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The BEAST is back: Russia to resurrect the ‘Ekranoplan’ to defend its position in the Arctic

The Soviet era’s enigmatic wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) “Ekranoplan” is set to make a comeback according to various Russian media reports.

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During the Cold War, the Soviet Union considered building a fleet of missile-armed Lun-class wing-in-ground-effect vehicles, also known as the “Ekranoplan.”

Now, Russia says it has plans to revive this concept with a design tentatively known as “Orlan,” which could potentially offer the country a novel access and anti-access weapon in the increasingly contested Arctic region, as well as in more constrained waterways, such as the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

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On July 30, 2018, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov announced that a combat-capable sea-skimming vehicle would be part of the State Armament Program for 2018-2027.

Since at least 2015, there have been reports that the Kremlin has been considering bringing back wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) designs, but primarily for transport and search and rescue duties.

“The [Orlan] prototype will be created as part of this armament program and it will carry missile armament,” Borisov said, according to Russian state outlet TASS. The deputy prime minister said that the vehicle would be able to help patrol Russia’s vast littoral regions, especially its maritime border along the Arctic and its claims in that region.

WIG designs are essentially a seaplane that flies very close to the surface of the water. In principle, the concept allows for an efficient, high-speed “water” craft that doesn’t suffer from the drag of actually sailing on the surface and from having a wing that can generate more significant lift.

The Soviets, and others who have experimented with these types of vehicles, looked into variants that could combine the Ekranoplan’s benefits with the ability to fly at higher altitudes.

A Soviet-era Project 904 Orlyonok Ekranoplan now on display.

Borisov did not offer any other specific details about the new Orlan and it’s not clear if this design will be in any way related to the Soviets’ Project 904 or “Orlyonok,” which means “eaglet” in Russian.

NATO had dubbed this craft, which has a maximum take-off weight of approximately 125 tons, as the “Orlan-class.” Of the five known examples, Russia scrapped two of them and turned the other three into non-functional monuments.

Still, in terms of its basic shape and performance, the established Orlyonok design might provide a good starting place for a new Ekranoplan missile craft.

It has a good payload capacity due to its original role as a transport and reportedly boasted a cruising speed of nearly 250 miles per hour over a range of more than 900 miles. The original type had a turret on top with a pair of 12.7mm machine guns and a simple navigational radar.

An old Soviet-era photo of one of the Orlan-class Ekranoplans, with the machine gun turret and mast-mounted radar visible at the front.

In order to arm the craft, Russian engineers could conceivably look to the larger Lun-class design and mount missile launchers on its upper spine of the fuselage on the existing Orlyonok.

The only Lun that the Soviets ever built, also known as MD-160, could carry six P-80 Zubr anti-ship cruise missiles, which NATO called the SS-N-22 Sunburn, in this configuration.

However, the existing Project 904 design features a large Kuznetsov NK-12MKturboprop engine, the same type found on Russia’s Tu-95 Bear bombers, at the top of the tail and firing missiles from the top of the craft might have some impact its function and, in turn, the ekranoplan’s performance.

The Orlan-class also had a pair of jet engines in the nose to propel the craft.

The Lun-class did not have a tail-mounted engine of any kind, using that space instead for a Puluchas search radar and other equipment. It’s hard to see where else missiles might easily go on the existing Orlyonok design, though engineers could potentially put them on top of its wings in water-tight canisters.

At the same time, it could be possible to position the launchers far enough forward for them not to have any negative effects on the NK-12. Similarly, a missile system semi-recessed in the fuselage that fires the weapons off to the sides instead could avoid the issue altogether.

The missiles Russia installs on the Ekranoplan might be small enough for it not to matter one way or another. Compared to the P-80, more recent Russian anti-ship missiles have become light and compact enough to make using a smaller Ekranoplan such as the Orlyonok feasible as a launch platform in the first place.

There are other designs that would fit Deputy Prime Minister Borisov’s basic description for the new Orlan, too. The 737-sized A-050 Chaika, or “Seagull,” is supposed to begin flight testing in 2022 and could serve as the basis for a missile-armed type. The firm responsible for this design, Alexeev’s Hydrofoil Design Bureau, has a number of other types that might work, as well.

An artist’s conception of the A-050 Seagull.

Borisov did not specify any particular type or manufacturer and did not say specifically what kind of weapons the new Orlan might carry, either. He did note, however, that it would be used to fill in for more traditional defenses in the sparsely populated Arcticaccording to TASS, but the most likely armament would be some type of anti-ship cruise missiles.

