US Navy Goes Unmanned

  • Thursday, July 12, 2012
  • Archimedes
  • Recently there's been some ripples in the waves caused by some new toys that the US Navy is playing with. In response to Iran's threat of closing a narrow shipping strait crucial to the world oil trade and the stalling of diplomatic talks over the Iranian nuclear program, the USN has deployed two carriers, a squadron of F-22s and at least a carrier air wing of older carrier aircraft, several mine clearing frigates in addition to the normal carrier battlegroups, and two Army brigades are standing by to Kuwait. The forces mentioned above are very obvious to anyone aware of the situation in Iran, and have been acknowledged by the pentagon, but what has not yet been commented on or even mentioned are a fleet of tiny unmanned submarines deployed by the Navy.

    While various newspapers and other information sources refer to these vehicles as unmanned "drone" submarines, they are really just specialized torpedoes, weighing in at around 100 pounds and small enough to be deployed by helicopters and motorboats. Equipped with a camera and a "high-caliber shaped charge" and guided by optical fiber, these torpedoes are sent on search and destroy suicide missions aimed mostly against naval mines...

    This is the part where several narrow/nearsighted critics started bemoaning the taxpayers money, for the thought of using a 100,000 dollar advanced torpedo to take out a mine which cost at most a few thousand dollars to make and deploy does sound a bit tactless. One outspoken critic describes the idea as a over-sophisticated way to accomplish something that can be done by sticking a bomb on a stick and poking a mine. While I certainly admire the critic's bravado, I am not so confident that this multi-million stunt was really undertaken just to give defense contractors their profits (furthermore I am certainly not volunteering to be engaged in any activity which involves a stick, a shaped charge, a naval mine, and frankly, an idiot.)

    Think back to the days where the skies were dominated by flashy planes and the F-117 was the way to get a missile somewhere without being noticed. Nowadays if we wanted a hellfire missile in someones window all we need is a predator drone. The move to unman certain undemanding tasks such as shooting a missile at the ground from an aircraft was the ultimate end result of a slow chain of events. Unmanned aircrafts started out as a sheer redundancy, the first unmanned drones were meant for use as artillery spotters and were literally RC planes with webcams attached. When the first drones took to the skies guided missiles had already dominated the world of indirect fire support, and even if you had to use tube artillery, all one needed was some skill in mathematics and a radar. The thought of using a shiny camera in the sky to correct fire must have seemed as ludicrous as using a 100,000 dollar submarine to take out naval mines.

    Now you see where I'm going with this?

    In the world of submarines, there are many tasks that make shooting missiles at rocks seem like the pinnacle of human entertainment. Take for example the ominous tasks of ballistic missile submarines, whose job is to safeguard a small forest of nuclear missiles in case the order ever came to demolish the face of the planet. With the world as (relatively) peaceful as it is now, I'm certainly not going to hold my breath waiting for that order to be sent, and really, should the submarine ever receive that order, its just a matter of uploading a few coordinates and pushing the big red button. The theoretical endurance of the reactor of a Ohio-Class ballistic missile sub is about a decade, while the endurance of the crew's rations is only about half a year, and the endurance of the sanity of the crew locked inside an undersea coffin for months at a time is still unknown. On-board a submarine whose job is to hide and make as little noise as possible and remain hidden for as long as possible all in order to perform a relatively simple task should the need arise, the benefits getting rid of some noisy, needy, fragile, and unpredictable humans are quite apparent.

    Of course people are going to have a few scary thoughts about placing the firepower to decimate the planet within an automated platform which can play hide-and-seek indefinitely for as long as it wants (sounds like a bad movie), but boomer (ballistic missile) subs are not the only ones that can be automated. (and really, if you are going to have nightmares about unmanned nuclear submarines blowing up your house, just put an independent targeting system on the missile, the subs job is just to fire the damned things, you can have the honor of telling them where to go and when to blow up, or just give the unmanned guy conventional missiles) Passive sonar detectors, mobile off vector torpedo launchers (shooting at you from one direction while I [the real sub] is in another direction), decoy subs (which are already in use), mine-layer subs, the possibilities are nearly endless. 

    The Australian Government is in your Wifi, Stealing Your Moneyz!

  • Thursday, April 5, 2012
  • Archimedes
  • Labels: , , ,
  • Starting from about 2009, an Australian research firm CSIRO sued its way over existing patents to over 200 million dollars of reimbursement for patent violation. According to the firm, they were the group responsible for the creation of WiFi and have been victimized by the world producing its invention without paying them back. A further lawsuit recently granted them about a $4 royalty on every WiFi enabled device sold, needless to say, that's a whole lot of money.

    The controversy here however, isn't the fact that these multimillion lawsuits haven't really surfaced in commercial news, but because the claim of the firm to having "invented" WiFi is shaky at best. Moreover, other electronic inventions such as the Flash Memory Devices that are in every flash drive, iPod, and iPhone today have never rally been definitively copyrighted, highlighting an issue of intellectual property in our changing electronic world.

    China: Underloved, Underappreciated

  • Thursday, February 16, 2012
  • Archimedes
  • Labels: , , ,
  • With election year rolling in to the dockets of politicians nationwide, international issues that fall short of wars roll right out of those same dockets. The Obama Administration has handled the Iran/Iraq situation for now, and steered the nations economy somewhat through troubled times, but the issue of international trade has been in the backstage for quite a while now, and a major player is getting a little riled.

    Ever since the Bush administration, the United States has been pressuring China to raise the value of its currency, the Chinese Yuan. Because of the very biased conversion rate of aproximately 8 yuan to one dollar at the start of the century, China's manufacturing industry has been booming due to low relative cost of manufacturing. In a Chinese sweatshop, workers are paid a few yuan a week, and the same goods they make by the thousands sell for a few dollars worth of profit each. Just assuming that one happy meal toy equivalent takes 1 yuan to make and makes a profit of 1 dollar, the profit margin is a huge 800%.

