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Archive for December, 2007

The Sunday Paper (2007 closeout edition)

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

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Since this is the last Sunday Paper for 2007 it seems appropriate to pose a “year in review” sort of question: Who would you pick as “Defensetech’s Newsmaker of the Year”? Why?

My pick is General David Petraeus. From the Surge to the Moveon​.org NYT ad, he’s been the man in the middle of this year’s national debate. And do you see Iraq in the headlines this morning? (Bin Laden’s new audiotape doesn’t count …) Temporary fix or whatever, the man has orchestrated some impressive damage control. Another indicator of his impact is that candidates who bring up Iraq while stumping on the trail sound about six months removed from current events … and that’s why you hear them talking about it less and less. I’m not saying we won, I’m just saying …

Anyway Petraeus is my pick. Who’s yours?

– Ward

Air Force Going Green

Friday, December 28th, 2007

My boy Gordon Lubold with the Christian Science Monitor has a
great story on the latest feat for greenies in Blue…
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The US Air Force is experimenting with a synthetic fuel that could become a cheaper fuel-alternative for the entire US military and even commercial aviation, officials say.

As the cost of a barrel of oil approaches $100 and US reliance on foreign oil sources grows, the Air Force, the single biggest user of energy in the US government, wants to find a cheaper alternative. Air Force officials think they may have found it in a fuel that blends the normal JP-8 fuel, currently used for the military’s jet engines, with a synthetic fuel made from natural gas and liquid coal.

The 50–50 blend is less expensive between $40 to $75 per barrel and it burns cleaner than normal fuel. The synthetic fuel is purchased from US-based suppliers and then blended with the military’s JP-8 fuel.

“We’re making sure the Air Force is ahead of the curve so we can utilize this domestic resource instead of having to be both dependent on foreign sources and send dollars offshore instead of spending the dollars here in the US,” says Kevin Billings, a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force helping to oversee the initiative.

Last week, on the 104th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, the Air Force flew a C-17 Globemaster III from Washington state to New Jersey, the first transcontinental flight using the synthetic fuel. The flight was an attempt to demonstrate that pilots could fly the plane, considered a “workhorse” of the Air Force fleet, using “syn-fuel” without degrading the performance of the plane’s engine.

The service hopes to have all its planes certified to run on the fuel within the next five years. And by 2016, the Air Force hopes to meet half their US demand for fuel using the synthetic blend, first used in the 1920s, but further developed during World War II.

So can we call the Air Force “tree huggers?” Or are they just pennie pinchers? Whatever…seems to me their experiments could have serious positive consequences for civilian air travelers like us.

– Christian

Robot Surgeons Closer Than You Think

Friday, December 28th, 2007

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While aboard a DC-9 aircraft, a remote operator uses a robot to suture a section of simulated tissue.

If a robot surgeon is treating you, your life is in danger. That’s not due to any machine-borne malice, but because current research into autonomous surgery is focused on battlefield casualties barely clinging to life and astronauts injured on distant planets. To demonstrate how that research is progressing, Silicon Valley-based SRI International and the University of Cincinnati held a series of tests this past September that sound like a cross between a PR stunt and a B-movie: human doctors squaring off against a robotic surgeon aboard a nose-diving DC-9 aircraft.

During periods of zero gravity and sustained acceleration of 1.8 g’s, a robot made incisions and applied sutures on simulated tissue, while a human surgeon did the same. The purpose: to measure just how precise a remote-operated robot can be, especially in a turbulent or gravity-free environment. SRI hasn’t released its results, but according to PM Advisory Board member Dr. Ken Kamler, who participated in one of the flight tests, the robot seemed to hold its own?until its compensation software was turned off. “The difference was huge,” Kamler says. “It was virtually impossible [for it] to tie a knot.” But with compensation engaged, the bot performed as well as it did on Earth.

And so the tests’ true purpose was to showcase SRI’s software. “We’re not mimicking a surgeon,” says Tom Low, SRI’s director of medical devices and robotics, “but looking at what a robot can do better.” By focusing on adaptive algorithms, SRI wants to move away from remote telesurgery and closer to autonomy. The company plans to build a system for NASA that could treat an astronaut on Mars, where communication delays of more than 20 minutes would make telesurgery impossible…

Read more about robotic doctors and other high-tech stories from Popular Mechanics at Military​.com.

– Christian

Could This Be Your Next Carbine?

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

Guns, guns, guns…I know you all can’t get enough! So I’ve decided to throw you a bone here and call your attention to a story we’ve just put up over at the Military​.com Warfighter’s Forum.
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Now, I’ve written about the Magul Masada on these pages before, but our friends over at Soldier of Fortune had an opportunity to test fire one of these innovative rifles out in Colorado. They’ve been kind enough to let us cross-post it here and at Military​.com.

A quick note: I actually met the folks from Magpul at the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Warrior show at Quantico last October. The young guns there are charged up about their new rifle and have launched a grass-roots effort to gather interest in the American-designed-and-built alternative to the M4. With the sandstorm test concluded and the debate on the cusp of heating back up on an M4 alternative, it’s worth giving the Magpul Masada a second look.

Here’s an excerpt of the “Masada Test Shoot” story. For more, check out the entire story at Military.com’s Warfighter’s Forum…

Just when most of us thought we’d seen it all, Magpul Industries Corp., of Boulder, Colorado, brought their new Masada tactical rifle to Orlando and literally stopped the 2007 SHOT Show. Immediately apparent was that this was not just another 5.56mm NATO rifle, not by a long shot. Blending the best materials with state-of-the-art production methods, the Masada also combined new ideas with long-standard operating principles to bring an advanced rifle to the 21st Century table.

The company began with a soft (rubbery) polymer device that resembles a jock strap for a magazine, and Richard Fitzpatrick became an “overnight” success with his Magpul from which his innovative company got its name. Not only does the Magpul make it infinitely easier to get your magazine out of its pouch, but is also protects it when it hits the pavement during a speed reload.

Next came Rich’s first M16 stock. He and I laughed when I recounted introducing him to a huge firearms manufacturer a few SHOT Show’s ago. To my horror, the marketing folks treated Rich like hammered dog s–t, telling him his product would never sell. Not only did it sell well — to the U.S. military ? but Magpul now has a rifle that could leave that other company’s entry howling by the side of the road.

A group effort, the Masada is the creation of Magpul’s founder, Richard Fitzpatrick, Mike Mayberry, Eric and Brian Nakyama and Drake Clark. The Masada is initially produced in 5.56x45mm NATO (.223 Rem.), and is operated by a conventional short-stroke gas piston.

However, the rifle will likely also be produced in several other calibers, to include 7.62x39mm (already produced), 5.45x39mm, 6.8x43mm SPC and 6.5mm Grendel.

Using a now-conventional rotating multilug bolt and carrier, the Masada also has many surprises. As such, it will be exciting news for American law enforcement, not to mention the U.S. military and those of friendly foreign countries. Make no mistake about the latter element, as Richard Fitzpatrick is a former U.S. Marine and damned proud of it. Recently I traveled 300 miles over “the mountain” to Denver for a first look and live fire test of the Masada and of Magpul.

Unless a designer is influenced by “something” other than history, he or she may come up with something that looks like it escaped from a science fiction movie, and firearms are no exception. We’ve all seen them come and go, and come and go again. Not so with the Masada: Oh, your eye will be captivated by the rifle at first glance, but it will be magnetic instead of the all too usual, “What the…?”

Somewhat suggestive of the M16 rifle, the Masada does have some things in common with that rifle. From the gas block forward, the barrel in either light or heavy configuration, is essentially M16, and will accept a SureFire Suppressor mount or those of virtually any other manufacturer.

– Christian

Pirate Hunting Drone Boats Unleashed

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

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The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have expressed interest in the 30-ft.-long Protector, which comes mounted with a machine gun and could be retrofitted for commercial use.

Robots versus pirates — it’s not as stupid, or unlikely, as it sounds. Piracy has exploded in the waters near Somalia, where this past week United States warships have fired on two pirate skiffs, and are currently in pursuit of a hijacked Japanese-owned vessel. At least four other ships in the region remain under pirate control, and the problem appears to be going global: The International Maritime Bureau is tracking a 14-percent increase in worldwide pirate attacks this year.

And although modern-day pirates enjoy collecting their fare share of booty — they have a soft spot for communications gear — they’re just as likely to ransom an entire ship. In one particularly sobering case, hijackers killed one crew member of a Taiwan-owned vessel each month until their demands were met.

For years now, law enforcement agencies across the high seas have proposed robotic boats, or unmanned surface vessels (USVs), as a way to help deal with 21st-Century techno Black Beards. The Navy has tested at least two small, armed USV demonstrators designed to patrol harbors and defend vessels. And both the Navy and the Coast Guard have expressed interest in the Protector, a 30-ft.-long USV built by BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Israeli defense firm RAFAEL.

