Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Air Giants

U.S. forces in Afghanistan get nervous when they have to reel down one of their tethered, video-camera-equipped aerostats for maintenance.
"They want it up as long as they can have it - that persistent surveillance stare," said Army Lt. Col. Robert Helms, who oversees work on the aerostats, called the Persistent Threat Detection System (PTDS).
Last year, the Army accepted 28 PTDS aerostats, adding to the nine it already owned. Now commanders want airships that stay up even longer, scan more terrain with radars and cameras, and serve as communications relays.
That means they'll have to be bigger.
The Army, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and their contractors are moving forward with imminent plans to inflate and fly giant airships that would set new aviation standards for size, endurance and presence. The airships would provide detailed pictures of battlefield conditions for combat troops who need the information immediately.
One, the Army's Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV), could be in Afghanistan by the end of 2011. Others are being prepared for key tests.
Cracking the Stratosphere
In June or July, Lockheed Martin plans to test-fly its High Altitude Long Endurance Demonstrator (HALE-D) airship at the company's Mission Systems and Sensors division airship facility in Akron, Ohio. At 70 feet in diameter, the test airship will carry a 50-pound payload - a camera and a communications repeater - at an altitude of between 60,000 and 70,000 feet for 10 to 14 days. HALE-D is big, but it is a scaled-down version of the airship originally envisioned under the dormant High Altitude Airship program.
"This is very Wright Brothers-ish," said Eric Hofstatter, the program manager for another Lockheed airship effort, the Integrated Sensor is Structure (ISIS) airship project. Like HALE-D, ISIS is designed to fly extremely high, providing a wide-area view. "There are no stratospheric airships flying today, at all," Hofstatter said.
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the company's Advanced Development Programs Division, is developing ISIS for DARPA.
Developers and researchers want to use HALE-D to compare real performance to simulations conducted with models on the ground prior to launch and gather data on wind and air pressure. Though Hofstatter said HALE-D and ISIS are not directly linked, the results garnered from this summer's test flight could help develop ISIS in time for its projected 90-day flight test from Akron to Key West, Fla., beginning in April 2013.
"Once we validate all the technology required for the stratospheric airship, whether from HALE-D or ISIS, it [will provide] a laundry list of capabilities everybody can use - from communications nodes to electro-optical IR sensors," Hofstatter said.
During its test flight, the 500-foot-long ISIS demonstrator craft will stay on station at the same altitude range as HALE-D, carrying a smaller and more modest radar and communications package than developers plan to place on the final product. It will have a top cruise speed of just less than 100 feet per second - roughly twice as fast as the Goodyear blimp.
Plans call for the construction of a second ISIS airship, incorporating changes as determined by the test demonstrator, for use by the Air Force and U.S. Northern Command. Ultimately, ISIS will carry very large, dual-band active electronically scanned array radars, capable of detecting air-, water- or land-borne moving targets at ranges from 15.5 to 373 miles, detect and track ballistic missiles at ranges greater than 932 miles, and penetrate foliage at ranges up to 105.5 miles.
The second ISIS, with the complete ISR package and more powerful regenerative fuel-cell and electric propulsion, is projected for a 2018 deployment and should stay in operation for 10 years.
At the extremely cold temperatures in which it will operate, ISIS will employ state-of-the-art thermal control units built by ATK of Beltsville, Md., comparable to those the company has long built for satellites and spacecraft, but adapted for the airship platform. The units will be able to transport heat through the craft with passive systems, eschewing heavy and complex mechanical pumps and valves.
The inflated skin, or hull, of ISIS - made of an extremely strong composite of woven materials with the thickness of two sheets of paper - will serve as the radome for the radar, powerful enough and with sufficient aperture to provide detailed information to front-line troops.
"The only way to take advantage of high-resolution tracking and targeting is to increase apertures by orders of magnitude," Hofstatter said. "That provides insight as to why DARPA came up with ISIS." Beyond that, he said, details on the system are classified.
Afghanistan Bound
While ISIS would patrol the stratosphere for one long deployment, another large airship set for debut will provide comparable capabilities at lower altitudes and shorter durations, but with greater payload flexibility. Northrop Grumman's football-field-length LEMV will face its first inflation test in June. The goal is to deploy the airship to Afghanistan by December for an operational demonstration.
Once on station, it will fly at 20,000 feet and provide a continuous ISR presence for three weeks at a time. The LEMV will be a hybrid airship, combining the lift of helium with aerodynamic lift and control.
While larger airships carry a bigger wow factor, proponents of lighter-than-air surveillance insist that smaller craft like PTDS and its ilk are doing more than merely filling the breach until ISIS and LEMV enter service.
In fact, while Lockheed's Mission Systems and Sensors division is preparing HALE-D for inflation, the same group is working on an upgrade to PTDS, including installation of new L-3 Wescam MX-20 video cameras and Northrop Grumman STARLite radars. Ground control stations and gondolas will be upgraded, as well. The Defense Department awarded Lockheed the $85.3 million contract Feb. 25, with an anticipated completion date of Nov. 23.
Another company, Mav6 of Alexandria, Va., is working under a Defense Department contract to develop and deploy its Blue Devil 2 multisensor aerostats to Afghanistan by early next year.
Once on station, the aerostats will provide war fighters in Afghanistan with two tools they do not currently have, according to Dave Bither, the project's program manager. "One is the persistent stare and collection of data for long periods of time," Bither said. "The other is tailorable sensors, which the [Defense] department does not have now."
Once inflated, the aerostats are roughly 330 feet long and 62 feet high and will carry a payload of up to 2,500 pounds. Because the aerostats are not filled to high pressure, they can resist small-arms fire. And because they rely on what Bither refers to as tried-and-true aviation-grade engines and possess vertical-takeoff capability, they require neither extensive retraining for maintenance personnel nor long and smooth runways.
Still, experts wonder how practical they would be in a conflict against a foe with better capability to shoot them down.
This originally ran in C4ISR Journal.

