Daily Briefing: News Snippets

January 2010 chip sales up

A rise is a rise, no matter how small or large … as indicated in the Semiconductor Industry Association’s (SIA’s) recent report. Comparing chip sales in January 2010 ($22.5 billion) to December 2009 ($22.4 billion), the increase is a relatively miniscule .3 percent (Figure 1). However, a comparison of January 2010 to January 2009 ($15.3 billion) shows that chip sales soared a whopping 47.2 percent (see figure again). Strong chip sale niches presently include cell phones, industrial applications, cars, and personal computers. Additionally, George Scalise, SIA president, says 2010 appears brighter than originally projected … maybe. “If the current trends continue, there is upside potential for 2010 growth above our November forecast of $242.1 billion, but a growing global economy driven by consumer purchasing will be key to sustaining these trends.”

Figure 1: A comparison of January 2010 to both December 2009 and January 2009 reveals a much larger increase year-to-year than month-to-month.

Northrop Grumman to get the less-glam job done

Though not as glamorous perhaps as designing a system, maintenance and repair are, nevertheless, a necessity … as evidenced by a recent contract between the U.S. Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. The $49 million Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract stipulates that Northrop Grumman provides depot-level maintenance and repairs for several airborne mine countermeasures systems: AN/AQS-24 mine hunting system, CP-2614/T common post-mission analysis, AN/AQS-14A sonar detection set, AN/ALQ-141 acoustic minesweeping/minehunting system, and USM-668 intermediate level test equipment. The contract is slated for fulfillment by February 2015.

KC-130J gets Rolls Royce treatment

On the ground or in the air … Rolls Royce Corp. is almost everywhere, it seems. Between now and February 2011, the company will be lending its technical engineering and contractor logistics services to the KC-130J aircraft – thanks to a $45 million Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract with the Naval Air Systems Command. Benefitting the Marine Corps, the contract stipulates that Rolls Royce Corp. provides the aforestated services to the KC-130J’s propulsion system, comprising the R 391 propeller and the AE 2100D3 turboprop engine.

NASA’s Orion gets a forward glance

The recent delivery of the Data Acquisition System (DAS) by G Systems signified fait accompli for one of the company’s three NASA Orion contracts – and enables NASA future sight capabilities. How? The DAS will compile stress data input from Orion’s heat shield structures, Launch Abort System Fairing Assembly (LASFA), Service Module (SM), and crew module (Figure 2) pertaining to strain, torque, and pressure. The data will then enable measurement and simulation of potential space flight, take-off, and re-entry effects. Input from at least 1,400 analog data channels will be collected, analyzed, transferred, stored, and/or viewed at the Orion Structural Test Facility (OSTF). Meanwhile, G Systems’ two additional NASA Orion contracts, also facilitated by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, include: 1) the Data Distribution System (DDS), which comprises software and hardware to analyze, distribute, and collect parametric data and video gathered by DAS; and 2) a DAS-integrated computerized vent and pressure system with which the crew module will be tested. The value of the three contracts – which together result in the installation, integration, and design of an automated data analysis/acquisition testing station for Orion – exceeds $1 million. The two remaining contracts are slated for completion by June 2010.

Figure 2: Orion’s crew module, NASA photo by Tony Landis.

Missile Defense Agency proof of concept: 1, 2, 3 …

While energy is often thought of as dormant and benign, officials at the U.S. Missile Defense Agency would undoubtedly have a different perspective. The reason: A successful proof-of-concept exercise recently demonstrated that directed energy is a viable method of defense against ballistic missiles (Figure 3). The experiment was held at Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division Sea Range near the California coast, where the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) destroyed a “short-range threat-representative ballistic missile” in three steps: First, ALTB’s onboard sensors detected the missile and tracked it using a low-energy laser. Second, ALTB fired another low-energy laser in an effort to compensate for and measure atmospheric interference. Third, ALTB shot a high-energy (megawatt-class) laser, heating the missile and resulting in its structural failure. Though ALTB had previously lethally intercepted a solid-fuel missile, this experiment was the first time ALTB destroyed a liquid-fuel missile.

Figure 3: Upper left photo: An infrared image of the Missile Defense Agency’s ALTB (right) destroying a threat-representative short-range ballistic missile (left). Then, clockwise, beginning with photo in upper right corner: The sequence of events in the recent ALTB demonstration. U.S. Missile Defense Agency photos.

Brute force attacks accelerate (obsolete) decryption

Ironically, an obsolete standard has now reached its highest performance levels: Pico Computing claims that its recently reached 56-bit Data Encryption Standard (DES) decryption benchmark speeds represent the highest such levels ever achieved. The enabler: Pico Computing’s DES cracking algorithm utilizing FPGAs and 11 Pico EX-Series cards in a 4U server consuming fewer than 1,000 peak watts. Utilizing “brute force methods,” the algorithm “iteratively decrypts fixed-size blocks of data to find keys that decrypt into ASCII numbers” to recover encrypted files’ keys where the data type is known. In contrast to methods using clustered CPUs (which process 16 million DES key operations per second) or even a PC combined with a 250-million-operations-per-second GPU card, Pico Computing’s acceleration yields 1.6 billion DES operations per second for each FPGA. Additionally, a single-server cluster of 176 FPGAs can achieve 280 billion DES operations per second. Thus, the FPGA-enabled DES decryption and resultant key recover can be completed in fewer than three days, while performing the same task on a PC, with or without a GPU, would take years. Though largely replaced with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption, DES is still used for auditing and developing block-based encryption algorithms and functions in cryptographic research.

USAF/Raytheon: Accuracy is key

The United States Air Force and Raytheon Company recently penned an $886 million contract stipulating that Raytheon incarnates the first two development blocks of a new accuracy-improving element for GPS satellites (Figure 4): The OCX or advanced control segment. The modern service-oriented architecture-based OCX will provide anti-jam capabilities and higher levels of reliability and accuracy than previous GPS. The OCX additionally lends itself to industry and government integration because of its open-system standards base. Providing the public and military with satellite-based radio navigation, the GPS system also comprises the space and user segments. Meanwhile, OCX team members include the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, The Boeing Company, Braxton Technologies, ITT, and Infinity Systems Engineering. The contracting entity is the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center located at the Los Angeles Air Force Base.

Figure 4: The USAF and Raytheon recently signed an $886 million contract for improved GPS satellite accuracy via development of the OCX advanced control element. Photo courtesy of Raytheon Company.

General Dynamics helps DDG 115 “materialize”

The long-awaited DDG 115 destroyer begins to materialize, literally, courtesy of a “not-to-exceed $114,003,000 letter contract” between the U.S. Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command and General Dynamics for DDG 115’s long-lead time material. General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works division is slated to fulfill the contract in Cincinnati, Ohio; Charlottesville, Virginia; Indianapolis, Indiana; Bath, Maine; Walpole, Massachusetts; Erie, Pennsylvania; and other locales by December 2012. DDG 115 is part of the DDG 51 class destroyer program, led by the guided missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (Figure 5).

Figure 5: The guided missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke is the lead ship in the DDG 51 class of guided missile destroyers. U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley.