Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lockheed F-35 Lightning II Specs and Pics

The Lockheed F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation fighter development of the United States that incorporates new and learned stealth technology and practices with advanced computer processing and systems through a "budget-friendly" modular approach. The intended project goal (then under the name of Joint Strike Fighter) was to develop a single airframe capable of serving the multiple required roles of the primary armed services within the US Department of Defense - namely the United States Air Force (F-35A), the United States Navy (F-35C) and the United States Marine Corps (F-35B) as well as the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy services (both taking the F-35B model) of the British Ministry of Defense (MoD). The F-35 is currently being developed into three distinct airframes to reflect their respective uses with each design revolving around the same single-engine, single-seat approach. In any of the forms, the F-35 will remain a potent supersonic (Mach 1.0+ capable) fighter with lethal strike capabilities reportedly unmatched by anything else in the modern skies. While the Lockheed F-22 Raptor is intended as a fifth-generation "stealthified" air superiority fighter, the F-35's sorties will center more on the infiltration role and in dealing with accurate ground strikes through use of guided munitions and drop bombs, advanced airborne real-time reconnaissance and in radar-suppression sorties charged with the destruction of enemy "eyes-to-the-skies" - all this while retaining potent air-to-air capabilities.

If Lockheed succeeds in the design of the STOVL variant (F-35B), the Lightning II will become the first supersonic STOVL fighter ever produced. if the entire F-35 project fulfills all of its intended goals, the Lightning II will be the most advanced fighter design ever and will surely usher in a new age of powered flight.

The F-35 is intended to be an "affordable" fighter platform, hence the development of one airframe for the three distinct tasks. The aircraft is afforded a complex battlefield management system that allows it to receive and track real-time information and allow the pilot and system to react accordingly while transferring this information to other allied forces. The aircraft is said to provide for easier maintenance, especially in terms of taking care of the sensitive stealth components and skin. Throughout its design, the F-35 has incorporated an array of radar-defeating/absorbing measures that include a specialized mix of construction materials, coatings, angular edges and internally-based antenna probes to minimize profile from any direction.

Countries involved in the F-35 program (alongside the United States and United Kingdom) include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and Turkey. Each are expecting to receive operational F-35s into service at some point. Each nation is rated by partner levels in the development. The UK remains the top partner as a Level 1 contributor. Italy and the Netherlands are Level 2 partners while Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark are Level 3 partners. Israel and Singapore have signed on as "Security Cooperative Participants" (SCP).

Planned quantities of the respective aircraft model for each country is as follows: USAF (1,763); USN/USMC (680); RAF/RN (138); Italy (131); Netherlands (85); Turkey (100); Australia (100); Norway (56, up from the original 48 as of June 2009); Denmark (48); Canada (80). Norwegian F-35s will be replacing their fleet of aging F-16 Fighting Falcons. Italian F-35s will see final assembly at Cameri Air Base. Cost estimates for individual F-35 units are as follows (FY2002): F-35A ($40 million+); F-35B ($60 million+); F-35C ($60 million+). The end price will surely be higher by 2012 dollars.

The Joint Strike Fighter Program

The Joint Strike Fighter program was started on November 16th, 1996 as a US attempt to develop a next-generation airframe capable of replacing a variety of dedicated fighter and fighter-bomber types in the US inventory. The new design would have to replace such proven performers as the Lockheed/General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, the Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog, the carrier-based Boeing/McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet and the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II (the latter also covering the British Harrier developments in the Harrier GR.Mk 7 and GR.Mk 9). No small task considering the respective successes found by each aircraft throughout the world.

No Small Task - Replacing the Cold War Heavy-Hitters

The General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon had proven itself in countless conflicts beginning with actions in the Middle East by 1981. The F-16 was a lightweight aircraft equally capable of air superiority and ground strike. It maintained a healthy capability of mounting a variety of munitions to suit the many field requirements in regards to target type. This multi-faceted performer went on to become a staple of US allies from South America to the Middle East and Europe to the Pacific. As of this writing, production numbers of this aircraft have already surpassed 4,400 examples - the first being introduced in 1978.

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt was a highly unique aircraft charged with the destruction of enemy armor at low-speed and low-altitudes. The system was built for survival at these low-levels and, therefore, was in some ways manufactured as a "flying tank" complete with cockpit armoring, elevated engine nacelles (to protect each engine from ground fire) and the ability to withstand a good deal of battlefield punishment. The aircraft could stay afloat with one engine completely blown away from the fuselage. Beyond the capability to carry a large ordnance load of missiles (air-to-air and air-to-ground) and bombs (conventional and guided), the A-10 was most noteworthy for her nose-mounted, 7-barreled 30mm Avenger Gatling cannon. The A-10 was debuted in 1977 and produced in 715 examples including a two-seat Forward Air Control (FAC) version.

The F/A-18 Hornet was derived from the YF-17 "Cobra" demonstrator, a design that lost out to the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon to become the USAFs next lightweight fighter. The US Navy, however, found interest in the aircraft and the revised (and larger) F/A-18 Hornet was selected to replace the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, A-6 Intruder and A-7 Corsair II on all US carriers. The system was a multi-role performer at heart, capable of taking on the air superiority role of the Tomcat while providing the capability to tackle the strike roles of the Intruder and Corsair IIs before it. The F/A-18 Hornet has since proven a successful addition since its inception into service in early 1983 and has been evolved into the two-seat ultra-capable F/A-18E/F "Super Hornet".

The McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II (and its British counterparts the GR.7 and GR.9) were modernized versions of the original Hawker Siddeley Harrier VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) multi-role, close-support "jump jets". The AV-8B was developed for the Marine Corps "going it alone" while the British pursued other interests, eventually coming back to the program and becoming a junior partner. The history of the Harrier made it one of the most dangerous and complicated aircraft to fly but also made it one of the most unique battlefield components - with jet fighter-like performance wrapped around helicopter-like capabilities.

It was this impressive stable of Cold War developments that the Joint Strike Fighter project sought to replace.


The F-35 was the aircraft born out of the US Joint Strike Fighter program. For the next five years, Boeing's X-32 faced off against Lockheed's X-35 (Northrop Grumman/McDonnell Douglas was another program contended). The program required the construction of two Concept Demonstration Aircraft (CDA). Computers were used in predicting the data garnered from the CDA aircraft and the final decision was capped by pages of proposals with promises detailing the aircraft maintenance requirements and construction needs. The winner of the program was eventually decided on October 26th, 2001.

Though both aircraft seemed to fit the requirements, the Lockheed submittal was selected ahead of Boeing's in that it consistently bested the Boeing design enough to earn the victory and was seen as a "lesser" financial risk in the long run. The X-32 also used a more conventional "vectored-thrust" approach, similar to that as employed in the Harrier, to complete its vertical and take-off approaches. The Northrop Grumman/McDonnell Douglas design employed an interesting Lift-Plus-Lift/Cruise methodology similar to that as found on the Soviet Yakovlev Yak-38 "Forger". The Lockheed team settled on a dedicated lift-fan system positioned just aft of the cockpit as well as a rotating rear engine exhaust nozzle to accomplish the same balanced result - with both propulsion units deriving lift power from the main engine. Lockheed's patented lift fan, though a new and untested, was deemed a more reasonable long-term approach. The lift-fan concept held some distinct advantages that the X-32's thrust vectoring system did not - primarily, the lift fan offered cooling for the downward-thrusted air, meaning that the chance of hot exhaust gasses re-entering the engine was minimized. Additionally, the space required for the lift-fan drive system was a benefit to the X-35A and X-35C designs as in more internal fuel. Since the USMC was more interested in a short-range, quick-react aircraft to begin with, range was a limitation that could be overlooked on the STOVL version of the X-35.

