Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Six F-35s grounded due to ejection seat chute glitch.


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon grounded six Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets at a California air base due to a problem with the parachutes packed under the pilot's ejection seat, two sources familiar with the issue told Reuters.

Additional F-35 jets being flown at a U.S. Navy air station in Maryland are not affected because they use a different ejection seat, said the sources, who were not authorized to speak on the record.

The grounding of the F-35 Air Force variant is more bad news for the $382 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which faces a third restructuring in three years after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week announced another slowdown in procurement to allow more time for development testing.

Panetta gave no details, but Reuters has quoted sources familiar with the budget plans as saying the Pentagon will postpone buying an additional 179 F-35 jets over the next five years, pushing their procurement off until after fiscal 2017.


Richard Aboulafia, defense analyst with the Virginia-based Teal Group, said of the parachute problem, "There's a perception that they're moving too fast on production before ironing out all of the problems, and this is going to reinforce that perception."

The affected parachutes, manufactured by a privately owned British company, Martin Baker, were improperly folded and must be adjusted before the aircraft can resume test flights at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, said the sources.

The company also needs to swap out parachutes on F-35 jets at a Florida air base where the Air Force hopes to start training flights this summer, according to the sources.

No comment was immediately available from Lockheed or the Pentagon's F-35 program office.

Predator Drone kills 3 in Yemen.


Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Three suspected drone strikes hit militant targets in southern Yemen on Monday night and Tuesday morning, killing at least nine people with suspected links to al Qaeda, Yemeni security officials said.

The missiles struck Abyan province near areas that have been taken over by Ansaar al-Sharia, a militant group with links to al Qaeda, three security officials officials said.
The militant group took over large parts of Abyan province in May after government forces evacuated a number of security posts and military bases. The group announced Abyan as an Islamic emirate and is calling for the implementation of Sharia law.

Hundreds of troops and militant fighters have been killed in the government's efforts to clear the province from the hands of the militants, according to Yemen's defense ministry.

Some residents in the area said they saw the aircraft in the attacks.
"The U.S. aircraft was flying in surprisingly low altitude Monday night. We were scared and expected a night of explosions and blood," said Mousa Abdul Kadoos Abu Ali, a resident of Lowder distict, an area in the province.

Two security officials said the drone was from the United States.
U.S. officials rarely discuss the drone program, though privately they have said the covert strikes are legal and an effective tactic in the fight against extremists. But President Barack Obama did speak about the controversial use of drone attacks Monday.
"Our ability to respect the sovereignty of other countries and to limit our incursions into somebody else's territory is enhanced by the fact that we are able to pinpoint-strike an al Qaeda operative in a place where the capacities of that military in that country may not be able to get them," the president said during a Google+ video chat room interview Monday.

He added that "drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties." He gave no indication that the U.S. policy of ordering drone strikes would change, at least as long as a terrorist threat remains.

"Al Qaeda has been really weakened, but we've still got a little more work to do," Obama said. "And we've got to make sure we are using all our capacities in order to deal with it."

In September, a CIA-operated drone attack in Yemen killed American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the external operations commander and chief recruiter of English-speaking militants for the al Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Report: Pentagon sending "mothership" to the Persian Gulf.


A media report says the U.S. military plans to send a floating base for commando teams to the Middle East, where relations with Iran are tense and other nations are in the midst of political upheaval.

The Washington Post newspaper on Saturday cited unspecified U.S. Navy documents saying the service plans to convert an aging warship into a staging base for the commandos, calling it a "mothership."

A Navy spokesman declined to provide details on the plans or to say where in the Middle East the mothership would be deployed. The report says documents indicate the vessel could be positioned in the Persian Gulf, where Iran has threatened to block the critical oil-shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz.

Other Navy officials told the Post that the Pentagon hopes to complete the conversion and send the ship to the region later this year.

The newspaper report says the base is expected to accommodate smaller high-speed boats and helicopters often used by Navy SEALS for special operations.

On Thursday U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced plans for Pentagon budget cuts that would reduce ground forces and depend more on Special Forces operations in upcoming years. The plan also involves shifting focus from Europe to the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions.

Bin Laden informer could be killed by Pakistan


BBC:

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said he is "very concerned" about a Pakistani doctor arrested for providing intelligence for the US raid that killed Osama Bin Laden last year.

Dr Shikal Afridi is accused of running a CIA-run programme in Abbottabad where Bin Laden was killed. A Pakistan panel says he should be tried for treason.

Mr Panetta told the CBS TV network the arrest had been "a real mistake".

Dr Afridi provided "very helpful" information for the raid, he added.

He was arrested shortly after the operation, carried out by US special forces in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad on 2 May last year.

Pakistan was deeply embarrassed by the raid, and condemned it as a violation of sovereignty.

'Phoney programme'
In an interview with the CBS programme 60 Minutes to be aired on Sunday, Mr Panetta said: "I'm very concerned about what the Pakistanis did with this individual."

He added that his action "was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan".

"As a matter of fact Pakistan and the United States have a common cause here against terrorism and for them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think is a real mistake on their part," Mr Panetta said.

Last October, a Pakistani commission investigating the raid recommended that Dr Afridi should be tried for high treason.

In the aftermath of the operation, reports emerged that the CIA had recruited the doctor to organise a phoney vaccination programme in Abbottabad.

The aim of the programme was allegedly to confirm Bin Laden's presence in the city by obtaining a DNA sample from residents.

It is not clear if any DNA from Bin Laden or any family members was ever obtained.

Washington has been arguing that Dr Afridi should be freed and allowed to live in the US.

Mr Panetta also repeated US claims that someone in authority in Pakistan must have known where Bin Laden was hiding at the compound - located close to the country's top military academy.

"I personally have always felt that somebody must have had some sense of what was happening at this compound," he said. "Don't forget, this compound had 18-foot walls. It was the largest compound in the area."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Robots are taking over the military!


WIRED DANGER ROOM:

The big loser in the Pentagon’s new budget? Ordinary human beings.

About 80,000 Army soldiers and 20,000 Marines are getting downsized. Half of the Army’s conventional combat presence in Europe is packing up and ending its post-Cold War staycation. Replacing them, according to the $613 billion budget previewed by the Pentagon on Thursday: unconventional special-operations forces; new bombers; new spy tools; new missiles for subs; and a veritable Cylon army of drones.

This is the first of the Pentagon’s new, smaller “austerity” budgets: it’s asking Congress for $525 billion (plus $88.4 billion for the Afghanistan war), compared to a $553 billion request (plus $117 billion in war cash) last year.

Only the Pentagon is emphasizing what the military is keeping, not what it’s cutting. That’s because congressional Republicans don’t like swallowing these cuts — and really don’t want to acquiesce to a currently-scheduled law that could tack on another $600 billion-plus to the already-scheduled, decade-long $487 billion in cuts. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is preempting the objections, promising a force that’s “smaller and leaner, but agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced.”

That means no changes to the U.S. fleet of 11 aircraft carriers and 10 air wings, all reflecting the Obama administration’s emphasis on the western Pacific.

It means leaving the nuclear triad — the bombers, subs and missiles that can end all life on earth — alone. (With one exception: the military will delay replacing the Ohio-class submarine by two years.) It means electronic weapons to jam enemy defenses and attack online networks. It means elite commando forces like the ones who just rescued two aid workers kidnapped in Somalia. And it means drones for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.

As previewed by President Obama earlier this month, the new budget is going to fund 65 Predator and Reaper combat air patrols — squadrons of up to four drones — “with a surge capacity of 85,” up from 61 today. The Army may be losing 100,000 soldiers, but if it’s any consolation, the Army’s forthcoming Gray Eagle drone gets the thumbs-up.

