Saturday, December 26, 2009

Enemy can't hide from new gun.

The XM25 Individual Air Burst Weapon is looking likely to be the shoulder-fired weapon of choice for the US military to kill or neutralize hidden targets. Due for field test this summer, the lightweight XM-25 "smart weapon" uses High Explosive Air-Burst (HEAB) munitions that can be programmed to detonate at a precise point in the air without the need to impact, spelling trouble for elusive targets, be they behind a wall, inside a building or in a foxhole.

The XM25

Developed jointly by the German arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch and the US company Alliant Techsystems (ATK Corporation), the XM-25 is a semi-automatic, shoulder-fired weapon with a five-round magazine and weighs in at around 14 pounds (6.3kg) – about the same weight as an M-16 with a 203 grenade launcher. The weapon's XM116 integral fire system provides the weapon with its precision and is capable of controlling individually each of the 25mm rounds in real time.

Based on a thermal optic, day-sight, laser range finder, compass and infrared light, the system can precisely measure the distance to the target and program each round to explode close to the mark via the wireless connection. Capable of hitting a point target at 500 meters and area targets at 700 meters with a range of munitions including HEAB, anti-personnel, two types of non-lethal munitions – blunt and agent dispersing airburst - plus armor piercing, and door breaching munitions, this is one very nasty piece of ordinance and a must have on any soldiers list.

In a nutshell, it operates with the soldier sighting the target and the advanced laser rangefinder transmitting range information to the chambered 25mm round. The soldier then essentially points and fires. After the round leaves the chamber and moves towards its target, the system precisely measures the distance traveled and detonates it at exactly the right moment to deliver maximum effectiveness. ATK says that the XM25 increases the warfighter’s probability of hit-to-kill performance by up to 500 percent over existing weapons and extends the effective range of the soldier’s individual weapon to more than 500 meters.

PETN used in NW airlines failed attack

CBS/AP) The suspect in the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 used a highly explosive substance called PETN, a law enforcement official told CBS News Saturday.

The explosives were carried in a soft plastic container - possibly a condom - though much of the packaging was destroyed in the fire, the official said.

The FBI is questioning the suspect, identified as 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who claimed to be acting on orders from al Qaeda to blow up the airliner, officials said.

A high-ranking law enforcement official told CBS News that the suspect apparently used a syringe to inject a chemical into the powder, which was located near his groin. It is a technique not seen in previous attempted attacks and it's possible that this incident was a test of whether the materials could pass screening and how effective they might be at causing damage, the source said.

According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, PETN is a highly explosive, colorless organic compound, and is related to nitroglycerin. Introduced as an explosive after World War I, PETN is "valued for its shattering force and efficiency ... and is the least stable of the common military explosives but retains its properties in storage for longer periods than nitroglycerin or cellulose nitrate (nitrocellulose) does."

PETN is also used in heart medication as a stimulant.


(CNN) -- Syed Jafry was preparing for his plane to land in Detroit, Michigan, after a long flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, when he heard a noise that startled him.
"There was a little bit of light, a little bit of -- kind of flamish light and there was fire," Jafry told CNN. "And people began to panic."
For a couple of seconds on Northwest Flight 253, nobody knew what was going on, he said.

That pop, officials say, came from a Nigerian man who ignited a small explosive device as the flight descended into the Detroit, Michigan, area. The White House described the incident as an attempted terrorist attack. The suspect was eventually subdued by passengers and crew.

As the commotion began, passengers didn't know what to think.
Jafry said he thought the man looked to be in his 20s.
Video: Passenger saw smoke on plane Video: Suspect discussed

Passenger Elias Fawaz told WDIV that the detonation sounded "like a balloon being popped" and said he could smell smoke.
That's when he saw a struggle in the cabin.

"We heard, 'What are you doing?' 'What are you doing?' " Fawaz told WDIV.
Within seconds a young man on the flight took matters into his own hands, according to Jafry and other passengers who spoke to CNN affiliate WXYZ-TV.

A man, sitting three or four rows behind Jafry jumped over a group of seats, tackled the suspect and put him in a headlock.

"He handled him pretty good, I think," Jafry said.
Jafry said other passengers and crew members then helped subdue the man and put out flames after the suspect's pants appeared to catch fire.
People screamed.

"Everybody was rushing towards that area and tried to get water," Jafry said, adding that people rushed the man with blankets and a fire extinguisher.

"They put out the fire, brought him up front where they stripped him down to make sure that he had nothing else," passenger Melinda Dennis told CNN affiliate WDIV.
Other passengers told WXYZ the injured suspect was put in the first row of first class.

"He appeared to be more stunned and surprised with the whole act," Jafry said of the suspect after he was subdued.

Passengers, including Jafry, said they could see the suspect was burned on different parts of his body, but he didn't seem to say much or act as if he were in pain.

Jafry said soon after the suspect was moved to the front of the plane, the crew and pilot told passengers the incident was under control.

"And we were on the ground, I think between 10 to 20 minutes after the incident," Jafry said.

Jafry and other passengers were screened again and questioned for about four to five hours before finally being able to meet their friends and family, or reach connecting flights

NW Airlines incident called terrorist attack.

Romulus, Michigan (CNN) -- The 23-year-old man suspected of trying to bring down a Northwest Airlines jet that landed in Detroit, Michigan, is the son of a man who recently stepped down as chairman of a bank in Nigeria, a family source told CNN.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is the son of former First Bank PLC chairman Alhaji Umar Mutallab, according to the relative in Kaduna, in northern Nigeria.
Abdulmutallab suffered burns when he ignited a small explosive device aboard the plane; he was hospitalized in Michigan for his burns. His plans were foiled by crew members and passengers.
The family source told CNN that Abdulmutallab received a college degree in London, England, where he lived for three years.
A spokesman at the University College of London told CNN on Saturday that a student by the name of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was enrolled in the department of mechanical engineering from September 2005 to June 2008. Dave Weston said the college could not confirm whether the former student and Abdulmutallab are the same person.
The last time Abdulmutallab's family heard from him was two months ago, when they received a text message, the family source said. Abdulmutallab told the family earlier that he had gone to Yemen.
Abdulmutallab went through "normal security procedures" in Amsterdam, and those were "well-performed," the Netherlands' national coordinator for counterterrorism told CNN.
Witnesses said they heard a loud pop or bang and saw something burning in Abdulmutallab's lap.
Passenger Jasper Schuringa told CNN that with the aid of theNorthwest flight's cabin crew, he helped subdue and isolate Abdulmutallab. Crew members and passengers extinguished the small fire.
Schuringa said he saw that Abdulmutallab was holding a burning object between his legs.

