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Amazon tests delivery drones at secret Canada site after US frustration

Amazon tests delivery drones at secret Canada site after US frustration

Amazon Canada drones site
Amazon employees look to the skies at the company’s secret Canadian drones site somewhere in British Columbia, only 2,000ft from the US border. Photograph: Ed Pilkington/the Guardian

Amazon is testing its drone delivery service at a secret site in Canada, following repeated warnings by the e-commerce giant that it would go outside the US to bypass what it sees as the US federal government’s lethargic approach to the new technology.

The largest internet retailer in the world is keeping the location of its new test site closely guarded. What can be revealed is that the company’s formidable team of roboticists, software engineers, aeronautics experts and pioneers in remote sensing – including a former Nasa astronaut and the designer of the wingtip of the Boeing 787 – are now operating in British Columbia.

The end goal is to utilise what Amazon sees as a slice of virgin airspace – above 200ft, where most buildings end, and below 500ft, where general aviation begins. Into that aerial slice the company plans to pour highly autonomous drones of less than 55lbs, flying through corridors 10 miles or longer at 50mph and carrying payloads of up to 5lbs that account for 86% of all the company’s packages.

Amazon has acquired a plot of open land lined by oak trees and firs, where it is conducting frequent experimental flights with the full blessing of the Canadian government. As if to underline the significance of the move, the test site is barely 2,000ft from the US border, which was clearly visible from where the Guardian stood on a recent visit.

The Guardian was invited to visit Amazon’s previously undisclosed Canadian drone test site, where it has been conducting outdoor flights for the past few months. For the duration of the visit, three plain-clothed security guards kept watch from the surrounding hills.

Amazon’s drone visionaries are taking the permissive culture on the Canadian side of the border and using it to fine-tune the essential features of what they hope will become a successful delivery-by-drone system. The Guardian witnessed tests of a hybrid drone that can take off and land vertically as well as fly horizontally.

The company’s decision to set up camp in Canada, after frustration in its attempts to persuade US regulators to allow it to launch its drones in Washington state, takes Amazon’s quarrel with the federal government to a new level. Last week a senior Amazon executive appeared before a US Senate subcommittee and warned that there would be consequences if federal regulators continued to act as a drag on its ambitions to launch a drone delivery service called Prime Air.

What Paul Misener, the company’s vice-president for global public policy, did not tell senators was that at the very moment he appeared before them, Amazon drones were buzzing in the skies just north of the border.

The company wants to offer its customers the ability to have packages dropped on their doorstep by flying robots within 30 minutes of ordering goods online. With innovation in the drone sector reaching lightning speeds, Amazon said it was not prepared to curtail its ambitions because of what Misener said was a lack of “impetus” on the US side of the border.

“We think that this new technology will provide huge benefits for our customers, who we think will love it, and for society more broadly,” he told the Guardian a day after the subcommittee hearing. “Why would we wait?”

Gur Kimchi, the architect and head of Prime Air, said the hope had always been to develop the drone service in the US, close to the company’s Seattle headquarters. “But we’re limited there to flying indoors and have been now for a very long time. So we do what’s necessary – we go to places where we can test outside, in this case Canada.”

Drone technology is seen by many tech companies and aeronautics experts as the next frontier for innovation, with billions of dollars potentially in the balance. Traditionally, the US has been at the vanguard of both tech and aviation innovation, but the approach of the the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), a US regulatory body, has been markedly tentative so far compared with that of regulators in Canada and Europe.

Brendan Schulman, a New York-based specialist in drone law, said the Guardian’s disclosure of Amazon’s Canadian airstrip-in-exile should be a “serious wake-up call to politicians and regulators”.

“America has led the world in aviation development,” he said, “but for the first time in history we are at risk of losing out. To see one of our most innovative companies forced over the border is a stark example of the danger.”

Until it opened its Canadian base, Amazon had been limited to indoor testing in its Seattle laboratory, backed up with research outposts in the UK – in Cambridge – and Israel. Requests by the company to begin outdoor testing on company land in Washington state have so far largely been rebuffed by the FAA.

The federal agency recently published its guidelines for commercial use of small drones. The new rules will take at least two years to come into effect, a delay which Amazon finds unacceptable.

Last July, the company applied for a so-called 333 exemption that would allow it to carry out outdoor experimentation immediately. Eight months later, the FAA has not responded.

The federal body did agree last week, amid considerable fanfare, to award the company a so-called “experimental airworthiness certificate” that can be used to test a specific model of drone. But it took so long for the certificate to come through that by the time it was granted, Amazon said it was obsolete.

