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Archive for February, 2007

Oil Free by 2050

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

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The US military needs oil — about 300,000 barrels a day — to fight.

Lots of oil comes from the same places where the military actually is fighting today, or may be fighting sometime in the not so distant future. (Hello, Iran?)

Oh, the irony!

It should come as no surprise then that the Department of Defense is giving very serious thought to oil independence. The notion is that the nation — and particularly the military — must have assured access to energy, and oil isn’t such a safe bet any more.

Champions of this concept are known to include John Young, DOD’s director for Defense Research and Engineering; and Ron Sega, undersecretary of the Air Force and — on Capitol Hill — New York Republican Representative Steve Israel and Maryland Republican Representative Roscoe Bartlett.

There’s been some press about a highly-touted Air Force experiment using a synthentic base fuel (derived from natural gas pumped in from Oklahoma) to power one of the B-52’s eight engines.

But that’s just kid-stuff, really.

It’s very clear that a much broader vision exists within DOD to really go … all .. the … way, and fast.

The vision can be found in this master’s thesis by Air Force Lt Col Michael J. Hornitschek, who originally published the document for the Air University’s Center for Strategy and Technology. It has since been republished in the Air Force Journal of Logistics. It’s a thesis, but it often reads like a very good Popular Science article.

Here’s a quick excerpt that explains the vision:

“A directed-energy based, highly-automated force, capable of generating a majority of its own power in a distributed fashion from local and environmental sources, could theoretically provide that future. The potential efficiency, environmental ubiquity, universality and convertibility from one form to another of this configuration, make strong arguments that the force of 2050 can be powered almost exclusively by electricity and hydrogen.

“Setting aside conventional paradigms allows one to imagine a conceptual 2050 force. All navy ships might employ nuclear-powered direct-electric drives, lightweight nanoengineered hulls, and directed energy armament. All army and marine corps future combat system land vehicles (many of which are unmanned) are designed for modular upgrades with plug-in electric hybrid or fuel-cell power, lightweight carbon nanotube-based armor and directed energy weaponry. Today’s vulnerable tanker fuel trucks are replaced with smaller hybrid or fuel-cell powered trucks carrying stable, solid hydrate-based hydrogen batteries or combat safety-engineered liquid hydrogen containers. Individual soldiers are outfitted with pocket hydrogen fuel cells to power 10–15 onboard electric systems. Virtually all combat fighter aircraft are small, unmanned or single-seat, and powered by liquid or even nano-engineered solid hydrogen-based fuels. Ultra-efficient aircraft designs eliminate the need for tanker aircraft. All imagery (sic), surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms are either space-based or unmanned vehicles, orbiting for weeks at a time exclusively on solar-generated power while peering through weather from above.”

– Stephen Trimble

Sell! Sell! SSSEEEEELLLLL!

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

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NEW YORK (AP) — Defense stocks tumbled Tuesday, dragged down by fears of a weakening global economy that sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average down by more than 3 percent.

The defense sector selloff afflicted Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp., Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp., Falls Church, Va.-based General Dynamics Corp. and Providence, R.I.-based Textron Inc.

U.S. stock markets headed lower after a 9 percent slide in Chinese stocks, with the Dow briefly falling by more than 500 points before rebounding somewhat later in the day. The last time the Dow dropped more than 500 points was on Sept. 11, 2001.

Lockheed gained 4 cents to $97.61 in aftermarket trading, after dropping $3.55, or 3.5 percent, to close at $97.57 on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares traded between $69.87 to $103.50 over the last 52-week period.

Shares of Northrop gained 13 cents to $72.04 in aftermarket trading, after dropping $1.93, or 2.6 percent, to $71.91. Shares traded between $61.51 to $75.72 over the last 52-week period.

Textron shares gained 8 cents to $90.91 in aftermarket trading, after dipping $4.33, or 4.5 percent, to close at $90.83 on the Exchange. Shares traded between $80.46 to $98.96 over the last 52-week period.

Shares of General Dynamics dropped $2.76, or 3.5 percent, to close at $75.33 on the NYSE. The company traded between $61.20 and $81.28 over the last 52-week period.

God Slides Shuttle Launch to the Right

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) — A scheduled March 15 launch has been delayed after the external fuel tank attached to the shuttle Atlantis and possibly the orbiter itself were damaged by a hailstorm at the launch pad Monday afternoon.

NASA meteorologists say wind gusts of 62 miles per hour and golf-ball-size hail were observed at pad 39A, where Atlantis was undergoing final preparations for launch.

Workers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida are still assessing the extent of the damage, but NASA managers decided Atlantis must be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for thorough inspections and repairs.

