The force will integrate elite commando units into a single special operations command for counterterror, anti-smuggling, anti-proliferation and other operations beyond its immediate and intermediate circles of enemy states. Israel's military censor did not allow reference to these outer circle states, but foreign sources have defined them to include Iran and countries lining the Horn of Africa.
"The primary task of the Corps will be to extend joint IDF operations into the strategic depth," noted an IDF statement released late Dec. 15.
LONDON - AgustaWestland has handed over the last of 22 Lynx helicopters to the British Army in a deal aimed at improving the machine's ability to operate in Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Defence has spent 92 million pounds ($142.4 million) upgrading the light helicopter with a new engine, surveillance sensors, secure communications, a .50-caliber heavy machine gun and other equipment changes under an urgent operational requirement procurement which started in late 2008.
The first new Lynx Mk9As were delivered to theater in May last year and about a quarter of the fleet now operates in support of British troops and others in Helmand province.
AgustaWestland said the upgrade program, undertaken at its Yeovil plant in southwest England, had been completed on budget and three months ahead of schedule.
Prior to the upgrade, earlier versions of the helicopter using the Rolls-Royce Gem engine had been unable to effectively operate in the hot and high conditions of an Afghan summer. The M3M machine and new sensor suite allows the Mk9A to perform a variety of roles, including convoy overwatch, helicopter support, and surveillance and reconnaissance tasks.
The Italian helicopter company pulled through technologies such as the powerful CTS800-4N engine, which is destined for the Lynx Wildcat program being developed for the Royal Navy and British Army, to deliver the first Mk9A within 18 months of the project starting.
The Wildcat is now undergoing flight trials ahead of being delivered for duty with the Navy in 2014 and the Army a year later.
WASHINGTON - A satellite image of China's first aircraft carrier has been captured while the vessel was undergoing sea trials in the Yellow Sea, a U.S. company said on its website Dec. 15.
THIS SATELLITE IMAGE from the DigitalGlobe Analysis Center shows the Chinese aircraft carrier Varyag during its second sea trial in the Yellow Sea, approximately 100 kilometers south-southeast of the port of Dalian. (AFP Photo / DigitalGlobe)
The 300-meter (990-foot) ship, a refitted former Soviet carrier, was photographed on December 8, said Colorado-based DigitalGlobe Inc., and an analyst from the company spotted it when reviewing images five days later.
The ship underwent five days of trials in August that sparked international concern about China's widening naval reach amid growing regional tensions over maritime disputes and a U.S. campaign to assert itself as a Pacific power.The Beijing government said earlier this month that the carrier had started its second sea trial after undergoing refurbishment and testing.
The South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas and is claimed by several countries, has dominated such disputes involving China, leading to run-ins with rival claimants including Vietnam and the Philippines.
Chinese President Hu Jintao on December 7 urged the navy to "accelerate its transformation and modernization" and "make extended preparations for military combat" to safeguard national security.
Beijing only confirmed this year that it was revamping the Soviet ship, the Varyag, and has repeatedly insisted that the carrier poses no threat to its neighbors and will be used mainly for training and research purposes.
But the August sea trials were met with concern from regional powers including Japan and the United States, which called on Beijing to explain why it needs an aircraft carrier.
China only provided the first official acknowledgment of the carrier in June when Chen Bingde, the nation's top military official, gave an interview to a Hong Kong newspaper.
The Chinese have yet to announce a name for the ship, which is commonly referred to by its old Soviet name. Although some media have used the name Shi Lang - a 17th century admiral who led a Chinese conquest of Taiwan - Chinese media often omit a name reference.
Coincidentally, the Varyag's sistership, the Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, is also at sea - the first time both ships have been under way on their own power at the same time.
The Kuznetsov left its Northern Fleet base in Murmansk earlier this month for a three-month cruise to the eastern Mediterranean, where it may call at the Syrian port of Tartus. The carrier was reported off Scotland earlier this week. ■
Staff writer Christopher P. Cavas contributed to this report.
BAGHDAD - U.S. forces formally marked the end of their mission in Iraq with a low-key ceremony near Baghdad on Thursday, after nearly nine years of war that began with the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
There are a little more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, but they will depart in the coming days, at which point almost no more American troops will remain in a country where there were once nearly 170,000 personnel on more than 500 bases.
