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The latest news from Robert Johnson on Business Insider

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    After a cross-country road trip last month that left many Americans believing the government was hauling around a UFO, Northrop Grumman's X-47B took its first East Coast flight July 29 at Patuxent River, Md.


    After several weeks of preparation the X-47B took to the Maryland skies at 11 a.m. for a 35 minute flight that took it out over Chesapeake Bay. Climbing to 7,500 feet the stealth drone hit an airspeed of 207 mph before returning to the naval base for a successful landing.


    The X-47B is slated to be the Navy's first fully integrated aircraft carrier drone and Patuxent River is home to a simulated carrier center that will allow for controlled testing before letting the drone pound a flight deck at sea.

    Also in the running for supplying the Navy with its first fleet of carrier drones, Lockheed Martin did not sit idly by while the Grumman's craft grabbed all the attention and released its firs partial artist image of its Sea Ghost drone aboard a US carrier.

    Sea Ghost

    Now: Check out the drones of the future >

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    Chinese Destroyer

    There is some controversy and debate about China's first foray into the Black Sea.

    On the surface two Chinese vessels have entered the inland sea just days after the conclusion of the 2012 Sea Breeze exercises, for the first time ever, according to Radio Free Europe.

    The Sea Breeze exercises included 1,500 troops from 16 countries, including the U.S., Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Algiers, Belgium, Georgia, Israel, Canada, Moldova, Germany, Sweden, Portugal, Turkey and concluded July 21.

    China's "Qingdao" destroyer, with guided missiles, and the "Yantai" patrol boat entered the sea on July 31 at the request of Ukraine.

    The two ships will reportedly part ways, with the patrol boat docking at Romania and the destroyer staying at Ukraine's port of Sevastopol until August 4.

    The news of the destination comes after reports that the same Chinese ships passed through the Suez canal on July 27. 

    The Global Times reports the Qingdao and the Yantai were in the Suez teaching sailors the process of navigating the canal under the guidance of experienced Egyptian sailors.

    Al Arabiya reports the Suez crossing outraged the Syrian opposition who say Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood does not have the right to control traffic in the strategically vital Suez.

    The Syrian opposition forces are convinced the ships carried arms to be used against them, but the Chinese maintain the ships are delivering commodities to the Ukraine.

    The Daily News out of Egypt offers even more speculation on the crossing and the ships involved >

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    loading platform dock ship lpd

    Able to carry 800 Marines and their gear anyplace they need to go — the San Antonio Class Amphibious Transport Dock is vital for projecting U.S. forces abroad: but they don't come cheap.

    The newest vessel will cost American taxpayers about $1.5 billion and is designed to be the the most survivable amphibious assault ship ever designed.

    While the Defense Department's director of evaluations doesn't agree, and thinks the ship's critical systems aren't reliable, and the ship will crumble against an attack — it didn't stop the Pentagon from purchasing one more — last week.

    Given the ship's weighty cost and its debatable abilities we thought we'd take a look at what the Pentagon's getting for the taxpayers' dollars.

    The Navy's six active San Antonio-class amphibious Landing Platform Dock ships are an integral part of the Navy's future

    The flight deck holds up to four Sea Knight helicopters that together can transport 100 troops or 28,000 pounds of cargo

    The second LPD to hit the seas was christened the USS Green Bay and its flight deck is called "Lambeau Field" after the Packers stadium

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

    Gearing up for Iran's annual "Qods Day", a nationwide event dedicated to expressing outrage against Israel, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad posted a speech to his website saying world forces must work together to annihilate Israel.

    Joanna Paraszczuk at The Jerusalem Post reports Ahmadinejad followed that up by telling ambassadors from Islamic countries that a "horrible Zionist current" has been directing global policies for "about 400 years."

    From The Jerusalem Post

    Repeating traditional anti-Semitic slurs, the Iranian president accused "Zionists" of controlling the world's media and financial systems. It was Zionists, he said, who were “behind the scene of the world’s main powers, media, monetary and banking centers.” 

    "They are the decision makers, to the extent that the presidential election hopefuls [of the USA] must go and kiss the feet of the Zionists to ensure their election victory,” he added. Ahmadinejad added that "liberating Palestine" would solve all the world's problems, although he did not elaborate on exactly how that might work.

