Archive for December, 2013

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: FAA Picks Six Test Sites to Integrate Drones into U.S. Airspace

A Good Start

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees private and commercial aircraft operations, has chosen six sites to test the best ways for introducing unmanned aircraft into the crowded National Airspace.


The sites are located in six states: Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Virginia and Texas. The entities – three universities, an aiport and two state governments were all picked for their climate, research facilities and air traffic conditions. “In totality, these six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity and help the FAA meet its UAS research needs,” the FAA said.

Congress has ordered the FAA to develop a program for the safe introduction of commercial unmanned aircraft, usually known as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS – although most people call them drones – into the already crowded National Airspace System by 2015.

Currently only government, industrial and academic UAV operators are allowed to fly them in highly restricted air zones — mostly for research — once they have received a certificate of authorization (COA). The COAs limit when and where they can fly their drones. Hobbyists may fly a small UAS no higher than 300 feet above ground and must always maintain visual contact with the drone. No commercial drone activity is allowed at this time although proponents say they would be useful for monitoring traffic during a mass evacuation, crops and livestock, wild animal migration, forest fires, oil and gas pipelines, Arctic sea ice and emergency response operations.

As we noted in November, the FAA has issued its initial plans, or roadmap, for integrating UAS into U.S. skies, but the process is expected to take 15 years.

UAS supporters worry that the outrage raised by U.S. drone strikes against militants and terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere — that have led to civilian casualties — has made the American public leery of drones flying overhead. There is also concern about privacy and other civil rights being violated by a camera-equipped UAS flown by law enforcement or intelligence agencies. That worry is largely driven by last summer’s revelations of covert cell phone and email meta data gathering by the National Security Agency.

So the Aerospace States Association, the American Civil Liberties Association and other groups have developed suggested guidelines for state laws concerning drones that will protect civil liberties without pulling the plug on an industry with the potential  to create thousands of jobs and add billions of dollars to the national economy.

AUVSI Unmanned Vehicles 2013 conference. (4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

AUVSI Unmanned Vehicles 2013 conference.
(4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

And the companies that provide services ranging from translators to aircraft for humanitarian aid and relief  organizations are exploring how UAS might help them with security and finding refugees or survivors of natural and man-made disasters in undeveloped countries, according to the programs and operations director of the International Stability Operations Association.

December 30, 2013 at 10:41 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (December 27, 2013)

Santa Flight

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marianique Santos

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marianique Santos

Some of Santa’s helpers discus flight plans over the Pacific Ocean during Operation Christmas Drop.

Maj. John Chrampanis, a C-130 Hercules aircraft commander with the 36th Airlift Squadron speaks with Capt. Michael Kelly, a C-130 pilot with the 36th AS. Both pilots are stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

This year marked the 61st anniversary of the holiday mission delivering gifts and supplies to more than 30,000 islanders on Chuuk, Palau, Yap, the Marshall Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Airman for the 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, as well as family members, local volunteers and airmen from the 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota, kicked off the mission December 11. Packages of toys, clothing, fishing equipment, sporting goods, food items, tools and other items were airdropped from C-130 Hercules aircraft to 54 islands.

To see more photos of the holiday mission, click here.


December 27, 2013 at 1:36 am 1 comment

ARCTIC NATION: Santa Citizenship, Canada-Russia Tussle, Greenpeace “Arctic 30,”

Is Santa Canadian?

It was meant as a light-hearted public service message that obtaining a Canadian e-passport is quick and easy – but when Ottawa issued passports to Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus before Christmas, it was also driving home a point about who owns the North Pole.

The Canadian government is exploring ways to legally justify its territorial claims in the Arctic (see post below) which it says includes the waters around the North Pole. That claim – made by the government of conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper – has ruffled Russian feathers (Moscow also claims ownership of the Pole) and certainly gotten the attention of the other countries that make up the Arctic Council: Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United States.

“Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander today presented Santa and Mrs. Claus with the 2,999,999th and 3,000,000th ePassports at a special ceremony in Vaughan, Ontario,” the government announced in a tongue-in-cheek news release – that also claimed the Clauses live at North Pole, Canada – the Toronto Globe and Mail reported December 20.

* * * *

Cold Rush to Cold War?

The “Cold Rush” to lay claim to the Arctic’s rich untapped mineral resources may be shifting to an arms race at the top of the world.

Arctic Circle Nations

Arctic Circle Nations

Canada and Russia could be at the start of an arms race in the Far North after the Canadian government announced December 9 their intentions to extend their territorial claims to include th waters – and the land beneath them – extending to North Pole.

Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, said his government had asked scientists to work on a submission to the United Nations arguing that the outer limits of Canada’s territory include the north pole, which has yet to be claimed by any country, the Guardian reported.

That announcement prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to direct his defense leaders to start building up military force and infrastructure in the Arctic.

The Ottawa’s action and Moscow’s reaction confirms what many observers feared would happen as the global warming trend makes the Arctic and itys vast oil, gas and mineral resources more accessible, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Analysts predicted a “Cold Rush” of nations trying to stake a claim to the riches beneath Arctic waters and flood expected new ice-free sea lanes with cargo, naval and cruise vessels.

* * * *

Greenpeace Protestors Released

Russia has dropped charges against all 30 Greenpeace environmental activists involved in protests against Arctic oil drilling, the group says.

The first of the 30 to be released – Soviet-born Swedish activist Dima Litvinov – crossed the border into Finland after receiving an exit stamp on his passport, ITV reported. Thirteen other protestors – arrested in September and charged with hooliganism for a protest at an offshore Russian oil drilling rig – have also received the exit stamp which allows them to leave Russia. The rest of the so-called “Arctic 30,”” are expected to go through the process Friday (December 27).

The charges were dropped after Russia’s parliament passed an amnesty law that was seen as an attempt by the Kremlin to deflect criticism of its human rights record in advance of the Winter Olympic Games being held in Russia in February, according to the Guardian.

From a train bound for Helsinki, Litvinov said Russia owed him a medal rather than a pardon for his protest work. “The Arctic has still not been saved and there’s a lot to be done” he said.

Defense Dept. photo

Defense Dept. photo

ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the Arctic. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region, where we seek to meet our national security needs, protect the environment, responsibly manage resources, account for indigenous communities, support scientific research, and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”

December 26, 2013 at 11:54 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Mikhail Kalashnikov, John S.D. Eisenhower Obituaries

Rest in Peace

The Russian who designed the most popular automatic weapon ever built and the son of the top U.S. World War II commander in Europe who went on to become a noted military historian have died.


Soviet AK-47, first model variation (Defense Dept. photo)

Soviet AK-47, first model variation
(Defense Dept. photo)

Mikhail Kalashnikov, a Soviet soldier who designed the AK-47 assault rifle — the world’s most popular infantry weapon, died Monday (December 23) at the age of 94.

The AK-47, which stood for “Avtomat Kalashnikov” and the year it went into production is the world’s most popular firearm — favored by guerrillas, terrorists and the soldiers of many armies, according to the Associated Press. An estimated 100 million guns are spread around the world. It fires over 700 rounds a minute.

The weapon’s suitability for jungle and desert fighting made it nearly ideal for the Third World insurgents backed by the Soviet Union, and Moscow not only distributed the AK-47 widely but also licensed its production in some 30 other countries, the AP said.

Kalashnikov started out as a sergeant in the Red Army during World War II and rose to become a lieutenant (three star) general. His role in the rifle’s creation carried him from conscription to senior positions in the Soviet arms-manufacturing bureaucracy and ultimately to six terms on the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Union’s legislative body, according to the New York Times.

* * * * *


John S.D. Eisenhower in 1990. (Defense Dept. photo)

John S.D. Eisenhower in 1990.
(Defense Dept. photo)

John S.D. Eisenhower, the son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower — who went on to his own distinguished career as an Army officer and military historian, died Saturday at his home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He was 91.

The younger Eisenhower graduated from West Point on June 6, 1944, the same day as the Allied invasion of France — commanded by his father, who was supreme allied commander in Europe. John Eisenhower went on to intelligence and staff jobs in Europe during the war. Various commanders feared young Eisenhower’s combat death or capture would have a negative effect his father’s command decisions, so the son was not allowed in combat, the New York Times reported.

But in 1952, John Eisenhower saw combat at the beginning of a year-long tour in Korea. He retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1963 and rose to brigadier general in the Army Reserves.

Eisenhower wrote military histories of the Mexican-American War, “So Far From God,” the Battle of the Bulge “The Bitter Woods,” World War I and World War II: “Yanks: The Epic Story of the U.S. Army in World War I,” “Allies: Pearl Harbor to D-Day,” as well as several works with, or about, his father including: “General Ike: A Personal Reminiscence.”