The designation of "F-35" was appointed to the new Lockheed production design.

Securing the X-35 contract for Lockheed was no small feat and there was plenty of finance at stake. With all options exercised, the X-35 program (and subsequent F-35 production) could net the firm some $200 billion dollars. Engine maker Pratt & Whitney was also onboard, receiving a $4 billion dollar contract for its part in the powerplant development and production. Not content to side idle, the British stepped in and invested $2 billion of their own money into the project, with the hopes of securing their first 5th generation - and first stealth - fighter.

The project also included major contributions from Northrop Grumman and British Aerospace (BAe).


The production F-35s were born out of three prototypes - the first being the X-35A produced out of the Skunk Works facility at Palmdale. The X-35A completed its first flight on October 24th, 2000, and was then transferred to Edwards Air Force Base for its rigorous trials including in-flight refueling runs and beyond the speed-of-sound flights. After 27 flight tests concluded on November 22nd, 2000, the vehicle was delivered back to Palmdale for conversion into the X-35B STOVL variant prototype. X-35C actually became the second aircraft constructed while the X-35A-X-35B conversion was taking place. Serving as a "back up" to the more complicated X-35B development, the X-35C was actually made ready to accept the lift-fan assembly should the X-35B find itself lost to accident or some other major complication. The first production F-35 Lightning II achieved first flight on December 15th, 2006. The first F-35A wrapped up flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base on October 23rd, 2008. Supersonic flight was achieved soon after on November 13th, 2008.

X-35B achieved first flight on June 24th, 2001, and accomplished a complete sustained hover cycle. In the end, the prototype accounted for 18 vertical take-off operations and no less than 27 hover landings. The production STOVL F-35B began its flight testing phase in 2008. The first F-35B (STOVL variant) achieved first flight on June 11th, 2008. The second F-35B known as BF-2 completed its first flight on February 25th, 2009 and its first aerial refueling exercise via probe and drogue on August 13th, 2009.

The carrier X-35C went airborne for the first time on December 16th, 2000. The X-35C then underwent a series of rigorous mock carrier landings to test out the validity of the modified airframe. The X-35C proved a pleasant beast to fly and excelled in the low-level, low-speed approaches the US Navy was looking for in their new aircraft. The X-35C completed testing by way of 73 total flights on March 11th, 2001. The production F-35C (USN variant) was revealed on July 28th, 2009 with an expected first flight some time during the remainder of 2009. The F-35 test program completed its 100th flight on June 23rd, 2009.

Per Lockheed, the F-35B for the USMC is expected to be delivered sometime in 2012 - the earliest of the three variants. The USAF is expected to take on deliveries of its F-35As sometime in 2013. The US Navy's F-35Cs are expected to be delivered in 2015. In the end, the lifespan of the airframe is estimated to last past the year 2030, perhaps even closer to 2040.


The F-35 features an Electro-Optical Distributed Aperture System (DAS) that will simultaneously inform the pilot of the battlefield situation from every angle of his aircraft. The aircraft will be able to single out and coordinate enemy aircraft in the sky as well as air-to-air and surface-to-air missile launches directed against the F-35. Explosions on the ground will also signal detection within the aircraft. Levels of automation has been implemented in the both the STOVL and conventional landing variants to help ease workflow. The aircraft will also supply enhanced pilot vision for both day and night sorties. The system was developed by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control with Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems.

Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control and Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems has also geared up to provide the F-35 pilot with an all-new Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS). The EOTS is set to supply the F-35 pilot and his mount with the ability to detect and track targets from greater ranges out with a high level of accuracy. This will make the Lightning II one of the most - if not the most - deadly fighter ever to take the skies. The EOTS system is fitted to the underside portion of the nose assembly.

Stealth lessons learned since the flying days of Lockheed's F-117 Nighthawk have been evolved to a high degree in the F-35 Lightning II. The engine nozzle has been developed as a "stealth-friendly" axisymmetric component to further the aircraft's anti-radar characteristics while maintaining the smallest possible signature and overall profile.

Northrop Grumman Space Technology was charged with producing the modular F-35 avionics suite. Data sharing for the F-35 pilot will allow him to relay information to air- and ground-based allies as needed. The Lightning II will be setup with a satellite datalink allowing for Beyond-Line-of-Site (BLOS) communications as well as web-enabled logistical support. The communications suite was developed with the program's foreign partners to ensure a robust and adaptable system between each country's unique production aircraft.

The Lightning II will be fitted with a multi-mission AN/APG-81 series Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar system developed by Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems. The system will reportedly supply the F-35 pilot with an added level of situational awareness never seen in a fighter cockpit before as well as be able to detect, track and engage targets on land or in the air at far-reaching ranges than previously available. The radar can be set to act as a passive radar receiver.

The Distributed Infra-Red System (DIRS) is a collection of six internal sensors mounted about the aircraft airframe. What these infra-red implements do is provide an image of the aircraft's surroundings directly into the highly-advanced helmet donned by the pilot. This technology will allow the pilot to "see through" his aircraft at the world around him in infra-red, providing full 360-degree situational awareness.

The inlets of the F-35 have been made as diverterless fixtures. This approach has helped in producing a lighter overall assembly with no moving parts compared to the complex arrangements as found on conventional modern aircraft. These intakes are identifiable by their bulge along the fuselage side to spill off turbulent boundary layer air that builds up along the sides of the intake lips.

A Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) has found its way into the F-35. Developed by Vision Systems International LLC, the new helmet is billed to be the most advanced such system ever devised. The helmet will negate the need for the cockpit to fit a conventional Heads-Up Display (HUD) system and instead deliver critical mission and systems information directly to the helmet visor. The aircraft need not even be facing the target to track and engage it thanks to this special setup. The cockpit will be dominated by a single large 8"x20" panoramic Multi-Function Display System (MFDS) fitted across the top of the instrument panel. The projection display will be powered by fast processing capabilities and relay real-time information and high-resolution motion imagery to the F-35 pilot. The cockpit will also support Direct Voice Input through a speech recognition system and be fitted with a Martin-Baker US16E ejection seat (becoming common across all three F-35 production variants). Flight control will be through a conventional HOTAS setup with a left-side throttle and a right-side flight stick. Adaptability of the onboard systems is key and, as such, is highly-configurable to the mission at hand - be it air superiority or ground strike.


Primary propulsion for the F-35 is supplied by the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan series. A second powerplant - the upgraded F136 - is also being developed but this under a joint General Electric and Rolls-Royce branding. The F135 is an afterburning turbofan system delivering 25,000lbf on dry thrust with up to 42,000lbf on full afterburner. The engine resides within the middle and rear portion of the fuselage. Performance results have netted the F-35 a top speed of Mach 1.67 and a ceiling of up to 60,000 feet. The rate-of-climb remains classified as of this writing. G-limits vary based on variant model with the A-model receiving a 9g limit rating, the B- and C-models with a 7.5g-limit rating. Recent cost cuts have threatened the future of the improved F136 engine, however, so its disbursement in production aircraft remains to be seen. The F136 was consistently appeared on the chopping block for American politicians, only to live another day.

