On Sept 24/08, DID’s “AIA Concerned By Future Shortage of Qualified American Aerospace Workers” gave voice to a long-standing concern in the American aerospace industry – and added some alarming figures to the debate. Good STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education is the foundation, but by Grade 12, American youths have fallen from solid international competitiveness in Grade 4 to a position that’s near the bottom among advanced countries. When this trend, and college graduate composition, are coupled with a rapidly-aging aerospace workforce, AIA is right to be concerned.
Over the past month, a pair of releases from Northrop Grumman shine a light on some of that firm’s efforts to improve the quality of STEM education in its local communities, including a very innovative facility and a financial grant program for schools…
Something big is going on in the history of war, and maybe even humanity itself. The US military went into Iraq with just a handful of drones in the air and zero unmanned systems on the ground, none of them armed. Today, there are over 5,300 drones in the US inventory and another roughly 12,000 on the ground. And these are just the first generation, the Model T Fords compared to what is already in the prototype stage. This is what is happening now. Peering forward, one Air Force lieutenant general forecast that “given the growth trends, it is not unreasonable to postulate future conflicts involving tens of thousands.”
For my book Wired for War, I spent the last several years trying to capture this historic moment, as robots begin to move into the fighting of our human wars. The book features stories and anecdotes of everyone from robotic scientists and the science fiction writers who inspire them to 19 year old drone pilots and the Iraqi insurgents they are fighting. The hope wasn’t just to take the reader on a journey to meet this new generation of warriors–both human and machine, but also to explore the fascinating, and sometimes frightening, political, economic, legal and ethical questions that our society had better start facing in how our wars will be fought and who will fight them. In other words, “What happens when science fiction becomes battlefield reality?”
Despite all the enthusiasm in military circles for the next generation of unmanned vehicles, ships, and planes, there is one question, however, that people are generally reluctant to talk about. It is the equivalent of Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter, the issue That-Must-Not-Be-Discussed. What happens to the human role in war as we arm ever more intelligent, more capable, and increasingly more autonomous robots?
Naval Open Source Intelligence is a good set of quick links to international navy-related stories in the news. Each year, they also add a summary of their take on the most significant trends and items to their “Naval Year in Review” set.
They’ve added the 2008 list, which includes piracy, the continuing crisis in US Navy shipbuilding (4 of last 5 years, see DID), environmental groups’ lawfare against the US Navy (2 of last 3 years, see DID), the steady growth of the Chinese Navy, the use of semi-submersibles to smuggle drugs into the USA (see readings), humanitarian operations, arctic sovereignty, and more.
Armed Forces Journal’s January 2009 issue has an article entitled “Good business is good policy.” It looks at the US Navy’s growing focus on maritime partnerships, and notes that:
“In terms of volume, more than 90 percent of international spending on U.S. Navy equipment and services is done by just 15 percent of the countries who buy their maritime defense articles from the U.S… As evidenced by the rising prominence of security cooperation programs in U.S. theater engagement efforts, foreign military sales and training are especially well-suited to growing security relationships. They build capacity, improve interoperability and provide a basis for professional relationships which lead to mutual understanding and respect. However, developing security cooperation relationships with nontraditional partners has proved to be challenging. These countries come in two categories: regional powers such as India and Brazil, and strategically significant nations such as Nigeria, Indonesia, Djibouti and Yemen that are limited by resources and equipment.”
In January 2008, current defence minister Sten Tolgfors became embroiled in controversy when he criticized Supreme Commander Hakan Syren’s moves to cut the length of national service and slash flying hours for fighter pilots, in response to an operational budget shortfall of over $200 million. An April 2008 report confirmed that further cuts were on the way, and the minister worked to put a sunny face on the process after his Defence Commission issued a June 2008 report that agreed with his vision. A November 2008 government directive to the Supreme Commander from November confirms that the military budget will be frozen at SKR 38.9 billion (about $4.9 billion) per year through 2014, which means slight cuts over time in inflation-adjusted terms.
Now, The Local reports that the government’s future plans will cut the Swedish Army by 30%, while cutting its number of tanks in half. The number of soldiers and officers deployable for combat will be cut from 20,000 to 12,500. In the end, Sweden’s military will retain 7 tactical land battalions, plus one Marine battalion. Supreme Commander Hakan Syren is expected to make the announcement this Friday, but the plans were leaked to the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.
Sweden purchased 280 Leopard 2 tanks from Germany, but only the 160 Strv 122 variants are still operational. The 120 Strv 121/2A4 versions have already been removed from active service.
What happens when advances in modern electronics mean that sensors like imaging-class radars, advanced day/night cameras, and even more exotic items like hyperspectral sensors, laser radars, etc. are no longer very expensive items that are mounted on dedicated platforms? When a wide array of video cameras, surveillance turrets, ubiquitous radar capabilities, and other systems built into vehicles, aircraft, ships, and unmanned vehicles provide an explosion of sensor data – just as a range of databases related to human patterns or physical infrastructure are also appearing on the scene, in numbers.
