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The Mil & Aero Blog
Friday, January 30, 2009
Posted by Courtney E. Howard
Excitement surrounding Superbowl 43 is palpable -- even if the New England Patriots are sitting this one out. I -- like other Pats fans, I am sure -- am trying to share in the Superbowl excitement, as we look forward to Tom Brady's return next season. The Superbowl is turning out to be a bright spot and an (albeit temporary) diversion from our everyday existence at a time when there isn't much else to celebrate, it seems. When I am out and about, conversations inevitably then turn to the impending big game, even among people who could not care less about football, largely in an attempt to avoid more-depressing talk about the latest unemployment figures, business closings, economic hardships, and the like.
Just as we Pats fans are sitting this Superbowl out, so too are car manufacturers. I, for one, am pleased to see that the auto manufacturers who are benefiting from our tax money (via the last round of bailouts) are not advertising during the Superbowl. After all, the $3 million they would have to shell out for a 30-second spot would be our hard-earned money. I am still bitter about the private jets the executives took to the first hearing, where they then acted contrite and desperate. And the award for best actor goes to....
Have a fantastic Superbowl weekend, and let's hope Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen doesn't suffer a "wardrobe malfunction" at half time. I'm just worried kids will ask, "Who is that guy?" and make me feel even older than I am.
Go [insert favorite team here]!
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Posted by John McHale
The regulars at my favorite diner this morning are quite excited by the improved prospects of a casino in Massachusetts. A casino in an economic downturn? Seems crazy but ... they say hell yes, because it means more jobs. One gentleman says he thinks people are more likely to place bets when times are tough, in hopes of scoring the big pay out. Desperation pays I guess.
My fellow diners found hope when they learned the elected official who was blocking the slot machines the most -- Massachusetts Speaker of the House of Representatives Salvatore F. DiMasi -- resigned under a cloud of ethics allegations. It was the lead story in the Boston Heraldthis morning, hence the breakfast conversation.
Seems as if the hopes for employment in this liberal state may lie with casinos and defense contractors. Seems an odd paring, but residents are excited about the casino and experts forecast a steady 2009 for the defense industry. The state is home to Raytheon and other major primes have a large presence here as well, including BAE Systems just over the border in Nashua, N.H.
I'm all for the gambling. Maybe they could tax the casinos and leave our income tax alone -- wishful thinking in this state. My fellow commonwealth residents voted against lowering the income tax last fall.
Missing the no income tax, "live free or die" state...
The flub heard 'round the world
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Posted by Courtney E. Howard
President Obama had to be sworn in twice this week, due to what is being called "the flub heard 'round the world" by Chief Justice John Roberts. What happened? Perhaps he was nervous about the more than 500,000 people in attendance – reportedly more than during any other inauguration ceremony. Polls reveal that a majority of the American public thought it was "no big deal," but I found it embarrassing. He was reading it, yes? Jeez.
I could be a bit jaded, I admit, however. Ever since the election of 2000, and the finding last year that George W. Bush was not the winner of that election, I am dismayed, disheartened, and a bit disgusted.
President Obama took it all in stride, even cracking a joke to reporters attending the second oath; after all, he has bigger things to worry about, including what is deemed "the in-box from hell." I could have done without the flawed start but after hearing the President’s speech, I am nonetheless optimistic.
Okay, so it wasn’t the most powerful inauguration speech ever heard (a la John F. Kennedy), but I did find it inspiring, thought-provoking, and motivating.
What do you think, about the bungle and the speech?
How much will President Obama spend on defense technology?
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Posted by John McHale
The inauguration of Barack Obama is exciting as he is our nation's first black president. It makes me proud to be an American. However, practical questions remain about where he will spend money on defense.
A colleague of mine said he heard that defense spending under the Bush administration increased by about 73 percent. That trend is unlikely to continue under Obama.
In his inaugural address the new president said he will push to turn Iraq over to its own government in about 16 months, while renewing efforts in Afghanistan. However, even with a build-up in Afghanistan it is unlikely defense spending will increase or even continue at current levels.
