Friday, March 29, 2013

What if DPRK topples? Wargamers posit :


March 29, 2013

North Korea's young leader Kim Jong Un today ordered his missile batteries to prepare to launch against U.S. and South Korea targets, the latest act of belligerence that has left the United States and the world on edge in recent weeks.

But despite Kim's menacing posture, the U.S. military recently wargamed a different scenario: how many American troops would be needed to go in and secure North Korea's nuclear arsenal if Kim's regime collapsed.

That was the objective this February when the U.S. military played out its Winter Wargame, that the autocratic rule of Kim Jong Un unraveled either from civil unrest or a challenge to his power and his arsenal of nukes was up for grabs. It's a scenario that some believe is more likely than a North Korea attack on the south.

"North Korea has relied on these time honored, very effective tools that dictators have wielded all over the world, and what we know about these tools is that they work until they don't," said Jennifer Lind, a Dartmouth professor who has studied potential missions to North Korea.

Recent years have seen the sudden collapse of dictatorial regimes in Libya and Egypt, and Syria is now in flames with control of its chemical weapons in doubt.

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"A regime collapse is always on the table, and we are in an uncertain period of leadership transition," said Rodger Baker, a geopolitical analyst from Stratfor Global Intelligence.

In a war game focusing on the fictitious country "North Brownland," military experts from the Army's forward-looking research arm, the Concept Development and Learning Directorate, assessed how many U.S. troops it would take to go into a North Korea-like place to secure the weapons after a crisis erupted, and how quickly those weapons could be secured.

According to Maj. Gen. Bill Hix, who oversaw the war game, American troops would have to enter the country by air and sea, locate nuclear material in enormous storehouses and unknown underground bunkers, and figure out how to wrest control of nuclear materials and stop reactors. The challenges, Hix said, are significant.

"We looked at this issue of countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, specifically nuclear weapons, and fissile material, and the data and the scientists associated with that kind of enterprise," Hix said.

Hix declined to discuss the game's conclusions, but he cited studies that determined that nearly 100,000 troops would be needed to storm the country and secure nuclear material, and that the armed forces are still in need of nuclear experts who could help with such a mission.

"There are obviously many people in the U.S. government or the U.S. who are experts in nuclear reactors or whatever, but not paid to work in a hostile environment where someone is trying to kill you while you are trying to render safe a reactor or fissile material," the general said.

Defense News, which first reported on the wargame, said it took U.S. troops 56 days to get into the country and secure the weapons.

Lind estimated that the mission would need up to 200,000 additional troops to carry out other aspects of stabilizing the country, including efforts to feed citizens, and locating and disarming conventional weapons and artillery.

Those levels would exceed the peak number of troops in Iraq, which was 165,000, and the peak for Afghanistan, which was 101,000.

"Can we get the job done? I think the answer is yes," Hix said. "Can we do it at the speed that may be 
required right now? I think we're challenged to do that."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

North Korea readies missiles after stealth flyby

By David Chance and Phil Stewart

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea put its missile units on standby on Friday to attack U.S. military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, after the United States flew two nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula in a rare show of force.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed off on the order at a midnight meeting of top generals and "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation", the official KCNA news agency said.

The North has an arsenal of Soviet-era short-range Scud missiles that can hit South Korea and have been proven, but its longer-range Nodong and Musudan missiles that could in theory hit U.S. Pacific bases are untested.

On Thursday, the United States flew two radar-evading B-2 Spirit bombers on practice runs over South Korea, responding to a series of North Korean threats. They flew from the United States and back in what appeared to be the first exercise of its kind, designed to show America's ability to conduct long-range, precision strikes "quickly and at will", the U.S. military said.

The news of Kim's response was unusually swift.

"He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets of the KPA (Korean People's Army), ordering them to be on standby for fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea," KCNA said.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported there had been additional troop and vehicle movements at the North's mid- and long-range missile sites, indicating they may be ready to fire.

"Sharply increased movements of vehicles and soldiers have been detected recently at North Korea's mid and long-range missile sites," Yonhap quoted a South Korean military source as saying.

It was impossible to verify the report which did not specify a time frame, although South Korea's Defense Ministry said on Friday that it was watching shorter-range Scud missile sites closes as well as Nodong and Musudan missile batteries.

The North has launched a daily barrage of threats since early this month when the United States and the South, allies in the 1950-53 Korean War, began routine military drills.

The South and the United States have said the drills are purely defensive in nature and that no incident has taken place in the decades they have been conducted in various forms.

The United States also flew B-52 bombers over South Korea earlier this week.

US Navy deploys USS Freedom to Pacific

A fast, maneuverable surface warrior, the Navy's first littoral combat ship USS Freedom has joined the 7th Fleet in the Pacific.

Its arrival coincides with further heavy rhetoric from North Korea. News agency KCNA carried the government’s message Wednesday that it had ordered artillery and rocket units into "combat posture" to prepare to target U.S. bases in the United States mainland, Hawaii and Guam.

On its maiden deployment, USS Freedom arrived in the U.S. 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR) on March 20 -- a zone that covers more than 48 million square miles, stretching west from the International Date Line to the western coast of India. At any given moment, about 100 ships and submarines are deployed there and assigned to 7th Fleet.

On March 15, the fleet marked the 70th anniversary of its maintaining security and stability in the region.

While North Korea is not thought to have ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, it is capable of striking U.S. bases in the region, including Guam, where Freedom will be visiting.

The ship will participate in some large scale training exercises in Southeast Asia, involving maritime security operations with regional partners.

North Korea, meanwhile, has been carrying out its own large-scale military exercises.

Surface and anti-submarine warfare ready
Designed and developed by Lockheed Martin, the littoral combat ship (coastal and shallow water areas are called “littoral”) is quick and agile, and loaded with mission packages that can be configured for surface warfare, countering sea mines and anti-submarine warfare.

Led by Cmdr. Timothy Wilke, Freedom will initially be manned by her crew of 91 sailors, who include mission package personnel and an aviation detachment to operate its MH-60 helicopter.

Freedom can provide critical access and dominance in coastal water battlespaces.

