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Failure at NASA

I just read your story about promising NASA projects not being pursued because of funding being taken up by the Shuttle program. The things you talked about excite and cheer me. NASA has put all of it's eggs in one basket, with the Shuttles. Besides the programs you mentioned I've read several stories about how the Shuttles costs have taken funding away from projects to send more probes to search areas of interest in space. We are gaining nothing in our effort to learn more about our planet and the universe as a whole by playing with the Shuttle any more. More needs to be done to raise our governments aim at NASA. They need to be given a new and more clearly defined mission and then design the hardware to achieve this mission.

Circling the earth in an oversized Volkswagen is a waste of resources. Not to mention that it is no longer even providing little technology gains that the moon program did, or even science advances that were promised as a side benefit. I live near the NASA Langley Research Center, and certainly do not want to cause anyone to lose their jobs, but it is time to take a different course. The people at NASA will have to take it upon themselves to help defining a new approach. Our government over the past 20+ years has not had a vision of what to pursue in space. It is only able, like many program planners, to find personal pork barrel projects to spend our money on. This old boy politics at work, not good stewardship of the public trust.

                                                                               Tom Beverly

NASA Ignored Tile Solution

I read with great interest your highly critical article on the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.  I am a retired materials scientist (currently teaching materials science at the State Univ. of NY) who worked for Grumman on the development of the heat shield for the Orbiter in the early 70's. I, like all Americans,  am heartbroken about the loss of these great astronauts and I am deeply disturbed at NASA's lack of candor on the true issues associated with the space shuttle tiles. I thought that you may be interested in knowing that Grumman had proposed a metallic heat shield for the Space Shuttle orbiter in the early 70's. In fact we had designed built and tested a metallic thermal protection system for the Orbiter in Bethpage. We even sent a team to Houston to demonstrate the durability of the Grumman metallic TPS concept (we walked on it without any damage!!) but they were unimpressed! 

NASA (Max Faget) was only  interested in a ceramic TPS at the time so we were not able to obtain any support for the concept. Most of the Grumman team was deeply skeptical of NASA's choice because our engineering staff believed that the shuttle had to be a "forgiving " system and we thought that the use of ceramic tiles was just too risky. However, weight considerations won out and NASA went forward with the ceramic TPS. When Rockwell was chosen as the prime contractor we essentially dropped out of any TPS research and left the TPS development to other NASA  contractors. We were also working on a novel ceramic TPS concept (closed cell ceramic foams sponsored by NASA Langley)  but NASA was more interested in the fibrous insulation concept.

In any event, it seems that  other contractors picked up the metallic TPS ball and  have done some nice work and I hope that future RLV's will incorporate them into their structure. It's just tragic that NASA did not have the foresight too see the problems that adopting an untested ceramic TPS would bring. I'm glad that you brought that point out in your editorial comments. 

                                                                                              Al Tobin

Stryker Costs

Here are the figures.  Interesting.

              Original Contract $
Base       
R&D
Tot Costs     4,200,000,000
# Vehicles    2,131
Cost/Veh      1,970,000

Cost To Date             4,859,200,000
# of Veh                      1691
Cost Per Veh             2,976,159
Total Over Budget   1,526,398,498
Total Proj Cost          6,168,709,934
Total Proj Over Budget   1,968,709,934

My friend Bill noted: The $6.168B cost is only for 1691 vehicles, 440 more vehicles are required to meet the original contract/need. If you add the cost of 440 vehicles at the unit cost of $2.976M an additional cost of $1.309B is incurred. With this the total program cost for 2131 vehicles is $7.477B. This is an 88% increase in cost over the original cost of $4.2B. Some cost performance for an "off-the-shelf vehicle".                        

                                                                                 Roy Ardillo

Aluminum casings are strong, but ...

While aluminum may be comparable to brass in terms of mechanical strength, it is inferior in other respects. Most importantly, its volumetric heat capacity is only three quarters that of brass. A lot of the waste heat produced when a round is fired is carried away in the hot casing itself. The lack of such cooling was one of the factors that caused the failure of the H&K G11 caseless assault rifle program.  If an aluminum case of the same shape were used instead of a brass one, the chamber of the weapon might overheat and cause ammunition "cook-off".