    Qods Day, or Jerusalem Day, was established as a national holiday in 1979 and sees massive crowds condemning Israel and the U.S. government with chants of "Death to Israel" and "Death to America."

    Ahmadinejad has called the holocaust a myth and last invited Israel's annihilation in 2005 when he said it should be "wiped off the page of time."

    The president added:  "Anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the way for world justice and freedom.”

    Israel is concerned Iran may develop nuclear capabilities and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Israeli's Prime Minister Wednesday that the use of force against Tehran remains an active possibility.

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    uss virginia

    The USS Virginia-class submarines are the United State's newest and most advanced submarine.

    The first Virginia slipped beneath the waves just eight years ago and  only nine vessels have been completed.

    They take more than five years to build and run about $2.4 billion apiece.

    Here, we look at the Virginia class of submarines from stern to bow, finding out what makes these ships unique.

    We'll start in the engine room, move our way over the reactor, through the barracks to the command center and down into the torpedo room. 

    The Virginia-class submarine is a new breed of high-tech post-Cold War nuclear subs

    The submarines are nearly 400 feet long and have been in service since 2003

    The ships were designed to function well in both deep sea and low-depth waters

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    While the world went back and forth about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in 2002, Saddam Hussein was planning for the worst and did all he could to acquire a batch of Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles.

    Say what you will about Saddam Hussein, but the man had a pretty well-defined sense of self-preservation and knew the S-300s were all that stood between him and spending his final days in a "spider hole."

    Perhaps thinking it's staring down a similar fate as Iraq, Iran has been doing everything it can to acquire the same missiles in the hope of developing the ability to thwart any potential attacks.

    Tehran actually pinned down a deal to buy the highly capable missiles from Russia in 2007, but then president Dmitry Medvedev quashed the deal three years later citing UN sanctions prohibiting the exchange.

    Iran obviously disagreed with the decision and took Russian defense contractor Rosoboronexport to international arbitration court in Geneva last April, and sued them for $900 million.

    The court sided with Iran and not only granted it their requested damages, but tacked on another $4 billion fine for good measure.

    Iran doesn't want the money so much as it wants those S-300s, and has now come out saying it'll forget all about the $4 billion if Russia simply agrees to fulfill its original contract.

    The S-300 is the best anti-ballistic missile, anti-aircraft ordnance Russia has to offer and has enjoyed nearly 50 years of improvements and modifications. They're what China has lined up along the no-nonsense Taiwan Strait.

    They're very effective, very hard to jam, and very difficult to stop. They're reputed to be one of the most advanced "multi-target anti-aircraft missile systems in the world ... [with] a reported ability to track up to 100 targets simultaneously while engaging up to 12 at the same time."

    If Iran's acquisition of the S-300s didn't put the brakes on a possible attack scenario, it would certainly send military planners back to the drawing board to reconsider any eventual attack scenarios.

    Forgiving the $4 billion may not be enough to spur Russia's desire to do the deal, but if it actually finds itself abandoning its Syrian base in Tartus all bets may be off.

    Ilya Arkhipov at Bloomberg reports a Russian Think Tank believes that if Syria falls to the opposition, the Kremlin may be prompted to give Iran what it wants.

    Russia is nearly as reluctant to see an attack on Iran as Tehran, and will likely do what it can to keep that from happening.

    In the meantime, the pressure is building within Iran as a new round of deep and biting sanctions received approval from House and Senate negotiators Monday.

    None of this is good news for the Iranian people who are already struggling to maintain their way of life and put a decent meal on the table.

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    Naval Mine

    Iran has been threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz since last year and a new book out by David Crist offers insight into why those threats should to be taken seriously.

    Tony Capaccio at Bloomberg reports Crist has little doubt the Iranians would mine the narrow strait through which nearly 40 percent of the world's oil passes, as a "last resort", when "all else fails."

    Its inventory of mines, many of the type laid during the 1980s against Iraq and international shipping, has grown to more than 5,000, Crist wrote. Let’s just say they have enough resources and forces to do it if they set their mind to” attempt a disruption, Crist said. “That’s provided that there’s no international effort to stop it, which I think there would be,” he said.