As designed, Freedom can operate with substantially fewer crew, requiring only 40 core sailors plus support crew for the aviation and mission packages.

Should a battle erupt, Freedom can act as a hub to tie together sea, air and land assets.

COMBATTS-21 Combat Systems
The ship’s battle management system, also produced by Lockheed Martin, provides a flexible, next-generation defense system that can be reconfigured for a specific threat in days.

COMBATSS-21 is a self-defense suite and integrates the radar, electro-optical infrared cameras, gunfire control system, countermeasures and short-range anti-air missiles, as well as a variety of missile and torpedo systems, naval guns and more.

Let's say the mission required weapons systems to defeat enemy subs. An anti-submarine package would include an MH-60 Romeo carrying an active dipping sonar, sonobuoys and heavy-weight torpedoes.

What if the enemy had littered the coastal waters with mines? Freedom’s countermeasures package can search twice as quickly as earlier systems. It requires only two operators and would include tech like the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle and Raytheon’s airborne SONAR mine countermeasure detection system, AQS-20A.

Remember the USS Cole incident where American lives were lost? Small boats continue to be an ongoing threat.

To protect the fleet from this sort of asymmetric warfare, Freedom’s tech could include the Gun Mission Module MK 50 MOD, a Non-Line of Sight Launch System Mission Module, a MH-60R helicopter and vertical takeoff drones.

Led by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, the team includes naval architect Gibbs & Cox and ship builder Marinette Marine Corporation

Read more:

USAF flies B-2s to Korean Peninsula in show of strength

The United States military made the rare announcement Thursday that it had flown two of its most advanced bombers in an "extended deterrence mission" all the way from Missouri to the Korean Peninsula, where they dropped inert dummy bombs, in a move clearly aimed at warning North Korea against further provocations.
A statement released by United States Forces Korea said the sortie by the two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers "demonstrates the United States' ability to conduct long range, precision strikes quickly and at will."
A senior defense official told CBS Radio News correspondent Cami McCormick the B-2 flights were, "intended to demonstrate very clearly the resolve of the United States to deter against aggression on the Korean Peninsula, and our strong commitment to the U.S. alliance with South Korea."
CBS News White House correspondent Major Garrett reports that the B-2 flights come amid rapidly increasing tension on the Korean Peninsula as new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ratcheted up the level of both his threatening rhetoric, and his hostile actions against South Korea, and the United States.
A Pentagon official told CBS News that, since March 8, the U.S. military has flown more traditional looking, non-stealth B-52 bombers over South Korea three times, but Thursday was the first run over the peninsula by B-2s.
Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel spoke Wednesday with the South Korean defense minister as part of an intensified effort by the Obama administration to coordinate reaction to the North's belligerence with South Korea and Japan.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Hurry Imperious Leader - destroy US before we run out of quarters!"

click to enlarge:

CIA director faces a quandary over clandestine service appointment

By Greg Miller and Julie Tate, Published: March 26

As John Brennan moved into the CIA director’s office this month, another high-level transition was taking place down the hall.

A week earlier, a woman had been placed in charge of the CIA’s clandestine service for the first time in the agency’s history. She is a veteran officer with broad support inside the agency. But she also helped run the CIA’s detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and signed off on the 2005 decision to destroy videotapes of prisoners being subjected to treatment critics have called torture.

The woman, who remains undercover and cannot be named, was put in the top position on an acting basis when the previous chief retired last month. The question of whether to give her the job permanently poses an early quandary for Brennan, who is already struggling to distance the agency from the decade-old controversies.

Brennan endured a bruising confirmation battle in part over his own role as a senior CIA official when the agency began using water-boarding and other harsh interrogation methods. As director, he is faced with assembling the CIA’s response to a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that documents ­abuses in the interrogation program and ­accuses the agency of misleading the White House and Congress over its effectiveness.

To help navigate the sensitive decision on the clandestine service chief, Brennan has taken the unusual step of assembling a group of three former CIA officials to evaluate the candidates. Brennan announced the move in a previously undisclosed notice sent to CIA employees last week, officials said.

“The director of the clandestine service has never been picked that way,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official.

The move has led to speculation that Brennan is seeking political cover for a decision made more difficult by the re-emergence of the interrogation controversy and the acting chief’s ties to that program.

She “is highly experienced, smart and capable,” and giving her the job permanently “would be a home run from a diversity standpoint,” the former senior U.S. intelligence official said. “But she was also heavily involved in the interrogation program at the beginning and for the first couple of years.”

The former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in discussing internal agency matters, said that Brennan “is obviously hesitating” at making the chief permanent.

CIA officials disputed that characterization. “Given the importance of the position of the director of the National Clandestine Service, Director Brennan has asked a few highly respected former senior agency officers to review the candidates he’s considering for the job,” said Preston Golson, a CIA spokesman.

The group’s members were identified as former senior officials John McLaughlin, Stephen Kappes and Mary Margaret Graham.

Golson said Brennan will make the decision but added that “asking former senior agency officers to review the candidates will undoubtedly aid the selection process by making sure the director has the benefit of the additional perspectives from these highly experienced and respected intelligence officers.”

North Korea - cut-off ready for war.

NYTIMES: SEOUL, South Korea —

North Korea cut off the last remaining military hotlines with South Korea on Wednesday, accusing President Park Geun-hye of South Korea of pursuing the same hard-line policy of her predecessor that the North blamed for a prolonged chill in inter-Korean relations.

Amid tensions over the North’s third nuclear test last month and ensuing United Nations sanctions, North Korea had already shut down Red Cross hotlines with South Korea and a communication line with the American military command in South Korea. But its decision to cut off military hotlines with South Korea on Wednesday was taken more seriously in Seoul because the two Koreas have used those four telephone lines to control daily cross-border traffic of workers and cargo travelling to the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

The two countries run a joint industrial park at Kaesong, the last standing symbol of inter-Korean cooperation that has survived the political tensions of recent years. Seoul officials said 887 South Korean workers were in Kaesong on Wednesday. The traffic was running normal on Wednesday, South Korean officials said, indicating that the North Korean military did not go so far as to stop cross-border economic exchanges.

