The Mil & Aero Blog
Thursday, October 28, 2010
  Counter-MANPADS for commercial aircraft, where'd it go?

Posted by John McHale
Counter-MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems) for commercial aircraft got a lot of press after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and I covered it quite a bit in our Homeland Security Solutions magazine back then, but I have not heard much about it in recent years till this week at the AUSA in Washington, DC.

Some of the technology explored for Counter-MANPADS was based on the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures (ATIRCM) system from BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H. I learned this while interviewing Burt Keirstead, director of integrated ASE (aircraft survivability equipment) at BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H., this week at AUSA about the ATIRCM.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Counter-MANPADS program was basically shelved due to reluctance from the airlines to spend money on the system unless subsidized by the government or if there is an attack from a shoulder-fired missile on a commercial airliner causing COutner-MANPADS to be mandated, Keirstead said.

Technologically "it was a success story," he said. BAE System's solution flew about 5,000 hours on a Boeing 767 back forth between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles and John F. Kennedy airport outside of New York, Keirstead continued. A couple of the flights included celebrities such as Brittany Spears and Liza Minelli, he added.

It was mounted upside down about 10 feet in front of the fuselage and painted white, Keirstead said. The system was optimized for use on commercial jets with a different cockpit display and a lightening protection unit, among other adjustments, he added.

The system works and could be added in on to the aircraft if it is ever mandated, Keirstead said.

Let's hope it's not necessary.
  U.S. defense officials may be getting serious about crafting defenses against EMP attack

Posted by John Keller

I came across an interesting industry sources-sought notice in the government solicitations this morning. Scientists in at the Army Research Lab are looking for companies with know-how and experience in shielding against the effects of electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The spectre of an EMP attack is a scary one.

EMP is among the effects of a nuclear explosion, and would cause devastating power surges in the electric power grids, automobiles, computers, and modern electric appliances that could shut the power off in large areas for long periods. Want more on EMP? See this week's story in USA Today entitled One EMP burst and the world goes dark.

A worst-case scenario has a high-altitude nuclear explosion over Kansas City, which could kill the power grid in the United States for as long as a year.

Think about that -- a year without electricity all over North America. Fuel, food, and drinking water would disappear quickly -- especially in the large cities; transportation and manufacturing would grind to a halt; cell phones and land lines would fall silent; little, if any, information would be available as the Internet would disappear; radio and TV stations would stop broadcasting, and newspapers and magazines would quit publishing; stores, restaurants, and hotels would be padlocked; hospitals would close; financial transactions would cease; the mail would stop; and companies would suspend business because their lights and machinery would not operate, and their employees could not get to work.

I could go on, but turn off the power in this country for a year and probably 80 percent of the population dies. The old, the very young, and those with medical conditions would go first. I'm an insulin-dependent diabetic, so I wouldn't survive long. Neither would most of the people I know.

So I'm heartened to see the military putting effort and money into finding ways to defend against EMP. The program the Army is talking about eventually could turn into a $7 million contract over five years. That's not a whole lot, by DOD standards, but it's a start.

It's long past time that the U.S. military and industry should start taking the EMP threat seriously.
  Miniaturization of electronics, theme at AUSA

Posted by John McHale
Interviewing and speaking with people at the AUSA show in Washington this week, the common requirement from the Army seems to be miniaturization
of electronics or as some term it low size, weight, and power (SWaP) -- and in some cases SWaP-C, with C being cost.

Some vendors don't like the C part, as their parts will never be considered low-cost, but it seems as if everyone's latest design is smaller than the last one.

Whether it's in rugged computers with the new rugged PDA from VT Miltope, the rugged Armor tablet PC from DRS Technologies ,or the tactical rugged tablet from Lockheed Martin -- they're all trending smaller with plans for even smaller designs.

The same is true for display maker Barco, who is shrinking their rugged computer boxes while to squeeze into wheeled or tracked vehicles. Meanwhile engineers at Cobham are designing data links that can fit in the palm of your hand or be concealed for undercover operations. One of Cobham's other designs takes two radio downlinks and puts them in one device -- that once again fits in the palm of your hand.

Pretty soon we'll see tracking devices and radios so small they can fit under the skin. It's exciting to think about the possibilities for nanotechnology as well.

AUSA keeps getting bigger -- two floors at the Washington, DC convention center next year -- but the technology is shrinking.
Monday, October 25, 2010
  Could we someday see a rugged iPad?

