mm344: Welcome to interesting times

April 11, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

This is not the Navy related story I expected to write. But, as always, real life changed my plans.

More than many, the MUDGE household has been observing this past week’s American Airlines MD-80 debacle with more than passing interest.

There have been myriad news stories, in print and on line, much television (I’m told – I never watch TV news). It’s a topic that anyone who flies can relate to.

As it happens, we’re headed off on a much needed vacation next week to see the grandMUDGElets in L.A., and, as American most frequently protects that route with this disappointingly tiny (in the context of: traversing 2/3 of the continent), not to speak of disappointingly elderly (in the context of: acquired cheaply when American absorbed what was left of the once proud TWA many years ago), sardine can (in the context of: so small, there’s never been audio entertainment available, much less an in-flight movie. Not that this is much of a hardship, but, it is a 4-hour flight). It’s an awful flight, in the best of circumstances, especially for a somewhat larger than life person such as yr (justifiably) humble svt. You guessed it: we’ve got tickets on an MD-80 flight.

Q: What’s worse than flying an American Airlines MD-80 to Los Angeles?

A: NOT flying an American Airlines MD-80 to Los Angeles because the flight’s among 1,000 that they’ve been forced to cancel due to inadequate maintenance procedures finally catching up to them.

Read the rest of this entry »

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mm215: A Maginot Line for the 21st Century?

December 8, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of the military

Fifth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

2

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

3

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

4

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

5

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

The one where we get our boots muddy… but still can read about UAVs!

fcs1

As I begin to write, it is still December 7. Still lives in infamy, although those alive to hear President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ringing phrases are leaving us every day.

But an altogether fitting day to write about the military (okay, we’re at war. Every day we should be remembering and writing about the military, supporting and honoring our citizen soldiers stuck, truly stuck in the [quick]sand of Iraq).

Guess the Washington Post thought so too.

armymakeover

washingtonpost

The Army’s $200 Billion Makeover

March to Modernize Proves Ambitious and Controversial

By Alec Klein

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 2007; Page A01

EL PASO — A $200 billion plan to remake the largest war machine in history unfolds in one small way on a quiet country road in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Jack Hensley, one of a legion of contractors on the project, is hunkered in a slowly moving SUV, serving as target practice for a baby-faced soldier in a Humvee aiming a laser about 700 yards away. A moment later, another soldier in the Humvee punches commands into a computer transmitting data across an expanse of sand and mesquite to a site 2 1/2 miles away. On an actual battlefield, this is when a precision attack missile would be launched, killing Hensley almost instantly.

Welcome to Future Combat Systems: warfare for the wireless era…

In the Army’s vision, the war of the future is increasingly combat by mouse clicks. It’s as networked as the Internet, as mobile as a cellphone, as intuitive as a video game. The Army has a name for this vision: Future Combat Systems, or FCS. The project involves creating a family of 14 weapons, drones, robots, sensors and hybrid-electric combat vehicles connected by a wireless network. It has turned into the most ambitious modernization of the Army since World War II and the most expensive Army weapons program ever, military officials say.

FCS was devised in the 90s in response to the Army’s recognition that its responsiveness to the new paradigm of asymmetric warfare was altogether too sluggish.

Of course, the government, especially its military, cannot plan to spend $200billions without controversy. Hugely ambitious, those plans have consistently, like every government program, delivered less than promised, later than promised.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Army’s $200 Billion Makeover – washingtonpost.com

It probably is no surprise that every time FCS hits the news, its quoted costs rise, from $92billion when launched in the 90s, to $117billion in this interesting overview from 2004, to today’s $200billion and counting.

Danger Room, a member of L-HC‘s blogroll2 noted the Post’s story, and pointed to a most illuminating analysis published last May at a site, new to this writer, GovernmentExecutive.com.

Four years into the program, the Army still has not fully defined what the program’s vehicles, drones, robots and computer networks are required to do, GAO’s Francis says. Software needed to control FCS has doubled from initial estimates to a staggering 63 million lines of code, three times the amount being written for the Joint Strike Fighter. Of FCS’ 49 critical technologies, only one is fully mature. GAO noted that immature technologies are “markers for future cost growth.” The Army says 75 percent of FCS critical technologies have reached prototype stage. GAO disputed those claims, backed by an independent review team’s assessment that less than half the critical technologies were close to the prototype stage.

63 million lines of software… breathtaking. And, sure to grow. And then there’s the issue of component weight.

GAO pointed to the FCS vehicles’ burgeoning weight as signs of a program that remains poorly defined and predicated on technological breakthroughs that so far have failed to materialize. The Army originally wanted FCS vehicles to weigh less than 20 tons, and Boeing promised to meet that goal. But so far, engineers have failed to develop the high-tech, lightweight electromagnetic and composite armors required. Last year, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army acquisition deputy, said vehicles would weigh 24 tons. Army budget documents released this year said FCS vehicles would tip the scales at 27 tons. Weight growth of a vehicle meant to be rapidly deployable by air is not an immaterial concern.

The analysis does a most comprehensive job of illuminating the planning and design flaws of the system. The tilt-rotor heavy lifters, whoppingly expensive with insufficient cargo capacity, and fatal vulnerability to even today’s inexpensive ground and air defense systems. The remote sensor systems that even today are fragile and proving inadequate to the realities of Iraq and Afghanistan. Armored vehicles that, as designed, would be unable to prevent fatal damage from even today’s IEDs, improvised explosive devices, which have killed or maimed so many U.S. personnel and their transports, much less future weaponry an enemy would be expected to field such as automatic cannon.

And always the issue: however brave the intention, FCS is a response to past conditions that most certainly will again endorse the adage that generals are doomed always to prepare to fight the last war.

