Pakistan wants to buy Chinese stealth aircraft: Minister

By on Monday, November 24th, 2014

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has expressed interest in procuring fourth generation stealth fighter aircraft FC-31 from China.

Minister for Defence Production Rana Tanveer Hussain told Dawn.com on Friday the matter was being discussed with Chinese authorities.

It is for the first time that a senior government functionary has confirmed talks with China over purchase of the longer-range stealth aircraft — an issue that has been a subject of speculation in defence circles since the 10th edition of the Zhuhai Air Show (China) held earlier this month, when the aircraft was unveiled.

The Jane’s Defence Weekly had quoted an unnamed Pakistani official as saying that the PAF was holding talks with China for the purchase of 30 to 40 of the Shenyang FC-31 fighter planes and that discussions had gone beyond initial inquiries.

The FC-31 is being developed by China primarily for the export market. Chinese officials claim that several countries have expressed interest in the aircraft believed to be comparable to US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

A prototype of the aircraft, designated as J-31, has been flown by the Chinese aircraft research and development firm Shenyang Aviation Company for a couple of years now.

What particularly interests the PAF is that FC-31 prototype (J-31) and JF-17 use the same Russian Klimov RD-93 engines.

Pakistan is increasingly relying on China as a reliable source for its defence procurements.

Mr Hussain said that Pakistan was also interested in Chinese attack helicopter Z-10.

China and Pakistan had earlier co-produced JF-17 Thunder. Pakistan has been eagerly trying to market this fighter aircraft.

“We have nearly confirmed orders from seven countries for JF-17,” Mr Hussain said.

Pakistan, which is at present producing Block-2 of JF-17 at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Kamra, is eying orders from countries in the Middle East and Africa.

“The PAF has a requirement of 250 aircraft, but now we have decided that we’ll sell some of the JF-17 Block-2 to international buyers besides fulfilling our local demand,” the minister said.

The minister sounded upbeat about the upcoming four-day defence exhibition IDEAS 2014 beginning in Karachi on Dec 1.

Some 175 companies, including 34 local firms, are participating in the international event this year.

Mr Hussain said a few MoUs and agreements on joint ventures were expected to be signed during the exhibition, but no orders were expected at the event.

“The basic spirit behind the exhibition is to increase interaction with defence industry (officials) of other countries and provide exposure to our own industry,” he said.


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Pakistan to have 200 nuclear weapons by 2020: US think tank

By on Monday, November 24th, 2014

Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear weapons program in the world and by 2020 it could have enough fissile material to produce more than 200 nuclear devices, a top American think tank has said.

“Though many states are downsizing their stockpiles, Asia is witnessing a buildup. Pakistan has the fastest-growing nuclear program in the world. By 2020, it could have a stockpile of fissile material that, if weaponized, could produce as many as 200 nuclear devices,” council on foreign relations has said.

The report Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age, authored by George Mason University’s Gregory Koblentz, has identified South Asia as the region “most at risk of a breakdown in strategic stability due to an explosive mixture of unresolved territorial disputes, crossborder terrorism, and growing nuclear arsenals.”

Pakistan, the report said, has deployed or is developing 11 delivery systems for its nuclear warheads, including aircraft, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.

“Pakistan has not formally declared the conditions under which it would use nuclear weapons but has indicated that it seeks primarily to deter India from threatening its territorial integrity or the ability of its military to defend its territory,” the report said.

CFR said while Pakistan is focused predominantly on the threat posed by India, it is reportedly also concerned by the potential for the US to launch a military operation to seize or disarm Pakistani nuclear weapons.

“This concern is based in part on reported contingency planning by the US military to prevent Pakistani nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists,” CFR said.

CFR said India is estimated to possess enough fissile material for between 90 and 110 nuclear weapons and is expanding its fissile material production capacity.

China, it said, is estimated to have 250 nuclear weapons for delivery by a mix of medium, intermediate, and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles and bombers.

“Though nuclear arsenals are shrinking in the rest of the world, Asia is witnessing a nuclear buildup. Unlike the remaining P5 countries, China is increasing and diversifying its nuclear arsenal,” the report said.


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Airforce Life Cycle Management Center helps design transport isolation system

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) is playing a unique role in the United States’ comprehensive Ebola response efforts in West Africa through the center’s involvement in developing a transport isolation system.

The system will enable safe aeromedical evacuation of Department of Defense patients in C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster IIIs.

The Human Systems Division — one of nine divisions within AFLCMC’s Agile Combat Support Directorate — is leading the integration of multiple System Program Offices to support the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s task to rapidly field the transport isolation system (TIS) by January.

Lt. Col. Scott Bergren, the chief of the Aircrew Performance Branch, is among those involved in the project.

