Month: February 2010

Russian S-400 Triumf SAM Enters Service

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It’s about 3 years behind schedule, which when compared to the Patriot Missile, which was entered design in 1969, but did not enter service until 1984, but the S-400 Triumf (NATO designation SA-21 Growler) has officially entered Russian army service.

It is arguably the most capable SAM in service, with a 400 km range, and a significant ATBM capability, as well as an active radar seeker, which was not present in the S-300 (SA-20 Gargoyle).

It claims to have a significant anti-stealth capability, and based on some numbers I ran a few years back, it would appear that the system could detect an F-22 at a range of at least 15 miles, perhaps more, if some of the advances in signal processing and computers work as advertised.

H/t ELP Defens(c)e Blog.

JSF Update

Well, US deputy secretary of defense William Lynn has publicly stated that there will be a 13 month delay in the completion of initial operational test and evaluation (IOTE).

Note that this is a 12 month slip from schedule announced in 2008, not from the 2005 schedule, which the 2008 schedule was a slip. It’s not 2 full years behind the 2005 schedule, so IOTE is supposed to be completed in 2015, as opposed to 2013.

Note also, that independent evaluations are showing even more slippage, not surprising given that they are cannibalizing airframes on the assembly lines to keep the test aircraft flying.

Additionally, it’s over budget, and will likely suffer a Nunn-McCurdy breach, meaning that the price has escalated to more than 150% of the contract, and it will have to be recertified.

On the brighter side, the F-35B has performed its first first short landing:

Iceland May Have Found Its Economic Salvation

With banking having left the nation dunned by creditors demanding something more than $20,000 from every man woman and child in the tiny island nation, Iceland may have found a replacement, and this one may actually produce something of real value.

Specifically, they are looking at “passing the strongest combination of source protection, freedom of speech, and libel-tourism prevention laws in the world“: (see also here and here)

On Tuesday, [Feb 16] the Icelandic parliament is expected to introduce a measure aimed at making the country an international center for investigative journalism publishing, by passing the strongest combination of source protection, freedom of speech, and libel-tourism prevention laws in the world.

Supporters of the proposal say the move would make Iceland an “offshore publishing center” for free speech, analogous to the offshore financial havens that allow corporations to hide capital from authorities. Could global news organizations with a home office in Reykjavík soon be as common as Delaware corporations or Cayman Islands assets?

“This is a legislative package to create a haven for freedom of expression,” Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir confirmed to me, saying that a proposal for comprehensive media law reform will be filed in parliament on Tuesday, and that whistle-blowing specialists Wikileaks has been involved in drafting it. There have been persistent hints of an Icelandic media move in recent weeks, including tweets from Wikileaks and a cryptic message from the newly created @icelandmedia Twitter account.

It might not be a big market, but with a population of 320,000, it does not need to be, and we all win.

I think that the libel tourism laws might be the most significant, if it can be structured in a way that has meaning; Too many times, the UK’s draconian libel laws are used as a cudgel against free speech.

It’s one of the questions I’ve always wondered about regarding the internet: Why haven’t countries used this to their advantage, rather than just knuckling to the US acting as laptog to the RIAA, MPAA, and other acronyms.

H/t Murray Waas.

I Can Still Tell the Difference Between Dick Cheney and Alan Grayson*

It’s Purim, and I am not yet drunk enough to satisfy the Rabbis, so it’s time for some more alcohol, or as I like to call it, “Bourbon Renewal.”

*According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordecai,’ though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is. A person certainly should not become so drunk that he might violate other commandments or get seriously ill. In addition, recovering alcoholics or others who might suffer serious harm from alcohol are exempt from this obligation.

Vermont Senate Rejects License Extension for Nuke Plant

Maybe it was the fact that Vermont Yankee has been leaking radioactive tritium into the ground water for some time:

The Vermont Senate blocked efforts by Entergy Corp. to win a 20-year license renewal for its Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, an action that could encourage opponents of nuclear energy in other states.

The Senate vote, which was 26 to four, marks the first time a license renewal has been thwarted, and it sets the stage for the plant’s closure by 2012, when the license expires.

The vote was striking because the state relies on the plant for a third of its electricity. In the past, license renewals have been routine, allowing energy companies to squeeze more life out of aging plants. To date, the NRC has renewed 59 reactor licenses, and 19 are pending.