So does “sea-based unmanned” systems like the Navy’s Fire Scout robo-copter, and unspecified “new unmanned systems with increased capabilities,” probably a reference to next-gen drones like the Navy’s X-47B, which should be able to fly from an aircraft carrier at the click of a mouse by 2018 — the better to patrol the Pacific.

Some other programs get expanded, too. For 20 years, Navy’s studied creating non-aircraft-carrier bases at sea, to put in places where the U.S. can’t have land bases, to launch small jump jets like the F/A-18 Hornet, helicopters or drones. Now the Pentagon will fund “development of a new afloat forward staging base,” according to budget documents, although it’s not specifying what how large those ships will be or how much they’ll cost.

It’s also a great time to be a snake-eater. Pentagon budget documents describe Special Operations Forces as “critical to U.S. and partner counter terrorism operations and a variety of other contemporary contingencies.” In other words, whereas the military invaded and occupied trouble spots during the 2000s, it’ll send commandos for discrete missions in the 2010s.

More money is also going into the Air Force’s new long-range bomber, which won’t always have a human in the cockpit; “improved air-to-air missiles,” probably to prepare for the day when China’s stealth aircraft are a challenge; new jammers and communications gear; and even designing “a conventional prompt strike option from submarines.” It’s going to be good time to manufacture powerful, non-nuclear missiles.

Even the most expensive defense program in history, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet family, is getting a mere haircut. After Panetta embraced the planes on Friday, the Pentagon says it’ll merely “slow Joint Strike Fighter procurement” — even though weapons testing recently found it to have 13 expensive new flaws.

All that will let the military “retain a decisive technological edge,” Panetta said, “leverage the lessons of recent conflicts and stay ahead of the most lethal and disruptive threats of the future.”

READ THE REST OF THE STORY HERE AT WIRED!

FBI wants an App for that ...



BBC:


The FBI wants an app to combine information from Twitter, Facebook and Google Maps.

The FBI is seeking to develop an early-warning system based on material "scraped" from social networks.

It says the application should provide information about possible domestic and global threats superimposed onto maps "using mash-up technology".

The bureau has asked contractors to suggest possible solutions including the estimated cost.

Privacy campaigners say they are concerned that the move could have implications for free speech.

The FBI's Strategic Information and Operations Center (SOIC) posted its "Social Media Application" market research request onto the web on 19 January, and it was subsequently flagged up by New Scientist magazine.

The document says: "Social media has become a primary source of intelligence because it has become the premier first response to key events and the primal alert to possible developing situations."

It says the application should collect "open source" information and have the ability to:

Provide an automated search and scrape capability of social networks including Facebook and Twitter.
Allow users to create new keyword searches.
Display different levels of threats as alerts on maps, possibly using colour coding to distinguish priority. Google Maps 3D and Yahoo Maps are listed among the "preferred" mapping options.
Plot a wide range of domestic and global terror data.
Immediately translate foreign language tweets into English.

The FBI says the information would be used to help it to predict the likely actions of "bad actors", detect instances of people deliberately misleading law enforcement officers and spot the vulnerabilities of suspect groups.

Privacy permissions
The FBI issued the request three weeks after the US Department of Homeland Security released a separate report into the privacy implications of monitoring social media websites.

It justified the principle of using information that users have provided and not opted to make private.

"Information posted to social media websites is publicly accessible and voluntarily generated. Thus the opportunity not to provide information exists prior to the informational post by the user," it says.

It noted that the department's National Operations Center had a policy in place to edit out any gathered information which fell outside of the categories relevant to its investigations.

It listed websites that the centre planned to monitor. They include YouTube, the photo service Flickr, and Itstrending.com - a site which shows popular shared items on Facebook.

It also highlighted words it looked out for. These include "gangs", "small pox", "leak", "recall" and "2600" - an apparent reference to the hacking-focused magazine.

Super Guppy visits Amarillo one last time ...






Photos by Steve Douglass

If you were out by Rick Husband/Amarillo International Airport yesterdau - you may have witnessed a strange looking whale of an aircraft landing - Nasa's "Super Guppy."

The unique one of a kind aircraft was making it's last delivery of a V-22 Osprey fuselage to the Amarillo Bell/Textron plant.

This Super Guppy is the latest and last of a long line of Guppy cargo aircraft used by NASA.

Guppy aircraft were used in several past space programs, including Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab, to transport spacecraft components. The first Guppy aircraft was developed in 1962, designed specifically for NASA operations by Aero Spacelines of California.

This was the last trip of the Super Guppy to Amarillo - it will be retired soon. From this point onward V-22 fuselages will be transported by trucks which may be slower but are more fuel efficient.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Breaking: SEALS rescue Two from Somali Pirates



NPR In a daring raid reminiscent of the kind used to kill Osama bin Laden, U.S. Navy SEALs swooped into Somalia Wednesday morning and rescued two aid workers, who had been held by pirates for months.

The New York Times reports the soldiers came in by parachute and engaged in a firefight that killed nine pirates. The SEALs left with Jessica Buchanan, a 32-year-old American, and a 60-year-old Dane, Poul Thisted (in a helicopter ) who were injury free and on their way home.

President Obama authorized the mission on Monday and by the time he stepped into the House chambers last night for his State of the Union address, he knew the mission had been successful. As ABC News reports, that explains why Obama detoured to thank Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on his way in.

"According to the U.S. officials, two teams of Navy SEALs parachuted near the compound where the two hostages were being held. As the SEALS approached the compound on foot gunfire broke out, the U.S. officials said, and several of the militants were reportedly killed. There is no word that any of the Americans were wounded.

"The SEALs gathered up Buchanan and Thisted, loaded them onto helicopters and flew them to safety at an undisclosed location. The two hostages were not injured during the rescue operation and are reported to be in relatively good condition."

The president issued a statement, this morning, praising the Special Operations forces.

"Last night I spoke with Jessica Buchanan's father and told him that all Americans have Jessica in our thoughts and prayers, and give thanks that she will soon be reunited with her family," Obama said in a statement. "The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to bring their captors to justice. This is yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people."

The New York Times reports that the raid began at about 3 a.m. local time. By morning, the bodies of nine pirates were taken to the nearby city of Hiimo Gaabo and local leaders tell the Times three to six pirates were captured.

According to the Danish Refugee Council, Buchanan and Thisted were kidnapped while working for the humanitarian organization's de-mining unit. They were held hostage for three months.

Some of the kidnappings have been blamed on the Somali Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab, while others seem to have been carried out by criminals seeking ransoms.

President Barack Obama said he authorized the raid. He thanked the Special Operations forces for their "extraordinary courage and capabilities," but did not provide details on the fatalities.

"The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to bring their captors to justice," Obama said in a statement. "This is yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people."
Before news broke of the rescue, Obama told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, "Leon, good job tonight. Good job tonight," at the State of the Union address.
Panetta later said in a statement that the raid "is a testament to the superb skills of courageous service members who risked their lives to save others."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New V-22 posing


Caught one of the brand spanking new Ospreys on a test flight out of Amarillo today. I see them quite often - and yet I'm still impressed.

Photo by Steve Douglass

USAF picks Dragonlady over Global Hawk UAV


AVWK: The U.S. Air Force has decided to scrap its Northrop Grumman high-altitude unmanned surveillance plane program and instead extend the life of its U-2 aircraft into the 2020s, according to a government official and a defense analyst.

Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, said the Air Force decision was based on the cost of the Global Hawk unmanned planes, and that the service would investigate using a Marine version with different sensors that Northrop is developing for the Navy.

The Northrop drone is one of dozens of weapons programs that face cancellation or cutbacks in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2013 budget and five-year plan, which begins to implement $487 billion in spending cuts over the next decade.