The deputy prime minister also noted the craft’s potential value in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea and the Kremlin could also potentially deploy them to the highly strategic Baltic Sea.

In a maritime patrol role, an Ekranoplan carrying a load of supersonic P-800 Oniks anti-ship cruise missiles could challenge the ability of potential opponents to move freely through a certain area or engage them rapidly during an actual skirmish.

The high speed of the vehicles combined with that missile’s over-the-horizon range could allow the crew to quickly get into position on short notice or readily move to another area to respond to the changing nature of the threat.

Multiple missile-armed WIGs might be able to threaten enemy surface ships from multiple directions, as well, limiting their ability to make the most of their defensive capabilities.

At the same time, Orlan’s low-altitude flight path and speed might make it harder to detect and engage, as well. Ekranoplans already have the benefit of being effectively impervious to torpedoes and naval mines.

The video below shows Russian land-based launchers firing P-800s during an exercise:

The ability to operate far from and independently of traditional naval and air bases would only make the vehicles more flexible operationally. This might give Russian Ekranoplan units equal ability to gain access to certain areas and deny opponents the ability to operate in those spaces.

Depending on how common the missile-armed variant is to other proposed transport types, the combat-capable versions might be able to serve as escorts for the others into hostile territory. The could give Russia the ability to rapidly deploy forces on sea and land into specific areas during a conflict.

It would likely take relatively little effort to turn a defensive missile armed Orlan into an offensive weapon armed with land-attack cruise missiles, such as Kalibr, to actively threaten enemy shore-based defenses and sites further inland, especially in the close-quarters environment of the Baltic Sea or the Black Sea.

Russia has also demonstrated that the P-800 has a limited land-attack capability itself, which could give the ekranoplans some multi-purpose functionality without necessarily needing to carry more than one type of weapon.

But, regardless, how viable a surface-skimming missile craft might actually be remains to be seen.

Ekranoplans have historically proven to be complicated to operate and maintenance intensive in general, with the Project 904 types reportedly suffering from serious corrosion issues, according to a 1993 edition of Combat Fleets of the World. That year the then recently independent Russia decided to retire the remaining Orlyonoks from active service.

The state of one of the three surviving Orlan Ekranoplans, on display near a Moscow airport.

Beyond that, it’s also unclear how committed Russia is to this project or whether it might end up shelved in favor of other defense priorities. The county has continually pushed back projects to build larger traditional ships in order to free up funding for other, high-profile programs, including a host of nuclear-armed strategic weapons developments.

Still, with the existing experience with the Lun and Orlan-classes, together with modern improvements in engine and airframe technology, the Russians may see Ekranoplans as a relatively low-risk and cost-effective investment. The country has already been spending a not insignificant amount of time and resources on systems specifically to support its Arctic operations, as well.

The Kremlin has said it wants to begin flight tests of cargo-carrying and search and rescue types by 2022 or 2023. The armed versions could easily follow afterward or go into development at the same time as a variant of those designs.

We will definitely be keeping our eyes open for the possible reappearance of missile-toting Russian Ekranoplans in the Arctic or elsewhere.

Via The Drive

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Logantiredofthemedialiestibetan cowboycolumSilviu Popescu Recent comment authors
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Logan
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Logan

A fair weather plane, there are unbelievable low tech ways to bring it down. Better used as a transport only.

tiredofthemedialies
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tiredofthemedialies

Ekranoplan couldn’t clear ice floes, because the wing in ground effect (WIG) is limited. Similarly it has problems with high waves. The only way to overcome the cruising height problem (around 2 metres in existing Ekranoplans) is to build a much bigger wing surface.

tibetan cowboy
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tibetan cowboy

Beautifully shaped aircraft they are. Credits to the Russian innovations in weaponry and technology, constantly showing us that the USA lost the arms race to Russia, and China too as it turns out. China already has deployed smaller, ocean – skimming cruise missiles that are nearly impossible to detect or shoot down. The Chinese are also very smart in that theirs are small but deadly because they can be launched in great masses targeting any ship. In these multiple layered assaults, the USA Navy has no defense – too many incoming targets for which no defense exists, except maybe get-lucky… Read more »

colum
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colum

How did I miss this report. A sleeping giant is stirring.

Silviu Popescu
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After I shared this article on FB, it deleted the post for next reason: SPAM

Is it normal?

