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Declassified US Spy Satellites Reveal Rare Look at Secret Cold War Space Program

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Twenty-five years after their top-secret, Cold War-era missions ended, two clandestine American satellite programs were declassified Saturday (Sept. 17) with the unveiling of three of the United States’ most closely guarded assets: the KH-7 GAMBIT, the KH-8 GAMBIT 3 and the KH-9 HEXAGON spy satellites.

The vintage National Reconnaissance Office satellites were displayed to the public Saturday in a one-day-only exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, Va. The three spacecraft were the centerpiece of the NRO’s invitation-only, 50th Anniversary Gala celebration held at the center last evening.

Saturday’s spysat unveiling was attended by a number of jubilant NRO veterans who developed and refined the classified spacecraft and its components for decades in secret, finally able to show their wives and families what they actually did ‘at the office’ for so many years. Both of the newly declassified satellite systems, GAMBIT and HEXAGON, followed the U.S. military’s frontrunner spy satellite system CORONA, which was declassified in 1995.

This National Reconnaissance Office released graphic depicts the huge HEXAGON spy satellite, a Cold War era surveillance craft that flew reconnaissance missions from 1971 to 1986.

This National Reconnaissance Office released graphic depicts the huge HEXAGON spy satellite, a Cold War era surveillance craft that flew reconnaissance missions from 1971 to 1986. The bus-size satellites weighed 30,000 pounds and were 60 feet long.

Big spy satellites revealed

The KH-9 HEXAGON, often referred to by its popular nickname “Big Bird,” lived up to its legendary expectations. As large as a school bus, the KH-9 HEXAGON carried 60 miles of high resolution photographic film for space surveillance missions.

Military space historian Dwayne A. Day was exuberant after his first look at the KH-9 HEXAGON.

“This was some bad-ass technology,” Day told SPACE.com. “The Russians didn’t have anything like it.”

Day, co-editor of “Eye in the Sky: The Story of the CoronaSpy Satellites,” noted that “it took the Soviets on average five to 10 years to catch up during the Cold War, and in many cases they never really matched American capabilities.”

Phil Pressel, designer of the HEXAGON’s panoramic ‘optical bar’ imaging cameras, agreed with Day’s assessment.

“This is still the most complicated system we’ve ever put into orbit …Period.”

The HEXAGON’s twin optical bar panoramic mirror cameras rotated as the swept back and forth as the satellite flew over Earth, a process that intelligence officials referred to as “mowing the lawn.”

Phil Pressel, one of the developers of the KH-9 Hexagon's panoramic camera system, proudly points out some of the spacecraft's once highly-classified features, which he had been unable to discuss publicly until the NRO's Sept. 17, 2011 declassification.of

Phil Pressel, one of the developers of the KH-9 Hexagon’s panoramic camera system, proudly points out some of the spacecraft’s once highly-classified features, a life’s work that he had been unable to discuss publicly until the NRO’s Sept. 17, 2011 declassification of the massive spy satellite.

Each 6-inch wide frame of HEXAGON film capturing a wide swath of terrain covering 370 nautical miles — the distance from Cincinnati to Washington — on each pass over the former Soviet Union and China. The satellites had a resolution of about 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to nearly 1 meter), according to the NRO. [10 Ways the Government Watches You]

According to documents released by the NRO, each HEXAGON satellite mission lasted about 124 days, with the satellite launching four film return capsules that could send its photos back to Earth. An aircraft would catch the return capsule in mid-air by snagging its parachute following the canister’s re-entry.

In a fascinating footnote, the film bucket from the first KH-9 HEXAGON sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in spring 1972 after Air Force recovery aircraft failed to snag the bucket’s parachute.

The film inside the protective bucket reported contained high resolution photographs of the Soviet Union’s submarine bases and missile silos. In a daredevil feat of clandestine ingenuity, the U.S. Navy’s Deep Submergence Vehicle Trieste II succeeded in grasping the bucket from a depth of 3 miles below the ocean.

Hubble vs. HEXAGON

Former International Space Station flight controller Rob Landis, now technical manager in the advanced projects office at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, drove more than three hours to see the veil lifted from these legendary spacecraft.

Landis, who also worked on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope program, noticed some distinct similarities between Hubble and the huge KH-9 HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite.