A U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the Air Force’s Block 30 variant of the unmanned plane was being terminated in the budget request that will be sent to Congress Feb. 13.

Lawmakers have the final say over the Pentagon’s budget, and have reversed other program cancellations in the past.

An Air Force spokeswoman declined to comment.

Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz told Reuters earlier this month that the service’s budget proposal for fiscal 2013 would include terminations of some programs.

He declined comment at the time about the Global Hawk program, saying the service would likely “end up doing what gives us the best capability for the least cost.”

The remotely piloted Global Hawk surveillance planes fly at altitudes above 60,000 feet and can remain in the air for over 24 hours.

The Block 30 airframes sell for roughly $30 million apiece, not including their payloads. Raytheon’s optical, infrared and radar sensors let the aircraft scan large swaths of terrain and transmit images in near real-time.

The Global Hawk was due to replace the Cold War-vintage U-2 spy plane in 2015, but those planes, built by Lockheed Martin, would now remain in service until around 2023, the U.S. official said.

The planes have been used over Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya. They also were used over Japan after the March earthquake, flying from Andersen AFB, Guam, and have been used to track forest fires in California.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

US Abraham Lincoln moves through Strait of Hormuz without incident


(CNN) -- Flanked by British and French ships, the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier moved through the Strait of Hormuz without incident Sunday despite recent threats from Iran.

The U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement that the Lincoln "completed a regular and routine transit of the strait ... to conduct maritime security operations." The Lincoln is in the region with the USS Carl Vinson, giving the U.S. Navy its standard two-carrier presence there.

A British defense ministry spokesman, who was not named per policy, said Sunday that the "HMS Argyll and a French vessel joined a U.S. carrier group" going through the strait "to underline the unwavering international commitment to maintaining rights of passage under international law."

"Britain maintains a constant presence in the region as part of our enduring contribution to Gulf security," the spokesman said.

Several weeks ago, as the USS John Stennis left the Persian Gulf and headed back to the western Pacific, Iranian officials warned the United States not to send in another carrier.

"We have always stated that there is no need for the forces belonging to the countries beyond this region to have a presence in the Persian Gulf," Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi said in early January, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. "Their presence does nothing but create mayhem, and we never wanted them to be present in the Persian Gulf."

Tehran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the only outlet to-and-from the Persian Gulf between Iran and the United Arab Emirates and Oman, as it faces increased scrutiny over its nuclear program and possible sanctions on its oil exports. The critical shipping lane had 17 million barrels of oil per day passing through in 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

Friday, January 20, 2012

USAF launches drone controller satellite



CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - The Air Force has sent into space a satellite that is expected to improve communications with military drones in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Officials say a Delta 4 rocket carried the WGS 4 satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:38 p.m. Thursday.

It's the fourth in a series of military satellites that have been put into place since 2007. The next one is expected to be ready to launch next year.

WGS stands for Wideband Global SATCOM. The satellites are replacing aging Defense Satellite Communications System spacecraft and have 10 times the speed and capacity of the older satellites.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

British Rock Is a Spy Rock ...


BBC:

Britain has admitted for the first time that it was caught spying when Russia exposed its use of a fake rock in Moscow to conceal electronic equipment.

Russia made the allegations in January 2006, but Britain has not publicly accepted the claims until now.

Jonathan Powell, then Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief of staff, told a BBC documentary it was "embarrassing", but "they had us bang to rights".

He added: "Clearly they had known about it for some time."

They had been "saving it up for a political purpose", he said.

The story was first aired on Russian television, which ran a report showing how the rock contained electronic equipment and had been used by British diplomats to receive and transmit information.

It showed a video of a man walking along the pavement of a Moscow street, slowing his pace, glancing at a rock and slowing down, then picking up his pace. Next the camera films another man, who walks by and picks up the rock.

The Russian security service, the FSB, linked the rock with allegations that British security services were making covert payments to pro-democracy and human rights groups.


READ THE REST OF THE STORY HERE

Iran says it could ambush US carriers with submarines ...


Robert Johnson

Underscoring its desire to keep U.S. aircraft carriers from the Persian Gulf, a senior Iranian military commander today announced his possible plan to ambush the American fleet.

Chalk this one up to more bluster, or part of a mounting back and forth rhetoric headed nowhere good, either way — Tehran plans to rely on its subs.

Lieutenant Commander of the Iranian Army's Self-Sufficiency Jihad, Rear Admiral Farhad Amiri told FARS that Iran has the finest electric diesel submarines in the world, and that while the U.S. has focused on Tehran's "astonishing surface capabilities," it has forgotten about the underwater threat.

Amiri said he plans to slip his fleet of subs onto the Persian Gulf floor and "fire missiles and torpedoes simultaneously."

Iran claims to have 17 Ghadir diesel electric subs in its fleet, and four have been photographed together, so the threat is not entirely without merit.

The Ghadir is incapable of holding a commando crew, and despite scant details it may be well-equipped to follow through on this most recent threat.

Earlier this month Iran demanded the U.S. remove its carriers from the Gulf after the John C. Stennis passed through the Strait of Hormuz.

Iranian Army Commander Major General Ataollah Salehi said "We advise, warn and recommend [the U.S. Navy] not to return this carrier to its previous location in the Persian Gulf."

"We are not in the habit of repeating the warning and we warn only once," Salehi said, without mentioning the Stennis.

Read more: HERE

Monday, January 16, 2012

Want to know how to hack a UAV ?Only 99 Cents!

My good friends.

The new and much improved (edited) version of my book "The Interceptors Club & The Secret of the Black Manta" is now available for download on SMASHWORDS and soon I-tunes!

With that in mind - I need some more good reviews.

You may now download it in many formats for 99 cents for a limited time at : https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/15490

Enter coupon code: SJ48M and you'll only be charged 99 cents - that's $2 off!

Have fun and I hope you like it!


You can read more about my book HERE.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Want to know how to hack a UAV? 99 cents.



My good friends.

The new and much improved (edited) version of my book "The Interceptors Club & The Secret of the Black Manta" is now available for download on SMASHWORDS and soon I-tunes!

With that in mind - I need some more good reviews. Maybe you could help?

You may now download it in many formats for 99 cents for a limited time at : https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/15490

Enter coupon code: FM68A and you won't be charged. Have fun and I hope you like it!

You can read more about my book HERE!

Keywords for this post: RQ-170 drone photos, Iran UAV, stealth drone, Area 51. Stealth UAV, Hacking a UAV, Hacking a Drone, Stealth Helicopters, North Korea, F-22 -F-35, Skunk Works, Top Secret. Beat of Kandahar photos, Osama Raid Stealth helicopters, White Sands Missile Range, Dreamland, Holloman AFB, ARES 151, RQ-170 Sentinel, secrets, Stealth Blimps

Friday, January 13, 2012

US warns Iran it would be "crossing the red line" if strait are closed.


The U.S. has warned Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei through a secret channel of communication that closing the Strait of Hormuz would elicit an American military response, a report says.

United States government officials would not describe how the message was relayed, and whether Iranian leaders responded, the New York Times reports.


But Obama administration officials have warned Iran that shutting down the Strait of Hormuz — a vital waterway that carries one-sixth of the world's oil supply — would cross a "red line."

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, said recently that if Iran made good on its closure threats, the U.S. would "take action and reopen the strait," which could be accomplished only by military means, including minesweepers, warship escorts and potentially airstrikes, the Times reports.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Iranian nuclear scientist killed in bomb blast



(CNN) -- A blast in a Tehran neighborhood reportedly killed a nuclear scientist Wednesday morning, the latest in a string of attacks against such scientists in the country that Iran has blamed on Israel.
A motorcyclist placed a magnetic bomb under Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan's Peugeot 405, the country's IRNA news agency said.

