“Bow Wave” is Critical to Defense Budgets

At AMREL we play close attention to pressures placed on the Department of Defense (DoD) budgets. We strive to respond to ever changing needs of our clients and market forces.

How are things going for the DoD? If you listen to the leadership, not so good.

“Every single time I stand on stage, I tell people the budget is getting worse and worse, and I’ve always proven to be correct,” said Tony Montemarano, executive deputy director (Defnse Information Systems Agency) … “there are a lot of legacy programs … that now will lose funding.” Signal

“Adm. Mulloy cited an old saying about Navy chiefs squeezing nickels ‘until the buffalo squeaks,’ advising chiefs today to watch their spares closely…” Signal

“The Navy continues to postpone much needed repairs and upgrades for the majority of our infrastructure,” said Admiral Michelle Howard, vice chief of naval operations. “We are still paying down the readiness debt we accrued over the last decade, but more slowly than we would prefer and at continued risk to our shore infrastructure.” VOA

The above represents just a small sample of the grumblings emanating from our military leadership. Complaints about budgetary limitations are ringing across the land. A half-trillion dollar Defense budget is just not enough.

 

Defense budget

What’s going on here? Is this just business as usual? After all, no officer ever advanced his career by loudly proclaiming his command had too much money. Let’s look at the Defense budget:

Defense 1

DoD Budget Request 2017

The budget for 2017 is $521.7 billion, which is down from previous requests (2013 was $525. 4 billion). As can be seen from the above chart, procurement funding has decreased, while funding for research has increased. Of course, this doesn’t include the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget, which has been slashed. Supposedly OCO doesn’t affect base expenses and is used only for actual war operations.

Could these relatively modest decreases be responsible for the economic squeeze that Defense is so vigilantly complaining about?

 

War is bad for living things and new acquisitions

During the Iraqi and Afghanistan campaigns, the DoD had to divert funding from upgrades, maintenance, readiness, and acquisitions to pay for the land wars. Furthermore, the money spent the land wars did not contribute to DoD’s assets or goals. Equipment was scraped, abandoned, or given away.

“For the most part, war-related acquisition funding was not used to modernize and recapitalize the inventory of equipment.”

Defense Modernization Plans through 2020

Bow Wave

As a result of this diversion, the programs for new acquisitions were stalled and goals became delayed to an unknown time. This created the phenomenon known as “Bow Wave.”  Think of the bow of a ship pushing into the ocean. The wave it creates is constantly moving forward. The defense community uses this as a metaphor for the current state of funding. A “Bow Wave” in defense parlance, is the delay into the indefinite future of major expenses. It’s sort of like a balloon payment at the end of a mortgage.

The “Bow Wave” is expected to suck all available funding, causing non-prioritized projects to suffer. As a result, the brass is scrambling to declare that their individual programs are overwhelmingly important, while the other guys’ pet projects are just waste.

In the big fight about defining what is and what is not waste, we could simply build the kind of military we need and get rid of everything else. One small problem with that way of thinking; take a look at DoD’s goals as outlined in the DoD Budget Request 2017.

“Funds a joint force with the capacity and capability to:

– Defend the homeland

– Respond to five challenges

o Russia

o China

o North Korea

o Iran

o Global counter-terrorism”

As you might expect, the forces required to deter Russia are quite a bit different from those that would engage China and so on. No one really knows what war we are going to fight next.

How is the “Bow Wave” going to affect defense-spending priorities?  A future blog post will discuss winners and losers in upcoming Defense budgets.

 

Counter-Terrorism Lessons from Israel

As images of bloody bodies flow in from Brussels and Pakistan, we once again search for an appropriate response to the horror of a successful terrorist attack. Some people call for revenge. Others declare liberties are a luxury that we can no longer afford. Many seem stunned into inaction. What are we to do?

At AMREL, we watch these events with keen interest. Of course, like all citizens, we are concerned about terrorism, but we also wonder what our role will be in future counter-terrorism efforts. We have been supplying warfighters and security personnel with rugged mobile computing solutions for over 30 years. What will we be called on to supply next?  Will we be asked for our mobile biometric devices? Our Defense solutions?  Our Public Safety equipment? Something completely new?

I watch these events with a sickening sense of familiarity. I lived in Israel at a time of intense terrorist activity.  No country in world has been more subjected to terrorism than Israel. None take their security more seriously than Israel does.

While living there, I had an opportunity to see firsthand a country fighting terror every day. I also had numerous conversations about terrorism with Israeli intelligence, government, and military professionals (this isn’t unusual; Israel is a small country where everyone knows everyone else).

The following represents some of the lessons that I learned about terrorism while living in Israel.

Even under continuous terrorist threat, it is possible to have a free society. Of everything I experienced in Israel, this was the thing that impressed me the most. Despite a wide range of security measures, and a state of constant hyper-vigilance, Israel enjoys a robust, free-wheeling democracy. Israel may have an impressive multi-layered security regime, but Israelis did not seem intimidated by it in the slightest. Certainly, it did not restrain them from loudly expressing their opinions about the government in general and politicians in particular.

Of course, I write this as someone who is not an Arab. Arab citizens bitterly complain of discrimination. Jews counterclaim that Arabs living in Israel are freer there than they are in any other country in the Middle East.