December 24, 2013 at 12:50 am 1 comment

SHAKO: At War, at Christmas in the Movies [UPDATED]

No, this isn’t about the war on Christmas. Veteran 4GWAR readers may remember we posted a similar list last year. We have expanded it with two movies we forgot last year — and two others we haven’t yet seen but were cited by others. We look forward to any comments, criticisms or suggestions about future listees. Enjoy, discuss and Happy Holidays.

Jingle bells, mortar shells, bullets all the way

Already gotten your fill of warm and fuzzy Holiday movies from Miracle on 34th Street to the numerous versions of A Christmas Carol (including the one starring Mister Magoo)? If so, you might want to check out one of the 10 films listed below. They are not Christmas movies per se, but they all take place during the holidays in wartime. Christmas is not the focus in any of the plots but it plays a significant role in all of them.

STALAG 17, Robert Strauss, William Holden, Harvey Lembeck, 1953

1. Stalag 17 (Paramount, 1953 black and white) — Hundreds of escape-minded U.S. Army sergeants find themselves confined behind barbed wire in a German POW camp during Christmas 1944. A comedy-drama deftly directed by Bill Wilder that won William Holden a best actor Oscar.

2. Battleground (MGM, 1949, black and white) — The “Battered Bastards of Bastogne” are encircled during the German breakthrough at the Battle of the Bulge. In one touching vignette, Leon Ames, as a Lutheran chaplain, gives a moving, ecumenical sermon on Christmas Day 1944.

Movies-Lion in Winter2

3. The Lion in Winter (MGM, 1968, color) — King Henry II of England gathers his patricide-plotting sons and banished wife Eleanor for the Yuletide at the castle of Chinon in Medieval France. The film opens with a clash of broadswords and nearly ends with a scramble for daggers. Katherine Hepburn won her third best actress Oscar for her portrayal of scheming Queen Eleanor.

4. Castle Keep (Filmways Pictures, 1969, color) — Another war film set at Christmastime during the Battle of the Bulge. In this offbeat and downbeat picture, Burt Lancaster plays an eyepatch-wearing major in command of a band of dilettantes, goldbricks and head cases holed up for the holidays in a Medieval castle in the Ardennes Forest.

Movies-The Crossing3

5. The Crossing (A&E Television Networks, 2000, color) — To save the faltering Revolution, General George Washington crosses the frozen Delaware River Dec. 26, 1776 to attack a regiment of Hessian mercenaries  who made too merry the night before.

6. A Midnight Clear (A&M Films, 1992, color) — Still another Battle of the Bulge story. This time about a squad of U.S. soldiers who encounter a German unit of old men and boys who want to forget the war — at least for Christmas.

Battle of Bulge

7. Battle of the Bulge (Warner Brothers, 1965, color) — Another movie about the Battle of the Ardennes Forest. Henry Fonda plays a mid-level Army intelligence officer trying to convince his superiors that the Germans are up to something big. But the brass, convinced the war is nearly won, are focusing on holiday preparations.

8. White Christmas (20th Century Fox, 1954, color) — We know this is already a popular Christmas movie but it does start on a Word War II European battlefield during Christmas and ends with an Army Division reunion at — wait for it — Christmastime.

* * * * *

Joyeux Noel

And here are two films that have been recommended, but we haven’t seen yet.

9. Joyeux Noel (SONY Pictures Classics/Nord-Ouest Productions/ Senator Film Produktion, 2005, color) — The brief unauthorized Christmas Eve truce on the Western Front during the first year of World War I.

10. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Universal/Recorded Picture Company/National Film Trustees/Oshima Productions, 1983, color) — Another World War II prisoner-of-war movie. In this one the camp is run by the Japanese and the POWs are mostly British.

If you have a favorite film that’s not on this list — but meets the criteria of Christmas in wartime –  send us an email to or add a comment below.

Thanks, Happy Holidays and please stay safe!

Your 4GWAR Editor

SHAKOSHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

December 23, 2013 at 11:39 pm 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO (December 20, 2013)

Risky Business

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Billy Ho)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Billy Ho)

Even in the era of cyber warfare and robots, some jobs still have to be done the old fashioned way.

Three U.S. sailors — Seaman Recruit Thomas Hyatt, left, Seaman Apprentice Leonard Shepard, center, and Seaman Recruit Benjamin Nunez — perform preservation work on the anchor of guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey while the ship was moored earlier this month in Souda Bay, Greece. The ship is now in Malta.

We wonder what’s more difficult, reaching up and trying to scrape and paint in a bobbing boat, or trying to forget that enormous mass of metal hanging above your very small, bobbing boat.

