Friday, April 6, 2012
Despite the ongoing internal unrest, Syria is continuing to upgrade its military capabilities and recently declared a number of new surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs) operational.
Over the past year, Syria has received a number of SA- 17 batteries from Russia under a deal signed several years ago. Two batteries are already reportedly operational and deployed along Syria’s border with Lebanon. A third is undergoing training.
As a result, the IDF has modified the way it flies in the North and particularly when conducting missions over Lebanon, where it continues to fly to gather intelligence on Hezbollah activities.
Also known as the Buk System, the SA-17 has a range of about 30 km. and can intercept multiple targets flying at altitudes of over 40,000 feet.
The launchers are mounted on trucks and are mobile, making them difficult targets.
Another system that recently became operational is the Yakhont anti-ship missile which has the Israeli Navy concerned about the possibility that it will also be transferred to Hezbollah ahead of a future conflict. Syria already tested the Yakhnot in recent maneuvers and it is said to be a sophisticated missile with a range of about 300 km.
At least 10,000 people are believed to have been killed in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began a year ago.
“The military is not overly affected by the resistance and is continuing with its procurement plans as well as the integration of new capabilities into operational service,” a senior IDF officer recently explained.
In addition to establishing the new SAM batteries, Syria is also believed to be in talks with Russia about upgrading some of its older model combat aircraft with structural overhauls as well as the installation of new avionics.
Syria is believed to have invested billions of dollars in the past 10 years in new SAMs aimed at undermining Israel’s ability to operate in Syria or Lebanon in a future war. Israel fears that some of the systems might make their way into Hezbollah hands in Lebanon such as the SA-8 truckmounted system.
Israel is concerned with the increase in the transfer of weaponry from Syria to Lebanon in recent months. Hezbollah is believed to have obtained several dozen more M-600 long-range missiles, as well as additional 302 mm. Khaibar-1 rockets, which have a range of about 100 km.
It is already believed to have a significant arsenal of M600s, which are manufactured in Syria as a clone of Iran’s Fateh-110.
The M600 has a range of around 300 km. It can carry a half-ton warhead and has superior accuracy.
Israel’s primary concern is with the possibility that Hezbollah will get its hands on some of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
Western countries have prepared various contingency plans for such a scenario, including the possible bombing of such a convoy if it were detected and the possible insertion of commando forces to secure the chemical stockpile if and when Assad falls.
(Reuters) - China's top military newspaper told troops on Friday to ignore online rumors and authorities shut a left-wing website that has decried the ousting of populist official Bo Xilai, as the ruling Communist Party fought jitters over a leadership transition.
The Liberation Army Daily did not mention outlandish rumors of a foiled coup in Beijing that spread on the Internet in past weeks, after the abrupt ousting of Bo, an ambitious contender for a spot in the new central leadership to be unveiled at a party congress later this year.
A commentary in the newspaper, however, left no doubt the party leadership wants to inoculate People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops against rumors about coups or political divisions that could erode the authority of President Hu Jintao, who is also head of the party and chairman of the Central Military Commission which commands the PLA.
The paper admonished soldiers to "resolutely resist the incursion of all kinds of erroneous ideas, not be disturbed by noise, not be affected by rumors, and not be drawn by undercurrents, and ensure that at all times and under all circumstances the military absolutely obeys the command of the Party central leadership, the Central Military Commission and Chairman Hu."
Although the coup rumors were unfounded, their spread and the government's tightening of Internet controls and warnings to ignore such talk have reflected jitters about stability after Bo's fall.
The Communist Party has always regarded its absolute grip on the PLA as its ultimate bulwark of power, and so the government is acutely sensitive about any signs of discord in the military.
The PLA has also been shaken by a separate corruption scandal in the run-up to the party leadership change, said Chen Ziming, an independent scholar of politics in Beijing.
"I think both incidents generated tensions and uncertainty, and in the military the case of Gu Junshan is a source of tensions," said Chen, referring to PLA Lieutenant General Gu, whose downfall for apparent corruption emerged this year.