But this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©‘s fascination with UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) was ratified with this illustration, encountered at HowStuffWorks.com while researching FCS.

And, it’s diesel-powered!

fcs2-uav

So as some of us reflect on warfare, and our preparedness to fight the next one, on this weekend where we remember the “day that will live in infamy” that found this country only semi-prepared to fight a world war that had started nearly 10 years before, one can only sigh.

FCS: A 21st century, mobile, high-tech version of the Maginot Line?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm211: Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

December 3, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Written previously in this space (here, here and even here) about the fascinating advent of robotic military aircraft, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — UAVs.

Well, we’re reminded lately that robots are also very much in use and under development for our ground-based forces.

Two stories popped out at us over the past couple of days. And they make for an interesting debate.

First, this intriguing story about the latest in a series of government funded development projects at Carnegie Mellon University, always a pioneer in the field of robotics, from CNET Blogs.

Meet the “Crusher:”

Army’s ‘Crusher’ gets $14 million makeover

Posted by Mark Rutherford Post a comment

(Credit: Carnegie Mellon University)

Carnegie Mellon University will upgrade its 6.5-ton robot mobile, the “Crusher,” by adding advanced suspension and hybrid-electric innards as part of a $14.4 million Army grant meant to push the envelope for unmanned ground vehicles.

The project, a result of more than two decades of robotics research by the university’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), will demonstrate how advanced vehicle and navigation technology can solve transportation challenges like those encountered by supply convoys in Iraq, according to the university (PDF).

The balance of the short article is fascinating, not least for the inclusion of a YouTube video of Crusher touring the countryside by way of Popular Mechanics (anyone else surprised that that publication is still around?).

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Army’s ‘Crusher’ gets $14 million makeover | Military Tech – Mark Rutherford looks at how the military merges with the digital age – CNET Blogs

An interesting essay in Armed Forces Journal provides an argument in favor of maintaining the human element in warfare.

Who decides: Man or machine?

BY MAJ. DANIEL L. DAVIS

When the industrial revolution of the early 19th century threatened the centuries-old caste of the English artisans by replacing man with machine, they rose up, allegedly led by a man named Ned Ludd, in protest. To protect their way of life, they attempted to destroy the machines in hopes of clinging to their past. Since then, anyone who opposes technological advancement has been derided as a Luddite.

After reading an article in the Arizona Daily Star about future robotic warfare, such a title might well be lobbed at me — although for rather different reasons than my distinguished British predecessors.

The article celebrated the advent of technology that would soon see robots fighting wars for us, and even pondered what would happen when nations assemble robot armies. Although it brings to mind images of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi battling the droid army in “Star Wars,” the idea is anything but science fiction.

Already, numerous robots in Iraq and Afghanistan are showing utility in counter-IED efforts and can significantly enhance a soldier’s ability to clear a hostile building. Similarly, semi-robotic UAVs provide imagery on enemy movements, as well as fire precision-guided weapons at enemy targets. Without a doubt, technology is providing a notable utility to the combat soldier.

Maj. Davis admits above the utility of robotic equipment. But he also effectively quotes Gen. George Patton (brilliant even if Nixon loved the George C. Scott portrayal):

“Wars may be fought with weapons,” he once said, “but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

ARMED FORCES JOURNAL – Who decides: Man or machine? – November 2007

For Maj. Davis it’s about morality (men choosing to kill which men, rather than leaving such decisions in the claws and CPUs of machines), not potential unemployment.

I guess I’ll buy that; he certainly is sincere.

But, there’s an outsourcing argument here that I think could be pursued.

Where do majors come from? Nobody joins the Army as a major, any more than 18 year olds join corporations as senior managers.

There’s a learning curve. One joins the Army, trains, drills, fights, survives, perhaps is sent to Officer Candidate School to train at a higher level, becomes a junior officer who trains, drills, fights, survives, and perhaps is promoted to major.

MUDGE has had this same discussion with the outsourcing functionary at his place of employment. Where is the next generation of IT operations managers going to come from, if the entry level positions from which most of the present generation has sprung are being outsourced to Bengaluru? Obvious answer: Bengaluru, of course!

So, assuming that robot combatants become increasingly prevalent, one could posit that the next generation or the next after that might be a very capable Maj. Crusher.

Now, that’s food for thought!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm191: Veterans’ Day Observed

November 11, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

image

Will not let the weekend go by without pausing to remember the veterans of our military.

We can start by remembering that this federal holiday, now spottily observed and placed on a Monday for retail purposes, was established shortly after World War I, honoring the official end of that war, the Armistice, symbolically timed for the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

Armistice Day eventually became Veterans Day, after the War to End All Wars failed to do so, accumulating many millions more veterans in the process.

Both MUDGE‘s father and father-in-law, now deceased, were proud veterans of the Army during World War II, who never wore their war service on their sleeves. Indeed, it was tantamount to pulling wisdom teeth to extricate even the smallest reminiscence of their experiences. After all, they each were just one of many millions of patriots who did what needed doing.

And we mention Norman Mailer, whose recent death was announced this week. His magnificent depiction of the war, The Naked and the Dead, written so soon afterward while his own experiences were so fresh, served eloquently stood in for so many stories in a way that continues to inspire us.

Our older son, and his new wife, are themselves both distinguished veterans of the U.S. Navy, having served with courage and intelligence protecting their country in more recent times. Indeed, our new daughter-in-law comes from an Air Force family (her Dad, sister and brother-in-law), and we’re grateful for their service.

To them, to the memory of our fathers, and to all of our veterans, living and dead, we extend our heartfelt, inadequate gratitude.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

The photograph above harvested from PictureSandbox by way of Flickr. The apparent owner is “bcmom” and the use of the photo is covered by a Creative Commons license.