Saturday, December 31, 2011

Grail spacecraft orbiting Moon.

(CNN) -- The first of twin research spacecraft entered the moon's orbit Saturday, part of an effort to learn more about how it and other terrestrial bodies formed, NASA said.

The GRAIL-A -- which launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral on September 10, along with its sister spacecraft GRAIL-B -- began a "lunar orbit insertion burn" at about 4:30 p.m. ET, NASA said on an associated Twitter feed.

That burn was set to finish around 5 p.m. The second in the pair, GRAIL-B, will follow suit Sunday.
"Burn complete! #GRAIL-A is now orbiting the moon and awaiting the arrival of its twin #GRAIL-B on New Year's Day," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced on Twitter.
The two orbiters, each 3 1/2 feet high and 2 1/2 feet deep, are named for named for NASA's Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory.

They will fly in tandem orbits, measuring the gravity field and ideally answering "longstanding questions about the moon and (giving) scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed," according to NASA.
The moon is about 250,000 miles from Earth, a distance that NASA's Apollo crews reached in about three days. But the GRAIL spacecrafts took much longer, namely 3½ months, because they covered more than 2.5 million miles "reshaping and merging their orbits" so that they could be better positioned and coordinated to study the moon, NASA said.

The orbiters, whose mission was timed to miss lunar eclipses in December and June, are expected to collect data for 82 days.

Maria Zuber, principal investigator for GRAIL, said the moon remains mysterious in many ways and little is known about the process of how it was formed. Scientists theorize that the moon formed when a Mars-sized object crashed into Earth.

It remains unknown why the near side of the moon is so different from the far side. The basins are flooded with volcanic material on one side, and the other side has mountainous highlands. Why did these sides evolve differently?

"We think the answer is locked in the interior," Zuber said at a NASA news briefing Wednesday.
A study published in the journal Nature over the summer suggested that there may have been a second moon moving at about the same speed as our moon, and in the same orbit.
The second moon bumped into the original moon, the theory goes, and caused the formation of a mountain instead of a crater.

This model predicts the whole exterior of the moon was once molten and cooled from the outside in such a way that when the second moon hit our moon, it pushed all of that molten material to the near side.

GRAIL can help test this hypothesis. The spacecraft are designed to help scientists explore the interior of the moon indirectly by measuring the pull of gravity as they fly over the surface. With data about these changes in gravity and topography, scientists will be able to construct a map of what's inside our celestial neighbor.

Scientists wanted the spacecraft to be as small as possible so they could launch in one rocket.
But they weren't sure if the orbiters would make it through eclipses that happen at the moon every six months, since their technology depends on lithium-ion batteries and solar panels.
A lunar eclipse occurred in early December, and the next one is in June. Based on the current performance, scientists think GRAIL can continue through the June eclipse.

Should one of the orbiters completely fail, scientists could not get the high precision they would get from the two spacecraft; the mission depends on having both, Zuber said. If the lunar orbit insertion doesn't happen for one of the spacecraft, there would be another opportunity to try again in late April.

2012 is here!

Friday, December 30, 2011

US inks 29.4 billion fighter deal with Saudis

China unveils space conquest plans ...

(CNN) -- China plans to put laboratories in space, collect samples from the moon and prepare to build space stations over the next five years, according to an ambitious plan released this week aimed at putting the country on the global map for space exploration.

China also plans to launch manned-vessels and freighters into space during the coming half-decade, according to a government white paper. The country's eventual goal in the longer term is a manned lunar landing.

"With economic progress, also comes the need for scientific development and exploration," said Jiao Weixin, a professor at the School of Earth and Space Sciences at Beijing University. "By investing in space exploration, China wants to contribute and be a major player in the world on more than one level."
The Chinese plans announced this week come as the United States has been scaling back its ambitions and funding for space exploration.

Since 2003, China has made major breakthroughs in its space program, including becoming the third country after Russia and the United States to put a human in space. It successfully completed a spacewalk in 2008.

In November, the successful automated docking and return of an unmanned spacecraft, Shenzhou-8, paved the way for the creation of China's future space laboratory. The spaceship blasted off from a launch facility in the Gobi Desert in northwest China, one month after the first space laboratory module Tiangong-1 was launched into space.

China says its military-run space program will be used for peaceful purposes. But its activities have set off controversy in the past, like when it shot down one of its dead satellites in 2007, for example. That move alarmed some officials in the United States and other countries and raised concerns about the militarization of the space race.

Some experts say a critical gap in Chinese-U.S. space relations is the absence of regularized talks on space security, which took place between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rare Scaled Composites ARES 151 jet stops in Amarillo.

Click to enlarge:

A rare - one -of-a-kind military prototype made a surprise stop at Rick Husband Amarillo International today. It's called the Model 151 Ares and was designed as a proof-of concept demonstrator for the US Army's requirements for a low-cost - fast and agile attack aircraft - a sort of mini A-10 Warthog - the current US militarys' premier tank killer.

Designed in the early 90s, by Scaled Composites out of Mojave, California - who built the first private space ship (Virgin Galactic's Space Ship One) and Space Ship Two (the first commercial space ship soon to be taking well-heeled passengers into space - ARES 151 landed shortly before noon to refuel.

The aircraft (thought to be in mothballs) has been taken out of retirement and is being used as a test-bed for the NAVY, its' mission - classified.

It is interesting to note the ARES 151 sports a new low-vis flat grey paint job and a few more (new?) antennae - slightly modified (more rounded) lines and was absent it's 25 mm GAU-12/U Gatling cannon as seen in the video below.

The aircraft flew on to Smyrna Georgia and is rumored to be heading to the Naval Air Warfare Center at Pax River in Maryland.

Photos by Steve Douglass

A little more info from WikiPedia

The ARES has quite unique shape compared to other aircraft. It incorporates canards which enable safer flight at low altitude. The canards serve as the pitch control and are designed so that the canard surface reaches critical angle of attack sooner than the main wings, protecting the aircraft from stall while full roll control is retained.

The canards have a wingspan of 19.2 feet (5.85 m) and are swept 7 degrees forward so they can be placed behind the cockpit.

The main wing has a span of 35 feet (10.7 m) and a reference area of 191 sq. ft. (17.7 m2), not including the strakes. It is swept aft 16 degrees at the leading edge. The strakes are swept 49 degrees at the leading edge.

These strakes, combined with a wet wing center-section area, form the bulk of the 2,200 lb (1000 kg, approximately 333 U.S. gallons) fuel capacity. The wing has conventional ailerons on the outboard trailing edge, and spoil-flaps (similar to the dive-brake flap) on the inboard trailing edges. The ailerons are actuated by push-rods, and the spoil-flaps are hydraulically operated.

Directional stability is provided by twin boom-mounted fins, each of 18 sq ft (1.7 m2). area. Each has a cable-actuated rudder at its trailing edge. The rudder actuation system also drives the full-time mechanical nosewheel steering for ground operations.

The engine inlet is another major unique feature of ARES. Since gun gas ingestion posed significant problems in other aircraft development programs (like A-10), the configuration of ARES was designed to avoid this problem: the engine inlet is entirely contained on the left side of the aircraft, and the gun is installed on the right side. The inlet has a circular cross section, and is straight into the fan face. The engine is mounted slightly transversely in the fuselage, with an 8-degree misalignment from the aircraft's longitudinal axis.

The engine exhaust is turned back to the longitudinal axis by a curved composite tailpipe. A composite tailpipe was to help get the gun recoil reaction closer to the aircraft lateral center of gravity (CG) location, the gun is sub-merged as deeply as practical into the right side of the fuselage. Also, the fuselage is not centered about the aircraft centerline, but is offset to the left by three inches. This results in the firing barrel of the gun being only about 18 inches from the lateral CG. This minimizes the yaw movement caused by the recoil of the gun.

