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From the monthly archives:

March 2011

Whoops! Check out this video of Air Tractor’s counterinsurgency plane making a very rough landing on a dirt strip at Fort Hunter Ligget in California a few months ago. Fortunately, the tough little plane stayed intact and everyone got out ok. Hey, it’s a testament to just how rugged the airplane is. Something that’s crucial for the COIN plane mission.

Happy Friday. Enjoy!

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When the original presidential helicopter program was cancelled a couple  of years ago due to a ballooning costs, the program left nine completed and nearly completed Lockheed Martin-Augusta Westland-built VH-71 presidential choppers-in-waiting sitting in a government hangar.

Well, after spending billions to develop the birds, doesn’t it make sense to do something with them? Now, sister site DoDBuzz is reporting that an unnamed agency may just put the choppers to use:

Given the fabulous capabilities required of the VH-71 helicopters — executive protection plus, hardened and encrypted communications gear, all sorts of neat active protective systems — it seemed a bit sad that they would just sit under wraps as a symbol of all that’s bad about Pentagon acquisition. They did, after all, cost $3.2 billion. (We checked around and it’s not clear exactly how many of the VH-71s are completely equipped and ready to fly but it looks like there are at least six.)

Now we hear that one of those agencies that can really use encrypted comms and birds that can do all sorts of nifty things wants to unwrap them and fly them. One of the possible advantages of using these birds is that — if they are flown without US military markings — the modified AugustWestland AW101s can be mistaken for helicopters belonging to a number of nations. Also, these helicopters are used for both civil and military applications.

Seriously, do something with these birds. Use them as the new VXX, give them to the CIA, FBI, NSA, SOCOM or whoever. Just don’t let them rot and don’t sell them to Canada for pennies on the dollar (I’ve heard rumors this was going to happen).

What do you DT readers think we should do with them?

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Also, in case you haven’t seen this one yet. EADS won’t protest the Air Force’s award of the $35 billion KC-X contract to rival Boeing. This means the decade-long KC-X saga is finally moving forward. Expect Boeing’s 767-based tankers to be in the air within the next five years, if all goes well from here on out.  The jet pictured above is one of EADS’ A330-based tankers it built for the Royal Australian Air Force; essentially the same plane it offered in KC-X.

Here’s what EADS North America Chairman Ralph Crosby told reporters today, via Defense News:

“After meeting with the Air Force and the Department of Defense, and evaluating the information they provided to us in their debriefing, EADS North America has decided not to protest the KC-X contract award,” he said. “Our reasoning is simple: The acquisition architecture for this procurement … was quite mechanistic and mathematical. The outcome was decided by price, and Boeing’s offer was at a lower price than ours.”

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The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers this morning pointed out yet another angle to the revolution in Libya. While many people are rightly excited about the success rebels are having in holding their ground against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, what’s going to happen to all those weapons from the arms depots that have been opened up in rebel controlled territory?

We’re not just talking AK-47s and pistols; the depots contain surface-to-air missiles which, Chivers points out, could very well make their way into the hands of terrorists:

Photographs and video from the uprising show civilians carrying a full array of what were once the Libyan military’s weapons — like the SA-7, an early-generation, shoulder-fired missile in the same family as the more widely known Stinger — that intelligence agencies have long worried could fall into terrorists’ hands.

They also show large groups of young men equipped with a complete suite of lightweight, simple-to-use and durable infantry arms, including assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, which have been a staple of fighting in Africa and Asia since midway through the cold war. Mines, grenades and several types of antitank missiles can be seen as well.

The piece goes on to point to situations like Iraq in 2003, where Saddam’s armories were opened up and the weapons held within were used against coalition forces for years afterward.

And here’s a choice line from the story:

The weapons that have emerged from storehouses in recent days confirm that despite international sanctions, Libya had acquired arms from multiple sellers in the former Eastern bloc, accumulating an arsenal that looks like the bounty of cold war clearance sales.

The rebels’ newly acquired equipment ranges from dilapidated tanks designed more than a half-century ago to relatively recent Russian assault-rifle variants.

Peter Danssaert, a researcher for the International Peace Information Service in Belgium who covers arms proliferation in Eastern Europe and Africa, said that now that the weapons were out of government custody, few would be recovered. “They are gone forever” from state accountability, he said.

Still, it’s the SAMs, particularly the shoulder-fired ones known as MANPADS, this are the major concern. I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you all the bad things they could be used for; from the battlefields of Afghanistan to right here in the U.S. You get the point.

[Continue reading…]

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The Air Force just revealed that it’s hoping to launch the second X-37B mystery space planes into orbit tomorrow or Saturday depending on the weather. While there’s been a ton of speculation about the little mystery robo-shuttle, the Air Force won’t say what it’s for other than testing, testing and more testing. Ok, is it me or does that sentence just sound weird?

From an Air Force statement announcing the second craft:

For the first X-37B OTV mission, Air Force officials focused on testing and evaluating the performance capabilities of the vehicle. This second mission will build upon the OTV-1 on-orbit demonstration, validate and replicate initial testing and fine tune the technical parameters of the vehicle tests.

So yeah, we definitely know what it’s up to. Right.

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Check this out. Sukhoi’s second T-50 PAK FA prototype stealth fighter took to the skies over Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Russia, this morning for a 57-minute test flight (or 44-minutes, depending on who you ask), according to Flight Global’s Steve Trimble. The first T-50 is used as the aerodynamic test bed and the second jet is likely being used to test out the mission systems, notes Trimble. This flight comes a little more than a year after the maiden flight of the first T-50.

Here are more pics of the flight.

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Here’s something interesting. Early in the week we heard Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying a no-fly zone over Libya was being actively considered. Her comments were followed by CNO Adm. Gary Roughead said the Navy is ready to help enforce a no-fly zone should the order be given. Then yesterday, numerous reports came out saying the White House is trying to downplay the potential of a military intervention in Libya. Defense Secretary Robert Gates even warned against “loose talk” on the matter.

While he urged caution, Gates said all options are still on the table. Now, Janes is reporting that a NATO team might be in Libya investigating the feasibility of setting up a no-fly zone:

A NATO team mostly comprising US personnel has been deployed to eastern Libya to determine whether a no-fly zone could be imposed in response to the crackdown by Colonel Moammar Ghadaffi against reform-minded protestors, Jane’s understands from international sources.

Experts in airlift and command-and-control operations based at NATO headquarters in Brussels were dispatched on 27 February, to search for possible radar sites to aid the enforcement of any possible no-fly zone over Libyan airspace and to liaise with officers from Libyan military units that have abandoned the 41-year-old regime, the source told Jane’s on 28 February.

The Pentagon, however, denies that any U.S. forces are on the ground and a Libyan opposition source says he’s seen no western troops, according to the article.

One Libyan opposition supporter told Jane’s on 28 February that he had yet to see any Western military officials in Benghazi: the eastern city that has become the epicentre of the rebellion.

Pentagon spokesman David Lapan told Jane’s on 1 March that “no US forces had deployed to Libya”.

There could very well be a team or teams of special ops folks on the ground doing everything from quietly training the opposition to collecting all sorts of intel. If so, I promise you they’re keeping extremely low profiles, for now.

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