Futuristic Chinese ‘supersonic’ sub could reach US shores in under two hours

Reuters / Guang Niu

Reuters / Guang Niu

Traveling from Shanghai to San Francisco in under two hours may sound like a fantasy, but China believes it’s figured out how to design an underwater vehicle that can make the idea a reality.

More worryingly, though, is the possibility that the technology will be used to develop even more dangerous weaponry.

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the super-fast technology was developed by scientists at the Harbin Institute of Technology, and would allow underwater submarines or torpedoes to exceed the equivalent speed of sound under water – about 3,600 miles per hour.

The idea is based on the old Soviet concept of supercavitation, which involves creating a large air bubble around an object so that it could avoid facing too much friction and travel through water quickly.

Professor Li Fengchen said that when the vessel hits the water, one of its mechanisms continuously sprays a “special liquid membrane” all over the object’s surface. This membrane eventually wears off, but by the time the vessel reaches 46 miles per hour, it’s going fast enough to enter supercavitation state and generate an air bubble capable of helping it cover previously unknown distances.

“Our method is different from any other approach, such as vector propulsion,” Li told SCMP. “By combining liquid-membrane technology with supercavitation, we can significantly reduce the launch challenges and make cruising control easier.”

In theory, this means a trip across the Pacific Ocean would take only 100 minutes, while a transatlantic voyage could be undertaken in less than an hour.

Despite the claims of progress, Li added that there are still significant hurdles scientists have to overcome, such as creating precise steering controls and an engine strong enough to power the whole operation.

Many details surrounding the technology remain unknown, since the project is still categorized as a military secret. Supercavitation could still be used to create fast-moving torpedoes and other weapons, and the US, Russia, Germany, and Iran are all working on the same issue.

Still, Li said there could be ways to use the breakthrough to benefit more than just militaries. It could pave the way for fast underwater transportation, or help create swimsuits that allow for unprecedented mobility.

“If a swimsuit can create and hold many tiny bubbles in water,” he said, “it can significantly reduce the water drag; swimming in water could be as effortless as flying in the sky.”

Iran unveils new-generation drones and missiles 

New generation short-range anti-ship missiles and UAVs have been unveiled in Iran. Tehran’s revamped military doctrine is based on “deterrence and effective defense,” President Hassan Rouhani said at the presentation.

Ghadir cruise missiles with a range 100 kilometers are designed to engage ships, reported the IRNA news agency. Iran uses the Ghadir system to reinforce its destroyers and coastal batteries.

The range of another cruise missile, the Nasr-e Basir, has not been disclosed, although the agency announced it could “operate in silence,” without specifying exactly what this quality means.

The Iranian military also showed two new high-altitude drones, the Karrar-4 and the Mohajer-4. The latter is capable of mapping a territory for military or civilian use.

President Hassan Rouhani who attended the military hardware presentation stressed that while his country does not aim to possess a nuclear weapon, it cannot ignore external threats to the country.

“We do not sit idly by with regard to threats. We do not remain calm towards plots by the enemy,”Rouhani said, as cited by the AP. The president did not specify the adversary’s name in a speech broadcasted live by state TV.

“We have not been, we are not and we will not pursue weapons of mass destruction,” Rouhani said on Sunday. “For religious and humanitarian reasons we pursue neither nuclear nor microbial nor chemical weapons,” he said, calling for a nuclear-free Middle East, with an obvious reference to Israel’s undeclared atomic arsenal.

Ghadir missile cruising over sea. Screenshot from APTN video

Ghadir missile cruising over sea. Screenshot from APTN video

After relative moderate Rouhani succeeded hawkish President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year, he promised to interact with the West diplomatically. He made positive advances, considerably lifting international sanctions against Iran and managing to stop “nuclear Iran” hysteria in the Western world.

Rouhani also made reports about the country’s military advances more discreet.

“Widespread publicity of major military exercises, previously the norm, has been minimal,” The Washington Free Beacon’s report acknowledged recently.

