Huawei’s launch of new map app signals Trump’s ban on China’s tech giant may backfire on Google

28 Apr, 2020 17:11 / Updated 1 day ago

By Andrew Dickens, a London based freelance journalist

Huawei’s addition of the HERE WeGo map app to its app gallery shows that Donald Trump’s crackdown on the Chinese tech giant may be not that effective and could in fact inflict greater harm on American companies.

When Donald Trump took aim at Huawei last year, his plan was to fire a ‘kill shot’ at the Chinese communications firm.

In May 2019, Trump issued an executive order that banned American companies from using communication and information technology from anyone considered a security risk. His government simultaneously placed Huawei – at the time the world’s second biggest smartphone manufacturer – on the government’s ‘Entity List’ of companies barred from selling components to the US.

The plan was to starve Huawei of access to quasi-monopolistic software from the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Apple, who had no choice back then but to cut ties with one of their biggest customers; it was an overtly political move under that convenient banner of ‘national security’. Its hand forced and its sales harmed, Huawei had to look for alternatives. HERE WeGo map app, added to Huawei’s app gallery over the weekend could be one of the most significant of those.

HERE WeGo is not some sub-standard cobbled-together replacement. It began life as Nokia Maps in 2012 and is produced by HERE Technologies, a highly-regarded mapping company owned by a consortium of German car manufacturers including Audi and BMW, which provides location services to businesses such as Garmin, Amazon, and Yahoo.

Now that it’s the go-to (pun intended) map app for such a major player in the smartphone market, it’s a very real threat to Google’s dominance. What happens if other popular Chinese brands, such as OnePlus, Oppo, and Xiaomi, move towards HERE WeGo? Google is banned in China so they’re used to operating without it. And if it succeeds, there’s nothing to stop consumers from using it on other brands; it’s readily available in all app stores, including Play Store on Google’s Android operating system.

What then if Google’s grip on other types of software loosens and, by extension, the grip of all US tech companies? They and the government are worried enough that the US Commerce Department began issuing limited licenses for tech companies to sell to Huawei again in November 2019 and, in March 2020, extended this ‘stay of execution’. Google, as yet, has not received its license but even if it does, it might come too late to avoid significant damage.

Despite the absence of Google, some downplaying of its prospects by senior management and the coronavirus pandemic, Huawei saw April-to-April growth of 1.4 percent in 2020. Not mind-blowing figures, but proof that Trump’s ban may be a less-than-lethal weapon.

Source: “Huawei’s launch of new map app signals Trump’s ban on China’s tech giant may backfire on Google”

Note: This is’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

Fleet Of 28 Saudi Oil Tankers Could Send U.S. Oil Prices Crashing In May

(This reblogger's comment: Putin launched oil prise war to 
stifle US oil and gas industry and caused oil price crises He 
has China as a constant buyer but Sausi and US haven't.)

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With the Covid-19 pandemic reducing global oil demand by devastating numbers, oil storages are filling quickly in the US, forcing producers to start shutting output in the country and creating a big tanker congestion on its coasts. A Rystad Energy analysis reveals that 28 tankers with Saudi oil, including 14 VLCCs and carrying a total of 43 million barrels, will arrive on the US Gulf and West coasts between 24 April and 24 May.

The Saudi fleet, with oil loaded at Ras Tanura, will join an existing congestion of 76 tankers that are currently waiting to unload in US ports. Most of these tankers are on the West Coast, where 34 tankers are waiting in line to offload about 25 million barrels of crude. In addition, about 31 tankers, carrying a similar load, are waiting for a slot to unload on the US Gulf Coast.

The tanker congestion has spiked in recent days because refiners are canceling or deferring their purchases, as they adjust utilization rates to match the steep fall in demand for road and jet fuels.

“The total volumes booked to arrive from Ras Tanura are four times higher than the previous four-week average of imports from Saudi Arabia. Given the current storage situation and the level of congestion on US coasts, we find it unlikely that all tankers will be able to unload upon arrival. The congestion at US ports has reached new highs,” says Paola Rodriguez-Masiu, Rystad Energy’s Senior Oil Markets analyst.

If all the Saudi tankers unload, the crude they carry will offset during May almost all of the production reductions from March levels, effectively maintaining the current high storage filling rates.

The limited storage is a growing concern in the oil market and among the key reasons why prices have taken a steep downturn in recent weeks, with US WTI crude even trading negative a few days ago.

Before the official stock build data for week 17 (ending on April 24), commercial crude stockpiles stood at 518.6 million barrels, nearly 9% above the five-year average for this time of year, and just 16.9 million barrels away from hitting the record level of 535.5 million barrels reached during the spring of 2017.

“While US refinery demand for crude has dropped over 3.0 million bpd during the last four-week period, the EIA reported that oil production has only decreased by 800,000 bpd. We expect it to drop by another 800,000 bpd in the following weeks. However, crude imports are forecasted to remain at around 5.8 million bpd during the next four weeks due to the Saudi cargos that are fast approaching US shores,“ Rodriguez-Masiu concludes.

US oil production is bracing for a steep decline in May and June as operators shut some of their producing wells due to storage constraints and oil price economics. The operator-communicated shut-ins alone (from six operators) are calculated to reach at least 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May and April, Rystad Energy has estimated.

Please note that total shut-ins only account for a portion of the US total production decline since March 2020 as the shut-in figure only includes production losses from producing wells that have been turned offline. It does not include production potentially lost from canceling drilling and completion plans.

By Rystad Energy

Source: “Fleet of 28 Saudi Oil Tankers Could Send U.S. Oil Prices Crashing In May

Note: This is’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

Report to Congress on Chinese Naval Modernization

April 28, 2020 10:02 AM

The following is the April 24, 2020 Congressional Research Service Report, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress.

In an era of renewed great power competition, China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, has become the top focus of U.S. defense planning and budgeting. China’s navy, which China has been steadily modernizing for more than 25 years, since the early to mid-1990s, has become a formidable military force within China’s near-seas region, and it is conducting a growing number of operations in more-distant waters, including the broader waters of the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and waters around Europe. China’s navy is viewed as posing a major challenge to the U.S. Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain wartime control of blue-water ocean areas in the Western Pacific—the first such challenge the U.S. Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War—and forms a key element of a Chinese challenge to the long-standing status of the United States as the leading military power in the Western Pacific.

China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a wide array of platform and weapon acquisition programs, including anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), submarines, surface ships, aircraft, unmanned vehicles (UVs), and supporting C4ISR (command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems. China’s naval modernization effort also includes improvements in maintenance and logistics, doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises.

China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is assessed as being aimed at developing capabilities for addressing the situation with Taiwan militarily, if need be; for achieving a greater degree of control or domination over China’s near-seas region, particularly the South China Sea; for enforcing China’s view that it has the right to regulate foreign military activities in its 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ); for defending China’s commercial sea lines of communication (SLOCs), particularly those linking China to the Persian Gulf; for displacing U.S. influence in the Western Pacific; and for asserting China’s status as the leading regional power and a major world power.

