Archive for '2013'

    Capital Hill budget deal could restore tens of billions of dollars to the Pentagon

    December 17, 2013 1:15 PM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 17 Dec. 2013. Finally, some good news out of Washington. Leaders from the U.S. House and Senate have reached a budget deal that would restore billions of dollars to the U.S. Department of Defense over the next two years that without this congressional agreement would have been slashed from the Pentagon's budget as part of sequestration .

    As of this writing, threats of filibuster in the Senate have been put down, and chances are good that the Senate will approve the budget deal later this week and send the legislation on to President Obama for his signature. The deal would restore $31.5 billion to the Pentagon over the next two years.

    Okay, so $31.5 billion doesn't sound like all that much when we're talking about the Defense Department, which has an annual budget of hundreds of billions of dollars. Still, it's something once you start to think about it.

    So how much is $31.5 billion for the Pentagon? It equates to about 158 F-35 joint strike fighters, about five Zumwalt-class destroyers, or back in the day would have equated to about seven Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

    It's easy to dismiss a few tens of billions of dollars where the Pentagon is concerned, but put in these terms it's easy to understand that it's actually a substantial amount.

    Here's what I'm thinking if this new budget deal becomes law: fewer layoffs in the U.S. defense industry, some precious budget numbers that can enable defense companies to start planning and emerge from a long period of uncertainty, and perhaps one or two new program starts to go along with revitalized programs to upgrade existing military systems.

    These doesn't mean that good times are here again for the Pentagon; there still are many years of financial austerity ahead. Still, for an industry that has been knocked around for the past few years, there finally is some encouraging news.

    Hacker drone story a cautionary tale about the need for unmanned vehicle data security

    December 10, 2013 9:46 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 10 Dec. 2013. Saw a fascinating, yet questionably accurate story the other day about designs for an inexpensive unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV ) for hobbyists that may have the ability to hunt, hack , and take over other UAVs.

    "Serial hacker Samy Kamkar has released all the hardware and software specifications that hobbyists need to build an aerial drone that seeks out other drones in the air, hacks them, and turns them into a conscripted army of unmanned vehicles under the attacker's control," reads the story by Dan Goodin on Ars Technica entitled Flying hacker contraption hunts other drones, turns them into zombies .

    No, I'm not kidding, because I couldn't make this stuff up. I doubt, quite frankly, that a hobbyist's helicopter model drone could hunt down and hijack a wide variety of UAVs out there, but that's beside the point.

    he actual capabilities of such a predator drone aside, I see this as a cautionary tale not only about the dire and growing need for information security, but also about the potential havoc that a proliferation of small drones could have on the commercial aviation industry.

    I mean, what if it's true there's a hunter drone out there that can take over whatever UAVs it encounters? If a recreational hacker can dream it up, so can scientists in some of the world's more sophisticated militaries.

      If there's a UAV out there that could hijack a future fleet of Amazon delivery drones -- remote as the possibility actually is -- then isn't it likely that military forces not-so-friendly to the U.S. have such technology today that could hunt down and take control of the nation's growing fleet of surveillance and attack UAVs?

    Maybe it's already happened when a sophisticated American Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel UAV was captured two years ago by Iranian forces in northeastern Iran. The Iranian government announced that the UAV was brought down by its cyberwarfare unit which commandeered the aircraft and safely landed it.

    It's clear that unmanned vehicles need better information security. Now that hobbyists might be posing some kind of threat, perhaps military leaders will start taking this seriously.

    And while we're on the subject of taking things seriously, how is the FAA going to handle the proliferation of small UAVs operated by everyone from local police departments to retailers? I'm hoping it doesn't take a collision involving a UAV and a passenger jetliner to bring this looming problem into focus.

    Lack of money for systems upgrades threatens to maintain wind-farm radar dead spots

    December 3, 2013 10:36 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 3 Dec. 2013. Whoever imagined that air safety, national defense, and renewable energy would come into conflict, but this is the situation today in which we find ourselves.

    The problem involves radar systems for air defense, air traffic control, and weather monitoring, which do not get along well with electricity-generating wind turbines clustered together in what we know of as wind farms .

    Most radar systems are set up to detect and track moving objects, and filter out stationary objects that are not of interest. That's how radar tells the difference between helicopters and tall trees. Wind turbines, however, are stationary AND moving objects, and to radar systems they look like moving aircraft. Wind farms also can confuse weather radar that can mistake massed turbines for storms.

    The spinning turbine blades create massive fields of radar clutter that not only confuse radar systems, but also have the potential to conceal drug smugglers, fugitives, or even a sneak aircraft or cruise missile attack.

     If you want to cloak a plane from radar surveillance, in other words, find a wind farm to hide in.

    The real issue isn't radar technology itself; modern phased-array radar and advanced digital signal processing are more than capable of contending effectively with wind farm clutter. The central issue is money. Most air-defense and air-traffic-control radar systems deployed today never were designed to operate in close proximity with wind farms.

    To cut through wind-farm clutter, many of today's radars would need substantial systems upgrades and technology insertion. One the one hand this represents a promising business opportunity for radar designers, embedded computing experts, and software developers. On the other hand, however, there is little money to pay for these upgrades.

    Until the necessary radar upgrades can be made, the growing number of wind farms dotting the landscape will continue to cause dead spots in important radar coverage.

    Engineering support contracts indicate the Pentagon is sinking into the Mothball Strategy

    November 26, 2013 6:57 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 26 Nov. 2013. Engineering services and support. That's what I'm seeing for the vast majority of today's Pentagon contract announcements . Not new procurement or research programs, but engineering services and support.

    Not that there's anything wrong with this, but it's a big indication that the technology base of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is at best standing still, and more likely is slowly slipping backwards.

    When the DOD is operating in a healthy way it's common to see new programs in the contract announcements, or additions to existing programs such as systems upgrades and technology insertion. But engineering services and support? This is basically just keeping the lights on.

    What I see at work for the U.S. military is what I call the Mothball Strategy. We've seen it before, back in the late '70s during the Carter Administration, and in the mid-'90s under the Clinton Administration.

    The Mothball Strategy means the DOD simply is hunkering down, and trying to keep its existing weapons and systems functioning adequately, and its manufacturing base from disappearing. Real capability and real technology development is put away in the closet because for now the DOD can't afford it. All efforts go into maintaining what the military forces have today, not in moving forward.

    The Mothball Strategy for the Pentagon is like a drowning man who's just been thrown a life preserver. He's just gasping for air and grateful still to be alive; for the moment, he's not concerned with getting anywhere, just with keeping his head above water.

    The Mothball Strategy for the Pentagon means nothing much happens, except keeping the military forces alive as best that leaders can. In the long term it means a stationary military force that decays into obsolescence more each day.

    ... and it means more engineering services and support contracts to plug the inevitable leaks.

    The revenge of COTS: an ageing commercial technology base complicates military supply chain

    November 19, 2013 8:53 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 19 Nov. 2013. The U.S. military's move to replace custom-designed mil-spec electronic subsystems and components with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS ) electronic was supposed to reduce costs and give the military access to the latest technology.

    That was the intent, but the stark realities of sequestration, program reductions, and other downward pressures on military spending may be creating conditions that not only are far worse than what was expected, but also perhaps even worse than the problems that COTS was supposed to alleviate.

    What military program managers and the defense industry face today is a broadly installed base of COTS electronics with capabilities and supportability that is going obsolete rapidly, and with diminishing prospects for being brought back up to date because of crushing military budget cuts.

    The year was 1994 when then-Defense Secretary William Perry ushered in the COTS era when he declared that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) should stop inventing its own unique electronics and instead take advantage of advanced developments in a booming commercial electronics sector.

    Custom-designed mil-spec electronic components were expensive to build, and often were less capable than their commercial counterparts. The 1990s saw the end of the Cold War, and there was immense pressure at the time to enhance military capability and reduce costs. We had to do more with less ... sound familiar? With various fits and starts, Perry's COTS philosophy took hold, and today is woven tightly into the fabric of the military procurement culture. In many ways, COTS have lived up to its promise of improving access to technology at affordable cost.

     In the rapid move to COTS, custom-designed mil-spec components became the pariahs of the military procurement world. Once systems designers got used to the capabilities and low costs that COTS provided, they vowed never again to go back to the buggy-whip mil-spec days.

    Still, in the rapid move to COTS, which pervades nearly all kinds of military electronics design today, systems designers and program managers have lost sight of some of the benefits of custom-designed mil-spec components.

    Tops among these benefits is the longevity of mil-spec electronics. This technology was reliable, maintainable, and lasted a long time. These attributes were perfect for a U.S. military that expected to keep military platforms in service for many decades.

    Even when mil-spec components became obsolete, they still were rugged and reliable, and their manufacturers were committed to supporting them for as long as the military needed them. Manufacturers of COTS components, however, rarely made commitments for long-term support.

    Before the embrace of COTS technology by the Pentagon and the defense industry, COTS was criticized for its short shelf life. Rapid obsolescence was one of the chief complaints, and was one of the most convincing reasons that systems designers gave who were seeking waivers from COTS requirements. Today many of these critics are being vindicated.

    The long-term success of COTS-based military design is based on the fundamental assumption that COTS-based systems must be upgraded far more rapidly than they were in the mil-spec era of the early 1990s and before.

    The military program managers of the 1990s and early 2000s bought into this approach. The potential benefits of COTS were clear, yet they knew that without frequent technology refresh, COTS technology would become obsolete quickly, which would compromise capability and complicate maintenance and logistics.

    Today many of those program managers who understood the price of COTS are gone, having been promoted out of the procurement chain, or retired from the service. Many program managers today simply expect the benefits of COTS, but do not appreciate the fundamental assumptions on which COTS is based -- the need for frequent technology refresh.

    Military budget cuts are delaying or eliminating scheduled rounds of component upgrades for military systems. Those COTS components that were supposed to be switched out ever five years or so are staying in the field longer than ever. Sometimes only portions of fleets are being upgraded, leaving others to make-do with what they have for indefinite periods.

    The results are predictable -- obsolete parts and a complicated logistics chain are exactly what we're seeing today as the military adjusts to a rapid downturn in spending. We have electronic components that are going obsolete quickly, with only spotty long-term support. Obsolete COTS technology can be far more problematic than obsolete mil-spec technology.

    To compensate, component suppliers must resort to drastic measures with increasing frequency. Sometimes, for example, they must install data bridges in their systems designed to fool new COTS technology into functioning like old COTS technology.

    Yes, it is absurd, but the military/industrial complex is beginning to reap what it has sown. As defense budgets are cut back even more, the problem only threatens to get worse. The COTS approach works only as long as it gets the support it needs. Without proper technology refresh, COTS is taking its revenge.

    Navy's newest destroyers evolve to fill traditional battleship roles

    November 12, 2013 11:54 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 12 Nov. 2013. U.S. Navy leaders have launched the first in a new class of surface warships designed for shore bombardment -- a job that traditionally belongs to battleships and heavy cruisers.

    This new warship, which emphasizes naval surface fire support, is neither a battleship nor a cruiser, but is large enough to be either one. It's the USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), and the Navy insists on calling it a destroyer, even though its core mission is far from what one would expect from a destroyer .

    The Zumwalt is 600 feet long, nearly 81 feet wide, and displaces 14,800 tons, which makes this vessel larger than the Navy's fleet of Ticonderoga-class cruisers (CG 47), WAY larger than the Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (DDG 51), and is only slightly smaller than the 1950s-vintage Navy nuclear-powered Long Beach-class cruiser.

    The Zumwalt, in fact, is roughly the mass of a Virginia-class battleship (BB 13), which was at sea from 1906 to 1920. The Zumwalt, however, is longer than the Virginia, which was only 441 feet long compared to the Zumwalt's 600 feet. The new "destroyer" is the largest vessel seen in a long time -- perhaps ever -- in and around the Bath, Me. shipyards where it is still under construction.

     Curiously, despite everything to the contrary, the Navy insists on calling this behemoth a destroyer.