"Before previous recent party congresses, the Internet was not such a factor, and structural factors, including the big turnover of leaders, are adding to uncertainty now," he said.
The newspaper's front-page commentary directed at the military builds on a series of official comments aimed at reinforcing the party's grip on opinion after an unsettling two months at a time the leadership prizes stability.
Unlike past removals of defiant provincial-level leaders on corruption charges, Bo's downfall has drawn open opposition. He wrapped himself in populist rhetoric and vows as party chief of Chongqing in southwest China, and leftist supporters have called him the victim of a plot to derail his policies.
Fan Jinggang, the general manager of the Beijing-based Maoist website Utopia (www.wyzxsx.com), which has vigorously defended Bo, said government Internet agencies and police ordered the site shut for a month starting from Friday.
Officials said "the Utopia website issued essays violating the constitution, maliciously attacking national leaders, and making wild comment on the 18th Congress," Fan told Reuters.
The Utopia group asked the officials to specify what essays were deemed to violate rules. "They did not have specific essays or evidence," said Fan.
Utopia and other ardently leftist Chinese websites have spread documents claiming to prove that Bo's downfall was engineered by the United States, and have also blasted comments by Premier Wen Jiabao critical of Bo.
"Handling things this way will not win over people, especially the left-wing and the public at the grassroots," said a recent comment about Bo published on the Utopia website.
"If this is mishandled, it could trigger a split in the Chinese Communist Party."
In late March, authorities shut 16 Chinese websites and detained six people accused of spreading rumors about unusual military movements and security in the capital, feeding talk of an attempted coup or schism in the leadership.
The rumors fed on speculation about the ousting of Bo, who in mid-March was removed as party boss of Chongqing, over a month after his vice mayor, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate, triggering a scandal exposing accusations of infighting and abuses of power.
Despite Bo's fall, the party's leadership transition appears on track, with Vice President Xi Jinping's rising profile leaving little doubt that he will succeed Hu.
The Liberation Army Daily has mentioned nothing about Bo or the rumors, nor Gu's case, in a string of comments over the past week aimed at stressing loyalty to the party and to Hu.
"Conscientiously resist all kinds of mistaken words and actions damaging to the party's image and unity, and do not heed or believe all kinds of hearsay and dark stories," the paper said last Sunday.
On Friday, it said the military must maintain a tight grip on troops' access to the Internet in the middle of what it called an "ideological struggle" before the 18th Communist Party congress late this year, when Hu and his cohort will retire.
On the cusp of the post-penny age, the Royal Canadian Mint is preparing to launch a digital alternative to all coinage and small bank notes — dubbed "MintChip" — which it hails as the natural next step in the "evolution of currency."
The concept was quietly introduced on Wednesday when the Ottawa-based Crown corporation activated a website outlining its vision for the future of MintChip — described as "better than cash" and "so easy even a child can use it" — and invited software developers to begin imagining different ways the technology could be employed.
In fact, the mint is offering $50,000 in an old-fashioned currency — gold — to winners of a contest aimed at developing smart-phone apps and other ways of demonstrating MintChip's benefits as a payment system for consumers.
And Marc Brule, the mint's chief financial officer, is scheduled to provide details about the MintChip initiative at a speech in Toronto later this month during a "Forum on Canadian Payment Innovations" sponsored by The Canadian Institute business think tank.
The contest "is a way for us to enlist software developers in creating proofs-of-concept highlighting the potential advantages of such a technology," Christine Aquino, the mint's director of communications, told Postmedia News on Thursday.
The mint states at the MintChip website that it has developed prototypes and has five patents pending on "innovative technology" underlying the cashless payment system.
The "virtual" currency would, however, have physical forms, including microSD cards and USB sticks — the flash drives used to transfer files between computers.
"The easiest way to describe it is that it's a small chip like you would find in your phone," said Aquino, describing the project as "part of the mint's ongoing research and development efforts."
