Thursday, January 31, 2013

China’s Y-20 transport conducts maiden flight

Article from, photo from
China has conducted the maiden flight of the Xian Y-20 strategic transport from the Yanlian airbase.
Footage on Chinese state television shows the four-engined aircraft, bearing number 20001, taking off, landing, and taxiing. It does not appear to have retracted its landing gear during the flight, a common practice on maiden flights.
Official Chinese news agency Xinhua also posted images of the first flight.
The news comes just weeks after Beijing officially confirmed that it is developing the aircraft, following the emergence of images on Chinese defence sites during the last week of 2012.
"We are developing large transport aircraft on our own to improve the capability of air transport," China's defence ministry said.
"The advanced long-range carrier is being developed to serve the military modernisation drive, as well as to meet demands in disaster relief work and humanitarian aid in emergency situations."
The PLAAF now operates a fleet of 20 Ilyushin Il-76 strategic transports, with another 30 on order.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cyber-espionage: Kaspersky hunts ‘Red October’

Digital News AsiaJan 15, 2013

  • Advanced cyber-espionage campaign targets diplomatic and government institutions worldwide
  • Unique, highly-flexible malware steals data and geopolitical intelligence from victims’ systems and phones

KASPERSKY Lab has published a new research report which identified an elusive cyber-espionage campaign targeting diplomatic, governmental and scientific research organizations in several countries for at least the last five years.

The primary focus of this campaign targets countries in Eastern Europe, former USSR Republics, and countries in Central Asia, although victims can be found everywhere, including Western Europe and North America, Kaspersky Lab said in a statement.

The main objective of the attackers is to gather sensitive documents from the compromised organizations, which included geopolitical intelligence, credentials to access classified computer systems, and data from personal mobile devices and network equipment.

In October 2012, Kaspersky Lab’s team of experts initiated an investigation following a series of attacks against computer networks targeting international diplomatic service agencies. A large scale cyber-espionage network was revealed and analyzed during the investigation.

According to Kaspersky Lab’s analysis report, Operation Red October, called “Rocra” for short, is still active as of January 2013, and has been a sustained campaign dating back as far as 2007.

To enlarge click here.

Main research findings

Red October’s Advanced Cyber-espionage Network: The attackers have been active since at least 2007 and have been focusing on diplomatic and governmental agencies of various countries across the world, in addition to research institutions, energy and nuclear groups, and trade and aerospace targets.

The Red October attackers designed their own malware, identified as “Rocra,” that has its own unique modular architecture comprised of malicious extensions, info-stealing modules and backdoor Trojans.

The attackers often used information ‘exfiltrated’ from infected networks as a way to gain entry into additional systems. For example, stolen credentials were compiled in a list and used when the attackers needed to guess passwords or phrases to gain access to additional systems.

To control the network of infected machines, the attackers created more than 60 domain names and several server hosting locations in different countries, with the majority being in Germany and Russia.

Kaspersky Lab’s analysis of Rocra’s Command & Control (C2) infrastructure shows that the chain of servers was actually working as proxies in order to hide the location of the ‘mothership’ control server.

Information stolen from infected systems includes documents with extensions: txt, csv, eml, doc, vsd, sxw, odt, docx, rtf, pdf, mdb, xls, wab, rst, xps, iau, cif, key, crt, cer, hse, pgp, gpg, xia, xiu, xis, xio, xig, acidcsa, acidsca, aciddsk, acidpvr, acidppr, acidssa. In particular, the “acid*” extensions appears to refer to the classified software “Acid Cryptofiler”, which is used by several entities, from the European Union to NATO.

Infecting victims

To infect systems the attackers sent a targeted spear-phishing email to a victim that included a customized Trojan dropper. In order to install the malware and infect the system the malicious email included exploits that were rigged for security vulnerabilities inside Microsoft Office and Microsoft Excel.

The exploits from the documents used in the spear-phishing emails were created by other attackers and employed during different cyber-attacks including Tibetan activists as well as military and energy sector targets in Asia.

The only thing that was changed in the document used by Rocra was the embedded executable, which the attackers replaced it with their own code. Notably, one of the commands in the Trojan dropper changed the default system codepage of the command prompt session to 1251, which is required to render Cyrillic fonts.

Targeted victims and organizations

Kaspersky Lab’s experts used two methods to analyze the target victims. First, they used detection statistics from the Kaspersky Security Network (KSN) which is the cloud-based security service used by Kaspersky Lab products to report telemetry and deliver advanced threat protection in the forms of blacklists and heuristic rules.

KSN had been detecting the exploit code used in the malware as early as 2011, which enabled Kaspersky Lab’s experts to search for similar detections related to Rocra.