The vote, which reflected fears about safety after leaks of radioactive tritium were discovered at the plant last year, is a blow to Entergy, which had planned to spin off six reactors, including Vermont Yankee, into the nation’s first stand-alone nuclear power company, to be called Enexus Energy Corp.

Notwithstanding the ability of the nuclear power industry to lobby for subsidies and tax breaks, the problem is that people who have nuclear power know that the plants never finish on schedule, never finish on budget, and are expensive sources of power even with the subsidies.

This plant is 38 years old, and its cooling tower collapsed in 2004, so maybe this is a good time to shut it down.

This is a Case to Watch

Sergey Aleynikov, a senior programmer for Goldman Sach’s high frequency trading software, has been indicted for software theft.

It’s alleged that he took the software, and sent copies of it to a server in Germany.

This case is odd.

First, the entire high frequency trading thing smells of corruption: The idea is that by having servers colocated in the market, you pick up a few milliseconds speed, and so can execute trades between when someone else requests a buy, and when their transaction is actually executed.

To my, admittedly untrained, gut this sounds identical to front-running, which is illegal.

Additionally, the twists and turns of the trial, where Aleynikov’s lawyers made some fairly routing requests for things like his personnel file to show that he was not a disgruntled employee, had the squid’s* lawyers seriously freaking out, and suggesting that charges should be dropped.

I think that there are some very real bits of corruption that might be uncovered in the trial, though the prosecution, defense, and judge might very well find a way to suppress that, because, after all, it’s Goldman Sachs, and rule number 1 of Goldman Sachs is that Goldman Sachs has friends in high places, so it always gets what it wants.

My prior posts are here.

*Alas, I cannot claim credit for the bon mot describing Goldman Sachs as a, “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” This was coined by the great Matt Taibbi, in his article on the massive criminal conspiracy investment firm, The Great American Bubble Machine.

Oshkosh Truck Bid Survives Contract Protests

BAE Systems and Navistar International have had their protests on the FMTV contract award to Oshkosh overturned by the Army:

Oshkosh Corp. fended off a challenge from two competitors, keeping a U.S. Army contract to build armored trucks valued at as much as $3 billion. Oshkosh shares jumped in late trading.

Today’s decision by the Army lifts a stop-work order placed last year after losing bidders BAE Systems Plc and Navistar International Corp. protested to the Government Accountability Office, the Army said in a statement. The companies said the Army didn’t fully weigh the risk in Oshkosh’s proposal for the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, or FMTVs.

The GAO in December determined that the Army didn’t consider that Oshkosh lacked key equipment, allowing the company to receive the same high production-capability rating as BAE, which had made the trucks since 1991. The agency asked the Army to reevaluate the bids.

I’m not surprised, it was a lower bid, and the truck itself is designed to be assembled out of component parts with little, if any machining, welding, etc. being done at the plant.

At least that was the scheme when I worked there.* They did not intend to have a machine shop or an electrical shop, because they expected everything to come in to specification from the vendors.

If this is a fixed price contract, the only risk here is that of Oshkosh.

*Full disclosure I worked at Stewart & Stevenson, Tactical Vehicle Systems, in Sealy, TX on the FMTV in 1992 and 1993.
Yes, I have worked everywhere. Maybe I can’t hold down a job, but more likely this has been my role as “technical hit man”, where you are parachuted in to take care of a specific need.

More Russian Aviation Video Pr0n

We have a video, (6:39) unfortunately in Russian, about the new PAK-FA fighter.

Thankfully, there are a sort of subtitles.

The bullet points:

  • Only 40% composites, but the Russians are very good with Titanium
  • Large AESA array, and size does matter
  • There are “5 radar antennae, 3 X-band (7.0 to 11.2 gigahertz (GHz) in the nose, and 2 L-Band (1 to 2 GHz) in the wings, which implies some ability to detect and intercept narrow band low observable targets?
  • They claim that it is, “Designed to have superior aerodynamics and sensors to counter the F-22,” and my guess is that the former is true, but not the latter.
  • The will supercruise with currently installed engines, and more advanced engines are under development for the production model.
  • The aircraft will be jointly produced with India.

Tanker RFP Released

The Presolicitation Notice for the KC-X Tanker Modernization Program is online.

I think that one of the crucial changes in this process has been the death of John Murtha, which makes his likely successor on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee is Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Boeing WA) so the EADS/Northrup-Grumman team is in a much weaker position.

Murtha appeared fairly agnostic on the tanker choice, he just wanted it done now, but Dicks is clearly going to make things difficult for anything that does not go Boeing’s way.

