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August 9 2014

August 11, 2014




Blurred Lines: Commercial, Defense Sectors Begin To Blend

Aug. 3, 2014 – 04:09PM |


WASHINGTON — As companies continue to turn their eyes toward the Middle East and Asia for new business, a trend has emerged: The lines between commercial and defense businesses are increasingly blurring.

All but one company in the top 10 of this year’s Defense News Top 100 — our annual ranking of the largest global defense firms — saw the percentage of their defense business decline or remain flat in 2013. Thales, at No. 9, was the only company in the top 10 that saw growth in the percentage of its business generated by defense.

Defense-heavy companies, such as US giant Lockheed Martin, which is once again at the top of the list, are diversifying their businesses. Lockheed is entering the commercial marketplace in areas such as air traffic management, aviation training and simulation, energy, and advanced manufacturing.

The Maryland-based company saw defense revenue fall more than $4.3 billion between 2012 and 2013, however the company’s overall revenue fell only $1.8 billion.

“[W]e moved into adjacent areas, near-adjacencies; they are commercial areas that are very much aligned with our core competencies,” said Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed’s chairman, president and CEO. “That is our strategy. Our strategy is to look at areas that we believe we can create diverse shareholders in, by taking the core competencies in what we have into new markets.”

Those who watch the industry agree: Change is coming, and companies that don’t react appropriately could get left behind.

“As a generalization, the defense industry and the defense industrial base would be well served by an industry whose structure had more exposure to commercial markets and commercial technologies than our mostly pure-play [defense] companies that comprise the top tier of the industrial structure today have,” said Steven Grundman, a former Pentagon industrial policy chief now with the Atlantic Council.

He warns that the days of pure defense firms are endangered.

“Being a pure-play defense company works great when the defense budget is growing at 6 to 8 percent a year, but the other side of that coin is that when growth stops, you’re fully exposed to a flat market,” Grundman said. “I don’t think there is as much room in the healthy defense industrial structure for pure-play defense companies as we have today.

“As a matter of corporate strategy … I think all the companies ought to be looking for smart ways of diversifying,” he said.

The clearest example of the growing link between the defense and commercial sides comes, perhaps unsurprisingly, from the largest US aerospace company.


Boeing, No. 2 on the list, has increasingly exploited its commercial division, a keystone of its business plan, and a look at its catalog makes it clear that will continue. Boeing saw its total company revenue climb nearly $5 billion from 2012 to 2013. But its defense business has fallen from 38.4 percent of total company revenue in 2012 to 36.9 percent in 2013.

“The commercial derivatives market is a real competitive differentiator for us,” Chris Chadwick, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, told reporters on a company-funded trip in June.

The company has two major Pentagon programs — the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and KC-46A tanker — which are based on commercial versions of the Boeing 737 and 767 jetliners, respectively.

“[W]e’re trying to create this track record of success in this area where we bring to bear an improved ‘One Boeing’ approach to servicing our customers’ needs worldwide,” Chadwick said.

A future replacement for the US Air Force’s Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System command-and-control aircraft could come in the form of a 737 as well, he noted.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see how market dynamics play out over the next 10 years,” Chadwick said. “I can’t predict the future, but I think market pressures will dictate that the company who can provide more capability at less cost, adapt from an innovative perspective and bring capability onto current platforms in a very seamless way at the right price, will end up on top at the end of the day.”

Like Grundman, Chadwick expects change to take time — but he does expect to see changes in industry structure.

“It’s just such a dynamic environment right now in the defense side of the business,” Chadwick said in an interview at the Farnborough International Airshow last month. “You look at how the customers are changing. Their business models are changing. The conventional war-fighting apparatus is enduring yet it’s diversifying.”

Commercial companies are investing “tremendous amounts of money and starting to encroach the defense world” in areas including cyber, data analytics and drones, he said.

Chadwick, who has been the Boeing defense boss for a little more than seven months, will roll out vision and strategic business objectives in the coming weeks.

“That will drive organic investment and inorganic investment will be in [mergers and acquisitions], and it’s all got to be tied back to the strategy, and that’ll dictate who we talk to, how we think [and] what we acquire,” he said. “Organic always has the better track record, but the right inorganic connected with that can really help to differentiate us.”

As Lockheed looks to move more into a commercial market, it will center “around core competencies that we have today,” Hewson said.

The recent purchase of a company in the cyber infrastructure business serves as an example.

“It lines right up with the cybersecurity work we are doing,” Hewson said. “It just broadens our portfolio capabilities that we can provide. It opens up new markets for us.”

Companies have also been taking a commercial approach when developing new defense products in anticipation of less government funding for these types of efforts.

For example, Textron’s Bell Helicopter has been developing V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor it has pitched for the Army’s Black Hawk replacement program.

“If you are going to take a decade to develop something, you are going to spend a lot more money to develop,” Scott Donnelly chairman, president and CEO of Textron, said in an interview. “I think we can show that we can do things and get aircraft in the air in two years. We can take it to production at a fraction of the cost.”

Textron, which saw its defense revenue fall slightly from $4.29 billion to $4.24 billion in 2013 and is No. 17 on this year’s list, is looking at projects “in a more commercial sense and not go through long” engineering and development program, he said.

“Time is money,” Donnelly said. “I cannot afford those budgets. I do not think any of our customers are going to have the budgets to go through that process anyway.”

Hal Chrisman, vice president with services firm ICF International, expects firms to experiment with commercialization.

“Anybody who is playing in the defense market now with the budget situation as it is are looking at their opportunities, whatever it may be, to grow their revenues,” Chrisman said.

However, Grundman warns that most of the industry is “ambivalent” about commercializing — something that will change when companies have success stories.

“I don’t think it’s something that’s going to be given any particular impetus or spark within the next year,” Grundman said. “But within the next five years I think we’ll see more and more diversification.”


Preparing for the Future

In recent years, companies have been preparing for the decline in government defense spending, restructuring themselves though downsizing, facility consolidation and other overhead-cutting measures. This has softened the blow of the defense spending cuts, but “there’s probably not a whole lot more they could really do to significantly boost margins from here,” said Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners.

Boeing’s Chadwick said the company has cut $4 billion over the past three years with another $2 billion planned in the coming years.

“It’s difficult. It’s painful, but it’s a necessity, so that we can have that agile cost structure that we have to have to compete over the next decade,” he said.

While the split between defense and commercial business seems to be trending toward the latter, it does not mean commercial business has picked up, Callan noted.

“It may not necessarily be indicative of really successful commercial diversification strategies, it’s just that defense — because of the Budget Control Act and the war-related declines — has been shrinking at a faster pace than some of these commercial businesses,” Callan said.

While many company executives speak of diversifying, some might look to shrink to become more focused in core business areas.

“Some of the changes to individual companies may also be thinking ahead,” Callan said. “They may be shrinking in size, but they’re shrinking to get more focused on particular markets.”

On the military side, companies have looked to offset US cuts with international business, particularly in the Middle East and Asia.

L-3 Communications, No. 11 on the list, which saw its defense business revenue decline $502 million between 2012 and 2013, is in the midst of a commercial diversification itself.

L-3 has posted double-digit growth in its commercial and international business, Michael Strianese, the New York-based company’s chairman, president and CEO, said in an interview.

Strianese touted the company’s first sale of night-vision equipment to the United Arab Emirates last year. He also applauded the Defense and State departments’ progress with export control reform and reducing bureaucracy.


L-3 announced last week that it is investigating potential accounting misconduct in one of its business units. It acknowledged that it took an $84 million charge for a period beginning in 2011 through the first half of 2014. For 2013, the charge is $34 million, Ralph D’Ambrosio, the firm’s senior vice president and CFO, said in a July 31 earnings call.

Speaking about the international market, Chadwick said: “What you’re seeing is that we’ve got to move from [being] an exporter to [being] a global presence more than we have in the past. So, you’re seeing where we’re investing. We’re partnering.”

Decline in defense spending has created interesting bedfellows for the few major US defense programs on the horizon. Helicopter maker Sikorsky has teamed with Boeing for the Army’s Black Hawk helicopter replacement program and Boeing has teamed with Sweden-based Saab, No. 29 on the list, for the Air Force’s new jet trainer.

Increasing the number of military aircraft based on commercial ones could have a trickle down effect into the global maintenance and sustainment market as well, Chrisman said.

“You can look at commercial opportunities, you can look at vertical operations, or you can look at sustainment. The international sustainment opportunity for US companies, particularly US [original equipment manufacturers], is something they are considering and ought to be considering more.”

A plane based on commonly flown aircraft, like a 767, could make sustainment easier and cheaper, he said.

“If you’re using a 737 for the base airplane for a P-8, or a 767 for the tanker, you have a lot of people who have those capabilities.” There are companies around the world that could suddenly play a role in sustaining various military fleets, Chrisman noted. “So I think it opens up competition.”

While taking a commercial airliner and militarizing it may be the way forward for some companies, don’t expect much of the reverse.

“Taking a commercial aircraft and putting it into military service is a very effective and lucrative practice,” said Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group. “Taking a military aircraft and putting it into civil service almost always ends in tears.

Which doesn’t mean companies aren’t trying. Lockheed Martin just signed its first customer for the LM-100J, a commercial lift variant of the popular C-130J cargo plane. It is actually the second attempt at a commercial C-130 variant; the L-100 had some small success but ended production in 1992.

