Saturday, August 6, 2011

31 U.S. Troops Killed in Afghanistan Helo Crash

PULI ALAM, Afghanistan - Thirty-one U.S. special forces died in Afghanistan when the Taliban shot down their helicopter, officials said Aug. 6, the deadliest incident for foreign troops in the decade-long war.
A CHINOOK HELICOPTER crashed in eastern Afghanistan, killing 31 U.S. special-operations troops and seven Afghan commandos. (Peter Parks / AFP via Getty Images)
The death toll was given in a statement from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office and was not immediately confirmed by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The Americans were killed alongside seven Afghan soldiers during an anti-Taliban operation late Aug. 5 when a rocket fired by the insurgents struck their Chinook helicopter in Wardak province, southwest of the capital Kabul.
"The president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan expresses his sympathy and deep condolences to U.S. President Barack Obama and the family of the victims," it said.
The Afghan defense ministry said the local troops who died were also special forces.
Twenty-five of the dead were U.S. Navy SEALs, U.S. television network ABC News reported. The Pentagon declined to comment on the cause or number of deaths.
The strike was by far the worst to hit foreign troops since American and other international forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban in 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The previous biggest death toll saw 16 American soldiers killed in 2005 when a Taliban rocket hit their Chinook in the eastern province of Kunar.
One man who said he witnessed the Aug. 5 crash, Mohammad Saber, told AFP that the helicopter plummeted during a late-night operation in his village.
"At around 10 p.m. last night, we heard helicopters flying over us," he said.
"We were at home. We saw one of the helicopters land on the roof of a house of a Taliban commander, then shooting started.
"The helicopter later took off but soon after taking off it went down and crashed. There were other helicopters flying as well."
Wardak provincial spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said the crash happened in Sayd Abad district during an operation against Taliban insurgents who have been waging war on pro-government forces since being toppled from power in 2001.
"The U.S. chopper that crashed last night was shot down by the Taliban as it was taking off," he said. "A rocket fired by the insurgents hit it and completely destroyed it."
He added that the helicopter had broken into several parts.
The Afghan army commander for the region, General Abdul Razeq, also said the helicopter was "shot down by a rocket fired by the enemy."
A spokesman for ISAF said it would issue a statement "at an appropriate moment."
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the insurgent group was responsible for shooting down the helicopter, which he said was an American Chinook, and acknowledged that eight insurgents had been killed.
A Western military source speaking on condition of anonymity also confirmed the helicopter type.
Chinooks are widely used by coalition forces in Afghanistan for transporting large numbers of troops and supplies around the war zone.
Elsewhere in eastern Afghanistan on Aug. 6, ISAF said another helicopter made a "precautionary landing" in Khost province, near the border with Pakistan.
A spokesman added that no-one on board was killed and there were no reports of serious injuries. There were no reports of insurgent activity in the area at the time.
The latest deaths take the total number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 342, according to an AFP tally based on the independent website Of those, 279 were from the United States.
There are currently about 140,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, around 100,000 of them from the U.S.
Some troop withdrawals have already begun as part of a process which is due to see all foreign combat forces leave the country by the end of 2014, although the Taliban are still waging a bloody insurgency.
U.S. special forces play a key role in the war against the Taliban and other insurgents by hunting down and killing fighters in targeted night raids.
Foreign troop commanders say the east of Afghanistan, close to Pakistan where insurgents have hideouts, will likely increasingly overtake the south as the focus of the war in coming months.

China’s J-10B fighter for Pakistan worries Indian air force

The recent official offer of the Chinese to raise a squadron of its home-grown advanced multi-role, all-weather fighter aircraft J-10B to Pakistan has worried Indian defence experts. 

Pakistan will be the only other country apart from China to have this sophisticated fighter aircraft.

Air Commodore (Retd) Jasjit Singh, director, New Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), told DNA“India now not only faces the possibility of a two-front war but has to also deal with a two-front military modernisation programme with China supplying its latest weaponry to Pakistan.”

He said India faces a 10-year window of vulnerability as the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) present squadron of 34 is way below the sanctioned strength of 39 squadrons. “It will take 10 years for the IAF to get back to its sanctioned strength of 39 squadrons. While Pakistan at present, with 24 squadrons, is raising its strength rapidly with China’s support,” said Singh, who is also the former director of Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis.

Former Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal PK Barbora, however, said China’s offering Pakistan a squadron of the J-10s may not threaten India’s air superiority. “China does not have a great record of producing a world-class aircraft. All they do is reverse engineer and manufacture aircraft. Secondly, by raising just one squadron Pakistan may not benefit much,”he said.