At the website, the federal agency says the MintChip "could become the digital equivalent of the coins we use every day," but also suggests cash transactions using five- or 10-dollar bills could also be replaced by the system.
"The emergence and growing popularity of micro and nano-transactions and the explosion of mobile commerce suggest there are new opportunities in the virtual space for an innovative currency option," the mint states. "MintChip uses a secure chip to hold electronic value and a protocol to transfer it from one chip to another. The emerging digital economy must be able to accommodate small-value transactions, such as micro transactions (under $10) and nano-transactions (under $1). The mint hopes that software developers and entrepreneurs will use MintChip to ignite trade and commerce for these very-low-value markets."
In a promotional video at the site, the mint highlights the fact that "no personal data is required or exchanged" when using the MintChip, which is also one of the perceived benefits of making purchases with physical coinage instead of credit cards or bank cards.
"Ever since the beginning of time, people have been buying and selling and using whatever currency was available. But today's digital economy is changing faster than ever, and currency has to change, too," the video says. "Imagine a whole new breed of transactions that are smaller, faster and virtually everywhere. That's where MintChip comes in . . . Using a chip, you securely load value onto a smart phone, USB device, computer, tablet or cloud — or maybe even some future device that doesn't exist yet."
The video also gave examples of the kinds of purchases ideally suited to MintChip technology, such as "buying a decaf latte, a Canadian history article for school or paying back that ten bucks you borrowed last week."
Merchants "will easily and cost-effectively be able to offer digital content in the form of small and extremely small online transactions, things like buying a song, a news article, or a nifty glow-in-the-dark laser for your favourite online game character, all for a few pennies — virtual, of course."
The Canadian government announced in last week's federal budget that the national mint would no longer produce or distribute pennies — which cost about 1.6 cents each to manufacture — after the fall of 2012.
The Bank of Canada, meanwhile, has been modernizing its bank notes with paperless, polymer material designed to improve the money's durability and security features.
The MintChip software challenge launched Wednesday runs until August, when submissions will be judged by a panel of business leaders including mint CEO Ian Bennett and Google's vice-president of payments, Osama Bedler.
The winners will be announced in September, with the top prize of a 10-ounce gold wafer — worth about $17,000 — going to the developer of the best overall application.
Read more: http://www.canada.com/technology/Mint+promotes+digital+chip+currency+penniless+future/6418545/story.html#ixzz1rGzMEbNx
Global food prices rose in March for a third straight month with more hikes to come, the UN’s food agency said on Thursday, adding to fears of hunger and a new wave of social unrest in poor countries.
Record high prices for staple foods last year were one of the main factors that contributed to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as bread riots in other parts of the world.
The cost of food has risen again this year after coming down from a February 2011 record peak.
The FAO index, which measures monthly price changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, averaged 215.9 points in March, up from a revised 215.4 points in February, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.
Although below the February 2011 peak of 237.9, the index is still higher than during a food price crisis in 2007-08 that raised global alarm.
“The food crisis has not gone away since then,” said Emilia Casella, spokeswoman for the UN’s World Food Programme. “Prices are a big concern and have remained a large reason why people are food insecure.”
The FAO’s senior economist and grain analyst Abdolreza Abbassian told Reuters there was scope for more price rises in the first half of this year, particularly for corn and soybeans, which could also drive up the price of wheat.
Higher food prices mean higher import bills for the poorest countries, which do not produce enough food domestically.
The net cereal import bill of the low-income food-deficit countries, known as LIFDCs, is expected to rise to a record US$32.62-billion in 2011/12 from $32.28 billion in 2010/11 because of higher prices and lower domestic production, the FAO said in March. Poor countries face unrest if they cannot find the cash.
“Rising food prices are placing fresh pressure on policymakers globally at a time when many governments just have less money,” said Larbi Sadiki, an expert in North African politics at Britain’s Exeter University.
“In north Africa, food subsidies are a red line, especially in Tunisia and Egypt,” he said. “Citizens can be expected to take to the streets to demand social justice.”
