More Military-Civilian Technology Fisticuffs

More Military-Civillian Technology Fisticuffs: Who's Got The Edge?

Zodiac CZ7 versus Zodiac 733 OB:

THE VERDICT: Hoping for a Hummer-like success, Zodiac releases scarcely modified military boat on the consumer market. Everyone's a winner!

You know the Zodiac 733. It's the hard-charging craft of Navy Seals renown, featured in countless movies ripping across ferocious seas and landing in impossibly frothy surf. Less familiar is the Zodiac CZ7-it was released just this year for the recreational market. Put the pair's spec sheets side by side, though, and you'll discern some interesting facts. Both boats, for instance, have Zodiac's signature inflatable collars for shock absorption. Both have a low center of gravity, a V-shaped fiberglass hull, and a convex bow for hairpin turns and no-flip stormy running. The 733 is 24 feet long, while the consumer CZ7 measures 24 feet; the 733 has 300 horsepower to the CZ7's . . . indeed, they're the exact same boat. As with other recent military-to-civilian product crossovers-HMMWV to Hummer, for example-Zodiac hopes that people will pay a premium (a hefty $195,000) for a product of military heritage, power and durability. Unlike previous products, the 733 makes it across with performance parameters intact. This is a military vessel. You can get air in it. The seats are mounted on shock absorbers. The CZ7 wins on luxuries, though, including extra-plush seats and a Volvo SeaKey satellite communications system. Pay extra, and you can have an infrared night-vision system too. "The logic for buyers is, 'If it's good enough for the Navy, it's good enough for me,' " says Rick Striven of Zodiac.

The Vitals: Zodiac 733 OB and CZ7

Fuel capacity and maximum range: 133 gallons and 580 miles

Carrying capacity: 13 adults and up to 2,160 pounds

Cockpit length: 17 feet

Engines: Twin 150-horsepower, V-6 Evinrudes

Top speed: 50 mph-plus

ROBE versus Connexion By Boeing

THE VERDICT: Civilian Connexion by Boeing. Too many planes, too many outdated but interconnected systems-military fliers will be lucky to have high-speed wireless access by 2008.

On May 18 at 3:18 a.m., on board Lufthansa flight 452 from Munich to Los Angeles, Boeing executive David Friedman sent an e-mail. "Hello from 33,000 feet above Germany," he wrote. Alexander Graham Bell to Watson it wasn't, but the message nonetheless marked a milestone: the official commercial debut of wireless Internet access for airline passengers. In addition to Lufthansa, several Asian airlines have committed to the system; American, Delta and United may sign on for 2005. Getting online is easy: Fire up your WiFi-equipped laptop and pay $15 to $30, depending on flight length. Then, at a speed somewhere between dial-up and DSL, you're free to sky-surf the Web-or download videos, or log onto your company intranet, or draft Doug Christie for your fantasy basketball team. And a long, strange trip it will be for Doug: from laptop to plane server to one of nine satellites; to a ground station in Colorado, Switzerland, Russia or Japan; through terrestrial networks to the fantasy server-and back.

The Air Force also is researching a wireless, IP-based system. It's called the Airborne Network, and it will operational in 2008 or so. Maybe. Currently, for fighter pilots to communicate electronically, they must be in line-of-sight distance (around 300 miles). A network of terrestrial and satellite relays-known as the Joint Range Extension-can provide more reach, but installing ground stations in enemy territory is dicey. Cutting-edge for the Air Force, then, is ROBE, or Smart Tanker, in which the ground relays move to massive KC-135 airborne tankers. ROBE is substantially slower than Connexion and IP-illiterate, which isolates it from the world of modern computing. Air Force engineers defend the system. It is proven and effective, and upgrades are arduous in a fleet of 5,000 planes with highly integrated avionics systems. "To change one person requires changes on the part of everybody else," says Darrell Trasko, chief engineer at the USAF Electronic Systems Center. The eventual switch will be Atari-to-Xbox-huge-some wide-body airplanes still have IBM 360 mainframes, cutting-edge tech from 1964.

The Vitals: ROBE

Purpose: To collect tactical information from planes and create a "God's eye" view of the battle space

Special capabilities: Antijamming technology-messages bounce among 51 different frequencies

Speed: Network data rates of 2.4 to 115 kb per minute

Cost: $30 million

The Vitals: Connexion by Boeing

Purpose: To let passengers work and play while they fly

Speed: Network rate of 1 to 20 mbps

Special capabilities: TCP/IP "spoofing" to correct for long data-transmission times

Cost: $1 billion invested to date

Anthrax: Army versus Vaxgen

THE VERDICT: Army. They've been researching Anthrax for half a century or more. Other companies are Johnny-come-latelies.

America's only approved anthrax vaccine is as state-of-the-art as the glow-in-the-dark hula hoop. Developed in the 1950s, AVA is effective, but that doesn't make it popular: Patients and doctors dislike the dosing schedule of six shots over 18 months, the localized and sometimes painful side effects, and the reports (clinically unsubstantiated) that the vaccine is linked to Gulf War Syndrome. In the past few years, especially after the anthrax attacks of 2001, the race has been on to find a replacement. The leading contender, known as rPA 102, has been developed jointly by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and private companies such as Brisbane, California-based VaxGen.

Discussing whether the Army or VaxGen has contributed more to the process is like debating whether John or Paul meant more to the Beatles-pointless, yet strangely enlightening. In the past year VaxGen has conducted the first human trials of rPA 102, refined the chemical makeup of the vaccine, and increased manufacturing yields fivefold. By 2005 the company hopes to manufacture three million sample doses that will be safer, purer and easier to administer than AVA. Army researchers, meanwhile, merely >discovered< Protective Antigen, the protein that triggers the body's immune response to anthrax. They determined the best way to produce it in bacteria, using recombinant genetic techniques. And they demonstrated in primates that rPA 102 was effective. Bioterror vaccines, in truth, are good for public health but typically bad for private business. "The big companies are not knocking our doors down," says Ed Nuzum, director of product development in the government's Office of Biodefense Research. Vaccines are designed for episodic rather than chronic use, and there's a single buyer, the government, which drives the price down. Working more or less on their own, Army researchers managed to invent the internal combustion engine; VaxGen now hopes it can mass produce the Model T.

The Vitals: USAMRIID

Key successes: Discovered protein that triggers immunity to anthrax; determined best way to produce the protein in bacteria using recombinant genetic techniques.

The Vitals: VaxGen

Key successes: Increased vaccine-manufacturing yields fivefold; conducted first human trials of vaccine