Monday, October 30, 2017

New '£150 million' stealth fighter pilot says critics would be "quietened very quickly" if they knew true capabilities

Critics of Britain's new '£150 million' stealth fighter jets would be "quietened very quickly" if they knew its true capabilities, according to the UK's lead test pilot.
Those who are worried about the price of each aircraft do not have a clear understanding of just how powerful the plane is, it's been said.
The UK has already committed to buying 138 of the F-35 Lightning II, which will undertake missions from HMS Queen Elizabeth, the £3 billion behemoth aircraft carrier and the nation's future flagship.
Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, a self-confessed "test pilot geek", has been putting the cutting-edge warplane with a top speed of 1,200 mph through its paces.
When pressed on what he would say to the critics of the jets and those who question their price tag, the 37-year-old said he would ask them what their alternative option is.
"It would be utterly nonsensical to not purchase and design and develop the F-35 and have it as our core staple ingredient forming our airpower," he told the Press Association.

"It is an incredibly, incredibly powerful aircraft and I am not talking about thrust, the capabilities it brings to the battle space - it is incredibly powerful.
"The disappointing thing is I can't share all the details... I do think a lot of the critics would be quietened very quickly."
The UK's £9.1 billion programme to buy 48 of the F-35s, the world's most advanced fighter jet, over the next decade, has come under fire over capability and expense.
Reports have suggested that the effective cost of each plane is as much as £150 million when logistics and support are taken into account.

But Sqn Ldr Edgell from Worcestershire said the country should be "incredibly proud and excited" about the F-35 with the UK committed to purchasing 138 in total.
During the project, he said Britain has been working alongside the US Navy, the US Marine Corps and the US Air Force to develop and design the jet.
The father-of-three, who has been trialling the jet as part of the Integrated Test Force, said it is "not an off the shelf product" and has been "customised to suit our needs".
Earlier this month the jets were cleared for take-off from the 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth following successful trials using a ski-ramp design featured on the ship.

The UK currently has 12 F-35 jets in the United States being tested ahead of flight trials off the ship next year - with two more planes being delivered by the end of 2017.
Sqn Ldr Edgell said a highlight for him during testing to date was landing on USS America using its "hovering capacity" for a vertical landing, his favourite feature of the jet.
Quizzed on any issues encountered with the planes so far, he said the whole point of tests is to "identify the issues and then determine how they need to be resolved".
"Some people like to talk about all the problems of the F-35.
"But the F-35 is going through developmental tests, it is a developing jet, it is not developed," Sqn Ldr Edgell added.
He said during the 2015 trials they realised the "models weren't quite finessed" enough, and following a change to the software for this years' testing it "worked an absolute dream".
The former Harrier Jump Jet pilot said flying the plane is a "pleasure" and that it is "incredibly simple" with an "enormous amount of thrust".
"You very quickly realise when flying the F-35 that is an enjoyable task when you come back to the aircraft carrier. Flying the Harrier back to the carrier, now that was a handful," he said.
With a father who was a British Airways captain and a mother who worked as a British Airways air hostess, Sqn Ldr Edgell said aviation is running through his veins.
He also openly admitted that watching the blockbuster Top Gun was a "fantastic bit of recruitment" when it came to encouraging him to become a military pilot.
Ahead of the flight trials off HMS Queen Elizabeth, with him tipped to be first to fly off the carrier, he said the next step and preparing for it is his entire focus.
"A close up of the bottom of the tyre and the top of the deck would mean so much to so many people, and I not just talking about me," he said, stressing it will be a highlight for all involved.
Sqn Ldr Edgell said the first time a jet aircraft, the Harrier, put its wheels down through a vertical landing on an aircraft carrier was in 1963, highlighting that England have won the football World Cup since then.
"We win the World Cup more frequently than we do what we are going to do next year," he said.
"That is the magnitude of the event."

Facts and figures

  • The jet measures 15.6 metres (51.2ft) in overall length, has a wingspan of 10.7 metres (35ft) and a height of 4.36 metres (14.3ft)
  • It has a top speed of 1.6 Mach or 1,200 mph, a Max G rating of 7g, and a combat radius of 833 km
  • The F-35 will take off from HMS Queen Elizabeth via the ski jump ramp, which has been designed to optimise the launch, later this year
  • Its airframe design, advanced materials and other features make it "virtually undetectable to enemy radar"
  • But the manufacturer has confirmed that its state-of-the-art communications system cannot link up with older planes.
  • Maximum thrust tops 40,000lbs and the jet has a range of 900 nautical miles
  • The jet is capable of two types of landing - vertically onto the deck, and also through the shipborne rolling vertical landing, which using forward air speed, allows the aircraft to bring back several thousand pounds of extra weight to the ship
  • The F-35 can also execute short take-offs
  • The warplanes will carry out missions from the two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers - HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth weighs 65,000 tonnes and has a top speed of 25 knots
  • Its flight deck is 280 metres long and 70 metres wide, enough space for three football pitches

UK spy centre GCHQ hit by major leak - as water supply is disrupted along with 7,000 homes


Britain's main spy centre has been hit by a major leak - when its main WATER supply was disrupted.