The second method used by Kaspersky Lab’s research team was creating a sinkhole server so they could monitor infected machines connecting to Rocra’s C2 servers. The data received during the analysis from both methods provided two independent ways of correlating and confirming their findings.
  • KSN statistics: Several hundred unique infected systems were detected by the data from KSN, with the focus being on multiple embassies, government networks and organizations, scientific research institutes and consulates. According to KSN’s data, the majority of infections that were identified were located primarily in Eastern Europe, but other infections were also identified in North America and countries in Western Europe, as Switzerland and Luxembourg.
  • Sinkhole statistics: Kaspersky Lab’s sinkhole analysis took place from November 2, 2012 – January 10, 2013. During this time more than 55,000 connections from 250 infected IP addresses were registered in 39 countries. The majority of infected IP connections were coming from Switzerland, followed by Kazakhstan and Greece.
Unique architecture and functionality

The attackers created a multi-functional attack platform that includes several extensions and malicious files designed to quickly adjust to different systems’ configurations and harvest intelligence from infected machines. The platform is unique to Rocra and has not been identified by Kaspersky Lab in previous cyber-espionage campaigns.

Notable characteristics include:
  • ‘Resurrection’ module: A unique module that enables the attackers to ‘resurrect’ infected machines. The module is embedded as a plug-in inside Adobe Reader and Microsoft Office installations and provides the attackers a foolproof way to regain access to a target system if the main malware body is discovered and removed, or if the system is patched. Once the C2s are operational again the attackers send a specialized document file (PDF or Office document) to victims’ machines via e-mail which will activate the malware again.
  • Advanced cryptographic spy-modules: The main purpose of the spying modules is to steal information. This includes files from different cryptographic systems, such as Acid Cryptofiler, which is known to be used in organizations of NATO, the European Union, European Parliament and European Commission since the summer of 2011 to protect sensitive information.
  • Mobile devices: In addition to targeting traditional workstations, the malware is capable of stealing data from mobile devices, such as smartphones (iPhone, Nokia and Windows Mobile). The malware is also capable of stealing configuration information from enterprise network equipment such as routers and switches, as well as deleted files from removable disk drives.
Attacker identification

Based on the registration data of C2 servers and the numerous artifacts left in executables of the malware, there is strong technical evidence to indicate the attackers have Russian-speaking origins. In addition, the executables used by the attackers were unknown until recently, and were not identified by Kaspersky Lab’s experts while analyzing previous cyber-espionage attacks.

Kaspersky Lab, in collaboration with international organizations, law enforcement agencies and Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) is continuing its investigation of Rocra by providing technical expertise and resources for remediation and mitigation procedures.

Kaspersky Lab would like to express its thanks to US-CERT, the Romanian CERT and the Belarusian CERT for their assistance with the investigation.

Today photo: MIG-29 in action

Thursday, January 24, 2013



The BAE Systems Taranis is a British demonstrator programme for Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) technology. A semi-autonomous unmanned warplane, it is designed to fly intercontinental missions, and will carry a variety of weapons, enabling it to attack both aerial and ground targets. It will furthermore utilise stealth technology, giving it a low radar profile, and it will be controllable via satellite link from anywhere on Earth. The Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicles (Experiment) Integrated Project Team, or SUAV(E) IPT, is responsible for auditing and overseeing the project. The aircraft, which is intended to demonstrate the viability of unmanned multi-role systems, is named after the Celtic god of thunderTaranis.

Although the aircraft is still in development phase, the latest specifications which are publicly available are as follows:
  • Height: 4 metres (13 ft)
  • Length: 11.35 metres (37.2 ft)
  • Wingspan: 9.1 metres (30 ft)
  • Weight: 8 tonnes (18,000 lb)
  • Range: Intercontinental
  • Engine thrust: 6,480 lb

Taranis Infographic

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Boeing’s 787: Bad dreams all round

NEARLY a decade ago All Nippon Airways (ANA) brushed aside doubts about Boeing’s as-yet unbuilt 787 “Dreamliner” and placed the biggest launch order for a new jet in the planemaker’s history: 50 aircraft. Today, Japan is the world’s largest market for the 787. ANA and its domestic rival Japan Airlines (JAL) between them fly half of the 49 Dreamliners in service. As they have now discovered, that makes them the guinea-pigs in a complex aviation experiment.
The decisions this week by regulators in Japan, America and elsewhere to ground the 787 follows a string of safety problems, including two fuel leaks and an electrical fire aboard a domestic flight that required an emergency landing. There is particular worry about the potential for the plane’s lithium-ion batteries to catch fire. The news hit Boeing’s shares and ANA’s. But their executives will not be the only ones losing sleep.
Japanese firms make about 35% of the Dreamliner, under a novel system of global outsourcing that cost it years of production delays. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries built one of the world’s largest furnaces to produce carbon-fibre reinforced plastic for the aircraft. Fuji Heavy Industries is the sole supplier of the Dreamliner’s centre wing box, connecting its wings to the fuselage. Shares in both also took a beating on Wednesday, on fears of big delays in the planned ramp-up of 787 production.
New planes go through extensive testing and certification before they are allowed to carry paying passengers. But the real test begins when airlines put them into service and work them remorselessly round the clock. The first commercial jetliner, the De Havilland Comet, was temporarily grounded after a series of fatal crashes following its entry into service in 1952. But, like the McDonnell-Douglas DC-10, which suffered a similar fate in the 1970s, the Comet returned to the skies, its flaws fixed, and went on to deliver years of reliable service.
After past disasters, it is no surprise that regulators have taken the precaution of halting 787 flights while its technical faults are investigated. They may yet turn out to be minor and quickly fixable. However, Sandy Morris of Jefferies, an investment bank, argued in a report that if there are any serious repercussions, they may apply equally to other planemakers, and their suppliers. He points out that Airbus’s A350 (a forthcoming rival to the 787 which is already more than a year behind schedule) uses lithium-ion batteries like the ones suspected of causing some of the 787’s problems. So if they are to blame, the A350 programme may suffer too.
There is some risk that the detailed review of the 787’s safety launched by America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) turns into an examination of the way the FAA and its equivalents worldwide go about certifying new planes. If so, and if there is any suggestion that the regulators should have required more tests before letting the 787 fly, then all the other new airliners now being worked on—Japanese, Canadian, Chinese, Russian and Brazilian as well as American and French ones—may take longer to get airborne.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sweden Approves Next-Generation Gripen Purchase

