Thursday, October 29, 2009


Posted by John McHale.

Nearly everyone I speak to at defense electronics trade shows or for interviews over the phone brings up the COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) procurement term in some way. They make COTS products, use COTS practices, or think COTS is the worst thing in the world.

Everyone seems to have different definitions or different acronyms for COTS. I've heard GOTS -- government-off-the-shelf; ROTS -- rugged-off-the-shelf; MOTS -- military-off-the-shelf; NOTS -- NATO-off-the-shelf; or my personal favorite: KOTS -- kinda-off-the-shelf. A few industry friends tell me they see a lot of SHOTS or "sh "-off-the-shelf. I'll let you fill in the rest ... we are a family web site ya know.

Seriously though, COTS is a procurement term that is supposed to embrace technology standards, but lacks any standard definition itself.

At our magazine we like to think of COTS as being anything that is available out of a company catalog, even if it is tweaked or adjusted for a specific program. On the other hand custom would be anything that the government or end-user pays a supplier to develop from the ground up.

We've been talking about COTS for 15 years now. We've had shows about it and dedicated sections of our magazine to it, but many of our readers still differ on its meaning.

Some think the original intent of the Perry memo was to embrace commercial practices rather than a decree to run out and buy gadgets right off the shelf at Radio Shack or Fry's. In other words, to create standard product lines of MIL-STD components that can be bought off the shelf.

Many companies do offer such solutions, but just as many will buy a totally commercial component that does not meet military specifications and put it in a rugged enclosure.

Using COTS also cuts down on development time, which is very important to DOD program managers who want to get technology into the hands of the warfighter in Iraq or Afghanistan as fast as possible. DOD funding has been diverted from long-term programs to solutions that can be deployed near term to the warfighter.

Regardless, of how COTS is deployed or used, its dark side -- obsolecscne remains. No matter how you define it, designers still have to manage how they will support programs with components that will be obsolete in a few months or years.

Desginers of the avionics for the Orion spacecraft -- the proposed replacement for the space shuttle -- at Honeywell told me in January that managing obsolescene is one of their biggest challenges, but they cannot reach many of their performance golas without making use of COTS electronics and standards.

A decade and half after the Perry memo COTS has become a household word to those in the defense industry, it remains a kind of procurement wonder drug with wonderful benefits and occasionally some nasty side effects.

What does COTS mean to you? I would love to hear your COTS definition, your COTS success, or even a COTS horror story.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We're not playin' around: E-networking means business, not socializing

Posted by John Keller

All of us conducting business on E-networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and the others are running into a problem: a growing number of companies and other organizations are coming up with policies that ban the use of so-called "social networking" while at work. While it's difficult to characterize the depth of this mistake, we have ourselves at least partially to blame.

Why us? Because we use the poisonous term "social networking," which to the uninitiated means socializing, not working. We've all seen the cute stories in the press about Twitter, Facebook, etc., and with that kind of media play, who could blame many in the business community who perceive activity on these sites as play time, not work time?

Well, it's time to put a stop to this, and the first thing we can do is quit using the term "social networking" when describing the use of E-networking sites like Twitter and Facebook for business. Start using a term that means business, like E-networking, business networking, or even B-netting. Personally, I use E-networking to describe how I push out editorial content and commentary related to Military & Aerospace Electronics on Twitter and Facebook. I won't use that other term that contains the "s-word."

I wish I had started doing this earlier, because there are distressing trends on the horizon. Our own internal audience-development research here at Military & Aerospace Electronics indicates that companies we serve with information every day have policies in place, or are contemplating policies, to prevent their employees from using E-networking tools while at the office.

I also run into stories like this one in the online edition of The Daily Mirror newspaper in London, headlined "Twitter and Facebook cost firms millions as employees waste time (," and this survey of 1,400 chief information officers that indicates 54 percent of companies block the use of Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace at work (

This is all based on the false assumption that time spent on E-networking is wasted time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Companies might be able to fight E-networking for a while, but doing so is a lot like the last dinosaurs eating the first mammals. You might prevail today, but time is not on your side.

I understand that it can be exhausting conducting business today in a world that changes not just daily, but hourly. E-networking is a profoundly disruptive technology; it's upsetting, frustrating, and bewildering, but it also will take us to the next step in electronic communications. We don't have much say in the matter; this is the way it's going whether we embrace E-networking or not. I think the experts are right who predict that conventional e-mail will be obsolete within the next decade, replaced by E-networking technology and whatever it leads to.

