Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Satellite imagery shows Iran preparing for rocket launch ..

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Iran appears to be preparing another satellite launch via rocket after twice failing this year to put one in orbit, despite U.S. accusations that the Islamic Republic's program helps it develop ballistic missiles.

Satellite images of the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran's Semnan province this month show increased activity at the site, as heightened tensions persist between Washington and Tehran over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers.

While Iran routinely only announces such launches after the fact, that activity coupled with an official saying a satellite would soon be handed over to the country's Defense Ministry suggests the attempt will be coming soon.

According to two US officials who spoke to CNN, the government believes the launch will further missile development for the country because it utilizes the same technology used in long-range ballistic missiles. The launch does not break the international Iran nuclear deal, however.

Analysis by Planet Labs Inc. and the Middlebury Institute says that increased activity around the launch site suggests upcoming activity. Specifically, the groups note additional vehicles and a large vehicle with a shipping container, which the Middlebury Institute's Dave Schmerler tells CNN suggests that there is a rocket on the premises.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

USAF awards 200 million to Northrop Grumman for LAIRCM jammer system.


Northrop Grumman has won a contract to build a batch of Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (LAIRCM) systems. This order was received under an existing indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract.

Northrop Grumman’s LAIRCM system protects aircrews by automatically detecting, tracking and jamming incoming infrared threats.

The LAIRCM defensive system is a directional, active IR jammer that is designed to defeat a wide range of ground-fired IR (heat-seeking) missiles. The system jams the infrared missile seekers through the sensor aperture, causing the missile to miss the intended target. LAIRCM automatically detects a missile launch, determines if it is a threat, and activates a high-intensity, laser-based countermeasure system to track and defeat the missile.

The advanced LAIRCM system will allow airplanes without built in systems the safety and security to enter hot-spots around the globe.

“With this award, we continue to protect U.S. and international partner aircrews from the threat of infrared guided weapons,” said Bob Gough, vice president, land and avionics C4ISR, Northrop Grumman.

The purpose of Northrop Grumman Corporation's Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) program is to protect large aircraft from man-portable missiles. The LAIRCM system will increase crew-warning time, decrease false alarm rates and automatically counter advanced IR missile systems. The missile warning subsystem will use multiple sensors to provide full spatial coverage. The counter-measures subsystem will use lasers mounted in pointer-tracker turret assemblies. LAIRCM is an active countermeasure that defeats the threat missile guidance system by directing a high-intensity modulated laser beam into the missile seeker, explained Cappelano. In addition, the LAIRCM system automatically counters advanced IR missile systems with no action required by the crew. The pilot will simply be informed that a threat missile was detected and jammed.

Much of the technology involved in the system, with the exception of the laser jammer, are non-developmental items that have been previously tested and are in production as part of the US Special Operations Command C-130 Directed IR Countermeasures AN/AAQ-24 Program. Northrop Grumman's AN/AAQ-24 (V) NEMESIS system is currently in use by the military in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Due to protection and commonality requirements, the LAIRCM C-130 Group A configuration and installation design shall closely match the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) C-130 modifications for the AAQ-24(V) Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) system. Based on Air Mobility Command's urgent need for this capability, the C-130 Group A development effort must be completed in an accelerated fashion, without suboptimizing CCB and test program requirements.

An initial cadre of personnel was assigned to the LAIRCM Program. This cadre is located in the Subsystems SPO (ASC/SM), Wright-Patterson AFB, OH. This Team is responsible for leading an Air Force/Industry initiative to develop and implement the acquisition strategy for large aircraft IRCM systems in the near-term. It also serves as the core group for the permanent organization with program management responsibility for the development and implementation of Group A and Group B and risk-reduction activities over the long-term.

The development and proliferation of advanced infrared guided missiles has greatly increased the threat to military and civil aircraft of attack by these low cost antiaircraft missiles. Technology is being developed to counter this threat in form of advance directed laser jammers and associated missile approach warning sensors. Air Force Research Laboratory's Large Aircraft IRCM Advanced TechnologyDemonstration (LAIRCM ATD) developed and matured subsystem and integrated system technologies to counter the ever growing threat from these missiles. The technology development includes advanced concepts such as Closed Loop IRCM that promises a high power laser response to and IR missile engagement with threat adaptable jamming applied to achieve a rapid seeker breaklock..