I am not qualified to discuss the experiences of Israeli Arabs. If you wish to learn about their life in Israel, I strongly recommend the outrageously funny television show, Arab Labor. Written by an Israeli Arab, it humorously explores the bizarre experiences of living as suspected minority in a society dominated by terrorist fear. You can watch it online in a number of places, including here.

Most of impositions to liberty seem relatively trivial. In Israel, I had to carry an internal passport at all times. Can you imagine the howls from both the Left and the Right if the federal government tried to impose a system of national identification here? It’s not that Israelis are less jealous of their liberties than Americans (if anything, they distrust their government more), it’s just that they’re more accepting of the necessity of security measures. Carrying an internal passport all the time is really no different than how I teat my drivers license in the US.

Profiling works, just not in the way that you think it does. I have heard self-appointed “security experts” envy the Israeli freedom in profiling Arab minorities.

Of course, Israeli officials target Arabs for extra security measures. And young European women as well. Several years ago there was a highly publicized incident in which a terrorist tricked a young Irish woman into carrying a bomb aboard an airplane. Ever since then, Israeli security at airports carefully screens single young women. I knew one foreign visitor who had an Israeli acquaintance accompany her to airports and pretend to be her boyfriend, specifically so she could avoid the extra level of scrutiny.

Do not assume profiling will not apply to you, because…

Everybody is profiled. It’s very simple. If security only subjected Arabs to extra inspections, then terrorists would use people who didn’t look like Arabs. If security places restrictions on young men, then terrorists use women. If both young men and women are subjected to extra scrutiny, then terrorists would use old folks.

Several times a year, a high level representative of a church or government complains to a local Israeli newspaper about the “outrageous” security measures he endured at an Israeli airport. I always laugh at these tirades, because the measures he describes are the exact same ones that I and everyone else must undergo.

The next time you see a grandmother in a wheelchair being searched at an airport, don’t bemoan it as political correctness gone amuck. It’s simple common sense. Security personnel have learned what the classic cartoon Pogo once so wisely observed, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Bigotry is a poor counter-terrorist strategy. Very few genuine counter-terrorists experts in the United States embrace the view that all Arabs or all Moslems are our enemy. They are fully aware that Arabs and Moslems are the primary victims of radicalized Islamic terror, and serve as our allies (if uneasy ones) in the war against terror.

In Israel, “They all want to kill us” is an extremely popular view. However, this hasn’t stopped Israeli military and intelligence from cooperating with Palestinian authorities on counter-terrorists actions. It’s not unusual to read a complaint from the Israeli Prime Minister’s office about the Palestinian leadership inciting violence, while in the same newspaper the head of an Army unit is quoted as praising his Palestinian counterpart for a successfully destroying a terrorist cell.

Painting all Moslems or Arabs with the same terrorist brush turns assets into liabilities and converts allies into enemies. We have to be smarter than that.

Kabuki theater works. Waiting in line to enter a mall while some under-paid guard searches backpacks and women’s purses, someone will inevitably comment that these inconvenient security measures are stupid and pointless. No determined terrorist would be deterred by these farcically ineffective procedures.

Except that they are. I’ve read interviews with would-be suicide bombers and other terrorists about their thought processes as they prepare to attack. A major factor in their consideration is the same silly security measures that are widely mocked. What seems stupid to us, is intimidating to a terrorist.

Terrorism is the new normal. While writing this article, I talked to a people who had traveled through the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and South Korea. Each of these countries has experienced problems with terrorism and has instituted counter-measures.

Along with cell phones, television, and the internet, magnetic wands and metal detectors are the technologies that will define our time.

Terrorists adapt. Every few years Israel experiences waves of terror. A while back, suicide bombers were a problem. At the time, the problem seemed insurmountable. None of Israel’s traditional security methods seemed effective.

So, Israel developed new security methods. Among other things, they built a highly controversial security wall to keep out terrorists. Israelis increased surveillance on possible terrorists and with more help from the Palestinian security services than they like to admit, this particular wave of attacks has been thwarted. Deaths and incidents died down.

And then they started again. It hasn’t gotten much publicity in this country, but Israel is undergoing what is sometimes referred to as the “Lone Wolf” Intifada. Individuals, seemingly unconnected to any organization, are randomly stabbing people. In the last 6 months, 34 Israelis have been killed and 404 have been wounded.

Just like with earlier wave of terrorism, no one seems to know what to do. No one is sure what will be effective countermeasures. Despite the anxieties being expressed now in the Israeli media, I have no doubt that Israel’s highly motivated security establishment will eventually devise effective defense actions.

Unfortunately, their enemies will then figure out a new way of attacking them. In a war of terror, the side that is the most innovative and flexible will always have the advantage.

Is your smartphone more reliable than your desktop?

I have encountered an interesting prejudice. Some people have confidently informed me that the smaller the form factor, the more reliable it is.  Laptops are more reliable than desktops, but less reliable than tablets, which aren’t as rugged as handhelds.

To be clear, whatever rugged platform AMREL sells you – tablet, laptop, or handheld – it has been built for the utmost reliability.   We build our computing solutions as if lives depend on them, because a lot of the times lives do depend on them.

If you have never heard of the “smaller is more dependable” myth, don’t worry about it; most of the experts that I talked to never heard of it either.  In fact, for reasons, which will be explained, it doesn’t make sense on multiple levels.

