Tuesday, April 9, 2013

USAF Early Warning Radar to stay at full power despite sequester

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force has reversed budget-driven plans to reduce use of a missile-warning radar on the Aleutian Islands in light of heightened tensions withNorth Korea, the general in charge of space and cyberspace operations said on Tuesday.

Struggling to find $508 million in savings for fiscal 2013, Air Force officials initially decided to scale back use of the radar to quarter power for the rest of the year. The move would have saved about $5 million.

"With the situation in North Korea, we've decided to leave that at full power," General William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, told reporters at a conference in Colorado Springs.

He declined comment on any additional changes being made due to tensions with North Korea, but said the Pentagon was watching developments closely.

"The entire Department of Defense, us included, (is) paying very close attention to the provocations by the North Koreans," Shelton said when asked about any actions taken by Air Force Space Command in response to the crisis. "You can let your mind go from there, but we're paying attention."

The comments came the same day that the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told Congress the United States is capable of intercepting a North Korean missile, should Pyongyang launch one in the coming days. But Washington may choose not to shoot it down if the projected trajectory shows it is not a threat.

The Aleutian Islands are a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 57 smaller ones that extend about 1,200 miles from the western coast of Alaska.

The Air Force has operated various missile-tracking radars on one of the islands, Shemya, since 1943. It has a 95-foot diameter active electronically scanned array AN/FPS-108 Cobra Dane radar built by Raytheon Co at Eareckson Air Station on the island.

Shelton said the Air Force's initial plan to reduce the radar's power would have eliminated its ability to track objects in space, but the Air Force has other ways to carry out that work.

(Reporting By Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

Breaking: U.S.: North Korea could fire missile at anytime.

The Obama administration believes North Korea has most likely completed launch preparations and could test fire mobile ballistic missiles at any time based on the most recent intelligence, a U.S. official said.
A test launch of one or both of missiles thought to be loaded into mobile launchers could happen without North Korea issuing a standard warning to commercial aviation and maritime shipping, according to the official.
The official declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the information.
He cautioned most of the information comes from satellite imagery, so it's impossible to reach a definitive conclusion because the United States has no means to gather information on the ground.

"We hope they issue a notification but at this point we don't expect it. We are working on the assumption they won't, " the official said.
He said the launch could be "imminent" but also cautioned the United States "simply doesn't know."
The official, along with another Pentagon official, confirmed the United States has been able to keep satellites over the suspected launch area for most of the past week.
The United States believes the missiles remain at a point about half way down the eastern coast of North Korea and about 10 miles inland.
Imagery has been impeded by some bad weather which also means there is less than perfect knowledge about what is happening on the ground.
But based on what the United States has seen, the belief is that the missiles have received their liquid fuel and are ready for launch.
After any launch, U.S. satellites and radars in the region will be able to calculate within minutes missile trajectory and quickly conclude whether they are on a test path headed for open ocean or potentially headed for land areas, such as Japan, which could then force the United States and Japan to decide whether to try to shoot them down, both officials told CNN.

Navy unveils drone killing laser

(Reuters) - The U.S. Navy said on Monday it will deploy for the first time a laser weapon on one of its ships that could be capable of shooting down drones and disabling vessels.
"The future is here," said Peter Morrison at the Office of Naval Research's Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation Program.
The weapon is being billed as a step toward transforming warfare. Since it runs on electricity, it can fire as long as there is power at a cost of less than $1 dollar per shot.
"Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to fire a missile, and you can begin to see the merits of this capability," Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, said in a statement.
The prototype, which one official said cost between $31 million and $32 million to make, will be installed aboard the USS Ponce, which is being used as a floating base in the Middle East, sometime in fiscal year 2014, which begins in October.
Klunder said the Navy expects that someday incoming missiles will not be able to "simply outmaneuver" a highly accurate laser beam traveling at the speed of light.
A new report from the Congressional Research Service praises the laser technology but also notes drawbacks, including the potential it could accidentally hit satellites or aircraft. Weather also affects lasers. 


USAF grounds one third of aircraft due to sequester

The US Air Force has begun grounding about a third of its combat aircraft in response to deep budget cuts that began to take effect in March.

The move will affect units in the US, Europe and the Pacific.

Air Force Gen Mike Hostage said aircraft would be grounded on a "rotating basis" to focus on "fulfilling critical missions".

Separately, the US Navy has said cuts force it to ground its Blue Angels air show team for the rest of the year.

The Air Force's budget for the fiscal year ending in October is being reduced by $591m (£386m).

The cuts are part of the series of deficit reduction measures that began to take effect on 1 March.

About $85bn in across-the-board cuts for this year are divided roughly in half between military and domestic programmes.

The cuts took effect after Democrats and Republicans failed to agree to another plan to cut spending and reduce the US budget deficit.

The Pentagon had previously announced layoffs of 46,000 temporary employees in response to the budget pressures.'Risk' to airpower

The Air Force says the aircraft stand-down is the result of cuts to the Air Combat Command's operations and maintenance account. The budget cuts have forced the service to reduce its flying by about 45,000 training hours.

Some affected units will stand down after current deployments, but the first units will be grounded on Tuesday 9 April.

A combat command spokesman said the Air Force will shift those units' focus to ground-based training exercises to maintain basic skills and aircraft knowledge.

Exceptions would be made for aircraft about to deploy to Afghanistan, as well as those poised to respond in North Africa, including Mali, Gen Philip Breedlove, commander of US Air Forces, said in March.

"The current situation means we're accepting the risk that combat airpower may not be ready to respond immediately to new contingencies as they occur,'' Gen Hostage said in a statement on Tuesday.

Here's a list of the grounded units via The Aviationist:

94th Fighter Squadron - Grounded April 9

27th Fighter Squadron - Basic mission capable through September

3rd Fighter Wing - Two squadrons combat ready mission through September

15th Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September

49th Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September
F-15 C / D

67th Fighter Squadron - Basic mission capable through September

44th Fighter Squadron - Basic mission capable through July, then Combat mission-ready through September

48th Fighter Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September

336th Fighter Squadron - Grounded April 9

335th Fighter Squadron - Combat mission-ready through September

48th Fighter Wing - Two squadrons stand down April 9

391st Fighter Squadron - Stands down April 9
F-16 C / D

8th Fighter Wing - Two squadrons combat ready mission through September

77th Fighter Squadron - Stands down April 9

55th Fighter Squadron - Combat mission-ready through September

79th Fighter Squadron - Basic mission capable through July, then combat mission ready through September

555th Fighter Squadron - Stands down April 9

510th Fighter Squadron - Combat mission-ready through September

13th Fighter Squadron - Combat mission-ready through September

14th Fighter Squadron - Basic mission capable through September

51st Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September

57th Wing - One squadron (Thunderbirds) stands down April 9

158th Fighter Wing - One squadron stands down April 9

169th Fighter Wing - One squadron stands down April 9

187th Fighter Wing - One squadron stands down April 9

354th Fighter Wing - One squadron stands down April 9

4th Fighter Squadron - Basic mission capable until redeployment

421st Fighter Squadron - Basic mission capable through September

75th Fighter Squadron - Basic mission capable through July, then combat mission ready through September

51st Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September

52nd Fighter Wing - Closing

442nd Fighter Wing - One squadron stands down April 9

917th Wing - One squadron stands down April 9

18th Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September

48th Fighter Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September

7th Bomb Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September

2nd Bomb Wing - Two squadrons stand down April 9

509th Bomb Wing - Two squadrons combat ready mission through September

2nd Bomb Wing - One squadron stand down April 9

5th Bomb Wing - Two squadrons combat ready combat mission through September

2nd Bomb Wing - Basic mission capable through September

18th Wing - One squadron basic mission capable through September

552nd Air Control Wing - One squadron basic mission capable through September

55th Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September

55th Electronic Combat Group - One squadron combat mission ready through September

55th Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September

55th Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September

55th Wing - One squadron combat mission ready through September
RC-135V / W

55th Wing - One squadron basic mission capable through September

55th Wing (training) - One squadron basic mission capable through September
WC-135C / W

55th Wing. - One squadron combat mission ready through September


It's not every day that you get to see a new stealth jet unveiled, but today Lockheed Martin's famedSkunk Works division posted these artist's renderings of its bid for the Navy's next attack jet at its booth at the Navy League's annual Sea Air Space conference just outside of Washington.

Remember, the Navy is trying to field a fleet of stealthy, unmanned fighter-sized jets that can launch from an aircraft carrier, fly through enemy air defenses and do everything from bomb targets to spy on them under a program called Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike or UCLASS.

Last summer, Lockheed showed us a very unrevealing drawing of what it said would be its UCLASS bid, nicknamed the Sea Ghost. These pictures offer a far better look at the jet.

