Thursday, January 19, 2012

U.S. Navy rescues third Iranian crew

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy announced Jan. 18 it led a rescue operation to assist the crew of an Iranian fishing vessel in distress in the Gulf of Oman, the third in 10 days in an area marked by tension between Washington and Tehran.
A Seahawk helicopter from the guided-missile destroyer Dewey spotted an Iranian fishing boat sinking early Jan. 18, while two other vessels tried to tow it to safety, according to a Navy press release.
One sailor remained onboard the sinking boat, called the Al Mamsoor, while two other crew members took refuge on the vessels that came to help.
The helicopter stayed overhead while the Dewey joined the rescue operation.
“Once we talked with their captain, it was clear that they needed food and water,” said Navy Lt. Jason Dawson, the leader of the rescue team.
The Al Mamsoor crew had fought flooding for three days before abandoning their vessel, the Navy said.
The rescue team gave the crew about 150 pounds of food, water and other supplies before returning to the Dewey.
On Jan. 7, Navy destroyer rescued 13 Iranian fishermen who were being held hostage by Somali pirates. The guided-missile destroyer Kidd made the rescue after one of the kidnapped fishermen revealed in a radio communication that pirates held his vessel’s crew captive.
The destroyer is one of the U.S. warships the Iranian government has warned to stay out of the Strait of Hormuz, which is used by ships that carry about one-fifth of the world’s oil supply.
On Jan. 11, the U.S. Navy rescued six Iranian merchant marines from a sinking cargo ship in the Persian Gulf.
Despite Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, Washington has pledged to maintain its warships in the area. The Dewey is a carrier escort ship that Tehran has threatened with reprisals.
The Iranian government threatened to close the Strait in retaliation for economic sanctions by Western nations against Tehran’s suspect nuclear program.

NATO warns Russia on Military build up

VILNIUS — NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Russia on Jan. 19 to refrain from building up its military near the alliance’s borders, saying it was a concern.
Rasmussen questioned Russian moves to bolster its forces in its Kaliningrad territory, which borders NATO members Lithuania and Poland, part of Moscow’s Cold War-era stamping ground.
“These Russian statements are, of course, a matter of concern for NATO allies,” Rasmussen said. “It is a complete waste of Russian financial resources because it is a buildup of offensive military capacities directed against an artificial enemy, an enemy that doesn’t exist.
“NATO has no intention whatsoever to attack Russia,” he added, speaking alongside Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.
Moscow has warned that it plans to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, and earlier this month, Russian media reported that an S-400 Triumph anti-aircraft missile system would go into service there in April.
Russia repeatedly has said it will be forced to take additional measures if it fails to agree with NATO on a missile defense shield.
The U.S. insists a shield is needed against potential threats from Iran, but Russia counters that anti-missile facilities planned in Poland would undermine its own security.
Rasmussen said it was time for a reality check.
“It doesn’t make sense to build up offensive military capacities in the Kaliningrad region,” he said. “I would encourage the Russians to face a new reality. We are not enemies. We are not adversaries. We should be partners, and it would be of mutual benefit if we develop peaceful cooperation.”
Lithuania and fellow Baltic states Estonia and Latvia are nervous about Russian military moves. They won independence in 1991 after five decades of Soviet rule, joined NATO and the EU in 2004, and have strained relations with Moscow.
“Russian actions do not increase trust between NATO and Russia,” Grybauskaite said. “We invite Russia to be open for dialogue, to see new threats and realities, and to seek smart defense.”
With a population of 6.3 million and professional forces of 20,500, the Baltic states lack enough fighter planes to police their skies. Other NATO members therefore take turns doing so, from a base in Lithuania.
Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia want to extend the air patrol accord, which expires in 2014. Rasmussen said he was hopeful NATO’s upcoming summit in Chicago would approve a “long-term arrangement.”

New Zealand to join U.S. backed WGS program

WELLINGTON — The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is joining an international partnership that will give it guaranteed satellite communications for the next 20 years, Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman announced Jan. 18.
The NZDF is joining the Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) program, a network of nine military satellites built by Boeing and operated by the U.S. Defense Department.
Coleman said WGS will increase the NZDF’s access to satellite broadband “more than 20-fold, with guaranteed access and at a fixed price, ensuring better value for money.”
New Zealand will join Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in a joint agreement for access to the network in return for partially funding the ninth satellite. Australia has been involved in a similar agreement since 2007.
Currently, the NZDF purchases bandwidth on commercial satellites at spot prices, which can involve a premium of up to 100 percent depending on demand, and which can also limit availability of bandwidth.
The NZDF will spend 83.2 million New Zealand dollars ($67 million) on WGS over 20 years. The country’s current annual spending on satellite communications for the military is about 4.3 million New Zealand dollars, growing at some 10 percent per year.

