Friday, April 27, 2012

US seeks to modernize NATO, deepen partnerships

The United States will push to modernize NATO, deepen alliance partnerships and hammer out details of the Afghanistan withdrawal at an upcoming summit, White House officials said Thursday.

"The alliance needs to be more deployable and more adaptable and we're taking those lessons learned from Afghanistan and integrating them into our planning going forward," said Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the National Security Council's director of European affairs.

NATO is pursuing a number of "smart defense" initiatives that will ensure that in an era of constrained military budgets, the transatlantic military alliance acts as a "force multiplier" that avoids "duplication or wasted expenditure," she said.

Baltic members are working to enhance their contributions and Sherwood-Randall said she anticipates that "substantial announcements" on air defense will be made as part of a "big package of capabilities" that will be presented at the summit.

US to pull 9,000 Marines from southern Japan

The United States said Friday it would pull 9,000 Marines out of Japan as it seeks to ease a long-running standoff over the future of its huge military presence in one of its top Asian allies.

The redeployment will see the troops sent to Guam, Hawaii and Australia.

Withdrawing troops was originally part of plans to move a busy US airbase on Okinawa to another area of the southern island chain but US officials decided to separate the two issues due to ongoing opposition to the base relocation.

In a joint statement issued in Washington and Tokyo, the two sides said they remained committed to move the Futenma base from its present urban site to a coastal spot.

Iran 'mobilizing' for cyberwar with West

Cyber Defense

Iran is busy acquiring the technical know-how to launch a potentially crippling cyber-attack on the United States and its allies, experts told a congressional hearing on Thursday, urging the US to step up its defensive measures.

"Over the past three years, the Iranian regime has invested heavily in both defensive and offensive capabilities in cyberspace," said Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council.

"Equally significant, its leaders now increasingly appear to view cyber-warfare as a potential avenue of action against the United States," he told a House Homeland Security subcommittee.

Patrick Meehan, Republican chairman of the committee, also sounded an alarm over the cyber-security threat posed by Iran to western nations.

US House passes controversial cybersecurity bill

Cyber Defense

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation protecting US businesses and agencies from cyber-attacks, a measure that critics say erodes civil liberties by allowing firms to onpass private data.

The Republican-controlled chamber defied a veto threat by the White House to pass the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in a 248-162 vote.

Its fate is less assured in the Democratically controlled Senate, but supporters like House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers said it was vital to shore up computer systems woefully vulnerable to outside attack.

"We can't stand by and do nothing as US companies are hemorrhaging from the cyber-looting coming from nation states like China and Russia," Rogers said.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reagan envoy found Pakistan 'superb liar' on nukes: US memos

US officials concluded in the 1980s that Pakistan was lying about its nuclear program but muted criticism due to Islamabad's support against the Soviets in Afghanistan, declassified documents showed.

The memos to be released Thursday reveal some of the behind-the-scenes drama between the United States and Pakistan during Ronald Reagan's presidency, foreshadowing current-day debates in the uneasy war partnership.

The documents included an account of a secret mission in June 1982 by a US envoy who confronted Pakistani military ruler Mohammed Zia ul-Haq with a letter from Reagan and said the United States had "incontrovertible" proof that Pakistan was seeking nuclear weapons.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

USAF Minuteman Missile Test Launch

Northrop Grumman recently supported the successful reliability testing of the United States Air Force's Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) weapons system. The Northrop Grumman led ICBM prime team includes Boeing, Lockheed Martin, ATK and more than 20 other subcontractors.

The ICBM team is responsible for overall sustainment of the weapon system including development, production, deployment and system modifications.

The operational test was designated Glory Trip 203GM. The test launch proceeded as planned with the missile traveling roughly 4,800 miles in 30 minutes.

The Minuteman III carried a single Mk21 re-entry vehicle specially instrumented to measure operational performance parameters such as in-flight reliability and accuracy.

The re-entry vehicle landed on target in a pre-designated area within the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site near Kwajalein Atoll in the western chain of the Marshall Islands.

Brazil-U.S. arms talks break new ground?

Brazilian-U.S. talks on sharing defense technologies may prove central to the Obama administration's plans to reopen Latin America and the Caribbean region to exports by advanced aviation and defense manufacturers in search of new markets, industry analysts said.

Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim scheduled talks with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on a possible review by Washington of restrictive terms governing aviation and defense sales, specifically advanced technology transfers as part of future sales.

The talks followed Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's meetings in Washington with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Amorim and Panetta talked in the framework of a new Defense Cooperation Dialogue agreed to between Obama and Rousseff in Washington

Monday, April 23, 2012

Obama mulls easing arms export curbs

The Obama administration is seeking to greatly reduce approval processes for arms exports as part of a strategic move to help the U.S. defense industry recover export revenues lost through domestic and foreign cutbacks.

Congressional procedures have come in the way of some defense U.S. exports in recent years and cost U.S. defense businesses contracts that have then gone to competitors.

Although the United States remains the world's largest defense supplier, its defense industry is seen losing out to competitors that have simpler processes for exports.

The administration's efforts are aimed at expanding the U.S. market share, currently less than one-third of the market, defense industry sources said. More overseas orders for the U.S. industry would create jobs and contribute to Obama's aim of doubling defense exports within the next three years.

Army Researcher Develops Potential Vaccine Carrier That May Give Stockpiling Efforts A Shot In The Arm

A researcher at the Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC)/San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC) will present findings this week on a new potential vaccine carrier that he hopes will extend the shelf life of and aid in the stockpiling of critical vaccines.

U.S. Army Maj. Jean M. Muderhwa is slated to present at 12:25 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting on a microemulsion he developed and that has been found to be both stable and a good candidate for delivering a variety of antigens. His findings will be presented at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology's annual meeting, which is part of EB2012.

"There is a synergy here," Muderhwa said of the microemulsion. "What I found is a composition that is transparent, is liquid and that has been sitting there (on my shelf) for six months" without degrading.

Muderhwa, deputy laboratory director at the Medical Center's Clinical Investigation Department, made the microemulsion with what seems like a simple recipe with five components, but it's how those five components interact that is quite special. He is hopeful that forthcoming animal studies will show the full potential for the recipe.

"There is a need (for new vaccine carriers like this) especially if we want to stockpile a vaccine," he emphasized. "The (U.S. Agency for International Development) and FDA are responsible for stocking, for example, the influenza vaccine in the case of epidemic. They have to deliver them as quickly as possible. So if you have a vaccine just sitting on the shelf for more than 10 or 20 years, you don't have to worry about its stability."

The first two parts of Muderhwa's concotion, oil and water, are the basis for just about any emulsion, many of which reside in most people's bathroom cabinets in the forms of creams and lotions. The third component, glycerol, is also used in a variety of skin-care products. The fourth component is a mixture of two high-molecular-weight, pharmaceutically acceptable surfactants (Span 80 and Tween 60). The fifth component, meanwhile, is an aluminum adjuvant-adsorbed protein used in vaccines to amplify the immune system's protective response to whatever antigen is being delivered.

Compared with the particles found in emulsions commonly used in creams and other substances applied topically, the particles in microemulsions are extremely tiny. And it's precisely this property that Muderhwa has harnessed and thinks deserves further study.

"If I were to make an emulsion (of oil and water), which is just a cream and white, that emulsion would separate within weeks," he said. "If you make a vaccine containing an emulsion, it's only (good for) probably a few months because the emulsion is not thermodynamically stable. The surface tension is too high, and the molecules are repelling one another until the emulsion fails."

