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Archive for May, 2008

Bionic Arm

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Last week we had exoskeletons…this week it’s bionic arms. And I think this is from the guy who invented the Segway.

[Source: All Things Video]

Enjoy!

– Christian

Army Chief on the Caliber Case

Friday, May 30th, 2008

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At my old job, we used to always joke that it wasn’t news unless the Washington Post, New York Times or AP reported it — even if we’d done the story a month earlier.

Well, here’s another case of the “it ain’t news” phenomenon. We’ve been covering the heck out of this issue for more than a year, but when the chief says something about it and the AP hears it, well, then, Stop the Presses!

From today’s Military​.com headlines:

The military is reviewing Soldiers’ complaints that their standard ammunition isn’t powerful enough for the type of fighting required in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army’s highest-ranking officer said Thursday. But Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, said it was too soon to say whether the Pentagon will switch.

Current and former Soldiers interviewed by The Associated Press said the military’s M855 rifle rounds are not powerful enough for close-in fighting in cities and towns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking with reporters at a conference in Huntsville, Casey said leaders are constantly soliciting feedback from Soldiers in the field and were aware of complaints about the M855 ammunition.

“To effectively prepare them we have to adapt as the enemy adapts, and that is some of the feedback we have gotten,” Casey said. “We’ll evaluate it quickly and then we’ll decide how we want to proceed.”

But Casey said it would be premature to say if the Pentagon will consider a different type of ammunition.

“I can’t tell you exactly what we’re going to do,” he said.

How much do you want to bet the answer to that question is “nothing”…? Kinda like the M-4 debate, huh?

– Christian

Hover and Stare: FCS Testing UAVs

Friday, May 30th, 2008

This article first appeared in Aviation Week’s Ares Weblog.

Given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ order to the service branches to hurry up and get more unmanned aerial vehicles out to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, theres a scramble afoot to develop and deploy next-generation UAVs as quickly as possible.

And the $160 billion Future Combat Systems program is right in the middle of that scramble. The Honeywell Defense and Space Electronic Systems’ Class 1 block 0 UAV is currently being evaluated by the Army Evaluation Task Force at Ft. Bliss, Texas, and has been going through an accelerated testing program to try and get it out in the field as soon as possible. While not slated for FCS Spinout 1 in 2011, the UAV is being pushed though as quickly as possible. FCS spokesman Paul Mehney says that based on feedback that they’ve been getting from the field during testing there is a need for some of the capabilities that the Class 1 UAV block 0 will provide, such as the “hover and stare,” which uses gimbaled adjustable sensors that allow soldiers to keep the vehicle in stationary hover, as well as incorporating early versions of the Joint Tactical Radio System.

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Gen. Speakes: FCS Will Work And Helps Troops Now

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

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The Army, unhappy that the House Armed Services Committee plans to cut $200 million from its top modernization program, plans a June 11 assault on the House side of the Capitol using elements of its Future Combat System. Relax! Its a joke.

But the Army really does want to show the Hill just how effective FCS can be and how much it is beginning to produce capabilities soldiers use in Iraq now or in the near future. And it does plan a June 11 demonstration on the Hill.

Lt. Gen. Stephen M. Speakes, the Armys deputy chief of staff for programs, spoke Thursday afternoon with reporters and one of his first points was that the Army does have a vision when it comes to FCS. I asked Gen. Speakes how the Army is answering the HASC, which made a fairly compelling argument. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), chairman of the House Armed Service airland subcommittee, said he cut 5.5 percent of program funding to reduce concurrency of network and manned ground vehicle development and reduce program management costs. On top of that, the subcommittee shifted $33 million from long-term portions of the program to near-term elements that have a chance of being fielded by 2011. Abercrombie made it clear that technical reasons werent the only justification for the reduction. FCS, he said, continues to operate in violation of many major Department of Defense acquisition policies, including the basic and long-standing policy requiring full and adequate testing of equipment before production begins. If that sounds to you like the Democratic complaints about the Missile Defense Agencys approach to acquisition, you win a Kewpie doll.