The rollback means Atlantis will not launch in March as planned. Program officials hope repairs can be completed for a launch in late April or May.

Read the rest (and see the video) here …

– Ward

That Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Jet …

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

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A recent transpac crippled six F-22s as they made their way from Hawaii to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. The culprit: The International Date Line.

When the fighters crossed the line, all of their computer systems went Tango Uniform — fuel subsystems, navigation, and some of the comms.

We turn to CNN’s John Roberts and retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd for expert commentary on the matter:

ROBERTS: Twenty five years from development to deployment, the F-22 Raptor is the most advanced fighting machine in the air. But it was no match for a computer glitch that left six of them high above the Pacific Ocean, deaf, dumb and blind as they headed to their first deployment. So what happened? We turn to a man who’s at home in the cockpit, Retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd. Don, let me set the scene. These F-22s, eight of them, were headed from Hickam Air Force base in Hawaii to an Air Force base in Japan. They were approaching the international date line, pick it up from there.

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SHEPPERD: You got it right, John. You want everything to go right with your frontline fighter, $125, $135 million to copy. The F-22 Raptor is our frontline fighter, air defense, air superiority. It also can drop bombs. It is stealthy. It’s fast and you want it all to go right on your first deployment to the Pacific and it didn’t. At the international date line, whoops, all systems dumped and when I say all systems, I mean all systems, their navigation, part of their communications, their fuel systems. They were — they could have been in real trouble. They were with their tankers. The tankers — they tried to reset their systems, couldn’t get them reset. The tankers brought them back to Hawaii. This could have been real serious. It certainly could have been real serious if the weather had been bad. It turned out OK. It was fixed in 48 hours. It was a computer glitch in the millions of lines of code, somebody made an error in a couple lines of the code and everything goes.

ROBERTS: This is almost like the feared Y2K problem that happened to these aircraft. We should point out that computers control almost every aspect of this aircraft, from their weapons systems, to the flight controls and the computers absolutely went haywire, became useless.

SHEPPERD: Absolutely. When you think of airplanes from the old days, with cables and that type of thing and direct connections between the sticks and the yolks and the controls, not that way anymore. Everything is by computer. When your computers go, your airplanes go. You have multiple systems. When they all dump at the same time, you can be in real trouble. Luckily this turned out OK.

ROBERTS: What would have happened General Shepperd if these brand-new $120 million F-22s had been going into battle?

SHEPPERD: You would have been in real trouble in the middle of combat. The good thing is that we found this out. Any time — before, you know, before we get into combat with an airplane like this. Any time you introduce a new airplane, you are going to find glitches and you are going to find things that go wrong. It happens in our civilian airliners. You just don’t hear much about it but these things absolutely happen. And luckily this time we found out about it before combat. We got it fixed with tiger teams in about 48 hours and the airplanes were flying again, completed their deployment. But this could have been real serious in combat.

ROBERTS: So basically you had these advanced air — not just superiority but air supremacy fighters that were in there, up there in the air, above the Pacific Ocean, not much more sophisticated than a little Cessna 152 only with a jet engine.

SHEPPERD: You got it. They are on a 12 to 15-hour flight from Hawaii to Okinawa, but all their systems dumped. They needed help. Had they gotten separated from their tankers or had the weather been bad, they had no attitude reference. They had no communications or navigation. They would have turned around and probably could have found the Hawaiian Islands. But if the weather had been bad on approach, there could have been real trouble. Again, you get refueling from your tankers. You don’t run — you don’t get yourself where you run out of fuel. You always have enough fuel and refueling nine, 10, 11, 12 times on a flight like this where you can get somewhere to land. But again, attitude reference and navigation are essential as is communication. In this case all of that was affected. It was a serious problem.

ROBERTS: So the fact the computers run so much of the systems on these aircraft, General Shepperd, is the — is the military at risk of over engineering here so if they did have a problem like that when they were going into a hostile situation, they could be, as you said, repeatedly in real trouble?

SHEPPERD: Well, you have redundant systems but it’s just a fact of life in the modern computer age. By the way John, you are going to have the same problem coming up on your laptop computer as we conferred from — from standard time from daylight savings time to standard time. Your program — your computer is programmed for one thing and we have changed the dates and you are going to have a problem. It’s going to have to be dealt with.

ROBERTS: Do me a favor Don. Make sure I’m not on my laptop computer when I’m flying in an F-22 on that day.

SHEPPERD: Absolutely.

And make sure you don’t try to conduct any strikes across the International Date Line. One side or the other, war planners; one side or the other.

Full report at DailyTech.

– Ward

Obsessed with Vertical Lift?