“I see a lot of Hubble heritage in this spacecraft, most notably in terms of spacecraft size,” Landis said. “Once the space shuttle design was settled upon, the design of Hubble — at the time it was called the Large Space Telescope — was set upon. I can imagine that there may have been a convergence or confluence of the designs. The Hubble’s primary mirror is 2.4 meters [7.9 feet] in diameter and the spacecraft is 14 feet in diameter. Both vehicles (KH-9 and Hubble) would fit into the shuttle’s cargo bay lengthwise, the KH-9 being longer than Hubble [60 feet]; both would also fit on a Titan-class launch vehicle.”

The ‘convergence or confluence’ theory was confirmed later in the day by a former spacecraft designer, who declined to be named but is familiar with both programs, who confided unequivocally: “The space shuttle’s payload bay was sized to accommodate the KH-9.”

The NRO launched 20 KH-9 HEXAGON satellites from California’s Vandenberg AFB from June 1971 to April 1986.

The HEXAGON’s final launch in April 1986 — just months after the space shuttle Challenger explosion — also met with disaster as the spy satellite’s Titan 34D booster erupted into a massive fireball just seconds after liftoff, crippling the NRO’s orbital reconnaissance capabilities for many months.

A side view of a KH-7 GAMBIT spy satellite on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, Va., on Sept. 17, 2011.

A side view of a KH-7 GAMBIT spy satellite on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, Va., on Sept. 17, 2011.

The spy satellite GAMBIT

Before the first HEXAGON spy satellite systems ever launched, the NRO’s GAMBIT series of reconnaissance craft flew several space missions aimed at providing surveillance over specific targets around the world.

The  satellite program’s initial system, GAMBIT 1, first launched in 1963 carrying a KH-7 camera system that included a “77-inch focal length camera for providing specific information on scientific and technical capabilities that threatened the nation,” according to an NRO description. A second GAMBIT satellite system, which first launched aboard GAMBIT 3 in 1966, included a175-inch focal length camera.

The GAMBIT 1 series satellite has a resolution similar to the HEXAGON series, about 2 to 3 feet, but the follow-up GAMBIT 3 system had an improved resolution of better than 2 feet, NRO documents reveal.

The GAMBIT satellite program was active from July 1963 to April 1984. Both satellites were huge and launched out of Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The satellite series’ initial version was 15 feet (4.5 m) long and 5 feet (1.5 m) wide, and weighed about 1,154 pounds (523 kilograms). The GAMBIT 3 satellite was the same width but longer, stretching nearly 29 feet (9 m) long, not counting its Agena D rocket upper stage. It weighed about 4,130 pounds (1,873 kg).

Unlike the follow-up HEXAGON satellites, the GAMBIT series were designed for extremely short missions.

The GAMBIT 1 craft had an average mission life of about 6 1/2 days. A total of 38 missions were launched, though 10 of them were deemed failures, according to NRO documents.

The GAMBIT 3 series satellites had missions that averaged about 31 days. In all, 54 of the satellites were launched, with four failures recorded.

Like the CORONA and HEXAGON programs, the GAMBIT series of satellites returned their film to Earth in re-entry capsules that were then snatched up by recovery aircraft. GAMBIT 1 carried about 3,000 feet (914 meters) of film, while GAMBIT 3 was packed with 12,241 feet (3,731 meters) of film, NRO records show.

The behemoth HEXAGON was launched with 60 miles (320,000 feet) of film!

A mission description of the NRO's GAMBIT 3 spy satellite flight profiles.

This image shows the flight profile for the NRO’s GAMBIT 3 spy satellite missions between 1966 and 1984. The program was declassified in Sept. 2011.

HEXAGON and GAMBIT 3 team up

During a media briefing, NRO officials confirmed to SPACE.com that the KH-8 GAMBIT 3 and KH-9 HEXAGON were later operated in tandem, teaming-up to photograph areas of military significance in both the former Soviet Union and China.

The KH-9 would image a wide swath of terrain, later scrutinized by imagery analysts on the ground for so-called ‘targets of opportunity.’ Once these potential targets were identified, a KH-8 would then be maneuvered to photograph the location in much higher resolution.

“During the era of these satellites — the GAMBIT and the HEXAGON — there was a Director of Central Intelligence committee known as the ‘Committee on Imagery Requirements and Exploitation’ that was responsible for that type of planning,” confirmed the NRO’s Robert McDonald, Director of the Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance.