Consistent with these goals, observers believe China wants its navy to be capable of acting as part of a Chinese anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) force—a force that can deter U.S. intervention in a conflict in China’s near-seas region over Taiwan or some other issue, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening U.S. forces. Additional missions for China’s navy include conducting maritime security (including antipiracy) operations, evacuating Chinese nationals from foreign countries when necessary, and conducting humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR) operations.

The U.S. Navy in recent years has taken a number of actions to counter China’s naval modernization effort. Among other things, the U.S. Navy has shifted a greater percentage of its fleet to the Pacific; assigned its most-capable new ships and aircraft and its best personnel to the Pacific; maintained or increased general presence operations, training and developmental exercises, and engagement and cooperation with allied and other navies in the Indo-Pacific; increased the planned future size of the Navy; initiated, increased, or accelerated numerous programs for developing new military technologies and acquiring new ships, aircraft, unmanned vehicles, and weapons; begun development of new operational concepts (i.e., new ways to employ Navy and Marine Corps forces) for countering Chinese maritime A2/AD forces; and signaled that the Navy in coming years will shift to a more-distributed fleet architecture that will feature a smaller portion of larger ships, a larger portion of smaller ships, and a substantially greater use of unmanned vehicles. The issue for Congress is whether the U.S. Navy is responding appropriately to China’s naval modernization effort.

Source: USNI “Report to Congress on Chinese Naval Modernization”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

The U.S. Navy’s Railgun Is Nearly Dead in the Water

Starved of funding and purpose, the Mach 6 gun isn’t going to sea any time soon.

U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/DVIDS

The U.S. Navy’s $500 million electromagnetic railgun—capable of slinging projectiles at hypersonic speeds—lacks funding and has no coherent plan to deploy on warships. The Navy is instead pursuing an offshoot of the railgun, a hypervelocity projectile it can fire from existing gun systems.

2008 photo of a railgun projectile firing at 10.46 megajoules at a muzzle speed of 8,200 feet per second.

John Williams/DVIDS

The electromagnetic railgun (EMRG) is a weapon that uses electricity instead of gunpowder to send projectiles downrange. Railguns use magnetic fields created by high electrical currents to accelerate a projectile to Mach 6, or 5,400 miles an hour. The velocity is sufficient to give the EMRG an effective range of 110 nautical miles, or 126 miles on land.

The Office of Naval Research began development of the gun in 2005, and by 2012 a technology demonstrator was firing projectiles at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Virginia. In 2015, the program was apparently doing so well the Navy announced plans to test the weapon from the USNS Trenton, an Expeditionary Fast Transport. In 2017, the Navy released a video of the Dahlgren gun firing multi-shot salvos.

In the years since EMRG, rather than picking up even more steam (or megajoules), has seemingly slowed down to nothing. The service requested just $9.5 million in the 2021 defense budget for railgun-based research and moved the gun to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where it continues to undergo launch testing. Task and Purpose reports the railgun is technically complete, but the service is also developing a technological offshoot, the hypervelocity projectile (HVP). The HVP is the same projectile developed for the EMRG but modified to fire from traditional gunpowder-based guns.

The HVP is designed to fit in the U.S. Navy’s 127-millimeter deck guns. The projectile has a top speed of Mach 3 from a chemical energy gun—only half the speed as from an EMRG—but still an improvement over current 127-millimeter projectiles. The Navy believes the HVP could be used for long-range strike missions against land targets, against aircraft and missiles, and against enemy warships. The guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey fired 20 HVP projectiles during the 2018 RIMPAC naval exercises, the first known use of the new weapons at sea.

One huge advantage HVP has over the railgun: there are already more than a hundred HVP launchers in service. The Navy has approximately 120 Mk. 45 guns in operation, two on each Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser and one each on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers. Deploying HVP to the fleet will give these ships increased capabilities, which is a lot cheaper than building new ships with railguns. The technology is also available for larger 155-millimeter projectiles, potentially giving the two Advanced Gun Systems on the Zumwalt-class warships ammunition for engaging enemy targets.

A new warship, the large surface combatant, is scheduled to eventually replace the Ticonderoga-class cruisers. The Navy plans to buy the first of these ships in the late 2020s. The Navy is tight-lipped about what new technologies will be fitted to the large surface combatant. Members of Congress, Task & Purpose reports, are pushing the service to add the railgun to the list.

Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, shows off a Hypervelocity Projectile (HVP) to CBS News reporter David Martin during an interview held at the Naval Research Laboratory’s materials testing facility.
John F. Williams

Integrating the new hypervelocity projectile with the fleet while equipping the next generation surface warship with the railgun is a best of both worlds solution. HVP, once fully developed, could become a key weapon system of the fleet today while the electromagnetic railgun could become a key weapon system of the fleet tomorrow.

The U.S. isn’t the only country working on electromagnetic railguns. In 2018, a railgun prototype was sighted on the bow of the Chinese Navy landing craft Haiyangshan. Haiyangshan, aka the “Yangtze Sea Monster,” is indeed sporting a railgun but we don’t know how effective the weapon is, how close to operational status it is, and if the railgun has even been fired yet.

Souce: Task & Purpose

Source: Popular Mechanics “The U.S. Navy’s Railgun Is Nearly Dead in the Water”

Note: This is Popular Mechanics’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

Digging Up Regolith: Why Mining the Moon Seems More Possible Than Ever

For decades, the idea of mining the moon was pure science fiction for most and a wild concept for even the most ardent believers. Now technical advances and rare political support are making it an actual possibility.
an illustration of a future human settlement on the surface of the moon

An illustration of a future human settle on the moon, part of Popular Mechanics article from the October 2004 issue.

Paul Dimare

Human beings set foot on the moon 50 years ago, but since then, no one has really figured out how best to utilize Earth’s closest celestial neighbor. Earlier this month, with an executive order allowing U.S. companies to mine the moon, the Trump administration opened the door to a possible commercial future on the lunar surface.

It was a moment many proponents of lunar commercialization never thought they’d see.

“You have direct interest from the White House in making this happen right now, which is sort of remarkable,” George Sowers, a space mining researcher and professor of engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, tells Popular Mechanics. “From that standpoint I think the future’s pretty rosy.”

This executive order put an exclamation point on the debate over the U.S’s attitude toward The Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Signed during the Cold War, the treaty banned national sovereignty over off-world bodies but didn’t forbid their commercialization.

treaty on use of outer space

President Lyndon B. Johnson (right) looks on as the USSR, U.K., and U.S., sign the Outer Space Treaty on January 27, 1967.

HistoricalGetty Images
The 60-year-old treaty suffered a mortal blow in 2015 when the Obama administration signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act that made it legal for Americans to own and sell commodities collected off-planet.

This new executive order makes it plain that the current administration is supporting the idea. But it takes more than pen ink to open the moon for mining. The technical and economic challenges of such an endeavor have proven formidable since the idea first emerged in the 1960s.

