Thursday, January 31, 2013

Missing F-16 pilot's body found in Adriatic

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The body of an Air Force F-16 pilot who went missing during a night training flight late Monday was found Thursday off the coast of Italy, his family announced in a statement.
“It is with great sadness that we announce that the body of Captain Lucas Gruenther was found in the Adriatic Sea this afternoon,” the statement said.
Gruenther and his F-16 Fighting Falcon went missing at about 8 p.m. Monday roughly 150 miles south of Aviano Air Base, where his unit, the 31st Fighter Wing, is based.
A massive search effort ensued, including Italian coast guard and navy ships, fishing vessels and an assortment of planes, including other F-16s from the wing.
In their statement, the family gave thanks for the outpouring of support it received over the nearly four days since Gruenther went missing.
“We especially want to extend our deepest gratitude to the many people who volunteered their time and resources to help bring Luc home,” the statement said.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Israel pounds suspected chemical warfare convoy in Syria

JERUSALEM — The Syrian government said that Israeli warplanes had carried out an airstrike inside its territory on Wednesday, raising the risks that the two-year-old civil conflict in Syria could spread beyond the country’s borders.

A statement by the Syrian military said a scientific research facility in the Damascus suburbs had been hit, but the precise target was unclear. Earlier news reports, confirmed by an American official in Washington, said the Israelis were targeting a truck convoy inside Syria that was bound for Lebanon.

It was the first time in more than five years that Israel’s air force had attacked a target in Syria, which has remained in a technical state of war with Israel although both sides have maintained an uneasy peace along their disputed border.

The Syrian statement, carried by state television, said an unidentified number of Israeli jets flying below radar had hit the research facility, killing two people and causing “huge material damage.”

The Syrian statement denied the reports that Israeli warplanes had struck a truck convoy carrying antiaircraft weapons destined for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group, which is allied with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and considers Israel its main enemy.

“Israeli warplanes violated our airspace at dawn, bombing directly one of the research scientific centers in the Jimraya district in rural Damascus,” the Syrian statement said, calling it a “breach of Syrian sovereignty.”

Israel officials declined to comment on any military action that Israel might have conducted in Syria.

But the Israelis have warned in recent days about what they called the threat of chemical or advanced conventional weapons leaking from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon or into the hands of extremist Islamic rebel groups as a result of the turmoil in Syria.

The Lebanese Army said in a statement on Wednesday that Israeli warplanes had carried out two sorties, circling over Lebanon for hours on Tuesday and before dawn on Wednesday, but made no mention of any attacks.

Jerusalem has long maintained a policy of silence on pre-emptive military strikes. It would not comment after Sudan accused the Israel military of carrying out an air attack that destroyed a weapons factory in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, in October. Israel also never admitted to the bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, and Syria kept mum about that attack. The ambiguity allowed that event to pass without Syria feeling pressure to retaliate.

The heightened sense of alert in Israel this week had focused on the Syrian government’s precarious hold on its stockpiles of chemical weapons. But Israeli officials and experts have also voiced concern about the fate of what they describe as conventional “strategic weapons” in Syria, including advanced ground-to-air missiles, shore-to-sea missiles and anti-tank missiles. They say such weapons in the hands of Hezbollah, which Israel last fought in a monthlong war in 2006, could upset the current balance of forces in the region.

Amnon Sofrin, a retired brigadier general and former Israeli intelligence officer, told reporters in Jerusalem on Wednesday that Hezbollah, which is known to have been storing some of its more advanced weapons in Syria, was now eager to remove everything it could to Lebanon. He said Israel was carefully watching for convoys transferring weapons systems from Syria to Lebanon.

Israel’s air force chief, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, said on Tuesday that Syria was a prime example of “the weakening governance in neighboring countries that heralds greater exposure to hostile activity.”

Speaking at an international space conference in Israel, General Eshel said: “We work every day in order to lessen the immediate threats, to create better conditions so that we will be victorious in future wars. This is a struggle in which the Air Force is a central player, from here to thousands of kilometers away.”

