Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Russian T-95 main battle tank: could this combat vehicle be more formidable than we thought?

Posted by John Keller

I wrote about a new Russian main battle tank (MBT) more than a year ago, the T-95, in a blog headlined "New Russian battle tank: it's beginning to look a lot like the '80s." In this blog I wrote of a chilling sense I had about what felt like a return the bad old days of the Cold War between the United States and the then-Soviet Union. This T-95 tank which is supposed to enter service this year with its advanced vetronics, appears to be one of the most advanced war machines ever produced.

This blog generated some comment, particularly from an alert reader who calls him or herself NERO. This reader says, with some authority, that the introduction of the Russian T-95 main battle tank could be worse for Western powers than originally thought, and could bode ill for the West on a variety of military issues. You can see the original blog for NERO's initial comment. For now, I'll let NERO speak for himself:

"Hmmm! As an earlier post of mine keeps being re-quoted in the dialogues of a number of forums, you may as well have a look at this as well. I notice with amusement, the reference to General Dynamics Land Systems and TACOM in your article.

Back in the days of the Crusader System Project, both TACOM and United Defense Systems (now part of BAE Systems) were approached regarding this powering technology -- before the Russian military indicated they wished to evaluate the technology.

Like all other American institutions and manufacturers, nobody wanted to know about this work. Interestingly all of the work-ups that were provided to the Russians were based on the Crusader self-propelled artillery system and the M1A1 Abrams tank -- the original systems for which land warfare applications had been configured.

The Russians simply had to cross platforms to their smaller-chassis systems. At 1,500 horsepower, even the power level of the T-95 is the same as that which had been proposed for the Crusader and M1Al Abrams.

As I recall, during the existence of the Soviet Union, the massed tank forces of the Soviet Union, were one of the greatest concerns of NATO. Not realised at that time, but as confirmed by subsequent testing post the Soviet era, NATO had no weaponry capable of penetrating the combined ballistic and ERA armor of a Soviet tank of the period; this remains the case to this day and with the upgraded form of ERA, not even the projectiles of the guns of the various marks of Abrams MBT of the USA Army, are capable of improving this situation. This situation is the same for depleted uranium projectiles and tungsten penetrators, there is simply nothing out there that can be fired at a T-95 on the move, that will knock it out; unless you wish to consider a tactical nuclear weapon.

Consider the implications of a new Russian tank force, with an un-refuelled range better than three times that of any previous equivalent MBT, that cannot be countered by conventional weaponry. Perhaps you will then understand why Mr. Putin moved to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe, accord. The Next Generation Equipment of the Russian Army is specifically a trump card situation. With the existence of this equipment, any conflict in which NATO openly confronts Russian land warfare forces, must be a nuclear action and as this equipment is specifically performance oriented, with deployment directly from a barracks situation, any attacking force would be well into the bordering European states, before NATO could react. What European government is going to authorize NATO to undertake a nuclear action within it's own territory. Russia is going to retake it's former satellite states, one way or the other; if for no other reason than to remove the threat of NATO missile strikes from within those states.

One day, in the not too distant future, Russia may publicly demonstrate the superiority of the T-95 MBT and the balance of the associated next generation equipment of the Russian Army's land warfare equipment and pointedly, the inability of NATO to counter this equipment with non-nuclear weaponry. At this point, Russia need only announce it's annexation of it's former border states and simultaneously, deploy these advanced combat systems within these former Soviet satellites, and there will be little that can be done about it. Ask yourself this question, will the various European governments risk nuclear war with Russia, to preclude the return of these former Soviet territories, to the Russian sphere of influence?

I think not.

