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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Boeing to be awarded contract for Laser SDB

By 
Dave Majumdar


Lsdb.jpg

The US Air Force intends to award Boeing a contract to develop and test a new laser-guided version of its 250lb (113kg) small diameter bomb (SDB).
The company says that the weapons can carry out many of the functions of Raytheon's SDB II, which has a tri-modal seeker with millimeter wave radar, infrared, and semi-active laser guidance capabilities, at far lower cost. The new weapon is based on Boeing's laser joint direct attack munition (JDAM) technology.
"This contract is for phase one part two engineering, integration and test, and production support and a Laser Small Diameter Bomb (LSDB) Weapon Simulator," Boeing says. "With the LSDB, warfighters can now prosecute moving, reloadable and maritime targets."
The weapon, which uses the same semi-active laser sensor as the JDAM, allows for its aim point to be precisely adjusted while it is still in flight. Those adjustments are accomplished by using standard laser designation equipment operated by US forces, Boeing says. Further, because the semi-active laser sensor is the exact same one as used on the JDAM, the annual production rate is increased and therefore results in lowered prices for both programmes, the company says.
Boeing says that while the LSDB covers many of the SDB II missions at a much lower cost, it does not have the Raytheon-built weapons' capability to engage targets in zero-visibility weather.
USAF officials did not respond to press inquiries while Raytheon officials could not immediately offer a response.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

MBDA Adapts Brimstone to Target Swarming Fast Attack Craft

brimstone sea spear

PARIS — A missile used primarily to kill tanks could soon protect the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship from swarming fast attack craft.
MBDA Missile Systems has adapted the well known Brimstone missile to specifically target fast attack craft while being fired from a naval vessel, officials said Wednesday at the Paris Air Show.
On May 29, the company completed a test in which it fired three Brimstone Sea Spears hitting two static vessels and one vessel moving 20 knots near Scotland. Encouraged by the demonstration, MBDA is looking to market the naval weapon to countries such as the U.S. and U.K.
The U.K. already fires the Dual Mode Brimstone from their Tornados. The missile has received notoriety for its performance in Afghanistan and Libya. U.S. officials have shown interest in potentially firing them from the Reaper.
The Sea Spear is the first variant of the Brimstone designed to be fired from a naval vessel. The missile tracks the target with a millimeter waver seeker eliminating the potential of losing the target behind the crests of the waves.
MBDA designed it as a fire-and-forget missile that can eliminate swarming targets autonomously. It is a canister-launched missile that can be mounted to a building or a naval vessel as small as 14 meters.
Douglas Denneny, a vice president for MBDA based in Washington D.C., said the Sea Spear could protect the Navy’s new LCS fleet from the fast attack boats driven by the Iranian navy.
Those interested in the Sea Spear won’t have to wait. MBDA officials Frank Morgan and Mark Sheehan said the naval missile system is available immediately.


Read more: http://defensetech.org/2013/06/19/brimstone-adapted-to-target-swarming-fast-attack-craft/#ixzz2Wu5TrbPN 
Defense.org 

Monday, June 17, 2013

ATTENTION: SECRET UNIT IN SECRET WAR

Inside the NSA's Ultra-Secret China Hacking Group

Deep within the National Security Agency, an elite, rarely discussed team of hackers and spies is targeting America's enemies abroad.


BY MATTHEW M. AID



This weekend, U.S. President Barack Obama sat down for a series of meetings with China's newly appointed leader, Xi Jinping. We know that the two leaders spoke at length about the topic du jour -- cyber-espionage -- a subject that has long frustrated officials in Washington and is now front and center with the revelations of sweeping U.S. data mining. The media has focused at length on China's aggressive attempts to electronically steal U.S. military and commercial secrets, but Xi pushed back at the "shirt-sleeves" summit, noting that China, too, was the recipient of cyber-espionage. But what Obama probably neglected to mention is that he has his own hacker army, and it has burrowed its way deep, deep into China's networks.