The F-35 also makes use the Lockheed Martin-patented Shaft-Driven Lift Fan (SDLF) to achieve vertical flight. The Lockheed lift-fan of the F-35 was built by Rolls-Royce Corporation of Indiana. The entire lift-fan system is made up of the fan itself, a clutch, two Roll Posts (wing-mounted thrust nozzles for roll control) and the drive shaft connecting the lift-fan to the powerplant while also working in conjunction with the Three Bearing Swivel Module (3BSM) - that is, the thrust vectoring nozzle at the tail of the aircraft. The lift-fan is powered by a two-stage turbine on the engine and works in conjunction with the downward vectored rear exhaust port and Rolls Posts to achieved a balanced lift cycle. The lift fan can generate up to 20,000lbs of lift (almost half of the vertical flight thrust), also providing cooling for downdrafting air compared to previous STOVL offerings. Air flow through the fan is controlled via variable inlet guide vanes.

The Variants - Beginning with the Base F-35A

The F-35 is being developed into three distinct variants for their respective operators. This should go on to prove a cost-cutting gesture as parts commonality is said to be somewhere near 80% across all three airframe types. The avionics suite is said to be near 100% common across the three airframes. Some parts used in the construction also closely resemble others and are referred to as "cousins" in commonality. The program has also stressed that the current F-35 build will be more easily upgradable than previous mounts as new technology comes online, again helping to drive down long term costs of operating, maintaining and upgrading the machine.

The F-35A is the conventional take-off and landing variant, or "CTOL", primarily for use with the United States Air Force but also representing the base export model. The F-35B will be a Short-Take-Off and Vertical Landing variant (STOVL) primarily for the United States Marine Corps and Royal Air Force and Royal Navy while the F-35C will become a conventional yet navalized form for use on aircraft carriers - this known s CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) - solely for use by the United States Navy.

The F-35A will feature an unrefueled range of 1,200 miles without external fuel tanks. The system will be armed with the standard internal 25mm GAU-22/A cannon. All munitions options will be primarily held in internal weapons bays that can house both air-to-air or air-to-surface ordnance or a mix of both. Air superiority armament will center around a pair of AIM-120C AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles. Ground attack support will be made up of a pair of 2,000lb GBU-31 JDAM guided bombs with support for the carrying of up to 8 x GBU-38 bombs as well as current generation TV/laser-guided air-to-surface missiles, guided bombs and munitions dispensing bombs. External weapons pylons will be optional and fitted for sorties where stealth is not a mission requirement. Overall munitions-carrying capability will be limited to 18,000lbs of ordnance. The F-35A features a wing span of 35 feet with an overall length of 50.5 feet and a wing area of 460 square feet. Internal fuel is listed at 18,498lbs.


The F-35B is noted as the first aircraft of its kind to successfully combine the benefits of stealth technology with the benefits of STOVL capabilities. This will make the F-35B unique amongst any aircraft in history and allow the fighter to land and take-off from virtually any surface on the planet including moving naval ships and unprepared rough airfields and roads. This will further allow the F-35 to operate close to the front lines and deliver its potent payload against entrenched or advancing enemy forces with little limitation in operational range. Inherent range of this F-35 variant is reported from Lockheed to be around 900 miles on internal fuel stores alone. Standard armament will center around a pair of AIM-120C AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles for self-defense. Ground strikes will be amplified by the carrying of 2 x 1,000lb GBU-32 JDAM guided bombs. Like the F-35A, the F-35B will make use of internal bomb bays for ordnance. Additional munitions options will include air-to-surface missiles, munitions dispensers, 6 x GBU-38 bombs and guided bombs. The 25mm GAU-22A Gatling cannon will be fitted into an external pod that will itself feature "stealth" capabilities to maintain the aircraft's low-profile signature. As in the F-35A, the F-35B can also make use of optional underwing external hardpoints to expand upon its mission lethality. Overall munitions-carrying capability will be limited to 15,000lbs of ordnance.

The F-35B is the most unique of the three F-35s. It incorporates the lift fan system, this positioned just aft of the cockpit. The fan is put into action when the pilot sets the aircraft into vertical flight mode for either take-off, hover or landing flight actions. The lift-fan works in conjunction with the positional aft thruster duct which itself is positioned at a downwards angle provide upwards thrust when in the vertical. The lift-fan acts as a counter-balance for the power emitted from the rear jet exhaust while also supplying cooler air into the hot jet wash being generated by the engine nozzle. The engine powers the lift fan via a drive shaft from the front of the engine. Twin Roll Posts control balance and rolling in much the same way the Harrier's vertical flight "puffer" jets worked through its ducted wings and fuselage points. The lift fan is seen in operation when a pair of dorsal and ventral doors are opened. Another set of panels just aft of the lift fan is also opened to provide the needed mass flow to the auxiliary engine. Many moving parts are required to work in unison for the F-35B so it will be interesting to see how the aircraft fends once in operational service. The primary customer of the F-35B is intended to be the USMC, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and the Italian Navy. The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy have had much success and experience in the fielding of their Cold War-era Harrier jump jets.

The F-35B features a wingspan of 35 feet, a fuselage length of 50.5 feet and a wing area of 460 square feet. Internal fuel is listed at 13,326lbs. It is reported that Lockheed consulted with people at the Russian Yakovlev aircraft firm and purchased some relatable data during the development of the F-35B. Yakovlev had some experience with developing STOVL flight in their limited-production Yak-38 "Forger" for the Soviet Navy and the experimental Yak-141 "Freestyle", also meant for the Soviet Navy.

The Navalized F-35C

The navalized F-35C will become the US Navy's first stealth aircraft when it is inducted into operational service. Past attempts at such an aircraft have come up fruitless (as in the McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II and the Rockwell XFV-12). As a navalized version of the base F-35, the F-35C will be launched via steam catapults already serving 4th Generation fighter aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet. Retrieval will be via conventional arrestor hook-and-wire fielded across the carrier deck. The F-35C will sport a revised and reinforced undercarriage and internal structure for the rigors of carrier operations as well as a larger control surfaces for better low-speed, low-level performance). Folding wings also differentiate this model from the other two F-35s and serve to decrease valuable storage space on America's carriers. Range is expected to be about 1,200 miles on internal fuel alone. Like the other F-35s in the series, the F-35C will also make use of the AIM-120 AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missile as well as 2 x 2,000lb GBU-31 JDAM guided bombs. 8 x GBU-38 bombs will also be a part of this Lightning II's forte and all ordnance will be stowed within internal bomb bays. Additional armament will include current air-to-surface guided missiles, conventional bombs, munitions dispensers and guided bombs. Munitions-carrying capability will be limited to 18,000lbs of ordnance. Like the F-35B, the F-35C will also mount its 25mm GAU-22A series cannon in an external pod fitting. Measurements of the F-35C include a span of 43 feet, a length of 50.8 feet and a wing area of 620 square feet. Internal fuel is listed at 19,624lbs.

At the time of this writing, the US Navy will be the sole operator of the F-35C variant. It remains to be seen whether this variant will be made available for export to other navies as very few actually operate the large-surface carriers today. Nations such as the UK and Italy usually operate smaller, less-expensive conventional types, capable of fielding the STOVL version of the F-35 instead, as they did with their previous Harriers.

