Schneier on Security
A blog covering security and security technology.
« Keeping Sensitive Information Out of the Hands of Terrorists Through Self-Restraint |
| Three-Volume History of Counterintelligence »
May 31, 2011
The U.S. Seems to Have a Secret Stealth Helicopter
That's what the U.S. destroyed after a malfunction in Pakistan during the bin Laden assassination. (For helicopters, "stealth" is less concerned with radar signatures and more concerned with acoustical quiet.)
There was some talk about Pakistan sending it to China, but they're returning it to the U.S. I presume that the Chinese got everything they needed quickly.
Posted on May 31, 2011 at 1:12 PM
• 54 Comments
To receive these entries once a month by e-mail, sign up for the Crypto-Gram Newsletter.
That connected sheet construct converged estimation being actual English.
(That linked article makes a close approximation of real English.)
What language was that written in?
Tom Clancy had an acoustically-damped stealth helicopter in one of his novels...I think it played a role in the Spec-Ops-Strikes-in-a-first-world-urban-environment sequence in "Debt of Honor".
Did he know? Guess? Use educated-guesses from people who ought to know?
CLEARLY it must be a stealth helicopter, because it has a well-spoken and bony outer shell!
Apparently Total Defense is having problems with their English-to-English translator. The whole website is a mound of gibberish.
I'd like to see a version of this article that wasn't obviously translated by Babelfish.
The article almost feels more at home on EngrishFunny.com.
Tom Clancy has a knack for picking narratively convenient and somewhat plausible technology for his novels.
It's really no wonder that he hits pretty close to real life technology as often as he does, if it's desirable from a plot standpoint for him it's generally desirable from a military standpoint and someone has at least tried to make it.
But wasn't one guy able to hear the helicopter and complained about it on twitter? Then it wouldn't be *that* stealthy.
As it went overhead.
We're talking "stealth", not "indiscernible". A helicopter you can hear a mile away is still pretty stealthy for a helicopter.
Guys, this is OLD NEWS. We've had this technology since 1983. Didn't anyone see "Blue Thunder?" Sheesh!
We've had a lot better stuff than that for a long time. You know about that Mach1+ helicopter that has a very high altitude ceiling, digital aivionics, chain guns, Hellfire missiles, and chaff rockets; is extremely agile and silent unless it wants to make noise, and it can be refueled in flight.
Didn't anyone see Airwolf in the 80s?
"We're talking "stealth", not "indiscernible". A helicopter you can hear a mile away is still pretty stealthy for a helicopter."
True. The chopper's stealth abilities might also include less radar and infrared visibility. Its shape is similar to other stealth designs that were made for this purpose.
That Tom Clancy predicts it is typical of writers, especially scifi writers. Good writers stay on top of trends in the subjects they are writing about. The military has been talking about stealth aircraft for a long time. Even if nobody mentioned a helicopter, it doesn't take a major leap of creativity to go from stealth bombers to stealth helicopters for insertions. Besides, Tom Clancy already mentioned in Rainbow Six helicopters modified for less rotor noise used to insert the spec ops team. So, stealth helicopters are old news for him.
> Tom Clancy had an acoustically-damped stealth helicopter in one of his novel
Quiet helicopters for special operations purposes has actually existed since the late 1970s. There's a nice writeup in Air & Space magazine (online also) on this. I know people who have seen it.
The interesting security part of this, to me, is comparing to the way we discuss other aircraft. Low observables bombers in the cold war were useful (partly) to annoy and confuse the enemy, whether employed or not.
A low-observables special operations helicopter is probably best left secret. When you hear a helicopter, you never then go "but what if it's american special forces, 400 yards away, not the TV news 4 miles away."
I still don't buy that the Seals "blew up" the rest of that helicopter. Where's the pile of debree? Even with a metric ton of thermite, you'd still have a very large, very heavy pile of slag as proof of a helicopter-sans-tail.
My money says one of the other cargo helicopters lifted up the crashed craft, and took it off-site. The tail was outside of the compound walls, and thus not easy to get to in a hurry - hence the delay getting that part off-site.
And [tin-foil hat on] I've never heard anyone else propose that theory -just me.
