11 critical questions about the coronavirus that remain unanswered, 6 months after the first cases were reported - We Are The Mighty
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11 critical questions about the coronavirus that remain unanswered, 6 months after the first cases were reported

In the realm of medicine, what you don’t know can indeed kill you.

Six months have passed since China reported the first coronavirus cases to the World Health Organization. But even now, what experts are still trying to understand sometimes seems to outweigh what they can say for certain.


That is little surprise to any infectious-disease researcher: Highly contagious diseases can move through communities much more quickly than the methodical pace of science can produce vital answers.

What we do know is that the coronavirus seems to have emerged in China as early as mid-November and has now reached 188 countries, infected more than 10.4 million people, and killed around 510,000. Population-level studies using new testing could boost case numbers about 10-fold in the US and perhaps elsewhere as well.

As hospitals around the world care for COVID-19 patients with blood clots, strokes, and long-lasting respiratory failure, scientists are racing to study the coronavirus, spread life-saving information, and combat dangerous misunderstandings.

Here are 11 of the biggest questions surrounding the coronavirus and COVID-19, and why answering each one is critically important.

How did the new coronavirus get into people?

The first coronavirus infections was thought to have emerged in a wet market in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province. But newer research suggests the market may simply have been a major spreading site.

Researchers are fairly certain that the virus — a spiky ball roughly the size of a smoke particle — developed in bats. Lab tests show that it shares roughly 80% of its 30,000-letter genome with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), a virus that also came from bats and triggered an epidemic in 2002 and 2003. It also shares about 96% of its genome with other coronaviruses in bats.

Mounting evidence continues to undercut the conspiracy theory that the virus came from a Chinese laboratory.

Still, researchers still aren’t sure how the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans. In the case of SARS, the weasel-like civet became an intermediate animal host. Researchers have suggested that civets, pigs, snakes, or possibly pangolins — scaly nocturnal mammals often poached for the keratin in their scales — were an intermediary host for the new coronavirus. But it could also be that the virus jumped straight from bats to humans.

A May study suggested that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus’ clinical name) may be a hybrid of bat and pangolin viruses.

Why it matters: Understanding how novel zoonotic diseases evolve and spread could lead to improved tracing of and treatments for new emerging diseases.

How many people have actually gotten COVID-19?

Global tallies of cases, deaths, recoveries, and active infections reflect only the confirmed numbers — researchers suspect the actual number of cases is far, far larger.

For every person who tests positive for the novel coronavirus, there may be about 10 undetected cases. This is because testing capacity lags behind the pace of the disease, and many governments, including in the US, failed to implement widespread testing early on.

New estimates from MIT suggest the world had already seen 249 million coronavirus cases and 1.75 million deaths by June 18. That would make the global case total 12 times higher than official reports, and the global death toll 1.5 times higher.

Other similar research estimated that the US alone may have seen 8.7 million coronavirus cases from March 8 to 28. US researchers also suggested in May that the nation’s official death count may “substantially understate” the actual number of coronavirus fatalities.

Meanwhile, Italian studies suggest that Italy’s coronavirus deaths could be twice as high as the official tally.

Why it matters: An accurate assessment is critical in helping researchers better understand the coronavirus’ spread, COVID-19’s mortality rate, the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers, and other factors. It would also give scientists a more accurate picture of the effects of social distancing, lockdowns, contact tracing, and quarantining.

What makes the coronavirus so good at spreading?

Viruses are small, streamlined particles that have evolved to make many, many copies of themselves by hijacking living cells of a host.

The measurement of a virus’ ability to spread from one person to another is called R0, or R-naught. The higher the value, the greater the contagiousness — though it varies by region and setting. The novel coronavirus’ average R0 is roughly 2.2, meaning one infected person, on average, spreads it to 2.2 people. But it had a whopping R0 of 5.7 in some densely populated regions early in the pandemic.

The seasonal flu, by contrast, has an R0 of about 1.3.

A person’s ability to transmit the virus depends partly on their viral load: the amount of virus particles they release into the environment. Coronavirus patients tend to have high viral loads in the throat, nasal cavity, and upper respiratory tract, which makes the virus highly contagious. Research indicates that there’s little difference in the viral loads between coronavirus patients who show symptoms and those who don’t.

Coughing — a signature symptom of COVID-19 — helps spread viruses in tiny droplets, especially in confined spaces. But the virus can also spread through singing, normal breathing, or even loud conversation.

Just one minute of loud speech can produce over 1,000 coronavirus-containing droplets that linger in the air for eight minutes or longer, according to research from the National Institutes of Health. Studies have shown that just a few hundred copies of a respiratory virus are enough to infect another person.

There’s also evidence the virus may be spread by feces, but that seems to pose less of a transmission threat.

Why it matters: Knowing how a virus gets around can help everyone better prevent its spread. Getting a handle on its behavior may also spur governments to act sooner to contain future outbreaks of this or other similar diseases.

What drives mortality in people infected by the coronavirus?

Studies have outlined a step-by-step path for how the coronavirus kills patients.

First, the virus’ spiky proteins latch onto cell receptors in the lungs called ACE2. Our immune system then senses a threat and responds by activating white blood cells. Among patients who develop severe outcomes, immune systems can overreact by producing a “cytokine storm” — a release of chemical signals that instruct the body to attack its own cells.

The reaction may cause milder coronavirus symptoms like fever, fatigue, muscle aches, or swollen toes. But it can also lead to severe symptoms including blood clots, excessive leaking in the blood vessels, fluid in the lungs, depleted oxygen in the blood, and low blood pressure.

Doctors have linked blood clots to the increased prevalence of strokes among coronavirus patients. An aggressive immune response can also damage the heart, kidneys, intestines, and liver. But most coronavirus deaths are due to respiratory failure, meaning the lungs aren’t supplying enough oxygen to the blood.

The pattern of critical cases is alarming to clinicians, and something they’re still trying to grasp: It’s not just people with apparent risk factors like smoking and chronic illnesses who get severely ill — it’s also some young and seemingly healthy people.