Still, I wondered why some people might think their smaller platforms are more dependable. Here are few theories.

The problem is not the hardware, but the operating system (OS). Most desktops still use Windows, while many smaller form factors do not.  Some point to Windows as the culprit behind the “bigger is more unreliable” myth. Windows has a number of issues which could contribute to more frequent breakdowns.

For one thing, the Windows OS on your desktop has a lot of updates, whereas the Android OS on your smartphone may be frozen.  Frequent updates create more points of failure and more “bloated” software. Furthermore, Windows seeks updates during the boot process, which can overload the CPU, leading to a significantly slower starting time.

Legacy issues are another cause of “bloated” software.  Your brand new Windows OS has to accommodate programs that were written when floppy discs were still considered an exciting new innovation. This leads to complications, more resources being used, and just more problems. Also, developers for the newer Android OS can learn from the mistakes that Windows has made previously.

Some claim that Windows is more susceptible to malware and viruses than the OS typically used on smartphones.  This makes sense considering how much older and widespread Windows OS are.

In addition to the Windows OS, some point the finger at poorly written applications. Apple is notoriously strict about the apps than can run on its equipment. Windows less so.

Nope, hardware is the problem. Supposedly, hardware used in laptops and desktops are much more varied than those found in tablets and smartphones. This is more challenging for their OS, and a more diverse supply chain contributes to quality issues.  I am not sure this is true, but some folks believe it.

More flexibility means less rigidity, which means less reliability. You have a lot more options on your desktop than your smartphone. A simpler, locked-in, frozen device has less ways of fouling up.  It is more likely that your machine gun will jam than your sword will break.

The simplicity of the smaller form factors means they’re easier to upgrade. All computer companies constantly improve their platforms. However, smartphone manufacturers have an easier time of fixing problems, because of the more limited nature of their solutions. Again, I am not sure I totally buy this explanation, but it is an argument that I have heard.

Actually, smartphones are not more reliable than desktops. We throw away broken smartphones. We repair desktops. We mentally compartmentalize the two tasks differently, so we think never think about debugging smartphones, whereas we remember the frequent annoying calls to tech support for our desktops.  Think of how often you buy a smartphone as compared to how often you buy a laptop or desktop.

The “smaller is more reliable” myth is really, stupid and reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about technology. By far and away, this was the sentiment that I heard expressed the most by AMREL’s engineers.

“Compared to a smartphone, a desktop is a large truck,” explained Magnus Pyk, AMREL’s Director of Engineering. “It has more power, more torque, and just more room for more stuff. You can put an entire recording studio on a desktop, far more than what a tablet or smartphone is capable of. Smaller form factors are lowered powered, simpler systems. This is worse than comparing apples to oranges.”

In other words, you can’t compare the different platforms, because they are not comparable. They are built for entirely different range of capabilities. A compact car might get better gas mileage than a tank, but if I had to go into battle, I know which vehicle I would want.

Whatever form factor you do decide on, you may want to check out AMREL’s complete list of offerings.  No matter what size platform you choose, we have one that you will absolutely, positively be able to depend on.

Nine Defense Questions for the Next President

If you were to hire a CEO for a company with a budget of $600+ billion, wouldn’t you ask them some questions about it?  Wouldn’t you want to know if they were familiar with company’s programs, and how they intend to manage them?

Evidently, the media and politicians don’t think so.  Sure, Senator Sanders has bragged about his bill to help veterans, and many politicians have vowed to strengthen the military. However, no one is asking the candidates the most basic questions about how they intend to oversee Defense spending, which is approximately half the Federal budget.

Here is a list of questions that I think every candidate should be asked.  None of them concern trivial matters and all reflect actual decisions the next president will have to make. A presidential answer to any of these questions would profoundly affect strategic thinking in capitals all around the world and cause billions of dollars (if not more) to change hands.

  1. Drawdown With the wind down of our involvement in Asian land wars, the ARMY is experiencing a personnel drawdown. As president would you continue this drawdown? If not, then how do you justify maintaining the ARMY’s larger size in the current world situation? If you would continue the drawdown, how would you do it?  Would you do it the way that it was done in the 1990s with an early retirement program, or would you limit recruitment of new enlistees?
  2. Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Funding Our recent wars have been funded through the OCO.  Would you continue doing this, or would you fund future military operations through the main Defense budget? How would your decision affect sequestration?
  3. F-35 The F-35 program has been heavily criticized and there have even been calls for its cancellation. Do you intend to keep the F-35 program or cancel it?  If you intend to maintain it, how would you improve it? If you intend to cancel it, what would you replace it with?
  4. Procurement reform  While the people who work in acquisition may be professional and honest, the Defense procurement process itself has a terrible reputation. How do you plan to reform defense acquisition?
  5. Redundancy Do you think that redundancy is a problem in the Pentagon? If you do not think it is, then you’re an idiot and no further questions are necessary. If you do think it is a problem, how do you do plan to deal with it?
  6. “Pacific Tilt” Do you plan to implement the current administration’s “Pacific Tilt?” How will your decision affect Defense spending priorities?
  7. Pentagon audit Contrary to federal law, the Department of Defense has never passed an audit. They do not even have relational database for their inventory.  As president, how do plan to deal with this problem?  Do you support the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2015, which was co-sponsored by Senators Sanders and Cruz?
  8. War on terror How do perceive the military’s role in the War on Terror? How would this affect spending priorities?
  9. Budget Do you plan to increase or decrease Defense spending? What funding do you plan to cut?  Where do you plan to increase spending?