Gen. Speakes very respectfully offered this justification when I asked him how the Army is answering the House criticisms: This is an integrated program. You cant break it apart and still deliver the capabilities. Also, Speakes said the service plans to show lawmakers just how much FCS is influencing the fight, citing the FRAG kit 5 armor used on Humvees, which he said is the precursor for FCS armor. The first version of the crucial FCS network, progress on which has been criticized by the Government Accountability Office in recent reports, is being tested at Fort Bliss. Most of all, Speakes said, the pressure in on us to deliver and to make the capabilities we are talking about and make them real. We think we are answering that test.

Speakes approach on all this may have been influenced by Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ), ranking member of the airland subcommittee. In a recent blog about FCS, Saxton said the Army needs to spend less time trying to save the FCS program; and more time explaining how soldiers want and need the capabilities that FCS brings to the fight.

Speakes also addressed the challenge in Defense Secretary Robert Gatess May 13 speech in Colorado, when he said the military must beware of planning to fight the next war and find itself unready for the current one.

He said that FCS, which he saw in action at Fort Bliss, must continue to demonstrate its value for the types of irregular challenges we will face, as well as for full-spectrum warfare. Speakes said FCS will be able to go anywhere and handle any fight. It is, for example, being modified to better cope with the threat from IEDs, he said.

Well see whether the House Democrats and Gates buy in. Reminder the Senate Armed Services Committee fully funded the administrations $3.6 billion request for FCS.

– Colin Clark

Now It’s ABL’s Turn

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

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After last week’s tac-laser test, looks like laser missile defense is moving closer too…

From Boeing:

The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA], industry teammates and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency achieved another significant milestone for the Airborne Laser (ABL) missile defense program this month by completing the first laser activation testing on the ground at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The final plumbing and wiring installations will be completed in the coming weeks. All major components of the weapon system, including the battle management system, laser components, and beam control/fire control system, were installed earlier.

Laser activation testing is a methodical process to ensure ABL’s high-energy chemical laser has been properly integrated aboard the aircraft and is ready to produce enough power to destroy a ballistic missile. The tests first flow water or other inert substances through the laser to verify its integrity. Next, the laser’s chemicals flow through the laser to confirm sequencing and control.

When the activation tests are complete, ground firings of the laser will occur, followed by flight tests of the entire ABL weapon system. The test phase will culminate in an airborne intercept test against a ballistic missile in 2009.

The ABL aircraft consists of a modified Boeing 747-400F whose back half holds the high-energy laser, designed and built by Northrop Grumman. The aircraft’s front half contains the beam control/fire control system, developed by Lockheed Martin, and the battle management system, provided by Boeing.

I sincerely wish Boeing luck on this one. It seems incredibly complicated and sort of a niche capability that in an era of tightening Pentagon budgets might be seen as overkill. But to the extent the program enhances US knowledge of high-end lasers, it’s a good program to have around.

– Christian

New Allies from Old Enemies

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

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The Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China were unforgiving “enemies” from the mid-1950s through the end of the Cold War. True, the two communist giants did — with great caution — collaborate to arm and train the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. But politically and even ideologically they were enemies.

Indeed, after President Richard M. Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 the United States and China entered a period of limited cooperation aimed against the Soviet Union. Over the past 35 years this relationship has had up and downs — in the 1980s the Reagan administration began a military relationship, which included the establishment of a U.S. “listening post” in China to intercept Soviet communications; during the Clinton administration there was considerable technology transfer to China, while U.S.-China economic ties grew precipitously.

Following the demise of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 Russia and China entered a new relationship, which soon included massive sales of Russian military equipment to China including high-performance aircraft, destroyers, submarines, and other advanced weapons. Now Russia and China have reached a new level of cooperation — some might label it collaboration.

