Category Archives: Engineering

War Toys: Artificial Intelligence on Battlefield

Humanity at High-Tech

The following article was published in New York Times (27 November), written by John Markoff and can be accessed HERE As I highlighted the importance of unmanned vehicles in modern warefare, and use of electronic warefare equipment – this article highlighting the application of Artificial Intelligence (A.I) takes the discussion further by introducing the How Robots can win War for humans (if they can). Althogh it will not be fair to undermine the potential of human on war-ground, but a combination of drones in air, and robots on ground may serve the purpose well. However, one must not neglect the ethics involved, warefare rules and most important of all laws of Robotics.

While smart machines are already very much a part of modern warfare, the Army and its contractors are eager to add more. New robots — none of them particularly human-looking — are being designed to handle a broader range of tasks, from picking off snipers to serving as indefatigable night sentries. In a mock city here used by Army Rangers for urban combat training, a 15-inch robot with a video camera scuttles around a bomb factory on a spying mission. Overhead an almost silent drone aircraft with a four-foot wingspan transmits images of the buildings below. Onto the scene rolls a sinister-looking vehicle on tank treads, about the size of a riding lawn mower, equipped with a machine gun and a grenade launcher. Three backpack-clad technicians, standing out of the line of fire, operate the three robots with wireless video-game-style controllers. One swivels the video camera on the armed robot until it spots a sniper on a rooftop. The machine gun pirouettes, points and fires in two rapid bursts. Had the bullets been real, the target would have been destroyed.

“One of the great arguments for armed robots is they can fire second,” said Joseph W. Dyer, a former vice admiral and the chief operating officer of iRobot, which makes robots that clear explosives as well as the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner. When a robot looks around a battlefield, he said, the remote technician who is seeing through its eyes can take time to assess a scene without firing in haste at an innocent person. Yet the idea that robots on wheels or legs, with sensors and guns, might someday replace or supplement human soldiers is still a source of extreme controversy. Because robots can stage attacks with little immediate risk to the people who operate them, opponents say that robot warriors lower the barriers to warfare, potentially making nations more trigger-happy and leading to a new technological arms race. “Wars will be started very easily and with minimal costs” as automation increases, predicted Wendell Wallach, a scholar at the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics and chairman of its technology and ethics study group.

Civilians will be at greater risk, people in Mr. Wallach’s camp argue, because of the challenges in distinguishing between fighters and innocent bystanders. That job is maddeningly difficult for human beings on the ground. It only becomes more difficult when a device is remotely operated. This problem has already arisen with Predator aircraft, which find their targets with the aid of soldiers on the ground but are operated from the United States. Because civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan have died as a result of collateral damage or mistaken identities, Predators have generated international opposition and prompted accusations of war crimes. But robot combatants are supported by a range of military strategists, officers and weapons designers — and even some human rights advocates.

“A lot of people fear artificial intelligence,” said John Arquilla, executive director of the Information Operations Center at the Naval Postgraduate School. “I will stand my artificial intelligence against your human any day of the week and tell you that my A.I. will pay more attention to the rules of engagement and create fewer ethical lapses than a human force.” Dr. Arquilla argues that weapons systems controlled by software will not act out of anger and malice and, in certain cases, can already make better decisions on the battlefield than humans.

“Some of us think that the right organizational structure for the future is one that skillfully blends humans and intelligent machines,” Dr. Arquilla said. “We think that that’s the key to the mastery of 21st-century military affairs.” Automation has proved vital in the wars America is fighting. In the air in Iraq and Afghanistan, unmanned aircraft with names like Predator, Reaper, Raven and Global Hawk have kept countless soldiers from flying sorties. Moreover, the military now routinely uses more than 6,000 tele-operated robots to search vehicles at checkpoints as well as to disarm one of the enemies’ most effective weapons: the I.E.D., or improvised explosive device.

Yet the shift to automated warfare may offer only a fleeting strategic advantage to the United States. Fifty-six nations are now developing robotic weapons, said Ron Arkin, a Georgia Institute of Technology roboticist and a government-financed researcher who has argued that it is possible to design “ethical” robots that conform to the laws of war and the military rules of escalation. But the ethical issues are far from simple. Last month in Germany, an international group including artificial intelligence researchers, arms control specialists, human rights advocates and government officials called for agreements to limit the development and use of tele-operated and autonomous weapons.