The blast wounded two others who were passengers in the car, the news agency said.
Roshan worked at Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Isfahan province, according to another news agency, Fars.

Natanz, which is said to have 8,000 centrifuges in operation, is one of two facilities that are enriching uranium in the country. This week, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency identified the second in the mountains of Qom province.
The Wednesday attack followed a similar mode of operation as others that have killed nuclear scientists in the capital city.

On January 12, 2010, Iranian university professor and nuclear scientist Massoud Ali Mohammadi was killed in a blast when an assailant stuck a bomb under his car. Officials later arrested a person in connection with that incident.

In November 2010, nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari was killed in a blast where, again, a bomb was stuck under a car by someone on a motorcycle.

"The bomb used in the (Wednesday) explosion was a magnetic bomb, the same kind that were used in previous assassinations of Iranian scientists. And the fact is that this is the work of the Zionists," Fars news agency quoted Tehran's Deputy Governor Safarali Baratloo as saying.
Iran uses the term 'Zionist' to refer to Israel.

The nation has been engaged in a war of words with Israel, whom it accuses of trying to destabilize the republic.

Iran maintains its nuclear program is for energy purposes only, disputing allegations by the United States and other countries that it is trying to develop a weapons program.
Ali Ansari, a professor at the Institute for Iranian Studies at Scotland's University of St Andrews, said more information needs come out about the victims to help determine who's perpetrating the attacks.

Some have speculated that the victims were members of the opposition movement and could have been targeted by internal forces, Ansari said.

"But if it is true that Israel is behind it, Iran should make a formal complaint to the U.N. so they can get an answer from Israel," Ansari said."Because if they really think some other country is killing their nuclear experts, why are they not giving them more protection?"
Iran's 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said the attacks would not stop the country from achieving its scientific goals, IRNA reported.

"Iranian scientists become more determined to take steps in line with the aspirations of the Islamic Republic in spite of terrorist operations," Rahimi told the news agency.

RELATED

BBC:
The US has condemned the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in a car bomb attack in north Tehran.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said the US "had absolutely nothing to do" with the attack.

Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, who worked at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, died along with the driver of the car.

Several Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated in recent years, with Iran blaming Israel and the US.

Both deny any involvement.

Washington and its allies suspect Tehran of secretly trying to develop a nuclear weapons capacity but Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful.

"The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this. We strongly condemn all acts of violence, including acts of violence like this," said Mr Vietor.

Iran's Atomic Energy Organization described the killings as "a heinous act".

Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said on state TV that the bomb attack would not stop "progress" in the country's nuclear programme.

Mr Ahmadi-Roshan, 32, was a university lecturer who supervised a department at the Natanz plant, the semi-official news agency Fars reported.

Iranian officials said two men on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car during the morning rush hour and detonated it outside a university campus.

CNN's Shirzad Bozorgmehr and Lateef Mungin contributed to this

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Aviation Week report on RQ-170 Sentinel loss


AVIATION WEEK/BILL SWEETMAN

The first clear pictures of the center-line reconnaissance bay on Lockheed Martin’s RQ-170 Sentinel show that the small unmanned aircraft was carrying sensor balls mounted in an internal compartment with specially treated transparent panels—developed for the F-22—when one of them crashed in Iran on Dec. 4.

The new pictures were taken at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan on Sept. 30. The images show that a wheels-up landing would have inflicted massive damage to the bay and sensor package.. That package is “similar to some of the podded electro-optical/infra-red [EO/IR]systems” used by other non-stealthy aircraft and unmanned aerial systems, says a veteran black-world engineer with insight into U.S. UAS programs.

The accident was caused by a “lost [data] link, followed by, or simultaneous with, another malfunction,” says a second official involved with the program. Putting the loss into perspective, “We’ve lost over 50 MQ-1s [Predators] and 9s [Reapers], so this should not be a surprise.”

The U.S. Air Force squadron that flew Sentinels was activated in 2005 and the stealthy, unmanned aircraft was first photographed at Kandahar in 2007. Early RQ-170 operations were conducted from both Afghanistan—with CIA involvement—and South Korea.

The RQ-170s were brought back to the U.S. in 2009, re-equipped with a full-motion video (FMV) camera, and then redeployed to Afghanistan, say USAF intelligence officials. At that time it was operated by the USAF 432nd Wing’s 30th Reconnaissance Sqdn. (RS), then at the Tonopah Test Range Airport in the northwest corner of the USAF Nevada Test and Training Range. The wing also flies the Predator and Reaper, and the Tonopah base was once the clandestine home of the F-117 stealth fighter.

Prior to refitting, the aircraft carried a long-range, EO/IR camera thought by U.S. analysts to be used for monitoring missile tests and other activities in sparsely populated eastern Iran.

The RQ-170’s operational altitude of 50,000 ft. gives it an advantage over other lower-cost UAVs and the manned RC-135 Cobra Ball (for monitoring foreign missile tests) that are restricted to about 30,000 ft. and below. However, the Sentinel is not a high-end, very low-observable stealth design with sophisticated sensors. It is instead a robust, reduced-signature, sensor truck designed to maintain high sortie rates.

Other stealth design features include a variant of the “toothpick” leading-edge profile developed for the B-2. Stealth dictates sharp leading edges, but bluff shapes are better for aerodynamics and stability. The compromise on the RQ-170 and B-2 is to make the edges sharp at their ends, where more radar scattering is most likely, and more blunt at the mid-point.

Initially, flights are thought to have been conducted along the borders of Afghanistan. avoiding the airspace of neighboring countries. However, after adding shorter-range FMV, the aircraft operated in Pakistan’s airspace to monitor the compound of Osama bin Laden, and later over Iran, defense officials say.

The RQ-170 has a dual history of operations for both the CIA and Air Force.

READ THE FULL REPORT HERE AT AVIATION WEEK

Everything you wanted to know about UAS - but were afraid to ask:

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Iran enriching uranium at fortified underground complex


BBC:
Iran has begun enriching uranium at a heavily fortified underground site, the UN's nuclear watchdog has confirmed.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said medium-level enrichment had begun at the Fordo plant, in northern Iran.

Iran has said it plans to carry out uranium enrichment there - but insists this is for purely peaceful purposes.

The West argues Tehran is building a nuclear weapons capacity. The US called the work at Fordo a "further escalation" in the dispute.

The existence of the facility near Qom, in the north of the country, only came to light after it was identified by Western intelligence agencies in September 2009.

All nuclear material in the (Fordo) facility remains under the agency's containment and surveillance”

Tehran said it began the project in 2007, but the IAEA believes design work started in 2006.

BBC Iran correspondent James Reynolds says the facility has attracted plenty of attention and suspicion.

It is underground, heavily fortified and protected by the armed forces - making it a very difficult target for air strikes.

The US and Israel have refused to rule out attacks on Iranian facilities.

On Monday a spokeswoman for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Gill Tudor, said the agency could "confirm that Iran has started the production of uranium enriched up to 20%".

She added that "all nuclear material in the facility remains under the agency's containment and surveillance".

Iran insists enriched uranium is needed to make isotopes to treat cancers. But analysts say 20% enrichment is an important step towards making uranium weapons-grade.

In Washington, state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said such a level of enrichment was "a further escalation" of the Iranians' "ongoing violations with regard to their nuclear obligations", and suggested "a different kind of a nuclear programme".

Bell building Magellan in Amarillo.

Image: Bell B412

Bell to build new commercial helicopter in Amarillo

Breaking with its recent past, Bell Helicopter plans to produce its next new commercial helicopter, code named Magellan, at its military aircraft plant in Amarillo.

