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Archive for April, 2005

“JITTERS,” BROKEN DOWN

Friday, April 29th, 2005

JTRSengineer.jpgThe Army’s massive modernization project, Future Combat Systems, isn’t just one program. It’s hundreds of interlocking, interwoven efforts to update armor, uniforms, logistics, medical care, and much, much more. A few key threads hold the whole tapestry together. And one of them is rapidly coming undone.
Without communications — specifically, without the Joint Tactical Radio System, or “Jitters” — many of FCS’ most innovative efforts just won’t work. FCS is an attempt to turn the Army into a force that takes out opponents with ultra-precise attacks and almost Godlike knowledge of the battlefield instead of with overwhelming firepower. To make this nimbly lethal dream come true, the Army needs almost-instant information-sharing, both between soldiers and with FCS’ new fleet of robots. It needs Jitters.
Right now, the Army isn’t getting what it needs. Jitters is flailing, badly. As we noted the other day, the Army has put one of the program’s main contractors, Boeing, on notice that it could cancel one component, or “cluster,” of Jitters in a month.
Winds of Change offers today some stellar background on the program — what Jitters does, the problems it faces, and what might happen next. And it the site’s comments section, a Jitters engineer weighs in on how the program got so tangled up. Good stuff.
THERE’S MORE: Meanwhile, Inside Defense reports, the Army is starting to look around for alternatives to Jitters.
The Army’s next-gen set of rockets is called the Non-Line of Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS). It’s supposed to rely on Jitters’ “Cluster Five” to direct its assaults. But, like Boeing’s component of the radio system, Cluster Five “has hit its own program snags,” says Inside Defense. As a result, the Army is considering the possible use of surrogate systems.

NLOS-LS is made up of three key components: the Precision Attack Munition, a direct-attack missile that can autonomously acquire a target; the Loitering Attack Munition, which is being designed to fly to a target up to 70 km away and loiter above it for up to 30 minutes before striking; and the Container Launch Unit, the box that stores, commands and fires the missiles.
The CLU, which officials call the heart and soul of the program because it contains the information that will tell the PAM where to go, depends on [Jitters].
The number one risk to the NLOS-LS program currently is the network, said Ric Magness, president of NetFires LLC, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Raytheon established to build NLOS-LS.
NLOS-LS is supposed to rely on a future software programmable radio called the Joint Tactical Radio Systems Cluster Five, but that program has hit its own program snags. As a result, the Army is considering the possible use of a surrogate for the PAM and the CLU.
According to a Government Accountability Office report, JTRS — designed to transmit voice, video and data — was put on a system development and demonstration path with immature technologies and few well-defined requirements. The program faces technical challenges because of its size, weight, power and data processing requirements. Its early development was delayed because of a contracting dispute.

Consequently, the report said, “the Cluster 5 radios are not likely to be available” for the initial roll-out of FCS.” And that includes the new rocket system.
AND MORE: Winds’ sister site, Defense Industry Daily, is tracking the criminal investigation into the disfunctional search and rescue radios L-3 Communications has built for the Army.

MASLOW, COVEY VS. TERROR

Friday, April 29th, 2005

How do you stop the spread of terror? Blowing stuff up in Fallujah won’t help much, says one Defense Department intelligence analyst, over at Kris Alexander’s blog. Instead, you’ve got to focus on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — especially the parts about “belonginess” and “self-actualization.” And adopt Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The craziest part about the plan? It isn’t as as crazy — or as touchy-feely — as it sounds at first. Give it a read.
THERE’S MORE: Defense Tech Dad Tom Shachtman says Maslow doesn’t really apply to would-be Muslim terrorists.

Maslow’s frame of reference is western, Judaeo-Christian tradition, and his hierarchy of needs, wonderful and applicable to us though I think it is, falls apart when used as a criterion for judging the motivations of people who are not in those traditions. Highly religious, highly-traditional cultures, and non-Western cultures, place greater emphasis on the third level of needs than on anything having to do with individual aspirations. So holding out the carrot to a Muslim mother that her son will become a well-trained professional in a non-lethal field does not have the same appeal as it does to a Cincinnati soccer mom.

RUMMY + SPIDEY

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

spidey.jpgYou’d figure that soldiers might be a little confused about whether Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld was really on their side, after he started holding their paychecks hostage. But Rummy knows just how to block out those nasty thoughts: by trotting out Spiderman and his costumed pals.
“Join Secretary Rumsfeld in welcoming Marvel Comics and special guests Spiderman and Captain America as they distribute the new Special Limited Edition of Marvel’s Salute to Our Troops Comic Book,” reads the announcement over at AmericaSupportsYou​.mil. “Thursday 1:00 — 2:30 pm. Pentagon Main Concourse.“
Blast! Just missed it! Well, I’m sure there will be other chances, now that Marvel has “recently joined the Department of Defense’s ‘America Supports You’ team,” and put all those concerns to rest, once and for all.
(snapshot via Wonkette)

