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March 21 2015

March 23, 2015


21 March 2015


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Analysts: Sikorsky Decision May Signal Trend

By Aaron Mehta 1:25 p.m. EDT March 14, 2015


WASHINGTON — United Technologies will spend the next several months weighing whether to divest its Sikorsky unit, in what analysts say is a reflection of shrinking profit margins across the defense sector.

The review, which will be complete by the end of the year, is looking at setting up Sikorsky as a stand-alone company, and the official line out of UTC is that nothing has been decided.

But during a March 12 analyst event, UTC President and CEO Gregory Hayes indicated that Sikorsky is no longer a good fit for UTC.

Sikorsky is “just not quite as attractive as the rest of the businesses,” Hayes said, noting the subsidiary’s role “as a platform provider, as opposed to a system provider, differentiates Sikorsky from the rest of the portfolio.”

Hayes called the decision “not an easy one,” but said it was “the right one for Sikorsky’s customers, for Sikorsky’s employees, and for our shareholders.”

A divestment would not be altogether surprising. Defense News reported 13 months ago that the company was considering such a move, and analysts contacted for this article agreed it made sense, as UTC’s other businesses are primarily service based. And while Sikorsky is still a profitable, $7 billion company, its profit margins are not near those of the other UTC branches.

Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners, said this may be part of a larger trend of companies looking at the defense sector and deciding their weaker military-based units may be ripe for pruning.

“If the military business outlook was as strong as some people make it out to be, you wouldn’t be seeing these sorts of decisions,” Callan said. “You wouldn’t see Exelis being sold to Harris, ATK merging with Orbital.

“It’s also a strong signal that to stay in this business may require more investment, and certainly further cost reduction, and some companies will make that decision and some will make the decision to just get out,” he added.

Anita Antenucci, senior managing director at Houlihan Lokey, said the spinoff of defense firms is a subtle trend that is part of the larger wave of mergers and acquisitions that experts have been waiting for. She said it’s an option more viable now than the 1990s, when the public was less likely to support small, independent defense firms on the market.

She called it “quite predictable” that spinoff companies become targets for either acquisition or mergers after they become stand-alone firms. “It’s like a halfway house, where these companies exist as stand-alone entities while the market sorts itself out.

“I think you will find many, many examples of this, but there will be more transactions without spinoffs than with,” she said. “It won’t be a majority, but it will certainly be impactful.”

Steve Grundman, principal of Grundman Advisory and Lund Fellow at the Atlantic Council, sees another potential trend, one that could have negative consequences for the defense industry.

“While it’s not yet the rule, UTC’s announcement appears to repeat a template of multi-industrials exiting or curtailing their exposure to defense,” Grundman said. “It’s a playbook for the industry as a whole that I would regard as a regressive, unwelcome trend — the retreat from the defense market of multi-industrials — because I regard the participation of strong multi-industrial companies in the defense sector as improving its stability and propensity to innovate.”

He points to the 2011 spinoff of Exelis from parent company ITT. Exelis, the defense arm of ITT, was given the chance to stand on its own, while ITT removed itself from a sector that many saw as beginning to shrink as the US prepared to draw down from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mike Blades, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, said it is smart for big conglomerates to begin limiting their role in the defense sector.

“Those large companies will never get out of that business, but spreading that risk will be a big concern for how they run their business from now on,” Blades said.

There aren’t many multi-industrials left in the defense sector. General Electric, Honeywell, and to a lesser extent Thales all fit the bill, Grundman said. But the best example may be Finmeccanica, which is looking to curtail its defense exposure both in Europe and the United States. In particular, the company is looking to shed subsidiary DRS’ Aviation and Logistics, as well as Training Communications and Network solutions, units.

DRS has struggled in recent years, and Finmeccanica CEO Mauro Moretti has indicated he would be willing to sell the unit at some point. In that way, Finmeccanica also fits the pattern of selling off weaker units as the industry slows down.


Rotorcraft Stand-Alone

If UTC divests Sikorsky, analysts agree that a spinoff is much more likely than a sale to a rival competitor, for both market and tax reasons.

US tax law says that the sale of a company results in a gain tax; a spinoff does not need to pay that tax. But there is a wrinkle: If the spinoff is bought by another company within a two-year period, the burden of proof is on the original company to prove this wasn’t a tax avoidance scheme. After two years, the burden shifts to the IRS to prove anything is amiss.

Because of how long Sikorsky has been owned by UTC, the tax bill for a sale would be huge, likely negating the possibility of another firm buying Sikorsky from UTC in the short term.

That’s not a major issue for the rotorcraft unit. The analysts all agreed a stand-alone Sikorsky would be able to survive, and Hayes pledged not to cripple Sikorsky with debt if it was spun off, saying, “we want to make sure they will be a successful, stand-alone company.”

The picture remains blurry about potential buyers after the two-year period has passed. While Sikorsky has a huge portfolio, it is not one that matches up well with another rotorcraft company.

According to a Teal Group analysis, military rotorcraft saw a 7.9 percent compound annual growth rate between 2004 and 2013, with an unheard of 66 percent jump from 2008-2012. That unsustainable growth has slowed and is projected to continue to decline, while the commercial market is on an upswing.

The fact Sikorsky is stronger in the military helicopter market hurts it as a potential pickup, Blades said. Hayes noted Sikorsky’s reference to a “predominantly military” customer base in UTC’s official announcement of the strategic review.


“If you read between the lines, it’s not that they make helicopters. It’s that they make military helicopters,” Blades said, emphasizing the word military. “It’s a business, but it’s not an explosive growth business.

“All the other stuff UTC does is going to be demanded and needed, not just on the military but also on the commercial side,” he added. “Their CEO is charged with growth, and while Sikorsky may have steady sales, it won’t show huge growth.”

Teal’s Richard Aboulafia doubts Sikorsky would be absorbed by one of its rivals in the rotorcraft market, for both financial and political reasons.

“I don’t think anyone has the stomach for a European firm buying Sikorsky,” Aboulafia said. “Textron just doesn’t have the cash to do this, so it won’t be Bell Helicopter. As for Boeing, someone would kill that merger — it could be DoJ or DoD, but there would be so many knives out that there’s no way.”

Callan agreed that another helicopter company may not be a fit, but noted that future buyers could come from a non-rotorcraft company that sees synergies with what Sikorsky does. Antenucci, however, disagrees.

“Synergies with another helicopter company would always be much greater than with a non-helicopter company,” she noted. “The helicopter industry is still a segment of defense that is less consolidated than other platform businesses, in part because the conglomerates that own some of them were not looking to add to their individual helicopter units — UTC would never go buy another helicopter company when Sikorsky has a lower return on sales than their other businesses.”

Callan also questions why UTC needs to spend several months reviewing the decision, given Hayes’ comments. He wonders if UTC is waiting to see what happens with sequestration before finalizing how it will divest the helicopter unit.

“You may not want to announce something now and then find out the budget coughs up a different set of answers than expected and you have to change plans,” Callan said, noting that “helicopters got whacked” in previous budget discussions.