The decision to build the new aircraft model in Amarillo, rather than at Bell's commercial aircraft production facilities in Mirabel, Canada was announced today in an email to employees from Bell CEO John Garrison.

Bell manufactures gear boxes, rotorblades and other commercial aircraft components in Fort Worth.

Magellan is Bell's program to develop a new medium capacity helicopter, probably capable of hauling about 15 people and with long-range capacity to get to offshore oil rigs. The company officially launched the program a year ago, with no fanfare, but is expected to detail the aircraft's projected capabilities at the annaul Heli Expo trade show that will be held in Dallas next month.

The following is the text of Garrison's message:

Following a company-wide assessment to determine the best use of our production facilities to meet all of our future requirements, we have decided to conduct final assembly, production test flight and delivery of the Magellan aircraft at our Amarillo, Texas facility.

Amarillo was selected principally based on capacity. Our operating plans call for commercial aircraft production in Mirabel to continue to ramp sharply in the years ahead in anticipation that the commercial market will return to growth in the near future, while military production in Amarillo is projected to decline with lower V-22 requirements with the second multi-year contract.

Cross-leveling our capacity in this case to support our balanced business requirements is the best solution for the company as a whole, ensuring that all our production centers remain engaged, and driving lowest overall costs in order to remain competitive in both our commercial and military markets.

This is not a change in our manufacturing and final assembly strategy. Mirabel remains our principle commercial aircraft assembly center and commercial airframe design center of excellence; and Amarillo remains our military assembly and delivery center of excellence. Engineers in Mirabel assigned to the Magellan development team will continue that work.


In a company memo circulated to its employees in January 2011, Bell officially acknowledged Magellan and said it was a follow-on to “Project X.” Many observers believe the rotorcraft builder is working on a medium-twin helicopter to replace the venerable 412–whose basic airframe dates back to the early 1960s and the single-engine UH-1 Huey–and that this new twin would be aimed primarily at the superheated deepwater offshore oil-and-gas market but has both civil & military applications.

Related: Bell betting 1 Billion on new helicopter R&D

Iranian court sentences American to death for "spying."


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An Iranian court has convicted an American man of working for the CIA and sentenced him to death, state radio reported Monday, in a case adding to the accelerating tension between the United States and Iran.

Iran charges that as a former U.S. Marine, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati received special training and served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission. The radio report did not say when the verdict was issued. Under Iranian law, he has 20 days to appeal.

The 28-year-old former military translator was born in Arizona and graduated from high school in Michigan. His family is of Iranian origin. His father, a professor at a community college in Flint, Michigan, has said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.

His trial took place as the U.S. announced new, tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which Washington believes Tehran is using to develop a possible atomic weapons capability.

Iran, which says it only seeks nuclear reactors for energy and research, has sharply increased its threats and military posturing against stronger pressures, including the U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's Central Bank in attempts to complicate its ability to sell oil.

The U.S. State Department has demanded Hekmati's release.

The court convicted him of working with a hostile country, belonging to the CIA and trying to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism, Monday's report said.

In its ruling, a branch of Tehran Revolutionary Court described Hekmati as a mohareb, an Islamic term that means a fighter against God, and a mofsed, or one who spreads corruption on earth. Both terms appear frequently in Iranian court rulings.

In a closed court hearing in late December, the prosecution asked for the death penalty for Hekmati.

The U.S. government has called on Iranian authorities to grant Swiss diplomats access to him in prison. The Swiss government represents U.S. interests in Iran because the two countries don't have diplomatic relations.

Hekmati is a dual U.S.-Iranian national. Iran considers him an Iranian since the country's law does not recognize dual citizenship.

His father, Ali Hekmati, and family friend Muna Jondy, an attorney who has been speaking on behalf of the family, did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages left at their offices before business hours Monday morning.

Similar cases against Americans accused of spying have heightened tensions throughout the years-long standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

Iran arrested three Americans in July 2009 along the border with Iraq and accused them of espionage, though the Americans said they were just hiking in the scenic and relatively peaceful Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE

Florida man arrested for terrorism plot


(CNN) -- A Florida man, arrested Saturday for allegedly plotted to bomb night clubs and the sheriff's headquarters in Tampa, Florida, faces a federal judge on a terror charge Monday afternoon, federal prosecutors said.

Sami Osmakac, a 25-year-old naturalized American born in Kosovo, planned a car bombing that would be followed by hostage-taking and the explosion of a suicide belt he planned to wear, according to a criminal complaint made public Monday.
"We all have to die, so why not die the Islamic way?" Osmakac allegedly told an undercover FBI employee, according to the complaint.

The federal investigation of Osmakac began in September when a "confidential human source" told the FBI that Osmakac, a resident of Pinellas Park, Florida, "asked for al Qaeda flags," the complaint said.

A law enforcement official, who asked not to be identified because the official was not authorized to talk about the probe, said the suspect does not appear to have any ties to al Qaeda, and early information indicated he was "self-radicalized."
"I don't have any indication anyone else was involved in the plot and pushing this," the official said.

By November, the suspect was discussing potential terror targets in Tampa and asked for the confidential source's help in getting guns and explosives for the attacks, the complaint said.

The government's source introduced Osmakac to an undercover FBI employee, which led to a December 21 meeting during which the suspect said "he wished to acquire an AK-47-style machine gun, Uzi submachine guns, high capacity magazines, grenades and an explosive belt," the complaint said. He later allegedly gave the FBI employee a $500 down payment for the weapons, it said.

"The explosives and firearms that he allegedly sought and attempted to use were rendered inoperable by law enforcement and posed no threat to the public," the government said.

Osmakac, in a New Year's Day meeting with the undercover FBI employee, outlined his plot, it said. His alleged bomb targets were "night clubs in the Ybor City area of Tampa, the operations center of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Ybor City and a business in the South Tampa area of Tampa," the government said.
After the car bombing, he would retrieve guns and explosives stashed in a Tampa hotel room to begin the second phase of his attacks, the complaint said.

He told the FBI employee that "he wanted to use the explosive belt to 'get in somewhere where there's a lot of people' and take hostages," the complaint said. He would then demand that the FBI "release some prisoners," it said.

"Once I have this ... they can take me in five million pieces," he allegedly said, "an apparent reference to the explosive belt that would be attached to his waist," the government said.

FBI agents arrested Osmakac Saturday night, just after he "made a video of himself explaining his motives for carrying out the planned violent attack," the government said.

READ THE REST OF THE STORY ON CNN

Friday, January 6, 2012

Great Satan's Navy rescues hijacked Iranian sailors.


(CNN) -- U.S. sailors from a carrier strike group whose recent presence in the Persian Gulf drew the ire of Iranian military officials have rescued 13 of the Middle Eastern country's sailors from a hijacked fishing boat, a military spokesman said Friday.

The destroyer USS Kidd came to the aid of the ship Thursday in the North Arabian sea, near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, according to the Navy.

The rescue prompted the captain of the freed ship to offer his "sincere gratitude," according to Josh Schminky, a Navy Criminal Investigative Service agent aboard the Kidd.

"He was afraid that without our help, they could have been there for months," said Schminky.

The rescue Thursday came two days after Iran said the United States should not send any more warships into the Persian Gulf.

The USS John Stennis Strike Group, which includes the Kidd, moved out of the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz last week, prompting Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi to warn that "there is no need for the forces belonging to the countries beyond this region to have a presence in the Persian Gulf," according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

"Their presence does nothing but create mayhem, and we never wanted them to be present in the Persian Gulf," Vahidi said.

According to the Navy, a helicopter from the Kidd spotted a suspect pirate boat alongside the Iranian vessel. At the same time, the Kidd received a distress call from the captain of ship, the Al Molai, saying he and his crew were being held captive by pirates.