The aircraft fuselage is almost completely made of fiberglass composite material installed over the foam core. The technique of making of composite aircraft fuselages has been perfected by Scaled Composites in previous aircraft.

Maximum speed: 464 kt (763 km/h)
Range: 1200 nm (2200 km)
Wing loading: 34 lb/sq. ft (166 kg/m2)
Thrust/weight: 0.43 (at maximum weight)
25 mm GAU-12/U Gatling cannon
AAMs: AIM-9 Sidewinder
air-to-ground weapons include: Unguided rockets

Breaking: Russian nuclear sub fire - put out by sinking it.

MOSCOW (Reuters) —

After battling for hours to extinguish a blaze aboard a nuclear submarine, Russian firefighters finally gained control of it early Friday by submerging the stricken vessel at a navy shipyard.

Television showed a giant plume of smoke above the yard in the Murmansk region of northern Russia as more than 100 firefighters struggled to douse flames that witnesses said rose 30 feet above the submarine.

The firefighters tried for hours to douse the flames with water from helicopters and tugboats before trying another approach: partly sinking the submarine. The fire continued to burn, but the intensity was reduced. “The fire has been localized,” Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said from a control room in Moscow more than nine hours after the blaze began on Thursday.

Russia said that the vessel’s nuclear reactor had been shut down and that all weapons had been removed from the 550-foot Yekaterinburg, which launched an intercontinental ballistic missile from the Barents Sea at a firing range thousands of miles away in Kamchatka as recently as July.

“Radiation levels are normal,” a spokeswoman for the Emergencies Ministry said. “No one was injured.”

After hours of trying to put out the flames, officials decided to partly submerge the hull of the 18,200-ton submarine at the Roslyakovo dock, one of the main dockyards of Russia’s northern fleet, 900 miles north of Moscow.

Local media reports were vague, but the blaze was believed to have started when wooden scaffolding caught fire during welding repairs to the submarine, which had been hoisted into a dry dock.

The submarine can carry 16 ballistic missiles, each with four warheads. Its nuclear reactor was not damaged in the fire. Russian Navy submarine reactors are built to withstand enormous shocks and high temperatures.

“The reactor has been shut down and does not pose any danger,” an official at navy headquarters said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Russia’s worst post-Soviet submarine disaster occurred in August 2000 when the Kursk nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 crewmen aboard.

Anonymous hacks STRATFOR

Hacked US security firm Stratfor has told its subscribers that it may take a week or even longer to restore its website.

The site went offline on 24 December.

Hackers have posted credit card details, email addresses, phone numbers and encrypted passwords which they said were taken during the attack.

Stratfor has said it will pay for a credit card fraud protection service for members whose payment details might have been compromised by the breach.

Tweets posted on accounts linked to the hacktivist group Anonymous said that the US Department of Defense, the defence firm Lockheed Martin and Bank of America were among Stratfor's clients.

A recent message posted by @YourAnonNews added that other parties affected by the hack included Google, American Express, Coca-Cola, Boeing, Sony, Microsoft and the mining group BHP Billiton.

An email from Stratfor to its subscribers said: "At our expense, we have taken measures to provide our members whose credit card information may have been compromised with access to CSID, a leading provider of global identity protection and fraud detection solutions and technologies.

"We have arranged to provide one year of CSID's coverage to such members at no cost.

"As part of our ongoing investigation, we have also decided to delay the launching of our website until a thorough review and adjustment by outside experts can be completed."

The identity theft prevention service Identity Finder has carried out its own analysis of details posted online about hacked clients whose names fell between A and M. It suggested that the attack netted:

9,651 unexpired credit card numbers
47,680 unique email addresses
25,680 unique telephone numbers
44,188 encrypted passwords of which roughly half could be "easily cracked"
This list is expected to grow if the hackers publish details of the N to Z list.

A tweet posted to the account @AnonymousIRC on 25 December claimed that $1m (£650,000) had been taken from the hacked accounts and had been given to charity.

Participants in Anonymous have subsequently posted screenshots which allegedly show money being transferred to the charities Red Cross, Save the Children and Care.

The organisations will have to return the money if credit card owners report the charges as being unauthorised. Some supporters of the Anonymous movement have also expressed concern that the charities could theoretically be charged a fee for the return of the transactions.

Anonymous Twitter accounts have also hinted that the hackers planned to release details of emails harvested in the breach, adding that "Stratfor is not the 'harmless company' it tries to paint itself as.

Stratfor could not be reached for comment. However a video posted by Fred Burton, its vice president of intelligence, to YouTube promised to provide updates "as more details become available" and offered details about the credit card protection scheme.

NORAD F-16s scrambled over Washington, D.C

Two F-16 fighter jets were dispatched by the North American Aerospace Defense Command to intercept a civilian aircraft near Washington, D.C., NORAD said Wednesday.

The incident happened about 12:15 p.m. ET after the aircraft failed to establish radio contact, the agency said in a press release.

“The civilian aircraft re-established communications and was allowed to continue on its way without incident,” NORAD said.

Out of an abundance of caution, officials are being vigilant about security concerns around the holidays.

After the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 in September, two fighter jets were scrambled after reports of air passengers acting suspiciously on two flights. Although no problems occurred, authorities sent F-16s to shadow the flights just in case.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

US Navy : "attempts to block the Strait of Hormuz will "not be tolerated,"

CBS/AP) The U.S. Navy said any attempts to block the Strait of Hormuz would "not be tolerated," after Iranian officials threatened to choke off the key oil supply route.

Iran's navy chief warned Wednesday that his country can easily close the strategic strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the passageway through which a sixth of the world's oil flows.

It was the second such warning in two days. On Tuesday, Vice President Mohamed Reza Rahimi threatened to close the strait, cutting off oil exports, if the West imposes sanctions on Iran's oil shipments.

"Closing the Strait of Hormuz is very easy for Iranian naval forces," Adm. Habibollah Sayyari told state-run Press TV. "Iran has comprehensive control over the strategic waterway," the navy chief said.

In response, the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet's spokeswoman warned that any disruption "will not be tolerated." The spokeswoman, Lt. Rebecca Rebarich, said the U.S. Navy is "always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation."

With concern growing over a possible drop-off in Iranian oil supplies, a senior Saudi oil official said Gulf Arab nations are ready to offset any loss of Iranian crude.

That reassurance led to a drop in world oil prices. In New York, benchmark crude fell 77 cents to $100.57 a barrel in morning trading. Brent crude fell 82 cents to $108.45 a barrel in London.

The Iranian threats underline Tehran's concern that the West is about to impose new sanctions that could target the country's vital oil industry and exports.

Western nations are growing increasingly impatient with Iran over its nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies have accused Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has denied the charges, saying its program is geared toward generating electricity and producing medical radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.

The U.S. Congress has passed a bill banning dealings with the Iran Central Bank, and President Barack Obama has said he will sign it despite his misgivings. Critics warn it could impose hardships on U.S. allies and drive up oil prices.

The bill could impose penalties on foreign firms that do business with Iran's central bank. European and Asian nations import Iranian oil and use its central bank for the transactions.

With concern growing over a possible drop-off in Iranian oil supplies, a senior Saudi oil official said Gulf Arab nations are ready to step in if necessary and offset any potential loss of Iranian crude in the world markets.

Reflecting unease over the rising tensions, the U.S. benchmark crude futures contract for February delivery was above $101 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Its London-based Brent counterpart fell slightly, but still remained above $109 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Iran is the world's fourth-largest oil producer, with an output of about 4 million barrels of oil a day. It relies on oil exports for about 80 percent of its public revenues.