The withdrawal ends a war that left tens of thousands of Iraqis and nearly 4,500 American soldiers dead, many more wounded, and 1.75 million Iraqis displaced, after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion unleashed brutal sectarian fighting.
"Your dream of an independent and sovereign Iraq is now reality," U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at the symbolic flag-lowering ceremony held near Baghdad's airport.
"Iraq will be tested in the days ahead - by terrorism and by those who would seek to divide it, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself," he said.
But the U.S. "will stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges."
"This is a time for Iraq to look forward. This is an opportunity for Iraq to forge ahead on a path to security and prosperity," said Panetta.
"And we undertake this transition today reminding Iraq that it has in the United States a committed friend and partner. We owe it to all of the lives that were sacrificed in this war not to fail."
He described the U.S. withdrawal as "nothing short of miraculous" and "one of the most complex logistical undertakings in U.S. military history."
Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander United States Forces - Iraq (USF-I), cased the colors at the ceremony, rolling the USF-I flag around its pole and covering it with a camouflage bag.
He noted that "eight years, eight months and 26 days ago, as the assistant division commander for maneuver for the 3rd Infantry Division, I gave the order for the lead elements of the division to cross the border" into Iraq.
"I was here when we originally secured this airfield," he said.
The ceremony was also attended by U.S. ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. James Mattis, the head of the U.S. Central Command, and about 160 U.S. soldiers.
Iraq was represented by military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Babaker Zebari and defense ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari.
"For over 20 years, Iraq has been a defining part of our professional and personal lives," said Dempsey.
"We will remember you and those that have gone before - what you risked, what you learned, how you sacrificed ... and the fallen comrades for whom we all still grieve."
The ceremony comes a day after hundreds of people in Fallujah marked the impending departure of American forces by burning U.S. flags and shouting slogans in support of the "resistance."
Fallujah, a city of about half a million people west of Baghdad, remains deeply scarred by two American military offensives in 2004, the latter of which is considered one of the fiercest for the United States since Vietnam.
Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, arguing Saddam was endangering the world with weapons of mass destruction programs.
Saddam was ousted from power and later executed, but such arms were never found.
Obama made his political career by opposing the war. In late 2002, he said he was against "dumb wars" such as Iraq, and rode anti-war fervor to the White House by promising to bring troops home.
The war was launched in March 2003 with a massive "shock and awe" campaign, followed by eight-plus years in which a U.S.-led coalition sought not only had to rebuild the Iraqi military from the ground up, but also to establish a new political system.
Iraq now has a parliament and regular elections, and is ruled by a Shiite-led government that replaced Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime.
The pullout, enshrined in a 2008 bilateral pact, is the latest stage in the changing U.S. role in Iraq, from 2003-2004 when American officials ran the country to 2009 when the United Nations mandate ended, and last summer when Washington officially ended combat operations.
WARSAW - Poland's Ministry of Defense has set aside 138.6 million zloty ($42 million) for two contracts to modernize its T-72M1 and PT-91 main battle tanks, the Army's First Regional Logistics Base in Walcz said in a statement.
A 32.2 million-zloty deal for the overhaul of 20 T-72M1s was recently awarded to the repair plant Wojskowe Zaklady Motoryzacyjne (WZM). Of these, 10 units are to be modernized by Nov. 30, 2012, and a further 10 by Nov. 29, 2013.
"By the deadline for submission of bids, three bids were submitted for the first contract, and one bid for the second contract," the statement said.Meanwhile, the ministry has decided to rerun its 106.4 million-zloty tender to upgrade 40 PT-91 tanks after a bid submitted by Poland's biggest defense manufacturer, Bumar Group, was rejected. Under the plan, some 20 PT-91s are to be upgraded by Nov. 30, 2012, and the remaining 20 by Nov. 29, 2013.
WZM is part of Wojskowe Przedsiebiorstwa Remontowo-Produkcyjne, the country's second-largest defense group. In 2010, the Poznan-based plant reported revenues of 32.2 million zloty, up 1.2 percent over a year earlier, and a net profit of 8.3 million zloty, compared with a loss of 12.9 million zloty in 2009.
Introduced to the Polish Army in 1995, the PT-91 is a locally built, modernized version of the Soviet-designed T-72M1. Both tanks are manufactured by Bumar's subsidiary, Bumar-Labedy.
The Land Forces have about 590 T-72M1s and 230 PT-91s, according to figures from the ministry.