Iran adopted a program to develop the national defense industry and produce necessary military hardware, from tanks and mortars to missiles and submarines, domestically in 1992. Since then the country’s heavy weapons production, particularly rocket and missile engineering, has made tremendous progress. And not only in the military sphere – firm steps towards space exploration have also been taken, with Iran’s first space launch performed back in 2007.

Today, Iran has surface-to-surface missiles with a 2,000-kilometer range, capable of reaching any US military base in the region, and also Israel, Tehran’s long-lasting adversaries since the 1979 revolution.

Iran also regularly presents new drones and allegedly successful copycat technologies from American drones intercepted in national aerospace.

Lethal bird flu cocktail sent out of lab accidentally, went unreported – CDC

China out / AFP Photo

China out / AFP Photo

A scientist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to tell superiors that a worker had mixed a lethal strain of bird flu with a more benign one, even though that mixed strain was shipped out to another laboratory.

According an internal investigation into the matter, the dangerous bird flu cocktail was then administered to chickens as part of a US Department of Agriculture (USDA), in which all of the chickens ended up dying. As a result, USDA officials took another look at the bird flu samples in May and notified the CDC that a deadly strain of the virus was detected inside.

No people fell ill due to the bird flu strain, the Associated Press reported, but it apparently remained in circulation for months – it was originally concocted in January – before scientists picked up on what was wrong.

After the CDC confirmed the USDA’s findings, the team member in charge chose not to notify those higher in the chain of command, reportedly because “the viral mix was at all times contained in specialized laboratories and was never a threat to the public.”

However, when another lab reported similar problems – a Maryland facility reported that more than 300 vials containing influenza, dengue, and other pathogens were discovered in an unused storage room – the team leader brought the dangerous bird flu strain to the attention of more senior officials.

Although it’s unclear exactly how the bird flu strain was created, the report did clarify a couple of things. The lethal strain was supposed to be handled separately from the less dangerous one, and the entire process should take at least 90 minutes. The scientist involved, however, completed his work in only 51 minutes in order to rush to a meeting, meaning that it’s very likely “shortcuts” were taken. The CDC told the AP “it’s possible the scientist worked on both strains at the same time.”

This revelation comes in the wake of previous reports about lax safety at CDC laboratories. As RTreported in June, about 84 scientists were potentially exposed to anthrax after employees failed to properly sterilize the deadly bacteria. Although no one became sick and no reports of exposure have been filed, the eye-opening incident sparked an investigation that revealed multiple failures in safety protocol.

“These events revealed totally unacceptable behavior,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said at the time. “They should never have happened. I’m upset, I’m angry, I’ve lost sleep over this, and I’m working on it until the issue is resolved.”

Both the flu lab and the anthrax lab have been closed, and the anthrax lab director has since resigned.

Another investigation, meanwhile, found that dangerous microbes and “unidentified materials” were transported between labs in plastic Ziploc bags – containers which fail to meet the CDC’s “durability” requirement. In some cases, anthrax samples were found to be missing and had to be tracked down, while others were placed in unlocked labs not authorized to store the deadly bacteria.

“An internal investigation found serious safety lapses, including use of an unapproved sterilization technique and use of a potent type of anthrax in an experiment that did not require a live form of the germ,” the Associated Press reported in July.

Hundreds of Yazidi minority women taken captive by ISIS in Iraq

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Reuters)

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Reuters)

Hundreds of Yazidi sect women have been captured by militants from the Islamic State group, formerly known as ISIS, according to media reports citing Iraqi officials.

READ MORE: Two US fighter jets strike ISIS artillery in Iraq’s Kurdistan

Kamil Amin, a spokesman from Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry, says hundreds of women from the Yazidi religious minority have been taken captive. He said that the women are under 35 years old and are being held at a school in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which is now under IS control.

The ministry learned of the situation from the victims’ families, AP reports.

It comes after the US carried out limited airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) artillery, which had been targeting the Kurdish capital Erbil. An end date for the strikes has not yet been established, the White House said in statement on Friday.