Iran has adopted an aggressive military posture in recent months in response to increasing threats from the U.S. and Israel that they may take military action to stop Iran's nuclear program.

The navy is in the midst of a 10-day drill in international waters near the strategic oil route. The exercises began Saturday and involve submarines, missile drills, torpedoes and drones. The war games cover a 1,250-mile stretch of sea off the Strait of Hormuz, northern parts of the Indian Ocean and into the Gulf of Aden near the entrance to the Red Sea as a show of strength and could bring Iranian ships into proximity with U.S. Navy vessels in the area.

Iranian media are describing how Iran could move to close the strait, saying the country would use a combination of warships, submarines, speed boats, anti-ship cruise missiles, torpedoes, surface-to-sea missiles and drones to stop ships from sailing through the narrow waterway.

Iran's navy claims it has sonar-evading submarines designed for shallow waters of the Persian Gulf, enabling it to hit passing enemy vessels.

A closure of the strait could temporarily cut off some oil supplies and force shippers to take longer, more expensive routes that would drive oil prices higher. It also potentially opens the door for a military confrontation that would further rattle global oil markets.

Iran claimed a victory this month when it captured an American surveillance drone almost intact. It went public with its possession of the RQ-170 Sentinel to trumpet the downing as a feat of Iran's military in a complicated technological and intelligence battle with the U.S.

American officials have said that U.S. intelligence assessments indicate the drone malfunctioned.

Iran threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz

(CNN) -- It is just 34 miles (55 kilometers) wide and dotted with islands and rocky outcrops, a channel that links the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean. Like many marine chokepoints, the Strait of Hormuz has long commanded the attention of empires and their navies.

And in recent decades it has become even more critical: One-third of the oil carried by sea passes through Hormuz -- that's some 15 million barrels every day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Now Iran's vice president is warning that the Islamic Republic could block the strait if sanctions are imposed on its exports of crude oil. France, Britain and Germany have proposed such sanctions as punishment for Iran's lack of cooperation on its nuclear program.

To demonstrate its intent, Iran is holding a 10-day military exercise in an area from the eastern part of the strait out into the Arabian Sea, with some elements playing the part of enemy forces. Western diplomats describe the maneuvers as further evidence of Iran's volatile behavior, following the occupation of the British Embassy in Tehran. And it's not the first time Iran has used this vital sea lane in a high-stakes game of brinkmanship.

The strait is thought to have been named for the Persian word hur-mogh, the date palm found on the coast. It was mentioned in a first-century mariner's account, "The Periplus of the Erythtraean Sea," and through the ages was known for its pearls.
Iran's military might in Iraq Iran military posturing Iran-Iraq alliance unlikely, expert says

But as oil became the lubricant of the world economy, the Strait of Hormuz -- and the sea lanes leading to it -- became a geostrategic flashpoint. So narrow is the strait, with sea lanes just two miles wide heading in and out of the gulf, that ships must pass through Iranian and Omani territorial waters.

In addition, Iran and the United Arab Emirates dispute sovereignty over several islands close to the strait.

Iran last tried to disrupt and sabotage Persian Gulf shipping during its decade-long conflict with Iraq, when the Arab gulf states were funding Saddam Hussein's war effort. When Iraq began attacking Iranian tankers in 1984, Iran responded by targeting vessels headed to and from gulf ports. And it began a guerrilla war at sea -- laying mines in shipping lanes.

That led the U.S. to provide military escorts for Kuwaiti shipping. In 1988, an Iranian mine damaged and nearly sank the USS Samuel B. Roberts, prompting U.S. President Ronald Reagan to order retaliatory strikes against Iranian oil platforms and naval vessels. Two platforms -- Sirri and Sassan -- were destroyed and an Iranian warship sunk in Operation Praying Mantis.

Since then, the U.S. has increased cooperation with the navies of gulf Arab states and established the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.

But Iran's neighbors understand that their reliance on the strait to transport oil and liquefied natural gas remains vulnerable. According to U.S. diplomatic cables, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in December 2009 that "Iraq would be the hardest hit" if tensions led Iran to try to blockade the strait. Kuwaiti officials have suggested building a 1,000-mile land pipeline to the Gulf of Oman to reduce reliance on the maritime route.

Today, after decades of sanctions, Iran does not have the naval power to block the strait, and its aging air force would be no match for U.S. and gulf state fighter jets. But military experts say Iran could wage "asymmetrical warfare" -- involving mines and attacks by Revolutionary Guards' patrol boats. It has also developed a class of small submarines, three of which were launched last month, according to the Iranian naval commander quoted by the Fars news agency.

Even bellicose language from Iranian politicians has already caused jitters in oil markets. Earlier this month an Iranian legislator, Parviz Sarvari, warned: "Soon we will hold an exercise on closing the Strait of Hormuz. If the world wants to make the region insecure, we will make the world insecure."

Any attempt to interfere with shipping would be a double-edged sword for Tehran. Iran also relies on the strait to export its crude and other products, and has to import most of its refined gasoline for lack of refining capacity. The U.S. State Department says there is "an element of bluster" in the Iranian threats.

Even so, analysts worry that the deterioration in U.S.-Iranian relations could magnify the consequences of a collision or provocation in the gulf. Shortly before retiring as chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen said: "If something happens, it's virtually assured that we won't get it right, that there will be miscalculations which would be extremely dangerous in that part of the world."

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, told CNN on Monday that an incident in the strait "could spark a wider war precisely because there's no communication, no diplomacy and no de-escalatory mechanisms between the United States and Iran."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Al Qaeda claims blame for Iraq attacks

Baghdad (CNN) -- Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Tuesday for a string of attacks that killed almost 70 people and wounded more than 200.

The seemingly coordinated explosions Thursday struck during the height of morning rush hour, hitting a number of Baghdad's primarily mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods. Nine car bombs, six roadside bombs and a mortar round all went off in a two-hour period, targeting residential, commercial and government districts in the Iraqi capital, police said.

"The series of special invasions launched, under the guidance of the Ministry of War in the Islamic State of Iraq, to support the weak Sunnis in the prisons of the apostates and to retaliate for the captives who were executed," the group said on an al Qaeda website.

Iraq's leadership is dominated by Shiite Muslims, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The country's Sunni minority held power under former leader Saddam Hussein.

Bloodshed in Baghdad Iraq's future hinges on political crisis Iraq after the withdrawal
A recent political crisis has raised fears of a return of the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq that ripped the country apart at the height of the war a few years back.

On December 19, al-Maliki, a Shiite, ordered the arrest of the Sunni vice president, a move that escalated sectarian tensions and threatened to collapse Iraq's fragile power-sharing government.

The political turmoil as well as the recent spate of violence erupted just days after the final U.S. troops withdrew.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Failure to launch - матерщи́на! Another Russian rocket goes nowhere.

This time, a Soyuz-2 vehicle failed to put a communications satellite into orbit after lifting away from the country's Plesetsk spaceport.

Debris is said to have re-entered the Earth's atmosphere near the western Siberian town of Tobolsk.

In August, a Soyuz failure on a mission to resupply the space station led to a six-week suspension of flights.

Friday's rocket was carrying a Meridian-5 satellite, designed to provide communication between ships, planes and coastal stations on the ground, according to RIA Novosti.

It was a Soyuz-2.1b, the most modern version of the rocket that has been in service in various forms since the 1960s.

The failure is said to have occurred seven minutes into the flight. Sources being quoted by the Russian media talk of an anomaly in the rocket's third stage.

