About Defense Tech

Defense Tech examines the intersection of technology and defense from every angle and provides analysis on what’s ahead.

Tip Us Off

Tip for Defense Tech?


It’s Confidential!

Archive for August, 2008

Harrier Crash Due to Pilot Error

Friday, August 29th, 2008


I’m always reluctant to post these stories and I always get a lot of flak from them, but I think it’s important for folks who might not have access to them that are involved in some way with aviation to see what happened and get some “lessons learned” data that can maybe help them down the road.

A Harrier crash on Feb. 13 near Cherry Point (the second in a series of four so far this fiscal year) was initially thought to have been caused by engine failure. But according to the Judge Advocate General Manual investigation I got my hand on through FOIA the cause was a far simpler — and more correctable one.

According to an official investigation report released after a Freedom of Information Act Request from Military​.com, the pilot, Capt. Ian Stevens, failed to move the jet nozzles of his Harrier to the position required for conventional flight during a Feb. 13 mission to practice aerial refueling and ground attack runs near Cherry Point Marine Air Station, causing the plane to drop from the sky.

That’s from a story we’re posting today on Military​.com (there’ve been some technical snags so publishing is delayed). Here’s a bit more:

“This mishap was caused by the mishap pilot not positioning the nozzles back to the aft position after positioning them … to the hoverstop position in order to … stabilize in a proper formation position with is lead,” the investigating officer stated in the report. “The thrust remained vectored below the aircraft until the aircraft impacted the ground.” …

Stevens executed several successful aerial refueling runs on a KC-10 Extender tanker, the report said, before peeling away with the other two Harriers to practice using his targeting pod during mock ground attacks. As he was trying to slow down and join up with the lead pilot of the flight, whose name is redacted from the report, things started to go wrong.

“The engine sounded like it was spooling up … but the lead [pilot] continued to pull away from me,” Stevens — whose name was removed from the report but released to local media at the time of the crash — told investigators in a statement. “I … increased power to ‘mil’ but did not feel a corresponding acceleration. I decided that I had a problem.”


Signal Changes

Friday, August 29th, 2008


The U.S. Navy’s leadership has shown unprecedented ineptitude in the handling of surface ship programs. The previous (and ongoing) mass of problems with the amphibious ships of the LPD 17 class and the littoral combat ships (LCS) seem to pale in comparison to the handling of the DDG 1000 “destroyer” program.

For eight years the Congress and public have heard the Navy’s leadership — civilian and uniformed — declare that they wanted no more ships of the Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) class. Sixty-two of these destroyers are in service or under construction.

Chiefs of Naval Operations Vern Clark (July 2000 — July 2005), Michael Mullen (July 2005 — September 2007), and Gary Roughead (since September 2007) had been adamant that the DDG 1000 was the surface combatant of the future. All three admirals are surface warfare specialists, giving credibility to their statements.

Furthermore, the 30-year shipbuilding plan, which the Navy Department presented to Congress in February 2008 (covering the period fiscal years 2009–2038) still indicated a total of 32 DDG 1000s.

The DDG 1000 program — assigned the class name Zumwalt — dates to the early 1990s and a Mission Needs Statement that evolved from the Navy’s post-Cold War strategy paper from the Sea (1992). The strategy postulated that future Navy emphasis should be oriented toward supporting joint/coalition operations against the shore. The “land-attack destroyer” and DD-21 concepts followed, evolving into the DDG 1000.

But this spring the Navy’s leadership essentially stopped supporting the DDG 1000 within weeks of contracts being awarded to construct the first two ships. At the same time, the Navy’s leaders began advocating for eight or nine additional Burke-class destroyers. Now, at congressional instigation, the third DDG 1000, which is in the president’s fiscal year 2009 budget, is also being supported by the Navy leadership.


First Flight of Sikorsky X2 Demonstrator

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

This article first appeared at AviationWeek​.com.

Sikorsky’s futuristic X2 high-speed helicopter technology demonstrator made its first flight today in Horseheads, N.Y., in the hands of chief test pilot Kevin L. Bredenbeck.

The single-engined fly-by-wire aircraft features coaxial rotors and a pusher propeller that Sikorsky believes will revolutionize the helicopter world with cruise speeds of up to 250 kts, some 100 kts faster than current production helicopters.

“This isn’t an airplane we are training to hover. It’s a helicopter that will go very, very fast,” said Sikorsky CEO Jeff Pino. “I think it will get to 260 kts.” (The helicopter world speed record is held by a Westland Lynx at 216.45 kts).

Today’s flight lasted 30 minutes, during which Bredenbeck demonstrated hover, forward flight, and a hover turn.