And something you should also know, much of the land warfare component of the next generation equipment of the re-armed Russian Army, is going to be in the form of very advanced land warfare combat robotics. At this point it is salient to mention, the T-95 is both the most advanced MBT ever built, and the most formidable land warfare combat robotic ever deployed. Development of equivalent or superior systems, is the only non-nuclear counter to Russia's introduction of these systems, and the key to this is the development of the power plant and power-train system that is the enabling component of all these next generation land warfare systems. The opportunity to develop the equivalent powering system, is the first step down the path to countering the dominance of Europe by Russia; what Russian interests remain unaware of is the ability to produce a far more fuel efficient and powerful power plant, based on the system they are already aware of. This is much more than a commercial opportunity. Gentlemen, feel free to raise this matter with Angela Merkel, it holds the potential to counter Russia's dominance over Europe. Have no doubt of this: the era of computer-game-style robotic conflict is already upon us. Don't let Europe fall too far behind in this, or you may never get a chance to recover the lost ground.

For the record, in a less hostile time, I not only provided the original powering concept for what has become the T-95 MBT, but also wrote the original concept papers on it's mode of operation, within a range of combat scenarios; these have also been adopted by the Russian Army and the early production versions of the T-95 MBT have been deployed to operational training units, to refine these integrated procedures.

You should also be aware, the re-armed Russia is going to be re-aligned as a very much high tech military. Long gone are the days of reliance upon conscripts and massed formations; or hasn't anybody noticed the shift in policy, regards the priority, previously given to ballistic missile systems? Russia is rapidly developing a first strike capability, based upon supersonic cruise missiles and in the near future, you can expect the Brahmos joint venture to roll out the first hypersonic cruise missiles. There is a new arms race, but somehow, most observers seem to be missing the indicators and the implications of the shift in policy, as does NATO and the military of the former Western alliance.



-- Posted by John Keller, jkeller@pennwell.com. www.milaero.com.

Follow me on Twitter

Monday, September 28, 2009

Can commercial software-defined radio replace JTRS? One reader points out why not

Posted by John Keller

I wrote a story earlier this month headlined, Air Force plan to cut its JTRS military radio program may acknowledge developments in private industry, in which I suggest that commercial radio communications developments in software defined radio (SDR) technology may be surpassing the U.S. military's Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), and that commercial SDR might eventually render the military's JTRS developments obsolete.

Today I received an astute e-mail from a Military & Aerospace Electronics reader that takes me to task with several solid points, which I'd like to share here. This reader's message speaks for itself, and I thank him or her for bringing these points to our attention.

There is an assumption that the commercially developed software-defined radios (SDR's) could replace the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). This is not true, if the military requirements stay as they are today.

Everyone forgets that the military wants everything small, powerful, with all the bells and whistles, and oh, by the way, you have to pass the NSA security requirements and it needs to fit into this small space.

I once heard a four-star general ask, "Why is my cell phone smaller than my wallet, it is nearly free, and I can talk around the world with it?" That type of ignorance is exactly what gets programs like Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) cancelled.

I would like to have said (but didn't), "but sir, you are communicating through cell towers that have thousands of pounds of equipment, your cell communications are not secure, your cell phone will not operate in extreme conditions, your cannot drop your cell phone from six feet onto concrete and expect it to work, you can't drop your cell phone in a bucket of water and expect it to work afterward, you cannot select the method of communications, good luck using it in the mountains of Afghanistan, and your cell phone is not "software defined," your cell phone can't communicate to other cell phones without going to a cell tower (good luck installing cell towers in every hostile area), your cell phone puts out very, low power (not 100-plus Watts), and finally, it can't communicate to any legacy radios currently in service."

Other than that the four-star had a good point.

The government levies thousands of requirements (in the case of JTRS 40,000 requirements) and then asks why the device is so expensive, costs so much to develop, and then complains when it's late (plus, let's change the requirements continually along the way).

Just a couple points for consideration.


Follow me on Twitter

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Electronic flight bag -- a taboo phrase?

Posted by John McHale

During conversations I've had recently with several experts on avionics systems on our Avionics Europe Conference Advisory Board and with electronic flight bag (EFB) designers, I've learned that EFB is more and more becoming a bad word with airline procurement managers.
During conversations I've had recently with several experts on avionics systems on our Avionics Europe Conference Advisory Board and with electronic flight bags (EFBs) designers, I've learned that EFB is more and more becoming a bad word with airline procurement managers.