Even in small numbers, adding the LM-100J to the C-130J production line should lead to potential savings, said Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed’s Aeronautics division.

“As we continue to build out C-130J today, as we add in the orders we receive commercially for the LM-100J, they will get to take advantage of the same efficiencies of the production line,” Carvalho said. ■


Is US vulnerable to EMP attack? A doomsday warning, and its skeptics

Former CIA Director Woolsey tells Congress of a doomsday scenario in which a nuclear-blast-triggered electromagnetic pulse takes down the US power grid, leading to starvation and death. Some experts decry ‘hysteria’ over EMPs.


By Anna Mulrine, Staff writer August 1, 2014    


Washington — It is an unsettling doomsday scenario: A ballistic missile is launched from a freighter near America’s shores, setting off a nuclear explosion in the atmosphere. The blast generates electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) that could take out the nation’s electrical grid and bring civilization as we know it “to a cold, dark halt.”

This warning comes from the former director of the CIA, James Woolsey, in little-noticed testimony recently before the House Armed Services Committee.

A nuclear weapon would be detonated in orbit “in order to destroy much of the electric grid from above the US with a single explosion,” he told lawmakers last week. “Two thirds of the US population would likely perish from starvation, disease, and societal breakdown. Other experts estimate the likely loss to be closer to 90 percent.”

This dire forecast included warning of an “increasing likelihood that rogue nations such as North Korea (and before long, most likely, Iran) will soon match Russia and China in that they will have the primary ingredients for an EMP attack: simple ballistic missiles such as SCUDs that could be launched from a freighter near our shores.”

Mr. Woolsey sprinkled in a bit of intelligence as well. “In 2004,” he noted to lawmakers, “the Russians told us that their ‘brain drain’ had been helping the North Koreans develop EMP weapons.”

So, how plausible is this sort of scenario? A number of defense analysts take issue with the idea that an EMP attack on the US is imminent, or even particularly likely. They also suggested the outcome of the attack would not be so dire.

“I think the wild hysteria that’s greeted EMP attacks lately is wildly overstated,” says James Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“So if you’re North Korea, and you’ve got a nuclear weapon, and you detonate it over the United States, what’s going to happen next? The answer is hundreds of nukes will descend on you from the US,” he says. “So why would you waste the round? If they’re going to shoot a nuke at us, they’re not going to bother with this EMP stuff.”

What’s more, although Woolsey told lawmakers that “modern electronics are a million times more vulnerable to EMP than the electronics of the 1960s,” Mr. Lewis argues that radiation hardening has been built into many modern electronics, through chips that have become more sophisticated. “Before, there were vacuum tubes, and now you’re using a chip that can withstand a fair amount of radiation,” Lewis says.

So what’s the bottom line? If a country or terrorist group “were crazy enough to shoot a nuclear weapon up over Washington, D.C. [to try to create an EMP], you might be able to fry 30 percent of the electronics in the city,” Lewis says.

Solar flares can create EMPs as well, Woolsey noted, citing a 1989 solar-generated pulse that, he told lawmakers, “effectively destroyed Quebec’s electric grid.” According to an article on a NASA website that looked back at the event 10 years later, the power was out in Quebec for 12 hours.

While an EMP attack may not be likely, the possibility raises some interesting strategic questions, says Paul Scharre, project director for the 20YY Warfare Initiative at the Center for a New American Security.

“If a nuclear-armed actor, instead of actually killing civilians with a nuclear weapon, lights it off at a high altitude,” he asks. “Does that cross the nuclear threshold? What’s the appropriate response? How would we respond? There’s not really a good answer for that.”



Behind Ohio drinking-water ban, a Lake Erie mystery

Unsafe levels of toxins in drinking water in northwest Ohio are linked to algae blooms in Lake Erie. The blooms are fed by agricultural runoff, but that’s not the full story.

By Mark Sappenfield, Staff writer August 3, 2014    


For the second consecutive day, residents in an area of northwestern Ohio that included the state’s fourth-largest city, Toledo, are being told that their tap water is not safe for cooking or drinking. The governor has declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard to help get water and food to the region. As of Sunday morning, there were no reports of anyone being sickened by tap water.

Toxins in the water have been linked to an algae bloom in Lake Erie, which is a primary source of drinking water for many Ohio communities. In recent decades, Lake Erie has seen large blooms of blue-green algae develop in its western basin. In 2011, the algae covered a record 1,930 square miles of Lake Erie – nearly 20 percent of the entire surface of the lake.

The blooms grow from an excess of phosphorus, which is a key ingredient in many fertilizers. Lake Erie is particularly prone to the blooms because rivers carry runoff from farmland into the shallow western basin of the lake.

Some 63 percent of Lake Erie’s watershed is used for agriculture, according to a February report by the International Joint Commission, which helps manage waters shared by the US and Canada. The report suggests that a 39 percent reduction of phosphorus in the Maumee River, which is Lake Erie’s single greatest source of phosphorus and empties into the western basin, would have a significant impact on the blooms.

But phosphorous levels don’t fully explain what scientists are seeing in Lake Erie. For example, phosphorous levels were higher in 2007 than in 2011, yet the 2011 bloom was larger. Scientists are investigating whether rising temperatures connected with climate change could be intensifying the blooms.

“It is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, the warmest and the most susceptible to … the effects of climate change,” states a 2013 report by the Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority, a task force of the International Joint Commission.

Climate change could also be bringing more intense spring rains, which would wash more agricultural runoff into Lake Erie, the report notes..

The water crisis in northwest Ohio comes as the US and Canada are making headway against pollution in Lake Erie. Layla Klamt of Liberty Voice reports:

Between 1972 and 1995, cleanup efforts for Lake Erie and all the Great Lakes saw excellent results. In 1969 the lake’s annual phosphorous load in metric tons was just under 30,000. By 1995, it was reduced by over three times. Additionally, the levels of mercury and other toxic chemicals that affect the edible fish in the lake reduced dramatically and have not increased since the 80s.

Larger algae blooms have actually been found in other Great Lakes, but their size, depth, and tides have meant that the algae could be dispersed more widely, Ms. Klamt writes.

The current situation marks the second time in two years that algae blooms have led to a drinking-water ban along Lake Erie. USA Today reports that a northwest Ohio township told its 2,000 residents not to drink the water last year. “That was believed to be the first time a city has banned residents from using the water because of toxins from algae in the lake,” USA Today’s Rick Jervis writes.



BAE wins contract for Map of the World

Aug. 1, 2014 |



BAE has been awarded a $335 million contract to support the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)’s Map of the World project.

Under the five-year contract, BAE will revamp collection, maintenance and utilization of geospatial (GEOINT) intelligence, said a company announcement.

“Our GEOINT experts will be exploring new sources of data, including commodity data, open source intelligence, and NGA archive data to deliver new products in line with the agency’s changing mission focus,” said DeEtte Gray, president of BAE’s intelligence & security division.

NGA’s Map of the World is a massive effort to create a single backbone for all GEOINT data and imagery. (For more details, see our earlier coverage. )

BAE’s work on NGA’s GEOINT Data Services Program will be performed at company sites in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey and Pittsburgh.


Machiavelli’s 27 Rules of War

Ryan Evans    

August 3, 2014


Niccolo Machiavelli is best known for The Prince, his guidebook on ruling an Italian city-state. But for a long time after his death, Machiavelli’s Art of War was better known and more influential (alongside his Discourses on Livy, both of which were written after The Prince but published before).

(As an aside, the more famous Art of War is Sun Tzu’s but that text was not actually called Art of War and may not have been written by Sun Tzu – another matter for another time.)

Machiavelli’s Art of War takes the form of Socratic dialogue between the warrior Lord Fabrizio Colonna and Florentine nobles. Fabrizio was a real person, but his character in this book has been interpreted as a stand-in for Machiavelli himself. In Art of War, the dialogue explains and predicts changes in European warfare and military affairs as a consequence of larger social, economic, and technological evolutions. The text is wide-ranging. At the end of the dialogue, in Book Seven, Machiavelli’s Fabrizio offers 27 “general rules” of war, which are listed here:

1.What benefits the enemy, harms you; and what benefits you, harm the enemy.

2.Whoever is more vigilant in observing the designs of the enemy in war, and endures much hardship in training his army, will incur fewer dangers, and can have greater hope for victory.

3.Never lead your soldiers into an engagement unless you are assured of their courage, know they are without fear, and are organized, and never make an attempt unless you see they hope for victory.

4.It is better to defeat the enemy by hunger than with steel; in such victory fortune counts more than virtu.

5.No proceeding is better than that which you have concealed from the enemy until the time you have executed it.

6.To know how to recognize an opportunity in war, and take it, benefits you more than anything else.

7.Nature creates few men brave, industry and training makes many.

8.Discipline in war counts more than fury.

9.If some on the side of the enemy desert to come to your service, if they be loyal, they will always make you a great acquisition; for the forces of the adversary diminish more with the loss of those who flee, than with those who are killed, even though the name of the fugitives is suspect to the new friends, and odious to the old.

10.It is better in organizing an engagement to reserve great aid behind the front line, than to spread out your soldiers to make a greater front.

11.He is overcome with difficulty, who knows how to recognize his forces and those of the enemy.

12.The virtu of the soldiers is worth more than a multitude, and the site is often of more benefit than virtu.

13.New and speedy things frighten armies, while the customary and slow things are esteemed little by them: you will therefore make your army experienced, and learn (the strength) of a new enemy by skirmishes, before you come to an engagement with him.