India Commits to Help Afghan Security Forces

NEW DELHI - India pledged to help strengthen the capabilities of Afghanistan's security forces after a meeting between the defense ministers of both countries in New Delhi on June 1.
Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony "conveyed the government of India's willingness to work with the Afghan government in building the capabilities of Afghan security forces," a statement said.
His Afghan counterpart Abdul Rahim Wardak is on a three-day visit to India accompanied by a seven-member team.
Afghan-Indian ties have raised hackles in Islamabad, where the Pakistani government and military establishment has long considered Afghanistan its own strategic asset to offset the perceived threat from India in the east.
India last month pledged $500 million in fresh aid to Afghanistan, raising New Delhi's contribution to $2 billion, to be spent mainly on development projects.
India's military assistance has so far been limited to training Afghanistan's security personnel and investing in small infrastructure projects.
Any greater involvement of Indian forces in Afghanistan would likely face objections from Pakistan, India's regional adversary.
President Hamid Karzai's government has stepped up training of Afghan troops ahead of the scheduled withdrawal of NATO troops by 2014 from the country, where the Islamist Taliban has waged an insurgency since 2001.
U.S.-led international troops are due to start handing over control of security in limited areas to Afghan forces in July.
Wardak said ahead of his talks with Antony that Kabul welcomed Indian security assistance.
"We will welcome any cooperation in the field of training and helping of Afghan national security forces so that they are able to secure and defend the country," he told reporters, according to PTI news agency.
"There is a very genuine interest in strengthening our relations in all sectors including defense," said Wardak, the first top Afghan official to visit India since Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by U.S. troops on May 2.
After more than two decades without influence in Kabul, New Delhi swiftly established ties with Karzai's regime after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion deposed the Taliban, which was allied to Pakistani elements.

