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November 10 2012

November 12, 2012

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AFRL played major role in historic near-space jump

Posted 11/2/2012

by Michael P. Kleiman

KIRTLAND AFB, N.M

 

11/2/2012 – KIRTLAND AFB, N.M (AFNS) — For more than nine minutes Oct. 14, an international audience watched as Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner egressed from a capsule 128,000 feet above the earth and fell toward the planet reaching speeds of 834 miles per hour, to become the first person to break the sound barrier outside of a vehicle.

When Baumgartner safely touched down 33 miles east of Roswell, N.M., shortly before noon, he had also achieved another milestone, topping Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger’s 52-year-old record of the highest free fall by 25,200 feet.

The historic event would not have occurred without the significant participation of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate and one of its contractors, ATA Aerospace.

Five years ago, Red Bull Stratos, which sponsored Baumgartner’s near-space jump, approached the directorate about supporting the mission, but the Kirtland-based organization’s officials did not believe the activity had enough of a science and technology perspective, so they passed on it. About 18 months later, the directorate decided to assist the proposed mission, with the reversal attributable to a cooperative research and development agreement signed between the agency and ATA Aerospace.

“The agreement with ATA Aerospace allows a commercial company to use our facilities, evaluate equipment and conduct testing. It is a good way to offset costs and take advantage of excess capacity of both the facilities and equipment,” said Harold “Vern” Baker, chief, Space and Integration Test Branch, Integrated Experiments and Evaluation Division, AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate. “We realized that under the CRADA, we should be able to assist Baumgartner’s jump and allow ATA to use our launch equipment for our high-altitude balloon program.”

For Red Bull Stratos’ two unmanned flights and the three manned missions (Baumgartner’s two test jumps and his record-breaking decent), on-site ATA Aerospace staff performed liftoff and capsule-retrieval functions with the support and expertise of AFRL staff members Ed Coca, balloon launch director, and Baker, who ensured pre-and post-operations procedures had been conducted safely and properly. A 20-plus year veteran of the Air Force high-altitude balloon program, Baker watched Baumgartner’s historic jump from mission control at the Roswell International Air Center.

“The balloon, which took Felix’s capsule to 128,000 feet, was filled with 30 million cubic feet of helium,” Baker said. “After about an hour delay due to winds, the balloon lifted off shortly after 9:30 a.m., for a two-and-a-half hour journey to the egress point. During that time, Felix’s visor was not defrosting and there was concern the mission would have to be aborted.”

Despite the defrost problem, the flight was not aborted and in-flight troubleshooting was attempted instead.

“The visor eventually defrosted from power in his suit, so after about 15-20 minutes, Baumgartner leapt from the capsule,” Baker recalled.”Several seconds into the free fall, he began to flat spin and there was a lot of concern in mission control, but he suddenly stabilized. He was also close to blacking out, but if that would have occurred, a drogue parachute would have been deployed. Those of us in Mission Control roared when Felix landed on the ground safe and sound.”

ATA Aerospace employee Tracy Gerber, who has worked at the directorate since 1995 and has participated in many high-altitude balloon launches, said the opportunity to play a significant role in, and witness Baumgartner’s leap into the history books, has been a career highlight.

“We’ve done a number of launches over the years, but none of them, in my opinion, compare to the one we did Oct. 14 with Red Bull Stratos and Sage Cheshire Aerospace, who built the capsule, and also the David Clark Company, which makes all the balloon suits for the NASA program did the one for Felix as well,” said Gerber, Space Technology Research and Integrated Vehicle Experiments deputy program manager, in support of the Space Vehicles Directorate’s Space Integration and Test Branch. “Getting to work with all these organizations was an incredible experience. Finally, from Oct. 23 to 28, I had the unique opportunity to attend a post-mission event in Salzburg, Austria, sponsored by Red Bull Stratos, to recognize all those involved in Felix’s record-breaking jump.”

In preparation for the big day, Baker arrived on scene late Saturday and then after discussions with three operations managers, including Gerber, he and Coca directed the helium inflation of the balloon at about 3 a.m. Shortly before 6 a.m., Baumgartner entered the 2,900-pound capsule. Three and half hours later, he began his ascent at a rate of about 1,000 feet per minute. The rest is history.