Walk Around

Though the F-35 retains much of the same design philosophy and outward appearance of Lockheed's other 5th generation product (the F-22 Raptor) it is a wholly individual design. It is a smaller and somewhat slower design (less than Mach 2-capable) fitting a single Pratt & Whitney engine though it is refined for the ground strike role comparable to the F/A-18 Hornet and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The fuselage features angular sharply-tapered edges. The cockpit is situated behind a short nose assembly housing the radar and interestingly sports a forward-hinged two-piece canopy. Seating is for one pilot and no HUDs system tops the forward instrument panel. Intakes are fitted to either side of the fuselage and are slanted to help promote a lesser intrusive forward and side signature. Wings are large-area, high-mounted assemblies with greater sweep along their leading edge and less sweep along the trailing edge. Wings are clipped at the tips and set at about the middle of the airframe. The split intakes feed the single engine housed in the bowels of the fuselage. The jet pipe ends in a single exhaust ring positioned aft. The empennage consists of a pair of outward-angled vertical tail fins with clipped wingtips while the horizontal planes (also clipped at the tips) are fitted at and well past the exhaust ring, giving the F-35 a very unique top-down/bottom-up profile. The undercarriage is retractable and made up of two main single-wheeled landing gear legs recessing into the fuselage sides and a single-wheeled nose landing gear leg recessing forwards under the cockpit floor. Another defining characteristic of the F-35 is the lack of conventional probes and vanes (with the exception of the nose-mounted one), these being held internally to help promote stealth.


Standard armament for the F-35A will be the GAU-22/A four-barrel 25mm cannon with 180 rounds afforded to the system. The F-35B and F-35C will both feature this same cannon but in an externally-mounted pod and with 220 rounds for the gun. The pod will feature stealth capabilities to not expand the signature of the F-35 airframe. To comply with its stealth requirements, the F-35 will primarily house its ordnance in internal bomb bays. Six optional external underwing pylons will provide the bulk of the weapons payload carrying capability (three stations to a wing with the outboard-most stations reserved for the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile). With the F-35 being more-or-less an international development effort, attention has also been given to making the Lightning II capable with the latest (and some upcoming) munitions available in the UK and NATO arsenals.


The F-35 Lightning II is the spiritual successor to the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The P-38 was a memorable ace-making, twin-boom propeller-driven design seeing combat action in World War 2 across Europe and the Pacific. It is reportedly twice as load as a McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15 Eagle at take-off and double that noise during landing actions. Anyone that has heard the F-15 knows just how load the double engine setup can be. However, Lockheed was quick to state that the new F-35 is no more louder than the F-16. This remains to be seen (and heard).

The Indian Air Force may be a potential future F-35 user as might the Indian Navy (for the F-35B). It is though that a Lockheed sale of the F-35 to India is tied to a contingency of India purchasing some F-16 Fighting Falcons first (Lockheed no owns the General Dynamics F-16 brand). Other possible operators may someday be Finland, Brazil, Spain, Greece and South Korea. The US has refused sale to Taiwan for obvious Chinese-related political reasons. As a contributor, it is believed that Israel will eventually field at least 100 F-35A models to replace their aging F-16s in service.

Some potential customers have bypassed the $65 million+ cost of the F-35 Lightning II in favor of advanced 4.5th Generation fighters like the French Dassault Rafale, the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen and the European consortium Eurofighter Typhoon - each capable aircraft in their own right.


If all of what is being reported by Lockheed, its supporters and media releases comes to pass, the F-35 Lightning II will be one exceptional fighter/fighter-bomber platform. It is intended to be leaps ahead of the competition in both air-to-air and air-to-ground roles as well as a superb reconnaissance platform when used in the role. Its stealth capabilities should prove the system highly potent and able to best most any defense in the modern world today. The costs of operating the three-in-one airframe should allow more procurement of the type in the future but this might be wishful thinking at best. It is said that the new F-35 will be cheaper to buy and maintain than the current crop of Cold War fighter-bombers in the US stable. This, however, is a hard fact to believe considering the amount of technology and resources tied to the F-35 project. If anything, such statistics and measurements are nothing more than a sales tool. Time will only tell just what kind of a platform the F-35 will truly be. And until the system is involved in some protracted conflict somewhere on the globe, its lethality will only read well on paper and online reports.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Navy's new warships reach speeds of 52 mph "better able to chase down pirates"

BATH, Maine – The Navy's need for speed is being answered by a pair of warships that have reached freeway speeds during testing at sea.

Independence, a 418-foot warship built in Alabama, boasts a top speed in excess of 45 knots, or about 52 mph, and sustained 44 knots for four hours during builder trials that wrapped up this month off the Gulf Coast. The 378-foot Freedom, a ship built in Wisconsin by a competing defense contractor, has put up similar numbers.

Both versions of the Littoral Combat Ship use powerful diesel engines, as well as gas turbines for extra speed. They use steerable waterjets instead of propellers and rudders and have shallower drafts than conventional warships, letting them zoom close to shore.

The ships, better able to chase down pirates, have been fast-tracked because the Navy wants vessels that can operate in coastal, or littoral, waters. Freedom is due to be deployed next year, two years ahead of schedule.

Independence is an aluminum, tri-hulled warship built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala. The lead contractor is Maine's Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of General Dynamics.

Lockheed Martin Corp. is leading the team that built Freedom in Marinette, Wis. It looks more like a conventional warship, with a single hull made of steel.

The stakes are high for both teams. The Navy plans to select Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics, but not both, as the builder. The Navy has ordered one more ship from each of the teams before it chooses the final design. Eventually, the Navy wants to build up to 55 of them.

Speed has long been relished by Navy skippers. Capt. John Paul Jones, sometimes described as father of the U.S. Navy, summed it up this way in 1778: "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way."

Eric Wertheim, author and editor of the U.S. Naval Institute's "Guide to Combat Fleets of the World," said speed is a good thing, but it comes at a cost.

"This is really something revolutionary," Wertheim said. "The question is how important and how expensive is this burst of speed?"

Early cost estimates for Littoral Combat Ships were about $220 million apiece, but costs spiraled because of the Navy's requirements and its desire to expedite construction. The cost of the ships is capped at $460 million apiece, starting in the new fiscal year.

Both ships are built to accommodate helicopters and mission "modules" for either anti-submarine missions, mine removal or traditional surface warfare. The modules are designed to be swapped out within 24 hours, allowing the ships to adapt quickly to new missions.

While they're fast, they aren't necessarily the fastest military ships afloat. The Navy used to have missile-equipped hydrofoils and the Marines' air-cushioned landing craft is capable of similar speeds, Wertheim said. And smaller ships are capable of higher speeds.

Nonetheless, the speed is impressive, especially considering that other large naval vessels have been cruising along at a relatively pokey 30 to 35 knots for decades.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, noted that Independence sustained 44 knots despite a 30-knot headwind and 6- to 8-foot seas in Alabama's Mobile Bay. "For a ship of this size, it's simply unheard of to sustain that rate of speed for four hours," he said.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Vanguard class submarine "nuclear ballistic missile submarines"


The Vanguards were designed from the outset as an unlimited-range nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine, unlike the previous Resolution class which was adapted from the then existing Valiant class and the American Lafayette class of nuclear powered fleet ballistic missile submarines (SSBN in US terms). At 149.9 metres (492 ft) long and 15,980 tonnes (15,730 long tons) submerged displacement the Vanguards are roughly twice the size of the Resolutions, and are the third largest submarines ever built, by displacement when surfaced, after the RussianTyphoon and American Ohio classes. The great increase in size is largely related to the much larger size of the Trident D-5 missile as compared to Polaris.

