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Retro-Futuro

The COIN Plane Race Heats Up

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Call it a kick butt cure for a strong case of “Next-War-itis”…

Sick of F-22s, Ospreys, VH-71s and JSFs? Well, then the Combat Air Truck is the plane for you.

Built by Air Tractor, a premier designer and builder of crop dusting planes, the CAT is set to debut at the Paris Air Show coming up in the middle of this month. Built as a purpose-designed counter insurgency aircraft, the CAT sports extremely short take off and landing capability (150–200 feet) with very long loiter (10 hours with fuel bladders) and plenty of lift to carry rockets, GAUs and pods in expeditionary environments.

A source who’s flacking the plane tells me the main benefit is the plane’s lack of logistics footprint…“everything can be fixed with a wrench and screwdriver,” he said, eliminating the need for expensive spare parts, maintenance bays and teams of techs to keep the thing up and running.



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The plane could provide low-cost, long-loiter CAS, convoy escort and FID missions for US troops, allies and contractors flying out of areas as small as battalion — or even company-level FOBS.

“This is about having breakfast with a convoy commander before launching to provide him with route recon, battlefield overwatch, and if necessary precise and withering fires on anything that gets in the way,” my source sent me.

I’m bullish on COIN aircraft and with a USAF chief of staff who’s keen on the idea of cheaper, longer loiter, less maintenance intensive aircraft for the current fight and for allies who can’t afford $10 million aircraft, this capability is going to be increasingly attractive.

– Christian

Return of the Hindenburg

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Always on the verge of a seeming comeback, airships are back in the spotlight, touting new technologies. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency recently announced funding for an innovative, ballast-free airship technology created by Aeros Aeronautical Systems, based outside Los Angeles. The Aeroscraft ML866’s potentially revolutionary Control of Static Heaviness system compresses and decompresses helium in the 210-ft.-long envelope, changing this proposed sky yacht’s buoyancy during takeoff and landings, Aeros says.

It hopes to end the program with a test flight demonstrating the system. Other companies are planning their own first flights within the next few years. Each has a design that it promises will launch a new era of lighter-than-air transportation.

Read more from our friends at Popular Mechanics on Military​.com.

– Christian

The Poor Man’s Stealth Detector

Friday, December 7th, 2007

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Details of a formerly secret project to defend Swedish airspace against stealthy cruise missiles using a radical but inexpensive radar system were revealed at a conference in Oslo this week. The Associative Aperture Synthesis Radar (AASR) was approaching the hardware-test stage when it was cancelled in 2000 after eight years of work — because there was no imminent cruise-missile threat any more. It has only recently been declassified and this was one of the first open, formal briefings on the project.

The AASR was designed to take advantage of the principle that a target’s bistatic radar cross section — where the radar receiver and transmitter are in different places — may be affected minimally or not at all by stealth measures aimed at conventional radars. In particular, it exploits the “shadow” RCS behind the target, which depends entirely on the target’s geometrical cross-section. The radar was also designed to operate in the UHF band where radar absorbent material (RAM) is less effective.

Developer Hans Hellsten of Saab Microwave Systems told the conference that the AASR used a number of novel techniques. Each transmitter would transmit on stepped frequencies so that receivers could tell where a signal came from. This made it possible to determine the length of the signal path, so that if a signal was picked up at several nodes it was possible to determine the target’s location precisely.

One disadvantage: the transmitter and receiver had to be on opposite sides of the target, so it could not be detected until it had entered the defended airspace. To get around that problem and still intercept targets in a timely manner, Swedish planners expected to exploit the system’s accuracy — it could locate targets within 1.5 m — and command-guide a high-speed missile on to the target.

But because the system used range rather than bearing to locate its targets, the antennas did not need to have accurate bearing resolution. Also, the system’s use of UHF, its independence from target RCS and the fact that bistatic systems have long pulse times meant that the necessary power was modest.

The result was a price that caused sharp intakes of breath among the delegates. Each of the 900 nodes was expected to cost no more than 1 million Swedish kroner (about $156,000) and the entire system would be in the 1 billion kroner ($156 million) realm — pretty much chickenfeed by defense standards.

Read more from our Aviation Week friends at Military​.com.

Christian

Mine Threat to U.S. Ships?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

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A World War II mine was discovered and destroyed in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol as the U.S. destroyer Forest Sherman was entering the Ukrainian port. The incident occurred on August 9 as the Sherman — an Aegis missile destroyer — called at Sevastopol to conduct drills with the Ukrainian Navy.

The destroyer was about 500 yards from the floating mine when it was discovered. The mine was secured to prevent it from drifting into a ship and subsequently was detonated without causing any damage. The mine was estimated to weigh about 1,100 pounds and to contain up to 110 pounds of high explosives.