By the way, I think a perfectly fine answer to some of these questions is “I do not know.” The President is Commander-in-Chief, not a miracle worker.  But we should expect him to have at least a cursory familiarity with these challenges, and he should give us an idea of he would manage them.  AMREL has an interest in Defense management, since we have been supplying warfighters with customized mobile rugged computer solutions for over 30 years. Along with you, we will be very closely watching this election and our new president.

How to buy the right biometric device

Biometrics is of one the world’s most important emerging technologies. They are used to accurately identify criminals, disburse benefits, manage events, protect financial transactions, authorize access, and fight fraud.  If you are considering buying a biometric device, here are a few questions that you need to ask.

1) Do you need to read this article? Most biometric transactions are described as verifications, i.e. are you who you say you are? An example would be laptops and smartphones that have a fingerprint sensor that identifies authorized users. Verification can be performed by relativity simple technologies. A much more challenging application is enrollment, in which biometric information from an individual is captured and stored. Purchasing and deploying an enrollment device involves a very complex evaluative process, poses numerous risks, and may incur unforeseen expenses. If you are looking for a mobile enrollment device, this article is for you.

2) Do you need an enrollment device that is mobile? Mobile biometric devices save time, money, and hassle. Consider the following three scenarios:

• Forward-based soldiers enrolling the inhabitants of a village.

• Policemen enrolling a suspect in the field.

• Event managers enrolling clients at an entertainment/sports venue.

In each of the above examples, mobile frees the workers from the chore of ferrying the enrollees back to a base/station/office to use a stationary biometric device. For most applications, the mobility of an enrollment device is an enormous advantage.

In spite of the benefits, many project managers discard the possibility of a mobile biometric device that has enrollment capabilities, because they believe the technological difficulties are too great or costly. This is unfortunate because economic, practical solutions are available.

3) What modality do you want? Biometric modalities include fingerprint, palm veins, facial recognition, DNA, palm print, iris recognition, retina and odor/scent.

By far and away, the most established, popular, and practical modality is fingerprinting. Fingerprints have the largest, most complete databases available, which is an enormous advantage for the purposes of identification. However, fingerprints have their problems. The fingerprints of the elderly and farm workers have been known to become so worn that they are unusable. This is one reason that it is strongly recommended that your biometric device is multimodal. In addition, using more than one modality reduces the problems of noisy data, “spoofing”(fraud), and unacceptable error rates.

Iris and facial recognition are popular complementary modalities to fingerprinting, but you need to evaluate the specific needs of your application. For example, police like cameras, so they can take pictures of gang tattoos. If you are deploying a biometric device for financial applications in Japan, palm vein, which is popular there, would warrant serious consideration.

4) Do I need a device with multiple fingerprint enrollment capability? Experts strongly recommended enrolling more than one finger. Minor injuries and temporary disabilities can compromise the usability of captured images of a single finger.

5) Do you need access to large databases? This really depends on your application. For example, I use a fingerprint sensor to obtain access to my gym. I assume that my gym doesn’t care about interacting with larger databases that local and national governments use to track criminals. They only want to compare my fingerprints with their client list. However, police departments, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security need to exchange data with other government databases.

Keep in mind special requirements for specific applications. For example, police departments may need compliance with FirstNet standards. Military applications may need special encryption capabilities. More than one buyer has had to replace their entire line of recently purchased biometric devices because they did not meet the requirements for interaction with large databases.

6) What are the requirements for accesses to national and local databases? The most commonly used national database, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Information System (IAFIS), has very strict standards for the Electronic Fingerprint Templates (EFT) that it accepts. Standards include FAP-45 (Appendix F) and PIV. FAP-45 is the stricter “high-throughput” standard; it is the one that is most likely to affect busy institutional use.

7) How important is the quality of the fingerprint images that my device captures? Very. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) research revealed that image quality directly impacts identification match accuracy. By deploying the highest quality sensors on the most reliable platforms, you can reduce missed identifications/verifications of a subject, additional secondary workload processes, and overall examiner workloads.

8) What kind of fingerprint sensor should I look for? Get a device with a Light Emitting Sensor (LES) sensor. LES multilayer, polymer composite film resists abrasion, operates at extreme temperatures, and isn’t affected by fog or condensation. Unlike traditional optical sensors, direct and bright sunlight do not diminish its ability to capture high quality fingerprint images. Compared to  old-fashion systems, the LES sensor is less sensitive to oils left behind from previous users; other sensors need to be cleaned after each capture.

9) What kind of mobile platform should I look for? Get a rugged device; preferably one with a high IP rating and has met military environmental standards, such as MIL-STD 810. You will spend more on the initial cost, but will save in the long run on repair, lost data, downtime, and lost work hours. Public safety officers, relief workers, and warfighters work in harsh environments. They need devices that can get dirty, get wet, take a beating, and still successfully operate.

If you can answer the above questions, you are ready to get started in your search for a mobile enrollment device. Of course, there are many other factors to be considered. If you have any questions, feel free to contact one of AMREL Application Engineers at (800) 8826735.