“The pace of innovation is so great at this point that our designs are changing very quickly,” Misener told the Guardian.

The contrast between the relative rigidity of the FAA’s approach to drone testing and the relatively relaxed regulatory regime in Canada is startling. Under the Canadian system, Amazon has been granted a virtual carte blanche regarding its entire fleet of drones within its designated airspace, having gone through a licensing process that took just three weeks.

By comparison, it takes the FAA many months to grant approval. Sources familiar with the process told the Guardian the US regulator insists on an initial 23-page application, a review of 75 pages of further documentation and a four-hour presentation at FAA headquarters followed by a three-hour site visit, together with ongoing reporting and record-keeping obligations.

Early experiments in Canada have focused on a range of individual drone capabilities: sensors that can detect and avoid obstacles in a drone’s path; link-loss procedures that control the aircraft should its connection with base be broken; stability in wind and turbulence; and environmental impact. Once each of these facets has been perfected, a new Amazon prototype drone will be assembled that Kimchi predicted would be utterly safe and wholly unlike anything seen before.

“We are going to end up with unique shapes, unique vehicles. The most important part is to develop strong confidence that our system is safe and that we can demonstrate that to customers,” he said.

“You can build a very different world. It can be faster, and safer, and more economic and more environmentally friendly – all of those things, all at the same time.”

FAA – a uniquely difficult job?
Amazon drone
A now outdated iteration of an Amazon domestic delivery drone. The company keeps its new models strictly under wraps. Photograph: Amazon/EPA

The FAA argues that the US has a uniquely difficult job in safeguarding the nation’s skies. It emphasises that it is responsible for the largest, most complex airspace in the world, which, unlike other countries’, is used by a large general aviation fleet.

“Different laws and regulatory structures in other nations may allow them to act more quickly to approve certain UAS [drone] operations,” an FAA spokesman told the Guardian. “Everything we do is safety-oriented, and we base our approvals for unmanned aircraft operations on an assessment of the risks to other aircraft and to people and property on the ground. We have been working diligently with Amazon to get the information we need.”

Misener said he respected the FAA’s desire to keep America’s airspace as safe as possible. “That’s our top priority in Amazon Prime Air too,” he said.

But he questioned the FAA’s portrayal of America’s unique position: “The US does have a complex airspace, but it’s no more complex than in Europe, where regulators do allow testing, and it’s certainly not complex beneath 500ft or in rural areas of Washington state where we had planned to operate.”

The numbers speak for themselves. The FAA has received more than 750 requests for outdoor drone testing licenses from American businesses, Amazon’s among them, but so far has granted just 48. Canada’s equivalent civil aviation authority, Transport Canada, released 1,672 commercial drone certificates last year alone.

Diana Cooper, head of drones and robotics at the Canadian law firm Labarge Weinstein, said that in recent months several US companies had contacted her to inquire about opportunities in her country – a phenomenon that she believes will be boosted further by Amazon’s decision to join the fold.

“Amazon will definitely be a trendsetter,” she said, “and will result in a lot of other large American companies like Google and Facebook looking at our market as well.”

Another battle is already on the horizon. The FAA has stated bluntly it does not believe that drones can be flown safely under their own autonomous control, and is insisting that humans must keep them within eyesight at all times. That is a deal-breaker for Amazon Prime Air, which could only function if drones were able to fly well beyond visual line of sight.

Here too, the contrast between the uncertainty of the US regulators and the can-do attitude of their Canadian and European equivalents is striking. A huge area of Alberta covering 700 square nautical miles of restricted airspace has already been set aside to allow for drones to be tested beyond visual line of sight. In Europe a similar facility is being opened in Wales.

Misener believes that with such opportunities exploding beyond US borders, it is only a matter of time before the FAA is forced to accept that drones are here to stay.

“This technology is going to work,” he said. “It’s coming.”

Russian Jets Run ‘Attack Scenarios’ on NATO Ships

Russian Jets Run ‘Attack Scenarios’ on NATO Ships

Russia continues to take bold actions in European territory, near

Su-30 / AP


Russian fighter jets have been using NATO ships in the Black Sea as target practice to run “attack scenarios,” a situation that NATO military officials say they are aware of and prepared to defend against if necessary.

In the latest sign of provocation against Western forces by Moscow, Russia is ordering its newest Su-30 multi-role fighter jets to track NATO forces and run mock attack drills to simulate penetrating NATO’s anti-air systems, according to Sputnik, a pro-Moscow news agency.