    Think of a modern destroyer and several things come to mind. This kind of vessel is supposed to be a relatively small, fast, and maneuverable ship with plenty of anti-aircraft missiles, powerful radar, and advanced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability. The Zumwalt isn't that kind of ship.

    This ship is built around the Advanced Gun System (AGS), a 155-millimeter cannon that is designed to hurl special shells as far as 83 nautical miles at a rate of 10 rounds per minute. That's a lot of firepower, and might even rival the destructive power of the Iowa-class battleships that the Zumwalt is designed to replace.

    The four World War II-era Iowa-class ships -- the Iowa, the Wisconsin, the New Jersey, and the Missouri -- each had nine 16-inch guns as their main armament. They fired big shells, but with a range of just 20 miles -- far shorter than the Zumwalt's armament.

    The Zumwalt's Advanced Gun System has a water-cooled barrel that helps give it such an impressive rate of fire. Just one gun can fire 10 rounds per minute. The nine 16-inch guns on an Iowa-class battleship combined could fire 18 rounds per minute.

    One of the biggest selling points for the Zumwalt-class destroyer is its heavy use of automation. The big ship needs just 140 officers and enlisted personnel to operate. The cruiser Long Beach needed a crew of 1,100 to operate, while the old Virginia-class battleships needed about that many. The Iowa-class ships needed 1,800 to 2,700 sailors to operate.

    The Zumwalt should be ready for deployment at sea in two or three more years. It's scheduled to have two sister ships in the class, the USS Michael Monsoor and the USS Lyndon B. Johnson. It's doubtful that any more of these kinds of ships will be built.

    International suspicions of U.S. encryption technology putting defense companies in a bind

    November 5, 2013 11:24 AM by John Keller
    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 5 Nov. 2013. Major U.S. defense contractors may be in worse shape than we know, as defense budgets shrink, sequestration takes its toll, and as more and more experts conclude that the era of large-scale conventional military conflict is coming to a close.

    At one time military technology represented the state of the art, but those days are long past. Today, driven by cell phones, tablet computers, tiny cameras, and other handheld computing and communications capability, commercial companies have catapulted past military contractors as purveyors of cutting-edge technology.

    As often as not these days, in fact, the military relies on commercially developed technology adapted to military uses for many advanced defense systems. One of the few areas where military technology reigns supreme involves information security , encryption , and cryptography .

    So today what's to differentiate defense contractors from commercial companies in the race to develop new technologies? Until now one of the big ones has involved information security and encryption. These often-proprietary technologies can safeguard military computers and communications equipment from hackers and unauthorized eavesdropping.

    U.S. data security and encryption technology long has been favored around the world to keep critical information away from prying eyes.

    All that may be changing, however, because of the recent and seemingly continuous scandals involving the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), which is accused of spying not only on U.S. citizens, but also on national leaders throughout the world.

    As a result, it's rumored that governments around the world -- even those that historically have been closely allied to the U.S. -- are souring on U.S.-developed information security and encryption out of fear that the NSA may be building back doors into these systems to enhance NSA global intelligence gathering capabilities.

    In the long run it doesn't matter whether the NSA is or is not engaging in these kinds of activities. What matters is perception, and globally this is turning against U.S. military encryption technology, which must be certified by the NSA.

    This leaves U.S. prime military contractors in a tight spot. Already battered at home by shrinking Pentagon budgets, these contractors had been counting on continuing international sales of military technology to maintain their revenue streams.

    Yet with a chilling international market for U.S.-developed information and communications systems that depend on reliable security and encryption, U.S. defense companies may have to dig even deeper to find reliable markets for their wares overseas.

    Defense industry left guessing as Army struggles forward with an unclear mission

    October 29, 2013 9:45 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 29 Oct. 2013. Circumstances are gathering into a potential perfect storm that may threaten not only the U.S. Army 's future mission, but also how the defense industry can move forward to support the Army's needs, and even the continuing relevance of the America's oldest American military service.

    Some of these are well-known: sequestration, dim prospects for future military budget growth, and defense technology research and development, which for practical purposes has come nearly to a dead-stop.

    Perhaps most serious, however, is how top military and civilian leaders can define the Army's role as the nation moves into the future, how they identify the top threats the Army must face, and how they justify the need for a large standing Army in an era when large-scale big-iron military land battles appear to be part of the past.

    Here's where we are today: U.S. military forces are finishing their exit from Iraq, where they have operated for more than a decade. Their final exit from Afghanistan is but a few years off, or less. When operations in Southwest Asia are completed, where does the Army go from there?

    Think about it. The Army has had a clear set of missions since the U.S. entered World War II. Although the close of that war saw a rapid drawdown in U.S. military power, the strengthening Soviet Union at that time weighed heavily on everyone's mind.

    Less than five years after World War II ended, North Korean invaded South Korea, which created another sudden and dire mission for the Army. That mission grew from containing North Korean forces to containing Communism around the world, which continued until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990.

     One year later, Iraq invaded Kuwait, which triggered Operation Desert Shield, and eventually the military ouster of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. In both these military initiatives the Army played a central role.

    For the next decade keeping an eye on a contained-but-restless Iraqi military, on ethnic strife in what then was Yugoslavia, and on other simmering hot spots throughout the world held the Army's attention and helped shape its mission.

    Today, however, we find ourselves in different circumstances. Counter-insurgency operations are nearing an end in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia does not pose the immediate military threat that did its predecessors of the Soviet Union, and Europe has been relatively quiet.

    Still, trouble spots persist in areas like Syria and Iran, yet with no open conflict involving U.S. Army forces. There is no immediate and dire threat in these areas, and hence no clear Army mission -- at least not yet.

    So how does the Army move forward? Counter-insurgency? Certainly. Special Forces capability? Of course. But what's the role of the established Army infrastructure that involves large combat infantry units, main battle tanks, armored fighting vehicles, and an order of battle designed for large ground conflicts?

    I'm not sure there is a role, and I'm not convinced that the top Army leadership today knows what its role in the future will be, either.

    Maybe the Army simply is at a moment of transition, and leaders will get a handle on the Army's core mission sometime soon. On the other hand, with the civilian leadership vacuum we have today in Washington, I'm not sure the Army will be able to do so.

    This leaves the defense industry charged with supporting the Army perhaps in a more precarious position than it has been since the end of World War II nearly 70 years ago. If Army leaders are unable to define the Army's long-term mission clearly, then the defense industry will have no idea how to proceed, other than to guess.

    These factors were on display just below the surface last week at the Army's big annual trade show in Washington -- the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA).

    Show exhibits revolved around what has been important up to now -- IED-proof wheeled armored vehicles, fast-response air power in the form of tiltrotor aircraft and fast helicopters, advanced body armor, and network-centric warfare equipment like wearable computers, small software-defined radios, and agile satellite communications.

    What was striking at AUSA, however, was a lack of direction in where we go from here. It was as though the industry were pointing out to the Army officers walking the aisles how far technology has led us to this moment, yet pleading for direction on where the industry should go from here.

    These are tough times for the combat vehicle and vetronics industries

    October 22, 2013 4:22 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 22 Oct. 2013. The most prominent exhibits this week at the Association of the U.S. Army trade show in Washington involve glittering versions of the latest fast, armored, and networked military vehicles. Nevertheless, make no mistake, these are tough times for the U.S. combat vehicle and vetronics industries.

    U.S. forces are wrapping up their withdrawal from Iraq, and the military draw down from Afghanistan is far along. Fleets of main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, armored humvees, and self-propelled artillery have begun to sit idle, with little prospect for their continued operation anytime soon.

    With this growing surplus of armored combat vehicles, demand for new vehicles and retrofits is at its lowest point in years. Sure, the industry is trying to put a good face on it with well-publicized programs for a new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) and new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), but where's the demand? More importantly, with the budgetary problems the U.S. government has these days, where's the money?

    Military combat vehicle manufacturers like General Dynamics Land Systems in Sterling Heights, Mich., BAE Systems Land & Armaments in Arlington, Va., and Oshkosh Corp. in Oshkosh, Wis., are doing their best to keep themselves relevant amid these stark new realities.

    These combat vehicle designers are building their latest models from the ground up to handle network-centric warfare, with built-in computer networking backbones to integrate surveillance, targeting, electronic warfare, and communications systems, and accommodate new technologies seamlessly in plug-and-play architectures.

     These will be come of the world's most advanced and capable combat vehicles ever made. Just as important, today's combat vehicle manufacturers are designing vehicles to confront the most dire threats from insurgents and terrorists whose favorite weapon is the improvised explosive device (IED).

    The V-shaped underbelly structures of the latest combat vehicles are designed to protect against IED explosions and other roadside booby-trap threats. Their suspensions enable soldiers inside to drink coffee in safety and comfort even while tearing over rugged off-road terrain at 40 miles per hour.

    Despite all this, however, dwindling military budgets and growing fleets of idle combat vehicles bode ill for the immediate future of the combat vehicle and vetronics industries.

    Many in the defense industry are coming around the realization that the era of the heavy-iron U.S. military might be over. In the future, those companies that can accommodate a fast, agile, and Special-Forces-centric military may be the big winners.

    Those who don't may take their places in the graveyards of irrelevant technologies.

    Is the government shutdown a harbinger of more ominous things to come?

    October 15, 2013 11:21 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 15 Oct. 2013. The U.S. government shutdown is entering its third week, with only vague rumors of ending the stalemate, and no real solutions in sight. While it's easy to find people to blame, and argue over potential solutions, it's clear that the shutdown is taking a toll on the defense industry and on the American population as a whole.

    While I see abundant news stories that cover accusations and counter-accusations, proposals and counter-proposals, demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, all of these details ... this minutiae of monument closings, people forced from national parks, and rotting vegetables in the White House garden ... either miss or ignore a central issue that lies at the heart of this conflict.

    Our American culture is more fragmented and polarized than perhaps at any other time since the Civil War 150 years ago. What we face today even might represent an American population even more fundamentally divided in its dreams and aspirations than it was during the Civil War, and here's why.

    As the Union started pulling itself apart in 1860 along regional north-and-south lines, the antagonists were in agreement about the nature of government: it was essentially to nurture an equality of opportunity. Few people at the time argued over the fundamental role of government. The sticking point was one side allowed slavery and the other didn't. With the eventual abolishment of slavery at the war's close, there wasn't anything serious enough left to fight about, and we've had relative domestic peace for a century and a half.

    Today it's different. We have a population in disagreement over how and why the government should exist. On the one hand we have segments who believe the government's role is to nurture individual initiative, encourage private business, and aid the individual's ability to reap the rewards of his own work.

    On the other hand we have those who believe the government's role is to guarantee not only equal opportunity, but also equality of outcome -- that is, a sharing of wealth to ensure that everyone has a fair share, and that no one has to do without.

    The notion of fairness is a central component of this great American divide as we push into the 21st century. An economic system based on individual initiative is not fair in terms of outcome, but it's fair in terms of opportunity. Results in this system, however, are not fair at all. We have vastly different economic strata from very rich to very poor. People drive different cars and live in different-sized houses. There are winners and losers, in other words. Should the government stand back and let this happen, or intervene on behalf of the less fortunate?

    A vast segment of the American population today sees a system of winners and losers as unacceptable. How is it that anyone should be poor when there are those with great wealth? Why is it that the United States uses the lion's share of Earth's energy resources when some around the world don't even have electric lights? Why should some people have access to the best of medical care when others are relegated to crowded hospital emergency rooms? It's not fair, they point out, and something should be done about it. To these people, it is the role of government to determine what is fair for all, and mandate procedures on how to get there.

    Both sides are passionate in their beliefs. Those who champion individual initiative point to the economic vitality of a culture encouraged to work hard, take risks, come up with new solutions, and invent new things. Those who promote economic equality maintain that a culture without want or envy enables each individual to be his best.

    Viewed in this way, how can we claim with certainty which side is right and which side is wrong? What's clear, however, is many on each side today would be willing to die for their beliefs if pressed by circumstances to do so. It was much the same in 1860.

