Military communications may have accidentally formed a protective bubble around Earth


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❝ When the Navy wants to send a message to an underwater submarine, it sometimes uses very low frequency (VLF) radio waves. These long wavelengths, beamed from large towers on the ground, are unique in their ability to travel through salty water. But some end up in space instead. There, according to a new report, they may be forming a protective bubble around Earth’s atmosphere.

The discovery comes from the Van Allen Probes — two spacecraft, launched in 2012, that patrol the radiation belts surrounding Earth. The Van Allen radiation belts are zones where charged particles streaming from the sun get stuck in Earth’s magnetic field. These high energy protons and electrons can destroy a satellite’s electronics, which is a constant concern because the belts don’t always stay in one place…

During an intense geomagnetic storm in 2015, a large solar storm knocked back the plasmasphere, but surprisingly the outer Van Allen belt didn’t come any closer to Earth. “The plasma retracted but the belt didn’t follow,” says Erickson. But he and his colleagues noticed something else: “The edge of where these very powerful radio signals stop is the same place where the electrons stop coming in.”

❝ In addition, data from the 1960s suggests that the belt’s inner boundary was much closer to Earth back when VLF transmissions were less common. The team thinks that, nowadays, when electrons shooting out from a solar storm approach Earth, VLF waves deflect them, knocking them off their trajectory and pushing them into the atmosphere, where they get lost.

“The edge of where these very powerful radio signals stop is the same place where the electrons stop coming in.”

“At least in the first hours to a couple of days into a solar storm, the waves seem to halt the electrons from coming in further,” says Erickson. “If you wait longer, the story gets more complicated because they gradually diffuse in…”

❝ Sometime this year, the U.S. Air Force plans to launch the DSX satellite, which will test the feasibility of using VLF waves to deflect space radiation. If it works, humanity may be able to harness these waves to help protect against solar eruptions that dump giant clouds of charged particles into the solar system.

Not a perfect cure for a rare happening. Still, science happening upon a collateral solution is always welcome. Except to beancounter$, of course.

Trump promises more subs – even though there’s no one to build them

❝ Donald Trump loves submarines. And America’s submarine industry has every reason to love Trump back. The hawkish, protectionist president has vowed to grow the US Navy, particularly its submarine force, to its biggest size in decades.

But experts agree there’s no realistic way the Trump administration can add the extra subs in time for the former reality television star to plausibly take credit for the build-up. Submarines are just too expensive and complex to build fast…

❝ To produce extra subs, Electric Boat in Connecticut and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, the two shipyards that make all of America’s undersea combat vessels, will need to expand their facilities and add thousands of highly-skilled workers. Congress will need to approve much larger annual shipbuilding budgets, possibly for decades on end. Potentially several presidential administrations will need to sign off on those budgets…

…”More than unrealistic,” in the words of one Congressional insider who works on naval issues but spoke on condition of anonymity. “It would be impossible.”…

And, of course, The Donald lies about the comparative size of our Navy and how and why we need to grow it.

❝ For starters, Trump can’t exactly order a submarine all on his own. Congress writes budgets and appropriates money. And lawmakers might balk at the pricetag of Trump’s sub plan. Buying just one submarine sets taxpayers back around $3 billion. Getting to 66 attack subs could end up costing around $60 billion, according to the Congressional insider.

And that’s only counting construction costs. Operating those subs adds hundreds of millions dollars more per year. Every submarine the Navy adds grows the fleet’s overhead—and Congress knows it.

To build more subs, you not only need space at the shipyard. You also need workers…It can take up to seven years to train a welder qualified to work on nuclear-powered subs…

Trump could outsource the construction. China, India, France and Russia have – for one reason or another – shipyard space that could fill the bill. Hilarious as that would be, I don’t expect it. I do hope the next sensible administration we have – starting with a build-up in the 2018 midterm elections to the 2020 elections – we can start returning funds to useful projects. Instead of fondling the diseased ego of Donald Trump and his fellow travelers in the Republican clown car.

Brits challenge Pentagon at wasting military time and money


Challenger 2 tank trying to scare a photographer

The revelation that the Ministry of Defence spent more than £1 billion on a tank and personnel carrier programme that failed to deliver a single vehicle is the latest in a string of controversies to engulf the department.

Last month it emerged that defence cuts meant British waters were left undefended by a warship on emergency standby, because resources have become so stretched…

Just in case the UK is invaded by the Faroe Islands – or the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

It was revealed last month that cost-cutting consultants employed by the MoD in order to uncover to budget savings were being paid £3,950 each a day…Alix Partners had pulled in a total of £5.5 million, with 12 members of staff having qualified for additional “success fees” twice on top of the daily payment rate.

The Government said it needed to employee an outside firm in order to find savings because the MoD did not have the right expertise to carry out the work…

According to the report, decisions taken by the Strategic Defence and Security Review led to further cost overruns of £500 million in the defence budget.

Delaying the batch of seven Astute boats will cost millions extra, leaving the Navy without enough boats to defend Britain, maintain the security of the Falkland Islands or protect then Vanguard class submarines which carry the Trident nuclear deterrent as well as carrying out other secret tasks.

Which will appear in the budget requests come springtime – when everyone wants to get outdoors, again, anyway.

Poisonally, as hard as they try, I doubt anyone can come close to the wastefulness standard set by the Pentagon.

Nuclear submarines sent to sea as potential floating bombs


HMS Turbulent docked in Plymouth

Two British nuclear submarines went to sea with a potentially disastrous safety problem that left both vessels at risk of a catastrophic accident, the Guardian can reveal.

Safety valves designed to release pressure from steam generators in an emergency were completely sealed off when the nuclear hunter killers Turbulent and Tireless left port, a leaked memo discloses.

The problem went undetected on HMS Turbulent for more than two years, during which time the vessel was on operations around the Atlantic, and visited Bergen in Norway, the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, and Faslane naval base near Glasgow.

It was not noticed on HMS Tireless for more than a year, and was finally detected last month, two months after Tireless started sea trials from its home port at Devonport naval base in Plymouth…

The Ministry of Defence memo, which was written last week, admits that both cases involving the sealed-off valves were “a serious incident” that raised major questions about “weak and ambiguous” safety procedures at Devonport dockyard and within the Royal Navy…

John Large, a consultant on nuclear safety who advises governments on submarine safety, said: “It was a very significant failure. These two submarines were unfit for service. It was a perilous situation.”

The excuse offered – and accepted – is that safety procedures are very complex. Seems to be a perfectly good reason for all the more care and oversight.