    Disrupting shipping has been on their minds for a long time, Crist said. During a September 1987 attack on the Iran Ajr vessel after it laid mines to disrupt shipping in the Gulf, U.S. Navy Seals discovered a war plan to close the Strait, approved in 1984 and called “Ghadir,” Crist writes in his book. A class of Iranian midget submarines -- another potential threat to shipping in the Gulf -- uses the same name, taken from Ghadir Khumm, an Islamic holy place in modern-day Saudi Arabia. 

    Not just the Pentagon is taking the possibility of a mine ridden strait seriously, 19 other countries are lined up to join the U.S. for the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012. An 11 day exercise beginning in mid-September that will use eight of the Navy's minesweeping ships and unmanned Seafox submarines to perform exercises identical to what they would if the strait were mined with live explosives.

    Iranian mines damaged U.S. ships in both 1987 and 1988, so most at the Pentagon probably understand it could certainly happen again.


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    arrow missile

    Iran's possible nuclear program is dominating news from the Middle-East because Israel knows if it perfects a thermonuclear device, Tehran likely has the ability to deliver it aboard some of its current missiles.

    Israel thinks this is too great a threat for it to allow.

    The Jewish state has worked with the U.S. over the years to develop a pretty comprehensive missile defense system and we've outlined a rough version of it here, along with Iran's biggest threats.

    While Israel's system strives to be fully comprehensive in its defense, if any of Iran's rockets were strapped with a nuclear device — or if Iran could hand deliver a device into Israel — none of this preparation would mean much at all.

    The homemade Qassam rocket has already been sent into Israel

    The Qassam rocket is typically manufactured by Palestinian militants and fired into Israel without advanced guidance capabilities. They cost an estimated $800 each. 

    They're a very, very basic type of missile, propelled by a solid mixture of potassium nitrate fertilizer mixed with sugar. The warhead is typically scavenged TNT or urea nitrate. They have no guidance mechanism beyond aiming, and an estimated 2,048 were fired into Israel in 2008. 

    Grad missiles have killed 22 people since 2000

    Since 2006, Hamas has been lobbing ex-Soviet 122mm Grad missile into Israel. The missiles are likely copies imported from Iran or China, brought into the Gaza strip from tunnels to Egypt

    These rockets have a range of 20 kilometers, but are typically fired from a moving launcher, greatly expanding their abilities. 

    The Grad rockets, with the improvised Qassam rockets, have caused some of the most pain in Israel, claiming the lives of 22 citizens since 2000.  

    The Sejjil missile is capable of striking Tel Aviv, Israel

    Tel Aviv, Israel is roughly 1,600 kilometers from Tehran, Iran. That, for all intent and purposes, is the magic number here; a central point in Iran to a central point in Israel is roughly 1,600 km. These are the ballistic missiles that can allegedly make that trip. 

    The Sejjil missile is a solid-fueled Iranian surface-to-surface missile that is roughly 58 feet long and can travel between 2000 and 2500 kilometers, bringing Israel well within its range. 

    That missile is strikingly similar to the Iranian Ashoura missile, with an alleged range of 2,000 km. That medium ranged ballistic missile has been in service since November 1997. 

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Black Brant Missile

    In the 67 years since the first nuclear weapon was used, there is only one time the so-called nuclear briefcases were broken out and opened up, and on January 25, 1995 they nearly launched Russia's nuclear arsenal at the United States.

    When Norwegian Kolbjørn Adolfsen gave the nod to send a Black Brant rocket from the Andøya Rocket Range off the northwest coast of Norway to study the aurora borealis, he wasn't concerned at all.

    Sure the Brant is a large, four-stage rocket that would fly to 930 miles above the earth near Russia, but he'd contacted the proper Kremlin authorities and hadn't given the flight a second thought.

    What Adolfsen didn't know when he left the rocket base shortly after the missile was launched, is that the Brant's radar signature looks just like a U.S. sub-launched Trident missile.

    The radar operators at Russia's Olenegorsk early warning station promptly reported the incoming missile to their superiors, but not a soul on duty within the military had been notified of Adolfsen's plans.

    The officers at Olenegork believed it could be the first leg of a U.S. nuclear attack.

    Four years after the Berlin Wall came down and Russia was in the throes of change, stable systems had been demolished and replacements had yet to fall into place. One thing that had gotten only more developed since 1991, however, was the Kremlin's mistrust of the United States.

