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The Pentagon has grounded its entire fleet of 51 F-35 fighter jets after the discovery of a cracked engine blade.

The fault was detected during a routine inspection of an air force version of the jet (F-35A) at Edwards Air Force Base in California, said the Pentagon.

Different versions are flown by the navy and the marine corps. All have been grounded.

The F-35 is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons programme. with a cost of nearly $400 billion.

The Pentagon said flight operations would remain suspended until the root cause is established.

The Pentagon has grounded its entire fleet of 51 F-35 fighter jets after the discovery of a cracked engine blade

The Pentagon has grounded its entire fleet of 51 F-35 fighter jets after the discovery of a cracked engine blade

Friday’s order was the second time in two months planes from the F-35 range have been grounded.

The marine corps variant (F-35B), a short take-off and vertical landing variant (STOVL), was grounded for nearly a month after a manufacturing defect caused a fuel line to detach just before a training flight in January.

The air force version takes off from, and lands on, conventional runways while the STOVL version takes off from shorter runways and lands like a helicopter.

With a top speed of 1,200 mph (1,930 km/h), the F-35 can fly almost twice as fast as the Harrier, while it also has radar transparency and stealth capabilities – the Harrier had neither.

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Pentagon has announced that US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has decided to lift the military’s ban on women serving in combat.

The move could open hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and elite commando jobs to women.

It overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to small ground-combat units.

But the military would have until 2016 to argue for any specific posts they think should remained closed to women.

The decision is expected to be formally announced on Thursday.

Military chiefs will be asked to report back to Leon Panetta by May 15 on their initial plans to implement the new policy.

Some jobs are expected to be opened to women this year, while others – including for special forces such as the Navy Seals and the Delta Force – could take longer.

Pentagon has announced that US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has decided to lift the military's ban on women serving in combat

Pentagon has announced that US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has decided to lift the military’s ban on women serving in combat

This decision could open more than 230,000 combat roles to women, many in infantry units.

Senate armed services committee chairman Carl Levin welcomed the decision.

“I support it,” he said.

“It reflects the reality of 21st Century military operations.”

Restrictions were first eased a year ago, when the Pentagon opened up 14,500 roles, closer to the front line, which had previously been off limits to female personnel.

In November, a group of four women in the military sued the defence department over the ban, arguing that it was unconstitutional.

One of the plaintiffs, Marine Corps Capt Zoe Bedell, said existing rules had blocked her advancement in the Marines.

During the Iraq and Afghan wars, US female military personnel have worked as medics, military police and intelligence officers, sometimes attached but not formally assigned to front-line units.

As of 2012, more than 800 women were wounded in those wars, and at least 130 have died.

Women comprise 14% of America’s 1.4 million active military personnel.

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President Barack Obama is to pick maverick former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as defence secretary later, amid a political backlash over the nomination.

Chuck Hagel would replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, but Hagel’s fellow Republicans have voiced criticism over the Nebraskan’s views towards Israel.

White House officials also say Barack Obama will pick his counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan as director of the CIA.

Both appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.

The nominations are expected to be formally announced at the White House on Monday afternoon.

Along with Senator John Kerry, whom Barack Obama nominated last month to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Chuck Hagel and John Brennan would help shape the president’s second-term national security agenda.

But analysts say the choice of Chuck Hagel, a 66-year-old decorated Vietnam veteran, could prompt a Senate confirmation battle. Opponents say he is hostile to Israel and soft on Iran.

Chuck Hagel has criticized discussion of a military strike by either the US or Israel against Iran and has advocated including Iran on future peace talks in Afghanistan.

Although no Republican lawmakers are threatening to block Chuck Hagel’s nomination, two influential senators have attacked him.

President Barack Obama is to pick maverick former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as defence secretary later, amid a political backlash over the nomination

President Barack Obama is to pick maverick former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as defence secretary later, amid a political backlash over the nomination

Chuck Hagel made critical remarks against the Israel lobby in the US capital, quoted in a 2008 book by former state department official Aaron David Miller.

“The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” Chuck Hagel was quoted as saying.

“I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.”

Top Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told CNN on Sunday: “This is an in-your-face nomination of the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel.”

US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told NBC there would be “a lot of tough questions” for Chuck Hagel.

But White House officials say Chuck  Hagel’s positions on these issues have been misrepresented, saying he voted to send billions in military assistance to Israel and has supported the imposition of multilateral sanctions on Tehran.

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director, Matt Brooks, said the appointment of Chuck Hagel would be “a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel”.

But the pro-Obama National Jewish Democratic Council adopted a softer tone, saying it trusted that Chuck Hagel would “follow the president’s lead of providing unrivalled support for Israel”.

Chuck Hagel has also been criticized by some Democrats for saying in 1998 that a nominee for an ambassador post was “openly, aggressively gay”. He has since apologized for those comments.

If John Brennan is confirmed to lead the CIA, he will replace General David Petraeus, who resigned last year after admitting to an affair with his biographer.

A CIA veteran, John Brennan is currently Barack Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser. The 57-year-old was heavily involved in the planning of the 2011 raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

Although put forward for the role in 2008, John Brennan withdrew his name amid questions about his connection to interrogation techniques used during the administration of George W. Bush.

“Brennan has the full trust and confidence of the president,” a White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP news agency.

“Over the past four years, he has been involved in virtually all major national security issues and will be able to hit the ground running at CIA.”