Apparently avionics engineers at airlines are having a hard time justifying purchase of EFB Class 1 and Class 2 products just to enable a paperless cockpit.

Bill Ruhl, marketing manager for Astronautics in Milwaukee, Wis., told me that this hurts the retrofit market. The FAA is allowing new functionality such as airport moving maps on Class 2 EFBs has helped in this area, but it is becoming more of a competitive and cultural problem than one of capability, he said. The larger airlines do not want their pilots to be able to take the EFBs -- loaded with sensitive company data -- off the airplane, Ruhl said.

This is also why EFB designers have been adding more capability top the products, Ruhl said. They have evolved beyond the original EFB concept. He noted that Astronautics likes to call their systems single processor or dual processor solutions as opposed to EFB, because they go beyond the original concept in terms of capability.

During our Advisory Board meeting last week the members echoed these comments and for next year we decided not to have a stand alone session just on EFBs, but rather one called "Cost Efficient Avionics -- EFBs and Beyond."

Yes, we left EFBS in there because quite frankly it was one of our best attended sessions last year in Amsterdam -- despite the fact that we placed it the end of the conference, when attendance can lag.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Test and measurement systems designers leave rugged computers to the experts

Posted by John Keller

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- There seems to be a trend in portable electronic test and measurement equipment that involves commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) rugged laptop and notebook computers. Seems the test and measurement folks want to leave the rugged computer portions of their systems to the real experts.

This trend was in evidence as I prowled the aisles of the AutoTestCon test and measurement trade show this week at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Calif.

Many pieces of test and measurement equipment, such as spectrum analyzers, oscilloscopes, and systems that integrate these and other instruments in one box, need some sort of computer to run software that controls test parameters, inputs, and the like. This is part of an overall trend known as "virtual test," which trades knobs, dials, and rudimentary displays for computer-based control.

Some of the latest test instruments, however, are contained in a solid electronics enclosure that instead of screens and buttons have a standard docking-station connector compatible with rugged laptop and notebook computers like those made by Panasonic.

One company taking this approach is Astronics DME Corp. of Orlando, Fla. Officials say Panasonic and other rugged computer manufacturers already have designed their systems for shock, vibration, EMI, and other demanding environments.

Why, they ask, should their engineers have to bother with the computing portion of test instruments when the computer companies can do it better, faster, and cheaper?

Sounds like this is what the COTS movement is all about.


Follow me on Twitter

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering the lessons of 9/11

Posted by John Keller

Today is September 11, 2009. It was eight years ago this morning -- in about 25 more minutes as I write this -- that we as a nation gathered, horrified, around television sets to watch as one of the World Trade Center towers burned in New York City.

All we knew at that moment was that some sort of airplane hit the edifice. There were whispers of terrorism, but no one knew for sure. Terrorism? That stuff happened in faraway countries, usually in the Middle East. It had to be an accident.

Then we watched, dumbstruck, as yet another airplane hit the second tower, engulfing them both in flames. Then we knew. This was no accident; we were under attack. We didn't know by whom. We just knew it was happening.

I remember so well that morning sitting with my colleagues in the office lunchroom -- some in tears, others with faces contorted in anger, but most silent and in shock.

Those were the last moments of the Old World, before Iraq, Afghanistan, al-Qaida, and American flags sprouting from motorcycles and car antennas. Life was different then. No global war on terror, no IEDs, no surge, no Remember the Troops signs in villages and towns -- just a new president who had come out of a close, contentious election.

Today, however, we know. There's an enemy out there that would dearly love to do it all again ... that wants to kill us as Americans, because we are Americans. The fight isn't over. I don't know when it will be -- if it ever will be -- but we must remain vigilant and on our guard.

We cannot let the lessons of 9/11 be forgotten. Today, of all days, please remember.