The plane above looks remarkably similar to Lockheed's super-secret RQ-170 Sentinel spy plane, nicknamed the Beast of Kandahar by reporters after grainy photos of it operating in Afghanistan emerged in 2008. (A Sentinel was famously captured by Iran in late 2010, giving the world its first close-up view of the jet.) When yours truly pointed out the similarities between Lockheed's UCLASS bid and the Sentinel to a company spokeswoman, she just smiled and said she had no idea what I was talking about. It makes sense for Lockheed to base the airplane on an existing stealth drone since the Navy wants UCLASS operating from carriers by the end of this decade.

While the spokeswoman couldn't say anything about the plane beyond that it will be flying sometime around 2018 to 2020, she did provide Killer Apps with a quick fact sheet.

Lockheed says the jet will be based on its existing manned and unmanned planes and will feature a "maximum reuse of hardware and software," according to the factsheet posted below. (This means the plane will incorporate technology developed for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as well as the RQ-170.) Still, the jet will need to have a tail hook added, wings that fold (to fit on a carrier's crowded deck), and have its airframe strengthened to withstand the pressures of catapult launches and arrested landings, as well as the corrosive sea air.


Japan deploying Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile defenses in lieu of DPRK missile lauch

Japan's Defense Ministry has deployed Patriot PAC-3 antimissile air defense units to three Self-Defense Forces installations, in Tokyo and Chiba, to defend against possible North Korean missile strikes, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday.

The PAC-3 units were deployed to the Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Ichigaya in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, as well as the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Camp Asaka in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward and Camp Narashino in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, Suga told a news conference.

Those units have been deployed apparently to defend the ministry’s headquarters and key SDF units as well as the heart of the capital, given the limited range of the PAC-3 interceptors, which is about 30 km.

But Suga declined to reveal further details of the operation in order not to reveal confidential defense information.

“We’d like to refrain from explaining further because it would give away details of the cards we hold. At any rate, we have taken thorough measures to ensure the safety of the people,” Suga said.

Japan has already deployed Aegis destroyers in the Sea of Japan to monitor the possible launch of North Korean ballistic missiles, which Pyongyang has threatened to use to attack the United States, possibly including U.S. military bases in Japan.

Aegis destroyers are equipped with SM-3 interceptor missiles, which are designed to shoot down ballistic missiles in their early stage of flight. The Patriot PAC-3 systems are designed to intercept missiles that evaded the SM-3 defense layer.

On Monday, Suga told a news conference that Japan would use those antimissile systems only to defend Japanese territory.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed that the government change its interpretation of the Constitution so Japan can intercept a ballistic missile fired at the United States, but an advisory panel to Abe is still discussing relevant issues and the government has maintained its current interpretation.

Shooting down a ballistic missile aimed at the U.S. would fall within the category of collective self-defense as defined by the United Nations Charter. The government interprets the war-renouncing Constitution as prohibiting the exercise of the right of collective defense.

Was there ever a DARK Flight of 7?

Photo (C)  Steve Douglass 
The internet has been buzzing ever since I reported I monitored (what sounded like seven B-1B bombers winging their way to UAM (Guam) possibly being  pre-positioned to strike North Korean missile sites.

Since then  USPAF has denied any B-1s have landed at Guam nor anywhere else in the Pacific theater and since I did not have a recording of DARK FLIGHT of Seven - some have doubted the veracity and (or) have speculated the transmission I heard was "spoofing" deliberately made in the clear to make an enemy think there was a flight of B-1Bs on the way.

Begin linked snippet: "Under less ouvert mission, a flight of seven B-1B bombers was deployed over the Pacific, using open communications to transmit their destination of interest – Guam. Although it was not clear if their destination Guam, the use of open comms channel to deliver what would be considered classified information could have been a signal to Pyongyang."

Let me digress - .On April 3rd at approximately 10:42 PM CDT I  monitored (live) "DARK" FLIGHT OF SEVEN on PRIME"  (311.000 MHZ STRATCOM PRIMARY) asking for current weather for UAM.

Later that same evening I monitored  on 251.100 MHz DARK flight  calling for "GASSR 11 and GASSR 12" (KC-135s) for a "Tanker drag to BAB." BAB is Beal AFB in California.

251.100 MHz is a published military air-refueling  ATC frequency for Albuquerque Center (ZAB) and indicated the bombers were in New Mexico airspace. 