A half-century ago a similar (albeit larger) weapon sank a Soviet battleship in the worst disaster to befall the Red Navy. The dreadnought was the former Italian Conte di Cavour, which had been transferred to the Soviet Navy in 1949 as part of the division of Axis warships after World War II. Renamed Novorossysk, the battleship — flagship of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet — was anchored at Sevastopol. Early on October 29, 1955, the ship was wracked by a massive explosion, apparently caused by a World War II-era German mine.

Although moored only 1,000 feet from the shore, and with numerous other naval units nearby, the ship began to slowly sink to the shallow bottom. But the ship began to rotate and rolled over completely. The capsizing caused the death of 608 officers and enlisted men.

Subsequently 19 German-type mines were found in the general area where the ship had sunk although the area had been swept earlier. But some Soviet officials believed that the explosion was caused by Italian frogmen, who sank the ship to avenge her transfer to the Soviet Union. Others believed it was an internal explosion — an act of sabotage.

The large loss of life was blamed on the incompetence of the ships commanding officer, the fleet commander, and others for their failure to take appropriate action to beach the ship. And, the loss of the Novorossysk caused the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, Admiral Nikolai G. Kuznetsov to be fired in November 1955. His first deputy, Admiral Serge G. Gorshkov, was appointed to succeed him. Gorshkov would serve as head of the Soviet Navy for 29 years.

U.S. and Ukrainian officials state that the destroyer Sherman was never in danger from the mine.

– Norman Polmar

Future Bat-Tech for Bots

Friday, July 6th, 2007

Theyre an enigma of flight. Rats with wings that guide themselves through the air with chirps and clicks. And now the Air Force is taking notice to see how the mysteries of a bats ability to fly can help make better aircraft in the future.
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The Boston Globes Bryan Bender has an outstanding piece today on a $6 million research program at Brown University intended to uncover the mechanics and science of chiroptera flight for human (or robotic) applications…

From the Globe:

Research so far has found that bats can carry up to 50 percent of their weight and execute airborne maneuvers that would make a bird or plane fall out of the sky. Moreover, scientists believe the hundreds of tiny sensors covering bat wings could be the key to their most impressive airborne maneuvers, a discovery that engineers could replicate with networks of sensors and computers on military aircraft.

If researchers can unlock the secrets of bat flight, it could have wide-reaching implications, according to Air Force and Brown officials. They say the project has the potential to revolutionize aircraft design and could lead to the creation of smaller, more efficient military air vehicles that can maneuver in tight spaces as well as gather intelligence and airlift supplies through forbidding terrain.

“The Air Force envisions a future in which they have lots of autonomous air vehicles that can take on different kinds of missions and that don’t have pilots,” said Sharon Swartz, an evolutionary biologist at Brown who is helping run the project. “We know a lot about the aerodynamics of large things moving very fast. There is almost nothing known yet about the basic physics of bat flight.”

(more…)

Hope for Amputees

Monday, March 12th, 2007

The global war on terror particularly the war in Iraq has created a record number of military amputees. The horrific effects of improvised explosive devices have wreaked havoc on our troops, tearing bodies apart far more than they kill.

The militarys medical professionals have done amazing work on the development of prosthetics and rehabilitation, enabling many troops to return to duty where in the past they would have been medically retired.

A video making its way around the internet introduces an intriguing new entry onto the list of cutting-edge solutions for those whove lost a limb. It is unclear where this presentation was made, but scuttlebutt is Segway inventor Dean Kamens DEKA Research and Development Company has built a cyborg arm with near-human dexterity and sensitivity.

DT is tracking down details, but as this grainy video shows, the arm could revolutionize orthopedic medicine and dramatically improve the quality of life of our wounded veterans.

(Gouge: BH)

– Christian

WWI Mine-Mashers to Iraq

Friday, October 20th, 2006

The armed services are spending billions and billions to figure out fancy new ways to stop improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. But the latest trick is an oldie — dating back to World War I — and couldn’t be less high tech.
ai011206a3.jpgThe contraptions are called mine rollers — sets of wheels mounted in front of a vehicle, basically. When they roll over a mine or a pressure-activated IED, the wheels trigger the bomb. Because the vehicle is some distance behind the rollers, much of the bomb blast wave does not reach the vehicle, dramatically reducing the damage. And the vehicle lives to see another day. The Marine Corps just bought 150 sets from General Dynamics, according to Defense Industry Daily.
This idea sounds glaringly obvious. So you might wonder why it took the military more than 3 years to put the rollers up. In fact, the idea of a mine roller originated in 1918, to help nascent tanks deal with the anti-tank mines of that era. Many of the earliest IEDs in Iraq were built with anti-tank mines. Why didn’t anybody in the Army Engineer School, for instance, make the connection?
Chalk some of it up to military bureaucracy. When it comes to mine-clearance, combat engineers and explosive ordnance disposal techs sometimes have overlapping lines of responsibility. (Which helps fuel an often-bitter rivalry.) At times, who exactly is supposed to develop bomb– and mine-fighting gear has been a blurry question, as well. The Counter-IED Task Force is now supposed to be in charge. But we’ll see.
There are several legitimate concerns with the mine rollers that I am not going to mention here. However, my answer to these concerns are: If the insurgents do that, it would make their IEDs more detectable. Moreover, the standoff will interfere with aiming.
A friend and I were working on a similar concept, a Humvee roller attachment. However, we could not find a machinist to build our prototype. Now that I am deployed, we could not continue our commercial venture. One feature of our design was that it was telescoping, meaning that we can vary the distance of the rollers to the vehicle. We can change the distance to respond to changes in IED tactics. Maybe General Dynamics will incorporate the feature into their next run of mine rollers, too.
Jimmy Wu