Chinese Military Build-Up No Threat: Official

LONDON - China's military build-up poses no threat to the world, even as the army modernizes to meet the challenges of an "informationalized age", a top Chinese army official said June 1.
The comments by Gen. Zhang Qinsheng, deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, come amid longstanding Western claims that hackers inside China are behind a range of cyberattacks.
"China has always been embarking on peaceful development and the development of China is by no means a threat," Zhang told a conference on land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think-tank in London.
"China does not pursue hegemony. We will not do it even when we grow stronger. This is not only the basic state policy, but also a solemn commitment to the people of the world."
In March, China announced that its defense budget would rise 12.7 percent in 2011 to 601.1 billion yuan ($91.7 billion), fuelling regional concerns about Beijing's military build-up in addition to its economic clout.
Addressing an audience of senior military officers from countries including the United States, Britain and Brazil, Zhang said China's armed forces needed "reform" to win increasingly high-tech conflicts.
"The (Chinese) army has to be modernized to fight modern wars in an informationalized age. This is a major challenge facing us," said Zhang, speaking through an interpreter.
He said China's aims had always been defensive, but added: "The goal of modernization of our army is to transform it from a regional defense force to an all-theatre maneuvering force."
Zhang's words come just days after Chinese state media reported that the military had set up an elite Internet security task force tasked with fending off cyber-attacks.
But the Global Times newspaper denied that the initiative, in which the military has reportedly invested millions of dollars, is intended to create a "hacker army", saying that China was relatively weak in cyber-security.
The United States, Australia, Germany and other Western nations have long alleged that hackers inside China are carrying out a wide-range of cyber-attacks on government and corporate computer systems worldwide.

Dempsey: U.S. Military Must Adapt to 'Viral' Events

LONDON - The man named by President Barack Obama to be the top U.S. military officer said June 1 that American forces must adapt to an uncertain world after the Arab Spring and the death of Osama bin Laden.
In his first public comments since Obama unveiled him as his formal pick for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey also admitted that progress at a national level in Afghanistan was proving difficult.
"The killing of Osama bin Laden was a great moment in terms of taking the leadership of al-Qaida and creating difficulties for that organization," Dempsey told the Royal United Services Institute defense think-tank in London.
But Dempsey underscored the idea that al-Qaida was in some ways a "leaderless" organization that might regenerate in unexpected ways after U.S. commandos killed bin Laden in Pakistan a month ago.
"I don't know that we have yet come to understand what his particular demise might mean for the future," he said.
Dempsey told an audience of defense chiefs from countries including Britain, the United States, China and Brazil that the U.S. military needs to adapt better to "viral" events like this year's revolutions in the Middle East.
"Here I think our imaginations are just beginning to touch the edges of what it might mean," he said, adding that so far "maybe we have not used our imaginations to the extent that we might use them."
He added: "What brought down Mubarak was Facebook and social networking, a leaderless organization that rose up and we call the Arab Spring. So things can happen much more quickly than in the past.
"So in the context of a viral world we are trying to build an army that meets requirements."
Dempsey said that in Iraq there had been "vindication" for U.S. efforts to hand over security to local forces, but in Afghanistan the "challenge has been and continues to be different."
"There has been enormous progress made at the tactical level but the progress has been harder to link together with progress at the national level" in Afghanistan, he said.
U.S. forces are due to begin pulling out of Afghanistan next month with a full handover from NATO to Afghan forces due at the end of 2014.
Dempsey, 59, who is the current chief of staff for the Army, will replace Adm. Mike Mullen if he is confirmed by a Senate hearing.