… and here’s what the whole ship looks like. For comparison’s sake, note the hoisted anchor — to the right of the number 61 on the bow. Click on the photo to enlarge the image.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Billy Ho

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Billy Ho

December 20, 2013 at 1:19 am Leave a comment

AFRICA: What to Do About the Sahel UPDATE

Security First

Updates with U.S. terrorist organization designation for al-Mulathamun Battalion; background on UN concerns; quote from Garvelink and background on Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Africa’s vast Sahel region – on the southern edges of the Sahara Desert – has become the object of heightening international concern because of repeated droughts, political turmoil and violence. Many Western observers fear that the windswept region is becoming a breeding ground for disaffected Islamist extremists and terrorists spreading that violence across the continent — and possibly to Europe.

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday (December 18) named the al Mulathamun Battalion, a former al Qaeda-affiliated group operating in the Sahel, as a foreign terrorist organization. The group, once part of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), became a separate organization in late 2012 after its leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, split with AQIM.

The Sahel Region. (Wikipedia)

The Sahel Region. (Wikipedia)

A United Nations official says 16 million people in the Sahel are at risk of hunger in 2014 due to conflicts and rapid population growth — despite recent good harvests and rainfall, according to a Reuters report.

And U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that terrorism, trafficking in arms, drugs and people and other forms of transnational organized crime threaten security in the border region south of the Sahara. Because of the region’s vast size and porous borders, the security challenges can be addressed successfully “only if the countries in the region work together,” Ban told a U.N. Security Council meeting Dec. 12 on the Sahel situation.

Key to meeting those challenges is economic development and medical assistance, according to most of the panelists at a discussion Wednesday night on the troubled North African region at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank

A 2012 drought across the 10-nation region left 11 million people in danger from what the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls food insecurity: They have used up their food stocks and are facing high food prices while awaiting the next harvest.

But violence in the area is on the increase, endangering outside aid workers trying to alleviate the crisis. “Never before has the intensity of conflict been so great,” said Santiago Martinez-Caro, general director of Casa Africa, the Spanish government’s diplomatic and economic outreach organization with Africa, where Spain once had colonies.

As the region’s economy continues to falter “the piracy issue is going to grow,” Martinez-Caro said, eventually sparking a multi-national military response like the one around the Horn of Africa on the continent’s eastern coast.

The people of the region are tough and resilient nomads, said journalist and film maker Donovan Webster. “All they need is water, education and some medical help,” he said, adding that clean water from newly dug wells has cut down on disease and migration.

Photo courtesy of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Photo courtesy of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

But security remains a crucial issue for international organizations trying to assist victims of hunger, bad water and health problems, said Vivian Lowery Derryck, former assistant administrator for Africa at the U.S. International Development Agency (USAID).

“I think we can use development issues to promote peace,” said Lowery Derryck, who now heads The Bridges Institute. She noted that civil society – representing all aspects of a society – from the extended family to the state – can be a political catalyst to change governments without resorting to rebellions or military coups.

But the military can play an important role – positive or negative – when it comes to change, she added. She noted a number of factors can affect the actions of a soldier: mission, doctrine, religious considerations and respect from the civilian population. “Is he going to get paid?” Lowery Derryck asked, adding that if the soldier isn’t getting paid, he was likely to join AQIM, which does have money.

William Garvelink, former U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noted that the U.S. government has closed most of its diplomatic missions in the Sahel, where institutions are weak and many governments are corrupt. A mediator in many of the region’s disputes — former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, “is gone,” he added — killed in a revolt that has released a flood of small arms and other weapons.  Garvelink now is senior adviser for global strategy at the International Medical Corps.

After the split with AQIM, Mokhtar Belmokhtar merged al Mulathamun Battalion with another violent group: Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, according to the State Department. The new group, al Murabitoun, “constitutes the greatest near-term threat to U.S. and Western interests in the Sahel,” the State Department said.

The one-eyed Belmokhtar was the mastermind behind a January attack on a gas facility in Algeria that left left 38 civilians dead, including three U.S. citizens, according to the New York Times.

December 19, 2013 at 12:49 am 1 comment

TECHNOLOGY: Google Buying “Big Dog” Robot-Maker

Another Google Aquisition

If you still needed an indication that robotics in all its shapes is the wave of the future, here it is: Google has acquired robot-maker Boston Dynamics.

The New York Times has confirmed that the California Internet giant has acquired the Waltham, Massachusetts-based robotics engineering firm for an unspecified amount.

