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Archive for December, 2009

New Year’s Eve in Afghanistan

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Our buddy Michael Yon just forwarded a link to his latest post from the front, and we wanted you all to see it as you get ready to celebrate the arrival of 2010.   Michael writes:

On this small base surrounded by a mixture of enemy and friendly territory, a memorial has been erected just next to the Chapel.  Inside the tepee are 21 photos of 21 soldiers killed during the first months of a year-long tour of duty.  The fallen will belong forever to the honor rolls of the 1-17th Infantry Battalion, 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and they will join the sacred list of names of those who have given their lives in service of the United States of America.

Michael, of course, is one of the pioneers of milblogging and a leader among embedded bloggers. His coverage is unflinching, balanced, often beautiful and spiritual, and brutally honest. Read the entire post here. And bookmark his site while you’re there. It’s a daily must-read.

In the meantime, Happy New Year from all at Defense Tech. We had a great 2009, and we’re looking forward to shifting into the next gear in 2010. As always, we hope you’ll continue to join us.

– Ward

Ivan to Launch Asteroid Destroyer

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009


Thank goodness for the Baikonur Cosmodrome (I just love how that rolls off the tongue).

Well, if your SLBM goes haywire and leads the Nords to think aliens are attacking, why not take a hard left turn and ram an asteroid?

If the rumblings of Russia’s space agencies are true, it looks like they’re planning to spool up the Proton rockets and blast the Bejeezus out of poor Apophis, a diminutive comsic rock scheduled for an Earth flyby in 2029. But NASA doesn’t think there’s much chance the asteroid will hit terra firma, AP reports.

When the 270-meter (885-foot) asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated its chances of smashing into Earth in its first flyby, in 2029, at 1-in-37.

Further studies have ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles (29,450 kilometers) from Earth’s surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.

NASA had put the chances that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 as 1-in-45,000. In October, after researchers recalculated the asteroid’s path, the agency changed its estimate to 1-in-250,000.

A few years ago space experts feared Apophis would come perilously close to Earth, making it a Level 1 on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale (thanks Wikipedia), but dropped it off the scale after further calculations in 2006.

By the way, Apophis is the Greek word for the Egyptian demon who tries to eat the god Ra.

Makes me kind of want to rent Armageddon again and plan out my End of Days festivities. Or maybe, all us cynics are wrong and the Russkies really will save the Earth.

“People’s lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow us to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people,” Russia’s space agency chief Anatoly Perminov said.

– Christian

How Was Your First Firefight?

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Came across this interesting little video from the Pentagon’s mega list of multimedia coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan and thought it was worth sharing with the BTDTs on Defense Tech.

I love the idea that before becoming an Army infantryman, this guy was a rodeo clown.

An honest interview of a private’s first taste of some bang-bang.

So what was your first firefight like? My first time being shot at was in Afghanistan in 2004. I was on a 5-day patrol with some Joes from the 1st of the 501st and we were eating lunch with a border checkpoint commander when we heard a loud explosion. One of our uparmored Humvees had been RPGed and we rushed out to meet up with the screening patrol to assist. As we were barreling down the mountain in our Humvee we were being shot at with high caliber rounds. Then we dismounted and began to call in air and got plinked at for a little bit longer.

It was exhilerating at the time, but as soon as it was over my mouth was bone dry and I had to take a crap. And tha’s been the exact same reaction every time I’ve ever been in a firefight since.

So join Private Stafinski and tell us what your first time was like…

– Christian

Classified Bomber Under Consideration

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A little late from our partners at Aviation Week, but I wanted to get this out by the end of the year]

The $2-billion question in development of a new bomber is whether a major black-world demonstration program is already underway, with Northrop Grumman as the contractor.

This hypothesis makes sense of a series of clues that have appeared since 2005. In that year, Scott Winship, program manager for Northrop Grumman’s X-47 unmanned combat aircraft system (UCAS), mentioned that the company—responding to a U.S. Air Force interest in a bigger version of the then-ongoing Joint UCAS project—had proposed an X-47C with very long endurance, a 10,000-lb.-plus weapon load and a 172-ft. wingspan, the same as a B-2. The idea was to match extreme endurance with a “deep magazine”—a large and diverse weapon load for multiple attacks on different types of target. Soon after, in the Fiscal 2007 budget, the J-UCAS program was terminated. While the Navy continued with the X-47B—now undergoing tests before a first flight in early 2010—it was reported that USAF funds were transferred into a classified program. The service also introduced a budget line-item for a Next Generation Bomber (NGB), but the program had no visible funds for Fiscal 2008-10.