A NATO military officer said that regional forces are “closely monitoring” the Russian movements and are prepared to defend themselves if necessary.

The Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), which is stationed in the Black Sea, “is closely monitoring Russian air and surface activity, and no interactions with Russian ships or aircraft have posed any threat to the safety of the group since the ships entered the Black Sea,” the military official said. “The group is very capable of defending itself and is well protected by a variety of state-of-the-art defensive systems.”

The military officer said that the SNMG2 group has made no secret of its presence in the region.

SNMG2 “is in the Black Sea conducting regularly-scheduled maneuvers and exercises with Allied national Naval forces,” the officer explained. “This activity is within international norms and will take place in Allied and international waters. All major NATO exercises are announced well in advance and information on our activities is routinely published on public websites.”

Russia appears to have used the public nature of the NATO exercises as an opportunity to test-run attack maneuvers with its advanced Su-30s, according to Sputnik.

Moscow has reportedly focused on two specific NATO ships, the USS Vicksburg missile cruiser and the Turkish TCG Turgutreis frigate, according to Sputnik. Both ships are said to be operating in the southwestern section of the Black Sea.

The Russian planes have also “conducted monitoring flights over these ships from the Novofedorovka air base,” the report claims.

One Russian official quoted by Moscow’s RIA Novosti publication said it is natural for the country to practice war drills on these ships.

“These ships’ crews are doubtlessly conducting exercises in repelling air attacks from our planes, which gives our pilots the opportunity to gain experience in maneuvering and conducting aerial reconnaissance both in the range of anti-air systems and outside their range,” the Russian military official was quoted as saying.

Anna Borshchevskaya, an adjunct fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), said Russia’s aggressive behavior highlights NATO’s waning influence in the region.

“This highlights the troubling exercise gap between NATO and Russia,” she said. “As Russia’s aggression in Ukraine continues—which threatens Europe beyond Ukraine, and as Russia is increasing its military spending, most NATO members are doing little about the decline in their own military spending.”

Russia has for some time taken increasingly bold military actions, both in Europe and near U.S. territory.

Russian strategic nuclear bombers entered some 16 northwestern U.S. air defense zones over a 10-day period in August 2014, the Free Beacon reported.

Russian bombers also have carried out drills near Alaska in the past year.

Two Russian bombers were identified in September as carrying out practice cruise missile strikes on the United States.

New FAA Rules For Drones Include A Pilot Test

New FAA Rules For Drones Include A Pilot Test

Even as it ignores recreational drones, the FAA has finally proposed some rules for the commercial swarm—including a basic piloting test.

Six weeks later than it had promised, the Federal Aviation Administration has finally faced up to the problem of regulating the flight of small drones in U.S airspace.But wait.The proposed rules will do nothing to restrain or control the escalating swarm of recreational drones, many of which have been merrily zooming around close to the flight paths of commercial airliners –—or, in one well-hyped example, crash-landing in a tree close to the White House.

“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx as he announced the proposals—sounding a bit like a man who has woken up with surprise to find that we are actually into the second decade of the 21st century—“and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation.”

The regulations will apply to drones weighing less than 55 pounds. The interests involved in using drones commercially have been stamping feet and shouting with frustration over the years it has taken the FAA to draw up the rules. There is a whole industry-in-waiting, reckoned to be worth billions of dollars, that spans many activities ranging from oil exploration, agriculture, archaeology, news gathering and real estate development—where cameras aboard drones will, literally, bring new eyes.

Some parts of the proposed regime are much as expected: commercial drones will not be allowed to operate at night; they must always remain in sight of the operator; go no higher than 500 feet and no faster than 100 mph.

An operator would have to pass an aeronautical knowledge test.

But the interesting bit is not about the drone itself but about who gets to fly it and how they qualify to do so. The agency is introducing a kind of Drones 101—an operator would have to pass an aeronautical knowledge test in order to be certified able to fly. There are no details yet of what this might involve.

To make any sense the test would have to assure competence in flying skills—like understanding up from down, three-dimensional awareness and acuity and, hopefully, what damage might be done by a 50-pound object impacting a soft-skinned being at 100mph. There is actually a proposed rule for that—the drones “may not fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.” In fact, that’s a pretty restrictive rule, depending on how you define “over” and distinguish it from “near.”

