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The latest news from Robert Johnson on Business Insider

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    Japan F-15

    China's first ever invasion of Japan's airspace happened just weeks ago, but the move appears to becoming a routine addition to the burgeoning standoff.

    The AFP now reports:

    Japan scrambled fighter jets on Saturday to head off a Chinese state-owned plane that flew near islands at the centre of a dispute between Tokyo and Beijing, a Japanese Defense Ministry spokesman said.

    The Japanese jets were mobilized after a Chinese maritime aircraft ventured some 120 kilometres (74 miles) north of the Senkaku islands, which China calls the Diaoyus, at around 12:00 pm (0300 GMT), the spokesman said. The Chinese Y-12 twin-turboprop later left the zone without entering Japanese airspace over the islands, he added. It was the first time Japanese fighter jets had been scrambled this year to counter Chinese aircraft approaching the islands, the spokesman said.

    This second round of confrontation in the skies comes after Japan dispatched eight fighter jets last month after provocations in the same region of the South China Sea.

    As Taiwan also lays claims to the islet, and its supposed billions in oil and gas deposits, China's increasing its presence and also backing its claims by sending the newest warship it has to the region.

    The Taiwan-owned China Times reports the Liuzhou Type 054A warship entered the South China Sea Fleet of China's PLA Navy just days ago, making it the sixth 054 warship in the area.

    Though the Type 054A is not a new design, this most recently commissioned vessel will have the latest technological advantages.

    From China Times

    Liuzhou is currently considered one of China's most advanced surface combat Type 054A vessels. It has a stealthy hull design with sloped surfaces and radar absorbent materials. Equipped with a medium-range air defense missile system, the vessel is capable of destroying air targets at a distance up to 50 km. Although it is not as lethal as the Russian-built Sovremenny class and domestic destroyers, the new frigate still serves well as a multi-role warship in the Chinese fleet.

    Among all 16 frigates in the same class and currently in the service of the PLA Navy, Liuzhou is the newest addition. Since Liuzhou is commanded by the South Sea Fleet, which is based in Zhanjiang of Guangdong province, analysts believe that its primary mission is to protect Chinese interests in the disputed South China Sea. The mainland and five other countries — Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei — have competing claims to the region's islands and atolls.

    The Liuzhou's deployment comes days after the U.S. vowed to increase its military presence in the Philippines and China's ensuing outrage over the decision.

    The warship carries an array of sophisticated weapons including anti-submarine ordnance and stealth features allowing it to evade radar and move undetected.

    SEE ALSO: The 'Demon' that kept a decade of Soviets at bay >

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    AuroraUPDATE: Police have confirmed that the gunman was shot and killed by officers and that four people are dead in the townhouse, including the gunman, 9 News reports.

    Police entered the home after hours of failed attempts to negotiate with the gunman. He wouldn't come out even when tear gassed, the officers said.

    Inside, three people were discovered dead, according to police.

    The names and ages of the victims have not been released.


    Just months after last year's horrific Aurora movie theater shooting, there's more terrible news from the small Colorado town.

    Police say there's an armed man believed to be holding hostages inside a home in Aurora, 9 News reports.

    Officers showed up after reports of shots fired were phoned in by neighbors early this morning. One woman inside the home had also escaped and alerted authorities, reporting three lifeless bodies and a gunman, according to 9 News.

    The New York Daily News reports that as many as 40 officers, including SWAT teams, are at the home.

    Melissa Blasius, a reporter with 9 News who's at the scene, reports that Aurora police radio traffic says at least one person was shot this morning during the hostage situation. She says that she saw a "white puff" come up from the house and heard gunfire. 

    Aurora Police delivered emergency notifications for residents near the 16000 block of East Ithaca Place, below from Google Maps.


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    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office is getting an "indefinite delivery" of an "indefinite quantity" of .40 caliber ammunition from defense contractor ATK. 

    U.S. agents will receive a maximum of 450 million rounds over five years, according to a press release on the deal. 

    The high performance HST bullets are designed for law enforcement and ATK says they offer "optimum penetration for terminal performance."

    This refers to the the bullet's hollow-point tip that passes through barriers and expands for a bigger impact without the rest of the bullet getting warped out of shape: "this bullet holds its jacket in the toughest conditions."

    We've also learned that the Department has an open bid for a stockpile of rifle ammo. Listed on the federal business opportunities network, they're looking for up to 175 million rounds of .223 caliber ammo to be exact. The .223 is almost exactly the same round used by NATO forces, the 5.56 x 45mm.

    The deadline for earlier this month was extended because the right contractor just hadn't come along. 

    Looks like the Department of Homeland Security means business. 

    Thanks to loyal BI Military & Defense Twitter follower Allen Walter for the heads up.

    Now See: Why U.S. troops in Afghanistan never leave home without a 'SAW' >

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    Update: This Reddit post gave me a chuckle this morning and is a play on words from post title to covers of two papers.

    There's an old rumor that Marines will lie about everything to increase their odds of spending time with the comeliest girls on shore leave. With only so many interested females to meet, the Marines ruin the Sailors' chances with unforgivable tales of their Navy inspired aberrations. That's only what I heard, but along with the headline, the photo offered up a solid Reddit chuckle this Sunday, before coffee.

    These are covers of Gannett's Military Times papers sold at U.S. military bases worldwide and for generations they offered troops an outside look at the service. But even in this closed off environment, times have changed. The following are comments threads outlining the shifting face of media, even in the military.

    All of those military "news" papers are becoming tabloids. They run some sensationalist headline about how your uniform will spontaneously combust, you're not getting paid this year, or that everyone is getting kicked out and the military is starting from scratch. It's nothing but "Oh my god you HAVE to buy this paper!If you don't you might DIE!" Once in a while an issue will actually have some valuable information but mostly those are as trustworthy as the National Enquirer.