By Anthony Osborne

LONDON — The Swedish government has given the country’s armed forces a green light to procure the next-generation version of the Gripen fighter aircraft.

Defense Minister Karin Enstrom told ministers on Jan. 17 that the armed forces will buy 60 Saab JAS-39E Gripens for an as-yet undisclosed price. The first aircraft is set to be delivered in 2018, with the full complement received by 2027.

“It is a historic decision that will consolidate Swedish fighter capability for a long time,” Enstrom said, adding that the move will ensure that “strategically important skills” will be retained for the Swedish aviation industry.

According to reports, the decision retains caveats under which the order would be canceled if Switzerland doesn’t finalize a planned order for the aircraft to replace its aging fleet of Northrop F-5 Tigers.

The decision comes just more than a month since the Swedish Parliament — the Riksdagen — voted in favor of the decision to buy the Gripen E, with 264 members out of a possible 301 voting yes for the program.

In a statement, Saab says the decision is “within the span previously discussed, both by the government and the Swedish armed forces, in order to meet future defense needs in Sweden until 2042.

“This decision once again shows the broad support both from politicians and authorities for Gripen being the backbone of Swedish air defense for many years to come.

“We have held continuous and fruitful discussions with defense authorities. These talks will now continue until there is a formal order in place,” the company added.

T-50-4 made the first flight from Komsomolsk-on-Amur to Zhukovsky

Sukhoi press release.

Moscow, January 17. Today the fourth flight model of the prospective 5th-generation fighter aircraft (PAK-FA T-50) came to the airport of the M.M.Gromov Flight Research Institute in Zhukovsky near Moscow. The flight of the aircraft was performed for the first time with several intermediate stops from Komsomolsk-on-Amur, production location of these aircraft at the Y.A.Gagarin (KnAAZ) aviation plant. The T-50-4 was piloted by the Distinguished test pilot of the Russian Federation, the Hero of Russia Sergey Bogdan. The aircraft performed well during the flight. There were no reprimands on the performance of engines, systems or equipment.
The first flight of the T-50-4 took place at the airfield "Dzemgi" of Komsomolsk-on-Amur on December 12 last year and lasted forty minutes. The flight was successful and in full accordance with the flight plan.
The first flight of the T-50 fighter took place on January 29, 2010. At present, the work is going on a whole range of ground and flight tests of three aircraft. Soon the T-50-4 fighter will join the tests. To date more than 200 flights were carried out under the flight test program.
The 5th-generation fighter tests are carried out under the task set by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin to modernize the Russian Armed Forces and deliver modern aircraft. This work is in the framework of the State Defense Order implementation, which is coordinated by the Military-Industrial Commission. Its chairman, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, today congratulated President of the United Aircraft Corporation Mikhail Pogosyan on the first long-distance flight of T-50-4

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Avoiding the Wars That Never End

By George Friedman
Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States would transfer the primary responsibility for combat operations in Afghanistan to the Afghan military in the coming months, a major step toward the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Also last week, France began an intervention in Mali designed to block jihadists from taking control of the country and creating a base of operations in France's former African colonies.
The two events are linked in a way that transcends the issue of Islamist insurgency and points to a larger geopolitical shift. The United States is not just drawing down its combat commitments; it is moving away from the view that it has the primary responsibility for trying to manage the world on behalf of itself, the Europeans and its other allies. Instead, that burden is shifting to those who have immediate interests involved.