In part, it is similar to what happened when the Internet went from an academic platform to a global phenomenon. The good news was, so much more information became available. The bad news was, finding the things we were looking for started to involve a lot more work.
The military has this same problem with sensors, only worse. Most of the time, they’re not necessarily looking for discrete answers, but for an overall picture of what’s going on. That becomes hard as sensors move from a small number deployed on dedicated platforms, to hundreds or thousands of them employed in platforms of every shape and size. For some applications, like domestic security or protecting certain key areas, it gets even harder. The need to include physical surveillance, communications surveillance, information about human activities, and improved geo-awareness all combine to produce a maddeningly complex task.
Moore’s Law of doubling computing power, and Metcalfe’s Law of exponential network power, created this data explosion. Several cycles later, the military is hoping it can begin to offer assistance, by turning massive arrays of data into coherent systems that help humans respond at the speed of events. The first step was data fusion. The next step was sensor fusion. The third step is information fusion… and the US Navy has just set up a center to work on it.
In January 2006, “IBM Wins $370M Contract for Commissary Point-of-Sales System” covered IBM’s 5-10 year, $370 million maximum contract to support the US Defense Commissary Agency’s Commercial Advanced Resale Transaction System (CARTS), which replaces replace the existing point-of-sales (POS) system used at checkout. The DeCA is a supermarket chain in its own right, with worldwide operations and over 250 stores and distribution centers.
Recently, E&E Enterprises Global, Inc. was selected to provide a HughesNet high-availability satellite broadband system to support DeCA commissaries worldwide. Hughes Network Systems, LLC will provide the high-availability VPN service to E&E Enterprises Global as a subcontractor during the 4-year (1 base + 3 option years), $12 million contract. That covers 174 stores in the continental USA, 86 stores located outside that region, and 10 central distribution centers outside the continental USA (OCONUS).
HughesNet will support systems that include functions such as POS; debit and credit card transaction authorizations; “just-in-time” product ordering; shipping; receiving; invoicing and billing; email; as well as payroll and personnel management. HughesNet release.
Datalinks are an under-rated but critical technology set for any modern military. In simple terms, a datalink provides virtual circuit and datagram services that guarantee reliable, simultaneous, multi- channel transmissions. They can include voice, data, imagery, and video, and are generally encrypted for obvious reasons. These services may allow a soldier with a V-RAMBO wrist device to get streaming video from a UAV, or a strike aircraft to receive target information directly from troops on the ground via the ROVER system. Weapons with 2-way datalinks can be re-targeted in flight. Advanced uses of datalinks even include implementations like NATO’s Link 16 standard, which allow targets identified by one radar or aircraft to appear on others’ displays.
The Indian Air Force recently put out a contract for datalink development. In the ODL(Operational Data Link) pilot project, the Air Force plans to network selected aircraft and ground stations by 2012, as a first step and training opportunity. Over the next 10 years, they plan to equip their fighter fleets, transport aircraft, helicopters, AWACS and maritime surveillance aircraft, UAVs, and key radars…
Back in December 2005, “Russia to Dominate $5.33B Portable Anti-Armor Market Through 2014” covered analyst firm Forecast International’s global predictions for man-portable, unguided, anti-tank and bunker-buster weapons. In January 2009, the firm’s rolling forecast sees the market’s value holding steady at “over $5 billion” over the next 10 years, still sees Russia as the dominant player, and still sees European players grabbing a dollar share that outweighs their market share. Compared with 2005, however, there is a rising contender.
Forecast International sees Russian weapons accounting for 59.3% of global production in this segment, and 46.5% of the market’s dollar value through 2018. (2005: 68% of production and over 51% of market value through 2014)…
The USA’s T-AK and T-AKR classes of Maritime Prepositioning Ships serve as vast, floating stocks of equipment, ammunition, and supplies that can be sailed into friendly ports to meet up with flown-in Marines. This critical but often-unrecognized force includes a combination of U.S. government-owned ships and chartered U.S.-flagged ships, and can also include ships activated from the Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Force. They are not crewed by US Navy personnel, but use U.S. civilian mariners (“CIVMARs”), who work for ship operating companies under contract to the federal government. As of January 2009, there were 15 active MP Ships under MSC’s command.
A number of the chartered ships have long-term period charters that include an option to purchase the ship once that set of chartered periods is complete. The US Navy’s Maritime Sealift Command recently exercised its options for 3 of its T-AK container-carrying “roll-on, roll-off” ships, all of which are named after exceptional people who earned the USA’s Congressional Medal of Honor for extreme valor…