Wednesday, February 3, 2010

STOVL F-35 - Progress Report

STOVL F-35 - Progress Report: "Lockheed Martin flew the third F-35B STOVL test aircraft - BF-3 - on Feb.2. It is the fifth JSF to fly, and F-35 chief test pilot Jon Beesely was at the controls for the hour-long flight from Fort Worth.

blog post photo
Photo: Lockheed Martin

F-35 program general manager Dan Crowley says BF-3 should ferry to Pax River this month to join BF-1 and BF-2. The fourth F-35B - BF-4, the first JSF mission-system test aircraft - is on the flight line at Fort Worth.

BF-4 has been loaded with the first block of mission-system software - Block 0.5 - which has been turned on several times on the ground without any problems, says Crowley, adding: 'We've had no problems with software stability.'

At Pax, Crowley says, BF-1 has seven flights to go to the first vertical landing (engine supplier Pratt & Whitney says six, but may not be counting the actual VL flight). He expects the long-awaited feat to be accomplished in 'mid- to late February'.

After four flights in powered-lift STOVL 'Mode 4', with the lift system engaged, BF-1 has flown down to 3,000ft and 120kt, which puts the aircraft into the 'semi-jetborne' flight regime, says Crowley, where propulsion and flight control is integrated.

(Via Ares.)

Pentagon budget : More UAVs- Restructure F-35 Program

Washington (CNN) -- Preparing the U.S. military to fight two major conventional wars is "out of date" and does not reflect the numerous challenges U.S. military forces could face in the future, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday.
Gates made that pronouncement as he revealed the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the military's strategic outlook. He said the military needs to start planning for multiple operations such as major disasters in the United States and various scuffles around the planet.

"We now recognize that America's ability to deal with threats for years to come will depend importantly on our success in the current conflicts," Gates said, pointing out this is the first time the anti-insurgent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been included in a Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) as long-term planning priorities.

He said the previous idea of planning for two conventional wars was "too confining and did not represent the real world that ... our military forces are going to face in the future."

The quadrennial review is a congressionally mandated document in which the Pentagon looks at future threats and the requirements to mitigate them. That the 2010 review was announced the same day as the 2011 Department of Defense budget was not an accident. The review is a major driving force behind how the Pentagon plans its budget.

The 2011 budget request "builds on the reforms begun in last year's budget, changes that were broadened and deepened by the analysis and conclusions contained in the QDR," Gates said.

A common theme between the fiscal year 2011 budget and the 2010 review is reform, something Gates has been pushing since his arrival in late 2006.
He announced the cancellation of a number of projects, saving billions of dollars, as well as the restructuring of the long-delayed next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

However, the Defense Department budget is up $44 billion over last year, totaling $708.3 billion, including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the additions are an increase in the number of unmanned aerial vehicles -- something also called for in the defense review -- and putting a priority on adding new helicopters to the fleet.

Gates said the review calls for "a 75 percent increase over the next couple of years in the number of combat air patrols by the most advanced UAVs [and] increasing the availability of helicopters by procuring more aircraft."

Both aircraft platforms are key tools in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Gates said they will total about $9 billion.

While special operations forces continue to be a priority, as they were in the 2006 review, the 2010 outlook places emphasis on adding more troops and improving the support for the elite troops.

That support will include new AC-130 gunship aircraft to protect the troops during combat missions as well as an additional 2,800 combat and support personnel who would improve intelligence and communications for the special operations forces in coming years, according to Gates.

Looking elsewhere in the world, the Pentagon still is keeping close watch on China.
"The lack of transparency and the nature of China's military development and decision-making processes raise legitimate questions about its future conduct and intentions within Asia and beyond," the review says.

The 2006 review was heavily focused on the threat of a large-scale conventional war with China and that country's saber rattling over Taiwan. The 2010 version still stresses such threats from China, but also looks at the need to defend against a growing threat of cyberattacks -- without directly tying China to past cyberattacks, according to Pentagon officials.

In another area, intelligence shows that terrorists have plotted to get their hands on biological, chemical or nuclear material to attempt attacks, and the Pentagon expects weapons of mass destruction to be a continued threat in the future. In response, Gates said, the military "will expand capabilities to counter WMD threats, strengthen interdiction operations, refocus intelligence requirements, enhance and grow international partnerships and thwart proliferation."

The report recommends that the Pentagon develop a joint task force headquarters to oversee these operations.

One of the biggest costs for the Pentagon since 2001 has been in health care as the military handles the thousands of mentally and physically wounded troops each year from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on top of taking care of day-to-day health care needs for troops and their families.

The health care budget rose from $19 billion in 2001 to $50.7 billion in the latest proposal. The Pentagon will spend some $8.8 billion in the coming budget alone for expanding assistance counseling, child care and education to support military families, and another $2 billion for wounded warrior initiatives, with a special focus on the signature ailments of current conflicts, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, Gates said.