Some 50,000 residents of the Yazidi community have been forced to flee their homes in northern Iraq, and their capital Sinjar is now under the control Islamic State Sunni jihadists.

 

Up to 40,000 are stuck up Mt. Sinjar, where they are surrounded by IS fighters who have threatened them with death. Many women and children, as well as the sick and elderly, have already died on the mountain from hunger and dehydration, although the US dropped some food supplies earlier on Friday.

The president of the autonomous Kurdistan region, Fuad Hussein, confirmed on Friday that IS militants now have control of the Mosul dam, the biggest in Iraq, which may give them the ability to cut off vital water and electricity supplies.

The two-month-old Islamic State offensive has left 150 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters dead and around 500 others wounded, the chief of staff to the Kurdish Presidency said on Friday.

Kurdish media also reported that Peshmerga forces have rescued 11,000 of the Yazidis trapped in the mountains.

Liberia declares state of emergency as Ebola death toll rises to 932

Health workers take blood samples for Ebola virus testing at a screening tent in the local government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, June 30, 2014 (Reuters / Tommy Trenchard)

Health workers take blood samples for Ebola virus testing at a screening tent in the local government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, June 30, 2014 (Reuters / Tommy Trenchard)

Liberia’s president declared a state of emergency on Wednesday to combat the ongoing outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, as the country began implementing quarantine checkpoints.

The country’s president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, said that the scale of the Ebola outbreak represents a threat to Liberia’s security.

“The government and people of Liberia require extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people,” she said via statement. “I…hereby declare a State of Emergency throughout the Republic of Liberia effective as of Aug. 6, 2014 for a period of 90 days.”

The World Health Organization announced that 932 people have died from the recent Ebola outbreak, as the organization begins to consider whether experimental drugs should be deployed to West Africa to help contain the situation. The WHO is to decide whether it will declare an international public health emergency in order to deal with the outbreak in the coming days.

According to Reuters, the WHO said Wednesday that 45 more people died as a result of the virus between August 2-4, raising the death toll closer to 1,000 in what is being billed as the world’s worst Ebola outbreak.

The organization estimates that approximately 1,711 cases have been detected so far. Liberia was hit the hardest over the past few days, with 27 of the 45 newly tabulated deaths occurring there. Sierra Leone was home to 13 of the deaths, and Guinea had five new fatalities.

While the outbreak has primarily affected these three countries, the WHO said the number of suspected Ebola cases in Nigeria rose to nine after five more were discovered. A Nigerian nurse who was assisting with the treatment of Ebola patients in the country has reportedly passed away from the disease, while a Saudi Arabian man believed to have contracted Ebola during a trip to Sierra Leone also died Wednesday morning.

Additionally, a key hospital in Liberia – St. Joseph’s Catholic – was shut down after a Spanish priest and six others were diagnosed with the highly contagious virus. Spain is expected to transfer the priest to his native country.

Volunteers carry bodies in a centre run by Medecins Sans Frontieres for Ebola patients in Kailahun July 18, 2014 (Reuters / Tarik Jasarevic)

Volunteers carry bodies in a centre run by Medecins Sans Frontieres for Ebola patients in Kailahun July 18, 2014 (Reuters / Tarik Jasarevic)

The news comes as Liberia deploys troops to essentially quarantine parts of the country that have been hit especially hard by the disease. Checkpoints will be installed and used to apply “tracing measures” on those suspected of carrying the virus.

American health officials have also agreed to utilize a new diagnostic test created by the Pentagon in overseas locations selected by the Defense Department. The test can be used to diagnose the disease in those suffering from an infection, as well as those could have potentially been exposed.

Meanwhile, in a separate Reuters report, the WHO said it would ask medical ethics experts next week about potentially using experimental drugs to help treat Ebola victims. Although there is currently no cure for Ebola – which typically kills well over half of those it infects and causes symptoms like fever, vomiting, and internal and external bleeding – there are multiple drugs and vaccines being tested, including some by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine,” said WHO Assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny. “We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is.”