I think the appearance of ‘stealth helicopters’ and the perceived risk of losing this new (at least to most) technology to the Chinese (or anyone else) is perhaps stealing the limelight from the really interesting aspects revealed by the assault on OBL’s compound. That said, it’s understandable given the recent appearance of the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter which may have been developed using wreckage recovered from a F117 shot down over Serbia in 1999.
@Dan: Clancy also studies the military, and has written books about arms of service. There's a story about his first book, "Hunt for Red October", which he sent to Navy officers for comments.
Rumor has it that a Navy admiral said he wished Clancy would remove something. Clancy said he would, and asked what it was. The admiral replied that he couldn't tell Clancy.
There are no tin foil hats; you're confusing that with aluminum, which everyone knows is what keeps the aliens at bay.
If Afghanistan is supposed to be one of our "allies" in the War on Terror, then why would they even think of letting the Chinese or anyone else see and examine a piece of U.S. military technology?
That's something one of your enemies would do to sell you out to the highest bidder. Hmm… I guess that means that Afghanistan and the Karzai regime can't be trusted, so why are we there at all?
If Afghanistan is supposed to be one of our "allies" in the War on Terror, then why would they even think of letting the Chinese or anyone else see and examine a piece of U.S. military technology?
Perhaps they wouldn't. Pakistan, where the assassination occurred, on the other hand...
Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is warning that the situation on the sub-continent has turned "grave" as it appears that open warfare is about to break out between Pakistan and the United States.
The SVR warned in its report that the apprehension of 36-year-old Raymond Davis, who shot dead two Pakistani men in Lahore, had fuelled this crisis.
According to the report, the combat skills exhibited by Davis, along with documentation taken from him after his arrest, prove that he was a member of US' TF373 black operations unit currently operating in the Afghan War Theatre and Pakistan's tribal areas, the paper says.
While the US insists that Davis was one of their diplomats, and the two men he killed were robbers, Pakistan says that the duo were ISI agents sent to follow him after it was discovered that he had been making contact with al Qaeda, after his cell phone was tracked to the Waziristan tribal area bordering Afghanistan, the paper said.
The most ominous point in this SVR report is "Pakistan's ISI stating that top-secret CIA documents found in Davis's possession point to his, and/or TF373, providing to al Qaeda terrorists "nuclear fissile material" and "biological agents", which they claim are to be used against the United States itself in order to ignite an all-out war in order to re-establish the West's hegemony over a Global economy that is warned is just months away from collapse," the paper added.
is this a joke? how does that trash gets a mention on schneier.com? I don't believe schneier would publish a link w/o first reading it. who is the author of this post?
Judging from the language used, I believe the only thing this article proves is that Nostradamus has risen from the grave. Not sure if something interesting was left for the Chinese to investigate as I would assume SEALS have standard protocol in place to properly destroy equipment that is not to fall into 3rd party hands.
This article has some great information on the "Quiet One", an ostensibly "stealth" helicopter developed by Hughes toward the end of the Vietnam War.
When it comes to helicopters, you can never mask the deafening sound of its blades, but it seems that they were able to alter the sound so that it seemed less helicopter-y (or at least made it difficult to determine where the sound was coming from).
Keep in mind, this aircraft was developed 40 years ago. I'm sure that newer materials are able to generate even better dampening effects than were possible at that time.
One Oliver Tree. The style is vaguely similar to that of a certain Buck Mitchell at a Mumbai helpdesk whom I had the pleasure of writing a couple of times when logging a request ticket for new toilet paper when we ran out of it at the former Sun Brussels branch.
The article linked by Bruce looks like "spun" blogspam, in which a script replaces random words with synonyms to get treated by Google as "unique" from the original.
Speaking of helicopter noise, back around 1968-1970, I was stationed at Fort Rucker, Alabama, the US Army's Helicopter Training Center. I remember crossing the parade grounds in front of HQ going from the barracks to my place of work at the AG's office. There was always a Huey stationed outside HQ for the use of the commanding general. Occasionally it would be revving up as I went by. SERIOUS noise! Hard to stealth jet engines at close range...
As an aside about the crash, while at Fort Rucker, I attended one of many mandatory film assemblies at the auditorium. This one had a scene with a Huey doing various acrobatics. A guy from the maintenance company was behind me. He said, "That pilot ain't doing that stuff after I get through with his machine."
And I recall reading somewhere that the MTF of one of the latest choppers was somewhere around four hours - just another time for one mission, then it fails.
Andrew: I tend to agree with the overall thrust of the Russians, if not the alleged details of "biowarfare agents and nuclear materials" which is probably propaganda (the Russians appear to be prone to exaggerating).
It seems clear that since the late Bush years and now very much so in the Obama administration, there is a thrust to destabilize Pakistan and start a war there with an eye toward 1) seizing the nuclear weapons, 2) for the benefit of India, 3) to remove a potential ally for China, and 4) to control Afghanistan for the pipeline and the poppy crop, and perhaps 5) for the benefit of Israel which doesn't like ANY Muslims having technology.
Just the other day, I read an article in Asia Times IIRC suggesting that the thrust of the Obama policy was to try to eventually get Pakistan broken up into a Balkanized state which would be controlled or ignored by the US or dominated by India.
Ah, here it is:
China drops the Gwadar hot potato
Especially read page two.
The US can never control Afghanistan as long as Pakistan views that country as vital to its security interests against India and as "defense in depth". And the US wants to control Afghanistan for the benefit of the oil companies and the drug trade. This was true even before 9/11 - Bush had already drawn up plans to attack Afghanistan before 9/11, once the negotiations for the pipeline broke down.
The US also has its sights set firmly on China as the ultimate enemy, and China wants the US out of Central Asia. And Pakistan is moving toward China as an ally.
So in my view Pakistan is definitely a potential new war theater for the US, perhaps even ahead of Iran (which is another bogus "WMD" case like Iraq). Since NONE of the US' wars turn out well, except for the benefit of the military-industrial complex, this should give everyone major pause.
Remind me to go long on Alcoa stock tomorrow AM.
Pakistan, Afghanistan; there's too many Stans for my taste. Still, if any of them are letting the Chinese get their hands on our technology, that makes them our enemy, so we should either annihilate them, or just get out and stop propping up their corrupt regime.
Despite all claims to the contrary, we have no vital interest in any of those countries.
@ Richard Steven Hack,
"So in my view Pakistan is definitely a potential new war theater for the US, perhaps even ahead of Iran"
In many respects it has been for a very long time. It is why Packistans previous military leader put a great deal at risk domesticaly by pallying up to the US at the start of the Afghan war. He had after all seen a great deal of what the US could do when the Russians where trying to annex Afghanistan.
However any possible war like US plans in that dirrection has recently had a spoke put in the wheel by the recent uprisings in the Middle East against the "oil dictators". Lybia and Gaddafi are causing a significant problem for the US / EU via NATO, whilst Britain and France are very keen to support the Lybian rebels the US are not so keen.
One issue is that people in that region have long memories that go back atleast as far as what Saddam Hussein got upto after the first gulf war which "Papa Bush" started. Many felt betrayed when he stopped at the Kuwait / Iraq border (remember the bad press about the "turkey shoot" on the Basra road?).
Then there is the issue of the Kurds, they have not been grabing the headlines of late for various reasons but that could change quite suddenly if the EU drop the ball.
Now this US reluctance over Lybia may be that Lybia is not on the current "China play book" you suggest or it may be that wiser heads are pushing the war hawks back in their box as the US needs another major conflict in that region like a gapping hole in the back of the head.
Then there is the issue of South / North Korea, it's not been in the western papers of late but it's still rattling on down there with emotions still running high. So there is a very real risk of escalation and this is most definatly in the US "China Playbook".
As the ancient Chinese Curse has it we are "living in interesting times".
Speaking of which are you keeping your eye on the Chinese rare earth metals export restrictions?
About a year ago the Chinese supplied 90% of the worlds rare earth metals but have cut their supply back to about 1/7th of their original 50,000 tonne supply.
Well the rare earth metals (Yttrium, Tantalum, Niobium, Thorium and Zirconium) are an absolut requirment for a great deal of the high tech toys the US is criticaly dependent on. Especialy when it comes to modern military high tech toys with COST in built. Which makes the rare earth metals a US "National Security" risk of significant proportion not just economically but militarily as well.
Well this is where Russia and Mongolia step into the frame. It appears that Mongolia may be able to take up some of the significant slack on rare earth metals. However there is an issue the only two ways out are via China and the Russia Far East. Currently the plan is to ship east by rail to the Russian port of Vladivostok and then by boat etc to South Korea, Japan etc.