When the agenda for the meeting at the Sunnylands estate outside Palm Springs, California, was agreed to several months ago, both parties agreed that it would be a nice opportunity for President Xi, who assumed his post in March, to discuss a wide range of security and economic issues of concern to both countries. According to diplomatic sources, the issue of cybersecurity was not one of the key topics to be discussed at the summit. Sino-American economic relations, climate change, and the growing threat posed by North Korea were supposed to dominate the discussions.
Then, two weeks ago, White House officials leaked to the press that Obama intended to raise privately with Xi the highly contentious issue of China's widespread use of computer hacking to steal U.S. government, military, and commercial secrets. According to a Chinese diplomat in Washington who spoke in confidence, Beijing was furious about the sudden elevation of cybersecurity and Chinese espionage on the meeting's agenda. According to a diplomatic source in Washington, the Chinese government was even angrier that the White House leaked the new agenda item to the press before Washington bothered to tell Beijing about it.
So the Chinese began to hit back. Senior Chinese officials have publicly accused the U.S. government of hypocrisy and have alleged that Washington is also actively engaged in cyber-espionage. When the latest allegation of Chinese cyber-espionage was leveled in late May in a front-page Washington Post article, which alleged that hackers employed by the Chinese military had stolen the blueprints of over three dozen American weapons systems, the Chinese government's top Internet official, Huang Chengqing, shot back that Beijing possessed "mountains of data" showing that the United States has engaged in widespread hacking designed to steal Chinese government secrets. This weekend's revelations about the National Security Agency's PRISM and Verizon metadata collection from a 29-year-old former CIA undercover operative named Edward J. Snowden, who is now living in Hong Kong, only add fuel to Beijing's position.
But Washington never publicly responded to Huang's allegation, and nobody in the U.S. media seems to have bothered to ask the White House if there is a modicum of truth to the Chinese charges.
It turns out that the Chinese government's allegations are essentially correct. According to a number of confidential sources, a highly secretive unit of the National Security Agency (NSA), the U.S. government's huge electronic eavesdropping organization, called the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, has successfully penetrated Chinese computer and telecommunications systems for almost 15 years, generating some of the best and most reliable intelligence information about what is going on inside the People's Republic of China.
Hidden away inside the massive NSA headquarters complex at Fort Meade, Maryland, in a large suite of offices segregated from the rest of the agency, TAO is a mystery to many NSA employees. Relatively few NSA officials have complete access to information about TAO because of the extraordinary sensitivity of its operations, and it requires a special security clearance to gain access to the unit's work spaces inside the NSA operations complex. The door leading to its ultramodern operations center is protected by armed guards, an imposing steel door that can only be entered by entering the correct six-digit code into a keypad, and a retinal scanner to ensure that only those individuals specially cleared for access get through the door.
According to former NSA officials interviewed for this article, TAO's mission is simple. It collects intelligence information on foreign targets by surreptitiously hacking into their computers and telecommunications systems, cracking passwords, compromising the computer security systems protecting the targeted computer, stealing the data stored on computer hard drives, and then copying all the messages and data traffic passing within the targeted email and text-messaging systems. The technical term of art used by NSA to describe these operations is computer network exploitation (CNE).
TAO is also responsible for developing the information that would allow the United States to destroy or damage foreign computer and telecommunications systems with a cyberattack if so directed by the president. The organization responsible for conducting such a cyberattack is U.S. Cyber Command (Cybercom), whose headquarters is located at Fort Meade and whose chief is the director of the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander.
Commanded since April of this year by Robert Joyce, who formerly was the deputy director of the NSA's Information Assurance Directorate (responsible for protecting the U.S. government's communications and computer systems), TAO, sources say, is now the largest and arguably the most important component of the NSA's huge Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) Directorate, consisting of over 1,000 military and civilian computer hackers, intelligence analysts, targeting specialists, computer hardware and software designers, and electrical engineers.
The sanctum sanctorum of TAO is its ultramodern operations center at Fort Meade called the Remote Operations Center (ROC), which is where the unit's 600 or so military and civilian computer hackers (they themselves CNE operators) work in rotating shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
These operators spend their days (or nights) searching the ether for computers systems and supporting telecommunications networks being utilized by, for example, foreign terrorists to pass messages to their members or sympathizers. Once these computers have been identified and located, the computer hackers working in the ROC break into the targeted computer systems electronically using special software designed by TAO's own corps of software designers and engineers specifically for this purpose, download the contents of the computers' hard drives, and place software implants or other devices called "buggies" inside the computers' operating systems, which allows TAO intercept operators at Fort Meade to continuously monitor the email and/or text-messaging traffic coming in and out of the computers or hand-held devices.
TAO's work would not be possible without the team of gifted computer scientists and software engineers belonging to the Data Network Technologies Branch, who develop the sophisticated computer software that allows the unit's operators to perform their intelligence collection mission. A separate unit within TAO called the Telecommunications Network Technologies Branch (TNT) develops the techniques that allow TAO's hackers to covertly gain access to targeted computer systems and telecommunications networks without being detected. Meanwhile, TAO's Mission Infrastructure Technologies Branch develops and builds the sensitive computer and telecommunications monitoring hardware and support infrastructure that keeps the effort up and running.
TAO even has its own small clandestine intelligence-gathering unit called the Access Technologies Operations Branch, which includes personnel seconded by the CIA and the FBI, who perform what are described as "off-net operations," which is a polite way of saying that they arrange for CIA agents to surreptitiously plant eavesdropping devices on computers and/or telecommunications systems overseas so that TAO's hackers can remotely access them from Fort Meade.
It is important to note that TAO is not supposed to work against domestic targets in the United States or its possessions. This is the responsibility of the FBI, which is the sole U.S. intelligence agency chartered for domestic telecommunications surveillance. But in light of information aboutwider NSA snooping, one has to prudently be concerned about whether TAO is able to perform its mission of collecting foreign intelligence without accessing communications originating in or transiting through the United States.
Since its creation in 1997, TAO has garnered a reputation for producing some of the best intelligence available to the U.S. intelligence community not only about China, but also on foreign terrorist groups, espionage activities being conducted against the United States by foreign governments, ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction developments around the globe, and the latest political, military, and economic developments around the globe.
According to a former NSA official, by 2007 TAO's 600 intercept operators were secretly tapping into thousands of foreign computer systems and accessing password-protected computer hard drives and emails of targets around the world. As detailed in my 2009 history of NSA, The Secret Sentry, this highly classified intercept program, known at the time as Stumpcursor, proved to be critically important during the U.S. Army's 2007 "surge" in Iraq, where it was credited with single-handedly identifying and locating over 100 Iraqi and al Qaeda insurgent cells in and around Baghdad. That same year, sources report that TAO was given an award for producing particularly important intelligence information about whether Iran was trying to build an atomic bomb.
By the time Obama became president of the United States in January 2009, TAO had become something akin to the wunderkind of the U.S. intelligence community. "It's become an industry unto itself," a former NSA official said of TAO at the time. "They go places and get things that nobody else in the IC [intelligence community] can."
Given the nature and extraordinary political sensitivity of its work, it will come as no surprise that TAO has always been, and remains, extraordinarily publicity shy. Everything about TAO is classified top secret codeword, even within the hypersecretive NSA. Its name has appeared in print only a few times over the past decade, and the handful of reporters who have dared inquire about it have been politely but very firmly warned by senior U.S. intelligence officials not to describe its work for fear that it might compromise its ongoing efforts. According to a senior U.S. defense official who is familiar with TAO's work, "The agency believes that the less people know about them [TAO] the better."
The word among NSA officials is that if you want to get promoted or recognized, get a transfer to TAO as soon as you can. The current head of the NSA's SIGINT Directorate, Teresa Shea, 54, got her current job in large part because of the work she did as chief of TAO in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when the unit earned plaudits for its ability to collect extremely hard-to-come-by information during the latter part of George W. Bush's administration. We do not know what the information was, but sources suggest that it must have been pretty important to propel Shea to her position today. But according to a recently retired NSA official, TAO "is the place to be right now."
There's no question that TAO has continued to grow in size and importance since Obama took office in 2009, which is indicative of its outsized role. In recent years, TAO's collection operations have expanded from Fort Meade to some of the agency's most important listening posts in the United States. There are now mini-TAO units operating at the huge NSA SIGINT intercept and processing centers at NSA Hawaii at Wahiawa on the island of Oahu; NSA Georgia at Fort Gordon, Georgia; and NSA Texas at the Medina Annex outside San Antonio, Texas; and within the huge NSA listening post at Buckley Air Force Base outside Denver.
The problem is that TAO has become so large and produces so much valuable intelligence information that it has become virtually impossible to hide it anymore. The Chinese government is certainly aware of TAO's activities. The "mountains of data" statement by China's top Internet official, Huang Chengqing, is clearly an implied threat by Beijing to release this data. Thus it is unlikely that President Obama pressed President Xi too hard at the Sunnydale summit on the question of China's cyber-espionage activities. As any high-stakes poker player knows, you can only press your luck so far when the guy on the other side of the table knows what cards you have in your hand.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

ATTENTION: THE SECRET WAR

INFILTRATION. SABOTAGE. MAYHEM. FOR YEARS, FOUR-STAR GENERAL KEITH ALEXANDER HAS BEEN BUILDING A SECRET ARMY CAPABLE OF LAUNCHING DEVASTATING CYBERATTACKS. NOW IT’S READY TO UNLEASH HELL.