GOOGLESAT MANIA CONTINUES

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

It’s been a week since Defense Tech reader DS dug through Google’s archives of satellite pictures, and found a lonely airstrip out by Nevada’s legendary Area 51. Apparently, you guys can’t get enough of the pics. The tide of, um, interesting Googlesat images keeps pouring into Defense Tech HQ.
google_magen_david.jpgIn honor of Passover, perhaps, reader DC uncovers this Hebraically-themed shape, carved out of the desert near Groom Lake. “It’s a bombing target, set up to simulate a SAM [surface-to-air missile] or antiaircraft berm,” says DS, examing U.S. Geological Survey diagrams. Strangely, the targets are often labelled with people’s names. This one’s called “David.“
JC sends in this link, from near Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Zoom on the top right of the image, northwest of the base, and you’ll find the “Test Track where they launch ‘things’ at Mach 10,” JC claims. A little further over, he notices this cryptic black bar.
Taking a second look at one of the images from the last Googlesat onslaught, DS notices that the picture looks a whole lot like this overhead view of Nellis Air Force Base — the headuqarters for the Predator robotic squadrons. DS even finds a close-up, showing planes on the runway.
“Are we ready for a Googlesat contest?” pants JA. “How about a search for an aircraft in flight?“
THERE’S MORE: Game over! Reader NW reminds us that Slashdotters found some mid-air plane pictures a couple of weeks back, including this one, where you can pan left, and watch the plane gain altitude.
AND MORE: This Googlesat picture of a plane in flight “is over my previous residence in Richardson, Texas,” says McZ.

ARMY PAYROLL = POLITICAL FOOTBALL

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

If we’re going to send hundreds of thousands of young men and women into harm’s way, the least we could do is not screw with their paychecks.
rummy_who_me.jpgCommon sense maybe. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld presumably disagrees. Back in December, regular Defense Tech readers will recall, Rummy’s braintrust decided to dip into the Army’s payroll into order to fund truck armor and other wartime expenses. Congress would make up the difference later on, they figured, with a second, emergency “supplemental” funding bill. The fact that the payroll accounts would dry up in May didn’t seem to factor into the Pentagon calculus — except maybe as a lever to force Congress into action.
But as senators loaded the $80 billion supplemental with pet projects — $23 million for a baseball stadium in DC, $32 million for forest roads in Cali — and the Pentagon added billions in long-term programs to the supposedly last-minute funding measure, its progress slowed.
So now, Rummy is getting all weepy, complaining to Congress that they’re keeping soldiers from getting paid.
“Our folks out there need these funds,” he moped in handwritten notes to Capitol Hill chieftains, obtained by CNN.

The Army has slowed its spending, so it can continue operations in Afghanistan and Iraq through early May when the funds are due to run out, Rumsfeld said…
Without [the supplemental’s] passage, Rumsfeld warned he would have to move funds which would “seriously disrupt other activities,” and he might have to invoke the “Feed and Forage Act” to keep the deployed troops operating.
The Feed and Forage Act allows the military departments to incur obligations in excess of available appropriations for clothing, subsistence, fuel, quarters, transportation and medical supplies, according to Pentagon officials.

I suppose it’s nice that Rumsfeld cares enough about our soldiers to invoke emergency measures in order to clothe and feed ‘em. But wouldn’t it have been better not to sneak off with their paychecks in the first place?
THERE’S MORE: “Who in their right mind would vote to stop the production of armored Humvees?” asks Minstrel Boy. “The odds are 39% that it was your senator. That’s right. “A simple measure [an ammendment to the supplemental] to keep the production of armored humvees at two shift capacity for a couple of extra months this summer passed by only a 22 vote margin; 61 to 39 in the Senate [last] week.”

EUROPE’S KILLER DRONES

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

180px-UAVSKYX.jpgI’m expecting fashionably-sleek little wings and long, tapered missiles. The Italians are about to start testing a prototype killer drone of their own.
Rome-based Alenia Aeronautica is aiming “to fly its new Sky-X unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) technology demonstrator by the end of May,” according to C4ISR Journal. “The 7-meter-long demonstrator which has a wingspan of 6 meters, takeoff weight of 1,100 kilograms and maximum speed of 800 kilometers per hour will undergo flight trials at Swedens Vidsel military test range.“
The $43 million + drone is a technology demonstrator, mostly — a test-bed to see how many decisions the plane can make on its own in midair.
neuron.jpgPresumably, Sky-X’s new-found smarts will be used to educate the larger, $360 million, pan-European UCAV that’s in the works. France’s Dassault Aviation is teaming up with Alenia, Saab, and a whole mess of other Continental defense contractors to build the Neuron killer drone.
In early sketches, the Neuron looks a whole lot like the X-47 UCAV that Northrop is developing for the U.S. Navy. But the Neuron might wind up being way meaner than its American counterpart. According this website — and take this unconfirmed report with a giant rucksack full of salt — “the aircraft may have… the eventual ability to launch nuclear warheads.“
Robots with nukes? Tres mal, if you ask me. A prototype Neuron is supposed to take off from European runways starting in 2009.