"The satellite failed to go into its orbit. A state commission will investigate the causes of the accident," the spokesman of Russia's space forces, Alexei Zolotukhin, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

August's botched launch involved a Soyuz-U. An inquiry into that incident eventually traced the problem to a blocked fuel line, again in the third stage of the vehicle. But the U and 2.1b Soyuz variants use different engines in this segment of the rocket, so no immediate parallels between the two incidents can be drawn.

Friday's failure now puts a major question mark against the next Soyuz launch, scheduled for 26 December from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. This flight is intended to put in orbit six satellites for the Globalstar satellite phone company.

And it will raise concern again among the partners on the International Space Station (ISS) that there may be systematic problems in the Russian launch sector.

Following the retirement of the American space shuttle in July, the Soyuz rocket is the only means of getting astronauts and cosmonauts to the ISS. August's failure saw manned flights stand down even longer than the six weeks for unmanned Soyuz rockets, and the hiatus put a severe strain on the operation of the space station.

Russia has experienced a number of launch mishaps in the past 13 months.

Space balls?

CNN: large metal ball that fell from space into the Namibian grasslands last month is not alien, officials say, but that's about all they know for certain about the object.

According to a report on The Namibian website, the 13-pound metal sphere with two bumps on its poles was found by a farmer near Onamatunga in the Omunsati region between November 15 and November 20. Explosions were heard in the area before the discovery, but no evidence of an explosion was seen around the area where the object was found.

Paul Ludik, director of the country's National Forensic Science Institute, told The Namibian the sphere, with a circumference of 3.6 feet, is made of a "sophisticated" metal alloy that is known to man, but he said it has no markings that would identify it. No international space agency has claimed ownership, he said.

“A number of tests have been performed on the object, and it appears to be hollow. We are still busy with a detailed examination of the object,” The Namibian quotes him as saying.

Ludik told The Namibian that the object poses no cause for alarm, and that such reports of metallic spheres falling from space are common in the Southern Hemisphere.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

RQ-170 may have crashed due to pilot error combined with mechanical failure.

MSNBC: The United States is investigating a combination of pilot error and mechanical failure as possible causes for the crash of a classified U.S. drone in Iran and does not believe Iran brought down the plane, according to two U.S. government officials.

The unmanned RQ-170 Sentinel drone, which had been on a sensitive CIA surveillance mission over Iran, crashed and was apparently reassembled by Iran before being put on display in Tehran, said one of the officials, who was speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the investigation.

While exactly what went wrong with the aircraft is not publicly known, it is now becoming clear that its operators could have crashed the plane and destroyed it if they had taken action while it was still at a higher altitude, according to a source familiar with the aircraft and its operation.

Instead, the stealthy drone built by Lockheed Martin Corp broke up into several large pieces, allowing Iran to reassemble the plane and possibly share some of its technological secrets with China, Russia or other U.S. competitors.

Once the plane, built by Lockheed Martin Corp, dropped to a low enough altitude, its aerodynamic design made a catastrophic crash impossible, said one person familiar with the plane's design and operating procedures.

Pilot error has not been confirmed, but it is one of the causes under examination, according to the two officials.

The new information explains why the drone was not destroyed and instead fell into Iran's hands in an incident that has significantly heightened tensions with the United States.

The plane measures over 40 feet from wing tip to wing tip, and carries a full-motion video sensor that was used this year by U.S. intelligence to monitor al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan ahead of the raid that killed him.

The main concern about technology Iran could pilfer from the drone centers on special coatings on the craft's surface that make it largely invisible to radar.

The computers onboard the drone are believed to have been heavily encrypted and its sensors were not the most sophisticated tools in the U.S. arsenal.

The United States and other Western nations tightened sanctions on Iran last week and Britain withdrew its diplomatic staff from Tehran after hard-line youths stormed two diplomatic compounds.

The United States has not ruled out military action against Iran's nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails to resolve a dispute over the program, which Washington believes is aimed at developing atomic weapons.


Bombings rock Baghdad in response to US pullout

CBS/AP) BAGHDAD - A wave of at least 14 bombings ripped across Baghdad Thursday morning, killing at least 60 people in the worst violence in Iraq for months. The apparently coordinated attacks struck days after the last American forces left the country and in the midst of a major government crisis between Shiite and Sunni politicians that has sent sectarian tensions soaring.

The bombings may be linked more to the U.S. withdrawal than the political crisis, but all together, the developments heighten fears of a new round of Shiite-Sunni sectarian bloodshed like the one a few years back that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the bombings bore all the hallmarks of al Qaeda's Sunni insurgents. Most appeared to hit Shiite neighborhoods, although some Sunni areas were also targeted. In all, 11 neighborhoods were hit by either car bombs, roadside blasts or sticky bombs attached to cars. There was at least one suicide bombing and the blasts went off over several hours.

The deadliest attack was in the Karrada neighborhood, where a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden vehicle blew himself up outside the office of a government agency fighting corruption. Two police officers at the scene said the bomber was driving an ambulance and told guards that he needed to get to a nearby hospital. After the guards let him through, he drove to the building where he blew himself up, the officers said.

Sirens wailed as ambulances rushed to the scene and a large plume of smoke rose over the area. The blast left a crater about five yards wide in front of the five-story building, which was singed and blackened.

"I was sleeping in my bed when the explosion happened," said 12-year-old Hussain Abbas, who was standing nearby in his pajamas. "I jumped from my bed and rushed to my mom's lap. I told her I did not want to go to school today. I'm terrified."

At least 25 people were killed and 62 injured in that attack, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Figures gathered from Iraqi health and police officials across the city put the death toll at 60, and 160 injured. The spokesman for the Iraqi health ministry put the death toll at 57 and said at least 176 people were injured. But conflicting casualty figures are common in the aftermath of such widespread bombings.

For many Iraqis and the Americans who fought a nearly nine-year war in hopes of leaving behind a free and democratic country, the events of the past few days are the country's nightmare scenario. The fragile alliance of Sunnis and Shiites in the government is completely collapsing, large-scale violence with a high casualty toll has returned to the capital, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is displaying an authoritarian streak and may be moving to grab the already limited power of the Sunnis.

Video: U.S. troops home from Iraq for Christmas

Al-Maliki's Shiite-led government this week accused Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the country's top Sunni political leader, of running a hit squad that targeted government officials five years ago, during the height of sectarian warfare. Authorities put out a warrant for his arrest.

Many Sunnis fear this is part of a wider campaign to go after Sunni political figures in general and shore up Shiite control across the country at a critical time when all American troops have left Iraq.

Iraq PM tells Kurds to hand over Sunni VP

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told "The Early Show" on Thursday that the wave of violence represents an "I told you so" moment in his mind. McCain long opposed deadline-oriented withdrawal plans for U.S. troops, arguing the Obama administration's claim that Iraq is now a relatively peaceful nation with a capable domestic security apparatus was a fallacy.
"It was pretty obvious if we did not have a residual force there, things could unravel very quickly. All of us knew that," said McCain.

"The president campaigned saying he would bring around the end of the war. ... He made interesting comments, 'We are leaving behind a stable Iraq,' which we knew is not true. We needed the residual force there. It's not there and things are unraveling tragically."

Because such a large-scale, coordinated attack likely took weeks to plan, and the political crisis erupted only few days ago, the violence was not likely a direct response to the tensions within the government. Also, al Qaeda opposed Sunni cooperation in the Shiite-dominated government in the first place and is not aligned with Sunni politicians.

The Sunni extremist group often attacks Shiites, who they believe are not true Muslims.

U.S. military officials worried about a resurgence of al Qaeda after their departure. The last American troops left Iraq at dawn Sunday.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hacking of RQ-170 - not very likely

Iran spy drone GPS hijack boasts: Rubbish, say experts

Cockup far more likely than conspiracy, as usual
By John Leyden

Posted in Security, 21st December 2011 17:03 GMT
Free whitepaper – King’s College London uses IBM System Networking RackSwitch for HPC
Doubts that Iran managed to bring down an advanced US drone over the country last month using an advanced GPS spoofing attack have been raised by experts, who say that attacks of this type would be extremely tough to pull off.