14.Whoever pursues a routed enemy in a disorganized manner, does nothing but become vanquished from having been a victor.

15.Whoever does not make provisions necessary to live (eat), is overcome without steel.

16.Whoever trusts more in cavalry than in infantry, or more in infantry than in cavalry, must settle for the location.

17.If you want to see whether any spy has come into the camp during the day, have no one go to his quarters.

18.Change your proceeding when you become aware that the enemy has foreseen it.

19.Counsel with many on the things you ought to do, and confer with few on what you do afterwards.

20.When soldiers are confined to their quarters, they are kept there by fear or punishment; then when they are led by war, (they are led) by hope and reward.

21.Good Captains never come to an engagement unless necessity compels them, or the opportunity calls them.

22.Act so your enemies do not know how you want to organize your army for battle, and in whatever way you organize them, arrange it so that the first line can be received by the second and by the third.

23.In a battle, never use a company for some other purpose than what you have assigned it to, unless you want to cause disorder.

24.Accidents are remedied with difficulty, unless you quickly take the facility of thinking.

25.Men, steel, money, and bread, are the sinews of war; but of these four, the first two are more necessary, for men and steel find money and bread, but money and bread do not find men and steel.

26.The unarmed rich man is the prize of the poor soldier.

27.Accustom your soldiers to despise delicate living and luxurious clothing.



Ag Drones — Future and Present

by Wendel Meier • 2 August 2014


No longer can farmers plant seeds from last years crop, pray for rain, and expect to feed the world. Things have changed, mostly for the better. My grandfather plowed with mules, killed weeds with a hoe, fertilized with manure, harvested by hand and produced about 60 bushels of corn per acre. About average for the time. Then came the age of mechanization. Farmers now plow with tractors, plant GMO seeds, kill weeds with herbicides, fertilize with liquid nitrogen, harvest with combines and produce about 150 bushels of corn per acre; more than double the previous yield. Informed sources estimate that farmers will have to double their yield again by 2050 to feed the world. That requires precision farming, and precision farming requires data. You can’t manage what you don’t understand, and you can’t understand what you can’t see.

That is why farmers need the UAVs to image their fields. Now they use satellites and manned aircraft; neither is efficient. Farmers need to image their fields often, and on their schedule, in order to manage fertilization, irrigation and apply herbicides and pesticides to affected areas quickly before damage is done or the infestations spread. Only UAVs can provide this data in a timely and cost effective manner.


Down on the Farm with Drones, the Vision.

After breakfast the future farmer strolls out to the garage, which replaces the barn of years past. In the garage, with the combine, automated liquids dispenser, and self steering tractor are six Scout Drones on the charging bench and two larger Spray Drones on the garage floor. The farmer ascertains that all the Scout Drone batteries have been fully charged before entering his air conditioned office.

The first order of business is to check todays weather. The automated weather monitor shows current weather as light and variable wind and no significant cloud cover. The computer forecasts show the same for the morning, however cloud buildup for the late afternoon with scattered evening showers. We can always use more rain.

Next, the farmer reviews the field maps of his crops on the large touch screen computer display. Three fields were previously showing slight heat stress and he decides to image them again in the 920 nm spectrum. He has been having problems with weed infestation on another field, especially in the corner near the stream. He programs the Drones accordingly and switches on the surface radar that will scan the surrounding lands for conflicting traffic. In the event of a conflict with a manned aircraft or another Drone, the computer will deconflict the situation, and if necessary recall all his Drones back to their assigned landing pads.

At the charging bench, the farmer moves the three IR imaging equipped drones out to their assigned landing pads. After each is preflighted and conducts a self check, they are sent on their way. The weed searcher Drone’s imaging device has to be changed and programmed for the crop it will be scanning. It will scan for any image not related to the programmed crop and provide density and location information on return. When finished, he takes the Drone to its assigned landing pad, preflights it and completes the self tests before releasing it for flight. Time for lunch.

After lunch, the farmer returns to the garage. The four Drones are on their respective landing pads and shut down. The farmer moves the Drones back onto the charging bench and begins the IR, and weed infestation data down load. In the office, he analyses the data, determines one field is doing OK, but adjusts the irrigation schedule for the other two. The weed mapping data confirms his suspicions that the infestation is migrating from the fallow land near the stream. He identifies the weed species, selects the recommended herbicide and potency and prepares a program card for the Spray Drone. He moves the Spray Drone to its assigned landing pad, mixes the herbicide and fills the hopper. He then starts the engine on the drone and allows it to warm up while the Drone performs its self tests. He then releases the Drone which goes to the designated area, identifies the individual weed plants and applies a squirt of herbicide to each plant before returning to the landing pad and shutting down. The farmer then washes down the Spray Drone blow dries it and returns it to the garage. In the office he completes the computer entries to document his accomplishments for the day. The job’s not done till the paperwork is finished. He turns off the radar and as he walks up to the house he thinks, “Maybe tomorrow I should take the ATV down by the stream to see if there is some way to stop the migration of weeds into that field.”


So ends, “Another day down on the farm with Drones.”

That was fantasy; or maybe not, in the not too distant future. Now let’s look at the present reality. In order to get to that future, AG Drone operators are going to have to prove they can operate safely and responsibly. Below are some thoughts on how to accomplish that goal.




To diminish the chance of a fly away, or other un-commanded maneuvers there must be redundancy in certain systems. The Aeroscout III can be used as an example. It is a commercial off the shelf (COTS) air-vehicle called the F 550, “Flamewheel Hexicopter” by DJI. The control system avionics (FMS) are the NAZA M v2 with GPS, making it a 12 DOF system. The HD camera video is recorded on board to an SD card, and combined with inputs from an OSD and transmitted to the ground station’s seven inch monitor to be used as a view finder by the pilot monitoring. The radio control link is a Spektrum DX 8 system with frequency diversity capability and a satellite receiver to provide both horizontal and vertical antenna orientation.



The Aeroscout III is primarily constructed of plastic and is frangible on impact. It is basically a small ( 550 centimeter diameter) plastic model hexacopter. Operational gross weight of the UAV is two kilos(4.4 lbs.) and max flight time is twelve minutes in this configuration. It can image a forty acre field in ten minutes, flying at ten meters per second (22 MPH). Optimum imaging height is between 20 and 30 meters. It has a stabile hovering capability which allows the imaging to be completed within the boundaries of the land owners property. Autonomous flight is not available. Visual waypoints (up to 28) are available as an aid to remaining over the imaged field.




In the unlikely event of a radio control link failure, the Aeroscout III will go into the failsafe mode. At loss of link, the Aeroscout III will come to a hover at its current altitude. It will then wait a ten seconds for link re-establishment. If that does not occur, the air-vehicle will climb in hover to 60 feet altitude or remain at its present altitude if that is higher than 60 feet. It will then proceed directly to the previously established “home point” and descend to a landing and motor shutdown.



If while flying the Aeroscout III under visual conditions (VLOS) the aircraft orientation is lost, simply release pressure on the right stick and push the throttle to full open. The air-vehicle will come to a hover, and climb to the preset altitude limit and remain stationary. The pilot then selects the “home lock” mode. Pulling the right stick (elevator) toward him (up elevator) causes the air-vehicle to fly toward the “home point” regardless of its orientation. If visual orientation is re-established the mission may continue.



Why a hexa-copter vs. a quad-copter? On a hexa-copter, if a motor, ESC, or propeller should fail in flight a similar procedure, as above, can recover the aircraft. The loss of power on one arm will cause the aircraft to rotate about its center of gravity, and possibly descend. Apply increased throttle as necessary to maintain altitude, and switch to “home lock” mode. The aircraft will continue to rotate, however, it may be flown to a safe landing area by using the right stick to move it toward or away from the “home point” and left and right relative to the course flown no matter what the aircraft orientation during the rotations. The same loss of thrust on one arm of a quad-copter will cause a loss of control, and a crash.



The Aeroscout III has a video down link, even though intentional FPV flight is never planned. The video link is normally used by the pilot monitoring as a view finder to ensure the photo coverage is optimum for each swath. However, if (VLOS) visual contact is lost for any reason the pilot monitoring can “talk” the pilot flying back to a point where visual contact is reacquired. The backup plan is to select “fail safe” mode on the transmitter and wait for the air-vehicle to land at the “home point.”



Fly-aways are also prevented by limits set in the Master Controller’s FMS via a PC computer and USB cable. The lateral limit is typically set at 1000 meters from the “home point” and the altitude limit is set at the planned height of the photo run, typically 20 to 40 meters AGL. The air-vehicle will not fly past these limits. The photo runs rarely exceed 402 Meters laterally from the “home point” as it is just too difficult to maintain accurate orientational awareness past that point even though the air-vehicle is still well in sight. (Also, 402 Meters equals one side of a square 40 acre field.)



Multi-copters do not auto-rotate or glide. Hexa copters and Octo copters can fly with a motor, ESC, or propeller failure, however, if they run out of power, they crash.

The battery voltage is overlaid on the OSD video transmitted to the ground station and monitored by the pilot monitoring. In addition, alarm points are set in the Master Controller for low battery voltage. Exceeding the first level causes the LED indicator on the rear of the air-vehicle to insert a red flash between the green flashes that indicate normal operation. This is to alert the pilot to return for a landing. The second level alert begins with a red flashing LED (no greens) followed by a slow descent, landing and motor shut down. However, that landing may not be at the preferred location. This would be the multi-copter equivalent of an auto-rotation.