    Yep, they barley struggle to find half decent news to post just to make a quick 6 bucks. I mean who the f**k pays 6 dollars for a newspaper when you can just read about the same information online?

    I wonder how many times that question's been asked in the last 10 years?


    SEE ALSO: The 'Demon' was an all-weather tip of the spear during the Cold War >

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    Marie ColvinVeteran war correspondent Marie Colvin died in Syria's Homs/Aleppo bombing campaigns last February and her loss was felt around the world.

    The woman was wicked smart from Queens, fearless, motivated, and she wore an eye-patch. Another combination like that may never be.

    Syria remains as much a dangerous, ill-advised destination as it was when she died, and it would be easy to imagine these locations and her combat job defined her. To picture her the same hard-charging, fearless, damn the consequences person she acted in the field.

    Maybe she was, but that doesn't mean she refused to allow herself the chance at love, and to maybe get hurt just like anyone else Astoria. Perhaps a little of the heartache she picked up over the years finally slipped free in her Last Will stipulations released yesterday, which excluded her oldest and some say dearest friend from her estate.

    The two met 27 years ago during Marie's first assignment following Yale. Patrick Bishop was in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war and Vanity Fair has this great Evgenia Peretz piece outlining the introduction that compelled her to marry the man twice in a handful of years:

    From Vanity Fair:

    Bishop, a battle-hardened Sunday Telegraph reporter who’d made his name in the Falklands War, was imparting to Marie Colvin pearls from his bottomless reservoir of military knowledge. She was the new girl, after all, an American and a Yale grad, just 30 years old, and she happened to have this amazing, out-of control mane of brown curly hair. “You don’t have to worry about that. That’s all outgoing,” said Bishop above the explosions surrounding them on the Iraqi front line. “You’ll learn when you’ve been around like I have to distinguish between outgoing and incoming.... That’s outgoing,” he continued, “and that one is ... incoming!” Bishop dived for cover, Colvin remained standing, and the Iraqi soldiers walked away laughing.

    “For the rest of my trip,” recalls Bishop, “I was thinking, How can I redeem myself having made such an ass of myself? I had these fantasies that the Jeep would be hit and shelled, and I’d be able to drag her from the wreckage and save her life.” Bishop never had the opportunity to save Colvin, but she eventually fell for him anyway, unaware at this point that falling in love in a war zone often means acquiring an ex-husband. The marriage lasted two years. By the end, Colvin had decided that he was “the last person I ever want to see, speak to, hear of again.”

    That first divorce didn't stick and knowing they could make it work, they married again. And got another divorce. Finally, she married Bolivian journalist Carlos Gumucio, who took his own life in 2002.

    Bishop says they remained close friends throughout the years and that he's surprised to have been specifically excluded from her will, but expected nothing of the $1.85 million estate just the same.

    When Marie lost an eye in 2001 she became just a bit more unknowable to the people who never met her, and for some reason this gesture of hers in death made her come alive a bit today. Two chances on the same man, and a third who never may have felt — well, a part of this world — or hers, enough to stay.

    Of course, I might be off base and Colvin's final snub was just payback to Bishop for saving her life in Chechnya in 2000, and holding it over her head ever since. Maybe neither. 

    Farewell Ms. Colvin, who died with photojournalist Remi Ochlik, almost a year ago, in February 2012.


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    Last March we found 450 million rounds of .40 caliber ammunition slated for delivery to the Department of Homeland Service and its agencies.

    Weeks later we found an additional request for 750 million rounds. The news wasn't reported much, though the order forms are still floating around.

    It's not as demand for ammunition by the DHS is terribly new. Manufacturer Winchester posted an award to its site in 2009 agreeing to deliver 200 million rounds for the agency over five years. But if that's accurate it's an additional order that's still coming in on top of the others.

    Major General Jerry Curry, (Ret) offered up a good point when the 750 million order became public last fall saying that number of bullets was more than 10 times what U.S. troops used in a full year of Iraqi combat.

    Now that a new Department of Homeland Security order for another 200,000 hollow points has been placed, we're curious to see what happens to that much ammunition in 12 months. Knowing that DHS trains rural, regional, and federal law enforcement at their Georgia training center, we took a look online to see what programs they have requiring so much firepower.

    The Firearms Division (FAD) at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia is the biggest facility of its kind in the nation and has more than 88 instructors from several federal agencies.

    Main firearm courses where some of those millions of bullets go:

    MP-5Homeland Security offers a Rifle Training Program a Precision Rifle Observer Training Program (PROP) that looks like a 37 hour sniper/counter-sniper course. The bonus at PROP is any uniformed officer can take the course and receive the advanced training, since assignment to a sniper team or tactical unit is not required. No rifle or sniper training at all, in fact, is required to take this one where public servants learn to take out targets at more than 1,800 feet away.

    There's also the Reactive Shooting Instructor Training Program (RSITP), which looks like some sound practical advice for folks facing off against bad people during their workday.

    The Submachine Gun Instructor Training Program (SMGITP) provides H&K MP-5 and UMP-40, Colt M-4, SMG (9mm) and our personal favorite the FN P90 for testing and training. There are even two qualifications required to graduate this one. One test goes down with the H&K MP-5 the other the Colt M-4.

    Finally, the Survival Shooting Training Program (SSTP) seems like a challenging 8.5 day Master course where Law Enforcement Officer's become acquainted with a variety of weaponry, technique, and the effects of stress.

    HK UMP

    Definitely a comprehensive program, especially the Interesting Facts About The Firearms Division page. I'll list them below in their entirety after I point one fact that states all the firing in the above courses, and whatever else gets expended, requires about 15 million rounds of ammunition a year.