Iran announced on 4 December that it had captured an advanced American remotely piloted spy drone, thought to be an RQ-170 Sentinel, and proudly broadcast images of the captured kit on state TV. The images depicted a drone that was intact and showed little or no signs of damage.

The Islamic Republic initially claimed that its air forces shot the drone down after it encroached on the country’s airspace near the Afghan border. Iran later claimed it was taken down by a sophisticated cyber-attack. Days later an Iranian engineer said that this attack involved swamping the drone's GPS receivers with a rogue signal that tricked it into landing on autopilot in Iran instead of a US Air Force base.

The unnamed Iranian boffin told Christian Science Monitor that Iran developed the attack after reverse-engineering previously captured or shot down US drones, and by taking advantage inherent weaknesses in the GPS navigation system.

The US said the drone was lost on a mission in Western Afghanistan before conceding it was carrying out a covert spy operation over Iran. The US has asked for the return of the drone via Swiss authorities.

RQ-170 Sentinel drones, nicknamed the Beast of Kandahar, are advanced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with stealth capabilities, developed by Lockheed Martin and operated by the US Air Force, sometimes on behalf of the CIA. The stealth capabilities should have prevented the Iranians from spotting the UAV on radar.

However they might have intensified GPS jamming around uranium enrichment sites to ward off drones, so it is plausible that the downed RQ-170 Sentinel came under a GPS nobbling attack. Publicly available material collated by specialist sites, such as The Aviationist, suggest US drones might be vulnerable to this sort of attack, among others.

However, such GPS spoofing attacks are really tough to pull off and analysts are wary of swallowing Iran's spy drone hacking claims. The Iranian authorities would need to know the location of the drone within a matter of metres and hit it with a GPS signal stronger than the satellites' transmissions.

Neither of these signals are encrypted so the stronger signal would win out, but the hijacker must gradually introduce errors to guide the craft down towards the chosen landing point, all the time maintaining a signal lock, a non-trivial effort established by US academics during experimentation:

According to our experiments, the attacker must ensure that his time offset to the system time is less than 75ns. Any greater offset will cause the GPS receiver to lose lock when the spoofing signal is turned on. A value of 75ns roughly corresponds to a distance of 22.5m, meaning that the attacker must know his distance from the victim with an accuracy of 22.5m (or better) — a higher offset will cause the victim to lose lock due to the signal (chip phase) misalignment.

We confirmed that the initial location offset will cause a noticeable jump of the victim’s reported position during the attack. Large offsets could therefore be detected by the victim by monitoring its position. Any imperfections in the arrival time of the signal from different antennas will directly impact the position calculated by the victim. If the relative time offset gets above 80ns, the signals will even cause the receiver to lose lock. This means that, if an attacker has multiple antennas, he must precisely know the distance from each antenna to the attacker in order to be able to spoof a desired location. We could also observe a general localization error as predicted in our theoretical analysis, even for smaller mismatches in the arrival times.

The paper, On the Requirements for Successful GPS Spoofing Attacks [PDF], compiled by eggheads at ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, and UCI, in Irvine in the US, suggests various countermeasures. The covert satellite-lock takeover attack is straight out of the playbook of James Bond villains*. Iran may be trying to run such attacks, Russia might even be helping, but the probability of such a hijacking succeeding is very low.

Either Iran got very lucky or the the drone was simply lost, possibly a result of a command-and-control failure, or jamming over an nuclear facility that disrupted communications with its base, before fail-safe mechanisms, er, failed. In this scenario, the drone unluckily landed in the desert somewhere (rather than mountains where it would have been destroyed or severely damaged).


Kim Jong Un sharing power with uncle and military

Kim Jong-un, North Korea's new leader, will share power with an uncle and the military after the death of his father Kim Jong-il as the isolated country shifts to collective rule from strongman dictatorship, according to reports.

The source, with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing, told Reuters that the military, which is trying to develop a nuclear arsenal, has pledged allegiance to the untested Kim Jong-un who takes over the family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since it was founded after world War Two.

The source also said Beijing was only notified of Kim's death earlier on Monday, the same day that North Korean state television broadcast the news. Kim died on Saturday.

The source declined to be identified but has correctly predicted events in the past, telling Reuters about the North's first nuclear test in 2006 before it took place.
The situation in North Korea appeared stable after the military gave its backing to Kim's son and successor, Kim Jong-un, the source said.

"It's very unlikely," the source said when asked about the possibility of a military coup. "The military has pledged allegiance to Kim Jong-un."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"You'd better cry or I'll give you something to really cry about!"

VP Biden says Tailban is not the enemy?

The White House on Monday defended Vice President Joe Biden for saying that the Taliban isn't an enemy of the United States despite the years spent fighting the militant Islamic group that gave a home to Al Qaeda and its leader Usama bin Laden while he plotted the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"It's only regrettable when taken out of context," White House spokesman Jay Carney said of the vice president's remarks in an interview published Monday.

"It is a simple fact that we went into Afghanistan because of the attack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. We are there now to ultimately defeat Al Qaeda, to stabilize Afghanistan and stabilize it in part so that Al Qaeda or other terrorists who have as their aim attacks on the United States cannot establish a foothold again in that country," Carney continued.

During Biden's interview with Newsweek last week, the vice president said it's "good enough" for the U.S. if Afghanistan stops being a "haven for people who do damage and have as a target the United States of America" and its allies. He added that the U.S. is supportive of a reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban even if it's questionable whether a reconciliation is possible.

"Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That's critical," Biden said. "There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy, because it threatens U.S. interests. If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us."

Biden said that the U.S. is on a dual track in Afghanistan -- keep the pressure on Al Qaeda and support a government that is strong enough to "negotiate with and not be overthrown by the Taliban."

Carney said the U.S. did not send the military into Afghanistan because the Taliban were in power, and the vice president's point was that "while we are fighting them, it is not the elimination -- the elimination of the Taliban is not the issue here."

Indeed, the U.S. entered Afghanistan just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans to rid the country of Al Qaeda, whose leader had been an invited guest and offered safe haven for years by the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist.

Today, fewer than 200 Al Qaeda terrorists reportedly remain in the country. But military officials say the primary attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan are being conducted by fighters loyal to the Taliban and the Taliban-tied Haqqani network, both of which are based out of neighboring Pakistan and freely cross the treacherous border.

According to Reuters, U.S. officials are hopeful that 10 months of secret negotiations with Taliban insurgents will soon result in a breakthrough that will allow the U.S. to leave Afghanistan as scheduled by 2014 without leaving the country to the whims of the hardline group.

Reuters reported Sunday the deal the U.S. is considering would include a prisoner release of Taliban detainees in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for a renunciation of violence and international terrorism, part of reconciliation talks with the government headed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The U.S. also would offer unequivocal support for establishing a Taliban office in an Islamic country that it could use as a diplomatic headquarters, Reuters reported, and would demand preconditions such as a renunciation of violence, a break with Al Qaeda and respect for the Afghan constitution.

Carney said Monday that the U.S. has been clear that those conditions "would need to be met."
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Biden's remarks -- as well as Biden's and President Obama's belief that the Taliban are not the enemy -- are "bizarre, factually wrong and an outrageous affront our troops carrying out the fight in Afghanistan." He said the comments also reflect the administration's policy of "appeasement."

