Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Quest for the humvee-mounted mobile data center for the battlefield edge

Posted by John Keller

SAN DIEGO, 30 Jan. 2013. One of the chief goals of today's military electronic systems development is a full data centers featuring servers with virtualization software capability, fast Ethernet connectivity and reliable wireless networking that is small and rugged enough to fit in the back of a military utility vehicle like a humvee.

That ultimate goal might not seem so far away, however, based on exhibits this week at the AFCEA West 2013 conference and trade show in San Diego.

One of the primary challenges to designing a rugged data center for the edge of the battlefield, however, is size and weight. Today's servers can be big and heavy, and that's often before they're ruggedized sufficiently for military vehicle use.

Still, the rewards of a full data center for the forward edge of the battlefield are many. The military command post of today is data-intensive to say the least. Here warfighters must receive, process, and disseminate terabytes of sensor data, keep track of where friendly and hostile forces are, interface with rear-echelon commanders, and even manage unmanned vehicle missions.

To do that takes mountains of computing power, and sometimes more than can be brought safely and efficiently to the edge of the battlefield. Without this capability, forward-deployed warfighters have to rely on command posts in the rear by often-unreliable and delay-prone military communications links.

Yet military rugged server manufacturers like Dell Inc., in Round Rock, Texas; Crystal Group Inc. in Hiawatha, Iowa; and Themis Computer in Fremont, Calif., are rising to the task of tomorrow's rugged data center on the edge.

Themis, for example, is showing the Intel-based RES-Mini rugged server for mission-critical military, industrial, and commercial applications in rugged conditions, as well as the RES-HDS 2U server, which ultimately may lend themselves to the data center in a humvee.

These servers feature military-grade shock resistance and thermal cooling, and can fit in spaces smaller than a standard rack. The computers, furthermore are half the size of their nearest competitors, says Michael Schneider, vice president of federal and business development at Themis.

The size and weight of these rugged servers is attractive for military designers who are right up against their size and weight budgets, Schneider says.

Among the enabling technologies of these small rugged servers are the latest generations of the Intel Core i7 microprocessors, which offers several computing cores on each chip. This capability can offer big data analysis on the edge of the battlefield.

The incredible shrinking rugged server will not end with the current generation. Themis is working on redesigning the RES-Mini and HDS servers to fit in a small-form-factor Nano ATR Cub -- a rugged server that will measure less than 200 cubic inches with ruggedization and cooling built in.

This kind of development in the future not only could yield full data centers in humvees on the forward edge of battle, but perhaps also full data centers in armored combat vehicles like main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers.

Then we'll be talking about the IT guy who's earning combat pay.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dempsey worries about cyberattack, DoD makes plans to hire additional cybersecurity workers

In an interview on NBC, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke about the danger cyberattacks pose to the nation. The Department of Defense's Cyber Command has also had an expansion of its workforce approved by the Pentagon, and will expand from 900 personnel to up to 4,900 personnel.

"What I worry about is that [cyberattacks] could be used to implant a destructive device that could cause significant harm to the industrial base," Dempsey said. "Whether it’s critical infrastructure or the financial network. There are reports that destructive cyber tools have been used against Iran," Dempsey continued. "I’m neither confirming nor denying any part in that, but what it should tell you is that capability exists, and if it exists, whoever’s using those can't assume that they're the only smart people in the world."

The expansion plan, which has not been finalized yet, along with Dempsey's concerns, show that cybersecurity is a hot topic for the military. With attacks having been carried out on the US already, it seems like the expansion plan is a swift response to secure our networks and systems.

The expansion plan currently states the intent to create three types of forces: national mission forces that will protect the systems that control the electrical grids, power plants, and other critical infrastructure; combat mission forces to assist commanders abroad for offensive operations; and cyber protection forces that will defend the DOD's own networks.

The DOD is convinced that a cyberattack will come eventually, and is taking steps to prevent it. In a time of economic unrest it's also good to see that cybersecurity is an area of growth.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Defense industry will emerge from these hard times stronger than ever

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 24 Jan. 2013. It seems our industry's biggest headlines these past few months have been about looming sequestration, fiscal cliffs, future defense cuts, and other indications of gloom and doom for the aerospace and defense electronics industry.

I should know ... a lot of those headlines have been ours. "As the DOD prepares itself for sequestration, communication is key," "Looming fiscal cliff threatens to strike after the presidential election," "Effects of 2013 DOD budget cuts already being felt with program cancellations," "Job losses, reduced government incomes loom as primary threats of defense sequestration," and on and on.