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Beijing Threatens “Severe” Retaliation Against Canada If Huawei CFO Is Not Released

China’s warning marks an escalation in Beijing’s rhetoric as investors worry that the arrest could cause the shaky trade detente between the US and China to devolve into acrimony.

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Via Zerohedge


Canada’s extraordinary arrest one week ago of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei founder and billionaire executive Ren Zhengfei, and its decision to charge her with “multiple” counts of fraud – a preamble to her likely extradition to the US to face charges of knowingly violating US and EU sanctions on Iran – has elicited widespread anger in Beijing, which declared Meng’s detention a “violation of human rights” during a bail hearing for the jailed executive on Friday.

That anger has apparently only intensified after the hearing adjourned without a decision (it will resume on Monday, allowing Meng’s defense team to argue for why she should be released on bail, contrary to the wishes of government attorneys who are prosecuting the case).

And with Canada insisting that it will prosecute Meng to the full extent of the law over allegations that she mislead banks about the true relationship of a Huawei subsidiary called Skycom, angry Chinese officials have decided to issue an ultimatum directly to the Canadian ambassador, who was summoned to a meeting in Beijing on Saturday and told in no uncertain terms that Canada will face “severe consequences” if Meng isn’t released, according to the Wall Street Journal.

China’s foreign ministry publicized the warning in a statement (though Canadian officials have yet to comment):

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canada’s ambassador to Beijing, John McCallum, on Saturday to deliver the warning, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The statement doesn’t mention the name of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, though it refers to a Huawei “principal” taken into custody at U.S. request while changing planes in Vancouver, as was Ms. Meng. The statement accuses Canada of “severely violating the legal, legitimate rights of a Chinese citizen” and demands the person’s release.

“Otherwise there will be severe consequences, and Canada must bear the full responsibility,” said the statement, which was posted online late Saturday.

Phone calls to the Canadian Embassy rang unanswered while the Canadian government’s global affairs media office didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The warning marks an escalation in Beijing’s rhetoric as investors worry that the arrest could cause the shaky trade detente between the US and China to devolve into acrimony. A federal judge issued a warrant for Meng’s arrest back in August. Though after she was made aware of the warrant, Meng avoided travel to the US. She was arrested in Vancouver last Saturday while traveling to Mexico.

Aside from breaking off trade talks, some are worried that Beijing could seek to retaliate in kind by arresting a notable US executive. While the threats of Chinese bureaucrats might not amount to much in the eyes of US prosecutors, threatening a US executive with long-term detention in a Chinese “reeducation camp” just might.

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The trials of Julian Assange

Eresh Omar Jamal interviews Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi in relation to the situation of Julian Assange.

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Authored by Eresh Omar Jamal for The Daily Star (Bangladesh):


Stefania Maurizi is an investigative journalist working for the Italian daily La Repubblica. She has worked on all WikiLeaks releases of secret documents and partnered with Glenn Greenwald to reveal the Snowden Files about Italy. She has authored two books—Dossier WikiLeaks: Segreti Italiani and Una Bomba, Dieci Storie. In an exclusive interview with Eresh Omar Jamal of The Daily Star, Maurizi talks about the continued arbitrary detention of Julian Assange, why powerful governments see WikiLeaks as an existential threat, and the implications for global press freedom if Assange is prosecuted for publishing secret government documents.

You recently had the chance to visit Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. When was this and can you describe the state he is in?

I was able to visit him on November 19, after 8 months of failed attempts, because last March the Ecuadorian authorities cut off all his social and professional contacts, with the exception of his lawyers, and in the preceding 8 months, I had asked for permission to visit him nine times without success—the Ecuadorian authorities didn’t reply at all to my requests.

When I was finally granted permission to visit the WikiLeaks founder at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last November, I was literally shocked to see the huge impact his isolation has had on his health. Because I have worked as a media partner with him and his organisation, WikiLeaks, for the last nine years, I have met him many times and can tell when there are any changes in his body and mind. I wondered how his mind could keep working; but after talking to him in the embassy for two hours, I have no doubt that his mind is working fine. I still wonder how that’s possible after six and a half years of detention without even one hour of being outdoors. I would have had a physical and mental breakdown after just 6 months, not after 6 years.