Why it matters: Understanding how the coronavirus does so much harm could lead to more effective treatments in hospitals and make for promising drug targets.

What percent of people infected by the coronavirus die?

Death rates for COVID-19 are not one-size-fits-all. Many factors are at work.

Age is a big one. Older people are more likely to die as a result of lung failure, strokes, heart attacks, and other problems triggered by coronavirus infections, while younger individuals are much less likely to do so. However, people of all ages, including children, have experienced severe symptoms and sometimes death.

Government action matters greatly, too. In places that did not respond forcefully and early to the outbreak, emergency rooms and intensive-care units have been crushed with patients who require care. That can outstrip resources and force doctors to make life-or-death triage decisions.

Recent estimates suggest that the global fatality rate for the coronavirus is about 1%, but may range from 0.4% to 3.6%.

Experts still aren’t sure why some coronavirus patients develop severe symptoms that could lead to death, while other people have mild, if any, symptoms.

One hypothesis is that the answer lies in an individual’s genetic code. People whose genes tell their bodies to make more ACE2 receptors — which the coronavirus uses to invade our cells — could get hit harder.

Why it matters: Variations in death rates help researchers expose flaws in government responses, supply chains, patient care, and more, ideally leading to fixes. Being able to identify the people at higher risk of severe symptoms and treati them accordingly could also lower death rates. However, the early data is clear enough: The coronavirus has the capacity to kill millions of people in a relatively short time.

Why do young people face the least risk of dying?

On a per-capita basis, young people are the most resilient to the coronavirus. But they do get infected and suffer from it. Even blood clots and strokes have emerged among some younger patients.

Between January 22 and May 30, people in their 20s and 30s made up 30% of confirmed cases in the US, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those age categories represented 10% of hospitalizations and 9% of ICU admissions, but less than 2% of confirmed deaths.

Typically, young kids and older people are in the same risk category for diseases like the flu. But it’s not so with COVID-19: About 70% of US deaths have been people 70 and older. Children, meanwhile, represent less than 2% of confirmed coronavirus infections in China, Spain, Korea, Italy, and the US.

It’s not clear yet whether kids are less likely to contract the virus in the first place, or whether many of their cases are simply being missed because they are often mild or asymptomatic.

The CDC’s largest study of children with the coronavirus to date found that 18% of those studied tested positive but didn’t report symptoms. The report, however, only included kids with confirmed cases, so the breakdown is likely skewed.

Out of more than 2,500 pediatric cases in the CDC study, only three patients died. The study concluded that “most COVID-19 cases in children are not severe.”

One reason for this could be that children have less mature ACE2 receptors — the enzymes that serve as ports of entry for the coronavirus — which could make it more difficult for the virus to infect a child’s cells.

The immune system also becomes more dysregulated as a person ages. So the pediatric immune system may simply be better at battling the coronavirus than the adult immune system.

Why it matters: Understanding why kids don’t often show signs of the disease — either because they’re not as prone to infection or because they more often experience very mild, cold-like symptoms — could have huge ramifications for vaccine development and understanding how the disease spreads.

Can you get reinfected?

The body almost certainly develops short-term immunity in the form of antibodies, and immune-system researchers are reasonably confident that the body will recognize and fight the coronavirus in the future.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah in March that he’d be “willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against reinfection.”

There have been a small number of cases in which people tested positive for the coronavirus, were later found to be free of the virus, then tested positive again after that. But these cases are mostly the result of false positives and misinterpretations of test results, since some diagnostic tests can detect leftover pieces of dead virus in the body.

Still, no one is certain about the prospects for long-term immunity. For other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, antibodies seemed to peak within months of an infection and last for a year or more. But a June study found that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may only last two to three months after infection. Asymptomatic individuals also demonstrated a weaker immune response to the virus, meaning they could be less likely to test positive for antibodies.

Researchers also don’t know the specific levels of antibodies required for a person to be fully immune.

A May study from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York showed that most people with confirmed coronavirus cases tested positive for antibodies — but longer or more severe cases didn’t necessarily produce more antibodies than mild ones. Instead, the amount of antibodies a person produces may be related to innate differences in people’s immune responses.

Why it matters: Understanding whether long-term immunity is the norm would have major ramifications for controlling the pandemic and could enable officials to lift social-distancing restrictions for people who have already gotten sick.

How seasonal is the coronavirus?

Warmer temperatures and lower humidity may hinder the virus’ spread, according to research published in June. That could explain why New York City had a higher growth rate of new infections compared to Singapore in March, though other factors like testing and contact tracing likely played a role as well.

An April study found a similar link between the virus’ lifespan and the surrounding temperature. At 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit), the coronavirus lasted up to two weeks in a test tube. When the temperature was turned up to 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit), that lifespan dropped to one day.

But warmer temperatures haven’t done much to quell the US outbreak. The nation’s surge in new daily cases has surpassed its prior peak in April.

Why it matters: Knowing how much — if at all — the coronavirus is affected by changing seasons would help governments around the world better deploy resources to stop its spread.

Are there any safe and effective drugs to treat COVID-19?

There is, as of yet, no slam-dunk treatment for the coronavirus or its symptoms. However, 17 leading treatments are being tested.

President Trump has promoted and sought stockpiles of hydroxychloroquine: a relatively inexpensive drug typically used to kill malarial parasites and treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. But it was found to have no significant benefits for COVID-19 patients. The Food and Drug Administration revoked the drug’s emergency use authorization on June 15, noting “serious” heart issues and other side effects in patients taking the medication.

A more promising drug is remdesivir, an experimental antiviral chemical that the FDA approved for emergency use on May 1. Data from the National Institutes of Health suggests that remdesivir helped hospitalized coronavirus patients recover more quickly. Thousands of patients have been treated with the drug through clinical trials and expanded access programs.

Clinical trials have also shown that dexamethasone, a common, cheap, steroid, can reduce deaths in severely ill COVID-19 patients.

Why it matters: Having tools to slow infections or perhaps even stop the coronavirus from harming people could curtail its spread, reduce suffering, ease the burdens on healthcare systems, and save lives.

Will there be a vaccine for the coronavirus, and when?

