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Monthly Archives: June 2017

China Hesitates on Selling Armed Drones

An MQ-9 Reaper performs during an air show demonstration May 29, 2016, at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr.

More than 15 years after a U.S. Predator drone launched its first Hellfire missile, the United States remains reluctant to sell armed drones to even its closest allies. That hesitation in selling armed drones has left the door open for countries such as Israel and China to dominate military drone sales across the world. Now the U.S. government runs the risk of losing influence in a world of drone proliferation unless it reconsiders its policy on sales of military drones, according to a new report.

That U.S. reluctance to sell armed drones partly relies upon outdated assumptions based on preserving military drone technology as a unique weapon in the U.S. military’s arsenal, says Paul Scharre, project director for the 20YY Warfare Initiative at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). In a report titled “Drone Proliferation: Policy Choices for the Trump Administration,” Scharre and his CNAS colleagues argue that use of armed drones will continue to spread across the world regardless of whether or not the United States sells its own military drone technologies. They point out that more than 30 countries already have or are developing armed drones.

“Our current approach to exporting military drones and transparency regarding drone strikes is a bit of a holdover from the world of 15 years ago, when the technology was kind of special and the U.S. had a substantive lead relative to other countries,” Scharre says. “But in 2017, it doesn’t make sense when China is selling drones hand over fist to other countries, including U.S. partners.”

Israel has reigned as the world’s top exporter of military drones by accounting for 60 percent of international drone transfers in the past three decades. But China has taken the lead in selling armed drones and is not far behind in overall military drone sales. The global market for military drones was worth $8.6 billion in 2016 and could grow to $13.7 billion by 2026, according to a recent ReportLinker study. An even more bullish report by Statistics MRC suggested that the global market could surpass $22 billion by 2022.

Unleash the Armed Drones of War

The U.S. government has only approved sales of armed military drones to the United Kingdom and Italy so far. By comparison, China has taken the lead in selling armed drones to countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates. China has also sold its CH-4 drone–a military drone strikingly similar in design to the U.S. Reaper drone–to U.S. allies such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.

U.S. reluctance to sell military drones has even extended to unarmed types. In 2014, the Obama administration shut down an attempt by the country of Jordan to acquire Predator XP drones. Scharre and his colleagues describe that decision as “surprising” given that Jordan has previously bought U.S. F-16 fighter aircraft and receives over $300 million in military aid from the United States each year. Rebuffed by the U.S. government Jordan ended up purchasing Chinese CH-4 drones for its military.

In early 2017, China announced a historic agreement to sell as many as 300 of its Wing-Loong II attack drones to Saudi Arabia. It also reached an agreement to open a Saudi production line for the Reaper-style CH-4 drones. Such deals may help China close the sales gap with Israel, which has reigned as the world’s top exporter of military drones by accounting for 60 percent of international drone transfers in the past three decades.

The drone deals between China and U.S. allies represent more than lost business opportunities for  U.S. defense contractors that produce military drones. They also represent a potential loss of influence in shaping the standards of behavior for using armed military drones.

Treating Drones Like Missiles

Current U.S. policy on drone sales takes its cue from the 30-year-old Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) rather than any specific international agreements about exporting drones. The MTCR’s voluntary framework aims to limit exports of unmanned ballistic missile technologies and similar delivery vehicles that could carry weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons.

Previous U.S. policy has typically restricted sales of drones to other countries based on a strict interpretation of the MTCR that treats drones like missiles rather than aircraft. Such an interpretation makes little sense when the U.S. is willing to sell fighter jets but not unarmed drones to a close ally, Scharre says.

The CNAS report urges the Trump administration to loosen the U.S. policy on selling armed drones by simply adopting a different interpretation of the voluntary MTCR. That way the United States can remain relevant in broader discussions about the legal and moral issues surrounding armed drones and military drone strikes.

“We can place conditions on the use of U.S. drone systems and can train buyers on methods for avoiding civilian casualties,” Scharre explains. “There are sensible measures to put in place where we can shape what the world of drone proliferation will look like.”

There are signs that the Trump administration could be open to exporting more U.S. military drones. On June 24, the Trump administration approved a $2-billion sale to India involving two dozen unarmed surveillance drones in the form of the Guardian drone, an unarmed maritime version of the MQ-9 Reaper. More armed drone sales could potentially follow.

BlackBerry Deliver One Last Keyboard Phone

BlackBerry has a new phone in the works, and it will have a physical keyboard, according to reports that surfaced last week.

The company recently announced that it would exit the smartphone hardware market and transition to developing back-end mobile security software. However, BlackBerry CEO John Chen confirmed that one last device is in the pipeline in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

BlackBerry released the touchscreen-only DTEK50 handset this summer, saying at the time that it would be the last official BlackBerry device. However, the company has said that it would license its name to other companies, which then could produce devices under the BlackBerry brand.

The last BlackBerry device to feature an actual physical QWERTY keyboard was the Priv, which was released a year ago. It was the first BlackBerry device to utilize the Android operating system, but it largely faltered in the market.