“Our expertise, our contract support and the contractor expertise we’ve developed played a huge part in Felix’s successful mission,” said Baker. “ATA Aerospace spent a lot of time, effort and money putting together all the procedures, processes and countdowns, and deserves much of the credit in making the record-shattering event happen. Although Felix was the main focus and rightly so, it took a team of dedicated and determined individuals to ensure it was

 

 

Washington area contractors plan for sequestration delay

By Marjorie Censer,

Nov 04, 2012 11:02 PM EST

The Washington Post

As mandatory federal spending cuts of nearly $1 trillion loom larger, many Washington area government contractors are making bets the cuts will be delayed, and they are holding back on lowering their financial guidance to Wall Street.

With limited information from the government about how the spending reduction known as sequestration would be implemented, contractors say they are sticking with their current projections for next year.

Lori Montgomery has reported that Obama will veto any Republican measure to avoid the fiscal cliff, unless it effectively raises taxes on the rich.

They do not have to look far for justification. In a debate last month, President Obama said that sequestration “will not happen,” while members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have called for alternatives.

Contractors are “all pretty adamant that there’s going to be some type of deferral . . . so that sequestration doesn’t happen Jan. 2,” said William Loomis, managing director at Stifel Nicolaus, which has relationships with many contractors.

Although McLean-based Booz Allen Hamilton would not take an official stance on whether sequestration would happen, Samuel R. Strickland, the contractor’s chief financial officer, said last week he expects it to be pushed off until April.

“Even knowing that would give us a fair amount more insight into what our [fiscal 2014] is going to look like than we have right now,” he said during a call with investors. “What’s creating a problem for us now is the uncertainty in the market.”

As companies wait for more information, there are signs of weakening.

Booz Allen last week reported profit of $46.1 million (27 cents per share) for the three-month period ended Sept. 30, down nearly 39 percent from $75.3 million (53 cents) in the same period a year earlier. Quarterly revenue slipped nearly 3 percent to $1.39 billion.

Arlington-based contractor CACI International saw its profits for the period sink to $35.7 million ($1.49 per share), a 15 percent drop from the $42.1 million ($1.41) it reported for the same period a year ago. Revenue stayed roughly stable at $931.2 million.

Concerns about shrinking revenue and profits are superseding worries about sequestration, said George A. Price Jr., senior equity research analyst for information technology services at BB&T Capital Markets, which has relationships with a number of contractors, including Booz Allen, CACI and ManTech International.

“Everyone is probably what if-ing a little bit behind the scenes [but] . . . there’s probably a limited amount of things that companies can do,” he said of sequestration planning. “People don’t really know what’s going to happen, so the only thing you can do is just try to have a tight understanding of your business.”

Officials at Fairfax-based ManTech said last week that they are expecting sales increases next year — assuming that sequestration doesn’t happen.

“Our initial view of fiscal year 2013 suggests revenue growth as we execute on record backlog and strong awards, but that of course will depend on sequestration, which is a big unknown right now,” said Kevin M. Phillips, the company’s chief financial officer, in a call with investors.

ManTech saw profits for the quarter ended Sept. 30 decline to $24.4 million (66 cents per share), from $34.5 million (94 cents) for the same period a year earlier. Revenue shrunk 12 percent to $645 million.

Still, contractors are tightening their business. Booz Allen officials said last week that the company is looking at ways to improve its cost structure and infrastructure and will make changes April 1.

“Privately, [the companies] all have contingency plans and they’re discussing what has to be done,” Loomis said. “Publicly, they’re not giving any numbers or guidance.”

 

Federal workers displaced, facilities flooded by Sandy


Nov. 2, 2012 – 03:42PM |

By FEDERAL TIMES STAFF

 

Thousands of federal employees remain displaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as the cost of damage to government facilities appears likely to climb into the millions of dollars.

“This is unprecedented in my 15 years,” said Linda Stagno, a Social Security Administration administrative law judge whose New York City office — along with more than 40 other SSA facilities throughout the city and surrounding suburbs — is closed because of widespread power outages and a crippled mass transportation system.

Also shuttered until Monday is the Securities and Exchange Commission’s regional office in lower Manhattan, where some 270 employees work. And the Veterans Affairs Department medical center in Manhattan is closed indefinitely after the storm flooded its basement and sub-basement, knocking out power and damaging medical equipment. More than 100 patients were evacuated to other VA hospitals in the area before Sandy struck late Oct. 29. More than three dozen VA outpatient clinics in the region were also closed for part of the week.

Although Defense Department installations in the storm’s path from Virginia to Rhode Island generally suffered only minor damage, the impact was more severe for New York-area Coast Guard facilities, where Sandy swept away boat docks, demolished outdoor structures and caused extensive flooding. As was true at other agencies, Coast Guard officials did not yet have a dollar estimate for total damages.