The group, known as the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, said warfare was accelerated by automated systems, undermining the capacity of human beings to make responsible decisions. For example, a gun that was designed to function without humans could shoot an attacker more quickly and without a soldier’s consideration of subtle factors on the battlefield. “The short-term benefits being derived from roboticizing aspects of warfare are likely to be far outweighed by the long-term consequences,” said Mr. Wallach, the Yale scholar, suggesting that wars would occur more readily and that a technological arms race would develop.

As the debate continues, so do the Army’s automation efforts. In 2001 Congress gave the Pentagon the goal of making one-third of the ground combat vehicles remotely operated by 2015. That seems unlikely, but there have been significant steps in that direction. For example, a wagonlike Lockheed Martin device that can carry more than 1,000 pounds of gear and automatically follow a platoon at up to 17 miles per hour is scheduled to be tested in Afghanistan early next year. For rougher terrain away from roads, engineers at Boston Dynamics are designing a walking robot to carry gear. Scheduled to be completed in 2012, it will carry 400 pounds as far as 20 miles, automatically following a soldier.

The four-legged modules have an extraordinary sense of balance, can climb steep grades and even move on icy surfaces. The robot’s “head” has an array of sensors that give it the odd appearance of a cross between a bug and a dog. Indeed, an earlier experimental version of the robot was known as Big Dog. This month the Army and the Australian military held a contest for teams designing mobile micro-robots — some no larger than model cars — that, operating in swarms, can map a potentially hostile area, accurately detecting a variety of threats. Separately, a computer scientist at the Naval Postgraduate School has proposed that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency finance a robotic submarine system that would intelligently control teams of dolphins to detect underwater mines and protect ships in harbors.

“If we run into a conflict with Iran, the likelihood of them trying to do something in the Strait of Hormuz is quite high,” said Raymond Buettner, deputy director of the Information Operations Center at the Naval Postgraduate School. “One land mine blowing up one ship and choking the world’s oil supply pays for the entire Navy marine mammal program and its robotics program for a long time.” Such programs represent a resurgence in the development of autonomous systems in the wake of costly failures and the cancellation of the Army’s most ambitious such program in 2009. That program was once estimated to cost more than $300 billion and expected to provide the Army with an array of manned and unmanned vehicles linked by a futuristic information network. Now, the shift toward developing smaller, lighter and less expensive systems is unmistakable. Supporters say it is a consequence of the effort to cause fewer civilian casualties. The Predator aircraft, for example, is being equipped with smaller, lighter weapons than the traditional 100-pound Hellfire missile, with a smaller killing radius.

Remotely controlled systems like the Predator aircraft and Maars move a step closer to concerns about the automation of warfare. What happens, ask skeptics, when humans are taken out of decision making on firing weapons? Despite the insistence of military officers that a human’s finger will always remain on the trigger, the speed of combat is quickly becoming too fast for human decision makers. “If the decisions are being made by a human being who has eyes on the target, whether he is sitting in a tank or miles away, the main safeguard is still there,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, which tracks war crimes. “What happens when you automate the decision? Proponents are saying that their systems are win-win, but that doesn’t reassure me.”

Humanity at High-Tech

Robotics going at war doesn’t make sense to me, the whole idea of robots playing a meaningful role in a contemporary conflict is just sounds ridiculous – but apparently its not. A video based journey Humanity at High-Tech was compiled by Red Cross, who tend to believe that robots are playing an increasingly prominent role in modern conflict and throwing up all kinds of tricky ethical questions and dilemmas. The modern battlefield is changing beyond measure, from the Green Berets to Starship Troopers in the space of just 50 years. Who knows where we’re heading next? The whole idea of implementation and integration of Artificial Intelligence within battlefield will be in my next post.

Author: John Markoff

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Pakistan International Airlines – Losses Continue to Flow

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA)’s public relations team seemed to be very active this month. A month started with Russian airspace closure to PIA’s flights – The restriction came at a time when Russia had liberalised its airspace through historic relaxation of its airspace regulations. According to the sources, this was resulted due to PIA’s late move to airspace renewal on-time. Since, Russia is a quickest way to get to Europe, this move offcourse have serious implictaions on ill-fated PIA, who is already suffering badly when it comes to figures. The move will result in 15 to 20 minutes of extra flying time for most of the flights from Pakistan to Europe, the United States and Canada and back and increase the cost of flights. About 80 flights a week using Russian airspace for overflight will be affected.