This redundancy provides a robust operational platform for aerial photography. Simultaneous multiple failures would be required to cause a crash. Barring pilot error, the Aeroscout III is an exceptionally safe system.



There is a saying about Airbus aircraft that the computers fly the aircraft and the pilot merely makes suggestions to the computers. In the Aeroscout III this is very true; conventional pilot flying skills are not required. The Aeroscout III will hover without pilot input, however, pilot control input is required for the air-vehicle to change position in the airspace. Fully autonomous flight is not available. While conventional stick and rudder skills are not required, following established procedures and “mode awareness” is mandatory. This must be the emphasis of the training.

The Aeroscout III is unlike any certificated manned aircraft, and therefore no FAA category, class or type applies. The Hexicopter has no wings or rotors and is neither airplane nor rotorcraft. It has instead, six electric motors with fixed pitch propellers arranged symmetrically around the perimeter of the vehicle. Three motors turn clockwise and three counterclockwise. Control is by the Master Control FMS unit using inputs from three gyros, three accelerometers, three magnetometers, GPS position, and barometric altitude to vary the speed of each motor independently to maintain a stabile hover. Lateral and vertical excursions from this hover are controlled by a radio control link from an operator on the ground. No manned aircraft is so designed, and no existing FAA regulations for air worthiness or pilot operating skills can apply. This is new technology.

Pilot error will be avoided by following correct procedures, maintaining mode and situational awareness, and being familiar with the redundancy built into the system. Crew resource management, coordination between the pilot monitoring and the pilot flying, also greatly enhances the safety of the operation. In the event the pilot flying is temporarily confused, centering all control sticks will cause the air-vehicle to come to a stationary hover at its present altitude. (All except the throttle are spring loaded to the center position.) This allows time to determine the appropriate course of action and discuss it with the pilot monitoring before continuing.

Provided sufficient training emphasis is placed on using correct procedures, maintaining mode and situational awareness, employing crew resource management techniques and being familiar with the redundancy built into the system, I believe history will show this to be a very safe air-vehicle.


EQUIVALENT LEVEL OF SAFETY, Alternative Method Of Compliance (AMOC)

This is new technology and current FAA regulations for certification of aircraft and pilots cannot apply. Therefore, the FAA must accept an Alternative Method Of Compliance (AMOC).

Airspace allocations are one method of promoting safety, and collecting data for future rule making. Knowledgable sources predict that 70 percent of small UAVs will be used in agricultural operations, so that seems to be an appropriate venue to begin collecting data. Also, rural areas are typically in uncontrolled airspace. An acceptable airspace restriction would be to operate only in uncontrolled airspace and remain within the boundaries of the landowners property below 400 feet AGL. Legal presidents for allowing these operations exist. The drone is merely another farm implement, and historically most states do not require licensing of farm vehicles, or operators, as long as they are not operated on public roads. This should also apply to UAV farm vehicles operated in the airspace belonging to the farms. The Supreme Court agreed in its decision which states, “We have said that the airspace is a public highway. Yet it is obvious that if the landowner is to have full enjoyment of the land, he must have exclusive control of the immediate reaches of the enveloping atmosphere. The landowner owns at least as much of the space above the ground as the can occupy or use in connection with the land.”

The ATO is not responsible for separating traffic in uncontrolled airspace. Therefore, “see and avoid” would apply. An aircraft is a noisy environment with limited visibility and for a single pilot involves a high work load. This degrades the see and avoid capability of the manned aircraft.

The UAV requires two pilots, one pilot flying one pilot monitoring. While the pilot flying must keep his attention on the UAV, the pilot monitoring has the freedom to scan the entire sky for conflicting traffic. Since the UAV makes very little sound, both pilots will be able to hear a powered manned aircraft approaching; probably before they can see it. The manned aircraft has the right of wayALWAYS, and the UAV must take evasive action. Usually, the UAV will have landed before the pilot of the manned aircraft even knew one was operating in the area. This makes the “See and Avoid” safer between a UAV and a manned aircraft than between two manned aircraft. This definitely satisfies the equivalent level of safety.



Peeking drones are in the news lately, however this privacy issue is not germane to agricultural operations. There are two reasons for this. First, the agricultural UAVs are operated in rural areas and only over the land owners property. Second, only orthogonal photography is used for agricultural imaging, meaning the camera is pointing straight down at the crop. Not at the neighbors window.


Intentional Hacking and Signal Jamming

The radio control link for the Aeroscout III is the Spectrum, frequency hopping system. When turned on, the Transmitter and receiver are bound by a discrete digital code, and an unused pair of frequencies are selected. Should interference occur on one of the frequencies the radio automatically switches to an alternate frequency. This system has been in use by recreational pilots for quite a few years, during which loss of the radio control link is extremely rare and usually caused by something other than frequency jamming.

The GPS link for the Aeroscout III is primarily a convenience item, the loss of which will not cause the UAV to fly away. Since the primary control of the UAV is by visual line of sight (VLOS), loss of GPS signal or spoofing will be quickly noted by the pilot flying. Simply switching from “GPS/ATTI mode” to “ATTI Mode” removes the GPS inputs to the FMS. The FMS will still maintain level flight, and barometric altitude is not impacted by the loss of GPS. All that is lost is wind drift correction at hover, return to home, and home lock functions. The mission should be aborted however, and the UAV returned to a suitable area, landed, and shut down until the reason for the discrepancy can be determined and corrected.



Although aerial applicators share the same airspace as the UAVs, this is not a high risk situation. Crop dusters typically “ferry” (travel between the point of loading and spraying) at or above 300 feet AGL. This is to avoid being surprised by another crop duster pulling up out of a field in a “Duster Turn.” This is well above the normal height of the imaging swath of 60 to 120 feet for the UAV. In addition, the UAV operator SHALL descend to a hover and land to deconflict any encounter with a manned aircraft. This is really necessary for the UAV pilot, as the wake turbulence from the larger manned aircraft flying overhead could upset the UAV with expensive results. While the manned aircraft use “see and avoid” for traffic separation, the UAV operators use “hear, then see and avoid” to provide and even greater level of safety.

Coordination with the aerial applicators operating in the area is not only neighborly, it can improve scheduling to prevent having to sit out a planned flight while a manned crop duster works an adjacent field and overflies the boundaries during his duster turns.



This is a beginning, and who can predict all the wonderful things that Drones will accomplish in the future — as long as we act responsibly and fly safely now.

The technology is available now and the agricultural community is ready to begin using this technology. (Some already have.) Now, we the people are patiently waiting for the FAA to learn and understand this technology and act to implement its safe commercial use. With the total value of our nation’s crop estimated at $140 billion per year, even a modest improvement in yield would have a substantial aggregate economic impact.


I wish the FAA would hurry up.

Comments and questions welcome. Respond to:



Microsoft may do the unthinkable to make you dump XP, Vista and Windows 7

By Chris Smith

August 4, 2014


Windows is one of Microsoft’s main money makers, and the company is interested in seeing as many current Windows users move to its latest operating system as possible. However, no matter what the company does, there still are plenty of users who are on older Windows versions, including Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. ZDNet has learned that Microsoft may be working on a huge Windows 9 surprise to convince reluctant users to finally move to the latest Windows operating system available.

The company is reportedly considering offering some sort of Windows 9 upgrade deal to XP, Vista and Windows 7 users, with a completely free upgrade option also on the table. This isn’t the first time free Windows 9 upgrade rumors have hit the web, but previous reports suggested that Windows Threshold (Windows 9’s internal codename) might launch as a free download to Windows 8.1 Update, and Windows 7 Service Pack 1 owners.

Nothing has been confirmed about Windows 9 yet, but ZDNet says that all the major features Microsoft is working on will be packed in Threshold rather than a following Windows 8.1 Update.

Windows 8.1 Update 2 is still due on August 12th, this month’s Patch Tuesday, although the update is not mandatory, and it’s not expected to bring any major changes. The Start menu button, which was supposed to arrive with Update 2, will be included in Windows 9 alongside any other major features Microsoft may have readied for a Windows 8.1 update.

Other Windows 8.1 updates might be released later this year as well, although they’re also going to be minor compared with the massive changes coming with Windows 9.



Getting on Military Bases Is About to Involve FBI Background Checks

By Aliya Sternstein

August 4, 2014

Members of the defense community, starting this Friday, automatically will be screened against the FBI’s criminal database when they try enter military installations and pulled aside if the system shows an arrest, felony or outstanding warrant.

The new Defense Department tool is part of a larger, governmentwide effort to continuously vet people with access to secure facilities, following shootings at Fort Hood and the Navy Yard.

Identification smartcards issued to troops, veterans, relatives and other individuals permitted to enter military bases have long been checked against a DOD database before access is granted. But an instant FBI background check has never been part of the process.

Beginning this week, DOD’s information technology system will tap the FBI’s National Crime Information Center system, Nextgov has learned.

This linkage had been in the works for several years but took on renewed urgency after the Sept. 16, 2013, Navy Yard slaying. Gunman Aaron Alexis entered secure areas using a valid ID card, despite having an arrest record and a history of other infractions.