More than 140 coronavirus vaccines are in development. At least 30 are expected to start human testing in 2020, and 16 leading candidates are already being tested on humans in clinical trials.

Arguably the most promising vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine developed by biotech company Moderna. The company was the first to publish early results in humans after starting its first trial on March 16. It aims to start a late-stage efficacy trial with 30,000 people in July.

Other promising candidates include “vector vaccines” — which use live viruses to teach the immune system how to fight off pathogens — developed by the University of Oxford and Johnson Johnson. The Oxford vaccine is spearheaded by British pharma company AstraZeneca, which will start its own efficacy trial in August. Johnson Johnson aims to enroll more than 1,000 healthy volunteers in a clinical trial in July.

The US government hopes to have hundreds of millions doses of a vaccine ready by January 2021 — a record timeline. But some vaccinologists and industry analysts doubt a vaccine will be ready before 2022 or 2023.

Why it matters: Developing a vaccine would help the world put an end to the pandemic.

What are the long-term consequences for those who survive COVID-19?

It’s not yet clear what the long-term consequences of weathering a severe bout of COVID-19 might be. In severe cases, the virus may cause permanent damage to the lungs and other organs, resulting in chronic, lifelong issues.

Patients who experience blood clots also face a risk of longer-term damage, pain, and loss of function, especially in organs.

While some people’s symptoms seem to clear up after two weeks, even those with milder cases have reported symptoms lasting for several months — including fatigue, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and loss of taste and smell. These symptoms may be the result of lingering inflammation rather than an active infection.

“The symptoms are probably coming from an immune reaction,” Dr. Ramzi Asfour, an infectious-disease doctor in the San Francisco Bay Area, told Business Insider.

“You have to separate the damage from the disease,” he added. “It’s going to be difficult to tell for now what subset is active, ongoing infection and what subset is really just pure immune dysfunction.”

Why it matters: Knowing the extent of lasting damage due to the coronavirus can help governments prepare for long-term strain on healthcare systems, impacts to the workforce, and slower economic recoveries. Governments can also push for more research into the underlying causes of lingering symptoms and effective treatments for them.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Humor

11 ‘totally real’ things you should send your boot to find

Telling the f*cking new guy (FNG) to go out and find things isn’t malicious. It may look like hazing to the untrained eye — but you’re teaching that kid a little bit more about the unit.


It’s a team-building activity. Everyone should be involved. Not in looking, of course, but in on the joke.

The FNG goes to get that thing from one place. Say “sorry, kid, check with Sergeant Smith over there.” Now they have a name to face on Sergeant Smith and hopefully what they do. They keep getting bounced around until the salty supply dude gets fed up and scolds the poor kid.

They learned a lesson and enjoyed some face time with the team, and you get a good laugh. That, and they’re far more entertaining than those checklists you get at reception.

#1: Headlight Fluid

Motorpool Monday again. Since most boots can’t figure out how to turn on the headlights on a Humvee, let them know that it’s probably because they’re out of fluid.

#2: Exhaust Samples

While you’re still at the Motorpool, tell them that in order for dispatch to truly know how well the vehicle is running, they need an exhaust sample.

#3: Chem-light batteries

Chances are the rookie has little understanding of chemiluminescence and probably won’t pull “but it’s a chemical reaction caused by the mixing of two solutions being exposed together.”

If they do, they should probably get a pass until lunch.

And then these things came around and ruined the joke…or did they? (Image via LazerBrite)

#4: Box of Grid Squares

You’re about to go to the Land Navigation field and you are in “some serious need” for some grid squares.

I mean, technically, they could just give you a paper map and they wouldn’t be wrong.

#5: Prop/Rotor Wash

Didn’t think Aviation would get a pass on the 242nd Annual F*ck-F*ck Games, did you?

For the uninformed, Prop/Rotor Wash is back draft of air that the aircraft generates to create lift. It’s also the worst part about Air Assault FRIES jumps.

#6: Flight Line

New kid not leaving you alone while you maintain a multi-million dollar piece of equipment? Tell them you have to connect some flight line to the whatever. And while they’re at it, tell them to grab the left-handed monkey wrench.

#7: Pad Eye Remover

For obvious reasons, it’s best to remove the chains from the aircraft and not the ship. But the FNG doesn’t get obvious.

#8: The switch to lower the mast

Oh no! The ship is about to go underneath a bridge that other ships have gone under thousands of times over! Looks like it’s time to lower the mast!

Related: This is why the military shouldn’t completely outlaw hazing

(Screenshot from WATM’s No Sh*t There I Was)

#9: Bulkhead Remover

It’ll be all fun and games when you tell the baby squid to clean all the bulkhead off. The moment they grab a blowtorch…run.

#10: Prickey-5

Always a fun one to pull on your guy to rib another NCO. If the private responds with, “Why do we need a Prickey-5 when we already have a Prickey 6?”

Drop their ass.

The look of every Staff Sergeant ever. (Image via Staff Sergeant Old School)

#11: ID 10-T Form

All the years this one has been around, it still sticks. It’s far too obvious of a joke.

And yet….

MIGHTY TRENDING

West backs up Ukraine as it tries to recover captured sailors

A Russian court has ordered several of the Ukrainian sailors who were captured by Russian coast-guard forces during a confrontation at sea off Crimea to be held in custody for two months.

The Nov. 27, 2018, rulings by the court in Simferopol, the capital of Russian-controlled Crimea, signaled the Kremlin’s defiance of calls by Kyiv and the West to release two dozen crew members who were seized along with three Ukrainian Navy vessels following hours of hostility at sea two days earlier.


Raising the stakes after tensions spiked when Russian coast-guard craft rammed and fired on the Ukrainian boats on Nov. 25, 2018, the court was holding custody hearings for 12 of the crewmen. A Russian official said nine others would face hearings on Nov. 28, 2018.

So far, four have been ordered held in pretrial detention — which usually means custody behind bars in a jail — until Jan. 25, 2019. Under Russian law, detention terms can be extended by courts at the request of prosecutors, and it was not immediately clear when the sailors might face trial.