NASA’s Rob Landis was both blunt and philosophical in his emotions over the declassification of the GAMBIT and HEXAGON programs.

“You have to give credit to leaders like President Eisenhower who had the vision to initiate reconnaissance spacecraft, beginning with the CORONA and Discoverer programs,” Landis said. “He was of the generation who wanted no more surprises, no more Pearl Harbors.”

“Frankly, I think that GAMBIT and HEXAGON helped prevent World War III.”

 

Via Space

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China building an army of unmanned military drones ‘to rival the U.S.’

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America’s success with unmanned military drones has sparked a ‘global rush’ for weaponised and surveillance aircrafts, according to a new report.

Over 50 countries have purchased surveillance drones or started their own development programmes to step up military capacity in recent years.

And experts say China, having only unveiled its first drone at an air show five years ago, is on the fast track to develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that rival U.S. technology.

Drone: The UAV WJ-600, unveiled at the Zhuhai air show in southern China in November

Drone: The UAV WJ-600, unveiled at the Zhuhai air show in southern China in November.

Experts told the Washington Post America’s ‘cheap weapons, reconnaissance abilities, and ease of use, could make drones the standard for many application.’

The recent spike, they say, is ‘because no nation is exporting weaponised drones beyond a handful of sales between the United States and its closest allies.’ And China is seeking to take a piece of the market.

Twenty five UAVs were unveiled the Zhuhai air show in southern China last November, designed and produced by China’s ASN Technology Group, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC), and China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC).

At the show, a crowd gathered around an armed, jet-propelled drone called the WJ-600, where a video demonstrated the aircraft locating what appears to be a U.S. aircraft carrier group flying close to Taiwan.

The drone is shown sending targeting information back to shore for a follow-up attack.

Other models were designed to fire missiles, and one, powered by a jet engine, has the capability to fly faster than the Predator and Reaper drones the U.S. has used on missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the report.

Cheaper alternative: America's Predator B, or MQ9-Reaper drone, costs about $10.5million, compared to an F-22 fighter jet's $150million price tag

Cheaper alternative: America’s Predator B, or MQ9-Reaper drone, costs about $10.5million, compared to an F-22 fighter jet’s $150million price tag.

It was a record number for the country, which until recently, had not extended its military capacity to include UAVs.

The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that while military and aviation experts said China’s drones are presumed to be several years behind the U.S., the country is on the fast track to catching up.

Retired Lieutenant General David A. Deptula, the former deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at the Air Force, told the Washington Post: ‘We are well ahead in having established systems actively in use. But the capability of other countries will do nothing but grow.’

The industry is expected to boom over the next decade; according to a 2011 market study by the Teal Group in Fairfax, global spending on drones will double to $94billion by 2021.

Much of China’s progress remains secret.

Capabilities: The UAV WJ-600 was shown locating what appears to be a U.S. aircraft carrier group flying close to Taiwan in a video demonstration at the Zhuhai air show

Capabilities: The UAV WJ-600 was shown locating what appears to be a U.S. aircraft carrier group flying close to Taiwan in a video demonstration at the Zhuhai air show.

In action: The unmanned drowne is shown sending targeting information back to shore for a follow-up attack

In action: The unmanned drowne is shown sending targeting information back to shore for a follow-up attack.

Exhibitors of the 25 UAVs did not disclose which aircrafts were fully operational.

However, the Wall Street Journal confirmed at least two propeller-powered UAVs had been deployed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Zhang Qiaoliang, a representative of the Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute, which manufactures many of the most advanced military aircraft for the People’s Liberation Army, told the Washington Post: ‘The United States doesn’t export many attack drones, so we’re taking advantage of that hole in the market.’

U.S. anxiety about China’s UAVs was highlighted in a report released last November by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, reported the Journal.

Surveillance: The unmanned jet-propelled aerial vehicle narrows in on its target

Surveillance: The unmanned jet-propelled aerial vehicle narrows in on its target.

Mission accomplished: The aircraft carrier is targeted and blasted with missiles off the coast of Taiwan

Mission accomplished: The aircraft carrier is targeted and blasted with missiles off the coast of Taiwan.

‘The PLA Air Force has deployed several types of unmanned aerial vehicles for both reconnaissance and combat purposes,’ the report read.