    That doesn't make the most recent batch of 200,000 rounds seem out of line, but those billion or so rounds, seem like they could be better accounted for. Anyway, as promised — all the interesting facts about the firearms division:

    • Firearms Division (FAD) has approximately 49 buildings that include indoor and outdoor firing ranges, offices, ammunition and weapons storage, equipment and supply storage spaces.
    • The indoor range complex and the outdoor ranges (to include 2 outdoor ranges currently under construction) have a combined total of approximately 384 firing points for live fire training.
    • These do not include the various scenario-based training ranges that FAD uses for tactical training.
    • FAD has approximately 9 training ranges used for scenario-based tactical firearms training.
    • There are approximately 150 staff members assigned to the Firearms Division including managers, support personnel and instructors.
    • The instructor cadre consists of former law enforcement and/or military personnel who now work for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) and current law enforcement personnel detailed from many of the agencies who participate in training conducted at the FLETC.
    • Training requires the use of approximately 15 million rounds of ammunition annually.
    • The ammunition includes lead projectiles and reduced hazard (environmentally friendly) ammunition.
    • The reduced hazard ammunition accounts for approximately 70 percent of the ammunition expended for training.
    • FAD offers 8 advanced firearms training programs. These programs are open to Federal, state and municipal law enforcement personnel. Some international law enforcement personnel attend these programs when they are sponsored by one of the Federal partner agencies.
    • FAD offers approximately 120 firearms courses.  Many of these are contained in FLETC basic, agency basic and advanced law enforcement training programs.
    • FAD conducts advanced export training (off site) at other Federal, state and municipal facilities around+ the country on an as-needed basis.
    ** Signing off the DHS FLETC home page we noticed a small banner at the bottom right stating firearms training requires about 20 million rounds annually. So give-or-take five million or so. No wonder they need so many deliveries.


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    Robert Levinson

    When Robert Levinson retired from the FBI, he launched a new private investigation career that in 2007 took him to Iran, where he was kidnapped and believed held in Southwest Asia ever since.

    At the time, U.S. officials suggested that a terrorist group was responsible for Levinson's disappearance, but that suspicion has since dramatically shifted to the Iranian government.

    An unnamed intelligence official told the Associated Press the shift came when Levinson's family received a set of photos in 2011. They were delivered too well, the source says, with no mistakes and everything to suggest a professional spy network lay behind the abduction.

    This week Levinson's wife, Christine, released the photos (below) because she feels not enough is being done to bring her husband home.

    The full AP story outlines a complex and protracted ordeal. It includes the following example of why suspecting Iran all along might have made sense:

    In one meeting between the two countries, the Iranians told the U.S. that they were looking for Levinson and were conducting raids in Baluchistan, a mountainous region that includes parts of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. But the U.S. ultimately concluded that the Iranians made up the story. There were no raids, and officials determined that the episode was a ruse by Iranian counterintelligence to learn how U.S. intelligence agencies work. 

    There is already some Twitter buzz that securing Levinson's return explains why a U.S. plane was detained in Iran last month, and why its detainment was kept secret for so long.

    It shouldn't be long before that "connection" joins the additional rumors that the plane also held Hillary Clinton who hit her head during the emergency landing causing the blood clot, and that SEAL Cmdr. Job Price didn't commit suicide but was killed during the crash.

    Those connections were made by the EUTimes, citing a Russian GRU report, at the end of December and went viral among alternative news circles for days. Even the reputable American daily newspaper The Salem News picked up the rumors, so it will be interesting to see if Ms. Levinson's cry for help will get the rumor mill churning once again.

    One of the following pictures show Levinson prior to his kidnapping. The rest were sent to Christine Levinson showing her husband in an orange jumpsuit like those worn at Guantanamo. 

    Robert Levinson

    Robert Levinson

    Robert Levinson

    Robert Levinson

    SEE ALSO: The 25 most effective weapons in the US arsenal >

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    Oil Sands

    A new Canadian report finds a direct connection between oil sand mining and elevated levels of cancer causing agents in regional water supplies.

    The news is a blow for oil companies and the Canadian government, which rely on this method to tap the world's second largest oil reserve. It also hurts the case for the Keystone pipeline to link America to the sands.

    I spent several days in Fort McMurray, and the expanse of mines surrounding the city, last year where residents said they understood mining held risks, but really just wanted some hard facts. Now, it looks like they've got them.

    "I take my kids fishing to the lakes," one executive told me at the $270 million McDonald Island recreation park. "I don't let them swim in it, but I know some people do."

    Probably not anymore, as the study found chemicals called PAHs up to 23 times higher than before oil sand mining. With production set to triple over the next 25 years, these levels will only go up and the study  makes clear that the long-term effect on humans, and wildlife remains "unknown."

    Most of the Athabasca oil sands lie just north of Fort McMurray — the small city is bordered on the east by Rt 63 — the Clearwater River to the west and the south— and the Athabasca River to the north

    A lot of the oil money stops here first — this is Suncor Oil's recently remodeled $180 million Community Leisure Center — it's set to receive another $117 million expansion in September 2012

    The community center is a real focal point of Fort McMurray — but that will be in another slideshow — living here is not necessarily the easiest place to raise a family

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    F8 Crusader

    Navy personnel referred to the F-8 as "Vought's Last Chance," since the Vought company's last iteration, the F-7, was a miserable piece of gear.

    Vought hit a home run though, producing a fighter jet that stayed in active service longer than all other fighters up till that point. It's longevity though, put it in some odd situations.

    From gunfights in the sky, to fly-by-wire space technology, to, of all things, surveillance, the F-8's career was a strange journey through the annals of history.