    So as the Brant streaked its way near Russian airspace, military officers had to decide if this was an electro-magnetic pulse attack that would disable their radar and allow for a full on American attack, and what they should do about it.

    The matter was decided when the Brant separated, dropped one of its engines, and fired up another. The radar signature now looked so much like a multiple re-entry vehicle (MRV), a missile carrying multiple nuclear warheads, that military officers no longer had any doubt.

    There were now five minutes during which the missile's trajectory would be un-tracked by Russian radar, and when it could strike Moscow; a slice of time that was devoted to deciding whether to launch a counterattack.

    Boris Yeltsin was alerted, and immediately given the Cheget, the "nuclear briefcase" that connects senior officials while they decide whether or not to launch Russia's nuclear weapons. Nuclear submarine commanders were ordered to full battle alert and told to stand by.

    Apparently Yeltsin doubted the U.S. would launch a surreptitious attack and within five minutes, Russian radar came back confirming the missile was heading harmlessly out to sea.

    Russian citizens didn't find about about the incident for weeks, and of course it's been reported in the U.S. news since. But the event never achieved the renown of the Cuban Missile Crisis, though it seems to have brought us even closer to the brink of nuclear war. 

    We thought it an interesting enough story to tell again.

    Now: Step aboard the Navy's $2.4 billion Virginia-class nuclear submarine >

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    Control of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency has been in the hands of the Army since Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983. And while recent events aren't entirely to blame for sending control of the agency to the Navy, they haven't helped.

    It started in early July when a Defense Department report surfaced accusing Army Lt. General Patrick O'Reilly of abusing his staff so ferociously that they were afraid to voice even the mildest opinion.

    O'Reilly had been in charge of the Missile Defense Agency since 2008, and the report was made public after three complaints were issued against him. Only then did the paperwork fall under the auspices of a Freedom of Information request.

    Reuters found that the general's "yelling and screaming" was a factor in many individuals' decisions to leave the agency.

    Even then O'Reilly may have escaped real damage, but there followed accusations by Army Secretary John McHugh that the general lied to Congress about the morale of his staff. This sent a new investigation O'Reily's way, one coming straight from the Pentagon's inspector general.

    Within days the Missile Defense Agency was warned by the Pentagon that its staff and contractors needed to stop using the MDA's computers for pornography.

    From Bloomberg:

    “Specifically, there have been instances of employees and contractors accessing websites, or transmitting messages, containing pornographic or sexually explicit images,” James wrote in the July 27 memo obtained by Bloomberg News.

    “These actions are not only unprofessional, they reflect time taken away from designated duties, are in clear violation of federal and DoD regulations, consume network resources and can compromise the security of the network though the introduction of malware or malicious code,” he wrote.

    Then on August 6, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that Navy Rear Admiral James D. Syring was tapped for promotion to the rank of Vice Admiral and Directorship of the Missile Defense Agency—the first time the agency will not be led by an Army officer in history.

    To be fair, the Navy holds 28 ballistic missile Aegis ships that provide a wide area of missile coverage across the globe. Combined with the fact that many ranking military officials believe diversity at the helm of the MDA is long overdue, and perhaps it makes sense for the Navy to assume the lead.

    No word yet on O'Reily's fate, but becoming the Army general who lost control of the MDA to the Navy is undoubtedly a career cramping note in his file.

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    Afghan Protest

    In February of this year American troops working at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan burned dozens of their prisoners Korans.

    Though the Taliban was quick to use the event to inspire locals to kill U.S. troops, it now appears the Islamist militant movement burns Korans as well.

    Though it is the holy book of Islam, U.S. troops at Bagram prison found inmates were scribbling coded messages to one another in the books margins and destroyed them.

    Afghan outrage was immense and sparked protests throughout the country; calling into question U.S. policy and troop performance. The Taliban was quick to funnel the fury into attacks on U.S. servicemembers and two were killed, and four more injured in the days that followed.

    Khaama Press from Afghanistan now reports the Taliban are not above burning Korans either when it furthers their agenda. In this case, the agenda was burning a local school to the ground in northeastern Nuristan province

    When Taliban militants razed the school they burned various Muslim religious texts and 300 Korans.

    Locals were equally as outraged as when the Americans had committed the affront, with 500 locals taking to the streets in protest.

