Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Update: Pentagon Says Iranians Forced Down Biz Jet

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military coalition in Iraq confirmed Tuesday that a business jet -- not a U.S. military aircraft -- was recently forced down in Iran due to an airspace violation.

"The airplane is now being confirmed as a light transport plane with no Americans onboard," Multi-National Forces-Iraq said in a statement issued Tuesday. "From what we have been seeing, it was a Falcon business jet. We have accounted for all our aircraft and none are missing."

The U.S. coalition in Iraq had no information on who owned the aircraft, stressing that it was not a registered American plane.

Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency initially reported that five American military officials were on board the U.S. aircraft. But other Iranian media reports -- quoting Iranian officials -- said the aircraft was Hungarian and no Americans were on the plane.

Iranian officials told Iran's state-run Arabic language channel Al-Alam that the incident happened a week ago and that the plane was carrying humanitarian workers.

Fars later changed its Farsi language report, citing other Iranian and Arab media as saying the plane was not an American aircraft

Fars also initially reported that aircraft, which it called a "Falcon fighter," entered Iranian airspace at a low altitude from Turkey to avoid radar detection, despite repeated warnings by the Islamic Republic Air Force. It said the plane also carried three civilians.

Washington is monitoring the reports, but White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said "as far as we know (they are) totally bogus."

U.S. National Security Council Spokesman Gordon Johndroe also said there is no indication that the reports are accurate.

"We're looking into the various and conflicting reports coming from the Iranian 'news' agencies, but do not have any information at this time that would lead us to believe they are correct," he said.

Fars said the aircraft, which was en route to Afghanistan, was forced to land at an Iranian airport that it did not name. Fars reported that the eight people aboard were released "after daylong interrogations" that revealed the aircraft had "unintentionally" violated Iran's airspace.

Fars said the aircraft was later allowed to continue on to Afghanistan.

Two top U.S. military officials told CNN's Barbara Starr that no U.S. military aircraft has been forced down. The U.S. military has an F-16 Fighting Falcon, but it is a one-seat jet fighter aircraft that is used by the U.S. Air Force for air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.

Editors note: In any event this "incident" will help Pentagon intelligence analysts ascertain Iranian Air Force intercept capabilities.

Navy identifies sailor killed aboard Ike

Navy identifies sailor killed aboard Ike
By Andrew Scutro - Staff writer Navy Times

Posted : Tuesday Oct 7, 2008 16:33:40 EDT
NORFOLK, Va. — The Navy identified the sailor killed Saturday night aboard the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Aircraft Handling) 2nd Class (AW) Robert Lemar Robinson, 31, of Detroit, was killed during launch operations, 2nd Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Courtney Hillson said. A news release said the sailor “was hit by a plane and died.”

Hillson said the sailor was killed during the “launch phase” on the flight deck Oct. 4, off the coast of Cherry Point, N.C.

She confirmed that Robinson was hit by a launching aircraft.

Robinson leaves behind three children. An investigation is underway.

Mecury: Up Close

MESSENGER Returns Images from Oct. 6 Mercury Fly-By

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
> Larger image MESSENGER is the first mission sent to orbit the planet closest to the sun. On Oct. 6, 2008, at roughly 4:40 a.m. ET, MESSENGER flew by Mercury for the second time this year. During the encounter, the probe swung just 125 miles (200 kilometers) above the cratered surface of Mercury, snapping hundreds of pictures and collecting a variety of other data from the planet as it gains a critical gravity assist that keeps the probe on track to become the first spacecraft ever to orbit the innermost planet beginning in March 2011.

At roughly 1:50 a.m. ET on October 7, MESSENGER's most recent images began to be received back on Earth. The spectacular image shown here is one of the first to be returned. It shows Mercury about 90 minutes after the spacecraft’s closest approach. The bright crater just south of the center of the image is Kuiper, identified on images from the Mariner 10 mission in the 1970s. For most of the terrain east of Kuiper, toward the limb (edge) of the planet, the departing images are the first spacecraft views of that portion of Mercury’s surface. A striking characteristic of this newly imaged area is the large pattern of rays that extend from the northern region of Mercury to regions south of Kuiper.