However, Pakistani media reports indicate that it is looking at raising two squadrons of the fourth generation aircraft to counter India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, which is still under development. Besides, according to US military and defence technology news website, Defense Update, the Chinese designed Joint Fighter (JF)-17 (commonly known as ‘Thunder’) is already under production in Pakistan and is actively being promoted for export in the world market.

Despite his optimism, Air Marshal Barbora warned that the slow pace of India’s defence indigenisation (read LCA Tejas, in particular) is a cause for worry. “We will be adding 300 more Su-30 MKIs; getting 126 medium multi role combat aircraft; and upgrading the Mirage 2000s, Jaguars and the MiG-29s. The same cannot be said of some pathetic status of indigenous programmes like the Light Combat Aircraft, which has been delayed for years now,” he says.

US Defense Department awards $42.3m contract for Pakistan F-16 upgrades

The US Defense Department has awarded Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company a $42.3 million contract to provide 10 additional upgrade kits for Pakistan’s F-16 aircrafts.

The contract has been awarded under the Foreign Military Sales programme.
Lockheed Martin will provide upgradation kits for the Pakistan F-16 A/B Block 15 Aircraft Enhanced Modernisation Programme.
Furthermore, the package includes 18 panel “simuspheres“, logistic support up to 21 months of which 12 months on-site and nine months on-call support will be provided.
Various related hardware and software systems are also included.
However, Pakistan had earlier ordered 50 JF-17 jets from China — Pakistan’s largest aircraft provider — which are due to be delivered in six months, said a statement from the Defense Ministry of Pakistan.
Earlier, in June 2010, US delivered the first batch of Block-52 F-16 Fighting Falcon jets to Pakistan.
Pakistan paid $1.4 billion for the jets and an additional $1.3 billion for the up gradation of its previous fleet of the fighter jets.
Back in Musharraf’s government, in January 2008, former US president George W. Bush scrapped nearly a $500 million deal to supply 18 F-16 jets built by Lockheed Martin Co. to Pakistan.

Navy: UAV Likely Shot Down by Pro-Gadhafi Forces

A Navy unmanned helicopter that crashed over Libya in June was likely shot down by forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi, a Navy spokesman said.
Other details, including what type of weapon brought the aircraft down, were not available.
An investigation revealed no evidence of a mechanical or operator error in the June 21 crash. The MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter was likely shot down during an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission, said 6th Fleet spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Mark Walton.
Investigators were not able to examine the wreckage or the crash site, Walton said.
Shortly after the incident, NATO and U.S. officials said the Fire Scout lost contact with its command center before crashing. Walton acknowledged that communication was lost, but it could have been due to the attack that brought the UAV down.
The Fire Scout, which was operating over Libya's central coast, was the first military hardware lost since NATO took over operations in the African country March 31. While the campaign was led by U.S., British and French forces earlier this year, an Air Force F-15 Strike Eagle crashed. Crew members ejected safely and were rescued.
The Fire Scout was part of a two-aircraft detachment aboard the frigate Halyburton. The two aircraft, which had a special configuration for missions over Libya, took the place of two other Fire Scouts that originally deployed on the frigate and flew 10 to 15 missions over the country. After the loss, the Navy sent over a replacement UAV. Halyburton returned to Naval Station Mayport, Fla., on Wednesday after a seven-month deployment

Japanese Inventor Develops Flying Sphere Drone

TOKYO - A Japanese defense researcher has invented a spherical observation drone that can fly down narrow alleys, hover on the spot, take off vertically and bounce along the ground.
It is powered by a propeller protected by a spherical shield with large openings for airflow, meaning a knock into a wall or a tumble to the ground will not damage it.
About the size of a beach ball and jet black, the remote-controlled Spherical Air Vehicle resembles a tiny Death Star from the "Star Wars" movies but has a more benign purpose - to transmit live images from a video camera.
Research to improve the device is continuing, but its designer says that in the future, it could be used as a formidable pursuit vehicle that can travel above traffic or spy on a target through a window.
Its inventor in pacifist Japan hopes it could also help with non-aggressive operations, such as search and rescue in disaster zones, where it could fly through buildings and even up and down stairways.
"This is the world's first spherical air vehicle," said its developer, Fumiyuki Sato, a research engineer at the Defense Ministry's Technical Research and Development Institute in Tokyo.
The latest model, the seventh prototype, is equipped with a single propeller shielded by the shell with flaps and wings to control its flight. It can zip through the air at up to 37 miles per hour.
Sato said all its components can be found on the Internet or in shops in Tokyo's electronic tech-geek heaven of Akihabara.
The motor at the core is contained by a modified plastic bottle, and the total cost for the parts come to 110,000 yen ($1,400) for the latest model, which weighs just 12.3 ounces and has a diameter of 16.8 inches.
Sato admits that many hurdles remain before the flying sphere can be put to practical use, including adding an autopilot function and finding ways to cope with turbulence and poor weather conditions.
The current model could not, for example, be used at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, crippled by the March 11 quake and tsunami, because it can only fly within the field of vision of the controller, he said.
"Even though I can see footage from the mounted camera, it would be very difficult to control this" using the video, Sato said, noting that the drone floats in the air at a very delicate balance and cannot stop quickly.
Nonetheless, Sato sees a range of possible missions for the drone in future.
A more advanced model, he said, could hover above a motorcade for security, or if in pursuit of a fleeing target, "it could go below an electric cable, fly above the next one, and then turn a street corner."

