Defense

North Korea has 30 warheads and is quickly expanding its nuclear arsenal

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has expanded to 30 warheads and will grow further as Pyongyang produces increased quantities of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, according to estimates. In just three years, the North’s unpredictable leader, Kim Jong-un, will control sufficient fissile material to double that arsenal to as many as 60 weapons, says the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. To underscore this alarming increase, the U.S. estimated that North Korea owned just one or two nuclear weapons in 1999 and would have 10 or more by 2020, according to a secret Defense Intelligence Agency report obtained by The Washington Times shortly after it had circulated privately last decade. “The bottom line is that North Korea has an improving nuclear weapons arsenal,” said David Albright, founder and director of the Institute for Science and International Security. “The last several years have witnessed a dramatic and overt buildup in North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities.” The numbers show that North Korea is becoming a true nuclear power with the ability to hit its neighbors and, one day, the U.S. Analysts say the North’s objective is simple: Assure the communist state’s, and thus the Kim dynasty’s, survival and coerce U.S. allies South Korea and Japan.

U.S. intercepts 2 Russian bombers off Alaska’s coast

The U.S. military says it intercepted two Russian bombers in international airspace off Alaska’s coast. Navy Commander Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, says a pair of F-22 Raptor aircraft intercepted the Russian TU-95 Bear bombers on Monday. Ross says the intercept was “safe and professional.” North American Aerospace Defense Command monitors air approaches to North America and defends the airspace. Fox News said Tuesday the Russian planes flew within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of Alaska’s Kodiak Island. It said the American jets escorted the Russian bombers for 12 minutes. The bombers then flew back to eastern Russia.

These Russian pilots were just putting their toe in the water…testing boundaries.  Our response was appropriate here.

US drops largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan after Green Beret killed

The U.S. military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on an ISIS tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, a U.S. defense official confirmed to Fox News. The GBU-43B, a 21,000-pound conventional bomb, was deployed in Nangarhar Province. The MOAB — Massive Ordnance Air Blast — is also known as the “Mother Of All bombs.” It was first tested in 2003, but hadn’t been used in combat before Thursday. President Trump told media Thursday afternoon that “this was another successful mission” and he gave the military total authorization. Trump was also asked whether dropping the bomb sends a warning to North Korea. “North Korea is a problem, the problem will be taken care of,” said Trump. The MOAB is so massive it had to be dropped out of the back of a U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane. “We kicked it out the back door,” one U.S. official said…

Nice!!  To read the rest of the story, click on the text above.   🙂

Next job for US Air Force: Space cop?

The United States Air Force may become a sort of space cop in the not-too-distant future. An off-Earth economy cannot truly take off unless moon miners and other pioneering entrepreneurs are able to operate in a safe and stable environment, said Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Schilling, of Air University. “The [U.S.] Navy secures the freedom of action for commerce globally for the good of all humankind, and I think it’s going to take a force very similar to that to provide the predictability and security that the marketplace of space will need,” Schilling said April 4 during a panel discussion at the 33rd National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “I think that would be the role of the United States Air Force moving into the future.” Somebody needs to secure and protect “strategic choke points,” such as lunar ice deposits and gravitationally stable spots near the moon, where spacecraft can camp out without burning fuel, Schilling added. “Fundamentally, I’d like that to be somebody with a value system that reflects the values that I share,” he said. “I believe in the value of individual property rights and the rule of law.” United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno moderated the panel, which featured Schilling, Offworld CEO Jim Keravala, Made In Space CEO Andrew Rush and former NASA astronaut Sandy Magnus, executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The panel focused on how activities in cislunar (Earth-moon) space could help spur the establishment of a sustainable off-Earth economy — the basic idea behind the ULA-led “Cislunar 1,000” plan. “We have a vision: Within just a couple of decades from this moment in time, there will be 1,000 men and women living and working in space permanently,” Bruno said. “As NASA and other people push deeper into deep space to explore, we want to develop the space between here and the moon.” This vision is not so far-fetched, panelists said. Indeed, humanity may have recently reached an inflection point in the quest for off-Earth settlement, thanks to the combination of advancing technology, a glut of investment money and a coalescing community of customers and end users, Keravala said. Some of this technology is pretty high-profile. Made In Space is already manufacturing products on demand for customers using its 3D printer aboard the International Space Station, for example, and both SpaceX and Blue Origin have landed and re-flown rockets — an approach that could lower the cost of spaceflight significantly. “We have an opportunity to do this now,” Magnus said, referring to the Cislunar 1,000 vision. “It’s going to take some time to build this, but the momentum’s there, and it’s very exciting.” Establishing a secure environment in which such a space settlement can exist is part of the overall effort, Schilling stressed.