A team from the Kidd boarded the Al Molai, took 15 suspected pirates into custody and freed 13 Iranian hostages, the Navy said.

The suspected pirates, mostly Somalis, were taken to the Stennis to be held until a decision is made about prosecution, Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said Friday.
Pirates hijacked the Al Molai 40 to 45 days ago, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement.

The crew was "held hostage, with limited rations and we believe were forced against their will to assist the pirates with other piracy operations," according to the statement.

The Navy team provided food, water and medical care to both the suspected pirates and the crew of the Al Molai after securing the ship and ensuring everyone was safe, Schminky said.

The crew had "been though a lot," he said.
"We went out of our way to treat the fishing crew with kindness and respect," he said.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

X-37B spying on China?


America's classified X-37B spaceplane is probably spying on China, according to a report in Spaceflight magazine.

The unpiloted vehicle was launched into orbit by the US Air Force in March last year and has yet to return to Earth.

The Pentagon has steadfastly refused to discuss its mission but amateur space trackers have noted how its path around the globe is nearly identical to China's spacelab, Tiangong-1.

There is wide speculation that the X-37B is eavesdropping on the laboratory.

"Space-to-space surveillance is a whole new ball game made possible by a finessed group of sensors and sensor suites, which we think the X-37B may be using to maintain a close watch on China's nascent space station," said Spaceflight editor Dr David Baker.

The X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), looks like a mini space shuttle and can glide back down through the atmosphere to land on a runway, just like Nasa's re-usable manned spaceplane used to do before its retirement last July.

Built by Boeing, the Air Force's robotic craft is about 9m long and has a payload bay volume similar to that of a small van. But what goes in the payload bay, the USAF will not discuss.

The current mission was launched on an Atlas rocket and put into a low orbit, a little over 300km up, with an inclination of 42.79 degrees with respect to the equator - an unusual profile for a US military mission which would normally go into an orbit that circles the poles.

The X-37B's flight has since been followed from the ground by a dedicated group of optical tracking specialists in the US and Europe, intrigued by what the vehicle may be doing.

These individuals have watched how closely its orbit matches that of Tiangong.

The spacelab, which China expects to man with astronauts in 2012, was launched in September with an inclination of 42.78 degrees, and to a very similar altitude as the OTV.


"The parallels with X-37B are clear," Dr Baker says in Spaceflight, the long established magazine of the British Interplanetary Society.

"With a period differential of about 19 seconds, the two vehicles will migrate toward or against each other, converging or diverging, roughly every 170 orbits."

No-one can say for sure what sort of mission the spaceplane is pursuing; all the USAF has said is that the OTV is being used as a testbed for new technologies.


An artist's impression of the recent Shenzhou capsule docking with Tiangong-1
But the suggestion any new sensors in the X-37B might take an interest in Tiangong's telemetry is certainly an interesting one.

Washington retains a deep distrust of Beijing's space ambitions - even its apparently straightforward human spaceflight missions.

Part of the problem is that China draws little distinction between its civilian and military programmes, unlike in other parts of the world, such as Europe, where the bloc's space agency, Esa, is committed by charter to "exclusively peaceful" programmes. European military space projects are the preserve of national governments.

In the US, also, that distinction is pretty clear with Nasa being charged with the majority of civilian projects.

In China, on the other hand, the lines are more blurred and the military reaches across all its space programmes.

"If this is what the X-37B is doing, I think it really is no bad thing," Dr Baker told BBC News. "As with the Cold War, the proliferation of space surveillance systems enabled us to get arms agreements that would not have been possible without each side knowing fully what the other side was doing."

Tiangong-1 was launched in September
Not everyone is convinced by the latest analysis.

Read the rest of the story HERE at the BBC

Iran could close Straits of Hormuz - but at what cost?


Reuters:

By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent
LONDON | Thu Jan 5, 2012 10:35am EST

But they could also find themselves sparking a punishing -- if perhaps short-lived -- regional conflict from which they could emerge the primary losers.

In recent weeks, a growing number of senior Iranian military and civilian officials have warned that Tehran could use force to close the 54 km (25 mile) entrance to the Gulf if Western states impose sanctions that paralyze their oil exports.

In 10 days of highly publicized military exercises, state television showed truck-mounted missiles blasting towards international waters, fast gunboats practicing attacks and helicopters deploying divers and naval commandos.

Few believe Tehran could keep the straits closed for long -- perhaps no more than a handful of days -- but that alone would still temporarily block shipment of a fifth of all traded global oil, sending prices rocketing and severely denting hopes of global economic recovery.

But such action would swiftly trigger retaliation from the United States and others that could leave the Islamic republic militarily and economically crippled.

"They can cause a great deal of mischief... but it depends how much pain they are willing to accept," says Nikolas Gvosdev, professor of national security studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island.

He said he believed Tehran would only take such action as a last resort: "They are much more likely to threaten than to act."

The true purpose of its recent saber-rattling, many analysts suspect, may be more a mixture of deterring foreign powers from new sanctions and distracting voters from rising domestic woes ahead of legislative elections in March.

With the United States signing new sanctions into law on New Year's Eve -- although they will not enter force until the middle of the year -- and the European Union considering similar steps, few expect the pressure on Tehran to let up.

"This is probably less a genuine military threat than a bid to put economic pressure back on the West and split Western powers over sanctions that threaten Iran's oil economy," says Henry Wilkinson, head of intelligence and analysis at London security consultants Janusian.

"Iran now does not have much to lose by making such a threat and a lot to gain."

But many fear the more Iran is pushed into a corner, the greater the risk of miscalculation.

Its ruling establishment is also widely seen as deeply divided, with some elements -- particularly the well-equipped and hardline Revolutionary Guard -- much keener on confrontation than others.

SEA MINES, MISSILES, SUBMARINES, SPEEDBOATS

"I cannot see strategic sense in closing the straits, but then I do not understand the Iranian version of the 'rational actor'," said one senior Western naval officer on condition of anonymity.

"(But) one can be pretty certain that they will misjudge the Western reaction... They clearly find us as hard to read as we find them."

The capability to wreak at least temporary chaos, however, is unquestionably there.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet always keeps one or two aircraft carrier battle groups either in the Gulf or within striking distance in the Indian Ocean.

Keenly aware of conventional U.S. military dominance in the region, Iran has adopted what strategists describe as an "asymmetric" approach.

Missiles mounted on civilian trucks can be concealed around the coastline, tiny civilian dhows and fishing vessels can be used to lay mines, and midget submarines can be hidden in the shallows to launch more sophisticated "smart mines" and homing torpedoes.

Iran is also believed to have built up fleets of perhaps hundreds of small fast attack craft including tiny suicide speedboats, learning from the example of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels who used such methods in a war with the government.

At worst, its forces could strike simultaneously at multiple ships passing out of the Gulf, leaving a string of burning tankers and perhaps also Western warships.

But a more likely initial scenario, many experts believe, is that it would simply declare a blockade, perhaps fire warning shots at ships and announce it had laid a minefield.

"All the Iranians have to do is say they mined the straight and all tanker traffic would cease immediately," says Jon Rosamund, head of the maritime desk at specialist publishers and consultancy IHS Jane's.

RETALIATION, ESCALATION

U.S. and other military forces would find themselves swiftly pushed by shippers and consumers to force a route through with minesweepers and other warships -- effectively daring Tehran to fire or be revealed to have made an empty threat.

During the so-called "tanker war" of the mid-1980s, Gulf waters were periodically mined as Iran and Iraq attacked each other's oil shipments.

U.S., British and other foreign forces responded by escorting other nations' tankers -- as well as conducting limited strikes on Iranian maritime targets.