    In 1952, fraught with issues with their current fighters, the Navy put in a request for a fighter that could top Mach 1.2.

    It also had to have a climb rate of 25,000 feet per minute.

    Lessons learned in the Korean War prompted Naval planners to adjust the specs for flight speed, armament, and landing speed.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    After repeatedly flying surveillance aircraft into disputed airspace with Japan, which made Tokyo scramble F-15s in response, China sent fighters of its own on Thursday into the East China Sea. 

    A Friday press release out of China confirms the incident began when Beijing was flying a Shaanxi Y-8 on a "routine Thursday patrol" over the "oil and gas fields in the East China Sea."

    The fact that the aircraft was a Shaanxi Y-8 is interesting in that the Y-8 isn't necessarily any one particular aircraft.

    The Diplomat calls the Y-8 a transport plane, and it can be, but the aircraft has more than 30 variants. The Y-8 performs everything from Mineral Research, to Geophysical Surveying, to Electronic Warfare to Intelligence Gathering and one variant is simply an innocuous but lethal fully loaded gunship, with two heavy cannons and three heavy machine guns.

    Naha, Okinawa and US Marine BaseIt's the perfect plane for a game of cat and mouse because if the Y-8 ever received fire from Japan's F-15s, China could simply maintain it was an unarmed transport model carrying troops, or the Y8-F model that carries only livestock.

    In the meantime, the plane can perform all manner of sophisticated tests on the seabed floor, while eavesdropping on Japanese communications. China has been flying these planes consistently lately to surveil the contested island chain that's supposed to hold billions in oil and gas reserves.

    So, again, on Thursday Japan spotted aircraft in its Air Defense Identification Zone (above the islands) that it believed to be Chinese J-7 interceptors, along with some J-10 fighters whose combat abilities rival that of Western jets. Japan responded with two F-15s scrambled from Naha, Okinawa— just a couple hundred miles away. There are minor variations from either side about who sent what first, but all agree the aircraft met above the islands.

    The Chinese planes scattered soon after, but this marked the first time China and Japan flung military assets at one another over the East China Sea island dispute. A line was crossed and staying behind it in the future will only be more difficult. 

    East China Islands

    The U.S. assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell announced that he will be traveling to Seoul, and Tokyo. What he decides in Tokyo will filter south to Naha and the Japanese unit confronting the Chinese.

    An interesting fact about Naha, aside from its proximity to the contested territory, is that while being fairly remote, it is also home to Alfred R. Magleby, a United States Consul General who holds a M.S. in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College. This is appropriate, since the Naha Port (formerly Military) Facility is part of U.S. Forces Japan and the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is less than nine miles from where Japan's F-15s scrambled.

    It looks like the islands everyone's talking about are a few dots in the middle of nowhere, but all of this is taking place close to the U.S. Consulate and a contingent of several thousand U.S. Marines whose former commanding general told Time in 2010:"All of my Marines on Okinawa are willing to die if it is necessary for the security of Japan."

    In the future, when responding to China's fighter deployment, if Japan considers permitting its F-15 pilots to fire tracer bullets as warning shots against Chinese planes, it is now reasonable to assume that U.S. forces at Futenma may have an indirect say in that decision.

    Tracer FireFiring tracers, which usually contain phosphorous or some highly flammable material, sends a line of light through the air like a laser. Tracers are usually loaded in about every tenth round to let gunners know where they're shooting, but in this case they would be fired to show Chinese pilots they're being fired upon.

    An editorial in China's state-run Global Times called this possibility, "a step closer to war," warning a military clash is "more likely" while its people need to prepare "for the worst." With a U.S. presence so close at hand to where these Japanese decisions are being made, and tactical practices employed, we can hope for at least a bit of immediate tempering.

    The Chinese jets are likely flying from air base Shuimen, built east of the islands in Fujian Province, not too much farther from the islands than Naha, Okinawa. So both sides have assets equally within reach of the islands.

    Satellite imagery of the base  came to light in 2009, and experts believe it was completed late last year. 

    The Taipei Times reported in May 2012 that J-10 combat aircraft, Su-30 fighters, and various unmanned drones were arriving at the base.

    In addition to aircraft, experts believe Russian made S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles ring the Y-8airbase, providing some of the best missile protection in the world. The S-300 is comparable to the U.S. made Patriot missile recently sent to Turkey for its first line of missile defense against Syria.

    The Shuimen airbase compliments China's East Fleet that maintains 35 ships in the region, including its newest warship the Type 054, seven submarines, and eight additional landing craft.

    Among the subs are four Kilo-class diesel-electric Russian made submarines capable of the most advanced underwater warfare.

    All of this located just 236 miles from the contested islands, which have been in dispute between Japan and China for some time. Han-Yi Shaw writes an interesting history of the dispute, for those interested in more background.

    While the U.S. takes no official position on who owns the Islands, it would be expected to honor its U.S.-Japan security treaty signed in 1960.

    Though this is a formal agreement that the U.S. will aid Japan if it comes under attack, there are few who believe the U.S. would risk a full-blown war with China over a few uninhabited islands, regardless of how much oil and gas lies beneath them.

    But with a U.S. presence so closely intertwined in these events, and a contingent of Marines standing by, it seems that whatever happens could involve American input — one way or another.

    Senkaku Islands


    SEE ALSO: The 'Demon' kept the Soviets at bay for nearly a decade >

    SEE ALSO: Why China Thinks It Can Annex The South China Sea

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    Britain's Royal Air Force has been using Tornado bombers for decades and is already building a fleet of new manned bombers, but BAE hopes to supplement those forces with a powerful new drone.

    The Taranis, named for the Celtic god of thunder will fly faster than the speed of sound and beyond the eye of enemy radar with its single-wing stealth design, and UK officials hope to see it replace piloted planes and current unmanned drones alike.