Yes, I know programs are being cut or eliminated altogether, defense industry employees are being laid off or fear for their jobs, defense industry consolidation is progressing at a frightening pace, and fears grow daily of a hollow military to rival that of the Carter Administration in the 1970s.

Make no mistake, I've been covering the defense industry closely now for 32 years -- all of my professional life, in fact -- and I've never seen prospects this bad for the U.S. military. With this continuing avalanche of bad news, I half-expected by now to see hand-painted signs at boarded-up defense industry headquarters throughout the nation reading OUT OF BUSINESS, PLANT CLOSING SOON, EVERYTHING MUST GO, THANKS SYRACUSE FOR ALL THE MEMORIES.

Yet despite all the belt-tightening going on now and continuing for the foreseeable future, I'm noticing something funny going on ...

... defense employees are still getting up and going to work in the morning, contracts are being let, solicitations issued, conferences attended, industry briefings scheduled, new products introduced, and breakthrough technologies investigated.

I know many things are different from how they used to be, and we're nowhere near seeing an end to the transformation of the U.S. defense industry, yet in many quarters some things are the same. For the defense industry, there's life in the old girl yet.

Believe it or not, the more we look, the more we'll start seeing these indications of healthy industry segments, rather than an endless dark tunnel, so don't despair.

On the one hand, I've see a noticeable reduction in defense contracts awarded and solicitations issued since federal fiscal year 2013 began back in October. Yes, companies are hurting, yet defense technology is still moving forward.

Here are just a few recent examples that you can find details about in this issue:

-- the DARPA Upward Falling Payloads (UFP) program, which seeks to design non-lethal weapons and situational-awareness sensors that pop up on the surface seemingly without warning from the ocean's depths in the middle of enemy naval battle groups;

-- the Navy's Next Generation Command and Control Processor (NGC2P) -- a tactical data link communication processor that provides warfighters with critical real-time information about friendly and enemy activity during combat operations -- which Northrop Grumman is upgrading under terms of a $95 million contract;

-- the Air Force surveying industry for companies able to develop a unmanned marine vehicle (UMV) to support the 96th Test Wing and its ocean test range near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; and

-- the Marine Corps Mobile Electric Hybrid Power Sources (MEHPS) program to develop a non-grid-tied hybrid power system intended to augment traditional generators on the battlefield.

Our defense industry might not be what it once was, but an industry that's sick and on its last legs doesn't undertake programs like these. There are hard times ahead, but this industry will emerge on the other end stronger than ever.

You have my word on that.

Monday, January 21, 2013

More on our favorite quadruped robot, the LS3

In last week's video I talked about the legged squad support system (LS3), the quadruped robot that DARPA hopes to use to lighten the load warfighters have to carry. It mentioned the current capabilities of the robot, and DARPA's plans for its eventual deployment. During this blog I'll talk about the history of the LS3, from BigDog to its inception, along with some more information about the program and robot itself.

DARPA's original plan was for BigDog, a robot built by Boston Dynamics in 2005, to become a pack mule for soldiers. It was an ambitious program, a robot that can go wherever soldiers go, and it has succeeded fantastically.

When BigDog was built it was loud and fairly awkward. the robot was outfitted with a laser gyroscope, a stereo vision system, and had legs with hydraulic cylinder actuators to power the joints. The robot was bristling with sensors, it had approximately 50 that gathered information from joint position and ground contact to velocity and altitude, and the entire robot was controlled by an onboard computer.

After BigDog's initial release, a small, research-based robot called LittleDog was introduced. LittleDog was meant for folks who study robotics to push the boundary of software that would enable larger robots, such as BigDog, to traverse terrain. LittleDog is still used in research, and has been taught to climb incredibly difficult terrain for its scale.

BigDog became AlphaDog in 2008, when it was revealed that the robot could now recover from getting kicked, walk on ice (in hilarious fashion), and navigate woodland terrain. The AlphaDog robot was capable of carrying 340 pounds of gear, could traverse difficult terrain, run at 4 miles per hour, and climb 35 degree inclines.

AlphaDog has since become the LS3, with increased carrying capacity, the ability to plan routes through terrain while following its leader, voice commands, and the ability to recover from falls. This new robot is finally going through testing that could enable its deployment. It's been a fun ride, watching the advances in both hardware and software for the robot.

