Navy Mulls Lasers, Rail Guns for Existing Destroyers


The Navy is considering a range of potential technological upgrades for its fleet of DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to give the ships next-generation weapons, greater fuel efficiency and a reduced radar signature, service officials said.

The Navy currently has 62 DDG 51s currently in service and six Flight IIA-model destroyers under construction. The service plans to potentially build as many as 22 next-generation Flight III DDG 51s, said Capt. Mark Vandroff, DDG 51 program manager.

Laser weapons and electromagnetic rail guns are among some of the upgrades being considered for the Navy’s fleet of destroyers, Vandroff explained.

The recent deployment and operational use of the Navy’s Laser Weapons System, or LaWS, aboard the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf highlighted the strategic advantage and cost-saving elements of ship-board directed energy weapons. Navy officials say LaWS can be fired against incoming threats for less than one dollar per shot – exponentially cheaper than the cost of many defensive missiles.

The Navy is also developing an electromagnetic rail gun which it plans to equip on a Joint High Speed Vessel this coming summer.

The potential upgrades across the fleet will also be geared toward making the ship easier to upgrade throughout its life cycle, allowing new technologies to easily integrate with existing systems on the ship, Vandroff said.

Also, by 2019 and 2020, destroyers will be equipped with an upgraded Block II Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program, or SEWIP.

Additional considerations include creating more fuel and power-efficient gas turbine engines for destroyers. This would include working on the shafting and propellers to make the ship more fuel-efficient, Vandroff explained.

Also, advanced materials can be used to make a compressor engineered to move air more efficiently and get more power out of every gallon of fuel, he said.

Vandroff said finding ways to lower the radar cross-section of destroyers is an ongoing process that is likely to continue well into future years. The idea is to appear much smaller to potential enemy radar or be much more difficult to detect.

“This is an ongoing process. DDG 51s were designed to have a much lower radar cross-section,” he said. “We are going to change the shape of the steps on the ladders in order to have a little bit of an effect on radar cross-section.”

Flight IIA DDG 51s includes a hangar for helicopters and many of them are engineered with an Aegis radar system called SPY-1D designed to detect incoming missile threats.

Vandroff said cooperation between the Navy and Missile Defense Agency has consistently resulted in worthwhile upgrades for the Aegis radar and combat system.

“We have learned to adapt capability in each weapons system to take on a greater and greater variety of ballistic missile threats,” he said. “We’re getting our ships to be more capable over time against a greater number of threats.”

Three DDG 51 Flight IIA ships are now under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.‘s shipyard in Mississippi, and three more Flight IIAs are being worked on at General Dynamics Corp.‘s Bath Iron Works facility in Maine. Flight IIA DDG 51 cost about $1.5 billion to build.

Three Flight III DDG 51s, which will include a more powerful, next-generation radar called Air and Missile Defense Radar, or AMDR, are planned as part of a multi-year destroyer production contract. Ten more Flight IIIs are slated for a similar deal to build DDG 51s from 2018 to 2022.

Once the non-recurring engineering costs are spent on the first several Flight III DDG 51s, then each new Flight III will cost approximately $1.7 to $1.8 billion.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);


What to expect in 2015

Outside fairly narrow bounds, prediction is a fool’s game. That does not mean, though, that we cannot look forward to what we hope for, and what we fear will transpire. Much that will happen is happening already: Ebola, Isis, a wobbly global economic recovery. We know that Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un will continue to provoke; and we know, too, that a lame-duck President Obama is in no position to do much about them or anything else. Even so, we may look enviously at the US as we undergo dizzying political gyrations over here.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);


Israel, U.S. Slam Palestinian Bid to Join International Criminal Court

The State Department sharply criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday after he applied for state membership in the International Criminal Court. Abbas’s move, long-opposed by Washington and Jerusalem, paves the way for the filing of war crimes charges against Israel for its bombing campaign in Gaza last summer.

“Today’s action is entirely counter-productive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement. “It badly damages the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace.”

The strong words from the State Department are likely to pale in comparison to the reaction from Congress, which has long threatened to impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority if it pursues membership in the court. Lawmakers may also seek to cut off funding for the PA, which receives about $400 million per year from the United States.

“There is no question mark as to what are the consequences, that there will be immediate American and Israeli financial sanctions,” Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, told the New York Times. “Those sanctions will gradually become more and more crippling, and this could indeed be the beginning of the end of the PA They fully realize that.”

Abbas’s move is in line with a strategic shift by the Palestinians to internationalize the conflict with Israel after decades of American-brokered peace talks failed to achieve meaningful results. The most recent attempt, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, collapsed entirely in mid-2014, leaving the prospect of new negotiations looking more remote than ever.