Agreed!  To watch the video of the entire panel discussion, click on the text above.

Russia develops hypersonic 4,600 mph Zircon missile

The race to develop an unstoppable and unbeatable weapon capable of defeating all the military defense systems in the world is getting much too close for comfort. According to multiple reports, Russia is expected to begin production soon of its 3M22 Zircon, a hypersonic missile that will travel 4,600 miles per hour — five times the speed of sound — and will have a range of 250 miles. That’s just three minutes and 15 seconds from launch to impact. Guided hypersonic missiles will be more accurate than traditional ballistic missiles and could conceivably be armed with nuclear warheads, according to the geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor. And they’re coming, whether we like it or not. And they’ll be on our doorstep sooner, not later. “State tests of Zircon are scheduled for completion in 2017 … and the missile’s serial production is planned to be launched next year,” the Russian news agency TASS reported last year, quoting sources. And last month, Russia’s Interfax news agency cited a source familiar with the Zircon project who said the 5-ton missile is likely to be tested for the first time this spring — earlier than the projected date of 2018 — “from a sea-based platform.” The International Business Times (IBT) reported that the U.S. Navy is concerned the missile could be fitted to a Russian warship. Hypersonic speed is the stuff of science fiction. As explained in IBT: “The missile employs revolutionary scramjet technology to reach its hypersonic speeds whereby propulsion is created by forcing air from the atmosphere into its combustor where it mixes with on-board fuel – rather than carry both fuel and oxidizer like traditional rockets. This makes it lighter, and therefore much faster. “It uses no fans, rotating turbines or moving parts – just an inlet where air is compressed and a combustor where the air is mixed with fuel. Fewer moving parts also means less chance of mechanical failure. “The Zircon … would be capable of destroying the world’s most advanced warships and aircraft carriers in one strike and could be put into action by 2020.” The Zircon will have a radar target seeker and an optical-electronic complex that can trace and detect targets, also at hypersonic speed, according to the Strategic Culture Foundation. “It will greatly reduce the reaction time that [Western military units] have to deploy their own defenses and counter-measures,” Tim Ripley, who covers defense issues for Jane’s Defence Weekly, told the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle. He said the Zircon could render Western anti-aircraft defenses “obsolete,” and he warned that Russia appears far ahead of the U.S. in development. “In the public domain, the West seems to be quite a long way behind,” Ripley said. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some black, super-secret project run by the U.S.’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.” In fact, the U.S. may not be behind at all. According to Stratfor, U.S. Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello announced in late February that the Air Force plans to have operational prototypes of its own hypersonic missile ready for testing by 2020. And Stratfor forecasts that the U.S. and China will likely have the first operational long-range hypersonic missiles in their arsenals by 2025, years ahead of Russia. India is also working to develop a hypersonic missile. According to India Today, India is developing its BrahMos II missile in collaboration with Russia, and it will use the same scramjet technology as Zircon.