Later, when I went through my recordings I could not find the audio. I have several scanners that automatically record to my computer and all I could find (during the point in time  in question) was civil/commercial radio traffic - and in particular a  FEDEX  flight talking in an extended phone-patch  through AIR INC - to his company, trying to find a better flight level due to heavy chop. 

I reported what I heard anyway - but really had no proof- especially the all important communications concerning weather at UAM.

 Along with my report I posted some audio recorded earlier in the day off a military satellite of a  B-1B from Ellsworth, AFB (SLAM ONE) practice bombing a simulated mobile missile site,  in actuality a school bus depot in Snyder, Texas) standing in for the real thing. 

You can hear that communication HERE .http://www.webbfeatproductions.com/satcom.mp3

That recorded communication all but verified that B-1Bs were training to hit missile sites - an educated guess - most likely in North Korea.

An article published on Air Force Times website contained this paragraph: "B-1 bomber pilots based at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas are spending more time training for long flights over the Pacific and spending less preparing for attacks in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan."  This confirms what I heard.

I then contacted David Cenciotti (The Aviationist) and told him what I had monitored and captured.  He posted a story about it on his blog (as did I ) - and then things went nuts.

It was amazing watching the report propagate through the Internet. In no time the story was posted on about every aviation forum and news service across the planet. My blog began getting slammed as did my live aviation radio feed with hundreds of people listening in at any given moment. My blog logged over fifty thousand page views over the weekend.

And then the denials began. No B-1Bs ever landed at Guam - this according to official and unofficial sources. David posted this STORY in response.

Could it have been that DARK FLIGHT never existed at all and was I just a unknowing participant in some kind of well-orchestrated ruse to make North Korea think B-1Bs were heading to the area even though they were not? Had I been "spoof chattered?"

I decided to go through my recordings again and seek proof.  I deduced I had heard the "UAM" reference when DARK FLIGHT of SEVEN was in Albuquerque Center airspace - I decided I needed to look earlier in my recordings to see if DARK could be heard as they left Abilene or while they were still over Texas.

After wading through recordings I found my nugget. DARK FLIGHT of SEVEN did (at least on the radio) exist.

I had recorded a DARK FLIGHT OF SEVEN as they (possibly) refueled near the Childress VOR with a tanker (most likely) from Altus AFB.

You can listen to the audio (with the spaces edited out) HERE.

In the recording you can hear "DARK FLIGHT OF SEVEN" coming up on the tanker frequency (316.100 MHz) and checking in one at a time.

Refueling seven B-1s has to be herculean task because at one point the boom operator has to take a break.

 However (updated 4-10-13 ) it has not been confirmed if the refueling communications I recorded involved DARK FLIGHT of SEVEN and in fact has been disputed in a comment by a reader on  The Aviationist who claims to be attached to the refueling wing based at Altus, AFB Oklahoma.

Be that what it may, in conclusion - it seems there was a radio call "DARK FLIGHT of SEVEN" - but where (or if) they deployed anywhere is still not known.

-Steve Douglass

UPDATE: David Cenciotti (The Aviationist) posted this report this morning confirming that Dark flight did exist. He speculates the mention (in the clear) of UAM being their final destination may very well have been subterfuge - the B-1s flying a deterrence mission, intended to send a clear message to Pyongyang.

PS: As I drove to work today I pondered one other possibility. It's now  clear there was a DARK FLIGHT of seven. 

According to recordings three B-1bs left Dyess AFB and three returned after doing some practice air refuelings across the southwestern United States. 

But what happened to the other two? Maybe (posit) the two other B-1Bs in DARK FLIGHT were from Ellsworth AFB and maybe (posit) they did head out across the Pacific, took part in  a long distance and long duration sortie, flew close enough to the DPRK to show up on early warning radar screens - then flew home. 

Days before a B-2 stealth bomber made the round trip from Whiteman AFB in Missouri and flew over South Korea. 

Normally (as these stealth training sorties go) no one would have known about the flight since stealth aircraft (duh) do not appear on radar. But it's clear now it was never a training sortie but more of a publicity stunt staged by the Pentagon. It was a public show of force and an attempt to strike fear into the hearts of the generals in the DPRK - complete with a press release and photos. In other words, carefully engineered propaganda. 

But maybe that wasn't enough. Maybe (since the B-2 had an FA/18 escort) it showed up on the North's radars as big as a barn. I imagine some Pyongyang general pointing out that the B-2 stealth bomber is not that stealthy at all. They were not scared and in fact the B-2 flyby only wrenched the rhetoric and threats coming from the DPRK a notch. Not long after at least two medium range missiles were reported being moved to the eastern coast of North Korea.

