News & Current Affairs

September 18, 2008

US helicopter troops die in Iraq

US helicopter troops die in Iraq

US Chinook CH-47 on operation in Afghanistan

The Chinook CH-47 is manufactured by the Boeing corporation

A US military helicopter has crashed in southern Iraq, killing seven US soldiers, the military has said.

The CH-47 Chinook helicopter made a “hard landing” shortly after midnight on Thursday about 96km (60 miles) west of the city of Basra, it said.

The helicopter was flying from Kuwait in a convoy that was heading to a US military base north of Baghdad. An investigation is under way.

The US currently has around 147,000 troops based in Iraq.

A US spokesman said hostile fire was not suspected.

The twin-rotored Chinook transport helicopter has long been the workhorse of the US army, primarily used since its introduction in 1962 to move troops, artillery, ammunition, fuel and other supplies.

It can carry 54 troops or 25,000lbs (11,340kg) of freight.

Equipped with satellite navigation and an instrument landing system, it has a defensive system to warn of approaching missiles and can fire diversionary “chaff” and flares.

Negotiations over the future status of the US troops are underway between Washington and Baghdad.

A UN mandate covering the presence of foreign troops in Iraq expires at the end of 2008.

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September 4, 2008

Palin takes battle to Democrats

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Palin takes battle to Democrats

John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, has made a stinging attack on Democratic presidential runner Barack Obama at the US Republican convention.

She gave her first major campaign speech to an enthusiastic crowd at the convention in St Paul, Minnesota.

Defending her small-town roots, she attacked Mr Obama as having talked of change, but done nothing of substance.

Mr McCain made a surprise appearance on stage, with her family, saying: “Don’t you think we made the right choice?”

The Arizona senator has been formally nominated as the party’s presidential candidate in a roll call vote by state delegations. He is expected to accept the nomination on Thursday.

I’ve learned quickly… , that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone
Sarah Palin

In a speech designed to rally the party base, she spoke of her family, including her elder son, who is about to be deployed to Iraq in the US Army, and her younger son, who has Down’s Syndrome.

The mother-of-five highlighted her background as a small-town “average hockey mom” and stressed that she was not part of the “Washington elite”.

In a salvo directed at media commentators who have questioned her qualifications, she said she was “not going to Washington to seek their good opinion” but to serve the people.

Mrs Palin praised the “determination, resolve and sheer guts” of Mr McCain and said she was honoured to help him.

Mrs Palin also attacked Mr Obama’s “change agenda” and suggested he was more interested in idealism and “high-flown speech-making” than acting for “real Americans”.

“In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers,” she said.

Justin Webb
I liked the parliamentary-style jabs at Obama
BBC North America editor Justin Webb

“And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.”

She also targeted Mr Obama’s experience as a community organiser and remarks he made earlier this year when he spoke of “bitter” working-class people “clinging to guns or religion”.

“I guess that a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer’, except that you have actual responsibilities,” she said.

“I might add that in small towns, we don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening.”

Mrs Palin – who supports drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – said that while drilling “will not solve all of America’s energy problems”, that is “no excuse to do nothing at all”.

Democrats under fire

Former Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee opened the night by hailing Mr McCain and attacking the Democrats.

Mr Romney, a one-time rival of Mr McCain for the Republican nomination, used his speech to hammer the Democrats over their “liberal” agenda.

“We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington – throw out the big government liberals and elect John McCain,” the former Massachusetts governor said.

He also lauded Mr McCain’s national security credentials, saying he was the presidential contender who would defeat “evil” radical Islam.

Mr Huckabee, also a former rival of Mr McCain, joked that he had hoped to be giving the speech on Thursday night – when Mr McCain will accept the party’s nomination to run for president in November’s election.

But, he said, he was delighted to be speaking for his second choice, Mr McCain – “a man with the character and stubborn kind of integrity that we need in a president”.

