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.

Monday, August 13, 2012

UAV swarm technology emerges to perform varied applications

With UAV swarm technology advancing, the question is what will these swarms be able to accomplish? UAV swarms are groups of UAVs that work together to accomplish goals, communicating with each other and assisting other members of the swarm in tasks.

The obvious mission for swarms, and the one that was tested by Boeing and the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory tested, is searching areas and transmitting information to soldiers on the ground. A swarm of UAVs is capable of mapping an area quickly, using communications technology to assign different areas to different UAVs while sending data to warfighters.

Search and rescue operations are also being looked into, with multiple UAVs being able to search an area for people in danger, relaying the information to rescuers and even marking the area visually.

There are also offensive capabilities that swarms are well suited for, such as overwhelming air defense through sheer volume. Current defensive systems are not designed to defend against massive attacks carried out by dozens, even hundreds of armed unmanned vehicles. Inexpensive armed UAVs that can communicate with each other to carry out attacks may prove to be a safe and economical way to remove anti-aircraft defenses.

UAV swarms are an emerging technology that can provide a solution to a variety of problems on the modern battlefield.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Rarely before have we seen a bleaker picture for U.S. defense spending

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 8 Aug. 2012. The news isn't good these days for the U.S. defense budget. Prospects are gloomy for Congress to head-off automatic deep military budget cuts by the 1 Jan. sequestration deadline; the Senate adjourned for recess without bringing the 2013 defense appropriation to a vote; and studies show that as many as 2.14 million Americans in all 50 states could lose their jobs if sequestration hits.

Sequestration is a fancy name for automatic defense cuts of half a trillion dollars over the next decade. These cuts will begin in less than five months if Congress can't agree to more controlled reductions in military spending.

It appears increasingly likely that this Congress will let sequestration happen. I never believed this could happen until now. Every member of Congress today is more concerned with the November elections than with heading off potential economic disaster at the Pentagon.

Allowing the automatic cuts to happen, moreover, gives everyone on Capitol Hill the political cover he or she needs to shirk responsibility for the automatic cuts and their results when these cuts take place. This in the election season is a political gift that no one in Congress can resist.

The bad news doesn't stop there. As the Senate skipped out on its collective responsibility to approve a fiscal 2013 Pentagon spending bill prospects dimmed that any defense appropriation has a change of getting through Congress perhaps until after the November elections -- perhaps even later.

Instead, Congress -- as has become common practice -- will allow the Pentagon to operate on a six-month continuing resolution that will keep the lights on in the Defense Department until after the first of the year.

Some in Congress say this continuing resolution will ensure stability in the Pentagon. What it actually means is anything but.

The Pentagon has money for half a year, not for a full year. That means no one will risk starting new programs, and the only contracts to be let will be for the short term. With sequestration looming, moreover, U.S. defense companies are making plans to cut their work forces. Stability? I don't think so.

"Program managers are unable to initiate any new programs, procurement accounts are frozen, military bases will probably issue only short-term contracts, and training hours will be affected," say officials of the Association of the U.S. Army in a recent legislative update.

Automatic and arbitrary defense cuts are looming on the horizon, the Defense Department and the defense industry are paralyzed from lack of long-term commitments and funding, no one seems willing even to acknowledge how U.S. military forces are contracting at an alarming rate.

This is the picture we face as a resurgent China gains influence in the Western Pacific, and as Iran marches ever closer to developing nuclear weapons.

MacKenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in the Wall Street Journal This week that the U.S. Air Force hasn't purchased fewer aircraft in a year since 1916, and that the U.S. Navy's 286 combat and support ships is the smallest fleet since 1916.

Can anyone remember when things were this bad for U.S. defense? I can't. We'll have national elections in early November, and I'm not sure if defense is even a major campaign issue.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Is the U.S. preparing for war in Syria?

For those who haven't been following the Syrian rebellion, Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, revealed that Syria has chemical weapons and isn't afraid to use them against "external aggression." This has caused some worry in the international community, and sparked an interest in chemical and biological weapon defeat in the U.S.

With the threats coming in from Israel to attack in order to stop dangerous chemical weapons from getting into rebel hands, chemical weapons may be seeing use in the not-too-distant future. Since the threat, the U.S. Department of Defense has begun investing in devices that can be used to combat chemical and biological weapons.

With the tension growing in Syria as well as possible foreign intervention, both Russia and the U.S. have accused the other of supplying different sides while Israel has threatened to get directly involved, the threat of a larger conflict has been steadily growing. These contracts only further prove just how serious the conflict is being taken. Millions of dollars are being poured into developing better anti-chemical and biological weapon gear for U.S. soldiers.

Syria's chemical weapons are believed to not only have deadly nerve agents and mustard gas, but Syria is believed to have scud missiles to deliver these weapons from long distances. Is the U.S. preparing for a conflict to break out, or is it simply following the idea of expect the best, but prepare for the worst?

For more information on the contracts and devices being built, read the articles here and here.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Aftermarket parts suppliers help extend the lives of legacy aircraft when parts supplies dry up

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 1 Aug. 2012. Modern commercial, military, and general-aviation aircraft have to stay in the air a long time -- particularly these days when operators want to get the most out of their investments.

Problems with legacy aircraft come up, however, when the supply of critical spare parts dries up. Parts manufacturers quit supporting their older product lines after a while, which can leave aircraft operators in a pinch.

That's where aftermarket suppliers for aircraft spare parts and subsystems come in. One of the largest and longest in business is Ontic Engineering and Manufacturing Inc., which has headquarters in Chatsworth, Calif., and has operations in Houston, as well as in Cheltenham and Slough, England.

Ontic's business model is straightforward: when original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) decide either to go out of business or quit producing legacy parts, Ontic can step in to take over inventory and manufacturing to extend product availability.

"We acquire the intellectual property rights from the OEM, they go out of the business, and we go into the business," explains Ontic President Peg Billson. "If the OEM no longer wants to provide the resources to support the product line, under their authority we can license the entire product line."

Ontic specializes in five major aviation product lines: electronics such as system controllers, radar systems, and cockpit interface units; engine components and accessories; electromechanical components such as motors and pumps; oxygen and environmental-control systems; and large structures such as landing gear assemblies.

The company either stocks OEM-manufactured parts, or takes over manufacturing the parts, if necessary. Most parts that Ontic supplies are for aircraft that are out of production, but does supply parts for aircraft still on the assembly line, such as the Boeing 777 widebody jetliner and the Airbus A320 single-aisle jetliner.

Ontic maintains the OEM as a partner, with assurances that Ontic will not compete with its OEM partners on supplying and manufacturing specific aviation components and subsystems. "When an OEM decides to partner with us, they know we won't complete with them on new platforms," Billson says. "We don't do new-product development."

Among the aircraft that Ontic supports, in addition to the 777 and A320, are the Eurofighter Typhoon, Hawk jet trainer, E-2C Hawkeye maritime patrol aircraft, F-15 jet fighter, AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, CH-53 Sea Stallion heavy-lift helicopter, as well as the 737, 757, and MD-80 passenger jets.

Ontic derives 50 percent of its revenue from supporting military aircraft, 35 percent from supporting commercial air transport aircraft, and 15 percent from supporting business jets and other general-aviation aircraft.

Electronics support accounts for 30 percent of Ontic revenue, Billson says. The company, for example, provides the fuel-measurement computers for the 777 and A320 passenger jets, as well as radar systems for 737s and MD-80s.

For more information contact Ontic online at

Follow Military & Aerospace Electronics and Avionics Intelligence news updates on Twitter