The Vanguards were designed and built at Barrow-in-Furness by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited (VSEL), now BAE Systems Submarine Solutions. The Devonshire dock hall was built specifically to build these submarines. The missile compartment is based on the system used on the Ohio class, though only 16 missiles are carried rather than the 24 of the Ohio.

In addition to the missile tubes the Vanguard class is fitted with four 21 inches (53 cm) torpedoSpearfish heavyweight torpedo, allowing it to engage submerged or surface targets at ranges up to 65 kilometres (40 mi; 35 nmi). Two SSE Mark 10 launchers are also fitted to allow the boats to deploy Type 2066 and Type 2071 decoys, and a UAP Mark 3 electronic support measures (ESM) intercept system is fitted. tubes and carries the

HMS Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant and Vengeance were commissioned in 1993, 1995, 1996 and 2000 respectively.


Vanguard carries the Thales Underwater Systems Type 2054 composite sonar. The Type 2054 is a multi-mode, multi-frequency system, which incorporates the 2046, 2043 and 2082 sonars. The fleet is in the process of having their sonars refitted to include open architecture processing using commercial off the shelf technology.

A Type 2043 hull-mounted active/passive search sonar is also carried, as is a Type 2082 passive intercept and ranging sonar. Finally a Type 2046 towed array is carried. This operates at very low frequency, giving a passive search capability.

Two periscopes are carried, a CK51 search model and a CH91 attack model. Both have a TV camera and thermal imager as well as conventional optics.

A Type 1007 I-band navigation radar is also carried.

Command system

A specialised Submarine Command System (SMCS) was originally developed for the Vanguard[2] boats and was later used on other Royal Navy submarines.


A new pressurised water reactor, the PWR 2, was designed for the Vanguard class. This has double the service life of previous models, and it is estimated that a Vanguard class submarine could circumnavigate the world 40 times without refuelling. This should allow the class to carry out their entire service life without the need for expensive refuelling. The reactor drives two GEC turbines linked to a single shaft pump jet propulsor. This propulsion system gives the Vanguards a maximum submerged speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph). Auxiliary power requirements are provided by a pair of 6MW Steam-turbine generators supplied by WH Allen, (later known as NEI Allen, Allen Power & Rolls-Royce) with two Paxman diesel alternators for provision of backup power supply.

Class overview
Builders: Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd, Barrow-in-Furness
Operators: Royal Navy
Preceded by: Resolution-class
Succeeded by: N/A
In service: 1993 -
Completed: 4
Active: Vanguard (S28)
Victorious (S29)
Vigilant (S30)
Vengeance (S31)

General characteristics
Displacement: Dived: 15,680 long tons (17,560 short tons)
Length: 149.9 m (491 ft 10 in)
Beam: 12.8 m (42 ft 0 in)
Draught: 12 m (39 ft 4 in)
Propulsion: 1 × Rolls-Royce PWR2 nuclear reactor
2 × GEC turbines
1 × shaft pump jet
27,500 hp (20.5 MW)
2 × auxiliary retractable propulsion motors
2 × W H Allen turbo generators
6 MW
2 × Paxman diesel alternators
2 × 2,700 hp (4 MW)
Speed: Dived: 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph)
Range: Essentially unlimited distance; 20 years
Complement: 14 officers
121 enlisted
Sensors and
processing systems: BAE Systems SMCS
Thales Underwater Systems Type 2054 composite sonar suite comprising:
Type 2046 towed array sonar
Type 2043 hull-mounted active and passive search sonar
Type 2082 passive intercept and ranging sonar
1 × Kelvin Hughes Type 1007 I band navigation radar
1 × Pilkington Optronics CK51 search periscope
1 × Pilkington Optronics CH91 attack periscope
Armament: 4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
16 × ballistic missile tubes
Spearfish torpedoes
16 × Lockheed Trident D5 SLBMs carrying up to 128 warheads

Britain's Independent Deterrent

The announcement that Britain intends to reduce its nuclear deterrent capability by one submarine comes at a time when great pressure is being put on the government to reduce public spending. It also comes at a time when Britain is being asked to demonstrate a clear determination to reduce nuclear stocks globally, not least to persuade Iran not to embark upon the nuclear road.

With three remaining Vanguard nuclear submarines, of which one will be home based for essential maintenance, the future of the independent deterrent would appear to be in doubt. A new non-proliferation treaty appears to be in the offing. And with system replacement costs estimated at up to £20bn, there will be many from all three services that will be making persuasive claims that the deterrent is no longer affordable and is in any case, of dubious relevance to 'wars among the people' such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. As in previous decades, there will be further debate as to the merits of a deterrent other than a submarine-based one. And with an in-service date of 2025, the procurement clock is already ticking.

The ethical and pragmatic case against continued possession of an independent deterrent is compelling and perhaps best articulated by (retired) General Sir Hugh Beach. In his 'White Elephant or Black Hole' RUSI journal of February 2009, he points out that 188 states are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and seem none the worse for having opted out of the nuclear arena. He also makes the entirely valid point that most conflicts in recent years have been of a conventional or asymmetric variety, where nuclear weapons played no part. He further reminds us that the missiles are in any case from a shared pool provided by the US under the Mutual Defence Agreement of 1958, an arrangement recently extended to 2014. His demolition of the case for using the deterrent in the context of an Al Qaida terrorist threat is also convincing.

The importance of independence

"Britain is being asked to demonstrate a clear determination to reduce nuclear stocks globally."

UK Shadow Defence Minister Julian Lewis and the late defence strategist Sir Michael Quinlan have made an equally powerful claim that the UK can and must continue its deterrent capability. Lewis points to the notion that the era of high-intensity state-on-state warfare is gone for good is a 'dangerous fallacy' and equally important and he reminds us that our capacity to predict future conflict is woefully inadequate, this despite well over a century of political pseudo-science with its claims to the contrary. His reference to advice offered by former chiefs of staff in 1964 that in the event that a government decided to abandon Britain's independent deterrent, that they should be absolved from further responsibility for the defence of the UK, is chillingly prescient.

Most of the reasoning for a requirement to change the current position over nuclear deterrence is spurious. Claims that 'globalisation' or 'the end of the Cold War' have led to a situation of rebus sic stantibus are simply flawed. Nothing has fundamentally changed since the1962 Nassau Agreement. The UK needed then, and still needs now, the degree of independent political action that will ensure its retention as a close ally of the USA as well as its place on the UN Security Council. The cost of so doing may well have been high, such as siding with the US over the invasion of Iraq in 2003 in the face of overwhelming public outcry and now remaining alongside the US in Afghanistan. The price in blood and treasure may indeed be seen as unacceptable but it is there, nevertheless.

"All three services may be making persuasive claims that the nuclear deterrent is no longer affordable."

Reductions in the size of the deterrent system may well become a reality, as proposed in the 20% reduction in missiles in the 2006 defence white paper. Politicians are also entitled to uphold the moral high ground of an aspiration for a nuclear-free world, entirely laudible yet hopelessly unrealistic as this might be for as long as countries such as North Korea are engaged in obtaining a nuclear capability.

Possession of an independent nuclear deterrent has been universally welcomed over generations and possession of a fleet of Vanguard submarine replacements will guarantee jobs at Barrow-in-Furness for many years to come, especially once the Astute fleet has been built.

