Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Effects of 2013 DOD budget cuts already being felt with program cancellations

Posted by John Keller

Effects of the Pentagon's cuts in its proposed 2013 DOD budget are starting to drive home in tangible ways. On Monday the U.S. Navy formally cancelled its program to develop the Medium Range Maritime Unmanned Aerial System (MRMUAS) -- which was to be an vertical-takeoff-and-landing surveillance unmanned aircraft that could operate from ships and cover long distances and stay in the air for long periods.

Although the Navy announced the MRMUAS unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) cancellation Feb. 13 when the Pentagon submitted its 2013 budget request to Congress, this past Monday saw the Navy formally cancel its MRMUAS solicitation, which service officials had issued last September. The MRMUAS was to be a follow-on to the Navy Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter for maritime reconnaissance and surveillance.

Cancellation of the Navy's MRMUAS solicitation leaves in limbo the defense prime contractors who had placed bids to develop the new maritime surveillance UAV, which was to be fielded in 2018 or 2019, and would be bigger than the MQ-8B, with a nine-hour endurance.

A team of BAE Systems and AVX Aircraft Co. had put in a bid to develop MRMUAS. Boeing had been expected to bid the company's A160 Hummingbird UAV, and Northrop Grumman had proposed the company's MQ-8C Fire-X UAV that combines the Fire Scout operating system and the airframe of the Bell Helicopter 407. Other UAV developers such as Aurora Flight Sciences and DragonFly Pictures also had expressed interest.

The Navy's MRMUAS program cancellation also brings up an interesting and potentially awkward situation with the U.S. Army where medium-range UAV development is concerned.

Navy officials had combined their MRMUAS program with the Army's program to develop a Medium-Range Multi-Purpose (MRMP) vertical take-off and landing system. Now with the Navy's MRMUAS cancellation, Army officials will be forced to develop their MRMP program on their own, or follow suit and abandon the program.

The situation is eerily similar to one in the past in which the Army and Navy were to collaborate on what would become the MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV. The Army began that program as part of the now-cancelled Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. After the Navy joined the effort, the Army cancelled it to leave the Navy to develop the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter on its own.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Top ten technologies the U.S. Army's Rapid Equipping Force is looking for

To counter the threats soldiers in theater are facing, the Army Rapid Equipping Force is looking for devices with specific functions. Here are the top ten functions the Army Rapid Equipping Force is looking for.

1. IED destruction devices

2. Dismounted operations support

3. Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance in inhospitable environments

4. Small combat operation post/village support operations

5. Dismounted Blue Force Tracker and Mission Command

6. Counter Ambush (mitigate direct fire and rocket-propelled grenades)

7. Non-lethal messaging

8. Advance Escalation of Force Support

9. Entry control point ops and vehicle search

10. Routine Clearance Support

Many of these goals are based around giving information to warfighters on the front lines and protecting the dismounted soldier. These goals were created by requests from soldiers who have been in theater and understand what dangers are being faced.

For those who have solutions, ideas can be submitted at BAA number W91CRB-11-R-0038.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

AUSA Winter 2012

The focus at the AUSA Winter Symposium is providing increased capacity for the squad and the dismounted warfighter.

The U.S. Army has asked that the industry produce lighter equipment to reduce soldier loads and are also looking for networking solutions to provide squads with more direct access to the Army's network. These changes are meant to increase squad mobility and allow them to overmatch (that is, to dominate regardless of other factors) opposition forces of equal size.

For the industry, the buzz on the floor has been about upgrading systems and conducting maintenance for existing systems. Due to the U.S. departure from Iraq there is less demand for new hardware, but a large demand for keeping hardware that has been exposed to harsh environments in working condition.

Many of the products out on the floor are software that allow for better communications, organization of information or diagnostics. New hardware is primarily keeping in line with the goals of the Army to empower the squad, lighter equipment and equipment that allows soldiers to better share information.

The DoD budget has everyone a little bit nervous, but there is still growth to be found within the Army's stated goals.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Iranian Nuclear Program Under Attack (again)

It's almost routine for Iran's nuclear program to have something setting it back. Sanctions, Stuxnet, and most recently a string of assassinations have been making it difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

While these assassinations aren't new by any stretch of the word, they show a concentrated effort to prevent them from developing these weapons. While no country is owning up to the attacks, the flawless execution and organization of these attacks make it clear somebody doesn't want them to have nuclear weapons.