Getting Figures Right

The state-run airline currently services domestic and international routes with a fleet of Boeing 777, Boeing 747, Airbus A310, Boeing 737 and ATR-42 aircraft. PIA suffered a loss of 135.8 million dollars in the first nine months of the year, according to its third-quarter financial report posted on the airline’s website. Accumulated losses stood at 88 billion rupees (one billion dollars). The national flag-carrier plans to induct 16 new aircrafts, lay off over 4,000 non-essential employees and double its revenue though aggressive marketing in the next five years. Ailing state carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is asking the government, saddled with its own mounting debt, to write off losses of 1.7 billion dollars to save it from looming bankruptcy – Now this is like putting an extra burden on billion dollar debt government.

Violation of airline safety conduct

PIA was created out of private airline Orient Airways in 1955, just eight years after Pakistan came into existence, and today has a fleet of 40 planes, a combination of Boeing 747s, 777s, 737s, Airbuses and ATR aircraft. Performing well until the 1970s when corruption and overstaffing hit company fortunes, PIA’s reputation was further battered in the 1980s as it failed to maintain its fleet. The airline recently imposed new rules to force pilots to fly on its terms, after a row over working hours and pension benefits led pilots to adopt an unofficial “go slow” protest leading to flight delays. Pilots said they were routinely forced to fly 12 hours per day, two hours more than the civil aviation rules allow, and occasionally for as long as 18 hours. Violation of airline safety conduct is something of a norm to PIA, but its not just PIA, the recent accident of Airblue also rasied the issue to retiring age of Captain and number of flights. To my knowledge of travelling with national flag, PIA operates B777, from New York to Karachi/Lahore – the route in past was operated by B747, who was used to make regular stops at Manchester to pick/drop passengers. This has not only reduced the operating life of the aircraft but also, cabin environemnt was no less than an attraction to newly board passengers like me, who see half of the cabin full of dead bodies. Excessive operation of used jumbos, resulted in 747 ban to European airspace, which finally resulted in grounding these plans. Now same routine is being adapted by B777. Worse of all, I have also travelled in PIA’s A310-300 who marginally meets the distance requirements of 3500 nautical miles distance between Manchester and Lahore.With 9 Boeing 777 in service (both long and extended range) why I had to travel on A310, I simply don’t know, may B777 were busy somewhere else. So far most of the planes operational in PIA including new 777 is active on conventional manual controls – some not even incorportaing the Glass Cockpit technology. Almost any new highly automated aircraft is brought down technologically by PIA engineers. Its not that PIA’s pilots aren’t interested in new technology, its PIA who is not bother to spend on training.

Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) system

The national flag-carrier plans to induct 16 new aircrafts, lay off over 4,000 non-essential employees and double its revenue though aggressive marketing in the next five years. Under a five-year strategic programme, the PIA plans to acquire an Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) system and implement it across the organisation to streamline business processes, strengthen controls and introduce financial discipline. An ERP is an integrated computer-based application used to manage internal and external resources including tangible assets, financial resources, materials and human resources. Under the programme, a sound system of internal controls will be established. The management is set to have a zero-tolerance policy for fraud and irregularities. A set of strategies will be implemented to turn around operations and make PIA a sustainable and profitable entity.Growth in revenue will be achieved through induction of new aircraft and expansion of the existing network. The airline also plans to pass on the increase in fuel prices to customers as it believes that the rapid escalation of airline expenditure in the recent past is mainly due to an unprecedented increase in fuel prices. Realising that retention of ageing 747 aircraft means continued increase in maintenance cost, the old aircraft will be phased out. Replacing the ageing 737 aircraft is a priority while the A310 aircraft will be replaced as and when financial resources allow investment. The 737NG or A320 are being considered as replacement. ATRs (short-haul European aircraft) will be acquired to increase frequency and capacity on socio-economic routes. It is planned to retain all types of 777 and ATRs in the fleet beyond 2014. During Haj season one 777 will be acquired on wet lease in each year from 2012 to 2014 when an A310 is also planned to be inducted into the fleet. Operational restructuring and human resource rationalisation is also part of the survival and turnaround plan as overstaffing is one of the PIA’s main problems which involves significant costs, clogs communications channels, diverts management’s attention from key airline issues and makes job responsibilities more obscure.

Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) – if implemented it may serve the purpose, but I must point out that success of ERP implementation highly relies on investment in training (for IT personnel) as well as the coporate policy protection of the data, as well as controlling the way it is been used under ERP. I see this as a big transition, so big that I fear of the PIA implementation and data protection under ERP system. The blurring of company boundaries can cause problems in accountability, lines of responsibility, and employee morale. Furthermore, Once a system is established, switching costs are very high for any partner (reducing flexibility and strategic control at the corporate level).

Many have blamed privatisition and years of bad planning for the fate of PIA, it is actually the years of corruption, nepotism, bad management and poor planning, that is truely responsible for the loss the airline is suffering today.