By comparison, the storm largely spared the Washington area. As a precaution, the Office of Personnel Management closed federal offices in the Washington region agencies Oct. 29 and 30, affecting some 300,000 federal employees.

Many of those employees teleworked, such as those at the Agriculture Department. Mika Cross, program manager for work/life wellness at Agriculture, said many employees have smartphones and iPads and were able to stay connected to their offices by email, which was moved to a Microsoft cloud solution last year.

At some agencies, lessons learned from past natural disasters prompted upgrades and reforms that proved instrumental in keeping operations running through this latest storm. When Hurricane Irene slammed the East Coast in August 2011, regional SEC employees couldn’t even get BlackBerry service, said Thomas Bayer, the agency’s chief information officer. Afterward, the agency invested in technology upgrades that included backing up systems and capabilities at multiple sites. This week, SEC employees were fully connected to email and had continuous access to agency enforcement and investigations systems, Bayer said.

Throughout the storm, he said, “we were fully operational.”

Other agencies dispatched staff to aid in relief efforts. The Health and Human Services Department, for example, deployed hundreds of employees from as far away as Texas to provide medical care in shelters.

Companies that provide Internet and cloud services to agencies in the storm-affected region worked round-the-clock to ensure no disruption in network operations and mission-critical services.

Amazon Web Services, Verizon’s Terremark and CGI said they maintained uninterrupted service.

“A weather event should never affect the availability of critical IT systems,” said Norm Laudermilch, chief operating officer for Terremark Federal.

Verizon had more than 30 engineers, facility maintenance personnel, electricians and other staff on site over a 48-hour period at its 150,000-square-foot data center in Culpeper, Va., Laudermilch said. “They lived there through the duration of the storm,” he said.

The company’s emergency preparedness team set up cots and stocked the on-campus cafeteria with food, drinks and plenty of coffee.

“Even if the earth were to open up and swallow the entire data center, access to data would never be lost,” Laudermilch said.

Some government business, however, can only be done in person. For Social Security Administration employees, office closings mean that hundreds of disability appeals hearings will have to be rescheduled, said Stagno, who stressed that she was not speaking for the agency, but rather as a regional vice president for the Association of Administrative Law Judges union.

“It’s going to be a giant workload,” she said.

 

The real Iranian threat: Cyberattacks


By David Goldman@CNNMoneyTech

November 5, 2012: 5:25 AM ET

A cyberattack believed to be backed by Iran brought down 75% of the PCs at Saudi oil company Aramco.

 

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon has been the subject of much debate this election season, but the presidential candidates rarely discuss the most imminent danger Iran poses to the United States: cyberwarfare.

Iran is believed to be behind a slew of massive attacks in September that took down a string of U.S. banks’ websites. The country is also thought to have launched a devastating cyber time bomb on Saudi Oil company Aramco in August and to have coordinated a similar attack on Qatar’s RasGas, an Exxon Mobil (XOM, Fortune 500) subsidiary.

The bank attacks were 10 to 20 times bigger than a typical denial of service attack, and doubled the previous record for traffic maliciously directed at a particular site, according to CrowdStrike, a security firm that investigated the attacks. The Aramco attack, set to go off on an Islamic holy night, unleashed a virus that destroyed about 30,000 corporate computers — three-quarters of the company’s PCs.

It’s a show of muscle the United States and its allies are unaccustomed to seeing from Iran. Cyberespionage and online identity theft are common tactics of Russian mafiosos and Chinese hackers, but Iran is relatively new to this playing field. After a series of painful economic sanctions levied on the country by the United States and Europe, cybersecurity experts say they’re not surprised that Iran is fighting back.

“Iran is trying to demonstrate that it has a capability to disrupt life in the West,” said Roger Cressey, senior vice president at security consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton. “Its argument is: ‘Whatever you in the West may do to us, know that it will not be a pain-free operation.'”

Attributing attacks to specific perpetrators is often difficult in cyberspace, where identities can be easily disguised. But there is mounting belief — if not direct evidence — that the Iranian government is at least supporting the attackers.

After the September attacks on banks, Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut, immediately said he believed the Iranian government was behind the attacks. Last month, intelligence officials told CNN that both the oil company and bank attacks came from Iran, and they are operating under the belief that the Iranian government had some role in the initiative.

The State Department declined to comment for this article, but Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at a cybersecurity event in New York last month that Iran has “undertaken a concerted effort to use cyberspace to its advantage.”

Cybercrime experts largely agree that Iran hasn’t yet demonstrated a capability to cause massive damage to the United States and its allies, as most believe Chinese or Russian attackers could.