Vintage Looks at Future Wars

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

Oooh oooh. Just when I thought I had hit the retro-futuro motherlode, along comes Tales of Future Past.
tank 02.jpgThe site has a ton of vintage looks at tomorrow, including classic magazine stories of inflatoplanes, hovering Oldsmobiles, and kitchen computers.
But the stuff that’ll get Defense Techies riled up is in the Future War section. Land battleships, anyone? (Note the farmhouse, about to be crushed.) Jumping jack artillery tower? Gyro destroyer? (Think Ferris Wheel, with guns, and you’ve got the right idea.)
“Predictions about the future seem to have a paradoxical quality about them. On the one hand, you see all sorts of articles and images showing a prosperous, peaceful people enjoying complex and interesting lives with all sorts of wonderful gadgets. On the other hand, you find gleeful descriptions of the most incredible means of wielding death that an adolescent mind can conjure,” David Zondy, the site’s founder, notes. “Come to think of it, that ended up being not very far from the truth. The late 20th century saw the West, and many parts of the rest of the world, enjoying incredible levels of prosperity with some of the most wonderful technological toys ever made, yet at the same time the entire world had a nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over its head.“
UPDATE 10:25 AM: Modern Mechanix just posted the full text of a 1934 story, “Is Aerial Warfare Doomed?“
(Big ups: Chris)

“Yesterday’s Tomorrow, Today”

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

baby_gas_mask.jpgI have a new favorite blog. Modern Mechanix combs through old science magazines to pick out some of the goofier retro visions of the future. (There are some seriously awesome ads, too.)
Behold the baby-sized gas mask, the real-life hair helmet, and the magic house that makes its own weather.
The site (motto: “Yesterday’s tomorrow, today”) is good for more than just a laugh, though. It also serves as a reminder to those of us writing about technology that the gear you fall in love with today could be the stuff you ridicule tomorrow.

Big Bucks for Giant Blimp

Monday, December 12th, 2005

I can’t figure it out, honestly, what’s behind this blimp fetish of mine. Maybe it’s because I dig retro visions of the techno-future — from pneumatic subways to mobile homes on the Moon; blimps somehow feed into that. Maybe it’s the idea of being lighter than air that grabs me.
AIR_High_Altitude_Airship_lg.jpgEither way, I’m not alone. There are a bunch of other people in the Defense Department who share my obsession. And they are handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a new fleet of military airships.
The latest, Defense Industry Daily tells us: a $149 million contract to Lockheed, to build a massive High Altitude Airship that will look out for ballistic missile launches.

The blimp will hover above the jet stream at an altitude of 65,000 feet for months at a time and will also have the ability to detect low-flying missiles that may have slipped underneath ground-based radars. Once operational, it will be an important early-detection element of the broader U.S. missile defense architecture. It may also add as a weather surveyor and telecom relay.
There are a number of challenges associated with an effort of this nature.
Solar cells and an advanced fuel cells that can deliver up to 500 kW must be developed to power the craft. An aerodynamic design and a control system must be developed to help keep the airship steady amid the high winds at that altitude, without consuming excessive power. Another important factor is determining how the airship would react to changing temperatures as the sun rises and sets every day, heating and cooling the helium. Then there’s the major challenge of finding materials for the airship’s skin that are capable of withstanding the extreme ultraviolet radiation at such high altitudes for extended periods without becoming brittle.

But this HAA is actually a little less ambitious than earlier designs. Before, the airship was supposed to be King Kong big, at 25 times the size of the Goodyear Blimp. Now, it’s merely huge, at two-and-a-half Goodyears in length. Plans to power the airship with lasers seem to have also fallen by the wayside, for now.
If everything goes well, a prototype HAA should be ready to fly in 2010. I can’t wait.
UPDATE 5:23PM: Via the Wonk, here’s a presentation on “Advanced Concepts in Missile Defense.” The HAA is in there, as well as a program for one interceptor with “multiple kill vehicles.”