However asside from the fact that China and Russia will have a strangle hold on a vital US "war resource" a quick look on the map shows that Vladivostok is well within North Korean Missile range...
Interesting times indeed.
Also fairly recently due to the rockerting prices of rare earth metel products such as "capacitors" there have been reports of manufactures not putting as many power supply decoupling caps on things like PC mother boards. And there has been seen a consequent rise in unreliability in some of the cheaper units recently.
"I still don't buy that the Seals "blew up" the rest of that helicopter. Where's the pile of debree? Even with a metric ton of thermite, you'd still have a very large, very heavy pile of slag as proof of a helicopter-sans-tail."
The story I read is that when one of the helos was coming down inside the compound, ground effect created some winds within the small area that destabilised it and it descended faster than the pilot anticipated. As a result it came down close to the outer wall, the wall severed the tail boom, the helo landed inside and the tail landed outside.
When the SeALs left, they either could not access the tail or did not have time to destroy it, that is why it was left.
That doesn't answer the question of where the rest of the aircraft is. So it's inside the compound. I'd still expect to see _some_ pictures of it. The more explosives you use, the smaller the bits will be, but there will always be enough bits to make up a full sized helicopter.
So where are the bits?
Well the US has a rare earth deposits and even a closed down mine. However as useful as they are for magnets and in trace levels for fiber lasers, i have not heard of them being used in caps. ie Thallium is not a rear earth element, and the power coupling caps on my motherboard are all electrolytic.
Clive: Had heard some vague musings about the rare earth situation, but wasn't up on that. Just makes it clearer that the US needs to stop banging around the world like a bull in a china shop (pun unintended but brilliant if I do so say myself!) and start learning to do real diplomacy and negotiating. A LOT of countries are tired of the US being a "superpower" with no restraint. China wants the US out of Central Asia and to stop interfering with Taiwan reunification and frankly they have every reason to do so.
It's not clear to me that the bozos running the military-industrial complex particularly care about this or that random "small conflict" such as Libya, in terms of interfering with their bigger plans. They don't mind them - because they add to the profits in at least a small way ("small" being a billion here and a billion there, as Everett Dirksen used to say), but they REALLY like major invasions like Iraq, Afghanistan - and probably Iran next.
Which is not to say Libya might not yet turn out to be one. But at this point it seems likely that somehow Gaddafi will get kicked out without major US/EU boots on the ground. It may take another few months, but eventually he'll either get killed, negotiate something or get kicked out. As someone once said in a movie, "All good clean fun and who misses it?"
The Kurd situation is a problem more for Turkey and Iran (and Syria) than the US. It's unlikely the Kurds will turn against the US in Iraq - although they just might join the Shia against the US if the US doesn't leave on time (end of this year) - as it's looking the US won't. Generally the Kurds in Iraq have been compliant with the US.
Right now the US needs to worry more about al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army if they don't leave on time. And this time I suspect Iran will be more supportive of Sadr than it was last time. Despite US propaganda, Iran generally wasn't doing much to aggravate the Iraq situation. But if the US intends to stay, that may change.
Given the US definitely wants a war with Iran over the bogus "nuclear weapons" issue, mostly to benefit Israel and the oil companies as well as the MIC, Iran is still high on the list for the next war. A war there would drag on for ten years easily and provide scores of billions in MIC profits.
I agree that NK and SK are a potential hot spot. The problem for the US there is the massive size of the NK conventional military (despite its aging materiel). It's that, not the alleged nukes, that seems to limit US desire to get into a hot war there. Koreans are not a people you want to mess with lightly. Pentagon war games estimate 50,000 US casualties within 90 days. That kind of thing tends to rile the US citizenry whereas a slower, more "limited" war which only costs a few thousand US lives over a period of a couple years or more doesn't seem to bother anyone, regardless of the expense and profits to the MIC and the cost to the taxpayer.
This is why Iran is high on the US target list. It's a weak enough country that high US casualties (aside from possible problems with the Shia in Iraq) are unlikely in the early stages of a bombing campaign - although any attempt to seize the Khuzestan oil fields would turn into an insurgent disaster that would dwarf the Iraq insurgency.