For now, the Pentagon is staying out of it. Frank Kendall, the top acquisition official at DoD, told reporters last week he was keeping an eye on the situation.

“At this point, based on what I know about that deal, I’m neutral about it,” Kendall said. “It should not impact us as far as cost or rates are concerned, I think. I’d be interested in knowing the answer to that question…. I’ve just got to make sure it doesn’t affect our prices very much.”

Joe Gould in Washington contributed to this story.



There’s No Such Thing as Peacetime

We’ve spent years believing the war on terror will end and civil liberties will be safe again. It’s time to accept that the war will go on forever — and take steps to protect life and liberty in the new normal.

By Rosa Brooks

March 13, 2015

Most of us view perpetual war as deeply inimical to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

We’re not wrong: Since the 9/11 attacks, two successive U.S. presidential administrations have embraced indefinite detention, massive secret surveillance programs, covert cross-border targeted killings, and a host of other troubling practices. In reaction, those concerned with rights and the rule of law have called for an end to the post-9/11 “war paradigm,” insisting that counterterrorism should not be conceptualized as war and urging a return to a law enforcement framework.

That’s an understandable impulse. It’s also largely a waste of time and energy. A decade and a half after 9/11, the war on terror continues to open new fronts from Syria to Libya to Nigeria. And it’s hard to see this changing under a Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush administration. Perpetual war is unlikely to end in our lifetimes. Until we accept this, the post-9/11 erosion of human rights is likely to continue.

That’s counterintuitive, but bear with me. Consider, first, the question of whether war and peace have ever been as distinct as we like to imagine and whether war has historically been the exception or the norm. Second, consider the degree to which the protection of human rights and the constraint on untrammeled state power currently depends on our ability to draw sharp lines between war and peace (or, at least, between war and not-war). Much that’s considered unacceptable and unlawful in peacetime becomes permissible in wartime. Third, consider that today it has become virtually impossible to draw a clear distinction between war and not-war — not just because of bad-faith legal and political arguments made by U.S. officials (though we’ve seen plenty of those), but because of genuine and significant changes to the global geopolitical landscape. Finally, think about what we might gain if we abandoned the effort to draw increasingly arbitrary lines between peacetime and wartime and instead focused on developing institutions and norms capable of protecting rights and rule-of-law values at all times.


1. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

“I do not believe America’s interests are served by endless war or by remaining on a perpetual war footing,” President Barack Obama said in February. That this statement came as the U.S. president unveiled his request for Congress to authorize military force against yet another enemy — the self-styled Islamic State, this time — was an irony lost on few observers.

No modern politician will praise war. Individual wars, perhaps — but not war as such.

American political culture regards war as an occasional but regrettable necessity, at best, and a tragic and wholly avoidable failure, at worst.

American political culture regards war as an occasional but regrettable necessity, at best, and a tragic and wholly avoidable failure, at worst. Either way, we view war as the exception and peace as the norm. As Obama put it in a 2013 speech, “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises.”

On the contrary: For much of human history, war has been the norm and peace has been the exception, though Americans have been largely blind to this reality. Foreign attacks on U.S. soil have been few and far between, and for most of U.S. history, the country’s wars have been fought by a small and highly professionalized military, making them largely invisible to the bulk of the American population.

The American Civil War — one of the few to visit its harms on the nation as a whole — occasioned the first U.S. government effort to codify the laws of armed conflict, a set of 1863 instructions issued to Union Army troops during the Civil War. “Modern times are distinguished from earlier ages by the existence, at one and the same time, of many nations and great governments related to one another in close intercourse,” declared General Orders No. 100, better known as the Lieber Code. “Peace is their normal condition; war is the exception. The ultimate object of all modern war is a renewed state of peace.”


This was an optimistic perspective in 1863, coming, as it did, in the middle of a century kicked off in Europe by the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted for over a decade and killed more than 3 million people, and during a bloody civil war that killed some 2 percent of the U.S. population. The 19th century was racked by conflict, from uprisings in Serbia and Greece to the Crimean War and the wars of Italian unification.

The 18th, 17th, 16th, and 15th centuries were similarly marred by widespread conflict, punctuated less by periods of peace than by periods of smaller-scale conflicts. Look back further, and the same is true. As historian Michael Howard put it in The Invention of Peace, “Archaeological, anthropological, as well as all surviving documentary evidence indicates that war, armed conflict between organized political groups, has been the universal norm in human history.”

And the century that followed the Lieber Code’s historical misremembering was no better: Two world wars wiped out tens of millions, to say nothing of the numerous non-Western conflicts that engulfed parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Even the fortunate United States was in a state of near-constant warfare throughout the 20th century. There were the two world wars, of course, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. And there were many other conflicts between 1900 and 2000 that Americans have largely edited out of the national narrative. Between 1900 and 2000, the United States has also used military force in China, Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, Panama, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Turkey, Russia, Cambodia, Laos, the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Guatemala, and El Salvador, among other places. Granted, these were mostly “small wars” — but as legal historian Mary Dudziak notes in her fine book War Time, “It is only through forgetting the small wars that so much of American history is remembered as peacetime.”

Why should Americans expect anything different from the 21st century? In the century’s first 15 years, the United States has already fought two large-scale ground wars, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and used air power and special operations forces to kill perceived enemies in a dozen other places, from Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya to Somalia, the Philippines, and Syria.

The stunning rise of the Islamic State is yet another reminder that turning the page on war is easier said than done. The notion that states can monopolize violence seems increasingly quaint: The technologies of destruction are cheap and widely available, and acts of brutality can easily be broadcast on YouTube and Twitter. We are, as the military puts it, in an era of persistent conflict. It’s an era that won’t end soon.


2. Policing the boundaries between war and peace

It goes against the grain to accept that wartime is unlikely to end. If war has been a universal norm of human history, so too has been the human effort to draw sharp lines between war and peace. History and anthropology books offer numerous examples of elaborate rituals designed to delineate war’s boundaries, including complex initiation rites preceding wars and the elaborate painting and costuming of warriors.

Old Norse literature tells of the “berserkers,” who changed form and personality by donning the pelts of wolves or bears before going into battle. In 19th-century Liberia, warriors wore special masks during raids, and war was prohibited while “bush school” was in session for boys and girls. In the American Southwest, Navajo warriors spoke a different dialect after setting out on raids, using what they called a “twisted language” with a special vocabulary. The Navajo also sought to carefully maintain the spatial boundaries between war and non-war: “On the way home from a raid,” noted anthropologist D.W. Murray wrote, “a symbolic line would be drawn in the desert, the men would line up facing the enemy country, and as they sang they all turned toward home and the common language was resumed.”


Modern Americans are not as different from the Liberians or the Navajo as we believe. The U.S. Constitution assumes that wars will be formally “declared,” while the Geneva Conventions presume that battles will be fought upon clearly delineated battlefields by uniformed soldiers operating within specialized, hierarchical military organizations. The modern law of war is just the latest iteration of the age-old human effort to draw Navajo-like lines between war and peace.