What does this mean for defense electronics industry? Will less money spent on boots and bullets mean more dollars for research and development?
Will fewer troops on the ground favor funding for embedded electronics in reconnaissance and surveillance applications such as unmanned systems?
Many suppliers I talk to are cautiously optimistic based on their projected backlogs for 2009 and solid funding in the last budget of the Bush Administration. Come January 2010 will things be as positive? Will President Obama make deep cuts in his first defense budget, even canceling large programs such as Future Combat Systems? Or will he just cut back on procurement?
One of my conference advisory board members says he believes that it is republican administrations that cut programs, while democrats just cut back. That they are loathe to eliminate large programs as it could mean eliminating thousands of jobs.
While today was definitely a historic day for change, many defense industry players are nervous about how they will navigate potential changes to their market.
At an Army Aviation press conference I attended in October, one official was asked what funding will be like under Obama or his opponent at the time, John McCain.
He responded "your guess is as good as mine."
A different kind of economic growth
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Posted by Courtney E. Howard
I was not around during the Great Depression, but I do know that it had such a profound effect on my grandfather that he would only pay cash. Loans and credit cards were out of the question; if he didn't have the cash, he would not buy whatever it is he needed.
If we bought him a nice sweater, shirt, watch, or engraved pen, he would thank us but then put it away in a closet until such time as the ones he was using wore out. If he already had perfectly good shirts, why spend money on new ones, he would quip. It could be a little frustrating for family and many found it peculiar, but, in retrospect, I think he had it right.
I was not spoiled growing up, but my parents made sure my brother and I had everything we needed: food, clothing, shelter, and even some of the "warm fuzzy" stuff like their love, time, and attention. I would visit friends' homes and occasionally become jealous of all that they had (a doll house, the latest and greatest new electronic toy, one of the first VCRs or personal computers (a Radio Shack TRS-80), a Colecovision or Atari, etc.); in contrast, I tagged along and helped out as my mother delivered donated food, gifts, and money for heating oil to local families in need. I saw how dire their situations were, and how grateful and they were to gain assistance. Many adults, though thankful, were also contrite, embarrassed, and even apologetic; that was twenty-five years ago.
This year, rather than food or toys, donations were doled out as gift cards. Parents in need called from their cell phones asking for money and gifts for their kids just days before the holiday. Upon delivering cash cards to these folks, I found them living in better conditions than my own; one particular recipient had two cars, lived in a large antique house, had a new cell phone, and 12 (yes, 12) dogs. Others called for cards multiple times -- some had spent the first ones not for the intended purpose, but rather beer and cigarettes, while others simply forgot that they had called earlier, as they went down the list of outlets offering assistance to those in need.
I met lots of people on disability, suffering from such afflictions as a learning disability or attention deficit disorder. Sadly, though, I did not see parents (whether single or in pairs) who are working hard but still failing to make ends meet; those are the ones I particularly like to see gain a helping hand. I believe in helping those who help themselves -- and kids, of course.
We might not be in a depression, per se, but I am seeing a great deal of desperation. More than two dozen burglaries have been reported this week alone in my neighborhood. At the grocery store, patrons are increasingly paying cash and putting things back when they find they don't have enough cash at the register.
Kids in general don't seem to have adjusted, and maybe that's good. Some parents are explaining the economy and budgeting to kids, while others are trying to shield their children from the effects of the recession. I don't have my own kids, but I would tend to be among the former. I would like to think that I would give my kids the facts and let them sort it out for themselves, as I did. As a child, I saw both ends of the economic spectrum all around me, and I think I am the better for it.
Impressive tour, depressing tale
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Posted by John McHale
Last week Tom Sharpe, vice president of SMT Corp. -- a privately-held electronics distributor in Newtown, Conn., gave me a damn nice tour of his secure and clean facility -- from the electro-static discharge (ESD) monitoring device and state-of-the-art electronic part testing equipment right down to the snazzy Starbucks coffee machine and hundreds of vintage World War I and World War II posters.