Insecurity in 9/11's Wake

It is interesting to recall how the United States involved itself in Afghanistan. After 9/11, the United States was in shock and lacked clear intelligence on al Qaeda. It did not know what additional capabilities al Qaeda had or what the group's intentions were. Lacking intelligence, a political leader has the obligation to act on worst-case scenarios after the enemy has demonstrated hostile intentions and capabilities. The possible scenarios ranged from additional sleeper cells operating and awaiting orders in the United States to al Qaeda having obtained nuclear weapons to destroy cities. When you don't know, it is both prudent and psychologically inevitable to plan for the worst.
The United States had sufficient information to act in Afghanistan. It knew that al Qaeda was operating in Afghanistan and that disrupting the main cell was a useful step in taking some action against the threat. However, the United States did not immediately invade Afghanistan. It bombed the country extensively and inserted limited forces on the ground, but the primary burden of fighting the Taliban government was in the hands of anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan that had been resisting the Taliban and in the hands of other forces that could be induced to act against the Taliban. The Taliban gave up the cities and prepared for a long war. Al Qaeda's command cell left Afghanistan and shifted to Pakistan.
The United States achieved its primary goal early on. That goal was not to deny al Qaeda the ability to operate in Afghanistan, an objective that would achieve nothing. Rather, the goal was to engage al Qaeda and disrupt its command-and-control structure as a way to degrade the group's ability to plan and execute additional attacks. The move to Pakistan at the very least bought time, and given continued pressure on the main cell, allowed the United States to gather more intelligence about al Qaeda assets around the world.
This second mission -- to identify al Qaeda assets around the world -- required a second effort. The primary means of identifying them was through their electronic communications, and the United States proceeded to create a vast technological mechanism designed to detect communications and use that detection to identify and capture or kill al Qaeda operatives. The problem with this technique -- really the only one available -- was that it was impossible to monitor al Qaeda's communications without monitoring everyone's. If there was a needle in the haystack, the entire haystack had to be examined. This was a radical shift in the government's relationship to the private communications of citizens. The justification was that at a time of war, in which the threat to the United States was uncertain and possibly massive, these measures were necessary.
This action was not unique in American history. Abraham Lincoln violated the Constitution in several ways during the Civil War, from suspending the right to habeas corpus to blocking the Maryland Legislature from voting on a secession measure. Franklin Roosevelt allowed the FBI to open citizens' mail and put Japanese-Americans into internment camps. The idea that civil liberties must be protected in time of war is not historically how the United States, or most countries, operate. In that sense there was nothing unique in the decision to monitor communications in order to find al Qaeda and stop attacks. How else could the needle be found in the haystack? Likewise, detention without trial was not unique. Lincoln and Roosevelt both resorted to it.
The Civil War and World War II were different from the current conflict, however, because their conclusions were clear and decisive. The wars would end, one way or another, and so would the suspension of rights. Unlike those wars, the war in Afghanistan was extended indefinitely by the shift in strategy from disrupting al Qaeda's command cell tofighting the Taliban to building a democratic society in Afghanistan. With the second step, the U.S. military mission changed its focus and increased its presence massively, and with the third, the terminal date of the war became very far away.
But there was a broader issue. The war in Afghanistan was not the main war. Afghanistan happened to be the place where al Qaeda was headquartered on Sept. 11, 2001. The country was not essential to al Qaeda, and creating a democratic society there -- if it were even possible -- would not necessarily weaken al Qaeda. Even destroying al Qaeda would not prevent new Islamist organizations or individuals from rising up.

A New Kind of War

The main war was not against one specific terrorist group, but rather against an idea: the radical tendency in Islamism. Most Muslims are not radicals, but any religion with 1 billion adherents will have its share of extremists. The tendency is there, and it is deeply rooted. If the goal of the war were the destruction of this radical tendency, then it was not going to happen. While the risk of attacks could be reduced -- and indeed there were no further 9/11s despite repeated attempts in the United States -- there was no way to eliminate the threat. No matter how many divisions were deployed, no matter how many systems for electronic detection were created, they could only mitigate the threat, not eliminate it. Therefore, what some called the Long War really became permanent war.
The means by which the war was pursued could not result in victory. They could, however, completely unbalance U.S. strategy by committing massive resources to missions not clearly connected with preventing Islamist terrorism. It also created a situation where emergency intrusions on critical portions of the Bill of Rights -- such as the need to obtain a warrant for certain actions -- became a permanent feature. Permanent war makes for permanent temporary measures.
The break point came, in my opinion, in about 2004. Around that time, al Qaeda was unable to mount attacks on the United States despite multiple efforts. The war in Afghanistan had dislodged al Qaeda and created the Karzai government. The invasion of Iraq -- whatever the rationale might have been -- clearly produced a level of resistance that the United States could not contain or could contain only by making agreements with its enemies in Iraq. At that point, a radical rethinking of the war had to take place. It did not.
The radical rethinking had to do not with Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather with what to do about a permanent threat to the United States, and indeed to many other countries, posed by the global networks of radical Islamists prepared to carry out terrorist attacks. The threat would not go away, and it could not be eliminated. At the same time, it did not threaten the existence of the republic. The 9/11 attacks were atrocious, but they did not threaten the survival of the United States in spite of the human cost. Combating the threat required a degree of proportionality so the fight could be maintained on an ongoing basis, without becoming the only goal of U.S. foreign policy or domestic life. Mitigation was the only possibility; the threat would have to be endured.
Washington found a way to achieve this balance in the past, albeit against very different sorts of threats. The United States emerged as a great power in the early 20th century. During that time, it fought three wars: World War I, World War II and the Cold War, which included Korea, Vietnam and other, smaller engagements. In World War I and World War II, the United States waited for events to unfold, and in Europe in particular it waited until the European powers reached a point where they could not deal with the threat of German hegemony without American intervention. In both instances, it intervened heavily only late in the war, at the point where the Germans had been exhausted by other European powers. It should be remembered that the main American push in World War II did not take place until the summer of 1944. The American strategy was to wait and see whether the Europeans could stabilize the situation themselves, using distance to mobilize as late as possible and intervene decisively only at the critical moment.
The critics of this approach, particularly prior to World War II, called it isolationism. But the United States was not isolationist; it was involved in Asia throughout this period. Rather, it saw itself as being the actor of last resort, capable of acting at the decisive moment with overwhelming force because geography had given the United States the option of time and resources.
During the Cold War, the United States modified this strategy. It still depended on allies, but it now saw itself as the first responder. Partly this could be seen in U.S. nuclear strategy. This could also be seen in Korea and Vietnam, where allies played subsidiary roles, but the primary effort was American. The Cold War was fought on a different set of principles than the two world wars.
The Cold War strategy was applied to the war against radical Islamism, in which the United States -- because of 9/11 but also because of a mindset that could be seen in other interventions -- was the first responder. Other allies followed the United States' lead and provided support to the degree to which they felt comfortable. The allies could withdraw without fundamentally undermining the war effort. The United States could not.
The approach in the U.S.-jihadist war was a complete reversal from the approach taken in the two world wars. This was understandable given that it was triggered by an unexpected and catastrophic event, the reponse to which flowed from a lack of intelligence. When Japan struck Pearl Harbor, emotions were at least as intense, but U.S. strategy in the Pacific was measured and cautious. And the enemy's capabilities were much better understood.