There have been reports in the last week of feverish security consultations between Israel’s political and security chiefs, and at least one Iron Dome anti-rocket missile defense battery was deployed in northern Israel. Israel’s national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, was in Moscow for talks with Russian officials on Monday.

Israel has made it clear that if the Syrian government loses control over its chemical weapons or transfers them to Hezbollah, Israel will most likely be compelled to act. Avi Dichter, the minister for the home front, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that options to prevent Syria from using or transferring the weapons included deterrence and “attempts to hit the stockpiles.”

Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad in Beirut, Lebanon, and Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt in Washington.

Meet Argus: Super mega-pixle sky spy

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Debris of missing F-16 possibly found in Adriatic

Italian Coast Guard divers searching for a missing American F-16 and its pilot were focusing on Tuesday on waters where a fishing boat found debris believed to belong to the jet, a Coast Guard official said.

The debris, including fragments of carbon steel, was found floating in the northern Adriatic overnight, Rear Admiral Francesco Saverio Ferrara said. The U.S. Air Force said in a statement on Tuesday it was thought to be wreckage from the missing aircraft.

"We hope to find out more during the day so we can have a more complete picture of what happened," Ferrara said.

The missing jet took off from Aviano Air Base on a training exercise on Monday evening, and the control tower lost contact with the plane at about 1900 GMT.

Search-and-rescue operations are being conducted by sea from the port of Ravenna, and Air Force planes from Aviano are spearheading the search from above, Ferrara said.

Snow and rain hampered the operation overnight, and on Tuesday fog was hampering visibility, the Coast Guard said.

Aviano is the base for the U.S. Air Force's 31st Fighter Wing. The Air Force said a board of officers would investigate the incident.

"Wing leadership remains hopeful that we will safely rescue our pilot," an Air Force statement said.

Monday, January 28, 2013

US building drone base in NW Africa

NYTIMES: WASHINGTON — The United States military command in Africa is preparing plans to establish a drone base in northwest Africa to increase unarmed surveillance missions on the local affiliate of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups that American and other Western officials say pose a growing menace to the region.

For now, officials say they envision flying only unarmed surveillance drones from the base, though they have not ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point if the threat worsens.

If the base is approved, the most likely location for it would be in Niger, a largely desert nation on the eastern border of Mali, where French and Malian troops are now battling Qaeda-backed fighters who control the northern part of that country. The American military’s Africa Command is also discussing options for the base with other countries in the region, including Burkina Faso, officials said.

The immediate impetus for a drone base in the region is to provide surveillance assistance to the French-led operation in Mali. “This is directly related to the Mali mission, but it could also give Africom a more enduring presence for I.S.R.,” one American military official said Sunday, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

A handful of unarmed Predator drones would carry out surveillance missions in the region and fill a desperate need for more detailed information on a range of regional threats, including militants in Mali and the unabated flow of fighters and weapons from Libya. American military commanders and intelligence analysts complain that such information has been sorely lacking.

The United States military has a very limited presence in Africa, with only one permanent base, in Djibouti, more than 3,000 miles from Mali. A new drone base in northwest Africa would join a constellation of small air bases in recent years on the continent, including in Ethiopia, for surveillance missions flown by drones or turboprop planes designed to look like civilian aircraft.

The Africa Command’s planning still needs approval from the Pentagon and eventually from the White House, as well as from Nigerien officials. American military officials said that they were still working out some details, and that no final decision had been made. But in Niger on Monday, the two countries reached a status-of-forces agreement that provides legal protection to American troops in the country, including any who might deploy to a new drone base. The plan could face resistance from some in the White House who are wary of committing any additional American forces to a fight against a poorly understood web of extremist groups in North Africa.

If approved, the base could ultimately have as many as 300 United States military and contractor personnel, but it would probably begin with far fewer people than that, military officials said.

Some Africa specialists expressed concern that setting up a drone base in Niger or in a neighboring country, even if only to fly surveillance missions, could alienate local people who may associate the distinctive aircraft with deadly attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Officials from Niger did not respond to e-mails over the weekend about the plan, but its president, Mahamadou Issoufou, has expressed a willingness to establish what he called in a recent interview “a long-term strategic relationship with the U.S.”