I expect moves against Pakistan to be more careful than an outright war, because Pakistan is not a small country and it would be difficult for the US to fight a land war there that would be many times tougher than the current Afghanistan conflict. I suspect the US would prefer to destabilize Pakistan, let it collapse into a civil war between various factions, and become "Balkanized" rather than actually attack it and risk unifying the population against the US. Most of the population hate India and the US worse than the Taliban - by far.
And that population is 173 million, not 70 like Iran, or 30 like Iraq and Afghanistan.
The problem with that approach is the inevitable "blowback". "Blowback", however, never seems to affect the people running the US - just the US citizen who happens to work in a tall building or who pays taxes.
Considering that a handful of religious colonialist fanatics in a country with a third the population of New York City (Israel) seems to running US foreign policy these days, the population of THIS country better wake up or their economy will be even more in the toilet than it is now, not to mention thousands more dead US troops (and possibly dead US civilians if some country decides to get serious about exporting professional trained terrorists to US soil.)
Just by coincidence, I got to see a "stealthed" helicopter just the other day. I guesstimate it would have been about 50 meters away, inspecting a nearby power line (about ten meters above the poles), and "deafening" it was not - I barely had time to get outside after first hearing it from indoors. An uncle of mine, living 100-150 meters from the power line in question, didn't even notice, he said he'd thought it was just a truck going by slowly.
So just to calibrate speculation, there are already civilian applications where you want to minimize rotor noise, and it can be done pretty well.
@magetoo: This is it: technology evolves - civil one, too.
I live near an airport which is, amongst other uses, home base of local Medical Rescue branch. Before, they had used MI-2 heli prominently painted yellow and red. When you heard it you could easily finish your tea before getting outside to have a glance at the machine.
Now they have switched to Eurocopter and you have to scramble out really fast to see it once you hear it.
@RSN "a bull in a china shop "
Mythbusters actaully busted this in 2007 in Red Rag to a Bull. Bulls aren't necessarily destructive.
Civilian helicopters don't carry weapons, armor, and squads of SEALs... they are much lighter and quieter to begin with. Like putting a Prius next to a M1 Abrams, two different beasts.
Actually the US is on course for pulling out of Iraq. Its some elements of the Iraq government that are asking for the US to prolong their stay because they don't have a fully reestablished organization. Of course a lot of their own people aren't happy with that. The only thing I've seen the US say about that is along the lines of "If they are going to request it they better do it soon" since they are redeploying those bases and troops elsewhere.
A helicopter that can't hover? China must be dying to figure it out. Russia probably just calls it a slow plane and moves on.
Black heli tech is not what made the mission successful. Helped, yes, decided, no. If anything, the mission was lucky to be a success in spite of the newest technology.
It's like saying a website launch is successful because it used a proprietary new plugin. There are many more underlying factors and technologies...the most recent revision of one component may add some marketing shock and awe, but it's hardly the main or only factor.
First off I did not mention thalium, not sure where you pulled that one from.
I gave a list of the rare earth metals (REMs) concerned in my comment one of which is Tantalum.
You said of REMs,
"i have not heard of them being used in caps"
That realy realy surprises me, have a look at,
Due to it's very high capacitance - volume ratio it's very low ESR and good high frequency response, it's a natural for low voltage surface mount components that you find in and around PC mother boards, Mobile phones and most personal music devices (Ipod et al).
One other REM I mentioned was Yttrium, this has some very interesting properties, it is often made into a garnet with other metals such as aluminium or iron both of which have a very large range of uses in communications and other military applications.
It is also one of the more promising candidates in high temprature super conductors, which if succesfully developed will potentialy increase the efficiency of the electrical suply grid from its current 25% of gen capacity to consumers to over 90% of gen capacity to consumers which will have significant benifit in terms of fossile fuel utilisation.
I could go on about the other REMs I mentioned as they to have significant advantages in military, industrial, communications and consumer products but it's getting well off topic.
@ BF Skinner,
"Bulls aren't necessarily destructive."
No they mostly are not.
However when people see a Bull in a shop or supermarket general mayhem and destruction does have a habit of occuring as shopers head for the door at speeds that could get them a ticket ;)
There is actually a couple of videos up on the Internet of Bulls in shops and supermarkets and you can quite clearly see it's not the Bull doing the damage.