But Iran has proven that its cyberattack abilities — and its ambitions — are expanding. Analysts note that even if Iran doesn’t have advanced cyber capabilities of its own, experienced cybercriminals have been willing to contract their services to nation states in the past.

“What they’ve done so far is a high level annoyance, using weapons of mass disturbance,” Cressey said. “As long as it’s in that realm, we’ll be fine. Does that mean they can’t be more sophisticated? Of course not.”

U.S. relations with Iran — labeled a “terrorist state” by the federal government — are currently far more tenuous than with any other country. The cyberdefense community’s growing fear is that Iran wouldn’t be afraid to digitally attack critical U.S. infrastructure or the American financial sector once it has the capability to do so.

“When it comes to most nation states, the overhanging threat of mutually assured destruction tempers any threat of all-out cyberwarfare,” said Art Coviello, CEO of security firm RSA, a division of EMC (EMC, Fortune 500). “What I worry about is that terrorists and nations that sponsor terror, such as Iran, that demonstrate cyberattack capabilities will be far more reckless than traditional adversaries.”

Coviello said Iran’s nuclear and cyber threats should be “tied for first” in the mind of the U.S. government.

If Iran does decide to take more serious action, it would be engaging in what’s known as asymmetrical war. There are many more high-impact digital targets to attack in the United States than there are in Iran.

As a result, Secretary of Defense Panetta has said that the United States reserves the right to respond to a cyberattack with “kinetic force.” In other words, the U.S. military could send physical troops into a nation that attacks it digitally.

Preparing for such an event is something the next administration will have to consider.

“Cyberattacks from Iran will be one of top policy questions that next president has to take a stand on,” said Jarno Limnell, director of cybersecurty at Finnish security firm Stonesoft.

“If the U.S. is really saying that these attacks came from Iran, and if they are really attacking American financial systems, which is most vital part of its critical infrastructure, behind the United States’ back, then how far will the U.S. let them keep going forward before this becomes a declaration of war?”

 

Use of drones by Seattle police strikes a nerve

By Christine Clarridge

Seattle Times staff reporter

Originally published November 4, 2012 at 5:21 PM | Page modified November 4, 2012 at 8:21 PM

 

For years, law-enforcement agencies, including several in the Seattle area, have used helicopters and airplanes for search-and-rescue missions, manhunts, SWAT-team operations, traffic control and car chases. But the Seattle Police Department’s plan to use drone aircraft has come under fire by some who fear loss of privacy.

 

For years, law-enforcement agencies, including several in the Seattle area, have used helicopters and airplanes for search-and-rescue missions, manhunts, SWAT-team operations, traffic control and car chases.

So why have plans by Seattle police and other enforcement agencies to deploy unmanned drones drawn such intense fire?

The vocal opposition against the drones came into sharp focus two weeks ago during a public meeting in Seattle when members of the Seattle Police Department were shouted down with chants of “No drones!”

In California, plans by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office to deploy drones were met last month with a news conference on the steps of Oakland City Hall where several groups raised privacy concerns.

Police, privacy-rights experts and even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has strong concerns about drones, say the technology is not going away. The question is how to craft thoughtful laws that protect privacy, according to the ACLU of Washington.

“How can they (law enforcement) shepherd us into an age when we have drones if they don’t deal with people’s privacy fears?” said Ryan Calo, a faculty member at the University of Washington School of Law who has written on the issue of drones and privacy.

Long used by the military for surveillance and combat missions, drones — also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs — offer law-enforcement agencies the potential to deploy an eye-in-the-sky at a relatively low cost.

In February, President Obama signed legislation passed by Congress that compelled the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to plan for the safe integration of civilian drones into American airspace by 2015. The Seattle Police Department was among dozens of law-enforcement units, academic institutions and other agencies that were given FAA approval to deploy drones.

 

What’s envisioned

Police Department officials have said their plans for drones include providing camera images in homicide and traffic investigations; search-and-rescue operations; and cases involving hazardous materials, barricaded people and natural disasters.

Seattle police Lt. Greg Sackman said the FAA specifically prohibits civilian UAVs from carrying weapons systems.

In addition, FAA guidelines say police drones cannot be flown at night, near people or over crowds. FAA requirements also state that drones must be flown below 400 feet and must remain within eyesight of an operator as well as an observer at all times.

But the ACLU has said a review of existing laws and policies shows they are inadequate to safeguard citizen privacy.