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T-129: New Kid in a Block of Attack Helicopters

T-129 Attack Helicopter

Vey recently Turkey has increased its order for the T129 (shown above) attack helicopter to 60 aircraft, with prime contractor Turkish Aerospace Industries to deliver nine newly ordered examples by mid-2012. When I saw this machine first time, it reminded good old Apache. Is this rotorcraft the Apache for third world countries? Well I don’t know, they might look the same, but they are not same. I am writing this post to prove myself wrong. That T-129 is not cheaper Apache, but infact it has or will have its own place in the market of attack helicopters. Before I proceed I must remind you, that it is same 129 whose prototype crashed on the afternoon of 19 March during a test flight. Early indications point to a loss of power to the tail rotor while flying at an elevation of 1,500ft (455m) near Verbania in northern Italy. AgustaWestland is to make two T129 prototypes in Italy, after which manufacture will shift to its Turkish partner TAI. TAI general director Muharrem Dortkasli says the first T129 ATAK will be handed over to the Turkish armed forces in the third quarter of 2013. Turkey will be responsible for international marketing and sales of the design, and industry sources say several countries are already evaluating the product, including Jordan and Pakistan.

The T129 is a formidable, new, highly powerful and capable all-weather day and night multi-role attack helicopter which is being developed in cooperation by AgustaWestland, Aselsan and TAI (Turkish Aerospace Industries) for Turkey and other export markets. It is based upon the AW129 and its predecessor, the battle-proven A129 Mangusta platform. High weapon payload, excellent performance for ‘hot and high’ conditions and range and endurance of up to 3 hours are enabled by state-of-the-art LHTEC-T800 engines, making the T129 a critical multi-role resource for attack and deterrent operations. Low signature and agility ensure maximum stealth, and a significant weapons payload enable the T129 to operate in the most hostile of battlefield environments as well as in confined areas typical of current military scenarios. Latest technology features include Integrated Aircraft Survivability Equipment which delivers vital survivability tools and integrated mission management utilising an advanced FLIR sighting system, Helmet Mounted Display and Mission computers. High survivability enhanced by ballistic tolerance and crashworthiness is a fundamental design feature. The T129 benefits from the high field supportability necessary for an aircraft needing to operate in remote areas with the minimum logistical support.

Both helciopters resembles closely, however, AH-64’s (shown below) main rotor blade (BERP) is its distinguishing features, Unfortunatly T-129 offers half of Apache’s Maximum Takeoff Weight (with 5,000kg) compared to Apache’s 10,000kg. Another distinguishing feature is T-129’s 5 main rotor blades. The T-129 has several key improvements over the original A129 inline with the requirements of the Turkish Army. he T-129 will carry 12 Roketsan-developed UMTAS anti-tank missiles (Turkish indigenous development similar to Hellfire II) and it will use the more powerful LHTEC T800 (CTS800-4) engine.

Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow

The AH-64 is designed to endure front-line environments and to operate during the day or night and in adverse weather using avionics, such as the Target Acquisition and Designation System, Pilot Night Vision System (TADS/PNVS), passive infrared countermeasures, GPS, and the IHADSS. The AH-64 is adaptable to numerous different roles within its context as Close Combat Attack (CCA), and has a customizable weapons loadout for the role desired.In addition to the 30-mm M230E1 Chain Gun, the Apache carries a range of external stores on its stub-wing pylons, typically a mixture of AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles, and Hydra 70 general-purpose unguided 70 mm (2.76 in) rockets.

Although both helicopters offers a capability to carry sidewinder and AIM-92 Stinger, what is missing from T-129 is Longbow Radar, what I consider a key to Apache operations. The lessons of the Gulf War, and the evolving battlefield air defence threat, created the context in which the digital AH-64D (Longbow Version) Apache was conceived. An optional fit to its baseline configuration is the Longbow weapon system, comprising the Northrop-Grumman (previously Westinghouse) AN/APG-78 Longbow mast mounted Fire Control Radar (FCR), and a Lockheed-Martin AN/APR-48 Radar Frequency Interferometer (RFI) package, both designed for all weather operation through precipitation and battlefield obscurants. The Longbow weapon system supports the AGM-114L active radar guided missile, operating in the same millimetric band as the radar.