“This all comes back to the Washington Navy Yard process, which was a big deal — but the real change that happened was the physical security community and the IT guys talked to each other and said, ‘You know what, it’s not a physical security problem; it’s an identity problem,” said Michael Butler, deputy director for identity services at the Defense Manpower Data Center. “When you look at it that way, it completely changes the game.” He was speaking Thursday evening at a Smart Card Alliance event

Butler said the accuracy of a trial run of the system, called the Identity Management Capability Enterprise Services Application, has been “stunning.” He declined to disclose figures on matches.

“On Aug. 8, the Identity Matching Engine for Security and Analysis will be functional for any installation with the capability to scan persons entering the installation and have implemented the IMESA interface with Defense Manpower Data Center,” Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson said Friday in an email.

IMESA will be operational on Air Force, Army, Marine, and Defense Logistics Agency installations that day, she added.

The measured rollout has more to do with policy issues than technological challenges.

In April, Pentagon top brass released an official memorandum establishing the right for IMESA to check FBI records. It states system users only can conduct searches against the FBI databases for “maintaining law and order” and for “crime prevention.” IMESA will keep track of all users who query the database.

The tool will run an FBI background check regardless of “whether you are going to the commissary or to work,” Butler told Nextgov during an interview.

For example, he said, if a military employee is caught by police driving under the influence one night, that information will flow into the system, even if the employee fails to report it to DOD. The guard at the base will get a red flag, stop the employee from entering, and then law enforcement will study the situation further.

IMESA only has the ability to search FBI records right now, but the plan is to loop in law enforcement records from state and local jurisdictions eventually.

A November independent review of the Navy Yard incident recommended IMESA be deployed at all DOD facilities.

“The systems and processes for admitting cleared and uncleared personnel through the gates to DOD facilities are insufficient to ensure on-base security,” the report found. “Currently, each service is implementing its own automated system for its own facilities . . . We recommend the joint approach of the Identity Management Enterprise Services Architecture effort.”

An internal review conducted at the same time concluded the same. The Pentagon report advised officials “accelerate” development of IMESA “to enable DOD components to share access control information and continuously vet individuals against U.S. government authoritative databases.”



In supersecret cyberwar game, civilian-sector techies pummel active-duty cyberwarriors

Aug. 4, 2014 – 09:24AM |


When the military’s top cyberwarriors gathered last year inside a secretive compound at Fort Meade, Maryland, for a classified war game exercise, a team of active-duty troops faced off against several teams of reservists.

And the active-duty team apparently took a beating.

“They were pretty much obliterated,” said one Capitol Hill staffer who attended the exercise. “The active-duty team didn’t even know how they’d been attacked.”

The exercise highlights a sensitive question emerging inside the military’s cyberwarfare community about what future role reservists will play in the Pentagon’s overall cyber force.

At stake is a massive pot of money and thousands of military jobs for a critical mission that will be mostly shielded from budget cuts slamming nearly every other part of the force under sequestration.


Real-world experience

The cyberwarfare mission is unique, many experts say, in that reservists bring training and expertize from their work in the civilian sector that can be far more advanced than what’s found in the military itself.


While military missions like the infantry or submarine warfare have no direct civilian counterpart, some reservists are full-time cybersecurity experts on Wall Street or software programmers with top technology firms, especially those attached to National Guard units in high-tech hotspots like California’s Silicon Valley, Seattle and northern Virginia.

“The guys and gals who work day jobs in suits and ties — or tie dyes and blue jeans — a lot of them have real-world experience in cyber that is far and above the limited skills that … regular military people have,” said Matthew Aid, a technology and intelligence expert and author of “The Secret Sentry, the Definitive History of the National Security Agency.”

Yet many reservists fear that active-duty leaders at the Pentagon and U.S. Cyber Command are drawing up preliminary plans that do not specifically include reserve component units in the mission.

That debate will heat up later this year; Congress has ordered the Defense Department to prepare a report on its cyberwarfare plans with a special focus on “requirements for both active and reserve components,” as well as civilian assets, according to legislation enacted last year.


Reservists shut out?

CYBERCOM, which began operations in 2010, is developing a specialized joint force of about 6,000 cyberwarriors assigned to 133 teams that will train for a range of missions, from defending DoD networks to mounting offensive operations to disabling enemy systems.

A preliminary plan calling for a force mix of 80 percent active-duty troops and 20 percent civilians has sparked concern from reserve component leaders.

The Reserve Forces Policy Board is drawing up a recommendation for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging him to make sure the reserves are also represented.

“I don’t know the right mix, but I guarantee you it’s not 100 percent [active-duty] and zero [reserves],” said Arnold Punaro, chairman of the RFPB, a federal advisory group established by Congress.

“It defies common sense to think that industry, in particular our high-tech industries, are not moving at light speed compared to the way government works. We are urging the secretary of defense to take a hard look at going all active-duty,” Punaro said in an interview.

Army Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a DoD spokeswoman, said the active-reserve force mix for the cyber mission remains “under current analysis” as directed by Congress last year and noted that “no decisions have been finalized.”

“We are pursuing reasonable solutions from the perspective of all parties involved,” she said.

Henderson declined to comment on the outcome of the 2013 CyberGuard Exercise at Fort Meade, which remains classified.

Active and reserve cyberwarriors each have distinct skills and the optimal force mix will include both, said Army Col. Greg Conti, director of the Army Cyber Institute at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

“Think of it in terms of football — there is an offense and a defense and people who know the game can swap positions. But there are certainly differences,” Conti said in a recent interview. “I think the active military is probably stronger in the current military operations and how to integrate what they do with traditional kinetic military operations. And you need people who have current situational awareness of threat actors.”

For example, specific details of the Chinese navy’s communications networks or the operating systems underlying Iranian air defense systems are unfamiliar to most civilian tech professionals.


Yet reservists who come from the private sector “are probably able to focus more intensely on the discipline of the technology,” Conti said.

“I think they are very complimentary,” he said. “There is some natural mission areas that emerge, and each force has natural strengths.”


Specialists vs. generalists

Underlying the debate are concerns about the military’s ability to adapt quickly.

In addition to standing up operational cyberwarfare teams, the military services also need to develop specific guidance for recruiters targeting people with these skills; develop professional schools with a long-term curriculum; and create career paths and manpower management tools for the thousands of troops who will be pursuing careers in cyberwarfare.

That last mission may be the most challenging. Fostering a highly specialized cyber force may be at odds with the military’s tradition of cultivating generalists who change jobs frequently.

“The military unfortunately has a nasty habit of taking people who have expertise in a particular area … and using them as truck drivers or cooks,” Aid said.

And promoting the most highly skilled cyberwarriors may be difficult in a system based on rank and emphasizing time-in-grade.

“I’ve heard senior leaders say there is a skill inversion,” Conti said. “Some of the most talented people are at the lieutenant and captain level. We have our traditional hierarchical way of doing things. What we are looking at is a cultural shift for the military in how things are done.”

Military leaders want to make cyberwarfare a top priority, but major change does not come immediately, Aid said.

“The regular military wants in, but it’s going to take some time. You just can’t take an Arabic linguist who was in Afghanistan and cross-train him into cybersecurity overnight,” Aid said.

While infighting between the active and reserve components exists in other parts of the force — notably in the Army right now in a battle over the future of Apache attack helicopters — Punaro said he does not see prolonged tension over the force mix in the cyber community.

“I think it is just the normal reaction when the Defense Department is standing up something new; it’s a lot easier for them to just do it all active-duty,” he said.

In the end, Punaro said, DoD “will figure this out.”



US Army successfully tests electronic jamming capability for Gray Eagle UAS

Arun Sasidharan, Bangalore – IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly

03 August 2014


The US Army conducted flight testing of an unmanned airborne electronic attack capability known as Networked Electronic Warfare Remotely Operated (NERO) onboard the General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle.

The tests, which took place from 2 to 19 June but were only recently announced, were conducted at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, and proved that it is technically and tactically feasible to field an effective jammer on an unmanned aerial platform. The NERO project has conducted these flight tests after two years of engineering analysis and aircraft alteration.

The NERO project has been funded by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), and is a collaboration between the US Army’s Unmanned Aerial System Program, the US Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indiana, Raytheon, and General Atomics.


China Developing Capability To Kill Satellites, Experts Say

Aug. 4, 2014 – 03:11PM | By WENDELL MINNICK | Comments


TAIPEI — US defense experts and the US State Department are describing China’s successful July 23 so-called “anti-missile test” as another anti-satellite test (ASAT). It is the third such kinetic strike ASAT launch by China and raises fears the US will be unable to protect its spy, navigation and communications satellites.

“This latest space interceptor test demonstrates a potential PLA [People’s Liberation Army] aspiration to restrict freedom of space flight over China,” said Mark Stokes, a China missile specialist at the Project 2049 Institute.

China’s first two anti-satellite tests, 2007 and 2010, involved the SC-19 (DF-21 ballistic missile variant) armed with a kinetic kill vehicle. Though the first two involved the SC-19, only the 2007 ASAT actually destroyed a space-based platform. The 2010 and July 23 test successfully struck a ballistic missile.

With the destruction of the weather satellite came international complaints that China was unnecessarily creating a debris field that would endanger other nations’ space platforms. This could explain the reason China chose to shoot down ballistic missiles rather than hitting orbiting platforms.

It is still too early to declare whether the third test used an SC-19 or a different missile system. Stokes said it was a “speculative guess,” but it could have been a test of a new solid motor being developed for a space intercept system, possibly designated as the Hongqi-26 (HQ-26). “Engineering research and development on the new solid motor seems to incorporate some interesting capabilities [that] began early last year.”