COSTS M.I.A. FOR RADIO EFFORT

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

jtrs_small.jpgIt’s been nearly three years since Boeing won an Army contract to develop the next generation of military radios. But neither the company nor its government partners have any idea how many billions it’s going to cost, in the end, to build the Joint Tactical Radio System — “Jitters” for short. (I’ve seen estimates as low as $5 billion, and as high as $15 billion. That’s a major spread.)
On Monday, the Army told Boeing in a letter than the mega-corporation had 30 days to give a good reason do to some ’splaining about why they let Jitters get so screwed up. The note also gave outsiders a peek into just how wrong Jitters has gone.
“It is impossible to predict with any confidence what the overall program will cost or the associated schedule,” Defense Daily quotes the letter as saying. “Further, the government has not seen sufficient evidence of the contractor teams understanding of the scale of integration required for [Jitters’ first phase] to ultimately achieve the program requirements. Nor has the industry team displayed sufficient ability to estimate a cost and schedule baseline and rigorously manage to that baseline.“
As noted earlier, Jitters is not some minor experiment. It’s a cornerstone to the Army’s modernization plans. Without it, soldiers are stuck using a jury-rigged collection of radios to talk. Figuring out how much the damn things are going to cost seems like a most basic of first steps. Three years into the program, it shouldn’t be that hard to take.

GITMO GOES GREEN

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

gitmo_windmill_thumb.jpgHappy belated Earth Day, enemy combatants! You may be staying here at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely. And lawyers might be a bit tricky to come by. But at least we won’t be burning up a whole lot of oil to keep the lights on when we force you to stay awake! Nope, now we’ve got four brand-spanking-new, 275-foot tall wind turbines supplying the power around here, Defense Industry Daily says.
Together, the four turbines will generate 3,800 kw [kilowatts], and in years of typical weather the wind turbines will produce almost 8 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. They will reduce the consumption of 650,000 gallons of diesel fuel, reduce air pollution by 26 tons of sulfur dioxide and 15 tons of nitrous oxide, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13 million pounds each year.
The new wind turbines will provide as much as 25% of the base’s power generation during the high-wind months of late summer, and are expected to save taxpayers $1.2 million in annual energy costs.

Sweet!

ARMY READY TO UNPLUG RADIO PROJECT

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

Boeing has a whole lot more to worry about today than its weak earnings this quarter. Another giant Boeing defense contract is in deep, deep trouble.
jtrs.jpgFirst, the company came under fire for its shady, $23.5 billion deal to lease tankers to the Air Force — and fleece $5.6 billion from taxpayers. Then, projected costs for the its hulking Army modernization effort, Future Combat Systems, grew from $92 billion to a possible $450 billion (all while operating under some quirky purchasing rules that kept government auditors from getting too nosy).
Now, Inside Defense reports, “the Army has put Boeing on notice that within 30 days, the government could terminate” the company’s $15 billion contract to replace 750,000 old-school radios with software-based models.
The Army stopped work on the Joint Tactical Radio System (“Jitters”) back in January — partly because of technical screw-ups, partly because of trouble getting the National Security Agency to sign off on the encryption algorithms.
“The government is also concerned that the contractor won’t be able to produce a radio that meets the Army’s requirements for processing, heat dispersion, size, weight and power. In addition, the software remains immature, and the contractor lacks proper controls,” Inside Defense says.
For all these reasons, Boeing now has 30 days to come up with a reason why the Army should not pull the plug on the Jitters contract.
If that happens, it won’t just be a couple of Boeing execs who suffer the consequences. Soldiers today need a backpack full of radios to talk to their commanders and comrades. Jitters was supposed to be the way to reduce that load, and get a single communication system for G.I.s, marines, sailors, and airmen. But thanks to another blown defense contract, it looks like they’re still going to be forced to carry that burden.
THERE’S MORE: The Washington Post’s take is here.

TROUBLE FOR JOINT FIGHTER

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

Bad news for an already battered Joint Strike Fighter program: the New York Times is starting to throw punches, too.
cdp_loc_cv_008.jpgThe Joint Strike Fighter is [supposed] to be a jet fighter for all people and all places. For the Air Force, it will land on runways. A version for the Navy will be able to land on aircraft carriers. And the one for the Marines will land vertically to drop into global hot spots… Eight nations [are] joining with the United States to build it.
But now soaring ambitions are confronting hard realities. What was started five years ago as a streamlined way to do business appears to be going the way of most other Pentagon weapon programs: over budget, behind schedule and with big cuts in the number to be produced…In 2002, the Pentagon estimated the entire program would cost $192.5 billion. In the most recent Selected Acquisition Report, an internal semiannual report by the Pentagon on the costs of major weapon systems, that number had risen to $256.6 billion…
On paper, all the money is being poured into building a craft that would be the Chevrolet of the skies — affordable, dependable and ready to be sold in vast numbers. It is to replace the workhorse F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet, perhaps the most successful in aviation history…
[But] Tough design issues relating to the [replacement’s] excessive weight have caused the program to fall two years behind schedule. Some of the international partners are becoming restless and have hinted they may not ultimately buy the plane. And a report last month, from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded that the program was so complicated as to be “unexecutable.”