INSIDE FORT MEADE, Maryland, a top-secret city bustles. Tens of thousands of people move through more than 50 buildings—the city has its own post office, fire department, and police force. But as if designed by Kafka, it sits among a forest of trees, surrounded by electrified fences and heavily armed guards, protected by antitank barriers, monitored by sensitive motion detectors, and watched by rotating cameras. To block any telltale electromagnetic signals from escaping, the inner walls of the buildings are wrapped in protective copper shielding and the one-way windows are embedded with a fine copper mesh.
This is the undisputed domain of General Keith Alexander, a man few even in Washington would likely recognize. Never before has anyone in America’s intelligence sphere come close to his degree of power, the number of people under his command, the expanse of his rule, the length of his reign, or the depth of his secrecy. A four-star Army general, his authority extends across three domains: He is director of the world’s largest intelligence service, the National Security Agency; chief of the Central Security Service; and commander of the US Cyber Command. As such, he has his own secret military, presiding over the Navy’s 10th Fleet, the 24th Air Force, and the Second Army.
Alexander runs the nation’s cyberwar efforts, an empire he has built over the past eight years by insisting that the US’s inherent vulnerability to digital attacks requires him to amass more and more authority over the data zipping around the globe. In his telling, the threat is so mind-bogglingly huge that the nation has little option but to eventually put the entire civilian Internet under his protection, requiring tweets and emails to pass through his filters, and putting the kill switch under the government’s forefinger. “What we see is an increasing level of activity on the networks,” he said at a recent security conference in Canada. “I am concerned that this is going to break a threshold where the private sector can no longer handle it and the government is going to have to step in.”
In its tightly controlled public relations, the NSA has focused attention on the threat of cyberattack against the US—the vulnerability of critical infrastructure like power plants and water systems, the susceptibility of the military’s command and control structure, the dependence of the economy on the Internet’s smooth functioning. Defense against these threats was the paramount mission trumpeted by NSA brass at congressional hearings and hashed over at security conferences.
But there is a flip side to this equation that is rarely mentioned: The military has for years been developing offensive capabilities, giving it the power not just to defend the US but to assail its foes. Using so-called cyber-kinetic attacks, Alexander and his forces now have the capability to physically destroy an adversary’s equipment and infrastructure, and potentially even to kill. Alexander—who declined to be interviewed for this article—has concluded that such cyberweapons are as crucial to 21st-century warfare as nuclear arms were in the 20th.
And he and his cyberwarriors have already launched their first attack. The cyberweapon that came to be known as Stuxnet was created and built by the NSA in partnership with the CIA and Israeli intelligence in the mid-2000s. The first known piece of malware designed to destroy physical equipment, Stuxnet was aimed at Iran’s nuclear facility in Natanz. By surreptitiously taking control of an industrial control link known as a Scada (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system, the sophisticated worm was able to damage about a thousand centrifuges used to enrich nuclear material.
The success of this sabotage came to light only in June 2010, when the malware spread to outside computers. It was spotted by independent security researchers, who identified telltale signs that the worm was the work of thousands of hours of professional development. Despite headlines around the globe, officials in Washington have never openly acknowledged that the US was behind the attack. It wasn’t until 2012 that anonymous sources within the Obama administration took credit for it in interviews with The New York Times.
But Stuxnet is only the beginning. Alexander’s agency has recruited thousands of computer experts, hackers, and engineering PhDs to expand US offensive capabilities in the digital realm. The Pentagon has requested $4.7 billion for “cyberspace operations,” even as the budget of the CIA and other intelligence agencies could fall by $4.4 billion. It is pouring millions into cyberdefense contractors. And more attacks may be planned.
Inside the government, the general is regarded with a mixture of respect and fear, not unlike J. Edgar Hoover, another security figure whose tenure spanned multiple presidencies. “We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander—with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets,” says one former senior CIA official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else.”
Now 61, Alexander has said he plans to retire in 2014; when he does step down he will leave behind an enduring legacy—a position of far-reaching authority and potentially Strangelovian powers at a time when the distinction between cyberwarfare and conventional warfare is beginning to blur. A recent Pentagon report made that point in dramatic terms. It recommended possible deterrents to a cyberattack on the US. Among the options: launching nuclear weapons.
E MAY BE a four-star Army general, but Alexander more closely resembles a head librarian than George Patton. His face is anemic, his lips a neutral horizontal line. Bald halfway back, he has hair the color of strong tea that turns gray on the sides, where it is cut close to the skin, more schoolboy than boot camp. For a time he wore large rimless glasses that seemed to swallow his eyes. Some combat types had a derisive nickname for him: Alexander the Geek.
Born in 1951, the third of five children, Alexander was raised in the small upstate New York hamlet of Onondaga Hill, a suburb of Syracuse. He tossed papers for the Syracuse Post-Standard and ran track at Westhill High School while his father, a former Marine private, was involved in local Republican politics. It was 1970, Richard Nixon was president, and most of the country had by then begun to see the war in Vietnam as a disaster. But Alexander had been accepted at West Point, joining a class that included two other future four-star generals, David Petraeus and Martin Dempsey. Alexander would never get the chance to serve in Vietnam. Just as he stepped off the bus at West Point, the ground war finally began winding down.
In April 1974, just before graduation, he married his high school classmate Deborah Lynn Douglas, who grew up two doors away in Onondaga Hill. The fighting in Vietnam was over, but the Cold War was still bubbling, and Alexander focused his career on the solitary, rarefied world of signals intelligence, bouncing from secret NSA base to secret NSA base, mostly in the US and Germany. He proved a competent administrator, carrying out assignments and adapting to the rapidly changing high tech environment. Along the way he picked up masters degrees in electronic warfare, physics, national security strategy, and business administration. As a result, he quickly rose up the military intelligence ranks, where expertise in advanced technology was at a premium.
