The Mil & Aero Blog
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
  Southern California sites all deserve recognition for their contributions to aviation history

Posted by John Keller

The AIAA designated the old TRW Space Park in Redondo Beach, Calif., as an historic aerospace site earlier this month, and it got me thinking about the significance to aviation and aerospace history of many other sites in and around Southern California where I grew up. I was born in Southern California in 1959, and were it not for aviation, my family never would have started there, and I never would have had the opportunity to see a continuing parade of aerospace history pass before my eyes.

My family always was part of the aviation and aerospace scene in the South Bay section of Greater Los Angeles. My dad, an Air Force veteran of the Korean War, moved to Southern California from Montana to attend the Northrop Aeronautical Institute -- now Northrop University -- shortly after leaving the Air Force in 1954. He had been a B-29 aircraft crew chief in the 54th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron on Guam, which was in place to gather information on tropical cyclones and Soviet nuclear experiments, and on leaving the service he wanted to stay involved in aviation. In those days, Southern California was the place to do that.

Northrop Aeronautical Institute was begun during World War II by aviation pioneer Jack Northrop, who started Northrop Aviation (now Northrop Grumman). He set up an aircraft manufacturing plant next to my home town of El Segundo, where Northrop manufactured aircraft like the F-5 jet fighter and its twin, the T-38 Talon supersonic trainer, as well as the YB-49 Flying Wing, which was the predecessor to the U.S. B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

Related stories

-- Former TRW Space Park, now Northrop Grumman, designated as historic site for electronics and aerospace work

-- Museum looks back on 100 years of Navy aviation

-- Group keeps vintage aircraft flying; CAF's mission is to educate youths.

Right there in El Segundo was North American Aviation (now Boeing), which manufactured the P-51 Mustang fighter during World War II, and later the F-86 Sabre jet fighter, and even later designed the B-1 strategic bomber. Also in El Segundo was Douglas Aircraft (which later would become McDonnell Douglas, and Boeing after that), which manufactured the DC-3, DC-6, and DC-7 passenger aircraft. Hughes Aircraft was also a neighbor.

Just down the road from us in Redondo Beach was TRW Inc. (now Northrop Grumman), which did classified satellite work and designed guidance systems for intercontinental ballistic missiles. I remember first touring TRW Space Park in 1967 as en eight-year-old Cub Scout.

In this place you couldn't avoid the aerospace business in those days. If your dad or mom wasn't working at one of the aviation plants, then the moms and dads of your friends were. Where I lived, my next-door neighbor worked for North American when that company won the B-1 bomber contract. The man across the street worked for Continental Airlines. My dad worked for Garrett AiResearch, where one day he ran into Cliff Garrett, himself, who helped him work out a particularly frustrating mechanical problem.

So the aerospace business runs in my family; it's in my blood, and was part of the fabric of my upbringing. I couldn't have had that experience anywhere else.
Monday, December 19, 2011
  North Korea's new leader
Kim Jong-il passed away this Saturday due to a heart attack, according to the North Korean government. The deceased's youngest son, Kim Jong-eun, is taking his father's place as the head of the country.

North Korea has been making headlines fairly regularly due to its nuclear program and the many media-worthy events that have come forth from the country. With this new change in regime can we expect things to be different?

Not much is known about Kim Jong-eun, and whether or not he will continue North Korea's less than stellar history of cooperation on the international stage is unknown. While North Korea's population has been kept in the dark by the government, can Kim Jong-eun maintain that sort of control over the country? The world is full of ways to gain access to information, and an untested leader who may not have the ties that his father had could be incapable of stepping up to the challenge of running a country, especially one as volatile as North Korea.

Kim Jong-eun has had little exposure to the outside world, and was largely protected by Kim Jong-il. He does not have much diplomatic experience, though he was seen with his father during a September visit with the president of Laos. With his lack of experience and young age, maybe he'll bring about some change for the better in North Korea.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011
  Commercial satellite photo reminds us that China is a future global aircraft carrier power

Posted by John Keller

The big-deck aircraft carrier is one of the world's most dominant and imposing conventional weapon systems, and the U.S. Navy has been the world's undisputed aircraft carrier power for nearly 70 years since the Battle of Midway in June 1942 when American naval forces sank four Japanese aircraft carriers in what was to be the turning point of World War II in the Pacific.

The modern aircraft carrier is a breath-taking vessel -- a veritable floating city with about 5,000 personnel aboard. A U.S. Nimitz-class carrier, fully loaded, displaces more than 100,000 long tons, has two nuclear reactors that drive four propeller shafts, has a top speed of more than 30 knots, can operate for about 20 years between refueling, and has a carrier air wing of about 90 advanced combat aircraft. This vessel is the largest capital ship in the world.

