December 01, 2015

China Railway group wins contract for Belgrade to Serbia high speed rail

A consortium led by China Railway Group (CRG) has been awarded a 10 billion yuan ($1.57 billion) contract to build the Hungarian section of a railway linking Budapest with Serbia's Belgrade, in China's first high-speed rail win in the European Union.

Three firms - CRG's China Railway International Group, a subsidiary of national operator China Railway Corporation and the Hungarian State Railways - will form a consortium to construct the 160 kilometre route, CRG said in a statement on Wednesday.

The railway, which will be 350 kilometres long with the Serbian portion, will be completed in two years and will be able to accommodate trains travelling up to 200 kilometres per hour, it said. The Chinese firms will account for 85 percent of the consortium, it said, without providing further details.

The Budapest-Belgrade-Skopje-Athens railroad is a planned project of a high-speed railroad track which will start in Budapest, via Belgrade and Skopje to Athens. The Budapest-Belgrade railway will be finished in two years. Planned speed is 160 km/h between Budapest and Belgrade, current line between Thessaloniki and Athens is 200 km/h with upgrades to 250 km/h ongoing.

The rail upgrade fits with a Chinese plan to turn Greece's main port of Piraeus -- where Chinese shipping giant Cosco Pacific holds a 35-year concession to upgrade and run two container cargo piers -- into a regional hub for trade with Europe.

China sees the region, comprising some of the EU's newest members and others in the Western Balkans that are trying to join the bloc, as a potentially lucrative market and bridgehead to the wider EU, drawn by relatively low wages, educated workforces and scope for development on the EU's fringes.

Israel requested Squadron of F15 silent eagles with increased air launch weapons and conformal fuel tanks

Israel has requested a squadron of the latest F15 Silent Eagle-standard aircraft. They would also be equipped with Israeli-developed systems. Enhancements introduced with the advanced strike asset include the ability to carry an increased number of air-launched weapons and the addition of conformal fuel tanks for extended-range performance.

The F-15SE concept included conforming internal weapons bays, V-shaped tails, radar baffles over its engine-fan faces, radar absorbent coatings, along with other enhancements used to lower the jet’s radar signature, especially from the forward hemisphere. It also would feature many of the options found on the latest F-15 Strike Eagle derivatives today, including fly-by-wire controls, a wide-screen cockpit, updated electronic warfare and radar warning systems, an infrared search and track system (IRST) and the most powerful fighter-based AESA radar in the world.

An F-15SE could be outfitted in a stealthy configuration with conforming weapons bays for “first days of war” operations. Once the enemy’s air defense have been degraded, the jet can be quickly reconfigured to the hard-hitting enhanced Strike Eagle configuration with many external stores configurations. This flexibility is an enticing capability mix for what is already a highly proven and low-risk platform.

F15 Strike Eagle

US Air Force denies plans for new F-16s and says it is F-35s all the way

The US Air Force has denied any plans to purchase another tranche of Lockheed Martin F-16 or Boeing F-15 combat jets following reports it could seek bids for up to 72 new aircraft.

According to comments attributed to a senior US Air Combat Command official at an international fighter conference in London last week, the current Lockheed F-35 procurement plan could prove unaffordable, and another fighter wing of F-15s, F-16s or perhaps even F/A-18s is being considered to supplement the current fleet – which will serve into the 2040s as F-35s are delivered.

The air force is seeking 1,763 F-35As through 2038, and in the interim it intends to modernise and upgrade its F-16s and F-15s with new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars and electronic warfare systems.

The conventional take-off and landing F35A-model costs just shy of $100 million per aircraft, but LaPlante says the F-35 joint programme office and the Lockheed industry team are trying to reduce that to $85 million as the manufacturing process matures.

The air force has budgeted for 44 F-35s in fiscal year 2016 and 48 in 2017, and is building toward a production cadence of 60 jets per year by 2018 and then 80 beyond 2020.


F-15 2040C

November 30, 2015

Israel plans to integrate unmanned ground, air, ships and submarine vehicles into joint military operations

Israel’s Ministry of Defense is eyeing new autonomous operating concepts and a spectrum of unmanned air, ground and sea systems, several of which could become functional within a decade.

In a rare public presentation earlier this month, Brig. Gen. Nir Halamish, head of the military research and development unit of the Ministry’s MAFAT Research and Development Bureau, outlined Israel’s unmanned vehicles blueprint through 2025.

