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Archive for April, 2008

Hypersonic Test Flights Set

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

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I’m just fascinated by this stuff According to a report today, DARPA plans to flight test two hypersonic demonstrator vehicles beginning in 2009.

There’s been a lot of talk about hypersonics and what the flight regime can and can’t do for civilian and military applications. And finally there’s going to be some proof in the putting. It’ll be interesting to see the dynamic effects of such speeds and whether the science is there to build hypersonic planes and missiles.

From Flight Daily News:

Details have emerged of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) plans to test fly its two expendable dart-shaped Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV)-2 demonstrators.

To be launched by Orbital Sciences Minotaur solid-fuel rockets from Vandenberg Air Force Base, HTV-2a will fly in May 2009 and HTV-2b will follow in the October of that year.

While the two flights have separate trajectories they will both impact near the Kwajalein Atoll test site in the Pacific Ocean. HTV-1 was a ground test demonstrator.

The first flight will demonstrate performance characteristics, and the second cross-range manoeuvring as well as thermal protection system performance.

The two HTVs will use inertial navigational measurement units and global positioning system (GPS) for guidance, while testing satellite communications and GPS reception through the plasma that will surround the vehicles during their flight.

“The HTV-2 will have a plasma probe onboard [to examine the hot gases] and we are expecting it to have good lift-over-drag performance,” said DARPA’s tactical technology office deputy director Steve Walker, speaking at the 15th AIAA International space planes, hypersonic systems and technologies conference in Dayton, Ohio on 28 April.

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It’s not $640 toilet seats, but…

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

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Most of the Pentagon’s weapon systems cost much more than they should, are built much more slowly than they could be and the entire system needs fundamental reform.

Those were the conclusions of most lawmakers and one senior defense acquisition expert at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington earlier this week.

Perhaps most damning, senior staff member Michael Sullivan from the Government Accountability Office told lawmakers that the system had not really been any better or worse when he started investigating defense procurement in 1986, though he conceded there were some recent small signs of improvement.

The hearing’s poster child for botched Pentagon buying was a $13.2 billion Marine Corps program called the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. The program for the updated AAV started in 1996 when the Marines issued a contract to General Dynamics. Initially, the program won plaudits for its innovative management and it passed through the program definition and risk reduction phase in mid-2001. Then things began to fall apart. The Marines issued a contract for the next phase of the program which was supposed to cost $712 million but quickly rose by the end of 2006 to an estimated $1.2 billion.

The modernized amtrac, according to a report prepared for the Oversight Committee’s chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), weighed too much to carry combat-ready Marines and still go as fast as it should. It operated only four-and-half hours before requiring major maintenance instead of the planned 47 hours. It was so loud that Marines could not speak to each other and had to wear ear plugs.

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U.S. Swaps AKs for M16s for Afghan Army

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

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In a sharp break for a military with long experience wielding the battle-tested AK-47, the Afghan national army is set to replace its entire inventory of Kalashnikov rifles with the American-made M-16.

By the end of the year, the U.S. military plans to ship about 55,000 used Marine Corps M-16A2 rifles to Afghanistan with the intent of outfitting every soldier in the Afghan army with one by the late spring of 2009. So far about 6,000 M16s, including Canadian C-7 variants, have been fielded to Afghan units and about 6,000 M-4 carbines have been in the hands of Afghan commandos since May 2007.

Officials in charge of the $44 million modernization effort recognize the difficultly in transitioning a largely illiterate force from a weapon designed for the third world to one that requires intensive maintenance and marksmanship. But the new, more accurate weapons are already proving their worth on the battlefield.

“When the commandos go into a fight against an enemy that’s armed with AKs, it’s not a fair fight. And even fire against ‘spray and slay,’ it’s not a fair fight at all,” said Army Col. Mike McMahon, who heads up the modernization program for the Afghan army.

“The competence you get [from the M-16] and the confidence is just incredible.“

The effort to abandon decades of experience with the venerable Kalashnikov is in part an attempt by Kabul to make a symbolic break from its insurgent past, where genocidal battles with AK-47-toting Soviets and Taliban religious zealots weigh heavily on the memory of Afghanistan’s post-September 11 government, McMahon said.

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Boeing and Air Force In Lovers Spat

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

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A great analysis on the tanker deal from my old friend Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute who’s name is “Mud” to pro-Boeing lawmakers…

If you want to understand how former allies end up going to war — or former lovers end up getting divorced — take a look at how Boeing and the Air Force are treating each other in their angry confrontation over the award of a next-generation tanker program to Northrop Grumman. Boeing expected to win the contract, and now finds itself facing the prospect of losing a 50-year aerial refueling franchise (and $100 billion in sales) while its main rival in the commercial airliner business sets up shop on Boeing’s home turf. Boeing is convinced it should have won, and is spending millions of dollars on lawyers and advertising to press its case in a formal complaint to the Government Accountability Office.