“What’s happening in northern Mali is a big concern for us because what’s happening in northern Mali can also happen to us,” Mr. Issoufou said in an interview at the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger’s capital, the day before French troops swept into Mali on Jan. 11 to blunt the militant advance.

Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of the Africa Command, who visited Niger this month to discuss expanding the country’s security cooperation with the United States, declined to comment on the proposed drone base, saying in an e-mail that the subject was “too operational for me to confirm or deny.”

Discussions about the drone base come at a time when the French operation in Mali and a militant attack on a remote gas field in the Algerian desert that left at least 37 foreign hostages, including 3 Americans, dead have thrown a spotlight on Al Qaeda’s franchise in the region, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and forced Western governments and their allies in the region to accelerate efforts to combat it.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who heads the Intelligence Committee, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday that in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death and the turmoil of the Arab Spring, there was “an effort to establish a beachhead for terrorism, a joining together of terrorist organizations.”

According to current and former American government officials, as well as classified government cables made public by the group WikiLeaks, the surveillance missions flown by American turboprop planes in northern Mali have had only a limited effect.

Aviano F-16 missing.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says a U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jet has gone missing over the Adriatic Sea, off the coast of Italy, during a training mission.

A search was launched after the Air Force lost all contact with the plane Monday, but there is no immediate word from the Pentagon on whether the plane crashed.

Initial word was that the F-16 was not carrying weapons.

The F-16 fighter jet left Aviano air base in northern Italy. A search-and-rescue mission is underway.
The plane lost contact with the control tower at about 1900 GMT and the Italian coast guard has joined in the search-and-rescue in the Adriatic Sea, where the jet is presumed to have gone down.
A spokeswoman at Aviano could not immediately confirm the news, and a spokesman for Italy's coast guard was not immediately available for comment.

Iran nuke facility goes boom!

Israeli intelligence officials have confirmed that a major explosion has rocked an Iranian nuclear facility, according to a report Monday in The Times of London.
The British daily cited officials in Tel Aviv who said the blast occurred last week, as originally reported on the website
Iran is not believed to have evacuated the area surrounding the Fordo plant, according to the same Israeli sources, who said that an investigation into the blast was ongoing.
“We are still in the preliminary stages of understanding what happened and how significant it is,” one Israeli official told the London Times. He did not know if the explosion was “sabotage or accident” and refused to comment on reports that Israeli aircraft were seen near Fordo at the time of the blast.
On Sunday, two senior Iranian officials dismissed reports of the explosion.
Deputy head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency Seyyed Shamseddin Barbroudi said there had been no explosion at the Fordo facility whatsoever, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
The chairman of the Iranian parliament’s Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, referred to rumors of the blast as “Western-made propaganda” and said they were “baseless lies” meant to impact ongoing talks on Iran’s nuclear program, reported IRNA.
The original report published Friday claimed that a blast deep within Fordo last Monday “destroyed much of the installation and trapped about 240 personnel deep underground,” citing information from former intelligence officer Hamidreza Zakeri, who it said used to work with the Islamic regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security.
The article claimed the blast “shook facilities within a radius of three miles,” that Iranian security forces had “enforced a no-traffic radius of 15 miles,” that the Tehran-Qom highway was shut down for several hours after the blast, and that, “as of Wednesday afternoon, rescue workers had failed to reach the trapped personnel.” It said US officials were aware of the reported blast.
Asked about the incident on Sunday, Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, said, “Any explosion in Iran that doesn’t hurt people but hurts its assets is welcome.” Dichter was acting defense minister Sunday, in the absence of Ehud Barak.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but that claim has been rejected by much of the international community. The Islamic Republic’s consistent refusal to allow international inspectors into the Fordo nuclear facility has frustrated Western powers and officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

North Korea planning on nuke test


In a statement carried by KCNA news agency, the top military body said the "high-level nuclear test" and more long-range rocket launches were aimed at its "arch-enemy", the US.

The statement gave no time-frame for the test. North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009.

The move comes two days after a UN Security Council resolution condemned Pyongyang's recent rocket launch.