In fact, we have staked quite a lot on our ability to do so. Both domestic and international law differentiate between peacetime rules and wartime rules, and a vast chasm lies between the two. In times of “peace” — which we take to be “normal” times — we expect governments to refrain from infringing upon their citizens’ civil liberties and to refrain from using lethal military force inside the territories of other sovereign states. In times of war — which we imagine to be an exceptional state of affairs — the law gives states far greater latitude when it comes to intrusions on individual liberty and the use of lethal force.

Historically, Congress has been willing to grant broader powers to law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies in times of war and perceived national security crisis, and U.S. courts have been willing to subject government actions to a lower degree of scrutiny when these actions are taken in the name of national security. As the Supreme Court put it in 1981, “[m]atters intimately related to foreign policy and national security are rarely proper subjects for judicial intervention.”

U.S. history is replete with examples of restrictions on individual liberties that have been upheld in the context of national security imperatives but that would likely not have been permitted absent such justifications. During World War I, Congress passed the 1917 Espionage Act and the 1918 Sedition Act, which placed severe limitations on First Amendment rights and were used to prosecute more than 2000 people; for the most part, U.S. courts upheld the provisions of these acts in the name of national security. In 1940, Congress passed the Alien Registration Act with similar limitations on free expression. The courts similarly upheld it on national security grounds. The courts also upheld still more severe interference with individual liberty: In Korematsu v. United States, for example, the Supreme Court notoriously declared that “military urgency” justified the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The same pattern has held since 9/11. The Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, and recent amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act have undermined due process protections and permitted new government intrusions on privacy. The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, broad to begin with, has been interpreted by the executive branch as a virtual blank check, permitting drone strikes and military raids in a widening range of states against an expanding list of targets. As in the past, Congress has largely acquiesced, and the courts have found a host of reasons to dismiss rights-based challenges to U.S. government counterterrorism actions (by frequently accepting government assertions that permitting such lawsuits to move forward would reveal secrets damaging to U.S. security interests, for instance).

International law is similarly permissive in times of threat and conflict. In peacetime, the willful killing of human beings is a crime. Even the state’s law enforcement agents are forbidden to use lethal force except in defense of themselves or others: The police, for instance, can’t just decide to bomb an apartment building in which suspected criminals lie sleeping, and they can’t write off the deaths of innocent people as “collateral damage.” In peacetime, the intentional destruction of private property and severe restrictions on individual liberties are also impermissible.

Wartime turns these rules upside down.

Actions that are considered both immoral and illegal in peacetime are permissible — even praiseworthy — in wartime.

Actions that are considered both immoral and illegal in peacetime are permissible — even praiseworthy — in wartime. Willful killing is permitted under the law of armed conflict, as long as those targeted are enemy combatants or others participating directly in hostilities. And under the international law of armed conflict, individuals can be targeted based on their status as combatants, rather than solely on the threat posed by their activities. Thus, during a war, a combatant can lob a grenade into a building full of sleeping people, as long as he reasonably believes the sleeping people to be enemy soldiers. Even actions that a combatant knows will cause civilian deaths are lawful when consistent with the principles of necessity, humanity, proportionality, and distinction.

Under international law, various lesser forms of coercion and intrusion are also permissible in wartime though unlawful in peacetime. In wartime, the Geneva Conventions permit enemy combatants to be detained for the duration of the conflict, and even those determined to be civilians can be indefinitely detained for “imperative reasons of security.” In wartime, generally speaking, private communications can be lawfully restricted or intercepted; private property can be searched and destroyed, and so on.

We have gambled heavily on our ability to draw and maintain clear boundaries between war and peace. Consider U.S. drone strikes outside of “hot battlefields.” If the United States is at war with al Qaeda and its associates and a U.S. drone strike kills an individual suspected of being a terrorist “combatant,” the killing is presumptively lawful under the law of armed conflict. If the United States cannot be said to be “at war” with al Qaeda and its associates, the same act becomes an extrajudicial execution — or, to put it more bluntly, assassination, or murder.

There are many things we are willing to tolerate on an exceptional basis, but not if they become the norm. Thus, indefinite detention for the duration of a conflict is one thing if a conflict is likely to last for two years, or five, or even 10. It’s another thing altogether when a conflict can confidently be expected to last a lifetime. The suspension of civil liberties is one thing during an emergency of short duration, and another thing over the long term. The killing of human beings without due process or any mechanisms for accountability is one thing in the trenches of World War I, and another thing when the killings can take place anywhere on Earth, at any time, against an ill-defined, non-uniformed, and changing foe.


3. Things get blurry.

When war is relatively bounded, when it is something that happens within a defined place and time and involves a clearly defined group of actors, we can tolerate its relatively unconstrained violence. But the nature of modern security threats resists all efforts at categorization.

In a war against a geographically diffuse terrorist network, the spatial boundaries are necessarily arbitrary. A war against constantly morphing organizations that often lack centralized leadership structures cannot “end” with a peace treaty. A war against a constantly changing set of actors who move from place to place and from organization to organization can have no clearly defined “enemy.” (Just look at the difficulty that the United States has had in defining the “associated forces” of al Qaeda and the Taliban or in placing geographical limits on efforts to counter the Islamic State, which has now declared “provinces” in multiple noncontiguous regions from Libya to Egypt.)

Rights advocates are often inclined to dismiss the increasing blurriness of the boundaries between war and peace as merely a product of disingenuous U.S. government rhetoric. They are wrong to do so. No question, there has been some disingenuous rhetoric, but recent decades have also seen real and significant changes in the geopolitical landscape: Revolutionary technological changes have reduced the salience of state borders and physical territory and have increased the lethality and disruptive capabilities of nonstate actors and even individuals The nature of modern security threats makes it virtually impossible to draw neat lines between war and peace, foreign and domestic, emergency and normality.

Today, this is the central challenge to hard-won global gains in human rights and the rule of law: Most of the institutions and laws designed to protect rights and prevent the arbitrary or abusive exercise of state power rest on the assumption that we can readily distinguish between war and peace, yet there is no longer any principled way to do so. The modern law of armed conflict is little more useful to us than the Navajos’ lines in the desert sand or their symbolic shift from ordinary language to the “twisted language” of war.


4. From rules for wartime and peacetime to rules for all times

It’s time to stop relying on lines drawn in the sand; the wind and waves always wash them away. If the rule of law and the protection of human rights are predicated on our ability to distinguish between war and peace, but we can find no principled way to do so, we will continue to see rights erode and unaccountable state power expand in the coming years and decades.

We can respond to the post-9/11 erosion of rights in one of two ways. First, we could try to shoehorn war back into its box and insist on an end to the “war” on terror, a wholesale rejection of the war paradigm, and a return to the law enforcement framework that we associate with times of peace. This is what most human rights and rule-of-law advocates have been trying to do for the last decade and a half, with little success.