2nd Indian AF Jet Crashes Within a Week

NEW DELHI - The Indian Air Force suffered further fleet depletion with the loss of two aircraft within a week. The latest crash involved a British Jaguar on Aug. 5; a Russian-made MiG-21 went down Aug. 2.
A senior Air Force official said nearly 500 MiG variant aircraft, mostly MiG-21 combat aircraft, have been lost since they were bought from the former Soviet Union. The official attributed nearly 40 percent of the crashes to human error, saying pilot training schedules have been disrupted because there are no advance jet trainers and there is a shortage of basic trainers.
In 2010, 10 Air Force aircraft crashes occurred, including four MiG-27s and two MiG-21s.
The Defence Ministry has contracted with BAE Systems to buy its Hawk advance jet trainers.
All the basic trainers have been grounded for over a year due to technical snags, and the replacements have yet to come in. In June, the Defence Ministry selected the Swiss Pilatus PC-7 to replace its basic trainers. However, no contract has been inked, Defence Ministry sources said. In July 2010, all of the 140 basic trainers, called Deepak trainers, were grounded for technical problems with the engines.
Deepak trainers form Stage 1 of the pilots' training schedule. The Air Force official said that even the Stage 2 trainer, the Kiran, is obsolete and needs replacement. The homemade Intermediate Jet Trainer is three years behind schedule.
"Delays in procurement of trainer aircraft, lack of spares and technical snags are the major reasons for the crash of IAF aircraft," said Bhim Singh, retired Indian Air Force wing commander.

Morocco Takes Delivery of F-16 Jets

RABAT - Morocco took delivery on Aug. 4 of a first batch of 24 F-16 fighter jets from the United States as part of its air force modernization program, a senior U.S .officer said.
Another seven would be delivered at the beginning of 2012 and the remaining 13 in the following months, she added.
Four F-16s were delivered to Morocco, Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward of the U.S. Air Force told reporters in the southern city of Marrakesh.
The 24 F-16s, the CD block 50-52 model, were among the most modern versions available, said Woodward.
The contract with the U.S., which includes the sale of equipment, services and pilot training, is worth an estimated $2.4 billion (1.7 billion euros).
The F-16s competed with the Rafale jet produced by France's Dassault to win the Moroccan deal.
The Benguerir air base north of Marrakesh took delivery of the aircraft in a ceremony attended by senior officers of the Moroccan and U.S. military, the MAP news agency reported.

Vietnam to Get Sub Fleet in 6 Years: State Media

HANOI - Vietnam will have a submarine fleet within six years, the defense minister reportedly confirmed Aug. 4, in what analysts say is intended as a deterrent to China's increasing assertiveness at sea.
"In the coming five to six years, we will have a submarine brigade with six Kilo 636-Class subs," Defence Minister Phung Quang Thanh was quoted as saying by the state-controlled Tuoi Tre newspaper.
Russian media reported in December 2009 that Vietnam had agreed to buy half a dozen diesel-electric submarines for about $2 billion.
Thanh said the fleet was "definitely not meant as a menace to regional nations," according to the report.
"Buying submarines, missiles, fighter jets and other equipment is for self-defense," he was quoted as saying.
Ian Storey, a regional security analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore, said the submarine deal has been driven by events in the South China Sea, where China and Vietnam have a longstanding territorial spat over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos.
Tensions rose after Vietnam in May accused Chinese marine surveillance vessels of cutting the exploration cables of an oil survey ship inside the country's exclusive economic zone.
"These purchases are designed to deter the Chinese from encroaching on Vietnamese sovereignty," Storey told AFP.
He said the country already operates two midget submarines bought years ago from North Korea.
In the newspaper report, Thanh did not specify how Vietnam was paying for its naval upgrade.
"It depends on our economic ability. Vietnam has yet to produce modern weapons and military equipment, which are costly to import," he said.
Analysts say the country's economy is in turmoil with galloping inflation, large trade and budget deficits, inefficient state spending, and other woes.
Much of Vietnam's military hardware is antiquated but this week it received the first of three new coastal patrol planes for the marine police, announced the manufacturer, Madrid-based Airbus Military.
Russian media reported last year that Vietnam ordered 12 Sukhoi Su-30MK2 warplanes in a deal worth about $1 billion.
Other nations in the region have accused China in recent months of becoming more aggressive in enforcing its claims to parts of the South China Sea.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to all or parts of the waters, which are potentially rich in oil and gas deposits and straddle vital commercial shipping lanes.