For over 30 years, AMREL has been a leader in developing highly reliable, fully rugged mobile solutions that operate in the most demanding environments. We supply more than multi-modal handhelds for collection, enrollment, and identification; we provide a generation of expertise.  We customize even low-volume orders to craft solutions that are perfect for your needs. See our complete line of biometric devices here.

Ten Ways Mobile Business Solutions Succeed and Fail

When offices first went digital, a large number of businesses failed to successfully integrate computers. One story that I heard more than once was “We bought computers six months ago. Now they sit on the shelf in a closet where they are a very expensive way of gathering dust.”

Something like this is currently happening with mobile solutions. An estimated 100 million workers use mobile devices for business purposes. However, a surprisingly large number of mobile business solutions have failed. Here, at AMREL, we hear a lot about them, because we have reputation for technical support, i.e. we get many calls about problems affecting other companies solutions, because the end users are so frustrated with the original supplier that they try contacting us.

Before you buy a mobile communication solution, here are a few of things to look for:

1) Lack of user buy in. This is probably the number one cause of failure, and many of the examples given here are really just a variation of this problem. The end-user (field personnel, maintenance worker, salesman, warfighter, warehouse worker, etc.) simply doesn’t want to use the shiny, new mobile device. Pen and pencil worked fine all this time. Why should he invest energy in making a change?

Before one deploys a communication solution, survey the end user. What are their needs? Their challenges? After the system is rolled out, survey them again and again. Are they having problems with the new solution? What changes do they recommend? Be prepared for a lot of tweaking even after the system is deployed. Remember: You don’t get decide when you are done with the solution deployment. It may never end.

2) Overlooking back-end and software functionality. This was much more of a problem in the past than it is now. The older generation viewed software as an afterthought, while hardware was the “real” heart of the solution.

Still this problem shows up even today. Is the application user-friendly? Does it enable the end-user to perform their most important tasks? Has the app been optimized for mobile devices? Is the back-end scalable so you can adjust it for future needs? Is the back-end off the shelf or specifically made for your enterprise? If it is unique, does that mean you’re locked into support by one vendor? These are questions that businesses have learned to ask the hard way.

3) End-to-end solutions. This is an example of a “back-end” problem mentioned above. End-to-end solutions can be great, but let me tell you an example in which they weren’t.

A big city police department needed a new in-vehicle solution. They replaced their mobile computers with a cheaper brand, which only worked with the manufacturer’s proprietary software. The department thought they were getting a great deal, because the initial price was lower than anything else on the market.

The software was a disaster. Officers didn’t get emergency messages quickly or sometimes not at all. The entire system (in-vehicle computers and software) was replaced in a year.

Several years ago, I attended a seminar in which large Public Safety departments described how they were going to meet FirstNet requirements. Several participants railed against end-to-end solutions. I don’t agree; some end-to-end systems work well. But I can’t say that I was surprised by the vehemence that was expressed.

4) End user literally can’t see the information on the screen. The screen is washed out by the sun or is too small to accurately display the information needed for the task. Seems obvious, but businesses have been known to overlook this.

5) No keyboard. Tablets work fine for checklists, but what about the comments section, which can be a critical part of a worker’s responsibilities? One company failed to get productivity gains for field personnel, because all waited to get back to the office before inputting data. Since they were going to sit down at their desktops anyway, why split the work of data entry into two tasks? Of course, you can always buy a tablet with a QWERTY keyboard, such as AMREL’s ROCKY DT10.

6) Politics and brand loyalty. Buy an iPad if it fits your enterprise’s needs. Don’t buy it to look cool. The Los Angeles Unified School District paid a very expensive price for this lesson.

7) Access to databases. Another version of the “back-end” problem. Some workers will not use their mobile devices if they can’t access databases, such as product catalog, CRM, and order entry systems. Lack of access prevented them from completing their tasks, so just like the field workers above, they waited until getting back to the office to input data. Don’t assume you know what info they need. Ask them.

8) Workers are scared to use mobile devices, because they are expensive. Some companies are especially punitive toward workers who damage their mobile devices, so they simply leave them in the box and never use them. Give your staff peace of mind, save money in the long run, and buy rugged computers.

9) Can’t physically carry the device. Supervisors assumed that warehouse workers would always have a free hand to use a mobile device. Turned out they were wrong. When strapped to belts, the devices always got in the way, and workers needed two hands for most tasks. Hate to sound repetitive, but, again, ask the end user.

10) Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). There are advantages and disadvantages to this popular policy. Read about it here.

The above is not meant to be complete, but rather a collection of anecdotes that we have heard over the years. Do you have your own mobile story? Send it to editor@amrel.com.

What to look for in 2016

Recently, I read several articles that listed predictions, e.g. “Top Ten security Risks in 2016.”  Like everyone else who services Defense and Security industries, AMREL is always looking ahead to see what products and services will be in demand.

What I noticed is that none of the articles predicted the big stories of 2016 that have already happen, i.e. the crumbling stock market and collapsing oil prices.  Rather than make predictions, I decided to analyze these events and their implications for the year ahead.