Detention and isolation are killing him slowly, and no one is doing anything to stop it. The media reports, the commentators comment, but at the end of the day, he is still there; having spent the last six and a half years confined to a tiny building with no access to sunlight or to proper medical treatment. And this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe. He is not sitting in an embassy in Pyongyang. It is truly tragic and completely unacceptable. And I’m simply appalled at the way the UK authorities have contributed to his arbitrary detention, and have opposed any solution to this intractable legal and diplomatic quagmire.

Having bravely defended Assange for years, the Ecuadorian government in late March cut off almost all his communications with the outside world. What prompted this turnabout and what is its purpose?

Politics has completely changed in Ecuador, and more in general, in Latin America, since 2012, when Ecuador granted Julian Assange asylum. I have never had any interviews with the current Ecuadorian President, Mr Lenin Moreno, but based on his public declarations, it’s rather obvious to me that he does not approve of what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks do.

With all his problems, Rafael Correa (former president of Ecuador) protected Assange from the very beginning, whereas Lenin Moreno considers him a liability. Moreno is under pressure from the right-wing politicians in Ecuador, and also from very powerful governments, like the US and UK governments, who will leave no stones unturned to jail Assange and destroy WikiLeaks. I am not sure how long Lenin Moreno will hold out against this immense pressure, provided that he wants to hold out at all.

Assange was vindicated not so long ago as to why he cannot leave the embassy when the US Department of Justice “accidentally” revealed in November that the founder of WikiLeaks had been secretly charged in the US. What do you think those charges are for?

It’s hard to say unless the charges get declassified and I really appreciate how the US organisation, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, is fighting before the court in the Eastern District of Virginia, US, to have the charges declassified.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the US authorities have always wanted to charge him for WikiLeaks’ publications. They have wanted to do so from the very beginning, since 2010, when WikiLeaks released its bombshell publications like the US diplomatic cables.

But the US authorities have been unable to do so due to the fact that WikiLeaks’ publication activities enjoy constitutional protection thanks to the First Amendment. So it will be very interesting to see how they will get around this constitutional protection in order to be able to charge him and other WikiLeaks journalists and put them all in jail.

Why have some of the most powerful governments and intelligence agencies invested so much resources to attack Assange and WikiLeaks?

You have to realise what it meant for the US national security complex to witness the publication of 76,000 secret documents about the war in Afghanistan, and then another 390,000 secret reports about the war in Iraq; followed by 251,287 US diplomatic cables and 779 secret files on the Guantanamo detainees; and to watch WikiLeaks save Edward Snowden, while the US was trying everything it could do, to show the world that there is no way of exposing the NSA’s secrets and keep your head attached to your neck having done so.

You have to realise what this means in an environment like that of the US, where even the most brilliant national security reporters didn’t dare to publish the name of the head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, Michael D’Andrea, even though his name and the abuses committed by his centre were open secrets within their inner circles. Although the New York Times finally did, later on. But this was and still is the reality in the US, and even though it may not be as bad in the UK, it’s still quite bad. Look at what happened with the arrest of Glenn Greenwald’s husband, David Miranda, at the Heathrow Airport during the publication of the Snowden Files. Look at what happened with The Guardian being forced to destroy its hard drives during the publication of those files.

There are different levels of power in our societies and generally in our western democracies, criticism against the low, medium and high levels of power via journalistic activities is tolerated. Journalists may get hit with libel cases, have troubles with their careers; however, exposing those levels is permitted. The problem is when journalists and media organisations touch the highest levels, the levels where states and intelligence agencies operate.

WikiLeaks is a media organisation that has published secret documents about these entities for years, and Julian Assange and his staff have done this consistently, not occasionally like all the other media organisations do. You can imagine the anger these powerful entities have towards WikiLeaks—they perceive WikiLeaks as an existential threat and they want to set an example that says, “Don’t you dare expose our secrets and crimes, because if you do, we will smash you.”

If Assange is prosecuted, what impact might it have on other publishers and journalists and on press freedom globally?

It will have a huge impact and that is why organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union are speaking out. Never before in the US has an editor and media organisation ended up in jail for publishing information in the public interest. If Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks’ staff end up in jail, it will be the first time in US history and will set a devastating precedent for attack on press freedom in the US, but actually, not only in the US. Because if a country like the US, in which the activities of the press enjoy constitutional protection, treats journalists this way, you can imagine how other countries where the press doesn’t enjoy such strong protection will react. It will send a clear message to them: “Your hands are free.”