The push to join the ICC comes amid Palestinian disappointment at a successful U.S. and Israeli effort to prevent the passage of a U.N. Security Council Resolution demanding an end to Israel’s occupation by 2017. The measure needed nine votes to pass, but only received eight because of no votes from the U.S. and Australia and abstentions by five countries, including normally pro-Palestinian countries like Nigeria and Rwanda. After the Tuesday night vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly thanked the leaders of both nations by name. “They promised me personally that they would not support this decision, and they stood by their words,” he said.

Abbas and other Palestinian leaders, by contrast, made clear Wednesday that they felt betrayed by the vote, which they said left them no choice but to seek justice at the ICC.

“There is aggression practiced against our land and our country, and the Security Council has let us down — where shall we go?” Abbas said in Ramallah Wednesday.

“We want to complain to this organization,” he said, referring to the court. “As long as there is no peace, and the world doesn’t prioritize peace in this region, this region will live in constant conflict.”

Abbas’s remarks came during a PA meeting in Ramallah where he signed 20 documents and treaties, including the Treaty of Rome, which initiates the application process to the ICC. The goal of signing the treaty is to force the ICC to prosecute Israeli officials for the bombing campaign in Gaza this summer, which killed some 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians. Hamas militants fired thousands of rockets into Israel during the conflict. On the Israeli side, seven civilians and 66 soldiers were killed. The court exercises jurisdiction over individuals accused of war crimes, genocide, and various crimes against humanity.

Shortly after the announcement, Netanyahu vowed to take “steps in response” to the signing of the Treaty of Rome and protect Israeli soldiers from potential prosecution. In a written statement, he also warned that the Palestinians may have more to lose by joining the ICC than Israel given the PA’s unity deal with Hamas, which he called “an avowed terrorist organization which, like ISIS, carries out war crimes.”

“We will rebuff this additional attempt to force diktat on us just like we rebuffed the Palestinian appeal to the UN Security Council,” the Israeli leader said in the statement.

For its part, Hamas welcomed Abbas’s decision, calling it a “step in the right direction.” In a statement from the Gaza Strip, the group said the latest move should be followed by other steps, such as cutting off all negotiations with Israel, including on security matters and the lifting of the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Getty Images

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);


South American commodity boom drives deforestation and land conflicts

BOGOTA, Colombia — A commodity boom has helped pull millions out of poverty across South America over the past decade. It has also unleashed a new scramble for oil, minerals and cropland that is accelerating deforestation and fueling a new wave of land conflicts from Colombia to Chile.Read full article >>

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);


A Mach 5 Arms Race? Welcome to Hypersonic Weapons 101

Robert Farley

State of the Military, Defense, United States

They travel many times faster than sound, and defending against them won’t be easy. Oh, and by the way, the United States, Russia, China and India all want them. 

According to some analysts, the development of hypersonic weapons creates the conditions for a new arms race, and could risk nuclear escalation. Given that the course of hypersonic research has acknowledged both of these concerns, why have several countries started testing the weapons?

The United States is building hypersonics for two reasons. First, we want to kill people fast, without the messy danger of a global thermonuclear war. Second, we want to be able to punch through the defensive systems of peer competitors.

Unfortunately, these two justifications contradict one another. Given that China, Russia and even India appear on their way to similar systems, we should take care before letting the technology outpace the politics.

What Are Hypersonic Weapons?

The term “hypersonic” generally refers to a class of long-range precision strike weapons that travel at Mach 5 or better. This definition generally excludes such munitions as the LRLAP (long-range land attack projectile), fired by the Advanced Gun System, which can only travel sixty miles, as well as traditional cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk, which travel under the speed of sound.

(Recommended: 5 Chinese Weapons of War America Should Fear

Medium-range, conventionally armed ballistic missiles with precision-guidance (such as those operated by China and Russia) are arguably hypersonic weapons. The United States doesn’t operate any of this type, but it provides effectively the same capability as that offered by new hypersonic systems.

Indeed, initial U.S. plans for hypersonic-capable systems concentrated on conventionally armed ballistic missiles, but concerns over attribution and identification (conventional missiles look a lot like nuclear missiles to Russia and China) have shifted attention in the direction of suborbital platforms, including cruise missiles.

Read full article

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);


Senate Republicans set hearing to approve Keystone XL legislation

A U.S. Senate committee soon to be led by Republicans will hold a hearing next week on legislation to approve TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline, bypassing the current review by the Obama administration.

The energy committee hearing on Jan. 7, a day after Congress reconvenes, will help get a Keystone measure “to the floor as soon as possible,” Robert Dillon, a spokesman for the panel, said Wednesday in an e-mail.

Keystone, proposed in 2008 to carry oil sands from Alberta to U.S. refineries along the Gulf of Mexico coast, has fuelled a debate over jobs, energy security and the environment. Backers say it will create jobs and reduce U.S. reliance on imported oil. Environmentalists say the pipeline would worsen climate change by encouraging development of oil sands, which are more carbon intensive than other forms of oil.