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

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The short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (STOVL) F-35B is either what makes the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program the stuff of genius — or a sure bet for failure.

Think about it.

With the F-35B, the JSF program lays claim to an unprecedented aerodynamic hat trick: one common fighter design/three very, very different ways to take off and land. On the other hand, the F-35B is the biggest headache to develop and is already the leading cause for a two-year-delay and $5 billion cost overrun. And the aircraft still has yet to fly.

The F-35B also happens to be the diplomatic glue that attracts an international partnership to chip in one-tenth of the JSF’s development cost. Only two of the eight JSF partners want the STOVL aircraft, but one of those is the UK. And if the JSF program loses the UK, you may say goodbye to the rest of the international partners and hello to Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 3. (Without international cover, the JSF also may look a lot more inviting to the increasingly rapacious budget-cutters in the Pentagon.)

So let’s hope the F-35B’s largest customer — the US Marine Corps — knows what it’s doing.

It is in this context that I was so interested to read the new book, Harrier II: Validating V/STOL, by Lon O. Nordeen. Perhaps, by understanding why the USMC believes the Harrier — and the F-35B — are so necessary, we may understand the disporportionate influence it wields over the JSF program.

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First, it has to be understood that, historically-speaking, V/STOL is an aerodynamic fetish. To understand this point, please check out the aptly-titled V/STOL Wheel of Misfortune. Of the 45 V/STOL projects attempted in history, only four — the Harrier, the V-22, the CL-84, and F-35B –ventured much beyond the prototype stage. Three of them involve the Marines.

In his book, Nordeen unfortunately chooses not to analyze or comment but to straightforwardly present the USMC’s obsession with the Harrier as a product of Vietnam. Close air support seemed to be quite a topic of discussion (imagine that?) at the time. To deal with the issue, the Air Force wanted to buy the A-10, the Army favored the Lockheed AH-56A Cheyenne and the USMC focused on the AV-8A Harrier. Asked by Congress to pick the best option, DOD (surprise!) backed all three. (The Cheyenne was later cancelled.)

It’s clear from Nordeen’s writing that the USMC likes V/STOL because of the obvious: its fighters don’t need a long runway or an aircraft carrier to take off. In the Falklands War, Royal Air Force GR Mk. 3 Harriers arrived — and operated — in the South Atlantic war zone on board the container ship Atlantic Conveyor (until the ship was struck by an Argentine exocet missile). Such basing flexibility briefly appealed to the US Air Force, which in 2004 and 2005 flirted with the idea of buying a bunch of F-35Bs.

Whether that flexibility is really worth the price in reduced aerodynamic performance and increased maintenance burden is unfortunately not within the scope of Nordeen’s book. Even within his chosen limits, however, it is negligent as a historian for him to omit any reference to the Harrier’s tragically horrendous safety record.

While the V/STOL Harrier fleet were a potent force in the Falklands conflict, the advantage of basing flexibility alone hasn’t proved pivotal in any modern engagement since. It is impressive to think of the devotion the Marines lavish on this one aerodynamic quality, perhaps to the detriment of all else.

– Stephen Trimble

Danes Join JSF Effort

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

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(COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Feb 27, 2007 /PRNewswire) — Denmark today became the ninth and final F-35 partner nation to join the production and support phase of the Joint Strike Fighter program.

In signing the F-35 Production, Sustainment and Follow-On Development Memorandum of Understanding, Denmark extends its cooperation in the program beyond the current System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase, and joins the family of partner nations that will cooperatively develop, produce, test, train and operate the F-35 Lightning II.

“Today’s milestone is not the end of a process but rather the beginning of constructing the world’s greatest airpower coalition,” said Brig. Gen. C.R. Davis, F-35 Lightning II program executive officer. “Denmark’s long history of active partnership with the U.S. and all F-35 partner nations reaches a new pinnacle today as the country signs this MOU. This is a really great moment for the entire F-35 Lightning II Team.”

Denmark’s work on the program includes advanced composites, communications software, control-surface components and weapons pylons.

“Lockheed Martin is proud to continue its longstanding alliance with Danish industry, which has repeatedly shown that it is fully competitive with the best in the world,” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager of F-35 Program Integration. “This is a day to celebrate the strong relationship between Denmark and the United States, and to recognize the Danish government, military and industry for their foresight and dedication.”

Denmark joined the JSF program in 1997, and in 2002 was the first European nation to enter the program’s SDD phase. Over the last four months, the United States and the other JSF partner nations — the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia and Norway — signed the F-35 production and sustainment memorandum.

