JERUSALEM - The Israeli military and police captured a boat on the Dead Sea which was trying to smuggle weapons from Jordan, and detained two Palestinians on board, officials said on July 25.
The Israeli military said the boat was smuggling weapons from Jordan and that 10 Kalashnikov assault rifles and 10 magazines were found on board the dinghy.
"This was effectively a smuggling attempt from Jordan to the (Palestinian) territories. They were stopped at dawn. There were 10 Kalashnikovs, and 10 full magazines in the boat," an Israeli military spokeswoman told AFP.
She said the men detained, who were being questioned by police, were Palestinians from the West Bank.
The Dead Sea is the lowest place in the world and it stretches some 43 miles along the border with Jordan, while its northern and western shores touch Israel and the West Bank.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed that the boat had come from Jordan.
"There is an ongoing police investigation involving a number of arms that were attempted to be smuggled from Jordan," he told AFP. "Two suspects have been arrested and are being questioned. The arrests were made this morning and a number of weapons were confiscated."
Israel's army radio said the vessel was a dinghy that had come from Jordan and was trying to traffic arms into the West Bank.
Very few vessels are able to sail on the inland lake. Due to the density of the water - the Dead Sea has a salt and mineral content which is seven times more concentrated than sea water - boats float very high and run a considerable risk of capsizing.
It was not the first time the army has stopped a boat containing weapons on the Dead Sea, although such attempts are rare.
In October 2006, Israeli troops thwarted an attempt to smuggle weapons and drugs from Jordan into Israel via the Dead Sea.
A military patrol spotted an inflatable craft approaching from Jordan and gave chase, arresting the two men on board - an Israeli Bedouin from Khirbet Khasif in the southern Negev desert, and a Palestinian resident of Jordan.
Months later, media reports said the navy had started looking into the possibility of organising regular patrols on the sea in an bid to prevent the infiltration of people and weapons from Jordan into the Palestinian territories.
Because of the high salinity of the water, tests were being conducted to examine what kind of patrol vessel could withstand erosion from the salt, they said.
In February 1998, the Israeli army has arrested a Palestinian man after discovering a large quantity of arms on the northern coast of the Dead Sea which had been brought in from Jordan in two motor boats.
A lighter 60mm mortar is gun-up, new tank ammo is loaded but in a tactical pause, and the lightweight .50-caliber machine gun is clearing a considerable jam. Such is the status of three key weapon and munitions programs by the U.S. Army.
The service awarded ATK a $77 million, three-year contract to develop and qualify the M829E4 120mm Advanced Kinetic Energy tactical tank round, a 5th-generation munition meant to be much more lethal against faraway targets with advanced explosive reactive armor.
"This round provides added kill capability without added responsibility," said Craig Aakhus, ATK's engineering director for tank ammo.
But its greatest threat may not be on the battlefield. Congress in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act ordered a cost-benefit analysis of future M1 Abrams munitions "to determine the proper investment to be made in tank munitions, including beyond-line-of-sight technology." The analysis will address predicted operational performance of each munition in close-, mid- and long-range uses, and beyond line of sight, and must include the Advanced Kinetic Energy round, as well as the Mid-Range Munition and Advanced Multipurpose Program.
The analysis was due by April 15, but the Army was allowed to push that back. Service officials did not respond when asked when the new report would be presented.
Jeff Janey, ATK's director for strategy and business development, was confident that the round's "leap ahead in capability" will more than cover its "incremental cost increase."
Since 1980, ATK has developed 10 of the 12 tank rounds and delivered more than 4 million tactical and training rounds to the Army, Marines and allied militaries.
ATK demonstrated in Phase I of testing that the Advanced Kinetic Energy round can meet all threshold requirements. Reliability will be put to the test over the next 31 months, with a critical design review coming about 20 months in. A low-rate initial production of 800 rounds will follow Phase II, with live-fire tests at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz. If all goes according to plan, production of about 4,200 rounds will begin in the summer of 2014.
Still, the armor force of the future remains in a confusing quagmire. On one hand, there is much debate as to where - and in what quantity - tanks fit into future operations. Military and congressional leaders alike have increasingly pushed for an expeditionary Army centered on low-intensity, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations, with fewer heavy forces sitting in a peripheral stand-by.
The Combat Vehicle Portfolio review stands as the primary factor for finding the right force. The Army this summer asked Congress to divert $124.5 million slated for a materiel development decision for the Abrams tank until the review is completed, which is expected at any time.