Big Dog (Photo courtesy Boston Dynamics)

Big Dog
(Photo courtesy Boston Dynamics)

Boston Dynamics has developed for the Defense Department a number of robots with the uncanny ability to walk and run like humans or animals including the cool or creepy – depending on your point of view – “Big Dog,” a prototype for a robotic pack mule that can carry up to 340 pounds – even up and down steep hills and icy, snowy trails.

The idea is take some of the equipment-carrying burden off footsoldiers in the field. Between body armor, electronic gizmos, batteries, weapons and ammo, some soldiers are carrying more than 100 pounds of stuff.

You can see a video of the Big Dog and othjer Boston Dynamics ‘bots in action (along with an annoying music track) by clicking here. Or you can just view them individually on the Times website.

Google has been on a bit of a robotics technology-buying spree lately. Boston Dynamics is the eighth such company Google has acquired.

December 14, 2013 at 4:25 pm 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO (December 13, 2013)

Black Hawk, Blue Mountain

U.S. Army photo by Capt. Peter Smedberg

U.S. Army photo by Capt. Peter Smedberg

A 10th Combat Aviation Brigade UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter makes its way through a snow-dusted mountain pass in Paktya Province in eastern Afghanistan. (Click on photo to enlarge image)

Members of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force Falcon, were flying the Black Hawk on a personnel movement mission November 28, 2013.

The 10th CAB, part of the 10th Mountain Division, has played a key role in war and peace including Hurricane Andrew relief in Florida, operations in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

To see more photos of the Black Hawks and their crews in the 10th CAB, click here.

December 13, 2013 at 1:02 am 1 comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: Cultural Awareness Then and Now

Of Monuments and Partners

TAMPA – “The Monuments Men,” the 2009 book on which the upcoming George Clooney-Matt Damon motion picture is based, highlights a little-known aspect of World War II.

Rouen Cathedral damaged by bombing in 1944 (Photo Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration -- via Robert Edsel's Blog)

Rouen Cathedral damaged by bombing in 1944 (National Archives and Records Administration photo — via Robert Edsel’s Blog)

The U.S. and British armies sent a small band of art hisorians, museum directors, conservationists and other art experts to Continental Europe in 1944 to prevent the destruction of monuments and other artifacts representing thousands of years of Western culture.

We don’t know if the movie will be entertaining, but the book is fascinating. Your 4GWAR editor is reading it during off-hours while attending the Special Operations Summit in Florida sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).

It occurs to us that the reasoning behind the original Monument Men’s mission parallels much of what we’re hearing here in Tampa from officials representing Special Operations Command, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Defense University and the Naval Post Graduate School.

In short, war – whether conventional or irregular – is more than just neutralizing the enemy to achieve political and military objectives. Culture and place and community have to be kept in mind.

Special Operations Forces leadership has been saying for a while now that they have to adopt a policy of partnering with friendly nations and letting them do more of the heavy lifting – after training and equipping – in their own internal defense.

Speaker after speaker here discussed the need for intelligence about a place and its people as much as the best way to deter guerrillas, short-circuit insurgencies or eliminate terrorists by kinetic means. In the future, U.S. Government officials in the field – civilian as well as military – will have to strike partnerships with local militaries, leaders and communities to have any hope of success. U.S. Special Operations missions in Colombia and the Philippines were cited as true success stories.

Colombian marines board a U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicle in Peru during Partnership of the America's Southern Exchange 2010 exercise. (USMC Photo by Lance Cpl. Ammon W. Carter)

Colombian marines board a U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicle in Peru during Partnership of the Americas’ Southern Exchange 2010 exercise. (USMC Photo by Lance Cpl. Ammon W. Carter)

In “The Monument Men,” there’s a stark contrast between the Germans and the Allies. While Hitler’s retreating armies were looting France, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands of their art treasures, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, issued an order a week before D-Day that said in part:

Shortly we will be fighting our way across the continent of Europe, in battles designed to preserve our civilization. Inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve.

It is the responsibility of every commander to protect and respect these symbols wherever possible.”

Ike went on to say that in some cases – like the destruction of the monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy – necessity dictates that the lives of Allied troops come before “some honored site.” But in other circumstances damage and destruction “are not necessary and cannot be justified,” the order noted.

It’s remarkable to think that in the midst of the biggest war in human history, the good guys – at least some of them – were thinking about the big picture … Asking what good would it do to liberate Europe if you wrecked it and destroyed the national identity of the people living there.

It just goes to show that good ideas often have a history.

4GWAR will have more on the conference – which had a surprisingly large turn-out for these budget-constrained times – in the coming days.

December 12, 2013 at 7:27 pm 4 comments

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