The Security Council also expanded sanctions against the communist country following its December launch, which was seen by the US and North Korea's neighbours as a banned test of long-range missile technology.

North Korea said the rocket put a satellite into space.

Panetta lifting combat ban on women in armed services

WASHINGTON — Pentagon chief Leon Panetta has lifted the military's ban on women serving in combat, a move that will allow women into hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs, a senior Defense official said Wednesday.

The move, which was recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overturns a 1994 rule banning women from such roles, said the Pentagon official speaking on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced publicly.

Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women. It comes after more than 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The official said the services will develop plans for allowing women to seek the combat positions. Some jobs may open as soon as this year. Assessments for others, such as special operations forces, including Navy SEALs and the Army's Delta Force, may take longer.

The official said the military chiefs must report back to Panetta with their initial implementation plans by May 15. The announcement on Panetta's decision is not expected until Thursday.

Panetta's move expands the Pentagon's action nearly a year ago to open about 14,500 combat positions to women, nearly all of them in the Army. This decision could open more than 230,000 jobs, many in Army and Marine infantry units, to women.

Sikorsky and Boeing teaming up to build the next gen combat helicopter?

Sikorsky and Boeing will once again team over a military rotorcraft project, this time the venture is the U.S. Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate’s (AATD) requirement for a Joint Multi-Role (JMR) technology demonstrator (TD), the forerunner to the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) requirement in the 2030s.
Signed on January 13, the agreement means that the companies will submit a joint proposal to the AATD for the JMR TD Phase 1. A contract would follow in autumn for a platform demonstrator that would be used to evaluate next generation technology.
There has been no statement whether the JMR would be based on any current helicopter manufactured by either Sikorsky or Boeing, although a Boeing representative said the expectation was that further details regarding the project would be revealed before the March 2013 deadline.
Phase 2 would begin in 2015 and that would take the project forward through the inclusion of the mission equipment package.
Should the Sikorsky Boeing team then be successful, the hope is that they would then be jointly responsible for the production of the FVL (medium) aircraft, which would replace the current Sikorsky Black Hawk and Boeing Apache fleets within Army Aviation (around 4,000 helicopters).
The two rotorcraft primes have teamed before, most notably on the ill-fated RAH-66 Comanche. Two RAH-66 prototypes were built and conducted flight testing from 1996 to 2004. Widely acknowledged as having made important steps forward during its development, despite the aircraft’s eventual cancellation due to considerable cost overruns it is feasible that both companies feel that aspects of their previous joint development project could be useful to the JMR. Both Sikorsky with its S-97 Raider development based on the X2 and Boeing with its advanced Apache E have cutting-edge technologies to bring to the party. This makes teaming in this economically challenging environment a logical step for both companies.
Chris Chadwick’s released statement on the announcement alluded to the shared history: “Our teaming agreement is the continuation of a long-standing relationship between Boeing and Sikorsky and reflects a common vision for the future of Army aviation.” He continued: “Our combined technical strengths and our collective program management expertise make this partnership an exciting development in meeting the Army’s JMR program objectives.”
Finally, the statement hinted that there could be more than one demonstrator aircraft developed for the 2017 deadline.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Russians begins massive war game

The Russian Navy has begun its biggest war games in the high seas in decades that will include manoeuvres off the shores of Syria.
More than two dozen ships drawn Russia’s all four fleets, as well as long-range warplanes, will conduct nine-day exercises in the Mediterranean and Black seas. It is the largest naval manoeuvres since the collapse of the Soviet Union, officials said.
The purpose of the war games is to improve coordination between different naval groups during missions in “far-away sea zones,” the Russian Defence Ministry said on Sunday.
Experts suggested the exercises will serve to project Russia’s naval power to a highly explosive region and render moral support for the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“This part of the world ocean has key geopolitical interest for Russia, considering that the Russian Navy has a maintenance and supply facility in Syria,” the Russian Navy General Staff said last month.
Russia leases a naval base at the Syrian port of Tartous.
The naval manoeuvres will involve training for landing operations on the Syrian shore, informed sources told Russia’s Interfax news agency. Several big landing ships taking part in the Russian war games carry marines, munitions, and “military hardware,” Interfax reported last week.
Moscow may also be preparing for possible evacuation of thousands of Russian nationals from war-torn Syria, experts said. About 9,000 Russians are registered with the Russian Embassy in Damascus, but their total number may well exceed 30,000. Thousands of Russian women have married Syrian men who studied at Russian universities and military academies in past decades.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Drone strikes to continue in Pakistan

By Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Karen DeYoung, Published: January 19

The Obama administration is nearing completion of a detailed counterterrorism manual that is designed to establish clear rules for targeted-killing operations but leaves open a major exemption for the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan, U.S. officials said.