Calo said that while drones do not provide more “opportunity for mischief” or misuse than, say, fusion centers where data is collected and shared, they do provoke more fear.

“We associate drones with the theater of war, and we can picture the inscrutable robot flying over the city,” Calo said. “It’s very evocative, and it could provide a real window for us to examine the balance between personal privacy and emerging technology.”

In an article for the Stanford Law Review, Calo wrote that the gut-level fear sparked by drones could be just the “visceral jolt society needs to drag privacy law into the twenty-first century.”

Calo, in a phone interview, said the best protections for people would come from legislation at all levels of government. He said Congress should pass laws that direct the FAA to require applicants to say precisely how the drones will be used. In cases where there is a violation, “the FAA could hold them accountable by yanking their license,” he said.

Speaking before an August gathering of drone manufacturers in Las Vegas, acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the agency has repeatedly reached out for public input to address worries about how drones will be used, according to the Los Angeles Times. So, while fine-tuning the technology is important, Huerta said, “building human consensus … is an equally important task and unbelievably complicated,” according to the newspaper.

While Seattle police have received FAA approval to train drone operators, the department is not cleared by the federal agency to fly drones on missions. Several other law-enforcement agencies, however, do have FAA permission to deploy drones in police work.

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado to date has flown more than 35 missions and primarily has used its unmanned aerial vehicle to reconstruct crime scenes and to assist in search-and-rescue missions, according to the program’s director, Ben Miller.

At the Miami-Dade Police Department in Florida, drones are being used to provide information to tactical and SWAT teams in situations where the use of piloted aircraft “could pose a threat or risk to officers in the air,” Sgt. Andrew Cohen said.

 

Policy vs. ordinance

The Seattle Police Department has drafted guidelines for when and how its drones will be used. It states that unmanned aerial systems would not be used to “conduct random surveillance activities.”

However, the draft also leaves open the possibility that the drones will be deployed in other circumstances as well, which causes concern for the ACLU of Washington.

Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the ACLU of Washington, said the Police Department’s proposed policy is “too broad. They have a list of different emergencies and then a catchall phrase saying the drones can also be used in other situations if they get permission.”

Calo said the drones could be susceptible to “mission creep,” in which the use of the technology could deviate from the intended use. Metal detectors, for example, originally were used in high-security areas like airports but are now accepted at schools, he said.

Shaw said city leaders have an opportunity to pass an ordinance that would establish strict, immutable laws about how and when the police department is authorized to use drones.

 

“So long as it is a policy, it can be changed. An ordinance cannot be changed at will and is the only way we can be sure there is meaningful input,” she has said.

Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said the department plans to hold several other public hearings to explain the program. He said the department’s policy on the use of drones could be altered by the feedback.

After that, the department’s policy will be submitted to the City Council’s committee on Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology, possibly in December.

The committee could approve the department’s policy or recommend that the full City Council pass ordinances to regulate the department’s use of drones.

 

Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro

Surface Pro aims to sidestep RT compromises

CNET

November 5, 2012 8:09 AM PST

http://reviews.cnet.com/tablets/microsoft-surface-with-windows/4505-3126_7-35332542.html

Months after a splashy, surprise introduction in June, Microsoft officially became a tablet vendor with the launch of the Surface on October 26. The $500 tablet has an ARM CPU and runs the Windows RT operating system — in other words, it does not run on an Intel x86 processor, and it doesn’t run the full version of Windows 8. That means existing Surface users are stuck with the notable limitations of Windows RT.

So far the device has received mixed reviews (including from CNET), but it has also done brisk business. All three variants of Surface RT are currently on back-order. If it hasn’t put out a critical home run, Microsoft has at least generated significant interest around its new tablet.

And in January 2013, it’s releasing another Surface tablet, the Surface with Windows 8 Pro.

If the Surface RT tablet represents a direct assault by Microsoft on the “computer-light” tablets like Apple’s iPad and its various Android-based competitors, the forthcoming Surface Pro seems like a more significant attempt to reinvent laptop computing. Its design is very close to that of the Surface RT tablet — 10.6-inch touch-screen display, magnet-connected keyboard cover — but the Surface Pro also ships with a full-fledged, third-generation Intel Core i5 processor.

With that chip comes the full version of Windows 8, as well as the ability to run traditional desktop PC software programs.