“There do not exist any dialogue channel and communications means between the DPRK and the U.S. and between the North and the South,” said a North Korean statement sent to the South Korean military by telephone and later carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. “Not words but only arms will work on the U.S. and the South Korean puppet forces.”

DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

The North’s action came a day after its top military command ordered all its missile and artillery units to be on “the highest alert” and ready to strike the United States and South Korea. It also vowed to take “substantial military actions” to retaliate against joint U.S.-South Korean military drills, which involved American B-52 bomber sorties over South Korea.

North Korea had previously cut off communications lines with South Korea that are intended to prevent military clashes.

“Under the situation where a war may break out any moment, there is no need to keep North-South military communications,” Pyongyang said on Wednesday.

The North Korean action came shortly after President Park Geun-hye of South Korea stressed both firmness and reciprocity in North Korea policy.

“If North Korea provokes or does things that harm peace, we must make sure that it gets nothing but will pay the price, while if it keeps its promises, the South should do the same,” she said during a briefing from her government’s top diplomats and North Korea policy-makers. “Without rushing and in the same way we would lay one brick after another, we must develop South-North relations step by step, based on trust, and create sustainable peace.”

Her new unification minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, South Korea’s point person on North Korea, later told reporters that his government was willing to consider lifting trade embargoes imposed on the North following the deadly sinking of a South Korean navy ship in 2010 - but not before North Korea takes responsibility for the incident that killed 46 South Korean sailors.

Seoul blamed the incident on a North Korean torpedo attack, but Pyongyang insists that it had nothing to do with it.

“We keep our door open for dialogue,” Mr. Ryoo said.

But on Wednesday, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, the North Korean counterpart of Mr. Ryoo’s ministry, berated President Park for warning a day earlier that the Pyongyang regime can ensure its survival only when it stops building nuclear weapons while its people go hungry. “This time her remarks have gone beyond the line,” it said.

It said that Ms. Park’s recent comments were “utterly shocking” compared with her earlier indications that she would not maintain the hard-line policy of her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, whom she replaced on Feb. 25. “If she keeps to the road of confrontation like traitor Lee, defying the warnings of the DPRK, she will meet a miserable ruin,” it said.

Also Wednesday, the North's main ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said that its planned "substantial military actions" will include "pre-emtpive nuclear strikes" against the United States and South Korea.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

China buying Russian fighters and subs

China has agreed to buy two dozen fighter jets and four submarines from Russia, state media reported Monday, the country’s first large-scale weapons technology purchases from Moscow in a decade.

The agreement to buy the 24 Su-35 fighters and four Lada-class submarines was signed just before President Xi Jinping’s weekend visit to Russia, said the People’s Daily, the Communist Party organ, citing state television.

The report, which did not give a value for the purchases, said it was the first time in 10 years China had bought “large military technological equipment” from Russia.

The deal comes as Beijing expands its military reach — it commissioned its first aircraft carrier last year — and is embroiled in a bitter territorial row with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Two of the submarines will be built in Russia, with the other two to be built in China.

“The Su-35 fighters can effectively reduce pressure on China’s air defence before Chinese-made stealth fighters come online,” the report said.

China and Russia are expected to co-operate further in developing military technology, the report said, including that for S-400 long-range anti-aircraft missiles, 117S large thrust engines, IL-476 large transport aircraft and IL-78 aerial tankers.

China’s defence ministry had no immediate comment on the report.

Read more:

US sentences Chinese national to prison for illegally exporting military trade secrets.

Liu Sixing, who formerly worked in US company L-3 Communications, was accused of taking information on US missile, rocket and drone technology to China.

He was convicted of exporting military information, possessing stolen trade secrets, and lying to the authorities.

Liu says he did not break the law, or intend to pass secrets to China.

Liu Sixing, who was also known as Steve Liu, worked in L-3 Communications' space and navigation unit in New Jersey from 2009-2010 as a senior engineer.

Prosecutors say he stole thousands of computer files in 2010, and took them to China on his personal computer, where he gave presentations about the technology he was working on to universities and conferences linked to the Chinese government.

Prosecutors say he transported the files, which included information on the performance and design of guidance systems for missiles, rockets and unmanned drones, in the hope that it would help him gain future employment in China.

Federal agents say they discovered the computer when Liu returned to Newark Liberty International Airport in November 2010. Liu was convicted in September 2012.

Technical military data covered by US export regulations cannot be taken out of the country without a license.

"Instead of the accolades he sought from China, Sixing Liu today received the appropriate reward for his threat to our national security: 70 months in prison," prosecutor Paul Fishman said.

Liu's lawyer, James Tunick, said that Liu had made "a terrible mistake" by having the files on his computer and taking them to China, but that "it didn't rise to the level of a criminal act."

"He never intended to harm anyone," he said.

Muster or Bluster? North Korea "on highest alert!"

NYTIMES: SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s military said it put all its missile and artillery units on “the highest alert” on Tuesday, ordering them to be ready to hit South Korea, as well as the United States and its military installations in Hawaii and Guam.

The threat from the North’s Korean People’s Army Supreme Command came only hours after President Park Geun-hye of South Korea warned that the North Korean leadership could ensure its survival only when it abandons its nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, provocations and threats.

North Korea said on Tuesday that all of its strategic rocket and long-range artillery units “are assigned to strike bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor troops in the U.S. mainland and on Hawaii and Guam and other operational zones in the Pacific as well as all the enemy targets in South Korea and its vicinity.”

“They should be mindful that everything will be reduced to ashes and flames the moment the first attack is unleashed,” the North Korean command said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen after North Korea’s launching of a three-stage rocket in December and its third nuclear test last month. In response, Washington and Seoul pushed for a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing more sanctions on North Korea and this month began their annual joint military drills intended to warn North Korea against attacking the South.

North Korea has since issued a torrent of threats to turn Washington and Seoul into a “sea of fire.” Its leader, Kim Jong-un, who has inherited the "military first" policy of his late father, Kim Jong-il, has made a round of visits to military units in the last week. He inspected live-fire artillery and amphibious landing exercises, ordering his soldiers to send the enemies “to the bottom of the sea as they run wild like wolves threatened with fire,” according to North Korean media.