Test experts completed live-fire testing on the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures system 08 in White Sands, NM, putting the program on track to deliver the first laser-protected transport to Air Mobility Command by 2004. During the live fire tests, the LAIRCM system was mounted on a cable car equipped with heat sources representing a C-17 signature, which was used as a target for surface-to-air infrared-guided missiles. Live missiles were then launched against this target from inner-, mid-, and outer-ranges, across the missile's high "probability of kill" envelope. In each of these tests, the LAIRCM system was fully autonomously operated and had no prior knowledge of threat type or location. The system had to detect and declare the threat missile, then allocate the jamming assets required to defeat it.

The live-fire tests follow extensive laser tests conducted earlier in the year at the Air Force Electronic Warfare Evaluation Simulator at Fort Worth, Texas. Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures program got the green light for system low-rate initial production 22 August 2002. The production decision gave Aeronautical Systems Center officials the green light to buy the first four LAIRCM production ship sets, with an additional nine systems scheduled for purchase in 2003.

The system currently consists of five basic elements: a Control Indicator Unit (CIU), an ultraviolet Missile Warning Subsystem (UV MWS), a Fine Track Sensor (FTS) subsystem, a Countermeasures Processor (CP), and a laser jam source subsystem. The CP is the master system controller and the interface among the subsystems. The Air Force may install up to three laser jammers on each aircraft type. In 2003, the Air Force tasked the LAIRCM program to support two Quick Reaction Capability requirements to get IRCM equipment into the field as quickly as possible. The first capability installed and tested a one-jammer turret configuration (vice three on the full-up system) on the C-17. The second requirement installed a system on the MH-53M Pave Low IV helicopter gunship. LAIRCM will undergo developmental test/operational test (DT/OT) and IOT&E on the C-17 during FY04 to support the full-rate production decision.

In response to the urgent requirement stated in the LAIRCM Operational Requirements Document, the Aeronautical Systems Center developed an evolutionary strategy to yield a near-term solution for the protection of large transport type aircraft. The use of proven subsystem solutions, integrated into a LAIRCM system, is the first step in the LAIRCM Evolutionary Acquisition strategy to address the overall requirement. This first step, designated Phase 1, is to identify a near-term LAIRCM solution. The LAIRCM System Program Office, in association with Air Force Research Laboratory, conducted comprehensive market research to evaluate options available from industry as well as from government programs. Based on the market research, only four subsystems demonstrated the maturity and performance to provide a near-term solution. All or part of the selected subsystems will comprise the LAIRCM system. 

Four of the subsystems (CIU, FTS, CP, and UV MWS) will come directly from the Special Operations Command's (SOCOM) DIRCM program, presently in production. The final subsystem will be a Multi-Band Laser Subsystem, which has been developed by Northrop Grumman as part of its Internal Research and Development Program and has undergone considerable laboratory and field testing. The United Kingdom (UK) has installed the system on nine different aircraft types and there are plans for integration on eight additional aircraft types. SOCOM procured DIRCM systems under the UK contract. DOT&E approved the IOT&E Plan in October 2003.

The CLIRCM technology has been under development at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, OH, for nearly three decades and was  moved to the Air Force Research Laboratory (Dayton, OH) Laser IRCM Flyout Experiment (LIFE) program. Past experimentation with critical components that were tested in an at-range static environment at AFRL-Dayton demonstrated significant promise in the CLIRCM technology to defeat all types of IR missiles. In fact, the US Navy borrowed the technology to demonstrate the defeat of advanced surrogate IR imaging and line scanning sensors. The closed loop system can rapidly identify and defeat the enemy missile.

The Air Force conducted highly successful field testing of the LIFE system in December 2000 at the White Sands Missile Range. These tests proved that the CLIRCM technology provides the system improvements that the Air Force had hoped. The laser-based CLIRCM techniques and technology offer a tremendous performance improvement and cost savings over the current laser-based open loop system being procured for the LAIRCM program.

With evolving threats of IR surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and air-to-air missiles (AAM), as defined in the Multi-Command LAIRCM Operational Requirements Document (ORD) for advanced IRCM protection of large aircraft, the Air Force needs to focus on fielding a laser-based CLIRCM system. This system will ensure that the men and women of the armed services are protected from lethal IR SAM and AAM threats. The LAIRCM Phase 2 system, employing laser CLIRCM technology, could equip a Small Scale Contingency (SSC) of 79 aircraft (C-17, C-130, KC-135).