Officials identified the Ukrainians as Volodymyr Varemez, the captain of a navy tugboat that was rammed by a Russian vessel, and sailors Serhiy Tsybizov, Andriy Oprysko, and Viktor Bespalchenko.

The Russian news agency Interfax reported that the Ukrainians were charged with “illegal border crossing by a group of individuals acting in collusion, or by an organized group, or with the use of or the threat to use violence.”

The court hearings came hours after Western leaders, speaking on Nov. 26, 2018, condemned what they called Russia’s “outrageous” violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty as well as international maritime treaties, and called on Moscow to immediately release the detainees.

Conflicting reports have put the number of Ukrainians detained at 23 and 24. The court rulings put them in a situation similar to that of several Ukrainians, including film director Oleh Sentsov, who are being held in Russian prisons and jails for what Kyiv and Western governments say are political reasons.

In the running confrontation off Crimea on Nov. 25, 2018, a Russian coast-guard vessel rammed the Ukrainian tugboat in an initial encounter, and a few hours later the Russian vessels opened fire before special forces stormed the three Ukrainian boats. Six Ukrainians were injured.

The hostilities injected yet more animus into the badly damaged relationship between Kyiv and Moscow, which seized Crimea in March 2014 and backs armed separatists in a simmering war that has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since that April.

Those Russian actions, a response to the downfall of a Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president who was pushed from power by the pro-European protest movement known as the Euromaidan, have also severely damaged its ties with the West.

The confrontation came days before Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to hold talks with U.S. President Donald Trump ion the sidelines of a G20 summit in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2018.

It followed months of growing tension over the waters in and around the Kerch Strait — the narrow body of water, now spanned by a bridge from Russia to Crimea, that is the only route for ships traveling between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, where Ukraine has several ports, including Mariupol.

On Nov. 26, 2018, Ukraine declared martial law in 10 of its 27 regions — including all of those that border Russia or have coastlines — following what it called a Russian “act of aggression.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned “this aggressive Russian action,” and called on Moscow to return the vessels and crews, and abide by Ukraine’s “internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters.”

Pompeo said both sides should “exercise restraint and abide by their international obligations and commitments” and said Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, should “engage directly to resolve this situation.”

Speaking at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Nov. 26, 2018, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called the incident an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” and a “reckless Russian escalation” of its conflict with Ukraine.

Britain’s Deputy UN Ambassador Jonathan Allen said Russia “wants to consolidate its illegal annexation of Crimea and annex the Sea of Azov.”

The international community will not accept this, he said, insisting that Russia “must not be allowed to rewrite history by establishing new realities on the ground.”

Martial law will come into force on Nov. 28, 2018, in 10 Ukrainian regions that Poroshenko said are the most vulnerable to “aggression from Russia,” and will be in place for 30 days.

The measure includes a partial mobilization of forces, a strengthening of Ukraine’s air defenses, and other unspecified steps “to strengthen the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and countersabotage regime.”

Putin expressed “serious concern” over the Ukrainian decision in a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Kremlin said on Nov. 27, 2018.

The Russian leader also said he hoped “Berlin could influence the Ukrainian authorities to dissuade them from further reckless acts,” a statement said.

“The imposition of martial law in various regions potentially could lead to the threat of an escalation of tension in the conflict region, in the southeast” of Ukraine, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, later told reporters.

Hours before the court hearings, Russian state-run TV channel Rossia-24 showed images of several of the detained Ukrainians that were apparently recorded during interrogations by Russia’s security services.

One of them parroted the version of events put forward by Russian authorities, saying, “The actions of the Ukrainian armed vessels in the Kerch Strait had a provocative character.”

One of the detained appeared to be reading his statement. Russian law enforcement agencies frequently provide state media with footage of suspects being questioned under duress.

In Kyiv, Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) confirmed that a number of its officers were among those captured.

One of them was seriously wounded after a Russian aircraft fired two missiles at the Ukrainian boats, SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak said in a statement.

Calling Russia’s capture of Ukrainian crews “unacceptable,” the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, urged Russia to “immediately release” those detained and provide them with medical aid.

She also called on both sides to use “utmost restraint” to prevent the only live war in Europe from escalating.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia “has to understand that its actions have consequences. We will remain in contact with the Ukrainian government to underline our support.”

Unlike other U.S. officials, who vocally backed Ukraine and criticized Russia, President Trump did not name either country in a brief response to a reporter’s question about the confrontation.

“Either way, we don’t like what’s happening. And hopefully they’ll get straightened out. I know Europe is not — they are not thrilled. They are working on it, too. We are all working on it together,” Trump said.

Russia’s acting UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, accused the Ukrainian Navy of “staging an aggressive provocation,” which he claimed was aimed at drumming up public support for Poroshenko ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election in March.

“They have no hope to remain in power otherwise,” he said, while condemning Western leaders for condoning what he called their “puppets” in Kyiv.

“I want to warn you that the policy run by Kyiv in coordination with the EU and the U.S. of provoking conflict with Russia is fraught with most serious consequences,” Polyansky said.

At the outset of the UN Security Council meeting on the incident, Russia suffered a setback after it sought to discuss the clash under an agenda item that described the incident as a violation of Russia’s borders.

This was rejected in a procedural vote, with only China, Bolivia, and Kazakhstan siding with Russia. The Security Council then discussed the clash under terms laid out by Ukraine.

The naval confrontation took place as the Ukrainian vessels were approaching the Kerch Strait, the only access to the Sea of Azov.

A 2003 treaty between Russia and Ukraine designates the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters.

But Moscow has been asserting greater control since its takeover of Crimea — particularly since May 2018, when it opened a bridge linking the peninsula to Russian territory on the eastern side of the Kerch Strait.

“I have to emphasize that, according to the international law, Crimea and respective territorial waters are the Ukrainian territory temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation,” Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko told the Security Council.

“Hence, there are no Russian borders in the area where the incident happened. I repeat — there are no Russian state borders around the Crimean Peninsula,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s what the Coast Guard is cutting back on during the shutdown

While the Coast Guard is not slowing down in its most important national security operations as the U.S. enters its fifth week of a government shutdown, some activities have been halted or curtailed, and many newly minted Coasties find themselves stuck at recruit training, without funding to head to their first duty stations.

Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a Coast Guard spokesman, told Military.com that recruits whose new units are not well suited to support them during the shutdown or lack the means to return home in the interim “will remain attached to the Training Center [in Cape May, New Jersey] for the duration of the lapse.”


“There have been no immediate operational impacts related to recruit training; however, it is difficult to project the impact that the lapse in appropriations will have on mission readiness months or years from now,” he said Jan. 23, 2019.

There are currently 395 recruits in training. Seventy-six new Coasties graduated Jan. 18, 2019, he said.

Those who have the option to return home may receive a stipend from the government even as the shutdown continues.

Coast Guard cutter Bertholf on a counterdrug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 11, 2018.

(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Trees)

“While the partial government shutdown prevents our ability to provide advance payment of reimbursable transfer expenses, it does not prevent us from issuing plane tickets for recruits to travel directly to units with the capacity to support them during the shutdown,” McBride said.

Often, recruits have the opportunity to return home for leave before reporting to their first assigned unit.

“In these cases, we have been able to coordinate temporary hometown recruiting assignments that allow graduates to make their desired trip home for leave, assist the workforce recruiting effort and temporarily defer execution of their permanent transfer and associated costs,” McBride said. “For those who choose this option, there may be out-of-pocket costs, if the cost of a ticket home exceeds the cost allowance of government transportation to their new unit.”

The Coast Guard will continue to monitor the situation but said that it does not plan on letting recruits leave Cape May without an approved transfer plan with appropriately allocated resources.

Elsewhere in the Coast Guard, the shutdown is also taking a toll on operations.

Boardings for safety checks, the issuance or renewals of merchant documentation and licensing, fisheries enforcement patrols and routine maintenance of aids to navigation have been delayed or downsized, McBride said.

Other modified operations include administrative functions, training, and maintenance for surface and aviation fleets, he said in an email.

“The Coast Guard will continue operations required by law that provide for national security or that protect life and property,” he said, including monitoring coast lines, ports, harbors and inland waterways, as well as maritime intercept and environmental defense operations.

But for the men and women conducting these high-stress operations or deploying, the pressure is mounting as they go without paychecks, not knowing how they can provide for their families back home, said Steven Cantrell, who served as the 12th master chief petty officer for the service.

Family and friends reunite with crew members on Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf’s flight deck upon the cutter’s after a 90-day deployment, Sept. 4, 2018.

(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

“They still have to go out and do their job and focus on the mission when sometimes it’s a very unforgiving environment,” he said in an interview with Military.com on Jan. 23, 2019. He retired from the position in 2018.

“I wouldn’t presume to think that anybody wouldn’t give it 100 percent,” Cantrell said, adding that the current situation does “weigh on people.”

Members of the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, missed their first paychecks Jan. 15, 2019. If the shutdown continues, they will miss their second at the end of the month.

While shutdowns have occurred before, support services for members and families “will have to expand if it goes any longer,” Cantrell said.

Coasties have been relying on donations, loans and even food pantries to sustain their families as they take on necessary duties such as search-and-rescue operations.

“It’s one thing to sit back and go, ‘Wow, why would I want to do that?’ Because they don’t have the option to say, ‘Well, I’m just going to go home.’ They’ve been deemed essential,” Cantrell said, adding that morale is “probably low” in places around the country.

(Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzo-Simmons)

Cantrell said he is hopeful the next generation of service members’ desire to serve will outweigh the current problems.

“People know it’s not the Coast Guard that’s doing this. And I’m 100 percent sure [leaders] have prepped the battlespace for those recruits to know what’s going on in the service. And they do a really good job… at the Training Center … [to get them] excited about the Coast Guard,” he said.

While frustrations remain, Cantrell said he thinks it’s unlikely there will be a significant or long-term national security impact, given the service has seen fluctuating or dwindling budgets before and was still able to press on.

But “it’s a bitter pill to swallow even as a retiree, and I just can’t imagine the young folks out there worrying about things that they shouldn’t have to worry about,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China apparently built world’s first stealth amphibious assault drone

China has built the world’s first stealth amphibious assault drone boat for island warfare, the developer revealed recently, and Chinese military experts believe it could eventually be headed to the disputed South China Sea.

Built for island assault operations and capable of operating on land and at sea, the “Marine Lizard” amphibious drone ship was developed by the Wuhan-based Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC).

The 40-foot drone ship operates as a trimaran hydrojet in the water but switches to tracked propulsion as it treads ashore. The company claims it can maintain stealth at speeds up to 50 knots in the maritime domain. On land, though, the assault vehicle is limited to a little over 12 mph. Modifications, specifically increasing the size of the tracks, could offer improved mobility on land.


The vessel’s capabilities have not been publicly demonstrated.

The Marine Lizard, which carries its own onboard radar system, is equipped with two machine guns and vertical launch system cells capable of firing anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles.

It is capable of “rapid assault and beach landings in accordance with operational requirements,” CSIC explained, adding that it is able to “complete missions such as special operations troop transport, border patrol, near-shore warning operations, and island/reef airport protection.”

The Chinese military has eyes fixed on island warfare, be it a future fight for Taiwan or the contested islands and reefs in the East and South China Seas.

China’s Global Times, citing a Chinese military expert, wrote recently that “this amphibious drone boat is suitable for island assault operations as a swarm of such drone ships could lead an attack following a first wave of artillery and air strikes.”

Observers suspect the Marine Lizard could play a key role in a regional conflict. “In the South China Sea, it can be used to either seize a reef or guard a reef, both offensive and defensive,” Chinese military analyst Song Zhongping told the South China Morning Post.

He added that the craft could be used to launch a surprise attack on an enemy island outpost.

CSIC claims that its new stealth amphibious assault drone, which has an operational range of 745 miles, has the unique ability to lie dormant for up to eight months, activated remotely at ranges of up to 30 miles, and immediately called into action.