    It's a tall order, but the Taranis already has some nifty technology built into it. In the event the Taranis is spotted and efforts to bring the drone down begun, it can self-evade without input from a controller.

    It can also independently identify targets and would only check back with a human controller before initiating an attack. At about $200 million the Taranis prototype isn't cheap, but the RAF believes it's a good investment.

    From Richard Gray at The Telegraph:

    Nigel Whitehead, group managing director of programmes at BAE Systems, which has been developing Taranis, said the new drone could change the way aircraft are used by the MoD in the future, which currently uses manned planes for combat missions.

    Remote controlled drones such as Reaper are also used by the Ministry of Defence and US military to attack targets ... the Taranis is expected to provide a prototype of a new kind of bomber that will replace piloted planes and the current drones. 

    Replacing full-sized manned bombers with more than three decades of battle-tested experience is no small feat, and the Taranis, at least this version, isn't terribly large.

    X-47BThe latest specifications have it at about 37 feet long with a 30 foot wingspan and powered by a Rolls-Royce Adour engine, like the U.S. Navy's T-45, and is reported to have a global range. This likely means Taranis is capable of mid-flight refueling as the U.S. Navy's X-47B drone is designed to do as well.

    That autonomous ability with unlimited range is something military planners have been after for a long time both in the UK and here in the U.S.

    Britain' already replacing its Tornado bombers with manned Eurofighter Typhoons built by British Aerospace and it's unlikely they'll be going away anytime soon.

    The Typhoon can simply carry more ordnance. A lot more and when comparing the Taranis' 6,400 pounds of thrust to the Typhoon's 26,000, it's easy to understand why.

    While the drone's weapons need to remain internally stored to maintain its stealth, the Typhoon does not have that concern and can strap the most advanced ordnance to its wings and fuselage.

    In bombs alone the Typhoon carries sis 500 lb Paveway IV, laser guided Paveway II/III/Enhanced bombs, the ability to use U.S. Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) smart bombs, and is equipped to use the upcoming HOPE/HOSBO, high performance penetrator and high performance explosive bombs.

    These laser guided bunker busting bombs will be some of the most powerful in the world and stronger than the U.S. GBU-28. Stronger than that and there's only the U.S. GBU-57, 30,000 pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator that requires a B-2 Bomber to deliver.

    But Taranis already has the shape of the B-2, if it extends its wingspan and capabilities a bit in the future, who knows what the drone will do.

    The Taranis will begin air trials within the next several weeks somewhere in the Australian Outback.

    Below is BAE's Tarani infographic (click to expand).

    Taranis Infographic

    SEE ALSO: The F-8 absolutely ruled the skies over Vietnam >

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    Law Enforcement Drone

    When Congress passed a bill last February allowing unmanned drones to fly American skies it became only a matter of time before UAVs patrolled U.S. cities for local law enforcement.

    While most drones in the U.S. are flown along the Mexican border, the Orange County Sheriff's Office wants to put them over metro Orlando within the next few months. The Greater Orlando metropolitan area is home to more than 2 million residents and is Florida's third largest city.

    Dan Tracy at the Orlando Sentinel reports the local sheriff wants a pair of unarmed UAVs able to record the activities of everyday citizens and criminals alike.

    From the Sentinel:

    Sheriff's spokesman Jeff Williamson ... would not say exactly how the drones would be used, he wrote in an email that they might be deployed when looking for explosives, barricaded suspects and to inspect "hostile/inaccessible terrain" or at train accidents.

    As for civil-rights concerns, Williamson wrote, "The OCSO has the privacy of its citizenry as a foremost concern. The device will only be put into operations on the command of the high risk incident commander."

    The sheriff still needs the County Commission to sign off on the request before it goes to the FAA for approval. The federal agency should have no problem accommodating as it was ordered by Congress to get as many drones as possible into the air by November, and be able to handle 30,000 UAVs by 2020.

    Though Orange County refused to specify which type of drone it would be flying, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department fought to fly Octatron's SkySeer surveillance drone over its jurisdiction in 2006 after a long battle with the city. The manufacturer has since been working closely with law enforcement agencies to coordinate networks and platforms, making it a reasonable choice for the Orlando Sheriff.

    Octatron's SkySeer description:

    SkySeer™ is a lightweight, portable, autonomous-flight UAV designed for single-person operation. It weighs less than five pounds, flies quietly, can be assembled in minutes, and is hand-launched. It has a flight time of 70 minutes and is recoverable through a normal landing or parachute-based vertical landing (optional). GPS coordinates (latitude/longitude) can be programmed into the Ground Control Station so the SkySeer™ can fly to a specific point of interest. The flight path can also be set by pointing and clicking GPS waypoints on the ground controller, giving the operator full control over the UAV’s air-borne activities as well as the operation of its equipment, such as cameras. The video can be recorded to a DVD or Flash media at the ground station. The night version SkySeer™ includes a thermal camera that allows filming in total darkness. A stealth surveillance mission at night at 250’ has been demonstrated. The two-mile range of coverage can be extended using NetWeaver™. Training is required to fly a SkySeer™

    Octatron now offers the SkySeer to any law enforcement office with the proper FAA paperwork. If Orlando does go with that model it should be convenient, as the company's sales office is listed down the road in St. Petersburg, Florida.

    SEE ALSO: The F-8 fighter absolutely ruled the skies over Vietnam >

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    Russian Warship Smetlivyi

    After nearly two years of conflict and 117,000 displaced Syrians the UPI reports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his family may have left the country to live aboard a warship manned by Russian security.

    UPI cites an unconfirmed Al-Watan report that claims Assad's family is somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea and that the now semi-deposed president travels back to the country by helicopter for meetings and receptions.