The LS3 uses a pair of stereo cameras along with a LIDAR (light detecting and ranging) component for its visual sensing capabilities, and has been given audio sensing capabilities as well. The robot is now roughly ten times quieter than the original Big Dog, and can walk between 1-3 mph in rough terrain, jog 5 mph, and run at 7 mph.

The software advancements are impressive as well. The robot can understand 10 voice commands, "Follow tight," which has the LS3 follow the exact path (as best it can) of the human leading it, "follow corridor," which lets the robot make its own decisions while following its leader, "go to coordinate," which has the robot navigate to certain coordinates, and more mundane commands such as "power on," and "sit," just like a normal dog.

The 18-month plan is for completing the testing and development of the system has already begun, and if all goes well we could see the LS3 supporting soldiers as early as 2014. These tests will require the LS3 to walk 20 miles in 24 hours while carrying 400 pounds without any human intervention, a herculean task for a lone robot.

I know I'm rooting for its success. I've been watching this dog for almost 8 years now, and I'm excited for the thing. Just look at it take a tumble and then stomp around the mud in the video below and I'm sure you'll be cheering for it too.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wave of aerospace and defense company acquisitions may be indication of things to come

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 17 Jan. 2013. Don't look now, but we may be experiencing a new wave of company mergers and acquisitions in the aerospace and defense business.

I don't have solid numbers -- this is more like a gut feel -- but from early December to early January I counted nine mergers and acquisitions, and I rarely see that many within one month's time.

Times are tough in aerospace and defense; we all know that. Perhaps this higher-than-usual number of mergers and acquisitions is the result of that.

To keep score, here are the transactions I counted in our industry from early December to early January:

-- Coherent Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., acquired Lumera Laser GmbH in Kaiserslautern, Germany, in early January;

-- General Dynamics acquired Applied Physical Sciences Corp. in early January;

-- Consolidated Precision Products Corp. in Pomona, Calif., acquired the ESCO Corp. Turbine Technologies Group in Portland, Ore., just after Christmas;

-- Dell Computer bought Credant Technologies in late December; -- Lockheed Martin bought the assets of software firm CDL Systems Ltd. just before Christmas;

-- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries bought United Technologies Pratt & Whitney Power Systems in mid-December;

-- Raytheon bought the Government Solutions business of security firm SafeNet Inc. in mid-December;

-- Precision Castparts Corp. bought the Littlejohn & Co. Synchronous Aerospace Group in mid-December; and finally

-- Carlisle Companies Inc. bought the Thermax–Raydex unit of Belden Inc. in early December.

Does it sound to you like our industry is in flux? It does to me, too ... and this is BEFORE sequestration hits in two months that will lop off nearly half a trillion dollars from the U.S. defense budget over the next 10 years.

That old curse is coming home to roost -- we do live in interesting times.

Monday, January 14, 2013

First the power grid, now banks under attack

U.S. banks are now under attack from hackers that may be Iranian. Website access to several major banks has been inhibited by the attacks, and now bankers are reaching out to the government for help. The strange thing is major businesses oppose the government passing laws that force them to get their cybersecurity up to par.

With our important infrastructure already under attack, and banks now following suite, it's only a matter of time before some major cyber attack accomplishes something meaningful (or they already could have and we don't know it just yet). Rather than forcing companies to release all the information related to the attacks as to better prevent them, these businesses are asking the government for help. The same sort help that they helped block late last year.

Whatever the solution to our cybersecurity woes may be, it's high time we did something about it. Anything. The US may be one of the more advanced nations when it comes to having the tools and knowledge for defense and attack in the cyber realm, but we certainly aren't the best. We stand to lose far too much to have cybersecurity be on the back burner.

We need new cybersecurity legislation, and we need it last year. Hopefully Obama's executive order will help stem the flood of cyber attacks. You only need to suceed once if you're the attacker, and it's amazing we have accomplished so little when organizations are actively attacking us. It's a matter of time before a group is successful at getting important information from a cyber attack with our current strategy, and the consequences of that can range from merely annoying to disastrous.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hagel as defense secretary another indication the U.S. military budget is headed downward

Posted by John Keller

By all accounts, it looks fairly certain that President Obama will nominate Charles Timothy "Chuck" Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska. as the next U.S. secretary of defense to replace the outgoing Leon Panetta.

Although Hagel is described as a moderate Republican, his history of supporting deep cuts to the Pentagon's budget is yet another solid indication that the U.S. military budget is on the way down.