The Army also looks to save money by shutting down tank production lines for the first time since 1941.
Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, at a May 18 Senate subcommittee hearing on defense appropriations, said though shutting down the plant and losing that "expert force" has undeniable costs, budget considerations required it, particularly since the Abrams inventory "is among the most modern of any of our equipment," with an average age of just over two years old, and keeping the plant open with minimum production was not fiscally responsible.
The House Appropriations defense subcommittee didn't agree; it added $272 million to the Army's budget request and ordered the service to buy more tanks. In addition, 120 lawmakers in May signed a bipartisan letter arguing the Army would save more money keeping the production line open rather than closing it and paying the associated costs. It will cost General Dynamics $380 million to shut down the plant and mothball the equipment, and an additional $1.3 billion to restart production, said Mike Cannon, General Dynamics' senior vice president for ground combat systems.
At the proposed end of production in 2013, the Army's tank fleet will include 1,547 M1A2 System Enhance Package tanks, mostly fielded to active units, and 791 M1A1 tanks, all fielded to National Guard units.
The Army in July also asked for an extra $31 million for the Abrams Upgrade Program. The tanks are experiencing greater-than-expected washout rates in regard to gun tubes, engines, transmissions, final drives, high hard armor plates in the sponson area, ammunition doors and rails.
Low-rate initial production of 800 XM806 lightweight .50-caliber machine guns started in February. A pierced primer during limited user testing halted progress, said Lt. Col. Thomas Ryan, product manager of crew-served weapons for Program Executive Office Soldier. Delivery, which was expected by 2014, is now delayed 17 months.
While no one likes a delay, finding this fault early in the process has allowed the Army to build a more reliable and durable weapon, Ryan said. The service dropped an additional $45 million on a re-engineered bolt, adjustments to the fixed head space and new tests. Officials have put 300,000 rounds downrange and the results have been strong.
The XM806 cuts the weight of the 128-pound M2 by half and reduces recoil by 60 percent. It also boasts an effective range of 2,000 meters, 170 better than the M2. The machine gun, which has a manual safety, allows for quick barrel changes that do not require adjustments for head space and timing.
Relief also is on the way for the A-gunner tapped to carry the tripod. The XM205 weighs 13 pounds less than the 44-pound M3 now being carried. The XM205 collapses to less than 50 percent of deployed height.
Trigger pullers aren't the only ones getting some relief. The 1st Special Forces Group in Fort Lewis, Wash., has become the first unit to receive the latest M224A1 60mm Lightweight Company Mortar System. The new mortar knocks 20 percent off its predecessor's 46-pound weight while maintaining its max range, which is better than two miles. This was made possible by cutting out a few components and using a nickel-based super alloy called Inconel to make cannon tubes. The material is lighter, more durable, and needs less maintenance, officials said.
The Army will replace all 1,550 of its 60mm mortars with this new system by 2014, officials said. Ë
The U.S. Air Force's fleet of F-22 Raptor fighters has been grounded since May 3 due to toxins entering the cockpit via the aircraft's life support systems, sources with extensive F-22 experience said.
Service leaders grounded the stealthy twin-engine fighter after pilots suffered "hypoxialike symptoms" on 14 occasions. The incidents affected Raptor pilots at six of seven F-22 bases; the exception is Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
But despite an investigation that has spanned nearly three months, no one yet knowswhat toxin or combinations of toxins might have caused the incidents, nor is it clear exactly how the chemicals are entering the pilots' air supply, sources said.
Toxins found in pilots' blood include oil fumes, residue from burned polyalphaolefin (PAO) anti-freeze, and, in one case, propane. Carbon monoxide, which leaves the blood quickly, is also suspected.
"There is a lot of nasty stuff getting pumped into the pilots' bloodstream through what they're breathing from that OBOGS [On-Board Oxygen Generation System]. That's fact," one former F-22 pilot said. "How bad it is, what type it is, exactly how much of it, how long - all these things have not been answered."
The blood tests were performed after each of the 14 incidents in which pilots reported various cognitive dysfunctions and other symptoms of hypoxia. One couldn't remember how to change radio frequencies. Another scraped trees on his final approach to the runway - and later could not recall the incident.
"These guys are getting tested for toxins and they've [gotten] toxins out of their bloodstreams," the source said. "One of the guys was expelling propane."
This source, along with the others, requested anonymity for fear of retribution.