China: Japan's Defense Comments 'Irresponsible'

BEIJING - China launched a series of blistering attacks on key rival Japan on Aug. 4 after a defense paper approved by Tokyo criticized Beijing's military build-up and growing territorial assertiveness.
State news agency Xinhua went further, accusing Japan of "China bashing" and warning the document could jeopardize relations between the neighbors, while the defense ministry also issued a statement condemning the paper.
China's foreign ministry branded the paper "irresponsible," insisting Beijing's drive to modernise its forces was entirely defensive, and expressed its "strong dissatisfaction".
Japan's annual defense report, released this week, voiced concern over China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean, and what it called the "opaqueness" of Beijing's military budget.
"The Japanese 2011 defense white paper made irresponsible comments on China's national defense construction. China expresses its strong dissatisfaction," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said.
"China's development is offering significant opportunities to all countries - including Japan - and China has not been, and never will be a threat to any other country."
China broke off all high-level contact with Tokyo last September after Japan detained a Chinese fishing boat captain whose vessel collided with Japanese coast guard patrol ships in waters claimed by both sides.
The row between Asia's two biggest economies was their worst in years and undermined painstaking recent efforts to improve relations marked by decades of mistrust stemming from Japan's 1930s invasion of China.
The Chinese skipper was released after more than two weeks and the two countries, which have deep trade ties, have been trying to mend fences.
Japan's defense report used a Japanese word that can be translated as "overbearing" or as "assertive" to describe China's stance over its "conflicting interests with neighboring countries, including Japan".
The paper also said China's defense spending was not transparent, saying that the budget publicly announced by China "is widely seen as only part of what Beijing actually spends for military purposes."
"Opaqueness in its defense policies and military movements are concerns for the region, including Japan, and for the international community, and we need to carefully analyze them," it said.
Xinhua called claims "groundless" and said the report "dutifully carries out its China-bashing tradition, nitpicking at China's defense expenditure growth and military modernization in the manner of a back seat driver".
Earlier this year, China announced military spending would rise 12.7 percent to 601.1 billion yuan ($91.7 billion) in 2011 after funding slowed last year.
Beijing has repeatedly sought to alleviate fears over its pursuit of sophisticated missiles, satellites, cyber-weapons and fighter jets, stressing that the nation's defense policy is "defensive in nature."
It has invested heavily in developing its first stealth fighter jet, revealed in January, as well as an aircraft carrier and anti-ballistic missile capable of piercing the defenses of even the most sturdy U.S. naval ships.
However, China has become increasingly assertive in its claims over the East China Sea and South China Sea, most of which it views as its maritime territory, but where several other Asian nations have competing claims.