Bangladesh Coup plot Foiled

DHAKA — The Bangladesh army said Jan. 19 it had foiled a plot last month by some “religiously fanatic” Islamist officers to overthrow the elected government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
“We have unearthed a heinous conspiracy to overthrow the democratic government through the army,” army spokesman Brig. Gen. Masud Razzaq said in a written statement.
“The attempt has been thwarted with the whole-hearted efforts of army soldiers,” the statement said, adding that the plot had been incited by Bangladeshi expatriates in touch with “religiously fanatic army officers.”
Hasina’s government, which came to power in early 2009, made changes in June to bolster the secular character of the Bangladesh constitution, although Islam was retained as the state religion.
The move sparked a series of angry protests by Islamic activists in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries with a long history of coups and counter-coups.
Razzaq told local media that the plot involved up to 16 Islamist officers, both active and retired, raising fears about the prevalence of hard-liners in the upper ranks of the 140,000-strong military.
Two retired officers including a colonel have been arrested and will be presented before a court of inquiry set up on Dec. 28, while an alleged “co-planner,” Maj. Syed Ziaul Haq, is on the run.
Syed Ashraful Islam, the spokesman of the ruling Awami League party and an influential minister, said anyone found guilty would be handed “exemplary” punishment.
“There is no room for conspiracy in the army. Those who are involved in such conspiracy will be given exemplary punishment,” he said.
Razzaq said Ziaul had circulated emails to serving officers, detailing a plan to overthrow the government Jan. 9-10.
The outlawed Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir, banned in Bangladesh in 2009 after it was linked to a car bomb on a politician, was accused of helping to circulate the messages.
There were rumors online late last month about a foiled coup attempt after the nation’s main opposition leader Khaleda Zia accused the government of “incidences of disappearances” in the army.
The army hit back, terming the allegations “provocative and misleading.”
Dhaka University professor Imtiaz Ahmed, a security expert, said it was important the armed forces “seriously dig into the matter as to how much the Islamists were involved, in which capacity and how big was the penetration.”
Bangladesh has a history of bloodshed and political violence since gaining independence in 1971. The country’s first president was assassinated during his overthrow by the army in 1975, and Bangladesh was run by the military dictator again from 1982 to 1990.
Democracy was restored in 1991, but street battles between Zia and Hasina’s supporters prompted the army to step in again in January 2007.
Hasina’s government was hit by a military rebellion in 2009, when 57 army officers were killed by renegade border guards.

USAF disputes on testers of KC-46 Tanker

The U.S. Air Force disputes the assessment by the Pentagon’s top tester that the test program for its prized KC-46 tanker program is not executable.
“The Air Force respects the opinions of the Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation, but does not agree with its assessment that the KC-46 test program is ‘not executable,’” Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy said in an email. “The Air Force does acknowledge that Boeing’s overall KC-46 program schedule is considered medium risk, in part due to its aggressive flight-test schedule.”
Cassidy wrote that the service worked with plane-maker Boeing, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the Pentagon’s operational and developmental test force to build a plan that is comparable to the flight test programs for other commercial-derivative aircraft. She cited the KC-10 tanker program as an example.
“The Air Force structured the KC-46 program to ensure that no decision to enter operational test or production would be made without first meeting specific and measurable flight test results,” Cassidy wrote. “The Air Force also structured the KC-46 development contract as a fixed price contract to protect the DoD and taxpayers from any cost growth on the program if the test program is not executed as planned.”
Earlier in the month, J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s chief tester, found in his annual report that the program will likely need at least eight more months than planned by the Air Force and the prime contractor Boeing. That test schedule for the KC-46A tanker is far too ambitious and “not executable,” Gilmore said.
According to the report, the test program includes several “deficiencies.” The number of proposed flight hours per test aircraft, per month, exceeds “the historical average that the Air Force and Navy have experienced during other large aircraft test programs,” the document says.
In addition, the monthly schedule “is far too aggressive for flight tests that are more specialized, higher risk and more resource-intensive” than Federal Aviation Administration certification, the report says. The Air Force acknowledged last fall that Boeing’s flight test schedule is so aggressive; the company stands to lose money early on.
The development portion of the KC-46A contract — which the Air Force awarded to Boeing last February— has a ceiling of $4.83 billion. Boeing estimates the program’s cost at $5.2 billion, which means that the company will swallow a loss of about $300 million unless it can bring costs down, Shay Assad, the director of defense pricing, told lawmakers in October. The entire program, including development and production of 179 aircraft, is valued at more than $30 billion.
Boeing officials said they were unable to comment by press time.
Cassidy said, “The Air Force will continue to work with the Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation and all our test stakeholders to ensure the test program is executed in an effective and efficient manner.”