The Protector, which comes mounted with a 7.62mm machine gun, wasn’t originally intended for anti-piracy operations. But according to BAE Systems spokesperson Stephanie Moncada, the robot could easily fill that role. “Down the line, it could potentially be modified for commercial use as well,” she says. Instead of being deployed by a warship to intercept and possibly fire on an incoming vessel, a non-lethal variant of the Protector could be used to simply investigate a potential threat.

A favorite tactic of modern-day pirates is to put out a distress call, then ambush any ships that respond. The unmanned Protector could be remote-operated from around 10 miles away, with enough on-board sensors, speakers and microphones to make contact with a vessel before it’s too late. “Even without the machine gun, it could alert the crew, give them some time to escape,” Moncada says.

The 55-mph Interceptor could become the long-range patrol boat of the future, while the jetski-size Sentry (inset) could help prevent a terrorist plot such as Al Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole in December 2000.

Read more about the pirate-hunting robot boat and other stories from our friends at Popular Mechanics in an exclusive feature on Military​.com.

– Christian

Wing Suits Could Change the Face of Spec Ops

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

I caught a segment during this morning’s “Today Show” that documented this jump and was blown away by the flight path control these jumpers have. The bald jumper went on to say that he’s shooting for a “no parachute” capability with wing suits. Now, as any student pilot knows, a flared landing takes some practice, so you can imagine how tricky arresting a gigantic rate of descent with a wing suit would be — not to mention, unlike powered flight, if you mismanage your energy, you are totally hosed.

But if daredevils can standardize the move, the implications for special operations are tremendous. HALO is sneaky, but it still has a finite vul window. If you never slow down until the end of your landing skid (not rollout), your vul window is basically nil.

Here’s a quick look at these dudes playing chicken with Christ. Check it out …

– Ward

DoD Eyes Space-Based Energy Source

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

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Here’s an interesting story ripped from the headlines at Military​.com. I’m intrigued by this idea and I’m wondering if some of our more informed readers out there can add some light to this subject.

BALI, Indonesia — While great nations fretted over coal, oil and global warming, one of the smallest at the U.N. climate conference was looking toward the heavens for its energy.

The annual meeting’s corridors can be a sounding board for unlikely “solutions” to climate change — from filling the skies with soot to block the sun, to cultivating oceans of seaweed to absorb the atmosphere’s heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

Unlike other ideas, however, one this year had an influential backer, the Pentagon, which is investigating whether space-based solar power — beaming energy down from satellites — will provide “affordable, clean, safe, reliable, sustainable and expandable energy for mankind.“

Tommy Remengesau Jr. is interested, too. “We’d like to look at it,” said the president of the tiny western Pacific nation of Palau.

(more…)

Could the USAF Buy Growlers?

Monday, December 24th, 2007

According to Aviation Week, they just might…
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Industry and Pentagon sources say USAF has made little headway on its lingering electronic attack requirements. The service had been pursuing a standoff jammer based on the venerable, and powerful, B-52. But the program cost crept upward around $7 billion, too much in the Pentagons tight budget environment. Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman, USAFs military deputy for acquisition, acknowledges that some in the Pentagon are pushing the Air Force to buy Growlers designed for Navy requirements. He counters, however, that an EA-18G would not be survivable in the penetrating role as the Air Force transitions from F-15s and F-16s to an all-stealth combat fleet. USAF officials dont like to talk much about it publicly, but they are looking for a jammer that can escort the high-end stealthy fighters if necessary in the future. The Marine Corps, by contrast, is looking ahead to an electronic attack version of the F-35B, which wont be available when existing Navy Prowlers retire in 2012. Hoffman says there is a natural progression to the Joint Strike Fighter as a jammer, but USAF still wants something in the near term.

I really like this idea. The Super Hornet is marginal as a fighter/bomber but it’s rugged airframe and load capacity may prove a formidable replacement for the Prowler. And who needs stealth in an EA aircraft? Isn’t EA the opposite of stealth? Banging trons til you get through…

(Gouge: NC)

– Christian

Inside DPRK’s Unit 121

Monday, December 24th, 2007

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Military planners and security experts have intensified their shouts of concern about the development of cyber weapons and the distinct possibility of a cyber war. Cyber warfare is not new. It has been in modern military doctrine for the past decade not to mention the number of terrorist groups who have threatened the use of cyber weapons against the west. However, what has changed is the number of countries that posess these capabilities today.

The North Korean military created a new unit that focuses solely on cyber warfare. The unit, dubbed Unit 121, was first created in 1998 and has steadily grown in size and capability since then. Interest in establishing cyber war forces shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but North Koreas intense effort stands out among the top ten nations developing cyber weapons.