An everyday example of this would be the separation of salad dressing left in a refrigerator or pantry for a couple of days. But when vaccines separate, giving them a good shake doesn't do the trick, making the administration of them more difficult.

"You can make those particles in a cream smaller and smaller and smaller," he explained. "The way you do that is you have to lower the surface tension to near zero. You know if you take water and put it in the oil, they don't mix. So you have to add a compound that can bring them together. If you take egg yolk - it has phospholipids, and these are emulsifiers - that helps to bring the water and oil to combine."

Muderhwa used a series of emulsifiers, such as Span 80 and Tween 60, and glycerol as the co-emulsifier needed to lower the surface tension of the tiny water and oil particles. That was only the first hurdle to overcome. The real worry was how the then-four-part compound would react if he added a fifth, the adjuvant needed to amplify the immune system's response to an antigen.

"Microemulsions are very sensitive to change. If you add an extra compound, they (also) separate quickly," he said. "But what I discovered is that, if I take ... an aluminum adjuvant, which is the only one approved by the (Food and Drug Administration) to be used in humans, and I mix that microemulsion with the aluminum compound, ... it is still stable."

The aluminum adjuvant Muderhwa used is found in the influenza vaccine.

While microemulsions are now used for drug delivery, such as antibiotics and syrups, using them for vaccines could open up a new area of study, Maj. Muderhwa said. These microemulsions are formed readily and sometimes spontaneously, he said.

"Another part of the presentation is for the future - to tell people that these products can be used as a tool to investigate the effect of the surface area on the immune response," he explained. "If you make the molecules smaller and smaller and smaller, what happens? What happens if you increase the surface area? It will be interesting for research purposes to see the effects when the surface area increases on the immune response using this compound."

Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Muderhwa earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Languedoc Roussillon in Montpellier (France) and completed a postdoctoral stint in biophysics at the University of Minnesota. He's also worked at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, where he spent five years working on prostate cancer vaccines in Dr. Carl Alving's laboratory before joining the U.S. Army. Later on, he earned an MBA from Grantham University (St. Louis, Mo.) and a master's of public health from Kaplan University (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.).

Friday, April 20, 2012

Afghanistan leader seeks swifter troop pullout amid photos furor

President Hamid Karzai suggested Thursday that a speeded-up departure of Western troops is the only way to prevent a recurrence of "painful experiences" such as the sight of American soldiers posing with the body parts of dead insurgents.

In a statement issued by the Afghan presidential palace 24 hours after the Los Angeles Times published photos showing U.S. troops with the remains of suicide bombers and mugging for the camera, Karzai called the behavior depicted "inhumane and provocative."

"It is such a disgusting act to take photos with body parts and then share it with others," he said.

The Taliban, in its first public statement since the pictures of U.S. soldiers and dead bombers appeared, denounced the "gruesome acts" depicted in the photos. The militant group also lambasted Afghan soldiers who were present in some of the shots.

"Some Afghan hirelings … posed in the photos, at their masters' orders, to scorn the remains of martyrs," the statement said.

The Obama administration has roundly condemned the actions shown in the photos, and the U.S. military has launched an investigation of the incidents, which took place in 2010 but have only now come to light.

The palace statement said Karzai sought an "accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, so Afghanistan can take over its own destiny, and thus no such things can be repeated by the foreign forces in Afghanistan."

The NATO force is to wind down its combat role by the end of 2014, but growing numbers of troop-contributing nations have indicated they will pull out their forces next year. The transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, which has been in progress for a year, is a key prelude to the exit of Western combat troops.


German naval commandos are called Kampfschwimmer or "combat swimmers". These German navy counterparts to the US Navy SEALs are Germany's oldest Special Operations Forces. The Kampfschwimmer roots go back to World War II.
Today's Kampfschwimmer formations are heavily involved in international operations against terrorism, including missions in the mountains of Afghanistan.
This e-book is written by a German Navy lieutenant who serves as a Kampfschwimmer team leader -- the equivalent of a US Navy SEAL platoon leader.
"German Navy SEALs" is a profile of the Kampfschwimmer units. The e-book covers the history of the Kampfschwimmer beginning with the World War II era; describes their organization, command structure, capabilities and training; discusses their cooperation with US Navy SEALS and other Special Operations Forces; and their role in German and NATO operational planning.

Study shows sharp gaps in China views of US

A majority of China's opinion leaders and much of its public disapprove of their government's handling of ties with the United States, in a sign of increasingly open criticism, a study said Thursday.

A wide-ranging survey of opinion in the two countries showed that most Chinese and Americans hold positive views of the other country despite the frequent tensions between the world's two largest economies.

But the study, released by the Committee of 100, a Chinese American group, showed a sharp gap in perceptions with Americans widely accepting China's rise but a majority of Chinese convinced the United States wants to hold them back.

Northrop Grumman's Common Link Integration Processing System Ready for Fielding

The Common Link Integration Processing (CLIP) system being developed by Northrop Grumman has received Milestone C acquisition approval from the U.S. Air Force leading to the fielding of this software package and providing aircrews with enhanced capabilities to communicate critical tactical information.

CLIP software translates and formats messages and allows existing platforms without a tactical data link, as well as platforms with different data links, to communicate with each other.

The Air Force Electronic Systems Center approved the CLIP Milestone C on March 5. Approval was based on criteria including software maturity, operational assessment, interoperability and supportability, life-cycle affordability and information assurance.

Outside View: Rumor of war

The decision to place one or the other of the candidates in the Oval Office this election will have immense, perhaps dire consequence. The wrong choice can send us off to a great conflagration that could decide the ruination of the Middle East, Israel and perhaps the West.

Israel's existence may well be decided and movement has begun in anticipation of this cataclysm. Israel understood that the United States lost the war in Iraq to Iran when the Bush administration handed the leadership of the country to the Shiites by the willfully obtuse decision to order premature elections.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Army surgeon on track to head off cancer before it starts

An Army doctor has helped develop a vaccine that he believes will prevent cancer, or at least its recurrence.

The drug NeuVax began phase III clinical trials Jan. 20, which Col. George Peoples said could lead to its Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, approval. Peoples is chief of surgical oncology at the San Antonio Military Medical Center when he's not traveling the world to provide surgical expertise or working to try and find a cure for cancer.

He is currently deployed to Honduras.

The phase III clinical trial for NeuVax will involve at least 700 breast cancer patients at 100 sites in the United States and abroad. The trial is titled PRESENT, Prevention of Recurrence in Early-Stage, Node-Positive Breast Cancer with Low to Intermediate HER2 Expression with NeuVax Treatment.

Participants will receive one intradermal injection every month for six months, followed by a booster inoculation every six months thereafter. The primary endpoint is disease-free survival at three years.

"The first patient was vaccinated with NeuVax in January at San Antonio Military Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas," Peoples said.

Peoples is the director and principal investigator for a Cancer Vaccine Development Program that he has been working on since the early 90s. The vaccine carries the generic name E75.

This third and final phase of testing before FDA approval will bring NeuVax one step closer to the market and to the breast cancer patients who need more options, Peoples said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 203,000 individuals in the United States are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year.


The current vaccine is the result of nearly 20 years of research by Peoples and others, and has paralleled the development of the drug Herceptin.

"Herceptin is one of our biggest breast cancer drugs right now. It targets a protein commonly over-expressed in breast cancer cells called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, or HER2/neu," Peoples said.

This drug, he said, has cut the rate of breast cancer recurrence in half ; the first drug to ever have this dramatic of a response.