It cited the Pentagon, continuing: ‘In addition, China is developing a variety of medium and high-altitude long-endurance unmanned vehicles, which when deployed will expand the PLA Air Force’s options for long-range reconnaissance and strikes.’

And other countries are following the lead; around the world UAVs are being seen as cheap and effective alternative to manned aircraft. America’s Predator B, or MQ9-Reaper, manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, costs about $10.5million, compared to an F-22 fighter jet’s $150million price tag.

According to the Washington Post, Israel trails the U.S. as the second-largest drone manufacturer, and has flown armed models; India also announced this year it is developing armed drones that will fly at 30,000ft.

Russia has shown models of drones with weapons, but it is unknown if they are fully operational; and Pakistan has said it plans to obtain armed drones from China, according to the report.

Kenneth Anderson, a professor of law at American University who studies the legal questions surrounding the use of drones in warfare, said: ‘This is the direction all aviation is going. Everybody will wind up using this technology because it’s going to become the standard for many, many applications of what are now manned aircraft.’

 

 

Via DailyMail

China hacks Gmail accounts of senior U.S. officials one day after Obama’s cyber warning

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  • Google said U.S. government officials targeted
  • Security breach larger than previous Gmail attacks
  • Pentagon warn U.S. may retaliate with military force
  • Hackers also target military contractor that supplies unmanned aerial vehicles
  • Beijing denies being behind attack

Fears China is plotting a devastating ‘cyber war’ against the West were heightened yesterday when it emerged Chinese hackers have stolen hundreds of passwords belonging to senior U.S. government officials.

The security breach was revealed by Google which said victims had been carefully targeted in a scam traced to the city of Jinan in the Communist state’ s Shangdong province.

Experts suspect Chinese hackers are capable of reducing the U.S. or its allies including Britain to stone-age conditions at the press of a button – by crippling the computers running everything from banks and supermarkets to power stations and water plants.

 

Hacked: Google admitted that hundreds of Gmail accounts had been targeted by hackers in China, including those of senior U.S. officials

Hacked: Google admitted that hundreds of Gmail accounts had been targeted by hackers in China, including those of senior U.S. officials.

In a chilling echo of the Cold War, a ‘cyber arms race’ is rapidly developing between East and West, with the U.S. even threatening to retaliate with military weapons to any ‘act of war’ attack on its computers from a foreign power.

Earlier this week the US said it would react militarily to future cyber incursions from other countries.

One U.S. military official quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying: ‘If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.’

British defence minister Nick Harvey underlined the growing sense of panic by declaring that ‘action in cyberspace will form part of the future battlefield’.

Row: Google said the phishing scam had originated in China

Row: Google said the phishing scam had originated in China.

Sir Michael Rake, chairman of BT Group and a figurehead for cyber security issues in industry, warned world powers were being drawn into a hi-tech arms race in which countries could wage war without firing a single shot.

Sir Michael said: ‘I don’t think personally it’s an exaggeration to say you can bring a state to its knees without any military action whatsoever.’

Although there is no direct evidence that the Chinese hackers in the latest case are in the pay of the Chinese government, their attacks were so sophisticated and highly-targeted that few experts doubt they were state-sponsored.

Apart from anything else, unlike other internet scams, there was no obvious financial gain behind them, suggesting a sinister rather than a financial motive.

Senior U.S. and South Korean government officials who fell victim to the scam were tricked into giving away their Google and Yahoo email login details.

Threat: The Pentagon said it is ready to retaliate against cyber attacks

Threat: The Pentagon said it is ready to retaliate against cyber attacks.

Defence: The Pentagon will reclassify cyber attacks as an aggressive act if it causes the equivalent loss of life or damage to infrastructure as a conventional military attack

Defence: The Pentagon will reclassify cyber attacks as an aggressive act if it causes the equivalent loss of life or damage to infrastructure as a conventional military attack.

They had received ‘Trojan horse’ emails that purported to be from someone they knew, but were in fact carefully-crafted fakes.

One example email had the title: ‘Fw: Draft US-China Joint Statement’, and contained the text: ‘This is the latest version of State’s joint statement.’

Enticed into opening the email, the unsuspecting user was directed to a convincing but bogus Google or Yahoo email page where they were invited to type in their login and password. When they did so, their supposedly-secret details immediately fell into the hands of the Chinese hackers.