Alternatively, we can abandon the Sisyphean effort to “end” war and instead focus on developing norms and institutions that support rights and the rule of law, but are not premised on sharp lines between war and peace. We can begin to develop a politics for the space between total war and total peace — a politics that recognizes both total war and total peace as rare and that accepts that a murky middle ground is likely to be the norm for many years to come. And has been all along.

As Dudziak puts it in War Time, “Military conflict has been ongoing for decades, yet public policy rests on the false assumption that it is an aberration. This enables a culture of irresponsibility, as ‘wartime’ serves as an argument and an excuse for national security-related ruptures of the usual legal order. If we abandon the idea that war is confined in time we can see more clearly that our law and politics are not suspended by an exception to the regular order of things.… Wartime has become the only kind of time we have, and therefore is a time within which American politics must function.” She adds, “A cultural framing of wartimes as discrete and temporary occasions, destined to give way to a state of normality, undermines democratic vigilance.”

What would it mean, in practice, to develop a law and politics premised on the assumption that we will remain unable to draw meaningful boundaries between war and peace? I don’t know. It will take many minds and many years to figure this out. But the task is not impossible if we stick to the core principles enshrined in America’s founding documents: that life and liberty are unalienable rights, that no person should be arbitrarily deprived of these rights, and that no one — no individual, no organization, no state — should be able to exercise power unaccountably.

If we take these principles seriously, we might, for instance, develop better mechanisms to prevent arbitrariness, mistake, and abuse in targeted killings.

If we take these principles seriously, we might, for instance, develop better mechanisms to prevent arbitrariness, mistake, and abuse in targeted killings. At the moment, debates about targeted strikes fall prey to meaningless war/peace dichotomies: Some insist that no person should be executed by the state without the full range of due process protections provided by criminal law, while others on the more hawkish side insist that fighting wars effectively requires that we accept a high risk of mistake, because judicial oversight of the battlefield would be absurd and unduly burdensome.

But there is surely an alternative: better laws and institutions. We need laws and institutions that accept that certain kinds of threats bring with them an urgency rarely encountered in law enforcement and that there is therefore a related need for at least temporary secrecy. At the same time, laws and institutions designed for an age when ongoing decentralized threats are the norm rather than the exception must be more rigorous in oversight, with greater transparency and more effective accountability mechanisms than would be required in a conflict between states on a temporally and territorially bounded battlefield.

We’ll never get there, though, if we continue to put our faith in lines drawn in the sand. The Forever War is here to stay. Wartime is the only time we have. We might as well get used to it — and get to work.


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Google balloon crash alarms town

Mar 13, 6:37 PM EDT


MEXICO CITY (AP) — It’s a bird. It’s a plane. Actually, it was a balloon.

But the crash of one of Google’s “Loon” balloons for relaying Internet service was enough to have security forces summoned to a mountain township in central Mexico.

Reports first of a plane crash, then of a skydiver plummeting to earth sent soldiers, state police and civil defense workers swarming into the remote area Thursday. They found one of the huge, jellyfish-shaped balloons that Google is using to carry antennas to deliver online access in remote areas.

“Originally residents said an aircraft had fallen, and later, because of the balloon’s shape, they said it was a parachute,” said Manuel Escalera, spokesman for the civil defense agency in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.

The state government said in a statement that the balloon “caused surprise among inhabitants because of the sound it made when it fell.” Escalera said no one was hurt because the equipment came down in an unpopulated area.

Veracruz authorities have notified Google to come pick up the remains of the balloon and the transmission equipment.



FAA approves Dayton firm to fly commercial drones

Posted: 2:33 p.m. Monday, March 16, 2015

By Barrie Barber

DDN Staff Writer


A Dayton drone operator will become one of the few firms in the country with the FAA’s blessing to fly a drone commercially.

3D Aerial Solutions LLC expects to begin flying a mini-drone over Ohio farms this spring to help farmers monitor the health of their crops, said Brandon M. Youngblood, chief operating officer and a former military drone operator.

The company is the second Dayton area firm to gain the FAA’s permission to fly drones commercially, and one of less than 50 granted the special permission since last fall across the country. In December, Woolpert Inc. based in Beavercreek received a go-ahead to fly aerial surveying and mapping missions.

Youngblood said his company is the first in Ohio to win federal approval to fly specifically over farms on unmanned precision agriculture flights. “As far as competition, there is none for us because we’re the only ones with the (waiver),” he said.

3D Aerial Solutions will fly the SenseFly eBee Mini Drone, a 1.5 pound unmanned aerial vehicle that costs about $30,000.

The company has one of the drones but may purchase more depending on demand for its photographic services, he said. The data could tell farmers which crops in a field need more fertilizer or pesticides and help predict yields, among other uses, he said. It may expand operations to Iowa, he said.

The firm won an exemption under what’s known as the FAA’s Section 333 that allows commercial use of drones in the national air space, without partnering with a college, university or government agency, and before rules on small drones take effect.

The next step is to ask the FAA to give a certificate of authorization to fly over certain areas, Youngblood said. Final approval may take 60 to 90 days more.

“It’s just trying to get everything in place and get moving,” he said.

The company has a certificate of authorization with Wright State Research Institute to fly the mini-drone at Wilmington Air Park.

The FAA, meanwhile, has drafted proposed rules on flying small unmanned aerial vehicles commercially in the nation’s airspace. The regulations would apply to drones less than 55 pounds and fly below 500 feet. The rules are under public review and may be in place within two years.

Philip Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at Virginia-based Teal Group, said the FAA waiver to companies is “extremely important” to jump start the unmanned aerial systems industry.

“It enables the FAA to allow companies to begin to use these systems without having the final rules in place,” he said. And as a company that’s “one of the early entrants it certainly gives you an advantage,” he said.

Companies aren’t the only users of the waivers. Sinclair Community College has asked the FAA for one at Wilmington Air Park to partner with commercial firms to explore sensor integration and sense and avoidance technologies in UAS, said Andrew D. Shepherd, director of the Dayton college’s UAS program.

Sinclair has focused student training in three areas where the use of drones is projected to grow in Ohio: precision agriculture, first responders and geospatial mapping, said Deborah Norris, Sinclair vice president of workforce development and corporate services.

“We do know that students in our program today are getting jobs with local companies,” she said.

In March 2013, an Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International study projected the drone industry would create 100,000 jobs and have an $82 billion economic impact in the United States by 2025 with the integration o UAVs into the national air space. In Ohio, the study predicted 2,700 new jobs and a $2.1 billion economic impact within a decade.



Pentagon Launches New EW Council

By Aaron Mehta 12:18 p.m. EDT March 17, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is launching a group focused on innovations and strategies in electronic warfare across the entire Department of Defense, a top official announced Tuesday.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said the Electronic Warfare Programs Council will “look at all of our investments across the department and make strategic recommendations to the secretary and I on how we change that portfolio.”