"So of course, HER2/neu became the molecule of the decade and Herceptin now is a multi-billion dollar drug," Peoples said.

At the time that this was all being developed in the 90s, he said, HER2/neu had also been identified as a potential target for vaccination at two different labs.

"During my surgical residency in Boston, I was working with a lab at the Harvard Medical School in the Laboratory of Biologic Cancer Therapy, and there was another lab working on a very similar type approach at MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas," he said.

After identifying the protein HER2/neu as a potential target, both labs continued their search for the portion actually recognized by the immune system. The immune system knows HER2/neu is a dangerous protein, particularly during adult development, and if it sees a lot of this protein, it will kill that cell, Peoples said.

The E75 peptide was discovered at MD Anderson by Dr. Constantin Ioannides and his then-graduate student Bryan Fisk. Interestingly, Bryan would later become an Army physician, Peoples related.

"But then, as luck would have it, after I finished my surgical residency in Boston, I did my surgical oncology fellowship at MD Anderson," Peoples said, adding that he shifted his focus to this peptide, working in the lab with Dr. Ioannides and helping initially with one of the first clinical trials, run by Dr. James L. Murray, a medical oncologist there.

After finishing his fellowship, Peoples went back to Walter Reed to start as staff surgical oncologist where he initiated a similar clinical trial of E75, but focused on using the vaccine to prevent the recurrence of cancer.

During this time, he did vaccine trials on multiple HER2/neu-related peptides and other antigens, which he says work well for breast cancer, but also other similar-type proteins made by cancers that can be targeted as cancer vaccines.


"People who are in my field approach this by saying, yes there are ways to treat cancer, but why wait and treat, why not try to prevent?

The desire to prevent disease, he said, is what led to the eradication of smallpox and hopefully will lead to the eradication of polio.

"If you vaccinate enough people, you prevent the disease and it can no longer exist in the population; eventually it's eradicated. So, if you believe that concept, then we need to figure out a way to prevent cancers, as opposed to detect them earlier or treat them better," Peoples said.

He said one of the advantages of HER2/neu is the majority of cancers actually express some levels of the protein. It's not exclusive to breast cancer, either, Peoples said.

"Clinically, we think about it mostly being associated with breast cancer, but that's just because of the popularity of Herceptin," he said.

Unfortunately, Peoples said, Herceptin is not effective in most cancers. In fact, in breast cancer only 20 percent have a sufficient amount of the HER2/neu protein for the antibody to work, and in other cancers it's even less than that.

"So that leaves the other 80 percent of breast cancer out and not eligible for Herceptin," Peoples said. He added that fortunately, the NeuVax vaccine can target breast cancers that have lower levels of HER2/neu expression.

Along with the 20 percent of breast cancer that has high enough levels of HER2/neu for Herceptin to work, Peoples further explained that another 20 percent of breast cancer has no HER2/neu expression.

"But then there's that middle 60 percent that has some level and that's actually the group of people we're primarily targeting with the vaccine right now, because we've shown that the vaccine works well in that group and that group has no Herceptin-like treatment right now," Peoples explained.

"Probably the bigger point there is ... if it works, if the vaccine works in that lower level of HER2/neu expression group, then you can go look at other cancers that are not being targeted by Herceptin..."

And those other cancers, he said, are anything that comes from an epithelial cell, which are the big cancers - lung cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, some blood cancers, ovarian cancer, and gastric cancer.

"So it's all of the big cancers that we face in the United States, all of those have a significant proportion of the tumors expressing some level of HER2/neu and, therefore, theoretically targetable by the vaccine.

"So that's the more exciting piece to this. We have tested the vaccine in prostate cancer, we're testing it currently in ovarian and endometrial cancer, we have not done lung or colon, yet, though that's on the list for future trials.

"So we have tried to show that the vaccine can, in fact, be used in multiple cancers, and it's more related to HER2/neu expression than it is to the actual name on the tumor," Peoples said.


A lot of times, he said, people actually do have cancer cells, or "cancer-esque" cells. It's just they haven't formed the cancer yet. And so those cells will theoretically be recognizable to the immune system, and can be affected by a vaccine.

"Ultimately, that is the goal - to provide a protective-type vaccine so that a person never actually develops the cancer," Peoples said.

HER2/neu, he said, is an important antigen, but it may not be the most critical antigen. There may be others, particularly ones that are common in the development process of the cancer.

"So you could ultimately envision a vaccine that targets those critical proteins that are necessary for cancer to form. And if you have immunity, such that your body can recognize those proteins as soon as they show up, then theoretically, you could prevent a person from ever developing a cancer."

"The good news is, I think those proteins are likely to be common proteins, shared among multiple cancer types. So if you have immunity against one of those proteins, we'll use HER2/neu for an example, if you had immunity against HER2/neu, then you could prevent the development of any one of these types of cancers. So, it wouldn't be a cancer-specific vaccine, but a vaccine that would protect you against lung cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, etc."

"I think that is theoretically possible, it's just a matter of identifying the most useful antigens to target," Peoples said.

CIA seeks new authority to expand Yemen drone campaign

The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said.

Securing permission to use these “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives.

The practice has been a core element of the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan for several years. CIA Director David H. Petraeus has requested permission to use the tactic against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which has emerged as the most pressing terrorism threat to the United States, officials said.

If approved, the change would probably accelerate a campaign of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen that is already on a record pace, with at least eight attacks in the past four months.

For President Obama, an endorsement of signature strikes would mean a significant, and potentially risky, policy shift. The administration has placed tight limits on drone operations in Yemen to avoid being drawn into an often murky regional conflict and risk turning militants with local agendas into al-Qaeda recruits.

A senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations, declined to talk about what he described as U.S. “tactics” in Yemen, but he said that “there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States.”

U.S. officials acknowledge that the standard has not always been upheld. Last year, a U.S. drone strike inadvertently killed the American son of al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. The teenager had never been accused of terrorist activity and was killed in a strike aimed at other militants.

Some U.S. officials have voiced concern that such incidents could become more frequent if the CIA is given the authority to use signature strikes.

“How discriminating can they be?” asked a senior U.S. official familiar with the proposal. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen “is joined at the hip” with a local insurgency whose main goal is to oust the country’s government, the official said. “I think there is the potential that we would be perceived as taking sides in a civil war.”

U.S. officials said that the CIA proposal has been presented to the National Security Council and that no decision has been reached. Officials from the White House and the CIA declined to comment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

U.S., Maylasia air forces conclude exercise Cope Taufan 2012

After completing more than 140 sorties and several hundred flying hours, the U.S. Air Force and Royal Malaysian Air Force concluded exercise Cope Taufan 2012 at the Royal Malaysian Air Force base TUDM Butterworth, April 13.

The Pacific Air Forces-sponsored, live-flying exercise, that included F-15 Eagles from the 67th Fighter Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan, and four different airframes from the RMAF, allowed U.S. and Royal Malaysian air force pilots to hone their skills in dissimilar basic fighter maneuvers, combat search and rescue, and dissimilar air combat tactics for the first time.

"(Cope Taufan is) an important (military to military) engagement that binds our two countries together," said Lee McClenny, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, who made his first visit here since assuming his current position in August 2011. "Your extreme hospitality and friendship furthers our long-term relationship and enhances our ability to work together," he said during the closing ceremony.

Royal Malaysian Col. Suri bin Daud, the Cope Taufan 2012 exercise director, said the RMAF hopes to increase the scale of activities and training for future exercises.

