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Archive for September, 2004

WHAT’S A “BUNKER BUSTER” NUKE?

Thursday, September 30th, 2004

In the debate tonight, Sen. Kerry made an aside about cutting the money to develop a new, “bunker-busting” nuclear weapon. What’s he talking about?
Some of the bad guys’ most lethal arsenals are assumed to be buried in deep, underground caverns — places that America’s current arsenal has trouble hitting. So the Bush Administration would like to build a nuclear bomb — a “Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator” — that burrows into the ground before unleashing all kinds of atomic hell. The San Jose Mercury-News explained how it might work in a story last year:

A nuclear penetrator is built in the shape of a thin cylinder with a pointed nose. Dropped from an airplane, its weight and speed allow it to smash through the surface of the ground or puncture rock or concrete. It buries itself 20 to 30 feet deep before exploding, Fred Celec, the deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear matters, said. The power of the explosion “couples” with the earth to send shock waves down toward buried targets.

Anti-nuclear groups are spooked by the new brand of bomb, of course. “Because of its earth penetrating capability, the RNEP is considered by some in the Administration as a more “usable” nuclear weapon than existing nuclear weapons,” says one.
But, according to the Merc-News, there may not be a whole lot of enthusiasm for the new nuke.
“If you can find somebody in a uniform in the Defense Department who can talk about a new need” for nuclear bunker busters “without laughing, I’ll buy him a cup of coffee,” said Robert Peurifoy, a retired vice president of Sandia National Laboratory.
THERE’S MORE: No. He. Didn’t. When asked about the biggest threat facing America, President Bush mentioned — after nuclear proliferation — his cockamamie missile defense system. You know, the one that can’t pass its tests — and is being deployed anyway. When will this guy let a bad idea go?

TILT-CRAFT STILL NOT READY TO FLY

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

200012131c.jpg
After nearly twenty years of development — and $19 billion — it’s still unclear whether a controversial, ultra-pricey, tilt-rotor aircraft “can perform all the maneuvers that several pilots [say] are necessary in combat,” the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports.
For an eternity, it seems, the Pentagon has been pushing the V-22 Osprey as “twice as fast, three times the payload capacity, and six times the range” of traditional helicopters. But the advantages of this “revolutionary” machine have been greatly exaggerated, critics say. (The Pentagon disputes this, of course.) “The V-22 might have only one significant performance advantage over helicopters: speed,” according to the paper. “Important mechanical components continue to fail, reinforcing long-standing concerns about reliability and maintenance costs.“
During recent tests, pilots weren’t allowed to take the V-22 on “extreme maneuvers” like sharp banks and U-turns. Why? Because “program officials feared the maneuvers would damage the aircraft,” according to the Star-Telegram.
Back in April 2000, a V-22 crashed in Marana, Ariz., killing 19 Marines. It’s one of several major mishaps that’ve happened during the Osprey’s two decades of testing.

Some veteran pilots and aviation scientists said the accident exposed an inability in the V-22 to descend rapidly and abruptly change directions, key requirements for combat aircraft. Aerodynamic experts advising Christie and his predecessor, Philip Coyle, argued for additional tests. The Government Accountability Office, a government watchdog agency, called for “realistic” tests.
Some testing was done. But a series involving specific, sharp defensive maneuvers was skipped after Bell engineers warned that it would severely damage the rotors, according to a source within the testing program who asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job.

LASER ZAPS PILOT’S EYE

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

“A pilot flying a Delta Air Lines jet was injured by a laser that illuminated the cockpit of the aircraft as it approached Salt Lake City International Airport last week,” according to the Washington Times.

The plane’s two pilots reported that the Boeing 737 had been five miles from the airport when they saw a laser beam inside the cockpit, said officials familiar with government reports of the Sept. 22 incident. The flight, which originated in Dallas, landed without further incident at about 9:30 p.m. local time.
A short while later, however, the first officer felt a stinging sensation in one eye. A doctor who examined the pilot determined that he had suffered a burned retina from exposure to a laser device, the officials said.

Earlier this year, an intern at Los Alamos National Laboratory was struck by a laser in the eye, causing retinal damage. That incident lead to a shut down of the lab, and the firing of at least two employees.

John Mazor, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said commercial pilots have been exposed to laser illumination. “The Air Line Pilots Association has received reports in the past of incidents where lasers penetrated cockpits and, in at least one case, caused injury,” Mr. Mazor said…
Military personnel also have suffered eye damage from laser illumination. In one case, Naval Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly and Canadian helicopter pilot Capt. Pat Barnes suffered eye injuries hours after an aerial surveillance mission to photograph a Russian merchant ship that had been shadowing the ballistic-missile submarine USS Ohio in Washington state’s Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The Navy recently turned down an appeal from the Defense Department inspector general to award Cmdr. Daly a Purple Heart for the incident. Cmdr. Daly, who retired from the service last year, continues to suffer eye pain and deteriorating vision.
(via Drudge)

BYE BYE, BLACK BOOTS

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

black_boots_01.jpgAfter October 1, the traditional black or green jungle boots of the Marines “may no longer be worn,” according to new rules from Corps HQ. Instead, Marines are going to have to pay up for two new pairs of newfangled, next-generation footwear.
That means no more spit-shining: these new boots are rough-side-out. And they’re more comfortable, too, the government promises, with special padding to reduce injuries.
“But with the government-issued boots hard to find amid lagging supply — especially in the average sizes of 9-Regular to 10.5-Wide — Marines might have to dig deeper into their wallet for commercial boots,” a story from Camp Pendleton notes.