“AFLCMC was notified the third week of October that its help was needed,” Bergren said. “We also were informed that the intent was to fly this system in an operational test beginning Dec. 1. So we were given a month and a half to ensure this system is safe to fly. All involved offices within AFLCMC have rallied to help get the TIS out the door.

“While DTRA is providing overall program management and contracting actions, our efforts have focused on quickly collecting the test data needed to assess the safety of the system for use in identified aircraft,” Bergren continued. “For example, we reached out to the Navy and obtained existing test data for subcomponents of the TIS used in Navy weapon systems today. This prevented us from having to redo those tests, which saved time. Fortunately, we have those connections and our division possesses the capability to analyze test data and certify components already in use within DOD.

“We’re thinking differently and more creatively to ensure we keep pace with the Pentagon’s timeline for this isolation system,” Bergren added. “We want to ensure this project is completed on time and safely.”

An example of creative thinking is that the AFLCMC team identified a proven LED lighting system used in the KC-135 Stratotanker platform today as a means to provide medical lighting in the TIS.

“This avoided a development effort by the contractor and cut roughly two weeks from a schedule in which every day counts,” Bergren said.

According to Melina Baez-Bowersox, a technical lead engineer in the Aeromedical Branch, additional challenges arise anytime there is a proposal to add a new system or equipment to an Air Force platform, such as an aircraft.

“Part of our responsibility is to assess the TIS’s capability by testing and evaluating the system on the aircraft,” she said. “We ask ourselves, ‘How does it (TIS) behave?’, ‘What does adding the system do to the structural integrity of the aircraft?’, ‘Is the TIS safe for patients, aircrews and the aircraft?’

“Ultimately, we want to be able to safely transport infected individuals back to the United States in a way that contains Ebola exposure to others while also preventing contamination of an aircraft or losing a precious Air Force asset,” she continued.

“We’re the right organization to be involved to deliver this critical capability that is quite complex and under an extremely compressed timeline,” said Col. William McGuffey, the chief of the Human Systems Division. “It’s another example of how AFLCMC acquires, fields and sustains systems and capabilities to support the urgent needs of other Air Force major commands and the DOD.

Pentagon officials say they do not expect the 3,000 U.S. troops heading to or already in the region to need the TIS because military personnel will not be treating Ebola patients directly.

“But we want to be prepared to care for the people we do have there just out of an abundance of caution,” Defense Department spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said.

Currently, transport of Ebola patients from overseas is done by Phoenix Air, a government contractor based in Georgia whose modified business jet is capable of carrying just a single patient.

The Pentagon’s TIS will be similar but larger than the units used by Phoenix Air, whose containment system is a tent-like structure held up by a metal framework within the aircraft.


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US Army Researchers test insect-inspired robots

Army researchers are finding they have much to learn from bees hovering near a picnic spread at a park.

Dr. Joseph Conroy, an electronics engineer at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, known as ARL, part of the Research, Development and Engineering Command, works with robotic systems that can navigate by leveraging visual sensing inspired by insect neurophysiology.

A recently developed prototype that is capable of wide-field vision and high-update rate, hallmarks of insect vision, is something researchers hope to test at the manned and unmanned teaming, or MUM-T, exercise at the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Georgia. This project will give us a chance to implement methods of perception such as 3-D mapping and motion estimation on a robotics platform, Conroy said.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence exercise will test whether ARL’s robotics platform is on track with the Army’s vision to team a robot with a Soldier. The tests will help to inform ARL researchers on how Soldiers might utilize information that can be provided by these platforms while attempting to clear a building from a safe distance in an urban environment, Conroy said.

The military’s goal of teaming autonomous systems with Soldiers requires collaboration among a variety of researchers from within ARL and outside, including Carnegie Mellon University researchers, who have been the primary collaborators for this project.

Carnegie Mellon is part of the Micro-Autonomous Systems Technology Collaborative Technology Alliance, or MAST CTA, of ARL’s robotics enterprise, which explores ways to enhance Soldiers’ situational awareness on the battlefield through basic research on micro-scale robotic systems.

The MAST CTA is led by BAE Systems, with principal members — the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of Maryland, University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania, and 13 other university consortium members.

“The upcoming tests are a small example of a much larger effort,” said Brett Piekarski, Collaborative Alliance manager. “The university researchers across the consortium work with the Army researchers to come up with systems that can provide Soldier/robot teaming, and be transitioned to industry.”

The prototype is designed to help Soldiers have tactical awareness at the squad and personal level in urban and complex environments.

“If our prototype operates in the way it was designed to during these tests, it would be a technical win,” Conroy said. “But I would say the real goal of this exercise is to put the technology in the hands of Soldiers, gather their feedback, and gain understanding about what will make autonomous systems more useful.”