A burst water main affected GCHQ and around 7,000 homes in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

But while local residents and businesses struggled and 17 schools closed today, work has carried on as normal for the spy centre which has more than 5,600 staff.

Bosses insisted they had "robust contingency plans" - although they refused to go into any more detail about them. (That's the secret service for you)

The leak came as the UK experienced it's coldest night this Autumn - and forecasters predicted temperatures of -11C to come.

Russia test-fires ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warhead in massive military drill involving fighter jets and submarines

Russia has test-fired ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in a massive military drill involving fighter jets and submarines.
The Strategic Nuclear Forces exercise saw missiles fired from land, sea and air in President Vladimir Putin's latest show of force amid tensions with the West.
Projectiles were fired from a cosmodrome, by long-range strategic bomber aircraft and nuclear subs from Russia's northern and Pacific fleets.
Russia's Ministry of Defence hailed the exercise as a success, saying "all assigned targets were engaged".
It comes just days after it emerged that the country is set to test its biggest ever nuclear missile which is powerful enough to destroy the whole of the UK, Texas or France with a single strike.
Defence officials said Tu-160, Tu-95MS, and Tu-22M3 aircraft took off from the Ukrainka, Engels and Shaikovka airfields and fired cruise missiles at ground targets located at the Kura (Kamchatka), Pemboy (Komi), and Terekta (Kazakhstan).
They also said Strategic Missile Forces fired a Topol missile from the Plesetsk State Test Cosmodrome at the Kura range.
And a Pacific fleet submarine fired two ballistic missiles from the Okhotsk Sea at the Chizha range, Arkhangelsk region, and a northern fleet submarine fired a ballistic missile at the Kura range.
The Ministry said: "The troops completed all tasks. All assigned targets were engaged."
The so-called Satan 2 intercontinental ballistic missile could deliver about a dozen nuclear warheads of 40 megatons - 2,000 times as powerful as the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
President Vladimir Putin's Defence Ministry plans to test two RS-28 Sarmat super nukes at the remote Plesetsk Cosmodrome before the end of the year, it was reported.
The 100-tonne weapons - which could enter service as early as 2019 - will make the bombs dropped on Japan look like “popguns”, experts have said.
Russia claims the missiles can "beat any defences" as it seeks to replace its arsenal of SS-18 Satan weapons.

The Satan 2 missile was displayed during a Victory Day parade in May and test-firings have been delayed several times due to problems with the missile itself and silo.
A source told the Moscow-based Kommersant newspaper that two tests will take place this year, as long as the first one goes according to plan.
The source said: "The main purpose is to check the performance of the rocket's systems at the time of the exit from the silo, and the activation of Sarmat's first stage and the subsequent [flight] for about five seconds."
Last May, frightening footage of the liquid-fuelled Satan 2 being paraded through the streets was posted online.
Moscow weapons experts have said the weapon of mass destruction will be able to evade radar defences and could travel far enough to strike London or the East and West Coast of the US.
The terrifying new missile is twice as light as Russia's current ballistic missiles, the Voyevoda, with an estimated range of more than 6,000 miles.

Experimental design work "Sarmat

The missiles have an estimated speed of more than Mach 20, or 4.3 miles per second.
Military expert Aleksey Leonkov told Kommersant that when Russia adopted the Voyevoda it carried out more than 30 tests, and not all were successful.
He expects a high number of Satan 2 tests to be carried out before the weapon is deemed ready for service.

Russians remember Stalin victims

Hundreds of people gathered in central Moscow on Sunday to honour the memory of thousands of men and women executed by the Soviet authorities under leader Josef Stalin.

Speakers read aloud the names of some 30,000 Muscovites — only a small portion of the estimated one million or more thought to have been killed in 1937-38.

Sergey Mitrokhin, former Chairman of Yabloko, the Russian United Democratic Party:

“The authorities try to flirt with this dark past. We sometimes see how in different situations, they allude to some kind of affinity with the Soviet Union, with Stalin. That is why events such as today’s are all the more important, so that the authorities will see that the people have forgotten nothing.”

“Memorial”, a widely respected civil rights group has held the ceremony every year since 2006. Germany’s ambassador to Russia, Rudiger von Fritsch, attended this time.

“The 20th Century has known so much repression. In my own country too, in Germany. So we are commemorating all the victims because only remembrance will help us to prevent such things from happening again.”

Under Stalin’s rule from 1924 until his death in 1953 millions of people were deported to prison camps or just simply disappeared.

Some rights groups have accused President Vladimir Putin of seeking to whitewash the Soviet dictator’s crimes amid a wave of patriotic fervor.

The ceremony came ahead of Monday’s Day of Remembrance for victims of political repression established by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1991.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

US aircraft carrier drills with Japan as Air Force B-1 bombers buzz North Korea

uss ronald reagan
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan

A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the Ronald Reagan, is conducting drills with a Japanese warship in waters around Okinawa southwest of the Korean peninsula, Japan's military said on Wednesday. 