Richard Fisher, a China military specialist with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said after the 2007 test the Army may be trying to mask its anti-satellite program by conveying the impression that it is also testing a lower altitude anti-missile capability. “It is also possible that the SC-19 has ASAT and ABM [anti-ballistic missile] capabilities.”

Not everyone is convinced China is developing an ABM system. Hans Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project for the Federation of American Scientists, is one of them.

“The first [observation] is wondering why China is spending effort and money on developing an anti-ballistic missile defense system given the enormous challenges and expenses the United States and Russia have had to dedicate to their efforts over the years with only partial success to show for it?” He said it seems highly unlikely that Chinese engineers would suddenly be able to overcome those challenges and deploy an effective ABM system.


Kristensen said his second observation is that a Chinese decision to develop and deploy an ABM system seems contradictory to China’s well-known opposition to US missile defense plans in the Pacific. He does not believe that a Chinese missile defense system would be able to counter the advanced and large US and Russian nuclear missile forces. It would be a somewhat different matter with India.

“If Indian military planners concluded that a Chinese ABM system was capable enough to threaten the effectiveness of India’s small nuclear deterrent aimed at China, it could potentially cause Indian planners to increase the number of long-range missiles it plans to deploy to deter China, or, which would be a worrisome and destabilizing development, begin to develop and deploy MIRVed [multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle] warheads on Indian ballistic missiles to overwhelm a Chinese ABM system,” he said. “In that case, a Chinese ABM system would seem to undermine rather than enhance Chinese security.”

Fisher contends that China is working on anti-satellite and ABM programs at the same time. It is also possible that the SC-19 has both an ASAT and ABM capability, as demonstrated in the 2007 and 2010 tests. Fisher said the new HQ-19 and the HQ-26 could be similar in capability to the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. There are also reports out of China indicating Beijing is attempting to procure Russian S-400 low-altitude ABMs, he said.

China has plenty of money to spend and appears to have permission to work on a variety of high-tech and risky projects, Kristensen said. “The interesting question is whether China is working on ABM technology to deploy its own defenses or to better understand and overcome the missile defenses of its potential adversaries.”

Fisher said the larger issue could be that after nearly three decades of “scorching harangues” by China on the US missile defense program, China has all along been developing its own ballistic missile defense system.

“We now know that China’s second ABM and ASAT program started in the early 1990s. Aside from how all this undermines the credibility of any Chinese strategic nuclear related statements, Washington now has to face the reality that in the 2020s it will be facing a much larger and more capable Chinese nuclear missile force that will have an active missile defense component.” ■


2014 Marked by Array of New Cyber Threats, Cisco Report Says

By Stew Magnuson



A mid-year report on the state of cyber security warns of new, insidious ways hackers are gaining access to corporate and private computers.

The Cisco 2014 Midyear Security Report said of the 16 multinational corporations surveyed, some 90 percent of their computer systems were reaching out to corrupted IP hosts on the Internet.

Levi Gundert, senior expert on Cisco’s threat research, analysis and communications team, said there were 1,633 software vulnerabilities discovered in the first half of the year with 28 of them being actively exploited.

The pharmaceutical and chemical industries saw the biggest increase in activity, with publishing and media following. Both nation-state actors, as well as criminals, are behind these attacks, although it isn’t always clear what their motivation may be, he said. The agriculture industry in the Asia-Pacific region also saw an increase in cyber attacks.

“We rarely get to see the motivations behind these attacks, but we do see the immense numbers,” he said in an interview prior to the report’s release Aug. 5.

“Mal-vertising” is the new buzzword as hackers use popular advertising exchanges to plant malware on unsuspecting users’ computers. Companies such as Google or AdNexus place the ads in slots on popular websites.

“Bad guys insert advertisements that do nothing but redirect users to the exploit kit landing site,” he said. “The websites don’t control it. The advertising exchange controls it,” he said. A computer landing on such a site can be infected with malware without the user clicking on the ad, he said.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations released a lengthy report about mal-vertising in May. Gundert said the major news organizations didn’t report much about it.

“These websites may be reluctant to report on this because it makes them look bad. And it’s nothing they can control other than severing their relationship with the advertising exchanges,” he said.

Just as an advertiser can target a specific demographic, hackers using mal-vertising can do the same.

“They will pay up front for the advertising, perhaps $2,000 or more per ad run, and instruct the companies to tell the ad exchanges to serve the ads as quickly as possible, leaving little time or no time for the ad content to be inspected,” the report said. Tracing the source later is next to impossible because the ad has vanished, it added.

Java continues to be the software favored by those searching for vulnerabilities, he said, with 93 percent of web exploits using it. Just updating Java isn’t always possible for companies, some of which base their enterprise applications on the software. Doing so could “break” their applications, he said.

“In some regards, it’s a little bit tricky to fix that. The bad guys love Java because there are a lot of holes,” Gundert said.

Unfortunately, there are a host of new toolkits that allow almost anyone with criminal intent to break into computers. Exploit kits are software packages hackers can purchase for as little as $1,500. They are designed to be easy to use. All it takes are basic computer skills to create and launch malware. Blackhole was the most popular kit until its creator was arrested last fall.

Since the arrest, “We have seen an overall decrease in the amount of traffic driven by exploit kits, but we have seen a proliferation of new families that are being branded,” he said.

New exploit kit creators are competing with each other on price and customer service. They have turned their enterprises into a “software as a service model.” Users can log into a control panel, see how many computers in which countries they have infected, and which applications are being exploited.

As for Chinese hackers, Cisco hasn’t seen any decrease in activity coming from that country, despite protests from the U.S. government and the recent indictments by the Department of Justice of five military officers for allegedly engaging in economic espionage.

“We haven’t seen any change or amount of traffic … it continues the way it has,” said Gundert.


Next-Generation Fighter, Directed Energy Weapons May Converge

Limited F-22, F-35 firepower magazine drives USAF investment plans

Aug 5, 2014 Amy Butler | Aviation Week & Space Technology


The high cost of the F-22 was driven by stealthy features, including a small weapons bay. Credit: U.S. Air Force

Eyeing emerging threats amid a constrained budget environment, and consumed by the Lockheed Martin F-35’s high cost, the U.S. Air Force is already studying what the “sixth-generation” of air dominance capability for the service should be.

Air Combat Command Chief Gen. Mike Hostage says he is agnostic on whether the next generation of Air Force combat capability should be manned, unmanned or even a fighter. “It isn’t necessarily another single-seat fighter,” he said July 29 at a breakfast in Washington. “If it is the enter button on the keyboard that makes all the adversaries fall to the ground, I’m okay with that.”

Because of the “torturous” nature of the acquisition process, “we are already behind the line to get something on the ramp,” he said. “I think it is existential that we build the future fleet.” Hostage says he is willing to accept risk in the interim by shifting money from upgrades to existing fighters to provide seed money for the so-called sixth-generation system. This includes scrapping plans for the Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite and structural work for the F-16s expected to remain in the fleet despite downsizing.

This “sixth-generation” system is so dubbed as a follow-on to the “fifth-generation” of stealth, speed and avionics/sensor fusion offered by the F-22 and F-35. It will have to operate with the forthcoming Long-Range Strike Bomber; the Air Force recently issued a request for proposals for 80-100 stealthy aircraft, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. This kicks off a long-awaited competition between a Boeing/Lockheed Martin team and Northrop Grumman, with a goal of a unit price at or under $550 million.

Still, the all fifth-generation fleet once envisioned by the Air Force remains elusive. Flight restrictions on the F-35 are “near-term,” and Hostage does not think the root cause of the excessive friction in the third stage integrally bladed rotor in the low-pressure turbine that led to a June 23 F-35A F135 engine fire will jeopardize achieving the Air Force’s initial operational capability for the single-engine stealthy jet, planned by August 2016.

The fire prompted a fleet-wide grounding for three weeks, followed by a limited flight envelope for all three variants of the aircraft. For two weeks they have been flying only in a limited envelope, hampering progress in flight testing, including the weapons releases required for the U.S. Marine Corps to declare initial operational capability in one year with the F-35B. Operational aircraft are limited to 0.9 Mach and -1 to 3g under normal acceleration. Flight-test jets are approved for a slightly more rigorous 1.6 Mach and -1 to 3.2g under recently relaxed guidelines.

Hostage acknowledges that the “magazine” for today’s fifth-generation fighters-—the F-22 and, eventually, the F-35—is shallow. Each can carry only a maximum of eight ground-attack Small-Diameter Bombs. Physics limits magazine options for these aircraft, as the stealthy design requires small internal weapons bays.

Hostage hinted, however, that the Pentagon is funding classified efforts to maximize firepower. At one point, the service pursued the so-called Joint Dual-Role Air Dominance Missile (JDRADM), meant to combine the air-to-air capabilities of the Amraam with the radar-killing air-to-ground attack capabilities of the HARM missile into one airframe. That project—later dubbed the Next-Generation Missile—fizzled; some sources suggest research may be continuing under a classified program.

And it is likely the service will pursue directed-energy options for the sixth-generation system. “Amazing developments in the [directed energy] arena” have been made and this technology “holds great promise,” Hostage said. He did not provide details on programmatics and added that it was not clear yet whether directed-energy capabilities would be mature enough to deploy on the sixth-generation system.

Directed energy is one of five areas highlighted by the Air Force as investment items for the future fleet; also included were unmanned aerial vehicles, nanotechnology, hypersonics and automation. These are included in a new paper, “America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future,” which outlines a strategic framework against which the service plans to budget for decades to come.