In 2001, Alexander was a one-star general in charge of the Army Intelligence and Security Command, the military’s worldwide network of 10,700 spies and eavesdroppers. In March of that year he told his hometown Syracuse newspaper that his job was to discover threats to the country. “We have to stay out in front of our adversary,” Alexander said. “It’s a chess game, and you don’t want to lose this one.” But just six months later, Alexander and the rest of the American intelligence community suffered a devastating defeat when they were surprised by the attacks on 9/11. Following the assault, he ordered his Army intercept operators to begin illegally monitoring the phone calls and email of American citizens who had nothing to do with terrorism, including intimate calls between journalists and their spouses. Congress later gave retroactive immunity to the telecoms that assisted the government.
In 2003, Alexander, a favorite of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was named the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, the service’s most senior intelligence position. Among the units under his command were the military intelligence teams involved in the human rights abuses at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. Two years later, Rumsfeld appointed Alexander—now a three-star general—director of the NSA, where he oversaw the illegal, warrantless wiretapping program while deceiving members of the House Intelligence Committee. In a publicly released letter to Alexander shortly after The New York Times exposed the program, US representative Rush Holt, a member of the committee, angrily took him to task for not being forthcoming about the wiretapping: “Your responses make a mockery of congressional oversight.”
Alexander also proved to be militant about secrecy. In 2005 a senior agency employee named Thomas Drake allegedly gave information to The Baltimore Sun showing that a publicly discussed program known as Trailblazer was millions of dollars over budget, behind schedule, possibly illegal, and a serious threat to privacy. In response, federal prosecutors charged Drake with 10 felony counts, including retaining classified documents and making false statements. He faced up to 35 years in prison—despite the fact that all of the information Drake was alleged to have leaked was not only unclassified and already in the public domain but in fact had been placed there by NSA and Pentagon officials themselves. (As a longtime chronicler of the NSA, I served as a consultant for Drake’s defense team. The investigation went on for four years, after which Drake received no jail time or fine. The judge, Richard D. Bennett, excoriated the prosecutor and NSA officials for dragging their feet. “I find that unconscionable. Unconscionable,” he said during a hearing in 2011. “That’s four years of hell that a citizen goes through. It was not proper. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”)
But while the powers that be were pressing for Drake’s imprisonment, a much more serious challenge was emerging. Stuxnet, the cyberweapon used to attack the Iranian facility in Natanz, was supposed to be untraceable, leaving no return address should the Iranians discover it. Citing anonymous Obama administration officials, The New York Timesreported that the malware began replicating itself and migrating to computers in other countries. Cyber­security detectives were thus able to detect and analyze it. By the summer of 2010 some were pointing fingers at the US.
NATANZ IS A SMALL, dusty town in central Iran known for its plump pears and the burial vault of the 13th-century Sufi sheikh Abd al-Samad. The Natanz nuclear enrichment plant is a vault of a different kind. Tucked in the shadows of the Karkas Mountains, most of it lies deep underground and surrounded by concrete walls 8 feet thick, with another layer of concrete for added security. Its bulbous concrete roof rests beneath more than 70 feet of packed earth. Contained within the bombproof structure are halls the size of soccer pitches, designed to hold thousands of tall, narrow centrifuges. The machines are linked in long cascades that look like tacky decorations from a ’70s discotheque.
To work properly, the centrifuges need strong, lightweight, well-balanced rotors and high-speed bearings. Spin these rotors too slowly and the critical U-235 molecules inside fail to separate; spin them too quickly and the machines self-destruct and may even explode. The operation is so delicate that the computers controlling the rotors’ movement are isolated from the Internet by a so-called air gap that prevents exposure to viruses and other malware.
In 2006, the Department of Defense gave the go-ahead to the NSA to begin work on targeting these centrifuges, according to The New York Times. One of the first steps was to build a map of the Iranian nuclear facility’s computer networks. A group of hackers known as Tailored Access Operations—a highly secret organization within the NSA—took up the challenge.
They set about remotely penetrating communications systems and networks, stealing passwords and data by the terabyte. Teams of “vulnerability analysts” searched hundreds of computers and servers for security holes, according to a former senior CIA official involved in the Stuxnet program. Armed with that intelligence, so-called network exploitation specialists then developed software implants known as beacons, which worked like surveillance drones, mapping out a blueprint of the network and then secretly communicating the data back to the NSA. (Flame, the complex piece of surveillance malware discovered by Russian cybersecurity experts last year, was likely one such beacon.) The surveillance drones worked brilliantly. The NSA was able to extract data about the Iranian networks, listen to and record conversations through computer microphones, even reach into the mobile phones of anyone within Bluetooth range of a compromised machine.
The next step was to create a digital warhead, a task that fell to the CIA Clandestine Service’s Counter-Proliferation Division. According to the senior CIA official, much of this work was outsourced to national labs, notably Sandia in Albuquerque, New Mexico. So by the mid-2000s, the government had developed all the fundamental technology it needed for an attack. But there was still a major problem: The secretive agencies had to find a way to access Iran’s most sensitive and secure computers, the ones protected by the air gap. For that, Alexander and his fellow spies would need outside help.
This is where things get murky. One possible bread crumb trail leads to an Iranian electronics and computer wholesaler named Ali Ashtari, who later confessed that he was recruited as a spy by the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. (Israel denied the claim.) Ashtari’s principal customers were the procurement officers for some of Iran’s most sensitive organizations, including the intelligence service and the nuclear enrichment plants. If new computers were needed or routers or switches had to be replaced, Ashtari was the man to see, according to reports from semi-official Iranian news agencies and an account of Ashtari’s trial published by the nonprofit Iran Human Rights Voice.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Egypt's Limited Military Options to Stop an Ethiopian Dam Project