The memo to create the group will be signed today, Work added. The group will be co-chaired by Pentagon acquisition head Frank Kendall and Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, the vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Work said the group is being formed, in part, because of concerns about the EW capabilities of potential adversaries. Where the US has traditionally seen EW as a supporting technology, Work noted, other nations view it as more of a core weapon.

“They believe it is an important part of their offensive and defensive arsenal, and it’s going to be on the forefront of any initial guided munitions salvo exchange,” Work said. “For relatively small investments you get an extremely high potential payoff, and our competitors are trying to win in the EW competition.

“We still have a lead — I think. That lead is diminishing rapidly. I worry about it.”

Work’s comments came at the annual CreditSuisse/McAleese defense conference in downtown Washington.

Work was followed by Bill LaPlante, the head of Air Force acquisition. After his speech, LaPlante told reporters the service is still figuring out how it will fit into that structure.

“If you noticed Secretary Work said that Frank Kendall is standing up an EW group based on a defense science board recommendation. We in the Air Force have to figure out our part of that,” he said. “But the Air Force needs airborne electronic attack.”

The Air Force is trying a new form of developmental planning with its next-generation air dominance initiative, one that LaPlante said could be repeated with EW in the future.

While saying he was sympathetic to industry requests to know about new platform requirements, LaPlante said it’s more about the holistic view than the development of a new specific technology.

“We have to think of the future of airborne electronic attack,” LaPlante added. “The adversary is thinking of it as a fundamental domain of warfare, and we have to start doing that.”



Why is the FCC considering a new system for phone number portability? No good reason

Commentary: After years of delay, the FCC seems poised to switch vendors for the local telephone number portability database. That could be a big mistake.

by Larry Downes

January 5, 2015 12:02 PM PST


Building high-volume, complex information systems is hard. But when time is limited and the client is the federal government, as we learned most recently and most painfully with the failed launch of, it’s nearly impossible.


Yet with only six months remaining on the contract with its longtime supplier, the Federal Communications Commission seems on the verge of repeating past mistakes by choosing a new vendor to manage the mission-critical system that lets consumers take their existing phone numbers with them when switching services.

The Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC) is a common database that US and Canadian carriers, including VoIP providers, can query when routing calls. More than 2,000 carriers rely on the center. Since its inception in 1998, NPAC has been operated by Neustar, whose current contract expires in June.

By all accounts, the system has worked exceptionally well. According to Neustar, the NPAC databases are queried more than a million times a day and maintains up-time of 99.999 percent. The company has successfully completed 11 major software upgrades.

But the system’s success can perhaps best be measured by the fact that consumers now take for granted the ability to keep their existing phone numbers when changing carriers or devices or when switching from wired to wireless services. As many as 80 percent of US households have cut the cord to landline telephone service altogether in favor of mobile phones — an evolution accelerated by number portability.

Recognizing the likely disruption of switching to a new provider and a new system, the FCC in 2010 began the process of revisiting the contract, promising to sign a new contract by late 2013.

The process has been plagued from the beginning, however, by delays, bidding irregularities and a near total lack of transparency.

Finally, in April, a stakeholder group made up of the largest carriers, trade associations and state regulators known as the North American Numbering Council (NANC) recommended that the FCC ditch Neustar in favor of the only other bidder, a subsidiary of Ericsson called Telcordia, which also goes by the name iconectiv. (Neither Ericsson nor iconectiv responded to requests for comment on this story.)


Why shut off an IT system that’s working?

The FCC has yet to act on the recommendation, but will soon.

After the NANC’s recommendation was accidentally posted on the FCC’s website in June, the agency belatedly invited public comment, giving commenters only two weeks (PDF) to respond. Very few of the key documents were made available, however. All of them were subject to a protective order, meaning prospective commenters would have had to register with the FCC and travel to Washington to view them.

The fundamental objection is obvious: Why switch to a new system that has yet to be built from a new vendor?

Neither the NANC nor the FCC will disclose how the industry participants arrived at their recommendation, but insiders believe the carriers’ main complaint about Neustar is cost. Roughly half of Neustar’s 2013 revenue, or about $450 million, came from fees approved by the FCC and paid by telephone companies to use the system.

If Neustar is charging too much, however, that is a very poor reason to undertake a high-risk transition to a new and still-unbuilt replacement system and vendor.

Neustar has complained of other irregularities in the bidding process that add to the risk. Telcordia was permitted to submit its bid after the original deadline, for example, and the agency was never clear how many rounds of bidding there would be (just one, as it turns out). Eligibility requirements were not established until after bidding closed, and there is still serious doubt whether Ericsson’s existing vendor relationships with North American carriers disqualify Telcordia from an explicit requirement that the NPAC provider be a neutral party.

The industry participants acknowledged, moreover, that they prepared no written analysis to support their recommendation. Smaller carriers and public safety representatives have complained of being largely excluded from the process.

There is also a strong likelihood that key technical requirements for the new system can’t even be defined. For example, the FCC earlier this year OK’d trials by wireline telephone providers to begin the shutdown of the old switched network. That transition will ease the dwindling number of customers onto all-digital networks — the most dramatic revolution in the history of voice communications and one with a significant, yet still undetermined impact on local number portability.

Trials now under way include tests of new numbering systems that will ensure continued portability and test ways to improve the system for an all-digital world. The FCC only held its first workshop on numbering trials in February last year.

Another federal IT meltdown in the making

Taken together, the delays and other failings of the NPAC bidding process raise a strong possibility of another meltdown.

That, in any case, is the assessment of Stagg Newman, the FCC’s former chief technologist. In an op-ed earlier this year for Roll Call, Newman bemoaned still more deficiencies of the process, including the FCC’s failure to ask prospective bidders to demonstrate a working system or provide a transition plan as part of their bids. Both have long been considered standard requirements for large IT system proposals.

“From the outside looking in,” Newman concluded, “the selection process appears to have been driven by lawyers and policy makers. Where is the objective, technology-driven process needed to ensure success for the millions of consumers who rely on number portability?”

Newman’s concerns are well-founded. Despite the dangers involved in a transition, there is no indication that the FCC will take into consideration the high likelihood of delay or outright failure as it considers the industry group’s recommendation to switch. Though bidding documents and other key communications have been kept secret, the agency’s request for proposal barely mentioned risk management or contingency plans should the vendor fail to complete a replacement system in time.

And the RFP assumed the selected vendor would have years, not months, to design, build, test and implement its system and interfaces.

So perhaps the most worrisome feature of an imminent portability crisis is that minimizing the biggest risks doesn’t seem to have been part of the selection criteria used by the industry participants or the FCC. Nor is there any indication that the agency intends to submit Telcordia’s plan to an independent IT expert to assess those risks and identify strategies for managing them.

A general risk assessment for a new NPAC system was performed in January by the Standish Group, an IT analysis firm that studies large-scale systems development projects. Based on comparisons with similarly complex projects, the report found that replacing the current system in one “big bang” conversion, as the FCC requires, had only a 6 percent chance of succeeding on time and within budget.