Philips Lighting VP: Light Bulbs Will Become Extinct

By Randy Leonard    

Posted at 4:57 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2014


Lighting as we know it will be completely revolutionized in coming years, according to an executive at the world’s largest lighting company.

“It won’t be long before lights will be embedded in the fixtures,” John Pouland, vice president of government affairs for Philips Lighting told attendees Thursday at an expo hosted by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. “You won’t actually go buy a bulb – you will buy a lamp fixture,” he said.

The change will come from advancements in LED lighting, as the price for the elements, which can last 20 years, drops, Pouland said.

“The lights will outlast you,” he said. “It will last as long as the fixture.”

He said the change will have an environmental as well as economic impact. “There’s nothing faster, better and cheaper to get this country to reduce its carbon emissions,” he said.

He predicted that bulbs that are now below $10 will drop to a critical $5 price within three to five years, at which point they will saturate the market.

The Energy Department estimates that solid state technology has the potential to cut energy spent on lighting in half.


DARPA Humanoid Robot Plan Going Too Well, Apparently

By Tim Starks    

Posted at 2:11 p.m. on July 23, 2014


Apparently the DARPA competition to build a humanoid robot is going so swimmingly that the Defense Department’s advanced research wing is pushing back the schedule — not the usual reason for a missed deadline at the Pentagon.

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s DARPA Robotic Challenge is focused on humanoid robots that could assist in disaster missions. Bryant Jordan helpfully writes, “If there is also a weaponized version a la The Terminator anywhere in the plan the Pentagon has not said so.”

Because some of the teams vetted so far are exceeding expectations, according to the agency, they’re giving them an extra six months during which DARPA will “raise the bar.” They’re also throwing another $1.5 million each at the firms.

“Goals for the upcoming competition include robots that are more robust, have better stability and more advanced autonomy,” per program manager Gil Pratt in National Defense Magazine.

One of the robots from the challenge was actually so successful it was pulled from the competition and will be developed commercially. Google also had all the money it needed, anyway. There’s already a humanoid robot who can run more than 5 mph, pour drinks, hop on one leg and do sign language. Go ASIMO! (Or maybe that should that be: “Go ASIMO?”)

There does not appear to be much of a focus in the DARPA challenge on bridging the “uncanny valley,” however. Humanoid robots are just the weirdest. Just try not to be creeped out by the video below, as entertainingly written up by Neda Semnani.


Malwarebytes Offers Morning-After Malware Attack Solution    

By: Amanda Vicinanzo, Contributing Editor

08/04/2014 (10:06am)

As the US government continues to report on malicious software attacks, including a recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) advisory against a virulent form of malware dubbed “Backoff,” organizations in the private and public sectors are searching for solutions to not only prevent, but also recover, from such attacks.

Hoping to address fears over a worse-case scenario in which malware defeats security barriers and becomes embedded in a computer system, independent anti-virus research firm AV-Test conducted a study to determine whether it’s possible to completely restore a Windows system to its previous condition in the aftermath of a virus infection.

According to the results, while most of the applications in the study showed solid performance, leading anti-malware provider Malwarebytes presented the only security package to fully clean and repair the system every time.

“Only Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free was able to clean 100 percent of all virus infection scenarios,” said Andreas Marx, CEO, AV-Test. “We tested these products very extensively over the 10 month period, so to achieve a perfect score is notable.”

AV-Test conducted the rigorous ten-month long study of seventeen software products between September 2013 and June 2014. Bitdefender, ESET, F-Secure, Kaspersky, Norton, Avast! Free Antivirus 9.0, AVG AntiVirus Free 2014 and Avira Free Antivirus were among the other security packages examined in the test.

Designed to simulate real-world experiences, the test was performed on real hardware to replicate the everyday user’s typical experience and was divided into two typical infection scenarios.In the first test, the protection software was installed on a system already infected with malware and the subsequent detection, clean-up and repair of the damage was logged. In the second test, the protection packages were briefly deactivated, the malware was loaded, and protection was reactivated. Here, the detection, clean-up and repair were logged again.

The results of the test were evaluated according to the following criteria: whether the malware was detected or not, whether the active components were completely removed, whether any harmless file remnants remained and whether the security and clean-up software completely removed and restored everything.

“Malwarebytes was tested against 30 different pieces of the latest malware in two separate situations, and asked to rip them off a Windows 7 machine. Not only did we do this every single time, we also completely disinfected each system, not even leaving harmless file remnants,” said Marcin Kleczynski, CEO of Malwarebytes, in a blog post.

Of all the security packages, only Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free left the system completely cleaned and repaired after 60 tests. However, Kaspersky and Bitdefender, as well as F-Secure, almost matched Malwarebytes with their near-perfect performance.

“The package from Bitdefender was able to do this 59 times, whereas the packages from F-Secure and Kaspersky were each successful 56 times. The two security solutions merely overlooked harmless registry entries. Otherwise they achieved an almost perfect performance,” stated the AV-Test results.

The results of the test demonstrate that a morning-after solution to a malware attack not only exists, but can be extremely successful, indicating that there are reliable rescue options for having a Windows system cleaned and repaired in the aftermath of an attack.

“It’s great to score 100 percent in a test with such a highly regarded lab.AV-Test’s rigorous analysis and understanding of the security landscape really sets it apart, we usually let our users do the talking, but this result is great validation of the product,” said Kleczynski.




New leaker disclosing U.S. secrets, government concludes

By Evan Perez, CNN

updated 8:00 AM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014


(CNN) — The federal government has concluded there’s a new leaker exposing national security documents in the aftermath of surveillance disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, U.S. officials tell CNN.

Proof of the newest leak comes from national security documents that formed the basis of a news story published Tuesday by the Intercept, the news site launched by Glenn Greenwald, who also published Snowden’s leaks.

The Intercept article focuses on the growth in U.S. government databases of known or suspected terrorist names during the Obama administration.

The article cites documents prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center dated August 2013, which is after Snowden left the United States to avoid criminal charges.

Greenwald has suggested there was another leaker. In July, he said on Twitter “it seems clear at this point” that there was another.

Government officials have been investigating to find out that identity.

In a February interview with CNN’s Reliable Sources, Greenwald said: “I definitely think it’s fair to say that there are people who have been inspired by Edward Snowden’s courage and by the great good and virtue that it has achieved.”

He added, “I have no doubt there will be other sources inside the government who see extreme wrongdoing who are inspired by Edward Snowden.”

It’s not yet clear how many documents the new leaker has shared and how much damage it may cause.

So far, the documents shared by the new leaker are labeled “Secret” and “NOFORN,” which means it isn’t to be shared with foreign government.

That’s a lower level of classification than most of the documents leaked by Snowden.

Government officials say he stole 1.7 million classified documents, many of which were labeled “Top Secret,” a higher classification for the government’s most important secrets.


Big databases

The biggest database, called the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, now has 1 million names, a U.S. official confirmed to CNN.

That’s boosted from half that many in the aftermath of the botched attempt by the so-called underwear bomber to blow up a U.S.-bound jetliner on Christmas Day in 2009.

The growth of TIDE, and other more specialized terrorist databases and watchlists, was a result of vulnerabilities exposed in the 2009 underwear plot, government officials said.


A year after Snowden

The underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, was not on government watchlists that would have prevented him from being allowed to fly to the United States.

In 2012, the National Counterterrorism Center reported that the TIDE database contained 875,000 names. There were about 500,000 in 2009 before the underwear bomb plot.

The Intercept first reported the new TIDE database numbers, along with details of other databases.


The Intercept article

As of November, 2013, there were 700,000 people listed in the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), or the “Terrorist Watchlist, according to a U.S. official. Fewer than 1% are U.S. persons and fewer than 0.5% are U.S. citizens.

The list has grown somewhat since that time, but is nowhere near the 1.5 million figure cited in recent news reports. Current numbers for the TSDB cannot be released at this time.

The Intercept report said, citing the documents, that 40% on the “Terrorist Watchlist” aren’t affiliated with terror groups.

U.S. officials familiar with the matter say the claim is incorrect based on a misreading of the documents.


Americans on lists

The report said that as of August, 2013, 5,000 Americans were on the TSD watchlist. Another 15,800 were on the wider TIDE list.

A smaller subset, 16,000 names, including 1,200 belonging to Americans, are listed as “selectees” who are subject to more intensive screening at airports and border crossings.


According to the Intercept, citing the documents, the cities with the most names on the list are: New York, Dearborn, Michigan; Houston; San Diego; and Chicago. Dearborn is home to one the nation’s biggest concentrations of Arab and Muslim populations.

According to the documents cited by the Intercept, the government has also begun a new effort to collect information and biometric data on U.S. persons in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

The data includes photos from driver’s licenses. That effort likely was spurred by the fact that FBI agents investigating the Boston bombings found existing databases lacking when they tried to match images of the two bombers isolated from surveillance video, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.


Stored on Pentagon system

Documents classified as “Secret” are stored on a Pentagon-operated computer system called SIPRNet, which the Defense and State departments use to share classified information.

A recent Government Accountability Office study found that between 2006-2011 there were 3.2 million approved by the Pentagon to handle secret, top secret, SCI (sensitive compartmented) information.

SIPRnet is one of the computer systems that the former Army soldier now known as Chelsea Manning accessed to leak hundreds of thousands documents, including State Department cables.