The components of the quad rotor are a mix of commercial and custom-designed parts to develop the navigation, exploration and mapping necessary for military applications, said Brendan Byrne, who manages the platform from the perspective of Computational and Information Sciences.

“Carnegie Mellon has previously demonstrated many of the capabilities that we will require for this project in a controlled environment, however, we are testing 3-D mapping and localization in a large, unstructured environment,” Byrne said.

ARL has been working with the Carnegie Mellon team for about two years, but only for the last nine months for the MUM-T exercise, Byrne said.

Issues can be uncovered when ARL engineers probe weaknesses in experimental setups that have been previously used to demonstrate capabilities in controlled environments. Further collaboration with university researchers can address these issues and produce a far more robust system.

The university researchers addressed the issues and came back with a far more robust algorithm, he added. “Just yesterday we were flying it through the building, zipping up and down stairwells.”

ARL is interested in stretching the boundaries of what will be feasible for Army unmanned system doctrine. The lab’s novel technology will be the least mature platform represented at MUM-T.

“We take a crack at unsolved problems,” Byrne said. “The technology may not completely work, but it directs where our attention should be focused.”

Today, human/robot teaming requires a lot of hands on participation from the Soldier but this platform is designed to navigate through a 3-D maze and avoid obstacles without help, he said.

MUM-T will be the first time ARL has demonstrated the technology in a more operational environment.

“It is exciting,” Byrne said. “On one hand, the technology offers the most cutting edge possibilities. On the other hand, the lack of maturity makes it the most prone to failure.”

Over the past few decades there has been much interest in this class of flying robotic platforms known as micro-air vehicles. The palm-sized vehicles operate relatively low to the ground, and are capable of navigating indoors or outdoors with stealth, low cost and low operator workload.

Engineers begin looking to insects because of the robust navigation in uncertain environments. In particular, Conroy became interested in the insect capability of detecting and tracking small targets and their capability for perceiving structure of the environment without stereo vision.

Conroy and his colleague J. Sean Humbert from the University of Maryland detailed their findings in “Structure from Motion in Computationally Constrained Systems.”

He said one of the things he is eager to test at MUM-T is the robotic mimicking of active vision in insects, which is their intentional use of motion to perceive structure.

The Research, Development and Engineering Command also has near-term focused organizations like the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center and Natick Soldier Systems Center, which will demonstrate state-of-the-art equipment at MUM-T the Army is developing.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence conducts research, development and experimentation to ensure the future maneuver force is prepared and equipped to fight and win in a complex future environment.


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Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age

By on Monday, November 24th, 2014

Overview
Since the end of the Cold War, a new nuclear order has emerged, shaped by rising nuclear states and military technologies that threaten stability, writes George Mason University’s Gregory Koblentz in a new Council Special Report.

During the Cold War, the potential for nuclear weapons to be used was determined largely by the United States and the Soviet Union. Now, with 16,300 weapons possessed by the seven established nuclear-armed states—China, France, India, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—deterrence is increasingly complex. Since most of these countries face threats from a number of potential adversaries, “changes in one state’s nuclear policy can have a cascading effect on the other states.”

Though many states are downsizing their stockpiles, Asia is witnessing a buildup; Pakistan has the fastest-growing nuclear program in the world. By 2020, it could have a stockpile of fissile material that, if weaponized, could produce as many as two hundred nuclear devices. The author identifies South Asia as the region “most at risk of a breakdown in strategic stability due to an explosive mixture of unresolved territorial disputes, cross-border terrorism, and growing nuclear arsenals.”

Emerging technologies such as missile defenses, cyber and antisatellite weapons, and conventional precision strike weapons pose additional risks, Koblentz warns, and could potentially spur arms races and trigger crises.

“The United States has more to lose from a breakdown in strategic stability than any other country due to its position as a global leader, the interdependence of its economy, and the network of security commitments it has around the world,” he asserts. The United States and Russia still possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Despite the increasing chill in U.S.-Russia relations, Washington’s highest priority should be to maintain strategic efforts with Russia and China, the two states with the capability and potential intent to launch a nuclear attack on the American homeland.

The United States should work with other nuclear states to address sources of instability in the near term and establish processes for multilateral arms control efforts over the longer term, writes Koblentz. He urges the Obama administration to

  • enhance initiatives that foster transparency, confidence-building, and restraint to mitigate the risk that emerging technologies will trigger arms races, threaten the survivability of nuclear forces, or undermine early warning and nuclear command and control systems;
  • deepen bilateral and multilateral dialogues with the other nuclear-armed states; and
  • create a forum for the seven established nuclear-armed states to discuss further steps to reduce the risk of deliberate, accidental, or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.