    We as a nation in the 21st century are not all on the same page; far from it, and we're drifting farther and farther apart. We see isolated voices pleading for good-faith bargaining and compromise, but I wonder if it's too late for that. We as Americans have been focusing on what divides us rather than on what unites us for a very long time -- longer than most of us can remember.

    History tells us, however, that once a nation's population divides itself on ideological lines far enough, and for long enough, that there's no going back. The strain becomes too great, and the most trivial of events can push things past the breaking point.

    Although Americans have a long shared history, I wonder if we have reached this breaking point. Is this government shutdown just an isolated incident, or is it a harbinger of much more ominous things to come?

    With this in mind, shall we continue arguing over who's right and who's wrong, and keep proposing solutions in direct conflict with one another? At what moment do we realize, finally, that we're playing with matches in a fireworks factory?

    Government shutdown reduces military contracting, increasing pressure on U.S. defense industry

    October 7, 2013 12:17 PM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 7 Oct. 2013. We've all seen the chicken-little news stories about the federal government shutdown . These, of course, are designed to scare average Americans into believing the fallout from this political stunt is worse than it actually is. I'm betting that Americans are smarter than that, but still ...

    We've seen the open-air World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington barricaded and wired shut. A similar closure can be seen for the Iwo Jima Memorial over the Potomac in Arlington, Va. This is keeping honor flights of our fast-disappearing World War II veterans from enjoying a memorial that they earned many times over.

    Meanwhile access to the Potomac itself is being limited, federal workers are being furloughed, residents of privately owned houses located on federal land are being forced out of their homes until the shutdown is resolved, and areas in Florida are trying to limit access to the ocean.

    I do notice, however, that President Obama's preferred golf course at Fort Belvoir, Va., is open for business, and that First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move Website is still up, but I digress.

    Among the things that concerns me most about the shutdown is its effect on U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contracts. The Pentagon's popular "bluetops" announcements of military contract awards have been dark since 30 September -- the last day of the federal fiscal year.

    This is not to say that the shutdown has halted all military contracting since 1 October, but my take is it has slowed things down considerably. What this does is tighten the screws on an already-beleaguered U.S. defense industry hit hard by tight budgets and the sequester.

    We're just one week into the government's shutdown, and there's no end in sight. The longer it continues, and the longer Pentagon contracting slows to a trickle, the more likely it is that we'll see furloughs and layoffs of defense industry workers.

    These aren't pawns in a political game; they're people with families, mortgage payments, and holiday expenses rapidly approaching. A real question to ask is how much more discouragement can these people take? there's been little good news for quite a while now. Makes me wonder when they'll start leaving the defense industry for something the appears more stable.

    We have irreplaceable experience and expertise in the U.S. defense industry. Really, it's a fragile thing not to be taken lightly, for there's potential for real and lasting damage to this essential industrial sector.

    But for those elected officials in Washington looking to score cheap political points, I doubt if they've considered that. Let's hope the workers affected have clear memories over the next couple of election cycles.

    Potential good news: has U.S. defense spending finally bottomed-out?

    October 1, 2013 1:02 PM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 1 Oct. 2013. As those of us involved in the aerospace and defense industry know all too well, the Pentagon budget process has been a train wreck over the past couple of years, with sequestration , program cuts, and shrinking defense contractors only part of the story.

    Still, I saw my first good news in a long time over the past few days with a report that U.S. military and homeland security spending actually could INCREASE over the next five years.

    No, you didn't misread that. The Dublin-based market research firm Research and Markets predicts that U.S. defense spending will increase from 2013 to 2018 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.93 percent.

    Okay, I know that's not a big number, but at least the trend might be headed in the right direction. Homeland security spending, meanwhile, should grow at a CAGR of 2.15 percent through 2018, analysts say in a report entitled "Future of the US Defense Industry - Market Attractiveness, Competitive Landscape and Forecasts to 2018."

    Acquisition of advanced defense equipment coupled with replacement of old and obsolete equipment should drive the country's capital expenditure over the next half-decade, presenting growth opportunities for the defense equipment and technology suppliers, despite the continuing threat of budget cuts and sequestration, analysts say.

    Driving the homeland security market should be missions such as preventing terrorism and enhancing security; securing borders; enforcing immigration laws; securing cyberspace; and disaster preparedness.

    During the forecast period, the U.S. government is expected to invest in homeland security products such as surveillance equipment, and cutters and patrol vessels. The U.S. homeland security budget is expected to increase from $60.7 billion in 2013 to $65.3 billion in 2018.

    When was the last time you heard a market research firm predict an uptick in defense spending? I know, I can't remember, either. If those analysts are right -- and let's hope they are -- it begs the question: has U.S. defense spending finally bottomed out? Are things finally going to start getting better?

    This is more than welcome news to a beleaguered U.S. defense industry, where employees have been spending more time in job fairs than they have in designing new military technologies.

    It's too early to tell, of course, but perhaps now defense company executives can start planting the seeds of long-term growth -- shallow though it may be -- rather than bailing seawater as fast as they can.

    There's more difficulty in store for the defense industry, make no mistake. We have three more years of Obama ... don't get me started ... and a very uncertain road ahead. Still, this is the first indication I've had in a long time that our industry can start the process of growing, and abandon now-familiar damage control.

    Is robotics revolution the first glimpse of a fundamental change in human evolution?

    September 24, 2013 9:46 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 24 Sept. 2013. Robots of one kind or another seem like they're everywhere these days. I note with interest, for example, that DARPA is asking Boston Dynamics to build an enhanced version of the company's experimental Legged Squad Support System (LS3) robot that eventually could provide soldiers and Marines with a mechanical mule that not only would help warfighters carry heavy loads, but also charge their batteries.

    Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs ) are becoming so commonplace that the FAA is hard-pressed to come up with regulations to enable these flying robots to operate side-by-side with commercial passenger jets in congested airspace.

    There was a time when people would recoil in horror at the thought of flying robots sharing the same airspace as the jetliners carrying their families. Today, though, no one's really batting an eye.

    Unmanned marine vehicles, meanwhile, are becoming a hot technology topic, as military researchers push a program forward to develop a long-endurance unmanned underwater submarine that would function as a mothership for other unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs ), as well as launch and recover UAVs.

    On a separate front, medical experts are developing high-tech prosthetics with robotic capabilities for wounded warfighters. These robotic replacement limbs often are more useful and capable than the natural arms and legs that were lost in battle.

    Historically, warfighters mangled in battle would beg doctors not to remove the damaged limbs out of fear of being a lifelong cripple, and of being forced to depend on the charity of others.

    Today, however, it's different. I'm hearing more and more stories of wounded warfighters given the choice of keeping a damaged-but-patched-up limb or getting a new high-tech prosthetic device. In an increasing number of cases they're choosing the prosthetics out of the promise that they'll be better than ever before.

    Human beings are more accepting of robotic technology than they've ever been. Wheeled and legged robots are becoming essential pieces of the warfighter's gear. Swimming robots help chart the depths of the world's oceans and gather data in powerful hurricanes. Ever-more-accessible UAVs are becoming a tool for spying on the neighbor's wedding reception.

    Now, as humans start to accept the notion of robotic limbs to replace those lost in accidents, might this be the first glimmer of a fundamental transformation in human evolution? More to the point, will the typical human of the future be a combination of biological, mechanical, and electronic subsystems?

    We've all seen the movies, but what used to be science fantasy quickly is becoming science fact.

    Obsolescent parts: are we enhancing military readiness or creating a hollow force?

    September 17, 2013 3:46 PM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 17 Sept. 2013. I've been noticing what seems to be a large number of military orders lately for old, obsolescent electronic components for potentially mission-critical warfighting equipment.

    I don't know if this is out of the ordinary -- actually, I suspect it's business as usual -- but it's got me thinking about today's tight Pentagon budgets and how might influence long-term military readiness .

    Over the past week or so I've seen Navy orders for 160 obsolescent PCI mezzanine card (PMC) Ethernet controllers that the Navy purchased originally a decade ago, as well as for 180 6U VME single-board computers, which first were introduced nine years ago and are no longer recommended by the manufacturer.

    I don't fault the Navy for this -- quite the contrary. Navy officials have to keep the equipment they have functioning at the best possible levels of performance. Much of the military's equipment has been fielded for years, yet still performs the job adequately.

    Oftentimes systems upgrades that can accommodate the latest generations of electronic components require costly systems redesigns, and there's precious little money in the Pentagon's budget these days for things like that.

    Buying old parts to keep military systems in working order is nothing new. It's simply reality in a world where military systems must perform in the field for decades or longer, and where many electronic components are replaced with new generations every 18 months or so.

    Moreover, the military's electronics suppliers keep parts available for their defense customers far longer than they do for their commercial customers. Keeping military parts in inventory for a long time simply is part of doing business with the Pentagon.

    Still, here's what's got me concerned: as the military increasingly opts for buying old parts to keep systems working, rather than for systems redesigns, upgrades, and technology insertion, do we risk going into battle predominantly with decades-old technology that ages more as each day goes by?

    Think about how quickly electronics technology advances. More to the point, think about the desktop computer and cell phone you were using 10 years ago, and how those devices compare and contrast with what you have today?

    Is this really what we want for our fighting forces? I ask this because this is how it's looking to me. I know military budgets are tight, but are we risking creating a hollow force like we saw back in the 1970s before the Reagan buildup?

    As our nation's leadership ponders the ramifications of tight military budgets, these kinds of prospects should be part of their decision making.

    For the high-tech warfighter, the future of electronics-laden uniforms is here

    September 10, 2013 11:26 AM by John Keller
    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 10 Sept. 2013. The soldier's uniform isn't what it used to be. Not much later this decade, elite warfighters such as U.S. Special Forces could be wearing high-tech battle suits that offer flexible armor to protect against bullets and shrapnel, exoskeleton technology that offers super-human strength, heating and air conditioning to withstand the elements, wearable computers and displays, and conformal radio equipment and antennas for situational awareness.

    U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., have approached industry for technologies that could be applied to such futuristic warfighter apparel as part of the technologies for a tactical assault light operator suit (TALOS ).

    For now, this integrated battle suit would be strictly for special operations warfighters who must operate silently and unseen behind enemy lines, but if successful and affordable, this kind of electronics-embedded battle suit could see wider use.

    SOCOM officials envision a future warfighter's battle suit that not only makes broad use of embedded electronics, but also that generates much of its own power. the TALOS solicitation specifically calls out the need for power scavenging, renewable energy, and power distribution.

    These technologies might include conventional renewable energy sources like conformal solar panels on clothing and helmets, but also newer approaches that can harvest electrical power from the action of a person walking, running, and jumping.

    A future warfighter of this caliber might look like something out of Star Wars -- half man and half machine that takes advantage of electrical, mechanical, and biological entities.

    Companies interested in participating in this program have until September 2014 to make their expertise known.

    New generation of embedded computing thermal management in development at GE

    September 3, 2013 9:44 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 3 Sept. 2013. High-performance embedded computing (HPEC ) designers may get a new tool over the next couple of years to in their quest to control the internal temperatures of increasingly sophisticated embedded computing systems.

    Thermal management experts at the General Electric (GE) Global Research Center in Schenectady, N.Y., are working on a convection-cooling approach that reduces the size of traditional fans while improving cooling capability.

    Designed originally with high-performance laptop computers in mind, the GE Dual Piezoelectric Cooling Jets (DCJ) technology may offer embedded computing designers not only advanced convection cooling, but also lower power consumption and higher reliability than traditional cooling fans.

    The DCJ technology can be packaged into a cooling fan that measures 1.5 by 3 inches, and half an inch thick, while consuming 350 to 400 milliwatts, says senior GE researcher William Gerstler.

    The advanced electronics thermal cooler moves one cubic foot of air per minute in a laminar flow. "It has a multiplier effect on the air it moves," explained Gerstler at last month's Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference and trade show in Washington.

    The DCJ technology, which has been likened to the expansion-and-contraction action of the human lung, "creates a low-pressure area that entrains the air," Gerstler says.

