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Archive for July, 2004


Wednesday, July 7th, 2004

tn_patriot_02_jpg.jpgKilling two British pilots and shooting down a U.S. Navy fighter was just the beginning. The Patriot missile defense system had a slew of problems during the Iraq invasion — problems which are only now slowly coming to light.
“Spurious ‘ghost’ missile tracks showed up on Patriot Missile battery radars hundreds of times before and during the invasion, causing chaos and confusion as soldiers struggled to determine the real from the false,” notes KTVT-TV reporter Robert Riggs, who’s been leading the press’ investigation of the anti-missile system. “Soldiers operating the multi-billion systems had only malfunctioning cell phones with which to communicate with other batteries in often-futile efforts to learn whether targets were real.“
All that contrasts — big time — from official accounts of the Patriot’s performance. The U.S. Army, in a recent report, claimed the system had a “perfect record.” The British Ministry of Defence, in its run-down of a Patriot “friendly fire” incident, tried to pin the blame on poor American “firing doctrine and training,” the Register notes. Human error, in other words.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, says Riggs.

Some 12 hours before the shoot down of the [British plane], according to logs of the air battle, one battery fired at a target that did not exist. The records state that on the third day of the war a missile battery “auto engaged a spurious track. Missile fired before they could override. Space command confirmed spurious…“
Victoria Samson, a spokeswoman for the Center For Defense Information, an independent defense department watchdog group, said the Army is trying to blame the friendly fire incidents on anything but the Patriot missile defense system.
“The technology seems to be sacrosanct. The people not so much,” she said.


Tuesday, July 6th, 2004

CyberAerospacePhotos781.jpgThey may look a litle silly — like giant volleyballs, kinda. But the Navy thinks that big, round blimps may just be the key to spying on terrorist camps, and communicating with its sailors.
As we’ve mentioned before, the U.S. military has been on a bit of an airship kick, lately. That’s because the helium-filled, lighter-than-air craft can stay in the skies a whole lot longer than fuel-eating jets. And that means the blimps could work as floating cell towers or observation posts.
Round airships have some advantages over their cigar-shaped cousins, said Hokan Colting, who designed the SA-60 spherical blimp for the Navy.

“It’s more maneuverable than a traditional airship,” Colting told Aerospace Daily. “It’s amphibious, it can land and take off from water. And it can go to high altitudes. Traditional, cigar-shaped airships can go to 5,000–6,000 feet … We have been up to 22,000 feet with [a spherical] airship, and that’s the absolute world record in altitude for airships.“
The SA-60 can be transported in a truck and set up by a small group of people in roughly 24 hours, according to the companies. Although it requires a pilot, the companies plan to make the airship unmanned to allow for longer flights…
The companies are developing a larger operational version of the SA-60 that would have a diameter of 76 feet, an operational ceiling of 16,000 feet, and a flight endurance of roughly two days. In 12 months, the companies plan to build a 200-foot diameter version that would be capable of wide-area surveillance or telecommunications relay at altitudes up to 65,000 feet.

But there are a whole lot of kinks to work out, first. When the SA-60 was tested recently by Naval Air Systems Command, the helium gas inside heated and expanded, making the vehicle extra buoyant and leaving it underweight. That made it a bitch to bring the orb back to earth.
Aerospace Daily dryly noted, “During some aborted landing attempts, the airship briefly contacted the ground and bounced like an enormous beach ball.“
THERE’S MORE: “I know I’m nitpicking here,” says Defense Tech reader GW, “but Hokan Colting needs to check his basic history on airships. World War I German airships routinely operated at 22,000 ft, and that was in 1916.”

The only reason that American airships of the 20s and 30s operated with lower maximum ceilings was to conserve helium, an extremely expensive gas back then. At one time the U.S. only had enough gas to operate one of their 3 airships. German passenger zeppelins (which used cheap, plentiful hydrogen) operated at lower altitudes for the comfort of their passengers and for greater cargo lift capacity.

AND MORE: GW “is flat-out wrong. According to the Balloon & Airship World Records Homepage, the altitude record for an airship is 6,234 m or 20,453 feet and was made in June of 2003,” says Defense Tech reader BP. “What GW may have been thinking of was a balloon altitude. According to the same site, the current altitude record for a balloon is 34,668 m or 113,740 feet which was made in 1961.”


Tuesday, July 6th, 2004

20040706_LANG_GRAPHIC.jpgU.S. Special Forces have a new way of learning Arabic — by playing a video game.
Arabic is one of those languages that are particularly hard to master in a classroom. There’s a whole new alphabet to learn. A lot of the syllables seem the same to American ears. Unlike French or Spanish, there aren’t a whole bunch of words in common with English. And there are a zillion dialects that sound a whole lot different from the Arabic taught in school.
The idea behind the new simulator is to give G.I.s a more realistic learning environment — one in which they only have to learn the limited, “tactical” vocabulary they need to operate on the street.
This “Tactical Language Project” — co-developed by the University of Southern California and Darpa, the Pentagon’s mad science division — first teaches a soldier the basics of spoken Arabic. The grunt then tries out what he’s learned in a pixilated Lebanese village. Wearing a headset, the player talks to the game’s Arabic-speaking characters. Using artificial intelligence and speech recognition software, these digitized Lebanese guide the G.I. through the linguistic labyrinth of their native tongue.
The game teaches nonverbal cues, too. “For example,” the New York Times notes, “when [game protagonist] Sergeant Smith starts or finishes a conversation with an important person, he can cross his right hand over his heart and bow slightly, a common gesture of respect in the Arab world.“
Check out footage of the game here.