If we're going to keep pace, then the time to get on board with E-networking in the workplace is now -- not tomorrow. Our business allies and competitors are amassing large followings of important contacts in E-networking. These lists of E-networking contacts are every bit as important as our customer e-mail and subscriber lists. As we gather a critical mass of important business contacts as followers, friends, fans, whatever, we can control our business communications like never before.

This has tremendous implications for publishing, public relations, retail, and all kinds of business-to-business ventures; any business that must communicate with its customers to succeed will rely on E-networking technology, if not now, then eventually. If business fails to get on board now, their learning curve will be very steep once they finally realize what they have to do. Companies that are holding back on E-networking must understand that their competitors are not ...

... which leads me back to this notion of banning E-networking in the workplace. It's kind of like banning the telephone because of its potential for abuse. Just like a telephone, E-networking is a critical business tool today, and will grow even more so in the future.

E-networking represents a fast-moving stream of often-crucial business information that is available to whomever dips into it. It just doesn't make any sense to keep this information source away from employees who potentially could make the best use of it. You can bet your competitors aren't, and your customers are going to notice.

If you're tentative about E-networking, come on in; the water's fine.

John Keller is chief editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics, a PennWell publishing franchise consisting of an active Website, e-newsletters, print magazine, and trade shows, which is based in Nashua, N.H. Contact Military & Aerospace Electronics online at, on Twitter at @jkeller1959 and #milaero, and on Facebook at If you're hopeless, you could even e-mail John Keller at

A special thanks to Chris Burke, president of BtB Marketing Communications, who helped me brainstorm for this piece. Chris tweets on Twitter at @CBurkeBtB.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

DOD contracting: it's quiet out there; too quiet

Posted by John Keller

There seems to be a lull in technology-related contracting at the U.S. Department of Defense over the past week. A scan of the bluetops shows days on end with just one or two awards of consequence to the aerospace and defense electronics community. Makes me a little nervous.

Not a lot to report out there. The Navy's about to pull the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise out of the water to scrape off the barnacles and repaint the hull. If you're looking for excitement, that's about it.

It's not to say nothing's going on; there are a few solicitations out there. The Air Force is looking for ways to keep UAVS from crashing into each other. DARPA wants a UAV that stays up for five years. The Coast Guard wants a WMD-detecting radio network, and the Army wants a vehicle-mounted sensor that tells where the enemy snipers are.

Still, the lack of contract volume seems strange.

Makes me wonder what's going on -- or not. Doesn't seem like a normal lull in contract activity to me. That usually happens with a gradual slowing of contracting, not a sudden dropoff like we saw this past week.

Walk out away from the campfire at night, you usually hear crickets and other night sounds, not silence. When the crickets stop chirping and an ominous silence descends, then it's usually time to pay attention; something's about to happen. Could be good, could be bad, but you had better keep a clear eye, nonetheless.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a flurry of activity come up soon. Then again, might this be the beginning of a long-term slowdown? I wish I could tell you for sure. All I can advise is we had better pay attention.


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Post your aerospace and defense-related material to the #milaero community on Twitter. Use the #milaero hashtag.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

David Jensen joins Avionics Intelligence

Posted by John McHale

I am quite thrilled to announce that veteran aviation journalist David Jensen has joined our staff as a contributing editor. He will be writing one feature and news article a month for the Avionics Intelligence website and e-newsletter.
I am quite thrilled to announce that veteran aviation journalist David Jensen has joined our staff as a contributing editor. He will be writing one feature and news article a month for the Avionics Intelligence website and e-newsletter.

David is also serving on the advisory boards for our Avionics Europe and Avionics USA conferences and exhibitions. He was a co-founder of the Avionics Europe event held each March in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

David, the former editor-in-chief of Avionics Magazine and Aviation Maintenance Magazine, has more than 25 years experience in aviation journalism. He was also managing editor and then editor of Rotor & Wing, covering the helicopter industry. Briefly, he also served as editorial director for the Magazine Group at Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.

David's first article for us will be on DO-254 certification issues for avionics hardware and will appear next month on our website and e-newsletter.

I'm looking forward to working with David, his in-depth experience and knowledge of aviation and journalism will be a huge asset to Avionics Intelligence.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

OpenVPX interoperability standard hands off to VITA in another step toward ratification

Posted by John Keller

Well I'll be jiggered! They did what they said they were going to do, when they said they were going to do it.

I'm talking about the OpenVPX committee, whose members passed the OpenVPX interoperability draft standards over to the VITA 65 committee of the VITA Standards Organization on Monday, on time, on budget, and on the ball.

It's refreshing, in this day and age, to see folks say they're going to do something, and then do it. Thank you to everyone who participated in the OpenVPX process to lay down guidelines that ultimately will help major systems integrators choose the VITA 46 VPX switch fabric interconnect with good assurance that it will work when they put their systems together.