“There’s a very strong camp at NASA that sees the moon as a distraction.”

“We’ve just been moving in a circle for a long time,” says Sowers.

Undaunted, an international group of industrialists, engineers, and scientists have spent decades inventing the infrastructure needed to make the moon an industrial outpost. Experiments and prototypes for a possible lunar mine have emerged from government and private labs. Critical areas, like compact power generation, space robotics, and regolith mining, have advanced to the point where the scheme not only makes sense but is actually possible.

New Millennium, Old Battle

The story of moon mining truly begins when a schism formed between two titans of rocket science. In one corner is Wernher von Braun, the pioneering German-American rocket scientist who led NASA’S development of the Saturn V rocket. To von Braun and his supporters, planets were the crown jewels of the solar system—where the best science and most prestige can be found.

Although he’s never acknowledged it, Elon Musk is this idea personified with his ultimate focus on establishing a colony on Mars. The push for a crewed Mars mission is the dream and anything else—especially the moon—is a distraction.

In the other corner, is American physicist Gerard K. O’Neill. In his 1976 book The High Frontier, he advocated for keeping infrastructure off planets, avoiding the energy-sapping demands of escaping their gravity—the hardest and most expansive part of spaceflight. Orbital colonies are quintessential O’Neillian projects, but he advocated leveraging the moon’s resources to make these massive, rotating space stations a reality.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, strongly supports this idea, and even advocated for O’Neill worlds during the reveal of the Blue Moon lunar lander in May last year.

original caption wernher von braun 1912 1977, german born american engineer and pioneer experimenter with rockets shown in a us mission control room undated photograph

Wernher von Braun, creator of the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo astronauts to the moon.

BettmannGetty Images
the tonight show starring johnny carson pictured psysicist dr gerard k oneill during an interview with host johnny carson on june 16, 1977 photo by tom ronnbcu photo banknbcuniversal via getty images via getty images

Physicist Gerard K. O’Neill on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson

“We’ve never done a study or taken a survey, to my knowledge, but my sense is that NASA is very heavily weighted towards the von Braunian perspective,” says Philip Metzger, a 30-year NASA veteran and planetary physicist at the University of Central Florida. “NASA has this vision of exploring Mars and wanting to put the first humans on Mars. It will be a brilliant triumph, and so NASA wants to lead the way…There’s a very strong camp at NASA that sees the moon as a distraction.”

The battle between these camps will play out as NASA pushes deeper into the solar system. What moon mining enthusiasts fear the most is a repeat of what followed the 1970s moonshots.

“If we can support Earth’s economy with off-planet industry, then we can create the economic environment where Mars missions become affordable,” says Metzger, an avowed O’Neillian. “We argue that if we go too fast and if we skip the buildup of industry in cislunar space, then the Mars missions are going to end up with another Apollo-era withdrawal.”

What’s For Sale?

an illustration of lunar mining from the october 2004 cover of popular mechanics

An illustration of lunar mining from the October 2004 cover of Popular Mechanics.

Popular Mechanics
Even among O’Neillians who agree that the moon’s resources should be tapped, there is no consensus on how to do it. Even the most basic question—what should be extracted and sold—has changed over time.

The moon has many attractive commodities, including metals for construction, silicon for solar panels, and Helium-3 that could be used in hypothetical fusion reactors. The prevailing idea was to mine things that are common on the moon but rare on Earth, and bring it back planetside to sell for a tidy sum.

Over time, the question became: What if the money could be made selling commodities for use in space instead of bringing them to market down the gravity well? The commodity of choice for this kind of mining was oxygen.

“The moon is 42 percent oxygen by mass and the biggest cost of spaceflight is launching oxygen,” says Metzger.

The idea was to extract oxygen for use as fuel and in life support systems but import any needed hydrogen from Earth. (NASA is still looking at this possibility.) This kind of mining can be done anywhere on the moon by scraping the O2-infused regolith. But now there is a strong case to utilize the moon’s trove of hydrogen, and that means chasing large concentrations of lunar ice collected in craters.

Animation of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon deploying a lunar rover.
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“The ice angle is the biggest thing that’s changed since the post-Apollo days. And it’s fairly recent,” says Sowers. “You can split water into hydrogen and oxygen, the most efficient chemical propellants known. You have rocket fuel.”

a diagram of how nasa's lcross worked

How NASA’s LCROSS worked. The team behind LCROSS won a Breakthrough Award in the November 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics.

Popular Mechanics

It all comes down to harvesting ice, and as the Earth’s closest neighbor, the moon is a logical place to mine it. There have been a fleet of remote sensing spacecraft orbiting the moon, from the groundbreaking Clementine probe to the modern Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and they have discovered troves of permanent ice inside deep, dark craters.

More than a decade ago, a spacecraft named LCROSS crashed into a permanently shadowed crater as a follow-on spacecraft sampled the resulting plume. The sensors determined the plume’s mass registered more than 5 percent water. So there is ice down there, but researchers still have plenty of questions about it.

“Now we are in an era where we are moving from discovery to a stage of characterization and validation,” says Julie Stopar, staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

NASA has funded a new crop of small missions, often awarded to new space companies, to send a flock of rovers to explore the moon. The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) first robotic mission is due to launch next year, with more to follow. Landers will have arms that scoop soil and spectrometers to glean their chemical composition. Vehicles like the MoonRanger will roll out with sensors to measure the composition of the regolith, including water content.

The crowning mission will be 2022’s VIPER, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover. Armed with a suite of equipment, including a drill, this car-sized machine will help craft the first water resource map of the moon.

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“Viper will provide the first and best ground-truth of our knowledge of water-ice’s distribution, abundance, form, and surface environmental conditions, in an area that will either be where the Artemis [NASA’s crewed mission] astronauts land or in a very similar location,” says Stopar. “That will be the real moment of clarity that will make the pole seem like a place we can actually land and live as humans, or not.”

These missions all support NASA’s future, inhabited lunar base, but the information will also be useful for miners. There are many open questions about how, and especially when, asteroids brought water to the moon. By figuring out this history, predictions about what’s inside the craters will improve.

“We are moving from discovery to a stage of characterization and validation.”

“Right now we don’t even have a very good model of the resources on the moon,” Metzger says. “Anything we do on the moon to get more data is going to improve our understanding of the geology.”

While helpful, no existing CLPS missions are plumbing the craters where the most ice is thought to exist. Advocates of deep crater mining, like Sowers, want more pinpoint data about places they can set up operations. “We’ve never landed in one of these permanently shadowed regions with perceptive instruments to be able to sample and confirm with high confidence that the ice exists,” he says. “We also don’t know the state of the ice and how it’s mixed in with the regolith.”

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Wherever there is a challenge, there are aerospace engineers working on a solution. Lockheed Martin is sponsoring a team of NASA staffers, aerospace industry employees, and entrepreneurs within the Colorado School of Mines to create a probe called Veritas, using the company’s McCandless Lunar Lander in a CLPS-sized effort to prove the water ice is there.