Stepping Back as Global Policeman

The United States cannot fight a war against radical Islamism and win, and it certainly cannot be the sole actor in a war waged primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere. This is why the French intervention in Mali is particularly interesting. France retains interests in its former colonial empire in Africa, and Mali is at the geographic center of these interests. To the north of Mali is Algeria, where France has significant energy investments; to the east of Mali is Niger, where France has a significant stake in the mining of mineral resources, particularly uranium; and to the south of Mali is Ivory Coast, where France plays a major role in cocoa production. The future of Mali matters to France far more than it matters to the United States. 
What is most interesting is the absence of the United States in the fight, even if it is providing intelligence and other support, such as mobilizing ground forces from other African countries. The United States is not acting as if this is its fight; it is acting as if this is the fight of an ally, whom it might help in extremis, but not in a time when U.S. assistance is unnecessary. And if the French can't mount an effective operation in Mali, then little help can be given.
This changing approach is also evident in Syria, where the United States has systematically avoided anything beyond limited and covert assistance, and Libya, where the United States intervened after the French and British launched an attack they could not sustain. That was, I believe, a turning point, given the unsatisfactory outcome there. Rather than accepting a broad commitment against radical Islamism everywhere, the United States is allowing the burden to shift to powers that have direct interests in these areas. 
Reversing a strategy is difficult. It is uncomfortable for any power to acknowledge that it has overreached, which the United States did both in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is even more difficult to acknowledge that the goals set by President George W. Bush in Iraq and Obama in Afghanistan lacked coherence. But clearly the war has run its course, and what is difficult is also obvious. We are not going to eliminate the threat of radical Islamism. The commitment of force to an unattainable goal twists national strategy out of shape and changes the fabric of domestic life. Obviously, overwatch must be in place against the emergence of an organization like al Qaeda, with global reach, sophisticated operatives and operational discipline. But this is very different from responding to jihadists in Mali, where the United States has limited interests and fewer resources.
Accepting an ongoing threat is also difficult. Mitigating the threat of an enemy rather than defeating the enemy outright goes against an impulse. But it is not something alien to American strategy. The United States is involved in the world, and it can't follow the founders' dictum of staying out of European struggles. But the United States has the option of following U.S. strategy in the two world wars. The United States was patient, accepted risks and shifted the burden to others, and when it acted, it acted out of necessity, with clearly defined goals matched by capabilities. Waiting until there is no choice but to go to war is not isolationism. Allowing others to carry the primary risk is not disengagement. Waging wars that are finite is not irresponsible.
The greatest danger of war is what it can do to one's own society, changing the obligations of citizens and reshaping their rights. The United States has always done this during wars, but those wars would always end. Fighting a war that cannot end reshapes domestic life permanently. A strategy that compels engagement everywhere will exhaust a country. No empire can survive the imperative of permanent, unwinnable warfare. It is fascinating to watch the French deal with Mali. It is even more fascinating to watch the United States wishing them well and mostly staying out of it. It has taken about 10 years, but here we can see the American system stabilize itself by mitigating the threats that can't be eliminated and refusing to be drawn into fights it can let others handle.

Avoiding the Wars That Never End is republished with permission of Stratfor

Read more: Avoiding the Wars That Never End | Stratfor 

French Air Force A400M Breaks Cover

Posted by Tony Osborne

The first Airbus Military A400M Atlas airlifter in the colors of the French Air Force has broken cover in Seville.

MSN7 will be the first A400M to be delivered to an air arm when it gets handed over in the second quarter of this year. France should take delivery of three A400Ms this year, while the Turkish Air Force is also due to get a single example later in the year.

The image shows a squadron badge just in front the main cockpit entry door. This badge appears to be that of the French Air Force's military trials unit, known as CEAM.