Bear in mind that the Navy has 10 active aircraft carriers -- all of them Nimitz-class vessels -- and is building two of the latest Ford-class carriers and has one additional Ford-class ship planned.

Related stories

-- Navy aircraft carriers: out with the old, and in with the new

-- Navy, Northrop Grumman take step toward deploying unmanned jet fighters aboard aircraft carriers

-- China's Aircraft Carrier Project.

Since the Battle of Midway, challengers have stepped up, most notably the navy of the Soviet Union during the 1970s and '80s, but no other navy has come close to matching the might of U.S. Navy carrier forces.

Now another challenger is stepping up -- the People's Republic of China. DigitalGlobe Inc.m a commercial satellite company in Longmont, Colo., shot a photo the other day of China's first aircraft carrier on its second sea trial in the Yellow Sea. Undoubtedly U.S. military reconnaissance satellites have picked up this ship before, but just seeing the photo reminds us of what's to come.

This particular carrier originally was an unfinished Soviet carrier that China obtained in 1998 and refurbished. Although many experts believe the ship is years away from being able to launch and recover aircraft in wartime conditions, I'll wager this ship will be combat-ready much sooner than that.

In addition, China reportedly has its first indigenously designed aircraft carrier under construction, which could enter service by 2015. This new Chinese aircraft carrier reportedly has twin hulls, which would enable its navy to service submarines covertly between the carrier's hulls. This vessel might be one-third the cost of a U.S. carrier, and take half the time to build that it takes to put a U.S. carrier to sea.

In the U.S. we worry increasingly about defense budgets, and wonder if the Pentagon over the long term will have the money necessary to build and maintain a carrier force to match what the Navy has today.

One thing's for certain: the Chinese navy is serious about building aircraft carriers to challenge U.S. sea dominance, and China has the money, the technical know-how, and the will to make it happen.

I think we're seeing the beginning of a new global struggle for maritime dominance.
Monday, December 12, 2011
  How did that get there? How Iran may have obtained their new UAV
With the RQ-170 Sentinel firmly in Iranian hand, we have to wonder what got it there.

A lack of damage to the aircraft suggests it was not fired upon, nor did it have a severe crash. The UAV's landing could have been caused by a glitch in the Army's network, or it could have been the result of electronic warfare.

Of course, Iran is claiming they shot down or hacked the UAV for violating Iranian airspace.

The idea the UAV was brought down by physical force is unlikely due to the lack of damage that was shown in Iranian photographs and video. There are, however, two more likely scenarios in the form of electronic attack or electronic failure.

Now, Iran has been subject to a few severe electronic attacks in their time. Stuxnet, a worm that was unleashed on Iran's nuclear program, proved that Iran would need to evolve their own electronic warfare if they were to compete in today's military environment. Whether this was the cause of the RQ-170's crash is yet to be determined, but the lack of evidence of a physical attack and Iran's claims do make it plausible.

While having the UAV undergo an electronic attack could possibly lead it to an easy descent directly into Iranian hands, other explanations are equally valid. The Department of Defense said they lose control of the UAV earlier in the week, and that it simply ended up descending into Iran with absolutely no control.

The UAV did not suffer a harsh crash, but it has been speculated that the aircraft would have a more leaf-like descent rather than a strict nose-dive like many other aircraft. The large wings may have slowed the vehicle and allowed it to land relatively unscathed.

Until more research has been done, how the UAV got into Iranian hands is unknown. Let's hope this was a rare mistake by the DoD and that no critical information can be gleaned from the UAV's surviving electronics.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011
  Let's hope anti-tamper technology is real, as one of the most advanced UAVs falls into Iranian hands

Posted by John Keller

Well, there's little doubt now that a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has fallen into the hands of the Iranian government. The RQ-170 -- essentially an unmanned version of the U.S. Air Force Lockheed Martin B-2 stealth bomber -- recently was captured relatively undamaged in Eastern Iran while flying a reconnaissance mission, most likely from Afghanistan. The downed UAV has been shown on Iranian television.

If the Iranians have this sophisticated unmanned aircraft, then it's a virtual certainty that the Chinese and the Russians will get an extremely close look at the stealth UAV soon -- if they haven't already.

If there was ever a time for an advanced U.S. weapon system to have reliable anti-tamper technology aboard, it's now. Let's all hope that voiced Pentagon support for robust anti-tamper technology in recent years has been in earnest, and not just telling us what we want to hear.

Related stories

-- Critical military avionics and other electronic systems designers are using anti-tamper technologies seek to keep data in the right hands

-- It is time to take anti-tamper technology seriously

-- Advanced anti-tamper technologies are goal of Navy Protection of Electronics Systems solicitation.