The exercise comes amid heightened tension with North Korea as the U.S. holds air drills in the region with B1-B bombers flown from Guam.

The exercise with the Reagan strike group, which began on Saturday, involves vessels sailing from the Bashi Channel, which separates the Philippines and Taiwan, to seas around Japan's southwest island nearer to North Korea, Japan's Maritime Self Defense Force said in a statement.

One Japanese destroyer, the Shimkaze, is accompanying the 100,000-ton Reagan, which is based in Japan, and its escort ships, the JMSDF said.

Major symposium on Dutch double spy Mata Hari to take place in London

Mata Hari

 A symposium about the life, activities and legacy of World War I-era double spy Mata Hari is to take place in London this month, on the 100th anniversary of her death by execution. Mata Hari was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in Holland in 1876. In 1895 she married Rudolf MacLeod, a Dutch Army Captain of Scottish descent serving the Dutch colonial administration of what is now Indonesia. She eventually divorced the alcoholic and abusive MacLeod, who was 20 years her senior, and joined the circus in Paris. Eventually she became wildly popular as an exotic dancer, a position that placed her in direct and close contact with several influential men in France, including the millionaire industrialist Émile Étienne Guimet, who became her longtime lover. Several of her male devotees came from military backgrounds from various European countries. Most historians agree that by 1916 Mata Hari was working for French intelligence, gathering information from her German lovers. However, in February of the following year she was arrested by French counterintelligence officers in Paris and accused of spying on behalf of the German Empire. French prosecutors accused her of having provided Germany with tactical intelligence that cost the Triple Entente the lives of over 50,000 soldiers.

On October 28, an international symposium will take place at City University, one of 28 colleges and research centers that make up the University of London. Entitled “The Legacy of Mata Hari: Women and Transgression”, the symposium will bring together historians, museum curators, as well as intelligence and military experts who have spent decades studying the story of Mata Hari. They include her biographers from Holland, historians from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, German and French military intelligence historians, as well as a representative from the Spy Museum in Washington, DC. The symposium’s host and keynote speaker is Dr Julie Wheelwright, Lecturer in Creative Writing (non-fiction) and director of the Master’s program in Creative Writing at City University. Dr Wheelwright is considered one of the world’s foremost specialists on Mata Hari and is author of the 1992 book The Fatal Lover: Mata Hari and the Myth of Women in Espionage.

The organizers of the symposium say that recently unearthed personal letters by leading figures in Mata Hari’s life, as well as newly declassified government documents, present researchers with a unique opportunity to reassess the Dutch double spy’s character, motives and legacy. Another purpose of the symposium will be to explore the reality and stereotypes of the use of female sexuality in espionage, the role of women in war and intelligence, as well as the historical contribution of women spies in World War I. Several other events are planned on the occasion of the centenary of Mata Hari’s death across Europe, including a major new exhibition about her in her home down of Leeuwarden in Holland’s Fries Museum, which is scheduled to open later this month.

 Author: Joseph Fitsanakis

Israel reportedly behind discovery of Russian antivirus company’s spy links

Computer hacking

Israeli spy services were reportedly behind the United States government’s recent decision to purge Kaspersky Lab antivirus software from its computers, citing possible collusion with Russian intelligence. Last month, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a directive ordering that all government computers should be free of software products designed by Kaspersky Lab. Formed in the late 1990s by Russian cybersecurity expert Eugene Kaspersky, the multinational antivirus software provider operates out of Moscow but is technically based in the United Kingdom. Its antivirus and cybersecurity products are installed on tens of millions of computers around the world, including computers belonging to government agencies in the US and elsewhere. But last month’s memorandum by the US government’s domestic security arm alarmed the cybersecurity community by alleging direct operational links between the antivirus company and the Kremlin.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the initial piece of intelligence that alerted the US government to the alleged links between Kaspersky Lab and Moscow was provided by Israel. The American paper said that Israeli cyber spies managed to hack into Kaspersky’s systems and confirm the heavy presence of Russian government operatives there. The Times’ report stated that the Israelis documented real-time cyber espionage operations by the Russians, which targeted the government computer systems of foreign governments, including the United States’. The Israeli spies then reportedly approached their American counterparts and told them that Kaspersky Lab software was being used by Russian intelligence services as a backdoor to millions of computers worldwide. The Israelis also concluded that Kaspersky’s antivirus software was used to illegally steal files from these computers, which were essentially infected by spy software operated by the Russian government.

It was following the tip by the Israelis that he Department of Homeland Security issued its memorandum saying that it was “concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky [Lab] officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies”. The memorandum resulted in a decision by the US government —overwhelmingly supported by Congress— to scrap all Kaspersky software from its computer systems. Kaspersky Lab has rejected allegations that it works with Russian intelligence. In a statement issued in May of this year, the company said it had “never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis