Friday, August 14, 2009
Secret cargo theory as hunt for missing vessel Arctic Sea goes on.
A missing ship feared hijacked by pirates in European waters two weeks ago may be carrying a secret cargo, it was claimed today.
The Arctic Sea and its 15-strong Russian crew were last heard from on 29 July, when they radioed British coastguards. A day later their position was tracked to northern France but the vessel has since disappeared, and some experts said it may have been hijacked by pirates in the Baltic Sea. Others have speculated that the 4,000-tonne vessel's disappearance may be linked to a dispute with the owners.
But Mikhail Voitenko, the editor of Russia's Sovfracht maritime bulletin, said the ship, originally thought to be carrying £1m-worth of timber from Finland to Algeria, may have been targeted because it was carrying an unknown cargo.
"The only sensible answer is that the vessel was loaded secretly with something we don't know anything about," he told the Russia Today news channel. "We have to remember that before loading in Finland the vessel stayed for two weeks in a shipyard in Kaliningrad. I'm sure it cannot be drugs or illegal criminal cargo. I think it is something much more expensive and dangerous."
The Arctic Sea made routine radio contact with British coastguards just before entering the strait of Dover from the North Sea at 1.52pm on July 28.
According to Interpol, it had been boarded by up to 10 armed men masquerading as anti-drugs police on July 24. The men were thought to have left the ship in a high-speed inflatable boat 12 hours later.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency called the situation "bizarre" and said the hijackers might have been coercing the ship's crew when they made radio contact.
The Arctic Sea failed to arrive in Bejaia, in northern Algeria, as scheduled on 4 August.
An international search, involving two nuclear submarines and five Russian warships, has been launched. "All ships and vessels of the Russian navy in the Atlantic have been dispatched to search for the missing ship," commander-in-chief Vladimir Vysotsky told Moscow's Itar-Tass news agency.
Mark Dickinson, the general secretary of seafarers' union Nautilus International, criticised authorities for their "relaxed" view of marine hijacking, which he said made shipping "the achilles heel of global security".
"It is alarming that, in the 21st century, a ship can apparently be commandeered by hijackers and sail through the world's busiest waterway with no alarm being raised and no naval vessel going to intercept it," he said.
Nikolay Karpenkov, the director of Solchart Arkhanglesk, the Arctic Sea's operating company, said the suggestion it had a secret cargo was "rubbish". "The craft was checked by customs officers as it left Kaliningrad after a refit and with the timber cargo in Finland and nothing out of the ordinary was found," he said.
3-star: Buzzing is part of Afghan air strategy: "SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — A new military approach in Afghanistan may mean buzzing rather than bombing the enemy, according to the general taking over the air war there.It’s known as irregular warfare, designed to protect local people and then enlist their help defeating Taliban insurgents, Air Force Lt. Gen. Gilmary Hostage said Thursday.‘The first thing we do is fly over head, and the bad guys know airpower is in place and oftentimes that’s enough. That ends the fight, they vamoose,’ said Hostage, who will direct the air battle over Iraq and Afghanistan. ‘The A-10 has a very distinct sound. The cannon on an A-10 is horrifically capable and our adversaries know it. When they hear the sound of an A-10, they scatter.’Hostage says the Air Force can easily drop bombs with pinpoint accuracy. But in some cases, it may be better to fly over enemy forces with noisy warplanes to get them to disperse first, then try more force if that doesn’t work.Hostage said he supports the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who is shifting the philosophy toward irregular warfare.‘The challenge with irregular warfare is to empower and enable the people to the point where they don’t allow the adversary to hide in amongst them,’ Hostage said. ‘It really is a long-term effort.’Hostage said McChrystal has told his forces, ‘If you are in a situation where there’s a civilian at risk, he’d rather have us back away than pressing to engage the enemy and run the risk of damaging or hurting somebody.’The general said the irregular warfare philosophy may sound strange to some, but it gives military commanders more flexibility in fighting a war.‘In a circumstance where I’m only able to blow things up, I’m pretty limited in what I can do,’ Hostage said. ‘If I use graduated measures, then there are many things I can do to affect the situation.’Hostage, 54, took the job of overseeing Air Forces for the U.S. Central Command last week. He was heading Thursday from Shaw Air Force Base in central South Carolina to his new post at al-Udeid Air Base in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, the headquarters of all U.S. air operations in the Middle East.He is returning to familiar territory, having served as the commander of U.S. forces stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia in 2001 and 2002. Most recently, he was the No. 2 in charge of U.S. Air Forces in the Pacific."
(Via Air Force Times - News.)