    The technology works with two piezo-electric elements, and so should last longer and be less susceptible to shock and vibration in deployed embedded computing systems than traditional fans.

    This technology also could enable designers of rugged embedded systems to blend convection and conduction cooling in the same chassis to improve the performance of sophisticated digital signal processing without resorting to exotic thermal-management approaches like liquid cooling.

    Companies interested in this technology may not have long to wait. Gerstler says GE officials are looking at product introductions that involve DCJ technology as early as 2015.

    Trading bus stops for credit cards: how far embedded computing has come in three decades

    August 27, 2013 10:59 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 27 Aug. 2013. Sometimes I have to stop and marvel at how far embedded computing has come since I started paying attention back in the mid-1980s as I first started out as a trade press reporter.

    Those were the days of Cray X-MP supercomputer -- something that literally had benches around it, was taller than a man, and looked a lot like a bus stop. Its theoretical peak performance was 800 million floating point operations per second (800 megaflops).

    The Cray X-MP and its successor, the liquid-cooled Cray-2, were considered to be the fastest computers of their day, and their use was confined largely to government research centers for things like nuclear weapons simulation, advanced sonar research, and computational fluid dynamics -- or simulating a wind tunnel in a computer.

    There was little, if any, practical use for these kinds of supercomputers for actual deployed military applications. You couldn't fit them on a ship, submarine, or aircraft, and the delicate machines most likely couldn't have withstood the shock, vibration, and other environmental rigors of the field.

    There was hope, though. The Holy Grail for DARPA embedded computing scientists was to package one billion floating point operations per second of performance in something deployable. The mantra, at first, was "a megaflop in a shoe box," which evolved to "a megaflop in a coffee can", and eventually to "a gigaflop in a soup can."

    Some of the best minds in industry and academia were put to work by research groups like DARPA to make the megaflop-in-a-shoe-box dream a reality.

    It would appear their success has surpassed even their wildest dreams. Today we're seeing gigaflop performance on single-board computers and mezzanine modules the size of credit cards that are available off the shelf. We no longer talk about supercomputing, and now describe that kind of technology as high-performance computing (HPC).

    Companies like Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions, GE Intelligent Platforms, Mercury Systems, and others embedded computing firms routinely offer today what DARPA computer scientists were only dreaming about a few decades ago.

    Not only are today's gigaflop-performance embedded computing devices setting new speed records, but they also are being developed to be practical for a wide and growing variety of applications. The Curtiss-Wright Fabric40 program is only one example of an emerging ecosystem of embedded computing products with gigaflop performance, and the data throughput to keep these high-performance processors fed with data.

    I thought about this earlier this month at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference and trade show in Washington. For what the best and brightest could only dream about years ago, anyone could walk down those aisles at AUVSI and write a check.

    Take a look at the photo above of that Cray X-MP, taken in the 1980s. What that check wold buy today would fit in the guy's shirt pocket, and would be more than 10 times the computing power of the supercomputer behind him.

    Unmanned vehicle industry stands at the doorstep of a fundamental transformation

    August 20, 2013 11:09 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 20 Aug. 2013. The unmanned vehicles industry is in the midst of a fundamental transformation -- one that will see designers of unmanned vehicles that operate in the air, on the ground, and at sea move from a Wild-West startup mentality to a mature, self-regulating business model.

    This transformation may not be apparent at first glance. Last week's Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference and trade show in Washington had plenty of the Wild West on display, such as a plethora of quad-propeller radio-controlled helicopters with camera packs that have become popular of late.

    The unmanned vehicle industry has been wide-open for quite a while, but the increasing use of these devices and its inevitable clash with concerns for public safety and individual privacy will bring this phase to a close, and probably sooner rather than later.

    We are seeing the first step in this industry transformation with the unmanned vehicle community's embrace of open-system standards -based design. As the industry matures, and as an increasing number of unmanned vehicles are built to operate in public airspace, design standards are necessary to design reliable systems at affordable costs.

    Don't get me wrong; I value individual initiative in unmanned vehicle design. The ability to design and build a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV ) inexpensively, mount it with a small HD camera, and fly it close to the ground is breakthrough technology.

    Still, UAVs increasingly must operate in public airspace alongside manned commercial fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. It's unacceptable for UAVs to fall out of the sky and hurt people on the ground, much less collide with a commercial aircraft and kill perhaps hundreds of innocents.

    The same issues apply for public waterways and land expanses. Unmanned vehicle designers must ensure that their devices operate safely, reliably, and at affordable costs. All this means industry standards, as well as industry and government certifications.

    "This whole industry is becoming more standards-based," observed Chip Downing, senior director of business development for aerospace and defense at real-time software specialist Wind River Systems in Alameda, Calif., last week at the AUVSI trade show.

    Downing has been watching the unmanned vehicle industry transformation close-up, as his company has broad expertise in safety-critical real-time software for manned and unmanned aircraft. Safety and reliability, he says is driving change.

    "The real industry expansion is using these UAVs in civil airspace," Downing says. "The next generation will have communications among all aircraft," which will involve manned and unmanned aircraft for sense-and-avoid capability.

    "All-digital, and all-automated is the next step," Downing says. While some might consider such a step to be unsafe, Downing points out that UAVs, if operated safely and according to established procedures, even might be safer in the long run than manned aircraft.

    "There is no reaction time on an unmanned aircraft," Downing points out. The notion of pilot error most likely will be unheard of in future fleets of UAVs.

    Although it may represent a cultural leap for the public to accept unmanned aircraft operating nearby manned commercial aircraft in civil airspace, this would seem to represent the wave of future. We will see a day when there are too many aircraft operating in the same airspace for human pilots and human air traffic controllers to handle safely.

    We are on the verge of a day when unmanned vehicles will handle their own safety, control, and obstacle avoidance, similar to the way flocks of birds and schools of fish operate.

    One day, moreover, we will wonder how we ever had a functioning commercial air transport system that relied on primitive technology like human pilots, human air traffic controllers, and voice radio links.

    AUVSI 2013, one of the biggest unmanned vehicles shows in the world, opens this week in Washington

    August 13, 2013 5:35 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 13 Aug. 2013. Unmanned vehicles that operate in the air, at sea, and on the ground never have been more important than they are today. Increasingly dangerous military missions can use the growing number of unmanned vehicles to keep human warfighters out of harm's way.

    This week is the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI ) conference and trade show in Washington, which is among the largest exhibitions of unmanned vehicle technology in the world.

    Exhibitors from all over the globe will be in Washington this week to show systems and components for unmanned aerial vehicles (UUVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), and unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), as well as for the all-important sensor and communications payloads for existing and future unmanned vehicles.

    Military & Aerospace Electronics, an AUVSI media partner, will be at AUVSI this week to find the latest technology developments. Watch Military & Aerospace Electronics online at www.militaryaerospace.com for coverage from the show, and keep an eye on news announcements from the show online at http://topics.vpoinc.com/events/AUVSI_UnmannedSystems13 .

    The Washington Post, under Jeff Bezos, could lead the way for media in the 21st Century

    August 6, 2013 9:47 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 6 Aug. 2013. I see a lot of public grief today about the upcoming sale of The Washington Post by longtime owners the Graham family to Amazon founder and Internet powerhouse Jeff Bezos.

    The "end of an era" seems to be a recurring theme, which is fair, but I see a lot of pundits and reporters crying in their beer over a bygone era, rather than looking forward to what The Post might become under the Bezos ownership.

    Those on the political left mourn the potential loss of a stalwart political ally, while those on the right are sensing a potential shift in the world outlook of such an influential U.S. daily newspaper.

    Frankly, though, I see neither scenario playing out. The Post is an established media brand, with a loyal, if dwindling, readership. Bezos and those he picks to run the paper day-to-day are unlikely to make big changes right off the bat.

    Anything that changes at The Post will come incrementally. Bezos knows how to succeed online, and he'll bring that expertise to The Post . Feathers will be ruffled, of course, but in the end this change in ownership could be a big plus for the newspaper, which has seen its circulation and ad revenue drop steadily over the past decade.

    There likely will be a time in the near future when we stop referring to newspapers, and buying an actual print edition will be rare and considered quaint. It's simply not about the newspaper anymore -- apologies to bird cage owners and fish wrappers everywhere -- but instead is about content.

    The Graham family, they know newspapers. Bezos knows content. Take a good look at Amazon if you don't believe me. It's long past time for a change at The Post and other newspapers like it.

    Bezos has the opportunity to redefine the business model of successful content providers of the future, whom hitherto we have called newspapers, and point the way for media to succeed in the 21st Century.

    Are costs and vulnerabilities making military leaders nervous about satellite communications?

    July 30, 2013 11:07 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 30 July 2013. Satellite communications (SATCOM ) is a crucial link in the ability of the U.S. military and its allies to move important voice, text, imagery, video, and other important data over long distances. In fact, the broad adoption of SATCOM over the past few decades has forced other modes of long-haul communications into the back seat.

    Still, the relatively high and recurring costs of SATCOM, as well as its potential vulnerability to jamming and hacking may be encouraging military planners to take a second look at long-haul communications alternatives to SATCOM, such as high-frequency (HF) radio and tropospheric scatter (troposcatter ) communications.

    The costs of SATCOM are well known. It's expensive to design and launch satellites, as well as to maintain them in orbit. The military also can lease bandwidth on commercial satellites, but this approach involves recurring costs. In this era of sequestration and tight budgets, Pentagon officials are looking to cut costs wherever they can without compromising national security.

    The vulnerabilities of SATCOM also represent a growing concern, as they relate to the new military discipline of spectrum warfare -- an umbrella term that describes the convergence of electronic warfare (EW) and cyber warfare.

    The vulnerabilities of SATCOM to electronic jamming is starting to be understood. It's difficult, in that SATCOM signals tend to be directional, but still is possible. The vulnerabilities of SATCOM to cyber warfare attacks is just starting to be considered.

    Incidents have been reported of international hackers taking control of satellites by hacking into IP-based ground stations. Military communications satellites with dedicated networking would not be quite as vulnerable to cyber attack as commercial satellites are, but the world's hackers are working through this problem.

    Then there's the obvious vulnerability of all orbiting satellites to the threat of nuclear explosion in space. The resulting electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) from an atomic blast in space has the potential to destroy or disrupt all but the most hardened military satellites.

    So, what to do?

    There are indications that military leaders are giving troposcatter communications, HF radio, and other terrestrial forms of long-haul communications another look. Communications experts point out that HF radio has been making remarkable advances over the last decade or so.

    This technology now has the ability to send and receive data at 9,600 bits per second reliably. Earlier this year an experiment transmitted streaming color video. Ground wave HF, moreover, is being used for differential GPS positioning systems on offshore oil drilling rigs and survey vessels.

    U.S. Army researchers also are considering troposcatter communications for fixed-site and on-the-move long-range military communications as an alternative to SATCOM. Troposcatter transmits and receives microwave signals at beyond-line-of-sight distances as far as 200 miles by bouncing radio signals off layers of the Earth's atmosphere.

    As more attention and research goes into communications technologies like HF and troposcatter, a growing number of alternatives to SATCOM likely will emerge to get the message through economically and reliably.

    Unmanned aircraft carrier that travels beneath the waves may be in the Navy's future

    July 23, 2013 5:20 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 23 July 2013. Imagine a big unmanned submarine designed to operate covertly for long periods, lurking silently off an enemy's shore. At a command from military leaders, this submersible mothership ejects pods that float to the surface and launch surveillance unmanned aircraft in all directions. At the same time, small unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) deploy from docks hidden in the big submarine's belly on secret reconnaissance missions of the enemy's submarine forces, shipping activity, and overall maritime readiness.

    This is the vision of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and its upcoming Hydra program to design an unmanned submarine mothership able to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), UUVs, and perhaps even unmanned surface vessels (USVs) for secret intelligence missions off sensitive coasts.

    The unmanned aircraft might be relatively small and inexpensive models designed for one-way missions, as the submarine mothership might not be able to recover them. Not so, however, with the vessel's flotilla of UUVs.