Speaking at a conference of Israel Defense and the local chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Halamish cited MoD’s interest in unmanned flight, unmanned surface ships and autonomous underwater systems for countering mines.

He said MoD started a five-year program to advance civilian unmanned gliders for military missions, insisting the ministry and local industrial partners do not intend to “reinvent the wheel,” but rather are focusing on injecting military-grade robustness for maneuvering forces.

A key future vector for land warfare is use of unmanned systems as a type of “robotic advance guard,” whereby armed UGVs would team with manned units for joint operations in high-threat theaters.

Israel already has border patrol robotic vehicles

“This advance guard is to be deployed hundreds of meters ahead of the manned force. We hope to get there in the coming years,” he said.

Unmanned logistics convoys are another future vector, as are small unmanned submersibles, both of which Halamish said Israel can achieve “relatively easily” in the coming five years.

the USA has been testing military robotic convoys

Also within reach, he said, are two new UAV systems, one involving small hovercraft built to carry up to 40 kilos for escorting tactical-echelon ground forces and the other heavy-lift drones capable of transporting several hundred kilograms.

DARPA also plans to integrate unmanned vehicles with military squads and platoons

Genetically Modifying Mosquitoes to Be Malaria-Resistant

Malaria is one of the world’s leading health problems. More than 40 percent of the world’s population live in areas where there is a risk of contracting the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 300 million to 500 million cases of malaria occur each year, and nearly 1 million people die of the disease annually – largely infants, young children and pregnant women, most of them in Africa. Although the disease can be treated, in some parts of the world—sub-Saharan Africa, in particular—the medicines needed are often unavailable. And worse, the parasite that causes malaria is becoming more and more resistant to the drugs we have to fight it.

Using a groundbreaking gene editing technique, University of California scientists have created a strain of mosquitoes capable of rapidly introducing malaria-blocking genes into a mosquito population through its progeny, ultimately eliminating the insects’ ability to transmit the disease to humans.

An Anopheles stephensi mosquito obtains a blood meal from a human host through its pointed proboscis. A known malarial vector, the species can found from Egypt all the way to China. Jim Gathany / CDC

This new model represents a notable advance in the effort to establish an antimalarial mosquito population, which with further development could help eradicate a disease that sickens millions worldwide each year.

To create this breed, researchers at the Irvine and San Diego campuses inserted a DNA element into the germ line of Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes that resulted in the gene preventing malaria transmission being passed on to an astonishing 99.5 percent of offspring. A. stephensi is a leading malaria vector in Asia.

The study underlines the growing utility of the Crispr method, a powerful gene editing tool that allows access to a cell’s nucleus to snip DNA to either replace mutated genes or insert new ones. Results appear this week in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The UC Irvine team worked on the genome of Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes, which are a main vector of malaria in India, where there are more than 1 million cases annually and more than 500 deaths. There’s reason to believe the technique would work in other species as well,

PNAS - Plasmodium evasion of mosquito immunity and global malaria transmission: The lock-and-key theory

November 29, 2015

AI and robotics will redefine jobs rather than eliminate them in the short term

The potential of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics to perform tasks once reserved for humans is no longer reserved for spectacular demonstrations by the likes of IBM’s Watson, Rethink Robotics’ Baxter, DeepMind, or Google’s driverless car. Just head to an airport: automated check-in kiosks now dominate many airlines’ ticketing areas. Pilots actively steer aircraft for just three to seven minutes of many flights, with autopilot guiding the rest of the journey.

McKinsey launched research to explore workplace automation questions and investigate the potential that automation technologies hold for jobs, organizations, and the future of work.

Results to date suggest, first and foremost, that a focus on occupations is misleading. Very few occupations will be automated in their entirety in the near or medium term. Rather, certain activities are more likely to be automated, requiring entire business processes to be transformed, and jobs performed by people to be redefined, much like the bank teller’s job was redefined with the advent of ATMs.

As many as 45 percent of the activities individuals are paid to perform can be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies. In the United States, these activities represent about $2 trillion in annual wages. Although we often think of automation primarily affecting low-skill, low-wage roles, we discovered that even the highest-paid occupations in the economy, such as financial managers, physicians, and senior executives, including CEOs, have a significant amount of activity that can be automated.

