Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Security for Android hand-held devices is top priority for real-time software companies

Posted by John Keller

Real-time embedded software companies this year will be turning their attention this year to creating robust security for Android-based smartphones and tablet computers in a big way. Android security is taking top priority to enable deployed military forces to use Android devices on the battlefield for ad-hoc networking to exchange text messaging, voice communications, and even intelligence imagery and video.

It's a fact that military forces are taking their smartphones and tablet computers onto the battlefield with them. It's up to leaders in the Pentagon to create software security so they use these devices securely and safely, and military officials are turning to the high-reliability software companies like Wind River in Alameda, Calif.; Objective Interface Systems, Inc. (OIS) in Herndon, Va.; and Green Hills Software in Santa Barbara, Calif., to provide Android security sufficient for battlefield operations.

Wind River, in fact, is standing up an Android team to focus on military Android security issues, says Wind River's director of vertical marketing Joe Wlad when I visited the Wind River offices this week. Wind River is starting some substantial secure Android military projects, which are still too new to talk about, Wlad says.

Android-based smartphones and tablet computers are becoming a fact on the battlefield, and Android-based tablet computers acting as electronic flight bags (EFBs) in commercial airliner cockpits are not far behind.

Just a few months ago software-defined radio (SDR) experts at the Communications Research Centre Canada (CRC) in Ottawa announced they have ported the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS)-compatible P25 emergency public safety radio waveform to an Android hand-held communications device, which may lead the way to running SDR applications on commercial smartphones and rugged tablet computers.

Last summer L-3 Interstate Electronics Corp. (IEC) in Anaheim, Calif., introduced the VideoScout full-motion video collection and intelligence management software as an application for Android-based commercial handheld smartphones and tablets, which enables users to view video from local area network connections and shared intelligence resources such as remote sensors, military computer servers, and intelligence collection nodes.

Panasonic is introducing a rugged Android-based Toughbook tablet computer, General Dynamics C4 Systems is offering an Android-based wearable computer for the battlefield, and the list goes on.

Android for the military is here. Now software security for Android devices has to follow, and that's well in progress.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Can machines truly understand language?

There are a lot of subtleties in language. Regions of every country have their own dialects, sentence structure is different for different languages and each dialect can have multiple types of slang.

Raytheon BBN has been given the almost-impossible task of developing a device that can perform two-way speech-to-speech translations, among other things. Now, I don't doubt a comprehensive translator can come from this, I doubt that any device can effectively translate human communication.

The reason actual, human translators are so useful is because they master languages in order to make sure subtleties are not lost. Words develop entirely new meanings depending on regions and social status. Speaking from personal experience, a person from New England using the word "wicked" in a sentence is not using a dictionary definition of wicked (unless, in fact, they are using the dictionary definition of wicked). A translator can recognize dialects and slang, guaranteeing that there are no misunderstandings. Any device that wants to be nearly as effective as a human translator needs to be able to understand the context of each word depending on the region and its position in the sentence.

A device that would translate speech would also need to be able to deal with incredibly thick accents. Even native speakers will have their own way of using their language. There are clear differences in how someone from Boston speaks when compared to someone from the South, or even between different cities in the same state. In countries that don't have such widespread communication, the ones were translators are needed most, accents can sound like another language even if they aren't using a different dialect.

Slang is an entirely different beast for a device that performs translation to deal with. They can be entire phrases that aren't supposed to be taken literally (a lounge lizard was not a reptile) or words that are used to mean something other than the definition (the wicked example). Each dialect can have its own slang, and being able to distinguish between dialects and whether or not a word is being used as slang are skills a human translator would have that a machine would have difficultly replicating.

In a place where any slight error in communication can lead to a loss of life, it's important that we don't forget just how complicated language is. There's a reason human translators are still an important part of diplomatic relations and businesses.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Revamped M&AE and Avionics Websites offer topic centers to get readers exactly what they want

Posted by John Keller

In case you haven't noticed, Military & Aerospace Electronics and Avionics Intelligence have launched all-new Websites, which our experts designed from the ground up to help readers get the latest news and analysis of the aerospace and defense electronics and avionics industries not only quickly and easily, but also according to individual interests.