UK continuous at-sea deterrent

Could the UK seriously contemplate a future as a maritime power without submarine capabilities of reach, stealth, endurance on station and the capacity for either nuclear or conventional strike at any point on the globe as our continuous at-sea deterrence (CASD)? This was, after all, one of the key arguments of 1962. The world was then a dangerous place, as was witnessed by the Cuban missiles crisis of that year. And who in government would contemplate a reversion to unilateralism, guaranteed to bring political isolation for decades to come?

Whilst agreeing with Hugh Beach that the 'logic' of possession is difficult if not impossible to sustain, perception is all in international politics and chance an uncertainty are its bedrock. Or as Clausewitz would say in his book On War 'The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war'.

Gunmen, bomber hit 4 sites in Pakistan, 38 die

LAHORE, Pakistan – Teams of gunmen attacked law enforcement facilities across the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, paralyzing Pakistan's cultural capital, while a car bomb devastated a northwest police station, killing a total of 38 people in an escalating wave of terror in this nuclear-armed U.S. ally.

The bloodshed, aimed at scuttling a planned offensive into the militant heartland on the Afghan border, highlights the militants' ability to carry out sophisticated strikes on heavily fortified facilities and exposes the failure of the intelligence agencies to adequately infiltrate the extremist cells.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, though suspicion fell on the Taliban who have claimed other recent strikes. The attacks Thursday also were the latest to underscore the growing threat to Punjab, the province next to India where the Taliban are believed to have made inroads and linked up with local insurgent outfits.

President Asif Ali Zardari said the bloodshed that has engulfed the nation over the past 11 days would not deter the government from its mission to eliminate the violent extremists, according to a statement on the state-run news agency.

"The enemy has started a guerrilla war," Interior Minister Rehman Malik said. "The whole nation should be united against these handful of terrorists, and God willing we will defeat them."

The wave of violence halted activity in Lahore. All government offices were ordered shut, the roads were nearly empty, major markets did not open and stores that had been open pulled down their shutters.

The violence began just after 9 a.m. when a group of gunmen attacked a building housing the Federal Investigation Agency, a law enforcement branch that deals with matters ranging from immigration to terrorism.

"We are under attack," said Mohammad Riaz, an FIA employee reached inside the building via phone by The Associated Press during the assault. "I can see two people hit, but I do not know who they are."

The attack lasted about 1 1/2 hours and ended with the death of two attackers, four government employees and a bystander, senior government official Sajjad Bhutta said. Senior police official Chaudhry Shafiq said one of the dead wore a jacket bearing explosives.

The FIA building was the target of a suicide truck bomb in March 2008 that killed 24 people and wounded more than 200.

Soon after the building was hit Thursday, a second band of gunman raided a police training school in Manawan on the outskirts of the city in a brief attack that killed nine police officers and four militants, according to police and hospital officials. One of the gunmen was killed by police at the compound and the other three blew themselves up.

The facility was hit earlier this year in an attack that sparked an eight-hour standoff with the army that left 12 people dead.

A third team of at least eight gunmen scaled the back wall of an elite police commando training center not far from the airport and attacked the facility, Lahore police chief Pervez Rathore said.

A family barricaded itself in a room in a house, while the attackers stood on the roof, shooting at security forces and throwing grenades, said Lt. Gen. Shafqat Ahmad, the top military official in Lahore.

Two attackers were slain in the gunbattle and three blew themselves up, he said. One police nursing assistant and a civilian also died in the attack, he said.

Television footage showed helicopters in the air over one of the police facilities and paramilitary forces with rifles and bulletproof vests taking cover behind trees outside a wall surrounding the compound. Rana Sanaullah, provincial law minister of Punjab province, said police were trying to take some of the attackers alive so they could get information from them about their militant networks.

Officials have warned that Taliban fighters close to the border, Punjabi militants spread out across the country and foreign al-Qaida operatives were increasingly joining forces, dramatically increasing the dangers to Pakistan. Punjab is Pakistan's most populous and powerful province, and the Taliban claimed recently that they were activating cells there and elsewhere in the country for assaults.

An official at the provincial Punjab government's main intelligence agency said they had precise information about expected attacks on security targets and alerted police this week, but the assailants still managed to strike. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the situation.

Despite their reach and influence, the nation's feared spy agencies have failed to stop the bloody attacks plaguing the country.

Kamran Bokhari, an analyst with Stratfor, a U.S.-based global intelligence firm, said Pakistan needed to penetrate more militant groups and intercept conversations to prevent attacks, but the task was complicated in a country so big and populous.

"The militants are able to exploit certain things on the ground, like the anti-American sentiment, which is not just in society — it's also in the military," he added.

In the Taliban-riddled northwest, meanwhile, a suicide car bomb exploded next to a police station in the Saddar area of Kohat, collapsing half the building and killing 11 people — three police officers and eight civilians — Kohat police chief Abdullah Khan said.

The U.S. has encouraged Pakistan to take strong action against insurgents who are using its soil as a base for attacks in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are bogged down in an increasingly difficult war. It has carried out a slew of its own missile strikes in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt over the past year, killing several top militants including Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.

One suspected U.S. missile strike killed four people overnight Thursday when it hit a compound in an area in North Waziristan tribal region where members of the militant network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani are believed to operate, two intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Pakistan formally protests the missile strikes as violations of its sovereignty, but many analysts believe it has a secret deal with the U.S. allowing them.

The militants have claimed credit for a wave of attacks that began with an Oct. 5 strike on the U.N. food agency in Islamabad and included a siege of the army's headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi that left 23 people dead.

The Taliban have warned Pakistan to stop pursuing them in military operations.

The Pakistani army has given no time frame for its expected offensive in South Waziristan tribal region, but has reportedly already sent two divisions totaling 28,000 men and blockaded the area.

Fearing the looming offensive, about 200,000 people have fled South Waziristan since August, moving in with relatives or renting homes in the Tank and Dera Ismail Khan areas, a local government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

NKorea warns naval incursions could spark clash

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea warned South Korea on Thursday that a rash of "reckless" incursions at their disputed maritime border could spark a naval clash.

North Korea's navy accused South Korean warships of routinely broaching its territory — 10 times on Monday alone — in the waters off the divided peninsula's western coast.

"The reckless military provocations by warships of the South Korean navy have created such a serious situation that a naval clash may break out between the two sides in these waters," the military said in a statement carried Thursday by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

The warning of a clash in the West Sea — site of deadly naval skirmishes in 1999 and 2002 — comes even as relations between the two Koreas show signs of improvement after more than a year of tensions.

South Korea's Defense Ministry dismissed the North's claim, saying its navy ships have never violated the western sea border.

"They've repeating this for a long time. We don't really care about that," said a ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The two Koreas technically remain in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953. They are divided by a heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone.

North Korea, however, does not recognize the western maritime border drawn unilaterally by the United Nations, and it routinely issues warnings to the South about incursions across the military line.

Recently, there have been signs that relations might be improving. On Wednesday, North Korea extended a rare apology to the South for releasing a massive amount of water from a dam near their border last month. Six South Koreans drowned in the flooding.

South Korea's top official for inter-Korean relations, meanwhile, indicated that Seoul is prepared to offer the North food aid without conditions as a humanitarian gesture — an apparent softening of the government's stance toward Pyongyang.

"We will provide limited humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable groups in North Korea regardless of political and security circumstances," Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said in a speech to the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea.