Air Force leaders, on the other hand, believe that Boeing is willfully mis-stating the facts in a bid to obscure the inferior performance of the plane it proposed. A marathon session of Air Force acquisition experts two weeks ago concluded that none of the 200 issues raised by Boeing in its complaint to GAO was likely to be upheld, and that whatever minor problems the accountability office might uncover would be far from sufficient to overturn a competitive outcome the service says was not close. Beyond the merits of Boeing’s case, Air Force officials are insulted by the tone of the company’s public statements, which have used phrases such as “deeply flawed” and “severely prejudiced” to describe the tanker selection process.

The deterioration of Boeing’s relationship with its biggest government customer hit a new low last week, when Air Force insiders began hinting darkly that the company had encouraged Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill to question the ethics of the service’s chief of staff in a letter concerning an unrelated contracting matter. The notion that Boeing would do such a thing seems exceedingly unlikely, since the chief was widely believed to favor Boeing’s tanker bid and the company’s relationship with McCaskill is lukewarm at best (even though its defense unit is headquartered in her state). But the tone of Boeing’s tanker campaign has led at least some service officials to believe the worst about the company, a feeling that is spreading far beyond tankers. For instance, the service has probably delayed announcing award of the GPS III satellite contract in part because it fears another Boeing protest.

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More UAVs Taking Off

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

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Two highly significant contracts that were awarded by the Department of Defense last week will have great impact on the rapidly increasing role of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in the U.S. armed forces. The first, on 21 April, was for phase one of the Vulture program intended to provide an unmanned aircraft with an endurance of five years. The second contract, announced a day later, was to acquire the RQ-4N variant of the Global Hawk for the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program.

The Vulture program — under the aegis of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — envisions a vehicle carrying a 1,000-pound payload drawing five kilowatts of power that is able to remain aloft for an uninterrupted period of at least five years while remaining in the required mission airspace 99 percent of the time.

The Vulture phase one contracts were awarded to Aurora Flight Sciences, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin. According to DARPA, the Vulture program will focus on developing innovative technologies and approaches for in-flight energy collection (e.g., from solar panels) or refueling in flight and ultra-reliable systems or systems that could be repaired in flight. Other technologies that will be developed include multi-junction photovoltaic cells, high specific energy fuel cells, extremely efficient propulsion systems, advanced structural designs.

In the second phase of Vulture the contractors will refine demonstrator designs, continue technology development, and conduct an uninterrupted three-month flight of a sub-scale demonstrator. Phase three will consist of a continuous 12-month flight of a full-scale demonstrator.

In some respects the Vulture will be a corollary to the Helios UAV program. That vehicle was a long, thin, flying wing intended to fly higher than any unmanned aircraft ever. It passed an altitude of 76,000 feet on its first solar-powered test flight on 14 July 2001. Operating from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, no problems were encountered during the 10-hour, 17-minute flight. A flight the following 13 August took the UAV to 96,863 feet.

The Helios crashed two years later. A 247-foot-long flying wing that measured only eight feet front to back, Helios was a $15 million aircraft controlled from the ground by pilots using desktop computers. Its 14 propellers were driven by small electric motors powered by solar cells built into the wing. Helios was built by a partnership of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and AeroVironment Inc. of Monrovia, California.

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What About this Army Satellite Business?

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Army to Launch Sats After 50 Year Lull

Monday, April 28th, 2008

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The U.S. Army plans to build and launch into orbit a constellation of satellites for the first time in roughly 50 years. And it plans to build the cluster of eight miniature communications satellites within as little as nine months, defense officials told Military​.com.

The roughly $5 million effort is part of the Army’s commitment to what is known as Operationally Responsive Space. The joint program, based at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., was created in May 2007 after years of vigorous prodding by Congress to get the U.S. military to change how it conceives of, builds and flies satellites.

For the Army, this is “a pathfinder project to fulfill an urgent need for beyond line of sight communications capability,” said James Lee, chief of strategy and policy for Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala.

Lee’s office set up a task force in March to decide how the Army should tackle the deployment of space assets. And the money for the service’s satellite effort is coming from Army coffers, Lee added.

The requirement for the bantam-weight sats — which measure about 30 inches square and weigh around five pounds — was generated by a combatant commander whom Lee declined to identify. But you can get some idea who it is by the mission he described for the so-called “cubesats.“

The satellites should provide communications for Army units below the brigade level operating in parts of the world where the military has no current secure satellite communications, such as Africa, Lee explained.

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MEDIA WARFARE — Hacking Live Television

Monday, April 28th, 2008

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Last week while working on cyber attacks against media web sites I discovered some information I thought you might benefit from reading.

One of the more significant concerns with cyber warfare is a targeted attack against the news media. There are two different strategies that play here. The first possibility is a disruptive strategy — where the cyber attack disables the media from reporting on activities and disrupting their ability to inform the public about events that are or have just taken place. The second strategy addresses the use of the media as a source of misinformation. Misinformation and disinformation campaigns are easily mounted and you can even find this tactic addressed in the well known work “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. We have assessed the implication of both of these scenarios using the Scenario Based Intelligence Analysis Tool created by Spy-Ops. The result of that analysis is below.

