According to journalist Brendan Nicholson in The Age, the US Air Force is scheduled to practise bombing on a gunnery range in the Northern Territory, using B-1 and B-2 stealth bombers and B-52 heavy bomber aircraft. The Jindalee over-the-horizon radar system (Jindalee Operational Radar Network or JORN) is also to be tested during the exercise to see how well it performs detecting steath bomber aircraft.
Unfortunately, Nicholson fails to ask some important questions about this cooperative military exercise.
* Will the USAF be testing munitions containing depleted uranium (DU)? If so, how will they clean up the radioactive debris?
* Nicholson writes, “This week’s exercise will also give Australia the opportunity to see how effectively its revolutionary Jindalee over-the-horizon radar (JORN) system picks up stealth aircraft.” JORN has been known for some time to be flawed and massively over-budget. There was a big scandal in the media about this some years ago. Why did Nicholson refer to the radar system as “revolutionary” without questioning the known problems with JORN?
Despite having some of the largest antennas ever constructed, JORN goes blind at certain times of day, particularly in pre-dawn hours. This insensitivity is most likely related to normal changes in radio wave reflectivity characteristics in the ionosphere, which occur every day. The ionosphere is more or less reflective of radio signals depending upon whether it is exposed to solar radiation at the time. At night, longer wavelengths repeatedly bounce off the ionosphere and back to the surface of the earth, travelling thousands of kilometres before the signals diminish in strength below the level of usability. In the daytime, long waves travel straight through the ionosphere into space. This is why you can often hear distant stations on AM broadcast radio late at night but not during the daytime. If JORN has blindness problems just before sunrise, most likely to the east of the radar, it will also have problems seeing to the west just after sunset.
JORN was the subject of a Channel Nine Sunday story on huge military cost overruns back in 1997. The project was awarded to the UK’s GEC Marconi and Telstra, depsite the fact that neither Marconi nor Telstra had any expertise in over-the-horizon radar systems. Telstra is reported to have written down up to $1.2 billion in losses related to their participation in the project.
The US military uses depleted uranium (DU) both in armour plating in tanks and in armour-piercing munitions due to the extreme hardness and density of the material. The World Health Orgaisation describes the hazards of human exposure to DU, particularly in cases where the material has been fragmented or pulverised, as might happen in discharge of DU munitions or in a crash of an aircraft carrying the material. Inhalation of radioactive dust (from any source) can cause a much higher than normal incidence of lung cancers in particular. The ‘Poison DUst‘ project describes these hazards as well as contamination of Iraqi cities which have come under fire by the US military. See also the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU).
The Australian Defence Forces should be more forthcoming about effects on public health related to the use of DU in live-fire military exercises in Australia. A bit of realism from the Defence Department regarding the billions dumped into the flawed JORN system would be nice, too. Not going to hold my breath while I’m waiting for such clarity from the Government, but journalists at least should be poking them with some harder questions on these topics.
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