We do this with navigation that concentrates not only on our well-known news, business, and product sections, but more importantly on topic centers to help our readers hone-in quickly on the content that is most important to them on a daily basis.

Our sister publication, Avionics Intelligence, is taking a similar approach to help readers identify market and technology segments of highest importance, and go directly to digests of the latest information pertinent to the markets they follow.

Surf on over to the Military & Aerospace Electronics Website at, and I'll show you what I mean. Just below our name about a third of the way down the page you'll see a gray strip headed by the word Home. Right next to that is our Topics button. Mouse over it, and you'll see the topic centers we have today: Electro-Optics, Embedded Computing, High-Reliability Electronics, Interconnect Technology, Power Electronics, RF & Microwave, and The Last Word -- interviews with some of our industry's most important newsmakers.

Now give one a try. If you're most interested in embedded computing, click on the Embedded Computing link and you'll see a page containing all of our recent content pertaining to single-board computers, real-time embedded software, microprocessors and FPGAs, business transactions involving embedded computing companies -- everything embedded computing.

It's the same for our other topics, and we're not stopping there. In the future look for additional topic centers on land, sea, air, and space technology, unmanned vehicles, C4ISR, and more.

Next to the Topics button is the Channels button, which helps readers navigate quickly to our different content sections: the Aerospace & Defense Blog where staffers John Keller, Courtney Howard, and Skyler Frink give their takes on the most important topics of importance to our industry; the community where readers participate and have their say; Defense Executive, where we put all the business news; Exclusive Content where we put the news and analysis that no one else has; Farnborough Report, where we place all coverage of the Farnborough Air Show; Industry News Flash where readers can catch up on the latest new products; News & Analysis where readers can get up to date on the latest industry happenings; Paris Air show Report, which has all our coverage of the Paris Air Show; Print Issue, where you can browse archives of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine; Product Applications where you can see the latest design-ins; Video, where you can see video blogs from Keller, Howard, and Frink; and Wire News, where readers can see the latest news feeds from outside sources.

There also is an Avionics Intelligence button to help readers navigate quickly to our sister Website for the latest in the commercial, military, and general-aviation avionics industries. Go ahead and click there to see the Avionics Intelligence site at

Here you will find more topic-centric content on the avionics business. Avionics Intelligence editor Courtney Howard has crafted this site to help readers get what they want, when they want it. Take a look at the Avionics Intelligence topics, which also is on the strip below the name about a third of the way down the page.

You can find avionics business news at Avionics Executive; news and analysis at Avionics Insights; air traffic control news at Airspace & Air Traffic Management; and several additional topics of importance to the commercial and military avionics business.

Elsewhere on the Military 7 Aerospace Electronics home pages you can navigate quickly to our latest feature stories, video and written blogs, wire news feeds, and reader recommendations.

It's all part of our continuing evolution to get our readers the information they need most, when they most need it -- quickly and easily -- so you can get back to work. Give us a look. Military & Aerospace Electronics and Avionics Intelligence are the authoritative voices of their industries, where readers come to get news and insights of quality and depth.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Terminology of Military Technology

It's interesting to see the terminology being thrown around by those who develop weapons for the military. Weapons don't kill people, they "destroy targets" or "eliminate threats."

I understand it's a little extreme to say a machine kills people, it actually seems a bit over-dramatic, but the stone-cold "threat elimination" really does seem to take away from the sheer power of these machines. The words eliminate and destroy are calculated ways of removing things, it simply seems strange that these words are being used in relation to human beings.

What really brought this to light was a recent article on the Department of Defense website where a reporter talked about the Carl-Gustaf. The Carl-Gustaf, a shoulder-fired recoilless weapon, is described as being "able to destroy enemy targets hidden behind rocks, trees and buildings." You see, one part of that sentence really got to me, the idea that enemy targets are hiding. It just painted a mental picture where the enemy isn't being crafty and concealing themselves for an ambush, it struck me as a terrified person hiding from an 84mm shell that will unerringly strike its target.

Now, I'm not saying the enemy is innocent or that there is no such thing as a just war. I'd simply prefer if the words being used to represent taking a human life didn't seem so cold and calculated. Even a hunter wouldn't say he eliminated his target. There is an enormous amount of responsibility implied by giving any group a means to take lives, don't you think our language should reflect that rather than make it sound harmless?