Monday, August 19, 2019

And the sky fell ... what the Russian explosion tells us


An explosion. An abruptly-canceled village evacuation. Five dead nuclear experts. And a few traces of radioactive iodine in the air over the northern Norwegian coastline.

These are the fingerprints of what appears to have been Russia's latest failed bid to test its Burevestnik missile, also known as Skyfall.

It's claimed by its owner, Russian President Vladimir Putin, to have unlimited range and be able to outflank all US air defenses. But this month, it proved, for a Kremlin keen to emphasize its growing military muscle, yet another high-profile hiccup.

It wouldn't be the first time that a test of the missile wasn't entirely successful, according to US officials.

But what is Skyfall? In truth, analysts don't really know, but their guesswork leads them to believe it's a form of cruise missile designed around a nuclear reactor.

The spiking of radiation levels in the area, potentially reaching as far away as Norway, lends credibility to the theories.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to confirm widespread international speculation that the accident involved a nuclear-powered cruise missile, but said the mishap would not set back Russian efforts to develop advanced military capabilities.

Peskov said that only experts could speak with authority on such matters, but added: "Accidents, unfortunately, happen. They are tragedies. But in this particular case, it is important for us to remember those heroes who lost their lives in this accident."

Jon Hawkes, associate director of land warfare at Jane's IHS Markit, said the system could work one of two ways. It could be an "air-breathing engine employing a small nuclear reactor core to heat incoming air that is expelled to generate thrust."

Or it could be a "nuclear thermal rocket engine, where the nuclear core is used to heat a liquid fuel such as hydrogen before expelling it through a nozzle to produce thrust."

Yet he added, "given the Russians are claiming unlimited range, then one would assume it has to be along the lines of the first option, as the hydrogen fuel device would have a limit to its range."

The major problem with the 9M370, or SSC-X-9 Skyfall (as NATO calls it), is the exhaust. You can't use a nuclear reactor to power a rocket without likely creating a form of dirty bomb on wings.

"This is a doomsday weapon really," said Dr Mark Galeotti, from Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

"It's not something that could be deployed in anything other than a full-scale nuclear war. It is a cruise missile that can stay in the air for a long time, but it is belching out radioactive plumes behind it."

The US indeed had a similar program in the 1960s, called Project Pluto, which was abandoned as they concluded it was too dangerous at the time.

When Putin launched the missile with great fanfare in March 2018 he extolled its unlimited range -- that it could circle the globe many times and then fire itself at its target from an unexpected angle, perhaps even days after launch.

Is Putin bothered that it doesn't appear so far to have worked that well? Not really, said Galeotti.

"Vladimir Putin's Russia is basically trying to puff itself up," he said. "It is trying to look more militarily formidable than it is. Although they don't like the fact that this failed, the fact that we are talking about the latest Russian military technology is definitely something of a plus."

US officials told CNN it's been tested a few times, but never fully successfully. How far along the project is, and how big a setback this, is is anyone's guess.

But the Kremlin has had a number of incidents to brush off in the past month.

In early July, the AS-31, or Losharik, super-deep, super-secret spy submarine, ran into trouble off the northern coast. State media said 14 sailors on board died of smoke inhalation, and the Kremlin insisted its nuclear reactor was intact when it was returned to port.

The Losharik -- named after a Soviet-era cartoon horse because of the compartmentalized components that enable it to dive to the bottom of the ocean floor -- was meant to plunge to depths that nuclear and attack submarines could not.

Again, Putin found himself being briefed on a clean-up operation.

Weeks later, a munitions dump in Achinsk suffered a series of explosions over five hours, some causing devastating shockwaves and debris to be scattered over the area. A week later, local officials admitted forty people were injured.

These three incidents amount to a bad summer for the Russian military, who after the invasion of Ukraine, and their intervention into Syria, had benefited from a short-term lift in their domestic prestige.

Could over-reach be behind this recent spate of problems?

Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, said, "if you look at the current defense budget of the Russian Federation, it reached its peak in 2016."

He added it had decreased since.

"So basically, the military and the defense sector are asked to do more for less," he added, "and that might be a stretch. Maybe some of these accidents are a part of the price that the military has to pay from this relatively modest budget but the [substantial] ambitions behind this budget."