And then the inevitable happened. Spy satellites pick up on the missile movements, B-1Bs start practicing to take out missile sites and the Pentagon realizes that the DPRK saw the B-2 flyby for what it was - a photo op. 

So someone dreams up a mission. B-1bs from Dyess and Ellsworth team up for a special (un- publicized) training op. Five B-1s and two KC-135s take to the sky - join up over the southwestern US .One B-1B radios a  request for weather at  "UAM" in the clear, either an OPSEC mistake or on purpose.

Maybe - later that evening  all but two  B-1bs fly back to Dyess and Ellsworth.  Two fly off  across the Pacific with their tanker drag to the west coast.  Maybe they pick up other tanker drags as they cross the big pond. The operational (un-refueled)  range of a B-1b is close to 6,000 miles.

Maybe they pick up a tanker out of Guam - or other parts west and then make a run over South Korea.  

They don't land at Guam or anywhere in the Pacific theater because they don't have to. Yes - that's a lot of maybes. 

Or maybe it was a ruse - spoofing - I think they call it.  

Maybe too many maybees for this author but alas I'm not privy what's going on in the halls at the Pentagon - i only report what I hear on my radios.

Besides, deploying  B-1bs closer to Pyongyang would also not only raise already sky-high tensions in the area - it would also dilute the message which could be; "We can hit you from Texas." 

-Steve Douglass 

North Korea warns foreigners living in South Korea to leave in case of war.

THE GUARDIAN: As the world waits to see if North Korea launches a ballistic missile, the regime has attempted to raise tensions further, warning foreigners living in South Korea to make evacuation plans because the peninsula is on the brink of war.
"We do not wish harm on foreigners in South Korea should there be a war," the official KCNA news agency quoted an official from a North Korean organisation calling itself Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee as saying.
The KCNA report did not offer details and there are reportedly no signs of a military buildup near the border dividing the Korean peninsula, located less than 40 miles from the South Korean capital, Seoul.
Analysts noted that Pyongyang had issued similar threats in the past, adding that this latest warning is designed to elicit aid and political concessions from Seoul and Washington.
Amid the bluster of recent weeks – during which the North has threatened to launch a nuclear attack on the US – the regime appears to have made good on its threat to withdraw its workers from the Kaesong industrial complex.
None of the 53,000 North Korean workers at the site, located just north of the border, arrived for work on Tuesday morning – a day after Pyongyang accused the South of turning the jointly run zone into "a hotbed of war".
The suspension of all operations at the site momentarily shifted attention from North Korea's east coast where, according to reports, preparations were being made to test launch at least one medium-range missile, possibly as early as Wednesday.
In response, Japan deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors in Tokyo on Tuesday. Japan's self-defence forces are under orders to shoot down any incoming North Korean missiles; Tokyo has also deployed two Aegis destroyers equipped with sea-based interceptor missiles in the Sea of Japan.
The two missiles, thought to be the untested Musudan, have a maximum range of 2 485 miles, putting South Korea, Japan and US bases on Guam within reach.
The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said his government would take "every possible measure to protect the lives and safety of the Japanese people".
The closure of Kaesong, the last symbol of rapprochement between the two Koreas, marks a serious deterioration in cross-border ties. The move is also a sign of how far the North's leader, Kim Jong-un, may be prepared to go to foment crisis on the peninsula, given that a prolonged closure would deprive his regime of an important source of hard currency.
South Korea's president, Park Geun-hye, described the suspension as "very disappointing" and said investors would now shun the North.
"Investment is all about being able to anticipate results and trust and when you have the North breaking international regulations and promises like this and suspending Kaesong while the world is watching, no country in the world will invest in the North," Park told a cabinet meeting.
"North Korea should stop behaving in this way and make the right choice for the future of the Korean nation."
South Korean firms have invested an estimated $500m (£327m) in the site since it opened in 2004. The complex generates about $96m for the North Korean economy every year.
About 475 South Korean workers and factory managers remain in Kaesong, with 77 expected to return across the border on Tuesday.
The warning to foreign residents in the South comes a week after North Korea told overseas embassies in Pyongyang that they should consider evacuating staff, warning their safety could not be guaranteed if war breaks out. No embassies are thought to have acted on the advice.


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