The report concluded:


The Standish Group does not see any real value in replacing Neustar with a new NPAC vendor except for possible cost savings. Cost savings usually is not a good reason to replace a specialized mission-critical service. … It is our opinion that a change in vendors will be more likely to cause increased costs and no savings.

Telcordia acknowledges Standish’s credentials but objects to the lack of specifics in the report, admitting at the same time that the details of its proposed new system have been kept secret. In a blog post last January, Chris Drake, CTO of Telcordia’s number portability business unit, wrote that “the report relies mainly on generalities and examples from completely different areas and offers very little insight into the specific circumstances of the NPAC procurement.”

(A company spokesperson for Neustar reconfirmed that Neustar funded the Standish report.)

Perhaps, as Telcordia argues, having a sole provider for this critical system was never a good idea. But that was a decision the FCC made under pressure many years ago, when a second developer of the initial databases failed to deliver a working system.

And nothing about the current bidding process would correct that error. It would merely shift it to a different sole provider.

The bottom line is simple: If the FCC is seriously considering replacing a complex and fully functioning system with software that has yet to be designed, coded or tested, the agency should first prove wrong the alarming projections of the Standish Group and others.

Which is easy enough to do. Just hire a neutral party with expertise in large-scale systems development and integration, and give them access to Telcordia’s proposal.

Given everything that has gone wrong already with bidding for a new NPAC system, that’s the least the FCC can do.


Older Really Can Mean Wiser


Behind all those canned compliments for older adults — spry! wily! wise! — is an appreciation for something that scientists have had a hard time characterizing: mental faculties that improve with age.

Knowledge is a large part of the equation, of course. People who are middle-aged and older tend to know more than young adults, by virtue of having been around longer, and score higher on vocabulary tests, crossword puzzles and other measures of so-called crystallized intelligence.

Still, young adults who consult their elders (mostly when desperate) don’t do so just to gather facts, solve crosswords or borrow a credit card. Nor, generally, are they looking for help with short-term memory or puzzle solving. Those abilities, called fluid intelligence, peak in the 20s.

No, the older brain offers something more, according to a new paper in the journal Psychological Science. Elements of social judgment and short-term memory, important pieces of the cognitive puzzle, may peak later in life than previously thought.

The postdoctoral fellows Joshua Hartshorne of M.I.T. and Laura Germine of Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed a huge trove of scores on cognitive tests taken by people of all ages. The researchers found that the broad split in age-related cognition — fluid in the young, crystallized in the old — masked several important nuances.

“This dichotomy between early peaks and later peaks is way too coarse,” Dr. Hartshorne said. “There are a lot more patterns going on, and we need to take those into account to fully understand the effects of age on cognition.”

The new paper is hardly the first challenge to the scientific literature on age-related decline, and it won’t be the last. A year ago, German scientists argued that cognitive “deficits” in aging were caused largely by the accumulation of knowledge — that is, the brain slows down because it has to search a larger mental library of facts. That idea has stirred some debate among scientists.

Experts said the new analysis raised a different question: Are there distinct, independent elements of memory and cognition that peak at varying times of life?

“I think they have more work to do to demonstrate that that’s the case,” said Denise Park, a professor of behavior and brain science at the University of Texas at Dallas. “But this is a provocative paper, and it’s going to have an impact on the field.”

The strength of the new analysis is partly in its data. The study evaluated historic scores from the popular Wechsler intelligence test, and compared them with more recent results from tens of thousands of people who took short cognitive tests on the authors’ websites, and The one drawback of this approach is that, because it didn’t follow the same people over a lifetime, it might have missed the effect of different cultural experiences, said K. Warner Schaie, a researcher at Penn State University.

But most previous studies have not been nearly as large, or had such a range of ages. Participants on the websites were 10 to 89 years old, and they took a large battery of tests, measuring skills like memory for abstract symbols and strings of digits, problem solving, and facility reading emotions from strangers’ eyes.

At least as important, the researchers looked at the effect of age on each type of test. Previous research had often grouped related tests together, on the assumption that they captured a single underlying attribute in the same way a coach might rate, say, athleticism based on a person’s speed, strength and vertical leaping ability.

The result of the new approach? “We found different abilities really maturing or ripening at different ages,” Dr. Germine said. “It’s a much richer picture of the life span than just calling it aging.”

Processing speed — the quickness with which someone can manipulate digits, words or images, as if on a mental sketch board — generally peaks in the late teens, Dr. Germine and Dr. Hartshorne confirmed, and memory for some things, like names, does so in the early 20s. But the capacity of that sketch board, called working memory, peaks at least a decade later and is slow to decline. In particular, the ability to recall faces and do some mental manipulation of numbers peaked about age 30, the study found, “a fact difficult to assimilate into the fluid/crystalized intelligence dichotomy.”

The researchers also analyzed results from the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. The test involves looking at snapshots of strangers’ eyes on a computer screen and determining their moods from a menu of options like “tentative,” “uncertain” and “skeptical.”

“It’s not an easy test, and you’re not sure afterward how well you did,” Dr. Germine said. “I thought I’d done poorly but in fact did pretty well.” Yet people in their 40s or 50s consistently did the best, the study found, and the skill declined very slowly later in life.

The picture that emerges from these findings is of an older brain that moves more slowly than its younger self, but is just as accurate in many areas and more adept at reading others’ moods — on top of being more knowledgeable. That’s a handy combination, given that so many important decisions people make intimately affects others.


No one needs a cognitive scientist to explain that it’s better to approach a boss about a raise when he or she is in a good mood. But the older mind may be better able to head off interpersonal misjudgments and to navigate tricky situations.

“As in, ‘that person’s not happy with all your quick thinking and young person’s processing speed — he’s about to punch you,'” said Zach Hambrick, a psychology professor at Michigan State University.

The details of this more textured picture of the aging brain are still far from clear, and social measures like the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test have not been used much in this kind of research, Dr. Hambrick and other experts said. And it is not apparent from the new analysis whether changes in cognition with age result from a single cause — like a decline in the speed of neural transmission — or to multiple ones.

But for now, the new research at least gives some meaning to the empty adjective “wily.”


Base facilities deteriorating under budget squeeze

By Karen Jowers, Staff writer 2:53 p.m. EDT March 18, 2015


Facilities on military installations are deteriorating at an ever-increasing rate, a visible result of ongoing budget constraints, service installation officials told lawmakers Wednesday.

“Our facilities are degrading and our maintenance backlog is increasing,” said Erin Kern, director of the Navy’s Shore Readiness Division, at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s military construction panel. “We understand this backlog must eventually be addressed, but we think we can’t afford to do so at this time.”

The Army “is at a critical point in installation readiness,” said Lt. Gen. David Halverson, commanding general of that service’s Installation Management Command.

The budget caps known as sequestration are affecting the Army’s ability to provide facilities that soldiers and their families rely and depend on to sustain readiness and maintain their quality of life, Halverson said, with the Army’s military construction budget request for next year focusing only on “minimum essential requirements.”

