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Sept. 4, 2014
Notes from the Pentagon

Fears rise over oil tanker training of potential terrorists
U.S. intelligence agencies last month reported that a group of 22 Yemeni-Americans were training in Houston to be seamen on oil tankers, raising terrorism concerns over the unusual activity.

The Department of Homeland Security issued an Aug. 26 report from its National Terrorism Advisory System about the case.

“Reporting revealed that 22 students of Middle Eastern descent from Michigan and California were enrolled in recent maritime training courses in Houston, TX to obtain training, licensing, and/or mariner ratings during calendar year 2014,” the report said. “All students were naturalized U.S. citizens from Yemen.”

The report said the U.S. government received confidential information from intelligence sources indicating suspicions about the Yemeni-Americans attending the seamanship classes. Most of the men were from Dearborn, Michigan, and their training in Texas was considered unusual because other marine training schools are located closer to Michigan.

An investigation revealed that all the students worked on oil carriers in the Great Lakes and came to Texas because similar schools in Michigan had closed. Twenty of the students were from Dearborn, and two were from Oakland, California.

The training they received allows them to qualify for work on ocean-going oil tankers and ships.

“Database checks did not reveal any nefarious connections,” the report said.

However, the report was circulated to DHS-related intelligence units throughout the country, and law enforcement agencies in Detroit, San Francisco and Houston.

Yemen is a hub for the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has carried out two failed terrorist attacks on U.S. airliners in recent years.

Security officials are concerned al Qaeda-linked terrorists may be preparing an attack using a hijacked oil tanker, either by blowing it up or using it as an environmental weapon.

Reports from Iraq indicate U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State targets in recent days have forced some of the terrorists to retreat from areas around Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city that was taken over by the al Qaeda offshoot in June.

Fighters were said to have moved away from known positions in Mosul as a result of precision bombing strikes. Islamic State militants also have tried to obscure their vehicles from airstrikes by covering them with dust.

Iraqi news outlets reported that U.S. military aircraft dropped leaflets before the bombing raids, warning Iraqis to keep away from Islamic State positions.

The Pentagon has launched more than 115 airstrikes against the Islamic State in the past several weeks, using aircraft carrier-based jets and missile-firing drones.

The targets of precision guided bomb strikes have included numerous armed vehicles, fighting positions, weapons and a building used by the group in and around Mosul.

A recent Chinese state-run media report has revealed continuing efforts by the People’s Liberation Army to develop advanced systems designed to counter U.S. strategic advantages.

The latest PLA gear includes two radar the Chinese say are capable of uncloaking U.S. radar-evading stealth aircraft, like the F-22 Raptor and the B-2 bomber. Three of the strategic bombers were deployed last month to Guam in a show of U.S. strategic nuclear power.

The Chinese military also is boasting it has developed underwater detection gear targeting very quiet U.S. attack and nuclear submarines.

Both military systems are part of what the Pentagon calls China’s anti-access, area denial weapons aimed at countering U.S. and allied weapons that would be used in a future conflict.

A detailed report on the new systems was published in May by the Communist Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times. The report singled out U.S. and Japanese stealth aircraft and submarines as key targets for what the Chinese call “new concept weapons.”

“An upsurge of military force expansion in the Asia Pacific region is posing a challenge to China,” the article stated. “For weapons in the air, all the countries are quickening their pace in introducing stealth fighter jets. Under the water, peripheral countries are commissioning advanced new-generation submarines.”

The report said the China Electronics Technology Group Corp. revealed during a Chinese arms show in May that it has developed two new radar — the JY-27A airborne warning radar and the JY-50 “external radiation source” radar — capable of detecting stealth targets.

Quoting a military source, the report said production costs and other technical factors prevented the F-22 Raptor, the new F-35 Lightning jet fighter and the B-2 from having full stealth capability.

“The two new-type radars displayed at the exhibition use a ‘reverse process’ to deal with stealth targets,” the report said.

Using new technology described as “advanced two-dimensional digital phased array,” the JY-27 radar has “very strong anti-stealth detection and anti-jamming capabilities, good maneuverability, and the capability of tracking high-speed maneuvering targets” — a reference to future U.S. hypersonic strike weapons.

In addition to accurate stealth detection, this radar reportedly provides early-warning missile capabilities.

The PLA’s JY-50 also is increasing stealth aircraft detection by using networks of receivers that can catch radar beams that normally are deflected from originating radar by the use of angular design and stealth coatings.

The JY-50 is said to detect stealth jets using a unique system that “makes use of civil frequency modulation broadcast to transmit signals, which enables detection, positioning, and tracking of stealth aircraft and electromagnetic silence targets,” the report said.

“The radar itself does not emit radar waves; therefore, it has a very strong survivability in wartime and is so powerful as to render the adversary’s anti-radiation missiles futile,” the report said, noting that the two systems can be used in combination to increase the capability.

For targeting submarines, China is touting a new fiber-optic underwater acoustic detection system, also showcased at the recent arms exposition.

The Beijing Appsoft Co. revealed the system, which is made up of underwater sensors capable of converting underwater sounds and vibration into light signals that can be transmitted through fiber optic cables.

“As compared with the conventional piezoelectric hydrophone, this fiber-optic hydrophone boasts of a sensitivity two to three orders of magnitude higher, and is able to detect extremely weak signals,” the report said.

The detection system will be used for defense and offense — providing warning signals at seaports of enemy ships and submarines, and used with towed arrays and helicopters in hunting and killing submarines.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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