Now the OpenVPX standards go to the VITA open standards organization in Scottsdale, Ariz., for final ratification -- not only as a VITA standard, but as an ANSI standard as well. The OpenVPX name will live on as a brand name for the VITA 65 interoperability standards for the VPX interconnect.

This process has been different in many different ways. First, the speed at which the OpenVPX committee agreed on interoperability standards acceptable to the big systems integrators like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman is unprecedented -- at least in recent memory.

Put a bunch of engineers in a room and ask them to agree on technical standards is usually a recipe for a time-consuming food-fight, with different camps fighting over the most minute details. Not this time -- not with OpenVPX.

The folks on this committee had a real sense of urgency. They knew that if they didn't come up with a draft standard, and quickly, that the prime systems integrators would go elsewhere for their switch fabric interconnects -- possibly to proprietary, closed-system approaches. Now that's probably not going to happen.

Second, the OpenVPX standards this group is handing over to the VITA 65 committee will be considered a "living specification," not set in stone, and with accommodations for upgrades and other improvements as time goes on.

Last, and perhaps most important, is this standard probably has more buy-in from the prime systems integrators, from the get-go, than most standards have had in the past. These so-called "lead systems integrators (LSIs)" were there to ride herd on the techno-purists and make sure the job got done.

Rest assured, furthermore, that the big systems integrators will keep an eye on the process as the OpenVPX interoperability standard goes through the VITA 65 committee because "they already have so much skin in the game," says Mark Littlefield of Curtiss-Wright Controls

Friday, October 16, 2009

Editor at large

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

Wow, upon writing the headline, a flood of fat jokes popped into my head, but I will fight the impulse (which is also a good dieting tactic). It just goes to show you: I should never write a blog on a Friday night.

I had an incredible week, traveling about Oregon visiting with knowledgeable, charismatic, and passionate executives at technology firms serving military and aerospace customers.

Here's where I went, who I saw, and what I learned (in a nutshell anyway):

FLIR -- David Strong, vice president of marketing, FLIR Government Systems, and Angel Bennett, a new hire for the company but a seasoned mil-aero veteran, treated me to a tour--sans camera phone. It is good that the receptionist requested my phone; I noted a few times when I would have wanted to snap a photo or two. Great stuff in forward-looking infrared, lasers, thermal imaging, and more.

Mentor Graphics
-- James Price, a marketing manager and all-around man in demand at Mentor Graphics, set aside some time to sit down with me and discuss electronic design automation, product lifecycle management, requirements tracking, and more. The company's IESF, a free mil-aero forum, takes place in little more than a week in Dallas. Price also announced an impressive list of speakers for the event, which includes Northrop Grumman, IBM, Teal Group, Patmos Engineering Services, and of course, Mentor Graphics. Moreover, he revealed that Q2 of 2009 was a record quarter for Mentor Graphics. Kudos! I would certainly love to hear more good news like that about the industry.

Tektronix -- Sophie Fauveau, worldwide marketing communications program manager, and Todd Baker, senior manager, discussed the company's latest advancements. The company has announced its highest-performance mixed signal oscilloscope. The new MSO70000 series offers integrated digital and analog analysis to system integration debugging.

RadiSys -- Happily, it was my first visit with RadiSys that did not take place hurriedly on a trade show floor. Lyn Pangares, director of marketing communications, and John Long, product line manager, sat down with me and discussed the company's history and its future. The company has, I have learned, an interesting back story. RadiSys was delivering commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions (COTSS? Sorry, I digress) that met the stringent requirements of the medical market. RadiSys and its products, therefore, caught the eye of engineers serving the mil-aero market. Customers were saying "we want your product in the mil-aero environment" and essentially pulled RadiSys into the community. The relationship enabled mil-aero customers to "access a level of technology not previously available" and "dip their toe into COTS," according to a representative.

Engineering Design Team -- I have heard nary a peep from Engineering Design Team in months, but, as I found out, it does not mean they aren't up to something. In fact, the company offers solutions well suited to advancing the state and use of digital video on the battlefield. As I learned at NAB?s Government & Defense Summit earlier this year, officials in the Department of Defense are actively seeking advanced technology for acquiring, processing, sending/receiving, viewing, and storing multiple terabytes of digital video captured by various sensors on the battlefield.

VersaLogic -- In a serene, farmland setting sits VersaLogic, a longtime provider of rugged embedded computers for mil-aero applications. In fact, VersaLogic has been making solutions such as its line of single-board computers (SBCs) for roughly 30 years. The company "has been very busy" and introduced three new products recently, and four or five others are due in Spring 2010, says a representative.