The A400M's appearance comes as France's air transport fleet is heavily tested with the air bridge to support its forces now fighting in Mali. French Air Force C-160 Transalls, C-130 Hercules and Airbus A340 aircraft have been tasked with strategic transport of men and equipment while CN235s are flying intra-theater according to reports.

 Fortunately, some of the heavy effort will be taken up with the arrival of British and Canadian C-17s and the addition of C-130s from Belgium and a single C-130J from Denmark.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

First Borei Submarine Enters Service

Posted by M Pyadushkin 

The First Borei class (project 955) nuclear-powered submarine, Yuri Dolgorukiy, entered service with the Russian Navy today. The official introduction ceremony was held at Sevmash's Severodvinsk facility although the Navy reportedly signed the acceptance act on December 29, 2012. Yuri Dolgorukiy was laid down in 1996 and the cost of its construction is estimated at 23 billion rubles (about $760 million).

Credit: Oleg Kuleshov / Sevmash

According to Sevmash, the new sub has a length of 170 meters and width of 13.5 meters. It can dive up to 450 meters and has a submerged speed of 29 knots. Borei class submarines are designed to carry 16 R-30 Bulava (SS-NX-30) intercontinental ballistic missiles. The testing of Bulava was completed with a salvo launch in December 2011. This 36.8 ton three-stage missile made 11 successful launches out of total 18 firings. The Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu was cited by the Russian media saying that the completion of the government trials and the sub's introduction into service means that all problems with Bulava has been fixed.

According to the minister, the Navy are to get eight Borei class subs through 2018. The second sub of the class – Alexander Nevsky – conducts trials now and is expected to be taken into service in 2013. The third sub, Vladimir Monomakh, was launched on December 30, 2012. Sevmash is already constructing the submarine Knyaz Vladimir under the improved project 955A.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Airbus Military, Lockheed Try Winglets on Airlifters

by Graham Warwick

Winglets are de rigueur on business jets, and becoming ubiquitous on commercial airliners, but still a rarity on military airlifters. Now Airbus Military is flight-testing drag-reducing winglets on its C295 light transport.

Photo: Airbus Military

Boeing's C-17 was designed with winglets, but Airbus's A400M, Alenia's C-27J and Kawasaki's XC-2 do not have them. Neither has Lockheed Martin's C-130, but trial winglets were expected to be flight tested later this year. Lockheed has also looked at winglets for the C-5M.

Concept: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed expects a 4% increase in the C-130's range as a result of fitting the 5ft-tall winglets, which add 5ft to the aircraft's wing span. Airbus expects winglets to improve the C295's hot-and-high runway performance, increase range and endurance, and reduce operating costs.

Airbus began flying a wingletted C295 -- its rotodome-equipped airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aerodynamic testbed -- on Dec. 21. from Seville, Spain. It says data from the flights will provide a basis for a decision on whether to incorporate winglets into the C295 design.

Read more at:

Mexico's Cartels and the Economics of Cocaine

By Scott Stewart
Vice President of Analysis

At Stratfor, we follow Mexico's criminal cartels closely. In fact, we are currently finishing our 2013 cartel forecast, which will be released later this month. As we analyze the Mexican cartels, we recognize that to understand their actions and the interactions between them, we need to acknowledge that at their core they are businesses and not politically motivated militant organizations. This means that although violence between and within the cartels grabs much of the spotlight, a careful analysis of the cartels must look beyond the violence to the business factors that drive their interests -- and their bankrolls. 
There are several distinct business factors that have a profound impact on cartel behavior. One example is the growing and harvesting cycle of marijuana in the Sierra Madre Occidental. Another is the industrialization of methamphetamine production in Mexico and the increasing profit pool it has provided to the Mexican cartels in recent years. But when we are examining the transnational behavior of the Mexican cartels, the most important factor influencing that behavior is without a doubt the economics of the cocaine trade. 

The Cocaine Profit Chain

Cocaine is derived from the leaves of the coca plant, and three countries -- Colombia, Peru and Bolivia -- account for all the coca harvested in the world. Turning coca into cocaine hydrochloride is a relatively simple three-step process. Once the leaves of the coca plant are harvested, they are rendered into what is known as coca paste. From there, the coca paste is processed into cocaine base, which eventually becomes cocaine hydrochloride. The process involves several precursor chemicals: kerosene, sulfuric acid, sodium carbonate, hydrochloric acid, potassium permanganate and acetone. Most of these chemicals are readily available and easily replaced or substituted, making them difficult for authorities to regulate.
According to figures from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, coca farmers in Colombia receive $1.30 for each kilogram of fresh coca leaf. In Peru and Bolivia, where the leaf is air-dried before being sold, farmers receive $3.00 per kilogram.
For the fresh leaf used in processing in Colombia, it takes somewhere between 450 and 600 kilograms of coca leaf to produce 1 kilogram of cocaine base, depending on the variety of coca plant used (some varieties have a higher cocaine alkaloid content). At $1.30 per kilogram, this means that it costs somewhere between $585 and $780 to purchase the coca leaf required to produce one kilogram of cocaine base. One kilogram of cocaine base can then be converted into roughly one kilogram of cocaine hydrochloride, which is commonly referred to as cocaine.