T-129 A Kid about to born

The Longbow radar is a very low peak power, millimetric band system, with extremely low sidelobes by virtue of a very large relative antenna size. The low emitted power, extremely narrow pencil beam mainlobe, and undisclosed LPI modulation features provide a system with a range of the order of 10 km in clear conditions, which is near to undetectable by established RWR technology. Only a highly sensitive channelised ESM receiver with a high gain antenna and low noise receivers can reliably detect such a signal, under optimal antenna pointing conditions. The choice of millimetric band means that atmospheric water vapour and oxygen resonance losses rapidly soak up the signal, which is also out of the frequency band coverage of most RWRs. The radar will track up to 128 targets and prioritise the top 16. The radar employs both real beam mapping and Moving Target Indicator (MTI) techniques, to provide the automatic detection, tracking and non-cooperative identification of surface targets, with a secondary capability against low flying aircraft. Target identification algorithms in the radar’s software look at the shape of possible targets, and their Doppler signatures, to identify aircraft, helicopters, SPAAGs, SAM systems, tanks, AFVs, trucks and other wheeled vehicles. The capability exists to identify stationary targets through radar transparent camouflage netting and foliage. Real beam video and synthetic imagery can be displayed.

The provision of a highly automated weapon system with basic sensor fusion is unique at to the Apache Longbow, and provides clearly unprecedented lethality in comparison with helicopters using only thermal imaging sights and laser guided missiles. Such systems are limited to engaging one target at a time, unlike the Apache Longbow which can engage many targets concurrently. Howver I must mention here T-129’s advanced milimeter wave radar, claimed to be similar to Longbow and IAI/ELTA radars. Mast radar, similar to that of Apache Longbow but based on IAI/ELTA’s (Israel) surveillance and targeting radar with SAR and ISAR capability, has been added on the top of the rotor. The radar can identify land and sea targets from at least 30 kilometres. I am unsure about the technical details of T-129 radar, but there is something comparable to Longbow abilities is surprise to me.

Looking at the airbrone FLIR T-129 incorporates ASELFLIR-300T is a multi-sensor electro-optical targeting and surveillance system. ASELFLIR-300T fulfills multiple mission requirements including; Pilotage / Navigation, Surveillance, Target Search, Track, Locate and Designation. Having a flexible hardware and software design architecture, the system can be used on different platforms ranging from rotary, fixed wing and unmanned air vehicles to naval ships. Pilotage / Navigation, Surveillance, Target Search, Track, Locate and Designation. ASELFLIR-300T System includes a High Resolution Infra Red (IR) Camera, a Laser Rangefinder / Designator (LRF/D), a Laser Spot Tracker (LST), a Color TV Camera and a Color Spotter Camera. The system consists of the following Weapons Replaceable Assemblies (WRAs); Turret Unit (TU), Electronics Unit (EU), Hand Control Unit (HCU), Boresight Module (BSM).

Looking at the potential customers for T-129, it may serve well, but offers no near capabilities as Apache. With its enhanced Integrated Aircraft Survivebility Equipment, Adaptable and Asymmertic Weapon Load Capability, the rotorcraft does have a potential to become a successful machine and secure its position among world’s best attack helicopters.

Click Here for brochure of Atak Helicopter.

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Pakistan Military’s Latest Gear

Pakistan Aids Insurgency in Afghanistan - How much is truth

Pakistani officials were fortunate to be greeted with a fresh offer of military hardware – possibly totaling as much as $2 billion over the next five years. This latest gear includes (infact likely to include) night vision goggles, and helicopter spare parts. This is not new for Pakistanis, since 9/11 Pakistan’s gotten lots of big-ticket items from the U.S. military. According to the Congressional Research Service’s tally (.pdf), that includes eight P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft; six C-130 cargo planes; over 5000 TOW anti-armor missiles; 100 Harpoon anti-ship missiles; and even an Oliver Hazard Perry-class missile frigate. And by next year, Pakistan will receive 18 new F-16 combat jets from the U.S. — fighters capable of carrying a nuclear payload.

”There has been some discussion on upgrading the navy’s fleet with retired U.S. ships,” says Shuja Nawaz, a South Asia analyst at the Atlantic Council. The latest addition in Pakistan Navel Fleet is US decommisioned USS McInerney FFG-8 (PNS Alamgir for Pakistan Navy). The ship (shown) is second of Oliver Hazard Perry class of a guided missile frigate. PNS Alamgir’s mission is to provide multi-threat protection for military and merchant shipping, amphibious task forces and underway replenishment groups. This 32-year old ship was sold to Pakistan in US$65 million refurbishment including anti-submarine capability paid for with foreign military aid provided by the U.S. to friendly countries. The transfer of old Navy ships to other countries is done through the Navy’s International Programs Office, which brokers deals through its foreign military sales department. PNS ALAMGIR after necessary maintenance work and training will set sail for Pakistan in January 2011. The ship is a potent addition in Pakistan Navy Surface Fleet and with its onboard weapons and sensors will be able to effectively contribute in the maritime defence of Pakistan.