President Barack Obama’s administration is continuing its review, though a final recommendation after environmental reviews has been paused until resolution of a court challenge to the pipeline’s path in Nebraska.

Pipeline supporters came within a vote of passing on Nov. 18 a similar measure that would let TransCanada build the cross-border project, as proposed. The Senate bill failed even with pressure from co-sponsor and Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu, who cajoled colleagues to back the measure as a boost to her re-election. Landrieu lost a run-off election on Dec. 6.

Senator Mitch McConnell, incoming majority leader, has vowed to make Keystone the first bill passed in 2015. House Speaker John Boehner also plans to push a bill.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who takes over as energy committee chairman after Republicans won control of the Senate, intends to move quickly to get action on the bill, Dillon said. A vote by the full chamber probably won’t occur until after Obama’s State of the Union speech on Jan. 20.

Democratic Representatives Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Raul Grijalva of Arizona in a letter Tuesday asked Boehner not to rush a vote on the bill.

“It is our understanding that you may schedule” a vote “during the first two weeks” of the Congress, they wrote.

Bloomberg News

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);


The US is forfeiting Africa to China

For decades, American presidents traveled to Africa, proposed new partnerships with the continent and its peoples, and then promptly forgot about the partnership once they returned to Washington.

On October 20, 1999, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declared, “I believe that our administration has spent more time, attention, and money on Africa than any other administration.”

Years ago, I visited Mali and Burkina Faso on vacation, and found the progress announced after Albright and her predecessor Warren Christopher’s visit to that country fleeting.

While 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terrorism overshadowed George W. Bush’s legacy, perhaps no president had as lasting an impact on Africa as did he. The commitment was not only diplomatic but military as well. The Pentagon stood up Africom, its sixth geographic combatant command, and promising even greater commitment to African security.

At first, after President Obama’s inauguration, Africans’ hope that American attention might be sustained was realized. Hillary Clinton cannot point to many accomplishments as secretary of state, but she did pay disproportionate attention to Africa even as the rest of the world started to burn.

While perhaps not directly related to her own influence, it was during Clinton’s tenure that Obama deployed U.S. forces to seek to capture Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a nominally Christian insurgent group (sponsored by Islamist Sudan) that has sought to destabilize first Uganda and now Southern Sudan with terrorism and atrocity.

Alas, with Clinton gone, and American power in retreat, Obama appears to have once again turned his back on Africa. Sure, he deployed some forces to help contain Ebola but that was reactive rather than proactive. When it comes to building a real partnership with Africa, it seems that China is years ahead of the United States. This is tragic, because there is no area showing such promise of sustained growth than Africa.

According to the World Bank:

The world attained the first Millennium Development Goal target—to cut the 1990 poverty rate in half by 2015—five years ahead of schedule, in 2010. Despite this progress, the number of people living in extreme poverty remains unacceptably high.

  • According to the most recent estimates, in 2011, 17 percent of people in the developing world lived at or below $1.25 a day. That’s down from 43 percent in 1990 and 52 percent in 1981.
  • This means that, in 2011, just over one billion people lived on less than $1.25 a day, compared with 1.91 billion in 1990, and 1.93 billion in 1981.

Africa accounts for much of the decline in poverty; the fact that this occurred against the backdrop of African countries eschewing socialism and embracing the free market principles is no coincidence. Piracy has declined precipitously off the Horn of Africa (albeit while picking up in the Gulf of Guinea) and countries once mired in civil war have now put that era behind them.

True, there are states like South Sudan and the Central African Republic teetering on the verge of failure, if not already over the precipice, but these are now more the exception than the rule. And states that are perennially basket cases like Zimbabwe and Eritrea are likewise increasingly in a club of their own.

In short, relationships with Africa are less those of donor to recipient, and more true partnerships. And it is to these that the United States is turning its back. China is sending hundreds of peacekeepers to southern Sudan, reopening its embassy in Somalia, and building a railroad in Nigeria. Chinese are flooding into the continent, drawn by economic opportunity.

Speaking to 50 African heads of state at the first U.S.-Africa Summit this past summer, Obama took a subtle shot at China’s motivations, declaring, “We don’t look to Africa simply for its natural resources; we recognize Africa for its greatest resource, which is its people and its talents and their potential.”

Still, money is money, and business is business. U.S.-Africa trade has dwindled under Obama. Trade has always formed the backbone of relations, and countries seeking to get rich aren’t going to turn their back on a formula that worked the world over, however exploitative China might be.

There is a new Great Game brewing, but alas, Obama is forfeiting. Some American analysts argue that America is already too far behind, but defeat is only certain if the United States refuses to fight for its interests and continues to take allies for granted.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);


Iran’s hypocrisy in condemning US racism

Grand jury dismissal of charges against police officers in the July 17, 2014, chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York has returned racism to the forefront of the American political debate.