U.K. Army Must Become More Expeditionary: Chief

LONDON - The British Army has become too used to fighting from sophisticated, well-resourced bases in places like Afghanistan and needs to rebuild capabilities more suitable to expeditionary warfare, according to the head of the Army.
"We have got far too used to a post-expeditionary psyche, where we have hard-wired bandwidth and quite sophisticated facilities in places like Camp Bastion," the main British military base in Afghanistan, said Gen. Sir Peter Wall, the chief of the General Staff.
"We need to transition our thinking to a more expeditionary psyche, where in the early days of a new campaign, we will be forced to operate without the sophistication we have managed to grow in the Afghan landscape," Wall said.
Speaking more broadly about the future development of land forces here, Wall said the British Army would have to transform itself from its Afghan-centric campaign to "something that gives us a more broad-based military capability with a regrowth of contingency.
"Like a number of other armies, we have over this period been forced to put some aspect of our war-fighting capability temporarily on hold as we got completely absorbed by the challenges of success in Afghanistan," he told an audience of senior military officers and industry executives at the Royal United Services Institute conference on land warfare here June 1.
The conflict in Libya is the latest reminder of the need for balanced capabilities. The Army, he said, needs to be able to deliver capabilities that will match the hybrid challenges of the future.
"Combined arms maneuvers remain a part of our repertoire, but it has to modernized and coupled with the ability to handle asymmetric threats and irregular threats and also take account of additional dimensions in battlespace, for example cyber," the British Army chief said.
British forces are well equipped to fight the Taliban, but the picture is more challenging when one looks at the equipment beyond that conflict, he said.
"The Army has an excellent suite of equipment at the moment, but it is specific to the Afghanistan challenge," Wall said. "If we look at our forward equipment program, it's rather a different story.
"We face a budget which is reducing considerably over the early years of the current decade, after which we will certainly require real-term growth over the latter part of the decade if we are to resource [our plans] for Future Force 2020," Wall said.
Future Force 2020 is the British government's plan to restructure the military over the next 10 years.

Turkish General's Arrest Roils Air Force

ANKARA - A senior general who was expected to become the new air force commander this summer has been detained on charges of conspiracy to topple the government, a senior military official said May 31.
An Istanbul court May 30 arrested Air Force Gen. Bilgin Balanli, commander of the War Academy, accusing him of involvement in a plan to overthrow the government of Islamist-leaning Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Balanli is the most senior Air Force general and, therefore, the strongest candidate to become the service commander in an annual reshuffle in August.
Dozens of duty and retired officers are currently in jail on similar charges, but Balanli is the only active-duty full general.
"The charges against him effectively means that General Balanli has lost chances of becoming the next commander. And this situation raises serious questions regarding who else can take over," the military official said.
In recent years, the prime minister blocked the promotion of officers who were charged with plotting a coup or trying to topple his government.
"One option is to extend the term of the current commander for one year until another full general takes over," he said.
Air Force Commander Gen. Hasan Aksay was set to retire after this year's reshuffle.
Erdogan's government and the military have been long disputed religion's role in politics and public life. In recent years, the government has prevailed in this rift through legislation and judicial proceedings against what prosecutors indict as coup-plotting officers.

North Korea Rejects South Korea Summit Proposal

SEOUL - North Korea said June 1 it had rejected a South Korean proposal to hold a series of three summits to ease tensions on the peninsula.
The North's powerful National Defense Commission (NDC) said the South, at a secret meeting in May, had proposed the meetings to start late this month at the border truce village of Panmunjom.
It said Seoul "begged" for the summits but stuck to its precondition for dialogue - that Pyongyang apologize for two deadly border incidents last year.
But the North said there would be no such summits as long as South Korea follows a hostile policy and "persistently" calls for the dismantling of its nuclear program and an apology over the two incidents.
It repeated a vow made May 30 that it would no longer engage with the current conservative government in Seoul.
Seoul accused Pyongyang of "distorting our real intention" and urged it to sit down for a dialogue in a "responsible" manner.
"It is very regrettable as such an attitude shown by North Korea will never help improve relations," the South's unification ministry in charge of cross-border affairs said in a statement.
Cross-border relations have been icy for more than a year, since the South accused the North of sinking one of its warships and imposed trade sanctions.
The North denies involvement in the sinking but shelled a South Korean border island last November, killing four people including two civilians.
Seoul says its neighbor should take responsibility for both incidents before any serious dialogue can resume.
The NDC, which is chaired by leader Kim Jong-Il, said the South had even tried to bribe North Korean officials to show "regret" for the border incidents by offering an envelope of cash.
In a statement on the official KCNA news agency, it said Seoul proposed a second summit in Pyongyang in August and a third on the sidelines of a nuclear summit in the South next March.
Pyongyang would work to promote "peace, reunification and stability" on the peninsula but would "no longer deal with" the current Seoul government, it said.
"The fact that the North made public the confidential contacts with the South means that it has reached a final decision not to talk to the current government in the South," said Kim Keun-Sik of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies.
Following leader Kim's trip to Beijing last month, "the North gained confidence that it can do without help from the South", the academic told AFP. China, the North's sole major ally and benefactor, is trying to revive six-nation talks on the North's nuclear disarmament. But inter-Korean tensions are complicating the issue.
The South's President Lee Myung-Bak has enraged the North by linking major aid to nuclear disarmament, although he has repeatedly said he is willing in principle to hold a summit.
The North's Kim also reportedly expressed willingness to hold a summit in a message relayed by visiting former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in April.
In its statement May 30, the NDC reiterated threats of "physical action without any notice" to halt psychological warfare from the South.
The North has repeatedly threatened to open fire at sites used by South Korean activists to launch cross-border leaflets criticizing Kim's regime.
The ruling communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said June 1 it was futile to pin any hope on Lee's government.
"They are a group of hooligans bereft of elementary political sense, national character and human ethics and morality," it said.

