Supercavitating ammunition won’t skip

Friday, October 20th, 2017

DSG Technology has a new line of supercavitating ammunition, Cav-X, which won’t skip off the surface when shot into water — and which will penetrate another 60 meters, in the case of its .50-caliber round:

Online dating is changing society

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Online dating appears to be increasing interracial dating and marriage and leading to stronger marriages in general:

Next, the researchers compare the results of their models to the observed rates of interracial marriage in the U.S. This has been on the increase for some time, but the rates are still low, not least because interracial marriage was banned in some parts of the country until 1967.

But the rate of increase changed at about the time that online dating become popular. “It is intriguing that shortly after the introduction of the first dating websites in 1995, like, the percentage of new marriages created by interracial couples increased rapidly,” say the researchers.

The increase became steeper in the 2000s, when online dating became even more popular.  Then, in 2014, the proportion of interracial marriages jumped again. “It is interesting that this increase occurs shortly after the creation of Tinder, considered the most popular online dating app,” they say.

Tinder has some 50 million users and produces more than 12 million matches a day.

Of course, this data doesn’t prove that online dating caused the rise in interracial marriages. But it is consistent with the hypothesis that it does.

Meanwhile, research into the strength of marriage has found some evidence that married couples who meet online have lower rates of marital breakup than those who meet traditionally. That has the potential to significantly benefit society. And it’s exactly what Ortega and Hergovich’s model predicts.

Of course, there are other factors that could contribute to the increase in interracial marriage. One is that the trend is the result of a reduction in the percentage of Americans who are white. If marriages were random, this should increase the number of interracial marriages, but not by the observed amount. “The change in the population composition in the U.S. cannot explain the huge increase in intermarriage that we observe,” say Ortega and Hergovich.

Give support and encouragement to competent people who have ideas they want to try out

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Techniques of Systems Analysis reminds the Systems Analyst to take technical estimates for complicated systems with some skepticism if not cynicism:

The best that can be done is to push the state of the art in a whole series of component fields, give support and encouragement to competent people who have ideas they want to try out, be on the alert to extract by-product and bonus values and, most important of all, examine the programs as a whole to see if they are complete. The Systems Analyst should especially concentrate on the last two things. After all, almost everyone else is tied up with either specific projects, administration, budget crises, or congressional investigations. In some cases, he is just about the only Indian who can spend full time looking at the broader aspects of a program. What is also important, he often has a full-time and technically competent group of associates to help him look.

Even quite competent engineers can be very unreliable

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

While discussing how development programs can go awry, Techniques of Systems Analysis paraphrases the cover story from Time magazine’s January 30, 1956 issue:

The ICBM program suffered from a lack of support because the guidance problems were so severe that the rest of the program was not pushed. The unexpected development of the H-bomb suddenly made even very inaccurate ICBM’s useful. We were unfortunately at that time in no position to benefit immediately from this development. We would have been in an even worse position but, luckily, an entirely different program — the rocket booster for the Navaho cruise type missile — had been pushed so far that we could use it as a basis for the ICBM engine.

Time Magazine 1956-01-30 The Missile

Techniques of Systems Analysis continues:

It is also important to realize that even quite competent engineers and technical people can be very unreliable when it comes to estimating either the short or long range performance of systems undergoing Research and Development. This seems to be particularly true in the fields of electronics, aeronautics, and nuclear engineering. In the past 20 years there has been an exponential increase in the state of the art of all of those fields. Both as a cause and an effect of this exponential increase, these same fields play a central role in current military technology. For this reason military technology is much more unstable than most civilian technology and as a result the two very common mistakes mentioned occur. (Even first rate engineers will overestimate their ability to apply the new ideas in the immediate future and at the same time underestimate the rate at which long term development is proceeding.) To give a recent unclassified example form the electronics industry, let us consider the high-speed computer.

In 1945, 1946, and 1947, a large number of very competent engineers were going around promising to have wonderful electronic computers available in a year or two. In spite of these promises, by 1949, only computers of very modest attainments (as compared to the promises) had been built an the slippage of the more ambitious machines had become a joke. For example some of the engineers were saying “We are really very reliable. No matter when you ask us we will always reply that the computer will be ready in 18 months.” However, by 1950, a number of these better machines had achieved semi-reliable operation and, by 1951, they were almost all working well. Today, only 5 years later, there are machines on the shelf whose performance exceeds even the wilder and most futuristic extrapolations made in 1946. Furthermore, computers which will soon be available are an order of magnitude better than the current ones.

