Friday, April 10, 2009

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AVWK: Secret Stealth UAV Spotted Over Afghansatan

By Bill Swettman
Aviation Week & Space technology

Credit where credit is due: Steve Trimble reported the first flight of General Atomics' Predator C earlier this week, and now Shephard's Darren Lake has an artist's concept of what looks like a stealthy UAV or UCAV that was sighted at Kandahar recently - pictures apparently exist but have not been published.

GA-ASI's jet has been in the works for years. The Predator B/Reaper was designed from the outset to accept either the Honeywell turboprop on the current aircraft or a Williams FJ44 turbofan, and the jet was almost ready to fly around the time of 9/11. However, due to strong interest from customers, this first Predator C was converted back to a prop job. Not long afterwards - I think it was Farnborough 2002 - GA-ASI boss Tom Cassidy was saying that the C had morphed into a new design.

Since then, it's been waiting for a customer and held back by the demands of the Reaper program - but its first flight and unveiling follows actions by two California congressmen to earmark funds to build two aircraft for deployment to Afghanistan, and as one of them comments, it will provide "strike" capability and "an additional covert capability."

So has someone made a quick deliberate security slip-up in Kandahar, as if to say: "Thanks, Congressman, but we've already got one of those"?

As for the Kandahar beast itself, it's hard to draw firm conclusions from a sketch based on a picture of unknown quality.

However, if it's operating out of Kandahar, it's a good first-order bet that the targets are in regions covered by Pakistani radar, since it's also a reasonable assumption that there might be a Pakistan AF radar tech or two whose allegiance is not where one would ideally like it to be.

But the same applies to a lot of people living around Kandahar, so one might also surmise that the mystery aircraft might be a bit short of range. (Otherwise, there are more secure bases in the UAE and Qatar.) A tech demo, quickly pressed into service, perhaps?


Related article:

Mystery UAV operating in Afghanistan
April 10, 2009
Afghanistan maybe the testing ground for a new, advanced but as yet undisclosed UCAV programme.
Pictures shown exclusively to Unmanned Vehicles magazine and taken at an airbase in the war-torn country reveal a large flying wing-type design, adopted by UCAV designers, but not yet seen on an operational type.
The image shown in the link below has been drawn directly from the photograph but none of the experts consulted by UV had any concrete idea of what the system might be.

The image shown to UV was taken from a long distance, as the aircraft taxied in on a hazy day, but the image was clear enough to show that this UAV’s design is like no other UAV in current operational service.
Amongst the distinctive features of the type is the ‘fat’ wing chord, and a large central fuselage fairing. The aircraft engine nozzle is the same half moon shape as the Lockheed P175 Pole Cat, but the wing is not cranked on its trailing edge like the Pole Cat is.

The fuselage fairing could support a large squared off intake, but is more likely to house a large satellite communications and sensor mix. Two large blisters either side of the central fairing are likely to the intakes for a single turbofan engine. These features probably won’t help the aircraft’s radar cross-section, although this probably isn’t important considering the theatre of operations in which it is flying.
The large doors inboard of the main landing gear may be bomb bay doors, indicating a strike capability for the type.

There are clearly the technological capabilities to build something like this inside Northrop Grumman, Boeing or Lockheed Martin. Looking at the shaping, our analyst said he would be inclined to think this comes from either Northrop or Lockheed.
The shaping is also suggestive of UCAV concepts around the start of the 2000s.There is a whole raft of wing design work that has gone on since 2002 in terms of how the X-47B has evolved, and the sorts of designs that Boeing was working with prior to the ending of that effort.

By Darren Lake, Editor - Unmanned Vehicles

Somali pirates keep American hostage on lifeboat

US NAVY using Scan Eagle UAV to keep eyes on pirates.