Friday, July 2nd, 2004

040628_robotProtection_hmed_8p.hmedium.jpgGuarding military bases can be a lousy job — long strecthes of mind-numbing boredom, punctuated by flashes of intense danger.
A perfect gig for a robot, in other words.
So Eglin Air Force Base in Florida is trying out a set of drones to watch its perimeter, the AP notes.
One robot being tested is a Jeep-size, four-wheeled vehicle that has been equipped with radar, television cameras and an infrared scan to detect people, vehicles and other objects. It carries a breadbox-sized mini-robot that can be launched to search under vehicles, inside buildings and other small places.
Another robot is fashioned from an off-the-shelf, four-wheeled all-terrain vehicle, giving it added versatility because a human also can ride it like a normal ATV. Both vehicles can be remotely operated from laptop computers and can be equipped with remotely fired weapons, like an M-16 rifle or pepper spray.…
The vehicles can be programmed to patrol specific areas and then alert an operator by radio if they find something suspicious. They have loudspeakers and microphones for questioning intruders and the operator can pick from a variety of languages.
(via Gizmodo)
THERE’S MORE: Wanna talk about a really dangerous job? That’d the battlefield medic. They’re plucked, usually unarmed, into the middle of a warzone’s hottest spots. Then they’re told to focus on the bleeding G.I. on the ground — not the guys shooting at him.
Over at iRobot — the company behind the drone vacuum cleaners and the PackBots that soldiers are starting to carry around in their rucksacks — researchers are working on a robot that could handle some of a medic’s duties.

If a soldier is wounded and under heavy fire, a medic may not be able to safely reach that soldier within the “golden hour” immediately following injury. This presents a stark choice between allowing the wounded soldier’s condition to worsen or placing the medic in grave danger to reach that casualty — potentially leading to the death of both soldier and medic.
Bloodhound will save warfighters from this lethal dilemma. The Personal Status Monitors and smart uniforms being developed by the Army will detect when a soldier is wounded and alert a medic of the soldier’s GPS location. If the soldier is under fire, the medic will deploy a Bloodhound. Bloodhound will use directed frontier-based exploration to navigate autonomously across unknown terrain to the casualty. While the robot navigates to the soldier, the medic will be free to treat other casualties or dispatch robots to other locations.
When Bloodhound arrives at the wounded soldier, it will notify the medic, and the medic will examine the casualty using the robot’s sensors. Bloodhound’s diagnostic sensors include video cameras, an electronic stethoscope, and two-way audio to communicate with a conscious casualty.
After determining the extent of the casualty’s injuries, the medic will be able to treat those injuries using Bloodhound’s medical payloads. Potential payloads include devices to stop bleeding (inflatable bandages, fibrin bandages, liquid fibrin sealants, Factor VII), intramuscular auto-injectors (which can deliver morphine, adrenaline, and nerve agent antidotes), and advanced diagnostic devices. Using these payloads, the medic will be able to stabilize the casualty’s condition until a medic can arrive or the casualty can be evacuated.
(via Engadget)


Thursday, July 1st, 2004

0802radar1.jpgIt’s a spook fantasy: an all-seeing, always-on, rain-or-shine constellation of satellites, able to keep track of every plane, truck, and person below.
“We need to know something about everything all the time,” undersecretary of defense for intelligence Stephen Cambone told a conference last year. “We need an illuminator, throwing into relief all the pictures and activities on the Earth’s surface. And then we need to be able to switch on the spotlight, or alert other systems, to dive deep.“
For years, U.S. intelligence and defense officials have been pouring money into such a system, the Space Based Radar, or SBR. The goal was to have the satellite array up and running by 2012.
Now, Congress is telling the Pentagon to go back to the drawing board. The House Appropriations Committee has cut the Air Forces 2005 budget request for Space Based Radar from $327 million to $75 million, ISR Journal notes. Instead of being treated as a project that’s about to be built, the committee added, SBR should be approached as a research and development effort.
“When weighed against military operations in Iraq and the ongoing war against terrorism, the SBR program ‘simply cannot be afforded,’” the magazine quote the committee as saying.

The Air Force has yet to settle on many of the technical details of the proposed radar satellite constellation such as the size of the spacecraft and the orbits they would use. Very preliminary estimates for budget planning call for nine satellites in low Earth orbit.
Air Force officials estimate that a constellation of that size could cost at least $30 billion. That figure is more than the Air Forces combined budget for nearly all of its other satellite efforts with the exception of the development of the laser-linked Transformational Communications satellites
Even that figure may not show the true price tag of the satellites, given the Air Forces difficulty in forecasting the cost of its space programs, the committee stated. One example is the troubled Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High missile warning program, which is now expected to cost 450 percent more than the Air Force estimated when it was at about the same point of development as the Space Based Radar system is now.


Thursday, July 1st, 2004

Like last month — and the month before that — Defense Tech hit a new record for traffic in June: 116,000 visitors looking at 198,000 pages. Thanks so much to everyone who stopped by. I’m awed, and more than flattered.