“I just can’t find my size,” said Gunnery Sgt. Steven L. Soares, battery gunny for Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment…
A former recruiter, Soares says he repeatedly has had to ship boots back through the mail to get the right size. At this time, the only boots in his size are the commercial safety boots.
“113 bucks?” Soares said. “I don’t know, that’s kind of outrageous to me.“
Boots are available for any Marine or sailor who needs to buy a pair for the Oct. 1 deadline, said Laura L. Scott, a supervisor at the 22 Area military clothing store here. But finding the less expensive government-issued boots can be hit or miss.
“There is a $37 to $55 difference between commercial boots and the government-issued ones,” Scott said on a day when several sizes of government-issued boots were out of stock. “Most Marines buy the cheaper ones, but some will buy the better boots, especially if they are going to deploy.“
Commercial boots are more expensive because of the quality, explained Scott. The boot soles are cemented instead of glued and the stitching is reinforced.

Ummm… One quick question: why the hell should Marines — some of them on their way to Iraq — have to buy their own boots? Yeah, I know. They’re forced to buy all sorts of personal gear. But it’s not right. These guys don’t make very much as it is. And to say they’re working hard is the understatement of the eon. We’ve spent, what, $200 billion on Iraq? Don’t tell me we can’t find some boot money in there, somewhere.

IRAQ GUIDE SWINGS

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

iraqchart_th.jpgIt may look like a manual for fetishists, designed by a down-on-his luck coloring book designer. But, really, it’s a “visual language survival guide,” used by coalition soldiers and contractors in Iraq.
Strange, strange stuff. Be sure to catch the “two-part diagram where a man is asked to remove his toupee so the interrogator can determine whether or not any weapons are stashed beneath.”

I.E.D. DEFENSE — NO LUCK YET

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

HMMWV-IED-2.gifIt’s priority A1 in America’s defense research labs: Coming up with technologies that can spot and defuse the roadside bombs which have proved so deadly to U.S. forces in Iraq.
But so far, Defense News reports, there hasn’t been a whole lot of progress made in figuring out how to stop these improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. There’s no “single silver bullet out there that can stop this threat,” a member of a Pentagon task force on IEDs told the journal. “As we find some solutions that may address a particular type of weapon theyre using, a particular tactic, they shift, find new ways to do things.“
Meanwhile, IEDs are doing something terrible to American troops. On Monday, an Oregon Army National Guardsman, Spc. David W. Johnson, was killed by an IED near Camp Taji, northwest of Baghdad. “Since the beginning of [Johnson’s] battalion’s Iraq deployment in April, eight guardsmen have been killed, all by IEDs planted on roads or in vehicles,” the AP notes.
One of the only effective devices has been the Warlock Green electronic countermeasure system, which “emits a radio frequency that jams communications signals that detonate roadside bombs,” according to Federal Computer Week.
“The Defense Department, however, has struggled to establish the industrial base for these systems,” Defense News notes. “EDO, a New York-based firm specializing in high-tech niche products, was the only company to bid on a $35 million contract to produce 1,000 Warlock systems. And until recently, it was the only company capable of such a task preventing mass production of the life-saving systems.“

Also in the works are change detector sensors for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). UAV program officials are seeking payloads and software that can be added to the services fleet of unmanned vehicles to monitor roadways and report any changes back to soldiers.
So far, the Army has tested several technologies but has not found one that works well enough to deploy, a top UAV official said this summer. Most UAV technologies can survey areas for changes, but typically are effective in dealing with objects far larger than IEDs.

THERE’S MORE: The Washington Post’s Steve Fainaru was almost killed by a roadside bomb in Sadr City yesterday — an explosion that killed four Iraqi National Guardsmen, but left their American counterparts with only sharpnel wounds.
The blast “demonstrated the uneven vulnerability of U.S. forces, who are equipped with the most sophisticated weaponry and armor, and their Iraqi allies, who fight the same battles using vastly inferior equipment,” Fainaru writes in a gripping, must-read account.