Current helicopter speeds are limited by rotor aerodynamics. In contrast the X2’s coaxial rotor system is optimized for all regimes of flight by a fly-by-wire control system that will slow the rotors at high forward speeds to prevent their tips going supersonic, while maximizing lift and minimizing drag by adjusting the pitch of the rigid, carbon-fiber blades. The counter-rotating rotors provide equal lift on each side of the aircraft and, unlike a traditional helicopter, are relieved of having to provide all the forward propulsion by a large pusher propeller at the rear of the fuselage.

The rigidity of the blades allows the rotors to be closely spaced only two feet apart, further reducing drag. Sikorsky believes the gap can be reduced even more in the future.

The X2 technology demonstrator is powered by a 1,452 shp, FADEC-equipped T800 turboshaft engine that was previously installed in one of the Comanche helicopter prototypes. It drives both the rotor and the pusher propeller through two gearboxes.


You Run, You Die

Thursday, August 28th, 2008


It looks like the Air Force got a new arrow in its quiver recently with the first employment in combat of the new Guided Bomb Unit 54 — a hybrid Joint Direct Attack Munition/Laser Guided Bomb.

Seems that the Air Force issued an urgent need statement for a 500 lb. munition that could take out moving targets. Maybe the fighter jocks were getting jealous of their missile-wielding robot friends who seem to be the go-to platforms for such moving target engagements.

Officials in Iraq announced that on Aug. 12 (why could they not talk about this any sooner? Typical Air Force) F-16s had engaged a moving vehicle with the so-called LJDAM:

The GBU-54 is the U.S. Air Forces newest 500-pound precision weapon, equipped with a special targeting system that uses a combination of GPS and laser guidance to accurately engage and destroy moving targets.

On, Aug. 12, 2008, F-16s from the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron deployed to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, successfully executed this combat first when the weapon was employed against a moving enemy vehicle in Diyala province, Iraq…

Identified as an urgent operational need in early 2007, the Air Force completed the GBU-54s development and testing cycle in less than 17 months, fielding it aboard 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing aircraft in May.

We have consistently used precision-guided weapons to engage stationary threats with superb combat effects, said Brig. Gen. Brian Bishop, 332nd AEW commander. This weapon allows our combat pilots to engage a broad range of moving targets with dramatically increased capabilities and it increases our ability to strike the enemy throughout a much, much broader engagement envelope…

“At end game, on Aug. 12, the team of the joint terminal attack controller, alongside his ground unit commander in this event, ensured all criteria were met for the first combat delivery of the LJDAM. And finally, our F-16 pilot accurately and precisely delivered and guided the weapon to desired weapons effects, the disabling and destruction of an enemy vehicle and personnel, Gen.North said.


Afghanistan Sold Short — Allied Troops Die

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008


The situation in Afghanistan has gotten me pretty pissed off these days. I got off the phone a little while ago with the commander of a battalion of Marines — 2nd battalion, 7th Marine Regiment — who’s trying to hold back the waters of “Taliban” violence manning the ramparts of a 28,000 square kilometer area of operations … a swath the size of Vermont, he said.

Because of this lack of forces, Lt. Col. Richard Hall, the battalion CO, has lost by my count 13 Marines in the short time he’s been in Afghanistan. That’s getting close to the total number of Marines killed in Iraq this year. Hall’s been extended once already — and he’s praying for relief by November if Gates will free up some Marines from Anbar (Iraq) as the commandant reiterated his desire to do today at the Pentagon.

My fundamental question is how could we have let it get this bad? Hall said he’s got no coalition forces buffering his provinces (Helmand and Farah) to the north, so the enemy slips back and forth with impunity. He says the “Taliban” that are killing his men aren’t religious fanatics — they’re criminals who are pissed about the disruption of their smuggling routes.

A couple weeks ago, we talked to the deputy director for operations at Centcom, Brig. Gen. Robert Holmes. He said the enemy in Afghanistan has gotten “more organized” and in some cases stronger. Stronger!?

“Well, we’ve seen, fighting season after fighting season, the Taliban have become more organized. And their fighting, in terms of being in units, has become more organized, and in some cases stronger.”


USAF not Ready to Retire the U-2

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

The U.S. Air Force is considering — once again — delaying the retirement date for its workhorse intelligence collector, the U-2 Dragon Lady, as developers work out issues with integrating a signals intelligence payload onto the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), according to service officials.

The current plan calls for the completion of U-2 retirement in the third quarter of fiscal 2012. But the Pentagon is considering delaying the retirement to fiscal 2014 or possibly later, depending on the maturity of the Global Hawk. And retiring a mainstay intelligence collector like the U-2 during wars that require massive amounts of sensor data is also unlikely, according to one USAF official.