In Europe the rules for operating similar drones are tougher—flying skills are assessed much like they are for a private pilot’s license, and the drones themselves have to meet design safety standards. The FAA, being realistic, isn’t proposing an equivalent of the airworthiness certification process for airplanes that can take years.

What about those swarms of “recreational” drones, mostly in the form of what are called quadcopters? There is no proficiency test for flying them and they are subject only to the rules for flying model airplanes—not to fly above 400 feet, within five miles of an airport or near crowds, and always remain in sight of the “pilot.”

The reality for commercial drones is a lot tougher. Until the new regulations come into effect after an appeals process and rule-making revisions, which could take years, the use of commercial drones will continue to be permitted only on a case-by-case basis through applications to the FAA.

Some of idea of how glacially this system works is given by the numbers: There are at present 342 applications pending to use commercial drones (in technical jargon “petitions”); 20 have so far been granted and 16 have been closed because the applicants failed to respond to requests from the agency for more information.

There is no doubt about the best place to be if you want free reign to fly a commercial drone: North Dakota. A week ago the FAA greatly expanded the airspace available for research flights by commercial drones there and said that it soon expects to clear as much of two-thirds of the state’s skies for drones. Go north, young man—far, far, far north.

Russia To Boost Military Capabilities In Crimea and Arctic

Russia To Boost Military Capabilities In Crimea and Arctic

We are in a new Cold War

Russia Russian bomber fighter airplane plane aircraft

In 2015, the Russian Defense Ministry plans to focus on boosting military capabilities in Crimea, the Kaliningrad region, and the Arctic, while carrying out other planned modernizations of the armed forces and drafting a new long-term defense plan.

“We are drawing up a new Russian Federation Defense Plan for 2016-2020 to ensure timely placing and obligatory fulfillment of state defense orders in 2015 to have modern models of weapons and military equipment as planned,” Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said, as Moscow refocuses its major rearmament plan, worth over 20 trillion rubles ($310 billion) over the span of 10 years, according to a new military doctrine.

Russia’s chief of General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, said that in 2015 Russia will focus on reinforcing its military on the Crimean peninsula, the Kaliningrad Region, and in the Arctic.

“In 2015, the Defense Ministry’s main efforts will focus on an increase of combat capabilities of the armed forces and increasing the military staff in accordance with military construction plans. Much attention will be given to the groupings in Crimea, Kaliningrad, and the Arctic,” Gerasimov said on Tuesday.
In the Arctic, deputy Defense Minister Gen. Dmitry Bulgakov specified that Russia will rebuild an additional 10 military airfields in 2015. “We will reconstruct 10 airfields in the Arctic region this year, which will bring the number to 14 operational airfields in the Arctic,” he said.

A new branch of the Russian military, the Aerospace Defense Force, will be formed in 2015, ahead of schedule, through the merger of Air Force and Space Forces.

“A new type of armed forces will be created in 2015, the Aerospace Defense Force, by merging two already existing military forces: the Air Force and Space Force,” Gerasimov said, as Russia continues developing a reliable space echelon of the early-warning radar system to detect missile launches.

This year, Shoigu said that Russian armed forces are set to receive some 700 armored and 1,550 other vehicles, 126 planes, 88 helicopters, and two Iskander-M missile systems. The navy will receive five surface warships and two multi-purpose submarines.

In 2015, one year ahead of schedule, the military will commission a radar station Voronezh-DM in the Siberian town of Yeniseisk. A similar one in Barnaul, Russia’s Altai region, will be erected six months ahead of schedule, the defense chief said.

A network of joint warfare training centers will be set up in every Russian military district, which by 2020 will all be interconnected by a single virtual battle space, according to the minister. In order to raise the professional level of its troops, the military hopes by the end of 2015 to recruit 52,000 contract soldiers, in addition to conscripts.

The announced upgrades to Russia’s military capabilities fall in line with the newly updated version of the military doctrine, which reflects the emergence of new threats against its national security. NATO military build-up and the American Prompt Global Strike concept are listed among them.

As part of the overall effort to increase security and battle readiness amid hyperbolic warmongering rhetoric from NATO, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced in December that tens of thousands of Russian troops would take part in Center 2015 strategic exercises that would be held simultaneously in several areas both in Russia and abroad. In total, the ministry announced it will hold about 4,000 various combat training missions in 2015.

At least 40 bodies, debris found in search for missing AirAsia plane

At least 40 bodies, debris found in search for missing AirAsia plane


At least 40 bodies have been found in the area where AirAsia Flight 8501 last made contact with air traffic controllers, along with debris from the plane.

