Tuesday, March 26, 2013

At last, some good news; is our industry really ready for this?

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 26 March 2013. I think we've all been ready for some good news, what with the long and excruciating period of uncertainty from the defense sequestration scare, and with the delayed Pentagon budget request for fiscal year 2014.

For months, perhaps longer, everyone was holding on to cash, making as few real business commitments as possible, and generally hunkering down for ... well, we weren't sure what for, but our industry has been in a defensive crouch, it seems, for longer than we can remember.

Then last week came a glimmer of hope from one of the embedded computing industry's longtime and respected pundits, Ray Alderman, executive director of the VITA Open Standards, Open Markets embedded computing industry trade association in Fountain Hills, Ariz.

In short, Alderman says the worst may be over for much of the military electronics industry. This isn't to say bad things are over, but the worst of the bad things may be coming to an end soon.

The worst of the bad things may be over. Hey, at this stage we'll take whatever we can get, right? My friend Pete Yeatman summed up the industry's frustration with the sequestration process in the February 2013 issue of COTS Journal in a column entitled Sequestration: Won't it Ever Go Away?

Alderman, in his semiannual State of the VITA Technology Industry report, says the military embedded computing industry could see a surge in activity once the fiscal year 2014 Pentagon budget request is issued sometime between now and June.

The reason, essentially is a potential end to the confusion and uncertainty that has plagued our industry for most of the past year. Even if the news is bad, as well it could be, at least it will be some real news. Without something tangible to hold on to, people usually imagine the worst.

Now that the 2014 U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) budget request may be coming soon, I think we'll find that the reality won't be as bad as our worst fears. The Pentagon's budget request may come as early as the end of next week, or as late as June. Federal budget requests normally are submitted to Congress in February.

Let's not delude ourselves, however. We're not about to see a return to the good old days, whatever those may have been for you. Alderman points out in his latest state-of-the-industry report that the aerospace and defense embedded computing industry remains "in a fog of uncertainty and confusion," which retards hiring and budgetary decisions.

Industry innovations through research, development, and other innovations, meanwhile, have become stagnant such that "There is no point in going over promising military applications and technologies" until things change, Alderman wrote.

That change could be at hand. We're slowly learning what sequestration actually will mean for the defense industry. When the budget request comes out, we'll have a better idea how things will go over the next year or so. Industry leaders will be able to start planning again, and that simple development will be huge.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Teledyne Technologies becoming major player in unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) sensors

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 19 March 2013. Teledyne Technologies Inc., an integrated imaging and defense electronics company in Thousand Oaks, Calif., is becoming a major player in sensors and payloads for unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

The company has made two key acquisitions over the past year that put Teledyne in the forefront of UUV sensor payloads. Teledyne specializes is digital imaging sensors and cameras, micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS), defense electronics, harsh-environment interconnects, data acquisition and communications equipment, and software development, and now is moving strongly into UUVs.

Teledyne just this month completed an acquisition of RESON A/S in Slangerup, Denmark, which boosts the company's expertise in imaging sonar, UUVs, and other marine instrumentation. RESON builds high-resolution marine acoustic imaging and measurement systems.

Last year Teledyne completed its acquisition of BlueView Technologies Inc. in Seattle, which develops technologies in high-resolution underwater acoustic imaging and measurement, including mission-critical instruments for underwater navigation, monitoring, survey, and detection.

Last summer the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Arlington, Va., awarded a $1.5 million contract to Teledyne BlueView to develop a low-power 450 Khz interferometric forward-looking sonar (FLS) system for UUVs.

The BlueView acquisition is bearing fruit in other ways, as well. Earlier this year Teledyne BlueView began shipping a newly developed M Series 2D multibeam imaging sonar systems for real-time high-resolution sonar imagery for underwater navigation, monitoring, target tracking, and other underwater imaging tasks.

The small size of the M Series imaging sonar, which company officials say is 30 percent smaller than Teledyne BlueView’s P900 Series and includes the same features and functionality, is particularly useful UUVs that must operate in tight, dangerous subsurface regions.

Look for Teledyne to continue acquisitions and technology development in UUV sensor payloads, as the company becomes a force to contend with in this market.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Is sequestration killing aerospace and defense trade shows?

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 14 March 2013. I'm starting to see a trend, and it isn't looking good for military trade shows that depend heavily on attendance from military personnel in this brave, new, post-sequestration world.

We started sensing a dropoff in military attendance at last January's AFCEA West military electronics show in San Diego. Exhibitors and attendees were pointing out the noticeable lack of uniforms on a generally listless exhibit floor.

Then came the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) winter show last month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. There weren't enough Army helicopters and combat vehicles involved to warrant an outside static display, as had been the practice at that show for a long time. Attendance at that show also was light.

Now things seem like they're starting to snowball. This month officials of the Institute of Navigation (ION) in Manassas, Va., announced they're cancelling the organization's Joint Navigation Conference (JNC) that had been scheduled for June in Orlando, Fla.

Among the reasons for the ION show cancellation are sequestration-caused curtailment of travel for many active-duty and civilian military employees, prospects, possible furloughs for federal employees, and anticipated cuts in the U.S. defense budget, ION officials say.

Sequestration refers to automatic across-the-board cuts of nearly half a trillion dollars from the defense budget over the next 10 years. This is above and beyond anticipated defense cuts that would have taken place over the next several years even without sequestration.

" ... due to the DOD’s recent policies detailing actions to be taken to prepare for drastic budget cuts, the curtailment of travel, fallout from a scandal with GSA conferences this past year, the current sequestration, and possible furloughs for federal employees, it is no longer possible for ION to ensure the JNC will be able to maintain a high quality technical program and sufficient networking opportunities that makes the JNC so valuable to DOD/DHS employees and their supporting organizations," ION officials said in an announcement this month.