In a semi-automatic weapon like a hunting rifle or handgun, overheating is not a significant problem, which is why the CCI Blazer ammunition is OK. In an automatic weapon, chamber overheating is a dangerous possibility, particularly in machine guns which tend to run hot anyway. Using aluminum cases would an enlargement of the casing to ensure enough cooling. While you would still have a little on material cost and weight with the larger aluminum cases, the cost to rechamber existing weapons to use the new rounds completely negates these savings.

This is an explanation that I thought of myself after reading about the development problems of the G11,.so there is no study I can cite. Hot casings extract as much as 80% of the heat from the chamber during firing, and the G11 needed to have a special low-temperature cook-off-resistant propellant developed for it.

While this suggestion does not seem feasible, it is in the minority on this site. I find your suggestions on improvements to the military to be the most innovative and thought-provoking on the web, and I hope you keep up the good work. 

                                                                                                David Khoo

Ed: Phil West heard the G11 rifle worked, but Germany didn't want to fund it after the Cold War ended.

30mm Aluminum Cased Ammo

IF REDUCED AMMO WEIGHT IS THE GOAL, THE SMART THING TO DO (IF POSSIBLE) IS TO DESIGN FOR ALUMíM CASES WHEN THE GUN/AMMO ARE FIRST DESIGNED TOGETHER Ė AS A SYSTEM.  WHICH IS WHAT THE AF DID WITH THE GAU-8/A 30MM GATLING [used by the A-10 attack aircraft], AND WHICH HAS USED ALUMíM CASES SINCE ďDAY ONE.Ē GAU-8 CASES BY THE WAY ARE A SPECIAL ALLOY CONTAINING A LITTLE SILVER.  THATíS NOT GOOD FOR COST, BUT THE CASES ARE RECYCLED EASILY SINCE THE SPENT CASES ARE NOT EJECTED FROM THE LINKLESS AMMO SYSTEM.

DESIGN PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES VARY ACCORDING TO WHETHER ONE IS TALKING ABOUT SMALL ARMS, AUTOCANNONS, OR ARTILLERY-CALIBER WEAPONS.  ALSO, WITHIN THOSE CATEGORIES, THERE ARE HIGH AND LOW PRESSURE SYSTEMS, AND HIGH AND LOW RATE OF FIRE SYSTEMS.  FURTHER CHALLENGES ARE FOUND IN A/C GUNS, WHICH HAVE THE ADVANTAGE OF STARTING OUT ICE COLD INSOFAR AS HEATING IS CONCERNED, AND THE DISADVANTAGE OF STARTING OUT ICE COLD AS FAR AS THE GUN FREEZING UP IS CONCERNED.  THE THING FOR THE DESIGNERS TO DO IS TO UNDERSTAND WHERE THE PROBLEM AREAS LIE.

I REMEMBER WHEN STEEL CC WERE INTRODUCED INTO TANK CANNON AMMO, TO REPLACE BRASS, AND SOME PEOPLE WERE HYPERVENTILATING OVER MFG AND PERFORMANCE (EJECTION) PROBLEMS.  EVENTUALLY THE PROBLEMS WERE SOLVED WELL ENOUGH Ė EVEN THOí BRASS IS/ WAS A LOT EASIER TO MAKE WORK THAN STEEL.  THAT MAY NEVER CHANGE, AND 120MM ALMOST-CASELESS TANK AMMO BRINGS ITS OWN CHALLENGES.

ALUMíM CASES WORK WELL ENOUGH IN 40MM GRENADES (LOW PRESSURE AND LOW ROF) AND I BELIEVE THAT ALUMíM CASES HAVE BEEN USED IN PISTOL AMMO.  ONCE AGAIN, LOW PRESSURE AND LOW ROF.  ALUMíM CASES WORK VERY WELL IN GAU-8 SYSTEMS, HIGH  PRESSURE, HIGH ROF, AND ICE COLD AT THE BEGINNING OF A BURST.  THAT THE GUN HAS SEVEN BARRELS HELPS A LOT, TOO.

ONCE UPON A TIME, THE ENGINEERS AT AEROJET GOT AN ARMY CONTRACT TO MAKE AN EXPERIMENTAL CTDGE FIRING MULTIPLE FLECHETTES AND WERE REQíD TO USE AN ALUMíM ALLOY CASE.  THE ARMY ENGINEERS WERE ALL WRINGING THEIR HANDS ABOUT ALUMíM CTDGE CASES AND THEIR PROBLEMS.  WE RESEARCHED THE LITERATURE AND FOUND THAT THEIR WORK WAS LIMITED TO 6061-T6 ALUM ALLOY. 

