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Venezuelan government: Drone strikes targeted Maduro

August 05, 2018

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Saturday in an apparent assassination attempt that took place while he was delivering a speech to hundreds of soldiers being broadcast live on television, officials said.

Caught by surprise mid-speech, Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, looked up at the sky and winced after hearing the sound of an explosion pierce the air. “This was an attempt to kill me,” he said later in an impassioned retelling of the events. “Today they attempted to assassinate me.”

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the incident took place shortly after 5:30 p.m. as Maduro was celebrating the National Guard’s 81st anniversary. The visibly shaken head of state said he saw a “flying device” that exploded before his eyes. He thought it might be a pyrotechnics display in honor of the event.

Within seconds, Maduro said he heard a second explosion and pandemonium ensued. Bodyguards escorted Maduro out of the event and television footage showed uniformed soldiers standing in formation quickly scattering from the scene.

He said the “far right” working in coordination with detractors in Bogota and Miami, including Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, were responsible. Some of the “material authors” of the apparent attack have been detained.

“The investigation will get to the bottom of this,” he said. “No matter who falls.” Venezuela’s government routinely accuses opposition activists of plotting to attack and overthrow Maduro, a deeply unpopular leader who was recently elected to a new term in office in a vote decried by dozens of nations. Maduro has steadily moved to concentrate power as the nation reels from a crippling economic crisis.

In the midst of near-daily protests last year, a rogue police officer flew a stolen helicopter over the capital and launched grenades at several government buildings. Oscar Perez was later killed in a deadly gun battle after over six months on the lam.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab said the attempted assassination targeted not only Maduro, but rather the military’s entire high command on stage with the president. Prosecutors have already launched their investigation and obtained critical details from the suspects in custody, said Saab, adding that he would give more details Monday.

“We are in the midst of a wave of civil war in Venezuela,” Saab said. Firefighters at the scene of the blast disputed the government’s version of events. Three local authorities said there had been a gas tank explosion inside an apartment near Maduro’s speech where smoke could be seen streaming out of a window. They provided no further details on how they had reached that conclusion.

A Colombian official with the president’s office described Maduro’s claims that Santos was involved in the attack as baseless. Adding to the confusion, a little known group calling itself Soldiers in T-shirts claimed responsibility, saying it planned to fly two drones loaded with explosives at the president, but government soldiers shot them down before reaching its target. The Associated Press could not independently verify the authenticity of the message.

“We showed that they are vulnerable,” the group said in a tweet. “It was not successful today, but it is just a matter of time.” The organization did not respond to a message from The Associated Press.

David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America who has spent decades researching Venezuela, said the incident did not appear to be a staged attack by Maduro’s government for political gain.

The “amateurish” attack prompted embarrassing images of Maduro cut off mid-sentence with droves of soldiers running away in fear, making the president appear vulnerable, Smilde noted. Despite the optics, Smilde said he suspected that Maduro would nonetheless find a way to take advantage of it.

“He will use it to concentrate power,” Smilde said. “Whoever did this, he’ll use it to further restrict liberty and purge the government and armed forces.” The event had been just one more of many Maduro routinely holds with members of the military, a key faction of Venezuelan society whose loyalty he has clung to as the nation struggles with crippling hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.

“We are going to bet for the good of our country,” Maduro declared triumphantly moments before the explosion. “The hour of the economy recovery has come.” Images being shared on social media showed officers surrounding Maduro with what appeared to be a black bullet-proof barrier as they escorted him from the site. Maduro said at no point did he panic, confident the military would protect him.

“That drone came after me,” he said. “But there was a shield of love that always protects us. I’m sure I’ll live for many more years.”

Armario reported from Miami, Florida. Associated Press video journalist Clbyburn Saint John contributed to this report.

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Israel downs Iranian drone and strikes Syria, F-16 crashes

February 10, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone it said infiltrated the country early Saturday before launching a “large-scale attack” on at least a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets inside Syria. Responding anti-aircraft fire led to the downing of an Israeli fighter jet.

Israel said the drone infiltration was a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” and warned of further action against unprecedented Iranian aggression. The military said its planes faced massive anti-aircraft fire from Syria that forced two pilots to abandon an F-16 jet that crashed in northern Israel. One pilot was seriously wounded and the other lightly. Syrian officials reported large explosions in the center of the country and the Syrian counter fire set off warning sirens throughout northern Israel.