Definitely something to keep an eye on…

U.S. Army to get laser that can zap drones

Lockheed Martin said Thursday it has finished a 60-kilowatt laser system for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) and is preparing to hand it over to the Army for further testing. In initial tests, the company achieved 58 kilowatts of power but expects its laser to reach its full potential by the time of its delivery in the next few months. The laser is what the company calls a “combined fiber” laser beam, bringing together individual lasers to form a single, stronger beam. Lockheed has been testing it at an installation in Bothell, Wash., and plans to ship it to an Army installation in Huntsville, Ala., in the next few months. “We’re really at the dawn of an era of the utility of laser weapons,” said Robert Afzal, senior fellow for laser and sensor systems at Lockheed Martin. The Army’s specialized military vehicles “can now carry something which is small enough and powerful enough for what we believe will be militarily useful.” Multiple military agencies and defense companies have been working on laser weapon capabilities. In 2014, Boeing published a video of its 10-kilowatt laser destroying a mortar in flight. Proponents say lasers could be cheaper than traditional munitions systems because they don’t require expensive projectiles and they don’t need to be reloaded. That could make the system useful in taking down airborne adversaries, such as off-the-shelf drones. The idea of an off-the-shelf drone fleet commanded by a non-state entity presents new challenges for a global military establishment that has focused for centuries on war with other governments. For example, Gen. David Perkins said this week that a U.S. ally had taken down an adversary’s off-the-shelf quad-copter — which can be purchased online for a few hundred dollars — with a multimillion-dollar Patriot missile. Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said: “That’s $3 million to shoot down a three-or-four-hundred-dollar drone. . . . What if you could do that with a beam of light that costs a buck?” More powerful projectiles such as Hellfire missiles are also more likely to cause collateral damage, making them less practical in certain situations. Proponents say laser weaponry could be more precise and ultimately more effective against small airborne targets. Lasers “hit targets at the speed of light, they cost almost nothing per shot, and they have an almost unlimited number of times they can be used,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the nonprofit Lexington Institute, which receives funding from defense firms including Lockheed Martin and Boeing. “A medium-sized laser should be able to take out any number of drones in a very short period of time because they are so fragile.” The Navy has already deployed a ship-based laser that it says is ready for combat use, but the Army faces a unique set of challenges. To protect American soldiers from low-budget drone fleets, the Army would need a highly mobile laser that can sit on the back of a truck. The agency would have to find a way to carry enough battery power to fire continually without the truck overheating. Such a large power source isn’t a problem if it’s stationary on a ship or military installation, but moving it around the battlefield might be difficult. With the 60-kilowatt laser announced this morning, Lockheed says that it has reached that goal and that the weaponry is ready to be deployed. “In terms of the maturity of this technology to be field-able on an Army vehicle, this technology is ready for that,” Afzal said. The company said its initial testing showed the laser to be near physical limits for accuracy and reasonably energy-efficient, directing 43 percent of electricity used to power it directly into the laser itself, helping it deal with the mobility problem. The system is designed to be a low-weight solution that sits on a ground-based vehicle called a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT), essentially a truck designed for carrying large artillery. The Army already has laser weapons it is testing, but Lockheed’s laser may have advantages in power and portability. The 60-killowatt laser has its origins in the Defense Department’s Robust electric laser initiative, which started in 2010 and ended when a 15-kilowatt laser was developed. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has its own initiative to create a turret-based laser that can fire downward from an aircraft.

Very cool!!     🙂

Air Force’s Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Nears Orbital Record

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane is just eight days away from setting a record on its current clandestine mission. If the robotic vehicle stays aloft until March 25, it will break the X-37B mission-duration mark of 674 days, which was established back in October 2014. It’s unclear whether that will actually happen, however; the Air Force is tight-lipped about most X-37B payloads and activities, including touchdown plans. “The landing date will be determined based on the completion of the program’s on-orbit demonstrations and objectives for this mission,” Capt. AnnMarie Annicelli, an Air Force spokeswoman, told Space.com via email when asked when the current mission might end. The uncrewed X-37B (also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV) looks a lot like NASA’s now-retired space shuttle, only much smaller. The X-37B is just 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a wingspan of about 15 feet (4.6 m). Two of the vehicles could fit inside a space shuttle’s payload bay. The Air Force is known to have two X-37Bs, both of which were built by Boeing. These twin craft have flown four missions to date. OTV-1 launched on April 22, 2010, and landed on Dec. 3 of that year, spending 224 days in orbit. OTV-2 started on March 5, 2011, and wrapped up on June 16, 2012, after 468 days in space. OTV-3 launched on Dec. 11, 2012, and landed on Oct. 17, 2014, after circling the Earth for more than 674 days. The current mission, OTV-4, lifted off on May 20, 2015. All four X-37B flights have launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and the first three landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But the Air Force has been working to consolidate X-37B launch and landing activities on Florida’s Space Coast, and that vision includes bringing the vehicles down at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC), which is next door to Cape Canaveral. Rumors have swirled that OTV-4 will land at KSC, but that’s all they are at the moment — rumors. Capt. Annicelli declined to confirm or refute such speculation. “While the program has the capability to land at either KSC or Vandenberg, the landing location is determined by a variety of factors,” she said. Because of the secrecy surrounding the X-37B program, some people have speculated that the vehicle is a space weapon. But the Air Force has always vigorously contested such claims, saying that the space plane is simply testing technologies and helping researchers conduct in-space experiments. “Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal-protection systems, avionics, high-temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry, and landing,” the Air Force’s X-37B fact sheet states.

To see see a video and a couple photos, click on the text above.