The organization still is planning for an ION show in 2014 in Orlando ... for the time being.

With sequestration, military personnel and employees often are prohibited from incurring the expenses of attending and traveling to trade shows until further notice. Employees are told they may attend, but they not only must pay their own expenses, but also must take vacation days or other personal leave time to do so.

How many federal employees are going to do that?

The next big test will be the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space Expo next month in Washington. With the prohibition on travel expenses, and the requirement to take vacation to attend, I'm betting attendance there will be much lighter than usual.

No telling how sequestration-caused budget cuts will influence other future shows, such as the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) this summer in Washington, or the AUSA annual show this fall.

These are tough days if you're involved with the military, but perhaps even tougher days if you're involved in military trade shows.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Nuclear ballistic missile technology remains a post-Cold-War defense priority

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 12 March 2013. The modern defense era where counter-terrorism initiatives revolve around stealthy special forces operations, detecting and neutralizing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and wide-area persistent surveillance, not many people are talking about nuclear ballistic missiles.

These doomsday weapons, after all, are relics of the Cold War when the U.S. and Soviet Union maintained a global military balance based on the notion of mutually assured destruction.

This concept, appropriately called MAD for short, saw the U.S. and Soviet Union point thousands of high-energy nuclear warheads at one another such that an all-out atomic war most likely would destroy the entirety of each nation many times over.

We remember the movie icons of that era: Dr. Strangelove, WarGames, FailSafe, the Hunt for Red October. Everything about that era was about dealing with Armageddon, backyard bomb safe rooms, fallout shelters, drop drills and choosing survival ... or not.

Today things are different. The military concentrates on small, light, and fast-moving forces, counter-terrorism, IED detection, and persistent surveillance. Nuclear arsenals are the stuff of museums and movies, right?

Well, not actually. Despite the low profile that strategic atomic forces have taken in recent years, these weapons still represent a high priority for U.S. military forces.

Just last week the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) let two contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and launched a search for an obsolete strategic communications electronic part, that drive home just how important the nation's strategic nuclear capability remains in this day and age.

The Navy Strategic Systems Program Office awarded a $257.8 million contract to the Charles Stark Draper Lab in Cambridge, Mass., and a $6.8 million contract to Aero Thermo Technology Inc. in Huntsville, Ala., for guidance upgrades to the Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile.

The Trident II D5 is the latest U.S. submarine-based nuclear missile deterrent, which is based on Ohio-class nuclear submarines. Each submarine carries 14 Trident missiles, and each missile has four independently targeted warheads. Each warhead has about 30 times the destructive power of the nuclear bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945.

In other words, each of those submarines carries weaponry sufficient to destroy 56 big cities. The upgrades to these missiles that the Navy is pursuing with Draper Lab and Aero Thermo are to ensure the Trident nuclear missile is accurate and deadly for decades to come.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The sequester hits! Is everyone okay?

Posted by John Keller

Today is day-five of the long-dreaded defense sequester -- an ugly creature of the White House and Congress that threatens to lop off nearly a half trillion dollars from the U.S. defense budget over the next decade. The impact came on 1 March. So is everyone okay? Everyone still here?

Some promised cuts on the Department of Defense (DOD) budget have hit already. The Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration teams will not thrill air show audiences this summer.

So far, that's about the biggest defense-cut "disaster" I can see, so far, at least. No aircraft carries sunk as artificial reefs, no countries left undefended, no wide-open borders, no hastily discharged soldiers or airmen left begging in the streets.

Maybe it's time some of those hotshot Blue Angels and Thunderbirds pilots get back to front-line squadrons, but I digress.

This is not to make light of the very real defense cuts in store for the DOD, but could it be that sanity could emerge from this sequester, that perhaps intelligent decisions could be made on where required cuts in defense spending will hit? I'm starting to think this is so, and that the worst-case doom-and-gloom stories we've been hearing for months are largely fantasy.

Don't get me wrong, though. Certainly there's going to be pain in the military and in the defense industry. Military contractors are laying off portions of their work forces, new military programs are being delayed or scrapped, active-duty warfighters are waiting to see if can continue on with their military careers or be separated from the service to face a tough civilian economy.

Out of all this, though, I think we can be sure of one thing: the U.S. military is not going away. Will it change? Certainly. Will it be business as usual? Not a chance. Will military leaders face rethinking many of their critical missions? Bet on it. Still, the U.S. military is in it for the long term.

Here are a few details. For the rest of federal fiscal year 2013, which lasts until the end of next September, the Pentagon has to cut $42.7 billion from its budget. Nearly all aspects of military spending, except military personnel spending, will be hit by this sequester.

Areas of the defense budget to receive across-the-board cuts are non-war spending, war funding, and some Hurricane Sandy aid. Sequestration cuts will hit military personnel in the form of attrition and furloughs rather than pay cuts. Military personnel being furloughed must be notified 30 days in advance.

That means everybody's getting hit, but I don't think the damage will be fatal. It's clear the Pentagon has to spend less on airplanes, ships, combat vehicles, training time, maintenance, technology insertion, and systems upgrades. That's the bad news.

Now think of a family that has a breadwinner laid off from his or her job. Nothing like that to clarify what's really important. Maybe this will be a wholesome exercise for a military that, by and large, is used to getting nearly all of what it wants.

For the defense industry, there might be a silver lining, too. At least now companies have an idea what they have to work with, and can chart a way forward.