Northrop Grumman has been threatening to no bid the RFP, but the basic form of the RFP remains much the same as earlier drafts, in that there is little in the way of consideration for additional capacity, which would be the A330’s strong suit, as it is a larger and more capable aircraft than the 767. (also here)

Gates is still “Very Hopeful” about getting two bids, but I’m not so sure.

I will note that it appears that the impetus for not bidding is coming from Northrop, not EADS, which still appears to be
Seems to come from NG, not EADS.

Most notably, the CEO of NG has explicitly said that their policy would be to pursue profits, and not markets or market share.

Still, this might not prevent a bid, if, as Stephen Trimble observes, EADS wants to go it along:

In the absence of a Northrop-led proposal, what would stop EADS North America from submitting its own bid for the KC-X deal?

I can think of reasons why they would. If price is such a factor in the competition, cutting out the US flag bearer and bringing systems integration in-house might save some money. EADS NA has demonstrated it can win an aircraft contract from the US military. The 100th UH-72 Lakota for the US Army rolls off the assembly line in Mississippi next week. The company believes its solid performance on LUH allows it to compete on fair terms with American-owned companies for other Pentagon contracts.

On the other hand, there’s no question EADS’ chances of victory are smaller without Northrop’s help. Northrop has powerful friends on Capitol Hill and a long relationship with the customer. Moreover, as long as fuel offload requirements for the next tanker are modeled on the KC-135R, the KC-45 is going to be disadvantaged against a smaller aircraft like the Boeing 767. And let’s be honest: The UH-72, despite its success, is not a widebody tanker; it’s a civilian airspace-only light utility helicopter.

An EADS only bid is better for EADS, and for the taxpayer, but not for lobbyists or Congresscritter’s campaign war chests, which is why they teamed with NG in the first place, because if you don’t pay off legislators and lobbyists, you don’t get the bid.

One of the more interesting pieces of information here is the schedule, which looks to a first flight in 2012, and service entry in 2017.

Honestly, I do not see Boeing meeting this schedule, given their generally poor record with 767 tankers for the Japan and Italy, which were significantly behind schedule.

PDF of RFP PowerPoint after the break.

Tanker RFP Final Power Point

Yak-130 Trainer to Enter Service

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Note the auxiliary over-wing engine inlets

The Yak-130 “Mitten” has officially entered service with the Russian air force.

One would think that what it brings to the table, digital avionics, improved reliability, and lower operating cost, will improve readiness.

The obvious difference from the Alenia Aermacchi M-346, which sprung from the same failed joint venture, is the over-wing auxiliary air inlets, and the screens in the main inlets, much like the early MiG-29 and Su-27, in order to operate from rough strips where the possibility of FOD to the engines is non-trivial.

I Say “Meh”

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Pretty pictures, though

In a final gasp on a dead program which has consumed billions of dollars and incurred billions of dollars in cost overruns, Boeing’s Airborne Laser (ABL) finally shot down a missile in the ascent phase:

The target was a liquid-fueled short-range ballistic missile. It was tracked within seconds and shot down within 2 min. during a Feb. 11 test off the coast of California. Photos below show infrared of that event.

There were other targets, “solid-fuel Terrier Black Brant sounding rockets,” which were lased, but not destroyed.

My guess would be that the other targets were not destroyed because they couldn’t be destroyed, a solid fuel rocket motor casing is much harder to burn through than a pressurized liquid fuel tank, because the casing has resistance to heat, and resistance to burn through as basic functions.

This is completely irrelevant, because the chemical laser technology, the a chemical oxygen iodine laser (Coil) is not really deployable. It involves expensive, toxic, and environmentally unfriendly fuel.

Additionally, the range of the system appears to be inadequate: (paid subscription required)

Last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates squelched hopes of producing a design that incorporates lessons learned from the flying prototype. Criticizing the range of the system, Gates told lawmakers that “ABL would have to orbit inside the borders of Iran in order to be able to try to use its laser to shoot down a missile in the boost phase. . . . If you were to operationalize this, you would be looking at 10-20 747s, at a billion and a half dollars apiece, and $100 million a year to operate.”

This implies to me that the range is something under 300, based on nothing more than games I played with Google™ Maps™.