Breaking News: Iran: "US Fighter Forced To Land" US Denies

(CNN) — U.S. military officials disputed Iranian media reports on Tuesday that Iranian fighter jets intercepted a U.S. military plane after it violated Iranian airspace.

Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported that the “Falcon fighter” was forced to land at an Iranian airport after entering the country’s airspace from Turkey at low altitude to evade radar.

Two top U.S. military officials told CNN’s Barbara Starr that no U.S. military aircraft has been forced down. But U.S. officials noted that the aircraft may have belonged to another government agency or perhaps the Iraqi government.


By Sky News SkyNews - 46 mins ago
A US fighter jet has been forced to land in Iran after violating the country's territory, according to an Iranian news agency.

The agency added that the incursion was unintentional, and those on board were questioned and released.

It said five senior US military officials were interrogated at an Iranian airport, but allowed to leave the following day after it became clear the incursion had been a mistake.

However, a Pentagon spokesman said it was unaware of any US warplanes being forced to land in Iran.

All US aircraft in the region have been accounted for.

Editor's note: No U.S. fighter aircraft seats 5.

Maybe the aircraft was a Dassault Falcon executive jet?

-Steve Douglass


The Pentagon has denied Iranian reports that a US military aircraft violated its territory and was forced to land in the country.

"All aircraft in the region are accounted for and we have no reports of any aircraft landing in Iran," Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Ryder said.

"I haven't heard anything like that," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

The semi-official Fars News Agency said five senior US military officials had been interrogated at an Iranian airport and released a day later after it became clear the US plane had not entered intentionally.

"After it became clear that they unintentionally entered Iran's air space and their destination was Afghanistan, they were allowed to leave Iran for Afghanistan," Fars said.

It did not say when the incident happened.

In an initial report, Fars described the aircraft as a warplane. But later called it a "Falcon", giving no further details.

Some US officials speculated the craft may have been a civilian plane because of the number of people reported to be on board, but they said they had no information about the incident.

Update: Iranian news reports claimed Tuesday that Iran forced down a Western aircraft that accidentally entered its airspace, then allowed the plane to continue to Afghanistan after questioning its passengers.

The state-owned Al-Alam, Iran's official Arabic-language television station, quoted an unidentified senior Iranian military official as saying the plane belonged either to a British or Hungarian relief agency. It said Iran forced the aircraft to land on Sunday and then permitted the passengers and crew to leave the following day.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "We're looking into the various and conflicting reports coming from the Iranian `news' agencies, but do not have any information at this time that would lead us to believe they are correct."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said he had no information about the case. Other Iranian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The official quoted by Al-Alam said the plane "lost its way" and violated Iranian air space. He said the passengers _ who he said included American military personnel _ were questioned and that the plane was allowed to continue to Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, officials with the U.S. military, the American Embassy and the British Embassy said they had no information about a plane being forced down in Iran.

Initially, the semiofficial Fars news agency said the plane was American. Fars reported that the plane was carrying five military officials and three civilians from Turkey to Afghanistan when it "unintentionally" entered Iranian airspace.

According to the Fars report, Iranian fighters guided the plane to an Iranian airport, the passengers were questioned and a day later were released and allowed to continue to their destination.

Fars said the plane was a Falcon, apparently referring to a passenger aircraft manufactured by the French firm Dassault and primarily used by business executives. Dassault Falcon produces five jets with ranges from about 3,250 nautical to more than 4,000 nautical miles, with cabins that typically carry about six passengers and two crew members.

Asteroid To Hit Earth Monday/Not A Threat Scientists Say

(CNN) -- A meteor, or shooting star, is usually the size of a pebble, or even a grain of sand, burning up in the atmosphere.

An asteroid like the meteor shown here should be visible Monday night over northeastern Africa.

On Monday night, an asteroid that may be the size of a car will likely burn up in the atmosphere over northeastern Africa, according to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

But the planet is not in peril. The asteroid, spotted by an Arizona observatory only Monday afternoon, will burn up in the upper atmosphere at about 10:46 p.m. ET (2:46 a.m. GMT).

It will not pose a threat to aircraft or people on the ground, but it may put on a show.

Called an asteroid while in space, astronomers refer to it as a meteor once it interacts with the atmosphere and begins to heat and glow. While the meteor will burn up over Egypt and the Sudan, traveling from the southwest to the northeast, it could be visible from much of southern Europe, northeastern Africa, and the Middle East, according to Christine Pulliam of the Harvard center.