WHY?  BECAUSE OF COST, THATíS WHY.  SO THE CONCLUSION THEY CAME TO WAS THAT ALUM WAS INFEASIBLE FOR HIGH PRESSURE SYSTEMS, WHEN THE CONCLUSION SHOULD HAVE BEEN THAT 6061-T6 WAS NOT THE RIGHT ALLOY FOR SUCH AN APPLICATION.  WE PROCEEDED WITH ANOTHER ALLOY.  WITH ALL THE PROBLEMS WE HAD ON THAT JOB, THE ONLY PROBLEM WE DIDNíT HAVE WAS WITH THE ALUMíM CTDGE CASE.  

I THINK THAT THE ISSUE OF ďALUM TO REPLACE BRASS OR STEEL?Ē SHOULD BE REPLACED BY THE ISSUE OF, ďWHATíS THE BEST CC MATERIAL TO USE IN THIS SYSTEM, CONSIDERING GOALS FOR PERFORMANCE, COST, WEIGHT, RELIABILITY, AND SPECIAL FACTORS?  SPECIAL FACTORS INCLUDE ROF, MUZZLE VELOCITY, HOW AND WHERE THE WEAPON WILL BE USED, AND BY WHOM, + ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS.

                                                                                Don Loughlin

Ed: Since the A-10s gun is a seven-barrel rotating gatling gun, this provides extra cooling.

Heat Extraction

I have a fairly uninformed speculation for one reason aluminum may have problems as a military ammunition case material: heat dissipation.  My understanding is that the brass cartridge is a fairly significant carrier of firing chamber heat out of the gun. (If I remember discussions correctly, this was one of the hidden issues H&K ran into while developing the G11 and its caseless ammunition.) If aluminum is a less efficient carrier of heat than brass, this could be a not insignificant problem.

 This (if true) is presumably not a problem in civilian firearms, which I suspect that the CCI Blazer rounds are designed for, since I expect that they usually fire slow enough to dissipate the heat anyways. I would expect this to be a potential issue in military weapons fired semi-auto or full auto, and possibly even if a significant amount of a magazine is emptied as fast as possible in single-shot mode.

                                                                                  CKS

Ed: Stan Crist asked the CCI technical services people why they didn't make 5.56mm aluminum ammo, and they didn't know!   A .22 caliber adapter is sometimes used to train because the 5.56mm ammo is too expensive.  However, rifle range training is always slow, single-shot training.  Perhaps they could use half-price aluminum cased ammo at training ranges.

Aluminum was tested in the 60s

There is presently not an aluminum alloy-that I know of-that can consistently withstand the chamber pressures generated by modern high power rifle cartridges. When aluminum cased rounds are fired with high chamber pressures the expanding gases can, on a random basis, create a high velocity flow path of molten metal through any structurally weak points in the case (either caused by damage or design) and the high temperatures of the propellant gases can actually ignite the aluminum particles and cause a complete burn-through and  fireball within the weapons chamber with resultant catastrophic results. This flow or venting usually takes place through the case head, around the primer or if there are folds or scratches, on the case body side walls. There have been developed ways to prevent burn-through by using liners and coatings inside the case, but they add to the cost of manufacture and take up powder space which usually causes an unacceptable reduction in pressure and velocity.

Frankford Arsenal, during the 1960's, had a major development program directed at aluminum alloys and aluminum cases for 5.56MM and 7.62MM ammunition, but after a 5-year effort could not solve the random burn-through problem. The Arsenal concluded that eventually higher-strength aluminum alloys would be developed by industry that would solve this problem, but to date, none that are cost effective have been made available that I know about.

As you know, aluminum cases have been used with success in lower pressure pistol and revolver cartridges (apparently with chamber pressures below 40,000 psi the burn-through phenomenon does not take place). Aluminum cases have also been used effectively in medium caliber cannon and artillery rounds when weight is a prime consideration. 

                                                                                                          Frank Hackley

Ed: I'd think that 40 years after the Frankford programs, the US Army could spend some money to study cheaper, lighter casing alloys.  The Army spends almost zero on new small arms.  The M1A2 was developed by Marines at Quantico with spare funds.  All modern light machine gun designs come from Belgium, yes Belgium!

Abusing Turkey

Americans should know a few things before they declare Turkey " ungrateful ":

1- In 1991, Turkey was among the first nations to seal her border with Iraq, stop trade and open bases to coalition forces.