    The protests were likely shorter lived, however, as the province is said to be in terror since the Taliban returned earlier this year.

    Hat tip to our friend Doctrine Man.

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    After years of development and a string of delays, Northrop Grumman hauled the Army's Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) from its hangar and let it sail into the New Jersey sky yesterday.

    As technology and desire finally collide in the military's hunt for a next-generation blimp, the 90-minute test flight was a milestone the Army is eager to expand upon in its drive to get the LEMV downrange.

    By early next year, the blimp is supposed to be lingering over the Afghan countryside for weeks at a time. The Army expects the LEMV to be communicating among multiple battlefield elements, with or without a crew of 12 to 24, and be capable of hauling seven tons of cargo 2,400 miles at speeds up to 30 mph.

    While definitely an impressive technological feat, not everyone is a fan of the LEMV. Mark Jones at Market Info Group sees the limitations of the LEMV far outweighing the blimp's abilities.

    Jones points out the LEMV is a low altitude craft that can't float above 25,000 feet, is vulnerable to weather and limited by the height of the Hindu Kush mountains. The Afghan mountain range has two dozen peaks higher than 20,000 feet.

    Jones also points out much of the country is thousands-of-feet above sea level already, bringing the LEMV's soaring altitude even closer to the ground where it will be vulnerable to attack.

    Those considerations will face the LEMV in the future, but for now Grumman and the Army are no doubt enjoying their success. 

    The blimp's first manned flight yesterday at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., was a success and Northrop Grumman spokesperson John Cummings says "all objectives were met".

    Below are additional pictures of the LEMV from Northrop Grumman:



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    Israeli F-15s

    Israel has only a handful of flight paths it can use to bomb Iran's alleged nuclear sites, and one of those is off the table after Saudi Arabia vowed to take down any Israeli jet flying its airspace.

    The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reports the message was passed through senior U.S. officials in Jerusalem and came straight from Riyadh.

    The paper also reports that Israeli officials firmly believe the threat is part of an American plan to thwart a lone Israeli strike, and the the U.S. could certainly persuade the Saudis to open their airspace if it chose to do so.

    Regardless, military experts have been saying for months an Israeli air strike would be a very elaborate affair involving more than 100 planes, from jets to re-fueling tankers, over 1,000 miles to strike eight Iranian targets.

    CNN published a map outlining four possible routes Israel would have to use to perform the mission:

    • One has Israel flying over the Mediterranean Sea, through Turkish airspace and into Iran
    • The second has Israel flying over Jordan, though Iraqi airspace and into Iran (the most direct route)
    • The third over Saudi Arabia and into Iran
    • And the fourth, and by far the longest, around Saudi Arabia, over the Arabian Sea, and into Iran from the south
    Another possibility floated by David Cenciotti at The Aviationist has Israel using Azerbaijan airfields from which to launch an attack. Though he admits it an unlikely scenario, Cenciotti took a close look at Azeri airfields using Google earth and poses some interesting possibilities that are definitely worth checking out.

    The New York Times believes the most likely route is the one over Jordan, the most direct and requiring the least amount of re-fueling. It's believed the Israelis are short of the tankers they need to keep their jets in the air for the longer flights, so this makes sense.

    If the Times and its array of experts are correct, then this warning from the Saudis may not mean too much at all.


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    As sanctions bite and the average Iranian citizen has a hard time affording even staple food items like chicken, it makes sense there would be growing frustration with the cause of it all: Tehran's nuclear program.

    This graffito was originally posted on the Sepidedam Facebook page, a pro-Mousavi group, and then to Twitter by Golnaz Esfandiari of Radio Free Europe's Iran Blog Persian Letters a few days ago. Clearly it has struck a chord with a lot of people.

    It says: "Nuclear energy, at what price?"

    Iran Graffiti

    From Radio Free Europe:

    Parhizi said he believes that the public protest appears to be a sign of growing discontent over the increasingly difficult life ordinary Iranians are facing as the result of sanctions placed on Iran over its sensitive nuclear activities.

    Last month, Abdollah Nuri, a former interior minister of Iran and a respected reformist cleric, called on political leaders to hold a referendum on the fate of the country's nuclear program. Nouri said that the "ill-effects, disadvantages, and pressure" that Iran is experiencing over its nuclear activities have passed the acceptable limit.