Armed with the passwords, the hackers could access the user’s real email account and spy on genuine emails being sent between government officials.

Although the scam – which went on for months before being uncovered – targeted personal email accounts, rather than government accounts, officials could have forwarded their work emails to their personal Gmail accounts.

Sensitive: The Lockheed Joint Strike Fighter, just one of many weapons manufactured by the company and used by both the U.S. and the UK armed forces

Sensitive: The Lockheed Joint Strike Fighter, just one of many weapons manufactured by the company and used by both the U.S. and the UK armed forces.

A Google spokesman said yesterday: ‘Google detected and has disrupted this campaign to take users’ passwords and monitor their emails. We have notified victims and secured their accounts.’

The White House said it was investigating. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the allegations were ‘very serious’ and would be investigated by the FBI.

Online threat: Hackers have breached Lockheed security (file photo)Beijing has repeatedly denied hacking into foreign countries’ systems.

Britian has found itself under attack also.

Last month, Chancellor George Osborne revealed that foreign intelligence agencies were trying to break into the Treasury computer system to steal information or spread viruses at the rate of more than one attack a day.

MI5 and the FBI have warned British and American companies of the mushrooming threat from Chinese government-backed hackers trying to pilfer commercial secrets.

Whitehall has announced an extra £500million to be spent on bolstering cyber security, amid concerns that Britain’s computer networks linking banking, power and water systems are too vulnerable to digital sabotage.

But America is not always the victim in cyber attacks. The U.S. and Israel were blamed for the development of the Stuxnet virus, a computer worm that targets industrial software and was credited with sabotage attacks on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Delegates at an international cyber security conference held in London this week warned the crisis was so severe that nations should agree an international ‘non-proliferation’ treaty similar to the one drawn up to slow the spread of nuclear weapons.

 

Via DailyMail

U.S. arms makers said to be bleeding secrets to cyber foes

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Top Pentagon contractors have been bleeding secrets for years as a result of penetrations of their computer networks, current and former national security officials say.

The Defense Department, which runs its own worldwide eavesdropping, spying and code-cracking systems, says more than 100 foreign intelligence organizations have been trying to break into U.S. networks.

Some of the perpetrators “already have the capacity to disrupt” U.S. information infrastructure, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, who is leading remedial efforts, wrote last fall in the journal Foreign Affairs.

Joel Brenner, the National Counterintelligence executive from 2006 to 2009, said most if not all of the big defense contractors’ networks had been pierced.

“This has been happening since the late ’90s,” he told Reuters Tuesday. He identified the main threats as coming from Russia, China and Iran.

“They’re after our weapons systems and R&D,” or research and development, said Brenner, now with the law firm of Cooley LLP in Washington.

Lockheed Martin Corp, the Pentagon’s No. 1 supplier by sales, said on Saturday that it had thwarted “a significant and tenacious” attack on its information systems network that it detected May 21. Ten days later, the company says its still working to restore full employee access to the network while maintaining the highest level of security.

Lockheed, which is also the government’s top information technology provider, said it had become “a frequent target of adversaries from around the world.” A spokeswoman said it said it used the term “adversaries” only in a general sense.

Lockheed builds F-16, F-22 and F-35 fighter jets as well as Aegis naval combat system, THAAD missile defense and other big-ticket weapons systems sold to U.S. allies. It has not disclosed which of its business units was targeted.

Cyber intruders were reported in 2009 to have broken into computers holding data on Lockheed’s projected $380 billion-plus F-35 fighter program, the Pentagon’s costliest arms purchase.

Other big Pentagon contractors include Boeing Co, Northrop Grumman Corp, General Dynamics Corp, BAE Systems Plc and Raytheon Co. Each of these declined to comment on whether it believed its networks had been penetrated.

James Miller, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said last May that the United States was losing terabytes of data in cyber attacks, enough to fill “multiple Libraries of Congress.” The world’s largest library, its archive totaled about 235 terabytes of data as of April, the Library of Congress says on its web site.

“The scale of compromise, including the loss of sensitive and unclassified data, is staggering,” Miller told a Washington forum.

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who led a Senate Intelligence Committee cyber task force last year, said in March that cybercrime has put the United States “on the losing end of what could be the largest illicit transfer of wealth in world history.”

Retired Air Force General Michael Hayden, a former director of central intelligence and ex-head of the Pentagon’s National Security Agency, said no network was safe if it had Internet access.