The lander would descend into the darkness packing enough batteries to last a full day. After landing, the Veritas craft would eject around six small, sensor-studded packages they call “squirrels” for about 200 meters in all directions. Using ground-penetrating radar and the returns from the squirrels, the lander can survey a wide area without the weight, cost, or limitations of a rover.

Once the secrets of the water ice are determined, the next question becomes how to process it into rocket fuel. That, too, has evolved over time into competing ideas and heightened levels of ambition.

Hot Times on the Moon

nasa's kilopower project pictured could help provide nuclear power for settlements on the moon

NASA’s Kilopower project (pictured) could help provide nuclear power for settlements on the moon…and maybe even Mars.

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Lunar mining doesn’t look exactly like terrestrial mining on Earth. Some lunar mining proponents have devised a new way to unlock frozen valuables from icy regolith: thermal mining.

Thermal mining applies heat directly to the lunar surface at high enough temperatures to convert ice to water vapor, essentially skipping the liquid phase through a process called sublimation. The vapor would then be captured in a large awning, refrozen, and transported to an electrolysis plant where the ice would be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen.

Sowers’ new paper describes his work under a NASA grant to show the system could unlock fuel components from moon material. “The effectiveness of direct heat in sublimating ice from within icy regolith samples has been demonstrated during our NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts study, proving that thermal mining can work,” according to the report.

The report also estimates the final dimensions of a moon-based fuel factory. “The propellant production facility weighs a bit over 26 tons, produces 1,100 tons of propellant per year, and can be developed and deployed to the Moon for around $2.5 billion,” Sowers’ paper says. “A preliminary business case shows that positive returns can be generated based on both commercial and government demands for propellant [including topping stages to aid geostationary sats reach their final orbits] assuming a productive life of the operation of at least 10 years.”

“The effectiveness of direct heat in sublimating ice from within icy regolith samples has been demonstrated…proving that thermal mining can work.”

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There is one big caveat to all of this. The material must be heated to a high temperature to make sure the ice is converted to steam at an efficient, industrial level. The paper estimates that industrial-sized thermal mining processors would require 2.8 megawatts of power. The key is how to generate that amount of power inside a deep crater on the moon

the national nuclear safety administration nnsa and nasa engineers lower the wall of the vacuum chamber around the krusty system

The National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) and NASA engineers lower the wall of the vacuum chamber around the KRUSTY system.

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One choice for the job would be a small nuclear reactor, and NASA has pursued this and made several breakthroughs. In 2018, researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site, and NASA put their Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) through a 28-hour continuous full-power demonstration.

NASA likes this fission reactor because it’s coupled to a Stirling engine, it’s closed-cycled, and it’s regenerative. Those are long-lasting, low-maintenance devices, the kind of power source that could efficiently power an extraterrestrial thermal mining operation.

The catch here is that KRUSTY uses Y-12 highly enriched uranium (HEU) as a fuel source. HEU reactors are lighter and such compact power is an inherent plus for spaceflight. But they are also the easiest material to convert into an improvised nuclear device, so working with it means prohibitive logistics and intense security oversight.

For those reasons, the last few years have seen the rise of a crop of small, commercially available low-enriched uranium (LEU) reactors. Called micro-modular reactors, or MMR, they are designed for Earth’s most remote locations. These companies have also heard the pleas of lunar miners and some have adapted their technology for spaceflight.

illustration of ultra safe nuclear's mmr reactor

Illustration of Ultra Safe Nuclear’s MMR reactor.


One such company is UltraSafe Nuclear Corp, which sells LEU fission reactors and adapted one called Pylon for use on the moon. “The exploration of lunar resources in permanently shadowed craters and utilization of thermal energy to process local resources are task well-suited to nuclear energy,” company researchers note in a presentation white paper. “Yet, despite exceptional potential, nuclear energy is often omitted from further consideration due to technology development and policy considerations. However recent developments demonstrate that the technology development and policy challenges are surmountable.”

If NASA wants to visit the depths of a crater in the near-future, USNC is making it very clear that their product will fit the specs of the most-likely funded mission: “The Pylon design is such that it can be delivered to the Lunar Surface on a large CLPS-class lander.”

Going (Non)-Nuclear

moon mining for water photo by © corbiscorbis via getty images

An historical image of water mining on the moon using a giant mirror.

HistoricalGetty Images
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With the idea to mine the moon being kicked around for about a half-century, nuclear-powered thermal mining is not the only game in town.

The European Space Agency is moving forward with a molten salt electrolysis system that it calls “the first example of direct powder-to-powder processing of solid lunar regolith simulant that can extract virtually all the oxygen.” Regolith is placed in a metal basket with molten calcium chloride salt to serve as an electrolyte, and then heated.

Instead of melting regolith, the system only needs to heat the material to 950 degrees Celsius. An electric current causes the oxygen to leave the regolith and migrate across the salt to be collected at an anode, according to the ESA. “As a bonus, this process also converts the regolith into usable metal alloys,” the space agency says.

“Being able to acquire oxygen from resources found on the Moon would obviously be hugely useful for future lunar settlers, both for breathing and in the local production of rocket fuel,” says University of Glasgow’s Beth Lomax, whose PhD work into the tech is being supported by ESA.

an illustration of george sowers’ thermal mining proposal

An illustration of George Sowers’ thermal mining proposal.

United Launch Alliance
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Another idea, proposed by Sowers, borrows from an old idea from antiquity—mirrors. The Greek mathematician Archimedes used mirrors to reflect enough sunlight to heat invaders’ wooden ships. Similarly, heliostats (moveable mirrors) mounted near the crater rim, would direct sunlight to reach pockets of icy regolith. Placing three heliostats, spaced every 120 degrees along a crater rim would ensure steady illumination to the mine, and two more would beam light at the vapor capture tent and fuel processing plant, according to Sowers. 2020 paper.

A third plan does away with thermal mining altogether. Metzger is working under a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts grant to investigate signs that shallow craters contain fine-grain ice. “If it is, then I’m arguing the easiest way to extract it is to simply sort the grains from each other,” he says.

The ice yields of shallow craters would be smaller—maybe 2 percent versus 5 percent—and it’s not on the surface as in deeper craters. But without the challenges that come with these big yields, especially the intensive power demand, a more humble dig-and-sift system could get the first mine on the moon to get up and running.

“I think that we need to start with baby steps, and therefore I think it makes more sense to go after the shallow permanently shadowed regions,” Metzger says. “It makes sense to try to build an architecture that goes after that sort of resource first and tries to make it economically profitable as a first step.”

Mining the moon might’ve once seemed like a sci-fi impossibility, but now the idea is overflowing with potential concepts on how to extract our satellite’s valuable resources. With support from O’Neill acolytes, NASA, and the White House, lunar mining has a chance to seize the moment—and the moon miners are ready to take it.