    The DARPA Hydra vehicle will have docking facilities to recover its UUVs and recharge them for their next missions. These small UUVs will glide out from the mothership's docking stations to take high-resolution images and video of an enemy's port facilities. Once finished, these UUVs will return to the mothership where they will dock, recharge their batteries, and download their intelligence information for the mothership for transmitting covertly back to U.S. and allied command authorities.

    It's not clear yet exactly what the DARPA Hydra vehicle would look like, or how its unmanned vehicle payloads would appear. Devising a design for the mothership and its unmanned vehicles is part of the initial phases of the Hydra program, which is likely to get underway next month.

    The program will begin defining the roles of the Hydra mothership, define key enabling technologies, and finally demonstrate a prototype. The program's contractors will concentrate on technical areas like a ballast system, propulsion for extended undersea operations, covert communications for instructions and data, command and control for remote and autonomous operation, and unmanned vehicle payloads.

    DARPA will brief industry on the program on 5 Aug. in Laurel, Md. Most briefings will be open, but special presentations classified secret will be available for qualified attendees with the proper security clearances.

    Looks like an unmanned aircraft carrier that travels under the water may be in the U.S. Navy's future.

    Electronic warfare programs kick into high gear with a flurry of contract activity

    July 16, 2013 8:03 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 16 July 2013. I can't remember another time when electronic warfare (EW) technology was as prominent in the headlines as it has been for the last month or so.

    In fact, the entire notion of EW seems to be evolving to include not only traditional forms of EW such as RF communications and radar jamming, but also the relatively new discipline of cyber warfare to protect U.S. and allied computers and attack and disable enemy computers and data networks.

    As we see a procession of EW projects emerge, a new term is cropping up -- spectrum warfare -- which includes traditional EW, but adds optical warfare, navigation warfare, and cyber warfare.

    Some future systems, for example, not only will be able to use RF transmitters to jam enemy radar and communications, but also to insert viruses and other destructive computer code into enemy systems to spoof or disable them.

    The current flood of U.S. military EW and spectrum warfare activity started heating up at the end of May and the beginning of June with a couple of U.S. Navy contracts to Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics for a shipboard EW project called the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP).

    Although not a new program, the contracts to Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics for the SEWIP Block 1 and Block 2 segments of the project were worth more than $60 million. SEWIP is in place to upgrade surface warship EW defenses against cruise missiles and other radar threats.

    On 23 June the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced industry briefings on upcoming contracting opportunities in communications, electronic warfare, surveillance, navigation, and battle management.

    On the first day of this month the EW activity started to accelerate with announcements of nine contracts from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory for the Advanced Components for Electronic Warfare (ACE) Phase 0 program to develop some of the world's most advanced and capable electronic and photonic components for tomorrow's EW systems.

    Two days later came an award from the U.S. Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., to Sotera Defense Solutions Inc. in Herndon, Va., to develop planning software to enable warfighters to jam enemy communications, remotely controlled explosives, radar systems, and other RF assets while safeguarding U.S. and allied RF systems.

    On 8 July came the big one: a quarter-billion-dollar contract to the Raytheon Co. Space and Airborne Systems segment in McKinney, Texas, to build the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) to enable the EA-18G Growler carrier-based jet to jam enemy radar, communications, and other RF systems.

    The next day came a contract from the Naval Research Lab in Washington to ITT Exelis Electronic Systems division in Van Nuys, Calif., to develop an add-on advanced EW system to protect surface warships from a newly discovered, yet undisclosed, immediate threat to Navy fleet operations.

    Two days later, on 11 July, came the announcement of contracts to six companies for the DARPA collectively worth nearly $74 million for the Foundational Cyberwarfare (Plan X) project to conduct research into the nature of cyber warfare, and to develop strategies to seize and maintain U.S. cyber security and cyber attack dominance.

    Finally came the announcement of an Air Force research project to be launched next month called the Advanced Novel Spectrum Warfare Environment Research (ANSWER) program to develop adaptive spectrum warfare technologies to enable warfighting in contested and denied areas.

    We've been hearing that electronic warfare is among the most promising U.S. military technologies in an era of shrinking budgets. Over the past several weeks, however, we're finding out just how important it is.

    How vulnerable are U.S. Navy vessels to advanced anti-ship cruise missiles?

    July 9, 2013 7:03 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 9 July 2013. There's an imminent threat to U.S. Navy surface warships, which evidently has Navy leaders worried.

    Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington are working fast to develop a new kind of electronic warfare (EW) module that can be fitted quickly onto ships to meet these threats. They are working with EW experts at the ITT Exelis Electronic Systems division in Van Nuys, Calif., who will help manufacture and install the new EW system.

    Although Navy officials are not spelling out what this newly discovered threat to shipping is, we can assume it has something to do with advanced radar-guided anti-ship cruise missiles , or something similar.

    The Navy's current Raytheon AN/SLQ-32 shipboard EW system was conceived in the early 1970s in part from lessons learned from an incident during the Six-Day War in 1967 when Egypt sank the Israeli destroyer Elath using a Soviet SS-N-2 STYX anti-ship missile. Upgrades are being made to the SLQ-32 system under the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP).

    Other lessons came at different times, such as 1982 during the Falklands War when Argentina sank the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Sheffield with a French-made Exocet missile -- an anti-ship missile common to militaries around the world.

    The Exocet struck again in 1987, this time crippling and nearly sinking the U.S. Navy frigate USS Stark, after an Iraqi warplane launched the missile at the warship; the sea-skimming missile was undetected by weapon systems aboard the Stark. By the time lookouts saw the missile headed for the ship it was too late for the Stark's defenses to be effective.

    So we have two allied warships sunk or crippled during the 1980s by the Exocet -- a subsonic anti-ship missile with a 360-pound warhead. What happens when allied navies go up against much more formidable anti-ship missile threats?

    I think this is what Navy leaders have in mind with this new project to develop an embarkable EW system that can be quickly installed and removed from Navy ships so a relative handful of systems can be deployed on ships going into harm's way.

    Navy leaders are known to be concerned with advanced radar-guided anti-ship missiles such as the Russian-made SS-N-22 Sunburn and SS-NX-26 Oniks, which may be operational with military forces in Iran, Syria, and other countries in the Middle East for use against U.S. and allied naval forces in and around the Eastern Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, and other vital waterways.

    The Sunburn anti-ship missile can fly at three times the speed of sound, giving targeted vessels little time to react. It carries a 705-pound explosive warhead -- twice the destructive payload of the Exocet and three times as fast.

    The Oniks missile, more advanced than the Sunburn, can fly as fast as Mach 2.5, and carries a 661-pound warhead. Not only is this missile far faster and more powerful than the Exocet, but it may have the capability to maneuver on its terminal flight to its target, which could make defeating it difficult, if not impossible.

    The Sunburn and Oniks missiles have sufficient destructive payloads to pose serious threats to large U.S. warships like aircraft carriers, which are at the heart of U.S. power-projection strategies around the world.

    Now think about U.S. Navy ships operating in the tight confines of the Persian Gulf, where maneuver can be limited. Iran, which has these advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, could launch them from rugged terrain near Gulf waters, giving U.S. warships only seconds to react.

    If they were not to have reliable ways to defeat these advanced cruise missiles, the Gulf could become a nightmare killing field for front-line U.S. and allied warships.

    This must be keeping more than one Navy admiral up at night.

    First came VHSIC, then came MIMIC, and now comes ACE to push electronics technology

    July 2, 2013 9:16 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 2 July 2013. The U.S. Department of Defense has sponsored several major research programs over the past few decades to push revolutionary advancements in sophisticated electronic components. First was the Very-High-Speed Integrated Circuits (VHSIC) program in 1980. Eight years later came the Microwave/Millimeter-Wave Monolithic Integrated Circuit (MIMIC) program.

    Today, however, we may be on the verge of a third program that ultimately may be just as important and just as influential in pushing the state of the art in electronics as VHSIC and MIMIC. The newest program is called ACE , which is short for Advanced Components for Electronic Warfare .

    The VHSIC program three decades ago was a multi-year, multi-phase initiative to push advances in integrated circuit materials, lithography, packaging, testing, and algorithms. It also created computer-aided design tools, most notably the VHDL hardware description language. VHDL itself is short for VHSIC Hardware Description Language.

    In 1988 came the MIMIC program, which focused on gallium arsenide (GaAs) integrated circuit design and manufacturing of devices that operate at microwave frequencies that perform functions such as microwave mixing, power amplification, low-noise amplification, and high frequency switching.

    The VHSIC program, in other words, sought to push digital technology for high-speed processors. MIMIC, on the other hand, concentrated on RF electronics for advanced applications in radar, signals intelligence, electronic warfare (EW), and similar uses.

    Now comes ACE, which seeks to develop some of the world's most advanced and capable electronic and photonic components for tomorrow's EW systems. The initial stage of the ACE program, called Phase Zero, kicked off just last Friday with nine contract awards to some of the U.S. defense industry's most notable technology companies.

    We're not talking about big money yet -- Phase-Zero contracts are worth only a collective $3 million -- but the program has the potential to expand over several years and perhaps hundreds of millions of research dollars.

    ACE, like the MIMIC program before it, seeks to establish capabilities, infrastructure, and knowledge necessary to design and produce advanced electronic and photonic components for advanced EW applications at low costs and high yields.

    Companies involved in the ACE Phase Zero program are Raytheon, BAE Systems, HRL Laboratories, Rockwell Collins, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Aurrion, and LGS Innovations.

    With companies like these involved, and with the backing of the U.S. Department of Defense, it's likely we'll see some major breakthroughs in electronic and photonic integrated circuit technology over the next several years.

    Final thoughts on the 2013 Paris Air Show: year of the regional airliner

    June 25, 2013 12:10 PM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 25 June 2013. The 2013 Paris Air Show is in the books, and as the dust settles we can conclude not only that commercial aviation is in healthy shape worldwide, but also that regional aircraft service is a growing concern.

    Medium- and long-haul jet sales were healthy at Paris with global giants Airbus and Boeing with a combined 908 single-aisle and widebody passenger jets sold with a combined $136 billion, according to company figures.

    Airbus sales included 371 sales of the single-aisle A320 family of passenger jetliners, as well as 69 sales of the future A350 XWB widebody passenger jet, and 20 orders for the A380 super jumbo jet, according to Airbus figures. Boeing, meanwhile, announced sales of 102 787-10 Dreamliner widebody jets, as well as a variety of the company's 737, 777, and 740 aircraft.

    Regional passenger jet and turboprop sales, were not far behind their larger cousins. Regional aircraft makers Embraer of Brazil, ATR of France, and Bombardier of Canada sold a collective 583 regional airliners at Paris, indicating a growing need for regional air service worldwide.

    Among the regional aircraft makers Embraer shone at Paris with 381 sales announced for the company's recently announced E2 series of aircraft, which includes the E175-E2 that seats as many as 88 passengers, the E-190-E2 that seats as many as 106, and the E195-E2, which seats as many as 132 passengers.

    The Paris Air Show was the best in the history of the Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR, company officials say, with sales announced for 173 planes. The company's biggest sale at Paris was to Nordic Aviation Capital for 91 twin-engine ATR 72-600s.

    Bombardier announced sales of 73 aircraft at Paris, which included 29 orders for the company's CRJ1000 NextGen regional jet and Q400 NextGen regional turboprops.

    So we didn't see record total aircraft sales at Paris this year, but we did see regional passenger aircraft sales somewhat keeping pace with the medium- and long-haul regional planes, which is out of the ordinary.

    Rarely do the regional aircraft makers come close to Boeing and Airbus in sales at the major global air shows, and perhaps this makes results of the 2013 Paris Air Show the year of the regional aircraft.

    For complete coverage of the 2013 Paris Air Show log on to the Avionics Intelligence Paris Air Show Report at www.avionics-intelligence.com/paris-air-show .

    They count planes differently, don't they?

    June 20, 2013 3:02 PM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE PARIS AIR SHOW BLOG, 20 June 2013. I've been covering the aerospace and defense industry for a long time, yet still there are plenty of things that utterly mystify me. The way the major aerospace manufacturers count airplane sales is one of them.

    I've spent a good chunk of time this week doing my best to track aircraft sales announced at the Paris Air Show from the big players like Airbus and Boeing, from the up-and-coming companies like Embraer, to the niche players like Bombardier and ATR, and even from the helicopter makers like AgustaWestland, Sikorsky, and Eurocopter.

    Despite my best efforts, however, some of the numbers just don't agree with published reports.

    Here's an example: by my count Airbus announced deals for 536 passenger jetliners this week at Paris. A company announcement, however, says Airbus only made deals for 466. I counted announcements for 275 aircraft sales from Boeing this week, yet a Boeing announcement says the company made deals for 442.

    I can't figure out where these numbers come from, but then again, I've been covering the Pentagon's annual budget (or trying to) for decades now, and some of those numbers I couldn't explain if my life depended on it.

    I think it's much the same with airplane sales.

    Here's my methodology for counting aircraft sales this week at the Paris Air Show. I simply combed the company Websites for public announcements of aircraft sales. Although this may sound straightforward, it's really not.

    Companies use different terms for different transactions. There are firm orders, memoranda of understanding, commitments, conversions, and other descriptions of firm, pending, or wishful orders.

    I looked through the public announcements, totaled up all the numbers no matter what the transaction being described, and came up with my numbers.

    For the four business days just concluded at the Paris Air Show, I have 536 aircraft sales for Airbus, 381 for Embraer, 275 for Boeing, 115 for ATR, 72 for Bombardier, 54 for AgustaWestland, 17 for Sikorsky, and 10 for Eurocopter, which gives us a rough count of 1,460 total sales for the week.

    These numbers could be close, or they could be off. I can make no promises for how my numbers jive with the industry. As for Boeing, company officials say the Seattle-based jet maker inked deals for 442 aircraft worth about $66.4 billion during the Paris Air Show. This is a lot more than my total of 275. Airbus, meanwhile, claims to have made deals for 466 airplanes at the show. This is far fewer than my count of 536.

    I haven't seen any official totals from the show yet, but let's face it, the official numbers most likely will be different from mine.

    Who ever would have guessed that Embraer would be such a dominant player at Paris Air Show?

    June 18, 2013 1:10 PM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE PARIS AIR SHOW BLOG, 18 June 2013. The two big European air shows -- Paris in odd-numbered years and Farnborough in even-numbered years -- typically revolve around an annual shootout between American and European aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus to see which company can announce more aircraft sales at these shows than the other.

    Airbus usually wins the Paris Air Show , and Boeing usually wins Farnborough. It's a yearly exercise in staged anticipation with results that almost always are predictable.

    This year, however, there might be a surprise or two. As of close of business today Paris time, we're half way through the four-day business component of the 2013 Paris Air Show. Guess which aircraft manufacturer is leading announced sales at the show?

    Airbus? That would be a good guess, but no. Boeing? That would be the next logical try, but c'mon, it's Paris. Boeing rarely if ever wins the airplane sales announcement sweepstakes on the Continent of Europe.

    Some other European airplane maker? Nope. Another North American aircraft company? Guess again.

    The aerospace company with a narrow lead in aircraft sales announcements so far at Paris this year is South American aircraft designer Embraer. With two days down at Paris and two days to go, Embraer of São José Dos Campos, Brazil, has announced 381 aircraft sales, which is ahead of second-place Airbus by 70 planes. As of Tuesday Airbus had announced sales of 311 aircraft.

    So we're at halftime; there's plenty of time left for Airbus to take the lead before business meetings wrap up at Paris on Thursday evening, but who ever would have thought a year ago that Embraer would be such a dominant force at one of the world's most visible air shows?

    To put it in perspective, at Farnborough last year Embraer sold 13 planes, equal that of ATR Aircraft in Blagnac, France. At Farnborough last year Boeing announced 427 aircraft sales, while Airbus announced 123.

    Embraer's dominant position at Paris this year underscores the global importance of small- and medium-sized regional passenger jets. Embraer specializes in relatively small, short-haul passenger planes, and this year announced a redesigned version of the company's E-Jets regional passenger jet family, named the E2.

    The Embraer E-Jets E2 aircraft family comprises three new commercial airplanes -- the E175-E2 that seats as many as 88 passengers, the E-190-E2 that seats as many as 106, and the E195-E2, which seats as many as 132 passengers. These aircraft are designed for low fuel consumption, low fuel emissions, and quiet operations.

    The E2 is driving sales this year for Embraer. On Monday the company announced 365 sales of this aircraft, and the largest order came from U.S. regional carrier SkyWest Airlines.

    4th Gen Intel Core processor may be biggest thing in the last three years for embedded computing

    June 11, 2013 10:00 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 11 June 2013. Few recent events in the military embedded computing industry have hit with the impact of the 2010 introduction of the Intel Core microprocessor architecture, which offered on-chip floating-point processing capability.

    Still, the introduction last week of the 4th generation Intel Core microprocessor could be a close second. While Intel's introduction three years ago gave aerospace and defense systems designers one of the things they wanted most -- floating point processing -- last week's fourth-generation introduction offers designers something they also dearly love -- a reduction in size, weight, and power consumption (SWAP).

    While floating-point three years ago offered the military important capabilities for digital signal processing, the fourth-generation Intel Core's introduction last week puts SWAP front and center of future aerospace and defense embedded computing.

    Essentially the latest-generation Intel Core processor offers military systems designers a triple-punch of floating-point processing, ultra-high-performance conventional processing, and the latest in high-performance embedded parallel processing, which some in the industry call HPEPP .

    In addition to advanced floating-point processing, the fourth-generation Intel Core processing has an on-chip general-purpose graphics processing unit (GPGPU) that military designers use as a high-performance embedded massively parallel processing engine.

    Extensive floating-point and parallel processing features offer aerospace and defense systems integrators unprecedented capability for digital signal processing in demanding applications like radar processing, signals intelligence, electronic warfare, and networked sonar signal processing.

    Still, the benefits of the chip don't end there. The fourth-generation Intel core microprocessor is built with 22-nanometer processing capability, which means the chip packs huge capability into a relatively small package that reduces power consumption over previous generations.

    Big processing, small size, and low power consumption will offer capability never seen before for future generations of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), tiny land robots, and soldier-worn sensors, networking, and signal processing.

    Just how big a deal the fourth-generation Intel Core microprocessor will be remains to be seen, but those in the embedded computing industry are more excited about this announcement than they've been in quite a while.

    If it's June, it must be briefing season for aerospace and defense industry

    June 4, 2013 10:49 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 4 June 2013. The calendar has turned to June, so it must be briefing season for the aerospace and defense industry -- at least that's how it feels.

    There are more government briefings to industry scheduled for the next month or two than I've seen in a long time. These briefings are government agencies telling industry what they'd like to do, not necessarily what they're going to do.

    That said, one of the first briefings is coming up on 13 June when the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) briefs industry on the Janus program to develop advanced facial-recognition technology able to identify people not only using incomplete, erroneous, and ambiguous data, but also that accounts for aging, pose, illumination, and expression.

    Janus, if you're wondering, isn't a government acronym, but refers to the Roman god of beginnings and transitions, which usually is depicted with two faces to look to the future and to the past. Janus briefings will be at a secure facility in Washington.

    On 25 June is a briefing by the Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. on munitions fuze technology research efforts for near-term transition, as well as on research programs in the mid- and far-terms.

    That same day, 25 June, the Army will brief industry on upcoming requirements to support the Network Integration Evaluation 14.2 (NIE 14.2 ) scheduled for May 2014.The industry briefing will be at Aberdeen Proving Ground Md., north of Baltimore. Briefings will outline NIE participation opportunities in network-centric warfare and overview the NIE 14.2 sources-sought notice that will be released in early June to solicit industry participation in NIE 14.2.

    The next day, on 26 June, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will sponsor an online webinar to tell industry about the department's research and development strategy for airport security . Presenting are officials of the DHS Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) on the aviation security portion of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) research strategy.

    DHS is back in the briefing business on 25 and 26 July when officials gather industry experts to discuss trace explosives detection for facilities and airport security, as well as for mass-transit security. Those briefings will be at the William J. Cohen Building, 330 C Street SW, in Washington.

    Defense budget being hammered out in relative quiet as outside scandals flare

    May 28, 2013 10:11 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 28 May 2013. Heard much about defense spending over the past couple of weeks? Yeah, me neither.

    There's so much going on in the Washington Swamp that defense spending -- and about everything else of substance, for that matter -- is taking a back seat.

    There are far more questions than answers about why U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens was killed in a terrorist siege last September in Benghazi, Libya, with apparently no U.S. military intervention.

    The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reportedly is harassing conservative political groups asking for tax-exempt status, while giving political groups on the left a free pass.

    Now it appears the U.S. Department of Justice and its Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may be spying on newspaper and TV reporters who are asking hard questions about President Barack Obama and his administration.

    It's more than enough to toss the fate of hundreds of billions of dollars in proposed government spending off the front pages, most likely for the rest of the summer and perhaps into the fall, as Congress and the Obama Administration level accusations, launch investigations, and make as much political hay as possible out of this latest wave of chaos.

    This couldn't come at a worse time for a U.S. defense industry that is trying to find its feet after months of sequestration-induced uncertainty. What the industry needs now is a calm, clear, open discussion in Congress about defense priorities, so that industry leaders have solid information they can use to plan ahead.

    This isn't likely to happen, however, as defense spending as an issue gets drowned out amid shrieks of points, counter-points, scandals, and partisan wrangling.

    While this sounds bad on the surface, things actually might turn out better than we think. It's an old maxim that the best way to do REAL business is quietly, and nowhere is this more true than in Washington.

    Congress and the U.S. Department of Defense actually might do well if they can negotiate next year's spending levels outside of the media glare. Politicians like to operate under the radar -- particularly if they have politically sensitive issues to hammer out -- and this just might be the time.

    We'll have to keep a close eye, however, because you never know what can happen in Washington when backs are turned.

    SWAPped: how size, weight, and power are transforming the military electronics industry

    May 21, 2013 11:46 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 21 May 2013. It's ironic that one of the few growth areas in the U.S. defense industry these days involves making things smaller, but this is the world we live in. While demand for military aircraft, tanks, and ships appears to be on a steady decline, small is where it's at.

    I know you're dreading it, but I'll say it anyway: SWAP (you can uncover your ears now). It's that ubiquitous term you can't escape that refers to electronic systems that are small in size, weight, and power consumption. Strange that SWAP never seems to mean electronics that are large, heavy, and use a lot of power, but I digress.

    Why the obsession with small SWAP? A lot of it has to do with sophisticated electronics small enough for unmanned vehicles. Another is placing computer power, displays, communications, and sensors on an already overburdened infantryman. Overall, however, today's focus on small, lightweight electronic systems that don't use much power has to do with bringing as much capability to the forward edge of battle as possible.

    That's at the heart of SWAP directives from the top, and industry has got the message loud and clear. In fact it seems that every discussion we hear about military technology today is in the context of SWAP.

    The topic of SWAP has become so pervasive that people are sick of hearing about it. I'm as guilty as anyone with other SWAP-related blog posts just this month alone. Still, the importance of SWAP, and the way SWAP issues are transforming the aerospace and defense electronics industry are profound and ought not to be ignored -- even at the expense of inducing nausea at the mere thought of the term.

    It's almost as if new military technology development has to involve SWAP even to be relevant. SWAP is a cornerstone of industry marketing campaigns and strategies. Don't take my word for it; just look at nearly any new product announcement in our industry.

    Pretty soon, I predict, the term SWAP will be so much a part of the fabric of the aerospace and defense electronics industry that we no longer need to mention it; SWAP issues simply will be assumed as part of any new technology development.

    Believe it or not, we've seen all this before with other all-consuming industry terms. Don't believe me? Remember COTS?