The report also touched on how the military can respond to environmental concerns, and how the environment will affect what the military is called to do.
Future conflicts can be handled in an environmentally responsible way, it says, by using more solar power and biofuels, and increasing overall energy independence. It also points out that the Department of Defense "provides environmental stewardship" at hundreds of bases around the country.

Bigger challenges for the Pentagon will be environmental catastrophes and future conflicts fought around and over reduced resources, the review says.
It calls climate change an "accelerant of instability" and suggests the military in planning for future operations will have to take into account climate factors such as rising sea levels and reduced ice in the Arctic, in addition to what climate change could bring in terms of the spread of disease, mass migration and a scarcity of resources.

NASA budget for 2011 eliminates funds for manned lunar missions

No one will be following in Buzz Aldrin's footsteps under the new budget, which effectively ends plans for lunar flight by 2020. (Nasa Via Associated Press)

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 1, 2010

NASA's grand plan to return to the moon, built on President George W. Bush's vision of an ambitious new chapter in space exploration, is about to vanish with hardly a whimper. With the release Monday of President Obama's budget request, NASA will finally get the new administration's marching orders, and there won't be anything in there about flying to the moon.

The budget numbers will show that the administration effectively plans to kill the Constellation program that called for a return to the moon by 2020. The budget, expected to increase slightly over the current $18.7 billion, is also a death knell for the Ares 1 rocket, NASA's planned successor to the space shuttle. The agency has spent billions developing the rocket, which is still years from its first scheduled crew flight.

It remains to be seen whether Congress will accede to Obama's change in direction. Industry insiders expect a brutal fight in Congress. The early reaction to media reports about the budget request has been filled with howls of protest from lawmakers in districts that would be most affected by a sharp change in strategy.

Obama's budget, according to a background briefing by an administration official on Sunday, will call for spending $6 billion over five years to develop a commercial spacecraft that could taxi astronauts into low Earth orbit. Going commercial with a human crew would represent a dramatic change in the way NASA does business. Instead of NASA owning the spacecraft and overseeing every nut and bolt of its design and construction, a private company would design and build the spacecraft with NASA looking over its shoulder.

Former NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who championed the Constellation program, views the Obama budget as disastrous for human space flight.

"It means that essentially the U.S. has decided that they're not going to be a significant player in human space flight for the foreseeable future. The path that they're on with this budget is a path that can't work," Griffin said, anticipating the Monday announcement.

He said that, although he pushed for seed money for commercial cargo flights to space, he doesn't believe that the commercial firms, such as SpaceX and Dulles-based Orbital Sciences, are ready to take over the risky and difficult job of ferrying human beings to orbit.

"One day it will be like commercial airline travel, just not yet," Griffin said. "It's like 1920. Lindbergh hasn't flown the Atlantic, and they're trying to sell 747s to Pan Am."

John Gedmark, executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said the critics underestimate the maturity of the commercial sector.

"The Defense Department began using commercial rockets a long time ago to launch priceless national security satellites, that our troops' lives depend on. If the Pentagon can trust private industry with this responsibility, we think NASA can, too," Gedmark said.

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said Sunday, "The president is committed to a robust 21st-century space program, and his budget will reflect that dedication to NASA. NASA is vital not only to spaceflight, but also for critical scientific and technological advancements. The expertise at NASA is essential to developing innovative new opportunities, industries and jobs. The president's budget will take steps in that direction."

The administration estimates the new funding for the commercial program would create up to 1,700 jobs, which could help offset the expected loss of 7,000 jobs in Florida when the space shuttle is retired next year.

Although the Obama budget would give NASA a boost of more than $1 billion a year, it's not nearly as much as the $3 billion a year that a president-appointed panel said last year would be necessary for NASA to pursue a worthwhile human space flight program. The panel, headed by retired aerospace executive Norman Augustine, was harshly critical of NASA's strategy, saying that Constellation didn't have nearly the funds to meet its stated goal of a 2020 moon landing, particularly if the space station were to be kept operational.

The panel favored a new strategy for NASA in which returning to the moon would be just one possible element of a broader capacity to launch astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. No human beings have ventured farther than such an orbit since the last Apollo moon landing in 1972.

The public announcement of NASA's new direction will culminate more than a year of closed-door strategizing. That should end Monday with a series of press conferences, interviews and the messages contained in the budget itself.

Iran proves it has orbital capability with space launch

(CNN) -- Iran said Wednesday it had launched a rocket carrying a rodent, two turtles and some worms into orbit, claiming it as a successful advance in a space program that has raised international concerns.

