The Mil & Aero Blog
Thursday, March 24, 2011
  Are low-profile, quick-turnaround military contracts replacing the traditional procurement process?

Posted by John Keller.

Defense industry suppliers tell me that military solicitations and contract awards moving through traditional procurement channels have slowed to a trickle, as military program managers safeguard their budgets by delaying or cancelling procurements that had been in the pipeline. That's the bad news.

The good news is that RFPs and contracts moving through non-traditional procurement channels appear to be picking up. These kinds of procurements typically involve small-scale, quick-turnaround contracts for urgently needed component replacements and upgrades that often take place right in the field.

The military seems to be moving in the direction of these quick procurements because they can be kept at a low profile, often involve limited numbers of platforms, and are kept spread out and reasonably priced. Translated, that means the military services can keep their weapons systems functioning and up to date with reduced threat from the bean-counting budget cutters in the Pentagon.

This seems to be a win-win situation for the military services that need new technology, as well as for defense suppliers providing subsystems like embedded computing, rugged displays, and high-reliability data storage. Those in the defense industry can maintain their cash flow while they wait for traditional procurement channels to open up once more -- if they ever really do.

There's a dark side to this approach, however: those in the defense industry are losing trust in the traditional procurement system. It's possible they are becoming less inclined to respond promptly to traditional procurement programs, and sometimes are reluctant to submit bids at all, where in the recent past they would have been jumping on these programs with enthusiasm.

"We have to be extremely sharp in choosing the horse we want to ride, so we can be reasonably sure the horse will finish the race, and not go lame in the process," one supplier told me recently.

Perhaps there's a silver lining to all this. This could be the beginning of the kind of organic defense procurement reform that ultimately could speed all kinds of military technology procurement, and lessen the instances of these monolithic procurements that take forever, cost billions, and succeed only in fielding obsolete technology.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
  Maybe aviation market is turning around

Posted by John McHale.
After this week I'm feeling very confident that the avionics market and the aviation market as a whole is definitely on the upward climb. We just wrapped up our 2011 Avionics & Defence Electronics Europe conference in Munich this afternoon with our attendance up 35 percent over last year.

The attendees were excited about the content on future air traffic management (ATM) systems such as Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) and the U.S. Next-Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). They were also smiling about the fact that money is also starting to be spent to be spent on equipping avionics systems with future ATM technology such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) systems.

A commercial avionics market report from Frost & Sullivan backed up the enthusiasm on the floor, but in a more conservative way. Diogenis Papiomytis, principal consultant with Frost, said that the avionics market will not recover till 2014, but it is on the upswing.

He said that technologically speaking navigation and communication equipment are the best investment bet from now till 2020.

We've found that our show attendance typically echoes market health as well as strong content and good marketing. So we're really looking forward to next year's event in Munich.

So were the attendees, as amany of them were looking to be part of the program for next year. If you are too then stay posted here as we will have a Call for Papers coming out the beginning of the summer.
  Pilot training taking backseat to new avionics, says Avionics Europe keynote

Posted by John McHale
Pilot training and not new technology is the key to improving flight safety, said Capt. Manfred Mueller, head of flight safety for Lufthansa Airlines, during his keynote address at the Avionics & Defence Electronics Europe conference this week.

Mueller told the audience that too often cost management not new avionics is the real reason flight training has been reduced in flight programs worldwide. New avionics technology, despite its amazing capabilities, can fail catastrophically and pilots need to be have the training to deal with those emergency situations.

Flight training centers are more about making money and keeping costs down and do so by cutting back on pilot training, Mueller said. Flight crews need to implement more "fallback strategy training" in addition to their own training, he added.

Fallback refers to the training you fallback on when your state-of-the-art cockpit avionics fail.

It is often said that new aircraft as the Boeing 787 will reduce pilot training costs because they are easy to fly, Meuller said. That is dangerous thinking and hopefully it will not take more plane crashes to increase training.

Mueller said too often abnormal procedures are designed by lawyers when they should be designed by human factor experts.

Mueller's lawyer comment was echoed in the following keynote delivered by Vincent de Vroey, head of Association of European Airlines, when discussing the relevancy of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

"EASA needs to focus on safety only," de Vroey said. Too often legal teams get involved and they lose their focus, he noted.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  Tsunami and Earthquake in Japan, bully confrontation video, point to the virtues of self-reliance

Posted by John Keller.

I'm thinking about a couple of wholly separate, yet strangely related, recent events that point to the virtues of self-reliance -- even amid forces that try to compel people to rely on others for their well-being.

The first event is the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, and the other involves the case of Australian student Casey Heynes, who finally stood up to serious schoolyard bullying, and is paying the price for it.

One of the strongest earthquakes in recorded history hit off the east coast of Japan last Friday, leveling buildings, igniting fires, and triggering explosions at nuclear power plants. A resulting tsunami that rolled in from the Pacific killed thousands, washed homes out to sea, and beached large ocean-going freighter ships inland where they just don't belong.

Then just this week, a video has gone viral on the Internet depicting a teenage school boy in Australia, who news reports say was frequently bullied at school, turning on a vicious attacker by lifting the attacker up and slamming him to the ground, sending him whining, crying, and limping away.