The Lightning II is a stealthy, supersonic, multi-role, 5TH Generation jet designed to replace a wide range of existing aircraft, including AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-16s, F/A-18 Hornets and United Kingdom Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers. The first F-35 began its flight test program on Dec. 15, 2006.

Lockheed Martinis developing the F-35 Lightning II with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, along with a worldwide supplier network. Two separate, interchangeable F-35 engines are under development: the Pratt & Whitney F135 and the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team F136, with either engine producing 40,000 pounds of thrust.

CSAR-X Protest Upheld

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

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Boeing Co.‘s $15 billion contract to build U.S. Air Force rescue helicopters should be put back out to bid, the Government Accountability Office said following protests by Lockheed Martin Corp. and United Technologies Corp.

The GAO said today in an e-mailed statement it recommended the Air Force reopen discussions and request revised proposals. If after reviewing the new bids, “Boeing’s proposal no longer represents the best value to the government, the agency should terminate its contract,” the GAO said.

Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense company, and United Technologies’ Sikorsky unit protested Boeing’s Nov. 9 award, saying the Air Force didn’t uniformly apply the criteria used to evaluate the three bids. Boeing’s order for 141 HH-47 helicopters, a variant of its twin-rotor Chinook family, was picked to replace Sikorsky’s Pave Hawk aircraft. The award was put on hold during the GAO review.

Read the entire Bloomberg report here.

(The Gouge:SC)

Fun for Feds and Fathers (and Delta Force)

Monday, February 26th, 2007

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Not only is this tech in play in the GWOT, with prom season rapidly approaching, it also looks like a mandatory system for suburban households across the heartland.

This from the manufacturer’s site:

“The Track Stick receives signals from twenty four satellites orbiting the earth. With this information, the Track Stick can precisely calculate its own position anywhere on the planet to within fifteen meters.

“The Track Stick will work anywhere on the planet Earth. Using the latest in GPS mapping technologies, your exact location can be shown on graphical maps and 3D satellite images.

“The Track Stick’s micro computer contains special mathematical algorithms, that can calculate how long you have been indoors. While visiting family, friends or even shopping, the Track Stick can accurately time and map each and every place you have been.”

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Yes. That’s why I need this device. Often I wake up and wonder, “Gee, where have I been and how long was I indoors before I wound up facedown on my neighbor’s lawn?”

The company’s website does mention an “oh, by the way” at the bottom of the homepage: “It is illegal to track someone without their {sic} permission.”

Do our special forces and the CIA know that? They certainly don’t want to get themselves into any more hot water.

(The gouge: AD)

– Ward

Le Jet Man Est Arrive’

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Yves Rossy is Switzerland’s “Jet Man.” Check this video out:

Now imagine several platoons of Jet Men jumping out of a C-17 … goggled up at night. Crazy thought, huh? Or is it?

– Ward

It’s a (Future) Gas, Gas, Gas

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

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The US Air Force has just issued a rather innocuous-looking notice for a new technology called “active combustion control.” But this is quite a momentous development, and here’s why.

Today, the Air Force has two kinds of warplanes that can survive in combat in which fighters and bombers have to compete with integrated air defenses as well as increasingly sophisticated enemy fighters.

One is the Northrop Grumman B-2A bomber. It’s relatively slow, but super-stealthy. It can fly for a long time and drop a lot of weapons.

The other is the Lockheed Martin F-22A. It’s extremely fast and also super-stealthy. But it doesn’t fly for very long without refueling and can carry only a couple of strike weapons (okay, eight if your talking about the Small Diameter Bomb).

The missing link is a single aircraft as nimble as the F-22, as long-range as the B-2 and as at least as stealthy as both. In short, it’s the dream warplane for every gadget-hearting Air Force general.

This melding is the basic concept for what the Air Force now calls the “Next Generation Long Range Strike Aircraft.” It’s supposed to be ready to enter service by 2018 to 2020.

The trick to meeting this schedule is for some company to come up with the next breakthrough in aircraft engine technology. The breakthrough is called “active combustion control,” which is just a fancy name for integrating a fuel injector into an aircraft’s propulsion system.

Aircraft engines using active combustion controls should be able to fly longer distances at a lower rate of fuel consumption.

With today’s engine technology, the flow of gas into the combustion chamber is fairly unrestricted, which is not very efficient. Many years ago, the automotive industry fixed this problem with fuel injectors, and now the aerospace industry wants to make a similar leap — although at a far greater level of sophistication, of course.

It’s a new spin on an old concept. In the past, aircraft designers used variable-geometry wings (think: F-111, F-14, and B-1) to be more efficient in high-speed and cruise-speed. With active combustion controls, the goal is to reconfigure the engine instead of the airframe to be optimal in both states.

– Stephen Trimble