The bodies were found in the Java Sea about six miles from the plane’s last known point of contact. The plane disappeared Sunday with 162 people on board traveling from Surbaya, Indonesia to Singapore.

The bodies were were not wearing life jackets, according to Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Director, SB Supriyadi.

Rescue workers were shown on local TV being lowered on ropes from a hovering helicopter to retrieve bodies. Efforts were hindered by 6-foot waves and strong winds, Supriyadi said, adding that several bodies were later picked up by a navy ship.

“The warship Bung Tomo has retrieved 40 bodies and the number is growing. They are very busy now,” a navy spokesman added.

Sky News also reports that the “shadow” of a jet has been spotted on the seabed.

Crews in dozens of planes, helicopters and ships looking for the aircraft discovered what appeared to be a life jacket and an emergency exit door, according to The Associated Press. Part of the plane’s interior, including an oxygen tank, was brought to the nearest town, Pangkalan Bun, along with a bright blue plastic suitcase that appeared to be in perfect condition.

Family members watched the graphic details unfold on local television. Indonesian television showed a half-naked bloated body bobbing in the sea. Many screamed and another man fainted and was rushed from the room on a stretcher.

Tony Fernandes, the CEO of AirAsia, offered his condolences in a message on his Twitter account.

Pilots of the jet had been worried about the weather on Sunday and sought permission to climb above threatening clouds, but were denied due to heavy air traffic. Minutes later, the jet was gone from the radar without issuing a distress signal.

The suspected crash caps an astonishingly tragic year for air travel in Southeast Asia, and Malaysia in particular. Malaysia-based AirAsia’s loss comes on top of the still-unsolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March with 239 people aboard, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine, which killed all 298 passengers and crew.

Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays.

Ifan Joko, 54, said that despite the tragic news he is still hoping for a miracle. His brother, Charlie Gunawan, along with his wife, their three children and two other family members, were traveling to Singapore on the plane to ring in the New Year.

“I know the plane has crashed, but I cannot believe my brother and his family are dead,” he said, wiping a tear. “… We still pray they are alive.”

Several countries are helping Indonesia retrieve the wreckage and the passengers.

The United States on Tuesday announced it was sending the USS Sampson destroyer, joining at least 30 ships, 15 aircraft and seven helicopters in the search for the jet, said Indonesia’s Search and Rescue Agency chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo.

A Chinese frigate was also on the way, while Singapore said it was sending two underwater beacon detectors to try to detect pings from the plane’s all-important cockpit voice and flight data recorders. Malaysia, Australia and Thailand also are involved in the search.

Russian Nuclear Bombers Again Buzz Guam

Russian Nuclear Bombers Again Buzz Guam

Earlier aircraft incursions near Alaska and Europe

This Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006 file photo provided by the U.S. Air Force shows an F-15C Eagle from the 12th Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, flying next to a Russian Tu-95 "Bear" bomber, right, during a Russian exercise which brought the bomber near the west coast of Alaska

Heightened Russian Military Activity Observed in Baltic Sea

Heightened Russian Military Activity Observed in Baltic Sea

In this photo taken by Japan Air Self-Defense Force and released by the Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan, a Russian fighterjet SU-27 flies over the sea off the Japanese island of Hokkaido Thursday afternoon, Feb. 7, 2013.
An SU-27 Russian fighter plane


WARSAW, Poland — Several Baltic nations reported an increase in Russian military air and naval activity in and around the Baltic Sea this week.

Polish Defense MinisterThomas Siemoniak, interviewed on the Polish television news channel TVN24, suggested Russia was “not preparing to attack,” but the “unprecedented” level of action “does not serve to build good relationships and trust.” He speculated Russia was testing NATO defense capabilities.

The Baltic Sea is bordered by seven NATO countries, as well as Russia and Finland. The Finnish Air Force, earlier this week, announced it also oberved an increase in Russian activity in the Baltic Sea and the nearby Sea of Finland in the form of a major military exercise by Russia.

“It presents no immediate threat, but Russia with its actions is demonstrating that it has the power and capacity to act, if it chooses to,” Finnish Defense Secretary Carl Haglund said. The Russian maneuvers prompted the Finnish Air Force to step up its air-policing operations by putting fighter planes on stand-by at air bases, and NATO to strengthen monitoring of airspace over Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

A wide assortment of Russian military planes has been detected, NATO reported; although none have violated another nation’s airspace, the Norwegian military said one of its plane had a near-miss with a Russian fighter plane in air space north of Norway.