The economy is down and travel budgets are tight, but as long as my decade-old sedan will carry me, I will be out and about learning all I can from the welcoming and impassioned mil-aero community. See you soon!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

DVT: Not just in M-ATVs

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

An editor at Military & Aerospace Electronics for a few years now, I have covered a wealth of topics and I have a few favorite "beats." Among them are vetronics, or electronic systems and devices employed in and on combat vehicles on land.

I enjoy writing an annual feature article on vetronics for Military & Aerospace Electronics. In covering the topic, this year especially, I became privy to photographs of the interior of combat vehicles employed in the field -- as well as replicas of those on the field which are currently being studied and the vetronics of which are being adapted by engineers at such technology firms as General Dynamics. In fact, General Dynamics management opened last month its EDGE Innovation Center that concentrates on combat vehicle electronics.

In any case, space within combat vehicles is at a premium. Today's vetronics are critical to mission success and soldier safety, and command a great deal of space, making for a cramped interior in which o ne or more soldiers must sit for extended periods.

Images of combat vehicle interiors caused me to remember David Bloom, a rising star at NBC News who traveled from the White House to become one of the most frequently-seen TV reporters on the Iraqi desert, according to an NBC representative.

The network was shocked when the 39-year-old Bloom died suddenly in Iraq, not from a battlefield injury but from an apparent blood clot that caused him to collapse and never regain consciousness.

Bloom was about 25 miles south of Baghdad and packing gear early Sunday to travel with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division when he was stricken. He was airlifted to a nearby field medical unit and pronounced dead from a pulmonary embolism, said Allison Gollust, a spokeswoman for NBC News.

NBC News had built a special vehicle, dubbed the "Bloom-mobile," to send strikingly clear pictures of him riding atop a tank through the Iraqi desert.

Bloom told the Post. "You're sleeping with your knees propped up around you."

That may have been a risk factor: blood clots frequently form in legs when they've been immobilized and travel through the body, said Dr. Harold Palevsky, chief of pulmonary critical care with the University of Pennsylvania health system.

I, like others, cannot help but wonder how many soldiers have suffered the same fate, as a result of cramped quarters for days, weeks, and months at a time. Soldiers on the battlefield are not the only people falling victim to blood clots that start in their legs and travel to their lungs. Virtually anyone who spends excessive time at a desk also run the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is defined as the formation of a blood clot (thrombus) in a deep vein.

Last week, I learned that a fellow editor had developed a clot in an artery in her leg that would have traveled to her heart and killed her, had she not gained the proper medical attention when she did. Had she waited a week to see if what she thought was a leg cramp subsided, she likely would have suffered a pulmonary embolism.

Her doctor told her that her only risk factor was that she spent significant time seated at a computer. That solitary factor could have led to her demise. She simply worked too long each day/night.

I know she is not the only one. Given today's economic climate, chances are good that you, too, must spend long days (and 0nights) in front of the computer, perhaps in order to do the work of three men.

Being inundated with work might be unavoidable, but DVT is avoidable. Be certain to stretch your legs every 15 or 20 minutes. Rather than send an internal e-mail message, perhaps deliver the message in person. Drink a lot of fluids at your desk, so your body will force you to make a trip to the lavatory periodically throughout the day. Something, anything to get the blood flowing through those legs. You too are a soldier, and we need you on the front lines.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's official: Nobel Peace Prize now has no value whatsoever

Posted by John Keller

We have American soldiers dying in Afghanistan, bereft of top leadership as President Barack Obama dithers day after day. We have Iran speeding toward developing nuclear weapons as Obama sits on his hands. We have terrorists apprehended in war zones basking on Caribbean beaches instead of in cells in Guantanamo Bay.

... and for this Obama gets handed the Nobel Peace Prize. Why, you might ask? For "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

Obama joins other Nobel Prize winners, who include climate change, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and Yasser Arafat -- leading lights, all.

Evidently he made these worthy contributions for mankind within 11 days of taking office last Jan. 20., too, because the deadline for Nobel Peace Prize nominations was on Feb. 1.

Barack Obama's winning the Nobel Peace Prize is a travesty and an outrage -- as if that even needed to be said. Countless others have done more to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples than a one-term U.S. Senator and career "community organizer" who had been president of the United States for less than two weeks.

The the Norwegian Nobel Committee shouldn't be just be ashamed. It should be disbanded.


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Thursday, October 8, 2009

The #milaero online community and the stream of Twitterness -- it's all about you

Did you know there's a Military & Aerospace Electronics online community on Twitter? Neither did I until yesterday. It's happening, organically, every day, through a nifty, yet powerful, Twitter tool called the hashtag.