In a time where you can kill a person using an unmanned vehicle from over a mile away, it may be time to get rid of the softness of the language used.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Latest Pentagon guidance may bode well for military technology development and research

Posted by John Keller

I've been reading a lot lately about President Obama's new guidelines for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to help the nation's military control its costs. These guidelines, outlined in a DOD report released this month entitled Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, emphasize Special Operations forces, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and cyber security, while signaling potential reductions in U.S. military nation-building efforts, nuclear forces, and in the number of U.S. soldiers and Marines.

Critics contend new guidelines threaten to gut U.S. defense forces, but I don't see it. In fact, the new policy might bode well for military technology developers working on applications such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; sensors; signal processing; and unmanned vehicles.

It's true the Pentagon's budget may be heading down in the next several years, but perhaps not dramatically. A worst-case scenario would force the Pentagon to trim $500 billion over the next 10 years if Congress can't find new ways of reducing defense spending. That would be a cut of about $50 billion a year out of a total annual Pentagon budget of about $670 billion. Still, I doubt such deep cuts will happen.

It's an election year, and no one in the Administration or Congress wants to appear soft on defense. Doing so would spell electoral defeat for many members of Congress, and perhaps even for Obama himself. I think those concerned will come up with an eleventh-hour deal to avoid deep cuts.

Something else to think about: Obama says he expects the Pentagon budget actually to increase at about the rate of inflation every year for the next decade. This doesn't sound like the Administration wants to make big cuts in overall military defense spending to me.

A cornerstone of the new Pentagon guidelines seems to be a gradual reduction in the number of solders and Marines in the U.S. defense force. Personnel costs are some of the biggest expenses the U.S. military faces. These costs include not only salaries, but also the costs of feeding, housing, and equipping soldiers and Marines.

The Army today has about 570,000 troops, which is up from about 482,000 before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon leaders now would like to shrink the Army to about 520,000 troops, perhaps even more.

Reducing the number of soldiers and Marines would free-up a substantial amount of money. Now if Obama is sincere in his wish to maintain the current level of defense spending, then where might the savings from reducing troop levels go?

My guess is technology development and research. It seems Obama wants to maintain or enhance the nation's capability in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as in cyber security and unmanned vehicles. Doing so requires constant technology development and research, and I think this is what will happen.

We won't know for sure until next month when the Pentagon releases its detailed budget request for federal fiscal year 2013. Military research and development spending has suffered for the past several years to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that those efforts are winding down, that money can go elsewhere in the Pentagon's budget.

I'll be watching project research and development spending when the defense budget request comes out next month. I'll also be watching other technology spending to see if this is where money will be diverted.

If technology development and research spending increases next year, it will be high time. Nearly a decade of steady military operations in the Middle East have taken their toll on military forces, and it's past time to rebuild the force with the latest technologies.

This is the best opportunity we have seen in years to put more money into military technology develop and research. Let's hope those concerned don't blow the chance.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The battle for Internet security

Let's talk about hackers.

We'll start with Anonymous, a group that is probably the most famous of the bunch. Having attacked Mastercard and many other high-profile companies as a response to government action against Wikileaks and Julian Assange, Anonymous and cyber security became a hot topic in the recent years. Since then, several groups have emerged to cause chaos.

LulzSecurity (commonly known as LulzSec), a group which is separate from Anonymous, began attacking security companies with the goal of releasing documents to the public. This group met with great success, the prime example being their attack on Stratfor, a global intelligence company. They succeeded in accessing Stratfor's client list and getting credit card information of many subscribers. Since the attack Stratfor has not relaunched their full website, and currently has a message apologizing for the lack of security provided on their home page.

Many other companies have been attacked by LulzSec as well, but one particular instance is much more telling of the goals of LulzSec: The hacking of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. In what LulzSec called a retaliation for ADPS immigration laws, massive amounts of information were released to the public. Manuals, emails, passwords, usernames, if it was stored in a ADPS computer it could (and still can) be seen online.

Now, the ADPS is not just some company, it is a part of the United States government. It doesn't help that LulzSec has attacked the CIA (they only managed to take the site down for a short time due to a distributed denial-of-service [DDOS] attack) and is openly contemptuous of the government. Other countries have joined in, with England having made several arrests already.