Coalition Airstrikes Shift Focus To ISIS ‘Capital’

Coalition Airstrikes Shift Focus To ISIS ‘Capital’

30 airstrikes by “the crusader alliance” targeted areas northwest of Raqqa

Airstrikes mark shift in coalition focus, to ISIS 'capital'

(CNN) — The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria has stepped up its attacks on the militant Islamist group’s de facto capital, with 30 airstrikes targeting Raqqa overnight, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday.

Separately, another opposition activist group based in Raqqa, which is under ISIS control, reported that about 30 airstrikes by “the crusader alliance” targeted areas northwest of the city.

Previously, coalition strikes have primarily targeted Kobani, near the Turkey border. The attacks in Raqqa mark an increase in coalition activity there.

Last week, almost 100 people were killed in Syrian government airstrikes in Raqqa, the observatory said. Many more were critically injured.

Photos: Syrian civil war in 2014

 ISIS leader hit in airstikes?

Government warplanes carried out at least 10 airstrikesin Raqqa, targeting the city’s al-Hani Mosque and the public souk, or market, the observatory said, using reports from activists and residents on the ground.

Extremists have made the city, which sits on the banks of the Euphrates River, the de facto capital of their self-declared “Islamic State” that stretches across large areas of Syria and Iraq.

The city is known as a place where ISIS puts training centers, weapons depots and accommodations for fighters.

During the Syrian conflict, the group has also seized military bases from the Syrian regime near the city and in the wider Raqqa province.

On Saturday, at least 40 fighters on both sides were killed as Syrian Kurdish fighters and ISIS militants clashed in the northern Syrian city of Kobani, the observatory said.

Kurdish fighters belonging to the People’s Protection Units, known as YPG, have been locked in a death struggle with ISIS fighters for the border city, with 100,000 desperate Syrian Kurds fleeing to Turkish territory.

Five ISIS suicide bombers blew themselves up using cars and explosive belts near the besieged Kurdish city, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Clashes also erupted west of Kobani, with ISIS using tanks to advance and firing at least 110 shells on various areas of the city, the monitoring group said Saturday.

At least 10 YPG fighters and 25 ISIS militants were killed during the clashes, according to the SOHR.

The U.S.-led coalition, meanwhile, conducted five airstrikes in Kobani, including one against an ISIS tank west of the city, the SOHR said.

ISIS has been fighting to take Kobani for more than two months, hoping to add it to the territory it has already captured in parts of Syria and Iraq.

Syria has been embroiled in a three-year civil war, with government troops battling ISIS and other rebels elsewhere, leaving Kobani’s ethnic Kurds to defend the city.

Russian bomber missions over Gulf of Mexico would be “significant”

Russian bomber missions over Gulf of Mexico would be “significant”

Russian TU-95 Nuclear Bomber
Russian TU-95 Nuclear Bomber

On Wednesday, the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said long-range bombers would begin conducting flights along Russian borders and over the Arctic Ocean. He added, “In the current situation we have to maintain military presence in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, as well as the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.”

During the Cold War, the Soviets flew surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft down to the Gulf of Mexico but never bombers. In 2008 and 2013, Russia flew bombers into the region, but those were “engagement” flights to Nicaragua and Venezuela, coinciding with high level delegations to meet with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

In this case, Shoigu is talking about real bomber patrols and considering the magnitude of what is a major logistical undertaking that would involve the staging of refueling tankers required to aid bombers in flying to the Gulf of Mexico and back.

Militarily, bomber patrols over the Gulf of Mexico make little sense, which is probably why the Soviets didn’t fly them during the Cold War. The U.S. would see them coming through the Greenland-Iceland Gap and would be able to track them all the way across the Atlantic, so there would be no element of surprise. For that reason, the U.S. military doesn’t have much in the way of anti-aircraft defenses facing south.

A real bomber attack would come over the North Pole, launching cruise missiles as soon as planes got within range. Still, commercial radars would be able to track the bombers, and because of the new alert procedures implemented after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, there would be plenty of time to scramble jets.

After the end of the Cold War, the Soviets stopped flying long range missions, and Russia did not resume them until 2007, and then the missions were a means of demonstrating it was still a global power. Some of the flights down the west coast have come within 50 miles of California–still outside the 12-mile limit but close enough to make a point. The bomber patrols would presumably occur within the Air Identification Zone which stretches 200 miles from the coast. Commercial aircraft entering the zone have to identify themselves; military aircraft do not.