    It's not pretty, or fair, but the sanctions are toughest on the average Iranian trying to make ends meet and take care of a family. The widespread discontent this may cause could be the one thing the U.S. is relying on to bring Iran's nuclear ambitions to a close.

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    The X-47B drone took its first recorded flight in September (video below) and the Navy announced it will be able to refuel itself by 2014. 

    Check out the pictures >

    The move will allow the X-47B to remain in flight well beyond 3,000 nautical miles, a long time, 10 times the ability of a traditional manned fighter. And it will be doing it with no one at the controls.

    Not only will there be no pilot in the cockpit, there won't be one anywhere.

    The drone will be programmed to fly autonomously and W.J. Hennigan at The Los Angeles Times points out this ability may be the first in a  whole new era of military action conducted by independently operating machines.

    The Robot Wars
    These robot weapons will have a human programmed flight plan and the ability to be overridden, but they're already raising some concerns.
    Hennigan talked to computer scientist and robotics pro Noel Sharkey who makes a good point. "Lethal actions should have a clear chain of accountability," Sharkey says. "This is difficult with a robot weapon. The robot cannot be held accountable. So is it the commander who used it? The politician who authorized it? The military's acquisition process? The manufacturer, for faulty equipment?"
    Sharkey sees this as such a big deal he compares it to the development of gas warfare in World War I and the advent of nuclear weapons during World War II.
    Good questions. After all, the X-47B will be doing its own thing for indefinite periods of time. Hennigan points out that while flying, the drone will also conclude what type of weapons it's carrying, decide if it's under a possible threat, when it needs to be refueled, and where to find an aerial tanker.
    The UAV will even perform the Navy's most difficult maneuver and land on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
    As Northrop Grumman's X-47B program manager, Carl Johnson says, "[The X-47B] will do its own math."

    The Navy ordered the X-47B in 2007 and has two in production

    The drone will be completely autonomous, launching and landing from carriers, and refueling in mid-flight

    The X-47B flies at about .45 mach and has a range of up to 3,000 miles

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    All we've been given of Northrop Grumman's X-47B so far are some general specs, a couple of videos and a bunch of pictures

    But the Navy's new stealth drone is meant to do impressive things, which is why the military is so eager to get it aboard its carriers and deploy it around the globe.

    But Grumman released this animated promotional video that gives a better feel for what the next generation drone will be able to accomplish. We see that the drone is capable of aerial refueling, 360 degree rolls, and offensive weapon deployment. 

    It cruises at half the speed of sound, has a wingspan of 62 ft, and a range of at least 2,400 miles. But we don't need to explain, the video does it so much better. Enjoy.


    Now, check out the next generation of military drones >

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    The X-47B, unmanned carrier drone, took its first recorded flight in September (video below) and the Navy just announced it's adding refueling capabilities to the aircraft by 2014.

    David Ax, at Wired, reports the move will allow the X-47B to remain in flight well beyond 3,000 nautical miles — 10 times the ability of a traditional manned fighter.

    This will also put U.S. aircraft carriers outside the reach of, say, China's 'carrier-killing' ballistic missiles and submarines.

    Getting rid of the fighter pilot is a huge boost to efficiency and the Navy will begin carrier trials on the USS George Washington in 2013.

    The X-47B's manufacturer, Northrop Grumman also received contracts to modify long-range Global Hawks to serve as refueling tankers. When those aircraft come online, the entire process will be conducted with no pilot at all.

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    principe de austrias aircraft carrier

    Despite aircraft carriers immense cost, the Navy believes there is no replacing a well-armed, aircraft equipped, sovereign piece of U.S. territory, powered by dual nuclear reactors.

    Former Defense Secretary William Cohen was fond of saying that without "flattops" the U.S. has "less of a voice, less of an influence."

    Perhaps, but there is another school of thought that questions the wisdom of floating something that expensive within range of an attack that may send it to the bottom of the sea.

    Despite which group you fall into, carriers are likely here to stay as the U.S. works to replace its aging fleet with the new Ford class carriers and China builds up a fleet of its own. We thought we'd take a look at the carriers each country has in service today.