The official Islamic Republic News Agency said the "home-built" Kavoshgar-3, or Explorer-3 rocket was launched at a ceremony to commemorate this month's anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew Iran's monarchy.
Iran, which is trying to contain a political crisis after violent protests erupted following the disputed re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is expected to mount a series of high profile events to mark the anniversary.
State-run Press TV quoted Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi declaring the launch a success and describing Iran's space program as "peaceful."

"Iran will not tolerate any un-peaceful use [of space] by any country," he said.
Last year the U.S. State Department expressed "grave concern" over Iran's announcement it was planning a series of satellite launches.

"Developing a space launch vehicle that could... put a satellite into orbit could possibly lead to development of a ballistic missile system," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said at the time. "So that's a grave concern to us."

The Pentagon called the plan "clearly a concern of ours."
"Although this appears to be [a] satellite, there are dual-use capabilities that could be applied to missiles, and that's a concern to us and everybody in region," Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell said at the time.

The United States is among nations expanding sanctions against Tehran amid concerns over Iran's test-firing of long-range missiles capable of reaching European and Israeli targets, and a program of uranium enrichment.
IRNA said the rocket launched Wednesday was "designed to send consecutive aerial images to ground and measure environmental information."

Press TV quoted Iranian space officials saying live video transmission and telemetry allowed the rat or mouse -- named Helmz-1 -- turtles and worms to be monitored during their space voyage.

The Fars news agency said later Wednesday that the animals had returned to Earth and were being studied by scientists.
In August 2008, a claim by Iran that it had successfully launched a vehicle capable of carrying a satellite into orbit were dismissed by the Pentagon, which said the rocket had been too unstable to leave the Earth's atmosphere.

Senators Warned of Terrorist Attack on U.S. by July

Wednesday, February 03, 2010
By MARK MAZZETTI, The New York Times

WASHINGTON -- America's top intelligence official told lawmakers on Tuesday that Al Qaeda and its affiliates had made it a high priority to attempt a large-scale attack on American soil within the next six months.

The assessment by Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, was much starker than his view last year, when he emphasized the considerable progress in the campaign to debilitate Al Qaeda and said that the global economic meltdown, rather than the prospect of a major terrorist attack, was the "primary near-term security concern of the United States."

At Tuesday's hearing, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked Mr. Blair to assess the possibility of an attempted attack in the United States in the next three to six months.

He replied, "The priority is certain, I would say" -- a response that was reaffirmed by the top officials of the C.I.A. and the F.B.I.

Citing a recent wave of terrorist plots, including the failed Dec. 25 attempt to blow up an airliner as it approached Detroit, Mr. Blair and other intelligence officials told a Senate panel that Al Qaeda had adjusted its tactics to more effectively strike American targets domestically and abroad.

"The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11," said Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director. "It is that Al Qaeda is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect."

As the C.I.A. continues its drone attacks aimed at Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, the officials also said that the network's splinter groups in Yemen and Somalia were taking on more importance.

But Mr. Blair began his annual threat testimony before Congress by saying that the threat of a crippling attack on telecommunications and other computer networks was growing, as an increasingly sophisticated group of enemies had "severely threatened" the sometimes fragile systems undergirding the country's information infrastructure.

"Malicious cyberactivity is occurring on an unprecedented scale with extraordinary sophistication," he told the committee.

His emphasis on the threat points up the growing concerns among American intelligence officials about the potentially devastating results of a coordinated attack on the nation's technology apparatus, sometimes called a "cyber-Pearl Harbor."

He said that the surge in cyberattacks, including the penetration of Google's servers from inside China, was a "wake-up call" for those who dismissed the threat of computer warfare. "Sensitive information is stolen daily from both government and private-sector networks, undermining confidence in our information systems, and in the very information these systems were intended to convey," Mr. Blair said.

In another departure from last year's testimony, Mr. Blair appeared alongside other top intelligence officials, including the heads of the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Last year, the intelligence director sat alone before the committee, a partly symbolic gesture intended to demonstrate the authority of the director, whose office has been criticized for commanding little power over America's 16 intelligence agencies.

At times, the senators seemed more interested in debating one another than in hearing testimony from witnesses. Midway through the hearing, partisan bickering broke out about whether terrorist suspects ought to be tried in civilian courts and whether the man charged as the Dec. 25 bomber should have been given Miranda rights that could protect him against self-incrimination.

As senators traded barbs, the intelligence officials stared stonily ahead or shuffled their notes.

The intelligence chiefs also raised warnings about nuclear proliferation, particularly focusing on Iran and North Korea.

Mr. Blair said that Iran "has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons," and that the discovery of a secret enrichment plant near Qum heightened suspicions about Iran's intentions to build a nuclear bomb.

Still, he said that Tehran was following a "cost-benefit approach" to its nuclear decision-making and that it remained unclear whether Iran's leadership would make a political calculation to begin producing weapons-grade uranium, allowing other nations to "influence" that decision through diplomatic steps.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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