Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Blogging on avionics

Posted By John McHale
Chief Editor, Avionics Intelligence

Hello and welcome to the Avionics Intelligence Blog, a forum where we will give you the opportunity to join the conversation on news, analysis, products, standards, and all things related to the avionics industry ... and even some that aren't.

At least once a week I, my colleagues, and guest bloggers from the industry will be posting a blog item like this one to the Avionics Intelligence Website. If you want to join the conversation, simply post a comment on the blog item, or just tell me what's on your mind.

We've been speaking at you through our Website and Avionics Intelligence Electronic Newsletter, now it's your chance to be part of the conversation.

Here's how it works. See something in the Website or E-newsletter that you're just dying to comment on, come to the Avionics Intelligence Blog on our Website, and sound off by posting a comment. Make the comments as silly or serious as you like --offering anger, encouragement, sage advice, and even bad jokes.

All I ask is that you keep your comments clean -- things I can put in print, in other words. I can't wait to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Another helicopter program with cost overruns

Posted by John McHale

Once again a military helicopter program is making headlines for its excessive costs. Both sides of the political aisle are questioning not only the cost of the new presidential rotorcraft and its helicopter avionics, but its necessity as well.

Reports were all over the Web about how during a recent economic summit Sen. John McCain was questioning President Barack Obama over the cost overruns associated with the Marine One presidential helicopter program, which is led by Lockheed Martin.

According to an article from Defense Industry Daily the program had a "50 percent + cost overrun."

Obama reportedly responded by saying the one he has now works just fine. Is this a sign that another helicopter program may be canceled or severely cut back?

The last military helicopter program to get nailed for being way over budget was the Army's Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH), which was canceled last fall.

The ARH, produced by Bell Helicopter, was slated to replace the aging Kiowa Warrior. According to an Army release the ARH program exceeded initial cost estimates by approximately $583 million and had delivery pushed out four years from 2009 to 2013.

During a press conference I attended in October, Army Aviation leaders stressed that even though the program was canceled, the requirement it represented -- "to relieve pressure on the Kiowa program" -- remained.

Army officials have stated that in the absence of a new platform they will focus on upgrades of the Kiowa and other helicopters such as the Apache.

Yet, is upgrading the Kiowa enough? It seems more of a band-aid than fulfillment of the requirement that the ARH was designed for.

However, Department of Defense leaders need to examine why these major programs cannot stay on budget before they award a new one -- even before they chart new upgrade paths for the Kiowa. Success for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq depends heavily on efficient helicopter platforms.

ARH promised to be a game changer before it was derailed by what appears to be poor planning.

Let's hope lessons learned are applied and the next platform succeeds on time and on budget to give U.S. warfighters the advantage they need.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In support of illegal aliens (sigh)

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

I am all for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Barack Obama this week. It is about time our hard-earned tax money was used, not to help well-paid executives at failing businesses, but to help us. What a novel idea--investing in us and the infrastructures we rely upon daily (roads, transportation, etc.). Isn't that why we pay taxes? I know I don't cut a fat check to the government annually to enable fat-cat executives to take long spa vacations, benefit from "golden parachutes," or flit around in private jets.

Two things disturb me about this stimulus package, however. First, what took so long? Why did Congress need to deliberate so long and so passionately over a stimulus that benefits taxpayers? Seems to me a no-brainer. Go out and talk to people. How is morale these days? Not good. I know it was a different Congress that deliberated (hmm...) not at all over spending hundreds of billions overseas on bodies, bombs, and bullets; but it still gets my goat, and that of thousands of other taxpaying Americans.

That brings me to another peeve, how about those non-taxpaying non-citizens? They have long benefited from our tax money, and they stand to gain even more from the stimulus. California reportedly spends upwards of $9 billion a year on illegal aliens, the very ones that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has claimed are essential to the health of the state's economy. (It is a common argument: cheap labor enables businesses to keep running and in turn paying wages to Americans and taxes to local and state governments.) I would argue, however: What health? California's economy is far from healthy. (To be fair, whose is? Organizations ranging from a rural town in N.H. to the country of Iceland have declared bankruptcy.) In a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Schwarzenegger said: "People are concerned that this state is going to go off the cliff... this budget deals with the $42 billion deficit, which is the biggest deficit that we have ever had." (Small factoid: Schwarzenegger was once himself considered an illegal immigrant in the 1970s, when he was rumored to have violated the terms of his visa.)

State and local governments in California stand to receive roughly $26 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, says one source; others estimate the amount at more than $32 billion over two years. The State Finance Department sets that number even higher: $37 billion.

What are your thoughts on the stimulus? California's economy, and what appears to be a state-wide max exodus (hundreds of residents moving out of state most months)? I would love to know.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Flight delays and respect

Posted by John McHale

During a five-hour flight delay I had in Dallas on Saturday I had plenty of time to people watch, surf the net, and down some large cups of Starbucks coffee.

The best part of the people watching was seeing the respect shown toward military personnel throughout the airport. Many travelers offered a simple "thank you for your service" or "where are you from" comment. The troops were mostly young men and women traveling between assignments or returning home from Iraq or other deployments.

I'm glad I saw it. Sometimes during trips we get so focused on our destination we miss the real-life reminders around us. It makes complaining about a lack of power outlets, poor wireless connections, or lousy airport food seem silly.

During your next trip if you come across some soldiers, sailors, or airmen please follow the example of those Dallas travelers and offer a hello or thank you or even a "come home safe."

I have extended family serving over seas and what we want most is their safe return. Their sacrifice is real and humbling.