"We will do our part to end the suffering of our brothers in the North," he said.

For a decade, South Korea was one of biggest donors to the impoverished North. But the flow of aid from Seoul stopped when President Lee Myung-bak took office last year, saying any help must be conditioned to denuclearization.

North Korea has faced chronic food shortages since flooding and mismanagement destroyed its economy in the mid-1990s. Famine is believed to have killed as many as 2 million people in the 1990s.

Hyun did not elaborate on a time frame or amount of possible aid to North Korea.

South Korea, meanwhile, wants to discuss the return of 560 soldiers who have been held by North Korea since the war and 504 civilians, mostly fishermen whose boats have been seized near the maritime border.

North Korea says the civilians voluntarily defected to the North and denies it has any South Korean prisoners of war.

South Korea also wants to stage more reunions of families divided by the war. On Friday, Red Cross officials are to meet in North Korea to discuss staging future reunions.

Friday, September 25, 2009

US, UK, French heads demand Iran nuke site openedUS, UK, French heads demand Iran nuke site opened

PITTSBURGH – President Barack Obama and the leaders of France and Britain declared Friday that the revelation of a previously secret Iranian nuclear facility puts heavy new pressure on Tehran to quickly disclose all its nuclear efforts — including any moves toward weapons development — "or be held accountable."

A defiant Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retorted that his nation was keeping nothing from international inspectors and needn't "inform Mr. Obama's administration of every facility that we have."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Iran has until December to comply or face new sanctions. Before that, on Oct. 1, the Iranians are to meet with the U.S. and five other major powers to discuss a range of issues including Iran's nuclear program.

"We will not let this matter rest," said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who accused Iran of "serial deception."

Said Obama: "The Iranian government must now demonstrate through deeds its peaceful intentions or be held accountable to international standards and international law."

Just hours later, the head of Iran's nuclear program suggested U.N. inspectors will be allowed to visit it. Ali Akbar Salehi called the facility "a semi-industrial plant for enriching nuclear fuel" that is not yet complete, but he gave no other details, according to the state news agency IRNA.

Ahmadinejad, in New York for this week's General Assembly meeting, said that pressing his country on the newly disclosed plant "is definitely a mistake." In an interview with Time magazine, he said Iran was not keeping anything from the International Atomic Energy Agency. "We have no secrecy," he said.

Iran kept the facility, 100 miles southwest of Tehran, hidden from weapons inspectors until a letter it sent to the IAEA on Monday.

But the U.S. has known of the facility's existence "for several years" through intelligence developed by U.S., French and British agencies, a senior White House official said. Obama decided to gather allies to talk publicly on Friday about their view of the project so as not to let Iran have the only word, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to let the statements from Obama and the leaders remain the focus.

The plant would be about the right size to enrich enough uranium to produce one or two bombs a year, but inspectors must get inside to know what is actually going on, the official said.

The three leaders, in their dramatic joint statement that overshadowed the G-20 economic summit here, hoped the disclosure would increase pressure on the global community to impose new sanctions on Iran if it refuses to stop its nuclear program.

Beyond sanctions, the leaders' options are limited and perilous; military action by the United States or an ally such as Israel could set off a dangerous chain of events in the Islamic world. In addition, Iran's facilities are spread around and well-hidden, making an effective military response logistically difficult.

The leaders did not mention military force. But Sarkozy said ominously, "Everything, everything must be put on the table now. We cannot let the Iranian leaders gain time while the motors are running."

Germany is one of the six powers meeting with Iran next week, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the revelation "a grave development."

She told reporters that Germany, Great Britain, France and the United States had consulted on the issue and agreed to a joint response. Merkel spoke separately from her counterparts because she had been in an already-scheduled meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

She said "we will see" about the reactions of Russia and China, which also are part of the group of six but always more reluctant to take a firm line on Iran.

Earlier this week, Medvedev opened the door to backing potential new sanctions against Iran, speaking just days after Obama's decision to scale back a U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe that Russia strongly opposed. But it's unclear if that will translate into action.

Medvedev's spokeswoman said Friday that the developments "cannot but disturb us." Natalya Timakova said Medvedev would talk later in Pittsburgh on it, according to the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass.

The senior administration official said Obama told Medvedev about the Iranian facility during their meeting this week in New York. The Chinese are "just absorbing these revelations," the official said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Beijing wants the matter settled through negotiations.

"Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow," Obama said.

Sarkozy and Brown struck an even more defiant tone. "The international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand," Brown said.

Ahmadinejad made no mention of the facility while attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week. But Iran denies that it is enriching uranium to build a nuclear bomb — as the West suspects — and says it is only doing so for energy purposes.

However, Iran is under three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze enrichment at what had been its single publicly known enrichment plant, which is being monitored by the IAEA.

Officials said Iran's letter to the IAEA contained no details about the location of the second facility, such as when — or if — it had started operations or the type and number of centrifuges it was running.

But one of the officials, who had access to a review of Western intelligence on the issue, said it was underground about 100 miles southwest of Tehran and is the site of 3,000 centrifuges that. It is not yet operational but the U.S. believes it will be by next year, said a U.S. counterproliferation official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

U.S. intelligence believes the facility is on a military base controlled by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, according to a document that the Obama administration sent to U.S. lawmakers. It was provided to The Association Press by an official on condition of anonymity because, though unclassified, it was deemed confidential. The military connection could undermine Iran's contention that the plant was designed for civilian purposes.

"The size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program," Obama told reporters.

The U.S., British and French officials provided detailed information to the IAEA on Thursday, Obama said.

An August IAEA report said Iran had set up more than 8,000 centrifuges to produce enriched uranium at the first facility, also underground and located outside the southern city of Natanz. The report said that only about 4,600 centrifuges were fully active.

Showdown on Iran's nuclear program enters endgame

You wouldn't know it from witnessing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, all cocky and self-confident, as he gave a trademark bellicose speech to the United Nations this week, blaming the world's ills on Zionism, capitalism and so on. But his nation is facing international crunch time over its nuclear weapons program.

Next week, diplomats from all U.N. Security Council countries plus Germany are scheduled to sit down with Iran's chief negotiator in Geneva to see whether a deal on Iran's nuclear ambitions is possible. This will be a serious final chance as the long-simmering confrontation enters a dangerous endgame.

Ahmadinejad's recent rants that Israel's days are numbered and that the Holocaust was a "lie" only make him more impossible to believe about anything – and make it more likely that Israel will pre-emptively attack Iran's nuclear facilities if diplomatic efforts show little progress. Brandishing original construction plans for the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.N. Thursday that "the most urgent challenge facing this body today is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons."

An Israeli strike should be a last resort: It could trigger a huge run-up in oil prices, invite retaliation against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and further destabilize the already volatile Middle East. Given that Iran has built many of its facilities deep underground, an airstrike might not even succeed.

The best hope of preventing this scenario is tough international sanctions against the Iranian regime, which would be a departure from recent years when the Europeans tentatively felt out Iran as the U.S. refused to negotiate – leaving plenty of room for Iran to do its usual ducking, weaving and stalling for time.

Unlike in the past, the Security Council is closing ranks on the idea of cutting off trade to Iran of the refined oil that it depends on, if Iran doesn't stop enriching uranium by year's end. That development is crucial, because Russia and China have previously refused to endorse sanctions. Now, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says they might be inevitable. China, which trades with Iran, has been more equivocal but rarely vetoes a U.N. resolution alone.