 

Oil

As has been widely reported, oil prices have slumped because of Saudi Arabia’s aggressive campaign to wipe out fracking. Fracking and other non-traditional methods of oil extraction have resulted in unprecedented levels of North American oil production.  Fracking is expensive; oil needs to be around $60 or $70 a barrel for it to be economical. Saudi’s aggressive pumping of cheap oil has pushed it down the price of a barrel to around $30. This has caused a massive reduction of capital investments and extensive layoffs in the fracking industry, which is what Saudi Arabia wants.

 

Stock market

Why has cheap oil caused the stock market to decline? Obviously, oil companies are suffering from the Saudi campaign, and this is a drag on the whole market. Some argue that eventually the economic benefits of cheaper oil will become so evident than even the famously manic-depressive stock market will have to notice them.

However, the other possible cause of oil’s price decline is what is really spooking the financial markets. China drives the world’s economy, especially with its voracious appetites for raw materials. Nobody believes the Chinese government’s official statistics, so businessmen are always looking for indications of the true state of its economy. If oil prices are low, that means their economy is not demanding as much, which means that it is slowing down. That means a lesser demand for raw materials, and that means bad times for all.  Add to this that Brazil, a major supplier of raw goods to China, is having serious problems, and you got yourself a worldwide economic freak out.

 

What does this mean for Defense industries?

How will the Chinese government react to its economic slowdown? After all, the Communist Party has held onto power partly through China’s unparalleled economic growth rates. How will they placate their citizens who expect and demand upward mobility? The Party could enact political and economic reforms that will enable true transparency, genuine economic freedom, and an elimination of the near-surrealistic levels of smothering corruption.

Sorry about that last sentence. I needed a good laugh. What the Chinese leadership has done in recent years and will probably do in the future when faced with a discontented public is foment nationalism and beat the drums of war.

Educated Chinese still talk about the “century of humiliation” when Japan and Western powers carved up China like a roast turkey. Nationalistic pride is a raw nerve easily aggravated, especially when it comes to matters of territorial claims.

Consider:

  • China is heavily dependent on trade.
  • United States Navy is capable of enforcing choke points of China’s major trade routes in the South China Sea.
  • China has border disputes with virtually every one of its neighbors (not an exaggeration).
  • China is aggressively ramping up its naval capabilities.

The United States us fully aware of this situation and has tried to shift its military resources in the so-called “Pacific Tilt.”  Good news for Defense firms that supply Naval needs. No so good for those that supply land-based military needs.

I am not suggesting that there will be a war between a China and the US. Nobody wants that (it should be pointed out, however, that historically “what everybody wants” has very little to do with whether or not a war starts). But what it does mean is a build-up of military assets and equipment.

I am also assuming that the United Sates will be able to avoid further major land-based operations in the Middle East.  After the expensive, inconclusive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public simply has no appetite for another lengthy ground battle.

 

Three things to look for in 2016

  • California real estate prices. The phenomenon of cash-rich overseas Chinese investors buying up California real estate is so well known that it is practically a cliché. If the Chinese economy is really in trouble, and the threat of war looms large, expect the already insanely expensive housing market in the Golden State to heat up further as wealthy Chinese seek safe harbor for their assets.
  • Marines get busy. Satirist Tom Lehr says it best:

When someone makes a move
Of which we don’t approve,
Who is it that always intervenes?
UN and OAS,
They have their place, I guess,
But first send the Marines!

If America is serious about a show of force in the South Chinese Sea, expect to see Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children (USMC) conducting training missions on remote rocky atolls. Also, keep track of aircraft carriers, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles, the DF-5 (Chinese ICBM) and other technologies that may be used in coming Pacific face-off.

  • Syrian peace talks. Just because we don’t want to fight a major land war in the Middle East, doesn’t mean that we won’t. Right now, the region resembles a live action version of the board game Risk. No sensible, rational person would want to get mixed up in this unholy mess. So, we can’t rule out US involvement.

The Russians are supporting the brutal Syrian dictator Assad. They are dragging their feet in the Syrian peace talks, trying to gain military advantage before any final settlement. However, the Russians have their own troubles. European sanctions against them for their Ukrainian intervention, low prices on their only economic asset (oil) and the fact that achieving a meaningful military intervention in the Middle East is like trying to sweep back the ocean with a broom are just few problems that might force them to negotiate peace in earnest. Keep in mind that the Russian government is unprincipled, sociopathic and thuggish.  This means they will be easier to deal with than the other players in the Middle East.

Speaking of unprincipled, thuggish, sociopaths, it looks like Iran has decided to play nice. The kerfuffle with the captured American sailors could have been a lot worse. Yes, Iran violated international law with the humiliating videotape of the sailors’ capture and forced apology. But this is nothing compared to the grand drawn-out comic farce it could have been.  Within days the sailors were released and all naval equipment was returned.

Please note the economic benefits of the nuclear deal will be slow in coming. The deal only removes some of the sanctions against Iran. Oil is at an all-time low. Iranian pumping infrastructure is old and rusty. The $100 billion dollars unfrozen assts that you may have heard about is an exaggeration; Iran owes a lot of that money to other countries. Money is a powerful motive to get along with your neighbors and curtail military actions.

Furthermore, the US is circulating rumors that Iran has withdrawn most of its forces from Syria. Other rumors indicate that Iranian involvement with Syria is deeply unpopular with the Iranian public.

The Syrian war is by far the most dangerous conflict in that part of the world (even more so than the Israeli-Palestinian one). A peace agreement, even a flawed one, would be an enormously stabilizing event. While it may be farfetched, it is not a possibility that can be dismissed out of hand.