    The NAe São Paulo was bought by Brazil for $12 million from France in 2000

    Length: 869 ft

    Commissioned: 2000

    Carries: 39 aircraft including A-4 Skyhawks and S-70B Seahawk helicopters

    Crew: 1,920 seamen 

    Propulsion System: 6 boilers, 4 steam turbines, 2 propellers

    History: For an absolute bargain price of $12 million, for a naval flagship, the São Paulo was bought by Brazil to upgrade their ailing fleet.

    Originally launched in 1959 by France as the Foch, she served in a number of NATO efforts all around the world.

    Since the transfer to Brazil, she underwent an upgrade from 2005 to 2010 and has been stocked with S-70B Seahawk helicopters and A-4 Skyhawks, the latter bought from Kuwait. 

    The INS Viraat was Britain's flagship in the Falklands War before being sold to India

    Length: 743 ft

    Commissioned: 1987

    Carries: Up to 30 aircraft, including the Sea Harrier and the Sea King

    Crew: Maximum 2,100 crew. Typically 1,207 sailors and 143 airmen

    Propulsion System: 4 boilers, 2 steam turbines

    History: India purchased the HMS Hermes from England in 1986, renaming it the INS Viraat after a series of upgrades and modifications. The Viraat has been refitted to last for another 20 years while India builds its own aircraft carriers. 

    As the Hermes, the ship was the Royal Navy Flagship during the 1982 Falklands war 

    The Cavour is one of Italy's two aircraft carriers and will host the F-35 JSF

    Length: 735 ft

    Commissioned: 2008

    Carries: 20-30 aircraft, including the Harrier combat jet. 

    Crew: 451 crew, 203 airmen, 140 command staff and 325 Marines.  

    Propulsion System: 2 gas turbines, 6 diesel generators

    History: Launched in 2004, the Cavour's first mission was an aid mission to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

    The Cavour  will be eventually be stocked with the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, replacing the aging Harriers. It has room for ten F-35Bs in the hanger and six on the deck.

    The F-35B is the version of the jet with a short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    US Special Forces

    An Afghan police commander and his men invited at least three U.S. Special Forces soldiers to dinner Thursday to discuss security, and killed them in an apparent ambush.

    Abdul Malik at Reuters reports the police had drawn up a plan to kill the soldiers, shot them, and then fled.

    This may be one of the most striking of what are called "green on blue" shootings, when the Afghans who Americans are tasked to train turn their weapons and target U.S. troops.

    There have been about 28 such attacks this year killing 34 coalition troops, following 35 killed in 21 attacks in 2011.

    Matthew Rosenberg at The New York Times reports the meal was at an outpost and says the number of U.S. troops killed may actually be four.

    Rosenberg also mentions that at least one of the Afghan officers had been working with the Special Forces troops for four years, and that shootings like this may arise from personal disputes, not Taliban infiltration.

    But the Los Angeles Times reports that is not the case in this incident, as the Taliban have claimed responsibility for the killings, and say the gunmen have defected to the insurgency.

    The LA Times goes on to say that the Taliban are calling the police commander a "hero" who brought the militant group his store of weapons, as well.

    Special Forces (SOF) soldiers are commonly used in Afghanistan to train local police. It's a procedure meant to lower the attrition rate of the police force and establish long-term relationships with local law enforcement.

    This is part of a wider U.S. policy that calls for more SOF troops on the ground in Afghanistan as ground troops prepare for withdrawal in 2014.

    There is speculation this plan is in response to the deteriorating situation in Iraq following the U.S. withdrawal, but there is no confirmation on this from the Pentagon.

    Either way the maneuver will leave U.S. soldiers, like these that were killed yesterday, on the ground in Afghanistan well beyond 2014.

    Now: See what life is life for US Sailors and Marines aboard the USS Wasp >

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    Considering the obstacles and resistance the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has encountered, it's no wonder Lockheed Martin is eager to display the jet's accomplishments, and this is a big one.

    A Lockheed statement says: "The milestone marks the start of validating the F-35’s capability to employ precision weapons and allow pilots to engage the enemy on the ground and in the air."

    The Navy explains this F-35 variant is the short take-off and vertical landing model and that it's releasing an inert 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bomb over the Atlantic, while traveling at 460 mph at an altitude of 4,200 feet. The video is below the picture.

    f-35 b lightening bomb drop

    UPDATE: Here's a video of the whole event:

    Now see these awesome pictures of jets breaking the sound barrier >

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