It isn’t clear if the upcoming phone will run on BlackBerry OS 10 or Android. No details, including specs, availability or pricing, have been announced for the new device.

Not the End of the Line?

This sudden about-face could be a sign that BlackBerry isn’t ready to make a complete exit from the market, even though its latest efforts have been less than encouraging.

The Priv was positioned as a device that combines the best parts of BlackBerry security with the productivity and expansive mobile app ecosystem of Google’s Android. However, it has not fared well.

Although the BlackBerry Classic won praise for surpassing the average lifespan for a smartphone in today’s market, BlackBerry this summer announced that it would cease manufacturing it.

The upcoming keyboard phone could be more than an epilogue for the company, however.

“Everyone expected BlackBerry to fade off into the sunset on the handset side of the business,” said telecommunications analyst Jeff Kagan.

However, “BlackBerry is going to be focused on working with other handset makers with their technology inside,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Keying It In

Google and Apple were able to bring the smartphone to the masses with touchscreen-enabled devices, but that leaves open the door for another market segment.

“Not everyone likes touchscreens, so there is a niche market for a BlackBerry with a physical keyboard,” said William Stofega, program director for mobile phones at IDC.

“There are executives and others who like the physical keyboard, and if BlackBerry can make a case that they can fill this need, then they can have a small part of the market,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

More importantly, “BlackBerry can still make money serving its legacy tail, and this move appears aimed at that market,” said Steve Blum, principal analyst at Tellus Venture Associates.

“Assuming they’re contracting out manufacturing and they have a reasonably accurate sales forecast, there’s no reason not to keep targeting their legacy market, so long as it’s at least minimally profitable,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

With partners doing the manufacturing, the risk could be low, added Stofega.

Bigger Plans

The Priv may not have appealed to the BlackBerry faithful, but if done right, a BlackBerry device running Android — made under license — could be a win-win.

“If the new device turns out to be an Android phone, or if there’s an Android version, then it could turn out to be a way toward finding a niche in that much larger market,” said Tellus’ Blum.

“There are consumers who prefer physical keyboards, and BlackBerry could use its considerable brand equity to capture that corner of the Android universe,” he pointed out.

Still, past results should be seen as portents of BlackBerry’s chances of scoring big with a niche device.

“They have failed at everything in the last decade since Apple iPhone and Google Android took over the leadership positions,” said Kagan. “The growth curve is like a wave, and BlackBerry missed it many years ago and has not recovered.”

Missile Test Launched by North Korea Was an ICBM

Missile Test-Launched by North Korea Was an ICBM, US Officials Confirm

North Korea did indeed test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) yesterday, as the nuclear-armed nation claimed, U.S. officials said.

“The United States strongly condemns North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement yesterday (July 4). “Testing an ICBM represents a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region, and the world.”

North Korean state-run media asserted that the newly tested ICBM will allow the nation — which has repeatedly threatened to destroy the United States, South Korea and Japan — to deliver nuclear weapons to targets anywhere in the world. But that claim is likely overblown, according to Western experts.

The available evidence suggests that the missile splashed down in the ocean about 590 miles (950 kilometers) from the launch site after flying for 37 minutes, said missile expert David Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science advocacy group in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“A flight time of 37 minutes would require it to reach a maximum altitude of more than 2,800 km (1700 miles),” Wright wrote in a blog postyesterday. “So if the reports are correct, that same missile could reach a maximum range of roughly 6,700 km (4,160 miles) on a standard trajectory. That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska.”

Missiles that can fly at least 3,400 miles (5,500 km) are regarded as ICBMs. Western analysts believe North Korea has been working to develop such a vehicle for quite some time, though the exact route the nation is taking has remained a mystery. (North Korea is famously secretive, so it’s hard to know much about its missile and rocket program with certainty.)

Yesterday’s test was therefore revelatory. It apparently involved a KN-17 missile, which Pyongyang has test-launched before, topped with a second stage to make “a brand-new missile that has not been seen before,” CNN reported, citing U.S. officials.

“The focus now is on the capability of that second stage, and how it technically contributed to making Pyongyang’s latest test its first ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch,” CNN wrote.