Nobody should object to buying insurance even if he doesn’t have a fire

Monday, October 16th, 2017

Development projects provide options, Techniques of Systems Analysis emphasizes:

We often hear statements that the major reason for doing a Systems Analysis is that development programs are so expensive and it is crucial that none of them be wasted; therefore, all development programs should be tied into a system, designed as a whole. Nothing could be more wrong. Development people have a saying, “It may or may not be a mistake to develop something which is not procured, but it is always a mistake to procure something which is not developed.”

The most important thing the Department of Defense can do is see to it that we maintain a great deal of flexibility in our capability and have available a great variety of on-the-shelf items to meet a variety of contingencies. This ordinarily means that many of our development projects will never reach the stage of large-scale procurement. This may create very difficult relations with both Congress and the public. The problem has to be faced directly and preferably adroitly, but it is a mistake to cut back on potentially valuable development programs just to prevent possible criticism in the event they do nut turn out to be needed. Nobody should object to buying insurance even if he doesn’t have a fire.

Six turning and four burning

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

The Convair B-36 Peacemaker was the largest mass-produced piston-engined aircraft ever built, with the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever built:

The genesis of the B-36 can be traced to early 1941, prior to the entry of the United States into World War II. At the time it appeared there was a very real chance that Britain might fall to the German “Blitz”, making a strategic bombing effort by the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) against Germany impossible with the aircraft of the time.


After the establishment of an independent United States Air Force in 1947, the beginning in earnest of the Cold War with the 1948 Berlin Airlift, and the 1949 atmospheric test of the first Soviet atomic bomb, American military planners sought bombers capable of delivering the very large and heavy first-generation atomic bombs.

The B-36 was the only American aircraft with the range and payload to carry such bombs from airfields on American soil to targets in the USSR. The modification to allow the use of larger atomic weapons on the B-36 was called the “Grand Slam Installation”.


Beginning with the B-36D, Convair added a pair of General Electric J47-19 jet engines suspended near the end of each wing; these were also retrofitted to all extant B-36Bs. Consequently, the B-36 was configured to have ten engines, six radial propeller engines and four jet engines, leading to the B-36 slogan of “six turning and four burning”. The B-36 had more engines than any other mass-produced aircraft. The jet pods greatly improved takeoff performance and dash speed over the target. In normal cruising flight, the jet engines were shut down to conserve fuel. When the jet engines were shut down, louvers closed off the front of the pods to reduce drag and to prevent ingestion of sand and dirt.

The B-36 features prominently in the 1955 film Strategic Air Command, along with Jimmy Stewart, who was a real-life military pilot:

It would be sensible to spend even a few billion dollars

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

The history of the B-36 is a “slightly atypical but not extreme” example of how difficult it is to prepare for an uncertain future, Techniques of Systems Analysis explains:

It was designed during World War II when people were thinking first of Germany and then of Japan as the enemy. It was designed to carry high explosives. It was designed when its chief enemy was thought to be the propeller-driven interceptor.

None of the analyses which went into it and determined how we should trade range, weight, altitude and speed considered the possibility that:

  • it might carry atomic bombs
  • the enemy might be Russia
  • it would have to fight its way through jet fighters and guided ground-to-air missiles
  • we would have overseas bases
  • refueling techniques would be available

Any one of these changes might have been sufficient either to eliminate its value completely or to increase it enormously. Somehow, it is up to the man who is designing such vehicles to produce equipment which will be able to fight effectively in almost unpredictable situations.

In addition to proper design, there is one very important thing which can be done to alleviate this particular problem — to defer decisions. One shouldn’t decide today whether he wants to have a long-range slow airplane or a short-range high speed one in 1965. He should carry both projects through the paper design stages. If he still doesn’t know in a couple of years which he needs, then he might carry both projects through the mock-up and possibly even the tooling stages. While the cost of doing this may be high, it is measured in millions and not in billions. It is therefore small compared to the total cost of the strategic air force.

One should always remember that the total investment in an organization like SAC runs between fifty and one hundred billion dollars. Therefore, in principle it would be sensible to spend even a few billion dollars to increase the effectiveness of this force by only 10%. Under these circumstances, one can clearly afford some very expensive development and preliminary tooling programs if they enable you to defer making crucial decisions until you can make them wisely.

Professors tend to be poor businessmen

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

Some of the most crucial uncertainties that bedevil a Systems Analysis come in the realm of technological progress, Techniques of Systems Analysis explains:

It is at least partly because these are so hard to predict that the scholarly type has become useful on the policy level.

We think that, if experienced men are available whose experience has been obtained in competitive situations such that the incompetent are almost automatically eliminated, it is best to rely on their experience rather than on analytical techniques and analytical people. It is generally believed and probably correct that professors tend to be rather poor business men, even when their field is business administration.

However, it is characteristic of the current world that the effective rate of technological progress has been enormously increased. In a real sense, on many of the problems faced by the Department of Defense nobody has relevant practical experience. Furthermore, the need for good advance planning is also more important. Even in small wars, the pace of events may be so fast and the lead-time for development and procurement of forces or even for making operating changes so long, that it is practically impossible to correct mistakes in planning after the war has broken out. This is, of course, even more likely to be true in large wars. In this situation, one must somehow wed whatever experience is available to analysis. This means making scholars out of some of the military and military out of some of the scholars.

Near-net forging for larger, less expensive aircraft structures

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Arconic in Pittsburgh manufactures parts for the F-35, including some really big parts:

What sets Arconic apart from its competitors is the strength of the alloys it produces — often using patented formulas — and its ability to take many components and manufacture them as a single piece, reducing weight and bulk, said Eric Roegner, president of Arconic Defense.

The company manufactures the F-35’s bulkheads in entirely one piece, using techniques Arconic developed for the inner rear spars on Airbus’ A380 airliner, which first flew in 2005.

“[At] that point, we had been talking to Lockheed, and they were a little skeptical, but when they saw the part flying on the A380, they came to the table,” Roegner said in a Sept. 21 interview.

Arconic forges the bulkheads in one piece out of aluminum or titanium using a 50,000-ton machine at its facility in Cleveland, Ohio. Only one such machine exists anywhere in the world, he said.

To make the 21 foot long, 7 foot tall bulkheads through a more traditional manufacturing process would require machining multiple large pieces of titanium or aluminum, fastening them together, and then putting additional forgings on it, he said. But by using a process called near-net forging — along with some technologies developed and patented by Arconic — the company can make the bulkheads in one piece and dramatically reduce the cost and weight of the component.

F-35 Bulkhead

“Some of the bulkheads [initially] were composed of upwards of 100 different parts. We could make them in one piece. Just wham, you get your titanium forging or your aluminum forging,” he said. “This one application across six bulkheads took 400 pounds out, and it got the installed cost of the final part down 25 percent.”

First time anyone came up to my average

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

An important source of uncertainty, Techniques of Systems Analysis notes, is degradation of estimated performance:

Notice we said degradation, not variation.

The reader is undoubtedly familiar with examples of this effect. For instance one might ask a porter what his average tip is. He answers $2.00. You give him $2.00 and he says, “First time anybody came up to my average.”

It should be understood that most of the estimates of average performance are of this sort. They are goals, often idealized and optimistic goals, rather than sober predictions. We are talking here about more than the (very important) question of the degradation of performance of individual soldiers and organizations. The Systems Analyst is equally concerned with the degradation of performance of equipment undergoing Research and Development as compared to the predictions of the designers. It is amazing how uniformly optimistic most of the contracts and official sources seem to be — at least for the short term estimates. For the long term the same sources tend systematically to underestimate long term improvements.

There is another aspect of the degradation of our performance which is of extreme importance. It is related to or identical with the “battleship thinking” of the prewar Navy. The battleship was a fine object in its day but, when it day had passed, some of our naval officers were reluctant to give it up. They placed a reliance on it which proved to be costly.

The U.S. Army neglected Megamission Three

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

The armed services have three megamissions, Jerry Pournelle explains (in 1994):

Megamission One: “Today” Carry out the assignments given by the President and Congress.

Megamission Two: “Tomorrow” Procure today the weapons systems needed to accomplish Megamission One ‘tomorrow.’

Megamission Three: “Day After Tomorrow” Today identify and stimulate development of the technologies needed to accomplish Megamission Two ‘tomorrow’.