 

AMREL’S role

We haven’t noticed any dramatic change in the nature of our purchasing orders. Whatever the Defense needs will be this year, we will meet them. For over 30 years AMREL has supplied customized rugged solutions to the Defense market.

While we are best known for supplying land forces, we also have provided equipment to the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines.  They appreciate the durability of computer platforms in surviving humidity, salt fog, and other challenges of a marine environment. In fact, January’s Customization of the Month features a push-to-talk handheld that we did for the futuristic DDG. Read about it here. We don’t just sell rugged computers. We sell rugged customized solutions.

What do you think? Got any predictions you want?  Write editor@amrel.com.

 

Latin America Defense Market: Hot or Not?

Americas Society/ Council of the Americas has an interesting infographic on Defense spending by Latin American countries in 2013 (see below). While worldwide Defense spending fell 1.9% in 2013, it actually increased in Latin America by 2.2%. Gangs, drugs, and other transnational criminal activities are driving military expenditures.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Increases vary significantly by country. Honduras, Nicaragua, and Paraguay had the greatest increases, while Brazil (the region’s biggest spender by a very wide margin) had a decrease of 3.9%.
  • Defense spending has dramatically increased everywhere since 2005. So even though Brazil actually cut its 2013 budget, it still much larger than it was just a few years earlier.
  • Everybody wants to sell to Latin America. Chinese and Russian presidents conducted high profile tours of Latin America, specifically to strengthen Defense and security ties. Brazil is expected to accept delivery of Russian anti-aircraft missile systems in 2016.

What about 2014?

Do the 2013 trends illustrated by the infographic hold true today?  Americas Society/ Council of the Americas drew their facts and figures from research by the Stockholm International Peace Institute, so I visited their website to find more up-to-date information.

According to their Trends In World Military Expenditure, 2014 (2015 is not available yet) “….spending in Latin America was essentially unchanged” for 2014.

In fact, “Total military spending in South America was $67.3 billion, down 1.3 per cent in real terms since 2013…” For the second year in a row, Brazil again cut military spending marginally (1.7%). For more details on 2014, see the table below the infographic.

Even with these slight decreases, overall Latin American Defense spending was still higher than 2005 by a whopping 48%.

To make sense of this data, I contacted James Bell, AMREL’s Director of Sales for Latin America. He has many years of experience and is an expert on these markets.  His reply:

“Military spending in Latin America has slowed somewhat due to dramatic changes in the currency exchange rates during 2015 in favor of the US$ — making the purchase of imported products 20% – 30% more expensive.  This has the effect of governments cancelling more expensive military programs in favor of smaller, more highly focused solutions.”

In the case of Brazil, the Stockholm International Peace Institute also cited social protests and a stalled economy as reasons for the flat expenditures.

AMREL has not noticed any significant change in the level of acquisition of our products by Latin America. Interest continues to be shown in our DK tablets and our RK laptops.

If you have questions about this important market, please contact James Bell at jimb@amrel.com

latin america

Source: Americas Society/ Council of the Americas

white bit

latin america 2014

Source: Trends In World Military Expenditure, 2014

 

 

FAA & the UAV Explosion

Go to a solar energy conference, and much of the discussion will be about financing. Go to a meeting of national security professionals and you will hear about terrorism. Gather folks interested in unmanned systems – specifically Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) AKA drones –  and you will hear endless talk about the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

So, it made sense that last November Robotics Business Review held a webinar on the FAA’s impact on drones. In 2012, Congress ordered the FAA to develop a comprehensive plan to safely integrate UAVs into the National Airspace System (NAS). This Congressional directive has had an interesting side-effect in that all across the country, law firms are adding unmanned divisions to deal with expected UAV regulations. We may think of UAVs as a technological challenge or as a business enterprise, but right now it is the legal environment that will determine their future.

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Believe the hype

The first thing the webinar made clear is that the UAV market is exploding. See table below.

UAV Facts & Figures FAA artcile

Two major factors are driving this incredible growth. First, the combination of the UAVs and cameras is magic. UAVs with cameras are used by:

  • Farmers to determine which crops are getting enough water
  • Engineers to inspect bridges, buildings, wind farms, oil rigs, power lines, cellular towers, and other parts of our infrastructure
  • Firefighters to examine wildfires
  • Realtors to photograph properties for sales
  • Law enforcement to patrol borders & exert crowd control
  • Filmmakers to capture shots that would be otherwise too expensive
  • Roofers to check shingles

Secondly, UAVs are a relatively cheap package of hi-tech goodies. For $1000 to $4000, you can get not only a camera, but also a satellite connection, GPS, infrared sensors, sonar, as well as some autonomous capabilities. One of the seminars participants stated the concentration of technology in a UAV is comparable to that of a smartphone. For the amount of money involved, it’s a good value, and represents a low financial threshold for a pioneering innovator looking for a new disruptive application.

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FAA & the law

Current law mandates that anyone who operates a UAV for business purposes needs a pilot license. This is absurd over qualification, and many expect it be changed in the near future. One of the webinar’s participants speculated that a simple low-fee brief online course will be all that is required.