See other passengers' accounts"I pulled the object from him and tried to extinguish the fire with my hands and threw it away," said Schuringa, who suffered minor burns on his hands.

Abdulmutallab, who is from Nigeria, was taken into custody and hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns on his thighs, according to federal law enforcement and airline security sources. The suspect was "talking a lot" to the FBI, said a senior U.S. official.
Another person was taken to the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, about 25 miles away, hospital spokeswoman Tracy Justice said.
The remains of the device were sent to an FBI explosives lab in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis, security sources said.
No other suspicious materials were found on the plane or in luggage, the law enforcement and airline security sources said. The suspect had only carry-on luggage.
The plane, an Airbus 330 with Delta Air Lines markings, landed shortly before noon. It was carrying 278 passengers. Delta is the parent company of Northwest.
The sources told CNN that the suspect flew into Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on a KLM flight from Lagos, Nigeria, and is not believed to be on any "no fly" list, although his name does appear in a U.S. database of people with suspect connections. He did not undergo secondary security screening in Amsterdam, an administration official said.
The initial impression is that the suspect was acting alone and did not have any formal connections to organized terroristgroups, including al Qaeda, said an official who is familiar with the investigation.
Abdulmutallab, however, claimed to have extremist ties and said the explosive device "was acquired in Yemen along with instructions as to when it should be used," a federal security bulletin obtained by CNN said.
President Obama, who is spending the holidays in Hawaii, was briefed on the incident and directed "that all appropriate measures be taken to increase security for air travel," said White House spokesman Bill Burton. Obama made no changes to his schedule, Burton said.
An official with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration told CNN there will be increased security at airports, and screening likely will take longer. No details were provided on all the steps being taken.
The official advised travelers to allow for extra time before their flights. There will be no changes in screening requirements, and no change in the number of carry-on bags allowed.
A note was released earlier this week by the Office of Intelligence and Analysis that said FBI officials "currently have no specific, credible intelligence indicating plans by al Qaeda or other terrorist groups to conduct attacks in the United States during the 2009 holiday season."
In London, counterterrorism police officers were searching buildings and making inquiries Saturday at the request of U.S. authorities, a Metropolitan Police spokeswoman told CNN.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson said he is following developments closely and has assured the public that police in Britain are working closely with U.S. investigators "to uncover the full background to the incident."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

California "skyquake" waveform and a little history.

California skyquake waveform. Notice how sharp it is - no small tremblors leading up to the event. This is a massive sonic boom, not a quake. Where's jim Mori when I need him?

I'll see if i can dig up the 1992 skyquake data and post it for comparison.

- Steve Douglas






RELATED "AURORA" snippet from FAS website:

"Probably the most compelling evidence for such flight tests are the series of unusual sonic booms chronicled above Southern California, beginning in mid to late 1991. On at least five occasions, these sonic booms were recorded by at least 25 of the 220 US Geological Survey sensors across Southern California used to pinpoint earthquake epicenters. The incidents were recorded in June, October, November, and late January 1991.

Seismologists estimate that the aircraft were flying at speeds between Mach 3 and 4 and at altitudes of 8 to 10 kilometers. The aircraft's flight path was in a North North-East direction, consistent with flight paths to secret test ranges in Nevada. Seismologists say that the sonic booms were characteristic of a smaller vehicle than the 37 meter long shuttle orbiter. Furthermore, neither the shuttle nor NASA's single SR-71B were operating on the days the booms were registered.

One of the seismologists, Jim Mori, noted:

"We can't tell anything about the vehicle. They seem stronger than other sonic booms that we record once in a while. They've all come on Thursday mornings about the same time, between 6 and 7 in the morning."
These "skyquake" are a continuing phenomenon, with the most recent report over Orange County, CA coming on 20 July 1996. It is reported that the "quake" occurred around 3pm PST, fitting the "skyquake" pattern in the following respects:
  1. It occurred in a coastal area.
  2. Described as similar to an earthquake in some respects (rattling of loose objects, etc) but also like a boom (but no distinct double bang as far as is known).
  3. Severe enough to light up government and media switchboards, but no known damage.
  4. Not an earthquake (CalTech sensors saw nothing)
  5. Local military bases deny any knowledge.
  6. No known other source (eg explosion)
Intercepted radio transmissions are equally intriguing:<85>
"On Apr. 5 (a Sunday) and Apr. 22, radio hobbyists in Southern California monitored transmissions between Edwards AFB's radar control facility (Joshua Control) and a high-altitude aircraft using the call sign "Gaspipe." The series of radio calls occurred at approximately 6 a.m. local time on both dates.
"Controllers were directing the unknown Gaspipe aircraft to a runway at Edwards, using advisories similar to those given space shuttle crews during a landing approach. The monitors recorded two advisories, both transmitted by Joshua Control to Gaspipe: "You're at 67,000, 81 mi. out," and "Seventy mi. out, 36,000. Above glide slope."
Reported sightings of unusual high performance aircraft are not confined to the Southwestern United States. More recently, such observations have also been reported in other parts of the United States, as well as in Europe. These reports are particularly intriguing because they are difficult to reconcile with an experimental test program, since there would be no reason for test flights to be conducted in Europe. Rather, these reports would have to be understood in the context of the deployment of an operational aircraft."

Skyquakes: They're back!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Opinion: Pentagon security is becoming a joke.

Editor's note: P.W. Singer is director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution and author of "Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century," which is being published in paperback on December 29.