Scenario 1 — Media Disruption
An attack against the entire media sector in an attempt to disrupt its ability to communicate with and inform the public is rated a 2.3 on our risk scale.

MEASUREMENT SCORE
Cost = 4.3
Complexity = 4.7
Difficulty = 4.4
Discovery Probability = 3.8
Success Probability = 2.0
Impact = 4.7
Current Defense = 2.5
___________________________________________
Overall Risk = 2.3

Scenario 2 — Dis or mis Information
An attack against a primary new source with the intent to inject mis-information for public dissemination is rated a 4.1 on our risk scale.

MEASUREMENT SCORE
Cost = 1.3
Complexity = 1.6
Difficulty = 2.2
Discovery Probability = 2.0
Success Probability = 4.0
Impact = 4.7
Current Defense = 2.5
___________________________________________
Overall Risk = 4.1

In support of the higher risk and increased likelihood of success in this type of attack is the following account of events that took place on June 17, 2007. The viewers of a Czech television channel watching a Web cam program monitoring weather in various Czech mountain resorts saw a nuclear explosion taking place in the Krkonose or Giant Mountains in the northern Czech Republic. CNN Europe reported that members of a Czech art group were responsible and got in trouble for hacking a television broadcast and inserting the phony video of the nuclear explosion.

One can only imagine the psychological impact on the viewers that witnessed this prank. The TV channel CT2 said that they received frantic phone calls from viewers who thought a nuclear war had started. By the way, just recently the artists were acquitted of the charges stemming from the fake nuclear blast on TV.

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“We Will Bury You” South American Style

Friday, April 25th, 2008

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As if on cue, my boy Chavez comes through again!

From today’s Pravda:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez harshly criticized the US administration again after the unauthorized passing of the USS George Washington along the coast of the Latin American country. Chavez promised to bury the USA in the 21st century.

When Americans appear near our shores with their navy, the George Washington aircraft carrier, one should not forget that it happens at the time when we together with Brazil are creating the Defense Council of South America, Chavez said in a speech that was broadcast by all TV and radio channels of Venezuela.

In this century we will bury the old empire of the USA and will live with the American nation like with a brotherly nation, because over 40 million of its citizens live below the poverty line, the Venezuelan leader said.

I’m beginning to get a kick out of that guy…

(Gouge: NC)

– Christian

Crash-Proof UAVs Fly Blind at MIT

Friday, April 25th, 2008

Here’s another great story from our friends at Popular Mechanics that looks at cutting edge research into drones that fly autonomously inside structures. That’s something that until now could only be done (barely) by wheeled mini-bots. But as you can see from this report, engineers still have a long way to go.

It’s not the most attractive spy bot, but the unmanned aerial vehicle hovering some 20 ft. away is doing its job. For now, that means staying right where it is, weaving ever so slightly under the weight of the webcam strapped to its back. There’s nothing particularly interesting to look at with this UAV, a commercial four-rotor model that any RC hobbyist could put together. But no one is piloting this modified drone — it’s flying autonomously, stabilized a few feet above the floor of MIT’s RAVEN lab. Like most of the aircraft tested here, this model is a puppet, receiving input not from onboard processors, but from a nearby computer.

As it continues to buzz in place, an array of 18 motion-capture cameras tracks the UAV, providing 3D positioning data to determine just how stable it is. Specifically, those baleful red cameras — the same kind Hollywood visual effects teams use to transpose an actor’s movements to a computer-generated counterpart — are tracking the tiny Styrofoam balls attached to the drone. On the computer monitor, these balls show up in real time, mapping the UAV as a cluster of dots, swaying in midair. I’m somewhere between impressed and bored when the drone begins to drift. A second later and it slams into a plexiglass divider, as hard as a hockey player.

It will take some time to figure out why this little craft suddenly lost control. But that’s the point of RAVEN, or Real-Time Indoor Autonomous Vehicle Test Environment, where geeks capture every flight — and collision — in painstaking detail. There are no accidents here, just problems that haven’t been sufficiently analyzed. “RAVEN gives us the freedom to test whatever we can build,” says Jonathan How, director of MIT’s Aerospace Controls Lab. “And we can build wonderful things, even in 24 hours.“

One of the researchers has done just that, and is now preparing to fly a drone that was redesigned, then cobbled together out of lightweight foam core. Of course, this isn’t exactly the next generation of missile-packing Predators; the toylike creation in front of me, with its circular wing and miniature nose-mounted propeller, is more of a testbed than a prototype. All of the UAVs covering nearly every surface of this lab, from high-end RC planes the size of a small child to a store-bought flying insect produced by WowWee, are just tools to develop flight control algorithms for indoor robots.

As challenging as it is to make something fly itself, designing a drone that can function indoors is even harder. For an indoor UAV to meet all of the military’s expectations, it would need to be able to fly into a building and find a suitable spot to perch and observe, all without relying on GPS contact. “The ultimate vehicle is a bat that you can download data from,” How says. Bats have the ability to perch, plus echo location to detect obstacles, and the agility to keep from slamming into them.

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