In South Korea, Ms. Park, the first woman to serve as the country’s president, showed her own resolve on Tuesday, visiting a national cemetery to pay respect to the 46 sailors who were killed in 2010 when a South Korean navy corvette sank in an explosion that the South said was caused by a North Korean torpedo attack.

“I strongly urge North Korea to change,” Ms. Park said in a nationally televised speech observing the three-year anniversary of the episode. “North Korea must immediately abandon its thought that nuclear weapons will protect its regime.”

Although North Korea denied responsibility for the sinking and some South Koreans questioned the credibility of their government's investigation, which assigned blame on the North, the episode has become for many South Koreans an emotional symbol of North Korean hostility. On Monday, the South's conservative daily Chosun Ilbo cited unnamed government officials as saying that if North Korea launched a provocation like the Cheonan sinking, the South Korean military would retaliate by launching missiles at gigantic statues of Mr. Kim's grandfather and father, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, which are objects of worship in the North.

The South Korean Defense Ministry would not comment on the report, but vowed a “thousandfold, ten-thousandfold retaliation” against a Cheonan-like provocation from the North.

Calling the monuments “symbols of the dignity of the supreme leadership” of North Korea, the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, an agency in charge of relations with Seoul, said on Tuesday that the North would “destroy the den of confrontation, including Chongwadae, hotbed of all evils.” Chongwadae, or “the Blue House,” is the South Korean presidential office.

North Korea warned that Ms. Park should not repeat the “treacherous acts” of her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, whose hard-line policy, coupled with North Korean provocations, resulted in a prolonged chill on the peninsula.

Many South Koreans fear that North Korea might attempt localized military attacks on the South to try to raise tensions and force Washington and Seoul to return to the negotiating table with concessions.

On Tuesday, three Internet sites run by North Korean defectors and anti-Pyongyang activists reported hacking attacks that disrupted or paralyzed their operations. These Web sites, including Daily NK, often carry articles criticizing the North Korean leadership.

The attacks came just a week after synchronized virus attacks paralyzed the computer networks of three broadcasters and three banks in South Korea. Officials here were investigating the possibility of North Korean involvement. Separately, they said they were also investigating what caused temporary disruptions in Internet access for seven provincial governments on Tuesday. South Korea and the United States say that North Korea has trained hackers for cyberwarfare.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Holloman F-22 damaged during live fire mission at WSMR

Holloman AFB, New Mexico:

An F-22 declared an in-flight emergency due to a weapons malfunction on the White Sands Missile Range today at approximately 5:30 MDT.

Sources on the scene report "BOOMER 1" radioed Holloman AFB tower declaring an IFE and that the $142 million stealth aircraft had sustained physical damage due to a "weapons malfunction."

 Fire and EOD equipment met the aircraft which landed without incident.

Minutes later a 2nd F-22 also declared an emergency (reason unknown) but also landed without incident. 

'Holloman AFB is host to the 7th Fighter Squadron (F-22s) that was originally scheduled to be moved to Tyndall, AFB Florida.

 However  the corresponding transfer of F-16 Fighting Falcons from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. to Holloman will be delayed due to an ongoing freeze on Air Force structure changes, including aircraft transfers.

Kim Jong-un supervises drone attack exercise

REUTERS: North Korea has stepped up its military exercises in response to what it regards as "hostile" joint drills by South Korea and the United States after Pyongyang was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council for a nuclear test in February.

It is not known if North Korea possesses drones, although a report on South Korea's Yonhap news agency last year said that it had obtained 1970s-era U.S. target drones from Syria to develop into attack drones.

"The (drone) planes were assigned the flight route and time with the targets in South Korea in mind, Kim Jong-un said, adding with great satisfaction that they were proved to be able to mount (a) super-precision attack on any enemy targets," KCNA reported.

It is extremely rare for KCNA to specify the day on which Kim attended a drill. It also said that a rocket defense unit had successfully shot down a target that mimicked an "enemy" Tomahawk cruise missile.

North Korea has said it has abrogated an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and threatened a nuclear attack on the United States.

Although North Korea currently lacks the technology to carry out such an attack, the U.S. said it would deploy anti-missile batteries in Alaska to counter any threat.

The KCNA report said that Kim, 30, the third of his line to rule North Korea, would give orders to destroy military installations in any war zone and also U.S. bases in the Pacific if the North was attacked.

North Korea's missiles have the capacity to hit bases in Japan and on the island of Guam.

Earlier in the day, KCNA denounced U.S. moves that it said were aimed at staging a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" on North Korea, citing the deployment of a U.S. B-52 bomber over the Korean peninsula as well as what it said were nuclear-armed submarines.

The U.S. and South Korea say their drills are defensive.

Tensions have mounted on the Korean peninsula since North Korea staged its first successful long-range rocket launch in December. It followed this up with its third nuclear weapons test in February.

Pyongyang is barred from developing missile and nuclear-related technology under U.N. sanctions imposed after previous nuclear tests.

Earlier on Wednesday, China's new leader, Xi Jinping, said he would offer to promote "reconciliation and cooperation" on the Korean peninsula.

Most military experts say that the North will likely not launch an all-out war against South Korea and its U.S. ally due to its outdated weaponry.

Pyongyang is viewed as more likely to stage an attack along a disputed sea border between the two countries as it did in 2010 when it shelled a South Korean island, killing four people.

Such a move would provide a major test for new South Korean President Park Geun-hye who took office pledging closer ties with the North if it abandoned its nuclear push.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Did Syria use chemical weapons in Aleppo? White House says no.

FOXNEWS/AP : A least 26 people were killed by a rocket blast in the Syrian city of Aleppo, according to a human rights group, while both the Assad regime and rebels are pointing fingers at each other for the attack.

Both sides say chemical weapons were used, but the claims are being disputed.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said there is no evidence that Syrian rebels used chemical weapons. And the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international anti-chemical weapons body, said it had no independent confirmation, either.

Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters that 16 Syrian Army soldiers were killed in the explosion, and 10 others died in a local hospital. He did not elaborate whether they were soldiers or civilians.

Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi said the rocket, fired from Nairab district in Aleppo into Khan al-Assal village on Tuesday, contained "poisonous gases."

A Reuters photographer who had visited Aleppo hospitals said patients were suffering from breathing problems, and the air had a strong smell of chlorine.

Al-Zoubi claims the attack was the "first act" of the new Syrian opposition interim government announced in Istanbul, and said 86 people were wounded. He spoke to the pro-government Al-Ikhbariya TV station. Syria's state-run news agency, SANA, later said 25 were dead. SANA published pictures showing casualties, including children, on stretchers in what appears to be a hospital ward. None showed signs of physical injuries

The foreign ministry of Russia -- who has been the main ally of President Bashar Assad's regime since the start of the uprising -- backed the government's statements, saying rebels were the ones who used chemical weapons.

The ministry said the attack represented an "extremely dangerous" development in the two-year Syrian crisis. It said the rebels detonated a munition containing an unidentified chemical agent early Tuesday in the province of Aleppo, but didn't give further details.

However, Syrian rebels have denied the accusations and said regime forces were behind the attack.

"Fighting was raging in Khan al-Assal this morning and the regime's army hit the town with a long-range missile equipped with a chemical warhead," Louay al-Meqdad, a coordinator for the Free Syrian Army, told Reuters. "It also hit the area with conventional weapons from the air and with artillery.''

The regime has not said that rebels have been able to seize any chemical weapons, "so we assume that the opposition does not possess such weapons," said Mustafa Alani, an analyst with the Gulf Research center in Geneva.

"I would not rule out that the military would use chemical weapons and try to pin it on the rebels," Alani said.

Britain said use or proliferation of chemical weapons in Syria should warrant a serious response from the international community, Reuters reports.

In 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama said during an Aug. 20 press briefing that chemical weapons activity in Syria would be a "red line."

"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized," he said.

Carney added on Tuesday that Obama was clear with his comments and " if Assad and those under his command make the mistake of using chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligations to secure them, then there will be consequences and they will be held accountable."

One of the international community's top concerns since fighting began is that Syria's vast arsenal of chemical weapons could be used by one side or the other or could fall into the hands of foreign jihadist fighters among the rebels or the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is allied with the regime.

Syria's policy has been not to confirm or deny if it has chemical weapons. But in July, then-Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a news conference that Syria would only use chemical or biological weapons in case of foreign attack, not against its own people.

The ministry then tried to blur the issue, saying it had never acknowledged having such weapons.

The Assad regime is believed to possess nerve agents, as well as mustard gas. It also possesses Scud missiles capable of delivering them, and some activists said Tuesday's attack was with a Scud missile.

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition's newly elected interim prime minister has ruled out dialogue with Assad's regime.

In a speech in Istanbul following his election Tuesday, Ghassan Hitto says "there is no place" for dialogue with Assad.

He also said all members of the regime who have committed crimes will be tried.

Hitto added that the interim government will be headquartered in rebel-held territories in northern Syria and urged international recognition.

At least 70,000 have died in Syria since the uprising against Assad began.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read more:

B-52s practice to pound North Korea

United States B-52 bombers carried out simulated nuclear bombing raids on North Korea as part of ongoing U.S.-South Korean military exercises, Pentagon officials said on Monday.

Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters that B-52 bombers from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, conducted a training mission over South Korea March 8 during war games known as Exercise Foal Eagle.

“It’s not any secret that we are in the midst of sending a very strong signal that we have a firm commitment to the alliance with our South Korean allies,” Little said.

Deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter said during a visit to South Korea on Monday that the bomber flights are part of the U.S. “extended deterrence”—the use of U.S. nuclear forces to deter North Korea, which conducted its third underground nuclear test Feb. 12.

“I should note the presence of strategic bombers taking place in flight training in the Korea peninsula area in particular, for example, but this is routine. There will be a B-52 flight tomorrow,” Carter said in Seoul.

The bomber flights are part of increased training efforts that seek to show U.S. resolve in protecting South Korea, Little said.

The B-52 flights are part of the U.S. Pacific Command program called Continuous Bomber Presence.

Little said the Guam base has been used since 2004 for strategic bomber rotational deployments. “The B-52 Stratofortress can perform a variety of missions including carrying precision-guided conventional or nuclear ordnance,” Little said. “We will continue to fly these training missions as part of our ongoing actions to enhance our strategic posture in the Asia-Pacific region.”

It is unusual for the Pentagon to make such overt statements about the use of strategic nuclear forces in Asia Pacific.

The Foal Eagle maneuvers will highlight both nuclear and conventional capabilities of the B-52s, Little said, adding that the flights were routine.

“Despite challenges with fiscal constraints, training opportunities remain important to ensure U.S. and [South Korean] forces are battle-ready and trained to employ airpower to deter aggression, defend South Korea, and defeat any attack against the alliance,” he said.

The U.S. military until the early 1990s stored nuclear bombs and missiles in Guam but moved the bombs and missiles to the continental United States.

Two Russian strategic nuclear bombers identified as Tu-95 Bear Hs, were recently intercepted as they circled Guam in what analysts say was saber-rattling on the part of the Russians, who several years ago set up an anti-U.S. alliance with China called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that includes several Asian and Southwest Asia states.

South Korean news reports last week also stated that U.S. nuclear missile submarines would remain near South Korean waters to provide another sign of U.S. nuclear deterrence.

The combined nuclear and conventional forces exercises began in early March as part of maneuvers called Key Resolve that involved around 13,000 U.S. and South Korean troops. A second round of exercises known as Foal Eagle will extend through the end of April.

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Marines killed in Nevada mortar explosion

By Jim Miklaszewski and Erin McClam, NBC News

Six U.S. Marines were killed and at least eight wounded when a mortar exploded during a live-fire training exercise overnight at an Army munitions depot in the Nevada desert, military officials told NBC News.