(CNN) -- It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster: A group of insurgents hack into American military drones, using software they got off the Internet, according to The Wall Street Journal. But, for the benefit of that screenwriter likely pounding away right now to get his idea in first -- as well as for the general public -- what actually happened?
Essentially, three trends are coming together in war.

First is the growing use of unmanned systems, something I explore in my book "Wired for War." Just a few years ago, the U.S. military had no interest in unmanned systems. Indeed, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, we had only a handful of unmanned systems in the air and zero on the ground in the invasion force, none of them armed.

Today, we have more than 7,000 in the air, ranging from the 48-foot-long Predator to tiny ones that can fit in a backpack, and 12,000 on the ground, such as the Packbot and Talon systems that hunt down roadside bombs. Many of these systems are armed, giving new meaning to the term "killer app."

This 180-degree turn to robotics, however, often came in an ad-hoc manner. The back-end networks didn't perfectly fit with the wide variety of unmanned systems that were being plugged in.
Even more, the pressure was on to push the systems out as rapidly as possible, for very good reason. There was a war on, and these unmanned systems were proving to be far more useful to our troops than what the regular Pentagon acquisitions process had been providing.
One robotics company executive described how he couldn't even get his phone calls returned a few years ago. Now, he was told, "Make them as fast as you can."

Second, though, was a dash of arrogance. In not coming through the regular planning and purchasing system, many of the systems used proprietary software as well as commercial, off-the-shelf hardware. So many of the communications feeds going back and forth were poorly protected, and, in some cases, not even encrypted.

This was the case, for example, for some of the overhead surveillance video feeds that the unmanned systems were collecting and, in turn, beaming back both to command posts as well as to American patrols on the ground, who watch the feed off ROVER. (Akin to Dick Tracy's watch, this is a rugged video monitor a soldier can strap onto his or her arm or gear.)

The problem of the relatively open video feeds has been known for a while. Indeed, back during our operations in the Balkans, it was discovered that just about anyone in Eastern Europe with a satellite dish could watch live overhead footage of U.S. Special Operations forces going out on raids of suspected war criminals. One joker commented that it was harder to tap into the Disney Channel.

But the Pentagon assumed that foes in the Middle East wouldn't be smart enough to figure this out, and underestimated how quickly the technology to tap in to the feeds would advance, becoming cheaper and widely available. The problems were not fixed, and more and more of these relatively open systems were deployed.

Unfortunately, we all know what happens when we "assume" our enemies are dumb (they make something out of "u" and "me.").

Using a $26 software package called Skygrabber, originally designed to allow customers to download movies and songs off the Internet (none of them pirated, of course), insurgents were able to tap into the various U.S. military video feeds, The Wall Street Journal reported. U.S. forces became aware of it after they captured a Shiite militia member in Iraq, whose laptop had files of the pirated footage saved on it.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Seized weapons from North Korea were bound for iIan


A plane loaded with weapons from North Korea that was recently impounded in Bangkok was bound for Iran, according to documents obtained by arms-trafficking experts.

The destination of the Ilyushin-76, which Thai authorities have said carried 35 tons of armaments, has been unknown. Thai officials said the plane flew to Pyongyang via Bangkok two weeks ago to collect its cargo, then returned to Bangkok to refuel on Dec. 11. It was seized during that stop and its five crew members were detained by police.

Thai officials say the plane was due to fly next to Sri Lanka, but Sri Lankan officials say they had no knowledge of the flight.
Read More

* NZ Man Unaware of Korean Weapons

A flight plan for the IL-76, obtained by researchers in the U.S. and Belgium, shows that after Bangkok the plane was due to make refueling stops in Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and Ukraine before unloading its cargo in Tehran. Iranian officials didn't respond to requests for comment.

The flight plan also indicates that en route to Pyongyong the plane stopped at an air force base in Azerbaijan, although the nature of that stop is unclear. Azerbaijani officials couldn't be reached for comment.

The new information is presented in a joint draft report by analysts at TransArms, based in Chicago, and the International Peace Information Service, or IPIS, based in Antwerp, Belgium. Both organizations conduct research on conflicts around the world, including how they are financed and supplied with weapons. A draft copy of the report was provided to The Wall Street Journal.

The report hasn't been independently confirmed.

It remains unclear where the weapons would have gone from Iran. Western governments have accused Iran of supporting militants in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. Thai officials have said the weapons found are unusual in Southeast Asia.

Thai officials say they have received little information from the plane's crew, who come from Kazakhstan and Belarus. The crew members say they were told the cargo was oil-drilling equipment. The crew members have denied knowledge that there were weapons on board.

The flight documents obtained by TransArms and IPIS state that the cargo is "oil industry spare parts." The flight's planners appear to have worked hard to maintain appearances. A packing list includes eight categories of equipment, such as "Geothermal rigs spare parts -- model MTEC6" and "Bespoke mineral exploration machine -- spare parts". Each category includes the number of boxes on board, the weight of each box, the gross weight and dimensions in millimeters.

Thai officials have said the actual cargo included shoulder-launched missiles, large rockets, parts for surface-to-air missiles and electronic systems to control weapons.

Arms-trafficking specialists have puzzled over the plane's stop in Bangkok, an airport that is heavily policed because of the drug trade in Thailand. "This is an unusual flight plan for general cargo, but if it's for an arms flight, it doesn't make any sense," said Peter Danssaert, an arms-trade researcher at IPIS involved in preparing the report. He said the flight plan and detailed cargo list suggest the crew may have been unaware of what they were carrying.

A major question that remains unanswered is who organized the weapons shipment, but it appears the planners went to great lengths to hide their identities. The plane is registered in the Republic of Georgia to a Georgian company, Air West Ltd. Air West on Nov. 5 leased it to another company, SP Trading Ltd., according to an Air West manager and a contract seen by The Wall Street Journal. SP Trading is registered in New Zealand and appears to be only a shell company owned by other companies.

In another contract dated Dec. 4, discussed in the report by TransArms and IPIS and seen by the Journal, SP Trading leased the plane to another company, based in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong company is owned by a second Hong Kong company, which is owned in turn by a third company, based in the British Virgin Islands, according to company registration documents. These companies appear to have organized the cargo.