Welcome to the wonderful world of ad-hoc social networking, Twitter style, in which groups of people with similar interests like us form spontaneously around industries, Websites, trade shows, hobbies, tourist destinations -- anything, really.

Our hashtag looks like this: #milaero

It's quick and easy to take part, and you don't have to register for a thing -- except for a Twitter account (

To be part of our community on Twitter, simply write the hashtag #milaero anywhere in your tweet. Twitter does the rest, in part, by making the #milaero hashtag a hotlink in your Twitter entry. Then to call forth the entire #milaero community from the vastness of Twitter, either type #milaero in the Twitter search bar, or just click on the #milaero hashtag in any tweet where you see it.

Presto. There's the community stream right on your screen.

Don't take my word for it; let me show you how easy it is. Call up a new screen or pop a new tab, and log on to That's right, do it right now. I can wait ...

Back already? Did you see that? It's the entire Twitter conversation string by and for the folks who have a common interest in aerospace and defense technology -- or not. It's not just about the magazine, or the Website, or the e-newsletters and Webcasts. It's about you, and your participation in this community. The key to the clubhouse is #milaero.

When you go there, you'll find all of my most recent #milaero tweets (jkeller1959), as well as those of staffers John McHale (JMcHaleIII)and Courtney Howard (coho). From out in the field, from keeping in touch with those in our aerospace and defense community, we'll be pushing out important tidbits to you every day as we learn about them.

We'll also be updating you on the latest stories we're putting up on the Military & Aerospace Electronics Website (, our Avionics Intelligence Website ( directions on how you can register for our latest Webcasts, how you can access our on-demand Webcasts, and the latest inside skinny about how our Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum, Avionics USA, and Avionics Europe conferences and trade shows are shaping up.

We'll also tell you what we're working on for upcoming news and features, and ask for your help and input. Our sales folks also will tell you about advertising and promotional opportunities and deadlines -- but not too much.

It doesn't always have to be about aerospace and defense, either. See something funny? Share it with the group. Feeling sad or mad? We want to know. Sorry, but we can't promise not to gossip about you later.

Most of the time we'll be talking about what interests all of us, as well as commenting on the issues of the day. You'll see lots of flip, irreverent comments as well; we just can't help it. We want to hear your flip comments, too. Like Dorothy Parker said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me."

Like or don't like something in the magazine or on the Website? Let us know. Tell McHale to get back to work and quit flirting with the ladies. Ask Courtney to tweet more; we like it. You can always grab an opportunity to tell me to just go to hel ... well, you get the idea.

With our #milaero community on Twitter, it's easy. Get a Twitter account if you don't have one (that's REALLY easy at, and get that #milaero hashtag in your tweets. With that community URL,, you update yourself and get updated any time, anywhere, even from your mobile phones.

Something else you can do; you can put an RSS feed to the #milaero community on your own Websites, if you like. Here's the URL for the #milaero RSS feed:

So join us on Twitter. We can't wait to hear from you what's going on.



-- Posted by John Keller,

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Very cool helicopter avionics technology showcased at AUSA

Posted by John McHale

New helicopter technology was definitely creating a buzz at the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) annual Meeting in Washington this week, as Boeing released its new AH-6i helicopter and Sikorsky parked a version of its Light Tactical Helicopter between the convention center and the Renaissance Hotel.
New helicopter technology was definitely creating a buzz at the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) annual Meeting in Washington this week, as Boeing released its new AH-6i helicopter and Sikorsky parked a version of its Light Tactical Helicopter between the convention center and the Renaissance Hotel.

I took a seat in the LTH and learned that the primary objective of the aircraft is speed. Sikorsky is looking to eventually approach 250 knots while at the same time being a fully functional helicopter. They did not have a full avionics system in the model at AUSA, because they are still developing the cockpit systems, which could end up as a traditional cockpit display or have all the functionality placed in a head-up avionics display.

Boeing's AH-6i uses much of the avionics software and avionics hardware from the company's Apache Block III upgrade, which is still being developed with another test flight scheduled later this fall.

Boeing hopes that the AH-6i will be what the Army is looking for as it resets its Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter requirements. The first ARH program -- that was under development with Bell Helicopter -- was canceled a year ago.

In the cockpit demonstrator that Boeing had at their booth they were showcasing avionics technology still in development such as voice control. Essentially Boeing engineers are designing an avionics system that allows pilots to control communications, targeting, etc., all with their voice.

It lets pilots focus more on what's outside the cockpit, rather than having to push various buttons on the display, company officials told me.