The government, of course, has been stepping up their own cyber security and making it more dangerous for hackers to operate. Stealing the information that LulzSec has accessed and made public is a felony in the US, and those who are caught are facing serious charges. As of now there have been many arrests of suspected hackers.

Things have gotten serious for the hackers and government at this point. With attacks on the government and arrests being made, it's difficult to predict how this will end. These groups do not show any sign of stopping. They actually seem to be enjoying it by operating twitter accounts, hanging out in chat rooms and publicly announcing their targets. It is incredible that a group which so boldly commits crimes is still running against the combined effort of multiple governments and law enforcement agencies.

What an interesting time to be around; a time when a group of loosely associated hackers can carry on a fight with the government and openly taunt their opponents. I can only imagine it will end soon, though, as these hackers lack the funding and manpower that the government can put forth.

Serious hacking attempts from other countries have already been acknowledged to be an act of war, worthy of physical retribution. A different type of war is being fought online against these hackers, and it seems that NATO has just finished getting warmed up.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Saber rattling in the Persian Gulf drives home importance of shipboard missile defense

Posted by John Keller

A simmering naval conflict between the United States and Iran in the oil-rich Persian Gulf may be reaching a boil this week, as Iranian naval forces not only test-fired what officials claim are two new long-range surface-to-surface missiles that might pose a threat to U.S. warships in the region, but also warned of military action against U.S. forces if a Navy aircraft carrier that exited the Gulf region last week should return to the Persian Gulf through the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

This kind of saber rattling on the part of Iran -- bellicose rhetoric aside -- points to two core issues coming to a head now. First, U.S. military forces rarely, if ever, give ground to an ultimatum like this, and second, the U.S. Navy needs to step up its development and deployment of reliable anti-ship missile defenses.

Among Iran's latest developments is a threat to close the Strait of Hormuz if the U.S. steps up its sanctions against Iranian oil imports, which the U.S. government has in place to pressure Iran into abandoning its program to develop nuclear weapons.

Particularly concerning is the latest Iranian missile test, which involved missiles that Iran claims not only have ranges longer than 100 miles, but that also have stealth capability to defeat even sophisticated missile detection and defense systems.

While Iranian military officials say closing the Strait would be "easier than drinking a glass of water," other experts say closing the Gulf would be much harder than that. Also consider that U.S. military forces rarely back down from a threat.

The Persian Gulf is among the most strategically important spots on the Earth, as far as oil resources are concerned. As much as 40 percent of the world's oil flows through the region. Much of Saudi Arabia's oil moves through the Persian Gulf on oil tankers. A good deal of Iran's oil experts flow to world markets in the same way.

If Iran could close the Gulf to oil shipping even for a short amount of time, world oil prices most likely would skyrocket and place even more downward pressure on tough economies in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere. Keeping the Gulf open is a top priority of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is based in the Gulf in Bahrain.

while Iran most likely does not have the naval resources necessary to blockade the Persian Gulf entrance at the Strait of Hormuz, experts agree that Iranian naval forces could slow or stop ship traffic in and out of the Gulf, at least temporarily, by laying sea mines or threatening military and commercial shipping with missiles.

It's a tricky thing to keep the mouth of the Persian Gulf open. The Strait of Hormuz is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest spot. That's narrower than the channel between Los Angeles and Catalina Island. If Iran wants to make good on its threats, the Strait of Hormuz is where that country's navy would choose to do it.

Sink a couple of large oil tankers in the Strait would create major hazards to navigation, create a sizable environmental disaster, and most importantly, would make commercial shippers reluctant to send their vessels through the waterway.

So what does all this mean for the U.S. Navy, which is charged with keeping the Strait of Hormuz open no matter the obstacle?

It means perfecting and improving mine detection and disposal technologies. It means perfecting and improving shipboard defenses from sophisticated sea-skimming anti-ship missiles. It also means moving to military alert levels when operating in the Persian Gulf that are at wartime levels.

I shudder to think of the political and economic fallout of a successful missile attack on a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier or other sophisticated warship or military weapon system.

It seems that Navy commanders have their work cut out for them.