    Al-Watan is not the most reliable source. The fact their report is unavailable, and also unconfirmed by UPI,  leaves a heavy doubt lingering over the Assad offshore family charter. But, we've seen Syrian news downplayed before when nobody on the ground was able to "confirm" reports to the satisfaction of many Western news outlets. Every policy think tank expert in the world has an opinion on how the Syrian crisis will end, before it does, this is one possibility that slipped out through UPI:

    When [Assad] flies to his embattled country, the president lands at undisclosed locations and is transported to the presidential palace under heavy guard, the sources said. The Russian-guarded warship provides a safe environment for Assad, who has lost confidence in his own security detail, the report said.

    Assad's presence on the warship suggests he has been granted political asylum by Russia but there has been no official comment from Moscow, the newspaper said. Assad's presence on the ship could be a sign of looming negotiations on the conflict in Syria, the report said.

    While negotiations continue stumbling toward a beginning, Assad can take little comfort in the rebels growing proficiency with surface-to-air missiles. Regardless of where he is, Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) have been appearing with great frequency among rebel forces and it only takes one shot to take down a helicopter flying in off the coast. 

    Even if Assad is taking comfort in the balmy Mediterranean breezes offshore, that long helicopter ride back into the country would be pretty tense.

    SEE ALSO: The F-8 was America's greatest weapon over Vietnam >

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    F-14 Tomcat

    The F-14 Tomcat may be the most pined for military aircraft of a generation. When talking to senior Navy officers we've heard more than once how some admiral is always going on about how much they miss flying the F-14.

    They say the F-18 just doesn't compare; the newer Hornet lacks the '14's power, maneuverability and apparently it's simply a whole lot less fun to fly. One officer laughed and told us her admiral goes on about the "F-14 days, like a little girl."

    It's nothing new;  those first couple thousand flight hours in a fighter likely fail to ever compare with anything else. Perhaps they can't, because the generation before the Tomcat, who flew the F-8 say, the exact same thing about "their" jet.

    The F-14 was the first in the America's series of 'Teen Fighters.'

    The Tomcat was developed to challenge decades of competition with Russia's MiGs.

    It was a supersonic, twin engine, duel seated beast of the skies.

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    Senior Pentagon officials told Congress the nation's largest conventional bomb, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), is ready for action.

    The Air Force said as much back in June after rushing the MOP back to Boeing for $82 million in modifications and enhancements, but this report puts it on the books as deployable ordnance.

    According to Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio, on his annual report, the Pentagon’s director of operational testing Michael Gilmore confirmed that tests conducted with the heavy GBU-57, a 20-foot long, 30,000 pound GPS-guided bomb thought able to penetrate 200 feet of concrete before exploding, have demonstrated that the redesigned bomb is able to hit and destroy deeply buried targets.

    The enhanced MOP features tail-fin modifications to fix bugs identified in testings as well as as a second fuse to destroy hardened underground targets.

    MOPGilmore’s report says that the modifications were tested with five bomb drops from a B-2 stealth bomber on the White Sands Missile Range, conducted between June and October, and two ground tests.

    The Pentagon tells us the B-2 is the only platform in the U.S. Air Force inventory able to carry and release its heaviest bomb, even if B-52s were used in previous tests.

    The MOP is the bomb experts believe Israel needs if it wants to de-rail Iran's nuclear program for any length of time. While our Mid-East ally has a fresh supply of GBU-28 bunker busters, they are one-sixth the size and far less capable.

    The MOP might actually be the only conventional bomb to best Iran's concrete technology, which is perhaps the most advanced in the world. The country lies on a very active seismic fault, making earthquakes a part of Iranian life. In response, Tehran's concrete industry has developed Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC) doped with quartz and poured under the country's own high-demand blend of international codes.

    This is the stuff military planners and field officers think of when they cite the MOP's 200-foot concrete penetration capability; and why the already super-capable Boeing bomb was sent back to the drawing board for additional work in the first place.

    Now the military will need to prove it's capable of besting the advanced designs of the world's most secure military bunkers, and that will take more than just a better bomb.


    SEE ALSO: America's cherished F-14 Tomcat was only sold to its current Mid-East enemy >

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    With its global economy and ostensible reform, China gets a pretty good rap — but just when the Communist country seems not so bad, a video like this pops up.

    Max Fisher at The Washington Post points to this the German TV video that appears to show a young man being abducted for sharing his on-camera support of the reformist newspaper Southern Weekly.

    From The Post:

    The ... paper is known to be more open than most Chinese media outlets, which tend to be tightly controlled by the Community Party. But when the paper’s editors protested that a Communist Party official had rewritten a New Year’s editorial calling for political reform into a propaganda piece for the party, the news set off a public backlash, with street demonstrations, Internet protests that blew up into a larger debate in China about media censorship.

    Video below:

    SEE ALSO: There Isn't A Fighter Pilot Alive That Doesn't Wish They Still Flew The F-14 Tomcat >

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    In case you missed it, the air quality issue in Beijing is no joke; playing out like a scene from some 20th century environmental disaster novel. Flights are cancelled, roads are blocked with pile-ups, and emergency rooms are packed with residents gasping for air like doomed carp pulled from a local lake.

    Pictures of Beijing and its thick bank of poisonous cloud/fog cover have been circulating for a few days, but these just released photos from NASA's Terra satellite offer a perspective seen nowhere else. 

    With its immense population driving a vital economy, China's under no illusion about the seriousness of the situation. Factories are already ordered to scale back emissions, which means production, and workers are getting sick from their commute.