"All the planning of activities are a means to an end," he said. "That end is the mutual understanding between our countries and our air forces. How we focus on our missions and how we support each other strengthens our mutual bonds."

Hours before the closing ceremony, RMAF and USAF members traveled back to an orphanage in Kulim where one week earlier the combined team mixed and poured concrete for a multi-use sports court, which will be used for volleyball, badminton or a taditional Malaysian game, sepak takraw, and other sports.

The orphanage, in northwestern Malaysia, currently houses 50 children ranging in age from 10 to 17 years old. The children are all orphans of former Malaysian armed forces members.

U.S. Air Force Airmen representing the 67th FS and 67th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, who were honored guests at a dedication ceremony for the new court, also got a chance to give gifts to the children, including two water cooling systems, various sports equipment and toys.

"We had such a fun time while you were here," Nurhafiza Husna Binti Halim, a resident of the orphanage, said during the ceremony. "All of your kindness will be treasured close to our hearts."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

US and China engage in cyber war games

The US and China have been discreetly engaging in "war games" amid rising anger in Washington over the scale and audacity of Beijing-co-ordinated cyber attacks on western governments and big business, the Guardian has learned.

State department and Pentagon officials, along with their Chinese counterparts, were involved in two war games last year that were designed to help prevent a sudden military escalation between the sides if either felt they were being targeted. Another session is planned for May.

Though the exercises have given the US a chance to vent its frustration at what appears to be state-sponsored espionage and theft on an industrial scale, China has been belligerent.

"China has come to the conclusion that the power relationship has changed, and it has changed in a way that favours them," said Jim Lewis, a senior fellow and director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) thinktank in Washington.

"The PLA [People's Liberation Army] is very hostile. They see the US as a target. They feel they have justification for their actions. They think the US is in decline."

The war games have been organised through the CSIS and a Beijing thinktank, the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. This has allowed government officials, and those from the US intelligence agencies, to have contact in a less formal environment.

Known as "Track 1.5" diplomacy, it is the closest governments can get in conflict management without full-blown talks.

Panetta, Dempsey say Pentagon feels sequestration's shadow

The shadow of sequestration is being cast over the Defense Department, and members of Congress must act to dissipate it, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.

Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke about sequestration and the defense budget during a news conference at the Pentagon.

"Sequestration" refers to a mechanism based into the Budget Control Act that would trigger an additional $500 billion cut across the board for defense spending over the next decade if Congress doesn't find an alternative by January.

"I think the shadow of sequestration is there," Panetta said. While the Defense Department has received no guidance from the Office of Management and Budget to begin planning for sequestration, the threat of it is having an impact on the department and on the industries the department depends on, the secretary said.

"In the end, it's up to Congress," Panetta said. "In the coming weeks, they will begin considering the defense authorization and appropriations bills. Our hope is that Congress will carefully consider the new defense strategy and the budget decisions that resulted from that strategy."

Any changes the Congress contemplates will affect other sections of the budget, because it is a zero-sum game, the secretary noted. Because of the Budget Control Act, he added, any change in any one area of the budget and force structure will inevitably require offsetting changes elsewhere.

"That carries the real risk that if this is not done right, the result could be a hollow, unbalanced or weaker force," he said. "Our hope is that our strategy will not be picked apart piece by piece."

Panetta said he hopes Congress will be reasonable.

"There isn't any member [of Congress] I've talked to that doesn't think that sequester is a disaster," he said. "There isn't any member who has said to me, 'Oh, it'll be great.'" All of them understand that it's the wrong way to go.

"And I just have to hope that ultimately, they will find the courage and leadership to be able to address that issue, detrigger sequester, deal with the other challenges that are out there and try to do it as soon as possible," he continued, "because frankly, the longer this drags on, the more of an impact it has in terms of the planning process and in terms of the budget process."

Dempsey said the department confronted the new fiscal reality last year and developed the new strategy. The fiscal year 2013 budget request came from that new strategy, he said.

"It took us every bit of energy we had to get from there to the budget submission in February," the general said. "So I mean, I would anticipate that we would have to begin doing some planning in the mid to late summer if we have any chance at all of reacting to it should it trigger."

This is a critical moment for the United States, Panetta said, and while the nation must cut the military, this does not mean threats have disappeared.

"We need to rise to meet the challenges that are facing us in this dangerous and uncertain world, and we can't afford to have the Congress resort to bitter partisanship or parochialism at this critical time," Panetta said. "So the message we wanted to send Congress today is that there is very little margin for error with this package.

"That's the reality that all of us are living with," he added. "The strategy we developed will maintain, we believe, the strongest military in the world by every measure, and that's essential because of the nature of the security challenges that we're facing."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Army wants uniform to repel nearly all invisible threats, too

Whether soldiers want to avoid infection during the theoretical zombie apocalypse or just keep clean on modern battlefields, the U.S. Army has their backs. Military researchers have begun sniffing around the idea of specially treated clothing that could not only repel dirt, rain and snow, but also invisible threats from chemicals, bacteria and viruses.

The Army wants to take a closer look at "omniphobic" coatings that have proved capable of repelling all sorts of liquids and dirt in lab tests, according to its solicitation notice issued on Wednesday. Such technology could protect soldiers from almost every imaginable biological or environmental contaminant — but only if the Army can figure out how to make the coatings more resistant to daily wear and tear.

"It is envisioned that omniphobic treated protective clothing will help to protect the skin from contact with solid and liquid toxic industrial chemicals, petroleum, oil, and lubricants, chemical warfare agents, and bacteria and viruses, thus effectively providing enhanced chemical/biological (CB) protection," according to the Army solicitation notice.

Air Force tells pilots to slow down to save fuel

The Air Force has ordered its pilots to fly higher and slower in an effort to slash fuel use while still performing the same missions.

The rise in oil prices has added $1 billion to the cost of fueling the Air Force fleet in 2012, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy Kevin Geiss said last month.

“We use the most energy of all the services in the Department of Defense, and we are the largest energy user in the federal government,” Geiss said. “Every day, we fly 900 mobility aircraft flights around the world moving cargo and fuel and doing disaster response and aeromedical evacuation as well as operations with combat aircraft.”

The Air Force fleet of 4,693 aircraft is twice as large as the fleets of commercial carriers UPS, Southwest, United and Delta combined, he said.

One way that the Air Force plans to cut fuel costs is by installing fuel-efficient engines on some of its aircraft. For example, upgrading engines on KC-130 tankers at a cost of $278 million over several years will ultimately save $1.3 billion in maintenance and $150 million in fuel over the life of the aircraft through to 2046, Geiss said.

Other fuel-efficiency efforts are already having a big impact. The Air Force is hauling 27 percent more cargo than it did five years ago, but its fuel consumption has fallen 4 percent since 2006. The cost to haul a ton of cargo one mile, made up mostly of the cost of fuel, has been cut 21 percent, Geiss said.

“We are looking at changing how we fly,” he said.

The Air Force saved $2.4 million last year by optimizing diplomatic clearances to allow aircraft to fly over friendly nations’ airspace and cut flight times, he said.

Duplicating Afghanistan From the Ground Up

When Sgt. First Class Darrell Rowe’s Army bosses told him they were sending him for a week of beekeeping and tree pruning here in California’s fertile Central Valley, he was irked.

Familiarizing soon-to-be deployed service members like Sergeant Rowe with basic information about Afghanistan’s crops and farming traditions is precisely the point of a new one-week training program developed by the federal Agriculture Department.