These attacks come after the Stuxnet worm, which damaged Iranian equipment and severely set back their nuclear program. These newer attacks are much more aggressive than attacking a computer network, and they send a clear message to the Iran that whoever is behind them is going all in.

Iran's own counterattacks have started being launched at Israel, the prime suspect for the attacks on Iran's nuclear program. It's a tense time in an already unstable region, with tempers flaring and attacks going in both directions it looks like it's only a matter of time before a conventional war begins.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Your best insight into the DOD budget implications for the military and aerospace electronics market

You know that look of anticipation Apple fans have when they're standing in line at the Apple store the night before the release of the newest iPhone/iPad/iJetpack iteration? It's a look that combines foreknowledge of both daunting challenges (standing in line all night long and trying to figure out how to get to the bathroom without losing your place, for example), with the anticipation of a marvelous reward (the next greatest iGadget). Well that's the look that our Military & Aerospace Electronics chief editor John Keller had on his face when he came into my office Monday.

John had a thumb drive in one hand, held aloft like a trophy.

"DOD budget," he declared. Then, eyes narrowing like a wolf's as it circles a straggling deer in a snowy forest, "I'm on my way to get this printed right now." Then he was gone, on a contrail of journalistic vigor. He will now spend the next untold number of hours buried in reams of paper with a snorkel, a highlighter and a laptop, filing dispatches for you, our readers, on what this budget is likely to mean for the aerospace and defense electronics industry. And relishing it.

He stopped in to make this announcement not because of some sort of weird micromanaging in our editor-publisher relationship here at M&AE. Rather, it's pure excitement. When you're a journalist like John, and one of the biggest stories of the year comes around again, the blood hums, and you've got to share. Having spent a good part of my career on the editorial side of the fence, I know how he feels. It's the way I used to feel once upon a time on election night in the newsroom.

Knowing this also gives me some insight into what you, M&AE's readers, can expect in the next few weeks: the most aggressive, insightful, detailed coverage - anywhere - of what the DOD budget will mean to the aerospace and defense electronics industry. Keller has been at this from early days and he reads this budget and its market implications with the same finesse a lifelong trout fisherman reads the dimple of a rise, invisible to an ordinary eye, in a riffling stream.

You need to know what he's seeing.

Here are some of John's first offerings on the budget:

I urge you to keep your eyes on M&AE for much more to come.

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

Monday, February 13, 2012

Railgun technology getting closer to reality

I've always been a bit of a technology junky, and there's a powerful piece of technology that looks like it will become operational if things go well for the Department of Defense. The new technology that's looking good? Railguns.

Back when I was younger, railguns were talked about as if they were pure science fiction inventions. They were featured in video games, books and movies as a sort of futuristic weaponry. Now it looks like railguns will be up for deployment sooner rather than later.

Raytheon was recently awarded a contract for developing a pulsed power system for use in railgun technology. In conjunction with that, the Department of Defense is hoping to start test firing a new railgun, which will launch projectiles at speeds between 4,500 and 5,600 miles per hour up to distances of 100 nautical miles, later this month.

Railguns are currently limited primarily by the amount of heat the weapon produces and the power required to fire it. This leads to railguns having a short barrel life and a slow firing rate. With new materials being created and a power system already in development, we might be seeing railguns in the near future.

Railgun technology allow for lower-cost projectiles to be fired, and could provide significant savings for the military. Railgun projectiles are not filled with explosives, they simply use their high velocities to produce energy that compares or surpasses explosives of a similar mass. With the ever-present threat of budget cuts, railguns could prove to be an effective addition to arsenals around the world.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Vying for air refueling tanker work

U.S. Armed Forces bases face realignment and potential closure due to the need for considerable reductions in the defense budget. Air Force officials are facing the elimination of more than 280 aircraft and 9,900 personnel. Washington state and Spokane officials, including those in the Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium (INWAC) in Spokane, are vying to bring work on the KC-46A air refueling tanker to Fairchild Air Force Base, minutes from downtown Spokane (and my office, incidentally).

Boeing’s contract to deliver 179 tankers to replace aging KC-135 aerial refueling tankers, is valued at more than $30 billion. The company is scheduled to deliver 18 planes to the Air Force in 2017. The Air Force bases to receive the KC-46As are yet to be named, but Washington and Fairchild officials are hopeful.