“By having government investment, we can get the industry started,” Metzger says. “The sooner we can get it started, the sooner we can start improving life on Earth.”

Source: Popular Mechanics “Digging Up Regolith: Why Mining the Moon Seems More Possible Than Ever”

Note: This is Popular Mechanics’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

Huawei Surprises Millions Of Users With Stunning Google Alternative

Zak Doffman Contributor

Apr 26, 2020,02:01am EDT

The Google stakes for Huawei have never been higher. The company is clear that 2020 will be its toughest year yet. Its own New Year’s message described it as a battle for survival, and its first-quarter growth saw growth of just 1.4% compared to 39% a year ago. The current quarter could be even worse.

Before the U.S. blacklisted Huawei last May, the company was on an absolute tear. Its smartphone business had come from way back in the field to threaten the Samsung and Apple duopoly at the top of the tree. Absent that blacklist, Huawei was on course to replace Samsung in top slot—even with the blacklist, the delayed impact meant Huawei replaced Apple as number two for a time.

The drop-off in Huawei’s smartphone growth—it shipped 240 million units last year instead of its hoped for 300 million—is down to Google. The launch of the Mate 30 last year and the P40 last month have been stymied everywhere bar China given the lack off Google’s software and services.

Huawei has been desperate to get Google back onboard—the U.S. tech giant has applied for a U.S. Commerce Department license to do exactly that, but nothing yet. This is pure politics—there’s no security issue in allowing Google’s mail, maps and app store on Huawei devices, it’s having a huge impact—more than anything else, and that’s blacklist theatre.

Last month, I reported on a Huawei’s “App Search” workaround that seemed to offer users a quick bypass solution to replace Google’s apps. The pre-release demo app was withdrawn after the publicity. But its intent was clear. Persuade users outside China—where Google is banned anyway—to stick with the brand.

Mapping has always been one of the apps highlighted as an issue for Huawei. The tight integration of navigation and location services across a smartphone makes this native loss acute. Back in October, I reported that Huawei was accelerating development of an alternative, and then in February my colleague David Phelan reported on a proposed deal between Huawei and mapping giant TomTom.

And so there was serious surprise this week, when Huawei went a totally unexpected way with this. The solution it selected, though, was very clever. Huawei has released the HERE WeGo maps and navigation solution on its AppGallery alternative to Google’s Play Store. You may not know the name—but chances are you’ve used the service.

The software has its origins back in the 1980s—remember Navteq? And then evolved through various iterations, including OVI and then Nokia Maps, focusing on Symbian and then Windows phones. The platform was then sold to a number of auto manufacturers, including Audi and BMW to power in-car navigation.

And this is the key for Huawei. HERE WeGo is designed to deliver class-leading navigation services—and that’s good news for users who increasingly turn to smartphone maps for all their navigation needs, including increasingly in-car. The platform also offers serious offline options—it has always been a credible alternative to Google Maps, but it hasn’t been stitched in as standard.

HERE WeGo / Play Store

In 1985, we began with the simple goal to digitize mapping and pioneer in-car navigation systems,” the company says. “Today, we’re creating living three-dimensional maps that grow upwards, breathing with layers of information and insights. And we’re looking beyond. From autonomous driving, to the Internet of Things, we are building the future of location technology through strategic partnerships. Together we’re building open solutions for the future.”

This news is more significant than it appears on the surface. Yes, for Huawei users this means there is now a recommended alternative to Google Maps. But for Google, it means that the world’s third-largest smartphone manufacturer has selected a credible alternative with a first-rate mapping legacy as a replacement. And that immediately thrusts HERE WeGo more into the limelight as it gains usage across tens of millions of new devices.

The backdrop to Huawei’s loss of Google has always been the impact on Google. When I covered Huawei’s reported development of its own navigation services last year, it was clear this was a threat to its dominance. Arguably this is even worse, because this is a credible solution out of the box.

Earlier this month, Counterpoint Research named HERE Technologies as its number one pick for location services—ahead of Google. The research firm’s Neil Shah said that “HERE continues to emerge as the world’s leading and most comprehensive location platform in our evaluation.”

What happens next will be interesting. The real prize for HERE will be to move beyond its mapping app to a range of underlying services within Huawei’s alternative to Google’s Mobile Services. The extent of any collaboration between Huawei and HERE Technologies is unclear. But if this is to be a credible alternative to Google Maps then that needs to be extensive.

Source: Forbes “Huawei Surprises Millions Of Users With Stunning Google Alternative”

Note: This is Forbes’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

Donald Trump’s China Nightmare Is Coming True For The U.S. Dollar

Billy Bambrough, Contributor

Apr 26, 2020,08:12pm EDT

U.S. president Donald Trump’s power struggle with China was perhaps the defining feature of his presidency, until the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic struck.

The pandemic—and subsequent lockdowns—crashed global markets and pushed investors around the world toward the safety of the almighty dollar.


But the U.S. dollar’s days as the world’s reserve currency could be numbered, with some of the biggest ever changes to government-backed central bank currencies looming—and China leading the field.

Casual discussions around central bank digital currencies, sometimes called CBDCs, have been going on for the last few years.

Digital currencies would work just like regular coins and notes issued by central banks but exist entirely online. Instead of printing or minting currency, the central banks would issue digital dollars via online accounts—similar to the commercial banking apps that have exploded in popularity in recent years.

Employers could, theoretically, pay directly into these government-run accounts and both online and physical stores could accept payment from them. Foreign exchange could also be handled through them, easing the flow of international trade.

The long-running debate among central bankers over the need for digital currencies was blown wide open last year by news of Facebook’s libra project—something that almost saw the social media giant elevate itself to (or even above) central bank status as an issuer of the first global currency.

World leaders and regulators slapped Facebook back down.

“We have only one real currency in the U.S.A., and it is stronger than ever, both dependable and reliable,” Trump said last year in a Twitter tirade against Facebook’s libra, as well as bitcoin and cryptocurrencies—scarce digital assets that were the inspiration for libra.

“[The dollar] is by far the most dominant currency anywhere in the world, and it will always stay that way.”

Libra is expected to launch later this year, though somewhat reduced from Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s original vision.

Some U.S. lawmakers have proposed the creation of digital dollars and so-called FedAccounts as part of stimulus bills designed to offset the economic damage wrought by coronavirus-induced lockdowns.

These have so far been excluded from final bills and may never get through a divided Congress—perhaps leaving Facebook’s libra as a defacto digital dollar.

“The big battle for global financial supremacy could be between the digital yuan and Facebook’s libra dollar, a digital version of the U.S. dollar,” said financial author and trading veteran Glen Goodman, who made a name for himself by successfully navigating stock markets during the 2008 global financial crisis and has been closely following the development of central bank digital currencies.

“Both of these currencies may be launched as soon as this year and will make it quicker, cheaper and more efficient to buy, sell or transfer money from place to place. China will pull out all the stops to convince international trading partners to switch from the dollar to their new currency. If they manage to lure enough users, the U.S. dollar could be in deep trouble.”

