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Archive for June, 2005

Wonder Weapons, $20 a Pop

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

MagCannon.jpgI’ve been a fool.
Obedient sheep that I am, I believed all those government and scientific reports that laser rifles and hand-held force fields were decades away from reality — if they were possible at all. Cloaked in the dull skepticism of a flat-earther, I naively thought that advances like “Electro-Hypnotizers” and “Ion Ray Guns” were the stuff of science fiction, or merely hoaxes.
Now, friends, my eyes are open wide. The truth has been revealed. Not only are these items for real, but a helpful Internet retailer — “Information Unlimited,” out of Amherst, New Hampshire — has been thoughtful enough to sell them all under one electronic roof. Huzzah!
My only question is what to buy first. Should it be the “Telekinetic Enhancer”? The “Sonic Nausea Device” Or maybe I should go with the “Magnetic Cannon.” Luckily, the plans for most of these projects are only $20. So I can afford to make some mistakes.

UAV Takeover Shot Down

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

The Air Force’s bid to take over all of the U.S. military’s flying drones has been shot down, Inside Defense says.
shadow_launch.jpgOver the years, the various branches of the military have all pursued their own independent, often overlapping, unmanned aerial (UAV) vehicle programs. The result is a giant, jumbled robot menagerie, with over a dozen species of military drones flying in Iraq. Few of them speak the same language, or work together well. Soldiers often have to wait weeks for a slice of the radio spectrum that they can use to talk to their UAVs.
That’s why panel after expert panel has recommended that someone take control of this unmanned zoo, and start getting the creatures to play together nicely. Last year, Air Force generals nominated themselves to be the zookeepers. They offered the Air Force up as the “Executive Agent” for UAVs — the financial and operational gatekeeper for all robots in the air.
In many ways, it was a logical choice. The flyboys already understand the skies, managing the “Air Tasking Orders” that tell American planes when and where to fly over a warzone. And they’ve long been the military’s gadget freaks. That’s why, back in the day, they got the bulk of the Pentagon’s space program, too.
But there was also a heaping scoop of self-interest in the Air Force move. The service’s fighter jocks have had a whole lot of free time on their hands, ever since the Cold War ended and all those Soviet MiGs stopped flying. And which service has been the most threatened by the rise of robo-pilots?
Plus, UAVs — especially the little, hand-thrown models — aren’t exactly planes. As I noted in last month’s Wired, “they have wings and fly, but they’re more like guns (or cameras) with wings than planes with guns.” And the last thing any Army or Marine general wants to do is give up his guns. Or kiss some fighter jock’s ass every time he needed to buy a few more flying cameras for his men.
So, in the end, it wasn’t a surprise that the Joint Requirements Oversight Council — the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the vice chiefs from each of the services — nixed the Executive Agent idea in a June 1 meeting.
Instead, Inside Defense reports, they endorsed the idea of turning the Air Force’s new UAV Center of Excellence near Las Vegas into an establishment for all four services. “That center will be led by a rotational flag officer, with the first leader being an Army one-star [general],” according to the newsletter. “The deputy, also a rotational position, will initially be filled by an Air Force colonel.”

Rapid Fire 6/29/05

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

* Robot snipers to Iraq? (5th item)
* Passport screens = suck
* What the hell is boost gas? And why should we care?
* Iraqi cops = double-agents
* Private warriors exposed

Solar Drone New Endurance Champ

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

Saving pilots’ lives is cool and all. So is holding on to some cash. But one of the biggest reasons why militaries have become so infatuated with robot planes might be the drones’ ability to hang around in the air.
solar_drone.jpgFlying a plane is tiring. A pilot can only last so long before he needs a break. That’s why long range bombers, like the B-52, usually take a pair of ‘em into the air.
Drones, on the other hand, don’t tucker out. They can keep flying as long as there’s fuel to be had. The Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), for example, can stay in the air for 31 hours straight.
That’s a hell of a non-stop flight. But it’s only a fraction of the endurance that drone-makers believe will eventually be possible. Take away a drone’s need for gas, by loading it up with solar panels or fuel cells, and you might have a UAV that can stay airborne just about indefinitely.
Electric vehicle maker AC Propulsion took a big step toward that goal earlier this month, setting a new unmanned endurance record by keeping its SoLong UAV in the skies for 48 hours in a row, Aviation Week reports.
“The flight probably could have lasted a third night, and perhaps a fourth and a fifth,” the magazine adds. AC founder “Alan Cocconi landed after 48 hr. 16 min. because the pilots [operating the plane from the ground] were exhausted, not because the battery was low on juice.”