181 U.S. Gallons, eh?
There's a bit of intelligence leakage right there.
Clive -- you're normally so up on tech, but the only rare earth among your list was Yttrium, the rest are rare, and maybe valuable, but not rare earths -- see Wikipedia.
I trade commodities (retired physicist/engineer) - so I'd better know that stuff.
Thorium is found with just about all rare earths (which actually aren't that rare, and Th is not a rare earth), which is what makes them expensive. You have to separate them from the Th, which is radioactive, then from each other, which is difficult because they are chemically very similar to one another.
That's the reason most mines/refineries outside China shut down -- all other countries tend to care how many miners you kill, and how toxic the waste stream is. When China was selling them cheap, no one could compete. Now they're all doing their best to start up and ramp up production as fast as they can again.
The current prime use of RE's (the heavy ones) is for high energy permanent magnets, though there are a lot of other uses from lighter flints to CRT phosphors -- those are going away. But light-for- strength magnets figure highly in a lot of military and alternative energy gear, so that's why the prices have soared -- In this particular case, it's hard to blame China for it, as they are cleaning up their act on killing miners and waste streams, which cuts production, while they, along with everyone else on the planet is finding more and more uses for the heavy rare earths (mostly magnets).
Even the US isn't really complaining -- but they are relaxing the permitting rules for RE outfits and promising to buy their output for a strategic reserve.
Maybe the only not-stupid thing the US government has done in some time...
Helicopters have to be noisy because the rotor tips tend to be supersonic, else they can't make enough lift and more smaller rotor blades don't really accomplish much (see, windmill design). Wonder what they did about that one?
Re bulls: Piss the bull off, then see what happens. :-) Or just change the phrase to "running of the bulls in a china shop" to reference the Pamplona run.
Shial: "Actually the US is on course for pulling out of Iraq."
If you believe that, I have some Florida chads to sell you.
"Its some elements of the Iraq government that are asking for the US to prolong their stay because they don't have a fully reestablished organization."
Maliki is lucky to stay alive long enough to ask. Maliki has repeatedly told the US to leave. He's caught in a hard place because without US support he probably wouldn't be alive. At the moment his coalition is fraying at the seams. But without al-Sadr's support - which is entirely contingent on a COMPLETE US withdrawal - Maliki wouldn't even be in office now.
"Of course a lot of their own people aren't happy with that."
Specifically al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army which is a large proportion of the Shia - not to mention the Iranians who are supporting them. Not to mention most of the Sunnis who blame the US for overthrowing their control of the country.
The ONLY group asking the US to stay is the Kurds - and they have no say other than what influence they have via their politicians in the central government.
"The only thing I've seen the US say about that is along the lines of "If they are going to request it they better do it soon" since they are redeploying those bases and troops elsewhere."
And that's the rope-a-dope: the US claims the Iraqis want them there - when in fact the Iraqis have repeatedly said they do not.
And if you believe that's the US' only interest, I have more chads to sell you. Obama lied when he said "combat operations" had ended in Iraq and that "combat battalions" were pulled out. The same combat battalions are still there, they were just renamed "advisory battalions". While US troops don't patrol the streets much any more, they still conduct raids and they're still dying.
The US has absolutely no interest in leaving Iraq completely because it does not want Iran influencing the country. Not to mention it needs to protect the oil from being exploited too heavily - see journalist Greg Palast's research on that subject. Yes, the Iraq war WAS all about oil.
Besides which, maintaining bases in the country is essential if the US intends to attack Iran at some point in the future - which is definitely in the cards because there is no possible resolution of the bogus Iranian "nuclear weapons" issue otherwise - unless the US wants to admit the issue was bogus from the start.
One way or the other, thousands of US troops will remain in Iraq past the 2011 deadline. Whatever excuse is used - whether it be an Iraqi request under pressure or just ignoring the deadline - it will be done.
I wonder: is China that bothered about reverse-engineering bits of charred metal when they can just phish military officials for the login to their e-mail accounts... ;-)
"Clive -- you're normally so up on tech, but the only rare earth among your list was Yttrium, the rest are rare, and maybe valuable, but not rare earths - see Wikipedia"
This gets complicated there are three "rare earth" terms in common usage two of which have a classified meaning "rare earth elements" and "rare earth minerals" and the third "rare earth metals" which is a little problematical due to those who use it.