She said the meteor could appear, cloud-cover permitting, as bright as a full moon, and may produce a loud boom or popping noise. Italy's University of Pisa calculated the odds are between 99.8 percent and 100 percent that the object, traveling at 28,800 mph, will encounter the Earth's atmosphere.

"We want to stress that this object is not a threat," said Dr. Timothy Spahr, director of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center. "We're excited since this is the first time we have issued a prediction that an object will enter Earth's atmosphere."

"We're eager for observations from astronomers near the asteroid's approach path," said Gareth Williams of the Minor Planet Center. "We really hope that someone will manage to photograph it."

The Minor Planet Center, at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is a worldwide clearinghouse for asteroid and comet observations. It collects and disseminates observations and calculates orbits.

Chinese Chips In Our Military Computers Causing Crashes

Ars Technica:

Over the past year, US citizens have become increasingly aware of the substandard consumer-level goods flowing out of China, but new reports indicate that the counterfeit products and dubious quality controls are not confined to the consumer sector. An increasingly large number of supposedly military-grade electronic components are turning out to be counterfeit commercial-grade hardware that, in some cases, is decades older than the manufacturing label indicates.

The problem, to be sure, is not entirely China's fault. Back in 1994 and 1996, the Clinton Administration passed two bills, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (1994), and the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 (PDF, originally known as the Information Technology Management Reform Act). Collectively, these two bills were designed to streamline and simplify federal purchasing procedures, as well as allow for the use of commercial off-the-shelf hardware in certain areas. The concepts were sold to the public and Congress as a way to save a tremendous amount of money—rather than designing and implementing its own, custom products at tremendous manufacturing and R&D costs, the government would instead use (or modify) products that were readily available on today's market. That was the idea, anyway, but new reporting from BusinessWeek highlights how these two laws have had long-term unintended consequences.

One of the unintended consequences of both cutting the Pentagon's budget and encouraging low-cost, off-the-shelf procurement, has been a dramatic decline in the use of authorized resellers and/or parts purchased directly from the manufacturer. Under the new rules, government contractors were explicitly discouraged from designing systems that required the use of expensive, proprietary electronics or processors that would never be widely produced. This left the Pentagon largely unable to fund inefficient, small-scale production runs, and gave electronics manufacturers little reason to produce them.

Moving the acquisition and sourcing for these parts to China has opened security holes that haven't gone entirely unnoticed. As we covered earlier this year, the Department of Defense is aware that the processors it's acquiring are vulnerable to tampering, since some of them are complex enough to easily conceal trojan horses or backdoor circuitry installed by parties unknown. The DoD plans to launch a program designed to evaluate the best ways to detect circuit-level and chip-level tampering, but results are still years away.

Keeping China from advancing too far, meanwhile, is still a major concern of the United States. Intel is building a fab plant in Shanghai, but the new facility won't come online with anything like the cutting-edge technology the chip giant deploys in its other facilities. Even allowing Intel to build a facility in Shanghai at all is something of a bend in historical US policy. Current Chinese fabrication technology lags the US by multiple generations, and it's not in our best interest to hand a potential enemy the tools with which we build our own leading-edge equipment.

The bad parts flowing into the military's hands now aren't being modified in clean rooms; rather, they're being stripped off old boards in China's back alleys, doctored cosmetically, and passed off as new, military-grade components. The difference between true military-grade parts and the commercial-grade chips that are actually shipping out is non-trivial. In many cases, military-grade components are exposed to prolonged environmental stressors that commercial components are not designed to deal with, including extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity. It's absolutely critical that components remain durable and functional under such conditions, as having the radar on one's F-15 suddenly fail is considered slightly more hazardous than, say, the failure of one's cellular phone.

Component failure reports from defense contractors worldwide, including Boeing, Raytheon, BAE, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed, however, suggest that sufficient verification of part authenticity is no longer taking place, and investigations have turned up a significant number of counterfeit parts, sometimes installed in mission-critical systems. The culprit, in this case, is price. In the name of cost-cutting, the federal government has stripped away many of the authorization and authentication procedures that once defined federal purchasing and replaced them with a system that rewards the penny-pincher who can find the cheapest products.


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