Egypt's Limited Military Options to Stop an Ethiopian Dam Project
The Blue Nile in Guba, Ethiopia, during its diversion ceremony on May 28. (William Lloyd-George/AFP/Getty Images)


Summary

Ethiopia's initiation of a dam project on the Blue Nile has quickly drawn the ire of Egypt, which is critically dependent on it as a source of much of the country's freshwater needs. As Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said June 9 following Ethiopia's refusal to halt construction of the dam and ahead of his trip to Addis Ababa to discuss the project, Egypt will not give up a "single drop of water from the Nile." "No Nile, no Egypt," he said.
While Egypt has struggled to attract diplomatic intervention on its behalf to thwart Ethiopia's dam construction, tensions have reached the point where Egypt has suggested the use of force to keep the dam from potentially lowering the Nile's water levels downstream to unacceptable levels. There will be serious international pressure to keep the dispute over the dam in the realm of diplomacy, but there are also fairly significant constraints on the physical possibility of an Egyptian military solution.

Analysis

It varies depending on the dimensions of the dam, but dams can be and usually are very tough targets to destroy. In World War II the British proved that it could be done despite considerable difficulties and were the first to seriously develop the art of dam busting. The British used delayed-action bouncing bombs from Lancaster bombers, but fortunately for the Egyptians, advancements in weapons technology would enable them to target the Ethiopian dam in a less risky way. The best way for Egypt to knock out a standing dam is to use retarded and delayed-action bombs deployed from very low altitudes, or even better, delayed-action joint direct attack munitions deployed at medium altitude. The difficulty is that the bomb needs to be deployed at the very base of the dam, underwater, where the concussive effect and pressure wave is greatly amplified. Preferably more than one bomb would be deployed in this manner, and the force would be sufficient to breach the dam. 
To avoid the hassle of hitting a standing dam and creating major flooding downstream in Sudan and even potentially Egypt, Cairo would probably prefer to hit it while it is under construction. But it also has to be careful not to hit the dam too early, because then Ethiopia may not be fully deterred from restarting the project.
Distance is a major obstacle for the Egyptian military option. Ethiopia is simply too far from Egypt, and since Egypt has not invested in any sort of aerial refueling capability, it is beyond the combat radius of all Egyptian aircraft staging from Egyptian airfields. The only consolation for Egypt is that the dam is very close to the Sudanese border. Access to Sudanese airfields would place some of Egypt's air force within range. However, operating from Sudanese territory could be politically complicated and would have international repercussions for Sudan along with Egypt. Sudan's proximity to Ethiopia would also leave it vulnerable to direct military retaliation.
Another option is the insertion of special operations forces into Sudan. From there, the forces could move across the border and either harass the construction of the dam or attempt to sabotage the structure under the guise of militants. This would allow Khartoum to realistically pledge that it had no idea there were "militants" there. The harassment tactic by special operations forces or militants would likely only delay the project, not arrest construction.
Special operations forces teams would face their own series of obstacles in trying to destroy the dam. Dams are critical infrastructure and routinely protected relatively well in most countries by dedicated military units. Ethiopia would be no exception, especially with all the contention already surrounding the project. So Egyptian special operations forces would need luck and skill to gain access to the dam successfully. There is also the problem that a small team of ground forces, no matter how elite, would likely be physically unable to carry enough ordnance to critically damage or destroy the dam.
Egypt does have military options, but distance will heavily constrain its ability to project the full force of its military. Any option Cairo chooses to exercise will be risky at best and will also come with severe international consequences.


Read more: Egypt's Limited Military Options to Stop an Ethiopian Dam Project | Stratfor
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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The new masters and commanders

