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The Military

More Air Force Drones Are Crashing Than Ever As Mysterious New Problems Emerge ( 141

schwit1 points out that a record number of Air Force drones crashed in major accidents last year. Leading the accident count is the Reaper which has seen a number of sudden electrical failures. The Washington Post reports: "A record number of Air Force drones crashed in major accidents last year, documents show, straining the U.S. military's fleet of robotic aircraft when it is in more demand than ever for counterterrorism missions in an expanding array of war zones. Driving the increase was a mysterious surge in mishaps involving the Air Force's newest and most advanced 'hunter-killer' drone, the Reaper, which has become the Pentagon's favored weapon for conducting surveillance and airstrikes against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other militant groups. The Reaper has been bedeviled by a rash of sudden electrical failures that have caused the 21/2-ton drone to lose power and drop from the sky, according to accident-investigation documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Investigators have traced the problem to a faulty starter-generator,but have been unable to pinpoint why it goes haywire or devise a permanent fix.
The Military

Biofuels Will Power Navy's Next Deployment ( 115

mdsolar writes with news about the launch of the "Great Green Fleet," part of a Navy plan to use 50% alternative fuels by 2020. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports: "This Wednesday, there surely will be tears, hugs and excitement as sailors begin another deployment to the world's hotspots. On the surface, it will be a replay of a common occurrence in any Navy town when sailors go to sea, but in the ships' gas tanks will be fuel made from renewable resources that has officials back at the Pentagon exuberant. 'Underway on beef-fat power' might not have the same ring as 'Underway on nuclear power,' the historic message the Nautilus submarine beamed when it left the pier 61 years ago today. Nonetheless, the Navy is trumpeting the use of renewable biofuels as a game-changer. In 2009, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that the Navy and Marine Corps would get half of their power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020, and that the Navy would deploy an entire carrier strike group using biofuels by 2016."
The Military

A Small Secret Airstrip In Africa Is the Future of America's Way of War 139 writes: Reuters reports that the Pentagon is quietly building up a small airstrip in a remote region of east Africa that is a complex microcosm of how Washington runs military operations overseas — and how America's way of war will probably look for the foreseeable future. Chabelley Airfield is less than 10 miles from the capital of the small African nation of Djibouti but the small airport is the hub for America's drone operations in the nearby hotspots of Somalia and Yemen as part of its war against Islamic militants. "The U.S. military is being pressured into considering the adoption of more of a lily pad basing model in the wake of so much turbulence and warfare across the region," says Dr. Geoffrey Gresh. "Djibouti is a small, relatively safe ally that enables the U.S. special operators to carry out missions effectively across the continent." In September 2013, the Pentagon announced it was moving the pilotless aircraft from its main base at Camp Lemonnier to Chabelley with almost no fanfare. Africom and the Pentagon jealously guard information about their outposts in Africa, making it impossible to ascertain even basic facts — like a simple count — let alone just how many are integral to JSOC operations, drone strikes, and other secret activities. However a map in a Pentagon report indicates that there were 10 MQ-1 Predator drones and four larger, more far-ranging MQ-9 Reapers based at Camp Lemonnier in June 2012 before the move to Chabelley.

The Pentagon does not list Chabelley in its annual Base Structure Report, the only official compendium of American military facilities around the world. "The Chebelley base [is] a reflection of the growing presence of the U.S. military in Africa," says Dr. David Vine, author of 'Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World". "The [U.S.] military has gone to great lengths to disguise and downplay its growing presence in Africa generally in the hopes of avoiding negative attention and protests both in the U.S. and in African countries wary of the colonial-esque presence of foreign troops." American drones fly regular missions from Chabelley, an airstrip the French run with the approval of the Djiboutian government. Washington pays Djibouti for access to Paris' outpost. Part of the reason for this circuitous chain of responsibility could be the fact that the Pentagon's drone missions are often controversial. Critics contend targeted strikes against militants are illegal under American and international law and tantamount to assassination. "The military is easily capable of adapting to change, but they don't like to stop anything they feel is making their lives easier, or is to their benefit. And this certainly is, in their eyes, a very quick, clean way of doing things. It's a very slick, efficient way to conduct the war, without having to have the massive ground invasion mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan."
The Military

US Military Will Soon Begin Testing NSA's New, Post-Snowden Security Measures ( 72

Patrick O'Neill writes: The U.S. military will closely review the NSA's security measures as concerns mount that foreign adversaries and independent hackers are targeting the American government in cyberspace. "We will determine whether National Security Agency processes and technical controls are effective to limit privileged access to National Security Agency systems and data and to monitor privileged user actions for unauthorized or inappropriate activity," Carol Gorman, the Pentagon's assistant inspector general, wrote in the letter.
The Military