Partner Series Missile Test-Launched by North Korea Was an ICBM, US Officials Confirm This photo distributed by the North Korean government shows the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in North Korea’s northwest, Tuesday, July 4, 2017. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this photo. Credit: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP North Korea did indeed test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) yesterday, as the nuclear-armed nation claimed, U.S. officials said. “The United States strongly condemns North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement yesterday (July 4). “Testing an ICBM represents a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region, and the world.” North Korean state-run media asserted that the newly tested ICBM will allow the nation — which has repeatedly threatened to destroy the United States, South Korea and Japan — to deliver nuclear weapons to targets anywhere in the world. But that claim is likely overblown, according to Western experts. The available evidence suggests that the missile splashed down in the ocean about 590 miles (950 kilometers) from the launch site after flying for 37 minutes, said missile expert David Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science advocacy group in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “A flight time of 37 minutes would require it to reach a maximum altitude of more than 2,800 km (1700 miles),” Wright wrote in a blog postyesterday. “So if the reports are correct, that same missile could reach a maximum range of roughly 6,700 km (4,160 miles) on a standard trajectory. That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska.” Missiles that can fly at least 3,400 miles (5,500 km) are regarded as ICBMs. Western analysts believe North Korea has been working to develop such a vehicle for quite some time, though the exact route the nation is taking has remained a mystery. (North Korea is famously secretive, so it’s hard to know much about its missile and rocket program with certainty.) Yesterday’s test was therefore revelatory. It apparently involved a KN-17 missile, which Pyongyang has test-launched before, topped with a second stage to make “a brand-new missile that has not been seen before,” CNN reported, citing U.S. officials. “The focus now is on the capability of that second stage, and how it technically contributed to making Pyongyang’s latest test its first ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch,” CNN wrote.

Nokia launches world’s fastest routers to take on rival

SAN FRANCISCO: Nokia launched the world’s fastest network chips on Wednesday, breaking into the Juniper and Cisco dominated core router market and giving its existing network business a boost.

The new traffic routers can handle the greater demands of virtual reality programming, cloud-based internet services and next-generation mobile communications, the Finnish company said.

Nokia’s new products, which grew out of its 15.6 billion-euro ($17.5 billion) 2016 acquisition of Alcatel and its IP network gear business, should help it win business from companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon.

For these “web-scale” customers speed is everything and unlike Nokia’s traditional telecoms customers they are still increasing spending on network gear.

The routers are compatible with older products and will also serve Nokia’s existing customers who want speed but must still contend with legacy gear needed to run existing services.

“Nokia will have the highest-performance system capacity in the market, and a lot of those web-scalers, they just want speed,” Ray Mota, principal analyst at ACG Research, told Reuters.

The former Alcatel IP networks business is already the world’s No. 2 player in edge routers behind Cisco, having displaced Juniper Networks, which is now No. 3.

The Nokia business also competes with Huawei in router markets outside the United States, where the privately-held Chinese firm is barred for national security reasons.

Nokia executives expect to take market share from all the big competitors, including Cisco and Juniper as well as Huawei.

“Whether its web-scale or vertical markets (such as banks, transportation, energy and public sector), where we have been less exposed in routers, clearly we will gain share,” Nokia Chief Executive Rajeev Suri told Reuters in an interview.

“This gives us momentum in core routing.”

Simon Leopold, a financial analyst with Raymond James, said Juniper, which depends for around a quarter of sales from web-scale customers such as Facebook could be hardest hit. “There is at least headline risk to Juniper, once Nokia ships,” he said.

Shares of Juniper Networks fell 2.4{4a63b1e9664ba6ed4e66fdcc3a4154087d23751c404ace2df0767d646d11a674} to $28.60, while Cisco fell 1{4a63b1e9664ba6ed4e66fdcc3a4154087d23751c404ace2df0767d646d11a674} to $31.38. Nokia’s U.S.-listed shares dipped a little under 1{4a63b1e9664ba6ed4e66fdcc3a4154087d23751c404ace2df0767d646d11a674}.

PETABITS

Nokia said it is introducing its latest FP4 silicon chipset capable of processing data at 2.4 terabits per second. The new chipsets are set to ship in the fourth quarter, with routers running FP4 chips ready in the first quarter of next year.

These will be built into routers to operate both ultra high-speed “core” networks at the heart of the biggest internet services and also “edge” networks that link datacenters to front-line customer services on mobile or fixed-line networks.

Telecom operators’ capital spending is rising by just 2-3{4a63b1e9664ba6ed4e66fdcc3a4154087d23751c404ace2df0767d646d11a674} a year which means Nokia is turning to web-scale players whose spending on new network gear is growing by double-digits.

FP4 chips, which are manufactured for Nokia by Taiwan’s TSMC are designed using circuits as narrow as 16 nanometers apart, skipping 22- and 28-nanometer-sized circuits compared to the prior FP3 processor built at 40-nanometer scale, Nokia said.

Nokia is introducing the 7950 petabit-class router aimed at the core routing market to help it win business from customers such as Apple and Facebook. A petabit can transmit 5,000 two-hour-long high-definition videos every second.

For edge network customers, Nokia is introducing its 7750 router, offering the highest traffic capacity on the market.

Mota said the Nokia 7750 can deliver speeds of up to 4.8 terabits per slot, compared with Juniper’s 3 terabit edge router speeds, which had been the industry’s fastest. A terabit can transfer a high-definition Netflix TV episode in one second.
Beyond sheer speed, there is enough processing power head-room in its new chipset to offer built-in security features to fend off distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
BT managing director and chief network architect Neil McRae said the British telecoms operator, an early customer of Nokia’s new products, is already running thousands of 7750 edge routers and hundreds of 7950 systems in its core network.
“If you look at London, one of the busiest parts of our network, we need this platform today,” McRae said.