During 2007, Northrop Grumman leaders hinted that the company expected to win a major restricted program. A financial report in early 2008 then disclosed a $2-billion surge in backlog at the company’s Integrated Systems division—just after Boeing and Lockheed Martin agreed to join forces on an NGB proposal.

Since that time, sources in Washington and elsewhere have reported that the company did win a demonstrator program for a large stealthy platform, and that the program has survived the budget cuts announced in April 2009.

A possibly related development is the construction of a large new hangar at the USAF’s flight-test center at Groom Lake, Nev. Unlike other buildings on the secluded site, it is screened from the closest public viewing point by a specially constructed berm.

The most likely focus of a flight-demonstrator program would be on the aerodynamic and aero-propulsion aspects of a very stealthy flying-wing design. The B-2 was designed in the earliest days of computational fluid dynamics (CFD), before the complex 3D airflows over an all-wing aircraft could be simulated properly, and represented a low-risk trade between aerodynamics and signatures. Thirty years later, vastly more powerful computing makes it possible to design shapes with better signatures and higher efficiency that nearly ensure they will work in the wind tunnel and in flight. However, a large-scale flying demonstrator can incorporate engine inlet and exhaust effects in the design and evaluate stability and control.

High-altitude performance could be another goal. The Air Force does not regard the B-2 as survivable in daylight because of the risk of visual detection by a fighter aircraft. The B-2 cruises at the same altitude as most fighters and can be caught in the best position for visual detection—silhouetted against the horizon. A high-altitude aircraft operating at 60,000 ft. or above is less likely to be in this position, and the sky above it is dark.


Son of FCS Passes Major Test

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Just got word from the folks over at the Program Executive Office for Integration overseeing the remnants of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program that the suite of technologies now riding under the “Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team” banner passed a Defense Acquisition Board review, giving the Army the green light to produce a brigade-sized package of the wiz bang gadgets.

As you might remember, I traveled to White Sands last summer to check out the gear, including the unattended ground and urban sensors, the “flying half-keg” drone, SUG-V small unmanned ground vehicle and a mock up of the Non-Line of Sight Launch System.

I’m overall encouraged that the program is moving forward. Some of the systems, particularly the unattended ground sensors, need some more time in development, but show some initial promise. I can see how the Class 1 UAV might become a Soldier’s best friend, but more needs to be worked out on range and fuel payload. The ground bot was a bit less impressive to me — counter IED technology and the spiral of those offshoots mimic or surpass what the SUG-V can offer.

The NLOS-S is an intriguing system, offering portable, precision fires with multiple warhead options and high yield effects. Plopping those things down at FOBs and even COPs will keep forces a lot safer with more responsive fires when they need them in a pinch.

The review formally paved the way for production of one Brigade Combat Team set of equipment, which will be used in Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) in FY2011. Additionally, the Army plans continued testing of all Increment 1 assets over the next two years. The Army is also executing a plan to incrementally grow and demonstrate network maturity and system reliability in order to support continued production and fielding of future Brigades based upon successful testing and evaluation this year and next.


So kudos to the program team leading the EIBCT. I must say, the program folks I traveled with last summer could not have been more accomodating and helpful and the Soldiers testing the gear more honest in their candid assessments. If a huge program such as FCS is forced to disintigrate, let’s hope they’re all run with at least some of the same deftness as this one is so far.

– Christian

Camo Delays and Assessment Team Gouge

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

From today’s headlines on Military​.com:

The Army is close to fielding all the uniforms and accessories it planned to outfit Soldiers in as part of its crash program to develop a new camouflage scheme for operations in Afghanistan.

About half of the body armor carriers on the popular MultiCam pattern have yet to be fielded.  The manufacture of MultiCam uniforms on a fire-resistant fabric was delayed, as well.

“We got ahead and we started looking at some fabrics to make sure that we would meet all the requirements that operational forces in theater needed and that we weren’t going to give them any less capability,” said Lt. Col. Mike Sloane, program manager for Soldier equipment. “We would not give up on FR capability. That was non-negotiable.”

Sloane told Military​.com in a recent interview at his Fort Belvoir headquarters that about 500 MultiCam plate carriers were on their way to Afghanistan and that about 500 more had already been delivered.

“There could be 200–300 Soldiers that have everything that they need except for the MultiCam plate carrier,” Sloane added.

The so-called “immediate action” experiment to field 1,000 MultiCam uniforms and accessories to Afghanistan alongside 1,000 ensembles of an Army-developed camo dubbed “Universal Camouflage Pattern-Delta” stemmed from congressional criticism that the current UCP pattern wasn’t adequately concealing Soldiers in the varied terrain of Afghanistan.

The Army pledged to field the alternate patterns to two battalion-sized units in Afghanistan by the end of October but has struggled to get the full complement of gear to Joes by that deadline.