Australia PM to Replace Defence Forces Chief

SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced Wednesday that Defence Force Chief Angus Houston will be replaced by his deputy in July, as she admitted it was a "testing time" for the force.
Lt. Gen. David Hurley will take over from the retiring Houston, who has spent six years in the job and overseen Australian deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
The announcement comes in a week in which three soldiers died in separate incidents in Afghanistan, bringing the nation's losses in that conflict to 26.
Gillard acknowledged that the reshuffle came at a "very testing time for the Australian Defence Force, a time of sorrow, of loss".
"I'm absolutely confident the new leadership team will meet these challenges," she told a press conference.
Hurley, who as a young man served on exchange with the British Army's Irish Guards, was appointed vice chief of the Defence Force in 2008.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his work commanding a battalion group in Somalia in 1993 and later went on to be named as Land Commander Australia and appointed to Chief Joint Operations Command.
Hurley said he would not back away from giving the government "frank and fearless advice."
"I don't think at times that should be taken as dissent or a war between the minister and the generals," he said. "We're doing our job, and we'll continue to do so."
The leadership change comes as the Defence Force is facing a wave of complaints brought by former members alleging sexual abuse, beatings and other misconduct, as well as investigation into its treatment of women.
Houston said the force had worked hard to reform the culture within defense, which has some 58,000 permanent staff.
"Okay, we are not perfect but the vast majority of people out there act with great generosity of spirit in everything they do," Houston said. "It's been a story of success, what we've done on operations."
Hurley's position as vice-chief will be filled by current air force chief Air Marshal Mark Binskin.

China's PLA Bans Soldiers From Social Media

BEIJING - Making online friends could play into the hands of the "enemy", according to China's People's Liberation Army, which has said its roughly 2.3 million soldiers will be banned from using social media.
The world's largest military force has notified service men and women that it will strictly enforce the ban to "safeguard military secrets and the purity and solidarity" of the PLA, state media said this week.
The People's Liberation Daily, the armed forces' official newspaper, said passing on personal details such as a soldier's address, duties or contact details could risk revealing the location of military bases.
It added that particular risks exist in users posting photos of themselves, such as during training, which could divulge military capabilities and equipment.
The ban was included in regulations announced last year that proscribed soldiers from launching websites or writing blogs, the paper added.
But in a sign that the ban was apparently being ignored in a country where social media are wildly popular, the military brass has taken the step of re-emphasizing the restriction, warning of a "grim struggle" on the Internet.
Officers and soldiers must be made to understand the "real dangers" of making friends online and to "strengthen their knowledge of the enemy situation," it said, without elaborating.
China has nearly half a billion online users, according to official figures, and Chinese-language social media sites similar to Facebook and Twitter - which are blocked by the country's censors - count hundreds of millions of users.
The newspaper last week said China's military has set up an elite Internet security task force tasked with fending off cyberattacks, while denying that the initiative is intended to create a "hacker army."
The United States, Australia, Germany and other Western nations have long alleged that hackers inside China are carrying out a wide range of cyberattacks on government and corporate computer systems worldwide.