    Seen from here in New York, knee-deep in earnings season, with Wall Street wondering how many iPhones China will buy in the coming months, the pictures tell a startling story. If China can't continue burning the fossil fuels and crop stubble it's enjoyed getting where it is today, it could mean a genuine shift in its economic drive.

    The shots progress from clear skies with lingering smog and haze on the ground, to dense cloud cover filled with the yellow/gray tint of air pollution. The metric ratings and toxins levels are explained here by NASA, but at its peak Beijing was breathing air three times more toxic than what's "hazardous to all humans."

    Jan 3 Beijing Pollution

    Jan 14 Beijing pollution

    Beijing Pollution Compared

    Jan 14 Beijing pollution close

    SEE ALSO: Only one Mid-East country owns dozens of America's beloved F-14 Tomcats >

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    F-15 EagleFrom the moment the F-15 first tore into the sky, it had one single-minded goal — to be the best.

    Total air superiority over any other aircraft it encountered was only half of it; Air Force planners also demanded an air-to-ground ability for getting in and out of hot locations, delivering its full compliment of bombs.

    A lofty project whose design phase rejected 500 concepts, most carrying too much weight and power. The Air Force needed to the F-15 to be punchy, but nimble.

    As a result the jet wound up flying circles around its contemporary opponent, the Mig-25, which succumbed to the weight and power burden the Air Force rejected.

    The F-15 was introduced in 1976 and over its lifetime, as technology caught up with military demand, the F-15 was in a bit of a sweet spot as its modifications and upgrades crystallized into a unique modern fighter.

    Designed originally starting in 1967, the McDonnell F-15 Eagle had one basic purpose: air superiority.

    In total, more than 1,200 F-15s of all variations saw service with several countries; Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan and others.

    How could you not want to get in on this action — not the fastest by a long shot, but by far the most maneuverable aircraft in the skies.

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    Heartbreakers Williston Strip Club

    Early last year in Williston there had been too much attention focused on the local gentlemen's clubs for any strippers to talk with me about what they earned, but apparently that's changed.

    John Eligon from The New York Times just visited the North Dakota boomtown and one visiting dancer says she often earns more than $1,000 a night. That may be a conservative estimate as word last year was dancers were making two to three times that amount, but club owners were concerned with IRS attention and prohibited employees from speaking to the press.

    With nearly two men for every woman, tension and opportunity often run high. Eligon tells the story of a local 22-year-old woman bar patron offered $7,000 for a few hours of nude cocktail service. The five guys making the offer just wanted to spice up their mixed martial arts viewing, anything to cut the monotony, lack of women, and long hours in the fields.

    Back in New York last year Williston resident Kelsey Nehring contacted me offering insight into what working at one of the strip clubs, and her life, was like. She sent most of the following pictures.

    Life is not all smiles and strippers, Kelsey says

    And for the guys, it's a lot of dancing alone at the local bars

    She said she starts every day with these three things

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    David Cenciotti The Aviationist Business Insider Military & Defense

    Military writing is a detail-focused beat that can quickly humble the best writers, peppering days with ego-crushing blows and the need to believe not everyone knows more than they do. 

    The good military writers stand out no matter where they're from, and among the best and most cited is David Cenciotti who runs The Aviationist site out of Rome, Italy.

    Dave is the guy who intuited the design of the stealth Blackhawk that went down in bin Laden's Abbottabad compound and exposed a secret U.S. war in Africa simply as a matter of course. An Italian Air Force 2nd Lt., Dave's constantly deployed to European bases where his network and readership includes people with skill-sets I can't even imagine.

    After nearly a year watching BI Military & Defense grow, and having cited his expertise innumerable times, Dave recently reached out asking how to join the Military & Defense team.

    What we carved out for him is our first and only featured contributor position. The Aviationist now has its own section within Defense, and his latest posts will be prominent on the main Defense page so there's little chance of missing his work.

    Without sounding like a bunch of gushing schoolgirls, we're genuinely excited for him to join us in bringing interesting and readable military news to our growing and excellent readership.

    Dave writes a lot for a guy with another full-time gig. He's written four books, is quoted in Rolling StoneWired's Danger Room, Gizmodo, BBC, The Guardian, Jalopnik, and countless European magazines, TV shows, and websites— so be sure to check back often for his posts.

    David Cenciotti The Aviationist Business Insider Military & Defense

    Dave took time for an interview as an introduction to our readers:

    BI: What type of aircraft do you fly in the Italian Air Force? What was your coolest moment in the air and your most terrifying?

    DC: I've been in the Italian Air Force slightly more than 2 years as a 2nd Lieutenant. Although I already had earned my "wings" as a private pilot, I did not enlist to become a combat pilot. At that time (1998) I already had a certain experience as a journalist and had written for major aviation magazines in Italy and abroad; then I attended one of the courses at the Air War School in Florence and was later attached to the Italian Air Force Public Information Office.

    As PIO (Public Information Officer) and as a journo, after I left the active service to join the auxiliary force, I had the opportunity to fly with almost all types of fighter jets, cargo planes, and helicopters in the Italian Air Force inventory, including the legendary F-104 Starfighter in which the coolest and scariest moment in an airplane are tied:

    We had just taken off. The F-104, "the missile with a man in it," was literally skyrocketing to the preplanned altitude when the pilot in the front seat brought the engine throttle back. The aircraft reacted with an abrupt reduction of speed (as if we had extended the air brakes), no noise could be heard and the first thing that I thought was that we were experiencing an engine stall and would have to eject!

    [The full account of that flight can be found here:]

    BI:I was stationed in Italy from 2000 to 2003 and met many Italian servicemembers. How would you describe the Italian military today?

    DC:The Italian military struggles to remain efficient in times of global financial crisis and ever-shrinking budgets. Earlier this year a Spending Review was presented by the Defense Minister of the Monti technocratic cabinet, a reform that seeks to balance the spending for personnel, operations and investment to ensure the future financial sustainability and operational effectiveness of the armed forces.  

