Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Are we on the verge of a new era of technological innovation?

When it comes to military technology development, everyone knows it's been tough for the past year or so. Research money from the Pentagon has slowed to a trickle, contracting has been stretched out or cancelled altogether, and uncertainty in defense budgets has encouraged companies to hold on to their cash for as long as they can.

Still, there are encouraging signs that the culture of military technology development may be changing. Don't get me wrong, it's more in the realm of tough-love than it is in prospects for more government funding, but if the defense industry plays its cards right, we may be on the verge of a new era in technological innovation, with the added benefit of tossing out some of the old, inefficient business practices in the bargain.

First, there are indications that defense technology companies aren't waiting anymore for internal research and development (IRAD) money from the Pentagon. Instead, they may be more inclined to fund crucial research themselves without government help. Second, Pentagon officials -- at least in their rhetoric -- appear to be favoring fixed-price contracting these days, rather than older contract vehicles that inadvertently encouraged low-ball bidding and cost overruns.

Together, these two trends have the potential to shake the defense industry out of its old way of doing business, and perhaps spark a new and efficient way of developing aerospace and defense technology.

Companies that fund their own IRAD are betting on their own success with their own money. Those who do so are more than likely to pick the strongest and most promising technologies. Second, an emphasis on fixed-price contracting rewards the most nimble and efficient companies, and those that are good at fixed-price contracting will be the winners in any upcoming industry shakeout.

This is no guarantee that such a transformation is in the works. Even if it is, this process will take a long time -- five to ten years, most likely. No one -- in industry or in the Pentagon -- is comfortable with a new way of doing business. Left to their own devices, all concerned would rather remain what they've been comfortable with for years.

Still, if pressure is applied long enough and strongly enough, we might be seeing the start of something big. After all, history shows us that the dinosaurs eventually die out, and the mammals take over.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Army set to kick off M3TD chemical-detection program with RFP due in May

Posted by John Keller.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., 24 April 2011. The U.S. Army apparently is ready to kick off a new program to develop chemical-detection technology for the next generation of chemical biological radiological nuclear (CBRN) defense programs.

Officials of the Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., announced their intention last week to issue a request for proposals (RFP) between now and late May for the Multi-Mission Multi-Threat Detection (M3TD) effort to develop technology to collect data from contact and non-contact sensors to detect a variety of chemicals of interest.

The RFP will be numbered W911SR-11-R-0020, and will be issued on behalf of the Joint Project Manager for Nuclear Biological and Chemical Contamination Avoidance (JPM NBC CA), which is part of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense in the Pentagon. The Army may award several contracts.

Companies interested may keep track of the M3TD program and its upcoming RFP online at

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Army officials sing praises of UH-72A Lakota at Army Aviation show this week in Nashville

Posted by John McHale.
Army officials were delivering heaps of praise upon EADS North America during a press conference this week for their performance regarding production of UH-72A Lakota. Army leaders from Redstone Arsenal, Ala., said at U.S. Army Aviation Association of America AAAA annual forum in Nashville, Tenn. that they have been able to return 23 National Guard Black Hawk helicopters to combat deployment thanks to the on-time and early deliveries of the UH-72A Lakotas from EADS North America in Arlington, Va.

The 23 Black Hawks returned to service is critical, said Col. Neil Thurgood, Army project manager, Utility Helicopters at the press conference. "It is almost the equivalent of an assault battalion," he added.

For more on the Lakota's avionics read "Army helicopters get avionics face-lifts."

A major reason the that the Lakotas are meeting their delivery goals is that the requirements have not changed, which often happens in a program, causing the integrators and industry partners to have to keep re-designing to keep up with the changes, which equates to delays, Thurgood said. The Army will still make modifications as components go obsolete, but the requirements will not change, he added.

The Lakota was developed through industry-funded research then sold to the Army in a commercial transaction, said John Burke, vice president, EADS North America. Burke also made his comments during the press conference.

They key is that Eurocopter has the largest commercial helicopter fleet in the world, and was able to leverage the commercial technology used in those programs, Burke continued. Also it helps that the Army's "acquisition leadership is focused on where it's going not where it's been," he added.

The UH-72A is produced in Columbus, Miss., at EADS North America's American Europcopter business unit's rotary-wing center of excellence. Production of the Lakota, which is based on Eurocopter's EC145 multi-role helicopter produced in Germany, has been duplicated in Columbus.

The transfer of production to the U.S. was "extremely smooth and EADS did not miss one delivery," Thurgood said.

The Army has a total acquisition target of 345 helicopters through 2015 and 154 have been delivered to the National Guard so far, Thurgood noted. The National Guard will receive 210 of that final total, he added.

The upgraded Lakotas will be used by the National Guard for reconnaissance, border protection, command and control and air movement operations that support U.S. homeland defense, and security missions.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

AMC/AEEC attendance up as avionics engineers are bullish on market

Posted by John McHale
Attendance at the Avionics Maintenance Conference (AMC)/Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) event this week in Memphis Tenn., was up by nearly 20 percent over last year's event, according to AMC organizers -- this is particularly noteworthy considering this is the first year they charged $500 per person to attend. However, the positive vibes I was getting from avionics suppliers, airframers, and airlines about the market health is probably a big factor in the improved turnout.

Attendees are particularly excited about opportunities in new aircraft such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner while the retrofit market looks promising for electronic flight bag (EFB) designers as airlines and operators beging to upgrade their fleets to eb compatible with future air traffic management mandates such as SESAR in Europe and NextGen in the U.S.

Airline representatives were more reserved, expressing concern over rising fuel prices. During AEEC committee meetings there was growing doubt about the whether or not SESAR and NextGen
-- when fully deployed -- will have similar architectures and nomenclature, making it the transition to these systems much easier on the airlines.