DoD Award To Recognize Drone Operators ( 144

wiredmikey writes: According to a Pentagon memo due out today, the US military will create a new way to recognize drone operators and other service members who contribute to America's fighting efforts from afar. The military is set to introduce a new "R" designation — known as a "device" — that can be attached to medals given to drone operators and other non-combat troops, such as cyber warriors who hack enemy networks. Former defense secretary Chuck Hagel nixed a proposed new combat medal for US troops who launch drone strikes or cyber attacks, after a torrent of criticism from veterans and lawmakers. Drone pilots have complained of low morale, long hours and of the psychological impacts stemming from killing people remotely.
The Military

Robot Mule Put Out To Pasture By Marine Corps ( 153

An anonymous reader sends word that the Marines have decided that Boston Dynamics' robotic pack mules are too noisy to use. NBC reports: The massive robotic mule developed by Alphabet-owned Boston Dynamics won't see combat with U.S. Marines. LS3 (Legged Squad Support Systems) was meant to carry cargo for weary soldiers in the field. Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the robot was capable of walking with 400 pounds of equipment on its back. LS3 could run for 24 hours straight on a 20-mile mission across rough terrain. No controller was needed; it took visual and verbal cues from soldiers to find its way. So why doesn't the Marine Corps want to use it? The robot's gas-powered engine isn't exactly the stealthiest piece of technology.
The Military

FOIA'd Documents Give Tour of Minuteman Missile National Historic Site ( 85

v3rgEz writes: In the 1990s, during our nuclear disarmament initiative, the Congress preserved two intercontinental ballistic missile silos as historic sites. The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is one of them, and MuckRock used FOIA to take a tour of what's publicly on display, including a Domino's Themed Blast Door and probing questions guides are told to ask visitors, including, 'Could you turn they key?'
The Military

Rubber Tanks and Sonic Trucks: the Ghost Army of World War II ( 82

szczys writes: While you may have heard of the Ghost Army that was used to fake troop movements during WWII, it's unlikely that you truly grasp the level of skill and success these elite groups achieved. At its surface, the story is about inflatable armies that could fool German intelligence from afar. That is one visual component, but there were many more involving sound and radio communications. Before the digital age, it was quite a trick making authentic audio recordings of military vehicle sounds on 2-mile long spools of very thin wire played back from vehicles outfitted with 500 Watt speakers. The A/V wasn't complete without radio communications spoofed to look like the Ghost Army was the real deal: this used the best of personal-morse-code-style impersonators. Elite groups trained in these phony arts operated throughout the European theater. Their story was top secret long after the war because the craft was considered a strategic asset well into the cold war era.
The Military

B-52s: The Plane That Refuses To Die 290 writes: Dave Phillipps has an interesting article in the NY Times about B-52's and why the Air Force's largest bomber, now in its 60th year of active service and scheduled to fly until 2040, are not retiring anytime soon. "Many of our B-52 bombers are now older than the pilots who fly them," said Ronald Reagan in 1980. Today, there is a B-52 pilot whose father and grandfather flew the plane. Originally slated for retirement generations ago, the B.U.F.F. — a colorful acronym that the Air Force euphemistically paraphrases as Big Ugly Fat Fellow — continues to be deployed in conflict after conflict. It dropped the first hydrogen bomb in the Bikini Islands in 1956, and laser-guided bombs in Afghanistan in 2006. It has outlived its replacement. And its replacement's replacement. And its replacement's replacement's replacement. The unexpectedly long career is due in part to a rugged design that has allowed the B-52 to go nearly anywhere and drop nearly anything the Pentagon desires, including both atomic bombs and leaflets. But it is also due to the decidedly underwhelming jets put forth to take its place. The $283 million B-1B Lancer first rolled off the assembly line in 1988 with a state-of-the-art radar-jamming system that jammed its own radar. The $2 billion B-2 Spirit, introduced a decade later, had stealth technology so delicate that it could not go into the rain. "There have been a series of attempts to build a better intercontinental bomber, and they have consistently failed," says Owen Coté. "Turns out whenever we try to improve on the B-52, we run into problems, so we still have the B-52."

The usefulness of the large bomber — and bombers in general — has come under question in the modern era of insurgent wars and stateless armies. In the Persian Gulf war, Kosovo, Afghanistan and the Iraq war, the lumbering jets, well-established as a symbol of death and destruction, demoralized enemy ground troops by first dropping tons of leaflets with messages like "flee and live, or stay and die," then returning the next day with tons of explosives. In recent years, it has flown what the Air Force calls "assurance and deterrence" missions near North Korea and Russia. Two B-52 strategic bombers recently flew near artificial Chinese-built islands in the South China Sea and were contacted by Chinese ground controllers but continued their mission undeterred. "The B.U.F.F. is like the rook in a chess game," says Maj. Mark Burleys. "Just by how you position it on the board, it changes the posture of your adversary."
The Military

Largest Destroyer Built For Navy Headed To Sea For Testing ( 331

An anonymous reader writes: The first Zumwalt-class destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, the largest ever built for the U.S. Navy, headed out to sea today. Departing from shipbuilder Bath Iron Works, the ship left to undergo sea trials. The AP reports: "The ship has electric propulsion, new radar and sonar, powerful missiles and guns, and a stealthy design to reduce its radar signature. Advanced automation will allow the warship to operate with a much smaller crew size than current destroyers. All of that innovation has led to construction delays and a growing price tag. The Zumwalt, the first of three ships in the class, will cost at least $4.4 billion."
The Military

Fake Bomb Detector, Blamed For Hundreds of Deaths, Is Still In Use 152 writes: Murtaza Hussain writes at The Intercept that although it remains in use at sensitive security areas throughout the world, the ADE 651 is a complete fraud and the ADE-651's manufacturer sold it with the full knowledge that it was useless at detecting explosives. There are no batteries in the unit and it consists of a swivelling aerial mounted to a hinge on a hand-grip. The device contains nothing but the type of anti-theft tag used to prevent stealing in high street stores and critics have likened it to a glorified dowsing rod.

The story of how the ADE 651 came into use involves the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. At the height of the conflict, as the new Iraqi government battled a wave of deadly car bombings, it purchased more than 7,000 ADE 651 units worth tens of millions of dollars in a desperate effort to stop the attacks. Not only did the units not help, the device actually heightened the bloodshed by creating "a false sense of security" that contributed to the deaths of hundreds of Iraqi civilians. A BBC investigation led to a subsequent export ban on the devices.

The device is once again back in the news as it was reportedly used for security screening at hotels in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh where a Russian airliner that took off from that city's airport was recently destroyed in a likely bombing attack by the militant Islamic State group. Speaking to The Independent about the hotel screening, the U.K. Foreign Office stated it would "continue to raise concerns" over the use of the ADE 651. James McCormick, the man responsible for the manufacture and sale of the ADE 651, received a 10-year prison sentence for his part in manufacture of the devices, sold to Iraq for $40,000 each. An employee of McCormick who later became a whistleblower said that after becoming concerned and questioning McCormick about the device, McCormick told him the ADE 651 "does exactly what it's designed to. It makes money."
The Military

ISIS's Hunt For a Bogus Superweapon 330

schnell writes: The New York Times Magazine has a fascinating story about ISIS efforts to get their hands on a mysterious and powerful superweapon called Red Mercury. The problem is that by consensus among scientific authorities, Red Mercury doesn't exist. And yet that hasn't stopped the legend of Red Mercury, touted by sources from Nazi conspiracy theorists to former Manhattan Project scientists, as having magical properties. Middle East weapons traders have even spun elaborate stories for its properties (ranging from thermonuclear explosive properties to sexual enhancement) and origins and sources (from Soviet weapons labs to Roman graveyards). What can account for the enduring myth of Red Mercury — is it rampant scientific illiteracy, the power of urban legend and shared myth, or something else?
United States

US Navy Is Planning To Launch a Squadron of Underwater Drones By 2020 ( 38

Hallie Siegel writes: According to the non-profit Autonomous Undersea Vehicle Applications Center, there are over 250 different configurations of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) in service today. That number is likely to grow in the coming years as the technology improves — note that the US Navy has made UUVs a priority and is planning to launch a whole squadron of them by 2020. Dan Gettinger from the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College gives an overview of this technology.

China, Russia Try To Hack Australia's Upcoming Submarine Plans 83

An anonymous reader writes: Chinese and Russian spies have attempted to hack into the top secret details of Australia's future submarines (paywalled), with both Beijing and Moscow believed to have mounted repeated cyber attacks in recent months. One of the companies working on a bid for Australia's new submarine project said it records between 30 and 40 cyberattacks per night.
The Military

Experimental Air Force Rocket Launch Fails ( 60

schwit1 writes: An experimental Air Force rocket, dubbed Super Strypi, failed seconds after launch. The launch was part of the Air Force's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS)-4 mission which aims to test small alternative launch vehicles. The Verge reports: "A small, experimental rocket meant to carry 13 communication satellites into space for the Department of Defense failed just one minute after launching from Hawaii last night, according to the US Air Force. Video footage of the event shows the rocket spiraling out of control as it falls back down to Earth, leaving a crooked contrail in its wake. This was the first flight ever for this kind of vehicle — known as a Super Strypi rocket — as well as the first rocket launch attempt from the Hawaiian Islands."

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