There were conflicting reports about what happened. According to one account, a 60-millimeter mortar shell exploded in a tube as Marines were preparing to fire it. Another account said that the shell exploded as Marines were picking it up to load it.

The accident happened at Hawthorne Army Depot, a 147,000-acre ammunition storage and training facility just east of the California line.

Four Marines were killed instantly, military officials told NBC News. The two others died while waiting to be flown to the hospital.

The injured were taken to two hospitals. Stacy Kendall, a spokeswoman for Renown Regional Medical Center, a trauma center about 100 miles away in Reno, said that it was treating eight people, three in serious condition and five in fair condition. She said that the injuries included traumas and fractures.

The depot’s website says it is a training facility for Special Operations forces preparing to deploy to the Middle East.

Friday, March 15, 2013

US deploying missile interceptors to counter North Korean threats

THE GUARDIAN: A week after Pyongyang threatened to launch a pre-emptive strike nuclear strike on Washington, the Pentagon said it was increasing its fleet of interceptor missiles by nearly 50 per cent.

Chuck Hagel, the newly-appointed US secretary of defence, said that an additional 14 interceptors would be deployed to Alaska by the end of 2017, raising the overall total to 44 missiles stationed along the West coast.
"The United States has missile defence systems in place to protect us from limited intercontinental ballistic missile attacks, but North Korea in particular has recently made advances in its capabilities and is engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations," Mr Hagel said.

While North Korea is thought to be at least several years away from developing a capability to strike the US, Mr Hagel said the Obama administration was determined to stay "ahead of the threat".

"Whatever their timelines are [the US must be sure] we're not reacting to those timelines and are ahead of any potential threat," he said.

Barry Pavel, a former senior director for defence policy at the White House's National Security Council, said that US seeks to maintain a ratio of two interceptors for every potential incoming missile. By that formula, the expanded defence system would be able to intercept up to 22 missiles.

However, Mr Pavel said that the Pentagon's announcement was pre-emptive and did not reflect the isolated communist dictatorship's current strength.

"They have a lot of technical efforts still ahead and I don't expect them to be capable any time soon but perhaps within the next five years? It's possible," Mr Pavel told The Daily Telegraph.

The ground-based interceptors have often proved inaccurate during testing but Mr Hagel insisted yesterday "we have confidence in our system".

Last week, the North Korean foreign ministry threatened "pre-emptive nuclear strikes on the headquarters of the aggressors" after the UN voted to begin new sanctions in response to a nuclear test the country conducted in February.

The test, the country's third, drew international condemnation, including anger from China, North Korea's only major ally. In December, North Korea pressed ahead with a long-range rocket test in defiance of a UN ban.

Mr Hagel also announced the US would deploy a new radar system in Japan that would give "improved early warning and tracking of any missile launched from North Korea at the United States or Japan".

He said that sending additional resources to the Pacific would not impact plans to cover all of Europe under a Nato missile shield by 2018.

"Let me emphasise the strong and continued commitment of the United States to Nato missile defence. That commitment remains ironclad," Mr Hagel said during a briefing at the Pentagon.

The US military is currently undertaking studies as it decides whether to deploy an additional interceptor site, possibly on the Atlantic coast to counter any future threat from Iran.

"While the administration has not made any decision on whether to proceed with an additional site, conducting environmental impact studies will shorten the timeline for construction should that decision be made," Mr Hagel said.

The new Pacific interceptors are expected to cost around $200 million (£132 million) and are being deployed at a time of significant cutbacks at the Pentagon.

Under the terms of "the sequester" – a series of sweeping spending cuts that began this month – the department of defence faces $454 billion in cuts over the next decade.

Mr Hagel said the new missile deployments were designed to "counter future missile threats from Iran and North Korea, while maximising scarce taxpayer resources".

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Benghazi attack suspect detained in Libya

(CNN) -- A man suspected of involvement in the September attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi is being held in Libya, according to two sources who have spoken with CNN.

Both sources confirmed the man's name as Faraj al-Shibli (also spelled Chalabi). One of the sources, who has been briefed on the arrest by Western intelligence officials, said al-Shibli was detained within the past two days and had recently returned from a trip to Pakistan.

It is not known whether he has been charged with any offense related to the attack in Benghazi on September 11, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.

Phone call links Benghazi attack to al Qaeda commander

Al-Shibli comes from a town called Sidi Armouma al-Marj, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Benghazi. He was a member of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group, a militant organization that tried to overthrow the Gadhafi regime in the mid-1990s.

In 2004, the Libyan government reported al-Shibli to the United Nations as on its "wanted" list and issued an Interpol "Red Notice" seeking his arrest.

Monday, March 11, 2013

EA-6B Prowler Crashes - 3 Killed

ODESSA, Wash. -

A Whidbey Island-based EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft has gone down in Lincoln County and officials believe all three personnel on board were killed in the crash.

The Prowler reportedly went down just after 9 a.m., near Coffee Pot Lake Road and Duck Lake Lamona Road west of Harrington and northeast of Odessa, according to Scott McGowan, fire chief for Lincoln County Fire District No. 6.

HaLee Walter lives near the scene where the aircraft went down and said she heard what she described as a sonic boom and then her whole house shook.

"My kids and my dog ran upstairs, and then I had gone outside and I could hear another a military aircraft because they fly all the time down here and they're very loud and we're used to them, and I could hear the aircraft and I'm like 'Oh you know maybe it was just a sonic boom,'" she said.
I called my husband and I'm like 'Did you just feel that? Did you hear that?' and he's like yeah, he's like 'I think an airplane just went down, I just saw a huge plume of smoke north of the house.'"

"I went outside and of course I could see the smoke and then I took my son and we drove other there because it didn't look like it was very far from our house, and the ambulance and police and fire trucks were all there and [the] plane had gone down and there was still another military aircraft circling," she added.

A crew from the National Transportation Safety Board is heading to the scene and should be there around 11 a.m.

Whidbey Island NAS is home to the U.S. Navy's tactical electronic warfare squadrons, which fly the EA-6B Prowler and the EA-18G Growler. The Growler is based on the F/A-18 Hornet fighter attack aircraft and carries a two-person crew. The Growler is being phased into service to replace the Prowler, which carries a four-person crew.