An Air West manager said the company had leased the plane to SP Trading and he knew no more. Officials from SP Trading couldn't be located.

In addition, the Georgian-registered Ilyushin-76 cargo plane is actually owned by a company based in the United Arab Emirates, according to information in the draft report and confirmed by Georgian aviation officials. The company, Overseas Cargo FZE, is based in Sharjah, one of UAE's seven emirates. A spokeswoman for the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority said the agency had no record of the plane being owned by a Sharjah company, although aviation specialists say this isn't unusual.

A U.A.E. official confirmed that the Ilyushin-76 landed in the country on the evening of Dec. 9. The plane refueled and took off just over two hours later with an empty cargo hold, the official said. The plane didn't return to the U.A.E. before it was seized by the Thai authorities, the official said. The stop agrees with the flight plan in the arms-trafficking report.

Overseas Cargo's registration documents, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal in Sharjah, describe it as both an aircraft-leasing and -handling firm as well as an oil-services consulting company. The documents say it has one shareholder, Svetlana Zykova, who lists a permanent address in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Two women at Overseas Cargo's office in Sharjah referred inquiries to Ms. Zykova. Ms. Zykova was contacted on a U.A.E.-listed mobile phone. The woman who answered identified herself as Svetlana Zykova, confirmed she was the owner of Overseas Cargo, and then hung up when she was asked about her company's connections to the plane seized in Thailand.

If Overseas Cargo or other companies in the UAE are linked to the shipment, it could mark a setback for local officials, who say they have been cracking down on shell companies located in the country's multiple free-trade zones. The crackdown is aimed at hindering the flow of weapons and dual-use technologies to Iran that have been forbidden under United Nations sanctions. Objects that indirectly could aid Iran in building a nuclear weapon, such as state-of-the-art computer equipment, are considered dual-use technologies.

UAE officials have boasted of their tight regulation at the Dubai port, one of the world's largest. Earlier this summer, authorities there seized a shipment of military hardware from North Korea aboard a vessel bound for Iran. The cargo was labeled "oil boring machines" but actually contained detonators and ammunition.

Write to Daniel Michaels at and Margaret Coker at

Friday, December 18, 2009

War game set to send Iran a message

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. military's Missile Defense Agency will practice protecting the United States from a simulated Iranian missile attack next month in an exercise using the agency's newest missile-killing technology, Pentagon officials said Friday.

Previous tests have been focused on a missile trajectory that mimics an attack from North Korea, but the January test will have a trajectory and distance resembling an intercontinental ballistic missile launch from Iran.

At the same time, the agency will be testing its new "Capability-2" technology, with upgraded software and sensors loaded inside an interceptor missile that will be fired at the fake Iranian missile.

The Capability-2 technology is designed to eventually replace the existing hardware the United States has in its two missile defense bases in California and Alaska, according to Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency.

While intelligence assessments of that country's capabilities now suggest an Iranian ICBM threat is as far away as 2020, this test was planned more than three years ago, when the threat seemed much closer, Lehner said.

In the January test, the fake ICBM is slated to originate from the Missile Defense Agency's launch facility in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific while the interceptor missile will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to Lehner.

Missile defense tests have been likened to hitting a bullet with a bullet. This test will be even more difficult: It will be like hitting a bullet head-on with another bullet, because any launch from Iran would have a trajectory that would require a U.S. interceptor missile hitting the target directly, Lehner said.

The missiles will be flying at speeds of between 17,000 and 18,000 miles per hour, according to Lehner, about 3,000 mph faster than tests involving mock North Korean missiles. The speed will reduce the strike window, meaning the interceptor, also known as the "kill vehicle," will have to work even faster at identifying and striking the target missile.

The United States has only two missile defense bases, one at Vandenberg, with three missiles, and the other at Fort Greely, Arkansas, with 20 interceptor missiles at the ready.

Lehner said that if Iran were to launch an ICBM attack against the United States, the most likely defense option would be firing a missile from Alaska, because of the shorter distance around the globe.

The United States was prepared to put a third missile defense site in eastern Europe, but the Obama administration scrapped that option because of the reduced ICBM threat from Iran. In its place, the administration said it will move ships with the capability of shooting down short- and medium-range missile from Iran which, they say, pose a greater threat to Iran's neighbors and U.S. bases in the Middle East.

North Korean hackers may have gained access to war plans.

SEOUL, South Korea - Computer hackers who may be from North Korea have gained access to a secret U.S.-South Korean plan to defend the peninsula in case of war, the defense ministry said Dec. 18.

The hackers used an IP address in China to access some military data related to Operation Plan 5027, a spokesman told AFP.

"Authorities are trying to find whether North Korea was involved," he said, adding the leaked data contained crucial information such as slide and power point displays explaining the plan.

OPLAN 5027 was drawn up jointly by South Korea and the U.S., which stations 28,500 troops in the South. It allows for the dispatch of nearly 700,000 U.S. troops to the peninsula should a full-scale war break out.

The plan also sets wartime operational guidelines for the troops of the two countries. South Korea has technically remained at war with the North since the 1950-53 war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

"A probe is underway to figure out how much the leakage will affect our military plan," the spokesman said. "The officer concerned will be disciplined."

Chosun Ilbo newspaper said the officer with the Combined Forces Command had used an unsecured USB memory stick to download the plan.

South Korea believes the North has military personnel who specialize in overseas hacking and will set up its own military cyber command Jan. 1.

South Korea's spy chief has blamed North Korea's telecommunications ministry for cyber attacks that briefly crippled unclassified U.S. and South Korean government and commercial Web sites in July.

Editorial: More fact than fiction: On Predator Hacking...

I read with great interest the many articles detailing how Iraqi insurgents were able to intercept Predator UAV downlink video and was both amazed and aghast.

Recently, I had just finished a re-write on my novel "The Interceptors Club & the Secret of the Black Manta" which (as its' McGuffin)centers around a rag-tag gang of hackers who manage to steal an advanced, stealthy prototype UAV known as the Black Manta.

