Monday, April 29, 2013

The defense budget is here: time to get to work

Posted by John Keller

So the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) fiscal year 2014 defense budget request has been out for a couple of weeks now. We know the news isn't particularly good, but it's not a disaster, either.

What the Pentagon's proposed 2014 budget tells us is now we have an idea of what we need to do moving forward. In other words, most of the uncertainty that's paralyzed our industry for months is behind us, and now we have somewhat of an idea what we're working with.

Here's some of the bad new:

The Pentagon's fiscal 2014 budget would cut military procurement and research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) spending by 11.3 percent over this year's request. These accounts hold the vast majority of money the Pentagon has earmarked for military electronics and electro-optics.

Next year the Pentagon proposes to spend $166.8 billion on procurement and RDT&E, which is down 11.3 percent from this year's request of $188.1 billion. The 2014 DOD budget request does not give this year's actual spending levels approved by Congress, as past budgets have done.

In the procurement and RDT&E accounts, next year's Pentagon budget would cut spending for military communications, electronics, telecommunications, and intelligence (CET&I) technologies by 14.51 percent over current-year levels. Over two years, CET&I spending would drop by about one fourth.

Here's the REALLY bad news:

The defense budget next year would slash the Pentagon's operations and maintenance budget by nearly 20 percent in a direct reflection of shrinking military readiness levels in the post-sequestration era.

The DOD budget proposed 2014 operations and maintenance (O&M) spending for next year is $207.95 billion, which is down nearly 20 percent from the 2013 request of $259.79 billion. These numbers reflect proposed O&M budgets for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and independent DOD agencies. Federal fiscal year 2014 runs from 1 Oct. 2013 to 30 Sept. 2014.

Operations and maintenance is a direct reflection of military readiness. These accounts essentially indicate the level of military personnel training and keeping military equipment in good repair. Cuts in the O&M budget necessarily mean less training and a compromise in keeping equipment in tip-top shape.

Here's a little bit of good news, in case you're ready for some of that right about now. The defense budget for next year actually is up $1.2 billion over the budget submission for the current fiscal year. That money may not be for a lot of technology, and sequestration cuts still will play a factor.

Okay, so technology spending is down. I know you hate to hear it, but it could have been worse. More the point, knowing is much better than not knowing.

We have a map forward. It's not what we would have hoped, but now we can start to plan.

Time for the defense industry to get back to work.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ron Mastro: an unforgettable figure in the aerospace and defense electronics industry

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 23 April 2013. Many of you remember Ron Mastro, the former 11-year publisher of Military & Aerospace Electronics, who left the magazine in late 2008 for retirement in Florida. He was a bigger-than-life character who was likable, engaging, and impossible to forget.

Ron Mastro died Sunday morning, 14 April 2013. It was fast, and sudden, and a shock. He had contracted an aggressive kind of lung cancer that took him only a few weeks after he was diagnosed. His funeral was yesterday in Wildwood, Fla., near his summer home in The Villages.

Ron lived his life in a direct kind of way. He always asked the name of the waiter or waitress serving him, always entered a room (usually late) with a grand entrance, and gave those he encountered the impression that he was paying closer attention than he was to anyone else.

He also lived his life with appetite and joy. He entered booths at trade shows like the one everyone had been waiting for. He made friends and acquaintances perhaps in the most effortless way I've ever seen. Yes, he was a smoker, and lived life hard sometimes, but his death came as such a shock not only because of how quickly it came, but also because in our hearts, those who knew him thought he might live forever.

I worked closely with Ron Mastro for 14 years, from when he started as an ad salesman for Military & Aerospace Electronics in 1994, and through his tenure as publisher of the magazine from 1997 to 2008. Ron understood people in a quick, kind, and deep way and helped me understand people, too. He genuinely liked people as few others do.

So many stories about Ron. I remember my first business trip with him. I didn't know Ron too well then. When he checked in for his flight, he asked with a straight face for a free upgrade to first class. At the hotel desk he asked for a free dinner. No? Well then how about a free drink at the bar?

Those who knew him can just see all this happening as if you were there. I'm a natural introvert -- the exact opposite of Ron -- and I asked him how he had the nerve to ask for free upgrades to first class, meals, and drinks seemingly with no justification at all.

It was simple. "You don't get it if you don't ask," was his response. I'd never really thought about it that way before.

We made a business trip to England together once to attend the Farnborough Airshow. We landed in London early in the morning, and Ron hadn't slept much on the flight. He arrived "a little pissy," as he would say.