“You can isolate a network, a classified network,” he told Reuters in an interview last year. “Maybe you can get a certain level of confidence that you are not penetrated. But if you are out there connected to the world wide web you are vulnerable all the time.”

Anup Ghosh, a former senior scientist at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, said there had been a string of intrusions into networks of U.S. defense contractors, security companies and U.S. government labs, including the U.S. Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, since the start of this year.

The advantage is with the intruders, said Ghosh, who worked on securing military networks for DARPA from 2002 to 2006 and now heads Invincea, a software security company.

“We’ve failed to innovate in the area of information security,” he said in an email Tuesday. “We’re fighting today’s battles with the equivalent of cold-war era defenses.”


Via NewsDaily

Mini-weapons sought by Pentagon for new era of warfare

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A sleek, delta-winged robotic jet took to the skies for the first time above the Mojave Desert at Edwards Air Force Base.

Boeing Co.’s experimental drone, dubbed Phantom Ray, flew to 7,500 feet and reached speeds of 205 mph in its first flight. The 17-minute flight took place April 27, but Boeing officials did not confirm details until Tuesday.

 

The Phantom Ray, which resembles a giant boomerang, is being developed by the Chicago company for a variety of missions. Its stealthy design could enable it to slip behind enemy lines to knock out radar installations, clearing the way for fighters and bombers.

Under mounting pressure to keep its massive budget in check, the Pentagon is looking to cheaper, smaller weapons to wage war in the 21st century.

A new generation of weaponry is being readied in clandestine laboratories across the nation that puts a priority on pintsized technology that would be more precise in warfare and less likely to cause civilian casualties. Increasingly, the Pentagon is being forced to discard expensive, hulking, Cold War-era armaments that exact a heavy toll on property and human lives.

At L-3 Interstate Electronics Corp. in Anaheim, technicians work in secure rooms developing a GPS guidance system for a 13-pound “smart bomb” that would be attached to small, low-flying drone.

Engineers in Simi Valley at AeroVironment Inc. are developing a mini-cruise missile designed to fit into a soldier’s rucksack, be fired from a mortar and scour the battlefield for enemy targets.

And in suburban Portland, Ore. Voxtel Inc. is concocting an invisible mist to be sprayed on enemy fighters and make them shine brightly in night-vision goggles.

These miniature weapons have one thing in common: They will be delivered with the help of small robotic planes. Drones have grown in importance as the Pentagon has seen them play a vital role in Iraq, Afghanistan and reportedly in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Now, engineers in Southern California and elsewhere are refining drone technology to deliver a powerful wallop with increasingly smaller robotic planes — many of which resemble model aircraft buzzing around local parks.

This work is aimed primarily at one buyer —the Pentagon, which is seeking a total of $671 billion for fiscal 2012. Of that, drones represent $4.8 billion, a small but growing segment of the defense budget — and that doesn’t include spending on robotic weapons technology in the classified portion of the budget.

This comes at a time when expensive weapons programs, like Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles and Navy cruisers, are being eyed for trims.

Although some mini-weapons may resemble toys, they represent a new wave of sophisticated technology in modern warfare, which has forced the military and weapons-makers to think small. And they are just a few under development that have been disclosed.

“There are a lot of weapons in the military’s arsenal,” said Lt. Col. Brad Beach, an official who coordinates the Marines’ drone technology. “But what we don’t have is something small.”

The military is flush with multi-ton bunker-busting bombs designed to reduce fortified buildings into smoldering rubble.

But Marines on the front lines in Afghanistan say there is an urgent need for a weapon that is small and powerful enough to protect them from insurgents planting roadside bombs.

Marines already have small spy drones with high-powered cameras, but what they need is a way to destroy the enemies that their drones discover.

Looking to fill the need, the 13-pound “smart bomb” has been under development for three years. The 2-foot-long bomb is steered by a GPS-guided system made in Anaheim. The bomb is called Small Tactical Munition, or STM, and is under development by Raytheon Co.

Miniature

“Soldiers are watching bad guys plant” roadside bombs and “can’t do anything about it,” said Cody Tretschok, who leads work on the program at Raytheon. “They have to call in an air strike, which can take 30 to 60 minutes. The time lapse is too great.”