The Navy’s fiscal 2016 budget request reflects the service’s efforts to prioritize funding to address life, health and safety issues, and to repair the most essential components of critical facilities, Kern said.

Budget constraints in recent years have forced the Navy to reduce funding for infrastructure in order to preserve the operational readiness of the fleet, she said, creating a cumulative effect that has many shore facilities “degrading at an accelerated rate.”

If the Navy faces the return of sequestration in 2016, she said, the problems will only get worse, she said: “We’ll run a greater risk of mishaps, serious injury and health hazards to personnel.”

“With sequestration and tighter budgets, I’m worried that we have a problem on the horizon,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico. “At bases where maintenance has been deferred and construction projects have been put on hold, there are looming shortfalls.”

He pointed to White Sands Missile Range in his own state, where roads and facilities are showing signs of age and deterioration.

“I’m concerned the testing capability of White Sands will be impacted if we don’t get a handle on this issue soon,” Udall said, noting that the backlog of maintenance at the missile range is about $200 million, and about $3 billion for the Army overall.

The fiscal 2016 Army military construction budget request “supports a regionally engaged Army in a fiscally constrained environment … anything less puts our army at an unacceptable level of risk,” Halverson said.

The Army’s request for $1.6 billion for military construction and family housing would be a 26 percent increase over this fiscal year, but would represent a 33 percent reduction from fiscal 2014 and a 55 percent reduction from fiscal 2013, he said.

The other services are feeling similarly pinches. David Clifton, deputy commander of Marine Corps Installations Command, said that under current budget trends, by fiscal 2020 Marines will occupy “over 2,500 inadequate base buildings with insufficient and failing systems.”

Although the Corps’ military construction request for next year also would be an increase over this year, it would not be enough to prevent accelerated deterioration of over 12,000 buildings, range complexes, barracks and air fields, Clifton said.

The fiscal 2016 budget request is prioritized to support training operations, new weapons systems, and force presence, he said.

A backlog of repair and maintenance has contributed to the degradation of the Air Force’s combat support capabilities, said Brig. Gen. Timothy Green, that service’s director of civil engineers and deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support.

Even with a slight budget increase next year, Green said the Air Force would remain stressed to meet the current national defense strategy.


FAA gives Amazon limited permission to test delivery drones

By Matt Picht

Posted: 7:35 a.m. Friday, March 20, 2015

More than a year after Amazon pulled back the curtain on its ambitious drone delivery program, the company is finally getting the go-ahead from the government to fly its drones in U.S. skies — for testing purposes, at least.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday they have granted Amazon an experimental airworthiness certificate which will let the company conduct drone flights for R&D and training purposes.

It’s the latest step in the FAA’s long journey towards developing rules for commercial drone use. Back in February, the agency released its proposed rules to regulate drone use after coming under a lot of industry pressure — including threats from Amazon to take its drone delivery business abroad.

But the FAA’s approval comes with a lot of strings attached. Amazon can’t fly its drones over 400 feet, or out of the pilot’s line of sight. The drone’s operator has to have a private pilot’s license at minimum. And Amazon will have to provide monthly reports to the FAA on their drone experiments.

That’s about the same set of rules than the FAA puts on other commercial drone operators, and it’s much more restrictive than non-commercial drone flights.

A lawyer who specializes in drones told Forbes the FAA’s approval was “some progress for Amazon specifically, but it’s still limiting for innovating companies in general. … It would require those companies that are innovating rapidly and forcing them to seek approval for every tweak they’re testing.”

And don’t expect to see Amazon’s delivery drones on your doorstep anytime soon. The FAA’s proposal for general drone regulations is expected to take anywhere from 18 months to two years to be finalized. introduces one-hour delivery to Baltimore, Miami

Thursday, March 19, 2015 | Posted: 7:52 a.m. Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Associated Press


NEW YORK — Inc. is expanding its one-hour delivery Prime Now service for household products to Baltimore and Miami.

The service, which includes products such as paper towels, shampoo, books, toys and batteries, works through a mobile app and is already available in sections of New York City. Starting Thursday, only certain zip codes within Baltimore and Miami will be included, but the company plans to further expand within each city soon.

The delivery service is available to customers enrolled in Amazon Prime, a membership service that costs $99 a year and includes free two-day shipping on a range of products and instant content streaming options. In Miami and Baltimore, Prime Now is available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Two-hour delivery is free and one-hour delivery is available in select ZIP codes for $7.99.

The Seattle-based online retailer said it plans to roll out the Prime Now service in more cities this year.

“Since launching, we’ve seen high demand on everything from essentials like water and paper towels to more surprising deliveries like getting a customer a hard-to-find, top-selling toy in 23 minutes,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, in a statement.

The company has been investing in upgrading and expanding its distribution network in an effort to speed up delivery times.



NSA Chief: Cyber Attackers Leave Warnings

Agence France-Presse 3:43 p.m. EDT March 19, 2015


WASHINGTON — Attackers hacking into American computer networks appear to be leaving “cyber fingerprints” to send a message that critical systems are vulnerable, the top US cyber-warrior said Thursday.

Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and head of the Pentagon’s US Cyber Command, made the comments to a US Senate panel as he warned about the growing sophistication of cyber threats.

“Private security researchers over the last year have reported on numerous malware finds in the industrial control systems of energy sector organizations,” Rogers said in written testimony.

“We believe potential adversaries might be leaving cyber fingerprints on our critical infrastructure partly to convey a message that our homeland is at risk if tensions ever escalate toward military conflict.”

Rogers told senators that “threats and vulnerabilities are changing and expanding at an accelerated and alarming pace,” forcing the US to step up defensive measures.

In some cases, attackers may be setting up “a beachhead for future cyber sabotage,” said Rogers.

“The cyber intruders of today, in many cases, not only want to disrupt our actions, but they seek to establish a persistent presence on our networks,” he told the panel.

Of particular risk is so-called critical infrastructure networks — power grids, transportation, water and air traffic control, for example — where a computer outage could be devastating.

Rogers added that the military is about halfway toward building its new cyber defense corps of 6,200 which could help in defending the national against cyber attacks.

“Many of its teams are generating capability today,” he said.

“Three years ago we lacked capacity; we had vision and expertise but were very thin on the ground. Today the new teams are actively guarding (Defense Department) networks and prepared, when appropriate and authorized, to help combatant commands deny freedom of maneuver to our adversaries in cyberspace.”

Rogers said most of the team would have “at least initial operational capability” by September 2016, the end of the next fiscal year.

But he told the lawmakers on the Armed Services Committee that any budget cuts or delays in authorizing funds “will slow the build of our cyber teams” and hurt US defense efforts in cyberspace.

“If we do not continue to invest in our existing and future capabilities, we will lack the necessary capacity and risk being less prepared to address future threats,” he said.


Technical Hurdles Delay Drone Deliveries

Battery life and weather at least as daunting as pending regulation, say developers

March 20, 2015

By Jack Nicas and Greg Bensinger

March 20, 2015 12:04 p.m. ET


Companies hoping to use drones to deliver small packages are confronting technical hurdles such as battery life and weather that are at least as vexing as proposed U.S. regulatory limits.