Almost everything in the novel is loosely base on my true "interceptor" experiences, except for the part about then theft of a UAV. I've never done that.

Although the hacking of a fictional UAV (in my book) is what the action is centered around, I was worried that it might be a bit far-fetched for the reader to buy and required a good amount of the suspension of disbelief - but not anymore.

The revelation that Iraqi insurgents are intercepting UAV video downlinks just pushed my fiction from "could it happen?" to well inside the "that's not so far fetched at all" zone.

Although by all accounts, there is no-possible-way a UAV could be commandeered by insurgents, the fact that by employing "skygrabber" software (combined with a C/KU band antenna and receiver) enables them to easily intercept video feeds is very disturbing indeed.

Despite what the DOD may say, not only is there a distinct possibility that anti-insurgency operations could (and probably have) been compromised by what an enemy may have learned from watching the feeds, the fact they could detect the feeds at all) is a major breech of military security

As a result, you can bet the farm that somewhere in some secret sub-committee, techs are being called on the carpet and heads are going to roll.

Just as a small example, by watching the feeds an enemy could not only deduce which areas were being surveilled by the Predators but could ascertain where the Predators were based, aerial images of those bases, standard UAV operational procedures as well the limits of what a Predator or other drone can or cannot see at altitude.

Not to mention, even with the Pentagon's (now urgent, since the cat has been let out of the bag) program to encrypt the video-downlinks of all its UAVs, the mere fact that the enemy could detect (even if they couldn't view) the Predator downlinks is still a major problem.

In the future, the insurgents may not be able to tune in and watch "The UAV Channel" but the detectable presence of even an encrypted digital downlink will be enough to tip off the enemy that they are being watched, therefore it is imperative the whole downlink system be revamped to employ LPI (Low-probability of intercept) narrow-band microwave frequencies or (optical modulated laser) transmission techniquesto render the downlinks undetectable and only receivable by friendly forces.

In the meantime, U.S. forces should flood the airwaves with real and faked and easily intercepted video downlink feeds, which could be accomplished by several COMMAND SOLO C-130Es. That way the insurgents wouldn't know which feeds were live and which ones were Memorex.

In any event all drones will require an expensive and extensive retro-fit, requiring testing, field-testing and re-testing of an entirely new (satellite-based) UAV command control and communications system which wouldn't have been necessary if Pentagon planners would stop underestimating the technical savvy of what they perceive is an unsophisticated enemy.

-Steve Douglass

Twitter hacked by "Iranian Cyber Army"

CNN) -- The popular microblogging Web site Twitter was hacked overnight, leaving the millions who use the site tweetless.
Those who tried to access Twitter were redirected to a site that had a green flag and proclaimed "This site has been hacked by Iranian Cyber Army."

The Web site was down for nearly an hour. Representatives from Twitter could not be immediately reached for comment, but the company spoke about the issue on its official Twitter page.
"Twitter's DNS records were temporarily compromised but have now been fixed. We will update with more information soon," the company posted at about 2:30 a.m. ET Friday.
It was unclear who the group Iranian Cyber Army was and if it is connected to Iran. However, Twitter has had an interesting relationship with Iran.

Earlier this summer when Iran's disputed presidential election spiraled into bloody protests, the opposition took to social networking and used Twitter to inform the world.
Protesters beamed images from the violent protests at a time when the mainstream media outlets had a hard time getting access to Iran.
Twitter became so fundamental in spreading news of the protests that followed that the U.S. State Department asked the company to delay a planned shutdown for maintenance.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Insurgents hack into U.S. Predator Drone feeds!

Revelations that Iraqi Shiite militants use cheap software available online to tap into live video feeds from Predator drones is just the latest indication of insurgents’ tech savvy – and ability to adapt to American military advances.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that militants used a $25.95 program called SkyGrabber – software meant to give users the ability to snatch music and videos that others are downloading – to see what the $4.5 million Predators flying over the region were sending back to US military command.

The insurgents weren’t able to hack into the Predator system or disrupt the video feeds, according to military officials. The Pentagon is now taking steps to encrypt the video recorded by the spy planes.

Drones have become a key tool in the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – as well as counterterrorism operations in Pakistan and Somalia – because they can monitor targets for a long period of time and deploy missiles by remote, with pilots sitting in bases as far away as Arizona.

The tapping into the video feeds – which gives Iraqi militants valuable insights into the targets the US military is watching – is not the only reported flaw in the pricey US military fighting system. In a March 16 article, The New York Times reported that the controls in the Predator command centers were “clunky” as the “missile-firing button sits dangerously close to the switch that shuts off the plane’s engine.”

Many Predator drones have crashed in Iraq and Afghanistan and drone strikes in Pakistan that have led to civilian deaths have drawn sharp criticism. Despite this, Predators are part of a first wave of an increasingly-used technology.

But as US military technology advances, its enemies find innovative ways to keep up.

Insurgents in Iraq have long used the Internet in their fight against the Americans – not only to recruit new militants but also to quickly spread and distribute training manuals. Roadside bomb-makers adapted to US military detection methods by employing bigger bombs and deadlier explosively-formed penetrators, or EFPs. When it became difficult for male suicide bombers to get close to key targets, militants started deploying women who were less likely to be searched.

“If anything, I think the enemy, being smaller and less bureaucratic, tends to be more technologically agile than us," writes Thomas Ricks, the former Washington Post military reporter, on his national security blog. He writes of seeing solar collectors in an Al Qaeda command and control bunker in Afghanistan in 2001.

"From the wires I could see it looked to me like they used it to power their communications. Anyway, solar power sure beats carry hauling batteries up the pathways along those 10,000-foot-high razorback ridges,” he added.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal report suggests that military officials knew about the problem for years but "the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn't know how to exploit it."

In a 2007 USA Today article about the evolution of the improvised explosive device, or IED, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni reflected on the pace at which insurgents adapted in Iraq.

"This is the first war where we've faced an enemy that's adapted better than we have at a tactical and operational level.”


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Black, silent, stealthy deadly and totally cool.

Here's a great post from military/aviation (and now Navy) historian and researcher Jim Goodall along with some amazing photos from where few outside the military have permission to go - inside a nuclear submarine.