From some points of view even yttrium is not a rare earth element, it gets lumped in due to it's chemical similarity and the fact that it is almost always found with the lanthanoides in ores.
However in the mining and refining industries a simmilar "guilty by association" applies due to other ores, where the term "rare earth metals" is used in a much broader sense (and usualy includes those I listed).
Which brings me on to the "Chinese rare earth metals" issue they use it in the broader sense as do the majority of people reporting on it.
But China's throtteling of supply is two handed. Basicaly they have been cutting back on export levels at 8-10% year on year for some time prior to this current clamp down on exports. However they promise no restrictions on those who move their businesses to China.
This is quite dangerous because it will mean handing over all technological knowledge to the Chinese which many would say is highly undesirable, and in of it's self represents a very significant National Security issue.
For those who are wondering what is special about "rare earth metals" (in the broader sense) read on.
But first a word or two of caution,
 Firstly unless you realy know what you are doing don't invest money in rare earth mining etc as the rising price is going to attract undesirables by the ship load. It is very likley to become the next big share scam (it's already started I've seen half a dozen fake investor web sites on this already).
 Secondly, China could easily adopt "preditory pricing" which although it's illegal, there is nothing any one can do about it when a country does it. So you could easily find any investment in a company disappearing literally over night as China drops the price back down to uneconomic values again to put the companies out of business.
 Thirdly, China is doing this as a very deliberate policy presumably to get technology transfer not just in knowledge but manufacturing capability. We know from past experiance with Japan and colour TV tubes what the likley outcome will be.
Any way back to the rare earths, as Doug noted above it turns out many of the "rare earth metals" are far from rare, however like many metals they are not viable to extract and refine except from certain ores. It appears that China has something like 60% of the worlds viable ore deposits in this respect.
The last two on the (non rare earth) "rare earth metals" list I gave are Thorium and Zirconium both of which are very far from being rare which makes it odd that China put them on the list unless it is looking at very longtern nuclear energy production, or as Doug noted they are going to clean up their act (which I would not put even one penny on).
Which brings me around to another "Dirty Producer" which is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which upped it's prices and production due to the shuting down in 2008 of the three other main suppliers of Tantalum ( Australia's Talison, Mozambigue's Noventa and the United States Defence Logistics Agency).
Not only is the DRC a dirty producer it has been using the money raised to fight a very dirty war with appaling human rights abuses as a norm.
Although Talison and Noventa have recomenced mining production the shutdown removed 50% of past capacity which caused the supply / demand worries which led to the removing of tantalum capacitors from the lower cost PC motherboards etc, only time will tell if quality control issues make them put them back on.
However you will if you google "China rare earth metals" read about the "10 heavy rare earths" of which China did produce about 95% of world supply so is still effectivly the major producer world wide. And asside from wind turbines and other generators and motors these "heavies" do have other significant industrial and military uses (especialy in missile and jet engines).
To give you an idea of why some people are woried, modern electric and hybrid cars use something like 1/40th of a tonne of these rare earths per car and wind turbines much much more.
The US rare earth mine that is being re-opened by Molycorp is not going to be producing these "heavy 10", however there is a mine in Russia that did in the past and apparently it is being re-opened,
Just to reinforce one of Doug's other points in the above article you will see a refrence as to just how difficult these metals can be to seperate on an industrial scale and thus just how costly it is to do.
However if you look back a little you will see that when Molycorp share price was 14USD acording to some it was nolonger a good investment due to the fact it's share value cap is something like 3Billion USD but the world wide market is only worth about 1Billion USD/year, and Molycorp will need to find 0.5billion to get production up and running.
Well it got it's 0.5billion investment and appears to be on track and it's expected opening price today is going to be a little over 65USD, so it just goes to show that market predictions are not always right...
As for these metals usage and why they are considered as a US National Security issue have a look at the following links,
As Doug noted Thorium is in it's natural state mildly radioactive (predominantly alpha radiation) but is considered effectivly harmless in finished products such as older camera lenses. It has a few ordinary comercial uses and a number of military uses. However it does make a very interesting nuclear reactor fuel and reactors designed to use it can once started "burn" weapons grade plutonium and uranium quite effectivly. One advantage it has is that unlike uranium it only comes out of the ground as one isotope that does not require enrichment. Also the reactors using it are effectivly self limiting and don't require the essential cooling system of uranium based reactors which is what went so horribly wrong in Japan recently.