FBI: Man threatened military kids online: "SAN DIEGO — The FBI arrested a transient man with a laptop and wireless access for allegedly making threats through Craigslist posts that targeted two Coronado, Calif.-elementary schools, including military children, according to court documents.Paul D. Rodgers, 40, is facing charges of communicating threats through several postings he made on the Craigslist social network July 30. Rodgers is being held without bail and is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in San Diego for a preliminary hearing set for Aug. 25.Rodgers ‘initially agreed that he posted all of the comments to Craigslist about hurting kids to help with the tones he hears in his head,’ FBI Special Agent Kristen Robinson wrote in an affidavit filed in court.Navy officials in San Diego in July were alerted to the threats, which the Joint Terrorism Task Force was investigating. On July 31, officials issued a warning of the threats but later downplayed them. Coronado city officials also were alerted to the threats, and one source said authorities had identified the possible suspect and described him as having ‘a history of mental illness.’FBI agents think that Rodgers posted photographs in May of four San Diego-area elementary schools, titling his post as ‘Coronado elementary schools to be destroyed,’ according to the affidavit. When San Diego police questioned Rodgers in June about it, he ‘asked to go to county mental health’ and was evaluated over eight days.A July 30 posting on Craigslist threatened children at two of those schools, and a search of e-mail and IP addresses determined that the posting was done online from a San Diego public library computer. Further searches of similar threats at Craigslist sites in New York, Seattle and San Francisco on Aug. 1 all sourced the postings to the same library.The FBI zoomed in on Rodgers, who lives out of his Ford pickup truck in San Diego’s beach areas. He accesses the Internet from his laptop computer using a free wireless connection.Police detained him Aug. 5.DISCUSS: The Craigslist threat"
(Via Air Force Times - News.)
Wait And See: "
When Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited the Komsomolsk-on-Amur production site in May, Russian air force chief Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin apparently briefed him that the prototype Sukhoi T-50 would be flown in October or November.
This week Zelin appears to remain confident that the prototype of Russia’s fifth-generation combat aircraft, known as a PAK-FA, will still be flown before the end of the year.
‘I believe that this year we will certainly take this plane into the air,' Zelin is quoted by Russian news agency TASS, August 11.
The Russian air force commander also indicated that three T-50 airframes have already been built – though at least one of these is likely a static fatigue test rig."
There’s a sleeper in the race for fielding more UAV capability. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is already flying its reduced-signature Predator C while company researchers simultaneously explore a range of missions from ballistic missile intercept to suppression of enemy air defenses.
The new Predator C has a turbojet engine with hidden exhaust and recessed air intakes, swept wings and V-tail for redirecting radar reflections and some shaping. Depending on how much a customer wants to spend, the signature can be reduced to the point that with standoff weapons and cooperative tactics with other aircraft, even advanced air defense can be finessed and avoided.
The capability is making it interesting to the U.S. Navy, Britain and Italy.
‘They already have the ground stations and infrastructure in place [from operating Predator A and B]. Predator C plugs right into that,’ says GAAS’s chief, retired admiral Tom Cassidy. ‘Right now there is no prohibition about selling Predator C overseas to NATO countries, Japan or Australia. The entire Predator family is in Missile Technology Control Regime category one.’
Widespread interest in what could be a cheaper, modular, stealthy UAV brings up the question of how many different kinds of missions could the new aircraft be tailored for? The issue would turn around increasing capabilities without the design becoming too large, slow, expensive and vulnerable.
‘Ballistic Missile Defense is another area we’re looking hard at,’ Cassidy says. ‘Boost phase intercept [would be possible] by carrying an interceptor missile that would be cued by other detection devices as well as an on-board sensor. Or the UAV sensors could cue ground-based or shipboard interceptor missiles. It could go both ways.’
An Aegis-based SM-3 has already destroyed an errant satellite in space. Raytheon is being eyed as the source of an air-launched interceptor missile – a longer-range, faster variant of its AIM-120 AMRAAM.
‘We’re looking at Predator C as a player in that,’ he says. In addition, ‘We could do a lot of the signals intelligence and electronic attack mission from the Predator C since the EA-6Bs are going away. We’re putting 45 KVA generators on the Predator B. That’s plenty of electric power to hang jammers on the wings. Predator C would be a natural for that too. We have not decided what level of electric power we will have on the Predator C. We’ll see what kind of new jammer capabilities are out there.’
Predator C illustrations have shown it with a tailhook and folding wings which indicates an anticipated role on aircraft carrier.
‘The Navy has an interest in Predator C,’ Cassidy admits. ‘We can make it carrier suitable. We just have to beef up the landing gear, put a tailhook on it and add a nose tow for the catapult. The control system and throttle response is adequate.’
There’s also a move afoot to promote modularity and flexibility of payloads and weapons with interchangeable wings.
‘We’re looking at the inner wing box and how the outer panels attach to it,’ he says. ‘We have a wing fold there and we can put on alternative outer wing panels with a several foot wing tip extension to get longer endurance out of the airplane. It will take a few knots off the top end speed as a trade off for a couple of hours extra endurance.’
V-22 Osprey Debut Report Card: Analysis: "The V-22 Osprey got a chance at redemption last year when a dozen deployed to Iraq with the Marines. But a government report casts some doubt on the ability of the $100 million aircraft. Here's a PM-generated score card of the report's findings.
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