    That term, short for commercial off-the-shelf, came into fashion two decades ago in the first term of the Bill Clinton Administration. Clinton's secretary of defense, William Perry, essentially coined the term to describe military technologies borrowed from the commercial electronics industry and adapted to military applications. The idea then was for the U.S. military to quit re-inventing the wheel and draw from an ever-deepening well of commercially developed technology.

    COTS described a revolutionary concept back then; today it's a no-brainer. Graphics processors adapted to massively parallel embedded computing, commercial flat-panel TV technology in combat information centers, radiation-hardened versions of PC microprocessors, and the list goes on.

    Trendy terms like SWAP often spawn cottage industries. In fact, I'm a little surprised that we haven't seen an industry magazine or Website emerge called something like SWAP Journal (no offense intended to my friends Pete Yeatman and Jeff Child ... okay, maybe just a little tweak ).

    Such a development most likely is inevitable, though. The right people can't resist a good business opportunity, and if anything is hot right now it's SWAP.

    In the meantime, SWAP stories are coming out at least weekly, sometimes even every day. One of the latest I saw is government research concern for Common Data Link (CDL) radios small enough for those hand-launched aerial drones.

    That would mean full-duplex, secure, streaming imaging capability for what we used to know as model airplanes. Technology is headed in the same direction for warfighters on the ground. A networked sensor platform; that's what the infantryman is becoming.

    What might SWAP mean for tomorrow? Perhaps mechanical fleas designed not only to spy on the adversary, but also to render him combat-ineffective after he does mad with itching.

    Perhaps then SWAP will become a verb, and we'll describe a defeated enemy as SWAPped.

    China continues to improve capabilities in carrier-based military aviation

    May 14, 2013 10:23 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 14 May 2013. Military forces of the People's Republic of China are moving forward in their efforts to develop world-class aircraft carrier -based military aviation capability in a steady effort not only to be a regional maritime power, but also eventually to challenge the U.S. for global aircraft carrier dominance.

    China has been refining one of its first aircraft carriers -- an unfinished Soviet carrier that China obtained in 1998 and refurbished -- and reportedly has its first indigenously designed aircraft carrier under construction, which could enter service by 2015.



    China also is moving forward with carrier-based aircraft that reportedly could match nearly every other fighter aircraft flying today throughout the world.

    The Chinese Shenyang J-15, also known as Flying Shark, is a carrier-based fighter aircraft in development by the Shenyang Aircraft Corp. and the 601 Institute.

    Rumors initially claimed the aircraft was to be a semi-stealth variant, yet later reports indicate the aircraft is based on the Russian-designed Sukhoi Su-33 and is fitted with Chinese-designed radars and weapons. While the J-15 appears to be based structurally on the Su-33, the indigenous fighter features Chinese technologies.

    The J-15 is reported to use Chinese-developed technologies, and features various upgrades such as AESA radar, radar absorbent material, missile-approach warning system (MAWS) technology, infrared search-and-track (IRST) sensors, composite materials, and new electronics.

    Some reports say the J-15 will be one of the best jet fighters in the world, while other reports suggest the combat jet might be underpowered.

    An article in the China Signpost reported the J-15 "likely exceeds or matches the aerodynamic capabilities of virtually all fighter aircraft currently operated by regional militaries, with the exception of the U.S. F-22 Raptor."

    The article, furthermore, suggests the J-15 might have a 10 percent superior thrust to weight ratio and a 25 percent lower wing loading than the U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Other reports, however, say the J-15's Russian-made engines are not as powerful as those of the U.S. F-35 joint strike fighter.

    No matter the details, however, it's clear that China is well along the road to developing dominant carrier-based aviation. In an era of long-term austere U.S. defense budgets, China's emerging capability well may lead to a shift in global military power.

    Small is more: SWAP for soldier systems and unmanned vehicles dominates today's technology

    May 7, 2013 10:44 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 7 May 2013. People tell me they're getting sick of the term SWAP , which as we know all too well is short for size, weight, and power. The idea, of course, is little SWAP, not big SWAP -- for most things these days, that is.

    The desire for big things in small packages is front-and-center in the aerospace and defense electronics industry because of a growing and wide variety of applications involving unmanned vehicles , soldier systems , and the like.

    Evidence of the growing focus on SWAP is almost everywhere we look. Last week at the SPIE Defense Security + Sensing electro-optics show in Baltimore, for example, tiny size, light weight, and low power consumption were common themes.

    SWAP-driven electro-optics products ranging from hyperspectral cameras, infrared sensors, and tiny inertial measurement units were on prominent display, with the smallest sensor packages with the most capability possible.

    One product from SBG Systems in Rueil-Malmaison, France, unveiled the Ekinox INS MEMS-based inertial navigation system (INS) that combines INS based on micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology, with a miniaturized global positioning system (GPS) receiver for on-board navigation on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ground robots, and other small systems.

    Sensors Unlimited Inc. in Princeton, N.J., introduced the Micro-SWIR is a shortwave infrared (SWIR) video camera for unmanned vehicles and soldier systems. Also at SPIE, Neptec Technologies Corp. in Kanata, Ontario, unveiled the OPAL-360-series obscurant-penetrating 3D laser radar for autonomous off-road vehicles and robotics applications in harsh environments.

    Then there's more. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is asking industry for ideas on digital technology to infantry squads in a program called Digitizing SQUAD X: Sensing, Communications, Mission Command, and Soldier-Worn Backbone.

    The U.S. Army, meanwhile, is sending out feelers to industry for a program called Advanced Combat Identification Technologies or Systems, which is looking for new kinds of small transponder and interrogator technologies for infantry soldiers to help separate friend from foe on the battlefield.

    I could go on, but you get the idea. Unmanned vehicles and soldier systems are where it's at for electronics and electro-optics technology these days.

    The defense budget is here: time to get to work

    April 29, 2013 11:57 AM by John Keller
    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.

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

    April 23, 2013 7:45 AM by John Keller
    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 http://mil-embedded.com/2075-remembering-a-friend-and-mentor .

    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 www.hiers-baxley.com/obituaries/Ronald-Mastro/#!/Obituary .

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

    April 15, 2013 3:04 PM by John Keller
    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.

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

    April 10, 2013 11:54 AM by John Keller
    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.

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

    April 9, 2013 10:22 AM by John Keller
    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.

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

    April 5, 2013 10:23 AM by John Keller
    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.

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

    April 2, 2013 10:26 AM by John Keller
    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.

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

    March 26, 2013 9:24 AM by John Keller
    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.

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

    March 19, 2013 9:46 AM by John Keller
    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.

    Is sequestration killing aerospace and defense trade shows?

    March 14, 2013 11:27 AM by John Keller
    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.

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

    March 12, 2013 9:22 AM by John Keller
    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.

    The sequester hits! Is everyone okay?

    March 5, 2013 9:46 AM by John Keller
    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.

    The continuing drone war of low-tech vs. high-tech

    February 26, 2013 12:30 PM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 26 Feb. 2013. I read with amusement recent stories about how al-Qaida and its terrorist allies throughout the world are finding ways to defeat U.S. and allied intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance with unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) sensors.

    It seems that al-Qaida is using mud, grass mats, trees, and other low-tech approaches to defeat high-tech UAV sensor payloads . My favorite: mounting grass mats on poles to hide cars from the prying eyes of overhead drones .

    Low-tech vs. high-tech. This is an old story in warfare, and one that all too often favors the side with few resources in its battles against a technologically superior foe.

    It's also a good way to bleed-off the resources of the supposedly superior combatant. Grass mats cost pocket changes, versus thousands or millions of dollars for unmanned drones and UAV sensor payloads.

    Here's a guess: al-Qaida and its friends can afford to supply their forces with grass mats and poles long after the U.S. runs out of money for UAVs and ISR sensors.

    There's an old adage in air-to-air warfare that goes something like this: the pilot who can out-turn his adversary will always win the day. We can apply that to the low-tech vs. high-tech war. The combatant who can defeat sophisticated technology on the cheap will always win the day.

    The implications of that are ominous, but we've seen this before.

    One of the most strategically important U.S. military goals of the Vietnam War half a century ago was to prevent the North Vietnamese army from supplying Viet Cong guerrillas in the south via the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

    Millions of dollars were spent on sophisticated sensors, defoliants, and infiltration techniques to deny that vital supply route to Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces in the south.

    U.S. forces tried ammonia sensors to detect concentrations of enemy fighters by their perspiration. In response, the Viet Cong hung buckets of urine in the trees. The Americans tried sound and seismic sensors, for which the played tape recordings of truck traffic. Special mud-making chemicals were tried, and in response the Viet Cong corduroyed the roads with logs and bamboo.

    The Viet Cong also employed a primitive-yet-effective alarm system to warn them of U.S. military landings nearby. Native tribesmen were hired to bang pots and ring gongs when Americans were seen.

    The war in Vietnam ... I'm trying to remember who won that one.

    There are plenty of lessons to be learned. Unfortunately many of the lessons aren't pleasant ones.

    Prospects for high-performance embedded computing (HPEC) look brighter than ever before

    February 19, 2013 10:09 AM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 19 Feb. 2013. I wonder who remembers the days when military high-performance embedded computing , which today we call HPEC , involved PowerPC microprocessors with AltiVec technology, or before that the Intel i860 digital signal processor.

    Anyone? (crickets) ... anyone at all?

    Well all right then, but my point is that we've come a long way since the i860 and AltiVec days, driven by some of the latest central processing unit (CPU) technologies like the latest-generation Intel Core i7, the latest field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) from manufacturers like Xilinx, Altera, and Microsemi, and general-purpose graphics processing unit (GPGPU ) technologies from NVIDIA and AMD.

    I'm a little sheepish to admit that I remember when one of the fondest computer science goals of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was to create "a gigaflop in a soup can."

    Today we're approaching accessible embedded computing technology that can provide a gigaflop on a chip, and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight.

    GPGPU technology -- which is a massively parallel processing architecture that particularly lends itself well to floating-point digital signal processing -- continues to evolve on a trajectory similar to what we've known as Moore's Law, and GPGPU software programming tools are making this technology broadly available. FPGA devices and software programming tools are improving apace.

    DARPA -- never to be counted out when it comes to high-performance military computing -- lately has launched the ICECool program, short for Intrachip/Interchip Enhanced Cooling, which promises eventually to fabricate in-device liquid cooling as part of the semiconductor manufacturing process.

    The ICECool program, now aimed primarily at embedded computing and RF monolithic microwave integrated circuit (MMIC) power amplifiers, seeks to remove waste heat from electronic components at the rate of one kilowatt per square centimeter heat flux, and one kilowatt per cubic centimeter heat density.

    DARPA's involvement in HPEC expends much farther than the ICECool program. Last fall the agency awarded research contracts to SRI International in Princeton, N.J., and to Reservoir Labs Inc. in New York for the Power Efficiency Revolution For Embedded Computing Technologies (PERFECT) program, which seeks to overcome power efficiency barriers that limit the capabilities of military embedded systems.

    The DARPA PERFECT program aims to increase the power efficiency of HPEC systems to from today's 1 billion floating point operations per second per Watt (GFLOPS/w), to 75 GFLOPS/w.

    Imagine the kind of embedded computing capability these technologies could yield if they ever come to pass.

    Today military intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance experts complain that today's data processing capability and thirst for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) information leaves us "swimming in sensors, and drowning in data."

    Well, the HPEC technology available today, and promises for the future, could go a long way to solve that problem.

    The issue with swimming in sensors and drowning in data isn't so much a problem of too much data, as it is too much SUPERFLUOUS data. Sensors are everywhere churning out oceans of data. There aren't enough processors or human analysts to keep up -- today that is.

    But just take a look at GPGPU technology. This processing approach began life as a high-performance graphics engine aimed at high-end gaming. It didn't take long for the embedded computing community to catch on that GPGPUs were high-performance parallel processors applicable to DSP applications like radar and sonar processing, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence.

    One interesting thing about GPGPU technology, however, is not so much its intrinsic parallel processing capability, but is closely related to its graphics processing roots.