The monumental task of just getting different European countries on the same page within the SESAR initiative seems daunting -- let alone harmonizing with the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) NextGen program.

The airlines are also looking for solid avionics roadmaps from SESAR and the FAA so they will know what to adopt, when to adopt it, and how much it will cost.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Firing on Fort Sumter, which sparked the American Civil War, happened 150 years ago today

Posted by John Keller.

U.S. Army Maj. Robert Anderson had passed a troubled night with little, if any, sleep, as he gazed with dread over the parapets of Fort Sumter across the still-dark harbor waters of Charleston, S.C. It was just before 4:30 a.m., 12 April 1861, and the big guns along the waterfront had never looked so menacing.

The standoff had gone on for months, but this morning it was different. The previous December the state of South Carolina, just where he and his small garrison found themselves this day, had voted to leave the Union, and no longer considered themselves part of the United States -- the country for which Maj. Anderson wore his blue uniform.

Anderson and his garrison had occupied Fort Sumter in the middle of Charleston Harbor at about the same time South Carolina seceded, and Anderson, commanding officer at the fort, had refused all demands by the new South Carolina government to surrender this edifice guarding the harbor entrances.

Anderson and his president, Abraham Lincoln, still considered Fort Sumter to be U.S. government property, but South Carolina officials believed the fort to be theirs, and they flatly told Anderson that further attempts to hold it would lead to war.

It happened at 4:30 a.m., 150 years ago this morning. Anderson heard the first cannon fire, saw the twinkling fuse of the shell as it rose upward, pausing a moment at the top of its trajectory, and plunge toward him and Fort Sumter.

It was the first shot of the American Civil War, which over the next four years would claim more than 600,000 casualties -- nearly 2 percent of the nation's entire population -- and seared into the national memory place names like Bull Run, Antietam Creek, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness.

Maj. Anderson, however, didn't know any of that yet. All he knew was his fort was the target of a ring of fire around Charleston Harbor. He was outgunned, low on supplies, and had no chance of relief. He held on for two grim days before lowering his flag and surrendering.

Before he left Fort Sumter on 14 April, however, Maj. Anderson took the fort's flag. He went with it to New York City where he showed it off at a Union Square rally that was largest public gatherings that New Yorkers had seen up until that time.

Anderson was promoted to brigadier general, but he had seen his worst fighting of the Civil War. He went to Kentucky to help enforce that state's neutrality in the Civil War, but had to turn over command due to worsening health. Replacing Anderson was another brigadier general named William T. Sherman.

Anderson formally retired from the U.S. Army two years later due to declining health. At war's end in 1865, however, he returned to Fort Sumter, wearing his uniform and bearing the flag he had lowered on that April morning.

He raised that flag once again over the now-crumbling fortress.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What if we considered selling counterfeit electronic parts like we do selling stolen property?

Posted by John Keller.

The problem of counterfeit electronic parts, and the threat they pose of finding their way into crucial aerospace and defense systems, is bad, and it's getting worse. Not only do counterfeit parts threat to cause reliability problems in military electronic systems, but counterfeit parts also might be loaded with kill switches and other sabotage that could enable an enemy to disable or shut down U.S. systems in the event of conflict.

It's gotten the attention of influential members of Congress, as we have reported. U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., of the Senate Armed Services Committee have vowed to investigate the counterfeit electronic parts problem in the military, and are expected to conduct congressional hearings later this year.

A Senate investigation is all well and good, but this problem always seems to get worse. The reason for this is lax -- or non-existent -- penalties for those who knowingly or unknowingly sell counterfeit electronic parts.

Enforcement is sporadic. Tangible penalties are few and far-between. In short, there's so little risk to trafficking in counterfeit electronic parts that anyone inclined to do so has little to fear ... and this has plenty of people involved in legitimate electronic business pursuits plenty fed-up.

Perhaps it's time we took a fresh look at the issue of counterfeit electronic parts.

If you counterfeit an electronic part -- an integrated circuit, amplifier, battery, connector, or something else -- you're stealing from either the original manufacturer or from authorized resellers, such as aftermarket semiconductor houses like Lansdale Semiconductor in Phoenix, or Rochester Electronics in Newburyport, Mass.

If that's the reality -- and a strong case can be made that it's so -- then perhaps we ought to consider sales of counterfeit electronic parts to be selling stolen property. If we view the problem in those terms, it's bound to get the attention of a lot of people operating on either side of the law who until now have been ignoring the issue.

One of the problems revolves around non-existent penalties for selling counterfeit electronic parts. Those who sell these parts to the U.S. military, for example, can simply claim they didn't know the parts were counterfeit. Moreover, the government will ask for the purchase price back, and return the counterfeit to the seller.

With no penalty, that seller then is free to try to sell that counterfeit part to someone else.

Dale Lillard, president of Lansdale Semiconductor, also is an avid owner and restorer of rare antique cars. He says selling counterfeit electronic parts should be treated like selling stolen cars. It doesn't matter if one knows a car is stolen if he tries to sell it. If caught, that person will be charged with selling a stolen car and face serious jail time.

If sellers of counterfeit electronic parts faced still jail sentences, then a lot fewer people would be doing it, Lillard says, and he's right.

"The government is really doing nothing to stop that [counterfeit] traffic. They know it's coming in, and they are not stopping it," Lillard says. "Nobody is treating counterfeit product like we consider stolen property should be treated," he says. "Give someone a $10,000 fine and six months in jail, and the trafficking in these counterfeit parts will slow."

Perhaps Sens. McCain, Levin, and other members of the Senate Armed Service Committee ought to look at the problem in these terms as they conduct their investigation and call witnesses to hearings later this year.