The entrance of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei into the fray, with tweets condemning American police and racism and using the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, has turned the debate into a farce. It’s the equivalent of David Duke condemning anti-Semitism or North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un condemning prison overcrowding.

But perhaps Khamenei’s tweets can be a teachable moment, for Iranians and Americans both, about racism and injustice in Iran.

In America, journalists discuss racism, politicians debate it and academics study it, because Americans enjoy free speech, a free press and can speak truth to power without fear or risk of torture. Not so with Iranians.

In the months preceding the Shah’s 1979 ouster, Iranians joined the revolution because they were tired of dictatorship, wanted democracy, and chafed under the SAVAK, the Shah’s dictatorship. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini rallied Iranians to his cause. Before his return to Iran, Khomeini spoke the language of social justice and disavowed any interest in personal power.

After the success of his revolution, Khomeini changed course. He may have executed many top-ranking SAVAK officers, but he soon took back their deputies to build the VeVAK (or Ministry of Information and Security), a new intelligence service different only in name.

Iranians might be disillusioned with the regime’s revolutionary fervor, but Khamenei, his top deputies and the Revolutionary Guards are not. Whether it’s Evin or Kahrizak, Iranian prisons can make their American counterparts look like Club Med.

While many Western commentators consider new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani a reformer, he is anything but. Sure, he purged IRGC veterans from his cabinet, but he replaced them not with liberals but with VeVAK veterans. The increasing rate of public executions since Rouhani took office shows that neither justice nor compassion are high priority values.

What about racism? Here, too, Iranians might learn a lesson from America about tolerance and honest introspection. Some of these themes were explored tangentially in the 1986 Iranian art house drama, “Bashu, the Little Stranger.” After the dark-skinned title character flees war and finds himself on a farm in northern Iran, the woman who finds him tries to scrub the darkness off his skin (many southern Iranians have dark skin, in part a legacy of the east African slave trade). The irony here is that Iran’s minister of culture at the time, one Mohammad Khatami, initially banned the film for its negative depiction of war and its feminist overtones.

Shining a spotlight on Iranian racism is the rule rather than the exception. Haji Firouz, a black-faced minstrel or clown, is a fixture in Iranian New Year gatherings in Iran. In a November 11, 2008, commentary, the Borna News Agency, an outlet close to then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called U.S. President Barack Obama a “house slave.” After Obama’s election, Jomhuri-ye Eslami, a daily newspaper close to Iran’s Supreme Leader and intelligence services, dismissed Obama as “a black immigrant.” And while the Revolutionary Guards’ weekly, Sobh-e Sadegh, declared after Obama’s election that “A Dark Person Rises to Remove Darkness from America,” it then continued to criticize him for hiring a Jewish chief of staff.

Nor are blacks alone targeted. While some Iranians bend over backward to depict Iran as a tolerant community and home to the second largest Jewish community in the Middle East, they omit that this community is only one-sixth the size of what it was before the revolution, and declining steadily against the backdrop of both official and unofficial discrimination.

Repeated rhetoric about Israel being a cancer—sometimes without any differentiation between Jews and Israel—takes a toll. In 2006, an Iranian newspaper published a cartoon depicting Azerbaijanis, Iran’s largest ethnic minority, as cockroaches. In 2012, Iranian authorities in Isfahan banned Afghans from a public park. Iranian Arabs fare little better.

Obama is right to say that the American willingness to confront problems head-on “should make us optimistic.” As a Nobel peace laureate and an important voice on the world stage, Obama might cast moral and cultural equivalence aside and use his bully pulpit to respond to Khamenei, reminding the Iranian leader that the United States is far less racist than Iran.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);


Would you let North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un pilot your plane? Then watch him flying a regional jet

Capt Kim Jong Un

Footage released by Pyongyang shows North Korea’s Supreme Leader at the controls of a regional jet

Unlike his father Kim Jong-il, who was scared of flying after a helicopter crash in 1976, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is not only flying his “Air Force One”, regularly visiting North Korean Air Force units, greeting first female fighter pilots, but he is also personally flying some aircraft (an Antonov 148 in this case).

This is what a documentary just released by the Regime seems to suggest.

The clip shows the 31-year old Supreme Leader sitting inside the cockpit, reviewing the checklist, then take off and eventually land (under the supervision of a real pilot).

H/T Guido Olimpio for the heads-up


!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);


Palestinians look to expand international voice after failed U.N. bid on peace process

JERUSALEM — Palestinian leaders regrouped Wednesday over proposals to expand their international voice after falling just one vote short in a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding Israel step up peace efforts and withdraw from occupied lands.Read full article >>

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);