The USAF has wrangled for years with various dates for U-2 retirement. Earlier plans called for the retirement to start as soon as FY ’07. But the date has continually slipped. Regional commanders such as in the Pacific realm rely heavily on the U-2. Key advantages of the aircraft over the Global Hawk include higher altitude (above 70,000 feet) and more available onboard power to run a larger selection of intelligence-gathering sensors.

The U-2 can collect data from all seven of its available bands (versus the Global Hawk’s five) simultaneously. They include green, red, near infrared (visible), two shortwave infrared bands and a midwave infrared (which can be tuned to day or night collection). The seventh band is a redundant, midwave thermal infrared channel. The shortwave bands collect images in the invisible reflected solar wavelengths and are most useful in detecting objects in adverse conditions such as haze, fog or smoke.

The latest variants of the decade-old U-2S (part of the U.S. fleet of 33 remaining Dragon Ladies) also carry the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System (ASARS) 2A designed by Raytheon (originally for mapping) that’s so sensitive it can detect disturbed earth in areas where explosive devices and mines have been planted.


NRO (not NSA) On the Chopping Block

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008


For decades its name could not be spoken outside of a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility or mentioned to someone without at least TS/SCI clearance.

It built wondrous satellites that did things like detecting missile launches from space that no one had believed possible until the National Reconnaissance Office did them.

But a string of failures, goofs and budget busters, combined with the increasing importance of intelligence gathered by air breathing assets such as Predator and Global Hawk drones, has led a prestigious commission of space experts to recommend that the NRO be merged with Space and Missile Systems Command to create something called the National Security Space Organization.

The recommendation is made by something called the Allard Commission, which was created by Congress last year. It is led by the national security space guru Tom Young, a former Lockheed Martine executive and the man who always seems to get the call to figure out how to fix space when things go wrong. Young has kept his panels recommendations under wraps but word began leaking out last week.

The plan would also lead to stripping the Air Force of its executive agent for space the person who serves the Office of Secretary of Defense as the lead on unclassified space acquisitions and transferring it to the new authority. This office will also have budget authority for all space programs.

This would include a combination of the NRO and SMC and other elements of Air Force Space Command to create a single National Security Space Command.


It’s Poll Time

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Why Not?

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008


Jason posted this comment a while back on my What is a Combat Handgun? entry.

When I got out I worked personal security for individuals.  I had to take 3 levels of firearms qualification classes.  Even with my experience several of my instructors asked me to try the revolver (yes I am going there)

I was skeptical.  But in their opinions (all were similar), if I got the **** scared out of me I would be more accurate with a revolver.  I went to a gun shop after doing some research and picked up a S&W Model 66.  Stainless steel, .357 Magnum, and adjustable sights.  Night sights too.

I started practicing with it every night for about an hour during my courses and would shoot both types of firearms.  No question I could get two in the chest and a head shot (had to unlearn that per my instructors, though…) even when worked up (we did push ups, sit ups and ran in place and then went into shooting scenarios and drills at the sound of a whistle).

In my very few engagements I felt 100% better with the revolver.  Stainless steel doesn’t rust and conceals nicely when not in use.  Speed loaders are exceptionally fast to load when taught the right technique.  And a .357+P hollow point round will mess the BG up.


Blackwater 2.0: ‘Operator Disneyland’

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008


MOYOCK, N.C. — It’s a name that’s become synonymous with the murky world of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan — where the subtle tones of the enemy’s colors blend in with innocents.

In a war like this, no one is secure and the military has its hands full, so the American government has turned increasingly to civilian contractors who pick up the slack where military and federal security personnel left off.

One of the most recognizable players in the private security industry is Blackwater Worldwide, the company founded by former SEAL Erik Prince in the mid-1990s. Though the company is best known for its burley, highly-trained security guards who are often pictured flanking State Department officials and ambassadors in Iraq or Afghanistan, there’s more to this sprawling, 7,000 acre compound here in the swampy coastal plains of North Carolina’s northeast than meets the eye.

“It’s a Disneyland for operators,” said Blackwater founding member and current president Gary Jackson during an August 22 tour of the company’s grounds. “They come here and they just can’t believe it.“

With an array of firing ranges, shoot houses, an aviation support fleet and a roster of trainers capable of delivering instruction on any kind of martial skill known to man, Blackwater has become a juggernaut in the world of private military companies.

Originally founded as a training and target manufacturing company, Blackwater has launched a media offensive to shake off its reputation among critics as a “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” band of bearded mercenaries. Two high-profile incidents in Iraq propelled the normally secretive company onto America’s front pages, and the news wasn’t good.