Thursday, December 25, 2008

Lebanese Army Finds Eight Missiles Pointed At Israel

Lebanese Army Finds Eight Missiles Pointed At Israel
(NSI News Source Info) BEIRUT - December 25, 2008: Lebanese security forces found Eight missiles directed at Israel in southern Lebanon on Thursday, an army official said. "The army has found seven missiles in the coastal region between Naqqura and Tair Harfa directed toward Israel," the official told AFP, asking not to be named. "We are investigating whether they were prepared for launching or for use at a later stage. The expert is dismantling them now," the official added. The area where the missiles were found is a stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah militant group and lies less than five kilometers (three miles) from Lebanon's border with Israel. Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating 34-day war in the summer of 2006 which killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. During the war, Hezbollah fired over 4,000 missiles at Israel. The group has been accused by the Jewish state of using the time since the end of the conflict to rearm. Last month, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told parliament that the Shiite group is three times stronger now than it was in 2006.
Lebanese army officers said troops discovered on Thursday eight Grad and Katyusha-type rockets set up with timers that were on the verge of being launched near the border with Israel. Two senior officers said troops were dismantling the rockets, discovered in the coastal region between Naqoura and Tyre. They said the rockets' timers were activated, and one of the officers said the rockets were to have been fired late Thursday night. Earlier one of the officials said the rockets were "directed toward Israel." "We are investigating whether they were prepared for launching or for use at a later stage. The expert is dismantling them now," the official told AFP. A number of Lebanese news agencies reported that timers attached to the rockets had been activated and that they had been discovered "shortly before their expected launch times." A UNIFIL force, lead by UNIFIL Commander General Claudio Graziano arrived in the area to oversee the defusing process. The area where the bombs were discovered, some five kilometers from Lebanon's border with Israel, is considered a Hizbullah stronghold. Despite the location, it's possible that the rockets were set up by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Islam organization - which previously operated out of the Nahr al-Barad Palestinian refugee camp until it was banished from there by the Lebanese army - in order to try and incite violence along the border so as to make trouble for the Lebanese government and military. The group has already fired twice from the region where the rockets were discovered and are suspected of having attacked UNIFIL's Spanish brigade. Hizbullah is estimated to possess some 40,000 missiles and rockets on both sides of the Litani River. The majority of the arsenal is to be found in Hizbullah bunkers north of the Litani and contains long-range warheads capable of reaching targets within 250 km range. All but a few hundred of the rockets in the arsenal are south of the Litani, maintained in fortified, underground bunkers that were built to allow Hizbullah operatives to fight against any invading armored and infantry forces trying to cross the river. In January two rockets landed in the northern Israeli community of Shlomi; one of them landed near a school, but no injuries were reported. Six months prior to that attack 107mm rockets exploded near Kiryat Shmona. Lebanese officials postulated at the time that the rockets were launched by a Palestinian organization as part of its conflict with the Lebanese army. Hizbullah denied any connection to the attack, and the next day a group called "Jihad's Badr Brigades" clamed responsibility for the firing. Israel and Hizbullah fought a devastating 34-day war in the summer of 2006 which killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. During the war, Hizbullah fired over 40,000 missiles at Israel. The group has been accused by the Jewish state of using the time since the end of the conflict to rearm. Last month, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told parliament that the Shiite group is three times stronger now than it was in 2006.

Production May Be To Blame For Failed Bulava Test - General Staff

Production May Be To Blame For Failed Bulava Test - General Staff (NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW - December 25, 2008: The chief of the Russian General Staff said Thursday that production flaws could be to blame for Tuesday's unsuccessful test launch of the Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile. "Either the military-industrial complex or production itself or design shortcomings could be to blame for the failure," General of the Army Nikolai Makarov said. Makarov said the Defense Ministry would thoroughly investigate the reasons for the failure. The submerged launch of the Bulava ICBM took place from the Dmitry Donskoi strategic nuclear-powered submarine in the White Sea, off Russia's northwest coast, targeting the Kura firing ground in Kamchatka, the Far East. "The launch was a failure," an official at the Belomorsk naval base said. "The crew performed well. The missile left the tube, but went off course due to a malfunction after the first stage separation." A Navy commission will investigate the cause of the unsuccessful launch, Capt. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo, a Navy spokesman, said earlier. The latest test launch was Bulava's 10th and the fifth failure. The previous test of the Bulava missile took place on November 28. It was launched from the Dmitry Donskoi submarine in the White Sea, effectively engaging its designated target on the Kamchatka Peninsula about 6,700 kilometers (4,200 miles) east of Moscow. Russia earlier planned for the Bulava to enter service with the Navy in 2009. But a senior Russian Navy official said earlier this month that several more test launches would be conducted next year before a final decision to adopt it for service was made. The Bulava (SS-NX-30), carrying up to 10 nuclear warheads and having a range of 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles), is designed for deployment on Borey-class Project 955 nuclear-powered submarines. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin earlier said the missile would be a key component of Russia's nuclear forces.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Denies S-300 Supplies To Iran

