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US in hypersonic weapon ‘arms race’ with China: Air Force secretary

The United States and China are engaged in an arms race to develop the most lethal hypersonic weapons, the US Air Force secretary said on Tuesday, as Beijing and Washington build and test more and more of the high-speed next-generation arms.

“There is an arms race, not necessarily for increased numbers, but for increased quality,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told Reuters during an interview in his Pentagon offices. “It’s an arms race that has been going on for quite some time. The Chinese have been at it very aggressively.”

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In October, the top US military officer, General Mark Milley, confirmed a Chinese hypersonic weapons test that military experts say appears to show Beijing’s pursuit of an Earth-orbiting system designed to evade American missile defenses.

This year the Pentagon has held several hypersonic weapons tests with mixed success. In October, the Navy successfully tested a booster rocket motor that would be used to power a launch vehicle carrying a hypersonic weapon aloft.

Hypersonic weapons travel in the upper atmosphere at speeds of more than five times the speed of sound, or about 6,200 kilometers (3,853 miles) per hour.

Kendall noted that while the US military has focused funds on Iraq and Afghanistan, it has taken its eye off the ball in terms of hypersonic weapons. “This isn’t saying we’ve done nothing, but we haven’t done enough,” he said.

As the Pentagon enters the 2023 annual budget cycle, Kendall hopes to raise funds with the retirement of older and expensive-to-maintain systems in favor of new systems, including hypersonic development programs.

“I love the A-10. The C-130 is a great aircraft that’s been very capable and very effective for a lot of missions. The MQ-9s have been very effective for counterterrorism and so on. They’re still useful, but none of these things scare China,” Kendall said, referring to a more than 40-year-old combat aircraft, a plane for carrying cargo, and widely used drones, respectively.

Defense contractors hope to capitalize on the shift to hypersonic weapons not only by building them, but also by developing new detection and defeat mechanisms.

Arms makers Lockheed Martin Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp have all touted their hypersonic weapons programs to investors as world focus shifted to the new arms race for an emerging class of weapon.

Still, the Pentagon wants defense contractors to cut the ultimate cost of hypersonic weapons, the head of research and development has said, as the next generation of super-fast missiles being developed currently costs tens of millions per unit.

Read more: US taps Raytheon, Lockheed and Northrop for hypersonic defense

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South Africa records two imported cholera cases


South Africa has recorded two confirmed imported cases of cholera, the health department said on Sunday, as it called for vigilance.

The cases were of sisters who had in January travelled to Malawi, where a cholera outbreak since last year has claimed more than 1,000 lives as of January, the highest on record in the country.

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“Both patients had developed symptoms on their return to Johannesburg,” the health department said in a statement.

“A close contact (household family member) of one of the patients was admitted to hospital on 4 February with diarrhea and dehydration, and is considered a possible case,” it said, adding laboratory test results were pending.

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae and can be deadly if left untreated. It is mainly spread by contaminated food and water.

Cholera is not endemic in South Africa, the health department said. The last outbreak in the country was in 2008/2009 when about 12,000 cases were reported following an outbreak in neighboring Zimbabwe which led to a surge of imported cases and subsequent local transmission.

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Iran ex-President Khatami, former PM Mousavi call for political change amid protests


Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami and former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi have both called for political changes amid the protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

As the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution approaches, one of the country’s main opposition figures, Mousavi, called on Saturday for the “fundamental transformation” of a political system he said was facing a crisis of legitimacy.

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And on Sunday, Khatami, the leader of the reformist movement, in a statement said: “What is evident today is widespread discontent.”

Khatami said he hoped that the use of “non-violent civil methods” can “force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms.”

In a statement carried by local media, Mousavi said: “Iran and Iranians need and are ready for a fundamental transformation whose outline is drawn by the pure ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement.”

He was referring to the main slogan chanted in demonstrations sparked by the death on September 16 of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd.

She had been arrested by the morality police in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic Republic’s dress code for women.

Mousavi, 80, said the protest movement began in the context of “interdependent crises” and proposed holding a “free and healthy referendum on the need to change or draft a new constitution.”

He called the current system’s structure “unsustainable.”

An unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2009, Mousavi alleged large-scale fraud in favor of populist incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leading to mass protests.

He has been under house arrest without charge in Tehran for 12 years, along with his wife Zahra Rahnavard.

A close confidant of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini, Mousavi was prime minister from 1981 to 1989.

“People have the right to make fundamental revisions in order to overcome crises and pave the way for freedom, justice, democracy and development,” Mousavi said in his statement.

“The refusal to take the smallest step towards realizing the rights of citizens as defined in the constitution… has discouraged the community from carrying out reforms.”

Khatami, 79, made similar remarks, warning that “there is no sign of the ruling system’s desire for reform and avoiding the mistakes of the past and present.”

President from 1997 to 2005 before being forced into silence, Khatami said he regretted that Iran’s population was “disappointed with Reformism as well as with the ruling system.”

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World

Audit underway after corruption scandals in Ukraine: Defense minister


Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Sunday that an audit of procurement contracts was underway after corruption scandals but declined to confirm reports that he could soon be forced to resign.

“We have started an internal audit” of all procurement contracts, Reznikov told reporters, but declined to say if he would stay on as defense minister.

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“It is one person — the commander-in-chief, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — who decides whether I will be defense minister or not,” he said.

“My specialization as a lawyer allows me to think optimistically that I will definitely find an interesting project for myself that will allow us not only to win the war, but also to punish the military and political leadership of the Russian Federation later,” he added.

The Ukrainska Pravda news website, citing unidentified sources, reported that Reznikov, 56, could next week be replaced by Kyrylo Budanov, the 37-year-old head of military intelligence.

Reznikov, who studied law, might be appointed justice minister, Ukrainska Pravda said.

One of the best-known faces of Ukraine’s war effort, Reznikov was appointed defense minister in November 2021 and has been overseeing the armed forces throughout Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24 last year.

He has also helped secure Western weapons to buttress Ukrainian forces.

But his ministry has lately been beset by corruption scandals, and defense officials were among a dozen figures forced to resign last month in the biggest political shakeup in Ukraine since the launch of Moscow’s assault.

Reznikov’s deputy Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who worked on providing logistical support for the army, resigned after the defense ministry was accused of signing food contracts at prices two to three times higher than current rates for basic foodstuffs.

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