He defended Mrs Palin against criticism from the media, saying its coverage had been “tackier than a costume change at a Madonna concert”, and attacked the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Rudy Giuliani speaks at the Republican convention in St Paul, 3 Sept
You need to face your enemy in order to defeat them. John McCain will face this threat and bring victory to this country
Rudy Giuliani

“I am so tired of hearing about her lack of experience. She got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States,” he said, referring to Mr Biden’s performance in the Democratic primaries.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani followed Mr Huckabee on stage, calling the 2008 presidential election a “turning point” for the people of the US.

He charged the Democrats with being in denial about the threat from terrorism and said Mr McCain had the foreign policy, national security and leadership experience that counted.

“The choice in this election comes down to substance over style,” he said. “John has been tested. Barack Obama has not. Tough times require strong leadership, and this is no time for on the job training.”

Vetting questions

The Alaska governor’s speech comes amid scrutiny of her record and after two days dominated by the news her daughter Bristol, 17, is pregnant.

Mrs Palin and her family, including Bristol and her boyfriend, greeted Mr McCain at the airport as he arrived in Minnesota on Wednesday.

Ahead of her address, senior McCain campaign adviser Steve Schmidt issued a statement saying that media questions over how thoroughly Mrs Palin was vetted should end.

It has also been revealed that an attorney has been hired to represent Mrs Palin in an Alaska state ethics investigation involving alleged abuse of power.

Mrs Palin told US network CNBC she had “nothing to hide”. Her deposition is expected to be scheduled soon.

There have also been reports that Mrs Palin sought special financial favors for her city and state – something the McCain campaign is against.

She was elected governor of Alaska in 2006 and before that was mayor of the small town of Wasilla, Alaska.

August 28, 2008

Hacker loses extradition appeal

Hacker loses extradition appeal

Gary McKinnon

Gary McKinnon could face a long prison sentence

A Briton accused of hacking into secret military computers has lost his appeal against extradition to the US.

Glasgow-born Gary McKinnon was said to be “distraught” after losing the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. He faces extradition within two weeks.

The unemployed man could face life in jail if convicted of accessing 97 US military and Nasa computers.

The 42-year-old admitted breaking into the computers from his London home but said he sought information on UFOs.

Mr McKinnon asked the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to delay his extradition pending a full appeal to the court against his extradition but his application was refused.

He claimed the extradition would breach his human rights.

‘Absolutely devastated’

His solicitor Karen Todner said this had been her client’s “last chance” and appealed to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to intervene.

Our client now faces the prospect of prosecution and imprisonment thousands of miles away from his family in a country in which he has never set foot
Solicitor Karen Todner

“He is absolutely devastated by the decision,” she said. “He and his family are distraught.

“They are completely beside themselves. He is terrified by the prospect of going to America.”

She added Mr McKinnon had recently been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and would ask for the case to be tried in this country.

“The offences for which our client’s extradition is sought were committed on British soil and we maintain that any prosecution ought to be carried out by the appropriate British authorities,” she added.

“Our client now faces the prospect of prosecution and imprisonment thousands of miles away from his family in a country in which he has never set foot.”

Mr McKinnon, from Wood Green, north London, was arrested in 2002 but never charged in the UK.

He first lost his case at the High Court in 2006 before taking it to the highest court in the UK, the House of Lords.

Computer nerd

The US government claims he committed a malicious crime – the biggest military computer hack ever.

The authorities have warned that without his co-operation and a guilty plea the case could be treated as terrorism and he could face a long jail sentence.

The former systems analyst is accused of hacking into the computers with the intention of intimidating the US government.

It alleges that between February 2001 and March 2002, he hacked into dozens of US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Department of Defense computers, as well as 16 Nasa computers.

Prosecutors say he altered and deleted files at a naval air station not long after the 11 September attacks in 2001, rendering critical systems inoperable.

However, Mr McKinnon has said his motives were harmless and innocent. He denies any attempts at sabotage.

He said he wanted to find evidence of UFOs he thought was being held by the US authorities, and to expose what he believed was a cover-up.

