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U.S. Air Force gives U-2 spy plane another lease on life

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WASHINGTON — The aging U-2 spy plane of Cold War fame has avoided retirement and will stay in the air until 2025, the Air Force said Monday, because the costly drone due to replace it turned out to be less effective.

As part of cost-saving measures announced by the Pentagon, officials concluded the U-2 jet — which dates back to the 1950s — provided better value than a version of the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, which had been scheduled to take the U-2’s place by 2015.

Both aircraft fly at high altitude for surveillance flights over Afghanistan and elsewhere, retrieving pictures and eavesdropping. But the U-2’s sensors produce much higher quality imagery than the Global Hawk’s equipment, Air Force General Larry Spencer told reporters

Spencer said “it would be cost-prohibitive to try to get the Global Hawk as capable as the U-2.”

In its budget request for fiscal year 2013, the Pentagon said it would cancel the purchase of 18 of the “Block 30” models of the Global Hawk and proposed “to extend U-2 operations until FY 2025.”

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“The Global Hawk Block 30 initially held a lot of promise. It was going to replace the U-2 and we thought we could do so at a cheaper price. It was no longer the case and it became too expensive,” Spencer said.

Advocates of the Global Hawk had argued the drone could fly much longer missions than the piloted U-2 jets, which cannot stay in the air beyond about 12 hours.

The long, sleek U-2 jets with narrow wings were designed to spot Soviet nuclear missiles and in 1960, the plane was at the center of an international crisis after American pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down as he flew a U-2 over Soviet territory.

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In 1962, it was a U-2 plane that took the famous photographs of Soviet weaponry that triggered the Cuban missile crisis.

The U-2 has remained an important spy plane for the American fleet in the decades since, earning a new lease on life in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with commanders keen to use its high-resolution photographs and eavesdropping to track down insurgents and roadside bombs.


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‘Clear and present racism’: MSNBC’s Morning Joe and Mika say Kellyanne Conway should have been ‘fired on the spot’ for slurring reporter

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MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were astonished by Kellyanne Conway's response to a reporter asking about President Donald Trump's racist attacks on four first-year lawmakers.

The White House senior adviser asked Breakfast Media White House correspondent Andrew Feinberg, who is Jewish, about his ethnicity after he asked Conway what countries Trump was telling the Democratic congresswomen to return.

"I won't draw any parallels with any fascist countries, but what happened yesterday in a press gaggle has nothing to do with the United States of America," Scarborough said, "and in any other administration over the past 240 years, a person that did what Kellyanne Conway did yesterday would have been fired on the spot. By the time she left the press gaggle and went back into the White House, they would have already packed up her belongings and would have told her leave by the back door and never talk to us again."

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Elon Musk shows off progress on brain-machine interface

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Futurist entrepreneur Elon Musk late Tuesday revealed his secretive Neuralink startup is making progress on an interface linking brains with computers, and said they hope to begin testing on people next year.

Musk has long contended that a neural lace meshing minds with machines is vital if people are going to avoid being so outpaced by artificial intelligence that, under the best of circumstances, humans would be akin to "house cats."

Musk and members of the Neuralink team laid out progress they have made on their mission at an event held in San Francisco to recruit talent in software, robotics, neuroscience and more.

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2020 Election

Two Texas Republicans in Congress were outraised as national Democratic offensive kicks off in Texas

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Two potentially vulnerable Texas Republicans in Congress were outraised — and a few others saw seriously funded challengers — as the first major fundraising deadline passed in a cycle where national Democrats have built an expansive battlefield here, targeting six seats.

In the second quarter, Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, fell short of Democratic challenger Sri Preston Kulkarni, $378,000 to $421,000. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, raised less than Democratic opponent Kim Olson, $225,000 to $279,000, before making a large loan to his campaign. And a few other GOP incumbents posted strong numbers — but so did Democrats running to unseat them, in a couple cases outpacing the officeholders after they entered the race mid-fundraising cycle.

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