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US military’s mysterious X-37B space drone due to land this week

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The US military’s mysterious robot space plane is expected to land this week after a 22-month orbit, officials said Tuesday, but the craft’s mission remains shrouded in secrecy.

The unmanned X-37B, which looks like a miniature space shuttle, is due to glide back to Earth after having launched on December 11, 2012, on a mission that military officers say is strictly top secret.

“Preparations for the third landing of the X-37B are underway at Vandenberg Air Force Base” in California, said a US Air Force spokesman, Captain Chris Hoyler.

“The exact landing date and time will depend on technical and weather considerations,” Hoyler said.

A defense official said that the space plane will likely touch down sometime this week and that future missions would seek to extend the vehicle’s technical capabilities and time in orbit.

But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to discuss exactly what the space plane carries or what its purpose is.

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“The specific parameters are unreleasable,” the official said.

Analysts say the X-37B could be a platform for spying from space, including possibly snooping on other countries’ satellites.

But officials have previously denied the project had anything to do with creating a “space weapon” that could knock down other satellites.

The Air Force says the X-37B can test technology for “reusable” spacecraft and conduct unspecified experiments that can be studied on Earth.

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The latest mission was the third and the longest so far for the vehicle. An initial flight launched in 2010 lasted about eight months and a second flight had the spacecraft in orbit for more than 15 months.

The X-37B, manufactured by aerospace giant Boeing, weighs five tonnes and measures about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long, with a wing span of roughly 15 feet across.

Traveling at speeds 25 times faster than the speed of sound, the vehicle is launched into space on the back of a rocket and, once its mission is complete, returns from orbit like a plane.

But, unlike NASA’s civilian shuttle, it has two stabilizers in the rear instead of one, forming a “V” shape.

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Bolton says Iran silence on US talks offer ‘deafening’

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US National Security Advisor John Bolton on Tuesday described as "deafening" Iran's apparent silence on an offer to negotiate with Washington.

"The president has held the door open to real negotiations," Bolton told journalists in Jerusalem.

"In response, Iran's silence has been deafening," he added.

Bolton is in Jerusalem for what Israel described as unprecedented talks with his Russian and Israeli counterparts, along with meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking alongside the US advisor, Netanyahu said there was "a wider basis for cooperation between the three of us than many believe."

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Iran air defence missiles must be taken seriously: experts

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The shooting down last week of a sophisticated US drone by an Iranian missile demonstrates that Tehran's air defence capabilities can pose a challenge to US air superiority, experts say.

The Global Hawk, an advanced US navy surveillance drone, was flying at high altitude -- it can reach 60,000 feet (18 kilometers) -- early Friday local time when it was struck by a ground-to-air missile by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.

"The shooting down of the drone shows Iran is revealing a capability and choosing to message it to the United States," said Becca Wasser, an analyst at Rand Corp.

"The fact that Iran was able to shoot down the drone demonstrates that they have developed or purchased fairly significant capabilities and are skilled at employing these systems."

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Trump considering withdrawal from 68-year-old treaty with Japan: report

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President Donald Trump has been privately talking about withdrawing from the postwar defense treaty with Japan, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Trump is telling confidants the treaty is unfair to the U.S. because it promises to help if Japan was ever attacked, but doesn't require Japan to come to America's defense, the sources told Bloomberg.

So far, the president hasn't taken any step toward pulling out of the treaty, which was signed in 1951, and administration officials insist that move would be highly unlikely.

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