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The Pentagon announces it may sue former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonette, who has written a first-hand account of the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The Department of Defense’s top lawyer has informed Matt Bissonette that he has violated agreements not to divulge military secrets.

He signed two non-disclosure forms with the Navy in 2007, the Pentagon said.

The book, No Easy Day, which was written under the pseudonym Mark Owen, is due to be released on September 11.

Matt Bissonette book, No Easy Day, which was written under the pseudonym Mark Owen, is due to be released on September 11

Matt Bissonette book, No Easy Day, which was written under the pseudonym Mark Owen, is due to be released on September 11

It was not reviewed ahead of publication by the Pentagon, CIA or the White House – and officials had warned that criminal charges could result from the improper disclosure of secret information.

The Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeh Johnson, wrote to the author on Thursday that his non-disclosure forms had obliged him to “never divulge” classified information.

The letter said: “In the judgment of the Department of Defense, you are in material breach and violation of the non-disclosure agreements you signed.”

The Pentagon is considering “all remedies legally available to us”, the letter added.

It was reported this week that No Easy Day contradicts the official story of the raid.

The book says Osama bin Laden was shot dead as soon as he looked out of his bedroom as SEAL’s rushed up the stairs, according to the Associated Press news agency, which has seen an advance copy.

But US officials have stated he was shot only after he had ducked back into the bedroom, prompting fears he might be grabbing a weapon.

The book also reveals that the commandos were not big fans of President Barack Obama, even though they applauded his decision to launch the operation.

 

US engineers have created Meshworm, a robot that mimics a worm’s movements – crawling along surfaces by contracting segments of its body.

The technique allows the machine to be made of soft materials so it can squeeze through tight spaces and mould its shape to rough terrain.

It can also absorb heavy blows without sustaining damage.

The Pentagon’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) research unit supported the Meshworm project, suggesting a potential military use.

Work on the machine was carried out by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in the US, and Seoul National University in South Korea.

Details are published in the journal IEEE/ASE Transactions on Mechatronics.

Meshworm is a robot that mimics a worm's movements, crawling along surfaces by contracting segments of its body

Meshworm is a robot that mimics a worm's movements, crawling along surfaces by contracting segments of its body

“[The] soft body, which is essentially compliant, exhibits large strains and enables the robot to traverse small openings and reconstitute shape, and survives from large impact force on falling,” the engineers wrote.

They added that using a worm-like motion helped reduce the noise such machines produce, making them suitable “for reconnaissance purposes”.

Previous attempts to create such a robot have used gears and air-powered or pneumatic pumps. But these added to the bulk of the machines making them less practical for real-world uses.

The DARPA-supported team instead moved their machine by using an “artificial muscle” made out of nickel and titanium wire designed to stretch and contract with heat.

By wrapping this wire around a mesh-like tube the engineers replicated the circular muscle fibres of an earthworm, creating different segments in the process.

When a current was applied to part of the wire it contracted, squeezing the tube.

The team created algorithm to send a contraction wave across each of the machine’s five segments in turn, squeezing the tube and propelling it forward. This mimics the movement of its biological counterpart.

They were able to make the robot move at a rate of about 5 mm per second (0.2 inches/sec).

Two additional “muscles” were added to the sides of the machine to pull it left and right, allowing its direction to be controlled.

The researchers said that the soft nature of the robot’s body allowed it to be subjected to hammer blows and be trod on without sustaining any damage because its shape changed to help absorb the blows.

“You can throw it, and it won’t collapse,” said Sangbae Kim, assistant professor in mechanical engineering at MIT.

“Parts in Meshworms are all fibrous and flexible. The muscles are soft and the body is soft… [and] we’re starting to show some body-morphing capability.”

The Meshworm is just one of several animal-inspired projects being funded by DARPA.

Other examples include a robotic “cheetah” that can run at speeds of 18 mph (29 km/h), a micro-aircraft equipped with a camera that looks like a hummingbird, and AlphaDog – a four-legged robot designed to carry soldiers’ gear.

 

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The Pentagon has issued further safety procedures for F-22, its most advanced fighter jet, after pilots complained of oxygen shortages during flights.

The rules include limiting the distance F-22 planes can travel from airstrips.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta did not rule out grounding the jets again if necessary.

The Air Force banned its F-22s from flying for four months last year to investigate the oxygen-deficit problem, but its cause remains unclear.

The Pentagon has issued further safety procedures for F-22 after pilots complained of oxygen shortages during flights

The Pentagon has issued further safety procedures for F-22 after pilots complained of oxygen shortages during flights

The Air Force has introduced more than a dozen pilot safety rules in the F-22, and says oxygen issues are very rare, but some pilots have refused to fly the aircraft.

The safety precautions announced on Tuesday mean the F-22 will have to abandon long-distance air patrol missions in Alaska, the Pentagon said. The jet has never been used in combat.

Leon Panetta has also asked for a back-up oxygen system to be put into the planes, with the first of these due to be installed in December.

“We haven’t determined the root cause,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

“It could be something connected to the oxygen system.

“It could be other aspects of the aircraft that could contribute to hypoxia-like [oxygen-deprivation] events, whether it’s G-forces, the altitude at which the plane flies.”

Twelve hypoxia-related incidents, including dizzy spells and blackouts, have been reported between April 2008 and January 2011.

There are worries that new F-35 fighter jets, which are being developed by Lockheed Martin, could pose similar problems.

“I think it’s safe to say that everybody in leadership is concerned about this,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

The F-35 will have many of the same features as the F-22, but cannot fly as high or as fast.