"The Taliban harbored the terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans on Sept 11. The Taliban continues to wage war against us and our allies, a conflict in which we have lost over 1,800 troops. The Taliban receives arms and training from Iran. And the Taliban seeks to reinstate a tyrannical government that violently rejects basic notions of human rights and oppresses minorities. The Taliban is clearly a bitter enemy of the United States," Romney said in a statement late Monday.

Read more: HERE

Monday, December 19, 2011

Military tensions rises in reaction to Kim Ills death - son named successor

Earlier a tearful North Korean television announcer, dressed in black and her voice quavering, said the 69-year old ruler died on Saturday of "physical and mental over-work" on a train on his way to give field guidance -- advice dispensed by the "Dear Leader" on trips to factories, farms and the military.

Security concerns over the hermit state, that in 2010 shelled civilians on a South Korean island and is blamed for the sinking of one of its warships earlier that year, were heightened after Seoul said the North had test-fired a short range missile prior to the announcement of Kim's death.

It was the first known launch since June and in a bid to calm tensions, South Korea's defense ministry said it might abandon plans to light Christmas trees on the border, something the North has warned could provoke retaliations.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency lauded Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong-un as "the outstanding leader of our party, army and people."

"We have esteemed comrade Kim Jong-un," KCNA led a dispatch that said North Koreans from all walks of life are in utter despair but were finding comfort in the "absolute surety that the leadership of Comrade Kim Jong-un will lead and succeed the great task of revolutionary enterprise."

But there was uncertainty about how much support the third generation of the North's ruling dynasty has among the ruling elite, especially in the military, and worry he might need a military show of strength to help establish his credentials.

"Kim Jong-un is a pale reflection of his father and grandfather. He has not had the decades of grooming and securing of a power base that Jong-il enjoyed before assuming control from his father," said Bruce Klingner, an Asia policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

"(He) may feel it necessary in the future to precipitate a crisis to prove his mettle to other senior leaders or deflect attention from the regime's failings."

Video from Chinese state television showed residents weeping in the North Korean capital Pyongyang. KCNA reported people were "writhing in pain" from the loss of the man who in 1994 assumed the leadership of the totalitarian state from his father Kim Il-sung, the North's first, and officially eternal, president.

Large crowds gathered at a massive memorial of Kim's father and state founder Kim Il-sung in central Pyongyang mourning the death of the "Dear Leader." Kim will be laid to rest next to his father, KCNA said.

The funeral of Kim, turned into a demi-god by his propaganda machine, will be held on December 28.

News of the death of the man whose push to build a nuclear arsenal left the North heavily sanctioned and internationally isolated, triggered immediate nervousness in the region, with South Korea stepping up its military alert.

China, the North's neighbor and only powerful ally, said it was confident the North would remain united and that the two countries would maintain their relationship.

"We were distressed to learn of the unfortunate passing of (Kim) ... and we express our grief about this and extend our condolences to the people of North Korea," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying.

"We are confident the North Korean people will be able to turn their anguish into strength and unify as one," he said.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il dies

CBS/AP) PYONGYANG, North Korea - Even as the world changed around him, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il remained firmly in control, ruling absolutely at home and keeping the rest of the world on edge through a nuclear weapons program.

Inheriting power from his father in 1994, he led his nation through a devastating famine while frustrating the U.S. and other global powers with an on-again, off-again approach to talks on giving up nuclear arms in return for energy and other assistance. Kim was one of the last remnants of a Cold War-era that ended years earlier in most other countries.

His death was announced Monday by state television two days after he died. North Korea's news agency reported that he had died at 8:30 a.m. Saturday after having a heart attack on a train, adding that he had been treated for cardiac and cerebrovascular diseases for a long time. He was 69.

CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton reports news of Kim's death was met with a flood of televised emotion in North Korea, as state TV showed orderly columns of state officials weeping dramatically, and ordinary North Koreans beside themselves in apparent grief on the streets of Pyongyang.

In South Korea, however, like much of the rest of the world, the news provoked concern. Hatton reports that South Korea put its military on high alert Monday, even calling off-duty troops back to work in the event of any provocations from the North.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported later Monday that the North had conducted at least one short-range missile test. Two South Korean military officials said they couldn't immediately confirm the report, saying to do so would breach a policy of not commenting on intelligence matters.
Both said any firing would be part of a routine drill and have little relation to Kim's death. They both spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy. Yonhap cited unidentified government and military officials as saying the test occurred off the east coast.

Kim, who reputedly had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine, is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but he had appeared relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country documented by state media.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Russia seizes nuclear material that was Iran bound

Radioactive material has been found in the luggage of a passenger travelling from Moscow to Tehran.

The Russian customs service said it had seized the material at Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport.

The service said in a statement that tests showed the material was a radioactive isotope which could be obtained only "as a result of a nuclear reactor's operations".

The statement said the material had triggered an alarm in the airport's radiation control system. The luggage search led to a discovery of 18 pieces of radioactive metal packed in individual steel casings.

A Sheremetyevo airport customs spokeswoman said the material had been identified as sodium-22 but gave no other details.

Sodium-22 is a radioactive isotope of sodium that can be used in medical equipment

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Iran: Meet the new sky spy - that can kill you

The US Air Force reportedly plans to deploy a new offensive, radar-evading drone in Afghanistan after Iran downed one of its stealth drones, which was in violation of the Islamic Republic's airspace.

The Predator C Avenger is designed to evade detection and carry payloads of the weight of a bunker buster, the international aerospace weekly Flight International reported on its website on December 12.

The US Air Force has ordered a single Predator C Avenger -- produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Inc. -- for deployment in Afghanistan.

"This aircraft will be used as a test asset and will provide a significantly increased weapons and sensors payload capacity on an aircraft that will be able to fly to targets much more rapidly than the MQ-9 [Reaper] UAS," the US Air Force said in a statement.

Alongside four weapon stations on each wing, the drone has an internal weapons bay, which provides “greater flexibility and will accommodate a large selection of next generation sensor and weapons payloads," it added.

The newest aircraft is jet-powered and particularly characterized by its capability of carrying a total payload of more than 907 kilograms -- almost the weight of a GBU-24 penetrator bunker buster bomb.

Analysts say the fact that Taliban militants have no radars to detect such aircraft robs Washington of excuses to deploy the stealth drone in the war-torn country.

The prospect of the deployment of the highly-capable Predator C comes after Iran successfully brought down a US RQ-170 stealth drone recently as the aircraft was flying over the northeastern Iranian city of Kashmar, some 250 kilometers (156 miles) away from the Afghan border.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

RQ-170 crashed due to technical glitch - but Iran still - blah-blah-BSing.

The war of words between Iran and the U.S. over the RQ-170 Sentinel continues. On Tuesday U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers denied Iran’s claim that it had shot down the UAV.

“I will say without hesitation that this is not something that anyone had anything to do with coming down with, other than a technical problem,” said Rogers. “There was a technical problem that was our problem, nobody else’s problem. I think there’s a lot of PR (public relations) going on.”
“These things are not infallible,” he added.

Meanwhile, Iran says it will reverse-engineer the UAV.

“Our next action will be to reverse-engineer the aircraft,” Parviz Sorouri, head of Iran’s parliamentary national security committee said. “In the near future, we will be able to mass produce it…. Iranian engineers will soon build an aircraft superior to the American (UAV) using reverse-engineering.”

Iran claims a Revolutionary Guards cyber-warfare unit hacked the aircraft’s flight controls, bringing it down.

U.S. officials are skeptical that Iran will be able to reverse-engineer the UAV itself but are concerned that might be done with the help of Russia or China.

But Sorouri said Iran is “in the final stages of cracking (the UAV’s) code.”

“We will acquire valuable intelligence through deciphering the Americans’ covert intelligence and espionage methods once the code is cracked,” he added.

