The Mil & Aero Blog
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
  Long or short?
Posted by John McHale

My colleagues -- John Keller and Courtney Howard -- and myself have been having discussions lately over how long a feature article should be. There seem to be different answers for those on the web and those in a printed journal.

Shorter definitely seems to be the answer on the web. Research has shown that most digital readers want stories that begin and end on the same page.

I'm the same way. I usually tune out if a digital article has multiple page links (2,3,4, etc.) at the bottom of the first page. Unless of course it is very interesting such as an article I read last year on about the battle against improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the formation of the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).

That was a four-part story, with about four or five pages per part. I didn’t read it in one setting, but kept coming back to it. However, typically when I come across digital articles of that length on the web, I don’t read past the first page.

Incidentally, the Post Article by Rick Atkinson, was the best I've read on the evolution of the IED threat and how our government and military is dealing with it.

Maybe digital articles are re-emphasizing an old journalism mantra of "put everything in the first paragraph, because no one ever reads the second one."

But what about in print? Typical feature articles in our print magazine run about 3,000 words and include sidebars and multiple graphics.

The same is true for many magazines.

I find longer print features to be ideal for reading when I'm on a long flight.

What do you prefer? Would you like to see print features trimmed to match the length of most digital copy or not?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
  Strut your stuff
Posted by Courtney E. Howard

Are you the king of all things COTS? The titan of thermal management? Or perhaps you are the czar of CMOS, champion of C4ISR, earl of electro-optics, or venerable champ of VXS. Show us your stuff in the Command Post community! You are invited to demonstrate your expertise in various areas in the new online community at We want you to share your knowledge, information, impressions, and opinions--heck, even your tasteless jokes (please keep it clean)--and your industry colleagues want your advice.

Right now in the Command Post, members are seeking information about:

-- Image sensors gaining popularity among the military services

-- Mil-spec, XMC-compatible displays

-- Avionics, and not strictly for flight control

-- Test and measurement tools

-- RINI Technologies, FLIR Systems, and SprayCool

Reply to any of the forums and blogs, post a notice, join a group, pose your own questions, or just take a look around and see what your peers are up to, today and everyday.

Take this opportunity to show off your intellect, wit, and personality in the Command Post online community. Join us now at

See you in the Command Post!
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
  Middle-age microprocessing

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

Intel Corp. celebrated its 40th anniversary last week (July 18th). “Since its founding in 1968, Intel has introduced countless examples of technology innovation -- its crowning breakthrough being the introduction of the microprocessor,” says an Intel representative. Its first 16-bit microprocessor, the 8086,
was introduced 30 years ago under the slogan: “The Dawn of a New Era.” Boy, whoever came up with that slogan hit the nail on the head!

The 8086 was introduced on June 8th, 1978, and yet its influence in the mil-aero industry, among others, will continue indefinitely.

"Intel has a 40-year history of serial technology breakthroughs and innovation," says Paul Otellini, Intel CEO and president. "When we introduced the microprocessor no one could have predicted that the market for PCs would be greater than 350 million units a year. Over the next 40 years, Intel technology will be at the heart of breakthroughs that solve the big problems of health and environment. For Intel this is just the beginning of its journey."

Today’s processor architectures are based on the x86 instruction set, which lies at the core of various chips from Intel, AMD, and others.

Popular, and perhaps even legendary chips--including the Intel 80386, 80486, and Pentium and the AMD Athlon--owe a debt to the original 8086 processor.

Hmm. Is the microcomputer industry over the hill or in its prime?
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
  Funding for laser weapons research growing

Posted by John McHale

Last week Rajiv Pandey, senior product manager at DILAS in Tucson Ariz., told me that funding for laser weapons development comes in bunches but is strong and growing especially in the U.S. market.

DILAS develops diode lasers with a broad range of wavelengths for different Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) programs, Pandey said. He added that DILAS also has seen significant growth in its laser illuminator designator products, which are available for various military platforms.

Moving to Arizona and forming a separate U.S. company to pursue laser development for the Department of Defense was a key for DILAS, whose parent company is based in Germany, Pandey said. This has helped foster the company's growth.

DARPA continues to award research contracts for different parts of programs such as the High Energy Liquid Laser, Pandey said. It is their goal to develop a reliable high-power solid-state laser, he added.

According to the DARPA web site "the goal of the High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) program is to develop a high-energy laser weapon system (150 kiloWatt) with an order of magnitude reduction in weight compared to existing laser systems. With a weight goal of less than 5 kilograms/kiloWatt, HELLADS will enable high-energy lasers (HELs) to be integrated onto tactical aircraft and will significantly increase engagement ranges compared to ground-based systems."

The laser program that gets most of the ink in the press is still the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's Airborne Laser program, which is the closest to fruition and the largest laser weapon in development. We've written extensively about it at Military & Aerospace Electronics, but we've also covered the capabilities of solid-state lasers for weapons systems.