09 Apr 2009 15:25:58 GMT
Source: Reuters
* U.S. navy destroyer on scene
* FBI joins efforts to free American captain
* U.S.-flagged ship heads to Kenya after brief hijack
By Abdi Sheikh and JoAnne Allen
MOGADISHU/WASHINGTON, April 9 (Reuters) - Somali pirates defied international naval powers on Thursday to keep an American ship captain hostage on a lifeboat in the Indian Ocean after their first seizure of U.S. citizens.
The increasingly bold gunmen briefly hijacked the 17,000-tonne Maersk Alabama freighter on Wednesday, but the 20 American crew retook control after a confrontation far out at sea, where pirates have captured five other vessels in a week.

Four gang members were holding the captain, Richard Phillips, on the ship's lifeboat after he apparently volunteered to be a hostage for the sake of his crew.
"What I understand is he offered himself as the hostage to keep the rest of the crew safe," his sister-in-law Gina Coggio told the ABC network. "That is what he would do, that's just who he is, and his responsibility as the captain."

The Pentagon said it was seeking a peaceful solution but was not ruling out any option in freeing Phillips.

His capture and the attack on his ship has once again focused world attention on Somali piracy, as happened last year when gunmen seized a Saudi supertanker with $100 million of oil on board, and a Ukrainian ship with 33 tanks.
Yet the attacks have been happening for years, reaching unprecedented levels in 2008, and pirates are holding more than 200 other hostages on captured ships.

Reached by Reuters via satellite phone, the pirates on the lifeboat sounded desperate as they watched a U.S. warship and other foreign naval vessels close to them. "We are surrounded by warships and don't have time to talk," one said. "Please pray for us."

The Danish-owned freighter's operator Maersk Line Ltd said Phillips was unharmed and securing his safe return was the firm's priority. The U.S. warship Bainbridge arrived on the scene before dawn, it added.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said it had been called in to assist, and its negotiators were "fully engaged".
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the lifeboat now appeared to be out of fuel. An East African maritime group said the Maersk Alabama was on its way to Kenya's Mombasa port and would reach there in a couple of days.

The attack was the latest in a sharp escalation in piracy in the waters off lawless Somalia, where heavily armed sea gangs hijacked dozens of vessels last year and extracted millions of dollars in ransoms.

The Saudi and Ukrainian boats fetched about $3 million each.
The long-running phenomenon has disrupted shipping in the strategic Gulf of Aden and busy Indian Ocean waterways, increased insurance costs and made some firms send their cargoes round South Africa instead of through the Suez Canal.

The upsurge in attacks makes a mockery of an unprecedented international naval effort against the pirates, including ships from Europe, the United States, China, Japan and others, who are patrolling off Somalia, mainly in the Gulf of Aden.

Pirates say they are undeterred by the foreign flotilla and will simply move operations away from the patrols, further out into the Indian Ocean.
"The solution to the problem, as ever, is the political situation in Somalia," said analyst Jim Wilson, of Lloyds Register-Fairplay. Somalia has been mired in civil conflict, with no effective central control, for 18 years.
"Until there is peace on land there will be piracy at sea."
Maersk said its crew regained control of the Alabama on Wednesday when the pirates left the ship with the captain.

The ship was carrying thousands of tonnes of food aid destined for Somalia and Uganda from Djibouti to Mombasa, Kenya, when it was attacked about 300 miles (500 km) off Somalia.
"We are just trying to offer them whatever we can, food, but it is not working too good," second mate Ken Quinn told CNN of efforts to secure their captain's release. He said the four pirates sank their own boat after they boarded the Alabama.
Then the captain talked the gunmen into the ship's lifeboat with him. The crew overpowered one of the pirates and sought to swap him for the captain, Quinn told CNN.

"We kept him for 12 hours. We tied him up," Quinn said. They freed their captive, he added, but the exchange did not work.

In Haradheere port, a pirate stronghold, an associate of the gang said the gunmen were armed and ready to defend themselves.

"Our friends are still holding the captain but they cannot move, they are afraid of the warships," he told Reuters. "We want a ransom and of course the captain is our shield. The warships might not destroy the boat as long as he is on board."
Pirates there said two boats full of gunmen had left the port to go and support their surrounded colleagues.

"We are afraid warships will destroy them before they reach the scene," one told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Washington bureau and Daniel Wallis, Andrew Cawthorne in Nairobi; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Andrew Cawthorne, editing by Mark


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