PNS Alamgir - Commissioned 3rd September 2010 to Pakistan Navy

Considering the latest gear what options does Pakistan have? According the Spencer Ackerman (Wired Magazine) puts it this way:

“Unless al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban have developed an armor corps and a submarine-heavy Navy while no one was looking, these weapons have more utility against the Indians than the terrorists.”

This gear is either a treat from US for Pakistan to use against terrorists or U.S. military seeks to prevent a deepening erosion of a relationship that US can’t live with. This especially true after recent wikileaks suggesting a strong ties between Pakistan and Insurgents. WikiLeaks has freaked out the White House, though, by clearly raising questions about whether Pakistani aid to the Afghan insurgency is far deeper than typically acknowledged. How much truth is in it, I think it will be too early to say anything. However, it’s not a surprising news that the Pakistani ISI has ties to the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami. How much of this money or gear will go to Afgan pockets no one knows, it is only a time who will show a true motivation behind these large spendings on US non-NATO ally. But Is there a silver lining to Pakistan’s relationship with the insurgents? Not known, at least to me. Are things still Koran, Kalashnikov and laptop or do I have to add heat seaker missiles to it as well ?

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Saudi Dynamics – Don’t kiss my hand

The price of oil may remain in flux, but the commitment in Riyadh to grow its military power and diversify its supplier network remains constant. Recently Saudi Arabia placed an order worth $29.4 billion 84 new F-15SAs equipped with active electronically scanned array radars and major upgrades to its fleet of 70 F-15Ss. Moreover, Saudi Arabia could acquire more than 150 new helicopters from the USA under acquisitions worth a combined $25.6 billion. Riyadh is aiming for 72 Sikorsky UH-60M (shown below) Black Hawk transports, plus 36 AH-6i light attack helicopters and 36 AH-64D Block III Apache Longbows from Boeing and 12 MD Helicopters MD530s, and 48 UH-60Ls on order.

Looking at current Saudi fleet, it already operates 12 AH-64As, and has a confirmed order for 12 D-model. Latter sale was announced the same day when former deal to buy F-15s was confirmed.

UH-60M Black Hawk

Among the Gulf states, Saudi’s military still stands apart as the only force operating airborne “command ships”. The United Arab Emirates plans to break that monopoly soon, but Riyadh clearly wants to maintain its advantage. Again, Boeing is likely to become the favoured contractor.

Credits: FlightGlobal, Airliners.NET

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Filed under Aviation, Black Hawk, Current Affairs, Engineering, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Aviation, Sikorsky

How Clear are Open Skies

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Singapore has concluded Open Skies Agreements (OSAs) with Barbados, Brazil, Jamaica and Rwanda, at the International Civil Aviation Organisation Air Services Negotiation Conference 2010 (ICAN 2010), held in early July in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Direct air links with Singapore will allow businesses in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbeans to access more markets by tapping on Singapore’s excellent connectivity to the Asia Pacific region. This will reinforce the growing people and trade flows between these regions and the Asia Pacific.

EU transport ministers have signed a second “open skies” agreement with the US at a meeting in Luxembourg.

BBC 24 June 2010

There exists more stories like above, the so called “Open Skies” deals are frequently appearing in news these days. 1992 and onwards brought a change, post 1992 arena airlines felt the need for further liberalisation. Put simply, open skies eases restrictions on air travel between the A and the B. Taking the example of EU and US, Any European airlines is now potentially able to fly to the US from anywhere in the EU – not just from its home nation as was previously the case. And looking it from the other way round, any US airline can launch flights to EU.

Opening Skies

All of this begin, when in 1992 the Dutch and US governments signed the first open skies agreement and inaugurated a new phase of international deregulation. Looking more closely to this deal, the key elements of this bilateral agreement includes open route access, open access for charters, multiple airline designation, unlimited frequency or capacity, code share agreement and most importantly unlimited Fifth Freedom Rights (The right of an airline from country A to carry revenue traffic between country B and other countries such as C or D on services starting or ending in its home country A).

‘‘Open skies’’ policies have also been adopted and actively pursued by a few other states. New Zealand, which signed an ‘‘open skies’’ bilateral with the United States, had secured similar deals with Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, the UAE and Chile by the end of 1999.