U.S. soybean futures rose about 7% in March and gained about 17% in the first quarter of this year spurred by concerns about tight supplies as drought hit South America and smaller U.S. plantings.
The FAO’s Cereal Price Index averaged 227 points in March, up 1 point from February, with maize prices showing gains, supported by low inventories and a strong soybean market, the FAO said. Its FAO Oils/Fats Price index rose to 245 points in March, up 6 points, or 2.5%, from February.
High oil prices have fanned inflationary concerns since the start of this year. Consumer prices in the 17 nations sharing the euro were up 2.6 percent in March from a year ago, despite the region’s stumbling economy.
“The food price index has an extremely high correlation to oil prices and with oil prices up it’s going to be difficult for food prices not to follow suit,” said Nick Higgins, commodity analyst at Rabobank International.
Energy prices affect the production of fertilizers as well as food distribution and farm machinery usage costs.
“We really saw the (food index) declines in Q4 2011 as being anomalous and related more to sell offs from the threats posed by the European macroeconomic situation rather than agricultural fundamentals,” he said.
The FAO cut its estimate for world cereal production in 2011 slightly to a still record 2.343 billion tonnes, down from an earlier estimate 2.344 billion tonnes. It confirmed an earlier forecast for world wheat output to fall 1.4% from last year’s record crop to 690 million tonnes in 2012.
Abbassian said corn stocks were far from comfortable levels at present and a considerable boost in output was needed to replenish them.
Coarse grains stocks, which include corn, could decline by nearly 3 million tonnes to 171.3 million tonnes at the end of the 2011/2012 season, the lowest level since 2008, the FAO said.
A U.S. government report last week with lower than expected estimates of grain stocks and reduced soybean and wheat plantings added to concerns about global grain supplies, driving a rally in grain futures.
Stocks of grain in the European Union are set to hit a four-year low by the end of the 2011/12 marketing campaign, with a diminishing crop outlook threatening further drawdowns next season, traders and analysts say.
Strong price swings are expected due to weather changes in major producing countries and more price volatility could come if U.S. farmers decide to plant more soybeans after being lured by high prices, the FAO’s Abbassian said.
“If I were a farmer and I would look at the steep increases that we’ve got since the planting intentions report, I would be a bit more cautious about putting everything into corn and would be considering soybeans also as a good option,” he said.
World food prices could fall in the second half of this year with new crops easing market tension and driving full-year average prices below the record levels of 2011, he said.
The FAO raised its forecast for keenly-watched world cereal carryover stocks — the amount left over at the end of the current marketing season — by 1 million tonnes from the previous estimate to 519 million tonnes, 15.6 million tonnes above the season’s opening levels, mostly thanks to increased rice stocks.
But the sustained high prices so far this year are keeping the issue at the top of the agenda for policymakers.
“We will be 7.2 billion people on earth in 2015, and more than one million have died from starvation in 2011. The situation will not improve, and in fact the contrary will happen,” Pierre Reuland, Interpol’s special representative to the European Union, told a meeting of European security officials in January. “For poor people the struggle for life will not be better than it is today.”
Google has taken the wraps off techno-glasses which add emails, Google searches and even directions over your view of the world.
The glasses - unveiled via a Google Plus page, Project Glass, are voice-controlled, and offer GPS directions as well as email and video chat through a built-in screen directly in front of a user's eyes.
The glasses are a product of Google's 'Google X' blue-sky ideas lab - and the search giant is looking for ideas to improve them.
The demo shows off Google Maps being 'added' to the real world - providing real-time directions from your current location
In demonstrations, the glasses are mainly voice-controlled, using voice commands to bring up contacts, send emails and search
The glasses appear to run a variant of the Android operating system, using the same microphone icon and other recognisable parts of Google's mobile OS
The demo shows emails and other information 'layered' into a view of the world via screens in the glasses
'We think technology should work for you—to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t,' says Google.