The Manning leak was the largest U.S. intelligence leak until Snowden.


U.S. gov’t, military had role in experimental Ebola drug

Aug. 5, 2014 – 06:00AM |

By Marilynn Marchione

The Associated Press


Two American aid workers infected with Ebola are getting an experimental drug so novel it has never been tested for safety in humans and was only identified as a potential treatment earlier this year, thanks to a longstanding research program by the U.S. government and the military.

The workers, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, are improving, although it’s impossible to know whether the treatment is the reason or they are recovering on their own, as others who have survived Ebola have done. Brantly is being treated at a special isolation unit at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, and Writebol was expected to be flown there Tuesday in the same specially equipped plane that brought Brantly.

They were infected while working in Liberia, one of four West African nations dealing with the world’s largest Ebola outbreak. On Monday, the World Health Organization said the death toll had increased from 729 to 887 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, and that more than 1,600 people have been infected.

In a worrisome development, the Nigerian Health Minister said a doctor who had helped treat Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American man who died July 25 days after arriving in Nigeria, has been confirmed to have the deadly disease. Tests are pending for three other people who also treated Sawyer and are showing symptoms.


There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola, but several are under development.

The experimental treatment the U.S. aid workers are getting is called ZMapp and is made by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. of San Diego. It is aimed at boosting the immune system’s efforts to fight off Ebola and is made from antibodies produced by lab animals exposed to parts of the virus.

In a statement, the company said it was working with LeafBio of San Diego, Defyrus Inc. of Toronto, the U.S. government and the Public Health Agency of Canada on development of the drug, which was identified as a possible treatment in January.

The drug is made in tobacco plants at Kentucky BioProcessing, a subsidiary of Reynolds American Inc., in Owensboro, Kentucky, said spokesman David Howard. The plant “serves like a photocopier,” and the drug is extracted from the plant, he said.

Kentucky BioProcessing complied with a request from Emory and the international relief group Samaritan’s Purse to provide a limited amount of ZMapp to Emory, he said. Brantly works for the aid group.

The Kentucky company is working “to increase production of ZMapp but that process is going to take several months,” Howard said. The drug has been tested in animals and testing in humans is expected to begin later this year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration must grant permission to use experimental treatments in the United States, but the FDA does not have authority over the use of such a drug in other countries, and the aid workers were first treated in Liberia. An FDA spokeswoman said she could not confirm or deny FDA granting access to any experimental therapy for the aid workers while in the U.S.

Writebol, 59, has been in isolation at her home in Liberia since she was diagnosed last month. She’s now walking with assistance and has regained her appetite, said Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based group that she works for in Africa.

Writebol has received two doses of the experimental drug so far, but Johnson was hesitant to credit the treatment for her improvement.

“Ebola is a tricky virus and one day you can be up and the next day down. One day is not indicative of the outcome,” he said. But “we’re grateful this medicine was available.”

Brantly, 33, also was said to be improving. Besides the experimental dose he got in Liberia, he also received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy, an Ebola survivor, who had been under his care. That seems to be aimed at giving Brantly antibodies the boy may have made to the virus.

Samaritan’s Purse initiated the events that led to the two workers getting ZMapp, according to a statement Monday by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The Boone, North Carolina-based group contacted U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials in Liberia to discuss various experimental treatments and were referred to an NIH scientist in Liberia familiar with those treatments.

The scientist answered some questions and referred them to the companies but was not officially representing the NIH and had no “official role in procuring, transporting, approving, or administering the experimental products,” the statement says.

In the meantime, dozens of African heads of state were in Washington for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, a three-day gathering hosted by President Barack Obama. U.S. health officials on Monday spoke with Guinean President Alpha Conde and senior officials from Liberia and Sierra Leone about the Ebola outbreak.

The Defense Department has long had a hand in researching infectious diseases, including Ebola. During much of the Cold War period this served two purposes: to keep abreast of diseases that could limit the effectiveness of troops deployed abroad and to be prepared if biological agents were used as weapons.

The U.S. military has no biological weapons program but continues to do research related to infectious diseases as a means of staying current on potential threats to the health of troops. It may also contribute medical expertise as part of interagency efforts in places like Africa where new infectious disease threats arise.

The hospital in Atlanta treating the aid workers has one of the nation’s most sophisticated infectious disease units. Patients are sealed off from anyone not in protective gear. Ebola is only spread through direct contact with an infected person’s blood or other bodily fluids, not through the air.

The CDC last week told U.S. doctors to ask about foreign travel by patients who come down with Ebola-like symptoms, including fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea. A spokesman said three people have been tested so far in the U.S. — and all tested negative. Additionally, a New York City hospital on Monday said a man was being tested for Ebola but he likely didn’t have it.

Writebol and her husband, David, had been in Liberia since last August, sent there by SIM USA and sponsored by their home congregation at Calvary Church in Charlotte. At the clinic, Nancy Writebol’s duties included disinfecting staff entering or leaving the Ebola treatment area.

“Her husband, David, told me Sunday her appetite has improved and she requested one of her favorite dishes: Liberian potato soup — and coffee,” SIM’s Johnson said.


What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Bottom of Form

Saturday, August 09, 2014

What do voters really think?

On the one hand, they strongly believe the major differences between President Obama and congressional Republicans are mostly about politics and not honest disagreement over the issues.

Attorney General Eric Holder even suggested recently that the differences are motivated by racism, although voters strongly reject that claim

On the other hand, a closer look at the major issues of the day finds clear differences of opinion between voters in the two major political parties, suggesting that the president and his congressional opponents are really just mirroring what their voters want.

Take health care. Voters in general still expect Obamacare to make health care worse and more expensive in America. But Democrats continue to champion the new health care law as they have from day one. Republicans and unaffiliated voters remain strongly opposed.

Most voters rate the federal government’s handling of illegal immigration as poor and think states should be able to act on their own to stop the problem. They also favor use of the National Guard in their own state to deal with illegal immigrants.

Just over half of voters now give the president poor marks for his handling of immigration issues, the highest level of criticism we’ve found to date. Fifty-four percent (54%) believe Obama wants most of the new illegal immigrants in the country to stay here despite majority support for their quick deportation.

But, again, a closer look shows that while Republicans and unaffiliated voters are strongly in favor of deporting these illegal newcomers, Democrats prefer to find ways to let most of them stay in this country.

In the latest major confrontation, the GOP-led House of Representatives voted to sue the president for exceeding his constitutional authority by making changes in the health care law after it had been passed by Congress. Most voters agree the president does not have the right to change laws without Congress’ approval, but they doubt a House lawsuit will stop him from acting on his own.   Democrats, of course, tend to think the president should be able to go it alone; Republicans and unaffiliateds strongly disagree.

Sixty-seven percent (67%) of all voters say America is a more divided nation than it was four years ago. Democrats blame the congressional GOP for the division; Republicans blame the president, and unaffiliated voters think they’re both to blame. 

Among all voters, the president’s daily job approval rating remains in the high negative teens as it has been for much of his presidency.

At the same time, the number giving Congress good or excellent marks for its job performance has been in single digits most months since April 2011.

One thing we’ll be watching, though, especially with midterm elections coming this fall: Republicans have jumped out to a four-point lead over Democrats on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot after trailing for most weeks this year. Is this a hiccup or a major shift? You better believe both political parties will be watching.

Remember, too, that only 23% of all Likely U.S. Voters now think the country is heading in the right direction. But there are also some interesting changes in our economic indicators: Americans, for one thing, are more optimistic about their job prospects than they have been for most of the past five years.

Consumer and investor confidence remains at levels seen for much of this year and last but is still well ahead of post-2008 meltdown lows.

Speaking of elections, do Texas voters want Governor Rick Perry to run for president?

Things are looking up for Republicans in the North Carolina Senate race. The GOP is counting on a pick-up in North Carolina if it’s going to take control of the Senate.

After fending off Tea Party opposition in the state’s Republican primary, Texas Senator John Cornyn looks comfortably on the road to reelection.

The marquee governor’s race between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis in Texas is closer than it was earlier this year.

Look for our new video election update every Friday to catch up on the week’s polling.

At week’s end, the president announced that we are bombing selective targets in Iraq. We’ll let you know early in the week how voters feel about that.

With Libya descending further into political chaos, voters aren’t sure it was a good idea for the United States to help overthrow the longtime dictator there and definitely don’t want any further U.S. involvement in the troubled North African country.

Despite his increased involvement in foreign policy hotspots like Israel and Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry continues to draw decidedly mixed views from U.S. voters.

While senators argue over the level of detail the CIA is willing to release about its secret activities, a sizable number of voters continues to believe the intelligence agency tortured likely terrorists, but slightly more think the information obtained that way helped in the War on Terror.

In other surveys last week:

— What if the deadly Ebola disease enters the general population in this country?

— Voters remain strongly pro-choice when it comes to giving parents options on the kind of school they want their children to attend.

Charitable giving is up, but not when it comes to political parties or candidates.

— The Internet is becoming a destination for fundraising as “crowdfunding” websites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe and IndieGoGo are being used to fund everything from medical expenses to major motion pictures. Are Americans willing to give online?

— Most Americans still agree that finding new sources of energy is essential and think renewable sources are a better long-term investment than fossil fuels.

— It’s been seven months since Colorado began the public sale of recreational marijuana, and opposition to legalization of pot on the state level appears to be going down.

— Is there a driverless car in your future?


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