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Denies S-300 Supplies To Iran (NSI News Source Info) MOSCOW - December 25, 2008: Russia's deputy foreign minister on Thursday denied claims that Russia had supplied S-300 air defense systems to Iran. Iran's official news agency IRNA, quoting a senior Iranian MP, reported on Sunday that Russia had started supplying components for S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. The United States, also citing intelligence reports, demanded an explanation from Russia. "I am very surprised by the fuss this story has caused recently. I think this is due to a lack of interesting international news in the run-up to the holidays that many of our Western neighbors are celebrating. This causes an influx of interest in information, which has nothing to do with anything that is going on or will happen," Sergei Ryabkov told a news conference in Moscow. He said military and technical cooperation that Russia is developing with Iran was transparent, and complied fully with international and Russian laws. The statement echoes a similar denial by the Russian federal service for military cooperation. "Reports on deliveries of S-300 systems are untrue," the service said on Monday. Esmaeil Kosari, deputy chairman of the parliamentary commission on national security and foreign policy told IRNA last week that Iran and Russia had held negotiations for several years on the purchase of S-300 systems and had finalized the deal. He said the Islamic Republic would deploy the surface-to-air missile systems to strengthen national defense on border areas. Iran's Foreign Ministry has neither denied nor confirmed the report. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tel Aviv, worried by occasional anti-Israeli rhetoric from Iran, had received assurances from Russia that it had not started S-300 deliveries to Tehran. The U.S. and Israel, which have consistently refused to rule out the possibility of military action against Iran, were earlier alarmed by media reports, which started circulating as early as 2005, on the possible delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran, as these systems could greatly improve Iranian defenses against any air strike targeted at strategically important sites, including nuclear facilities. The advanced version of the S-300 missile system, called S-300PMU1 (SA-20 Gargoyle), has a range of over 150 kilometers (over 100 miles) and can intercept ballistic missiles and aircraft at low and high altitudes, making the system an effective tool for warding off possible air strikes. Iran recently took delivery of 29 Russian-made Tor-M1 air defense missile systems under a $700-million contract signed in late 2005. Russia has also trained Iranian Tor-M1 specialists, including radar operators and crew commanders. The Islamic Republic has conducted several high-profile war games this year, including a three-day series of Air Force and missile defense exercises on September 15-18, while promising swift retaliation in the event of any act of aggression against the country. Iran is currently under three sets of relatively mild UN Security Council sanctions for defying demands to halt uranium enrichment, which it says it needs purely for electricity generation despite Western accusations that the program is geared toward weapon production.

Israel Prepares Operation To Prevent Palestinian Rocket Attacks

Israel Prepares Operation To Prevent Palestinian Rocket Attacks (NSI News Source Info) GAZA/TEL AVIV - December 25, 2008: The Israeli authorities are preparing a military response to Palestinian rocket attacks in Gaza, the country's leading papers reported on Thursday citing military sources. Palestinian militants fired on Wednesday over 40 rockets and 20 mortar shells at southern Israeli border towns in the largest daily attack since the end of a six-month ceasefire in Gaza six days ago. Hamas militants said the rocket attack was in response to the earlier killing of three Palestinians by Israel. Dozens of Israelis were reported to be suffering from shock. The attacks are also reported to have caused extensive damage to residential and commercial buildings. "Our goal is to make Hamas come to a decision that the fire must stop, and this goal can be accomplished by a military operation, which is unpreventable in the current situation," the Ynet news portal quoted an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) source as saying in a statement. Military sources said Israeli forces would enter Gaza "to put pressure on the terror organizations" as soon as the weather improves to enable the Air Force to carry out precision air strikes. The developments in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and ways of dealing with the attacks were discussed at a special meeting on Wednesday of the Israeli Cabinet, involving key ministers and the heads of Israeli security services.