The poster pictured here was painted by Fred Spear in 1915, depicting a woman passenger on the British cruise ship Lusitania drowning with a baby in her arms after the ship was torpedoed by the Germans. Spear reportedly read a detailed newspaper account about bodies recovered after the attack and it inspired him to create the poster. The poster was published by the Boston Committee for Public Safety and is very rare.
Sharpe's facility is quite striking as similar posters line every wall but the slides he showed me of Shantou, China, were striking for much different reasons. Shantou is home to the counterfeit electronic parts industry, which is becoming an expensive and painful headache for defense electronics suppliers.
Sharpe was there on business, but managed to get into Shantou for a tour. The main industry here consists of individual families ripping apart computers and integrated circuit (IC) components then putting them back together and reselling them to brokers. The small families typically perform the work out of their living room.
One might think this business would be lucrative, but the families slapping together the counterfeit boards and ICs are living in squalor.
The entire town is one big electronic component dumping ground -- in the rivers, on the streets, and piled up in backyards. Sharpe says the rate of cancer and other diseases are quite high as chemicals from the eroding parts seep into the soil and water supply.
Quality control is non-existent out there -- sometimes they wash the parts in the rain and let them dry in the sun. What's scary is once these products are finished they look just like any other part to the untrained eye and many slip into batches of good parts that are not counterfeit.
Sharpe says he has spent considerable money for test equipment to spot them, showing me different examples. Many times they will change the date on the part, but sometimes they mess up and send out a part with a date in the future. Sharpe says he saw one that was labeled as designed in late 2009, but it was still 2008.
Many companies do not have SMT's equipment at their disposal and defense suppliers and integrators are quite concerned that one of these parts may find its way into a mission critical system and result in a lethal system failure.
The counterfeits are very available. Just do a Google search for a part number you are liable to pull up something similar to the Chinese IC Mart or sites like it.
Many of Sharpe's vintage posters caution against spreading secrets in case the enemy is listening. In this case the secret behind the parts needs to get out as does the tale of the human waste piling up in Shantou -- a futuristic slum.
Hail to the geek
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Posted by Courtney E. Howard
The jury is still out on how President Elect Barack Obama will be as a president. Some would have us believe that he is already failing--several "talk radio" hosts come to mind, in fact--without having even taken the helm. It certainly looks like the "ship" attached the that helm is sinking, but it's not his fault--although regrettably his problem, as well as ours. I thought I'd throw my own bias into the fray, and suggest that Obama might go down as the geekiest President of the United States to date. This moniker is a not a criticism; in fact, I celebrate geeks. Heck, I love geeks--and I am not alone. (Just visit ThinkGeek.com, a t-shirt of which is shown at right, and you'll see what I mean.) Geeks are cool now; huzzah! I wish that it had been cool when I was in school to be, as I was often called, "a book nerd," but I rejoice nonetheless. Our time has come; better late than never.
Now, I am a journalist and as such I cannot simply throw out a statement with no basis in fact, as subjective as my statement might seem. I have evidence that Obama is the biggest geek to take office as the U.S. President.
The Associated Press reported today that Barack Obama is Spider-Man's latest sidekick. Obama stars in a bonus story within Marvel Comics' "Amazing Spider-Man" No. 583, which hits the stands (and the hot little hands of a number of geeks) this coming Wednesday. Collectors will be at once happy and frustrated to hear that Marvel is offering for purchase two editions, each with a different cover; the future Commander-in-Chief and webbed superhero take center stage on a special Inauguration Day cover. Obama had previously revealed that he collects Spider-Man comics. Further, at one of his events, Obama greeted Leonard Nimoy with the Vulcan hand signal/salute. He also has a favorite X-Men character, and he has written poems.