In 1920, he points out, the U.S. Army neglected Megamission Three:

Those in control of military planning failed to recognize the growing importance of airpower in future conflicts. A few forward thinkers dissented; to them it was obvious that by 1940 airpower would be decisive. Their vision was proved correct when German air support overcame the French artillery defenses of the river lines long enough to allow armor to cross. France fell within 45 days of a breakthrough that simply could not have been achieved without airpower. From that time on air supremacy was an important, and usually decisive, element of military victory.

Spacepower today is similar to airpower in 1920: within 20 years space supremacy will be a decisive element of military victory on land or sea. The power that has access to space and can deny access to its enemy will have an advantage at least as great as air supremacy or sea supremacy.

Moreover, space supremacy can probably be converted to air and sea supremacy. As an example for discussion, consider the system this author has described under the name “THOR”. Thor consists of orbiting steel rods perhaps 20 feet long by one foot in diameter. They contain minimal terminal guidance capability, and a means of locating themselves and their targets through GPS. They can strike fixed targets with CEP approaching 25 feet. Few elements of air and naval power are invulnerable to bombardment by kinetic energy weapons from space. No ship can withstand the impact of 20 feet of steel rod at velocities greater than 12,000 feet per second. Airfields won’t fare much better.

The major cost of Thor and other more likely space bombardment systems is the launch cost. Thor also requires intact GPS and space observation systems. Costs of both are driven largely by launch costs. A great many potentially decisive weapons come to mind given low cost access to space.

Low cost access to space is a matter of technological development, not of breakthroughs. It takes about the same amount of fuel to fly a pound from Los Angeles to Australia as it does to put that pound in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). There is no intrinsic reason why space lift costs should exceed airlift costs by more than a small multiple, if at all. The United States is not the only nation capable of developing systems capable of routine economical access to (LEO), nor is there any reason to suppose that every nation that develops that capability will be devoted to peace. Space supremacy can be used as a powerful instrument of international blackmail.

In summary: spacepower will be as decisive in 20 years as airpower was in 1940, and development of key space technologies is as important for our future as development of aircraft technologies was in 1920. A vital element of future spacepower will be capability for routine and economical access to space.

We can’t shoot down North Korea’s missiles

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

The number one reason we don’t shoot down North Korea’s missiles is that we cannot:

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told his nation after last week’s test, “We didn’t intercept it because no damage to Japanese territory was expected.”

That is half true. The missile did not pose a serious threat. It flew over the Japanese island of Hokkaido, landing 3700 km (2300 miles) from its launch point near North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang.

The key word here is “over.” Like way over. Like 770 kilometers (475 miles) over Japan at the apogee of its flight path. Neither Japan nor the United States could have intercepted the missile. None of the theater ballistic missile defense weapons in existence can reach that high. It is hundreds of kilometers too high for the Aegis interceptors deployed on Navy ships off Japan. Even higher for the THAAD systems in South Korea and Guam. Way too high for the Patriot systems in Japan, which engage largely within the atmosphere.

All of these are basically designed to hit a missile in the post-mid-course or terminal phase, when it is on its way down, coming more or less straight at the defending system. Patriot is meant to protect relatively small areas such as ports or air bases; THAAD defends a larger area; the advanced Aegis system theoretically could defend thousands of square kilometers.

But could we intercept before the missile climbed that high? There is almost no chance of hitting a North Korean missile on its way up unless an Aegis ship was deployed very close to the launch point, perhaps in North Korean waters. Even then, it would have to chase the missile, a race it is unlikely to win. In the only one or two minutes of warning time any system would have, the probability of a successful engagement drops close to zero.


If North Korea cooperated and shot their new intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-14, at the United States with adequate warning so that we could prepare, and if the warhead looked pretty much like we expect it to look, and if they only shot one, and if they did not try to spoof the defense with decoys that looked like the warhead, or block the defense with low-power jammers, or hide the warhead in a cloud of chaff, or blind the defense by attacking the vulnerable radars, then, maybe this is true. The United States might have a 50-50 chance of hitting such a missile. If we had time to fire four or five interceptors, then the odds could go up.

But North Korea is unlikely to cooperate. It will do everything possible to suppress the defenses. The 1999 National Intelligence Estimate of the Ballistic Threat to the United States noted that any country capable of testing a long-range ballistic missile would “rely initially on readily available technology – including separating RVs [reentry vehicles], spin-stabilized RVs, RV reorientation, radar absorbing material, booster fragmentation, low-power jammers, chaff, and simple (balloon) decoys – to develop penetration aids and countermeasures.”

