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U-2 Spy Plane Still Flying High December 16, 2011

One of the oldest planes the United States Air Force still flies is used to carry out some of America’s most sensitive and critical missions. Whether it’s aiding NATO troops in Afghanistan, providing surveillance over North Korea or examining Japan’s hurricane ravaged coast, the high altitude U-2 keeps flying despite initial plans to retire it by the end of this year.

It requires a lot of skill and technology to get a pilot above 21,000 meters where the U-2 snaps critical images and gathers intelligence.

One hour prior to takeoff, the pilot begins inhaling pure oxygen to cut the risk of decompression sickness.

Major Colby Kuhns of the U.S. Air Force 5th Reconnaissance “Blackcats” squadron said it is like being atop Mount Everest.

“I haven’t had any decompression problems, so that’s good. But we are susceptible to it. Guys who start getting those symptoms will feel pain in their joints and it could get worse than that,” said Kuhns.

Landing the spy plane, nicknamed Dragon Lady, also requires unique abilities.

The pilot, sometimes finishing a grueling flight of up to 12 hours, has poor forward visibility in the cockpit. Because the wide-winged jet has an unusual bicycle-type landing gear, a second pilot in a very fast car on the runway chases each landing, radioing observations to his colleague in the cockpit to help him maintain a full stall at precisely 60 centimeters off the ground.

VOA – S.L. Herman

A closeup view of the U-2 cockpit instrumentation, Osan Air Base, South Korea, Dec. 7, 2011

When the U-2s return from flights, the Blackcats’ maintenance team, overseen by Lieutenant Danielle Rogowski, tracks about 150 items on the jet that need to be replaced at certain intervals.

“Flying at that high an altitude, you do a significant amount of wear and tear on the aircraft and, a lot of these components, with the temperature changes and temperature extremes, puts a lot of pressure on them,” said Rogowski.

The first U-2 took to the skies in 1955. Originally, the Air Force provided the squadron commanders and logistical support while the Central Intelligence Agency supplied operations officers, pilots and mission planners. A newer version, 40 percent larger than the original U-2, was produced in the 1980s. In the 1990s, U-2s were outfitted with new engines.

Major Carl Maymi, sitting in the cockpit prior to a low altitude training session in a relatively new U-2 built in the 1980s, points out the U.S. Air Force also still has bombers from the 1950s.

“So by other Air Force weapons systems standards it is relatively new. You can take a look at the inside of the cockpit and the wiring throughout the jet, the motor and especially the sensors we have on board. hat stuff is all state of the art. It’s advanced. So I feel real comfortable with an aircraft that is technically 50-plus years old,” said Maymi.

One reason the U-2 was designed to fly very high was to avoid being shot down. But that is precisely what happened in 1960 when a Soviet missile struck one of the spy planes.

USAF 5th Reconnaissance Squadron

A high-altitude view from the U-2 cockpit (Undated)

Pilot Francis Gary Powers, whose CIA U-2 was recovered nearly intact, was captured. He was put on trial in Moscow and convicted of espionage.

In addition to the traditional Cold War era intelligence missions, U-2s also now provide real-time assistance to troops in combat zones, such as Afghanistan.

“It’s evolved as it’s needed to evolve. It is cutting edge right now and very well could go out into the future, if necessary,” said Kuhns.

Its future has been questionable for some time. The Defense Department, five years ago, intended to begin retiring the fleet. But Congress insisted the spy plane stay aloft until unmanned reconnaissance aircraft are capable of taking over its critical missions.

The Air Force now says that will happen in 2015 when the Global Hawk RQ-4 drones can assume the U-2s missions – some 60 years after the venerable spy plane first took to the skies.

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Three NATO troops killed by bomb in Afghanistan December 3, 2011

December 3, 2011

by legitgov


Three NATO troops killed by bomb in Afghanistan 03 Dec 2011 Three troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan Saturday, officials said. ISAF did not say which country the dead troops were from or give further details of the incident, in line with policy.

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Nato braces for reprisals after deadly air strike on Pakistan border post November 28, 2011

Nato forces in Afghanistan were braced on Sunday for possible reprisals from Pakistani-backed insurgents following the coalition air strike along the border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Senior officers from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), were scrambling to resume contacts with their Pakistani counterparts in the hopes of setting up a joint investigation into the incident.

But Pakistani officers severed communications and Islamabad cut Isaf’s two supply routes running through Pakistan.

It also gave the US two weeks to vacate the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan, which has been used to launch American drone aircraft.

One Isaf source voiced concern that the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, could go much further and use its suspected influence over insurgent groups in the tribal areas along the Afghan border to launch reprisal attacks on Nato. “This will come back at us, and at a time and a place of their [the ISI's] choosing,” the source predicted. In September the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the ISI was using insurgent groups such as the Haqqani network to wage a “proxy war” in Afghanistan.

The incident, and the subsequent breakdown in relations with Pakistan, is a particular blow to the Isaf commander, US general John Allen, who sees the insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan as one of the keys to the Afghan conflict and who had been in Pakistan the day before the border incident for talks with the Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, to discuss border co-operation.

In an interview in Kabul on Sunday, Allen refused to discuss details of the incident, saying it was under investigation. But he said: “We don’t know where all of this will end up with Pakistan. We have been good friends with them for a long, long time, and this is a tragedy.”

Isaf officers say the strike on Pakistani border positions took place when a joint force of Afghan and Isaf special forces carrying out a counterinsurgency operation in southern Kunar province came under fire and called in “close air support” from Nato aircraft. The air strikes hit two Pakistani border posts in the Mohmand tribal area on Saturday.

Pakistan’s military refused to accept that its checkposts had been hit by accident, insisting that Isaf knew the location of the posts, on a mountaintop at Salala, next to the Afghan border.

Major General Athar Abbas, chief spokesman for the Pakistan military, told the Guardian on Sunday that he did not believe Isaf or Afghan forces had received fire from the Pakistani side. “I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a deliberate attack by Isaf,” said Abbas. “If Isaf was receiving fire, then they must tell us what their losses were.”

Pakistani officials said the posts hit are 300 metres into Pakistani territory, but Isaf officers say the border in that area is disputed.

Abbas said, however, that the firing lasted for over an hour, while Isaf made “no attempt” to contact the Pakistani side using an established border co-ordination system to report that they had come under fire. He said that the map references of the posts were previously passed to Isaf.

“This was a totally unprovoked attack. There are no safe havens or hideouts left there [for militants] in Mohmand,” he said.

“This was a visible, well-made post, on top of ridges, made of concrete. Militants don’t operate from mountaintops, from concrete structures.”

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Afghan bomb blast kills US-led soldier November 15, 2011

November 15, 2011

by legitgov


Afghan bomb blast kills US-led soldier 14 Nov 2011 Another US-led soldier has been killed in a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) announces. ISAF said in a statement that the foreign soldier “died following a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan on Sunday,” Reuters reported. The statement gave no information about the nationality of the US-led soldier or the exact location of the incident.

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Air base whistleblowers ‘shocked’ November 12, 2011

Dover Air Force Base receives US military casualties before they are buried

Three whistleblowers who reported lost remains at Dover Air Force base say they were “shocked and disturbed” by incidents there.

The mortuary workers told the Associated Press they faced retaliation for reporting the incidents.

But James Parsons, Mary Ellen Spera and William Zwicharowski all say that conditions have since improved at the largest military mortuary in the US.

Three supervisors involved in the complaints were censured but not fired.

Mr Parsons said he believed he was fired in September 2010 for refusing to cut off the arm bone of a deceased marine.

“It wasn’t our decision to make, as far as I’m concerned,” he told AP, adding the mortuary should have sought consent from the family.

He was quickly reinstated after he contacted the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal body.

That office released a report on Tuesday, criticising the Air Force’s own internal investigation for “failure to acknowledge culpability”.

‘Speak for them’

Ms Spera and Mr Zwicharowski said they received letters of reprimand after reporting incidents in which portions of remains went missing entirely.

Mr Zwicharowski was placed on eight months of administrative leave, but he said he did not know why.

However, all three mortuary workers said the problems had been fixed since they complained.

“Your loved ones can’t speak for themselves when they come through here, but we are going to speak for them, and we’re going to represent them,” Mr Zwicharowski said.

Earlier in the week, the Pentagon confirmed that from 2003 to 2008, remains of some deceased soldiers that could not be identified were sent to a Virginia landfill.

The mortuary has since opted for burial at sea.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered a special review of the Dover Air Force Base mortuary operations, which prepares US military casualties for burial.

The review will be completed within 60 days.

Mr Panetta said on Thursday that he had ordered the Air Force to consider stronger punishment after criticism of the Air Force’s investigation to the incidents.

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