The line of inquiry may shed new light on the death of Capt. Jeff "Bong" Haney, a 525th Fighter Squadron pilot who was killed when his F-22 crashed last November near Anchorage. Sources said that in Haney's last few radio calls before his jet disappeared, he sounded drunk, a classic sign of hypoxia. Haney was known as a prodigiously skilled aviator who was in line to attend the elite Air Force Weapons School.
Air Force officials have said they have not yet completed the investigation into the crash.
Asked for comment about the possibility that F-22 pilots had been exposed to carbon monoxide, an Air Force spokesman, Maj. Chad Steffey said, "The safety of our aircrews is paramount, and the Air Force continues to carefully study all factors of F-22 flight safety."
Asked about other toxins, Steffey referred questions to the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland AFB, N.M., where officials did not repond by press time.
Officials with Lockheed Martin, which builds the aircraft, said they are cooperating with the investigation but cannot comment further.
Beside the various toxins found in the pilots' blood, carbon monoxide is another potential cause of the hypoxia incidents.
The gas, one of many generated as exhaust by the plane's jet engines, might be getting into the cockpit, sources said.
Part of the problem, at least for pilots flying from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, where many of the known incidents have occurred, may be the startup procedures used in winter, one source said.
Because of the harsh climate, pilots often start their jet engines inside a hangar before taking off. That could allow exhaust gases to be trapped in the building, sucked back into the engines, and ingested into the bleed air intakes that are located within the engines' compressor sections that supply the OBOGS, sources said. The layout, sources added, is standard for modern jet aircraft.
But another source said that many of the hypoxia incidents have occurred well into flights or even during a day's second mission, long after the plane has left the Elmendorf hangar.
The U.S. Navy had problems with the OBOGS on its F/A-18 Hornet, which sucked carbon monoxide into its oxygen system during carrier operations. Between 2002 and 2009, Hornet aviators suffered 64 reported episodes of hypoxia, including two that killed the pilots, according to the July-August 2010 issue of "Approach," a Navy Safety Center publication.
The Navy modified the planes' OBOGS, has had no recent similar incidents and is not currently investigating the systems, Naval Air Systems Command officials said.
USAF Expands Investigation
In January, a safety investigation board led by Maj. Gen. Steven Hoog began looking into the the OBOGS on the F-16, F-15E and F-35 fighters; the A-10 attack jet and the T-6 trainer, according to May statements by officials with the service's Air Combat Command, which oversees combat aircraft.
In May, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley had ordered the service's Scientific Advisory Board to conduct a "quick-look study, gather and evaluate information, and recommend any needed corrective actions on aircraft using on-board oxygen generation systems," according to a July 21 statement by service officials.
The release indicated that the service is now looking at more types of aircraft: the B-1 and B-2 bombers and the CV-22 tilt-rotor and "other aircraft as appropriate."
According to the release, the investigation is conducting a "series of carefully controlled in-flight tests, the team will examine the subsystems identified in reported incidents. These include the pressurization system, mask and cockpit oxygen levels."
The release said the Scientific Advisory Board investigation followed the grounding of the F-22 fleet, but did not say whether it superseded, replaced or is merely accompanying the Hoog investigation.
One source said that F-22 test pilots at Edwards AFB, Calif., last week started flying sorties as the investigate OBOGS concerns as part of the Air Force safety investigation.
Air Force officials have confirmed only that some test pilots at the base are flying their jets under a special waiver granted to them to test an unrelated software upgrade.
However, the operational fleet remains grounded, with pilots and ground crews practicing in simulators as much as they can. But that is not a real solution because the pilots won't be able to maintain currency, one former F-22 pilot said.
"After 210 days, they've got to start retraining everybody," he said.
It would take weeks for the instructor pilots at Tyndall to re-qualify themselves and then start to train others, the former pilot said. Pilots with lapped currencies would be re-qualifying each other.
It would take four to six weeks afterward to re-qualify the operational squadrons. Service officials confirmed that 12 Raptors are stranded at Hill AFB, Utah, but declined to identify their squadron. The jets came to the desert base for a Combat Hammer exercise in which pilots and ground crews practice loading and releasing live air-to-ground weapons. Service officials said the jets are from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB, Va.
Meanwhile, Lockheed can't deliver new Raptors to the Air Force because the company and the Pentagon's Defense Contract Management Agency are unable to fly required test sorties needed to certify the jets meet specifications. Four aircraft have technically been delivered to the service but can't fly to their new home at Langley AFB.
At least two additional aircraft have been completed but remain at the factory undelivered.