China’s growing empire of ports abroad is mainly about trade, not aggression


FROM the ground, Colombo’s port does not look like much. Those entering it are greeted by wire fences, walls dating back to colonial times and security posts. For mariners leaving the port after lonely nights on the high seas, the delights of the B52 Night Club and Stallion Pub lie a stumble away. But viewed from high up in one of the growing number of skyscrapers in Sri Lanka’s capital, it is clear that something extraordinary is happening: China is creating a shipping hub just 200 miles from India’s southern tip.
The old port is cramped and stuffed full of containers. To its left, a vast new breakwater curves into the ocean. Alongside it a Chinese ship has just delivered three giant Chinese cranes (see picture) to a new container terminal built by a Chinese company and run by an entity controlled by another Chinese firm. The terminal opens in July and will be complete in April 2014. The old port took centuries to reach its present capacity. China will have almost doubled it in under 30 months. Operated at full capacity, it would make Colombo one of the world’s 20 biggest container ports.
This development has split opinion in Sri Lanka. At a gathering of Colombo’s old salts, the mood is optimistic. Tales of Chinese domination are “just scaremongering” says one captain. The port will push Colombo into the big league, says the boss of a repair yard. A few are nervous, though. The Chinese have a hidden agenda, says someone close to the ports authority.
For India’s hawks, there is no ambiguity. The port is part of a Chinese plot. Colombo is a “transhipment” hub for India: big ships unload containers there and feeder boats take these to India’s often crummy ports. About 13% of India’s container traffic travels via Colombo. If the new terminal ran at full capacity and dedicated itself to transhipping containers to India, that could rise to 28%, leaving the country dependent on a foreign-run choke point.
Worse, critics argue, Sri Lanka has become ever chummier with China since the end of its civil war in 2009. On May 29th Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president, met Li Keqiang, China’s premier, in Beijing. Loans and declarations of “profound friendship” were secured. China is also developing roads, airports and another port, Hambantota, on Sri Lanka’s south coast. Chinese warships have stopped at Colombo on the way to Pakistan and to anti-pirate operations in the Gulf of Aden.
In the eyes of some Indians, Colombo is part of a “string of pearls”—an American-coined phrase that suggests the deliberate construction of a network of Chinese built, owned or influenced ports that could threaten India. These include a facility in Gwadar and a port in Karachi (both in Pakistan); a container facility in Chittagong (Bangladesh); and ports in Myanmar.
Is this string theory convincing? Even if the policy exists, it might not work. Were China able to somehow turn ports into naval bases, it might struggle to keep control of a series of Gibraltars so far from home. And host countries have mood swings. Since Myanmar opened up in 2012, China’s influence there has decreased. China love-bombed the Seychelles and Mauritius with presidential visits in 2007 and 2009 respectively. But since then India has successfully buttered up these island states and reasserted its role in the Maldives. Besides, China’s main motive may be commerce. C. Raja Mohan, the author of “Samudra Manthan”, a book on Sino-Indian rivalry in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, argues that China’s port bases partly reflect a desire to get easier sea access for trade to and from west China.
A load of old rope
State-owned firms are in charge of most of China’s maritime activity, and their motives are at least partly commercial. There is certainly not much talk of invading India in the offices of Tissa Wickramasinghe, the general manager of CICT, the firm that runs Colombo’s new terminal. It is 85% owned by China Merchants Holdings International, a Hong Kong firm that is ultimately controlled by China’s government.
Mr Wickramasinghe says the port aims to take advantage of a new global pattern of trade. Trade by poor countries will rise. More containers will be used (only 22% of Indian cargo is containerised—half the world average). The shipping corridors between East Asia, Europe and Africa will get even busier. A new generation of huge ships that are almost half a kilometre long will dominate them. The ports that service these vessels will prosper.
China’s maritime interests already reflect its status as the world’s largest exporter and second-largest importer. Many of the world’s biggest container ports are in China. It controls a fifth of the world’s container fleet mainly through giant state-owned lines. By weight, 41% of ships built in 2012 were made in China.
Japanese and Korean firms built a presence in Californian ports in the 1980s and 1990s. Now China’s muscle in trade and shipping is being mirrored in ports too. At first this was about building. China Harbour Engineering Company has constructed projects around the world. In 2012 its state-controlled parent firm had orders of $12 billion for construction deals abroad.
For bigger photo. click here.
The next step is to own and run ports (see map). Hutchison Whampoa, a buccaneering, privately owned Hong Kong conglomerate, has long had a global network of ports. The pioneer among mainland firms was Cosco Pacific, an affiliate of state-owned Cosco, China’s biggest shipping line. In 2003-07 it took minority stakes in terminals in Antwerp, Suez and Singapore. In 2009 it took charge of half of Piraeus Port in Greece. It has invested about $1 billion abroad. China Merchants Holdings International, a newcomer, has spent double that. It invested in Nigeria, as well as Colombo, in 2010. Last year it took stakes in ports in Togo and Djibouti. In January it bought 49% of Terminal Link, a global portfolio of terminals run by CMA CGM, an indebted French container line.
The pace is quickening. In March another firm, China Shipping Terminal, bought a stake in a terminal in Zeebrugge in Belgium. On May 30th China Merchants struck a multi-billion deal to create a port in Tanzania. Even the more cautious Cosco Pacific is thinking about deals in South-East Asia and investing more in Greece.
What explains this surge in investment? The slowdown in trade has dulled prospects in China and lowered prices abroad from the heights of 2007-08, says Jonathan Beard of ICF GHK, a consultancy. The focus on Asia, Europe and Africa is partly because America may be out of bounds. China Shipping Terminal has small stakes in facilities in Seattle and Los Angeles, according to Drewry, a consultancy. But the experience of Dubai’s DP World suggests that America would not roll out a red carpet. In 2006 DP abandoned plans to buy American ports after a political backlash. Some Americans worry that China wants to take over the Panama canal.
Chinese firms may also subscribe to a supersized vision of the industry in which an elite group of ports caters to a new generation of mega-vessels. These will be more fuel-efficient and link Asia and Europe (they can just squeeze through the Suez Canal). After a decade of hype these behemoths are now afloat. In May CMA CGM received the Jules Verne, the world’s largest container ship. It can handle 16,000 containers and has a 16-metre (52-feet) draft. In July Maersk, a Danish line, will launch an 18,000-container monster. It has ordered 20 from Daewoo, in Korea. China Shipping Container Lines, the country’s second biggest firm, has just ordered five 18,400-container vessels from Hyundai.
Some ports may struggle to cater to these ships. Some of China’s new terminals may try to exploit that. Cosco Pacific is building a dock at Piraeus that can handle mega-ships. Colombo is deep enough for ships with an 18-metre draft. Its cranes can cope with ships 24 containers wide. Nothing in India compares with that.
Darling can’t you hear me, SOS
There are risks to China’s port strategy. The world economy may not recover quickly. Today’s slow growth lowers demand for containers. It also means many shipping lines are losing money, making them nervous about raising capacity by launching lots of new mega-ships. That in turn allows smaller ports to stay competitive.
The immediate outlook is tough for Colombo’s new terminal, in part because of India’s woes. India’s container traffic, having grown at a blistering pace, declined by 4% in April compared with the same month last year. “We never imagined this situation,” says an Indian port boss. Then there is competition. Vallarpadam, a port in the Indian state of Kerala owned by DP World, is only a third full. India’s bureaucrats have relaxed their fiddly rules to help it compete. Ports in Mumbai and Mundra, in west India, already get lots of direct calls from global lines. Other ports such as Chennai are slowly winning more, too.
The age of the mega-ship might secure Colombo’s position, but it is some way off. The initial schedules for the new Maersk and CMA CGM vessels do not include stops in Colombo. Local agents hope other lines will try the port this year. Some expect that patriotic Chinese shipping lines will shift their business to Colombo from other big Asian ports. But that is a stretch. They are losing money and may not want to subsidise Sri Lanka. In 2012 Aitken Spence, a local firm, sold its stake in Colombo’s new terminal, arguing that it was not profitable. Some reckon it will take 15 years for it to break even.
Yet the port industry is about strong nerves. Eventually a recovery will materialise. In fact, the long-term challenge for China’s port operators may be commercial success. If they do create hubs for other countries, these firms’ association—unfairly, or otherwise—with China’s strategic interests will be a liability. Colombo is an example. India’s security grumbles are partly posturing. China is its biggest trading partner, and India’s main state-owned shipping firm gets its vessels repaired in China. But should Sri Lanka ever succeed in dominating India’s trade while being a close Chinese ally, India would surely improve its ports enough to be independent.
Experiences elsewhere offer no clear-cut guide. After political tensions in the South China Sea, China Merchants has withdrawn from a port project in Vietnam. But Cosco’s Piraeus investment, once controversial, is a success, with profits rising and the firm winning plaudits for investing and creating jobs for Greeks.
China’s port strategy is mainly motivated by commercial impulses. It is natural that a country of its clout has a global shipping and ports industry. But it could become a flashpoint for diplomatic tensions. That is the pessimistic view. The optimistic one is that the more it invests, the more incentive China has to rub along better with its trading partners. This, not deliberate expansionism, is what the locals are betting on in Colombo.