As cocaine progresses from the production site to the end users, it increases in value. According to figures provided by the Colombian National Police, a kilogram of cocaine can be purchased for $2,200 in the jungles in Colombia's interior and for between $5,500 and $7,000 at Colombian ports. But the price increases considerably once it leaves the production areas and is transported closer to consumption markets. In Central America cocaine can be purchased for $10,000 per kilogram, and in southern Mexico that same kilogram sells for $12,000. Once it passes through Mexico, a kilogram of cocaine is worth $16,000 in the border towns of northern Mexico, and it will fetch between $24,000 and $27,000 wholesale on the street in the United States depending on the location. The prices are even higher in Europe, where they can run from $53,000 to $55,000 per kilogram, and prices exceed $200,000 in Australia. The retail prices per gram of cocaine are also relatively high, with a gram costing approximately $100-$150 in the United States, $130-$185 in Europe and $250-$500 in Australia.
Along the supply chain there is also quite a bit of "cutting," which is when substances are added to the cocaine to dilute its purity and stretch profit. According to the Colombian National Police, the purity of cocaine leaving the country is about 85 percent. By the time it reaches the United Kingdom, purity is 60 percent, and it drops further to about 30 percent at the retail level, according to the U.N. World Drug Report 2012.  

Cartel Behavior

There has been a thriving two-way flow of contraband goods across the U.S.-Mexico border since its inception. Mexican organized crime groups have been involved in the smuggling of marijuana to the U.S. market since the U.S. government began to restrict marijuana in the early 1900s, and Mexican organized criminals profited handsomely during the Prohibition era in the United States. As U.S. demand for illicit drugs increased in the second half of the 20th century, Mexican organizations branched out to become involved in smuggling other types of drugs, including pharmaceuticals and black tar heroin; poppy cultivation was also introduced to Mexico in the 1930s.  
These Mexican organized crime syndicates, such as the Guadalajara cartel, also began to traffic cocaine into the United States in the late 1970s, but for many years the Mexican organizations worked as junior partners for the powerful Colombian cartels in Medellin and Cali. Mexico was a secondary route for cocaine compared to the primary route through the Caribbean. As a result, the Colombians pocketed the lion's share of the profit made on cocaine trafficked through Mexico and the Mexicans received a fee on each kilogram they transported. (However, they did not assume any of the risk of losing shipments between South America and Mexico.)
In the late 1970s and the 1980s -- the early phase of Mexican involvement in the cocaine trade -- Central American middlemen such as Juan Matta-Ballesteros were also heavily involved in the flow of cocaine through Mexico. They moved cocaine from South America to Mexico, becoming wealthy and powerful as a result of the profits they made. 
As U.S. interdiction efforts, aided by improvements in aerial and maritime surveillance, curtailed much of the Caribbean cocaine flow in the 1980s and 1990s, and as the Colombian and U.S. governments dismantled the Colombian cartels, the land routes through Central America and Mexico became more important to the flow of cocaine. It is far more difficult to spot and seize contraband moving across the busy U.S.-Mexico border than it is to spot contraband flowing across the Caribbean.
This increase in the importance of Mexico allowed the Mexican cartels to gain leverage in negotiations with their Central American and Colombian partners and to secure a larger share of the profit. Indeed, by the mid-1990s the increasing importance of Mexican organizations to the flow of cocaine to the United States allowed the Mexican cartels to become the senior partners in the business relationship.
In a quest for an even larger portion of the cocaine profit chain, the Mexican cartels have increased their activities in Central and South America over the last two decades. The Mexicans have cut out many of the middlemen in Central America who used to transport cocaine from South America to Mexico and sell it to the Mexican cartels. Their efforts to consolidate their control over Central American smuggling routes continue today.
This move meant that the Mexican cartels assumed responsibility for the losses incurred by transporting cocaine from South America to Mexico, but it also permitted them to reap an increasing portion of the profit pool. Instead of making a set profit of perhaps $1,000 or $1,500 per kilogram of cocaine smuggled into the United States, the Mexican cartels can now buy a kilogram of cocaine for $2,200 or less in South America and sell it for $24,000 or more to their partners in the United States.
But the expansion of the Mexican cartels did not stop in Central America. According to South American authorities, the Mexican cartels are now becoming more involved in the processing of cocaine from coca leaf in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. There have also been reports of seizures of coca paste being smuggled to cocaine processing laboratories in Honduras and Guatemala. The use of these Central American processing laboratories, which are run by Mexican cartels, appears to be a reaction to the increased efforts of the Colombian National Police to crack down on cocaine laboratories and the availability of cocaine processing chemicals. 
U.S. counternarcotics officials report that today the Mexican cartels are the largest players in the global cocaine trade and are steadily working to grab the portion of cocaine smuggling not yet under their control. But the efforts of the Mexican cartels to increase their share of the cocaine profit are not confined to the production side; they have also expanded their involvement in the smuggling of South American cocaine to Europe and Australia and have established a footprint in African, Asian and European countries. Furthermore, they have stepped up their activities in places like the Dominican Republic and Haiti in an attempt to increase their share of the cocaine being smuggled through the Caribbean to the U.S. market. As seen by recent operations launched by U.S. law enforcement, such as Operation Xcellerator, Operation Chokehold and Operation Imperial Emperor, the Mexican cartels have also been increasing their presence at distribution points inside the United States, such as Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas, in an effort to increase their share of the cocaine profit chain inside the United States.
While marijuana sales have always been an important financial source for the Mexican cartels, the large profits from the cocaine trade are what have permitted the cartels to become as powerful as they are today. The billions of dollars of profit to be had from the cocaine trade have not only motivated much of the Mexican cartels' global expansion but have also financed it. Cocaine profits allow the Mexican cartels to buy boats and planes, hire smugglers and assassins ("sicarios") and bribe government officials.
Cocaine is a product that has a very limited and specific growing area. Consequently, that distinct coca growing area and the transportation corridors stretching between the growing area and the end markets are critically important. With a business model of selling cocaine at over 10 times the cost of acquisition -- and even greater over the cost of production -- it is not surprising that the competition among the various Mexican cartels for the smuggling corridors through Mexico to the United States has become quite aggressive.