All the following photos are copyright James Goodall and require permission for publication.

To one and all;

Its been a while since I last sent out a series of thumbs to do a "show and tell" to the world. Well this time it is not airplanes, but three of the Navy's four classes of Fast Attack subs. I had the honor and privilege to photograph inside and out on the USS Los Angeles SSN 688 and the named boat for the class. The USS Los Angeles had its very last patrol and is heading to LA for a de-commissioning ceremony and then off to Bremerton to be deactivated. It had only been in port one day when I had a chance to shot it.

The second sub was the USS Santa Fe, SSN 763, it too had just returned from patrol and it is what is referred to and an "I" boat or a 688(I). The "I" is for improved 688 with a number of changes in the inside and the bow planes moved from the "Fair-weather" to the bow of the boat and the addition of twelve vertical launch tubes for sending Tomahawks off to the "Bad Guys".

Finally the newest of the Navy's finest, the third Virginia class fast attack, the USS Hawaii SSN 776. What a boat in deed. About the same hull diameter as the LA class, but worlds apart as how its designed and lay out.

All in all I shot over five hundred images for an upcoming book and I head out to the USS Connecticut, SSN 22, this spring for a ride into its home port of Bremerton. Should be cool.

While in Hawaii, I did shoot the new Pacific Aviation Museum, at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor growing list of aircraft.....more on that later.

As I'm no longer a member of the Museum of Flight, I guess I will concentrate my efforts on subjects more to my liking. There is a remote possibility that I Will be relocating to Honolulu in the next 30 days if my expected job offer comes thru, More on that if it happens.



Iran tests another ballistic missile.

Reporting from Tehran - Iranian authorities confronted their domestic and international rivals today, testing a high-speed missile and warning reformist opposition leaders that they had crossed the line.

The defense minister, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, lauded the successful test of an upgraded version of the Sejjil-II missile for "its remarkable speed in entering the atmosphere, its strong impact and its radar-evading covers" and for its quick launch time, state television reported.

Launch of the surface-to-surface missile and the speech by Vahdi were broadcast.

"In the name of Imam Hussein and the martyrs of Karbala, you shall initialize the launch," Vahidi said as the rocket took off, referring to one of Shiite Islam's most revered figures and his entourage. "God is great. God is great, God is great."

The two-stage, solid-fuel, medium-range Sejjil is considered more accurate than the liquid-fueled missiles Iran previously used. Iranian analysts say the upgraded version includes mobile launch platforms that make it difficult to target in airstrikes.

With a 1,200-mile range it can easily reach Iran's regional nemesis Israel. But Vahidi said that the missile, which he boasted had been designed and produced by Iranian military experts at his ministry's Aerospace Organization, was for the sole purpose of defending Iran.

"The missile test we observed today was only a link in our defense chain aimed at boosting our armed forces deterrence," he said. "Iran's missile capability is merely defensive and is to serve peace, stability and calm in the region. It will never be fired against any other country."

The West fears that Iran's push to master missile technology, coupled with its nuclear ambitions, is aimed at ultimately producing atomic weapons, which could further destabilize the Middle East and spur an arms race.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the missile test today, amid stalled talks over Iran's nuclear program, "send the international community a very bad signal," according to Agence France-Presse.

"A test of this kind can only strengthen the international community's worries at a time that Iran is also developing a nuclear program with no identifiable civil objective, in violation of five United Nations Security Council resolutions," he said.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Boeing's Dreamliner makes maiden flight.

EVERETT, Wash.—Boeing Co.'s long-delayed 787 Dreamliner made its first flight Tuesday morning under cold, cloudy skies, a milestone for the company's marquee commercial-jetliner program, after more than two years of delays.

Boeing had been forced to scrap the first flight several times as it ran into costly design and manufacturing delays. Even on Tuesday, inclement weather and poor visibility had threatened to force another postponement. Each setback has cost the company dearly as it has had to pay penalties to its airline customers for delayed deliveries.

Boeing has staked the future of its commercial-airline business on the Dreamliner, which is considered the most sophisticated passenger plane ever built. Made of 50% carbon-fiber composite material, it is lighter than standard aircraft built of aluminum. Boeing says that will make the Dreamliner more efficient and durable.

The first Dreamliner test aircraft rolled down runway 34 Left at Paine Field at 10:28 a.m. and smoothly lifted off, heading north. Thousands of people, including hundreds of Boeing employees, plane enthusiasts and reporters, gathered at the airfield. The site also houses Boeing's wide-body jet factory, where the Dreamliners are assembled.

Though it was originally slated to fly in September 2007 with first deliveries scheduled for May of last year, Boeing struggled repeatedly to work out the kinks in the plane's cutting-edge design. The company also ran into problems with the Dreamliner's far-flung supply chain. Last fall, Boeing was hit by a two-month labor strike at its factory, adding to delays.

More press for "The Beast of Kandahar" UAV.

More information on the RQ-170 Sentinel at Aviation Week.

Creech Air Force Base's 30th Reconnaissance Squadron at the Tonopah Test Range is flying a remotely piloted aircraft, the RQ-170 Sentinel.
Graphic by Mike Johnson.

Its nickname is the "Beast of Kandahar," but the Air Force has officially dubbed it the RQ-170 Sentinel.

Whatever it is called in aviation or military circles, the Pentagon this month confirmed the existence of what experts are calling the latest addition to the Air Force's fleet of remotely piloted spy planes.

Like the much-publicized Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial systems, the Sentinel is home-based in Nevada and was probably tested at classified locations on the Nellis range, including Area 51, one private defense information expert said.

An Air Force spokesman said the Sentinel is being developed by Creech Air Force Base, specifically the base's 30th Reconnaissance Squadron at the Tonopah Test Range, about 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas. He said the squadron is part of the 432nd Wing at Creech, hub for the nation's remotely piloted military aircraft.

Andy Bourland, chief spokesman for the Air Force press desk at the Pentagon, declined to release photographs of the Sentinel or discuss anything beyond a four-sentence statement.