The problem with being concerned about China's mineral control is that it's based on the notion of "natural monopoly" - which always triggers irrational fear.
The reality is that very few "natural monopolies" exist or can exist. There is almost always another way things can be done, technologically or otherwise - and once the price of the "monopolized" resource rises far enough, they will be done.
Monopolies have to be coercive - i.e., supported by a state - to be functional. And since neither China or the US can really control what other countries do in the long run, most "monopolies" end up getting broken - or lead to wars.
One of the main purposes of the Iraq war according to investigative journalist Greg Palast was to PREVENT Iraqi oil from being exported and used to reduce the OPEC oil price (as the neocons wanted). This was a rare case in which a monopoly was directly supported by a state through the use of military force.
The fear here should not be that China will control the US economy through its control of mineral resources - but that the US will attack China to prevent that at some point rather than allow technology and the market to blunt that monopolization.
As long as states are allowed to treat the whole world and its populations as a "zero-sum game" - that's what it will be.
The Clancy reference was (by name) to an RAH-66 Comanche, which was in fact a stealthy helicopter; killed by Congress because -- just like the SR-71 -- "we didn't need it anymore".
The way you make helos quiet is to increase the main rotor blade count, and either fenestrate or remove the tail rotor (see Fenestron and NOTAR, respectively). You can make a helo *really* quiet (well, by comparison to a traditional design) if you want to.
Perhaps two weeks were long enough for Chinese to get everything they needed. Another interesting bit is that Chienese have radar technology which can detect stealth technology which presumably they have already given to Pakistan.
> (For helicopters, "stealth" is less concerned
> with radar signatures and more concerned
> with acoustical quiet.)
I think that's true of anything that can consistently fly at ultra-low altitude. Radar just isn't much of a threat when you can keep terrain features between you and the radar towers, but flying that low means *people* are more likely to notice you.
> But wasn't one guy
> able to hear the helicopter
A stealth chopper could be a *good* deal quieter than a conventional one, and people with decent hearing could still notice something if it passes nearby. As anyone who lives near a hospital knows, you can hear a traditional helicopter from indoors, clearly enough to recognize that it's definitely a helicopter, when it's the better part of a mile away.
> The chopper's stealth abilities might also
> include less radar and infrared visibility.
Low infrared signature is a particularly interesting possibility, though I'm not entirely sure how that would be accomplished: anything that stays up has to expend enough energy to create lift, so there's going to be some heat dissipated somewhere somehow. Reduced mass would help, as a lightweight object would require less lift and therefore could get by with less energy expended. That could create an interesting trade-off between robustness and stealth...
> When you hear a helicopter, you never
> then go "but what if it's american special
> forces, 400 yards away, not the TV news
That depends on where you live. If I hear a helicopter in Galion, I assume it means the hospital is transferring somebody to Columbus. Usually it's an OB patient with complications they don't want to deal with here (e.g., significantly premature delivery). The second thought would be a national guard unit operating a little farther out from their base than usual. The possibility of a TV news crew using a helicopter here is vanishingly obscure. It's more likely to be some teenager with more money than brains arriving at the prom than a TV news crew. TV news people do show up in Galion, on rare occasions, but they don't come in helicopters. That would be too ridiculously expensive and completely pointless.
I'm not certain what the first thought would be in rural Pakistan, but I have a sneaking suspicion TV news might not be on the top of the list there, either.
> If Afghanistan is supposed to be one
> of our "allies" in the War on Terror,
ITYM Pakistan, and they're only *sort of* our ally. They're not a close ally like Canada or England or Japan. They just find it expedient to work with us sometimes, when it suits their interests.
> then why would they even think of
> letting the Chinese or anyone else see
> and examine a piece of U.S. military
Politics. Pakistan and China share certain concerns. Among other things, they both have significant borders with (and don't really trust) India.
They may also both worry that the US might be a bit too powerful. (If you don't live under a representative government with a free press, it can be difficult to understand how internal political forces can hold such a government in check even more effectively than the external threat of other powerful nations would be able to do. It's counterintuitive.)
thought it was the commanche- scrapped in the 90s.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.