DARPA LOVES TRASH

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

141i1p01.jpgU.S. bases of the future are supposed to be self-sustaining. But, right now, they produce too much junk — more than 7 pounds per day, per soldier. And a whole heap of “personnel, fuel, and critical transport equipment are needed to support the removal and disposal” of that waste, the Pentagon notes.
That’s why the Defense Department’s far-out research arm, Darpa, has just given a Menlo Park, California “gene synthesis” company a grant to give the junk a second life, by turning the plastic waste into fuel.
“Plastic packaging waste has energy content that can approach that of diesel fuel, Darpa notes. “Diesel fuel has lower heating value of 43.9MJ/kg and hydrogen content of 12.5 weight percent. Plastic heating values can range from 26-43MJ/kg with a hydrogen content of 5–14 percent. If energy content of the waste is optimized for secondary use as a fuel source, at today’s level of packaging being discarded, a military unit could achieve well over 100 percent self-sufficiency for their generator fuel needs.“
Professor Richard Gross, at Polytechnic University, New York, thinks he has a polymer that can get the job done. It’ll have “properties similar to polyethylene and will be prepared from renewable resources with a cost comparable to current commercially manufactured plastics,” he claims. DNA 2.0, Inc., out of Menlo Park, will produce the enzymes needed to make the designer material for Darpa’s MISER (Mobile Integrated Sustainable Energy Recovery) project.

NO SCI-FI TECH FOR “FUTURE COMBAT”

Monday, September 27th, 2004

nlos_c.jpgBack in 1999, when the Army launched Future Combat Systems, its $117 billion modernization program, “discussions were dominated by visions of an all-electric, laser-firing fleet of fast-moving tank-like vehicles unburdened by the weight of conventional armor,” notes National Defense.
“Five years later, reality has set in,” the magazine sighs. “Industry experts consider it doubtful, however, that the FCS will bring, in the near term, major breakthroughs in power generation, weapon lethality or survivability.

Fuel-efficient technologies, such as hybrid engines, have improved, but they only will reduce fuel consumption by moderate amounts, experts said. FCS units, like todays brigades, will require a substantial logistics re-supply tail of fuel and ammunition…
On the weaponry side, the mainstay of FCS will be cannons and missiles. These weapons will be more sophisticated than current systems, but not a major departure. Non-kinetic technologies, such as lasers and high-powered microwaves, are progressing, but are not expected to be ready for operational use for many years…
For survivability, it remains unclear what technologies FCS will employ. Conventional passive armor is out of the question if the Army wants to keep the weight of the vehicles at less than 20 tons. We havent found magic armor, the program official said. The most promising technologies so far are electromagnetic armor and active protection systems, which sense and defeat incoming rockets or missiles by deflecting or intercepting them… [But], according to several sources, there is a strong cultural bias in the U.S. Army against installing active defenses on vehicles, because they are perceived as unsafe…
The Armys top acquisition official, Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Yakovac, acknowledged that much uncertainty remains as to whether FCS can deliver what it promises.
Im not clairvoyant, he told reporters. As we look at the technology, it may or may not mature at the rate we need.
The current program is only a reflection of the best guess today…
Nevertheless, the Army has made a major financial commitment to FCS, increasing its overall estimated cost from $90 billion to about $115 billion, which will cover the entire 17 systems and a command-and-control network, to be fielded to possibly 43 brigades by 2025.

SMOKE SCREEN FOR TANKS?

Monday, September 27th, 2004

aston-martin-db5007.jpgOne of the coolest gagdets James Bond ever had was the smoke screen that gushed out of the back of his Aston Martin, leaving Goldfinger’s minions behind, choking and confused.
Now, a South African defense firm is teaming up with Saab to provide the same kind of protection to tanks and armored vehicles. A set of sensors, the companies claim, will pick up the signature of a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher. In less than a second, the Land Electronic Defence System 100 “will dispatch four smoke canisters covering the tank or vehicle and making it impossible for the attacker’s missile to trace the vehicle,” SABC news notes.
“The screen will obscure the attackers line of sight and give the vehicle and occupants a chance to get behind cover,” says a Grintek Defence press release. Because the smoke obscures more than just the visibile spectrum, it “cannot be penetrated by thermal imaging equipment used to aim weapons or guide missiles.“
But you can expect to see George Lazenby return as 007 before this gizmo is deployed on American armor. Picking up the signature of an RPG is beyond tough. And even if the smoke can be shot out in a second — a big if — these big vehicles don’t exactly accelerate like an Aston Martin. The Abrams battle tank, for example, takes seven seconds to go from zero to twenty miles per hour.
THERE’S MORE: The smoke screen might “have some utility in defeating an ATGM [anti-tank guided missile], but against an RPG it would only prevent the crew from seeing what was about to hit it,” says Defense Tech reader JA. An RPG is a “fire and forget” weapon, he notes. “Once launched they travel to point of aim, or somewhat near it, without any further input from an operator. An ATGM, on the other hand, does, in general, require course guidance input from an operator and smoke systems are of some utility against them.
“This assumes that the crew recognizes that something is inbound and moves the vehicle,” however. “If they sit still, then they blow up in complete privacy.”

PAINT VS. BIOTERROR

Sunday, September 26th, 2004

Army-backed researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working to develop a paint that would change color in a biological or chemical attack — and might even kill off the deadly agents, too.