely "most-famous" person. He did things quietly, remained largely out of the public eye. He didn't sign endorsement deals, appear in commercials, or on cereal boxes. Still, he was the most-famous person in the world, and as kids we idolized him.

He represented the culmination of America's race to the moon, begun less than a decade before with John F. Kennedy's inaugural address. Despite that era's continuing carnage in Vietnam, Americans were riveted by the Apollo program. There was much more a sense of "we" as Americans then than there seems to be now.

Things did change after Armstrong's voyage. After he and colleague Buzz Aldrin came home from the moon, somehow the space program's focus and sense-of-purpose quickly became diluted in the popular mind. There wasn't a clear answer to the question, "So we made it to the moon; what's next?"

The space program did have a few "what's next" initiatives, such as Skylab, the Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station. Still, nothing even came close to the excitement we felt with Armstrong's first walk on the moon. Even today, it seems nothing really compares.

Maybe that's why -- at least in my mind -- Neil Armstrong remains the most famous person in the world.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Counter IED software can locate IED and weapons caches in Afghanistan

A new piece of software that was developed at West Point called SCARE, or the spatio-cultural abductive reasoning engine, uses a mathematical model based on the research theory of geospatial abduction to predict where IED attacks will take place and locate weapons caches.

A modified version of the program, C-SCARE/A, has been developed specifically for Afghanistan and uses information such as locations and dates of previous attacks, tribal information, and road networks to predict where IED attacks are likely to occur. The modified software was produced as part of the final phase of the counter-IED project.

The program is not 100% accurate, but has been proven to be capable of predicting attacks. What is amazing is that a piece of software can be so useful to warfighters. Rather than relying on a new piece of advanced technology, the program simply uses available information and a mathematical model to provide utility to troops who are on deployment.

This program is proof that the ability for technology to assist warfighters isn't just reliant on hardware, but software as well.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Persistent-surveillance sensors can compress time and link related events for deep intelligence gathering

Posted by John Keller

You can learn a lot just by watching, and that's the idea behind persistent-surveillance technologies deployed and in development by Logos Technologies Inc. in Fairfax, Va., for military surveillance in South Asia, as well as for homeland security surveillance on the nation's southern border.

Logos is in the business of just watching -- not for anything specific, but the company's scientists are developing intelligent persistent-surveillance technologies that once something of interest happens, they not only can spot the incident and interpret it, but also link events happening before and after an incident that can yield reams of important information.

The key word here is reams -- or more specifically, hundreds of terabytes of imaging data. The Logos Kestrel day/night wide-area persistent surveillance system, for example, is an imaging payload for helium-filled aerostats that remain aloft for about a month, and can store continuous video data for all of that time.

Logos also designs the Lightweight Expeditionary Airborne Persistent Surveillance (LEAPS) payload for small manned aircraft such as the Hawker Beechcraft King Air, as well as for medium-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

You can think of persistent surveillance as kind of an autonomous police stakeout. The beauty of these autonomous sensor payloads is they don't get tired, bored, distracted, or take coffee breaks.

These kinds of sensors simply watch until something of interest happens -- a moving vehicle, converging vehicles, groups of people on foot, or anything else that might rouse suspicion.

These incidents might indicate an important meeting of high-ranking terrorists, a drug deal going down, the planting of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or attempts to cross into the U.S. illegally.

Taken in isolation, these incidents are simply moving vehicles or groups of people. Nothing really out of the ordinary. But put these incidents in context of events happening before and after, and sometimes a coherent picture emerges.

What if three or four cars all park close to a specific house within a few minutes of one another? Say that house later is determined to be the hideout of an important terrorist, drug smuggler, or military enemy?

A persistent-surveillance system like Kestrel, LEAPS, or Gorgon Stare can indicate where the converging cars came from, and where they went afterwards. This could lead authorities to important suppliers, criminals, or potential victims.

What is an aerostat-mounted persistent surveillance sensor could watch a road every second for a month? By identifying vehicles that stop at odd times and odd places might indicate the emplacement of IEDs, or some other kind of military ambush.

The possibilities are almost endless.

The story doesn't end there, however. Logos engineers are working to shrink their persistent-surveillance payloads from hundreds to only tens of pounds, as well as developing data storage technologies that make the most of limited bandwidth. These approaches could open up new ways to deploy these sensors on a wide variety of covert platforms.

These persistent-surveillance sensors are watching ... all the time.