The KC-135 is flown by units at Fairchild Air Force Base, which, at one time, was scheduled to be the first base to receive replacement tankers.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) has said that building a new tanker is a victory for Fairchild. "Right now the men and women at Fairchild are flying air refueling tankers that are more than 50 years old."

The KC-46 tanker team, which Boeing officials announced in June 2011, is expected to include more than 800 suppliers in more than 40 states and support approximately 50,000 total U.S. jobs. Doubtless, Spokane and Fairchild Air Force Base could benefit from work on the tankers.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, expecting the contract to bring roughly 11,000 aerospace jobs to the state, is a proponent of making training available at community colleges to ensure local residents are qualified for the work. “If they don’t find the skilled work force in the state, they’ll bring them in from out of state,” she said.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who has championed Boeing tanker replacement plans for more than a decade, called the contract a “major victory” for American workers, the aerospace industry, and the military. "It is consistent with the president’s own call to out-innovate and out-build the rest of the world," she said.

Officials at the Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium, which employs 8,100 people, note that more than 20 local companies could supply parts for the new plane.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Two years later, Navy is on track for big upgrades to shipboard networking and C4ISR

Posted by John Keller

It was more than three years in coming, but the U.S. Navy finally is on track to develop and deploy the next generation of shipboard, submarine, and shore-based command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) network systems, with the selection earlier this month of the Northrop Grumman Corp. Information Systems segment in McLean, Va., as prime contractor for the Navy's Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) program.

Northrop Grumman had been in a tooth-and-nail competition to build CANES shipboard networking since March 2010 with the Lockheed Martin Corp. Maritime Systems & Sensors (MS2) Tactical Systems segment in San Diego, when Navy selected those two companies to develop the CANES common computing environment (CCE), with the understanding that only one of the companies would go on as the CANES prime contractor.

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) in San Diego is in charge of the CANES program, and SPAWAR awarded a $47 million contract to Northrop Grumman to take charge of CANES early this month. Navy officials plan to work with Northrop Grumman and the company's subcontractors to install the first Navy CANES systems aboard surface ships as early as this year.

In addition to boosting the capability and throughput of shipboard networking, CANES seeks to increase the amount of affordable commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) networking equipment in use throughout the fleet.

Last year Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin engineers completed the formal contractor system integration testing of its CANES system for the U.S. Navy to verify whether the companies' CANES proposals met program requirements and were ready for production and limited deployment.

Northrop Grumman's CANES solution is designed to offer cost and performance improvements over existing shipboard networks, including a modernized command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) architecture with increased security and reduced development, deployment, and lifecycle costs.

Huntington Ingalls Industries in Newport News, Va., is Northrop Grumman's major platform integration and installation partner on CANES. Other Northrop Grumman CANES subcontractors include Atlas Technologies Inc. in Fenton, Mich.; Beatty and Company Computing Inc. in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.; Juno Technologies Inc. in San Diego; Mikros Systems Corp. in Princeton, N.J.; Syzygy Technologies Inc. in San Diego; and CenterBeam Inc. in San Diego.

CANES is the consolidation of existing C4I network programs, and will provide a common computing environment infrastructure for C4I applications.

For more information contact Northrop Grumman Information Systems online at; Huntington Ingalls Industries at; Atlas Technologies at; Beatty and Company Computing at; Juno Technologies at; Micros Systems at; Syzygy Technologies at; CenterBeam at; or SPAWAR at

Monday, February 6, 2012

Prosthetic Limbs

Always on the cutting edge of technology, our friends at DARPA have been working on creating new and improved prosthetic limbs. Advances in prosthetic limbs have allowed engineers to create limbs that rival, or even surpass, actual human body parts.

A recent technology, neural integration, has been at the forefront of these advances. Neural integration involves surgically implanting wireless devices into the user, allowing them to control their prosthetic limbs using their thoughts. This allows the user to adapt seamlessly to their new limb and have full control right off the bat.

Of course, new control technology would be worthless without improved limbs, which is why new designs are popping up that allow for human-like dexterity and freedom. An arm with 26 degrees of freedom is even making its way through the FDA this year. This new arm allows prosthetic limbs to do tasks that used to be impossible for old technology. The arm allows complicated procedures such as cooking or playing an instrument to be performed with ease.

Wounded service members are now capable of returning to work, and their normal lives with thanks to prosthetic limbs. Over a thousand amputees have returned to active duty since January 1st of this year, a truly impressive amount of people have been helped by this technology.

It's amazing to see what's being done with prosthetics, and here's hoping the advances keep on coming.