Battle lines are now being drawn but the war could be measured in decades and not years.

“Given the risks inherent to such a transformation, China will phase in the CBDC very gradually,” journalists at the widely-respected Economist newspaper wrote this week, pointing to analysis from Citic Securities that estimates it will take “several years for the digital yuan to replace just about 10% of all physical cash in China.”

Donald Trump’s first term as U.S. president may have been marked by his trade war with China; but if he wins a second he could go down in history as the president that saw the U.S. dollar fall from grace.

Source: Forbes “Donald Trump’s China Nightmare Is Coming True For The U.S. Dollar”

Note: This is Forbes’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

Power is ‘up for grabs’: Behind China’s plan to shape the future of next-generation tech

Published Sun, Apr 26 20208:57 PM EDT

Arjun Kharpal

Key Points

  • China is set to release a new plan this year called “China Standards 2035” with the aim of influencing how the next-generation of technologies, from telecommunications to artificial intelligence, will work.

  • Standards will define how some technologies work and their interoperability around the world.

  • Experts described standards as something that can “shape the playing field and landscape for the future of these technologies.”

  • But China will have challenges dislodging the dominance of Europe and the U.S., experts said.

China is set to release an ambitious 15-year blueprint that will lay out its plans to set the global standards for the next-generation of technologies.

The move could have wide-ranging implications for the power Beijing wields on the global stage in areas from artificial intelligence, to telecommunications networks and the flow of data, experts told CNBC.

China Standards 2035” is set to be released this year after two years of planning. Experts said it is widely seen as the next step, following the “Made In China 2025″ global manufacturing plan — but this time, with a much larger focus on technologies that are seen as defining the next decade.

The diagnosis is, we are entering an era that will be defined by new technological systems and networks and technologies and the leaders in those are yet to be determined and this gives China the opportunity to determine that,” Emily de La Bruyere, co-founder of consultancy Horizon Advisory, told CNBC in an interview.

That means power in the world is up for grabs.”

What are standards?

Technologies and industries around the world have standards that define how they work and their interoperability around the world. Interoperability refers to the ability for two or more systems to work together.

The telecommunications industry is a good example. New networks such as 5G aren’t just turned on. They take years of planning and development. Technical standards are created through collaboration between industry bodies, experts and companies.

Those technical specifications are adopted and integrated into what becomes known as standards. That ensures that standards are as uniform as possible, which can improve the efficiency of network rollouts and ensure they work no matter where you are in the world.

Standards are behind many of the technologies we use every day, such as our smartphones.

Major American and European technology companies, such as Qualcomm and Ericsson, have been part of standards setting across various industries. But China has played an increasingly active role in the past few years.

What do we know about the plan?

In March, Beijing released a document which translates as “The Main Points of National Standardization Work in 2020.”

Bruyere and Horizon Advisory co-founder Nathan Picarsic said this gives us an insight into what might be found in the final blueprint for China Standards 2035, particularly when looking at Beijing’s plans internationally.

Some of the points in the plan from March include a push to improve standards domestically across various industries, from agriculture to manufacturing. But one section of the document highlights the need to establish a “new generation of information technology and biotechnology standard system.”

Within that section, there is a focus on developing standards for the so-called Internet of Things, cloud computing, big data, 5G and artificial intelligence (AI). These are all seen a crucial future technologies that could underpin critical infrastructure in the world.

The document also outlines the need to “participate in the formulation of international standards” and that China should put forward more proposals for international standards.

One expert said the move is a dual play — to strengthen standards domestically and boost the economy, and to have influence globally.

China domestically is trying to up its standards game. One of the big weaknesses in the economy is the fact that nothing happens in a standard normalized way across time, distance and space. You have different requirements in this city, different requirements from day to day from month to month,” Andrew Polk, partner at Beijing-based research and consultancy firm Trivium China, told CNBC.

(China Standards 2035) is a combination of domestic exigencies and the need to improve their own economic performance and efficiency and their desire to set the standards, literally and figuratively, abroad.”

As Beijing began researching for China Standards 2035, an official reportedly said it was the country’s opportunity to “surpass” the rest of the world. Dai Hong, director of the second department of industrial standards of China’s National Standardization Management Committee, was quoted by state-backed publication Xinhua as saying at that time that many of the patents and technical standards for next-generation technologies had not yet been formed.

China’s standards push

China Standards 2035 gives the country a new impetus but over the past few years, the influence of the world’s second-largest economy was already growing.

5G is a prominent example in so far as, 5G is the case we have seen the most aggressive companies not just to set standards at home but to actively shape global standards setting,” Elsa Kania, adjunct senior fellow with the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), told CNBC.

5G refers to next-generation mobile networks that are seen as critical in supporting future infrastructure.

Chinese firm Huawei, one of the leading players in 5G networking equipment, has also been a key player in standards setting. It has the highest number of patents related to 5G, and is ahead of its closest European rivals Nokia and Ericsson, according to intellectual property analysis firm IPlytics.

In addition, it has been a key part of forming the technical specifications for 5G via an industry body known as 3GPP. Also known as 3rd Generation Partnership Project, it brings together standards organizations that seek to develop global standards for cellular networks.

Technical standards is not a topic that is simply abstruse but a concrete way to shape the playing field and landscape for the future of these technologies,” Kania said. “The decision made on standards can have commercial consequences while also shaping the architecture to the advantage or disadvantage of companies.”

China’s national standards push is already underway. Beijing has already formed a new committee focused on creating standards for blockchain technology.

The world’s second-largest economy is looking to become a leader in the nascent space after President Xi Jinping last year urged the country to “seize the opportunities” presented by the technology. Some of China’s major technology companies including Huawei and Tencent are part of that committee.

Belt and Road

Launched in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a massive infrastructure project that seeks to link more than 60 countries from Asia through to Africa and Europe in a complex network of roads, rails and ports.

But last year, Xi expanded the scope of the BRI to include technology. The BRI is also seen as one way China is able to spread its standards and influence.

The PRC (People’s Republic of China) makes diplomatic agreements—such as memorandums of understanding— incorporating PRC technical standards extensively within the BRI realm as a major policy component of its action plans,” Ray Bowen, senior analyst at Pointe Bello, said in a written testimony last month to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Adam Segal, director of the digital and cyberspace policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted in a testimony to the same committee that standards have been written into memorandums of understanding with a number of nations.

Developing economies such as Vietnam and Indonesia are likely to adopt those Chinese standards because “they are cheaper than Western alternatives and the draw of the Chinese market,” Segal said.

Data flows

As China’s influence on global technology grows, more and more questions about its access to data will emerge.

China’s standards play overlaps with and intends to expand its strategy of asymmetrical access to data,” Horizon Advisory’s Picarsic said. “The more technical and technology standards are defined by Beijing, the more associated data will become subject to the Chinese government’s various data localization and access policies.”

Some legislations in China appear to compel any company to comply with government requests for help with vaguely-defined “intelligence work.”