    In simple words the austerity plan is made of cuts to personnel and programs with the long-term goal to cover the personnel spending with half the allocated budget (worth 0.9 percent of the GDP). The remainder will be shared by operations (including training and maintenance) and procurement (25 percent each) of advanced technologies.

    Therefore, along with the reduction by 43,000 people to abate the current 70 percent of the overall defense budget for spending on military personnel, the review has led to the revision of some important programs, first of all, the much criticized F-35 program, whose figures were cut by more than 30 percent.

    BI: How important is it for pilots to be technically knowledgeable about their aircraft?David Cenciotti The Aviationist Business Insider Military & Defense

    DC:Deep knowledge of their aircraft, systems, and equipment could save our lives in case of failure or when facing an enemy in combat. Most modern planes are complex weapon systems: pilots have to focus on information management, rather than worrying about “flying the aircraft.” For this reason, the new generation’s fighter pilots are more System Administrators who need to know how to manage the sometimes overwhelming amount of data their aircraft make available, rather than iconic Top Gun pilots.

    Indeed, with previous generations of fighters, flying the airplane required 80 percent of the pilot’s effort. With modern planes, the basic handling is quite simple and represents no more than 20 percent of the workload — they almost fly autonomously. But management of sensors and data they provide can be quite demanding, requiring specific skills and training.

    BI:  How do you balance your "regular job" with writing and being The Aviationist?

    DC: I've been an aviation journalist since I was 21, but writing has been a passion from my grade school years. In the last few years I've only become much faster at writing and editing my articles and pictures than I was earlier. I don't have much free time, so I have to use it as efficiently as possible.

    The majority of what you read on The Aviationist is written in the evening (European time), after dinner, in front of the TV, when I manage to write up to 4 or 5 articles for the next day, and over the weekend, when I prepare and schedule several blog posts for the coming weeks.

    Although I've written 90 percent of the blog posts, I have some contributors who send me pitches and upload articles that I usually only need to edit a little before they can be published. A big help comes from readers and subscribers as well as Facebook and Twitter followers who regularly bring interesting links, images and comments to my attention. Thanks to such heads-ups (that have been growing alongside the blog's fame) I spend less time looking for interesting stuff.

    Along with a solid technical background I have an insight, more than once, that has helped me in "connecting the dots" to write about something interesting well before the rest of the military and defense writers.

    Last but not least, I'm basically an aviation and technology geek and I know what other enthusiasts like me may like.  

    I often wonder how my life would change if I were a full-time blogger instead of an Information Security professional. Who knows, maybe if the proper opportunity comes, one day I'll be able to answer this question too.

     BI:  How would you describe your readership?

    David Cenciotti The Aviationist Business Insider Military & DefenseDC:  I've a loyal and large community made of expert readers: pilots, historians, aircraft spotters and enthusiasts who are eager to know more and more in-depth. More than 30 percent of the readers are based in the U.S.; the rest come from the U.K., Italy, Canada, France, Germany, Australia and the rest of the world. 

    BI: Ok, we're almost done. One last (three part) business question: What's your choice for the best Italian aircraft ever made, the best fighter jet in the air today, and the best American fighter ever?

    DC: I think that the best period for Italian aviation was on the eve of WWII, when Italian pilots led Italian planes to fly higher and faster than anyone in the world.

    Indeed, just before the outbreak of the war, the then-Regia Aeronautica (Italy's Royal Air Force) was the holder of 33 records out of the 84 foreseen by the International Aeronautical Federation, and Italian aircraft had achieved an enviable reputation. Among the planes borne in that age I think the Macchi Castoldi M.C.72 is among the most interesting. It was an experimental hydroplane that set a world speed record for internal combustion-powered seaplanes that still stands today.

    Dealing with the best fighter jet in the air today, those I like the most are the F-15E Strike Eagle and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, even if the most modern ones, as the F-22, the F-35 and the European Typhoon and Rafale, are quite interesting as well.

    Based on the export success, the F-4 Phantom and the F-16 Fighting Falcon ("Viper" in the fighter pilots slang) can be considered, if not the best, among the best American fighter jets ever made.

    BI: I know family life is unique and important in Italy, will you tell us a bit about yours? David Cenciotti The Aviationist Business Insider Military & Defense

    DC:  I'm married to Laura and have two kids; Lorenzo, who's 4 years old, and Ludovica, who's about 2 months old (she was born on Oct. 31st, 2012). We live in Rome. We are not the stereotypical Italian "big family" but both my parents and my parents-in-law live in the vicinity and we see them quite often.  

    BI: Nice. OK, and for those of us who've been, or who intend to visit Italy:  Do you have a favorite place in Italy or someplace that people haven't heard of but shouldn't miss?

    DC:  Italy is full of fascinating places. Just think of Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples and the thousand historical sites. These are also the most very well-known places to foreigners.

    However, there are also a lot of less famous places that are worth a visit: the big islands (Sardinia and Sicily), smaller ones (Capri, Ischia, Ponza, Elba), Tuscany and the Alps, and The Salento Peninsula, the so-called "heel" of Italy's boot.

    I like Italy very much, but I've always loved the U.S. (where I've been many times) and have literally fallen in love with Sydney and Australia!

    BI: Awesome. Thanks for taking the time for us, Dave. We'll let you get back to it, and look for your posts.

    DC: Ciao, Robert. Really looking forward to working with you.

    All of Dave's work at BI will be found here: 

    David Cenciotti The Aviationist Business Insider Military & Defense

    SEE ALSO: The Pentagon's 30,000 pound MOP bomb is ready to go >

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