Unit 121 Capabilities Assessment:

Force Size: Originally 1,000 — Current Estimate:17,000

Budget: Total military budget $6 billion USD. Cyber Budget $70+ million. North Koreas military budget is estimated to be the 25th largest in the world.

Goal: To increase their military standing by advancing their asymmetric and cyber warfare.

Ambition: To dominate their enemys information infrastructure, create social unrest and inflict monetary damage.

Strategy: Integrate their cyber forces into an overall battle strategy as part of a combined arms campaign. Additionally they wish to use cyber weapons as a limited non-war time method to project their power and influence.

Experience: Hacked into the South Korea and caused substantial damage; hacked into the U.S. Defense Department Systems.

Threat Rating: North Korea is ranked 8th on the Spy-Ops cyber capabilities threat matrix developed in August of 2007.

Capabilities

Cyber Intelligence/Espionage: Basic to moderately advanced
weapons with significant ongoing development into cyber intelligence.

Offensive Cyber Weapons: Moderately advanced distributed
denial of service (DDoS) capabilities with moderate virus and malicious code capabilities.

North Korea now has the technical capability to construct and deploy an array of cyber weapons as well as battery-driven EMP (electro magnetic pulse) devices that could disrupt electronics and computers at a limited range.

In the late spring of 2007, North Korea conducted another test of one of the cyber weapons in their current arsenal. In October, the North Koreans tested its first logic bomb. A logic bomb is a computer program that contains a piece of malicious code that is designed to execute or be triggered should certain events occur or at a predetermined point of time. Once triggered, the logic bomb can take the computer down, delete data of trigger a denial of service attack by generating bogus transactions.

For example, a programmer might write some software for his employer that includes a logic bomb to disable the software if his contract is terminated.

The N Korean test led to a UN Security Council resolution banning sales of mainframe computers and laptop PCs to the East Asian nation. The action of the United Nations has had little impact and has not deterred the North Korean military for continuing their cyber weapons development program.

Keeping dangerous cyber weapons out of the hands of terrorists or outlaw regimes is next to impossible. As far back as 2002, White House technology adviser Richard Clarke told a congressional panel that North Korea, Iraq and Iran were training people for internet warfare. Most information security experts believe that it is just a matter of time before the world sees a significant cyber attack targeted at one specific country. Many suggest the danger posed by cyber weapons rank along side of nuclear weapons, but without the physical damage. The signs are there. We need to take action and prepare for the impact of a cyber war.

– Kevin Coleman

F-15 Situation Gets Worse

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

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An excellent piece today from Josh Partlow at the Washington Post…looks like the F-15 problems are getting worse…And USA Today reported a couple days ago that the Pentagon’s comptroller Tina Jonas put the breaks on shutting down the F-22 line.

From the Saturday Post:

Air Force inspectors have discovered major structural flaws in eight older-model F-15 fighters, sparking a new round of examinations that could ground all of the older jets into January or beyond, senior Air Force and defense officials said…

…Current and former Air Force officials said that the grounding of the F-15s — on average 25 years old — is the longest that U.S. fighter jets have ever been kept out of the air. Even if the jets are cleared for flight, they add, it could take six months to get the pilots and aircraft back to their normal status…

…The disclosure of the cracks comes amid intense Air Force lobbying for the purchase of additional new fighter jets. The Air Force wants to replace its aging F-15s with 200 more F-22 Raptors beyond the 183 already approved by Congress and the Defense Department. Senior Defense Department officials have not agreed that the additional planes are needed or supported their purchase. The F-22s, which cost $132 million each, are manufactured by Lockheed Martin, a Bethesda-based firm…

And our boy Winslow Wheeler, who doesn’t suffer fools, has a perfectly reasonable solution: fix ‘em.

…Some outside analysts have said that the F-15 problems can be fixed and that the extra F-22s are unnecessary. “I don’t suspect that the Air Force is lying when it says it has discovered stress fractures in the longerons of the F-15s,” said Winslow Wheeler, an expert at the Center for Defense Information and a longtime opponent of purchasing additional F-22s. “But there’s no big deal about that. Fix it.”

Wheeler said Congress should look into the F-15 issue. In another prominent case, involving refueling tankers, several independent study panels concluded that the Air Force had exaggerated the structural consequences of aging for older planes so that it could make a better case for leasing new ones.

Air Force photos of the damaged beams show clearly visible cracks toward the rear of the fighters’ cockpits. Photos and drawings provided to The Washington Post show cracks in similar locations on both sides of the planes and that the F-15 that crashed had undetected damage behind the cockpit.

– Christian