This is boot camp where soldiers are more likely to learn about manure than about M-4 rifles with grenade launchers.

Military officials send recruits from across the country to Central California because it shares many agroclimatic characteristics with Afghanistan — fertile valleys, semi-arid plains and mountains — and can serve as a kind of geographical laboratory.

“We can replicate on our demonstration farm exactly the types of conditions these troops will find on the ground,” said Bill Erysian, director of Agricultural Development for Afghanistan Pre-Deployment Training, or Adapt, a program based at California State University, Fresno.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

NATO Sees Flaws in Air Campaign Against Qaddafi

Despite widespread praise in Western capitals for NATO’s leadership of the air campaign in Libya, a confidential NATO assessment paints a sobering portrait of the alliance’s ability to carry out such campaigns without significant support from the United States.

The report concluded that the allies struggled to share crucial target information, lacked specialized planners and analysts, and overly relied on the United States for reconnaissance and refueling aircraft.

The findings undercut the idea that the intervention was a model operation and that NATO could effectively carry out a more complicated campaign in Syria without relying disproportionately on the United States military. Even with the American help in Libya, NATO had only about 40 percent of the aircraft needed to intercept electronic communications, a shortage that hindered the operation’s effectiveness, the report said.

report also spotlights an important issue for the alliance that dates to the Balkan wars of the 1990s: that the United States has emerged “by default” as the NATO specialist in providing precision-guided munitions — which made up virtually all of the 7,700 bombs and missiles dropped or fired on Libya — and a vast majority of specialized aircraft that conduct aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, or I.S.R. in military parlance.

“NATO remains overly reliant on a single ally to provide I.S.R. collection capabilities that are essential to the commander,” the report said.

In this criticism, however, several American and other allied officials said they saw a silver lining. The NATO report played a significant role in helping the alliance agree in February to acquire its own dedicated air-to-ground surveillance system to track and target hostile ground forces, the officials said.

The assessment also helped spur a French-led initiative backed by the Obama administration to establish a hub for allied surveillance aircraft, including Predator and Global Hawk drones, at an Italian air base in Sicily. This concept is modeled after a similar approach NATO has developed in Afghanistan, and it is expected to be approved by allied leaders at a NATO summit meeting in Chicago next month.

In addition, European defense ministers agreed last month on an ambitious proposal to expand the allies’ aerial refueling fleet, another American-backed measure that NATO officials will highlight in Chicago.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Northrop Grumman Achieves Major Milestone in Electronic Warfare Technology

Northrop Grumman recently celebrated the completion of its 2,000th microwave power module,an integral component in radars, jammers and other military electronics.

Microwave power modules are devices that amplify radio frequency signals to high power. These assemblies are critical components in electronic warfare and countermeasure systems such as the AN/ALQ-135 for U.S. and international F-15 aircraft.

The power these modules generate allows systems like the ALQ-135 to defeat electronic threats with strong signals, protecting the aircraft and its crew.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

New fixed-wing aircraft to replace C-12s

The Army is looking to replace its fleet of 117 C-12 aircraft with something called a "Future Fixed Wing Utility Aircraft."

The C-12 Huron is used by the Army for personnel transport, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, as well as carrying cargo.

"The biggest program that we have got coming up, and of course this is going to replace all the Army C-12s, we're looking at putting a program together called the Future Fixed Wing Utility Aircraft," said Col. Brian Tachias, the Army's project manager for fixed-wing aircraft.

He said a requirements document for that program is now "working in the Pentagon." When that is approved, he said, it will allow the Army to begin an analysis of alternatives, and eventually define the requirements for the program in a capabilities development document. If approved, that will allow the Army "to go out and procure the next fixed-wing utility aircraft."

Tachias spoke last week in Nashville, Tenn., at the Army Aviation Association of America conference there. He heads up the Army's latest project office, focused entirely on fixed-wing aircraft. The Project Office for Fixed-Wing Aircraft stood up in October 2011, and has a "leadership role over all of the Army fixed-wing aircraft," Tachias said.

Before the official stand-up date last year, the office managed about 256 Army aircraft. Today, the office manages about 366 fixed-wing aircraft. The consolidation of those aircraft under the oversight of one project office came after a push by the Army's vice chief of staff to centrally manage fixed-wing aircraft in one office because there are "a lot of efficiencies to be gained by consolidating them under one leadership role," Tachias said.

Tachias said there's been an estimated 10-15 percent cost savings by having the Army's entire fleet of fixed-wing aircraft managed by the office. He also said that managing them in one program means increased safety. The Army, he said, is "managing these programs under one Army standard to make sure we are providing safe aircraft for the pilots to fly, and of course consolidating the configuration management under one system, that way we don't have all these different configurations of all these different aircraft."

The colonel said that since October, the office has conducted 111 airworthiness releases on the aircraft it manages.

Among the aircraft the office manages are those used by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Golden Knights, and the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. The office also handles special operations fixed-wing aircraft and aircraft that do intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance work.

In the near term, the project office is also buying aircraft for the Army Test and Evaluation Command, which has four aircraft that need replacement. The office has also procured new aircraft for the Golden Knights.

Recently, Tachias said, the office has stood up a foreign military sales cell and is working cases with the United Arab Emirates, Columbia, Egypt and Greece.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

US Army Discusses FVL Future Transport Helicopter

The Army's aircraft of the future will be faster than what the service has now, it will carry more weight, it will require less of a logistical footprint, and officials said it will better do what Army aviation is meant to do: serve the ground commander.

While what is now being called "Future Vertical Lift," or FVL, by the Army is still a concept, its capabilities are already known.

The FVL concept will be "able to support the Army and the ground commanders better than we can do it today," said Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, commander, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence." I see this aircraft being able to do all the missions that we currently do. I see the aircraft that can do it because it can be scaled. It may be a medium variant, something that is the size of maybe a Black Hawk or an Apache is today, that can do the attack mission, or the assault/lift mission. I see the same aircraft scaled smaller that will be able to do the reconnaissance mission, similar to what a Kiowa Warrior does today."

Crutchfield said it's not known if the FVL concept will end up producing a rotary-wing aircraft, like the Army AH-64 Apache, or a tilt-rotor aircraft like the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey.

What the FVL will do is perform missions the Army does today with its aviation assets, missions that will not change.

"The vision is that we can have an aircraft that can do all the missions that we currently have," he said. "Our missions will not change. We still will do attack and reconnaissance, we still will do sustainment and troop movements. It's an enduring mission that will not change. I just want to do it better."

The FVL aircraft will perform multiple roles, Crutchfield said, and that means that the end result is that there will be fewer types of aircraft in the Army's fleet. It's also possible that there will be fewer aircraft overall, because a more capable aircraft means that fewer aircraft will be needed.

"Today there are concepts where there are aircraft that we consider rotary wing, that can fly in excess of 300 knots," Crutchfield said. "No other aircraft we have today can fly 300 knots. If you have an aircraft that can fly 300 knots, it can cover more terrain faster, and if you can cover more terrain faster, theoretically, you would need less airframes to do the same type mission."

And because Crutchfield said the idea behind the FVL concept is to have the same aircraft be able to perform multiple missions, the Army will need fewer types of aircraft. That means a smaller number of parts will be needed to sustain the fleet, and a shared pool of maintainers and maintenance equipment. That will result in a reduced cost for logistics.

Crutchfield said that the FVL could come in different sizes, depending on the mission it will perform, but things like engine, drive train, and cockpit components would be the same, common between the two, and swappable.