This is one reason that the U.S. and other countries have raised concerns about Huawei. They feel that should Huawei be allowed in their 5G networks, data running through those pipes could be accessed by Beijing. Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has repeatedly said that Huawei would never hand customer data over to the Chinese government.

US approach

Standards are certainly on the agenda right now in Washington.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission is due to hold a hearing on Monday titled “A ‘China Model?’ Beijing’s Promotion of Alternative Global Norms and Standards.” It had to be postponed because of the coronavirus.

But in general, there is no unified effort from the U.S. to this point. President Donald Trump has even proposed funding cuts to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Standards, it’s probably the least sexy thing you can think about,” Trivium China’s Polk said. “And it takes sustained long term effort, attention and investment. That is why you worry about western governments being behind the ball on this and having the capacity to have as sustained focus (as China) on these issues.”

The coronavirus pandemic has also distracted governments from this issue. While China may be able to balance dealing with the fallout and their long-term focus on standards, it may not be as easy for the U.S.

It seems like the Chinese are preparing themselves to try to walk and chew gum at the same time, in terms of addressing the short-term challenges and keeping their long-term goals in check. I don’t see the balancing of long-term and short-term objectives as much in the U.S.,” Polk said.

Challenges ahead

China may have big ambitions, but dislodging the dominance of the U.S. and Europe won’t be an easy task.

While increased Chinese participation and government involvement has created some procedural challenges, it has not created undue influence or tipped the competitive scales in favor of the Chinese,” Naomi Wilson, senior director for policy in Asia at the Information Technology Industry (ITI) Council, said in a written testimony last month to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

In fact, U.S. and multinational companies are still largely regarded as the most influential participants in ICT-related standards bodies — based on their technical leadership and expertise, deep understanding of standards processes and rules, quality of contributions, and consistent participation over time.”

The ITI represents over 70 global information and communications technology companies.

China will also need to boost the quality of the companies contributing to global standards. The country will need to develop companies that are able to do what Huawei is doing, but in a variety of different technology sectors, according to Polk.

These standards are set by industry bodies through companies that participate in them. Usually the companies want the best, the highest standards, and the best tech usually wins out. That is why the U.S. and Europe have the incumbent advantage. They have highly advanced companies,” Polk told CNBC.

They (China) won’t be able to get away with dominating standards regimes in various areas with subpar technology. They have to have Huaweis in other areas.”

Source: CNBC “Power is ‘up for grabs’: Behind China’s plan to shape the future of next-generation tech”

Note: This is CNBC’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

Talon-A hypersonic testbed to achieve IOC by 2022

What aircraft does the US Air Force need to beat China and Russia? This new study has an answer.

  March 20, 2019 

WASHINGTON — Last September, the U.S. Air Force revealed that it will need a total of 386 operational squadrons to take on future threats posed by Russia and China. A new congressionally mandated study posits that number may not be enough.

Further, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments study — which has been obtained exclusively by Defense News — goes on to recommend that the Air Force begin developing a handful of new technologies not in its plans, including a stealthy weaponized drone, a new unmanned reconnaissance plane that can penetrate into contested spaces, and refueling tankers that are unlike anything in its current inventory.

The study is the result of language in the 2018 defense policy bill, which called for the Air Force, the government-funded research firm MITRE Corp. as well as CSBA to make recommendations for the future force structure of the Air Force.

In its study, which was delivered to Congress earlier this month, CSBA found critical shortfalls in the tanker, bomber, fighter, strike/reconnaissance drones, and command-and-control/intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance inventories, with the bomber, tanker and drone fleets especially needing a bump in aircraft numbers.

The bomber fleet, CSBA said, should grow from the nine operational squadrons around today to 24 operational squadrons at an unnamed point in the future. (CSBA declined to associate a specific year in its recommendations, as the hypothetical future force includes some aircraft that are not in the Air Force’s plans.)

Fighter squadrons should increase from 55 to 65, and the tanker fleet should jump from 40 to 58 squadrons. Strike/reconnaissance drone squadrons, currently typified by the MQ-9 Reaper, should skyrocket from 25 to 43 squadrons.

The C2/ISR inventory — which is currently comprised of assets like the E-8 JSTARS ground surveillance aircraft, the RC-135 family of recon planes and the RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone — shows a decrease from 40 squadrons to 33 squadrons. However, CSBA notes the importance of moving from the Air Force’s current inventory of aging battle-management planes to a more disaggregated family-of-systems approach like the Advanced Battle Management System, which will be able to provide more coverage and link together more platforms.

CSBA declined to comment further on the report, as it has not yet been briefed by Congress.

The report was briefly available on a Defense Department website before being taken down.

What the Air Force (thinks it) needs

The Air Force will need 14 bomber squadrons, 62 fighter squadrons, 54 tanker squadrons, 27 strike/reconnaissance drone squadrons and 62 C2/ISR squadrons by the year 2030, according to the service’s own study. However, the service has not revealed how those goals might influence future buying decisions, and whether current programs of record are to be expanded to meet those goals.

Another major difference is that the Air Force and CSBA formed their proposed future forces based on different threats. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein has said that its 386-squadron count is necessary to “defeat a peer threat while being able to deter a near-peer threat.”

This data was collected from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report.<img src=”×0/filters:quality(100)/” alt=”This data was collected from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report.”/>

This data was collected from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report.

By contrast, CSBA sought to create an Air Force that could take on a very concrete and possibly more ambitious goal. First, the Air Force would be confronted with a major conflict with a near-peer competitor, a “major Chinese military action in the South China Sea,” for instance. Then, 10 to 20 days later, it would be forced to address aggressive activity by a second near-peer, such as “a Russian invasion of one or more Baltic states.”

“The lethality, range and geographic dispersion of these systems, combined with modern fighters, electronic warfare aircraft, cyber attacks and other threats, create an all-aspect, multi-domain challenge for U.S. aircraft,” it said.

At this point, none of the U.S. Air Force’s inventory is optimized for such a battle, CSBA believes. The B-21 bomber built by Northrop Grumman is set to be the first when it becomes operational in the mid-2020s.

The bomber force

As China and Russia field more advanced and long-reaching air defenses, it will be vital for the United States to field long-range, stealthy bombers that can slip past radar, and for the U.S. to use its large payload capacity to take out surface-to-air missiles, adversary airfields and other targets of interest — clearing the way for fighter jets and other U.S. aircraft to fire from standoff distances or move farther afield.

“The Air Force’s planned force of 100 [total aircraft inventory] B-21s could fall short of the penetrating strike capacity needed for a single major high-end great power conflict,” said the report, which recommends a future force of 288 B-21 Raiders.

CSBA recommends accelerating B-21 procurement, adding that “assuming annual B-21 production can ramp to a range between 10 and 20 aircraft per year by the late 2020s, a total of 55 [total aircraft inventory] B-21s could be in the force by 2030.”