The glasses appear to run a variant of the Android operating system, using the same microphone icon and other recognisable parts of Google's mobile OS.
The glasses layer information 'over' the world, and offer directions - as well as allowing users to 'locate' one another in the real world, as with Google's current Latitude system.
'A group of us from Google X started Project Glass to build this kind of technology, one that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment, 'says Google.
The service lets you locate nearby friends in a similar way to Google's current Latitude service
The demonstration shows off a weather forecast layered over a view of the world
The demonstration shows off navigation information similar to what Google currently offers via its Maps service
'We’re sharing this information now because we want to start a conversation and learn from your valuable input. So we took a few design photos to show what this technology could look like and created a video to demonstrate what it might enable you to do.'
Various leaks had hinted that Google wanted to move into wearable computing.
'Many of the features - voice commands, embedded camera, Google Maps integration - have been previously rumored, but it’s compelling to actually see them in action. Whether they will work quite as well in reality is, so far, uncertain,' says ZDNet.
No release date has been confirmed for the glasses - nor has Google explained exactly how the glasses work.
The glasses also allow users to record and share videos from a built-in camera, just like on YouTube
The world is just an eyeball away: Models demonstrate how the goggles look in practice
'Google X' is where the search giant's scientists work on wild, out-there ideas.
'Google has always invested in speculative R&D projects - it's part of our DNA,' said a spokesperson when the first news of the lab leaked.
'While the possibilities are incredibly exciting, the sums involved are very small by comparison to the investments we make in our core businesses. In terms of details, we don't comment on speculation.'
The lab is reportedly located in Google's Mountain View, California headquarters - known as 'the Googleplex'.
Engineers are free to work on projects such as connected fridges that order groceries when they run low - or even tableware that can connect to social networks.
Other Google engineers have reportedly researched ideas as far-out as elevators to space.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin is reportedly deeply involved in the lab. His business card is said to be simply a piece of silvery metal decorated with the letter X.
Brin, a robot enthusiast, once attended a conference via a robot with a screen showing his face.
It's not unusual for tech companies to have 'ideas labs' hidden away from their ordinary workers - at Apple, for instance, Jonathan Ive's design lab where devices such as iPads are perfected, is guarded as if it was a weapons facility.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2125139/Google-Project-Glass-video-Glasses-layer-Maps-email-web-searches-OVER-view-world.html#ixzz1rBECdAbH
Russian Defense Ministry sources told the semiofficial news agency Interfax that action plans are being finalized to react to an armed conflict involving Iran and its nuclear program. The General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces “calculates” that military action against Iran will commence “in the summer” of 2012. Since Israel does not have sufficient assets to defeat Iranian defenses, the Russian military considers US military involvement inevitable (Interfax, March 30).
Bits of information have been appearing, indicating the essence of Russian military action. Last December it was disclosed that families of servicemen from the Russian base in Armenia have been evacuated to Russia, while the troops have been moved from the capital, Yerevan, north to Gumri – closer to the borders of Georgia and Turkey. The preparation of Russian forces in Armenia for action in the event of military conflict with Iran began “two years ago” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 15).
After the short Russo-Georgian war in August 2008, break-away provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia were occupied by Russian troops. Tbilisi in turn stopped military transit to the Russian troops in landlocked Armenia. There is only an air link to Russia, while fuel and other essentials reportedly come over the Iran-Armenia border. Moscow believes this border may be closed in the event of war. According to Lt. General (retired) Yury Netkachev – former deputy commander of Russian forces in Transcaucasia – “Possibly, it will be necessary to use military means to breach the Georgian transport blockade and establish transport corridors, leading into Armenia (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 15). The geography of the region implies that any such “corridor” may go through the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
Large scale “strategic” military exercises Kavkaz-2012 are planned for next September, but it is reported that preparations and deployments of assets have begun already because of the threat of the possible war with Iran. New command and control equipment has been deployed in the region capable of using GLONASS (Russian GPS) targeting information. The air force in the South Military District (SMD) is reported to have been rearmed “almost 100 percent” with new jets and helicopters. In 2008, Kavkaz-2008 maneuvers allowed the Russian military to covertly deploy forces that successfully invaded Georgia (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 16).