The first night flight for the F-35 took place Jan. 18 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Pilots at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), Calif., have started to test fly the F-35 Lightning II fighter at night, Lockheed Martin announced Jan.19.
Flown by company test pilot Mark Ward, aircraft AF-6, which is an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant, took off at 17:05 on the afternoon of Jan. 18 and landed a little after sunset. The jet flew for a little more than an hour.
The sortie consisted of basic straight-in approaches, Lockheed’s press release said.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country at Eglin AFB, Fla., Marine Maj. Joseph “O.D.” Bachmann flew the 33rd Fighter Wing’s third F-35B to the seaside base on Jan. 19. The addition of the short takeoff vertical landing fighter brings the total number of F-35s at the Florida base to nine. Two B-models and six F-35As were delivered earlier.

U.S. warns against North Korea's provocations

WASHINGTON — The United States urged China on Jan. 19 to press North Korea’s new leader to exercise restraint, saying that South Korea would face “enormous pressure” to respond to any provocations.
Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat on Asia, admitted that little was known about North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-Un and warned that “provocative steps have the risk of triggering deeply unforeseen consequences.”
“We need to handle the situation with the greatest care and we expect China in their deliberations with North Korea to ensure that that message is deeply understood,” Campbell said at the Stimson Center think-tank, echoing remarks made on a tour of East Asia earlier this month.
North Korea in 2010 shelled an island in the South and was accused of torpedoing a warship, incidents that killed 50 people and which some analysts saw as a way for young heir Kim to prove his mettle.
Campbell, an assistant secretary of state, said that South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, a close U.S. ally, showed “remarkable restraint” after the deaths.
“But their leaders have made clear that they’ve reached a point that if they faced further provocations, they would have enormous pressure to respond.
And we understand that,” Campbell said.
China is the closest ally of isolated North Korea, although Campbell said that even officials in Beijing were in the dark about Kim Jong-Il’s Dec. 17 death until North Korean state television announced the news two days later.
Kim’s death threw into flux U.S. plans for fresh diplomacy with North Korea, including a possible resumption of American food assistance to the impoverished state and more formal talks on ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
“We have made clear through both public channels and privately that we are prepared to start a new chapter to deal clearly with outstanding issues of nuclear matters and the like,” Campbell said.
Campbell met Jan. 17 with senior officials from Japan and South Korea to coordinate action. In a statement, the countries urged North Korea to recommit to past agreements to end its nuclear program.

U.S. joins Europe in drive for code of conduct for outer space

BRUSSELS — The European Union hopes to organize multilateral meetings this year leading to an international code of conduct for outer space that would be broadly adopted, an EU source said.
Momentum has been building as the U.S. recently said it will join the EU and other countries in their efforts to come up with an international code.
“The United States has decided to join with the European Union and other nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. A Code of Conduct will help maintain the long-term sustainability, safety, stability, and security of space by establishing guidelines for the responsible use of space,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a Jan. 17 statement.
“The long-term sustainability of our space environment is at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors,” the statement said. “Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.”
However, the statement adds that the U.S. “has made clear to our partners that we will not enter into a code of conduct that in any way constrains our national security-related activities in space or our ability to protect the U.S. and our allies.”
In a separate statement, the U.S. says that “the European Union’s draft Code of Conduct is a good foundation for the development of a non-legally binding International Code of Conduct focused on the use of voluntary and pragmatic transparency and confidence-building measures to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust in space”.
In 2010, the EU agreed on a draft for a Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, which it is using as a basis for consultations with non-EU countries. One key principle in the code that other countries may adopt is “the responsibility of states, in the conduct of scientific, commercial and military activities, to promote the peaceful exploration and use of outer space and to take all appropriate measures to prevent outer space from becoming an area of conflict.”
An EU source said Russia was one of the first countries to be consulted by the EU and that the EU has been very active consulting other countries.