Meanwhile, the Air Force should sustain its B-52 and B-2 fleets, and retire the B-1 as the B-21 comes online, it continued.

This data was collected from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report.<img src=”×0/filters:quality(100)/” alt=”This data was collected from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report.”/>

This data was collected from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report.

The fighter force

Should the Air Force buy the F-15X from Boeing?

The study gives an unambiguous answer of “no,” stating that spending its resources on new F-15s could take away precious funding away from the service’s next-generation fighter, which the Air Force needs to expedite and begin buying as soon as possible.

The F-15X, while a capable “fourth-generation-plus aircraft,” will not be able to survive the more contested battlespace of the future, the assessment stated, adding that “the Air Force should consider replacing some retiring F-15C/Ds with modified F-35As as a bridge to its future air superiority family of systems.”

The study prioritizes the development of a new sixth-generation fighter, known as Penetrating Counter Air, or PCA, as well as hastening to a procurement rate of 70 F-35As per year.

Not much is known about PCA, a classified program that is in the early stages of development. The study envisions it as a speedy, long-range family of systems capable of moving deep into an enemy’s airspace and taking out air defenses, opening the aperture up for other assets to move closer to the adversary.

To speed up the development of PCA so that the Air Force can buy at least 50 systems by 2030, the service could look to the B-21 program as an example: “Maximizing use of mature technologies and possibly components and mission systems developed for other advanced platforms could reduce the time and cost of fielding a multi-mission PCA,” the study said. “This capability is needed now, and therefore its development should be a top priority.”

CSBA also recommends the gradual retirement of F-16s, as F-35s come online, and the modernization of F-22 Raptors and F-15Es. Six A-10 Warthog squadrons should be retained into the 2030s as planned, but the service should not pursue a single-mission close-air support aircraft to replace it once the A-10 reaches the end of its service life, according to the think tank.

“Since nearly all of its future precision-enabled combat aircraft will be capable of providing close air support to friendly forces, the Air Force should not develop a future replacement for the A-10 that would be limited to operations in permissive environments,” it said.

The tanker force

With the estimated 457 tankers in the Air Force clocking in at an average of 53 years of age, the Air Force’s tanker force is too old and too small to meet future threats. As such, the Air Force needs to continue buying its latest aerial-refueling aircraft, Boeing’s KC-46, so that it can retire older tankers like the KC-10 and — eventually — the KC-135, CSBA said.

By 2030, CSBA recommends the divestment of the KC-10 as the KC-46 replaces it, as well as the retirement of about 50 of the oldest KC-135s. That, coupled with 179 KC-46s, would lead to a tanker inventory of about 520 aircraft.

At this point, the Air Force should expand the capabilities of the KC-46 with upgrades that allow it to “perform as a communications and situational awareness node to support multi-domain operations, as well as to provide it with some countermeasures against area-denial threats,” the report stated.

The service would need to move quickly to develop a KC-46 follow-on if a future tanker force of 630 aircraft were to be achieved. CSBA conceptualized that future tankers — potentially a family of systems — could involve manned aerial-refueling planes like the KC-46 that transfers fuel from U.S. bases to a number of small, lightweight drones or optionally manned tankers just outside a contested environment, creating a number of disaggregated “offload points” for fighters and other aircraft to get fuel.

Small tanker drones could even move into lower-threat areas inside of the contested environment, “extend[ing] the range and mission duration of penetrating aircraft” while not putting a human pilot and crew at risk, the report found.

Future ISR/light strike drones

In 2030, the Air Force will still be using its MQ-9 Reaper drones, and the service could begin using them in new ways, like for homeland or air base defense. But CSBA identified a “pressing need” for a stealthy combat UAV — a UCAV it terms MQ-X — that could conduct strike, electronic attack or counterair missions while teamed with other unmanned or manned aircraft.

Previous programs to develop a stealthy UCAV have been terminated before they ever reached fruition. One notable example was the Navy’s carrier-launched airborne strike and surveillance program, or UCLASS, wihch was killed in 2016 and reborn as the MQ-25 tanker drone.

CSBA stated that the Air Force should build on such efforts “to initiate development of a MQ-X UCAV that can penetrate and persist in contested environments as soon as possible.” It envisioned a need for 68 MQ-Xs in the future force, with as many as 40 such aircraft being adopted around 2030 if a program is started now.

An MQ-9 Reaper at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niger. (Joshua R. M. Dewberry/U.S. Air Force)<img src=”×0/filters:quality(100)/” alt=”An MQ-9 Reaper at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niger. (Joshua R. M. Dewberry/U.S. Air Force)”/>

An MQ-9 Reaper at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niger. (Joshua R. M. Dewberry/U.S. Air Force)

The service might also consider fielding a family of drones it calls MM-UAS — for multimission unmanned aerial systems — which could eventually replace the Air Force’s current inventory of drones into the 2030s: As CSBA stated, MM-UAS could be based on existing technologies or involve upgrades to current systems.

It would operate in environments that are either permissive or slightly contested, and could accomplish a range of missions like conducting surveillance, executing airstrikes or acting as a communications node.

The ISR and BMC2 force

Of all the mission areas, it’s the Air Force’s ISR and battle management command-and-control aircraft that needs to go through the most revolutionary changes from 2030 onward, CSBA posits.

The Air Force should sustain its U-2 spy planes, RQ-4 Global Hawk drones and E-3 early warning aircraft through 2030, the report said. It’s RC-135 family of special-mission aircraft — which includes the Rivet Joint, Cobra Ball and other planes with unique equipment used in intelligence gathering — could be viable into the 2040s. Meanwhile, the E-8C JSTARS ground surveillance aircraft should be retired in the mid-2020s as long as a capability gap is mitigated by other assets, the think tank said.

CSBA predicts the Air Force will get its Advanced Battle Management System online in the early 2030s, recommending a future force of 21 systems.

The Air Force is pursuing the Advanced Battle Management System as a disaggregated family of systems that can provide command and control, as well as the surveillance of ground and airborne targets, in a contested environment. However, the service hasn’t made it clear what sensors, aircraft and communications gear will be included in the enterprise.

Here’s where CSBA diverges sharply from the Air Force: It calls for the service to develop one or more penetrating ISR drones in the 2030s, calling the fielding of a so-called P-ISR “one of the Air Force’s biggest priorities for its future global awareness force.”

Right now the Air Force has no plans — at least not publicly released ones — to create such an aircraft. However, the CSBA report sees an important role for an unmanned, stealthy spy plane in a future conflict with Russia or China.

“Persistent, penetrating airborne ISR would be critical to the air interdiction of highly mobile armored vehicles and other land forces invading a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally,” a typical scenario in war games involving Russia, the report said. “It also would be necessary to find, fix, track and provide shooters with cues to attack mobile surface-to-air missiles, missile launchers and other high-end Chinese and Russian [anti-access, area denial] systems.”

Source: Defense News “What aircraft does the US Air Force need to beat China and Russia? This new study has an answer”

Note: This is Defense News’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.