Hail to the geek, I say. I am nothing but optimistic that a fellow geek will deliver a focus on furthering all things geeky: electronics technology, intellect, and maybe even a cool presidential comic. We could use a superhero.
Putting NASA in bed with the Pentagon
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Posted by John McHale
A recent Bloomberg news story reported that the incoming Obama administration is looking to have NASA programs linked with the military to get them in orbit more quickly to compete with China and to counter any Chinese military operations in space.
On its face it sounds like a good plan. It would save money by sharing the costs of the various programs. According to the Bloomberg article, the Pentagon spent more on space -- about $22 billion -- last year than NASA did.
Culturally however it may be a tougher sell. NASA has traditionally been a civilian agency focused on the peaceful exploration of space and furthering human knowledge. The public and many inside the agency might be quite uncomfortable about sharing with the Pentagon.
Public opinion might change if China successfully lands humans on the Moon before the U.S. returns. NASA is planning a manned lunar exploration in 2020.
Could we see the planet's major powers carve up the Moon? Today there are no national boundaries on lunar maps. I hope it remains that way.
Posted by John Keller
President-elect Barack Obama has ruffled congressional feathers and raised eyebrows over his choice of former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
I'll concede perhaps the two biggest objections to Panetta to head the nation's foreign spy agency -- Panetta has zero experience in the intelligence community, and congressional leaders who oversee intelligence spending claim they were not consulted before Obama named Panetta.
In the first place, those fretting over Panetta's lack of intelligence experience are right. Panetta, White House chief of staff to Bill Clinton from 1994 to 1997, is an outsider to the CIA who doesn't know where the bodies are buried, and might be hard-pressed to find the people who do. I share the concern for his lack of intelligence experience.
In the second place, the Panetta pick has angered some influential leaders on Capitol Hill. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and claims Obama didn't consult with her before naming Panetta. She's not out of line to be miffed, and Obama should have handled this matter with a little more grace.
Obama is going to need influential leaders like Feinstein on his side, particularly early in his administration, and creating public ill-will like this does no one any good. Feinstein has got an ego like everybody else on the Hill, and Obama at this stage bruises Washington egos at his peril. Cold shoulders and slammed doors is not what the new president needs in his first days in office.
Feinstein and Panetta are not strangers. They're both California democrats. She's from San Francisco, and He's from Monterey just down the road. They served in Congress briefly in 1993, and both have been influential in the Democrat party. There may be some personal animosity between the two ... I don't know. I'd rather not speculate.
Feinstein is a former mayor of San Francisco and was an unsuccessful candidate for California governor in 1990. I was a college student in San Francisco, incidentally, on the day Feinstein become the city's mayor in fall 1978 when then-mayor George Moscone was assassinated, along with city supervisor Harvey Milk. A member of the San Francisco board of supervisors at the time, she was named to replace the slain Moscone. I remember it was the first Monday after Thanksgiving; what a day that was!
Panetta, meanwhile, was a California congressman from 1976 to 1993, where he chaired the House Budget Committee, and served in several other important congressional posts. From 1993 to 1994 he was director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget before he became Clinton's chief of staff.
Suffice it to say that Panetta has been around the political block. I may not agree with his politics, but I think it's fair to say that anyone who can be White House chief of staff has to be politically savvy, unbelievably organized, a seasoned bureaucratic infighter, and a hard-nosed manager.
From this standpoint, I think Panetta just might be up to the administrative task of becoming Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).
So he's never been a spymaster before. That might not be such a big deal. The guy in the CIA who really oversees the spies is the agency's deputy director for operations (DDO). If Panetta can get that person on his side, then he just might be in good shape. He's a tough enough guy to bring obstinate career bureaucrats in the agency to heel, and he just might be able to put the Obama Administration's stamp on the CIA for years to come.
Obama actions, rhetoric, give defense electronics industry a sigh of relief
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Posted by John Keller
Barack Obama's political positions had given the U.S. defense industry reason for worry, but his recent actions and emphasis on soldier-worn technologies have given defense company officials a sigh of relief. Read The Mil & Aero Blog online at www.pennwellblogs.com/mae.