The idea is that the small bomb could be slung under the spy plane’s wing, dropped to a specific point using GPS coordinates or a laser-guidance system, and blast apart “soft” targets, such as pickup trucks and individuals, located 15,000 feet below.

Raytheon does not yet have a contract for the bomb and is building it entirely with its own money.

“We’re proactively anticipating the military’s need,” said Tretschok, who is testing the technology at the Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

In a similar fashion, drone-maker AeroVironment in Simi Valley didn’t wait for the government when it started to build its Switchblade mini-cruise missile to seek and destroy nearby targets.

The little missile, which looks less harmless than many Fourth of July fireworks, is fired from a mortar, unfolds its wings as it goes, and begins sending live video and GPS coordinates to the soldier who launched it.

The 2-foot-long battery-powered drone would be tipped with a tiny warhead and remotely operated from a handheld controller. It is being designed to fly above a warzone for at least five minutes for more than a mile at a time.

“This technology gives the war fighter the ability to pinpoint where and when he strikes,” said Steven Gitlin, an AeroVironment spokesman. “It’s all about precision.”

Critics say the technology may be too imprecise and hard to track, said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution.

But the weapons have sophisticated internal guidance systems, which is key because much of today’s fighting takes place in crowded urban environments, such as targets located in or near population centers, he said.

“Weapons are sometimes only usable today if they’re small. The bottom line is: You’re not going to go around dropping 500-pound bombs everywhere,” O’Hanlon added. “Collateral damage is unacceptable in modern warfare.”

Knowing this, the military has embarked on using mini-drones for a “tagging, tracking and locating” initiative, which centers on secretly marking a target with invisible sprays and other identifiers so they don’t get lost in crowds.

Companies like Beaverton, Ore.-based Voxtel have benefited from the millions of dollars that the government is handing to contractors for research. The small 30-person company, which makes tagging products to prevent the counterfeiting of bank notes, lottery tickets and other items, now believes its microscopic nanocrystals — which become part of an invisible spray — may be are exactly what the military needs.

Tagging, tracking and locating “is a hot topic in government work,” said George Williams, company president. “It isn’t easy tracking somebody in a crowded urban environment like what is seen in today’s wars.”

Indeed. Earlier this year, the Air Force asked for proposals on developing a way to “tag” targets with “clouds” of unseen materials sprayed from quiet, low-flying drones.

In its request, the Air Force said “one method of distribution would be ‘crop-dusting’ from a sufficiently high altitude (to avoid detection) and letting the dust-cloud fall on a target or in front of it if it is moving.”

Other methods suggested to covertly mark the targets were to “pneumatically blow a cloud” or “burst above” them.

As the military moves into miniaturizing its weapon stockpile, contractors believe applications such as these may be crucial to the overall effort. “What we do is just one part of a complex system,” Voxtel President Williams said. “We play a small role.”

– William.Hennigan

Via L.A. Times

Chinese army develop first-person shooter game with U.S. troops as the enemy

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The Chinese army have developed a computer game that sees their troops shooting at ‘enemy’ U.S. forces.

Glorious Revolution, which is used as a training tool for People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers, pits the Chinese army against the U.S. military in a ‘Call of Duty’ style first person shooter.

In a video report, Chinese soldiers can be seen storming buildings and shooting at ‘enemy’ troops as they exit a bunker, before destroying an Apache helicopter gunship.

Training: Chinese troops hone their skills on the Glorious Revolution computer game

A Chinese state media video report shows rows of PLA soldiers hunkered over computer screens as they play through missions of Glorious Revolution.

The use of computer games by governments and international organisations to train their people has become more widespread in recent years.

The game is similar to the U.S. army’s very own shooter, America’s Army, which is used as a recruitment tool.

In the same vein, the Pentagon has developed its own ‘thinking’ first person simulators that deliberately overload commanders with information to see how they cope.

NATO also has its own game for negotiating with maritime pirates and even Hezbollah created a game called Special Force 2.

The news comes as it emerged the U.S. military are considering sending officers and cadets to China on study exchange programs.

Admiral Patrick Walsh said Washington is seeking to improve its relationship with the Chinese military, and an officer exchange program would provide a better understanding of Chinese culture, goals and thoughts.

‘There’s a strong effort here to improve the relationship,’ Adm. Walsh said on the sidelines of a global naval conference in Singapore.’

