Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Predator C "Gray Eagle" slated to begin tests at Edwards


By Guy Nor

General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) expects to get the go-ahead from FAA to start tests of the stealthy, turbofan-powered unmanned Predator C Avenger at the U.S. Air Force’s Edwards Air Force Base test range in California.

“We anticipate receiving approval from the FAA in the immediate future to fly into the Edwards AFB range so that we may complete full envelope flight testing,” says GA-ASI Chairman and CEO Neal Blue. The V-tailed, swept-wing vehicle first flew on April 4 last year and, according to GA-ASI at the time, was provisionally slated to undertake a test program lasting up to three months.

Despite what appears to be a longer-than-expected evaluation, Blue adds that “flight tests of the Predator C Avenger are progressing as expected, with routine issues being addressed as the testing process continues.”

Up until now, Avenger flight tests have been undertaken in relatively restricted airspace close to the company’s test facilities in the Mojave Desert; the transfer to the Edwards range will allow tests at higher altitudes and speeds. The Avenger’s operational altitude is up to 60,000 feet, and the Pratt Whitney Canada PW545B engine is expected to give the vehicle a top speed “considerably greater” than 400 knots, according to GA-ASI. Blue adds that a second aircraft is due to be completed later this year.

The transition of the Predator C to the range comes as initial tests wrap up on the two latest variants of the current Predator for the U.S. Army and Customs and Border Protection Service. Weapons tests of the U.S. Army’s MQ-1C Sky Warrior, a heavily modified derivative of the Predator A, were successfully completed earlier this month following the last live firings of nine Hellfire P+ missiles. The version of the Lockheed Martin Hellfire II is the first to be specifically developed for a UAV and is designed with a full 360-degree targeting capability.


Pain in the air: Special Ops Gunships To Get Pain-Inducing Weapons

The Pentagon has been researching nonlethal pain rays since the mid-’90s, but finding a vehicle to carry them has proven to be a challenge. Researchers have mounted these microwave weapons—which repel people by heating water molecules just under the skin, reportedly without damaging tissue—on trucks, guard towers and Humvees, but the U.S. military has never deployed them for real-world use. (Using such weapons on civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan is not seen as a good way to win hearts and minds.)

Undaunted, the Air Force is now trying to install pain rays on Special Operations gunships, which are 98-foot-long AC-130 aircraft originally designed to haul cargo. The Airborne Active Denial System would require a beam generator of unprecedented size, says Diana Loree, manager of the program at the Air Force Research Lab.

Megawatt microwave generators (called gyrotrons) already exist, producing intense heat in plasma-research laboratories and factories that need to melt glass or composite materials, but the military program requires a generator twice as large as any existing model. AFRL staff hope to demonstrate a giant gyrotron during ground tests in 2014, Loree says. Special Ops forces might welcome an overhead nonlethal weapon that disperses mobs or stops people from advancing on downed aircraft. Also, the use of an energy weapon during a clandestine mission would be less prone to public outcry.


Red Flag Revs Up

More than 70 warplanes will be taking off and landing at Nellis Air Force Base twice a day during another Red Flag air combat training exercise .

The increased flight activity from the base to the 15,000-square-mile range north of Las Vegas Valley began Monday and runs through March 5. The activity could cause more aircraft noise over Southern Nevada than normal

Base officials said departures will occur in the early afternoon and again about 7 p.m. They said the aircraft will return after training missions that last up to four hours.

The 414th Combat Training Squadron hosts Red Flag exercises. This one will involve planes from New Mexico, Texas, South Carolina, Washington, Arizona, California, Oklahoma, New York, Georgia, Nebraska and Washington, D.C., and Australia and the United Kingdom.

Car tries to crash gate at Luke AFB- one killed - another injured.

One man was killed and another man injured late Monday when they drove a stolen car through the Luke Air Force Base security gate and were shot by guards there, officials said.

The stolen vehicle broke through the gate about midnight and was about to cross a bridge that connects the two parts of the base when the shooting occurred, said Capt. Jerry Gonzalez, a spokesman for Luke. Base security had set up a barricade on the bridge and at least one of the guards opened fire when the vehicle drove toward the security personnel, authorities said.

Authorities said the two men were headed to the operational side of the military base, including where aircraft training is carried out.

"We take security very seriously here," Gonzalez said. "These guys made a mistake by stumbling into the base.

"Without knowing what their intentions were, our security forces personnel reacted to it and took care of it."

The men were believed to be connected somehow to another stolen another vehicle that Maricopa County Sherriff's deputies had pulled over minutes earlier near Litchfield and Cactus Roads, said Glendale police Officer Karen Gerardo.

An unknown number of passengers were in the first vehicle and they were arrested without incident by deputies, Gerardo said.

The second vehicle with the two men was not pursued by law enforcement and continued on, at some point turning into Luke for reasons that were unclear, Gerardo said.

It was unknown how long ago the vehicles had been reported stolen, or the status of the first vehicle's occupants.

The Air Force base is currently not locked down, but Gonzalez said Glendale police are continuing their investigation.

Hackers use Elvis to show passport scanners are stupid.

London, England (CNN) -- In the name of improved security a hacker showed how a biometric passport issued in the name of long-dead rock 'n' roll king Elvis Presley could be cleared through an automated passport scanning system being tested at an international airport.

Using a doctored passport at a self-serve passport machine, the hacker was cleared for travel after just a few seconds and a picture of the King himself appeared on the monitor's display.
Adam Laurie and Jeroen Van Beek, who call themselves "ethical hackers," say the exercise exposed how easy it is to fool a passport scanner with a fraudulent biometric chip.