According to Sloane, all of the items patterned in UCP-D have been sent to Afghanistan, and Soldiers are patrolling in their new duds. The MultiCam Joes — Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the 12th Infantry Regiment — are already wearing some of their new uniforms but without the accessories patterned in the sought-after scheme.

Sloane said part of the reason why Soldiers aren’t sporting their pouches, helmet covers and armor covers in the experimental patterns might have something to do with the difficulty of swapping well-worn accessories for new ones. With the helmet cover, for example, it’s difficult to detach the night vision goggle bracket and other lights and holders from the Kevlar lid, install a new cover, then re-attach it all. That hassle might have kept some Joes from making the switch, but Sloane says it’s got to be done.

“I have seen photos of Soldiers and leaders in theater in UCP-Delta walking around with a UCP helmet, and I’m like ‘what the heck?’ ” Sloane said. “I’m not sure if it was ‘hey, we’ve got a mission, put on the uniforms and we’ll get to that later.’ … It’s in theater, they have it and they should be wearing it.”

Sloane had recently returned from a brief deployment to Afghanistan with a nine-man specialized team — Soldiers and one Sailor — tasked with accumulating data for the second stage of Army research into a new camo scheme.


MultiCam Sighting

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Trolling through the latest uploads from the military PAOs in Afghanistan, I spotted this one of some Joes from 2–12 Infantry patrolling in Kunar province.

You’ll notice the OTV, helmet cover and pouches aren’t in MultiCam, but I have the explanation so stay tuned to Military​.com for an article tomorrow on the latest Af-Cam distribution and testing.

– Christian

Naval Academy Flight Evals

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Happy Christmas Eve folks.

I thought I’d pass along to you a video we found deep in the Military​.com archives. Give it a look before you cut out early today from the grind.

This is rare archival footage of preliminary flight evaluations for the US Naval Academy class of 1982. We did some video forensics here and we’re pretty sure we’re seeing Midshipman 4th Class Edward Carroll’s very first go at becoming a Naval Aviator.

We need some more eyeballs on this thing to be sure, so give it a very close look and let us know if you think this is the man himself.

Whoever it is, darn nice flying, though!

Merry Christmas everyone…

– Christian

Who’s Gonna Get the Army’s New Combat Pant?

Thursday, December 24th, 2009


We posted a story a while back on a new combat pant the Army was spinning off as part of its look into better fire resistant ACUs. Thanks to our friends at Soldier Systems we got some good gouge on the development, but I’m here to update you on the latest fielding schedule.

In our long conversation Dec. 18, Lt. Col. Mike Sloane of PEO Soldier told Defense Tech that the lucky testers will be a brigade from the 101st Airborne heading to Afghanistan next month. PEO plans to issue 7,000 pairs of the combat pant, which incorporates stretchy fabric, integrated knee pads and FR fabric that’s more durable than the FR Rayon in today’s FR-ACU.

And it’s made by guess who? The Army’s new uniform darlings (and the Brits), Crye Precision. The above photo is from Crye’s Web site.

I went ahead and made an audio clip of this part of our interview for your listening pleasure. Mike Sloane can explain the whole evolution better than I can. But suffice it to say, some very happy airborne troopers are going into the zone with some pretty high-tech duds.


– Christian

US Plans for New ICBM-Killer Take Shape

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency is refining some advanced concepts for the SM-3 interceptor to attack intercontinental ballistic missiles.

These include designs for lighter weight kill vehicles, and possibly a new propulsion system for the kill vehicle as well as the missile’s upper stage.

MDA is looking at introducing liquid propulsion into the kill vehicle design, partly because the plan to move the SM-3 to land for the Aegis Ashore European defense architecture would allow the use of hypergolic propellants, which are banned for ship-based usage.

“We know from past work on the EKV [Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle] that liquid propulsion gives us all sorts of flexibility. We can turn it on when we need it and we can turn it off when we want to shut it off,” says Rich Matlock, MDA director of advanced programs. The EKV is the kill vehicle built by Raytheon and used for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptors at Ft. Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. EKV would be the kill vehicle today that would be used if an ICBM were launched at the United States. The SM-3 lacks the range and speed needed to kill a long-range missile.

A solid propellant such as that used in the SM-3 kill vehicle design burns steadily until it is expended, limiting its flexibility. With a liquid fuel “if we have got to put some thrust into the system right now, we can put it in and shut it off and save some thrust for later … We can wait for a long period of time between those pulses,” Matlock says.

Read the rest of this story, see how the US and its allies up north are planning for Aghanistan, see how wacky the Polar Kiwis are and ride the bubble with Spanish subs from our friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian