Monday, April 11, 2011
Washington (CNN) -- After weeks of U.S. and NATO bombardment, about one-third of Moammar Gadhafi's ground armor has been destroyed, as well as most of the fixed air defense sites and aircraft, but a stalemate between government and rebel forces is emerging and could last for some time, according to a senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the latest military assessments.
The official agreed to speak Monday only on background because of the sensitive nature of the information.
The official said the latest U.S. and NATO view is that both sides essentially remain in their fixed positions -- the rebels near Ajdabiya and the pro-government forces near al-Brega.
"Neither side has the wherewithal to move," the official said.
Rebels do not have the manpower, vehicles or weapons to make major advances. And while Gadhafi's forces continue their attacks, especially in Misrata, the source said they are suffering from a lack of supplies, ammunition and fuel because of airstrikes. The official said that a major ground force movement would put Gadhafi's units in the cross hairs of NATO airstrikes.
That said, the official acknowledged strongly that the onslaught by Gadhafi forces in Misrata has put people there in a dire situation. The official described a military scenario in which the United States and NATO have direct knowledge of civilians being killed but have been unable to act because Gadhafi forces and armor are so mixed with civilian populations, it's become impossible to launch airstrikes against them.
The United States and NATO also think that Gadhafi's forces still have as many as 15,000 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which has resulted in limited use of AC-130 aircraft, which are vulnerable to being shot down as they fly low and slow to engage in the type of precision airstrikes needed in a place like Misrata.
The attacks also have affected Gadhafi's ability to communicate with his commanders. He is still having face-to-face meetings with key associates, the official said, but is largely unable to communicate directly with units in the field. There are still some fiber-optic communications capabilities as well as communications nodes in schools and mosques that are very difficult to strike.
On the other side, another senior U.S. official who is familiar with administration contacts with the opposition said the opposition's leadership seems to be sincere and earnest about its aim of toppling Gadhafi, but the leaders are not as organized as they need to be. They lack a detailed plan.
The rebel military forces and their abilities are "still a bit of a mystery," the officials said. "... Their resources are limited and their strategies and tactics are hard to fathom."
While they are holding on to Ajdabiya for the moment, the senior official said it is hard to imagine them making any further gains toward Tripoli.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 1:42 PM
WASHINGTON - With competition fierce to land a retired space shuttle orbiter, the cities and states vying to bring one home have gotten creative.
Lobbying strategies range from a humble lapel pin to a videotaped sales pitch by a former president. There are pledges of extravagant buildings and millions of visitors if chosen.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said he'll announce the winners on April 12, the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight. The announcement will end years of jockeying by dozens of competitors, but it's also likely to bring more disappointment than celebration.
After all, only three orbiters remain and Discovery is already committed to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.
That leaves Endeavour and Atlantis up for grabs, and 29 museums and institutions -- including Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex -- in the race to be a shuttle retirement home, each promoting their site with the energy of a carnival barker.
"That decision will be fair, sir," Bolden told a lawmaker at a recent congressional hearing.
The goal is to house the shuttles where they can be used as educational displays to promote human spaceflight and inspire interest in exploration.
Federal law says the shuttles should retire to places "with an historical relationship with either the launch, flight operations or processing" of the spacecraft.
That would seem to give the edge to KSC, which launched every shuttle mission and landed half of them, and Johnson Space Center in Texas, where mission control is located.
Bolden is expected to be at KSC on April 12 -- the same day he announces his decision -- to celebrate the anniversary of the first flight. He flew four shuttle flights, including one in 1986 with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando.
"One of the shuttles will have to go to KSC," Nelson said matter-of-factly.
The importance of making sure the shuttles are accessible to as many Americans as possible has come up again and again -- suggesting geographical diversity will play a role in Bolden's decision.
The chairman of the House space committee, Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, has joked with NASA officials that he thinks that's fine -- just so long as Texas gets one.
"It all started there," Hall said of his state. "There's a lot of heroes of this land that are based there or started out there."
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., pitched the Intrepid aircraft carrier docked at a Manhattan pier. He said the shuttle would join a Mercury space capsule and a supersonic Concorde jet there, and could bring in 1 million extra visitors a year.
Ohio wants to house the Atlantis shuttle at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. President Barack Obama's proposed fiscal 2012 budget includes $14 million for the idea.
"While the budget request is not the last word, it is encouraging that the administration agrees with us," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
At a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing last month, lawmakers interrupted each other to sell Bolden on their shuttle retirement proposals.
Consider the Museum of Flight in Seattle, which gets 450,000 annual visitors, suggested Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.
Rep. Steve Austria, R-Ohio, offered Bolden a lapel pin saying, "Land the Shuttle in Ohio."
An Alabama Republican recommended a particularly easy approach to the anything-but-easy decision facing Bolden. Maybe the winning state should be chosen alphabetically, offered Rep. Jo Bonner, whose Alabama district recently lost a $35 billion Air Force contract to Boeing in Dicks' district.
Former astronauts also have jumped into the fray.
John Herrington, who commanded a shuttle flight, is leading the Tulsa Air and Space Museum's bid to "Land the Shuttle" in his native Oklahoma.
"I hope Chicago gets the shuttle, and if we do, I'll fly it here myself," said Jim Lovell, a retired astronaut who flew on Apollo 13 and serves on the board of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago -- another contender.
Dicks' push to send a shuttle to Seattle is backed by Bonnie Dunbar, a retired astronaut who flew aboard five shuttle missions and has worked for years supporting the Museum of Flight's bid.
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland mentioned to Obama last June that his state was the home of Orville and Wilbur Wright as well as astronauts John Glenn, the first man to orbit the Earth, and Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.
"Ohio should be a site for one of the shuttles," Strickland said in an interview. "The Wright brothers are from Dayton. The shuttle should be in Dayton."
With three Texas locations vying for a shuttle, former President George H.W. Bush recorded a video supporting a new museum building at Texas A&M University near his presidential library.
"Howdy," Bush says in the video. "I invite you to participate in an exciting opportunity to obtain a retired space shuttle and display it in an expansion of the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History."
Some sites, such as the KSC Visitor Complex, are touting new buildings as an added selling point. The complex plans a $100 million, 64,000-square-foot exhibit to house an orbiter for 1.5 million annual visitors. The shuttle would be displayed as if in flight, with its payload bay doors open.
March Field Air Museum in southern California designed a space-exploration building with retractable doors that could be opened at night so the shuttle would be visible from Interstate 215.
Chicago's Adler Planetarium plans a space pavilion that would frame an orbiter with views of Lake Michigan on one side and Chicago's skyline on the other.
Seattle's Museum of Flight, which already has the first jet version of Air Force One and a Concorde, broke ground last June on a space-gallery building that could house a shuttle.
"We have our fingers crossed," Dicks said.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:56 AM
The US Navy has fired a laser gun from one of its ships for the first time.
Researchers used the high-energy laser (HEL) to disable a boat by setting fire to its engines off the coast of California.
Similar systems had previously been tested on land, however moist sea air presented an extra challenge as it reduces a beam's power.
The navy said that ship-borne lasers could eventually be used to protect vessels from small attack boats.
The US military has been experimenting with laser weapons since the 1970s.
Early systems used large, chemical-based lasers which tended to produce dangerous waste gasses.
More recently, scientists have developed solid state lasers that combine large numbers of compact beam generators, similar to LEDs.
The US Navy system uses a Joint High Power Solid State Laser mounted on deck
Until now, much of the development of HELs has focused on shooting down missiles or hitting land-based targets.
The latest round of tests showed its wider possibilities, according to Peter Morrison from the Office of Naval Research.
"This test provides an important data point as we move toward putting directed energy on warships.
"There is still much work to do to make sure it's done safely and efficiently," he said.
While a weaponised system would likely be restricted to military vessels, merchant shipping has also expressed an interest in laser technogy
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:10 AM