Secret saucer shaped cargo transported through Kansas may be X47B drone.


Kansas - Residents in Cowley County are still talking about a mystery craft, seen being towed down US 77 Monday.

Sitting inside Lindly's Appliance Store, Kammi Root is used to seeing large machinery towed down US 77. But what she saw Monday afternoon is something she won't soon forget.

“There was this funny sphere that went through on this big trailer and my first thought was, 'That looks like a UFO,’” said Root.

A huge 32 foot craft, wrapped in tarp, was as mysterious as the transport company who called Sheriff Don Read for help.

“They told us that it was an aircraft and that they had explored other ways to transport it but this was the best way for them to do it and they asked us not to say a whole lot about it,” said Read.

After all, the massive load's shape would certainly draw enough attention on its own.

“People were calling in saying, 'Oh they think they found a flying saucer. It looks like a flying saucer to us and we don't know for sure what it is,’” said Donetta Godsey with the Winfield Daily Courier.

For nearly an hour, officers helped maneuver the craft through Cowley County.

”The biggest thing that we had to deal with was down at the roundabout we had to remove a bunch of signs and markers because the load was so long it couldn't make the corner,” said Read.

Meanwhile, onlookers struggled to wipe the shock from their faces and the questions from their minds.

”What was that funny thing that was on that trailer that looked like something from somewhere else?” said Root.

So what in the world was it? Undersheriff Bill Mueller says it was an experimental aircraft from Northrop Grumman, possibly a new unmanned drone. It still has a ways to go. Its final destination is Maryland.

UPDATE: The unusual object traveling through Cowley County, which was the cause of much conversation Monday morning, was a U.S. Navy drone.

Hauled on a large flatbed truck along U.S. 77, area residents got a look at a 32-foot-wide, dull gray, wrapped apparatus shaped like a flying saucer and featuring flashing red lights.

Reports were that the object is a Navy drone, which — after wings are attached — will fly from aircraft carriers. Most likely it's an X-47B. See comparison photo. It's not a UFO - so calm down True Beleivers.

One clearance location of concern was the bridge north of Winfield, which only is 35 feet wide.

Local emergency management officers, along with members of the Arkansas City and Winfield police departments and Cowley County Sheriff's Department, were on hand to control traffic as the aircraft was transported through Cowley County to Maryland.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

MQ-9 Reaper crashes - without any help from Iran.

WSJ: One of the Air Force’s premier drones crashed Tuesday morning in the Seychelles, the Indian Ocean archipelago that serves as a base for anti-piracy operations, as well as U.S. surveillance missions over Somalia.

The crash of the MQ-9 Reaper comes roughly two weeks after a U.S. drone went down in Iran.

The Seychelles, where U.S. officials have worked closely with local officials to establish the drone base, is hardly enemy territory, and the drone that crashed Tuesday was operated by the Air Force, not the CIA, which operated the stealth RQ-170 that crashed in Iran.

Still, Tuesday’s crash once again illustrates the fallibility of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Air Force acknowledged the crash at the Seychelles airport, and a spokesman for the service said the crash happened as the drone was landing. No one was injured.

The Air Force said the cause of the crash — the first ever of a Reaper in the Seychelles — was under investigation. A statement from the civil aviation authority in the Seychelles attributed it to engine failure, saying that, after landing, the drone failed to stop before skidding into an outcropping of rocks at the end of the runway.

“It has been confirmed that this drone was unarmed and its failure was due to mechanical reasons,” the statement said. The Air Force confirmed that the MQ-9 was unarmed.

Photos of the Reaper show that it sustained heavy damage, with the nose of the drone carved off and one wing partially missing.

Gervais Henrie, editor of the local Le Seychellois Hebdo, who witnessed a crew lifting the remains of the drone with a crane after the crash, said it had burst into flames. Much of the Reaper appeared charred.

“Totally destroyed,” Henrie said in a phone interview.

The U.S. military is believed to have only a handful of Reapers in the Seychelles, based in a hangar located about a quarter-mile from the main passenger terminal at the airport.

The island nation of 85,000 people has hosted the drones since September 2009. U.S. and Seychellois officials have said the primary mission of the Reapers was to track pirates in regional waters, but they have also been used to conduct surveillance missions over Somalia.

The base in the Seychelles is part of a constellation of drone bases that the U.S. government has expanded in the region to monitor or attack al-Qaeda affiliates.

Hernie said Seychellois often see the Reapers flying overhead, and that they have come to accept them as a a routine part of living in the islands.

2 Army Helicopters Crash in Washington

Crews enter the training area southwest of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., near the scene where two Army OH-58 Kiowa helicopters crashed, killing four soldiers Monday, Dec. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/The News Tribune, Jeremy Harrison)

RAINIER, Wash. — Two Army helicopters crashed Monday night at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in an accident that killed four soldiers, a military spokesman said late Monday.

The two-seat reconnaissance choppers crashed after 8 p.m. in the southwest training area of the sprawling base, according to the Army.

The victims were not immediately identified, even by unit, pending notification of relatives.

It was not immediately clear whether the aircraft collided or crashed separately.

"We don't have details on what actually occurred," base spokesman J.C. Mathews said. "That will be part of the investigation."

The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters were on a training mission, Mathews said, further details will be part of the investigation.

The Kiowa Warrior is a single-engine, four-bladed aircraft used for armed reconnaissance, Mathews said. It's often called a scout helicopter.

The crash site is geographically closest to the civilian community of Rainier, which is south of Tacoma, Mathews said.

Early Tuesday morning, two sheriff's vehicles blocked access to a rural plot of land where officials erected large sets of lights to illuminate the crash site.

Base officials secured the crash site late Monday and immediately began an investigation. The Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., will lead the overall investigation into the accident, base spokesman Joe Piek said.

China's Secret Underground Nuclear Tunnels System

The Washington Post:

The Chinese have called it their "Underground Great Wall" — a vast network of tunnels designed to hide their country's increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear arsenal.

For the past three years, a small band of obsessively dedicated students at Georgetown University has called it something else: homework.

Led by their hard-charging professor, a former top Pentagon official, they have translated hundreds of documents, combed through satellite imagery, obtained restricted Chinese military documents and waded through hundreds of gigabytes of online data.

The result of their three-year effort? The largest body of public knowledge about thousands of miles of tunnels dug by the Second Artillery Corps, a secretive branch of the Chinese military in charge of protecting and deploying its ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.

The study has not yet been released, but already it has sparked a congressional hearing and been circulated among top officials in the Pentagon, including the Air Force vice chief of staff.

Most of the attention has focused on the 363-page study's provocative conclusion — that China's nuclear arsenal could be many times larger than the well-established estimates of arms control experts.

"It's not quite a bombshell, but those thoughts and estimates are being checked against what people think they know based on classified information," said a Defense Department strategist who would discuss the study only on the condition of anonymity.

The study's critics, however, have questioned the unorthodox Internet-based research used by the students, who drew from sources as disparate as Google Earth, blogs, military journals and, perhaps most startlingly, a fictionalized TV docudrama about Chinese artillery soldiers — the rough equivalent of watching Fox's TV show "24" for insights into U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

But the strongest condemnation has come from nonproliferation experts who worry that it could fuel arguments for maintaining nuclear weapons in an era when efforts are still being made to reduce the world's post-Cold War stockpiles.

Beyond its impact in the policy world, the project has also made a profound mark on the students — including some who have since graduated and taken research jobs with the Defense Department and Congress.

"I don't even want to know how many hours I spent on it," said Nick Yarosh, 22, an international politics senior at Georgetown. "But you ask people what they did in college, most just say I took this class, I was in this club. I can say I spent it reading Chinese nuclear strategy and Second Artillery manuals. For a nerd like me, that really means something."