The statement reads in part that the Air Force "is developing a stealthy unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to provide reconnaissance and surveillance support to forward deployed combat forces."

"The RQ-170 Sentinel, a low observable UAS, was built by Lockheed Martin's Advanced Development Programs. The fielding of the RQ-170 aligns with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates' request for increased intelligence, surveillance and intelligence support to the Combatant Commanders and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz's vision for an increased ... reliance on unmanned aircraft," Bourland's statement reads.

A story in the trade publication Aviation Week & Space Technology reported that the Sentinel has been flying classified missions over Afghanistan and was photographed twice in 2007 at Kandahar's airport.

Last April, the stealthy unmanned aircraft was referred to as the "Beast of Kandahar" in a defense technology blog by veteran black projects researcher Bill Sweetman.

Aviation Week's latest article describes the Sentinel as a "tailless flying wing" with a wingspan similar to that of the rear propeller-driven MQ-9 Reaper, which has a wingspan of 66 feet.

The Reaper is the big brother of the MQ-1 Predator, but with the laser-guided missiles that the Predator fires, the Reaper can drop laser-guided bombs.

Both are workhorses in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and are in high demand by battlefield commanders.

They can be controlled by pilots and sensor operators via satellite links from ground stations at Creech and bases elsewhere in the United States.

John Pike, the director of, a military information Web site, said the Sentinel appears to be powered by a single jet engine so that it can fly at high altitudes and monitor large areas.

Pike said Pentagon planners probably are taking the next logical step to equip the Sentinel or a plane like it with munitions.

"If there isn't already an armed version of it, you would assume there would be," Pike said in a telephone interview Monday.

Assuming the budget for classified projects is as big as it was during the 1980s Strategic Defense Initiative -- "Star Wars" -- era of the Reagan administration, Pike said, aeronautical engineers are probably busy developing an array of unmanned aircraft at the classified installation not far from Creech on the dry Groom Lake bed known as Area 51.

"I think Area 51 is crawling with them," he said.

The Sentinel appears to be a scaled- down version of the radar-evading B-2 Spirit bomber.

"It does look like the people who designed this have seen the stealth bomber somewhere along the line," Pike said.

As for incorporating a jet engine in the design, he said there's nothing particularly unique about unmanned platforms being jet-powered. Others include the RQ-3 DarkStar and the RQ-4 Global Hawk.

It would make sense, Pike said, to use the Sentinel for persistent surveillance, like a Predator that loiters out of sight, high above its targets, except the Sentinel would cover a wider area.

As such, the Sentinel, like the Reaper and the Predator, would be useful for tracking terrorists in Iraq who need sizable facilities to build roadside bombs that unleash explosive-shaped charges capable of piercing armor.

The Sentinel could serve as a regional surveillance system to cover potential terrorist activities in countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Somalia and Yemen.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at or 702-383-0308.

India Ballistic Missile Test A Success


BHUBANESHWAR, India - India successfully tested a nuclear-capable ballistic missile from a ship near the east coast Dec. 13, a defense official said.

The Dhanush, which has a short range of 350 kilometers (220 miles), is a navy version of the surface-to-surface Prithvi missile and can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads.

The missile was successfully fired from a ship in the Bay of Bengal, said S.P. Das, director of Integrated Test Range, a unit of India's Defence Research and Development Organization.

"The test met all the requisite parameters," he said.

The Dhanush was last tested in 2007.

Last month, India conducted the first night-time test of a nuclear-capable, medium-range ballistic missile but the attempt failed.

Taliban Comander captured.

KABUL, Afghanistan (Dec. 15) – An Afghan-international security force detained a Taliban commander and other militants in Zabul province today. The Taliban commander is linked to IED facilitation and is responsible for several attacks in the area.

The joint security force searched a compound in the provincial capital of Qalat where intelligence sources reported the commander to be located. The joint force searched the compound without incident and detained a few militants, one of whom identified himself as the targeted individual in the operation. No shots were fired and no one was harmed.

In another operation, security forces killed four militants Monday after observing the men emplacing an IED near the village of Charhar Bagh in Kandahar.

The ISAF unit ended the engagement when two insurgents fled into the village. ISAF believes no civilians were injured or killed in this operation but is investigating claims made to the contrary.

ISAF Casualty
An ISAF servicemember from the United States was killed today in an IED strike in southern Afghanistan.

22 dead in Pakistan suicide bomb attack.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- An explosion killed at least 22 people and wounded 60 others Tuesday in the central Pakistani city of Dera Ghazi Khan, said a rescue service official.
The dead included two children, three women and 17 men, said, Mubarak Ali Athar, the regional police chief in Dera Ghazi Khan. Three people were critically injured, he said.

The blast ripped through a market located near the house of a senior adviser to the chief minister of Punjab province, said the official, Mohammed Hasnain.

The adviser, Sardar Zulfiqar Muhammad Khosa, is a former provincial governor and a senior opposition party politician. He said he was the target of the attack, though police initially said he was not the intended target.
Khosa told CNN that none of his family members were in the house when the attack occurred. He also said that he had never before received any threats against his life.

The attacker detonated his car in front of the main gate at Khosa's house, said Hassan Iqbal, a senior government official.
About 20 shops in the market were left in heaps of rubble.

Monday, December 14, 2009

AVWK: Details emerging on Beast Of Kandahar/RQ170 Sentinel.

Illustration by Gregory Lewis Aviation Week & Space Technology

Article by David A. Fulghum and Bill Sweetman

The U.S. has been flying a classified, stealthy, remotely piloted aircraft in Afghanistan. That single fact reveals the continued development of low-observable UAVs, hidden aspects of the surveillance buildup in Afghanistan, the footprint of an active “black aircraft world” that stretches to Southwest Asia, and links into the Pentagon’s next-generation recce bomber.