The long delay was frustrating but worth it to witness behavior I have not seen toward military forces in foreign airports. It strikes me as uniquely American.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy birthday, President Lincoln

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

People all across the United States are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. I live in Spokane, where a large statue of President Lincoln resides. Upon moving here, I was a bit perplexed at seeing it, thinking Lincoln had no significance to Spokane. He was not born here, he did not die here, he did not vacation here or have a cabin on the Spokane River.

Why is he here? That is just the thing: President Lincoln was significant for the entire nation; and, he continues to inspire. Especially in this day and age, with economic hardship and despair all around us, his story needs to be told, again and again. A poor, uneducated boy worked tirelessly to improve upon, educate, and better himself, and became one of the most celebrated, influential, and respected presidents the world has ever known.

Did you catch President Obama's speech at the Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration? It was a moving and inspirational speech, and I am so grateful for a president who is well educated, well read, humbled, and eloquent.

President Obama said: "I feel a special gratitude to this singular figure who in so many ways made by own story possible - and who in so many ways made America's story possible. It is fitting that we are holding this celebration here at the Capitol. For the life of this building is bound ever so closely to the times of this immortal President.

"What Lincoln never forgot, not even in the midst of civil war, was that despite all that divided us - north and south, black and white - we were, at heart, one nation and one people, sharing a bond as Americans that could not break. And so even as we meet here today, at a moment when we are far less divided than in Lincoln's day, but when we are once again debating the critical issues of our time - and debating them fiercely - let us remember that we are doing so as servants to the same flag, as representatives of the same people, and as stakeholders in a common future. That is the most fitting tribute we can pay - and the most lasting monument we can build - to that most remarkable of men, Abraham Lincoln."

At the same time, does it seem bizarre to you that a "star-studded gala" would be held at Ford's Theater, the site of Lincoln's assassination in 1865, the night before the bicentennial of his birth? Maybe it is just me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Newcomers to defense biz will face ITAR headache

Posted by John McHale

Listening to a presentation today on dealing with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) pitfalls for small defense companies, I started thinking this is only going to become more problematic as commercial companies, finding their own markets tanking, try to break into the defense business. The defense industry is one of the few bright spots in this economy and already designers of commercial technology are looking for ways to attract military system integrators to their products.

Today's speaker, Russell VanDegrift, senior consultant and director at MK technology, warned the audience at the Components for Military & Space Electronics conference in San Diego that if they even think their product may be used for military systems they need to clear it with the State Department.

Unfortunately, I think commercial developers are quite naïve on this issue and we might see a more than a few get hit with costly ITAR violations.

VanDegrift also said that any products that may be sold or seen by a foreign government then used for military may come under scrutiny as well -- especially if the other country is China.

I remember last year at our Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum during the ITAR panel discussion engineers and managers kept peppering the panelists with "what if" scenarios -- when in the middle of one exchange someone stood up and said "don't take any chances, just cover your rear end, you don't want to get that letter from the State Department."

Not much has changed since then. The ITAR headache remains for many defense suppliers -- seasoned or not. It is also the only topic our conference advisory board voted to repeat for our 2009 conference.

Watch your step.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hey Kid! Mean Joe is still the best

By John McHale

Excuse the break from military technology blogs, but I gotta talk about the Steelers Super Bowl win and this year's Super Bowl commercials.

I don't know about you, but I thought the Super Bowl commercials this year pretty much stank -- especially the one that tried to recreate the simple genius of the Mean Joe Greene Coca Cola commercial from 1980.

The commercial featured current Pittsburgh Steeler, Troy Polamalu, in ad for Coke Zero. He basically played the part Greene did, but with a twist that was supposed to be funny, but came off forced. Maybe I'm biased as guy who grew up with Mean Joe and the Steeler dynasty of the 1970s, but I found it dull.

Excuse the pun but leave the classic Coke commercials alone. Mean Joe chugging the Coke, the kid, the shirt toss -- it's perfect.

The outtakes are quite funny too. Rumor has it that Greene downed something like 20 of those bottles in rehearsal. Try chugging one or two yourself and you get the picture...

Every time I see that Greene commercial replayed it makes feel like a kid again... almost as much as watching the Steelers win their 6th Super Bowl!

Best franchise in NFL history and best Super Bowl commercial. There is no doubt.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Laser companies prove to be attractive acquisition targets of prime defense contractors

Laser companies prove to be attractive acquisition target of prime defense contractors

Posted by John Keller

Last fall's acquisition of laser specialist Aculight Corp. of Bothell, Wash., by defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., may be an indication that military prime contractors are getting even more serious about developing or acquiring laser and other electro-optical technology expertise.

Laser beans of differing strengths represent one wave of the future in military technology, for the laser represents the way forward for applications, from free-space communications, stealthy sensors, and targeting, as well as a new age of lethal and non-lethal weapons.

Lockheed Martin wrapped up its acquisition of Aculight early last September, and with the acquisition, also acquired pulsed fiber and semiconductor laser expertise in national defense, aerospace, and medical applications, with off-the-shelf, developmental, custom laser systems, contract manufacturing, and fiber and semiconductor laser research.

Aculight has developed lasers for laser radar (LADAR), surveillance, mapping, and nonlinear optics conversion, as well as for infrared countermeasures and other optical warfare applications.

Robert Afzal, vice president of research and development at the new company, Lockheed Martin Aculight, says the acquisition went smoothly and relatively quickly because Aculight was such a natural fit for Lockheed Martin. He made his comments during an informal interview last week at the Photonics West trade show in San Jose, Calif.

No defense company that is interested in staying on the leading edge of technology in the future wants to let its competitors get the upper hand in a technology as promising as lasers. Lockheed Martin showed that with its acquisition of Aculight.

I'll be interested to see if America's prime defense contractors have other laser companies in their acquisition sights later this year.