The bottom line is that 45 percent of work activities could be automated using already demonstrated technology. If the technologies that process and “understand” natural language were to reach the median level of human performance, an additional 13 percent of work activities in the US economy could be automated. The magnitude of automation potential reflects the speed with which advances in artificial intelligence and its variants, such as machine learning, are challenging our assumptions about what is automatable. It’s no longer the case that only routine, codifiable activities are candidates for automation and that activities requiring “tacit” knowledge or experience that is difficult to translate into task specifications are immune to automation.

In many cases, automation technology can already match, or even exceed, the median level of human performance required.

Velmenni targets 2018-2019 for commercial Li-fi LED bulbs for Gbps to multi-Gbps communication

Velmenni Jugnu smart LED bulbs can transfer data through visible light. Velmenni is implementing the Li-Fi technology in their new range of LED bulbs. It refers to the wireless communication system which uses light as a medium of transport instead of traditional radio frequencies. Although the use of light in order to transmit data can be limited in comparison to radio waves, there is a great amount of possibilities that can be developed with the proper use of this technology.

BBC News reports that Estonian start-up Velmenni recently completed the first real world test of visible light spectrum-based Wi-Fi. Velmenni used a li-fi-enabled light bulb to transmit data at speeds of 1Gbps. Laboratory tests have shown theoretical speeds of up to 224Gbps.

One of the big advantages of li-fi is the fact that, unlike wi-fi, it does not interfere with other radio signals, so could be utilised on aircraft and in other places where interference is an issue.

While the spectrum for radio waves is in short supply, the visible light spectrum is 10,000 times larger.

Li-fi cannot be deployed outdoors in direct sunlight, because that would interfere with its signal. Neither can the technology travel through walls so initial use is likely to be limited to places where it can be used to supplement wi-fi networks, such as in congested urban areas or places where wi-fi is not safe, such as hospitals.

The technology is already being eyed by airlines for in-flight internet service, where a light-based streaming service would eliminate existing security risks posed by devices sharing the plane’s radio spectrum. The brightly lit, but predominantly interior spaces of airports are another obvious fit for the technology.

China's Hainan island will soon open a circular high speed rail track

South China's island province Hainan began a trial run on Thursday of a new stretch of track that completes the world's first high-speed train line circling an island.

Up to 20 empty trains will run on the 345-km Western Ring Railway per day in the trial period. Exercises will test responses to emergency situations. The western stretch will be officially put into operation at the end of this year with a designed speed of 200 km per hour, according to its operator, the Guangzhou Railway Corporation.

The western stretch has 16 stops in six cities and counties, linking provincial capital Haikou with Sanya, a tropical tourist spot. It began construction in Sept 2013 with an investment of 27 billion yuan ($4.23 billion).

The island has a lot of tourists from other parts of China

US Air Force Might Buy 72 new upgraded F-15 2040C or upgraded F-16 Fighter Jets

The U.S. Air Force might buy 72 upgraded F-15, F-16 or even F-18 fighter aircraft due to low F-35 production rates and the high cost of the F-35.

The U.S. Air Force “is struggling to afford 48 F-35s a year” for the first years of full-rate production a senior Air Force officer told Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

Full rate-production is slated to begin in 2019 and the U.S. Air Force wants to buy 60 planes in 2020, and 80 F-35 per year after that. This year, the Air Force is to receive 28 F-35s, whereas in 2016 the number is slated to increase to 44. By 2038, the service wants to have 1763 F-35 aircraft in service. However, this procurement schedule might not be financially feasible for the Air Force.

F-15s and F-16s will serve longer and will outnumber F-35s and F-22s through the late 2020s.

Boeing is proposing an “F-15 2040C” series of upgrades that would extend the life of the fourth-generation F-15C air superiority fighter to complement the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor. The 2040 version would double to 16 the number of air-to-air missiles the fighter carries, extend its range and improve its lethality and survivability with upgraded electronics.

An F-15 2040C would also extend the fighter’s production line in St. Louis, which with 84 F-15SAs destined for Saudi Arabia has firm orders through 2019. Boeing previously offered a stealthy “Silent Eagle” version for South Korea’s F-X III fighter competition, but that country last year settled on the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II for the requirement.