    One expert explains that graphics processors are particularly good at putting together lots of data into a coherent picture. What embedded computing designers also are finding is that the graphics capability of GPGPUs also are extremely good at TAKING APART complex pictures boiling them down only to the information that's needed.

    Think finding a needle in a haystack, really fast.

    Now think about persistent-surveillance applications that can stare at a wide area like a city for weeks and months at a time. From that universe of data, might be quickly extracted information about specific terrorist or other suspicious behavior ...

    ... or finding other kinds of needles in different haystacks.

    It's going to be very interesting.

    There's one thing that bugs me, though, and it involves GPGPU technology -- more to the point, its crummy name.

    In the aerospace and defense community, HPEC designers primarily are involved with complex signal processing, not graphics, so I think we ought to lose the GPGPU name and its reference to graphics.

    So I'm proposing a new name for what until now we have known as GPGPU technology, and here it is: high-performance embedded parallel processing, or HPEPP for short.

    Give it some thought; heck, it must might catch on.

    Self-sealing suction cups show promise for future robots

    February 11, 2013 11:32 AM by Skyler Frink
    Robots have a hard time doing a lot of things we don't even need to think twice about. Take operating a valve, for example. A robot needs to be specifically designed to grasp and rotate a valve, and that design usually won't be suitable for operating a valve of a different size. Well, scientists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Edgewood Chemical Biological Center appear to have a solution, suction cups.

    Now, suction cups aren't new to robotics, they've been in use for over 50 years. What's exciting about the technology now is self-sealing suction cup technology, which means each individual suction cup can actuate based on the object the robot wants to pick up.

    This new technology involves a plug that sits in the suction inlet. When the pump (the source of the suction) is activated, the plug of any cup that isn't in contact with an object gets sucked in to prevent any leaks. This creates a larger different in pressure between the inside of the suction cup and the outside, strengthening the suction capability of the cups that are actually on an object. The design also makes use of passive reaction forces that cause the cup to activate and open when the lip contacts an object, breaking the seal to initiate suction.

    In short, the new suction cup technology means robots equipped with these self-sealing suction cups are capable of picking up and manipulating a wider variety of objects in a wider variety of environments (the technology is well suited for use underwater as well as on land). Of course, the technology is still in its infancy, but it is proving to be extremely effective. Just four fingertip sized cups can lift a bottle of wine securely.

    Robots are not only capable of going more places now, but they will be able to interact with the environment in meaningful ways and even operate tools in just a short time. The technology is intended to be used in emergency and disaster response situations, but it's entirely possible this technology will enable robots to be used in any dangerous task that requires simple object manipulation. Why send a person when a robot can do the same job without risk of getting hurt?

    Air Force moving forward with potential upgrades to PAVE PAWS, BMEWS, and PARCS missile-defense radar

    February 7, 2013 1:32 PM by John Keller
    Posted by John Keller

    THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 7 Feb. 2013. U.S. Air Force planners are wrapping up the first phase of what may become a long-term project to modernize and upgrade three ageing ground-based ballistic missile warning radar systems known as PAVE PAWS, BMEWS, and PARCS.

    This initiative, which results from a request for information (solicitation number: 01262012) last year may lead to a project to upgrade radar front-end equipment on PAVE PAWS, BMEWS, and PARCS such as radar receivers, exciters, and beam steering units.

    The size of the strategic radar systems upgrade -- if it actually comes to pass -- would depend on how much money the Air Force has to spend on it, which likely won't be much, experts say. PAVE PAWS is short for Phased Array Warning System; BMEWS is the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System; and PARCS is the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Attack Characterization System.

    The latest step in upgrading the missile-warning radar systems, called an early engineering effort, involves an attempt by the Air Force Electronic Systems Center (ESC) at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., to identify defense companies that could oversee or contribute to systems upgrades and technology insertion on these radar systems.

    ESC officials are scheduled soon to submit a report to Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., to present a status report on the condition of the radar systems, as well as to put forth options on potential upgrades and technology insertion.

    If a formal industry solicitation results from this early engineering effort to upgrade PAVE PAWS, BMEWS, and PARCS, it mostly likely would not be issued for perhaps more than a year, experts say. A solicitation most likely would come from Air Force Materiel Command at Hanscom.

    Should the Air Force move ahead with a major upgrade initiative for the strategic radar systems, it would involve technology refresh for the front-end and remoting capabilities.

    The PARCS upgrade project may require technology insertion for the back-end processing capabilities that will support front-end modernization. PAVE PAWS and BMEWS will have received significant upgrades to their data- and signal-processing subsystems by 2016 in separate efforts.

    Such a major upgrade and technology-insertion program could be large and expensive. Some of these legacy radar sites have been around for 30 to 40 years, and their front ends essentially never have been touched, experts say.

    One contractor familiar with the systems says component failures are happing in the old radar systems "left, right, and center." The central issue with the radars, however, involves component obsolescence rather than component and subsystem failures.

    One expert familiar with the systems says PAVE PAWS, BMEWS, and PARCS sites "are still in really shape. They are built like tanks." To date, the ITT Exelis Electronic Systems segment in Clifton, N.J., is the prime sustainment and modernization contractor for these radar systems.

    PAVE PAWS is a ground-based radar system that provides U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb., with warning and attack-assessment information on all intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) launched throughout the world that might be headed for U.S. territory.

    BMEWS, meanwhile, is a ground-based radar system that helps warn USSTRATCOM and NATO authorities of submarine- and sea-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) attacks and provides data to help evaluate the severity of ballistic missile attacks.

    PARCS is a large radar installation in North Dakota that provides ballistic missile warning and attack assessment, as well as space surveillance data to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., as well as to USSTRATCOM and regional combatant commanders. PARCS monitors and tracks more than half of all Earth-orbiting objects with its AN/FPQ-16 phased-array radar system pointed northward over Hudson Bay, and analyzes more than 20,000 tracks per day, from giant satellites to space debris.

    PARCS was built in the early 1970s, and its signal processing has received only superficial fixes since the site went online in 1975. PARCS uses 1960s-era technology, which is not widely used, and few sources are available for depot-level repair on failed components, Air Force officials say.

    The PAVE PAWS and BMEWS beam steering unit (BSU), receiver exciter (REX), receiver beam former (RBF), array group driver (AGD), radio frequency monitor (RFM), frequency time standard (FTS), and the corporate feed (CFD) were built for these five radars in the late 1970s and were upgraded in the 1980s, Air Force officials say. The REX and FTS already have been redesigned and upgraded at the Beale Air Force Base, Calif., Fylingdales, England, and Thule, Greenland sites as part of the Upgraded Early Warning Radar (UEWR) programs. They will be upgraded at the Clear, Alaska, and Cape Cod, Mass., sites by 2016 or 2017., officials say.

    Still, the PAVE PAWS and BMEWS have not upgraded the array front end of these radar systems, and this equipment has been in service without being replaced for More than 20 years and is rapidly nearing obsolescence, which requires a substantial technology-refresh effort.

    The PARCS signal processing group (SPG) consists of 10 cabinets of equipment with hundreds of unique parts. The SPG generates frequency-modulated pulses for transmission, spectrum inversion, and pulse compression; performs side lobe reduction; as well as compares and processes track signals, multiplexing, and signal conversion. Extensive alignment and maintenance are necessary to maintain proper signal reception and analog digital conversion, Air Force officials explain.

    Cyberattacks carried out against media outlets

    February 4, 2013 3:49 PM by Skyler Frink
    It sure is a busy time for cybersecurity right now. We've seen attacks on the power grid and banks in the past few months, and now it's on to media. Well, at least this time we know (or at least have good reason to believe) the hackers are Chinese.

    The attacks, which were carried out on the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, focused around gathering information about journalists who covered the Chinese government. Investigations are still taking place to figure out exactly what information was compromised, and what the full effects will be.

    Now, this is something I started off being fairly nonplussed about. A company that controls non-critical infrastructure was attacked, "this isn't something that affects national security at all," I told myself. Then I realized that if we allow these attacks to go unpunished we have a serious problem. If somebody hurls a brick through a window and steals a bunch of personal information I expect the police to get involved. The same thing should happen if hackers attack a website that contains personal information. Especially if those hackers are supported by a nation's government.

    If media outlets can't feel safe to publish pieces that are less than kind to Chinese officials we have a real problem on our hands. Should these sites have had better security? Sure, better security is a good thing to have. Should they be capable of taking on the resources of an entire country? No, I think that's asking a little too much.

    We need to put something into effect that makes it so countries can't just attack whoever they want. Even Google had to go to the National Security Agency in 2010 after attacks (that were believed to be associated with Beijing) seeking data on Gmail users were carried out. We can't expect individual companies to be able to protect themselves adequately from organizations with vast resources without some guidance. I know Congress is working on cybersecurity legislation right now, and it really can't come soon enough. It doesn't even need to be particularly good, it just needs to be something .

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

    January 30, 2013 11:40 AM by John Keller
    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.

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

    January 28, 2013 2:16 PM by Skyler Frink
    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.

    Defense industry will emerge from these hard times stronger than ever

    January 24, 2013 11:07 AM by John Keller
    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.

    More on our favorite quadruped robot, the LS3

    January 21, 2013 2:09 PM by Skyler Frink
    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.

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

    January 17, 2013 10:05 AM by John Keller
    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.

    First the power grid, now banks under attack

    January 14, 2013 12:28 PM by Skyler Frink
    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.

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

    January 9, 2013 11:51 AM by John Keller
    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.

    NSA's cybersecurity program to protect critical infrastructure revealed

    January 7, 2013 9:41 AM by Skyler Frink
    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.

    Fiscal-cliff negotiations reward defense industry with even more uncertainty

    January 3, 2013 10:31 AM by John Keller
    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.

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Previous Blog Posts

Capital Hill budget deal could restore tens of billions of dollars to the Pentagon

December 17, 2013

Hacker drone story a cautionary tale about the need for unmanned vehicle data security

December 10, 2013

Lack of money for systems upgrades threatens to maintain wind-farm radar dead spots

December 3, 2013

Engineering support contracts indicate the Pentagon is sinking into the Mothball Strategy

November 26, 2013

The revenge of COTS: an ageing commercial technology base complicates military supply chain

November 19, 2013

Navy's newest destroyers evolve to fill traditional battleship roles

November 12, 2013

International suspicions of U.S. encryption technology putting defense companies in a bind

November 5, 2013

Defense industry left guessing as Army struggles forward with an unclear mission

October 29, 2013

These are tough times for the combat vehicle and vetronics industries

October 22, 2013

Is the government shutdown a harbinger of more ominous things to come?

October 15, 2013

Government shutdown reduces military contracting, increasing pressure on U.S. defense industry

October 7, 2013

Potential good news: has U.S. defense spending finally bottomed-out?

October 1, 2013

Is robotics revolution the first glimpse of a fundamental change in human evolution?

September 24, 2013

Obsolescent parts: are we enhancing military readiness or creating a hollow force?

September 17, 2013

For the high-tech warfighter, the future of electronics-laden uniforms is here

September 10, 2013

New generation of embedded computing thermal management in development at GE

September 3, 2013

Trading bus stops for credit cards: how far embedded computing has come in three decades

August 27, 2013

Unmanned vehicle industry stands at the doorstep of a fundamental transformation

August 20, 2013

AUVSI 2013, one of the biggest unmanned vehicles shows in the world, opens this week in Washington

August 13, 2013

The Washington Post, under Jeff Bezos, could lead the way for media in the 21st Century

August 6, 2013

Are costs and vulnerabilities making military leaders nervous about satellite communications?

July 30, 2013

Unmanned aircraft carrier that travels beneath the waves may be in the Navy's future

July 23, 2013

Electronic warfare programs kick into high gear with a flurry of contract activity

July 16, 2013

How vulnerable are U.S. Navy vessels to advanced anti-ship cruise missiles?

July 9, 2013

First came VHSIC, then came MIMIC, and now comes ACE to push electronics technology

July 2, 2013

The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2
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