For all of Ahmadinejad's U.N. bluster, he's dealing from a position of weakness. His hold on power at home is tenuous; his credibility abroad is negligible. Sanctions would come at a particularly perilous time for Iran's hard-line clerics, who have the final say in all matters, including the nuclear program. They still face political unrest and sporadic street protests over June's contested presidential election. With their economy in dire straits and unemployment high, sanctions on gasoline supplies could provide fresh encouragement to the opposition.

At the same time, U.S. and Russian officials should back off the assurances they have been giving Iran that Israel won't attempt to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. Keeping the military option on the table gives the Iranians more, not less, incentive to strike a deal.

Friday, August 14, 2009

3 die, 70 wounded in blast near NATO HQ in Kabul

KABUL – A suicide car bomb exploded near the main gate of the NATO-led international military mission Saturday, killing three Afghans and wounding 70, officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

The pinpoint attack penetrated a heavily guarded neighborhood that also houses the U.S. Embassy and Afghan presidential palace just five days before Afghanistan's nationwide elections.

Bloodied and dazed Afghans wandered the street after the blast, and children — many of whom congregate outside the NATO gate to sell gum to Westerners — were among the wounded. Windows of nearby antique shops were shattered and blood smeared the ground.

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said three Afghan civilians were killed and 70 wounded in the blast. Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. spokeswoman for the NATO-led mission, said the explosion occurred near the gate of NATO's International Security Assistance Force. She had no immediate information on damage to the headquarters.

"I was drinking tea in our office when a big explosion happened," said Abdul Fahim, an Afghan in his mid-20s who sustained leg injuries. "I lay on the ground and then I saw wounded victims everywhere, including police and civilians."

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the blast and said the bomb contained 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms) of explosives. Mujahid at first said the bomber was on foot, then later called back and said it was a suicide car bomb attack.

NATO headquarters has several large, cement blocks and steel gates that prevent anyone from reaching the entrance, and the bomber was not able to breach those barriers. Afghanistan's Transportation Ministry lies across the street from NATO headquarters.

The bomber was able to evade several rings of Afghan police and detonate his explosives at the doorstep to the international military mission, an assault possibly aimed at sending a sign that the Taliban can attack anywhere it wants. The NATO mission — where top commander U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal works — sits beside the U.S. Embassy and shares the same street as the presidential palace.

The blast — before Afghans go to the polls this Thursday — could also reinforce the Taliban's threat of violence to any Afghan who participates in the elections.

Afghanistan has braced for attacks because of the vote. International workers in the country were planning on working from home over the next week or had been encouraged to leave the country.

The blast rattled the capital and sent a black plume of smoke skyward. It was the first major attack in Kabul since February, when eight Taliban militants attacked three government buildings simultaneously, an assault that killed 20 people and the eight attackers.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said a suicide bomber named Ahmad carried out Saturday's attack.

A driver from the nearby Defense Ministry said he took at least 12 people to the hospital. Most were seriously wounded, said the driver, who spoke to an Associated Press reporter at the scene but didn't want to give his name because of safety concerns.

Kabul has been relatively quiet over the last half year, though militants have launched a barrage of rockets into the capital this month, most of which landed harmlessly in open spaces.

Security has increased over the last several weeks in preparation for Thursday's vote.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pakistan army says Taliban training boys to fight

MINGORA, Pakistan – In a voice barely above a whisper, I.H. stared at his feet as he recounted haltingly how the Taliban kidnapped him and a classmate as they played in the street. They cleaned dishes for a few days in a militant training camp in northern Pakistan before escaping during Friday prayers, he said.

The Pakistani army says it has so far found 20 boys like I.H., who is only being identified by his initials for his safety, in the battle-scarred Swat Valley, scene of a major offensive against the Taliban this spring.

They believe the Taliban hoped to turn the boys into informants, fighters or even suicide bombers. Some escaped, others were rescued by authorities. Maj. Nasir Khan said many more are believed to be in the hands of militants.

Eleven such boys — the youngest only about 7 years old — were presented to journalists Monday at a military base in Swat's main town of Mingora.

The Taliban have been known to use children as fighters before in Afghanistan, and the army seems keen to capitalize on the boys' capture, hoping their stories will help turn public opinion against the militants.

The spring offensive in Swat — to clear the region of militants after they flouted a peace deal and expanded their area of control — was relatively popular in Pakistan. The government now hopes to extend its grip on Swat to prevent the Taliban fighters likely hiding in the mountains from mounting their own counteroffensive to regain control of the strategic area.

The U.S. sees Pakistan's ability to take on the Taliban as key to its own troops' success across the border in Afghanistan. But some Pakistanis support the Taliban, especially in the lawless tribal areas that border Afghanistan, and the army's military campaign against them also has involved public relations battles.

Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar could not be reached for comment on the militants' use of children.

The boys on Monday said they had spent time in training camps — though how long was unclear. They themselves mostly said just a few days, but the army said they were probably with the Taliban for a month or more.

Three of the boys appeared to be younger than 10 and were visibly traumatized, occasionally breaking down in tears. The others were mostly in their mid-teens. Of the six who spoke to the AP, most said they were made to clean dishes or undergo rigorous physical training. None said he had been trained to carry out a suicide attack.

Feriha Peracha, a clinical neuropsychologist called in by the army to assess the boys, said some of them were clearly depressed and traumatized. However, she said it was unlikely all had been kidnapped as they claimed.

"It's only one or two maximum out of this group that I would say was probably actually taken by force," Peracha said.

The Taliban have been known to persuade boys to join their ranks or even paid impoverished families to hand over a young future fighter, Khan said.

"They are like the Mafia. Some children are inspired by them. They command respect because people are afraid of them," he said.

Peracha said most of the boys she interviewed tested below average on intelligence tests and came from poor families, which may have made them easy targets for the militants. One displayed psychotic symptoms.

I.H., who said he's 12 but looks much younger, said he was snatched off the streets and driven to a training camp.

"We were just playing" in the village when a car drove up, he said. "They blindfolded us."

B.K., a 15-year-old from Mingora, said he was lured into a car.

"They took me to a mountain place that was a training center" where he and other boys were woken before dawn for prayers, followed by strenuous physical exercise, he said.

"I was told that I would be trained for jihad to fight against the army and to kill soldiers," he said, adding that there were another 50 to 60 boys at the camp. He said an uncle managed to negotiate his release.

M.K., a 16-year-old who already had some gray hair, said he was returning home after buying groceries when a car pulled up and offered him a lift. But when they reached the turn for his house, the bearded men in the car gagged and blindfolded him, and drove him to a training camp where there were about 250 other boys, aged between 12 and 18.

"They told us jihad (holy war) is the duty of every Muslim," M.K. said. He said he was told it was OK to kill your parents if they disagreed.

"I was shocked. I was thinking, how can someone kill their parents?" the boy said, his voice barely audible.

Khan said that once the boys are picked up by the army, they are questioned before they are allowed to return home.

Army officials took blood and hair samples from the boys Monday, to run DNA tests and to check whether any of them had been drugged while they were in the training camps.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Akthar Abbas said it's clear some of the boys were being trained as fighters or worse.

"They were being trained as suicide bombers. There is fear still at the back of their minds," he said.

Abbas said they are setting up a rehabilitation program for the boys to provide them with education and psychotherapy.

"We will try to convert them as useful society members."