[SoLong is] a powered sailplane of Cocconi’s own design with solar cells built into the wing. It weighs 28.2 lb., has a 15.6-ft. span, and takes off with its own 1-hp. motor from a wheeled dolly. The control system includes a sophisticated autopilot with inertial, barometric and GPS references; a television camera gives an over-the-nose pilot’s-eye view. It’s easy to dismiss the project due to the small size of the aircraft and the 5 X 8-ft. ground station, but the flight system is equal to those many times larger.

gobserver.jpgThere could be major bucks for Cocconi & Co., if they can build their system out to industrial strength — and not just in defense contracts. As I noted in the Times back in 2002…

The big commercial opportunity is likely to be in missions at 50,000 feet and higher that last for months. There, drones can serve as “long-endurance, orbiting relays — airborne cell towers,” Mr. Newcome of Adroit Systems wrote in the trade journal Unmanned Vehicles.
Traditional cell towers are expensive — up to $1 million each — and cover three square miles or less. Given their mobility, drones could offer a cheaper alternative.

Several companies are already looking to outlast Cocconi’s vrew. AeroVironment, the previous long-range champ, is designing a hydrogen-powered drone (right) that can stay in the sky for a week or more.


Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

DSCF0386.JPGI met Elizabeth Visceglia in 1997, and fell in love with her approximately two hours later.
Last week, on a sugary beach on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, I finally worked up the guts and good sense to ask her to marry me. She said yes, taking my grandmother’s engagement ring from 1940.
Back at the hotel, we celebrated with rum.

Murdoc and Jason, You Rock

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

Man, I should go away more often. Murdoc and Armchair Generalist Jason Sigger did a kick-ass job guest hosting Defense Tech last week. I don’t know about you, by I learned a boatload — and had a ton of fun — reading through their posts. A few favorites:

* R2D2 vs. Mortars
* It’s Just a Box
* A Rose by Any Other Name
* We Can Make Them Stronger
* The Navy’s FCS

Come back soon, guys!

The Navy’s FCS

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

ddx2.jpgNot to be outdone by the boys in green, the US Navy has its own future combat system, complete with cost overruns, ballooning weight, and dubious performance in early tests. It’s called the DD(X), noted previously here at Defense Tech.
The House of Representatives recently cut large chunks out of the DD(X) budget, and a GAO report noted that the design is currently over the allotted weight for this stage of development. Meanwhile, critics wonder why we should build multi-billion dollar destroyers when we could reactivate battleships for less money.
Since the House slashed the money for the program, the Navy has responded according to DefenseNews:

U.S. Navy leaders are shooting back, touting the ships improved war-fighting abilities in coastal regions and technological benefits and claiming the $3.3 billion warship gives taxpayers more bang for their buck.
DD(X) has a significant advantage over the DDG destroyer in the littorals, said Vice Adm. Joseph Sestak, the Navys head of warfare requirements and programs.
New radar, underwater sensors and computers will make the new destroyer a superior near-shore hunter of ships and subs than the Arleigh Burke-class warships that have been coming out of the shipyards since 1989, Sestak said.
For example, Navy analysis indicates that the DD(X) will be significantly better against Boghammers, swarming small boats armed with missiles that are operated by Iran, he said.
Sestak said the analysis indicated that losses due to enemy attacks can be reduced by up to 31 percent if a DD(X), rather than several DDGs, is present.
I would not take the DDG into the littorals as I would a DD(X), he said.

The DD(X) certainly appears to have some fantastic potential, including a stealthy design and advanced automation that would keep crew size very small. But, like all new ideas, there are some problems:

Designers have substituted an Advanced Induction Motor (AIM) for the planned Permanent Magnet Motor (PMM) in the ships power system after the PMM failed in tests earlier this year. Although the AIM incorporates proven technology, it is heavier, larger, noisier and less power-dense than the PMM, requiring several changes in the ships design.
The volume search portion of the dual-band radar still is encountering technical problems, although the multifunction radar has successfully completed its tests to date.
Fire and shock testing for the composite-construction superstructure have been delayed due to questions about the materials to be used.
The peripheral missile launch system needed to be redesigned after an immense explosion caused damage during tests a year ago.

While these issue are probably all surmountable, the question becomes “should the effort be made if it’s going to cost so much?”. The ships are going to cost between $2 billion and $5 billion per copy, though the House’s recent budget capped that at $1.7 billion.
biggun.jpgFor that many clams, most folks would like to see more than a couple of 155mm guns supporting the troops on shore, a primary mission of the DD(X). In fact, the two remaining battleships are supposed to stay in reserve until their fire-support capability can be matched by a new system. Despite this requirement, the Navy is moving to permanently deactivate the battlewagons.
While battleships couldn’t contribute much to the current battles in Iraq or Afghanistan, two other potential hot spots (namely China and North Korea) present many opportunities for heavy bombardment by either the current low-tech 16″ shells or the proposed guided and/or extended-range versions. At an estimated $1.5 billion per ship to reactivate and upgrade, they look like a steal compared to the DD(X).
Whether or not reactivating battleships makes sense for the Navy, the DD(X) program is in serious trouble, and with it the future of new big ships in the fleet.
THERE’S MORE: Navy Newsstand:

