Electronic Weapons: August 17, 1999


ESM upgrade to French AWACS: The French have just compiled the installation of a Boeing Electronic Support System (ESM) on one of their AWACS. This is a passive system which enables AWACS to capture, ID, and track a wide variety of electronic emissions from air, ground, and naval sources. It is capable of identifying the emitter, what type of radar/weapon system. ESM was extensively used during the recent Balkans activities. An added benefit of this upgrade is that when all four French AWACS are upgraded is that it will increase interoperability with other NATO AWACS. The U.S. , U.K. and NATO AWACS already have the ESM system installed.

AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) has revolutionized modern air warfare by giving the air commander and pilots a near perfect situational awareness of what is going on in the air. But active radar can only track planes and helicopters. It can't address the ground to air component of the battle space. While few if any countries have fighters, and more importantly pilots, who can stand up to NATO many have ground based missiles and artillery units which can be a potent threat to any current plane. ESM will help AWACS provide the data needed to continue to collect the information needed by commanders to coordinate the air battle. Tom Trinko

July 12; FORGOTTEN BUT NOT GONE. Archivists and librarians are discovering what many companies already know -- data stored on disks and tapes that are decades old may no longer be there (or might as well not be). Heat, cold, humidity, dust, and even cosmic radiation all damage tapes and disks which are supposedly permanent records. This is made worse because many companies and libraries abandoned or discarded bulky hard copies years ago to save space, relying on electronic media. The worst problem, however, may be the relentless advance in technology. Many companies have discovered that business records stored on old 3.5-inch 400k single-sided disks are still there, but cannot be read by modern computers which expect to find 1.4mb on a floppy and can barely be convinced to read the occasional 800k double-sided disk. Optical disks, once all the rage for bulk storage, are now almost inaccessible because no one makes (or can repair) optical disk readers. The current storage method of choice, zip disks, are vulnerable to the "click of death" problem if a key spring breaks in the disk reader, destroying whatever disk (and data) is currently in the drive and any disk subsequently inserted. Mainframes have their own, if similar, problems. The earliest 4,000 reels of data at the Census Bureau is in a file format so obscure no one currently working there knows how to read it. --Stephen V Cole




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