The carve-out would allow the CIA to continue pounding al-Qaeda and Taliban targets for a year or more before the agency is forced to comply with more stringent rules spelled out in a classified document that officials have described as a counterterrorism “playbook.”

The document, which is expected to be submitted to President Obama for final approval within weeks, marks the culmination of a year-long effort by the White House to codify its counterterrorism policies and create a guide for lethal operations through Obama’s second term.

A senior U.S. official involved in drafting the document said that a few issues remain unresolved but described them as minor. The senior U.S. official said the playbook “will be done shortly.”

The adoption of a formal guide to targeted killing marks a significant — and to some uncomfortable — milestone: the institutionalization of a practice that would have seemed anathema to many before the Sept. 11 , 2001, terrorist attacks.

Among the subjects covered in the playbook are the process for adding names to kill lists, the legal principles that govern when U.S. citizens can be targeted overseas and the sequence of approvals required when the CIA or U.S. military conducts drone strikes outside war zones.

U.S. officials said the effort to draft the playbook was nearly derailed late last year by disagreements among the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon on the criteria for lethal strikes and other issues. Granting the CIA a temporary exemption for its Pakistan operations was described as a compromise that allowed officials to move forward with other parts of the playbook.

The decision to allow the CIA strikes to continue was driven in part by concern that the window for weakening al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan is beginning to close, with plans to pull most U.S. troops out of neighboring Afghanistan over the next two years. CIA drones are flown out of bases in Afghanistan.

“There’s a sense that you put the pedal to the metal now, especially given the impending” withdrawal, said a former U.S. official involved in discussions of the playbook. The CIA exception is expected to be in effect for “less than two years but more than one,” the former official said, although he noted that any decision to close the carve-out “will undoubtedly be predicated on facts on the ground.”

The former official and other current and former officials interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were talking about ongoing sensitive matters.

Obama’s national security team agreed to the CIA compromise late last month during a meeting of the “principals committee,” comprising top national security officials, that was led by White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, who has since been nominated to serve as CIA director.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Panetta speaks out on Algeria hostage crisis and Syrian chemical weapons

Jan. 17, 2013

The United States will take "all necessary and proper steps" needed to deal with the ongoing hostage situation in Algeria, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told ABC News' Martha Raddatz in an exclusive interview, although he cautioned that American officials fear the information coming out of the African country is "pretty sketchy."

Panetta also provided new details about Syria's mixing of chemical weapons in December and the clearest explanation yet of the Obama administration's red lines if the Assad regime uses the weapons against its own people.

Panetta was interviewed by Raddatz as he traveled to visit U.S. Army soldiers in Vicenza, Italy. The defense secretary is on a European trip that he has characterized as his final trip overseas while in his post.

Panetta described the hostage taking at the gas complex at In Amenas as a "terrorist act" undertaken by terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda.

The "United States takes that very seriously, when our citizens are put in jeopardy by terrorists," he said.

Panetta added that he is not certain that the motive of the attack was retaliation for the French military intervention in Mali, as the hostage takers have claimed.

"All I do know is that when you're dealing with affiliates of al Qaeda, that they're terrorists and they will do terrorist acts," he said. "And that's what they've done here.

"They have total disregard for innocent men and women and children," he added. "And it's reflected in what they just did here in Algeria."

Panetta made his comments prior to reports that the Algerian Army had launched a military strike targeting the hostage takers that resulted in an undetermined number of fatalities among both hostages and hostage takers.

Panetta told ABC News that as many as 100 hostages were being held at the facility at In Amenas and that there might be seven or eight Americans among them.