Yes, lasers are years away from replacing a Marine's rifle, but the ABL is a year or two away with ground-based laser defense systems right behind it. Eventually you will see lasers added to fighter jet arsenals too.

Along those lines Boeing announced yesterday that it successfully completed the preliminary design of a rugged beam control system for the U.S. Army's High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL TD) program. This was part of a contract to design a beam control system for a truck-mounted laser weapon system, according to Boeing officials.

Exciting stuff.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
  Space market strong for ICs
Posted by John McHale

Attendees this week at the 2008 IEEE Nuclear and Space Radiation Effects Conference (NSREC), in Tucson, Ariz., -- held at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort -- reported that business is strong and the market is steady as she goes.

Most of the companies at the event produce radiation-hardened integrated circuits (ICs) for military and defense markets and in most cases say their business is growing faster than the market itself.

"The market is growing at about 6 percent" and Aeroflex's space business is performing at an even higher rate, said Tony Jordan, product line manager for Aeroflex Colorado Springs. The company recently purchased one of their IP processor suppliers -- Gaisler Research, which they announced at the event.

Jordan added that Aeroflex's commercial business is growing as well. They expect so see increased growth in Europe as a result of their Gaisler purchase, he said.

Ken O'Neil, director of military and aerospace marketing for Actel in Sunnyvale, Calif., echoed comments he made earlier in the year to me, saying that the company continues to see strong growth and is quite pleased with its successful presence on NASA's Phoenix Mars program.

Military systems designers are very excited by radiation-hardened optical components, noted Chuck Tabbert, vice president of sales and marketing at Ultra Communications in Vista, Calif. Photonics and optics are a lot of fun to work with, he added.

The frustrations I heard were nothing new -- headaches caused by import/export oversight, specifically the International Traffic in Arms (ITAR) regulations.

One company's official told me that while he understands the concern regarding sensitive technology, the myriad of autocratic hoops one has to go through to comply with ITAR makes it difficult to do business. He added that his company does not pursue international business as aggressively because it's not worth the complications caused by ITAR regulations.

Aside from the ITAR comments most exhibitors and attendees echoed Dale Robinette, marketing director for space, military, and hi-rel products at Peregrine Semiconductor in San Diego, Calif., who said "this is an exciting business," Peregrine has shown tremendous growth the last year -- around 70 percent.
  Are unmanned passenger vehicles the future?

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

My renewed love of cable television has me addicted to The History Channel of all things. This evening I stumbled upon a show in which engineers discussed the future of unmanned vehicles.

One insightful professional predicts that military and commercial aircraft will transport passengers with no physical person in the cockpit--if future aircraft even have a cockpit.

There was a time, not all that long ago, that each time you stepped into an elevator, an elevator operator would transport its passengers, the man explained. You don't see that anymore. At the same time, he continued, millions of travelers step onto unmanned trams to be transported throughout a large airport. Most people think nothing of using these unmanned systems today. Experts expect the same to be true of stepping onto an unmanned aircraft in the future.

Will pilots one day be obsolete, replaced by advanced electronics? I wonder.
Friday, July 11, 2008
  Red Sox shut out the Twins

Posted by John McHale

Now I know how the other half lives. On Monday I watched Jonathan Papelbon and the Red Sox close out the Minnesota Twins 1-0 in the ninth from a corporate box at Fenway Park.

I was there as a guest of GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms. GE put together the event for business journalists.

Corporate boxes are just as nice as you think they are. The view was fantastic and if the early July humidity got to be too much, I just went inside to the air-conditioned part of the box.

The best part is that the Sox won, Manny had the game winning hit, Daisuke pitched a great game, and the non-baseball fans – well, they watched the finale of the Bachelorette reality TV show inside and apparently it was a nail-biter too.

It was the first Fenway game I've seen this year, which is pretty sad considering I live in New England.

Yeah, I grew up a Philadelphia Phillies fan, but 15 years up and here and I can't even tell you who's on the Phillies aside from their home-run hitter Chase Utley.

It all hit home for me during Curt Schilling's first season with Boston. I was listening on my car radio to a Red Sox game where Schilling was pitching and he just ran the count to full with a third ball. I got frustrated and started shouting at the radio for him to throw some strikes -- when it hit me, they were playing the Phillies.

That was the turning point -- Boston had sucked me in. Then the next year they won the World Series. Very cool.

Yet... I still don't like the Patriots. I'll be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan forever.

Anyway... thank you GE for a nice night at the park and congrats to the Sox -- who ended up sweeping the Twins. Congrats as well to the curly-haired snow-boarder who won the hand of the bachelorette -- an Eva Longoria look-a-like. Or was it the curly-haired cocky guy...?
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
  100+ channels
Posted by Courtney E. Howard

For the first time in a long time, I have cable television. I did not think cable held any real value; I had had my fill of reality TV, for one. I see now the error of my ways, and realize that it is a great resource of mil-aero information.

At the risk of sounding as though I have been living under a rock, I am amazed at the number of shows and specials having to do with past, current, and future trends and technologies for military, homeland security, aerospace, and first responder communities.