E-8 JSTARS Aircraft Working Lifespan Extended

E-8 JSTARS Aircraft Working Lifespan Extended (NSI News Source Info) December 25, 2008: The U.S. Air Force has equipped its first E-8 JSTARS ground radar aircraft with new JT8D-219 engines (21,000 pounds of thrust). These replace JT3Ds (19,000 pounds of thrust). The new engines are not only 10 percent more powerful, but more reliable and easier to maintain. There are also upgrades inside the aircraft, replacing a lot of 1980s era electronics with modern gear. All this is so the E-8 can serve for another 60 years. That would see some of these aircraft retiring after 70 years of service. Since the E8 is based on the Boeing 707 airliner (a 1950s design), this would result in that aircraft type still being in the air more than a century after it first entered service. Initially designed at the end of the Cold War to track NATO and Soviet armed forces in the dreaded (but ultimately avoided) World War III, JSTARS first saw action during the 1991 Gulf War, and proved very useful. For the last five years, JSTARS has proved remarkably effective in Iraq. For example, in the last year, E-8s have flown about 20,000 hours over Iraq. That means that, two-thirds of the time over Iraq, a JSTARS aircraft has been in the air. One or two JSTARS have been stationed in the region since 2003. No one will say, officially, exactly what the JSTARS is doing, but whatever it is, it's been doing a lot of it for a long time. From 2003-6, E8s averaged about a hundred hours a week over Iraq. JSTARS has proved to be remarkably flexible. It is known that the E-8 radar has been used to track where the terrorists go after an attack on American troops. Many of the attacks take place in sparely populated places, and at night. JSTARS can track vehicles on the ground over a wide area. For example, a single JSTARS can cover all of central Iraq, although its ground radar can only zoom in on a smaller area for useful information. The JSTARS radar has two modes; wide area (showing a 25 by 20 kilometer area) and detailed (4,000 by 5,000 meters). The radar can see out to several hundred kilometers and each screen full of information could be saved and brought back later to compare to another view (to see what has moved). Operators can track movement of ground units, or individual vehicles, over a wide area. Operators can also use the detail mode to pick out specific details of what's going on down there, like tracking the movement of vehicles fleeing the scene of an ambush. JSTARS is real good at picking up trucks moving along highways on flat terrain. JSTARS can stay up there for over 12 hours at a time, and two or more JSTARS can operate in shifts to provide 24/7 coverage. Apparently, JSTARS have been used to monitor the Syrian and Iranian borders for smugglers. Some stuff comes across the borders in trucks, but much still arrives on the back of animals, which JSTARS cannot track. But tracking the movement of vehicles in western Iraq, in the middle of night, has proved useful. When the JSTARS crew (of 18 equipment and surveillance specialists) spots something, they can alert combat troops on the ground to take a closer look. JSTARS can also send its data to computer terminals on the ground, in army brigade or division headquarters. JSTARS is also being fitted with a higher performance radar. The new equipment can spot smaller targets, although the air force won't say if this includes horses or camels, loaded with weapons, crossing the Syrian or Iranian border. The E-8s have been in Afghanistan since 2002, and more of these aircraft are headed there, as operations in Iraq wind down. The air force has 17 JSTARs, each costing about $366 million. The crews consist of active duty and reserve personnel. If the E-8s do stay in service another 60 years, they will get new engines, refurbished airframes, new electronics and possibly so much automation that they will eventually fly without crews, having been turned into UAVs.