Monday, June 10, 2013

FLIGHT TEST: A400M Grizzly bares all

  MIKE GERZANICS TOULOUSE



The A400M is Airbus Military's first bespoke product and traces its roots to a European Staff Requirement for a more capable airlifter for the 21st century. In broad terms the type would replace the C160 Transall and Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules of purchasing countries' air forces. The eight partner nations specified an aircraft that could perform both tactical and strategic airlift roles.
Airbus Military and project partners Turkish Aerospace Industries and Belgium's Flabel realised that in an era of tight budgets, any new aircraft would have to be able to fulfil a number of roles. In addition to transport duties, the A400M would be designed from the outset to provide an aerial refuelling capability. It would be no mere form/fit/function replacement for the C-130; but offer dramatically improved performance and operational capabilities.
The first A400M development aircraft was rolled out from Airbus Military's Seville production facility in Spain on 26 June 2008. The medium transport features the largest Western turboprop engines to date swinging massive eight-bladed scimitar propellers. The first Grizzly, as the five developmental aircraft became nicknamed, was flown on 11 December 2009. Following an extensive developmental programme, Airbus Military is set to deliver the first operational A400M, or Atlas, to the French air force in late June or early July 2013. In advance of the milestone being achieved, Flight Internationalwas invited to Toulouse to fly the new-generation product.

Syria to buy more MiG-29s from Russia

Moscow is to sell at least 10 more RAC MiG-29 fighters to existing operator Syria, according to Russian sources.
It is unclear when deliveries will take place, or whether the deal will include new or refurbished aircraft. However, Russian media reports suggest the fighters involved in the transaction will be MiG-29M2 examples (two-seat trainer version pictured below).
In recent years the Syrian and Russian governments have reached agreements that have covered the acquisition by Damascus of advanced S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems.
The Syrian air force already operates MiG-29s as part of its combat inventory, with Flightglobal's MiliCAS database reporting up to 48 as being in its operational fleet. Sources suggest that many have suffered from maintenance problems due to a severe lack of spare parts.
A fresh sale of combat aircraft for use by the Syrian forces is likely to attract criticism from nations opposing the regime of president Bashar al-Assad.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

F-35A launches first AMRAAM

By 
Dave Majumdar

F35_AAVI.jpg

The Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter made its first Raytheon AIM-120C5 AMRAAM launch earlier this week at Edwards AFB, California.  The instrumented missile was launched from aircraft AF-1, which was flown by US Air Force Lt Col George Schwartz, over the Point Mugu Sea Test Range off the California coast.

"The AIM-120 launch is one small, but critical increment toward proving combat capability," says F-35 weapons director Charlie Wagner. "We've spent years working on the design of the aircraft, and many months ensuring that weapons could be contained within the aircraft and dropped as designed."
The significance of the AMRAAM launch is that it demonstrates a successful launch-to-eject communications sequence and firing of the weapon's rocket motor after its release.  The test will help pave the way for targeted launches later this year in support of Block 2B configuration, which will the first software load with actual combat capability. "We're rolling into a lot of additional weapons work in the coming months to put that expanded capability on the aircraft," Schwartz says.
Both the USAF and US Marine Corps will declare the F-35 operational with versions of the Block 2B (rehosted as Block 3i for the USAF)  software in 2016 and 2015 respectively.
Meanwhile, Kongsberg and Lockheed have completed a fit check of the Norwegian Joint Strike Missile (JSM) inside the internal weapons bay of the F-35. The weapon has already been fit checked on external pylons--those tests took place about four weeks ago.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Speed is the new stealth

Hypersonic weapons: Building vehicles that fly at five times the speed of sound is amazingly hard, but researchers are trying



ON AUGUST 20th 1998 Bill Clinton ordered American warships in the Arabian Sea to fire a volley of more than 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles at suspected terrorist training camps near the town of Khost in eastern Afghanistan. The missiles, flying north at about 880kph (550mph), took two hours to reach their target. Several people were killed, but the main target of the attack, Osama bin Laden, left the area shortly before the missiles struck. American spies located the al-Qaeda leader on two other occasions as he moved around Afghanistan in September 2000. But the United States had no weapons able to reach him fast enough.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, American officials decided that they needed to obtain a “prompt global strike” capability, able to deliver conventional explosives anywhere on Earth within an hour or two. One way to do this would be to take existing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and replace the nuclear warheads with standard explosives. The hitch is that ballistic missiles are usually armed with nuclear warheads. A launch could therefore be misconstrued as the start of a nuclear strike, says Arun Prakash, a former Chief of the Naval Staff, the top job in India’s navy.
Moreover, ICBMs carrying conventional explosives towards targets in Asia or the Middle East would at first be indistinguishable from those aimed at China or Russia, according to a paper issued by the Congressional Research Service, an American government-research body. This uncertainty might provoke a full-scale nuclear counterattack. In the years after 2001 funding for non-nuclear ballistic missiles was repeatedly cut by Congress, until military planners eventually gave up on the idea. Instead, they have now pinned their hopes on an alternative approach: superfast or “hypersonic” unmanned vehicles that can strike quickly by flying through the atmosphere, and cannot be mistaken for a nuclear missile.
These hypersonic vehicles are not rockets, as ICBMs are, but work in a fundamentally different way. Rockets carry their own fuel, which includes the oxygen needed for combustion in airless space. This fuel is heavy, making rockets practical only for short, vertical flights into space. So engineers are trying to develop lightweight, “air breathing” hypersonic vehicles that can travel at rocket-like speeds while taking oxygen from the atmosphere, as a jet engine does, rather than having to carry it in the form of fuel oxidants.
The term hypersonic technically refers to speeds faster than five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5, equivalent to around 6,200kph at sea level and 5,300kph at high altitudes (where the colder, thinner air means the speed of sound is lower). Being able to sustain flight in the atmosphere at such speeds would have many benefits. Hypersonic vehicles would not be subject to existing treaties on ballistic-missile arsenals, for one thing. It is easier to manoeuvre in air than it is in space, making it more feasible to dodge interceptors or change trajectory if a target moves. And by cutting the cost of flying into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, the technology could also help reduce the expense of military and civilian access to space.
All this, however, requires a totally different design from the turbofan and turbojet engines that power airliners and fighter jets, few of which can operate beyond speeds of about Mach 2. At higher speeds the jet engines’ assemblies of spinning blades can no longer slow incoming air to the subsonic velocities needed for combustion. Faster propulsion relies instead on engines without moving parts. One type, called a ramjet, slows incoming air to subsonic speeds using a carefully shaped inlet to compress and thereby slow the airstream. Ramjets power France’s new, nuclear-tipped ASMPA missiles. Carried by Rafale and Mirage fighter jets, they are thought to be able to fly for about 500km at Mach 3, or around 3,700kph.
It’s not rocket science
But reaching hypersonic speeds of Mach 5 and above with an air-breathing engine means getting combustion to happen in a stream of supersonic air. Engines that do this are called supersonic-combustion ramjets, or scramjets. They also use a specially shaped inlet to slow the flow of incoming air, but it does not slow down enough to become subsonic. This leaves engineers with a big problem: injecting and igniting fuel in a supersonic airstream is like “lighting a match in a hurricane and keeping it lit,” says Russell Cummings, a hypersonic-propulsion expert at California Polytechnic State University.
One way to do it is to use fuel injectors that protrude, at an angle, into the supersonic airstream. They generate small shock waves that mix oxygen with fuel as soon as it is injected. This mixture can be ignited using the energy of bigger shock waves entering the combustion chamber. Another approach is being developed at the Australian Defence Force Academy. In a process known as “cascade ionisation”, laser blasts lasting just a few nanoseconds rip electrons off passing molecules, creating pockets of hot plasma in the combustion chamber that serve as sparks.
Scramjet fuel must also be kept away from the wall of the combustion chamber. Otherwise, it might “pre-ignite” before mixing properly, blowing up the vehicle, says Clinton Groth, an engineer at the University of Toronto who is currently doing research at Cambridge University in England (and who has consulted for Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce, two engine-makers). To complicate matters further, scramjets move too fast for their internal temperature and air pressure to be controlled mechanically by adjusting the air intake. Instead, as scramjets accelerate, they must ascend into thinner air at a precise rate to prevent rising heat and pressure from quickening the fuel burn and blowing up the combustion chamber.
In other words, igniting a scramjet is difficult, and keeping it going without exploding is harder still. Moreover scramjets, like ramjets, cannot begin flight on their own power. Because they need to be moving quickly to compress air for combustion, scramjets must first be accelerated by piggybacking on a jet plane or rocket. There are, in short, formidable obstacles to the construction of a scramjet vehicle. Even though the idea has been around since the 1950s, it was not until the 1990s that a scramjet was successfully flight-tested by Russian researchers, working in conjunction with French and American scientists—and some experts doubt that those tests achieved fully supersonic combustion.
HyShot goes supersonic down unde
The next step forward came in July 2002, when a British-designed scramjet vehicle was successfully flown in Australia by researchers at the University of Queensland. The HyShot scramjet flew at Mach 7.6 for six seconds. But this was not controlled flight of a scramjet vehicle: instead the HyShot was launched on a rocket into space, and its engine was then ignited as it fell, nose pointing downwards, at hypersonic speed back towards the ground.
More recently America’s space agency, NASA, has made progress with two experimental scramjet vehicles, both of which are dropped from a carrier plane and then accelerated using a rocket booster. The unmanned, hydrogen-fuelled X-43A scramjet accelerated to a record Mach 9.68 in November 2004. This was the first fully controlled flight of a scramjet-powered vehicle, though it lasted only ten seconds.
NASA is now concentrating on another test vehicle, the X-51A Waverider. In its first test, carried out in May 2010, the X-51A reached Mach 5, but not a hoped-for Mach 6, during a flight lasting roughly 200 seconds. Subsequent tests in June 2011 and August 2012 both failed. In a test flight on May 1st 2013, however, the X-51A maintained a speed of Mach 5.1 for four minutes, in the longest scramjet flight on record.
The unsheltering sky
In 2010 the head of America’s Pacific Command, Admiral Robert Willard, said that a Chinese programme to convert a nuclear ballistic missile into an aircraft-carrier killer, by packing it with conventional explosives, had reached “initial operational capability”. The DF-21D, as it is called, is designed to descend from space at hypersonic speed and strike ships in the Western Pacific. Even though the accuracy of the DF-21D’s guidance system is unknown, the missile is already altering the balance of power within its range, says Eric McVadon, a consultant on East Asian security and a former US Navy rear-admiral.
Having ruled out such systems due to the “nuclear ambiguity” a launch would cause, and with powered hypersonic vehicles descended from the X-51A still years away, America has begun testing yet another approach. As part of an effort called Project Falcon, the US Air Force and DARPA, the research arm of America’s armed forces, have developed hypersonic “boost-glide” vehicles that piggyback on a modified ICBM and achieve hypersonic speeds simply by falling from a high altitude, rather than using a scramjet.
The “hypersonic cruise vehicle” (pictured on previous page), is carried on an ICBM into the lower reaches of space where it separates, and, rather than following an arching ballistic trajectory, glides back to Earth at more than 20,000kph. The first vehicle, tested in April 2010, successfully separated from its ICBM, but about nine minutes later contact was lost. “They were getting good data and then the skin peeled off and it went boom,” says Brian Weeden, a former air-force captain and nuclear-missile launch officer stationed in Montana. A test in 2011 also failed.
In spite of such setbacks, research into hypersonic weapons will continue. Building a vehicle capable of gliding at Mach 16 is difficult, but not impossible. America’s space shuttle used to re-enter the atmosphere at Mach 25, so fast that friction heated air molecules into a layer of plasma around the craft that radio signals could not penetrate. New “ceramic matrix composites” show great heat-shielding promise, says Sankar Sambasivan, the boss of Applied Thin Films, a company in Illinois that makes parts for military aircraft.
Testing equipment is also improving. Heat and pressure sensors, and even video cameras, can be embedded in vehicles to gather data as they fly, providing “a level of detail and fidelity that we’ve never had before,” says Ken Anderson, head of hypersonic air vehicles at Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation. Better wind tunnels help, too. The one at Belgium’s Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics can generate short blasts of air at Mach 14. This is done by cooling the test chamber, reducing the speed of sound and thereby increasing the Mach number of air forced in with a piston.
Last year a DARPA statement noted that America is gradually losing the “strategic advantage” that its stealth warplanes have long provided, as other countries’ stealth and counter-stealth capabilities continue to improve. Instead, DARPA suggested, America will need “the new stealth” of hypersonic vehicles. Similarly, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, remarked last year that the design of hypersonic missiles had become a priority for the country. Getting anything to work at all under hypersonic conditions is extraordinarily difficult—but the effort continues even so.