Virtually every night this week I have been glued to the television set. As I write, in fact, I am learning about NASA personnel, firefighters, warfighters, and others harnessing commercially available (or commercial off-the-shelf, COTS) components and systems to save lives, expand their knowledge, lend to advanced electronics, and more. This info hails from the show "Modern Marvels" on The History Channel, but it is just one of a large number of informative, thought-provoking pieces available.

I am actually learning valuable information from this box, the very one my parents said would rot my brain. Finally, I can successfully rationalize my occasional couch-potato existence.

Perhaps you will share with us, either in a comment here or in the Command Post community (, what you have learned recently, direct from "the boob tube."
Thursday, July 3, 2008
  History revisited

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

I was not the best history student; although I was interested in the subject matter, I found it challenging to remember all the dates and names. I was relieved when a professor would occasionally say we would not be tested on the dates as he covered material; and yet, as an adult, I cannot help but feel a little regret for not committing important events and dates in world history to memory. There is no mistaking the importance of July 4th, however.

In recognition of Independence Day, I wanted to share portions of a speech from Operation Tribute to Freedom (OTF; Army program designed to honor soldiers and give them opportunities to thank the American people for their support.

The speech, delivered in 2006 and titled "Call to Duty--Boots On The Ground," not only is inspirational, but also provides a little U.S. history refresher--which I always enjoy.

"On July 4th 1776, an assembly of brave and determined Americans announced to the world the birth of a new nation -- a nation borne of ideals rather than of coercion, where the power to govern rested with the consent of the people.

In Thomas Jefferson's words: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.--that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.'

Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Livingston, Sherman...these bold colonists set in motion a radical experiment in democracy. As modern Americans, who have enjoyed these blessings for so long, it is easy for us to forget just how groundbreaking this experiment really was.

The Declaration of Independence signed by those visionaries caused panic in the capitals of Europe. The document was so revolutionary that King George III even ordered English churches to conduct prayer services against it. He also required his subjects to prepare for a war intended to abolish it.

But the declaration of independence also inspired enlightened men everywhere -- statesmen, scientists, philosophers, and theologians -- to abandon old ways of power and privilege and to embrace new ideals of freedom and justice. Slowly, they began to remake the world on principles that the founders believed were self-evident.

And the world has never been the same.

This, ladies and gentlemen, was the first Call to Duty. It ignited a firestorm and changed the world forever. And it was answered by America's sons and daughters, who fought and struggled to give birth to this new nation.

Today, amid fireworks and backyard barbecues, we reflect on the meaning of the Independence Day, and we pause to remember the tremendous effort and sacrifice of millions of Americans who have preserved that endowment of democracy in the past and for generations yet to come.

Two hundred and thirty years later, what does this day-Independence Day-mean to us as Americans?

For the Army and our Soldiers, this day is an affirmation of their Call to Duty, and a reminder of why they put boots on the ground ands risk life and limb to preserve freedom throughout the world. The Army was born more than a year before the declaration was signed in Philadelphia, on June 14th, 1775, as the Army was officially formed to be led by General George Washington.

For 231 years, the United States Army has played a vital role in the growth and development of our nation.

On Independence Day, it is especially important to focus on the many freedoms Americans take for granted...freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of choice..."
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
  Privacy and technology
Posted by John McHale

Last week I commented the feasibility of personally scanning people at airports to determine their radioactivity and asked if you would mind being scanned.

If you don't mind being scanned for radioactivity, would you be willing to pay further to submit to more extensive screening just to get through security quicker?

It's a compelling concept. I traveled this weekend through the Southwest terminal at the Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) airport, and wasted no time in choosing the shorter of the two security lines. At the BWI Southwest terminal there is a line on either end of the long ticket counter.

Coincidentally the same day a friend of mine pointed me toward an article in this week's Fortune Magazine that investigated whether it was worth it to pay for a special pass through security. The authors of the piece used the Clear registered traveler system.

For the Fortune article one reporter used the Clear system and another went through security like everyone else does. According to the Fortune article the reporter using Clear saved "an average of 9.25 minutes per airport," but claimed he was much less stressed than he would've been following the normal security route.

It is relaxing knowing you won't have to wait. I acquired preferred status at a rental car company recently and it is quite a nice feeling knowing you can walk right to your car without having to drag your bags through one more line.

According to the Clear website ( a registered pass is $100 plus $28 for a TSA (Transportation Security Agency) fee. Clear operates at 18 airports nationwide and is coming soon to Atlanta and Los Angeles.

While the Clear website claims the system is more hassle-free than acquiring a passport, potential registrants must still get their picture taken, submit to an iris and fingerprint scan as well as a background check.

While $128 might not seem like much if you travel a lot, fingerprint scans, iris scans, background checks, etc., might be too expensive for privacy-minded people.

Whether it's in the Constitution or not, Americans want to know they still have a right to be left alone.

However, it is sort of ironic that for a price even a journalist can get "security clearance."
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