August 24, 2008

Solar plane makes record flight

Solar plane makes record flight

A UK-built solar-powered plane has set an unofficial world endurance record for a flight by an unmanned aircraft.

The Zephyr-6, as it is known, stayed aloft for more than three days,
running through the night on batteries it had recharged in sunlight.

The flight was a demonstration for the US military, which is
looking for new types of technology to support its troops on the
ground.

Craft like Zephyr might make ideal platforms for reconnaissance.

They could also be used to relay battlefield communications.

Chris Kelleher, from UK defence and research firm QinetiQ, said
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) offer advantages over traditional
aircraft and even satellites.

“The principal advantage is persistence – that you would be
there all the time,” he told BBC News. “A satellite goes over the same
part of the Earth twice a day – and one of those is at night – so it’s
only really getting a snapshot of activity. Zephyr would be watching
all day.”

Deployment close

The latest flight was conducted at the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

The Zephyr flew non-stop for 82 hours, 37 minutes.

Altitude infographic NOT TO SCALE (BBC)

That time beats the current official world record for unmanned
flight set by the US robot plane Global Hawk – of 30 hours, 24 minutes
– and even Zephyr’s own previous best of 54 hours achieved last year.

However, the Yuma mark remains “unofficial” because QinetiQ did
not involve the FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale), the world
air sports federation, which sanctions all record attempts.

The US Department of Defense funded the demonstration flight
under its Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) programme.

This programme is designed to advance the technologies American commanders would most like to see in the field.

“We think Zephyr is very close to an operational system – within
the next two years is what we’re aiming for,” Mr Kelleher said. “We
have one more step of improvements; we trying to design a robust and
reliable system that will really sit up there for months; and we want
to push the performance.”

Energy density

The trial, which took place between 28 and 31 July, also included the participation of the UK Ministry of Defence.

The 30kg Zephyr was guided by remote control to an operating
altitude in excess of 18km (60,000ft), and then flown on autopilot and
via satellite communication.

It tested a communications payload weighing approximately 2kg.

Zephyr (QinetiQ)

Zephyr should be in commanders’ hands within two years

At first sight, the propeller-driven Zephyr looks to be just another
model aircraft, and it is even launched by hand. But this “pilotless”
vehicle with its 18-metre wingspan incorporates world-leading
technologies.

Its structure uses ultra-lightweight carbon-fibre material; and
the plane flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon solar
arrays no thicker than sheets of paper. These are glued over the
aircraft’s wings.

To get through the night, the propellers are powered from lithium-sulphur batteries which are topped up during the day.

“A lot of effort has gone into power storage and light-weighting
the systems,” explained Mr Kelleher. “Lithium sulphur is more than
double the energy density of the best alternative technology which is
lithium polymer batteries.

“They are an exceptional performer. We’ve worked with the Sion
Corporation. They’ve had them in development for years. We’re actually
the first application in the world for them.”

Vulture venture

Zephyr has demonstrated that it can cope with extremes of
temperature – from the blistering 45C heat found at ground level in
Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, to the minus 70C chill experienced at
altitudes of more than 18km (60,000ft).

The engineers from the Farnborough-based company are now
collaborating with the American aerospace giant Boeing on a defence
project codenamed Vulture.

This would see the biggest plane in history take to the sky,
powered by the sun and capable of carrying a 450-kilo (1,000lb)
payload.

US commanders say the design must be able to maintain its
position over a particular spot on the Earth’s surface uninterrupted
for five years.

QinetiQ is also developing UAV technology for civilian uses.

It has been working recently with Aberystwyth University on
field monitoring trials, plotting areas of ground that may or may not
need fertiliser applications.

Zephyr (QinetiQ)
Lightweight plane (30-34kg/70lb) is launched by hand
Coms or surveillance payload of about 2kg (4.5lb)
Flies autonomously and can climb to more than 18km (60,000ft)
By day, Zephyr flies on solar power and recharges its batteries
Advanced amorphous silicon solar arrays supplied by Unisolar
Rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries supplied by Sion Corp

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