Navy aircrews fly across Eastern Washington for training exercises, according to Kim Martin, a public information officer for Whidbey Island, who confirmed an overflight of two pair of Growlers over the Spokane area in September 2011.

"It was a routine training session. That's a designated military training route part of their flight training curriculum," Martin said in 2011.

In addition to being home to the Navy's electronic warfare squadrons, the Navy's Electronic Attack Weapons School is based at Whidbey Island NAS. The school trains aircrews in the tactical operations of the Navy's Prowlers and Growlers.

The last mishap involving an EA-6B Prowler in our area was in March 2006, when a Prowler with VAQ-135 "Black Ravens" went down during a training exercise in a remote area of Umatilla County in northeastern Oregon. All four crewmen aboard the aircraft ejected safely.

The Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler is based on the A-6 Intruder platform and was first introduced into the fleet in 1970. While they have served in combat in conflicts ranging from Vietnam to Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan, none have ever been lost in combat.

Insider attack kills 2 members of the U.S. Special Operations forces and five Afghan troops

By Kevin Sieff, Updated: Monday, March 11, 12:04 PM

KABUL — An Afghan police officer opened fire Monday on a gathering of Americans and Afghans in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least two members of the U.S. Special Operations forces and five Afghan troops and police officers, officials said.

The assault, one of the deadliest so-called “insider attacks” this year, occurred in Wardak province during a meeting between U.S. and Afghan troops ahead of a joint mission, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.

The attacker seized a machine gun in the back of a police pickup truck and opened fire on the U.S. and Afghan forces in a police compound, according to a senior Afghan military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the incident. It was unclear whether the gunman was a Taliban recruit or acting out of personal enmity. The attacker was reported killed in the ensuing firefight.

In addition to the men killed, about a dozen U.S. and Afghan troops were injured, including the district police chief, officials said.

The attack came a day after a tense President Hamid Karzai accused the American military of colluding with the Taliban to justify a continued U.S. presence in the country. Karzai’s comment that “the Taliban are serving the foreigners” complicated an already tense weekend visit from U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, whose trip was marred by the Afghan president’s decision to call off a key prison handover from U.S. to Afghan forces and the cancellation of a joint news conference. The news conference was called off at U.S. insistence — ostensibly due to security concerns.

Monday’s attack could further threaten the fragile relationship between the two nations. U.S. officials have long advocated the small-footprint approach exemplified by teams of Special Operations forces as a way forward during the American military withdrawal, but Karzai has been critical of those teams, particularly in Wardak.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Chinese space debris clobbers Russian satellite

CNN: A piece of space debris left over from a 2007 Chinese missile test collided with a Russian satellite earlier this year, rendering the satellite unusable, a researcher said Saturday.

The collision appears to have happened January 22. That's when it's thought a piece of the Feng Yun 1C weather satellite, which was destroyed in the 2007 missile test, accidentally hit the Russian satellite, said T.S. Kelso, a senior research astrodynamicist at the Center for Space Standards & Innovation.

The collision changed the orientation and orbit of the Russian satellite, which was being used in scientific experiments, Kelso said. It may have also damaged it.

"There has been a piece of debris catalogued by U.S. Strategic Command as a result of that collision," Kelso said. "That would suggest that at least a part of the satellite broke off because of the collision."

It was February 4 when two scientists with the Institute for Precision Instrument Engineering in Moscow noticed a change in the orbit of the satellite, known as BLITS, Kelso said.

The scientists estimated the change happened January 22. They contacted Kelso because CSSI operates a service that looks for close satellite approaches, he said.

CSSI looked for objects that may have had a nearby approach with the BLITS satellite around the time of the collision. The Chinese debris was the only object they found.

Although the predicted distance between the debris and the satellite seemed to preclude a collision, the fact that the close approach happened within 10 seconds of the change in orbit made the Feng Yun 1C debris the likely culprit, Kelso wrote in a blog post.

CSSI is now working with the Russian scientists to find out more about the collision.

BLITS is a small glass sphere that reflected laser beams for research. Because of the collision, the satellite now faces the wrong way and can't be used, Kelso said.

The collision also sped up the satellite's spin period from 5.6 seconds to 2.1 seconds, Kelso said.

China launched the Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite in 1999. It was destroyed in 2007 when China targeted it for a test of a ground-based, medium-range ballistic missile.

U.S. tracking sensors determined the missile collision created hundreds of pieces of space debris, according to a U.S. official at the time. The test prompted formal protests from the United States and several U.S. allies including Canada and Australia.

The problem of collisions involving space debris is not a new one.

"Collisions happen all the time, everywhere. Big collisions -- now those are the rare ones," said space debris expert William Schonberg, chairman of the Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering Department at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

The last major space debris collision was in 2009 between Iridium 33, an operational U.S. communications satellite, and Cosmos 2251, a decommissioned Russian satellite, Kelso said.

Scientists know of only a handful of such collisions, but that's only because they happened with objects that were being monitored. Kelso and Schonberg say it's likely there are other "junk to junk" collisions involving unmonitored objects that no one knows about.

In the case of the Russian satellite in January, "it would have been very difficult to tell there had been a collision if it hadn't been for the fact that somebody was operating the satellite and noticed a collision," said Kelso.

Experts and leading government agencies have been working on the space junk problem for decades, but it's a tricky one to solve, Schonberg told CNN.

Trying to catch or deflect debris runs the risk of making the problem worse, he said. The debris could shatter into more pieces or change orbit and be on a collision course with something else.

Some soft-impact lasers can nudge objects into a calculated orbit toward Earth so they will be pulled down and burn up in the atmosphere, Schonberg said. But scientists must make sure that happens over an ocean to minimize danger to people.

"Our technology has not caught up with our desire to clean up our mess" in space, Schonberg said.

"If nothing else," said Kelso, this collision "was a bit of a reminder that it will likely happen again, and maybe we should get back to work trying to figure out what to do about it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

North Korea you suck at propaganda films!

 This one is much more interesting:

North Korea calls on troops to be ready to "annihilate the enemy."

