Electronic Design


Rich Nations Beat Poor Ones
Your stated opinion in "Electronic Missile Guidance Changes Tactics And Strategy" \[Dec. 4, 2000, p. 179\] lacks the dimension of military reality .

  1. During the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests, which seem to support your argument that carriers and their support fleets are obsolete, how do you explain the use of carrier-based aircraft for close air support of our ground forces in Korea and elsewhere? We still have forces stationed in Korea, sir. They rely on a combination of the forces that you recommend—nukes and fighters. But nuke-equipped bombers aren't always the most practical option—militarily or politically.
  2. Why exclusively use heavy bombers when smaller weapons and aircraft are adequate for the job? Nobody in their right mind uses a wrecking ball to swat flies.
  3. To say speed and agility no longer matter is popular, yet militarily inaccurate—the same kind of dogma that cost many pilots in Vietnam their lives. If this weren't so, even the weapons and platforms that you exclusively advocate would quickly find themselves overmatched by faster, more agile aggressors.
  4. You forgot submarines. A surface fleet is needed to defend against subs when transporting ground troops en masse. Strategic airlift can carry many, but not as cost effectively as ships would. The same is true for logistics support.
  5. Our surface fleet is also equipped for air defense, which is most effective against a large array of foreign bomber and short-range ballistic missile technology (assuming that the cognizant officers aren't asleep at their posts).

Deran Eaton
Electronics Design Engineer
NAVSEA Indian Head Div.

Lawrence J. Kamm's reply:

  1. 1. The change in the situation isn't to "nuke-equipped bombers" but to bombers with guided bombs, as first used effectively in the Gulf War. Of course, our military still uses fighter-bombers because we have them and we haven't yet realized that heavy bombers with guided bombs, without reliance on the agility of the airplane, can do the same work, better, cheaper, and safer.
  2. 2. Fighter-bombers are hardly "smaller weapons" than heavy bombers with guided bombs. They use more men and money per pound of delivered explosives.
  3. 3. The "agile aggressors" are now destroyed many miles away by long-range guided air-to-air missiles, which can be carried and launched by the same bombing planes that launch guided air-to-ground bombs. Our present agile fighter planes that protect our bombers don't use their agility because they use those same air-to-air guided missiles. The whole point of my essay is that guided missiles have revolutionized air war technology, leaving agile fighters behind.

Correct, sea transport remains for heavy and massive transport. To guard those ships against enemy subs is probably best done by our subs. To guard against enemy surface ships, even in WWII, airborne bombers did the job. Remember Billy Mitchell!

Better anti-SAM defense remains an objective for bomber R&D. SAMs carried by surface warships are subject to the loss of those very expensive and heavily manned surface warships from guided bombs.

Please see The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy to learn that richer countries defeat poorer countries. My argument that both fighter planes (including fighter bombers) and aircraft carriers are obsolete is based on their cost, in both money and men, being much higher per pound of accurately delivered explosive than guided bombs delivered by bombers.

Good Engineering Writers Needed
I agree with your comments about the distinction between "engineering writing" and "technical writing" \["It's High Time We Bring Back The Profession Of Engineering Writing," Jan. 8, p. 46\]. Tech writing was once engineering writing. Writers were held in esteem. My favorite line to engineers was, "When the customer opens the box, what does he touch first?" Various answers followed, but never the correct one: the manual. It was the last item in the box and, therefore, on top. I submitted to the team that my product was more important than theirs because mine was touched first and introduced the rest of the box.

Alas, things are simpler now. Manuals are costly and contain less and less information. Our individual consumer experience proves what we want to know: documentation is cheap and unworthy of consideration. We demean documentation and, with that, the writers. I fear that the new generations of engineers have low expectations of writers because they never saw good documentation.

It used to be that writers came into the profession through other avenues, but now there are degree programs teaching technical writing. Tech writing used to mean writing about technical subjects. Now, "technical" refers to the techniques and styles of writing with little or no reference to that which is being written about! Our universities have programs to produce competent writing technicians looking for subjects to learn so that they can apply their craft to something.
Name withheld by request

Staying Out Of The Dark
I read with interest Robert MacDowell's letter, "Conserving Outdoor Lighting," in the Jan. 22 issue. He lamented that outdoor lights are often left on long past the hours when they're useful. He wondered why controls don't exist that turn lights off after the close of business. The good news is that controls do exist. Our company, Dark To Light, makes Part Night controls that are the same size as ANSI standard street light controls (see our Web site: www.darktolight.com). They plug into the standard twistlock receptacle found on top of most street light fixtures. At dusk, the light is turned on, and halfway through the night, the light is switched off. It readjusts itself for seasonal changes of night duration. A model is also available with the "AM Burn" option that turns lights on in the morning if it's still dark four hours after halfway through the night.

Part Night control is a great product, but it doesn't sell very well. Utilities don't want them because street lights are billed on a flat rate of hours per year. There's no incentive to save unmetered energy. Parking lot or mall owners don't want them because they're afraid of real or perceived liability issues if something happens after most of the lights go out. Specifiers and lighting designers don't care because they don't pay the energy bills. There are organizations, like the International Dark Sky Association, that champion turning off unneeded outdoor lights. The Illuminating Engineering Society acknowledges that dawn-to-dusk outdoor lighting isn't necessary everywhere, but the inertia in this country is still to leave the lights on.
Jeff Walters
Vice President of Engineering
Dark To Light
Pembroke, Mass.

Robots To Aid The Disabled
Thanks for "Artificial People: Are They A Fantasy, Or Ambition?" \[Sept. 5, 2000, p. 200\]. I just started working at a research facility, and there's something a bit unsettling about it. They do good work with robots to help the disabled, but I'm not used to the research versus the profit motivation. One project is putting accelerometers on both sides of a tip of a robot arm. They were surprised that the results varied when they increased the speed. I do think it rather odd that the values then graph differently for the different accelerometers. They also put accelerometers on humans and expected much better graphs with the defined movements of a robot.

I think your comments on computer scientists versus engineers makes some sense too. I have had the engineering coursework but am trying to figure out what an accelerometer can and can't do. My first guess is that when speed is increased, you get more "bounce" out of the accelerometer, depending on the orientation. We may rerun the experiment but they're pretty sure the results would be the same. Also, I'm thinking a human always stops pretty gradually, while a robot arm could quickly get up to speed then stop more suddenly.
Cathy H.

Research for a nonprofit organization is fine, but there's a great deal wrong with an ignorant researcher. At least, get catalog specs on the accelerometers used. I would be surprised if the accelerations of a human arm aren't well within the specs of any commercial accelerometer. Also, remember that any human motion has several components of motion (x, y, z, roll, pitch, yaw), so a single axis accelerometer might not tell you much about what's happening. I have always been skeptical about "robots to aid the disabled" because of the complexity of the motions required, to say nothing of the cost of complex motion robots, or the danger to the patient from robot error.—Lawrence J. Kamm

The February 5 issue contained the wrong Web address for Vicor Corp. The correct address is www.vicr.com.

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