Today's Army aircraft, Crutchfield said, are capable. But there is a limit to the performance that can be squeezed from them.

"Although we have great aircraft today, the best in the world, no matter how much money we invest in these aircraft of today - the aircraft are not going to fly any faster than they fly right now," Crutchfield said. "They are not going to be able to carry any more payload than they do right now. They will not be able to reduce any of the logistical footprint [more] than they do right now. That's what future vertical lift will do. That's what we see for the Army Aviation force of 2030."

It's expected that this summer, performance specifications for the FVL aircraft will be unveiled. Development of the program is an Army-led, joint program, that includes all military services, including the Coast Guard.

Drones to Increase 45% in Pentagon 30-Year Aviation Plan

The Pentagon plans to increase its fleet of armed and long-haul surveillance drones by at least 45 percent over the next 10 years.

The U.S. military’s inventory of unmanned aerial vehicles, will grow to 645 aircraft in fiscal 2022 from about 445 in fiscal 2013, including versions of Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC)’s RQ-4 Global Hawk and General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predators, the Defense Department said in a report required by Congress on its aviation blueprint for the next 30 years.

In addition, the U.S. Army wants to buy 164 Gray Eagle drones from closely held General Atomics of San Diego from 2013 to 2022 “in direct support of ground forces,” the Pentagon said in the report obtained today.

Drones are playing an increasing role as the Pentagon seeks a force that will be “smaller and leaner” and more technologically advanced, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put it when he introduced a revamped national security strategy in January. Even as the inventory of drones grows, the U.S. military is buying fewer than originally planned because of reduced budgets, a defense official told lawmakers.

“The military departments adjusted their plans to comply with a constrained top line by procuring fewer aircraft than desired,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter wrote in a letter to the leaders of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee on April 4.

Afghan Force Will Be Cut After Taking Leading Role

Afghanistan’s defense minister said Tuesday that his government and the international coalition paying for the war effort had agreed in principle that Afghan security forces would undergo a significant reduction to about 230,000 personnel after the NATO mission ends in 2014.

Under current plans, Afghan security forces are to reach a peak of 352,000 by late this year. Afghan and alliance officials agree that it would be unwise to begin reducing that number before the end of 2014, because in the coming months the number of foreign forces will be reduced and Afghans will be taking over the leading role in defending their nation.

The defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, noted that the projected reductions beyond 2014 were the result of “a conceptual model for planning purposes” of an army, police and border-protection force sufficient to defend Afghanistan. But it also must be sustainable in the future with decreasing foreign contributions.

He emphasized that the ultimate size of the Afghan security force would be weighed against the battlefield effectiveness of the insurgency, and could be slowed or accelerated depending on the security climate in coming years.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Prosthetics get the personal touch

We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better ... stronger ... faster.

—Opening to “The Six Million Dollar Man”

As a boy, Scott Summit was entranced by that television show’s premise. As an industrial designer, he has made it his business.

Summit makes legs.

Chrome-plated legs. Leather-coated legs. Legs, some laser-etched with tribal tattoos, that mirror the shape of an amputee’s sound limb without pretending in the least to be human.

Prosthetics long have focused on function. But the same design sensibility that has come to influence practical items like smartphones is turning synthetic limbs into a platform for self-expression. As Summit helps fulfill that desire, he is influencing what it means to live with a disability.

Designer limbs must “represent personality as well as physicality,” Summit said recently from his work space on the upper floor of a light-dappled building near downtown San Francisco.

“The thought was, if it was beautifully sculpted and crafted, it would change … the way the person actually perceives their own body and, hopefully, it would then change the way society sees amputees.”

Sunday, April 8, 2012

U.S. Defines Its Demands for New Round of Talks With Iran

The Obama administration and its European allies plan to open new negotiations with Iran by demanding the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling of a recently completed nuclear facility deep under a mountain, according to American and European diplomats.

They are also calling for a halt in the production of uranium fuel that is considered just a few steps from bomb grade, and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of the country, the diplomats said.

That negotiating position will be the opening move in what President Obama has called Iran’s “last chance” to resolve its nuclear confrontation with the United Nations and the West diplomatically. The hard-line approach would require the country’s military leadership to give up the Fordo enrichment plant outside the holy city of Qum, and with it a huge investment in the one facility that is most hardened against airstrikes.

While it is unclear whether the allies would accept anything less than closing and disassembling Fordo, government and outside experts say the terms may be especially difficult for Iran’s leaders to accept when they need to appear strong in the face of political infighting.

Still, Mr. Obama and his allies are gambling that crushing sanctions and the threat of Israeli military action will bolster the arguments of those Iranians who say a negotiated settlement is far preferable to isolation and more financial hardship. Other experts fear the tough conditions being set could instead swing the debate in favor of Iran’s hard-liners.

“We have no idea how the Iranians will react,” one senior administration official said. “We probably won’t know after the first meeting.” But the next round of oil sanctions, he noted, kicks in early this summer.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Details Emerge on Coming U.S. Offensive in Eastern Afghanistan

A campaign that will likely be the last major U.S. offensive of the Afghan War is set to begin later this year in eastern Afghanistan, the region where the conflict began and where senior NATO officials hope their involvement will effectively come to an end.

U.S. officials in Kabul and Washington have provided National Journal an array of details about the coming push, which represents a high-stakes -- and politically complicated -- attempt to better secure Kabul as well as Afghanistan’s porous border with Pakistan before the American exit from the country accelerates. With Washington planning to shift U.S. troops out of their lead combat role next year, it is also likely to be the last major American offensive of the long war.

That foray will be led by thousands of troops from the 1st Brigade of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, set to deploy to eastern Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province in the coming months. The brigade will be augmented with additional combat, support, and training personnel, which means the new U.S. influx could include roughly 5,000 additional troops.

A senior U.S. government official in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new troops will have three primary missions. First, they will work to expand the so-called “security bubble” surrounding the Afghan capital, which has been battered by a spate of insurgent attacks in recent months. Second, they will try to better connect Kabul with the key southern city of Kandahar, a hotbed of resistance that NATO forces largely reclaimed last year.

The third mission will be the most important, the most complicated, and potentially the most dangerous. The troops, the senior government official said, will move toward the Afghan-Pakistani border as part of a broad push to reduce the numbers of antigovernment fighters, weaponry, and bomb-making material flowing in from Pakistan, where militants operate freely from large safe havens.

Fire Scout Sensor Geared to Pirate Surveillance

Navy unmanned aircraft will be able to distinguish small pirate boats from other vessels when an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-funded sensor starts airborne tests this summer, officials said April 5.

Called the Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS), the sensor is a mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and laser-radar (LADAR) technology. It will be placed on a robotic helicopter called Fire Scout. Carrying advanced automatic target recognition software, the sensor prototype will allow Fire Scout to autonomously identify small boats on the water, reducing the workload of Sailors operating it from control stations aboard Navy ships.

"Sailors who control robotic systems can become overloaded with data, often sifting through hours of streaming video searching for a single ship," said Ken Heeke, program officer in ONR's Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. "The automatic target recognition software gives Fire Scout the ability to distinguish target boats in congested coastal waters using LADAR, and it sends that information to human operators, who can then analyze those vessels in a 3-D picture."

Navy-developed target recognition algorithms aboard Fire Scout will exploit the 3-D data collected by the LADAR, utilizing a long-range, high-res, eye-safe laser. The software compares the 3-D imagery to vessel templates or schematics stored in the system's memory.