THE TELEGRAPH China has "expressed concern" over the current situation on the Korean peninsula which is "highly complex and sensitive", said a Foreign ministry spokesman.

Meanwhile, China's state media trilled its support for Beijing's decision to vote for UN sanctions against North Korea and called for them to be tightly enforced.

"We believe the resolution is a balanced one," said the Foreign ministry spokesman. "China is objective and fair on this matter and has played a constructive role throughout the discussion at the Security Council."

But the Global Times reminded the outside world that Beijing is "caught in the middle" trying to placate both Pyongyang and Washington.

The newspaper quoted Yu Shaohua, an analyst at a Foreign ministry think tank, who called for the international community to "leave some leeway for negotiations" with Kim Jong-un.

Earlier, Kim Jong-un visited North Korean troops on the border with the South and called on them to be ready "to annihilate the enemy," the latest broadside in an increasingly bitter war of words with Seoul and Washington.

Kim was addressing troops dug into coastal positions facing Yeonpyeong island, which North Korean artillery shelled in 2010, killing four people and injuring 19.

Pictured with binoculars, Kim "stressed the need for the soldiers to keep themselves fully ready to go into action to annihilate the enemy any time an order is issued and instructed them to deal deadly blows at the enemies and blow up their positions," North Korean state media reported Friday.

Kim's comments come after the United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on Pyongyang for carrying out a third nuclear test in February.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

bin Laden spokesman arrested - to stand trial in U.S.

BBC: A man described as a spokesman for Osama Bin Laden has been arrested and will be tried in New York City, the US has confirmed.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was captured within the last week in Jordan, Congressman Peter King said on Thursday.
Mr Abu Ghaith is Bin Laden's son-in-law and played a role in plotting the attacks of 9/11, US officials said.
Bin Laden was killed in a May 2011 raid on his hideout in Pakistan by a team of US commandos.
Mr Abu Ghaith is scheduled to appear in a federal court on Friday on charges of conspiracy to kill United States nationals.
"Sulaiman Abu Ghaith held a key position in al-Qaeda, comparable to the consigliere in a mob family or propaganda minister in a totalitarian regime," said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos in a statement.
"He used his position to threaten the United States and incite its enemies."
'One by one'
A teacher and mosque preacher in Kuwait, Mr Abu Ghaith was stripped of his Kuwaiti citizenship after 9/11.
Justice department officials say Mr Abu Ghaith served alongside Bin Laden from May 2001 to 2002, speaking on behalf of al-Qaeda and warning that attacks similar to 9/11 would continue.
Specifically, on 12 September 2001, he appeared with Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri to warn the US that a "great army is gathering against you" and called upon "the nation of Islam" to do battle against "the Jews, the Christians and the Americans," according to court records.
He was reportedly smuggled to Iran sometime in 2002.
A Jordanian security official told the Associated Press that Mr Abu Ghaith was handed over last week to US officials under both countries' extradition treaties.
Mr King called the arrest a "very significant victory" in the fight against al-Qaeda.
"One by one, we are getting the top echelons of al-Qaeda," the Republican congressman said. "I give the administration credit for this. It's steady and it's unrelenting and it's very successful."
Mr Abu Ghaith's trial will mark one of the first prosecutions of senior al-Qaeda leaders on US soil.
Since 9/11, 67 foreign terror suspects have been convicted in US federal courts, according to data obtained by the group Human Rights First.

Breaking: PACAF forces on alert- N Korea breaking pact

BBC: North Korea says it is scrapping all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, closing its hotline with Seoul and closing the crossing point between the two countries.
The announcement follows a fresh round of UN sanctions against Pyongyang over its controversial nuclear programme.
The UN resolution was in response to the North's nuclear test last month.
Earlier, Pyongyang vowed to use its right to a pre-emptive nuclear strike against its "aggressors".
The announcement, carried on North Korea's state news agency, says the North is cancelling all non-aggression pacts with the South and closing the main Panmunjom border crossing inside the Demilitarized Zone.
It said it was notifying the South that it was "immediately" cutting off the North-South hotline.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is also reported to have visited front-line military units that were involved in the 2010 shelling of a South Korean island.
He is said to have urged the soldiers there to keep themselves ready to "annihilate the enemy" at any time, and reconfirmed so-called "enemy targets" on five islands in the West Sea.
Earlier, the UN Security Council unanimously backed Resolution 2094, imposing the fourth set of sanctions against the North.
The resolution targets North Korean diplomats, cash transfers and access to luxury goods.
It imposes asset freezes and travel bans on three individuals and two firms linked to North Korea's military.
Speaking after the vote, US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the document "strongly condemns" Pyongyang's actions.
She said the sanctions would "further constrain" North Korea's ability to develop its nuclear programme.
Ms Rice also warned that the UN would "take further significant actions" if Pyongyang were to carry out another nuclear test.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Drone spotted by JFK airport - unknown origin

NPR: The pilot of an Alitalia pilot flying into New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport told controllers Monday afternoon that he had spotted "a drone aircraft" 1,500 feet high in the sky and approximately 5 miles west of the airport.

ABC News, which has cockpit audio (from of the pilot's exchange with controllers, says the Federal Aviation Administration and the Joint Terror Task Force are investigating.

In a statement sent to CNN, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown says the pilot reported seeing "a small, unmanned or remote-controlled aircraft while on final approach to Runway 31 Right." The news network says that "puts the aircraft somewhere over Brooklyn."

Who was controlling the drone — if that is indeed what the pilot saw — isn't yet known.

As NBC News points out, "drones are growing in popularity with government agencies and the public."

CNN adds that:

"Unmanned aerial systems, sometimes called drones, and other remote-controlled planes could pose a risk to larger passenger aircraft if they collided or were sucked into an engine.

"For recreational hobbyists, flying remote-controlled planes is only allowed by the FAA up to 400 feet in the air, and within sight of the operator. If they are going to fly within three miles of an airport, they have to let air traffic controllers know.

"Flying unmanned aerial vehicles is illegal for most business purposes; however, governments and public entities such as police departments can apply for permission to operate them."


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