Plasma “Ghosts” May Help Keep Future Aircraft Safe

Air-to-air combat or “dogfighting” was once a very personal affair. Pilots of the First and Second World War had to get so close to land a hit with their guns that it wasn’t uncommon for altercations to end in a mid-air collision. But by the 1960s, guided missile technology had advanced to the point that a fighter could lock onto an enemy aircraft and fire before the target even came into visual range. The skill and experience of a pilot was no longer enough to guarantee the outcome of an engagement, and a new arms race was born.

An F-15 launching flare countermeasures.

Naturally, the move to guided weapons triggered the development of defensive countermeasures that could confuse them. If the missile is guided by radar, the target aircraft can eject a cloud of metallic strips known as chaff to overwhelm its targeting system. Heat-seeking missiles can be thrown off with a flare that burns hotter than the aircraft’s engine exhaust. Both techniques are simple, reliable, and have remained effective after more than a half-century of guided missile development.

But they aren’t perfect. The biggest problem is that both chaff and flares are a finite resource: once the aircraft has expended its stock, it’s left defenseless. They also only work for a limited amount of time, which makes timing their deployment absolutely critical. Automated dispensers can help ensure that the countermeasures are used as efficiently as possible, but sustained enemy fire could still deplete the aircraft’s defensive systems if given enough time.

In an effort to develop the ultimate in defensive countermeasures, the United States Navy has been working on a system that can project decoy aircraft in mid-air. Referred to as “Ghosts” in the recently published patent, several of these phantom aircraft could be generated for as long as the system has electrical power. History tells us that the proliferation of this technology will inevitably lead to the development of an even more sensitive guided missile, but in the meantime, it could give American aircraft a considerable advantage in any potential air-to-air engagements.

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Silo Launched Model Rocket Goes Thoomp

While rockets launched from silos are generally weapons of war, [Joe Barnard] of [BPS.Space] thought model rocketry could still do with a little more thoomp. So he built a functional tube launched model rocket.

Like [Joe]’s other rockets, it features a servo-actuated thrust vectoring system instead of fins for stabilization. The launcher consists of a 98 mm cardboard tube, with a pneumatic piston inside to eject the rocket out of the tube before it ignites its engine in mid-air. When everything works right, the rocket can be seen hanging motionlessly in the air for a split second before the motor kicks in.

The launcher also features a servo controlled hatch, which opens before the rocket is ejected and then closes as soon as the rocket is clear to protect the tube. The rocket itself is recovered using a parachute, and for giggles he added a tiny Tesla Roadster with its own parachute.

Projects as complex as this rarely work on the first attempt, and Thoomp was no exception. Getting the Signal flight computer to ignite the rocket motors at the correct instant proved challenging, and required some tuning on how the accelerometer inputs were used to recognize a launch event. The flight computer is also a very capable data logger, so every launch attempt, failed or successful, became a learning opportunity. Check out the second video after the break for a fascinating look at how all this data was analyzed.

[Joe]’s willingness to fail quickly and repeatedly as part of the learning process is a true display of the hacker spirit. We’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on his work.

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Top Secret Teardown Reveals Soviet Missile Secrets

Technology has moved at such a furious pace that what would have been most secret military technology a few decades ago is now surplus on eBay. Case in point: [msylvain59] picked up a Soviet-era K-13 IR seeker used to guide air-to-air missiles to their targets. Inside is a mechanical gyroscope turning at over 4,000 RPM, a filter made of germanium to block visible light, and a photoresistor. It’s sobering to think you can get all of this in a few small packages these days, if not integrated into one IC.

Fitting on top of a missile, the device isn’t that large anyway, but it is nothing like what a modern device would look like. A complex set of electronics processes the signal and moves steering actuators that control fins and other controls to guide the missile’s flight. You can see a video of the device giving up its secrets, below.

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Hacking When It Counts: Pigeon-Guided Missiles

The image of the crackpot inventor, disheveled, disorganized, and surrounded by the remains of his failures, is an enduring Hollywood trope. While a simple look around one’s shop will probably reveal how such stereotypes get started, the image is largely not a fair characterization of the creative mind and how it works, and does not properly respect those who struggle daily to push the state of the art into uncharted territory.

That said, there are plenty of wacky ideas that have come down the pike, most of which mercifully fade away before attracting undue attention. In times of war, though, the need for new and better ways to blow each other up tends to bring out the really nutty ideas and lower the barrier to revealing them publically, or at least to military officials.

Of all the zany plans that came from the fertile minds on each side of World War II, few seem as out there as a plan to use birds to pilot bombs to their targets. And yet such a plan was not only actively developed, it came from the fertile mind of one of the 20th century’s most brilliant psychologists, and very nearly resulted in a fieldable weapon that would let fly the birds of war.

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You’ll Really Want An “Undo” Button When You Accidentally Send A Ballistic Missile Warning

Hawaiians started their weekend with quite a fright, waking up Saturday morning to a ballistic missile alert that turned out to be a false alarm. In between the public anger, profuse apologies from officials, and geopolitical commentary, it might be hard to find some information for the more technical-minded. For this audience, The Atlantic has compiled a brief history of infrastructure behind emergency alerts.

As a system intended to announce life-critical information when seconds count, all information on the system is prepared ahead of time for immediate delivery. As a large hodgepodge linking together multiple government IT systems, there’s no surprise it is unwieldy to use. These two aspects collided Saturday morning: there was no prepared “Sorry, false alarm” retraction message so one had to be built from scratch using specialized equipment, uploaded across systems, and broadcast 38 minutes after the initial false alarm. In the context of government bureaucracy, that was really fast and must have required hacking through red tape behind the scenes.

However, a single person’s mistake causing such chaos and requiring that much time to correct is unacceptable. This episode has already prompted a lot of questions whose answers will hopefully improve the alert system for everyone’s benefit. At the very least, a retraction is now part of the list of prepared messages. But we’ve also attracted attention of malicious hackers to this system with obvious problems in design, in implementation, and also has access to emergency broadcast channels. The system needs to be fixed before any more chaotic false alarms – either accidental or malicious – erode its credibility.

We’ve covered both the cold-war era CONELRAD and the more recent Emergency Broadcast System. We’ve also seen Dallas’ tornado siren warning system hacked. They weren’t the first, they won’t be the last.

(Image: Test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM via US Air Force.)

Hitching A Ride On A Missile

Before the Saturn V rocket carried men to the moon, a number of smaller rockets carried men on suborbital and orbital flights around the Earth. These rockets weren’t purpose-built for this task, though. In fact, the first rockets that carried people into outer space were repurposed ballistic missiles, originally designed to carry weapons.

While it might seem like an arduous task to make a ballistic missile safe enough to carry a human, the path from a weapons delivery system to passenger vehicle was remarkably quick. Although there was enough safety engineering and redundancy to disqualify the space program as a hack, it certainly was a clever repurposing of the available technology. Read on for the full story.

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Using Missile Tech To See Like Predator

[Artem Litvinovich] wanted to see by heat vision like in the Predator movies. He not only succeeded but went on to see in color, medium-wave IR, short-wave IR, and ultraviolet using a very unique approach since his effort began back in 2009.

He started with a box based on the basic pinhole camera concept. In the box is a physical X-Y digitizer moving a photodiode to collect the thousands of points needed to create a picture. First all he got, due to the high signal amplification, was the 60 cycle hum that permeates our lives. A Faraday cage around the box helped but metal foil around the sensor and amplifier finally eliminated the noise. Now he had pictures in the near infrared (NIR). Continue reading “Using Missile Tech To See Like Predator”