For students, an obsession

The students' professor, Phillip A. Karber, 65, had spent the Cold War as a top strategist reporting directly to the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But it was his early work in defense that had cemented his reputation, when he led an elite research team created by Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser, to probe the weaknesses of Soviet forces.

Karber prided himself on recruiting the best intelligence analysts in government. "You didn't just want the highest-ranking or brightest guys, you wanted the ones who were hungry," he said.

In 2008, Karber was volunteering on a committee for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a Pentagon agency charged with countering weapons of mass destruction.

After a devastating earthquake struck Sichuan province, the chairman of Karber's committee noticed Chinese news accounts reporting that thousands of radiation technicians were rushing to the region. Then came pictures of strangely collapsed hills and speculation that the caved-in tunnels in the area had held nuclear weapons.

Find out what's going on, the chairman asked Karber, who began looking for analysts again — this time among his students at Georgetown.

The first inductees came from his arms control classes. Each semester, he set aside a day to show them tantalizing videos and documents he had begun gathering on the tunnels. Then he concluded with a simple question: What do you think it means?

"The fact that there were no answers to that really got to me," said former student Dustin Walker, 22. "It started out like any other class, tests on this day or that, but people kept coming back, even after graduation. . . . We spent hours on our own outside of class on this stuff."

The students worked in their dorms translating military texts. They skipped movie nights for marathon sessions reviewing TV clips of missiles being moved from one tunnel structure to another. While their friends read Shakespeare, they gathered in the library to wargame worst-case scenarios of a Chinese nuclear strike on the United States.

Over time, the team grew from a handful to roughly two dozen contributors. Most spent their time studying the subterranean activities of the Second Artillery Corps.

While the tunnels' existence was something of an open secret among the handful of experts studying China's nuclear arms, almost no papers or public reports on the structures existed.

So the students turned to publicly available Chinese sources — military journals, local news reports and online photos posted by Chinese citizens. It helped that China's famously secretive military was beginning to release more information, driven by its leaders' eagerness to show off China's growing power to its citizens.

The Internet also generated a raft of leads: new military forums and blogs, once obscure local TV reports now posted on the Chinese equivalents of YouTube. Strategic string searches even allowed the students to get behind some military Web sites and download documents such as syllabuses taught at China's military academies.

Painstaking discoveries

The main problem was the sheer amount of translation required.

Each semester, Karber managed to recruit only one or two Chinese-speaking students. So the team assembled a makeshift system to scan images of the books and documents they found. Using text-capture software, they converted those pictures into Chinese characters that were fed into translation software to produce crude English versions. From those, they highlighted key passages for finer translation by the Chinese speakers.

The downside was the drudgery — hours feeding pages into the scanner. The upside was that after three years, the students had compiled a searchable database of more than 1.4 million words on the Second Artillery and its tunnels.

By combining everything they found in journals, video clips, satellite imagery and photos, they were able to triangulate the location of several tunnel structures with a rough idea of what types of missiles were stored in each.

Their work also yielded smaller revelations: how the missiles were kept mobile and transported from structure to structure as well as tantalizing images and accounts of a "missile train" and disguised passenger rail cars to move China's long-range missiles.

To facilitate the work, Karber set up research rooms for the students at his home in Great Falls. He bought Apple computers and large flat-screen monitors for their video work and obtained small research grants for those who wanted to work through the summer. When work ran late, many crashed in his basement's spare room.

"I got fat working on this thing because I didn't go to the gym anymore. It was that intense," said Yarosh, who has continued on the project this year not for credit but purely as a hobby. "It's not the typical college course. Dr. Karber just tells you the objective and gives you total freedom to figure out how to get there. That level of trust can be liberating."

Some of the biggest breakthroughs came after members of Karber's team used personal connections in China to to obtain a 400-page manual produced by the Second Artillery and usually available only to China's military personnel.

Another source of insight was a pair of semi-fictionalized TV series chronicling the lives of Second Artillery soldiers.

The plots were often overwrought with melodrama — one series centers around a brigade commander who struggles to whip his slipshod unit into shape while juggling relationship problems with his glamorous Olympic-swim-coach girlfriend. But they also included surprisingly accurate depictions of artillery units' procedures that lined up perfectly with the military manual and other documents.

"Until someone showed us on screen how exactly these missile deployments were done from the tunnels, we only had disparate pieces. The TV shows gave us the big picture of how it all worked together," Karber said.

Challenging arsenal estimates

In December 2009, just as the students began making progress, the Chinese military admitted for the first time that the Second Artillery had indeed been building a network of tunnels. According to a report by state-run CCTV, China had more than 3,000 miles of tunnels — roughly the distance between Boston and San Francisco — including deep underground bases that could withstand multiple nuclear attacks.

The news shocked Karber and his team. It confirmed the direction of their research, but it also highlighted how little attention the tunnels were garnering outside of East Asia.

The lack of interest, particularly in the U.S. media, demonstrated China's unique position in the world of nuclear arms.

For decades, the focus has been on the two powers with the largest nuclear stockpiles by far — the United States, with 5,000 warheads available for deployment, and Russia, which has 8,000.

But of the five nuclear weapon states recognized by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, China has been the most secretive. While the United States and Russia are bound by bilateral treaties that require on-site inspections, disclosure of forces and bans on certain missiles, China is not.

The assumption for years has been a relatively small Chinese arsenal— anywhere from 80 to 400 warheads.

China itself has encouraged that perception. As the only one of the five original nuclear states with a no-first-use policy, it insists that it keeps a small stockpile only for "minimum deterrence" of a retaliatory strike.

Given China's lack of transparency, Karber argues, all the experts have to work with are assumptions, which can often be dead wrong. As an example, Karber often recounts to his students his experience of going to Russia with then-Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci in 1992 to discuss U.S. help in securing the Russian nuclear arsenal.

The United States had offered Russia some 20,000 canisters designed to safeguard warheads — a number based on U.S. estimates at the time.

The generals told Karber they needed 40,000.

Skepticism among analysts

At the end of the tunnel study, Karber cautions that the same could happen with China. Based on the number of tunnels the Second Artillery is digging and its increasing deployment of missiles, he argues, China's nuclear warheads could number as many as 3,000.

It is an assertion that has provoked heated responses from the arms control community.

Gregory Kulacki, a China nuclear analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, publicly condemned Karber's report at a recent lecture in Washington. In an interview afterward, he called the 3,000 figure "ridiculous" and said the study's methodology — especially its inclusion of posts from Chinese bloggers — was "incompetent and lazy."

"The fact that they're building tunnels could actually reinforce the exact opposite point," he argued. "With more tunnels and a better chance of survivability, they may think they don't need as many warheads to strike back."

Reaction from others has been more moderate.

"Their research has value, but it also shows the danger of the Internet," said Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. Kristensen faulted some of the students' interpretation of satellite images.

"One thing his report accomplishes, I think, is it highlights the uncertainty about what China has," said Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank. "There's no question China's been investing in tunnels, and to look at those efforts and pose this question is worthwhile."

This year, the Defense Department's annual report on China's military highlighted for the first time the Second Artillery's work on new tunnels, partly a result of Karber's report, according to some Pentagon officials. And in the spring, shortly before a visit to China, some in the office of then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates were briefed on the study.

"I think it's fair to say senior officials here have keyed upon the importance of this work," said one Pentagon officer who was not authorized to speak on record.

For Karber, provoking such debate means he and his small army of undergrads have already succeeded.

"I don't have the slightest idea how many nuclear weapons China really has, but neither does anyone else in the arms control community," he said. "That's the problem with China — no one really knows except them."


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