Colombia: FARC Disenchanted With Its Hardcore Stand

Colombia: FARC Disenchanted With Its Hardcore Stand (NSI News Source Info) December 25, 2008: Surrenders of rebel fighters are up seven percent over last year. For the year so far, 3,352 rebels have surrendered. Some 88 percent were from FARC, the largest leftist rebel group in the country. Most of the rest came from the second largest leftist rebel outfit, the ELN. Since 2002, when offensive operations against the various rebel outfits began, nearly 18,000 have surrendered. Many more have accepted disarmament and amnesty deals. The political, social and ethnic violence that has afflicted the country for over half a century, has left the landscape cluttered with dozens of political and criminal gangs. In 2002, fed-up Colombians elected another president (Uribe) who promised to clean it up, and this time the government actually did the deed. The army and police have dozens of separate investigations going on to find and dismantle criminal and rebel organizations. The larger (since 2002) and better trained security forces have also made it more difficult for the gangsters and rebels to move around. The police and army are now dismantling specific gang and rebel operations. Many parts of the country no longer have a FARC presence (after decades of the leftist group preying on the area). Similarly, many of the criminal organizations that constitute the cocaine manufacturing and smuggling business, are being identified and taken down. This has led to increased economic growth, as large areas of the country were reopened for legitimate business. While GDP is up only four percent this year (compared to 8 percent or more for previous years), this is a result of the world-wide recession, which is expected to be over within the year. All these changes have brought to light many other social problems, that were concealed for decades. Rural poverty and the plight of Indian tribes is now out in the open, and accessible to the government. December 23, 2008: FARC apologized for killing two rural health workers earlier this month. The two were killed by a roadside bomb, that was intended for a vehicle belonging to an anti-kidnapping force. The government is using this special unit to find where FARC is holding hundreds of kidnapping victims, so they can be freed. The anti-kidnapping unit has had a lot of success, and FARC wants to stop it. But killing public health workers was a public relations disaster, so FARC issued a rare apology. December 17, 2008: Venezuela said that it had destroyed 230 hidden air strips used by cocaine smugglers. This confirms the extent to which Colombian drug gangs and leftist rebels like FARC, have moved their operations across the border. How these airstrips were destroyed was not described. The hard work in building these airstrips is taking down jungle trees, and removing stumps and rocks so you have several hundred meters of flat ground. You could "destroy" the airstrip by dragging some of the original debris (logs and rocks) back onto it, and digging some trenches. But this can easily be repaired. Venezuela has been accused of tolerating, and even supporting, the drug gangs and leftist Colombian rebels. December 15, 2008: After three years of detective work, police finally arrested the guy who, well, "invented" the semisubmersible boats used to move cocaine to North America. The inventor, and builder, of these craft was a boat builder and part time shrimper, Enrique Portocarrero, who came up with several design innovations that made the low slung boat very difficult to detect with radar, or by eye. The boats built by "Captain Nemo" (as he was known in the drug trade) even defeated heat sensing devices by venting the boat engine exhaust into the water under the boat. Portocarrero built about twenty of them, and became a millionaire in the process. He bought five shrimp boats with the proceeds, and worked that fleet of boats as a cover for his cocaine boat building business. Police found two boats under construction in Portocarrero's jungle boat yard. There are other boat yards like this, and one is found every few months. But for years the police have sought the builder who actually came up with the basic design of these boats. Now they have him.

MS Windows XP In Control Of Royal Navy Nuclear Powered Submarine Fleet

MS Windows XP In Control Of Royal Navy Nuclear Powered Submarine Fleet (NSI News Source Info) December 25, 2008: The British Royal Navy has developed a modified version of the Microsoft Windows XP operating system for its warships. The first version, "Windows for Submarines," is being installed on the fleets nuclear submarines. Versions of this operating system is being adapted for surface ships as well. The British selected a commercial operating system for this because it was cheaper to maintain, and easier to train sailors in its use. It took a lot less time to develop the new ship-wide network (everything is connected by commercial Ethernet cables and software) using Windows, and XP is one of the more stable versions of Windows (which runs on 85 percent of the worlds PCs). The security risks inherent in Windows (which attracts most of the attention from hackers) were tended to during the modification of Windows for navy use. How well the Royal Navy version of Windows stands up to the hackers, remains to be seen. In contrast, the U.S. Navy uses Linux to run critical systems on its warships. The U.S. Army is using Linux for its networked FCS (Future Combat System) vehicles (which are still in development). The army is also converting many of its Microsoft Windows applications to run under Linux. It's not just the better security Linux provides, but the fact that there are many versions of Linux to choose from, and the operating system is easier to modify (being an "open source" system, unlike the proprietary Windows.) Currently, the U.S. Department of Defense has over 200 Linux based software projects in development. The military uses custom made software for its most critical applications, and it's easier to create this stuff using Linux.