Boeing would off a package of continuing upgrades. They would incorporate the programmed radar upgrade of F-15C/Ds with the Raytheon APG-63(v)3 active electronically scanned radar and a new electronic warfare suite called EPAWSS, for the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System. A proposed long-range infrared search and track sensor pod would complement the AESA radar. Boeing supplies conformal fuel tanks on the multi-role F-15E Strike Eagle; the 2040C upgrade would add them on the F-15C. The proposed weapons load increase would be accomplished by adding a Boeing-developed “quad pack” carriage system on two weapons stations. A communications and networking pod with advanced datalinks, now being demonstrated under the Air Force’s Talon HATE program, would enable the older F-15 to interact with the Raptor and other platforms.

The new F-15 would complement the F22. the F15 2040C would have more weapons, a long-range sensor that is in a different frequency band than what the F-22 carries, the extended range and the connectivity to the F-22 and other systems—that is a huge increase in capability

The F-15 2040C upgrade would double the missile load of the F-15C from eight to 16 missiles and extend its range. (Image: Boeing)

China's yuan set for IMF reserve currency status

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is expected to announce on Monday that China's currency, the yuan, will join the fund's group of international reserve currencies.

Just the US dollar, the euro, Japan's yen and the British pound are currently part of this select band.

Earlier this month, IMF head Christine Lagarde backed the yuan's inclusion.

If the decision is made, the yuan is likely to join the basket next year, experts said.

China is the world's second largest economy behind the US, and asked for its currency to become a reserve currency last year.

The Financial Times said the inclusion of the Chinese yuan may be “like many Chinese financial reforms: significant in hindsight but harder to get excited about in its early stages.” The current value of all SDRs is around $280 billion, and most economists estimate that the yuan’s inclusion will take up around 10 percent of the value of the currency basket. This equates to $28 billion—a small amount compared to the huge volumes traded worldwide.

Other analysts predict the inclusion of the yuan will have a large impact over the following few years. Standard Chartered PLC predicts the inclusion could spur up to $1 trillion of net purchases of China’s onshore bonds by the end of 2020. AXA Investment Managers predict that about 10 percent of the $11.6 trillion of global reserves will flow into yuan assets.

Elon Musk is ramping up engineering teams for fully autonomous cars

Elon Musk and Tesla want to take their cars to Level 4 or 5 autonomy. This will require some breakthroughs. It goes without saying that Google has made astonishing progress with its Google Car, but that vehicle isn't at all ready to be manufactured in significant numbers. It's more of an adorable platform to provide a proof-of-concept.

Musk is betting that software will enable full autonomy within 5 years.

Every Autopilot-enabled Tesla is already feeding data back to the mother ship, providing a basis for tweaking the technology for future updates. Tesla's vehicles are quite literally learning the roads that they drive on and are enriching the company's overall mapping efforts. This is something of a secret weapon for Tesla autonomous-driving initiatives: Its entire fleet can learn to drive itself.

UK sets up £250 million research for small modular nuclear reactors and will likely partner with China

The UK could build one of the world's first small modular nuclear reactors in the 2020s, after ministers announced support for the technology through a £250 million research package.

A competition to identify the "best value small modular reactor design for the UK" will be launched in the new year, which will "pave the way towards building one of the world’s first small modular reactors in the UK in the 2020s", the Treasury said.

At the end of 2014, the UK had published a small modular reactor feasability study

The market study concludes that there is a very significant market for SMRs where they fulfil a market need that cannot, in all circumstances, be met by large nuclear plants. The size of the potential SMR market, is calculated to be approximately 65-85GW by 2035 (as shown above), valued at £250-£400bn, if the economics are competitive. In a regional assessment, the study also determines that there could be a UK market for around 7GW of power from SMRs by 2035, based on a demand for low-carbon generation and site availability for small nuclear reactors (less than 300MW). To gain access to larger potential markets for SMRs, it would be
desirable for the UK to partner with another country in order to help access the international market.

A shortlist of six reactor designs technologies was identified as potentially meeting both the technical and financial requirements and within a ten year timeframe:
• ACP100+ - CNNC
• mPower – B and W and Bechtel
• Westinghouse SMR - Westinghouse
• NuScale - Fluor

Discussions with AREVA revealed that they were no longer considering the HTR Antares design and although they are considering an alternative PWR SMR design, they are not planning to proceed with this within the timeframe of this study. As a consequence the AREVA option was discounted from further investigation.

Discussions with U-Battery identified that their design was targeted at a different market and potentially in a longer timescale. It was concluded that ongoing discussions were better suited to a separate NIRAB (Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board) grouping which is considering alternative technologies and a longer timeframe. So this option was also discounted from this study.

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