Follow me on Twitter

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Attendees at London defense show have positive attitude

Posted by John McHale

Moving through the multiple security check points and walking the floors at the Defense Systems and Equipment International Exhibition -- DSEi 2009 -- in London I found the mood of the attendees quite positive.

Defense system integrators and military embedded electronics suppliers all said the traffic -- while not steady -- was well focused. The atmosphere echoed many recent U.S. defense electronics shows and conferences where industry players saw the market outlook as one of steady growth -- especially compared to commercial aviation, which continues to struggle.

While European military programs do not generate the funding of some U.S. platforms many primes predict the European defense market will continue perform well.

Bob O'Meara, European marketing director for Rockwell Collins C3I Systems told me his part of the business in Europe grew from $53 million in revenue in 2008 to 69$ million in 2009 and that he expects that trend to continue.

Embedded military electronics suppliers echoed his sentiment, saying orders continue to come in from current and new European defense customers.

The only small complaint I heard was from a power electronics exhibitor who said he wished there were more design engineers floating around, but added that DSEi is not that type of show. However, he felt it important to be there from a branding perspective.

The show organizers say they had about the same attendance as the 2007 event -- the show is held every two years and always in London.

The last one I attended was in 2005 and I found this year's DSEi to be lacking in the energy of that show. However, most shows are down in traffic as companies cut back on sending engineers to trade shows due to the poor economic climate.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kudos to Kamen, kids, and contractors

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

My hat is off to Dean Kamen, famous inventor of such innovations as the Segway PT, and mil-aero industry players, such as Rockwell Collins and General Dynamics. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a Manchester, N.H.-based organization founded by Kamen to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology, has launched various technology challenges, designed to foster imagination, innovation, and collaboration among children and adults, community and industry, government and academia, and more.

FIRST has announced the 2009 FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Challenge: Smart Move. Smart Move challenges 146,000 children, ages 9 to 14, in more than 50 countries to explore robotics solutions to issues in modern transportation through hands-on, minds-on teamwork.

A long-standing sponsor of FIRST, Rockwell Collins has provided more than $1 million in support of FIRST programs, sponsoring hundreds of teams and events at the elementary, middle, and high-school levels in the U.S. FIRST executives have named Rockwell Collins the Official Program Sponsor for the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC).

"The announcement recognizes the distinct role Rockwell Collins will play as the primary official sponsor of FTC, the newest and fastest-growing FIRST program available to students in grades nine through 12," says a company representative.

As a FIRST Strategic Partner, Rockwell Collins employees serve as volunteers, leading teams and providing technical mentorship, coordinating regional events, and judging robotics competitions.

"When you excite students with hands-on experiences and reinforce classroom learning with creative applications of content from textbooks, kids get motivated and want to learn," says Clay Jones, chairman, president, and CEO of Rockwell Collins.

An estimated 1,300 FTC teams are expected to compete in 60 official FTC tournaments across North America for the upcoming season. More than 10,000 participants will be involved in FTC events, which culminates in the FTC World Championship, April in Atlanta, Ga. Participants will be joined by teachers, parents, and university and corporate mentors as well as prominent regional and national leaders in business, government, education, and the media.

Other FIRST Tech Challenge sponsors include FTC CAD and Collaboration Sponsor, PTC, and FTC Program Sponsor, General Dynamics.

Smart Move comprises two phases. In the project phase, teams identify a problem with the way people, animals, information, or things travel in their community, create an innovative solution, and share it outside the team. In the robot phase, teams apply robotics, sensor technology, and fresh thinking to solve the problems.

Personally, I have spoken with several children between the ages of six and 14 who have not yet given any thought as to what they would like to do after high school, for a vocation, for the community or world at large, and so on. I appreciate that industry innovators are investing in the future, and getting today's youth to start thinking about technology, invention, and ingenuity, and how to apply them to solve current and future challenges.

If you know of other industry firms or individuals who are making a difference in the mil-aero community or world at large, please post the info here or in the Command Post community, or e-mail me at Courtney@pennwell.com. They deserve recognition and kudos.