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— With all the trouble in the Balkans these days, you'd think that the Predator, that unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, produced by La Jolla's General Atomics, owned by billionaire brothers Neal and Linden Blue, would be flying off the shelves. Not so, says the magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology, which reports that the program is "a victim of internecine conflict within the U.S. Air Force," slowing the vehicle's development "as a weapon carrier and as a testbed for future unmanned air combat vehicle designs." With deployments in Bosnia (1995), Kosovo (1999), and Iraq (this year), the robotic flyer is proclaimed "a combat success" by the magazine, which also claims that "Predator has crossed a hurdle that some liken to breaking the sound barrier. Precision weapons have been fired from the aircraft, and additional types of weaponry are being proposed for testing. Last month, after a fast-paced test program supported by the Army, the Predator made three hits on stationary tanks with three shots by Hellfire anti-armor weapons. Moreover, senior Air Force leaders want to move into the area of air-to-air combat by firing short-range, heat-seeking AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles from the UAV. These two efforts could peel away many of the unknowns surrounding the use of lethal weaponry from aircraft with no human pilot on board." But a squabble over who will control Predator's destiny has erupted, claims Aviation Week. Its fate has been turned over to "Big Safari," which the publication describes as a "shadowy organization" inside the Pentagon that has "developed small numbers of classified payloads and specialized aircraft for clandestine reconnaissance missions. It operates under special rules that allow it to avoid much of the cumbersome acquisition procedure in exchange for new, quickly fielded technical capabilities." Some Air Force brass want to take Predator away from Big Safari and "normalize" its development, but others want to keep it wrapped in secrecy. Air Combat Command's General John Jumper told the magazine he's in the former camp. "Those people are very good at getting things on a platform quickly,'' Jumper says of Big Safari. "What they are less good at is normalizing systems. My objective is to normalize the Predator [including] its tech data, its maintenance practices, and the metrics used to judge its performance.''

Change of climate Navy dolphins from Point Loma have arrived in Alaska for cold-weather combat training, reports the Anchorage Daily News. Loma, Splash, Luke, Fathom, and Dinky arrived last Tuesday at Ketchikan International Airport on a C-17 air transport to participate in the Pentagon's so-called "Northern Edge" training exercises. Before leaving San Diego, the paper says, the dolphins spent two hours a day in frigid water to build up their blubber. A Navy spokesman told the paper that the dolphin program used to be secretive but no longer is because "making information about the program public makes it easier to refute claims of abuse from animal-rights groups." The Alaska trip was, however, not publicized in San Diego ... Hugh Gerhardt of Olive Township, Michigan, is gearing up for a September motorcycle journey from San Diego to Corpus Christi, Texas. The trip will be fueled by a single 12-gallon tank of refined soybean oil, or "biodiesel"... John Warren, publisher of the Voice and Viewpoint newspaper in Southeast San Diego, is out with a harsh critique of San Diego Unified School District superintendent Alan Bersin, entitled "The Tragedy of Alan Bersin and the African American Community." Writes Warren, "Some of our churches and pastors have been bought off or through their silence appear to give consent to the actions of a man who listens only to himself...."

Clipped The L.A. Daily News reports that "Clippers owner Donald Sterling is considering selling the team to San Diego Padres owner John Moores, who would move the team south. The pair had dinner recently at Staples Center".... San Diego is the 13th most expensive city in America for business travelers, says Controller's Report, costing an average of $253.29 a day, including $143 for a hotel room, $54 for a rental car, and $56 for meals. The national average is $215.14.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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