The WHO’s statement follows a revelation that two US aid workers suffering from Ebola were given asecret drug to battle the disease and have reportedly experienced a dramatic recovery. The US itself has not reported any cases of Ebola, and the one man tested for the virus recently in New York was found not to have contracted the illness. As RT reported previously, a recent Change.org petition is urging the FDA to fast-track the authorization of some anti-Ebola drugs in order to fight the outbreak.

Some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion is revealed in this undated handout colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) obtained by Reuters August 1, 2014 (Reuters / Frederick Murphy)

Some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion is revealed in this undated handout colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) obtained by Reuters August 1, 2014 (Reuters / Frederick Murphy)

Although the FDA itself hasn’t commented on the suggestion, President Obama said on Wednesday that it is still too early to take that kind of step.

One day earlier, however, three Ebola specialists called on the WHO to deploy experimental drugs, arguing it’s “the only body with the necessary international authority” to move forward with such a plan.

Calls for greater involvement of the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have intensified over the past few days. On Tuesday, Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator Anja Wolz said that Sierra Leone was incapable of handling the Ebola outbreak, urging both international and American organizations to take action.

“I think that the government and the ministry of health here in Sierra Leone is not able to deal with this outbreak. We need much more help from international organizations – as WHO, as CDC, as other organizations – to come to support the government,” she said during an interview with CNN.

“Still we have unsafe burials; people who are doing the burial without disinfection of the body; still we have patients who are hiding themselves; still we have patients or contacts of patients who are running away because they are afraid.”

The US plans to send 50 health experts from the CDC to West Africa in order to address the outbreak and establish better detection and prevention systems.

Nightmare bacteria

Published time: August 01, 2014 17:11
Edited time: August 03, 2014 16:10

This photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows one form of CRE bacteria, sometimes called "nightmare bacteria."

This photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows one form of CRE bacteria, sometimes called “nightmare bacteria.”

Deadly, nearly untreatable superbugs known as CRE, dubbed “nightmare bacteria,” have spread at an alarming rate throughout the southeastern region of the US in recent years, new research indicates.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found cases of antibiotic-resistant CRE – or carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae – increased by at least a factor of five in community hospitals across the region from 2008 to 2012.

“We’re trying to sound the alarm. This is a problem for all of us in health care,” said Deverick J. Anderson, lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Duke, according to USA Today.“These (bacteria) are just about as bad as it gets.”

CRE are a family of bacteria that live in one’s guts, often without causing illness. Yet when the bacteria escape – during ICU treatment, for example – they often cause major hospital-induced infections. One in 25 hospitalized patients contract at least one health-care-related infection on any given day, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The bacteria prey mostly on vulnerable, hospitalized patients, killing nearly half of those who catch bloodstream infections.

“Carbapenems,” according to Wired, are a group of potent antibiotics that target infections that have proven resistant to other antibiotics. They are considered drugs to be used as a last resort. And since only a few antibiotics – riddled with side effects and other problems for a patient – have been proven successful against CREs, the bacteria family’s strong emergence indicates the dawn of a post-antibiotic era.

That is, unless overuse of antibiotics is curbed and infection control at hospitals and long-term care facilities is improved, experts say. Many in the health community see the rise of superbugs as fueled by the impulse to use antibiotics, both with and without a patient’s urging, for common ailments like a sore throat.

“That needs to stop,” said Kevin Kavanagh, an infection-control activist who heads the watchdog group Health Watch USA. “It’s creating a huge problem.”

Last year, the CDC said CREs have spread from one medical facility in 2001 to many facilities in 46 states by 2013.

“Our strongest antibiotics don’t work, and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, who called CREs “nightmare bacteria.”

The Duke study, released in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, found that CRE detection went up fivefold within the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network, a group of 25 community hospitals in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia.