 

Surface with Windows 8 Pro 

Surface with Windows RT 

Starting price 

TBD 

$499 

Screen size and resolution 

10.6 inches, 1,920×1,080 

10.6 inches, 1,366×768 

Dimensions (HWD) 

10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53 inches 

10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37 inches

Weight 

2 pounds 

1.5 pounds 

CPU 

Intel Core i5 

Nvidia Tegra 3 

Memory 

4GB 

2GB 

Storage capacity 

64GB (128GB option) 

32GB (64GB option) 

Ports 

USB 3.0, mini SDXC, headphone, DisplayPort video out  

USB 2.0, mini SDXC, headphone, HD video out

 

The two tablets have other hardware differences. The Pro version weighs a little more, has a larger solid-state hard drive, and has a higher resolution screen, among others. But because it can run full-blown Windows 8, the Surface Pro is as much a laptop, ready for serious productivity and entertainment duty, as it is a traditional tablet.

We still don’t know the price of the Surface Pro. The Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro 700T, a Windows 8 tablet that will also have a Core i5 CPU option, is currently listed for $1,199. If Microsoft’s Surface Pro lands in that price range as well, it sits firmly in laptop territory, and will find itself in competition with a broad array of other Windows 8 devices.

Whether the Surface Pro is the best product in its price range will be determined. We’ve already seen a number of hybrid and convertible laptop/tablet designs from Microsoft’s usual hardware partners, including the 11- and 13-inch Lenovo Yoga, the Dell XPS 12, and the Acer Iconia W700.

The Surface Pro will compete with those devices and others. One advantage for Microsoft’s design might be the snap-on keyboard cover (in either the soft Touch or mechanical Type variation), that seems an effective blend of tablet portability with a full typing surface. Many of the other hybrid or convertible designs out there look cumbersome or flimsy in comparison.

Whether you should opt for the Surface Pro or the Surface RT tablet is a bigger question. Pitting the two against one another means you’ve not only ruled out all of the other Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets and hybrids, it also presumes you’ve eliminated Android, iOS, and OS X devices.

In that narrow head-to-head, the Surface Pro seems the most fully realized device. Because it uses an ARM-based CPU, the Surface RT can only run software sold via the Microsoft’s Windows RT app store. As we found in our review, the RT app selection is rather barren at the moment. Microsoft also requires Web sites that run Flash to pass an approval system in order to run on Windows RT’s Web browser, Internet Explorer 10.

Between those two factors, it’s not unlikely that you will find some program or a Web-based tool that the Surface RT cannot run. That hurts the Surface RT’s suitability as a productivity tool. Because the Surface Pro uses the full version of Windows 8, you have less risk of meeting a software roadblock.

Of course, the Surface RT only costs $499. Expect the Surface Pro to be more than that, likely closer to $1,000 if similar devices can provide any guidance. The higher price tag might be worth it if the Surface Pro really can work as a laptop and a tablet. Whether it can meet that broad range of demands will depend largely on its performance and its battery life. We will find out about both when Microsoft ships the Surface with Windows 8 Pro early in 2013.

 

 

Army attendance at non-DOD conferences banned for the rest of the year

By Barry Rosenberg

Nov 05, 2012

 

The fallout continues over the General Services Administration’s $800,000 conference, with Secretary of the Army John McHugh suspending all Army attendance at non-Defense Department conferences for the remainder of the year.

“I am suspending Army attendance at non-DOD conferences between now and December 31, 2012, unless I previously approved attendance, for example, the AUSA Annual Meeting, or an exception is granted,” wrote McHugh in an October 17 memorandum obtained by Defense Systems.

Commanders of Army commands, Army service component commands and direct reporting units (headed by a general officer or member of the Senior Executive Services) or Headquarters, Department of the Army principal official must endorse exception requests.

McHugh made it clear in his memo that he expects that requests for attendance at non-DOD conferences be disapproved.

“We must continue to implement more cost effective and efficient methods to train, plan, collaborate and disseminate information,” he wrote. “Experience has shown that conferences are an expensive means of accomplishing these goals, and the need for each conference must be indisputable in the current environment of declining resources.

 

 

“Before acting on conference requests, authorities at the command and principal official level should begin their respective reviews by presuming that the physical collocation associated with a conference activity is not required in most cases. I expect you to disapprove conference requests that do no comply with this guidance.”

http://defensesystems.com/articles/2012/11/05/army-bans-conference-attendance.aspx

 

Obama’s Pentagon Roster Uncertain

ForeignPolicy.com

Posted By Kevin BaronWednesday, November 7, 2012 – 8:16 AM Share

 

If history is any guide, President Obama’s Tuesday victory should allow his second-term administration to sink its feet into the cement and go after some contentious national security issues tabled for the election season. Topping the list: the fate of Guantanamo Bay detainees, the pace of the Afghanistan war exit, and the never-ending budget fight with Congressional Republicans over defense spending and sequestration.