Europe need financial backing for Missile Shield

PARIS — Europe has technological capabilities it could contribute to NATO’s planned missile shield to protect European territory but a financial commitment is needed, François Auque, the chief executive of EADS’s Astrium space division, said Jan. 19.
The NATO summit in Chicago in May will be of strategic importance to Astrium as decisions are due to be made on contributions intended to extend the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense system to a territorial coverage, he said. The system was designed to protect NATO deployed troops.
“In technological terms, Europe has a certain number of competences it can contribute,” Auque told journalists. “It could contribute to the architecture for the system. The knowledge of the missile threat allows one to organize the defense architecture.”
France could contribute by making available its Spirale launch early warning satellite, a demonstrator project, he said. Spirale has a limited life and needs a program launch, he said.
“Europe could also contribute an interceptor vehicle, which would require a certain amount of development,” he said.
“There are technological bricks,” he said. “The only real subject is the financial thing.”
Astrium is prime contractor for the French M51 submarine-launched ballistic missile, which was delivered on time and on budget, Auque said. There is no better qualification to design a defense architecture than the knowledge gained from building a ballistic missile, he said.
The M51 missile entered service in 2010 after an extremely limited test-fire program, due to budgetary constraints, he said. There were five test fires and five successes, Auque said.
“That takes risk-taking to the limit,” he said. “Really.”
Astrium’s experience in building ballistic missiles helped the company win from Kazakhstan a contract for two Earth-observation satellites, when it emerged that the Kazakh minister who agreed to meet Auque for a brief presentation had been a senior rocketry officer in the former Soviet Union, Auque said.
This year, Astrium is expecting the second phase of a feasibility study on future architecture for the ballistic missile early warning system and a formal NATO staff requirement for the architecture for a territorial ballistic missile defense.
The Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) procurement office recently launched work on maintaining a capability for a future nuclear deterrence, he said.
Astrium had 2011 sales of 5 billion euros ($6.4 billion), which is expected to increase to around 5.5 billion to 5.6 billion euros with the integration of the U.S. military telecommunications satellite company Vizada.

U.S. Navy Document Plans Carrier Air Wings’ Future

The U.S. Navy’s carrier air wings of tomorrow will look very different from today’s, according to a new document produced by the sea services.
By 2032, the Navy’s fleet of F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters and new EA-18G Growler electronic attack jets will have begun to be replaced by new types, a new document called Naval Aviation Vision 2012 says.
The Navy will consider manned, unmanned and optionally manned aircraft to replace the long serving Rhino, as the F/A-18E/F is known to carrier deck crews. The Super Hornet will begin to reach the end of its service life around 2025 and must be replaced. The document says a competitive fly-off will be held at some point in the future.
The Super Hornet-derived EA-18G will also start being replaced by a new aircraft, but the document offers no further details.
Additionally, a new Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) is to be integrated onto the carrier deck around 2018 — possibly with four to six planes embarked. The aircraft could make use of technologies developed by the X-47B program. The Navy document calls for “balanced survivability” so that the unmanned strike plane will be effective in “specified tactical situations.”
The F-35C will serve alongside these prospective aircraft.
But the Navy isn’t going to stop with replacing just its fixed-wing assets, as the document calls for the wholesale replacement of its helicopter fleet.
The MH-60 helicopter fleet will be supplanted by a new rotary-wing aircraft. The Fire Scout unmanned helicopter will also be replaced as will the MH-53E Sea Dragon counter-mine and heavy lift helicopter. In the case of the MH-53E, a replacement aircraft needs to be operational by 2026, the document says.
The Marines will get a Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aerial System (CRUAS) by 2032, and the service’s entire fleet of tactical remotely operated drones will be replaced. The Navy will continue to fly the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance version of the Global Hawk unmanned plane in 2032.
The training aircraft fleet will look similar to today’s, the document says. The T-6 and T-45C will soldier on, as will the TH-57 training helicopter. But the T-44 and TC-12B multi-engine turboprop trainers will be replaced with a new aircraft. The Marines’ C-20 and Navy’s C-26D and UC-12 fleets will also be replaced. As well, a new plane will take the place of the C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery plane starting in 2026.
Nor has the Navy forgotten about its fleet of F-5 and F-16 aggressor aircraft. A replacement aggressor aircraft is envisioned for 2025, according to the document.