Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Math/Science Proficiency vs STEM Careers

Derek Lowe had an interesting corrective to the calls for more Science, Technical, Engineering, and Math (STEMs). I see where he's coming from. And it is very amusing to see non-technical graduates advocating for more STEMs, such as the vast majority of the political leadership on both parties. If it was so good, why couldn't you hack it?

But one thing missing from Lowe's arguments is the failure of math education in America. [We can reasonably argue the various ways of learning science and budgetary needs, but math education is strictly budget neutral.] You can toss a simple arithmatic problem at most Americans, and they'll become frozen with panic and fear if they're without calculators. That math-phobia extends to all math domains, and is remarkably broad-based across all classes. [Talking about the non-STEM population here, which is most Americans in all socio-economic classes.]

Why is that? The evisceration of the rote-learning paradigm in the 1970s is to blame. While it was a good corrective against rote memorization, most basic education require quite a bit of memorization to get started. Especially in math, proficiency with arithmatic can only come from repetitive drills over time. Even after New Math has faded, grade school teachers remain reluctant to train arithmatics in the age of calculators. The Kahn Academy and the Singaporean method both work by going back to the basic drills. Without that foundational understanding of numbers, kids cannot master higher-level material.

We don't need to make everyone into mathematicians. But they don't have to be math-phobes, either. In the rest of the world, people may not like math, nor want to be STEM. But at least they can handle numbers without calculators, they're comfortable with numbers. That's something I'd like to see here, too.

Delilah, SEAD, and A2AD

Defense Industry Daily highlighted an engrossing IAF article on the history of the Delilah cruise/loitering missile. Delilah appears to be one of the first loitering missile, circling the sky looking for surface-to-air missiles. [The BAE ALARM is the other loitering anti-radiation missile, tho its capability and flexibility are more limited.]

The oral history reminds of the heady years of the SEAD development (1960s-1980), when millions of dollars and thousands of men went into defeating Integrated-Air-Defense Systems. It also serves as a reminder that defensive bubbles can be cracked, given time and money. And saturation attacks can be managed, using defense in depth [AEGIS and Naval Aviation]. Neither offense nor defense can reign for long.

The whole Chinese effort into Anti-Access/Area Denial is similarly an effort to erect a defensive bubble, just like the Russian submarine Bastions and US Navy's AEGIS umbrellas. [The only irony is that China is setting up a bubble by piercing USAF and US Navy's bubbles.]

And the American Air-Sea Battle is similarly another effort to crack the shore battery bubbles. In the post-Cold War era, we are seeing a resurging interest in missile Coastal Artillery among the 2nd tier powers.

The contest between the spear and the shield goes on.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

USAF Politics and Lt Gen(P) Wolfenbarger

I saw this interesting story on Yahoo today, Obama Air Force Nomination Reeks of Politics, by Teri Heisler.  It talked about the careers of 3 different female USAF flag officers: Lt Gen(P) Wolfenbarger, Maj Gen Masiello, and Lt Gen(ret) Gabreski.  Wolfenbarger made the news because she will become USAF's first female 4-star.  Heisler decried the selection because she thinks that the other two officers were more qualified, worthy, of being the first USAF female general.

The 3 generals had very distinct career paths:  Wolfenbarger, an Academy grad, is a developmental engineer.  Masiello is a contracting officer.  And Gabreski is a maintenance officer with significant command and operational experience.  Masiello deployed to Iraq once, while Gabreski served a tour in Korea.  Wolfenbarger stayed CONUS the whole time, but she did have a GWOT Svc Medal. [Couldn't find where she got it from.]  Heisler thought that Masiello and Gabreski are better role models because of their deployments and operational experience for an Air Force at war.

However, I think USAF went with the right choice with Wolfenbarger, both as a female role model and as AFMC Commander.  Wolfenbarger is an engineer, which is exactly the raison d'etre of AFMC: to engineer weapons for the USAF.  If Gabreski was in the Army, then she would have made 4-star because the Army likes operational experience.  But the USAF needs an engineer to manage its technical programs, so Wolfenbarger got the nod.

Moreover, as a female engineer, Wolfenbarger is the right STEM role model.  It's somewhat ironic that Heisler, who just wrote about "Women in STEM Careers", turns right back around and decries a female engineer making ranks.

[On the other hand, the current AFMC Commander, Gen Hoffman, a male, was a fighter pilot and an engineer.  So when USAF female pilots come of age, we can expect AFMC commanders to stay pilot/engineers.  Gabreski was operational, just not the right kind of operational.]