At the end of the day, I think there are two sides to this Assange and WikiLeaks saga: the US-UK national security complex, but more in general, I would say, the people within the national security complex, who want to destroy Julian Assange and WikiLeaks to send a clear message to journalists: “Don’t mess with us if you don’t want your lives to be destroyed.” While on the other side, there are the freedom of the press guys, meaning journalists like me, who want to demonstrate the exact opposite: that we can expose power at the highest levels, we can expose the darkest corners of governments and come out alive and well. And actually, we must do this, because real power is invisible and hides in the darkest corners.

Eresh Omar Jamal is a journalist for The Daily Star (Bangladesh). You can find him on Twitter: @EreshOmarJamal and Stefania Maurizi: @SMaurizi

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Diplomacy a Waste of Time with Washington

Trump’s JCPOA pullout and threatened INF Treaty withdrawal show Washington can never be trusted.

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Authored by Stephen Lendman:


The US is a serial lawbreaker, operating by its own rules, no others.

Time and again, it flagrantly breaches international treaties, Security Council resolutions, and other rule of law principles, including its own Constitution.

Diplomacy with Republicans and undemocratic Dems is an exercise in futility.

Trump’s JCPOA pullout and threatened INF Treaty withdrawal show Washington can never be trusted.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova’s proposed US outreach to discuss INF Treaty bilateral differences is well intended – despite knowing nothing is accomplished when talks with Washington are held, so why bother.

It’s just a matter of time before the US breaches another promise. They’re hollow when made. Kremlin good intentions aren’t enough to overcome US duplicity and implacable hostility toward Russia.

“We are ready to continue the dialogue in appropriate formats on the entire range of problems related to this document on the basis of professionalism and mutual respect, without putting forward unsubstantiated accusations and ultimatums. Our proposals are well known and remain on the negotiating table,” said Zakharova, adding:

“We have admitted (US) documents for further consideration. This text again includes accusations in the form of unfounded and unsubstantiated information about Russia’s alleged violations of this deal.

Comments to Washington like the above and similar remarks are like talking to a wall. The US demands all countries bend to its will, offering nothing in return but betrayal – especially in dealings with Russia, China, Iran, and other sovereign independent governments it seeks to replace with pro-Western puppet ones.

Not a shred of evidence suggests Russia violated its INF Treaty obligations. The accusation is baseless like all others against the Kremlin.

“No one has officially or by any other means handed over to Russia any files or facts, confirming that Russia breaches or does not comply with this deal,” Zakharova stressed, adding:

“We again confirm our consistent position that the INF Treaty is one of the key pillars of strategic stability and international security.”

It’s why the Trump regime intends abolishing it by pulling out. Strategic stability and international security defeat its agenda. Endless wars and chaos serve it.

The US, UK, France, Israel, and their imperial partners get away with repeated international law breaches because the EU, UN, and rest of the world community lack backbone enough to challenge them.

It’s how it is no matter how egregious their actions, notably their endless wars of aggression, supporting the world’s worst tinpot pot despots, and failing to back the rights of persecuted Palestinians and other long-suffering people.

The only language Republicans and Dems understand is toughness. Putin pretends a Russian/US partnership exists to his discredit – a show of weakness, not strength and responsible leadership.

In response to the Trump regime’s intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty, he said Russia will “react accordingly” – precisely what, he didn’t say.

A few suggestions, Mr. President.

  • Recall your ambassador to Washington. Expel the Trump regime’s envoy from Moscow and other key embassy personnel.
  • Arrest US spies in Russia you long ago identified. Imprison them until the US releases all Russian political prisoners. Agree to swap US detainees for all of them, no exceptions.
  • Install enough S-400 air defense systems to cover all Syrian airspace. Warn Washington, Britain, France and Israel that their aircraft, missiles and other aerial activities in its airspace will be destroyed in flight unless permission from Damascus is gotten – clearly not forthcoming.
  • Publicly and repeatedly accuse the above countries of supporting the scourge of ISIS and likeminded terrorists they pretend to oppose.
  • Warn them in no uncertain terms that their aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic no longer will be tolerated. Tell them the same goes if they dare attack Iran.
  • Stop pretending Mohammad bin Salman didn’t order Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, along with ignoring the kingdom’s horrendous human rights abuses domestically and abroad – including support for ISIS and other terrorists.
  • Put observance of rule of law principles and honor above dirty business as usual with the kingdom and other despotic regimes for profits.
  • Do the right things at all times and damn the short-term consequences – including toughness on Washington, the UK, Israel, and their imperial partners in high crimes of war and against humanity.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at [email protected].

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

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