The Presley test was carried out at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport in September 2008 -- by Laurie and Van Beek -- to highlight potential security shortcomings.
Passports, and the ability to fake them, are back in the spotlight after the apparent use of false documents during the gang assassination of a Hamas militant in Dubai in January.

Van Beek said: "What we did for that chip is create passport content for Elvis Presley and put it on a chip and sign it with our own key for a non-existent country. And a device that was used to read chips didn't check the country's signatures."
Fingerprint scans, eye scans and digital photographs are now frequently used with passports to check a traveler's biometrics -- unique physical characteristics that can identify a specific individual

In the current state, I think they [scanners] have actually made the borders weaker, not stronger.

Biometric passports -- with data stored on embedded chip -- are now standard issue in Europe, the U.S. and a number of other countries.
Laurie and Van Beek use their knowledge of IT security and hacking to show that biometric passports remain vulnerable to fraud.

"I think [fraud] is 100 percent possible," said Laurie. "The passport bit is the more difficult. You would have to buy one from a professional forger or some means, but adding the chip is something we could do ourselves using off the shelf equipment using $100 investment."

The problem, in part, is that each country has its own security signature for verifying its own biometric passports. While some share that information, many countries do not, making it easy to exploit the loopholes, said Laurie.
"I probably couldn't produce a fake UK passport that would successfully cross into the UK because I'm sure the UK is actually able to check its own signatures," Laurie said.

"But I may be able to produce a passport from some other country and use it on an automated system to enter the UK and the UK wouldn't be able to check the signatures because they don't have them."

An international system coordinating the various security signatures is needed, said Van Beek.
"If you want to make the system more secure then all countries need to have access to a list of all certificates of all countries all over the world. If that's in place, if that list is used by all countries and all inspection systems, that might help to detect non-genuine documents and non-genuine chips," said Van Beek.

"But if that system is not there, it's really difficult to increase the security level with the technology that's currently used. So, implementing a central security system with all lists from around the world, that's something that needs to be done before you can trust the system," he added.

Most countries rely on a combination of automated passport scanning by computers and border control officers. But Laurie and Van Beek fear an over-reliance on the automated scanning.

"If they [the scanners] are checking a facial image, they look at the picture of the person standing there. They check it against the data stored on the chip and if they match and that person isn't on a stop list, then they let you through," explained Laurie. "In the current state, I think they've actually made the borders weaker, not stronger."

But Britain's Home Office maintains that its biometric passports are some of the most secure in the world.
"We remain confident that the British passport is one of the most secure documents of its kind -- fully meeting rigorous international standards," said a Home Office spokesperson.

"Since 2006 biometric passports issued by the British government biometrically link an individual to their passport through their photograph contained in an electronic chip.

"Even if an individual's photograph on the document is changed the photograph in the chip cannot be without border control officers becoming aware that the passport chip has been tampered with."
But Laurie and Van Beek insist that confidence in technology could be misplaced, because biometric passports can be faked, with pictures and chips that match.

Mysterious sounds and shaking ground continue in Pelham

By Terry Date

PELHAM — Cracking ice, earth tremors or tractor-trailers bouncing off frost heaves. None explain the all-hour booms and earthshaking in northern Pelham the past several weeks, according to residents who reported them. Neither do blasting, power lines arcing nor frost cracking or snow thunder.

Maj. Tim Acerno of New Hampshire Fish and Game said freezing ice that expands to the shore and has nowhere to go can cause a sharp sound like a gunshot, but it does not cause the ground to quake.

Besides, several people who reported the incidents said Beaver Brook is the only water nearby.

Resident Bill McDevitt said he does not think freezing brook water drove him and his wife from bed at 4 a.m. on Feb. 2.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology seismology professor Stephane Rondenay said the source is not likely earthquakes. Typically, they cause shaking, but not bangs.

In any event, the U.S. Geological Survey has not registered ground-shaking seismic events in the past 30 days in the area.

Some people have suggested that an empty tractor-trailer or one loaded with steel might make a loud noise when it hits a frost heave.

Roger Chiodi of Tallant Road has heard the noises before and they were not what he and his wife experienced three weeks ago about 3 p.m. He was outside, working on his snowmobile. His wife was inside the house.

They both felt the ground rattle. His wife ran outside, fearing the snowmobile had fallen on top of him.

Then, on Feb. 11, about the same time of day, he and his wife were both inside the house when they felt the house rattle.

It scared their dog, who was "barking like crazy," he said.

Jay Levine, supervisor for the Interstate 93 widening project, said blasting is not allowed at night. And the Pelham location is a long way from I-93 for people to be hearing loud noises, he said.

The director of planning in Pelham knows of no commercial blasting at these times. He has conferred with the fire chief, who would know if blasting was taking place, and there has been none.

The mystery has both of them perplexed and intrigued.

"It's really interesting and I'm baffled," planner Jeff Gowan said. "It's so strange."

Pelham fire Chief Jim Midgley said he received an e-mail from someone on Thursday who wondered if shorts in power lines were causing arcing and booms.

Some people who have heard the noise describe it as being like a transformer exploding or an airplane breaking the sound barrier.

David Graves, a spokesman for National Grid, said there have been no reports of arcing or power outages in that area.

New Hampshire climatologist Mary Stampone said the cracking of frozen ground might explain ground shaking and loud noises, if they were happening in very cold places like Alaska or Russia.

Snow thunder can be loud, but the weather was cold and dry earlier in the month, she said. Stampone said one thing to consider is that noise carries differently in the winter during cold, dry weather.

"When the air is still, you can hear things from farther away," Stampone said.

There is less vegetation to buffer sound in the winter, as well.

Yet, the mystery remains.

"It's fun to speculate, but I haven't heard anybody with a reasonable explanation," McDevitt said.


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