The DD(X) National Team and the Navy conducted the third consecutive successful guided-flight test of the 155mm Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) June 16.
Preliminary results indicate the munition successfully conducted preplanned maneuvers along a 60 nautical mile flight path during the 280-second flight.
This important test highlights another successful milestone to develop and field long-range, GPS-precise gun munitions for our fleet, said Rear Adm. Charles Hamilton, the program executive officer for ships. The success of LRLAP is vital to our efforts to deliver DD(X) to the fleet as planned. Each one of these shots brings us closer to that goal.
The DD(X) development team, both in the Navy and industry, continues to make major strides to demonstrate critical new capabilities such as LRLAP for DD(X), according to Capt. Charles Goddard, the DD(X) program manager. Our rigorous development and test program is focused using prototype systems to fully evaluate and mature these technologies for DD(X) and other future ships.

NOTE: This will be my final post at Defense Tech. Noah will return tomorrow and, after a couple of days to clean up the mess we left and restock the fridge, Defense Tech will be back to normal. It’s been a blast posting here, and I hope to see some of you at Murdoc Online from time to time. I thank Noah for the great opportunity.
–posted by Murdoc

Rapid Fire 06/28/2005

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

Here are some links worth a look:

* More Google Maps fun: New Zealand’s Waihopai spy base, which is a favorite attraction for Kiwi anti-war protestors
* The Marines are trying yet another IED-resistant vehicle, the Cougar
* New brakes for KC-135 tankers last ten times as long…which is good since who knows when they’ll be replaced by newer planes
* I can’t do that Dave–Space station gets HAL-like computer
* Russian air force commander General Vladimir Mikhailov accuses America of still fighting the Cold War…and that Russia will soon begin testing new long-range cruise missiles
* Angle the deflector shields!– “Force field” could keep lunar astronauts safe from solar radiation

* This final entry isn’t tech-related, but Intel Dump writer Phil Carter has been activated and will be deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne
–posted by Murdoc

We Can Make Them Stronger… Faster… Better

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

I imagine that some group in BAE Systems had a great party this last weekend. The news is that BAE Systems received several orders from the U.S. Army to remanufacture and upgrade Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles to A3 configurations. The total cost of these orders runs to more than $1 billion. Most of the work will be done at their plant at York, PA. The modified vehicles will be delivered to the Army between June 2006 and January 2008.
brad8.jpgThe A3 upgrade progam began back in 2001 with 389 M2A3 vehicles and 77 M3A3 vehicles to be upgraded by 2006. The upgrade includes an improved thermal imager for the TOW missile, a combat identification system, and other improvements to “provide commanders with outstanding situational awareness in the harshest urban fights.“
The Bradley vehicles have what is called ventilated facepiece collective protection, which provides fresh air through hoses into the crew’s M42A1 protective masks. The squad being transported has no collective protection and must rely on their protective masks and suits. Interestingly enough, the original M3 Bradley vehicle and M1 Abrams tank had no collective protection at all, despite knowledge that the Soviet armored tanks and vehicles did offer such protection. I used to get a kick by going to the AUSA annual meeting and asking defense contractors who were pushing armored vehicles what chem-bio survivability features their vehicles have. “Ahhh… let me get my boss… I don’t know that one.“
Hey, it’s been real, it’s been fun, but Noah’s back tomorrow and I’m outta here. Hope to see you readers at my blog sometime.
– Armchair Generalist

More on the Stealth Speedboat

Monday, June 27th, 2005

Commenter Murc points out that the stealth speedboat noted last Friday is most likely a SEALION (SEAL Insertion, Observation, Neutralization) technology demonstrator. While not planned to enter full-scale production, the first SEALION has been in testing for some time and a second will be delivered later this year.

As a technology demonstrator, SEALION I is not armed but is designed accept a variety of modular mission payloads and could accept a modular weapons system, according to program officials. SEALION II is being designed to accommodate a short-range strike missile, to demonstrate a modular payload with a precision-strike capability.
Navy officials said “there will be no test firing of the missiles from SEALION II nor will the craft be delivered with missiles.“
SEALION II will be slightly longer that SEALION I and feature several new capabilities, including a pop-up infrared imaging system built by DRS Technologies (Parsippany, N.J.), as well as a modular mission payload bay. The boat also features the Craft Integrated Electronics Suite, built by Azimuth Inc., a West Virginia-based company specializing in high-technology services. The electronics suite, along with a local area network computer, will enable SEALION II to operate with a two-man crew, instead of the three needed by SEALION I.

As I noted on my own site, Special Forces always get the cool stuff.
–posted by Murdoc