He said the U.S. government was looking at "all of the necessary steps that we need to take in order to deal with that situation."

One thing being looked at, he added, was how the U.S. can "bring our military assets to bear in order to deal with it and also basically talk with the other countries that are involved here. There are a number of other countries that are in the same situation with these individuals. How can we address that situation together?"

A U.S. official told ABC News that a Predator drone was providing surveillance over the Ain Amenas facility.

Syria Chemical Weapons Details

Panetta expressed the belief that Syria has not used chemical weapons against its citizens "as we would imagine chemical weapons being used in that kind of battle."

He added, "We have not seen intelligence that they have deliberately used this against their own people."

U.S. officials have consistently avoided confirming news reports that, in early December, U.S. intelligence determined that elements of the Syrian regime mixed precursors to sarin gas into bombs located near Syrian airfields. At the time, President Obama issued a strong warning to the Assad regime that it could face undetermined consequences should chemical weapons be used against the Syrian people.

At a news conference in December, Panetta said, "There will be consequences if the Assad regime makes a terrible mistake by using these chemical weapons on their own people."


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chinese fighters shadowing US military planes near Japan

US aircraft were shadowed by Chinese fighters in airspace near the border between China and Japan on Jan. 10, reports the Global Times, a nationalist Chinese tabloid.
A US Navy P-3C patrol plane based at Misawa Air Base and a US Air Force C-130 cargo plane based at Yokota Air Base were tailed by Chinese J-7 and J-10 fighters last week. When both American aircraft reached the air border between China and Japan on Jan. 10, Chinese fighters were scrambled to intercept them, according to Tokyo's Sankei Shimbun newspaper. The report said the PLA Air Force's move was an apparent overreaction to movement of aircraft taking off from Japanese bases.
On the same day, PLA fighters also appeared near the disputed Diaoyutai islands (Diaoyu in China or Senkaku in Japan). P-3C, EP-3 and OP-3 reconnaissance aircraft attached to Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force were dispatched to collect data on the Chinese aircraft. Two E-2C early warning aircraft were also deployed to prevent a direct confrontation between the PLA Air Force and Japan's Air Self-Defense Force.
On Jan. 11, China's defense ministry said that as Chinese aircraft were followed by two Japanese F-15J fighters first, the two PLA J-10 fighters were only sent as a response to observe Japanese jets close to Chinese airspace.
The Chinese foreign ministry claimed the fighters were only conducting routine patrols over the country's territory and denounced the decision made by Japanese to "escalate" the conflict over the islands in the East China Sea. Following Japan's move to nationalize several of the disputed islands in September, isolated but tense incidents between vessels and aircraft of the two nations have occurred regularly in the area.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A plea from Area 51

A veteran stealth hunter answers a plea from our favorite covert base.

By Steve Douglass

PLEASE NOTE: This article is in error but I have decided to keep it posted anyway. In my haste to answer a plea to protect a program from being buried in the black world forever, I didn't take the time to double check my sources. As a result there are major errors in the original story. Some of the info is valid. However, I have redacted the information that was not accurate. I will amend this report at a future date.

-Steve Douglass

On a moonless night a secret stealth aircraft took off from Area 51 for the last time. There was no covert spy mission planned for “the article.”

It didn’t fly over North Korea, Iran or even Pakistan. Instead it took a clandestine tour of America, soaring high over sleeping cities and placid farmland unheard and unnoticed, even by civil air traffic controllers, totally unaware a secret aircraft was winging its way through their controlled airspace.

Only a handful of people knew about the flight or about the aircraft’s existence for that matter. The mystery aircraft has been flying out of Area 51 and other forward bases since the early 90s and is still one of best kept-military aviation secrets because it’s a spy platform. 

No published photos exist with the only leaks being some military patches uncovered by author Trevor Paglin that only hint at what the aircraft might be. During the flight test phase of its life it was known only by a cryptic acronym XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX.

Those on the need to know list were aware of the flight and gathered at isolated military contractor facilities across the Southwest United States.

They stood out in the cold huddled together waiting for XXXXXX farewell flyby. Without fanfare it flies slowly past in review over a select cadre of those who built her.