However, one question remain unanswered why at first stage these agreements (open skies) were necessary. Well, bypassing the political interests, they were a significant improvement on the ‘‘open market’’ agreements they replaced in several respects, most notably in relation to market access and tariff regulation They opened route access to any point in either country whereas the earlier bilaterals had tended to limit the number of points that could be served by foreign carriers in the United States (for example). Also mutual Fifth Freedom rights were granted without restraint compared to the more limited Fifth Freedom in earlier bilaterals.

But these were little different for Europeans. Unlike US-like bilateral policy In contrast to this the development of a single open aviation market in Europe was to be achieved through a comprehensive multilateral agreement by, initially, the member states of the European Union. In parallel with the liberalisation of air transport regulations, the European Commission felt that greater freedom for airlines had to be accompanied by the effective application and implementation to air transport of the European Union’’s so-called ‘‘competition rules’’. These were designed to prevent monopolistic practices or behaviour which was anti-competitive or which distorted competition to the detriment of consumers. The competition rules cover three broad areas, namely, cartels and restrictive agreements, monopolies and mergers and state aid or subsidies to producers.

The final step required is to move from ‘open skies’ to ‘clear skies’. This is the new challenge for governments and regulators.

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Aeromedics – Motion Influence on Pilots

If only we could pull out our brain and use only our eyes. [Pablo Picasso]

Semicircular Canals, Aeromedical Factors - Private Pilot Ground School

The human body has a remarkable set of motion sensors, which are capable of detecting linear and angular accelerations, in addition to the haptic sensors that detect tactile pressure applied to the skin. These sensors enable us to walk up a flight of stairs, jump off a chair or run after a bus, without endangering ourselves. They also provide orientation in three dimensions, for example, an athlete can jump over a 2-m bar or a diver can perform several somersaults, jumping backwards from a diving board. These same sensors detect accelerations during conventional flight and in aerobatic manoeuvres. For the flight simulator designer, an understanding of the human motion sensors is essential; it can identify the limits of the brain to detect motion and possibly exploit this information to reduce or simplify the motion applied to a simulator platform. If the dynamic responses of the human balance sensors are known, filters can be designed to match the combined response of the motion platform and pilot to the response of the aircraft and pilot. In attempting to provide realistic motion cues, the motion inputs applied to a flight simulator platform are constrained:

The structural limitations of a simulator motion platform determine the maximum forces that can be applied to the pilot in a simulator; it is necessary to establish the limits where lack of motion may affect the simulator fidelity;

Reducing the motion inputs may allow a lighter and less expensive structure to be used in a motion platform; alternatively, the mass of the platform and cabin determines the power needed from the actuators;

If acceptable platform motion can be achieved with reduced power, considerable savings can be made in the running costs of a flight simulator; the use of electrical actuation may reduce both power requirements and the environmental problems associated with hydraulic systems.

The vestibular system of the human body senses the orientation of the head and dynamic movement of the head. As the head moves, the eyes are stabilized, so that the vision is not blurred by the head movement; the vestibular system also provides signals for the eye muscles to accommodate this movement. In effect, the vestibular system provides a stabilized platform as it is capable of detecting both linear and angular accelerations about three axes. The angular accelerations are detected by semicircular canals and the linear accelerations are detected by the otoliths. One set of these sensors is located in each inner ear.

The semicircular canals are arranged as an orthogonal set of canals, in three mutually perpendicular planes. The canals are attached to the skull and filled with a fluid, known as endolymph. In each canal, there is an expanded section called the ampulla, which is sealed by a flap known as the cupula. Angular acceleration of the head about one of the three axes causes the fluid in the canal to move (with a short lag) deflecting the cupula by a small amount. The nerves in the cupula detect this movement, sending signals to both the brain and the oculomotor muscles in the eye (to stabilize eye movement)

Linear accelerations are detected by the otoliths. The sensor consists of hair cells in a gelatinous fluid containing particles of calcium carbonate. As acceleration is applied to the head, the calcium carbonate particles lag slightly behind the head movement, deflecting the hair cells. Movement of the hair cells is detected by nerve cells which transmit signals to the brain and the oculomotor muscles in the eye. Studies have shown that the otoliths detect the tangent component of applied forces.