Download Full Report in PDF:
Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age (78 downloads)


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Last chance saloon for Iran nuclear talks

Time runs out Monday for the biggest chance in years to resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff, as Tehran and world powers make a final push for a deal but with a risky extension looking likely.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (the P5+1) have been locked in talks with Iran for months, seeking to turn an interim deal that expires at midnight (2300 GMT) on Monday into a lasting accord.

Such an agreement, after a 12-year standoff, is aimed at easing fears that Tehran will develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian activities, an ambition it hotly denies.

But a last-ditch diplomatic blitz in recent days involving US Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers to secure a deal appears to have failed to bridge the remaining major differences.

As a result, late Sunday a senior US State Department official said for the first time that the powers and Iran were now discussing putting more time on the clock.

The official said it was “only natural that just over 24 hours from the deadline we are discussing a range of options … An extension is one of those options.”

This came after US Secretary of State John Kerry met his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif for the sixth time since Thursday in an attempt to break the deadlock.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said however that the parties would still make a “big push tomorrow (Monday) morning to try and get this across the line”.

“Of course if we’re not able to do it, we’ll then look at where we go from there,” he said.

“We’re still quite a long way apart and there are some very tough and complex issues to deal with”.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was expected in the Austrian capital early Monday, completing the line-up of all the six powers’ foreign ministers.

This included Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a key player in the talks. Earlier in the week he said all the elements were in place for a deal with just “political will” missing.

- Gaps -

Diplomats on both sides say that despite some progress, the two sides remain far apart on the two crucial points of contention: uranium enrichment and sanctions relief.

Enriching uranium renders it suitable for peaceful purposes like nuclear power but also, at high purities, for the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

Tehran wants to massively ramp up the number of enrichment centrifuges — in order, it says, to make fuel for future reactors — while the West wants them dramatically reduced.

Iran wants painful UN and Western sanctions that have strangled its vital oil exports lifted, but the powers want to stagger any relief over a long period of time to ensure Iranian compliance with any deal.

“What a deal would do is take a big piece of business off the table and perhaps begin a long process in which the relationship not just between Iran and us but the relationship between Iran and the world, and the region, begins to change,” US President Barack Obama in an ABC News interview aired Sunday.

Extension
In view of the difficulties — and of the dangers posed by the alternative of a complete collapse — many experts have long believed that the negotiators would put more time on the clock.

An Iranian source told AFP earlier Sunday, while stressing at that point that adding time was not yet on the table, that the extension “could be for a period of six months or a year.”

Another extension — as happened with an earlier deadline of July 20 — however carries risks of its own,including possible fresh US sanctions that could lead Iran to walk away.

Pushing back the cut-off point will also fuel accusations from Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, that its arch foe Iran is merely buying time to get closer to the bomb.

Arms Control Association analyst Kelsey Davenport told AFP that an extension of six months to a year “would not fly” with the other parties.

Any extension “will have to be very short because there are too many hardliners, particularly in Washington and Tehran, that want to sabotage this deal,” she told AFP.


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US delivers anti-mortar radars to Ukraine: Pentagon

The US military has delivered three radars to Ukraine designed to detect incoming mortar fire, the Pentagon said Friday, amid appeals from Kiev for Washington to send weapons to help fight pro-Russian rebels.

The counter-mortar radar systems were flown to Ukraine in a C-17 cargo plane that accompanied US Vice President Joe Biden, who paid a visit to Kiev on the first anniversary of protests that unleashed a year of upheaval.

A total of 20 counter-mortar radar systems were due to be delivered over the next several weeks, and Ukrainian troops would undergo training on the radars starting in mid-December, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said.

The radars detect incoming mortar rounds and then calculate the origin of the mortar fire. The systems can be hooked up to mortar or artillery batteries which then return fire.

“It will be up to the Ukrainians how, when and where they deploy these systems,” Warren said.

President Barack Obama has so far ruled out providing weapons and ammunition to Ukraine, and instead approved the delivery of “non-lethal” assistance such as radars, night vision goggles, radios, rations, body armor and other items.

But at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this week, Tony Blinken, who is nominated for a senior diplomatic post, said the United States should consider providing Ukraine with “defensive” weapons.

“I think it is something that we should be looking at,” Blinken said.

Ukrainian leaders and some US lawmakers have repeatedly urged Obama to send arms to the Kiev government but the Pentagon said there had been no change in the current approach.

“To my knowledge, there is no new policy decision to announce,” Warren told reporters.

Russia, which denies Western accusations it is supplying and advising rebels in eastern Ukraine, has warned the Americans against arming Ukrainian government troops.


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