With this, I dragged Ron, not by cab, but by the London Tube subway to our modest bed and breakfast near Victoria Station. It was too early to check in. Ron's face darkened a bit. We found breakfast and he perked-up a little. Finally, when we were able to check in, his room was three flights upstairs, with no elevators.

As you can guess, it didn't take Ron long to procure a larger, nicer room on the ground floor. This time I didn't even bother asking how he did it. I wasn't even surprised. Meanwhile, I schlepped up and down those three flights of stairs for the entire week we were there.

On the day we arrived I went out in the afternoon to museums in London. Ron stayed at the little hotel, as he was still somewhat tired. When I returned I found Ron in a chair on the front landing of the hotel. It had been only a couple of hours, but he was already on a first-name basis not only with all the hotel management and staff, but also with most of the guests. Passers-by on the street -- some from the OTHER side of the street, mind you -- waved and yelled RON! on the way by.

Ron had been in that country for less than 12 hours, but the street already belonged to him, and everyone he encountered was happy for it.

On our last full day there I took the train to Hampton Court, the former home of English monarch Henry XIII. I thought Ron might go with me, but he begged off, and the man behind the desk must have seen the disappointment in my face as I started off. He asked, and I explained that Ron didn't want to go with me.

"You know why that is?" he asked. "Well, not really," I replied. He explained in terms those who knew him would understand. "Well, there must be 200 pubs between here and Hampton Court, and I just don't think he'd make it," he said. That evening with Ron, at the pub, was our most pleasant night of the trip.

Many of you have your own stories. One of Ron's and my longtime colleagues, John McHale, has written a tribute to Ron, entitled Remembering a friend and mentor, which is online at

To say that I'll miss Ron is a grotesque understatement. I cried when I found out the end was near. On my last phone call with him I left it that I'd see him next month at his Massachusetts home in Duxbury. I didn't think it would be the last time I heard his voice. My only regret about Ron was I wish I had been a better friend to him.

He was far more than a boss and a teacher. He was a father figure to me, as well as a friend. He praised me when I earned it, and kicked my butt when I deserved it, but with firm kindness, understanding, and empathy.

Ron Mastro's obituary is online at!/Obituary.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mil & Aero Publisher Ernesto Burden unhurt after bombs hit today's Boston Marathon

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 15 April 2013. Military & Aerospace Electronics publisher Ernesto Burden is unhurt today after completing the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston and crossing the finish line before explosions reportedly ripped through the marathon's finish line area near downtown Boston.

The Boston Marathon bombing left Burden unaffected after the avid competitive runner finished the 26-mile foot race in two hours, fifty-eight minutes, and 43 seconds.

According to published reports, two or more bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line at around 3:30 p.m. today, about three hours after the marathon winners crossed the finish line.

Burden, who is publisher of several titles at PennWell, parent company of Military & Aerospace Electronics, would have crossed the finish line less than 50 minutes after the top finishers, and would have cleared the stricken area hours before the bombs exploded.

Contacted later this afternoon, Burden said he is "heartbroken for the families who lost loved ones today, and that evil people would take such a symbol of life and community and turn it into a tragedy.  We have to maintain and strengthen our resolve as a country to both vigorously combat evil, and to sow peace in the world."

John Keller, editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics, received a text message from Burden shortly after the explosions, explaining he was out of harm's way and ready to board a commuter train back to New Hampshire where he lives with his wife and children.

Monday's Boston Marathon was Burden's all-time best marathon time of 2:58:43. He never had broken three hours before, and set breaking the three-hour time barrier as his primary goal of today's race.

Check your local news sources for updates on today's Boston Marathon bombing. At 3:56 p.m. today eastern time news organizations were reporting multiple bomb explosions near the marathon finish line, and perhaps dozens injured.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

After all those sleepless nights of worry, now we find the Pentagon's budget is actually UP?

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 10 April 2013. The U.S. defense industry must be feeling pretty duped right about now. The 2014 Pentagon budget request is actually UP over last year's proposal, which is leaving many in our industry feeling somewhat bewildered and perhaps more than a little angry.

We've had nearly six months of fear and loathing, gnashing of teeth, and rending of clothing over expected Draconian defense cuts in a slow-motion train wreck that included several fiscal cliffs, budget sequestration, and other tales of doom and gloom that's left the defense industry frozen in a paralysis of uncertainty.

During this extended period in fiscal Purgatory, no one in the defense industry wanted to spend money, hire people, do any internal research, or make any commitments whatsoever over fears of where the DOD budget was headed. Most agreed it was headed downward on a pretty steep slope.

This pervasive fear of the very worst, which has led to company layoffs, research cutbacks, an end to much promotion of any kind, has led to a paralysis of the defense industry the like of which I can't remember over at least the last 30 years.

Well, at long last, now we have it; The fiscal 2014 Pentagon budget proposal came out today, and it's actually UP over last year in accounts our industry cares most about -- procurement, research and development, operations and maintenance, and military construction.

If this had happened nine days earlier, top DOD leaders would have been cackling, "April Fool!"

Here are some details as they're trickling out of the Pentagon today. For fiscal 2014, which begins next 1 Oct., the Pentagon's 2014 DOD budget is proposing $526.6 billion in discretionary budget authority. That's up -- yes, up -- from last year's request of $525.4 billion. Now the DOD's budget goes to Congress for consideration.

The Pentagon's discretionary budget does not include spending proposals for overseas contingency operations -- Pentagon-speak for the global war on terror -- which last year was proposed at $88.5 billion. The DOD budget request released today does not yet include a detailed budget for overseas contingency operations. That budget request will come in the next several weeks, Pentagon officials say.

Okay now. After half a year of sleepless nights, wearing out the carpet on the way to the Tums bottle, sweating over next quarter's revenue projections, and wondering which programs will have to go, are you feeling played?

I know I am. Colleagues had to pick my jaw up off the floor when I saw the preliminary Pentagon budget numbers, which were released today shortly after 11 a.m. eastern time. All that worry over ... what?

As for now, I think that we in the defense industry can breathe a huge sigh of relief, at least for now. We can find more things to worry about when the budget details come out later today.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Confederate surrender at Appomattox ended the American Civil War 148 years ago this month

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 9 April 2013. The national capital of the Confederate States of America, Richmond, Va., fell to the Union Army 148 years ago this month, after 10 months of bloody horror in the muddy bug-infested trenches around nearby Petersburg, Va., as the Union armies tightened their noose around what remained of the Confederacy and Gen. Rober E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

The Confederate defensive lines around Petersburg collapsed under steady Union pressure on the morning of April 3, 1865, and Richmond fell into Union hands later that evening.

Still, the American Civil War wasn't over. Shattered Confederate soldiers followed Gen. Lee westward in an attempt in an attempt to link up with other Confederates still fighting in North Carolina, or at least to find supplies to keep Lee's Army in the field. Things didn't go as planned.

As the Union Army hunted down the ragged remains of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, the two armies clashed at places in Southern Virginia called Five Forks, Namozine Church, Amelia Springs, and finally, on April 6, Sayler's Creek.

It became apparent that the fresh, ever-reinforced, and ever-resupplied Union Army would outlast the ragged, starving Confederates, whose armed strength dribbled away daily from continuous battlefield casualties and growing levels of desertion as exhausted gray-clad soldiers -- singly and in small groups -- quietly gave up made for home.

The day after the Battle for Sayler's Creek, Union commander Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sent a note to Gen. Lee that read "The results of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia."

Gen. Lee responded that same day, "I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender."

Lee and Grant exchanged more notes the next day. Grant asked for the surrender of Confederate officers and men, who would not be allowed to continue waging war against the United States until properly exchanged. Lee politely thanked Grant for his terms, but declined surrender. He did, however, agree to meet face-to-face with Grant the next day between the picket lines of the armies at a small crossroads called Appomattox Court House.

The two generals met there in Appomattox, 148 years ago today, in the front room of a home that belonged to Wilmer McLean, a wholesale grocer. In a strange twist of fate, McLean had owned land in Prince William County, Va., where four years before the Union and Confederate armies fought one of the war's first battles; the Union called it the First Battle of Bull Run. The Confederates called it the First Battle of Manassas.

At their meeting in McLean's front room on April 9, 1865, Lee and Grant agreed on surrender terms. Confederate soldiers would be allowed to keep swords and pistols, as well as their personal property and horses. The spring planting season was upon them, after all. The infantry would be asked to stack their muskets and march away.

Lee agreed, and left the house.

Wilmer McLean later said the American Civil War started in his front yard, and ended in his front parlor.

At dawn three days after the surrender, Union Maj. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain -- the so-called Lion of Little Round Top -- assembled soldiers from the Union 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac along the main street of Appomattox Court House. They were to accept the surrendering Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, and witness the ceremonial stacking of arms.

Soon the surrendering Confederate army appeared on the road, led by Confederate Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon. These armies had been locked in a death struggle for nearly four years, and no one was sure how the ceremony would go. Bitterness was indescribably high, and some worried about the threats of insults, gloating, and perhaps even fist fights.

As Gordon, mounted on his horse, came astride Chamberlain, the Union general ordered his men to come to attention and carry arms as a show of respect. Seeing this, Gordon unsheathed his sword, smartly touched its point to the heel of his boot, and raised the hilt shoulder-high, its blade opposite his right eye, in the traditional officer's salute under arms.

For all practical purposes, thus ended America's bloodiest war. Some fighting went on briefly. Three days after the Chamberlain-Gordon salute, the last battle of the Civil War was fought in Columbus, Ga. Thirteen days after that, On 26 April 1865, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston met Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman at Bennett Place, N.C., and surrendered the Confederate Army of Tennessee and all remaining Confederate forces still active in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

The war was over. Over the course of its four years 646,392 Americans, Union and Confederate, were killed or wounded -- nearly two percent of the entire U.S. population in 1865.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Dear God, what more can the U.S. military ask from the poor letter C?

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 5 April 2013. Command. Control. Communications. Computers. For most, that's already a lot to ask all at once from the poor letter C, but not, evidently for the U.S. military.

Military acronyms and initialisms, as many of us know, can approach the absurd, but now the Pentagon has gone completely over the top with its latest term: C5ISR. This quaint term refers to command, control, communications, computers, combat systems, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

It's a mouthful that refers generally to commanding warfighters, watching stuff, and telling others all about it.

I can remember when the military would only string three Cs together in a now-archaic term called C3I (pronounced "Cee-Cubed-Eye"). That term, which looks simple today, referred to command, control, communications, and intelligence. Interestingly, this term also described commanding troops, watching stuff, and telling others all about it.

The term C3I emerged from the Pentagon and entered general use back in the mid-1980s around the time when the SINCGARS radio, the OTH-B radar, and MILSTAR satellite were new. It was still the Cold War, and the term C3I referred to U.S. military interests to turn the command chain inside of what the Soviet Union could do at the time.

C3I became such a popular term that it gave rise to separate publications and magazine departments. I know. I used to produce a B-to-B newsletter called C3I Report back in the day.

But the era of C3I was short-lived, because for the Pentagon it just didn't have enough ... uuummmpf.

So what to do? Enter the term C4I. This added a C to create a short name for command, control, communications, COMPUTERS, and intelligence. Had to get the high-tech stuff in there to make it sound cool and futuristic.

Nevertheless, the term C4I didn't last long, either. It just needed ... more. So the military came up with the term C4ISR to describe command, control, communications, computers, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Although C4ISR still basically refers to commanding warfighters, watching stuff, and telling others all about it, that term was so nifty that it lasted in general use for perhaps more than a decade. It also emerged at a time when terminology upgrades and cachet-insertion were coming into vogue for military technology.

Unfortunately, however, even the term C4ISR has become inadequate for today's fighting forces. Now we have C5ISR to refer to command, control, communications, computers, COMBAT SYSTEMS, surveillance and reconnaissance.

I first saw reference to C5ISR earlier this week in a Navy SPAWAR contract announcement for ... well, I'll let you see exactly what the Navy is contracting for:

"The contracts are for the procurement of Decision Superiority support services including the entire spectrum of non-inherently governmental services and solutions (equipment and services) associated with the full system lifecycle support including research, development, test, evaluation, production and fielding of sustainable, secure, survivable, and interoperable command, control, communication, computers, combat systems, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (C5ISR), information operations, enterprise information services and space capabilities," according to the Pentagon's daily blue tops announcement.

Sounds kind of networky and computery to me, but in all honesty I have no idea what that contract is about, except that it involves 16 companies, $180 million -- a big chunk of change in the post-sequestration era -- and that grand new C5ISR term.

C5ISR, by the way, generally describes ... you guessed it ... commanding troops, watching stuff, and telling others all about it. I can't wait to see the next term the Pentagon comes up with to describe these activities.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Saber rattling in North Korea: how dangerous are these threats?

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 2 April 2013. We've seen threats from North Korea against U.S. military and civil interests over the last week that are so astonishing as to spill over into the absurd. Targets reported to be on North Korea's list for potential nuclear missile attacks include San Diego, Washington, and even Austin, Texas.

North Korea over the past week also has threatened nuclear missile attacks on U.S. military bases in Hawaii and Guam, as well as military and civil targets in South Korea.

Beyond providing a field day for satirists on Twitter, the threats against Austin are considered to be -- to put it mildly -- overblown. There is no evidence that North Korea has the rocket or missile-guidance technology to land a nuclear warhead in San Diego, let alone Austin or Washington.

Still, there is some reason for concern.

First off, what do we know? We know that North Korea has demonstrated the ability to build a nuclear warhead, based on observed atomic tests in North Korea. Would these nuclear devices work in the real world? Does North Korea have sufficient controlled detonation capability that would ensure the nuclear warhead exploded when it's supposed to? That we don't know.

Second, we know that North Korea has some intermediate-range ballistic missile technology, most likely based on Soviet SCUD missiles with refinements from North Korean missile research and development. These missiles may be capable of reaching South Korea, Japan, and possibly U.S. military installations on Okinawa.

Based on supposed North Korean ballistic missile technology, Guam most likely is outside the range of even the most advanced North Korean ballistic missiles. Also outside the envelope, most likely, are Hawaii and the outermost Aleutian islands of Alaska.

So we know North Korea has nuclear warhead and intermediate ballistic missile technology. It's a stretch, however, to assume that North Korea has the ability to put a nuclear weapon on target with a ballistic missile.

Nuclear tests and missile launches do not demonstrate the ability to put warhead on target. Those depend on missile guidance and munitions fusing technologies, and those in North Korea we know little about.

Now is it possible that North Korea could launch a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile with any accuracy at targets in Japan and Okinawa? Sure it's possible. Is it likely? That's another question entirely.

Now let's add some things to the mix. The U.S. Navy reportedly has sent missile destroyer USS John S. McCain -- named for the father and grandfather of the senator from Arizona -- to the Sea of Japan off the North Korea coast. The warship is designed to detect, track, and destroy ballistic missiles like North Korea possesses.

U.S. B-2 and B-52 nuclear-capable jet bombers, moreover, have been reported over South Korea this past week for military exercises. A North Korean missile launch not only has only a questionable chance of reaching its target, but North Korea also would risk massive retaliation from the U.S. and its allies should a launch occur.

Would the North Korean leadership take such a risk? No way to tell for sure. North Korea is led by 30-year-old Kim Jong-un, an unproven leader who has an interest in making himself look strong and decisive among the people he rules. Although he's young and unproven, his people reportedly revere him like a god.

North Korea's world view appears to be a mix of old-style collective communism, religion, and mysticism. A cornerstone of this philosophy is confronting the United States, which North Korea has considered a sworn enemy since the Korean War 60 years ago. Suffice it to say, the North Korean government is kind of nutty, and that country has few friends internationally.

Remember, the Korean war never really ended; the shooting just stopped. No peace treaty ever was signed. There's only a formal truce to keep hostilities from flaring up. North Korea this past week declared that truce over, so in theory a state of war exists now between North Korea on one side and the U.S. and South Korea on the other.

The real threat here is not so much a North Korean-launched nuclear attack in the region, but precarious and shifting politics of the region. Did I mention that North Korea has few friends? Well, one of its only allies is China.

Is it in China's interest to see its little ally go to war with the U.S., China's largest trading partner and a huge financial borrower? Probably not. The U.S. owes China a lot of money, and a regional war might complicate matters. Plus China makes, well, pretty much everything we buy at Walmart these days.

A regional war is in nobody's interest ... but threats are. North Korea historically has got a lot of mileage out of its bellicose threats against the U.S. With China at North Korea's back door, the rest of the world has found it convenient to make nice with North Korea, no matter how fantastic its threats.

If a shooting war starts again on the Korean Peninsula -- and history shows us that wars can get started pretty easily -- could China stay out of it? I don't see how. It would take some strong, stable, reliable diplomacy on the part of the U.S. and China to avoid dangerous escalation, and from what I've seen of the Obama Administration ... well, that's another story.

So here we are. North Korea has nukes, ballistic missiles, and likes to make big threats. The U.S. and China want to keep a lid on to avoid what might come next, and the lines are drawn.

Wanna know how easy wars can start? Read the Guns of August, or see a movie called The Bedford Incident. Things can get out of control before anyone can blink, and then what might happen?

This is why North Korean threats are cause for concern.