The Israeli strikes marked its most significant engagement since the fighting in neighboring Syria began in 2011 and said Iran would be held responsible for its outcome. “This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”

Gen. Hossein Salami, acting commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, did not acknowledge Israel’s claim it shot down the drone. “We do not confirm any such news from Israel,” he said. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasem called the Israeli claim “ridiculous.”

But the joint operations room for the Syrian military and its allies denied the drone violated Israeli airspace, saying it was on a regular mission gathering intelligence on Islamic State militants. Syria’s Defense Ministry said in statements on its website that its air defenses responded successfully to the Israeli operation and hit more than one plane. “The Israeli enemy has once again attacked some of our military bases in the southern area and our air defenses responded and foiled the aggression,” it said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman were convening the top brass at military headquarters in Tel Aviv to discuss further response. Israel has mostly stayed out of the prolonged fighting in Syria, wary of being drawn into a war in which nearly all the parties are hostile toward it. It has recently been warning of the increased Iranian presence along its border, but military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Saturday’s incident marked the most “blatant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty” yet.

He said Israel has no interest in further escalation but that it would “extract a heavy price” for such aggression. Conricus said Iran was “playing with fire” by infiltrating Israeli airspace, and said the unmanned aircraft Israel shot down was “on a military mission sent and operated by Iranian military forces.” He said Israel recovered the dispatched drone, which was clearly Iranian.

In response, Conricus said Israeli jets destroyed the Iranian site in central Syria that launched it. Upon their return, the jets came under heavy Syrian anti-aircraft fire and the pilots of one of the F-16s had to escape and the plane crashed. It’s unclear whether the plane was actually struck or if the pilots abandoned their mission for a different reason.

If the plane was in fact shot down by enemy fire, it could mark the first such instance for Israel since 1982 during the first Lebanon war. Regardless, Damascus residents celebrated the news. Wassim Elias, 39, a government employee, called it retribution for the many Israeli raids on Syrian soil before. “This earned the Syrian army and every Syrian citizen prestige. This is what we have always demanded,” he said.

Firas Hamdan, 42, a public servant, said such Syrian responses will ensure no more Israeli attacks in Syria. “Such attacks should be confronted and the response should be tougher to give the Israelis a lesson.”

In subsequent attacks, Israel struck four additional Iranian positions and eight Syrian sites in Syria. The military said significant damage was caused. Conricus said the Israeli jets faced between 15 to 20 anti-aircraft missiles fired by SA-5 and SA-17 batteries. All the Israeli jets in those sorties returned home safely.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said Israel targeted the edges of a military air base, called T-4, in the Homs desert near Palmyra, where Iranian and Hezbollah forces are based alongside Syrian troops. The Observatory said the raids resulted in casualties, but didn’t specify. It also said Israeli raids targeted areas in southwestern Damascus, bordering the southern provinces. This was followed by raids on Syrian government posts along the Damascus-Beirut road, close to the border between Syria and Lebanon.

Syrian state TV said air defenses hit more than one Israeli plane and that a girl was injured when Israeli missiles fell near a school in a neighborhood in Damascus’ countryside. A Syrian lawmaker, Feras Shehabi, said the response marked a “major shift in the balance of power in favor of Syria and the axis of resistance.” He said “Israelis must realize they have no longer superiority in the skies or on the ground.”

Retired Lt. Col. Reuven Ben-Shalom, a former Air Force pilot, said the fierce Israeli response was meant not only to counter the immediate threat but also to send “very clear messages” to show Iran how deep Israel’s knowledge was of its activity in Syria.

“The fact that a drone like this is identified, tracked and intercepted so smoothly by the Israeli air force demonstrates our capabilities, demonstrates our resolve not to allow the breach of Israeli sovereignty,” he said. “I think it’s good that our enemies learn and understand these capabilities.”

Israel has long complained about the involvement of archenemy Iran, and Iranian proxy Hezbollah, in the Syria war. The Shiite allies have sent forces to back Syrian President Bashar Assad, who appears headed toward victory after years of fighting. Israel has said it will not accept a permanent military presence by Iran and its Shiite allies in Syria, especially near the Israeli border.

Israel has been warning of late of the increased Iranian involvement along its border in Syria and Lebanon. It fears Iran could use Syrian territory to stage attacks or create a land corridor from Iran to Lebanon that could allow it to transfer weapons more easily to Hezbollah.

The Israeli Cabinet recently held a meeting on the Golan Heights near the border with Syria to highlight new threats, which are attributed to Iran’s growing confidence given Assad’s apparent victory in Syria thanks to their help.