So what do these things have to do with each other? I couldn't put my finger on it, at first. Then I started to think about self-reliance. The stalwart Japanese victims of the tsunami and earthquake are not sitting by waiting for others to help them. News reports depict well-organized efforts to feed the hungry, heal the hurt, house the homeless, and evacuate those in danger from radiation near potentially compromised nuclear power plants.

Even in the middle of the worst disaster and devastation since World War II, the Japanese apparently are stepping forward to deal with tsunami and earthquake problems largely by themselves.

I was struck, at first, by a news report this morning entitled Don't donate money to Japan. The reason: you'll just get in the way; the Japanese know best how to deal with this twin disaster, and aid from abroad -- no matter how well-intentioned -- threatens to pile money where it's least needed, and leave the most-needed areas without.

The bottom line: let the Japanese handle this. They're on top of the situation, so don't get in the way.

Sounds like some of the advice that Casey Heynes took when he put a wicked little bully in his place. Not likely he'll get bullied much again -- not after his pals saw the attacker limping and crying away. Heynes apparently is paying the price for standing up for himself, however. News reports say he, not his attacker, is getting suspended from school.

So everything has its price. The Japanese will spend billions recovering from this most recent disaster, but they'll do the job right. Casey Heynes will spend some time home from school -- at worst might even have to find another school. In the end, though, everyone is standing up for himself, and price they pay to do so will be worth it.
Friday, March 11, 2011
  Counterfeit parts: problem with military electronics designs finally getting attention on Capitol Hill

Posted by John Keller.

Maybe the magnitude of the problem has finally sunk in among U.S. political leaders at the highest levels. I'm talking about the scourge of high-tech -- namely counterfeit electronic parts that have been finding their way into military and aerospace electronics and have the potential to compromise U.S. national security.

Counterfeit electronic components pop up in military and other mission-critical systems when sources for these parts dry up, or if systems integrators are under such financial pressures that they turn to the unreliable sources of electronic parts to cut costs.

The problem threatens at least parts of substandard or unreliable quality that could cause critical military systems to malfunction at the worst possible time. At worst, counterfeit parts could contain software or other back doors that might enable enemies to disable them during periods of conflict.

Now the problem has grown such that it is getting the attention of powerful leaders on Capitol Hill -- one of them a recent presidential candidate.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., are launching a congressional investigation into counterfeit electronic parts in the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) supply chain. The bipartisan team of lawmakers released a statement Thursday that reads:

"The Senate Armed Services Committee has initiated an investigation into counterfeit electronic parts in the Department of Defense's supply chain. Counterfeit electronic parts pose a risk to our national security, the reliability of our weapons systems and the safety of our military men and women. The proliferation of counterfeit goods also damages our economy and costs American jobs. The presence of counterfeit electronic parts in the Defense Departments supply chain is a growing problem that government and industry share a common interest in solving. Over the course of our investigation, the Committee looks forward to the cooperation of the Department of Defense and the defense industry to help us determine the source and extent of this problem and identify possible remedies for it."

The problem of counterfeit parts has received attention in corners of prime U.S. defense contractors, as well as from electronic parts suppliers and distributors.

Perhaps now the problem will get the attention -- and perhaps the resolution -- that it truly deserves.
Monday, March 7, 2011
  CompactPCI Serial could do for PCI what VPX did for VME

Posted by John Keller.

There's a new embedded computing standard in town called CompactPCI Serial, which brings PCI embedded computing into the era of high-speed serial switch fabric networks, and has the potential to do for PCI embedded computing what VPX did for VME.

CompactPCI Serial (PICMG CPCI-S.0) was ratified just last week at the Embedded World conference and trade show in Nuremberg, Germany, and has been on the street for so little time, in fact, that the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG), based in Wakefield, Mass., hasn't had a chance to put out a formal announcement yet on the new guidelines, says PICMG President Joe Pavlat.

CompactPCI Serial offers embedded computer manufacturers and users the same Eurocard mechanics as the parallel databus version of CompactPCI -- 6U and 3U card form factors, options for conduction cooling and rugged construction, and card locks. "Everything about the Eurocard architecture is the same," Pavlat says.

The evolution from parallel-databus CompactPCI to CompactPCI Serial is like comparing the design of a 15-year-old PC to a PC fresh out of the box, Pavlat says. The new standard simply brings PCI into the realm of modern computing.

Aerospace and defense systems designers -- particularly those working with CompactPCI -- have a big stake in CompactPCI Serial, Pavlat says. "Those who have designed CompactPCI into mil-and-aero apps have a clear upgrade path. It's a really nice upgrade path for CompactPCI."

Pavlat predicts that aerospace and defense systems designers in the near term most likely will rely on hybrid-backplane architectures that enable them to use parallel and serial CompactPCI boards and components in the same system. The new standard facilities the use of serial technologies like USB 3.0, SATA, CompactPCI lanes, and Ethernet in CompactPCI-based systems, he says.

MEN Micro Inc. in Ambler, Pa., was one of the first embedded computing manufacturers to introduce CompactPCI Serial products, and Pavlat says the industry can expect a bunch of new products to hit the market in the coming months.

Still, Pavlat cautions that CompactPCI Serial -- like other new technologies -- most likely will take five years from standard ratification to full deployment.
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