Read more: Mexico's Cartels and the Economics of Cocaine | Stratfor 

Mexico's Cartels and the Economics of Cocaine is republished with permission of Stratfor

Satellites Spot China’s Mysterious New Warplane

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The Y-20 at Yanliang on Jan. 1.Photo: GeoEye GeoEye 1

A week after the publication of blurry photographs depicting what appears to be China’s first long-range jet transport, Danger Room has obtained satellite imagery of the new plane at an airfield in central China.
The images, acquired by the GeoEye 1 and IKONOS spacecraft — both belonging to commercial satellite operator GeoEye headquartered in Washington, D.C. — corroborate the general layout of the Xian Aircraft Corporation Y-20, the existence of which has been confirmed by Beijing. They also underscore the emerging consensus among Western experts that the Y-20, while outwardly impressive, could lack the performance of even much older American, Russian and European transports.
The IKONOS image (below) is dated Dec. 25. It shows the Y-20 outside a large hangar at Yanliang airfield, home of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s test establishment. The base is crowded with examples of the PLAAF’s other main transports, including Y-8 medium airlifters and, apparently, tanker versions of the aged H-6 bomber — both types of which could in theory be replaced by the Y-20, ostensibly giving China the same global military reach the U.S. and other advanced nations have enjoyed for half a century.
The GeoEye 1 photo from Jan. 1 (above) depicts the new transport, which isn’t known to have flown yet, on one of Yanliang’s runways, surrounded by people and vehicles. News reports have claimed the Y-20 is currently undergoing runway taxi tests in preparation for its eventual first flight.

Y-20 at Yanliang on Dec. 25. <em>Photo: GeoEye IKONOS</em>
Y-20 at Yanliang on Dec. 25. Photo: GeoEye IKONOS
But even after that happens, the Y-20 will probably need lots of work. Indeed, when it comes to jet-transport technology Beijing is “falling behind, not catching up,” John Pike, an analyst with the Virginia-based, writes in an email to Danger Room.
Specifically, the Y-20 needs new engines — and there’s little evidence that Beijing is making much progress on that front. The prototype is reportedly fitted with old, Russian-made D-30 engines that probably aren’t adequate for the Y-20′s design.
The new imagery is sharper, more detailed and shot from a higher angle than the grainy first photos of the Y-20 that appeared on Chinese Internet forums in late December, providing a much more reliable basis for assessing the transport’s layout. Apparently slightly smaller than the U.S. Air Force’s workhorse C-17, the Y-20 sports the same wide swept wing and T-shaped tail as the Boeing-made C-17, blueprints of which China obtained several years ago through a spy working for the Chicago-based plane manufacturer.
“In order to get the kind of range/payload capabilities you need to use this type of plane, it all comes down to the engines,” Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with Virginia market forecaster The Teal Group, emails Danger Room. “Designing a large, high-bypass turbofan is even harder than designing a combat engine [for jet fighters],” Aboulafia adds. “China shows no signs of being able to do that.”
There are only four companies in the world capable of building the kind of engines the Y-20 needs, Aboulafia says: three — GE/CFM, Rolls Royce and Pratt & Whitney — are Western companies and one is Russian. Arms controls in the West make it unlikely that Beijing will be able to source the Y-20′s motors from the former firms.
“In short, there are three possible explanations,” Aboulafia continues.  “One, this is just a prototype, or series of prototypes. Two, it will be built in series production, using a domestically-built knockoff engine that will result in a very short-range plane with a light payload. Three, they’ll do a deal with the Russians to start importing engines that can turn this into a Chinese copy of a former Soviet transport design.”
But even a copy of an older Soviet transport would likely feature only modest performance compared to more modern, unique designs. Moreover, Russia has been reluctant lately to sell engines to China, justifiably fearing that Beijing’s engineers will illegally reverse-engineer the motors.
All of which means the Y-20, so far, is more show than substance — an intriguing subject for Internet forums and passing satellites, but not yet a threat to the transportation dominance of the U.S., Russia and Europe.