2- Turkey lost about 100 billion dollars in the last ten years and received only about a few hundred million dollars.

3- The Kurdish terrorists took hold of many of Iraqi Army's  weapons and launched a massive terror campaign which cost Turkey scores of billions of dollars and thousands of lives; they murdered teachers, workers, nurses and doctors, civilians and babies yet many of our so called allies still refuse to call them terrorists. ( A terrorist is described as someone who harms western people or their interests - must be so, that's how it's unofficially described in the western world.)

4- Greek foreign minister Pangalos had to resign  - because when the terrorist leader Abdullah Ocalan ( by the way this man can not even speak Kurdish, he speaks Turkish only ) was captured by Turkish Special Forces, while he was being protected in the Greek Embassy in Kenya; Greeks asked him to resign for not being able to protect an enemy of their enemy ( Turkey ). Turkish 10 - 12 man teams chasing terrorists miles into northern Iraq have reported having seen CH-47's dropping supplies to terrorists more than once.( Turkish Army doesn't have Chinooks ) These have been mentioned in many books written in the last few years.  President Clinton refused to sell 10 AH-1W Super Cobras to Turkey when we needed them most in our fight with terrorists. Allies ? Hardly....

5- Economic aid? Profit ? ›srael gets 3 billion, Egypt gets 2 billion dollars annually . This is no loan and this is in peacetime conditions. Turkey gets " 0 Dollars " Why? Turkey is supposed to receive only about 5 billion dollars for this war  which will only amount to about a quarter of our losses - if this is a short war... Turkish economy being saved by the IMF? We have repayed 211 billion dollars in the past 10 years for the interest of debts. IMF IS NOT HELPING US. IT IS ROBBING US.

6- Who created Saddam? Who gave him weapons of mass destruction? I know we didn't...

7- Northern Iraqi Kurds want to declare a State of their own. These people have a map showing one third of Turkey as their future state. U. S. openly backs their actions. It's like another " megalo idea " the Greeks have...We don't have a single handful of soil to give anybody!

8- When U. S. is done it can return back, we will always be here...

9- Turkey has roughly 3/4 of the world's Bor Minerals and Torium reserves both of which are supposed to be the energy sources of the future. What will happen to us if we declare we nationalize these assets and that mining and refining these can only be carried out by state controlled companies? Will U. S. invade us too?

                                                                                     Drifter

Thanks for the News

I recently discovered your website and I am absolutely fascinated.  You are obviously very knowledgeable about the military -- weapons, tactics, technology, and the human factors.  It's great to see alternative opinions expressed.  This is really what freedom of speech is all about -- and the Internet.  I love your motto -- What someone doesn't want you to publish is journalism, all else is publicity.  That is so true. Even in my very small home town, the local papers can't get local news stories right.  So the national news media probably gives us the 1/10 of the iceberg that's above
the water, and the other 9/10 we may never know.

                                                                               Tom Gainan

France helped found the USA

The deciding battle of the Revolutionary War was Yorktown in 1781, although a peace treaty was not settled until 1783. The truth is that Yorktown was overwhelmingly a French victory. Washington didn't want to attack Yorktown, but then Washington was a terrible general who lost almost every battle he fought.

In 1781, Washington was fixated on a battle whose prospect was almost certain failure, an attack on New York. It was General Rochambeau's foresight and planning that made Yorktown possible, but it took a lot of arguing to have Washington finally agree. One of Washington's most trusted young generals, the Marquis de Lafayette, was given a substantial role in the action.

French Admiral de Grasse blocked a British fleet from entering the Chesapeake and evacuating the British army at Yorktown. French troops in the thousands were among the most active. French engineers guided the building of the entrenchments that sealed the fate of General Cornwallis's army in a fortified encampment that had its back to the water and no fleet to help.

The American forces carried French arms, and what pay they received came from the French treasury. It was during this last stage of the war that Americans massively lost interest. There had never been great enthusiasm, with about a third of the population against it from the beginning and another third indifferent (contrary to myth, revolutions are almost always the work of minorities) -- the real explanation, along with a stubborn unwillingness to pay taxes still evident today, behind Washington's chronic lack of resources despite his countless pleas for help from the colonial governments. But by the late 1770s, Americans had become even more indifferent. It was around this time that M. Duportail, a French officer serving under Washington, made his famous observation about there being more enthusiasm for the Revolution in the cafes of Paris than he saw in America.

                                                                                              John Chuckman

Ed: I often feel like an oppressed minority.