Another current requirement is that a business operator of an UAV needs a Section 333 exemption. The FAA is understaffed, underfunded, and overworked, so the paperwork for this exemption can take 3 months. As you might expect, promoters of UAVs for business applications are chomping at the bit and are impatiently waiting for new regulations that will make their enterprises more practical.

Until recently, recreational users of UAVs needed to follow only a few simple rules. UAVs must:

  • Fly within Line of Sight of the operator
  • Fly below 400 feet
  • Be kept 5 miles from airports

One of the biggest problems facing the FAA is that recreational users do not know about these rules, or simply ignore them. The webinar was full of cautionary tales of UAVs endangering aircraft thousands of feet in the air, hampering firefighting efforts, and interfering with airport operations.

Under proposed rules (that have been announced since the webinar), recreational operators will need to register their UAVs if it weighs between a half-pound and 55 pounds. The low end of this weight requirement has created some backlash.  As one person put it, “You want me to register a toy when we don’t even register guns?”

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Government regulations are good for business

While the new recreational rules stirred controversy, it is the business regulations that entrepreneurs are anxiously awaiting (since AMREL makes Operator Control Units for unmanned systems, we are among those keeping a close eye on this). While some may grouse about anti-business bureaucracies, there are solid reasons why the process is proceeding at a glacial pace.

The FAA was never designed to regulate UAVs.  It oversees manned aircraft, and does a pretty good job at it. On any given day, there are over 7000 aircraft in American skies. Yet, accidents are so rare, that even a near-miss will make the news.

We may not like the intricate bureaucratic labyrinth that the FAA has weaved around air travel, but it has demonstrated its value. Without invasive government regulations, people would have no confidence in air travel, and that industry would be a fraction of what it is today.

So, it should be no surprise that the FAA would adopt a similar heavy-handed regulatory approach to UAVs, especially since they have proven problematic. Not only have UAVs endangered aircraft as mentioned above, but they have also rammed into skyscrapers, crashed into football games & tennis tournaments, interfered with police helicopters and have entered secure airspaces, such as the White House.

The good news is that the FAA is looking to business to help solve these problems. The advisory task force has such industry luminaries as SpaceX and Amazon. With the help of these big players, the FAA will eventually comply with Congress’ mandate and issue regulations that will integrate UAVs into the national airspace. When that happens, the Era of Business UAVs will have finally arrived.

Have inside information about this topic? An opinion? Inappropriate jokes?

Send them to editor@amrel.com

Hack Your Car Legally [VIDEO]

The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) is having an impressive string of victories in its fight to reform the government’s interpretation of the “anti-circumvention” Section 1201of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Arguing fair use, the EFF has had success in removing restrictions for access to DVD & Blue Ray “ripping,” cellphone “jailbraking,” as well as videogames and abandoned multiplayer servers.

One of the most interesting EFF’s victories is the right for an owner to hack their own car’s computers.  For a brief summary about this decision, see video below:

Originally, integrated automotive computers rose to prominence in response to demands for tighter emissions standards and fuel economy.  Now, computers manage air conditioning, radios, air bags, alarm systems, anti-lock braking systems, traction control, ride control, cruise control, and automatic transmissions. A typical 1970 car had only $25 worth of electronics. Currently, a new car’s computers may be worth $6,000 or more.

The ever-growing computerization of automobiles had its dark side. For a person with a lot of sweat, but few resources, car repair was a traditional way to gain a respectable livelihood. The kid who fixed his neighbor’s cars in his family’s garage could dream of eventually owning his own repair shop.

Computerization, with its proprietary systems and software, was an obvious attempt by the automobile manufacturers to dominate the repair market.When automotive computers were introduced, they were exotic, expensive, and required extensive specialized training. In the mind of car manufacturers, the friendly neighborhood car repairman would fade into obsolescence, replaced by dealer service employees in white jackets.

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And the guys who worked weekends detailing and souping up their own cars? Well, they could tell stories to their grandkids about how once upon a time, people could actually work on their own cars.

But then a funny thing happened. Computers became a lot less exotic, and much easier to use. Even uneducated people started walking around with them in their pockets. Tinkering with software became as familiar as cleaning a carburetor.

More highly trained than before, and needing more expensive diagnostic tools, the small-time mechanic has endured. Despite the designs of large automobile companies, he is not a quaint anachronism. Furthermore, guys still work on their own cars, viewing the computers as simply more parts to modify, upgrade and play with.

Proprietary laws still protect the rights of manufacturers, but the recent wins by the EFF have breathed new life into the great American car obsession.  The EFF state the recent decisions “…. represent a victory for the public that will help independent security researchers evaluate automotive software, will promote competition in the vehicle aftermarket, and will support vehicle owners who wish to learn about or improve on their own cars.”

(Note:  EFF’s efforts target integrated automotive computers. I am not sure, but I do not think the recent decisions apply to Mobile Display Terminals (MDT). Often used by Law Officers and other First Responders, AMREL has supplied laptops and tablets for this application for decades. We will keep a close eye on how future decisions impact MDTs)

EFF’s request to the Librarian of Congress (who interprets the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its subsequent enforcement), specifically requested the freedom to “tinker.” The “freedom to tinker” is an issue that goes beyond cars and has caused technological giants, such as Google, to worry about America losing its scientific edge (see War on Inventors).

In the 1930s, when people jumped into their car’s guts, and rearranged things, the hot rod was born. I wonder what will get created now.

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