"The 3-D data gives you a leg up on target identification," said Dean Cook, principal investigator for the MMSS program at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD). "Infrared and visible cameras produce 2-D pictures, and objects in them can be difficult to automatically identify. With LADAR data, each pixel corresponds to a 3-D point in space, so the automatic target recognition algorithm can calculate the dimensions of an object and compare them to those in a database."

The algorithms have been successfully tested in shore-based systems against vessels at sea. The software is being integrated into a BRITE Star II turret by a team from NAWCWD, Raytheon, FLIR Systems, BAE Systems and Utah State University for airborne testing aboard a manned test helicopter. The flight assessment will be conducted against groups of approximately seven small boats in a military sea range off the California coast later this summer.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Al-Qaeda websites go silent 'after cyber attack'

"All of them essentially went down" as of March 23, said Aaron Zelin, a researcher at the politics department at Brandeis University.

The outage hit several online forums including two "flagship" sites, al-Fida and Shamukh al-Islam, which serve as a channel for al-Qaeda forums, providing a stamp of approval for any associated sites, Zelin said.

"The forums authenticate al-Qaeda's message, therefore they're very important," said Zelin, who writes about extremist Islamist sites on

"If someone is a true believer in the cause, they're going to go to the forum because they know it's the only place they can get al-Qaeda's message."

One of the two main sites, Shamukh al-Islam, reappeared online on Monday but had not yet resumed message threads, he said.

U.S. Army Defining New Multi-Role Helicopter

It has been decades since the U.S. Army had the chance to define a clean-sheet rotorcraft. But an opportunity is approaching as the service heads toward the multi-year demonstration of configurations and technologies for next-generation utility/attack rotorcraft that could replace today’s Sikorsky UH-60s and Boeing AH-64s, beginning around 2030.

The Joint Multi-Role (JMR) concept evolved from an analysis of U.S. vertical-lift needs, which included a painful assessment of the shortfalls of current rotorcraft and gaps in industry capabilities. The conclusion was that another round of upgrades for existing platforms would not be enough, and that a technology demonstration program was needed to get industry up to speed to deliver a next-generation rotorcraft on time and on cost.

The JMR technology demonstration is intended to apply to all classes of Army rotorcraft, from armed scout to heavy lift, but is focused on the medium utility-class because replacing the Black Hawk fleet “offers the biggest bang for the buck,” says Ned Chase, JMR technology-demonstration team leader and chief of the platform technology division at the Army’s Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

US draws up plans for nuclear drones

American scientists have drawn up plans for a new generation of nuclear-powered drones capable of flying over remote regions of the world for months on end without refuelling.

The blueprints for the new drones, which have been developed by Sandia National Laboratories – the US government's principal nuclear research and development agency – and defence contractor Northrop Grumman, were designed to increase flying time "from days to months" while making more power available for operating equipment, according to a project summary published by Sandia.

"It's pretty terrifying prospect," said Chris Coles of Drone Wars UK, which campaigns against the increasing use of drones for both military and civilian purposes. "Drones are much less safe than other aircraft and tend to crash a lot. There is a major push by this industry to increase the use of drones and both the public and government are struggling to keep up with the implications."

The highly sensitive research into what is termed "ultra-persistence technologies" set out to solve three problems associated with drones: insufficient "hang time" over a potential target; lack of power for running sophisticated surveillance and weapons systems; and lack of communications capacity.

North Korea 'preparing to unveil missile capable of striking continental US'

Reconnaissance satellites have identified the huge missile at a government research and development facility in Pyongyang, South Korean government sources told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

Analysts estimate the weapon to be around 130 feet long and, equipped with a more powerful booster unit, capable of delivering a warhead more than 6,200 miles.

Unveiling the missile will raise new fears in neighbouring countries, already alarmed by Pyongyang's insistence that it will go ahead with the launch in mid-April of a rocket to put a satellite into orbit.

Washington, Seoul and Tokyo believe the launch is a covert test launch of a missile.

Analysis of the rocket, which is being prepared for launch at the new Tongchang-ri aerospace facility in the far north-west of the country, indicates that at 105 feet long it is identical in length to the Taepodong-2 missile that was fired in April 2009 and, with a range of 4,163 miles, is the most potent missile in the North Korean armoury at present.


NATO Missile Defense for Europe

NATO has agreed to provide ballistic missile defense or BMD for all of Europe. This NATO BMD will protect NATO (European and American) military forces in Europe. It will also – for the very first time – protect the civilian population throughout Europe from ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction launched from the Middle East.
Much of this NATO missile defense for Europe – known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach – will actually be provided by the United States armed forces. This will include seaborne AEGIS missile defense on board US Navy ships in the Mediterranean, as well as land based radars and interceptor missiles.
This e-book describes how NATO missile defense for Europe will be organized and implemented.

NATO contingent might stay in Afghanistan after 2014 – RF anti-drug chief

are needed to fight against drug traffic from Afghanistan, Russia’s anti-drug chief Viktor Ivanov said on Monday.

In 2014, he reminded, responsibility for maintaining security will be handed over from the NATO forces to the Afghan government.

“The entire burden will rest on the Afghan government, which is still very weak. The country’s annual budget is 12 billion U.S. dollars, of which ten billion U.S. dollars are foreign aid,” Ivanov said. In his words, the years of combat operations have ruined the country’s economy, while “the vast drug production yields up to 65 billion U.S. dollars to the organized crime, a sum which exceeds the country’s budget.”

The United States Congress has already announced a decrease in the investments in the country, he noted. “We are worried over this situation. Afghanistan will not do without international assistance. The worse its economy is, the bigger drug production will be in the country,” Ivanov said.

He also said that according to information available to him, NATO forces might stay in the region as long as “it necessary to fulfill their tasks.”

Monday, April 2, 2012

Navy's New Robotics Lab Will Speed Technology to the Total Force

Scientists based in the nation's capital are stepping into the desert and rainforest to run experiments on autonomous systems without having to set foot outside the Navy's new robotics laboratory, officials said April 2.

The Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR), located at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington D.C., is the first addition to NRL's 130-acre campus in nearly a decade. Encompassing approximately 50,000 square feet, LASR boasts facilities that reproduce Earth's ecosystems, including a Tropical High Bay modeled after southeast Asian rainforests, a Littoral High Bay that simulates near-shore waters and a Desert High Bay with a rock wall that simulates a desert-like environment.

"It's the first time that we have, under a single roof, a laboratory that captures all the domains in which our Sailors, Marines and fellow DOD service members operate," said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research. "Advancing robotics and autonomy are top priorities for the Office of Naval Research. We want to reduce the time it takes to deliver capability to our warfighters performing critical missions. This innovative facility bridges the gap between traditional laboratory research and in-the-field experimentation-saving us time and money."

The $17.7 million LASR building opened its doors to researchers on March 16. As the nerve center for robotic systems research in the Department of Defense, LASR brings together scientists and engineers from diverse fields to solve the nation's autonomy challenges.

"The LASR capitalizes on the broad multidisciplinary character of NRL, bringing together scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds to tackle common challenges in autonomy research at the intersection of their respective fields," said Alan Schultz, director of LASR. "This one-of-a-kind laboratory provides specialized facilities to support highly innovative research and testing in intelligent autonomy, sensor systems, power and energy systems, human-system interaction, networking and communications and platforms without leaving NRL."

Several multidisciplinary projects are already utilizing the lab's facilities to advance their research, including Damage Control for the 21st Century-a program to develop firefighting robots for use aboard Navy ships; Pectoral Fin Swimmer-an underwater robot; and hydrogen fuel cell propulsion to power a small unmanned aircraft called Ion Tiger.