This time, retaliation could go much further. In closing the straits, Tehran would have committed an act of war and that might prove simply too tempting an opportunity for its foes to pass up.

"We might well take the opportunity to take out their entire defense system," said veteran former U.S. intelligence official Anthony Cordesman, now Burke Chair of Strategy at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC.

"You'd almost certainly also see serious strikes on their nuclear facilities. Once the Iranians have initiated hostilities, there is no set level at which you have to stop escalation."

Whilst in theory it would be possible to push heavily protected convoys through the straits even in the face of Iranian attack, few believe shippers or insurers would have the appetite for the level of casualties that could involve.

Instead, they would probably hold back until Tehran's military had been sufficiently degraded. That, Western military officers confidently say, would only be a matter of time.

"Anti-ship cruise missiles are mobile, yet can... be found and destroyed," said one U.S. naval officer with considerable experience in the region, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Submarines are short-duration threats -- they eventually have to come to port for resupply and when they do they will be sitting ducks."

"DANGEROUS GAME OF CHICKEN"

Given the forces arrayed against them, many analysts believe Tehran will ultimately keep the straits open -- not least to allow their own oil exports to flow -- whilst finding other ways to needle its foes.

If they did wish to disrupt shipping, they could briefly close off areas of the Gulf through declaring "military exercise areas," "accidentally" release oil into the main channel or perhaps launch one-off and more deniable hit-and-run attacks.

The rhetoric, however, looks almost certain to continue.

"This isn't the first time we have heard these types of threats," said Alan Fraser, Middle East analyst for London-based risk consultancy AKE. "Closing of the Straits of Hormuz is the perfect issue to talk about because the stakes are potentially so high that nobody wants it to happen."

Henry Smith, Middle East analyst at consultancy Control Risks, says he believes the only circumstances under which the Iranians would consider such action would be if the United States or Israel had already launched an overt military strike on nuclear facilities.

"Then, I think it would happen pretty much automatically," he said. "The Iranians have been saying for a long time that is an option, and they would have little choice but to stick to that. But otherwise, I think it's very unlikely."

For many long-term watchers of the region, the real risk remains that in playing largely to domestic audiences, policymakers in Washington, Tel Aviv and Tehran inadvertently spark something much worse than they ever intended.

"Both sides are talking tough," said Farhang Jahanpour, associate fellow at the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University. "Unfortunately it can very easily get out of hand and cause a conflagration. I blame hardliners on both sides. They are playing a very dangerous game of chicken." (Additional reporting by William Maclean)

(Reporting By Peter Apps; Edited by Richard Meares)

Obama - firing soldiers to save money


The US is to axe thousands of troops as part of a far-reaching defence review aimed at coping with huge budget cuts over the next decade, officials say.

The changes - to be unveiled on Thursday - are likely to end a decades-old policy of maintaining the strength to fight two wars at once.

President Barack Obama will announce the plans with Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The Pentagon faces more than $450bn (£288bn) in cuts in the next 10 years.

Another $500bn in cuts could be looming at the beginning of 2013, after a congressional committee failed to act on finding budget savings last year.

Despite this Mr Obama, wary of the upcoming presidential election, is expected to emphasise that the US military budget is continuing to grow, albeit at a slower pace.

US officials have sought to portray the president as taking a deliberate approach to defence spending, insisting any troop reductions will be informed by a review of strategy by commanders.


There's the growing pressure on the defence budget in an age of austerity.

The commitment of US combat forces in Iraq is over and the developing draw-down of US numbers in Afghanistan makes this a good moment for a re-appraisal.

There is also a broader desire to re-orientate the focus of US defence policy away from the Middle East and towards Asia.

Today will not be the moment for detailed announcements about troops cuts and weapons programmes delayed or cancelled. But cuts there will be in due course, with more US troops likely to be brought home from Europe.

The US Army and the Marine Corps will be reduced in number and the US Marines will return to their traditional role as a rapid intervention force.

The focus for the future looks to be on what the Pentagon calls "the Air-Sea Battle" - the creation of forces capable of containing a rising military player in the Asia-Pacific region. Nobody says so explicitly, but it's China they clearly have in mind.

White House spokesman Jay Carney described the planned cuts as "surgical". The president is also reported to have been closely involved in the decision-making process.

No specific cuts or troop reduction figures will be announced on Thursday, reports say, but the White House said the review "will guide our budget priorities and decisions going forward".

Reuters news agency says officials are considering a 10-15% reduction in the US Army and Marine Corps over 10 years - equivalent to tens of thousands of troops.

Future in Asia
The US is expected to make several large long-term strategic changes as a result of budget pressures, including reducing the overall number of ground troops and strengthening air and naval power in Asia.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says more US troops are likely to be brought home from Europe.

Our correspondent says the focus for the future looks to be on what the Pentagon calls "the Air-Sea Battle" - the creation of forces capable of containing a rising military player in the Asia-Pacific region. He says it is clearly China that the US officials are thinking of.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta made clear last autumn that Asia would be central to US security strategy, including countering China's influence in the region, describing the Pacific as a "key priority".

Backing away from a potential two-war footing has been debated in the Pentagon for years.

In June 2001, then-Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress the two-war strategy was "not working".

And when the US was in fact fighting two wars - in Iraq and Afghanistan - the military suffered a shortage of manpower.

The expected change in strategy would prepare the US to fight one war while waging a holding operation elsewhere to "spoil" a second threat.

Officials say they are using recent examples to guide their decisions.

"As Libya showed, you don't necessarily have to have boots on the ground all the time," an unnamed official told Reuters. "We are refining our strategy to something that is more realistic."

Yet many of the Nato allies in Libya are facing similarly tight defence budgets, and Mr Obama is likely to face criticism from defence hawks in Congress, including Republicans and those seeking to challenge him for the presidency in November.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iran's Parliament preparing a bill that would prohibit all foreign warships from Persian Gulf


Iran's parliament said Wednesday it was preparing a bill that would prohibit all foreign warships from entering the Persian Gulf unless they received permission from the Iranian navy.

The bill, disclosed by the the semiofficial Fars News Agency, surfaced a day after Iran’s armed forces commander warned a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier not to return to the gulf, remarks that rattled commodities markets and helped drive up oil prices.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to a warning by Iran's army chief that an American aircraft carrier should not return to the Persian Gulf.

Iran tested two long-range missiles on the last day of its naval exercises. The country is threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, which would cut off a large percentage of the world's oil supply.

The proposed legislation suggested that at least some Iranian officials are serious about trying to stop the U.S. Navy from entering the oil-rich gulf waters. Iranian analysts said the bill probably would not have been introduced if it were not supported by higher authorities.

“If the military vessels and warships of any country want to pass via the Strait of Hormuz without coordination and permission of Iran’s navy forces, they should be stopped by the Iranian armed forces,” Fars quoted lawmaker Nader Qazipour as saying in explaining the bill. He noted that Iran regards the strait as part of its territorial waters and said the bill would be presented to parliamentary leaders next week.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ahmad Vahidi restated Iran's position that “transnational forces” have no place in the region. Vahidi also said Iran is willing to organize joint military drills with neighboring countries, Fars reported Wednesday.

The news agency, which has ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, claimed that the carrier USS John C. Stennis, which steamed out of the Persian Gulf last week, had escaped while being “chased by Iranian warships.”

The United States has dismissed as overblown rhetoric Iran’s threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf, in retaliation for Western sanctions over its uranium-enrichment program.

The increasingly bellicose tone from Tehran has coincided with a currency crisis that has forced the government to intervene to prop up the ailing rial. Helping to drive the rial to record lows was U.S. legislation signed Saturday by President Obama that includes a provision for unilateral sanctions against Iran’s central bank.