The mystery aircraft—once referred to as the Beast of Kandahar and now identified by the U.S. Air Force as a Lockheed Martin Skunk Works RQ-170 Sentinel—flew from Kandahar’s airport, where it was photographed at least twice in 2007. It shared a hangar with Predator and Reaper UAVs being used in combat operations. On Dec. 4, three days after declassification was requested, Aviation Week revealed the program on its web site. Like Predator and Reaper, the Sentinel is remotely piloted by aircrews—in this case the 30th Reconnaissance Sqdn. (RS) at Tonopah Test Range Airport in the northwest corner of the Nevada Test and Training Range.

The confirmation came the same week as the Air Force’s top intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) officer called for a new, stealth, jet-powered strike-reconnaissance aircraft that can meet the requirements of both irregular and conventional conflicts and strategic, peacetime information-gathering.

The demands of fighting an irregular war do not change the critical operational need for a stealthier, strategic-range, higher-payload, strike-reconnaissance aircraft, says Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, deputy chief of staff for ISR.

The battle will be to balance the way the military wants to fight in Afghanistan now against how it wants to fight elsewhere in the future. Air Force officials want to keep those two needs from becoming widely divergent points in geography, technology and operational techniques. For the next 18 months, about 150,000 U.S. and allied troops will try to break the offensive capabilities of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghan istan, and new technologies will be brought into play.

“Don’t get enamored with current conditions,” Deptula cautions. “We don’t know what the future will bring.” While operations in Afghanistan will be “more complex than ever,” the future is “not only going to be about irregular warfare.”

Beyond 2011, the Air Force’s first priority and the destination of the next dollar to be spent “if I were king for a day,” Deptula says, “would be for long-range [reconnaissance and] precision strike. That’s the number-one need.

“We cannot move into a future without a platform that allows [us] to project power long distances and to meet advanced threats in a fashion that gives us an advantage that no other nation has,” he notes. “We can’t walk away from that capability.”

A next-generation design would be equally important as a stealthy ISR platform to greatly extend—through speed, endurance and stealth—the capability produced by putting electro-optical and infrared sensor packets on the B-1 and B-52 bombers for precise attacks on fleeting targets in Southwest Asia.

Surveillance aircraft can see a lot more (farther and better) with long-wave infrared if the platform can operate at 50,000 ft. or higher. The RC-135S Cobra Ball, RC-135W Rivet Joint and E-8C Joint Stars are all limited to flying lower than 30,000 ft. Moreover, the multispectral technology to examine the chemical content of rocket plumes has been miniaturized to fit easily on a much smaller aircraft. Other sensors of interest are electronically scanned array radars, low-probability-of-intercept synthetic aperture radars and signals intelligence.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

DoD To Add $100B to 2011-15 Spending

The Obama administration will add $100 billion to the Pentagon's 2011-'15 base budget plan to cover the rising cost of personnel and pressing modernization needs, officials said.

IF APPROVED BY Congress, the additional money would allow U.S. defense spending to rise about 1 percent above projected inflation, analysts said. (AFP)
If approved by Congress, the money would allow U.S. defense spending to rise about 1 percent above projected inflation, analysts said.

The Pentagon's 2010 budget request called for $534 billion, plus $130 billion to cover the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It did not include the estimated $30 billion that will be needed to fund President Barack Obama's recent decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Nor did the 2010 spending plan contain the customary five-year spending outlook, although the new Obama administration had in January pledged annual defense spending of about $540 billion, plus inflation, plus $50 billion for operations.

Among other procurement efforts, the money will pay for new Air Force global strike programs - including work on new manned and unmanned systems - Army brigade combat team modernization, a Navy attack submarine, and the Navy's new Carrier Long-Range Strike system, sources said.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to discuss the administration's budget deliberations. But multiple sources confirmed the $100 billion figure.

Analysts called the decision a victory for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has lobbied the White House for more funding. Gates, who reviewed a draft of the Quadrennial Defense Review in early December, is to meet with the military services this week to discuss their spending plans, sources said. The QDR and 2011 budget request are due to Congress in February.

Gates, who scrutinized a draft version of the QDR on his trip last week to Afghanistan and Iraq, announced in Kirkuk, Iraq, that the review likely will endorse a new family of Air Force long-range strike systems that are manned and unmanned. In April, Gates pushed back funding for the Air Force's new bomber, stripping it from the 2010 budget.

The QDR and 2011 budgets are being shaped with an eye toward strengthening the U.S. defense industrial base, sources said. Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter and industrial policy director Brett Lambert have said DoD must better preserve key industrial capabilities, in part by spending more. Lambert has said he worries about major prime contractors but is applying more focus on second-, third- and fourth-tier firms that supply critical components and skills.

Pierre Chao, the managing partner of Renaissance Strategic Advisors, called the plus-up "a welcome relief."

"From a macro perspective, it means that the administration is focused on funding defense at the right level, that they are very sensitive to the strains on personnel and those concerns will be funded," Chao said. "To those who were focused on the programs and hardware side, it provides relief to the extent that programs don't have to be raided to support the people side of the department."

The Lexington Institute's Loren Thompson noted that Gates had pressed the White House to keep the Pentagon budget growing faster than inflation.

"It's important to understand that a significant amount is going to rising health care costs; however, there is no question increase of this magnitude will allow the continued modernization of weapons systems," Thompson said.

But Gordon Adams, a defense budget expert with Henry L. Stimson Center and American University, said the plus-up is back-loaded, with most of the money coming in the last years of the five-year plan.

"In the first year, it doesn't look like much, but in the out-years it's a big deal," Adams said. "But as Mark Twain is said to have said, making predictions is difficult, especially about the future. It's the near-term war that matters and they are not getting anything like the growth they wanted in year one, and that's where the real money is."

On the Horizon: The B-3 Bomber


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Dec. 11 the 2011 Pentagon spending request is likely to include funding for development of a new Air Force bomber, Reuters reported.

The long-talked-about program has been in limbo since Gates froze it in April amid several dozen major weapons program cuts. Gates wanted the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review to look at the need for a new long-range bomber fleet.

"We are probably going to proceed with a long-range strike initiative coming out of the Quadrennial Defense Review and various other reviews going on," Gates told troops in Kirkuk, Iraq. "We're looking at a family of capabilities, both manned and unmanned."

He said funding likely would start at $1 billion, and then ramp up in subsequent years.


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