A turbulent month of unexpected blasts and leaks that begs the question as to whether the Kremlin's race to the bottom of the sea, or top of the heavens, will scorch too much in its wake.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Moscow orders evacuation of Nvonoksa - then cancel it.

MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian military on Tuesday told residents of a village near a navy testing range to evacuate, but cancelled the order hours later, adding to the uncertainty and confusion fueled by a missile explosion last week that led to a brief spike in radiation that frightened residents and raised new questions about the military’s weapons program.

Initially the military told residents of Nyonoksa, a village of about 500, to move out temporarily, citing unspecified activities at the range. But a few hours later, it said the planned activities were cancelled and rescinded the request to leave, said Ksenia Yudina, a spokeswoman for the Severodvinsk regional administration.

Local media in Severodvinsk said Nyonoksa residents regularly receive similar temporary evacuation orders usually timed to tests at the range.

The Defense Ministry initially said Thursday’s explosion of a rocket engine at the navy range killed two people and injured six others, but the state-controlled Rosatom nuclear corporation said two days later that the blast also killed five of its nuclear engineers and injured three others. It’s still not clear what the final toll is.

And just as the Severodvinsk administration reported a brief spike in radiation levels, the Defense Ministry insisted that no radiation had been released — a blunt denial reminiscent of Soviet-era attempts to cover up disasters that added to public nervousness.

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In this grab taken from a footage provided by the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation ROSATOM press service, a Russian military band prepare to attend the funerals of five Russian nuclear engineers killed by a rocket explosion in Sarov, the closed city, located 370 kilometers (230 miles) east of Moscow, which has served as a base for Russia's nuclear weapons program since the late 1940s, Russia, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Russia's Rosatom state nuclear concern said Thursday's explosion at a military testing range in northwestern Russia occurred while the engineers were testing a "nuclear isotope power source" for a rocket engine, a tragedy that fueled radiation fears and raised new questions about a secretive weapons program. (Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation ROSATOM via AP)

“It’s shocking when people who live there, let alone us, have no idea what really happened,” Svetlana Alexievich, a Nobel Prize-winning author who wrote a book containing first-hand accounts of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, said on Ekho Moskvy radio. “It looks like we haven’t learned the lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima.”

When reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Soviet Ukraine exploded and burned on April 26, 1986, Soviet leaders initially tried to hide the disaster from the public and it took them days to acknowledge the full scale of the world’s worst nuclear accident.

After Thursday’s missile explosion, the Severodvinsk city administration said the radiation level rose to 2 microsieverts per hour for about 30 minutes before returning to the area’s natural level of 0.1 microsieverts per hour. Emergency officials issued a warning to all workers to stay indoors and close the windows. Spooked residents rushed to buy iodide, which can help limit the damage from exposure to radiation.

Yudina said that radiation levels in Severodvinsk, a city of 183,000 about 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of Nyonoksa, have been normal since Thursday.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Storm Area 51 turns into Aleinstock - but Nevada locals are not happy.


The nearest town to Area 51 has warned people to stay away from a music festival being organised by the man behind a call to arms that saw more than two million people sign up to storm the military base.

So many committed to the proposed raid of the complex in Nevada in the hope of seeing aliens that the US air force felt compelled to warn it "stands ready to protect America and its assets", and the Facebook event was eventually shut down after its organizer admitted it was a joke.

Storm Area 51 creator Matty Roberts has teamed up with event producer The Hidden Sound to put on the festival, where people can safely display their "unified curiosity" in the existence of extra-terrestrial life.

The organizers are promising to deliver an "amazing experience" with "headlining artists" - but those claims have been questioned by local authorities.

In a warning to those planning to make the trip for the planned event, the official website for Rachel says the three-day gig will "undoubtedly attract crooks trying to capitalize on the chaos".

It advises people to "stay away" from residential areas of the town, which has become a tourist attraction because of how close it is to Area 51, as most locals "do not like where this event is going and will respond accordingly".

The statement continues: "The residents were not asked and are not on board and will certainly not allow their town to be taken over. This has a high potential of getting ugly. Please consider visiting at another time."

Sceptics of Alienstock - which is accepting donations - have already compared it to the ill-fated Fyre Festival, which was pitched as a luxury music event in the Bahamas but quickly turned to chaos.

Tickets went for up to $75,000 (£58,000) and there were a vast array of problems, from guests sleeping in hurricane disaster tents to bland cheese sandwiches replacing the advertised gourmet food.


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