Boldly, it makes two slow and passes over a facility located inside a major city but is only seen by those who were meant to. 

It’s not a huge risk because that’s what XXXXX was built to do, was to loiter and collect data -  invisibly.

There is muted applause among the anointed few, and “atta-boy” back-slaps and handshakes all around. Some even shed a tear for they know they will never see their ship again.

After the secret tour, XXXXX lands back at The Ranch and is the guest of honor at secret ceremony inside a closed hangar. The pilot is doused with cheap champagne and a handful of items that flew on this last flight are passed out among those very few who worked on or were instrumental in the program’s covert success.


Since the program, even in retirement is still highly-classified the blanks on the certificates will not be filled in. It will also not be signed, authenticated or notarized. It will be what it is – a love letter attached to a special plea from the black world.   

The final disposition of the aircraft remains to be seen. It will either be destroyed and buried in a shallow grave at Area 51, alongside other covert aircraft prototypes such as Have Blue (which led to the F-117 Nighthawk) or will be placed in “flyable storage” capable of being dusted off and called into action should certain national crisis’s arise.  

But more than likely it will be cut up for scrap.

XXXXX mission has now been passed on to unmanned drones which can do the job faster, better, cheaper and with little or no risk to human life due to unfriendly fire or malfunction.

Regretfully, secret hangar storage space is limited and at a premium, so in the end Pentagon bean counters will ultimately decide the fate of XXXXX

xxxx will be stripped, its secret and toxic stealth skin burned.Its standard instruments salvaged and unclassified usable parts put back into the military supply-chain with the airframe itself being crushed and buried.

It’s interesting to imagine the salvaged altimeter from the top secret XXXX ending up in an Air Force A-6 Texan II, it’s newbie pilot none the wiser his trainer has a direct connection to Area 51.  

And that’s what bugs the secret cadre of nameless technicians and pilots who toiled for so many years on the XXXX program. These dedicated few gave up many weekends with their families, sometimes spending months away on deployments living basically like vampires, shutters drawn during the day, flying only at night.

Since XXXXX is a SAP (Special Access Program) with any information about the program compartmentalized and classified as Top Secret, anyone remotely attached to the project had to be vetted thoroughly and sworn to secrecy under the penalties of life imprisonment or (in extreme cases such as one involving espionage) the threat of death. At the least, even hinting to their wives or family what they were working on could get them fired and thrown into a Federal prison.

That said, those who worked on XXXXX are extremely proud of the aircraft and its contribution to keeping their nation safe, and as a result feel it’s a “crying shame” that no one will ever know about it.

One source close to the project tells me, “Tacit Blue and the Bird of Prey – two other secret prototypes - made it to the Air Force Museum – and so should XXXX. It will be a sad day for all of us if it’s buried.”

XXXX and the majority of many secret programs developed at Area 51 and the breakthroughs in military aviation technology that came about through their development will for the most part disappear into the pit that is the Black World. Whole chunks of aviation history are at risk of being lost because they will remain classified well into the foreseeable future even though the technology they represent (that of the 80s and 90s) is considered obsolete and of no military value to an enemy.

The stealth genie has been out of the box for a long time now.” my source Tony tells me.

China is building their first stealth warplanes based on tech gleaned from crashed F-117s, stolen plans and deductive reasoning. Iran has helped them as has Pakistan.
Iran let the Chinese examine and take samples of the crashed RQ-170 Sentinel drone and Pakistan (still hurting from the embarrassment of the bin Laden raid) did the same with the remains of stealth Black Hawk that crashed outside of Abbottabad. Samples of the skin of an F-117 that went down in Bosnia in 1999 have been broken down and analyzed in detail. The Chinese are masters at reverse engineering – but you know what? We are still twenty years beyond them when it comes to low observable technology and advanced avionics systems. Modern much more than chemistry and shaping. We are well into our 7th generation of stealth. The Chinese are at step two.

Although the bulk of classified aviation work going on at Area 51 is of the unmanned variety, there are at least two manned aircraft projects still flying out of Groom Lake. One is a small scale prototype of the Long Range Strike Bomber. Another is a medium stealth bomber that fills the gaps between the B-2, B-1B and the venerable 1950s era B-52.