U.S. Navy Inducting New UCAS

U.S. Navy Inducting New UCAS
(NSI News Source Info) December 25, 2008: The U.S. Navy has rolled out its first combat UAV (or UCAS, for Joint Unmanned Combat Aerial System). This is part of a six year long, $636 million contract to build and test two X-47B aircraft.
The test program calls for first flight next year and first carrier landing in three years. The 15 ton X-47B has a wingspan of 62 feet (whose outer 15 foot portions fold up to save space on the carrier). It carries a two ton payload and be able to stay in the air for twelve hours. Five years ago, the X-47A UCAV made its first flight. Development of this aircraft began in 2001. The Air Force was also testing the X-45 UCAV, which also had a naval version (the X-46). The X-45 program began in 1999, and the eight ton (max takeoff weight, with two ton payload) aircraft was ready for operational tests in 2006. The X-46 has a different wing layout, and a range of 1,100 kilometers, carrying a payload of two tons.
The X-47A also has a two ton payload and a range of 1,600 kilometers. Unlike the X-45, which is built to be stored for long periods, the X-47A was built for sustained use aboard a carrier. All of these aircraft are very stealthy and can operate completely on their own (including landing and takeoff, under software control). The UCAVs would be used for dangerous missions, like destroying enemy air defenses, and reconnaissance. Suddenly, robotic combat aircraft are all the rage. The U.S. Department of Defense has decided to make the next generation heavy bomber an unmanned aircraft. The Department of Defense also wants the new aircraft in service by the end of the next decade, some twenty years ahead of schedule. It was also decided that the X-45 project be split up, with the air force and navy allowed to develop combat UAVs to suit their particular needs.
The X45 was meant mainly for those really dangerous bombing missions, early on, when enemy air defenses have to be destroyed. But the Pentagon finally got hip to the fact that the UCAS developers were coming up with an aircraft that could replace all current fighter-bombers. This was partly because of the success of the X45 in reaching its development goals, and the real-world success of the Predator (in finding, and attacking, targets) and Global Hawk (in finding stuff after flying half way around the world by itself.) The X45A passed tests with formation flying, and dropping a JDAM (actually the new 250 pound SDB version). An X45C could carry eight SDB (250 pound small diameter bombs), or up to two tons of other JDAMs. The X45A has already shown it can fly in formation. The planned X45C would weigh in at about 19 tons, have a 2.2 ton payload and be 39 feet long (with a 49 foot wingspan.)
The X-45A, built for development only, is 27 feet long, has a wingspan of 34 feet and has a payload of 1.2 tons. The X-45C was designed to hit targets 2,300 kilometers away and be used for bombing and reconnaissance missions. Each X-45C was to cost about $30 million, depending on how extensive, and expensive, its electronic equipment was. Believing they could do better, the U.S. Air Force cancelled its X-45 program two years ago, and is now looking into different UCAV designs. The one topic no one wants to touch at the moment is air-to-air. This appears to be the last job left for pilots of combat aircraft. The geeks believe they have this one licked, and are giving the pilot generals the, "bring it on" look. The generals are not keen to test their manned aircraft against a UAV, but this will change the minute another country, like China or Russia, demonstrates that they are seriously moving in that direction. Meanwhile, many UCAV designers want to equip the UCAVs with sensors (various types of video cams) to give the aircraft the same kind of "situational awareness" that piloted aircraft have. But for this to work, the UCAV would need software that would enable it to think like a fighter pilot. The techies say this can be done.
But the fighter pilots that run the air force and naval aviation are not so sure. There also some worry about job security and pilots being replaced by robotic aircraft. All this is headed for some mock combat exercise between manned and unmanned fighters. Such tests will be a competition between pilots and programmers. But the programmer community contains fighter pilots as well, and the smart money is on the geeks to outsmart, or at least outfly, the human pilots. No one thinks it will be a lopsided battle, but the robotic aircraft are so much cheaper, that even a dead even finish favors the pilotless aircraft. The U.S. Navy has invested several billion dollars, so far, in developing combat UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) that can operate from aircraft carriers, and replace some of the manned aircraft on carriers. There are other problems with the combat UAVs, and these concern just how they will be used. Currently, the thinking is that they will be sort of like cruise missiles that return, and will be most useful for reconnaissance and dangerous missions like taking out enemy air defenses.
But many UAV engineers, and some fighter pilots, believe that combat UAVs could revolutionize air warfare. Combat UAVs can perform maneuvers that a manned aircraft cannot (because there are limits to the g-forces a human body can tolerate.) In theory, software and sensors would make a combat UAV much quicker to sort out a combat situation, and make the right move. For the moment, this aspect of UAV development is officially off the table. But once combat UAVs start operating, and that will be by the end of the decade, there will be much pressure to let combat UAVs rule the skies, in addition to scouting and bombing.

Hamas Back In Action Firing Rockets At Israel

Hamas Back In Action Firing Rockets At Israel
(NSI News Source Info) December 25, 2008: Palestinian militants prepared to fire missiles into Israel, in eastern Gaza. The military wing of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, said in a statement that the rocket fire was 'a response to Zionist aggression in Gaza and West Bank' and to the economic embargo Israel has imposed on Gaza. An Israeli force killed three Hamas gunmen on Tuesday in a clash close to the border fence in northern Gaza.
Israelis reacted to a rocket attack in the southern city of Ashkelon. More than 60 rockets and mortars were fired at southern Israel by the afternoon, the Israeli military said. The strikes caused extensive damage and widespread panic among the residents, but no serious injuries

Africa Again In Turmoil

Africa Again In Turmoil (NSI News Source Info) December 25, 2008: Soldiers paraded in the streets of Conakry, Guinea's capital, a day after the death of the longtime dictator Lansana Conte. Coup leaders tightened their grip, declaring a nationwide curfew and ruling out elections. They issued a statement declaring that Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, a mid-ranking officer who had previously been head of the military's fuel supplies unit, was their leader.