Russia’s new president, Dmitri Medvedev, has just completed a visit to Beijing. With China’s President Hu Jintao, Medvedev has signed a joint statement declaring that Russia and China are ready to push forward a new level of economic cooperation between their nations. Medvedev said that his country’s relationship with China is now a driving force on the world stage and can no longer be ignored — that the international community can no longer make major decisions without the participation of the two countries. He added that Russia will continue to pursue close ties with China, even if it makes other countries uneasy. “Our activity is not directed against any other country but serves to maintain an international balance,” Medvedev said of Russia’s new level of cooperation with China.

Among the other declarations of the two leaders during the May visit by Medvedev, they joined in criticizing plans of the United States to build a missile defense system in central Europe. From the start of that effort the Russian government believed that its purpose was to neutralize Russia’s IBCM force.

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And Here’s Some BF-1 Video

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008


(Gouge: The Dew Line)
– Christian

STOVL JSF Jumps Closer to Flight Test

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

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Our boy Steve Trimble posted a piece this morning on a series of hover pit tests conducted by Lockheed Martin with it’s F-35B prototype — they’re calling it the BF-1.

Hover pit tests completed two days ago moved the first short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (STOVL) variant of the Lockheed Martin F-35 within days or weeks of its first flight.

A Lockheed spokesman confirms the propulsion system for the STOVL demonstrator named BF-1 completed a series of conversions from conventional mode to vertical landing mode.

The tests were conducted at Lockheeds hover pit, where the aircraft is tethered to the ground on top of a steel grate. The pit allows Lockheeds engineers to measure vertical thrust generated by the engine.

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‘Pixie Dust’ May Regrow Fingers

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

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Interesting medical item running over at Military​.com:

(UPI) Doctors at Brook Army Medical Center are testing a regeneration powder that could help injured soldiers regrow fingers and other body parts lost in battle.

The powder, nicknamed ‘Pixie Dust’ after the fairy dust that enabled children to fly in Disney’s Peter Pan, is made from tissue extracted from pigs. It attracts stem cells and convinces them to grow into the tissue that used to be there, CNN reported May 27. Doctors at BAMC used the powder last week on a wounded Soldier to encourage the regeneration of a finger in lost in Iraq.

“If it is next to the skin, it will start making skin. If it’s next to a tendon, it will start making a tendon, and so that’s the hope, at least in this particular project, that we can grow a finger,” Dr. Steven Wolf told CNN.

Doctors said they are watching patients for unexpected side effects, such as cancer.

(Tinker Bell image courtesy of the Walt Disney Company.)

– Ward

NorGrum’s Secret X-Bomber

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

This article first appeared in Aviation Week’s Ares Weblog.

DTI reports this month that Northrop Grumman has won a classified Air Force contract to develop a secret bomber prototype. Naturally, nobody’s confirming this on the record, but we present strong evidence that such a project is under way.

Ares has reported on this development before. I summarized the evidence pointing to a black-project bomber in October, tracing both the evolution of requirements and the money trail from the demise of the Joint Unmanned Combat Aircraft System in 2006 to the USAF’s bomber project.

Later in the month, I reported on Northrop Grumman CEO Ron Sugar’s public enthusiasm for classified programs, including the fact that he directly tied the company’s acquisition of Scaled Composites to advanced aircraft programs. In February I pointed out the lack of visible funding for the Next Generation Bomber in 2008–2010.

More specifically, too, Sugar identified restricted programs as the company’s top new business opportunity for 2008. That comment alone indicated the size of the business that the company was looking at, because — in the white world — the company was competing for BAMS, itself a billion-dollar contract.

As a consequence, those of us who look at these things carefully had our ears pricked up for any indications of progress on this front, and were rewarded on April 26 when Northrop Grumman issued its first-quarter financial results. Discreetly hidden on Schedule 5: “The company was awarded approximately $2.6 billion for restricted programs during this period.” The results also showed that the only Northrop Grumman sector showing an increase in backlog on that scale, from March 31 2007 to March 31 2008, was Integrated Systems, the aircraft segment. So it is there in black and white that Northrop Grumman got more than $2 billion for a secret aircraft program or programs in the first quarter.

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