Iran responded by injecting an additional $200 million into the country’s currency markets Wednesday, Fars reported. While the rial’s rate appeared to stabilize, people involved in trading dollars said they were hanging onto their foreign currency for now.

Many Iranians were trying to buy dollars anyway, but sellers were hard to find.

“Nobody is selling their dollars,” said one exchange office representative who did not want to be identified. “The current rate is artificial.”

The crisis spurred rumors that the job of Central Bank Governor Mahmoud Bahmani was in jeopardy. According to Fars, he has asked for more authority to clamp down on “speculation” against the rial.

Iran is worried about American aircraft carriers ...


(CNN) -- Iran warned the United States Tuesday not to return a U.S. aircraft carrier "to the Persian Gulf region."

U.S. officials rejected the "warning" and another recent threat from Tehran that it could close the Strait of Hormuz. The White House and U.S. State Department called the latest threats signs that sanctions against Iran, the result of a standoff over its nuclear activities, are working.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran will not repeat its warning," said Maj. Gen. Ataollah Salehi, commander of Iran's Army, according to the state-run news agency IRNA.

Salehi "said the country will not adopt any irrational move but it is ready to severely react against any threat," the report added.

The commander spoke at the Port of Chabahar in southern Iran, as forces held a military parade the day after Iran ended naval drills in the region, IRNA reported.
What's Iran's real plan? U.S. sanctions hurting Iran's currency Report: Iran tests nuclear fuel rod Navy won't tolerate Iran 'disruption'

Iran was referring to the USS John C. Stennis, part of the U.S. Navy's fleet in the region. It moved last week from the Persian Gulf into the North Arabian Sea, as part of what the Navy's 5th Fleet called a pre-planned transit.

Iran said the ship's movement during Iran's naval exercises showed that the United States "understood" that Iran's maneuvers were not "suicidal or aggressive," but rather about Iran protecting its own "interests and power."

But Western diplomats last week described the naval drills -- which, according to Iranian officials, included test-firing missiles -- as further evidence of Iran's volatile behavior.
Iran's naval exercises began in the strait and also included waters in the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean up to the Gulf of Aden, according to IRNA.

After Tuesday's warning from Iran, a Pentagon spokesman issued a statement saying "deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades."
"These carrier strike group deployments are necessary to maintain the continuity and operational support to ongoing missions in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility," George Little said.
The United States has had forces in the Persian Gulf since World War II.

Its ships sail through the Persian Gulf frequently, many on their way to and from the 5th Fleet's headquarters in Bahrain. The 5th Fleet's area of responsibility covers about 2.5 million square miles, including the Persian Gulf, which the Navy also refers to as the Arabian Gulf; the Red Sea; the Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.

The dispute over the Stennis began last week. Tehran said an Iranian warplane identified a U.S. carrier patrolling the area of the drills. State-run media showed a picture of the vessel.
Iran's state-run Press TV said Tuesday the images it showed last week were of the Stennis.
Tuesday's events came amid growing tensions over the Strait of Hormuz, a critical shipping channel.
Iran last week threatened to block the strait if sanctions are imposed on its oil exports. France, Britain and Germany have proposed sanctions to punish Iran's lack of cooperation on its nuclear program.

Cmdr. Amy Derrick Frost, spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet in Bahrain, responded at the time, "Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated."

In his statement Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Little said the Navy "operates under international maritime conventions to maintain a constant state of high vigilance in order to ensure the continued, safe flow of maritime traffic in waterways critical to global commerce.

"Our transits of the Strait of Hormuz continue to be in compliance with international law, which guarantees our vessels the right of transit passage. We are committed to protecting maritime freedoms that are the basis for global prosperity; this is one of the main reasons our military forces operate in the region."

The dispute has been pushing up oil prices. Nearly 17 million barrels of oil a day pass through the strait, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. "Flows through the Strait in 2011 were roughly 35% of all seaborne traded oil, or almost 20% of oil traded worldwide," the agency says.
"No one in this government seeks confrontation over the Strait of Hormuz," Little said. "It's important to lower the temperature."

But closing the strait would require means that likely are not available to Iran, said Jean-Paul Rodrigue, an expert in transport geography at Hofstra University. "At best, Iran can posture and potentially disrupt traffic for a short duration," he said.

China and Japan are more dependent on Persian Gulf oil than the United States is, he said, and he added that any move to close the strait would be "suicidal" to the current regime.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Iran ramps up tension by launching missile


Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- Iran test-fired a long-range, shore-to-sea missile on Monday, the final day of its naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, state-run media reported.

The Ghader missile was fired during the "power" stage of the maneuvers, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. The test was successful, and the missile hit its intended targets, according to the report.

"A large number of the long-range surface-to-sea Ghader missiles have already been delivered to the Iranian Armed Forces," IRNA said.

A short-range Nasr missile would also be test-fired, along with a surface-to-surface Noor missile, the news agency said.

The Noor is an "advanced radar-evading, target-seeking, guided and controlled missile and can easily find its target and destroy it," IRNA reported, quoting 2nd Adm. Seyed Mahmoud Musavi.
Iran began the exercises in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman on December 24, IRNA said. Western diplomats have described the maneuvers as further evidence of Iran's volatile behavior.
Iran also successfully test-fired a medium-range, surface-to-air and radar-evading Mehrab missile on Sunday, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. A submarine also successfully fired torpedoes at mock vessels, according to the report.

Fars added that plans for Monday involve "a new tactic which is designed to prevent any movement in the Strait of Hormuz if the Iranian navy so desires."

The naval exercises focused attention on the strait -- a shipping channel leading in and out of the Persian Gulf between Iran on one coast and Oman and the United Arab Emirates on the other. It is strategically important because tankers carrying oil travel through it -- some 15 million barrels daily in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Iran tests fires missile amid growing tensions


Iran has successfully test-fired a medium-range surface-to-air missile during military exercises in the Gulf, the official Irna news agency reports.

Iranian naval commander, Mahmoud Mousavi, was quoted as saying the missile was equipped with the "latest technology" and "intelligent systems".

The test comes a day after he denied earlier state media reports that Iran had test-fired long-range missiles.

He said on Saturday missile launches would take place "in the coming days".

Iran's 10 days of naval exercises began last week and are taking place in international waters to the east of the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

They come at a time of increased tensions between the West and Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Tehran reacted angrily last week to reports that Western nations were planning to impose further sanctions targeting Iran's oil and financial sectors.


Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, which links the Gulf - and its oil-producing states - to the Indian Ocean.

About 20% of the world's oil passes through the narrow strait.

The US and its allies believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons - a charge Iran denies.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is purely for peaceful purposes. Iran has maintained that it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity to meet growing domestic demand.

Man arrested for carrying explosives through checkpoint at Midland Airport


(CNN) -- A North Carolina man was arrested on suspicion of attempting to carry explosives through a security checkpoint at an airport in Midland, Texas, federal authorities said.

Trey Scott Atwater of Hope Mills was taken into federal custody Saturday morning after Transportation Security Administration agents spotted what they described as a suspicious item.
The item was in his carry-on during X-ray screening at a security checkpoint at Midland International Airport, FBI spokesman Mark Morgan said in a statement.

Neither the FBI nor the TSA identified the explosives, though a Midland spokeswoman said the items were "wrapped in military grade wrapping" and are in the possession of the Midland Police Department.

"At no time was there any danger to the people at Midland International Airport or the community of Midland, Texas," Morgan said.

The airport terminal was temporarily evacuated while authorities "conducted a sweep, and deemed all clear," said Tasa Watts, the city spokeswoman.

Atwater has been arrested on a federal count of attempting to get on an aircraft with an explosive, Morgan said

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