Retail and shipping companies including Inc.,Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., and Deutsche Post DHL AG have been among the most enthusiastic supporters, seeing drones as potentially transforming their businesses.

But hurdles including short battery life and unreliable location data suggest it could be years before armies of drones replace FedEx and UPS vans. Companies also face obstacles such as bad weather, aggressive birds and gun-toting drone opponents

Delivery drones “are absolutely viable, but there are a lot of technical hurdles that have to be crossed,” said Nicholas Roy, a robotics professor at the Massachusetts of Institute of Technology and the former head of Google Inc.’s drone-delivery project. “We are very much in the prototype stage.”

The top two U.S. private package delivery companies think drone delivery won’t fly soon. FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. say the technology remains far from being market ready. “There remain numerous reasons why drones are not a feasible delivery technology at this time,” UPS said last month.

Experts say the most pressing challenge to deliveries is drones’ battery power. Like makers of laptops, smartphones and electric cars, drone makers still need to pack more energy into smaller batteries. The issue is especially acute for delivery craft: the heavier the package, the more power is needed to fly.

Amazon wants its drones to be able to carry 5-pound packages on a 20-mile round trip route. That performance is almost certainly impossible today with the eight-rotor prototype Amazon demonstrated in late 2013, said Raffaello D’Andrea, a robotics professor at the engineering university ETH Zurich and co-inventor of the robots that help sort Amazon’s warehouses.

An alternative is the approach Google unveiled last August—a hybrid drone with propellers and wings that takes off like a copter and glides like a plane, increasing efficiency. Yet that design is generally less wind-resistant, agile and reliable than a copter drone. Indeed, Google this month said it scrapped that initial design because it was too difficult to control.

Amazon this week received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to test its drones outdoors. The company has developed nearly a dozen aircraft as part of its Prime Air project. “We’re testing a range of vehicle capabilities,” Gur Kimchi, Amazon Prime Air vice president, said in a statement. “We won’t launch Prime Air until we are able to demonstrate safe operations.”

Experts say a trickier challenge is ensuring drones can make deliveries without incident almost 100% of the time. Delivery drones must be cheap to be commercially viable, developers say, and exceptionally reliable to pass muster with regulators and the public.

“A sea change is going to be required in how these vehicles are designed and manufactured to support moving from a hobbyist flying on the weekend in a park to a 24/7 delivery service flying over your highways,” said Mr. Roy.

Then there is how to drop off a package. Some companies have tested landing on a customer’s doorstep while others have tried lowering packages down on a line. But global-positioning-system data can be inaccurate—enough to put a drone at the wrong house or over a swimming pool.

A person familiar with Amazon’s thinking said that to simplify delivery, its drones could deliver to storage lockers, accessed through a code sent to customers.


And delivery drones would have to fly autonomously, which requires sensors and software that can three-dimensionally map the environment and navigate it on the fly. Such technology isn’t yet ready, though a handful of companies, including chip makers Intel Corp. and Qualcomm Inc. say they’re getting closer to solving it.

If and when these technical limitations are overcome, regulators might not allow drone deliveries. Last month, the FAA proposed rules that would require one pilot to monitor each drone, limiting flights to within sight of the operator, and barring flights over bystanders. The agency said the proposed rules, which are expected to be completed next year, wouldn’t allow drones carrying an “external load.”

The FAA said it would likely allow drone flights beyond operators’ eyeshot if companies demonstrate reliable collision-avoidance technology. It is unclear if the agency would consider authorizing large-scale autonomous drone operations overseen by just a few humans, as companies currently envision.

Still, companies are zooming ahead. Amazon and Google are working on drones that could deliver small packages in less than 30 minutes. A DHL drone has delivered medicine to an island in the North Sea, and Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, last month delivered tea with drones.

“The technology is challenging, but totally doable,” Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said last year.

Mr. D’Andrea, the robotics expert, predicts the technology for large-scale drone deliveries would take about five years to develop.

“People underestimate the technical difficulties…. Folks watch videos on YouTube and think, Wow, this is great. Why isn’t somebody delivering my pizza?” Mr. D’Andrea said. “It takes time and effort to make something the public doesn’t have to think twice about.”


Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Congress may not be voters’ favorite group of people, but when it comes to matters of war and peace, they want Congress to decide.

Voters aren’t happy with the letter 47 Republican senators sent to the Iranian government raising concerns about the nuclear deal the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran. But most believe that any deal the administration negotiates with the Iranians needs to be approved by Congress before it goes into effect.

Part of the problem is that 60% believe Iran is not likely to slow or stop its development of nuclear weapons as a result of the treaty the administration is now negotiating

Voters tend to believe the radical Islamic State group (ISIS) is winning the war in Iraq but are much less supportive of putting U.S. combat troops in the fight than they were six weeks ago. Two-out-of-three voters (66%) say the approval of Congress should be required before the president sends troops into combat against ISIS.

Overall confidence in the U.S. military is at an all-time high. Confidence in the president remains a mixed bag. 

The president ended the week calling for mandatory voting in the United States, but voters strongly reject that idea.

Speaking of the presidency, voters are more confident that Americans will elect a woman to the White House in the near future.

Yet even though Hillary Clinton is the clear frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, most voters think Democrats should run a newcomer next year. Over half of Democrats don’t disagree.

Of course, when Mitt Romney was flirting with running again next year, voters felt even more strongly that Republicans should look for a fresh face to run for president in 2016, and 60% of Republicans agreed.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is the most popular newcomer on the current list of Democratic contenders if Clinton chooses not to run for president in 2016

Congress and the president are going at it again over the federal budget, but voters still think, as they have for years, that cutting taxes and spending is the way to go.

Most voters also continue to put reducing health care costs ahead of requiring everyone to have health insurance and think keeping the government out of the market is the best way to reduce those costs. 

Republicans and Democrats are tied on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

Following the shooting last week of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, most voters believe the media is overemphasizing shootings by the police and making their jobs more dangerous.

The U.S. Justice Department last week charged police in Ferguson with a widespread pattern of racial discrimination, prompting the police chief to resign, but few voters expect Ferguson to become any safer. But then very few think the federal government is much help to local police.

In other surveys last week:

— Thirty-two percent (32%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

The debate over gun control isn’t a new one, but it’s also not one that’s likely to end anytime soon.

— While most parents of elementary and secondary school children agree with celebrating some religious holidays in the schools, they don’t include the two Muslim holidays that Mayor Bill de Blasio recently added to the New York City public school calendar.

— Most Americans see cloning of individual people as likely in the next 25 years but aren’t interested in bringing back a dead loved one.

— Arguing that “a woman’s place is on the money,” an activist group wants to push President Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill and replace him with a famous woman from U.S. history. But only 64% even know Jackson is on the $20.

How many Americans know George Washington is on the $1 bill?


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