    The policy of high conversion rate, however, has its downsides. Because the currency is so weak, the Chinese businessmen who make their profit in Yuans are at a disadvantage when purchasing American goods, a meal in New York can easily cost a week of a Chinese tradesman's salary. This leaves the average Chinese household and businesses with a tiny amount of purchasing power for the amount of labor they produce. And to further worsen the issue, the sensitive goods that China want to import, like high end manufacturing know-how and weapons/space development technology is being marked as banned goods by the international community, so even though the Chinese in general have a large amount of relative buying power, no one will sell them what they want.

    These factors lead to the situation we saw a few years back, with every cheap thing in Wal-Mart being made in China. The import-export surplus equaled to almost 10% of China's GDP at its peak, and that is a very large number thought to be unsustainable by many economists. Manufacturing jobs flowed out of the US and into China where better markets and cheaper labor and materials can be had, which is why the US was hit a lot harder than China by the global recession.

    The Bush administration thought it could solve the economic turmoil in America by forcing China to raise the value of its currency. Done through some one-sided and brutal diplomacy, the Chinese agreed to the request. The conversion rate is now 6 yuan to one dollar and dropping, but the United States is hardly very appreciative...

    Thanks to Bush's antics in office, most of what he has done for the country has been smeared in bias. Public opinion polls today reveal that more than 50% of Americans still blame China in some way for the current recession despite the recent change. Instead of congratulating China for their remarkable progress to our request, the people of the United States would love to see harsher China policies. Obama is being a little indecisive, but several republican candidates would like to see even more economic demands on China to ultimately make China the economic servant of the "developed" world.

    Already the change in conversion rate is hurting the Chinese economy. China, which holds some trillions of US debt, is rapidly losing relative debt value thanks to the conversion change that was almost forced upon them. 1 trillion dollars of debt used to be bought by 8 trillion Yuan, but now the effective value of that same debt is only 6 trillion. Over the course of 4 years, China has lost 2 trillion Yuans of debt value per trillion dollars of debt held, to a market being manipulated by the US. Instead of even a pat on the back or plain indifference, China is being faced with even more pressure for lower conversion rates and more open markets.

    You can only extort so much money out of a country, and when you go too far, the country getting pushed blows a really big gasket. When Germany was being pushed over the brink, it embraced Hitler and started WWII, and should China, who is the only country showing steady signs of growth at a time of global economic strife so much as looks down the path of blood and iron, the rest of the world should be very scared indeed. Even if the "free world" can rein in the dragon, the world will lose the largest producer and exporter it has ever seen, and this little recession we are getting right now will then seem like "the good old days".

    PDQ Bach

  • Sunday, January 15, 2012
  • Archimedes
  • Writing a blog full of technicalities can get boring at times, which is why today I would like to share with you all an oddity in the world of fine arts.

    While everyone has probably at some time heard the name of J.S. Bach, famous classical composer, almost no one has ever heard of PDQ Bach, a musical jester who makes a living by making classical music that makes fun of other music. Claiming to be the long lost third cousin-of-the-brother-of-the-grandson-of Bach himself (or something like that), he has written pieces like "A sportsmens guide to the 5th Symphony", a piece that gives American football style, "play by play commentary" during the famous 5th symphony "fate", "A piece for a whole lot of winds and brass", the "1712 Overture", which shamelessly butchers the melodies from the 1812 overture and cannons blasts are replaced by slapstick or firecrackers, church bells are replaced by what seems to be brass cups, and the entire symphony takes a huge collective breath in the repetitive sections.

    The guys work is all over youtube, just type in PDQ Bach whenever you get a few minutes of time. Heres a video of his satire of the 5th symphony.

    Orbital Power Grid

  • Friday, January 6, 2012
  • Archimedes
  • Labels: , , , ,
  • Ever since the advent of communications and navigation via satellite, there was always a demand for more and higher quality satellites to service the new systems. Thanks to the large bulk of most commercial satellites and the high cost of launching payload into orbit, currently around 3,000 USD per pound for a small rocket, the satellite industry in general has barely grown since its inception. In an economy plagued by speculation and lack of consumer demand, there are always telecommunications companies, oil and mineral companies, military organizations, and even third-world countries seeking a chance to put their own platform into space, and the industry of making that task easier could be quite a lucrative one indeed.

    If we take a closer look at today's satellite systems, every continuously functioning satellite in orbit uses large solar power cells that can sometimes account for up to half of the mass and/or volume of the satellite which they power, if only there was a readily available power source out there in orbit, then future launches will only have to send up the core components absolutely critical to a satellites function, reducing the bulk and weight of the launch payload and making the process a simple matter of designing the most compact and efficient transmitter/receivers, taking the concern of power generation and management off the list of engineering worries.

    Although setting up a commercially viable power grid in space seems a daunting task of astronomical proportions, I believe it is quite possible given that the earth acts like a giant magnet in space. Given this fact, our orbital power grid does not even need generators, all it really needs is a large web of conducting cables connected by transformer pylons. Cables of a strong and conductive metal alloy stretched over a long distance and quickly rotating around a magnet that is our earth effectively acts as a huge DC current generator, and the resulting power is then converted and redirected to functioning satellites at key pylon satellites which by their paths of orbit keep the cables taunt.

    An advantage of this system is that all an incoming satellite needs to do is to reach very low earth orbit, connect itself to a pylon via cable, and then drag itself along the cable to a higher orbit. With this in mind, not only now would we need to send up less material, we also don't have to send it up as high. These factors working together should make it possible for even small companies to send up their own private communications satellites.
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