Shot: One scene depicts an Apache helicopter ship being blown out of the sky

Shot: One scene depicts an Apache helicopter ship being blown out of the sky

Troops: Chinese forces are seen here battling U.S. forces

Troops: Chinese forces are seen here battling U.S. forces

Despite this being the PLA’s first publicised foray into the world of first person shooters, reviews of the Chinese game have been broadly positive.

According to Wired magazine, one blogger who saw the game wrote: ‘The game itself looks pretty well-made.

‘Graphics definitely on par with at least the [Call of Duty] series.’

Despite the virtual nature of the game, one Chinese website warned the political and propaganda overtones it embodies could be damaging to trainees.

They wrote: ‘The game content and the values ​​embodied in military thinking … are very different.

‘Long-term use is not conducive to military education and training, and may even mislead officers and men.’

The game comes as President Barack Obama and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been been in talks to help restore military-to-military relations between the two countries.

Early last year, China angrily cut off most of those contacts after the United States announced a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, the self-governing island that China considers a renegade province.

China has also expressed a desire for warmer military ties, most recently when the chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, General Chen Bingde, visited Washington this week.

Via DailyMail

China no threat, Chinese general says on U.S. trip

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A top Chinese general rejected growing American concerns about China’s military buildup Wednesday, telling audiences at the National Defense University and the Pentagon that the People’s Liberation Army was no threat.

“The world has no need to worry, let alone fear … China’s growth,” said General Chen Bingde, chief of the PLA general staff, in a rare address to a packed room of U.S. military officers and faculty at the National Defense University.

But the reassurances by Chen during a high-profile visit to the United States were also accompanied by fresh warnings against any future U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which underscored the fragile nature of the relationship.

As members of Congress press for the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a renegade province, Chen warned that new U.S. weapons sales to the self-ruled island would damage military ties.

“As to how bad the impact will be, it will depend on the nature of the weapons sold to Taiwan,” Chen told a Pentagon media briefing.

With an occasional smile, Chen quoted U.S. presidents including Abraham Lincoln to drive home his points. He turned to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous quote “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” trying to allay concerns about China.

Military ties are perhaps the weakest link in relations between the world’s two largest economies — which have also been tested in the past year by disputes over trade, currency, North Korea and human rights.

Chen is the highest ranking official to lead a military delegation to the United States since Beijing cut off ties to the United States in 2010 over a U.S. arms sale to Taiwan worth up to $6.4 billion.

Those ties appeared to gain new footing during Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ January trip to Beijing, even though it was overshadowed by a test flight of China’s J-20 stealth fighter that again stoked concerns about its military buildup.

China also plans to develop aircraft carriers, anti-ship ballistic missiles and other advanced systems which have alarmed the Asian powers and the United States, the dominant power in the Pacific. U.S. officials accuse Beijing of designing their weapons system to counter U.S. capabilities.

DECADES BEHIND THE WEST?

Chen played down Chinese military advances on his trip, telling the audience of U.S. military officers and faculty at the National Defense University the People’s Liberation Army lagged at least 20 years behind developed Western nations.

“To be honest, I feel very sad after visiting (the United States), because I think, I feel and I know, how poor our equipments are and how underdeveloped we remain,” Chen said.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chen’s host, stressed the importance of renewed dialogue to minimize the risk of misunderstanding.

“What he and I have both talked about is a future that is a peaceful future and a better one for our children and grandchildren. That does not include a conflict between China and the United States,” Mullen told reporters.

But some members of Congress criticized the U.S. military for too openly engaging with Chen and his delegation, particularly his access to U.S. military facilities. Chen will visit Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, home to some high-tech U.S. defenses.

“There can be no doubt that every scrap of information this expert delegation collects will be used against us,” said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a statement.

“The Chinese military openly regards the United States as an enemy,” she said. “We should not undermine our own security by thinking we can make friends with self-proclaimed adversaries with hospitality and open arms.”

Still, the Chinese and U.S. economies, Chen noted, are inextricably linked. China has the world’s biggest foreign exchange reserve, with about two-thirds estimated to be held in dollars. Jokes about U.S. dependence on China to finance its debt are commonplace in the United States, and Chen appeared to seize the opportunity in Washington.

Talking about fiscal constraints on China’s military, Chen got a long round of laughter from his U.S. audience by joking: “If you can lend us some money, I think that would be easier.”

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