Last September it was announced that sniper units will be created in all Russian army brigades. The first 1,300 newly trained snipers have been deployed in the SMD (RIA Novosti, January 16). SMD units in Abkhazia, Ossetia, Chechnya and Volgograd have been rearmed with new T-90A and T-72BM tanks and new armored vehicles. In 2010 and 2011, SMD units received more than 7,000 pieces of new heavy weapons and have been more than 70 percent rearmed (RIA Novosti, January 16). According to President Dmitry Medvedev, by 2011 the overall rearmament of the entire Russian military with new weapons was much less – 16 percent (www.kremlin.ru, March 20).
Last January the newly appointed commander of the 58th army that spearheaded the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, Major General Andrei Gurulev, announced: “The army is a front-line force that keeps the peace in the region and has been rearmed more than 60 percent” (www.newsru.com, January 28). After an inspection of the SMD by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, it was announced that new Special Forces units will be deployed in Stavropol and Kislovodsk “to further strengthen the security of the region” (RIA Novosti, January 26). Stavropol and Kislovodsk are ethnic Russian-inhabited North Caucasian regions that have not seen much Islamist or separatist activity.
A new 120-kilometer range land-mobile guided anti-ship missile, Bal-E, has been deployed on the Caspian shore of Dagestan (Interfax, February 8). The Russian military believes that when the US goes to war with Iran, it may deploy forces in friendly Georgia and warships in the Caspian with the possible help of Azerbaijan. It is reported that in 2012 SMD forces will be 65 percent equipped with new communication devices, while the rest of the Russian military will have 26 percent (RIA Novosti, February 9). SMD units have received 20 new Tornado-G MRLS launchers (first procured in 2012) to replace the aging Grad MRLS. The Grad was massively used by the Russian troops against the Georgians in 2008. The 122-mm Tornado-G is reported to be “three times more effective than Grad,” with increased accuracy, firepower, mobility and a range of up to 100 kilometers (Interfax, April 3). The commander of the airborne troops (VDV), Lt. General Vladimir Shamanov, has announced the Russian troops in Armenia will be reinforced by paratroopers, possibly together with attack and transport helicopters. According to Netkachev, assault VDV units with helicopters may be moved into Abkhazia and South Ossetian (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 4).
The above stream of reports by official spokesmen and carried by government news agencies describes the forming of an offensive spearhead force in the SMD facing Transcaucasia. The force is too heavily armed with modern long-range weapons to be exclusively intended to take on the dispersed rebel guerrilla forces in Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. This week, the Secretary of the Georgian National Security Council Giga Bokeria told radio Ekho Moskvi about the growing threat of a war with Russia (Ekho Moskvi, April 2).
In Tbilisi, the possible threat of a new Russian invasion is connected to the parliamentary elections scheduled for next October and possible disturbances that may accompany them. According to polls, the ruling party of President Mikheil Saakashvili seems to be poised for another landslide victory, while the opposition movement, organized by the Russian-based billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, seems to be failing to gather mass support.
Of course, Moscow would be glad to see the electoral defeat of Saakashvili, but the Iranian war is a much more important issue. The Russian spearhead may be ordered to strike south to prevent the presumed deployment of US bases in Transcaucasia, to link up with the troops in Armenia, and take over the South Caucasus energy corridor along which Azeri, Turkmen and, other Caspian natural gas and oil may reach European markets. By one swift military strike Russia may ensure control of all the Caucasus and the Caspian states that were its former realm, establishing a fiat accompli the West, too preoccupied with Iran, would not reverse. At the same time, a small victorious war would unite the Russian nation behind the Kremlin, allowing it to crush the remnants of the prodemocracy movement “for fair elections.” And as a final bonus, Russia’s military action could perhaps finally destroy the Saakashvili regime.