Clearly, the pilot’s vestibular system detects accelerations before the effect of the accelerations are perceived on the aircraft instruments. In particular, attitude and altitude are second integrals of acceleration, introducing a lag before the initial acceleration takes effect. There is, arguably, an inner control loop in which the pilot detects and responds to accelerations, which occur in a full-motion simulator and also in an aircraft, but is omitted in a fixed-base flight simulator. This lack of acceleration cues in a fixed-base simulator is cited by some pilots as a potential cause of negative training transfer in transitioning from a fixed-base simulator to an aircraft. In other words, pilots apply one technique in the simulator and another technique in the aircraft. Certainly, there have been instances during in-flight refuelling exercises and also with vertical take-off aircraft, where there have been noticeable differences between the pilot’s performance in the simulator and in the aircraft. In refuelling applications, such differences can be attributed equally to the visual system (potentially the reduction of the vertical field-of-view or the projector focal length with near objects), poor turbulence modelling or incorrect aerodynamic interaction with the tanker aircraft.

Middle ear and sinus problems

Above is of prime importance especially for simulation study and significantly affect pilot behaviour under different simulation environments. However, in real flights Climbs and descents can sometimes cause ear or sinus pain and a temporary reduction in the ability to hear. This not just apply to pilots, but there are many of us who have experienced this at least once in their life. The physiological explanation for this discomfort is a difference between the pressure of the air outside the body and that of the air inside the middle ear and nasal sinuses. The middle ear is a small cavity located in the bone of the skull. It is closed off from the external ear canal by the eardrum. Normally, pressure differences between the middle ear and the outside world are equalized by a tube leading from inside each ear to the back of the throat on each side, called the eustachian tube. These tubes are usually closed, but open during chewing, yawning, or swallowing to equalize pressure. Even a slight difference between external pressure and middle ear pressure can cause discomfort.

During a climb, middle ear air pressure may exceed the pressure of the air in the external ear canal, causing the eardrum to bulge outward. Pilots become aware of this pressure change when they experience alternate sensations of “fullness” and “clearing.” During descent, the reverse happens. While the pressure of the air in the external ear canal increases, the middle ear cavity, which equalized with the lower pressure at altitude, is at lower pressure than the external ear canal. This results in the higher outside pressure, causing the eardrum to bulge inward. This condition can be more difficult to relieve due to the fact that the partial vacuum tends to constrict the walls of the eustachian tube. To remedy this often painful condition, which also causes a temporary reduction in hearing sensitivity, pinch the nostrils shut, close the mouth and lips, and blow slowly and gently in the mouth and nose.

This procedure forces air through the eustachian tube into the middle ear. It may not be possible to equalize the pressure in the ears if a pilot has a cold, an ear infection, or sore throat. A flight in this condition can be extremely painful, as well as damaging to the eardrums. If experiencing minor congestion, nose drops or nasal sprays may reduce the chance of a painful ear blockage. Before using any medication, check with an aviation medical examiner to ensure that it will not affect the ability to fly. In a similar way, air pressure in the sinuses equalizes with the pressure in the cockpit through small openings that connect the sinuses to the nasal passages. An upper respiratory infection, such as a cold or sinusitis, or a nasal allergic condition can produce enough congestion around an opening to slow equalization. As the difference in pressure between the sinus and the cockpit increases, congestion may plug the opening. This “sinus block” occurs most frequently during descent. Slow descent rates can reduce the associated pain. A sinus block can occur in the frontal sinuses, located above each eyebrow, or in the maxillary sinuses, located in each upper cheek. It will usually produce excruciating pain over the sinus area. A maxillary sinus block can also make the upper teeth ache. Bloody mucus may discharge from the nasal passages.

Sinus block can be avoided by not flying with an upper respiratory infection or nasal allergic condition. Adequate protection is usually not provided by decongestant sprays or drops to reduce congestion around the sinus openings. Oral decongestants have side effects that can impair pilot performance. If a sinus block does not clear shortly after landing, a physician should be consulted.

This is not Enough

Unfortunatly, engineers aren’t happy with above subjective descripitions of both problems, especially firt (motion factor). Thus, to quantify the influence of motion of pilot behaviour, it is best to develop mathematical model of human vestibular system, technically a general this model forms a transfer function in terms of percieved displacement and angular displacements, and can be solved by second order approximation (2nd order ODE). Under laboratory conditions, it has been shown that angular acceleration cannot be detected below a minimum acceleration, which is between 0.12 and
4.0 deg/sq.s. Threshold values of 0.5 deg/sq.s have been reported for pitch and roll under flight simulator
conditions. For example, although the maximum pitch angle of the platform might be 15deg, as the simulator motion approaches this limit, the platform can ‘leak’ 10deg of pitch in 6.3s, enabling the simulator to achieve a further (perceived) pitch up of 10deg in response to subsequent pilot input.

Further details for mathematical model can be accessed in any relevant aeromedical book, or (Allerton,2009 “Principles of Flight Simulation”) provides a brief overview of motion influence. For technical results and analysis, please keep following the space.

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