But across the Potomac, the administration’s Pentagon team is far from stable, starting at the top. You can’t find a single person from the E-Ring to the food court Popeye’s who thinks that Obama’s defense secretary, Leon Panetta, will still be at his desk next summer. When Panetta goes, likely so does much of his staff, including his right-hand man and chief of staff, Jeremy Bash.

Obama and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates had to beg Panetta multiple times not to retire to California last year and to take the Pentagon post instead. Panetta was courted because he was a veteran Democrat with street credibility, having helmed the CIA during the Osama bin Laden raid, as well as a former White House budget director and House Budget Committee chairman.

But Panetta’s value to the administration’s budget negotiations is unclear. Panetta opposes sequestration but, with Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, supports defense cuts. It’s also unlcear how much influence a lame-duck Panetta will have in swaying the likes of Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who just lost the White House to Panetta’s boss. For most of the year, however, the budget fight has largely played out above even Panetta’s rank, between the president and the House and Senate leadership.

Some are more confident than others about who may replace Panetta, but the short list remains unchanged, topped by Michele Flournoy, the former under secretary of defense and Pentagon policy chief who has campaigned vigorously for Obama, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the respected former weapons-buyer well-known to the military-industrial complex and Congress. Sources close to the administration tell the E-Ring some discussions are ongoing about Panetta’s successor, but that it’s still a little early in the game. One thing is certain: nobody expects Panetta to head back to the walnut farm in Monterrey in January.

If Carter were to vacate his post, eyes fall south to the Pentagon comptroller, Bob Hale. Hale has a reputation as a bit of an unsung hero at the Pentagon. Hale’s second-in-command, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Mike McCord, is well thought-of — enough to take over what building denizens describe as a very specialized job with an importance out of proportion to the attention paid to it, given the ongoing budget fight.

“They oughta get down on their knees and pray that Bob Hale sticks around,” said one source who insisted on anonymity to discuss potential personnel changes.

One Army procurement officer told the E-Ring that he has never felt so much uncertainty in the Pentagon, citing Panetta’s unknown retirement date, the lack of a deal to avoid sequestration, and the anticipation of a new Afghanistan war plan for 2013 and beyond.

 

The uncertainty bleeds into Panetta’s closest circles, too, including Bash and press secretary George Little.

“Both Jeremy Bash and George Little are expected to serve in a second Obama term,” said a Pentagon official. But any new secretary is likely to want his own “special assistant,” so while Bash is likely to remain an Obama man, he probably will land somewhere outside the post-Panetta Pentagon.

As for Little, in usual changeovers, a new defense secretary would mean a new press secretary. But the Pentagon’s public affairs shop is an unusual outfit. There have been four different faces at the briefing room podium in the last 18 months: Geoff Morrell, former press secretary to Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Doug Wilson, former assistant secretary of defense; Rear Adm. John Kirby, former spokesman for Adm. Mike Mullen and the Defense Department who now runs the Navy’s public affairs; and Little.

Little came from CIA in 2011 with Panetta, and in little more than a year the Pentagon’s public affairs shop went through at least three iterations, with Little having various levels of control. But Little has moved from being just the press secretary at the podium into the much bigger office of assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Well, make that “acting” ASD. Little’s appointment has not been confirmed because it is not yet a confirmable position, but the E-Ring has learned the administration would prefer some stability beyond Panetta in that job.

Farther down the roster, the Pentagon just last year refreshed many key deputy assistant secretaries of defense (DASDs) after Gates’ retirement. Still, two posts are staffed by “acting” officials: one in the Asian and Pacific Security Affairs shop (Dave Helvey, who covers East Asia) and one under Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict (Caryn Hollis who covers counternarcotics and global threats). One posts remains vacant: the DASD for space policy, under Global Strategic Affairs.

Outside of the administration, the three most visible former Pentagon officials on the campaign are Flournoy, Wilson, and former Middle East DASD Colin Kahl. After their multistate, mutli-mock national security debate efforts on the campaign trail, all three should be high on the White House list of those expecting to return to the administration in some capacity.

 

 

Microsoft to close Messenger and consolidate IM service on Skype

Messenger will go offline in the first quarter of 2013 worldwide except in mainland China

Computerworld

By Juan Carlos Perez

November 6, 2012 02:55 PM ET

IDG News Service – Microsoft will shut down Windows Live Messenger next year, compelling users to migrate to Skype, whose latest version can import users’ Messenger contacts.