There is mixed information coming out of the black about the LRSB – some saying it’s unmanned and hypersonic, designed around an even more classified kinetic weapons system that can target and destroy deep buried nuclear facilities by tossing out at high altitude “rods from the gods” hardened depleted uranium slugs that tear through the earth like meteorites, obliterating the target without the nastiness of nuclear fallout.

A recently released study document titled US Air Force Hypersonic Science & Technology more than hints that the USAF is working on a Mach 5 bomber with an over the horizon hypersonic weapons kill capability to by operational by 2030.

The paper cites several very public hypersonic technology studies proving such a system is feasible such as NASP, X-51 Wave Rider, Blackswift and the High Fire series of tests, but sources out at Groom say this unclassified document is just window dressing for what they are hiding in the back room, or black room, a very close to operational hypersonic bomber.

“You know those booms that have been rattling windows of farm houses across the nation?” Tony says. “That’s us.”

The Pentagon wants a non-nuclear rapid reaction and rapid kill weapon to use on both North Korea and Iraq’s nuclear facilities and they want it yesterday.

“Don’t be surprised if you read on the internet that such and such facility in Whereverstan suddenly imploded on itself. We want the Earth to open up and swallow these sites and no one will know what happened.” Tony tells me.

I replied, “But won’t they know if I write about it?” 

He smiles smugly. “Maybe it’s operational and maybe it isn’t. Either way the goal is the same; they lose sleep, so we don’t.

The other manned program at Area 51 is a medium bomber that may be based on Northrop’s failed ATF contender, the YF-23 Black Widow, now designated the FB-24.

The FB-24 may already be in operational (albeit covert) service.

Search on the Internet and you’ll find that the FB-24 program was cancelled with the funding supposedly going to more UCAV development. But insiders say the FB-24 didn’t go away, it just went black.

Recently on a scouting trip to the White Sands Missile Range (including Holloman AFB) I photographed and monitored the communications of a flight of two aircraft launching just after dark that closely resembled published models and concept art released by Northrop Grumman.

On the UHF frequency code-named “MAGNUM” I monitored DRKULA flight working the Red Rio bombing range in the White Sands Missile Range for almost four hours. 

The mystery duo then refueled with a GASSR 18 on AR-623 High and then flew “Direct KLSV (Nellis Air Force Base) – and then “direct somewhere in the Nellis Bombing Range.” My educated guess 
is Area 51.

While refueling with GASSR 18 the boom operated inadvertently remarked on the UHF frequency of 319.500 MHz, “I’ve never seen this type before – what is it?”

The the pilot replied, “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.”

Unfortunately the photographs I took of the pair with a 300mm lens and at a very high ISO (3200) are grainy and not at all close to being glamour shots.

It was after all, after dark with just a hint of light at the western horizon. The shutter speed on my camera was slow – so to compensate I panned along with the aircraft while they sped by.

Although there is some motion blur some things are discernible, especially large flat angled twin vertical tail stabilizers much like those on the F-23.

The pair took off from Holloman almost silently until they passed, then the air was filled with a deep bass rumble, reminiscent of the sound of a B-1B Lancer, echoing of the mountains surrounding the White Sand Missile Range.

As I followed them with my telephoto lens I noticed that despite the sound there were no afterburners glowing, indicating possible super-cruise modified GE F-120FX engines such as those on the YF-23, powerful but with a low aspect infrared signature and capable of high-speed without becoming hot glowing “reheat missile magnets.”


I’m puzzled as I thumb through the digital images not quite knowing what I’m looking at. I was expecting images of something spectacular, maybe the mythical Aurora or even my personal unicorn, the TR-3A Black Manta, a mini-B-2 type aircraft I spotted in New Mexico in 1993.


“What is this from?” I ask.

XXXXXX looks around one more time to see if he is being observed.

Once satisfied he says, “That’s it. That’s all that’s left of Joint Test Vehicle DASH 2. Don’t let them destroy DASH ONE.”

Story (C) Steve Douglass 


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