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SIGNAL Online Exclusives

Two-in-One Unmanned Aircraft

February 25, 2013
By George I. Seffers

U.S. Navy technology may allow in-flight conversion from helicopter to fixed wing.

Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are developing unmanned aircraft technology that will allow the conversion from a vertical take-off and landing system to a fixed-wing craft during in-flight operation. The conversion capability will provide the take-off and landing flexibility of a helicopter with the longer range, higher speeds and lower wear and tear of an airplane.

The technology demonstrator is referred to as the Stop-Rotor Rotary Wing Aircraft. It is capable of cruising at about 100 knots, weighs less than 100 pounds and can carry a 25-pound intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) or electronic warfare payload, such as the Expendable, Mobile Anti-submarine warfare Training Target (EMATT). “We decided to do a demonstration vehicle that could carry an EMATT. It’s like a little submarine that can generate sonar signals, and it’s for training anti-submarine warfare operators,” explains Steven Tayman, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory. “It’s a neat payload.”

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) includes a removable payload bay that is about 12 inches wide, 38 inches long and six inches deep with “bomb bay doors” for dropping payloads, such as sonobuoys. “You could use a UAV to deploy a sonobuoy field, which would be pretty exciting,” Tayman says. “There’s really no limit to the payload other than volume.”

Navy Hedges Bets on NGEN Contract

February 21, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

The sea service seeks to extend NMCI’s lifetime just in case its replacement is delayed.

Diving for Port Security

February 20, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The Long Beach Police Department dive team adopts new homeland security equipment.

The Long Beach, California, police department dive team is now using a newly acquired search and recovery system to help protect the local port, shipping lanes and critical infrastructure.

The Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) dive team has an atypical and varied mission along the port and in the city waterways. “We have the law enforcement responsibility as well as the homeland security mission, mostly dealing with the Port of Long Beach and protecting the port against any type of terrorist threat or action,” says Sgt. Steve Smock, LBPD dive team supervisor. “Everything that the police do on land, we do underwater.”

The mission can include body recovery after a shipping accident or searching for underwater mines attached to ships or piers. The LBPD works with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to search for and confiscate narcotics or other contraband being smuggled into the country. Additionally, the port is a potential terrorist target for several reasons, including the shipping lanes and some of the cargo coming into port.

“We have all these different wharfs and piers that these ships come up to and tie to. A good example is the oil exchange terminals where the oil container ships come in and offload their oil. These are, for obvious reasons, very sensitive. We do a lot to make sure that nobody gets in there to tamper with anything,” the sergeant states.

New NASA Communications Satellite Bridges Legacy, Future Technologies

February 15, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

The latest generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-K, updates existing technology with an eye to the future. New electronics and better power management will help extend the TDRS constellation for at least another decade, but NASA already is looking ahead to major changes in the system’s capabilities that would define the next-generation TDRS.

Presidential Cybersecurity Executive Order Has Limited Reach

February 13, 2013
By Max Cacas

One day after unveiling a long-awaited executive order concerning a wide-range of cybersecurity concerns, President Barack Obama’s top cybersecurity advisers admit that the order only goes so far in dealing with pressing Internet security needs. They say that the order is only a “down payment” and no substitute for permanent congressional legislation on the matter.

“We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and economy,” President Obama said in reference to his executive order and the urgency to act during his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night.

Michael Daniel, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity adviser, told reporters and congressional staffers at a Commerce Department briefing on Wednesday that the executive order, and a companion Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-21), “rest on three pillars”:

  • Information sharing
  • Privacy
  • A framework of standards

Both documents build on numerous cybersecurity measures already in use within the government, dating back to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 7 (HSPD-7) signed during the previous Bush administration. Daniel describes the philosophy behind the most recent order as a “whole of government” approach designed to engage all agencies in a stepped-up effort to secure the nation’s digital infrastructure. In addition, Daniels says, the executive order reflects the work of “a number of other stakeholders,” primarily during last fall’s push to gain passage of comprehensive cybersecurity legislation on Capitol Hill.

The Now and Next of NIE

February 6, 2013
By Rita Boland

The U.S. Army is finalizing its official report on the Network Integration Evaluation 13.1 even as it prepares for the next iteration of the event and Capability Set 14. Soldiers are tweaking processes to make the exercises more valuable while working closer with industry to speed fielding as much as possible under tight acquisition regulations.

Liquid Metal Research Makes Wires That Stretch and Self-Repair

February 4, 2013
by Max Cacas

Imagine a wire that can stretch eight to 10 times its original length and still send crystal clear audio from your music player to your earphones, or imagine accidentally cutting a cable to a tactical radio and repairing the cut just by physically putting the wires back together.

Those are just two of the many possible products that could result from materials science research now underway at North Carolina State University under the direction of Dr. Michael Dickey, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the university.

Both scientific developments are the result of separate but related avenues of scientific research into advanced materials, explains Dickey, who says much of the work has been conducted by graduate and undergraduate students. “They’re related in the sense that we’ve used some common materials, but they are two different projects,” he says.

“Both ideas are almost embarassingly simple,” Dickey goes on to relate. “What we’ve done is taken the architecture of a conventional wire, which is a metal core surrounded by a plastic casing, and we’ve done two things. We’ve replaced the plastic casing with an elastomeric polymer that’s more like a rubber band, so it's stretchable, and then for the core of the wire, we use a special liquid metal alloy.”

That alloy, made up of gallium and indium, is a liquid at room temperature but has a unique characteristic. “We can shape it because there’s an oxide ‘skin’ that forms on the metal. The best analogy I can use is a waterbed, which, in the absence of a plastic casing, would be a big puddle.”

U.S. Army Combines Key Acquisition Directorates

January 23, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Over the past month, the U.S. Army has consolidated two directorates in an effort to continue improving agile acquisition. Combining the offices is designed to allow more efficient and effective cooperation, enhance long-term planning capabilities and boost the service’s ability to acquire an overall system of systems.

The two directorates—System of Systems Engineering and System of Systems Integration—within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology [ASA(ALT)] have been combined into the Systems of Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate. Heidi Shyu, the ASA(ALT), was briefed on the changes earlier this month.

Terry Edwards, who leads the new directorate, explains that under the previous organizational structure, no one was seeing the forest for the trees. “Unfortunately, these two processes weren’t connected optimally. The benefit first, for the Army, is the ability to look at a system of systems across the Army and to bring engineering and integration together,” Edwards says. “Nobody was looking at the system of systems.”

Additionally, he says, the former structure was too focused on the near-term. “The second benefit was to look at not just the near-term focused view of what we do for the Army, but also to look out at how we shape the Army’s architecture to be more capable but also more efficient in how we deliver that capability,” he says.

The ASA(ALT) officials have been developing long-term roadmaps toward the service’s future. “One thing Ms. Shyu has been doing is trying to establish this 30 year roadmap across all of our portfolios. One of the functions of our office will be to look across those portfolios and analyze how they align,” Edwards reveals.

A New Twist to Light Wave Communications

January 19, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

Twisted beams of light may illuminate a straight path to more secure and higher capacity communications. A new type of photodetector developed at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) allows systems to judge these beams by their spin rate. It will allow the encoding of an infinite amount of numbers in those data streams, which offers the potential for dramatically larger data rates as well as better encryption.

Big Data in Demand for Intelligence Community

January 4, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The National Security Agency is poised to deliver an initial cloud computing capability for the entire intelligence community that will significantly enhance cybersecurity and mission performance, and unleash the power of innovation for intelligence agencies, Lonny Anderson, NSA chief information officer, says.

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