Huge Cyber Spying Effort Revealed, China Suspected

WASHINGTON - The United States, United Nations, defense contractors and the International Olympic Committee were targets of a massive global cyber spying campaign, a computer security firm said on Aug. 3, with China seen as the likely culprit.
McAfee vice president for threat research Dmitri Alperovitch described it as a "five-year targeted operation by one specific actor" but declined to identify the country responsible.
California-based McAfee said in a report it had identified 72 victims in 14 countries of a sophisticated hacking effort dubbed "Operation Shady RAT," which it traced back to at least 2006.
The "compromised parties" included the governments of Canada, India, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States and Vietnam, McAfee said, as well as a U.S. Department of Energy research laboratory and around a dozen U.S. defense contractors.
Others included computer networks of the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the International Olympic Committee, Asian and Western national Olympic committees and the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency.
In a conference call with reporters, Alperovitch, the lead author of the report, said the intrusions into the systems of defense contractors targeted "sensitive military technologies."
He said McAfee had notified law enforcement about the cyber espionage campaign, briefed the White House and members of the U.S. Congress and was working with some of the targeted companies on remediation efforts.
"We believe based on the targeting and the scale and the impact of these operations, and the fact that they didn't just have an economic gain in mind but also political and military, that that this is clearly a nation-state but we're not pointing the finger at anyone," Alperovitch said.
James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the evidence may not be "conclusive in a legal sense," but suspicion points towards China.
"You can think of at least three other large programs attributed to China that look very similar," Lewis told AFP. "It's a pattern of activity that we've seen before."
Google said in June that a cyber spying campaign originating in China had targeted Gmail accounts of senior U.S. officials, military personnel, journalists and Chinese political activists.
In January of last year, Google announced it was halting censorship of its Internet search engine in China after coming under attack along with 20 other companies from hackers based there.
In February, McAfee said in another report that hackers in China have penetrated computer networks of global oil companies, stealing financial documents on bidding plans and other confidential information.
McAfee said it had discovered the "Shady RAT" series of cyber attacks by gaining access to a command and control server in a Western country used by the intruders and examining its logs.
"After painstaking analysis of the logs, even we were surprised by the enormous diversity of the victim organizations and were taken aback by the audacity of the perpetrators," McAfee said.
McAfee said attacks on Asian and Western national Olympic committees, the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency occurred in the lead-up and immediate follow-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
It described this as "particularly intriguing and potentially pointed a finger at a state actor behind the intrusions, because there is likely no commercial benefit to be earned from such hacks."
Other targets included a private Western organization focused on promoting democracy, two U.S. national security think tanks, South Korean steel and construction firms, a Danish satellite communications company, a Singapore electronics company, a Taiwanese electronics firm, Vietnam's government-owned technology company and U.S. state and county governments, McAfee said.
It said a major U.S. news organization - identified as the Associated Press by The Washington Post - was "compromised at its New York headquarters and Hong Kong bureau for more than 21 months."
McAfee said the attacks involved sending infected emails to employees of the targeted companies. When opened, the emails implanted malware and established a backdoor communication channel to the command and control server.
Data theft appeared to be the chief objective of the attackers but Alperovitch warned the "potential exists for even more insidious activity."
"These intruders are in our systems, in the systems of all these companies, in all these government systems," he said. "The likelihood that they'll escalate the activity from just stealing data to modifying data or destroying data or destroying systems is also there."

China Officially Offers Pakistan J-10 Variant

ISLAMABAD - China for the first time officially offered Pakistan a variant of its most advanced frontline fighter, the Chengdu J-10 Vigorous Dragon/F-10 Vanguard.
Official Pakistani interest in the fighter dates back to February 2006, when then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf toured the J-10 production facilities on a trip to China. Pakistani government approval for the purchase of 36 FC-20s, a Pakistani-specific variant, was given in April 2006. Service entry was slated for the middle of the decade.
Citing defense sources, the offer was reported in the Urdu press here over the weekend. The offer was made during the recent visit to China by Lt. Gen. Waheed Arshad, the Pakistani Army chief of General Staff.
Precise details of the deal are not yet known. However, Usman Shabbir of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank, said "the initial deal will be for at least two squadrons [at least 32 aircraft] and will be financed by China via a soft, long-term loan."
Analyst Kaiser Tufail said the J-10's operational autonomy would be far greater than that provided by the U.S.-built F-16C.
"It has to be remembered that India refused to consider the F-16C/D and F-18E/F, as they wanted a freer hand in operability aspects as well as technology transfer, which the U.S. was unwilling to provide," Tufail said.
With the J-10, Pakistan would "be able to operate it in an environment not constrained by security restrictions," and could base the aircraft wherever desired, Tufail said. He also said the lack of technology-transfer restrictions from the original equipment manufacturer is a factor.
"The J-10 will provide F-16-class capabilities for Pakistan but without the cost and political encumbrances of U.S.-sourced aircraft," Carlo Kopp of the Air Power Australia think tank said.
"What a J-10 would provide is quantity over any U.S.- or EU-sourced product," Kopp said, though he is still uncertain whether China will supply "pre-loved J-10A…or new-build J-10A or J-10B airframes."
Shabbir said the broader Sino-Pakistani combat aircraft relationship has eroded Western influence over Pakistan, though he remains concerned about the implications Pakistan's fragile economy has for its defense capabilities.
"The availability of J-10 and JF-17 from the Chinese means that Pakistan is now not that reliant on the U.S. and Europe for its aircraft requirements, and this of course will erode U.S influence over Pakistan in the long term," he said.
The Pakistani Air Force is the largest operator of U.S supplied weapons in South Asia and therefore most vulnerable to sanctions