With the exception of mainland China, Windows Live Messenger will close in the first quarter of 2013, and its users should install the latest version of Skype, Microsoft said on Tuesday.

Users can sign into the Skype service with the credentials they use to access their Microsoft online services, including Windows Live Messenger. They will find their Windows Live Messenger contacts on their Skype contacts list. If they used both Windows Live Messenger and Skype, the contacts lists will be merged.

 

“We want to focus our efforts on making things simpler for our users while continuously improving the overall experience,” wrote Tony Bates, Skype’s president, in a blog post.

To encourage Windows Live Messenger, he touted several benefits users will get from Skype, including support for more devices, including iPad and Android tablets, screen sharing, the ability to place calls to landline phones, and group video conferencing.
However, this type of migration is rarely seamless, and users are already raising questions in comments to Bates’ blog post, including the availability of certain Windows Live Messenger features and the capacity of the Skype infrastructure to sustain the new workload.

Microsoft, which acquired Skype in October 2011 for US$8.5 billion, will provide more information about the transition, as well as introduce special offers for fee-based Skype services, in the coming months, Bates wrote.

 

Air Force cancels failed $1B logistics system

AFTimes

by Sean Reilly – Staff writer

Posted : Thursday Nov 8, 2012 18:39:12 EST

 

After a $1 billion investment that produced “negligible” value, the Air Force is formally scrapping a next-generation logistics management system, officials announced Thursday.

The Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) program is “no longer a viable option” for meeting a fiscal 2017 deadline for having auditable books, Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said in a statement. “Therefore, we are canceling the program and moving forward with other options.” The cancellation will cost up to 115 contract employees their jobs and require the “realignment” of 55 military personnel and government civilian employees, he said.

The ECSS program, underway since 2005, was supposed to save the Air Force billions of dollars by streamlining supply chain management and providing an integrated approach for buying, moving and managing equipment. But the service fired the lead contractor, Computer Sciences Corp., in March. The next month, Air Force Controller Jamie Morin told a Senate subcommittee that he was “personally appalled” by how little the Air Force had gotten for its investment. In an interview afterward, Morin described the system’s capability as “negligible.”

Air Force managers repeatedly pushed back the due date for a new restructuring plan and it became apparent that the service “will be better served by developing an entirely new system versus revamping the ECSS system of record again,” Gulick said. Continuing the program would have cost an estimated $1.1 billion for about one-quarter of the original scope, with fielding delayed until 2020, he said.

Instead, the Air Force will have to rely on its “existing and modified logistics systems” to meet the 2017 audibility goal, he added.

 

Boeing cuts not expected to impact Dayton employees

Dayton Daily News

Posted: 6:11 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012

Bottom of Form

By Staff

Boeing is shaking up its shrinking defense division, putting some executives into new roles and reducing the number of managers.

It’s also disbanding its Missiles and Unmanned Airborne Systems division, spreading its work out among other Boeing units.

Boeing makes military helicopters and planes, in addition to commercial jets used by airlines. The commercial airplane business has been expanding. But the defense business is suffering because of tight government spending in the U.S. and other countries.

The company has about 500 suppliers in Ohio and spends $4.8 billion annually in the state, according to Boeing officials.

Boeing is reducing the number of defense executives by 30 percent from 2010 levels. Spokesman Todd Blecher said much of that has already happened, and the last 10 percent of the cuts will come by the end of the year.

Boeing reassigned several defense executives on Wednesday as part of the restructuring.

The job cuts weren’t expected to have an immediate impact on workers in Dayton or Ohio, Blecher said.

The aerospace giant employs about 600 workers in the state, he said. Employment figures for Dayton weren’t immediately released, but a small company field office works with Wright-Patterson, he said in an email.

The Boeing Guidance Repair Center in Heath is a key worksite center in Ohio, while company employees work with NASA at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland on the next generation Space Launch System.

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, headquartered at Wright-Patterson, has a $4.9 billion contract with Boeing to assemble the first 18 KC-46 aerial tankers by 2017, according to base spokesman Daryl Mayer.

“It’s safe to say we do quite a bit of business with them,” Mayer said.

The Air Force expects to buy 179 refueling tankers, the service’s number one acquisition priority, he said. The jet would replace aging, 1950s-era KC-135 Stratotankers.

The shake-up includes disbanding the Missiles and Unmanned Airborne Systems division as of Jan. 1. That unit makes things like cruise missiles and drones that have been in high demand but which are not needed as much as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down.

Barrie Barber contributed to this story.

 

 

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