Anti-tamper technology comes in a variety of forms, but its function, essentially, is to prevent unauthorized personnel -- like Chinese and Russian intelligence experts -- from reverse-engineering its electronic components and learning its secrets.

Anti-tamper technology most often is designed to sense unauthorized attempts to inspect electronic components such as solid-state memory chips and disk drives and wipe stored data clean without leaving a trace. Some anti-tamper technology even can physically destroy electronic components to keep its intellectual property from prying eyes.

Essentially anti-tamper technology was conceived to prevent any repeat of events like the so-called Hainan Island Incident a decade ago in which a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft was forced down on the Chinese island of Hainan, and Chinese intelligence experts were able to glean important secrets from the plane's electronic gear.

Now we face something similar with the downed RQ-170 Sentinel UAV in Iran. Let's hope U.S. military officials have learned from their past mistakes.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
  A Naval Academy class ring gives mute testimony to disaster at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today

Posted by John Keller

A ring from the U.S. Naval Academy, class of 1906, is an enduring icon of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which happened 70 years ago today, and ushered the United States into World War II. The ring belonged to Navy Rear Adm. Isaac Campbell Kidd, who on that day was commanding officer of the Navy's Battleship Division One. His flagship was the USS Arizona.

Adm. Kidd was born in 1884, and had served as a naval officer all of his adult life. His military experience involved the Navy's Great White Fleet's round-the-world cruise in 1907 to 1909. He had been aide and flag secretary to the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and commander of Destroyer Squadron One, Scouting Force.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Kidd was aboard the battleship USS Arizona, which was anchored at the Hawaiian naval base at Pearl Harbor near the other Pacific Fleet's battleships. The Arizona was a Pennsylvania-class battleship commissioned in 1916.

Even though the ageing warship had been at sea for a quarter century, the huge vessel with its 14-inch guns still was considered to be among the most formidable weapons of its day. The era of the aircraft carrier was yet to come, and battleships were still kings of the ocean on that sunny Sunday morning 70 years ago.

Adm. Kidd was a battleship officer through-and-through. In addition to the Arizona, he had served aboard the battleships USS New Jersey (BB-16), USS North Dakota (BB-29), USS New Mexico (BB-40), and USS Utah (BB-31).

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When the first Japanese bombs began falling on Pearl Harbor, Adm. Kidd rushed to the bridge of the Arizona. There wasn't a lot he could do, as the ship was moored on Battleship Row next to Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, penned in next to the repair ship USS Vestal, with the battleships USS Nevada, USS Tennessee, and USS West Virginia in front and behind.

Although the Vestal screened the Arizona from Japanese aircraft-launched torpedoes, the Arizona was a stationary target, vulnerable to Japanese bombs. One of those bombs ripped through the Arizona's forward deck, igniting a powder magazine and causing a spectacular fiery explosion that ripped the battle wagon apart, and collapsed the ship's superstructure that contained the ship's bridge.

Adm. Kidd's body was never recovered. Navy divers sent to salvage what they could from the Arizona's wreckage did locate Adm. Kidd's naval academy class ring. They found it in what was left of the Arizona's bridge welded to a bulkhead from the concussion and heat of the explosion.

Divers also found Adm. Kidd's trunk on the sunken Arizona, which is at the USS Arizona Memorial museum at Pearl Harbor.

In a postscript to the disaster at Pearl Harbor, Adm. Kidd's son, Isaac C. Kidd, Jr., was commissioned a Navy ensign 12 days after his father's death at Pearl Harbor. Later he participated in the U.S. invasion of Iwo Jima near the end of World War II in the Pacific. He retired from the Navy in 1978 and died in 1999.
Monday, December 5, 2011
  Quadruped robot nearing release
By Skyler Frink

I remember back when BigDog, a quadruped robot, was announced by Boston Dynamics. The robot, which was capable of carrying over 300 pounds while traversing terrain that normal vehicles could not, was to be used as a pack mule that could accompany soldiers across difficult terrain.

Big Dog is to be succeeded by the Legged Squad Support System (L3S), but news of the robot has been slim since the contract was awarded in 2009.

The BigDog robot was more than just a robot that took steps forward and managed not to fall over, it could traverse ice in a hilarious albeit functional way, it could stay up after being pushed and it could traverse almost any type of terrain. The robot seemed immensely useful, but it vanished into obscurity. However, for those who have been following the L3S project we are growing ever closer to the newest quadruped robot, AlphaDog, being released.

Boston Dynamics currently plans on finishing the first version of AlphaDog at some point in 2012. I can't wait to see these quadruped robots in use, lightening loads of soldiers no matter where they need to go.
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