Israel has shot down several drones that previously tried to infiltrate its territory from Syria. The targeting of Iranian sites in response, however, marks an escalation in the Israeli retaliation. The military confirmed that the initial target in Syria — the unmanned aircraft’s launch components — was successfully destroyed.

El Deeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut, Albert Aji in Damascus and Amir Vahdat in Tehran contributed to this report.

Steampunk Rover Could Explore Hellish Venus

By Mike Wall, Space.com

September 6, 2017

Researchers are studying the possibility of building a steampunk Venus rover, which would forsake electronics in favor of analog equipment, such as levers and gears, to the extent possible.

“Venus is too inhospitable for the kind of complex control systems you have on a Mars rover,” project leader Jonathan Sauder, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. “But with a fully mechanical rover, you might be able to survive as long as a year.

“Inhospitable” may be a bit of an understatement. Thanks to Venus’ thick atmosphere, pressures on the planet’s surface are high enough to crush the hull of a nuclear submarine, NASA officials said. That same atmosphere has also spawned a runaway greenhouse effect: Venus’ average surface temperature is a whopping 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius) — hot enough to melt lead (not to mention standard electronics).

No spacecraft has ever survived these conditions for more than 127 minutes, and none has even tried for more than three decades; the last probes to reach the Venusian surface were the Soviet Union’s twin Vega 1 and Vega 2 landers, which launched in 1984.

So Sauder and his team are thinking creatively, drawing inspiration from mechanical computers such as Charles Babbage’s famous 19th-century Difference Engine and the intricate Antikythera mechanism, which the ancient Greeks used to predict eclipses and perform a variety of other celestial calculations.

They’re developing their concept vehicle, known as the Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE), using two rounds of funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. NIAC grants are intended to help nurture potentially revolutionary space science and exploration ideas.

“In Phase 1, purely mechanical rover technologies were compared to a high-temperature electronics rover and hybrid rover technologies,” Sauder and his colleagues wrote in a description of the project. “A purely mechanical rover, while feasible, was found to not be practical, and a high-temperature electronics rover is not possible with the current technology, but a hybrid rover is extremely compelling.”

This hybrid rover, as currently envisioned, would trundle across Venus not on wheels but on treads, like a tank. Most of its power would be generated by an onboard wind turbine, though roof-mounted solar panels would help as well.

The team’s current plans also call for AREE to feature a radar target with a rotating shutter, which would allow the rover to selectively bounce back radar signals from an overhead orbiter. As such, AREE could relay data in an old-fashioned, Morse-code sort of way.

“When you think of something as extreme as Venus, you want to think really out there,” JPL engineer Evan Hilgemann, who’s working on AREE high-temperature designs, said in the same statement. “It’s an environment we don’t know much about beyond what we’ve seen in Soviet-era images.”

Source: SPACE.com.

Link: https://www.space.com/37994-nasa-steampunk-venus-rover-concept.html.

IS drone kills Kurdish fighters, hurts French troops

Washington (AFP)

Oct 12, 2016

A remote-controlled jihadist hobby plane rigged with hidden explosives killed two Kurdish fighters and injured two French special operations troops near Mosul, French and US sources confirmed Wednesday.

While the Pentagon has previously said the Islamic State group uses simple, commercially available drones to conduct surveillance and carry small explosives, this was the first known deadly case.

According to a US defense official, the incident unfolded October 2 when a small plane with a styrofoam body was either shot down or crashed in Erbil in northern Iraq.

Two local Kurdish peshmerga fighters grabbed it and took it back to their camp to inspect and photograph it, when it blew up.

“It looks like the explosive charge was hidden inside of what appeared to be a battery on some sort of a timer,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.

A French source earlier confirmed the use of a “booby-trapped drone in Iraq,” while another confirmed that two French soldiers were hurt in the incident.

One of the French soldiers has life-threatening injuries. Both have been flown back to France for treatment.

The French military declined to comment.

Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, described the incident as a “Trojan Horse-style” attack.

“There was an improvised device on a drone. And when that was brought back to the camp, it exploded,” he said.

US defense officials said the military was deploying additional anti-drone technologies to the theater, including systems that provide electronic jamming.

“We don’t just let the enemy develop a capability that threatens our forces and those forces of our allies and partners and leave that threat unaddressed,” Dorrian said.

France is part of the international coalition fighting IS, which is preparing for a major offensive to dislodge the jihadist group from Mosul, which lies 85 kilometers (53 miles) from Erbil.

Around 500 French soldiers are based in Iraq, where they advise the peshmerga and train Iraqi elite forces in Baghdad. About 5,000 US troops are in Iraq.

US defense officials stressed IS drones would have zero strategic impact on the upcoming battle to wrest control of Mosul from IS.

“The implications of this are certainly not an existential threat and not something that’s militarily significant in that it’s going to stop anything that needs to happen from happening,” Dorrian said.

The unnamed defense official said the biggest implication was guidance being issued across the coalition to not pick up any drones.

“Treat them as unexploded ordinance,” he said.

“You see a drone sitting on the ground, don’t pick it up,” and call a bomb disposal expert, he added.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/IS_drone_kills_Kurdish_fighters_hurts_French_troops_999.html.

Pentagon wants drones to replace some US troops in Sinai

Washington (AFP)

April 12, 2016

The Pentagon wants to cut the number of US peacekeeping troops in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, partly because of the growing threat from the Islamic State group, an official said Tuesday.

About 700 US troops participate in a UN operation established after Israel and Egypt signed a 1979 peace deal and agreed for a Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission to monitor compliance.

The mission has historically been somewhat low-key, but in recent months attacks from IS jihadists have put forces on a state of constant high alert.

In September for instance, a roadside bombing injured six peacekeepers including four Americans.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said the Pentagon remains “fully committed” to the MFO mission but wants to use drones and other high-tech tools to assume some of the riskier work.

“I don’t think anyone is talking about a wholesale withdrawal, I think we are just going to look at the number of people we have there and see if there are functions that can be automated,” Davis said.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and other US officials have begun “formal conversations” with Israel and Egypt, Davis added.

US officials are also considering moving some US and international troops into a camp in the southern Sinai, far from their current base — called El-Gorah — near the Gaza Strip.

Sinai jihadists pledged allegiance in November 2014 to IS fighters, who control parts of Iraq and Syria and also has a presence in conflict-ridden Libya.

Jihadist fighters have long used Sinai as a base and launched an insurgency after the military overthrew Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Pentagon_wants_drones_to_replace_some_US_troops_in_Sinai_999.html.

Iran’s new aerial drone makes maiden flight

by Carlo Munoz

Tehran (UPI)

Apr 12, 2016

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, on Tuesday unveiled its newest aerial surveillance drone during large-scale military exercises in the western part of the country.

Iranian media reports the drone, named “Hamasseh” or “Epic” in English, conducted its first ever surveillance flights during the exercise in Sistan and Baluchestan Province in western Iran. The drone flew as part of a three-plane formation and carried out several high-altitude reconnaissance flights, Iranian news outlet Press TV.

The Iranian military’s smaller, tactical Mojahr-1 and Ababil-5 drones as well as the high-altitude Shahed-129 surveillance drone flew alongside the Hamasseh during the exercises, IRGC’s Ground Forces Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said.

Aside from long-range surveillance operations, the drone is also reportedly designed to carry out airstrikes as part of its anticipated multimission package.

The drone will continue to see action during the exercise in Kerman, South Khorasan and Homozgan, Pakpour added. The drills are expected to wrap up on April 14th.

On Monday, Tehran announced the first tranche of Russian-built S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems are en route to the Iranian military. The weapons transited to Iran via the Caspian Sea arriving this week, the country’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Jaberi Ansari said Monday.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Irans_new_aerial_drone_makes_maiden_flight_999.html.

Britain buying solar-powered Zephyr 8 drones from Airbus

Toulouse, France (UPI)

Feb 18, 2016

Airbus Defense and Space has received an order from Britain’s Ministry of Defense for its solar-powered Zephyr 8 unmanned aerial vehicle.

The Zephyr 8, described by Airbus as a high-altitude pseudo-satellite craft that provides persistent surveillance and communications links for about a month at a time before it needs to land for refurbishment.

Its altitude ceiling is about 65,000 feet. Its wing span is about 72 feet, and it weighs about 30 percent less than its predecessor, the Zephyr 7.

Solar panels on the aircraft charge its batteries from sunlight during the day and maintain the aircraft’s high altitude at night.

Airbus said Britain ordered two of the aircraft. Other contract details were not disclosed.

The first Zephyr 8 ordered is being built at an Airbus facility in England and is due to fly in mid-2017.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Britain_buying_solar-powered_Zephyr_8_drones_from_Airbus_999.html.

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