Officials expect the number of projects to grow as researchers register to use the facility.

Navy Seeks Renewable Ocean Energy Technology

The Navy's energy future was the focus of a two-day NAVFAC Conference and Industry Day held March 26-28 at the Koa Malina Officers Club, Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH), Kaneohe Bay.

The Navy, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, will select three ocean energy power developers to occupy Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) moorings at Kaneohe Bay.

"The Navy is committed to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and is leading the way on the development of viable, renewable energy sources," said NAVFAC Pacific Vice Commander Capt. Pete Lynch. "NAVFAC Pacific is working on ways to make the Navy's shore infrastructure more energy independent and strengthen our energy security position. The ocean is an untapped resource and possible source of renewable energy. The conferences we are hosting will help us learn the new ocean energy technology and systems that exist today."

Presentations were received from more than forty energy companies worldwide, and renewable ocean energy information was shared between private industry and Navy engineers. The conference and industry day was intended to spotlight the latest in ocean energy technical development and, in partnership with private industry, utilize innovative technologies to achieve the Navy's energy goals. Knowledge sharing was mutually beneficial to all participants.

"We learned so much during today's presentations, especially in the one-on-one meetings with industry," said Bob Fredrickson NAVFAC Engineering Service Center (NAVFAC ESC) division director, Ocean Facilities Department. "Many of the companies had technologically advanced ideas, some of which looked very promising. We also spoke with developers who are relatively new to the field, and we realize they still need to advance their research and development efforts before they are ready to become contenders for testing at WETS. Nevertheless, all input was welcomed since we are hoping to add an ocean renewables component to the Navy and Marine Corps overall energy mix."

The first day of the conference involved the WETS Industry Forum and dialogue on wave energy initiatives at MCBH. The Ocean Energy and Sea Water Air Conditioning Industry Forum was the main topic on the second day, with discussions on diverse renewable ocean energy technologies, including offshore wind, ocean thermal energy conversion, wave, tidal, current, and ocean compressed air energy storage.

Navy and NAVFAC engineers will review data gleaned from the original Request for Information process and all Industry Day responses before moving ahead to the next phase - selection of contractors for this project.

Bidders must submit revised proposals and letters of commitment by mid-April. The actual design of new moorings and power cables is expected by the end of 2012, and the Navy is currently working with local residents and stakeholders on the completion of an environmental assessment for the proposed K-Bay site.

US Navy Ships to Fire All Weapons During Inspections

The president of the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) held a round-table discussion with the seven previous INSURV presidents, to discuss the future of the INSURV process and map the organization's way ahead March 28 at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Ft. Story (Virginia).

Rear Adm. Robert O. Wray said he wanted to tap in to the accumulated knowledge of the former presidents that stretches back 20 years and leverage their expertise to help shape the future of the fleet.

"I wanted to bring in the past presidents of INSURV and have informal discussions about the future of the program," said Wray. "We are planning a number of new initiatives to not only streamline the INSURV process, but to ensure that our ships are fully ready to deploy and meet their mission requirements."

One change that has already been implemented is that all ships will be required fire all their guns during the inspection.

German naval commandos are called Kampfschwimmer or "combat swimmers". These German navy counterparts to the US Navy SEALs are Germany's oldest Special Operations Forces. The Kampfschwimmer roots go back to World War II.

Today's Kampfschwimmer formations are heavily involved in international operations against terrorism, including missions in the mountains of Afghanistan.

This e-book is written by a German Navy lieutenant who serves as a Kampfschwimmer team leader -- the equivalent of a US Navy SEAL platoon leader.

"German Navy SEALs" is a profile of the Kampfschwimmer units. The e-book covers the history of the Kampfschwimmer beginning with the World War II era; describes their organization, command structure, capabilities and training; discusses their cooperation with US Navy SEALS and other Special Operations Forces; and their role in German and NATO operational planning.

"Until recently, ships were only required to fire their primary gun system ," said Wray. "We want to ensure that every one of our ships and submarines are able to fight at 100 percent of their designed capability."
In addition to firing all their weapons systems, they are also instituting a mid-term INSURV assessment on surface ships to align with their deployment cycles.
"We know that Sailors dread INSURV," said Wray.

"Sailors spend a long time preparing a ship for an INSURV inspection, but the truth is many of the tools the fleet used to keep ships at a 100 percent operational level have gone away. OPPE (operational propulsion plant examination), CSA (combat systems assessment), HMERA (hull mechanical engine readiness assessment), all those assessments are no longer used and five years between INSURV inspections is a long time. So what we're planning on doing is conducting a mid-term evaluation. This will give the crew a chance to meet with inspectors, get back in the INSURV mindset, review the deficiencies during the ship's previous INSURV, and start the planning process for conducting a successful INSURV inspection a couple years down the road."

According to Capt. Timothy R. Trampenau, director of staff management, INSURV, the process is providing more training to crews on how to prepare for and pass INSURV.
"We're proactively reaching out to the fleet and teaching INSURV 101," said Trampenau. "We're also retooling the reporting process so that the right people get these reports at the right time."

INSURV has also developed a user-oriented Web site to walk each ship through the process and set them up for success.

Wray plans on using the accumulated knowledge of the past presidents to continue to streamline INSURV inspections so the Navy can meet any and all missions required.

INSURV was established by Adm. David Glasgow Farragut in 1868.The Board of Naval Officers was charged with inspecting and reporting on the condition of all naval vessels. In 1882, Congress established the Presidency of the Board of Inspection and Survey and charged the command with reporting the fitness of each of the fleet's ships.

Congress' message to DOD: No BRAC for now, but cut more in Europe

Overcoming stiff opposition on Capitol Hill to any new round of U.S. base closures and realignments could hinge on how ambitious Pentagon plans are for closing more military facilities in Europe.

The bolder the proposals for Europe, the better the chances of persuading lawmakers to endure two rounds of base realignments and closures (BRAC) at home as proposed for 2013 and 2015, some military experts say.

Pentagon officials and senior commanders in Europe are drafting a new consolidation plan for Europe installations. The plan will contain a set of recommendations for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to consider later this year, according to senior defense officials.

“We definitely believe we can do more to consolidate in Europe,” Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, told lawmakers during a recent hearing on BRAC before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Robyn, however, stopped short of naming what facilities are under particular scrutiny. Military officials have said only they are looking at a wide range of facilities.

US general holds talks with Tajikistan

General James Mattis, the head of US Central Command, on Saturday held talks with Takjik President Emomali Rakhmon as Washington seeks continued support for its military operation in next-door Afghanistan.

"Tajikistan would like to see further strengthening of the development of ties with the United States in the sphere of security and the establishment of peace and stability in the region," Rakhmon told the visiting US general in comments released by his office.

Mattis for his part thanked Tajikistan for its support of the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan, saying Washington would continue providing assistance to the impoverished Central Asian nation's army and border guards, the Tajik statement said.

"The need to ramp up such cooperation is increasing, especially from 2014, that is upon the withdrawal of international coalition forces from Afghanistan," said the statement.

US, Russia to focus on 'homework' until election: official

Big breakthroughs between Washington and Moscow will have to wait until after the November US elections, with the two sides meanwhile doing "homework" on issues such as missile defence, a top US official said Friday.

"This is an important 'homework' period in the US-Russia relationship," Acting Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller told reporters and students at a Moscow university.

"Now we have to think about the future," said the veteran Russia expert. "How are we going to cooperate on missile defences?"