Posted by John McHale
I wondered out loud to a rugged tablet designer at AUSA today about whether we would ever see a rugged iPad used by warfighters in the field.

Julie Briggs, vice president of rugged systems program development at VT Miltope laughed and said she and colleagues were just talking about that. She doesn't think it would really be applicable because the iPad like many consumer devices does not have the backward compatibility with older equipment based on military standards that is necessary for this market.

Just because a military system designer has money for a new computer, doesn't mean he can afford to overhaul the entire system to have the new device be compatible with all his legacy components, Briggs said.

Something tells me that if someone tried to make an iPad rugged, it really wouldn't be an iPad anymore. Its appeal is that it is sexy, lightweight, and flexible. Those are not necessarily adjectives you would apply to a rugged tablet -- at least the sexy and lightweight part.

However, if you drop your rugged tablet, spill coffee on it, or try to blow it up it will still work. Makes up for the lack of sexiness doesn't it?
  AUSA annual meeting, fun and crowded as usual

Posted by John McHale
The Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting in Washington is one of my favorite shows to attend as a journalist. All the primes are there and you get access to many interesting programs in one place. Also where else can you check out a helicopter on the second floor of an exhibit booth -- Sikorsky Booth #2124.

I also enjoy visiting the rugged computer suppliers at AUSA, just to check out their latest rugged tablets and rugged PDAs. However, I have yet to be able to get them to let me take one home at night -- just to kick around, run my car over it etc. You know ... all things journalists do to test ruggedability.

I'm not the only AUSA fan as this year's event is crowded once again and not only with Army uniforms, but many engineers and business development men and women in dark business suits.

The down economy does not seem to affect attendance at this event. However, one exhibitor told me that the usually long wait list to get a place on the floor was only 20 this year and not 50. Hey there is still a wait list, not many shows can say that. Believe me.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
  Maritime nuisance: unmanned surface vessels designed to harass enemy submarines

Posted by John Keller

Imagine an oceangoing unmanned surface vessel designed to detect, track, and even harass potentially hostile quiet diesel-electric submarines virtually unsupported, anywhere in the world. That's the idea behind the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has awarded a first-phase design contract to the QinetiQ North America Technology Solutions Group in Waltham, Mass.

The project is interesting enough on its own: an unmanned boat or small ship that searches sensitive areas of the world's oceans for today's extremely quiet diesel-electric submarines, which are virtually impossible to detect -- even with today's most sensitive sonar gear.

For more, see Unmanned surface vessel able to track quiet enemy submarines is objective of DARPA ACTUV contract to QinetiQ.

Still, what caught my eye about this project is the complete lack of covert means to detect and track submarines. In fact, one of the stated goals of the program is the "overt" tracking of enemy submarines.

This project is about using unmanned surface vessels to track submarines in the open -- on the surface and making propulsion noises. In other words, Designers of this ASW system want the enemy to know the system is there, and on his tail.

It's pretty hard to hide when there's noisy nuisance following you. Perhaps the first of these unmanned surface vessels could be named the USS Chihuahua.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
  Fiber laser technology is common critical enabler in precision-engagement projects at Lockheed Martin

Posted by John Keller

Lockheed Martin Corp. certainly is making the most of its acquisition two years ago of a fiber laser company in Bothell, Wash., called Aculight Corp. Lockheed Martin is capitalizing on Aculight's fiber laser technology for a variety of precision-engagement systems such as the One-Shot military sniper targeting system, the Dynamic Image Gun sight Optic (DInGO) initiative, and the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System.

The common denominator among One-Shot and these other programs at Lockheed Martin is a small, lightweight fiber laser that is able not only to illuminate targets covertly at night, but also literally to reach out and touch the air column between shooter and target to measure crosswind conditions, provide compensation, and enable snipers and other military weapons experts to hit their targets with the first shot, nearly every time.

The One-Shot program is for military snipers working with specialized precision-targeting rifles who are engaging targets at extremely long ranges, often from hidden locations. The DInGO program, meanwhile, seeks to help every soldier be a marksman by enhancing the ability to hit targets at ranges from 10 to 2,000 feet.

What's truly exciting to Lockheed Martin executives, however, is the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System, which enables snipers to work remotely from safe locations to operate rifles mounted to manned and unmanned helicopters, as well as fixed-site towers. The chief enabling technology, all these programs, is the Aculight fiber laser.

I think Lockheed Martin officials would agree that the Aculight acquisition was one of the smartest moves at this company in a long time.
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