The liberal political positions of President-Elect Barack Obama had given plenty of those involved in the U.S. defense industry reason for worry, but some of Obama's early actions and rhetoric have given defense technology companies a sigh of relief.
Obama also has given defense industry experts reason to believe that soldier-worn technology will be more important during the Obama Administration than ever before.
Of particular interest to military electronics and aerospace electronics companies was Obama's naming of Defense Secretary Robert Gates to continue in that position when Obama takes office later this month. Gates was President George W. Bush's choice to be U.S. secretary of defense to replace former secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Gates has a solid reputation as a friend of the defense industry.
"Obama's selection of Gates is a good sign that he is looking for consistency and stability in the transition," says Tom Arseneault, president of sensor systems at the BAE Systems Electronics & Integrated Solutions Operating Group in Nashua, N.H. "It gave us a bit of a sigh of relief."
Arseneault was nice enough to sit for an interview with me just before the holidays.
U.S. defense industry officials are taking Obama at his word that the new president will do his best to increase U.S. ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines.
With this in mind, defense industry experts anticipate that military technology trends in the near future will involve infantry soldiers and Marines more than ever before, and perhaps will not involve expansive new defense platforms like aircraft, ships, and tanks as much we have gotten used to.
Obama "wants to get as much mileage out of what we have as possible, and he will be emphasizing the soldier, rather than new, big platforms," Arseneault told me during an interview in his office last month.
This trend is likely to emphasize soldier systems like night-vision gun sights and goggles, wearable computers, networked voice and data communications, body armor with embedded electronic devices, soldier-carried unmanned aerial vehicles, and other remote sensors. "Much of the expense of equipping today's soldier is technology," Arseneault points out.
Pledge for positivism
Friday, January 2, 2009
Posted by Courtney E. Howard
I need to see the glass has half full.
It has not escaped my notice that I have been griping a great deal in my blog entries. As cathartic as this practice might be for me, it strikes me that it might not be as healing or constructive for those who read said rants. I also realized that I seem to have a weekly complaint, although I am certain that if pressed I could come up with a daily one.
Nonetheless, at this time of reflection on the year past, I am moved to make a resolution to find things to celebrate in 2009. I want to start small. If I jump feet first into positivity, my friends, family, and colleagues will have me tested for illegal substances, hold an intervention, or begin the proceedings to have me found unfit. To avoid a drastic about-face, I will slowly permit optimism to seep into my well of pessimism. To this end, I intend to make a concerted effort -- nay, strive -- to say something positive in one blog entry each month. If all goes well and I am not starved for positivistic sentiments (as I, naysayer extraordinaire, predict), I will strive for twice monthly blog postivism. By the way, this calls to mind another of my pet peeves: What’s the deal with "bi-monthly"? I would like us to come to a consensus as to whether "bi-monthly" means twice monthly or once every two months, rather than both. On which side do you fall on this controversial subject? You do have an opinion, don’t you? Good, I was beginning to think I was alone.
We at Military & Aerospace Electronics are starting the new year with a bang: a bang-up, newly redesigned issue with a new format, new look, and fresh, new sections and topics. When you get your issue, drop us a line and let us know what you think.
Happy new year, all! Best wishes for a fantastic 2009.
THE MAE WEBSITE AUTHORS ARE SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CONTENT AND ACCURACY OF THEIR BLOGS, INCLUDING ANY OPINIONS THEY EXPRESS, AND PENNWELL IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR AND HEREBY DISCLAIMS ANY AND ALL LIABILITY FOR THE CONTENT, ITS ACCURACY, AND OPINIONS THAT MAY BE CONTAINED HEREIN. THE CONTENT ON THE MAE WEBSITE MAY BE DATED AND PENNWELL IS UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE UPDATES TO THE INFORMATION INCLUDED HEREIN.
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