"The Defense Department, I think in many ways, has been bloated," Hagel said in a September 2011 interview with the Financial Times. "So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down."

There you have it: an incoming defense secretary on record supporting more defense cuts, a president with a demonstrated affinity for defense cuts, and a delayed-but-still-looming threat of across-the-board sequestration cuts of nearly half a trillion dollars in the Pentagon's budget over the next decade, starting on 1 March.

I wish I had better news for those of us involved in the defense business, but i don't. So where do we go from here?

The Pentagon is emerging from at least a solid 10 years of growth. Now, obviously, it's time for big adjustments. Employment in the defense industry is going to be trimmed back. Big-ticket programs like combat aircraft, warships, and armored vehicles will become few and far between.

At worst, U.S. global military technological leadership may be fading, and perhaps for a long time. Suffice it to say, things are not going to be like we've been used to moving forward. I think the guessing game is over; it looks line a done-deal. For defense suppliers, however, it's not all bad news -- particularly those involved in technologies that enable military capabilities, such as embedded computing, electro-optics, persistent-surveillance sensors, electronic warfare, and devices to detect and neutralize improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The U.S. has a sizable military, and it's likely to remain so, even at reduced levels. The planes, tanks, and ships already out there need to maintained and upgraded. That's where technology suppliers come in.

The contracts may not be as lucrative as they used to, but there will be contracts. Like so many things in business today, winning those contracts will take more work than it used to, and the rewards probably will be smaller than we've seen in the past.

More work for less revenue ... sound familiar?

Unfortunately, this appears to be the new normal for the defense industry.

Monday, January 7, 2013

NSA's cybersecurity program to protect critical infrastructure revealed

Documents that detail the NSA program "Perfect Citizen" were recently released by the NSA. The program, which was started in 2009 and ended up awarding Raytheon a contract in 2010, details the government's concerns on the security of sensitive control systems (SCS). The document defines SCS as systems that "perform data collection and control of large-scale distributed utilities or provide automation of infrastructure processes." The document goes on to say that preventing attacks on these systems is "crucial to the continuity of the DOD, the intelligence community (IC), and the operation of SIGINT systems."

The program is detailed, and involves investigating SCS for vulnerabilities and then developing best practices that defend against the vulnerabilities identified. In addition to detailing the program, the released documents include information on the positions available. From software and hardware production to penetration testers (also known as white hats, or people who test for vulnerabilities by attacking systems).

The program will have Raytheon employees working on it up through 2014, but many pages of the documents related to the program are still classified, and much of the information in the documents themselves has been censored.

With our electrical grid having been attacked recently, and new attempts to breach our critical infrastructure occurring constantly, it is interesting to see that a program has been in place to protect these vital assets for so long. The program clearly states that its goal is to develop ways to prevent attacks, or to mitigate their effectiveness, but the program is relatively small for the task it has been given. The program is only valued at $91 million, and the work force for the program is only 28 people.

It seems like an awfully big task for 28 people to handle. They are not only expected to find vulnerabilities, but to also develop tools and best practices to solve the problems these vulnerabilities cause. With the increased focus on cybersecurity, and the high stakes for failing to protect ourselves from cyber attacks, I wonder if it will be long before we see the program expanded.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fiscal-cliff negotiations reward defense industry with even more uncertainty

Posted by John Keller

Pity the U.S. defense industry. Congress this week -- in another example of that body's collective wisdom -- rewarded the defense industry, which has been buffeted by uncertainty for years now with ... you guessed it ... more uncertainty.

The so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiation resulted in a two-month delay of threatened congressional rescissions that threaten to cut nearly half a trillion dollars from the U.S. defense budget over the next decade.

Now it won't be until early March -- right around the time the Pentagon submits its fiscal year 2014 defense budget request to Congress -- that defense industry executives find out whether or not they have to deal with multi-billion-dollar cuts.

It had been expected in the defense industry that fiscal-cliff negotiations that wound up earlier this week would give them answers to the many questions they have about potential deep defense cuts. Now they sit on pins and needles for another two months.

I don't know which would be more painful, knowing they have to deal with the fiscal-cliff defense cuts, or remaining in limbo for two more months.

How can defense companies do any long-term planning in this climate? The answer is, they can't. They haven't been able to make any substantial plans for more than a year, perhaps longer. Their suppliers are in the same boat.

No planning, and more uncertainty. At the risk of stating the obvious, this is no way to conduct business.