Additionally, there were failures in subsequent tests:

Analysts are still investigating the cause of a “beam misalignment” during a third engagement, which was executed within 1 hr. of the liquid-fueled target shootdown and without landing or replenishing the chemicals on board ABL. O’Reilly says the misalignment prompted a safe shutdown of the system earlier than planned. Although the destruction of this target—a second Terrier Black Brant—did not take place, test objectives were met, he says. They were “to negate a threat-representative short-range ballistic missile in the boost phase followed by the high-energy engagement of a second target to demonstrate the capability to engage multiple missiles on a single mission.”

Also note that this is not the first intercept of a missile by an airborne laser, that happened in 1984, so the idea that this is a technical breakthrough that can be build on is delusional.

Additionally, a relatively simple countermeasure, an ablative coating much like the one that was used on the X-15 A2 tends to mitigate a lot of the potential for damage, as does going with more robust solid rocket technology.

The real reason that this is irrelevant though is because technology has largely passed it by, with the Army testiong Northrop solid state laser in the 100 kW class, it becomes cheaper to go with electrically powered lasers, because if we are seeing 100 kW today, it’s likely that we will be seeing the 1 mW of the ABL in 5 years.

The chief of staff of the Air Force, when he isn’t being a bigoted anti-gay idiot, also notes that this is simply not a technology that can be reasonably deployed (scroll down, the bigoted hand wringing over DADT is in the first few paragraphs):

Rep. Michael Turner, ranking member of the HASC strategic forces subcommittee, raised the recent success of the Airborne Laser in shooting a target. He asked if that would lead the Air Force to increase its commitment to directed energy weapons. Schwartz poured a fair amount of cold water on the Boeing program, calling the ABL test “a magnificent technical achievement” but “this does not represent something that is operationally viable.” The future “coin of the realm” is solid state lasers, Schwartz said, not the chemical laser that Boeing built.

H/t my brother, Daniel “Crescent Lands” Saroff for sending me the link to the first article.

Christopher Dodd Continues to Sell Out

So Senator Dodd, to be former Senator Dodd in January, continues to audition for his next job as a bank lobbyist:

Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., is expected to introduce new financial reform legislation next week that excludes applying a fiduciary standard to brokers offering investment advice.

The provision was circulated two weeks ago by Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., a Banking Committee member. Rather than classifying certain brokers as registered investment advisers, Mr. Johnson’s proposal would require the Securities and Exchange Commission to conduct a study of regulatory standards for brokers and advisers, then propose rules on the issue.

“Fiduciary standard” means that they are required to act in the best interest of their clients, as opposed to the current standard, which is basically that you have to use lube when you anally rape your clients.

The moral of this story: Republicans are mean; Democrats are patsies.

Taylor Marsh’s take on the latest filibuster kerfluffle, where Jim Bunning told Democrats, “Tough sh%$,” when they confronted him about blocking the emergency unemployment extension:

In a colloquy with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Jeff Merkley, a freshman Democrat from Oregon, was pleading for Bunning to drop his objection, when the Kentucky Republican got fed up.

“Tough s—t,” Bunning said as he was seated in the back row, overheard by the floor staff and others in attendance.

Like I said before, prima donnas and drama queens, and the prima donnas and drama queens always win in the Senate.


Nancy Pelosi is saying that notwithstanding the healthcare summit, the house will not move until the Senate passes a reconciliation fix:

However, the House can’t act, she noted, until “we see what the Senate will be able to do.”

Now, Pelosi stopped short of saying–as she’s said in the past–that these changes must be made before the House passes the Senate bill. And, in a surprising statement to reporters today, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said it would “help a lot” if the Senate simply wrote a letter–signed by a majority of members–pledging to make the fixes.

I think that her statement is a strong rebuke to the Senate, as well it should be, it is a body that rewards prima donnas and drama queens.

Still, she is moderating her language a bit, which does make me worry.

Economics Update

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H/t Calculated Risk

That bump is the tax credit h/t Calculated Risk

The big news is the upward revision of US GDP in the 4th quarter, though it should be noted that this delta is all inventory shrinking less quickly than expected, everything else was revised down.

Go to Calculated Risk to see a handy table illustrating this.

Meanwhile real estate is grim, with Freddy Mac reporting that delinquencies in single housings rising 16 basis points to 4.03 in January, and existing home sales falling sharply.

As I have said before, we are seeing the effects of the home buyer tax credit, not any real market recovery.

Meanwhile, in the old standards of energy and currency, people are feeling more sanguine about Greece, which means that they are looking for more return, and less safety, which pushed the dollar lower, and the lower dollar drove crude oil higher.