Anderson said rates have probably gone up just as much nationally at such small community hospitals,“the main type of hospitals in the US.”

Wired’s Maryn McKenna described the implications of the study’s findings and what it would mean if CRE spread beyond hospital settings:

“[H]ospitals where this resistance factor was identified were what is called ‘community’ hospitals, that is, not academic referral centers. That’s an important distinction, because academic medical centers tend to be where the most cutting-edge care is performed, and where the sickest people are. As a result, they are where last-resort antibiotics are used the most, and therefore where resistance is most likely to emerge. That CRE was found so widely not in academic centers, but rather in community hospitals, is a signal that it is probably moving through what medicine calls ‘the community,’ which is to say, anywhere outside healthcare. Or, you know, everyday life.”

And if CRE are not controlled, activist Kavanagh told USA Today, medicines currently relied on to combat bacterial infections will become increasingly impotent against them.

Meanwhile, last month, researchers found one of the deadliest antibiotic-resistant bacteria for the first time in a food product, raw squid, as reported by the CDC.

Libya’s Islamic militants ‘seize’ Benghazi, declare it ‘emirate’

 

Members of Ansar al-Sharia (Reuters / Stringer)

The Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia has declared Benghazi an ‘Islamic Emirate’ after claiming to have taken total control of Libya’s second largest city, seizing military barracks with rockets and ammunition.

The official spokesperson of the extremist group told local Radio Tawhid that “Benghazi has now become an Islamic emirate.”

The announcement has been denounced by pro-government militia forces.

The national Libyan army is in control of Benghazi and only withdrew from certain positions for tactical reasons. The claim that Benghazi is under the control of militias is a lie,” Khalifa Haftar, a former army general, who launched a self-declared offensive against militants in May, told Al Arabiya channel.

Ansar al-Sharia formed during the Libyan Revolution of 2011 that ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi. The group is blamed for the attack on the US consulate in 2012 killing the US ambassador and 3 more Americans. The group advocates the implementation of strict Sharia law.

In some of the worst fighting since the revolution, around 200 people have been killed as violent clashes between rival militias erupted two weeks ago in the capital Tripoli and the city of Benghazi.

On Wednesday, the Islamic militants announced they overran an army base in Benghazi seizing dozens of weapons and boxes of ammunition. Libya’s Red Crescent said it had recovered the bodies of 35 soldiers from the base adding that there are presumably more.

Members of the Libyan Salafi armed group Ansar al-Sharia (Reuters / Asmaa Waguih)

Members of the Libyan Salafi armed group Ansar al-Sharia (Reuters / Asmaa Waguih)

At least 75 people, mostly soldiers, were killed in the two days of fighting in the eastern city, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile in Tripoli, one hundred people have died in the battle for the airport, with 400 others believed to be wounded, the country’s health ministry announced on Saturday.

Over the past two weeks, rival militias have been fighting for the control of the airport in the southern part of the city. Zintan and Misrata militias have exchanged artillery fire and pounded the territory with Grad rockets.

Militia groups hit an oil storage tank with a rocket on Sunday night, causing a huge blaze which had been raging for over a day. Local firefighters couldn’t tackle the blaze as the interim government in Libya has called for international help.

As the chaos keeps spreading, UN Support Mission in Libya as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross have withdrawn their staff last week.

Foreign embassies have joined the missions evacuating its staff from the country. The UK has evacuated all “non-core” members of its diplomatic mission on Saturday after the mission’s cars were shelled at a militia checkpoint. The US embassy evacuated 150 of its personnel to bordering Tunisia.

Spain said on Thursday it was pulling its ambassador and embassy staff out of Libya temporarily, while one person was left to oversee the archives. Greece joined the same day saying it was sending vessels to Libya to evacuate embassy workers and a few hundred Chinese and European nationals.

Three years after the US and its NATO allies used air power to help the militants achieve victory over former leader Muammar Gaddafi, the country has descended into a failed state without cohesive government and rival militias fighting for power.