Our anti-missile systems have never been realistically tested against any of these simple countermeasures.

Jerry’s second chat with Leo Laporte

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

I enjoyed the second installment of Leo Laporte’s interview with Jerry Pournelle, too:

(This time he mentions HeathKit…)

Tom Snyder interviews Durk Pearson and Jerry Pournelle

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

I got a kick out of this 1979 Tom Snyder interview of not just Jerry Pournelle, but also of Durk Pearson, who isn’t just a vitamin geek, but an all-around übergeek:

In particular, I get a kick out of how mind-blowing a word-processor is, back just before the PC revolution — and how flat-screen TVs are just over the horizon, even then.

Missiles fail, especially air-to-air ones

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

The four Hornet and Super Hornet pilots who flew the mission where one of them shot down a Syrian Su-22 Fitter gave a talk at the Tailhook Association’s annual symposium:

The group of four strike fighters entered the close air support stack (CAS stack) overhead the JTAC and waited for any requests for strikes when a Russian Su-27 showed up and began loitering high overhead.

Mob, who was having issues with his targeting pod, was assigned to keep tabs on the circling Russian fighter while the other pilots continued with their CAS mission. He turned the Super Hornet’s master mode to air-to-air and began tracking the Su-27 and searching the skies around the area for other aircraft.

Then another radar track appeared — a fast moving aircraft coming from the south directly towards him. Although Mob figured it was probably a Syrian aircraft, he moved to intercept the target and eventually made a visual identification on what turned out to be a Syrian Air Force Su-22 Fitter swing-wing attack jet — the same type of aircraft used to deliver the gas attack that led to the Tomahawk missile strike a few months earlier.

Mob made it clear during the presentation that if the Syrian jet just turned away that would have been great as they had plenty to do in support of ground forces, but that didn’t end up being the case.

After identifying the Su-22, Mob got on the radio with an airborne command and control post, an E-3 Sentry, and had them broadcast warnings repeatedly over guard frequency to the Syrian jet. Those radio calls did not result in a change of course by the Syrian pilot. Then Mob “thumped” the Su-22 three times — flying close over the jet’s canopy and popping flares out in front of it before breaking off — to warn him away. That didn’t work either.

By then the Su-22 was in striking distance of friendly forces and it began to dive, releasing its weapons in the process, before making a climb out after the attack. Based on the rules of engagement that were briefed to the naval aviators, Mob locked the Su-22 up from behind with an AIM-9X Sidewinder and fired.

The missile zipped off the Hornet’s wing rail trailing smoke but quickly disappeared. It wasn’t clear why the missile failed to track the Su-22 or where it had gone. Mob quickly selected an AIM-120 AMRAAM and fired once again. He noted how long it took for the missile to fire off the Super Hornet’s “cheek” station located along the outer edges of its air intakes.

Regardless, the missile tracked the Fitter flying just a short distance away and exploded on its backside, pitching it violently to the right and downward. The pilot was clearly seen ejecting from the doomed swing-wing attack jet.

The ejection seat passed very close down the right sight of Mob’s canopy. He noted how live-fire training helped him during the engagement because he knew what to expect and quickly rolled away from the explosion instead of flying through it.

The Syrian pilot’s chute blossomed, it was white, green, and orange in color and his emergency transmitter beacon began going off over the radio.


What’s also worth discussing is the conjecture surrounding the AIM-9X’s failure in this engagement. By the panel’s account it sounded as if the AIM-9X just went stupid/malfunctioned on its own. There was no talk of the Su-22 launching flares, and even if it had, the fact that many military pundits are definitively claiming that the unique infrared signature of Russian-built low-end decoy flares threw the AIM-9X off course is just silly. Missiles fail, especially air-to-air ones. They are complex devices that get battered around under high gravitational forces and slammed down onto carrier decks and runways throughout their lifetime. And yes, it’s possible that under certain parameters weaknesses could exist when it comes to the AIM-9X’s ability to track certain targets that use certain decoys under certain conditions. Then again maybe they don’t. Regardless, that doesn’t mean that is what happened in this instance or that the AIM-9X is somehow a lousy missile because of it.

I recently listened to the audio version of Alas, Babylon, the 1959 post-apocalyptic novel, in which a nuclear war gets kicked off by a US pilot’s AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missile that goes off course and hits an ammunition depot in Syria.