The Marine Lizard can also, according to the developers, integrate into Chinese networks for combined arms operations with other unmanned systems relying on China’s Beidou satellite navigation system.

Much like the US, China is preparing for the possibility of high-end conflict. But while Chinese warfighting has traditionally been characterized by the sacrificing of waves of Chinese troops in hopes of overwhelming an enemy, the country is now investing heavily in long-range weapons and unmanned combat systems, challenges that the American armed forces are actively working to counter.

Recently, US and Philippines troops participating in the annual Balikatan exercises practiced repelling an attempt by a foreign military power to seize an airfield on a small island, a not unfathomable possibility given persistent tensions in the South China Sea.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

6 minor things that predict major wars

Once a war kicks off, it’s generally easy to recognize. But war planners want to know about these things ahead of time so they can get ready. While moves like large military exercises on a border are a dead giveaway that an invasion might be imminent, smaller things can give intel analysts a clue as well.


Here are 6 surprisingly minor things that can foreshadow a major conflict:

1. Industrial diamonds and mineral prices

Industrial diamonds are used in tools and manufacturing equipment because of their how hard they are. Photo: R. Tanaka CC BY 3.0

Back when World War II was just a fight between Germany and Poland about whether Poland got to keep being a country, Hitler was promising everyone that it was a limited, one-time thing. But the other countries knew he was full of it because, among other things, diamond prices were climbing.

Industrial diamonds are ugly things used in heavy duty drills, grinders, and other machinery. They’re essential to properly machining large weapons of war and the price was high because Germany was buying a lot of them plus tons of metals, like enough to create a blitzkrieg-capable army. A short time later, that army was rolling across Dutch fields.

David E. Walker wrote “Adventure in Diamonds” about the rush by British and Japanese teams to secure Amsterdam’s diamond stocks during the German invasion.

2. Missing uniforms and other supplies

If all of your uniform tops suddenly go missing, then watch out. Photo: US Marine Corps Sgt. Jamean Berry

Another thing the Dutch found suspicious ahead of the Nazi invasion was a higher than normal disappearance rate of uniforms and other supplies. Some items always go missing and sometimes things really do fall off of trucks, but a sudden jump should get analysts worried.

When German paratroopers started landing in the Netherlands, some of them were wearing Dutch uniforms that had gone missing. Wearing an enemy’s uniform is a war crime, but that only matters if the side guilty parties are on loses.

3. Suspicious demonstrations

Photo: HOBOPOCC CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the things Ukraine noticed before of the shadow invasion of the Donbas region was a sudden increase in Pro-Moscow agitation in the east of the country and apparent ties between the agitators and Russian propaganda outlets.

Russian special operators and soldiers now cross into the area from time-to-time to make sure separatists forces are able to resist Kiev’s military, keeping the nation off-balance and allowing Russia a generally free hand.

4. Increased tourism

Photo: Pixabay/meineresterampe

A spike in tourism is usually just a good sign for the economy, but combined with any other indicators that a war is looming, it’s a decent bet that some of those tourists are spies.

Ahead of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese spies were sent to scout Pearl Harbor while posing as tourists and they fed sensitive information back to the Japanese Navy.

5. Local weapon prices

Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel Wulz

When it comes to local conflicts, warlords and smaller armies are sometimes equipping their forces right before the fight. This drives up the costs of weapons, especially AK-47s. Intel analysts and concerned citizens can watch those prices and see if a brush fire war or uprising is likely.

For larger nations, observers watch the overall size of the arsenal. If Russia starts producing more cruise missiles than normal, they’re probably going to be firing some soon.

6. Computer activity

Photo: Capt. Kyle Key

In the modern day, hacking is a tool of war that is sometimes used on its own or in conjunction with a kinetic attack. Either way, the cyber assault is usually preceded by the tests of cyber defenses and the collecting of information on targets.

This activity can be spotted ahead of time, and cyber defenders know that an uptick in probing attacks means that a full-scale cyber assault may be coming. Russia collected information on an oil pipeline before overpressurizing the pipeline and causing an explosion in Turkey, and it also probed Ukrainian defenses before shutting down a power grid there for six hours in Jan. 2016.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Kurds just launched their ‘endgame battle’ against ISIS

The moment the people of Iraq and Syria have waited so long to see has finally arrived: the Kurdish SDF are assaulting the last ISIS stronghold in the Middle East. For years, ISIS and its so-called caliphate conquered and subjugated people across the two countries – including the Kurds, against whom they committed numerous atrocities.

It’s all in the past now, as the U.S.-backed Kurdish SDF just brought the war on ISIS to their last doorstep.


In the small Syrian town of Baghuz, near its eastern border with Iraq, ISIS fighters are using smoke and suicide bombers to try to slow the progress of the Kurds as they roll through ISIS’ last stronghold. The SDF waited weeks before assaulting the area in an attempt to allow innocent civilians to flee the combat zone. Now, the battle has begun, and it’s not looking good for the Islamic State, despite its potentially thousands-strong numbers.

No one in the region will be particularly sad to see the threat of the Islamic Caliphate dissipate. In 2014, the Islamic State saw a surprisingly easy territory grab across Iraq and Syria, capturing weapons, vehicles, cash, and oil in a blitz of unprecedented success.

Kurdish SDF forces have arrested scores of ISIS fighters trying to flee the area.

Inside the captured territory, life under ISIS rule was harsh and repressive, with dire consequences for noncompliance. Under the strictest forms of Islamic law, civilians would be put to death for offenses ranging from smoking cigarettes to dancing. The terror group destroyed numerous historical and religious sites considered blasphemous by their brand of Islam and threatened persecution and genocide against religious and ethnic minorities they considered apostates.

Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq began to strike back just as fast. U.S.-backed Kurdish and Iraqi forces had retaken all ISIS-held territory in Iraq by the end of 2017. Though Syria remains a country fractured by civil war, at least one faction is finally on its last leg as the SDF empties the last pocket of ISIS.

At the end of the operation, American forces are likely to go home, as President Donald Trump has restated time and again, most recently in the 2019 State of the Union Address. They are slated to leave Syria by the end of April. For the U.S.-backed Kurdish militias, the future is far from certain.

Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, considered armed Kurdish groups in Syria to be terrorist groups, no better than ISIS itself. Turkey maintains a large presence in Syria after intervening in the country in 2015. To date, Turkey has struck SDF positions numerous times, despite U.S. warnings – and the SDF has promised retaliation for any Turkish attacks in Syria.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US soldiers are patrolling with these awesome pocket-sized spy drones

US soldiers are patrolling Afghanistan with a new tool that lets them see the battlefield like never before — personal, pocket-sized drones.

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division has deployed to Afghanistan with Black Hornet personal reconnaissance drones — a small, lightweight unmanned aerial vehicle produced by FLIR Systems that can be quickly and easily deployed to provide improved situational awareness on the battlefield.


A 3rd BCT paratrooper prepares to launch a Black Hornet in Kandahar, Aug. 9, 2019.

(US Army photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak)

Soldiers are taking these nano drones on patrol in combat zones.

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team deployed to Kandahar province in Afghanistan in July from Fort Bragg in North Carolina to replace the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Stars and Stripes reports.

Army paratroopers have been “routinely” using the Black Hornets, recon drones that look like tiny helicopters, for foot patrols, the Army said in a statement.

“The Black Hornet provided overhead surveillance for the patrol as it gauged security in the region and spoke to local Afghans about their concern,” a caption accompanying a handful of photos from a recent patrol in Kandahar explained.

A 3rd BCT paratrooper with a Black Hornet drone.

(US Army photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak)

These UAVs offer “immediate situational awareness of the battlefield,” the Army said previously.

The Army awarded FLIR a multimillion-dollar contract earlier this year to provide Black Hornet drones to US troops.

A little over 6 inches in length and weighing only 1.16 ounces, these drones are “small enough for a dismounted soldier to carry on a utility belt,” according to FLIR Systems.

These UAVs offer beyond-visual-line-of-sight capability during day or night out to distances of up to 1.24 miles and have a maximum speed of about 20 feet a second.

These drones, which are able to transmit high-quality images and video, can also be launched in a matter of seconds and can quietly provide covert coverage of the battlefield for around half an hour, Business Insider saw firsthand at an exclusive FLIR technology demonstration.

The Black Hornets “will give our soldiers operating at the squad level immediate situational awareness of the battlefield through its ability to gather intelligence, provide surveillance, and conduct reconnaissance,” Lt. Col. Isaac Taylor, an Army public affairs officer, previously told Business Insider.

Paratroopers on patrol in Kandahar province in Afghanistan.

(US Army photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak)

These drones have the potential to be a real “life-saver” for US troops.

Soldiers in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division were the first troops to get their hands on the new Black Hornet drones, part of the Soldier Borne Sensor (SBS) program.

Back in the spring, soldiers trained for a week at Fort Bragg with the new drones, getting a feel for the possibilities provided by this technology.

“This kind of technology will be a life-saver for us because it takes us out of harm’s way while enhancing our ability to execute whatever combat mission we’re on,” Sgt. Ryan Subers, one of the operators, said in a statement.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

An alligator snuck onto the flight line at MacDill Air Force Base (and how to wrangle an alligator)

Officials at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Bay, Florida reported an unusual obstruction on the airstrip this past Tuesday preventing military aircraft from taking off: a laid back alligator seemingly perfectly content to catch some sun on the warm blacktop of the runway.

While alligators are no stranger to Florida, they are an uncommon sight in places like a military flight line, where perimeter fences and frequent traffic tend to make for an unwelcoming area for wildlife–especially the sort that tends to move at a leisurely pace outside of the water. Alligators are, of course, capable of achieving downright terrifying speeds in short bursts on land, but this gator didn’t seem to have speed on its mind as it was approached by MacDill officials.


MacDill Air Force Base

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MacDill Air Force Base

As luck would have it, wrangling wayward alligators happens to be one of the unusual skill sets I’ve gathered over the years, cutting my gator wrestling teeth in a large animal preserve in Colorado some time ago.

The preserve maintained a sizeable population of wild and rescued alligators, many of which sometimes require medical care for the small wounds they tend to give one another in their sporadic alligator squabbles. Some of the worst gator-on-gator injuries, I came to find, often involved long-term mating pairs going through bad breakups. Despite having the size advantage, it’s often the males that require medical attention after a breakup–and I’ll leave any jokes about the fury of a woman scorned for you to make for yourself.

At MacDill, they were able to get their alligator intruder off the flight line by coaxing it into the bucket of a front loader using a bucket of food, which was probably the safest and most expedient method of dinosaur removal you could come up with on short notice. My experience wrangling alligators was slightly different… as the gators I was after were submerged under waist-deep opaque water and often injured.

Although you can’t see it, there’s an alligator right beneath me here.

Despite the terror associated with wading around in water you know is chock-full of apex predators, alligators can be a surprisingly docile species when approached by humans. Don’t let that fool you. It isn’t a friendly demeanor that keeps them still, but rather a supreme confidence in their ability to manage the threat posed by your squishy, meat-filled body.

Getting a submerged alligator out of the water for treatment is a nerve-racking but surprisingly simple endeavor: you walk barefoot through the water very slowly, being careful not to lift your feet, as a submerged alligator might mistake a raised foot for a swimming fish. As you slowly push your feet forward, you feel for the leathery hide of an alligator resting on the river bed. Maybe it’s their thick skin, maybe it’s their confidence, but alligators rarely react when you nudge them with a toe.

From there, the stress begins: you need to determine which way the head is pointing and step over the alligator’s back, so you’re standing with the submerged gator between your legs, with its head pointing in the same direction as yours. Then it’s as simple as reaching down under the water and carefully looping your rope around the alligator’s neck. Once the rope is secured, you once more very gingerly, step away from the gator with the other end of the rope in hand. Once you’re a few feet away, you’ve got a gator on a leash, and you need to get it to shore: there’s only one way to do that. With one tug of the rope, hell breaks loose. An explosion of water fills the area as the alligator tries to attack with both teeth and tail. There’s nothing left to do now but play tug of war with a dinosaur.

Just like taking your giant, tooth-filled dog for a walk that he really doesn’t want to go on.

Once on shore, the fight has just begun. You pass the rope to your partner to put some tension on it to redirect the alligator’s focus while you circle around. Once you’re sure the alligator has lost sight of you, you move as quickly as you can to get onto the alligator’s back with your feet beneath you, sticking your fingers into its mouth at the rear near the jaw joint and heaving your weight backward as you pull to subdue the monster.

With small alligators, this is a challenge. With big alligators, it’s exactly as scary as you imagine. If the gator bucks you off (as they sometimes do) your partner will need to move quickly to save your life. Alligators attack at angles and with lightning quickness, making their aggressive movements difficult to predict and even more difficult to evade.

Believe it or not, this was still a “small” alligator during training classes.

Once subdued, we used good old fashioned triple antibiotic ointment on small wounds and antibiotic injections for larger injuries before releasing the alligators back into the water.

Fortunately for MacDill, a bucket of food and a bit of heavy equipment did the trick just fine this time… but if these sightings keep up, alligator wrestling could become one heck of a B-billet.

Humor

4 unsuccessful habits of Air Force NCOs

When you cross over as an NCO in the Air Force and you slap that crisp Staff Sergeant rank on your arms, it might be easy to think you just garnered a new set of rights and privileges.


Unfortunately, the rights and privileges are few and far between. Inevitably, the newly-acquired responsibility weighs on fresh NCOs, causing them to cut corners and develop unsuccessful habits.

1. Not completing your professional military education

The Air Force requires each of its NCOs to complete PME according to their rank and skill level. These courses are usually held in other locations rather than at home base. NCOs also get book-length volumes to study at home. Up until recently, PME wasn’t so much a factor in an NCO’s career. Now, if an NCO hasn’t completed the required PME course for their rank, they will not promote. Did you read that? Will not promote.

Get to reading, Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Nieves Camacho)

This means that a staff sergeant who doesn’t complete their PME will never become a tech and might even be subject to discharge. Air Force NCOs are moving along with the times but there are still many who fight the change and remain perpetual staffs or techs until they retire. Nobody wants to be 20 years in and retire at E-5. Get your PME done!

2. Not completing their CCAF degree

Okay, the Air Force didn’t say being an NCO would be easy – heck, they’re making you go to college. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does stop many airmen from promoting to the next rank. The Community College of the Air Force is relatively new and accepts all previous credit from prior institutions to transfer into the degree.

Better late than never.

It’s pretty easy to get a CCAF degree because the majority of all the credits are calculated from tech school training. Typically, the only credits NCOs are missing are college-level math and English. However, most NCOs are entirely deterred by this and choose not to obtain the last couple of credits needed to complete the degree. Without a CCAF degree, kiss your chances of becoming a Master Sergeant (E-7) goodbye.

3. Thinking that you’re not expendable

You might think an extra stripe opens the door to being treated better, but think again. Remember that phrase, “sh*t always rolls downhill?” Well, you’re only a quarter of the way up the hill now instead of all the way at the bottom. Some newly-promoted NCOs think they are finally afforded some glory because they’re allowed to delegate to those under them.

If you’re going to be a staff forever, you might as well just stay Senior Airman.

Wrong. Air Force NCOs quickly learn they are still in the pecking order for meaningless cleaning details and bi*ch work. Plus, there are many more staffs where you came from, buddy. Leadership won’t think twice about demoting someone on a high horse. Before anyone knows it, you become the stereotypical, bitter NCO who sits in the corner, hating the world — unless you can change your frame of mind.

4. Just skimming by PT standards every six months

The Air Force PT test is fairly easy and is based on a point system. A mile and a half run, waist measurement, push-ups, and sit-ups are all a part of the test. If you pull a 90-point (or above) cumulative score, then you don’t have to take the fitness test again for a year. If the score is lower than 90, then the test has to be taken again in six months.

To be honest, everyone has done it.

What this means for Air Force NCOs is a tendency to procrastinate. NCOs are meant to set standards for the subordinates under them, but when the PFT is so easy it requires minimal preparation, setting standards usually goes out the window. When it comes down to it, there’s really no excuse for not getting a 90-point score on the Air Force PFT.

Break the habit and just go work out.

MIGHTY TRENDING

New photos show Russian military buildup on NATO’s doorstep

Russia is upgrading and modernizing four military installations in a strategic area on NATO’s doorstep, satellite images obtained by CNN suggest.

Increased Russian military activity has been spotted in Kaliningrad, a disconnected Russian territory situated between Poland and the Baltic states. The Russians have been carrying out major renovation work at what is believed to be an active nuclear weapons storage site, Hans M. Kristensen with the Federation of American Scientists concluded in an analysis of satellite images in June 2018.

Russian operations in the area appear to have dramatically expanded in recent months.


(FAS)

Work continues at the apparent nuclear storage site identified earlier, and another 40 new bunkers, each with the potential to serve as military storage facilities, are under construction near Primorsk, a large port on the Baltic Sea. Upgrades to the Chkalovsk air base, including a new railway and improved aircraft landing system, and the Chernyakhovsk base, home to a Russian missile brigade, are underway, CNN reported Oct. 17, 2018.

The nuclear-capable Iskander missile was delivered to the Chernyakhovsk base in February 2018. This troubling delivery is recognized as one of the more serious signs of Russian militarization in the Baltics.

Russian Iskander missiles on the 9P78-1 Transporter erector launcher.

(Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

“If they want to challenge us, we will challenge them,” Adm. James G. Foggo III, the commander of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa and the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy, told CNN without specifically commenting on the satellite images. “We’re not going to be intimidated by those systems that are out there.”

Reports of a possible Russian military buildup in Kaliningrad come just ahead of a massive NATO military exercise involving tens of thousands of troops from more than two dozen countries.

The upcoming Trident Juncture exercises, scheduled to begin in late October 2018, will include 45,000 troops, 10,000 vehicles, 60 ships, and 150 aircraft from 31 countries training side by side in and around Norway. The joint drills, Article 5 collective defense exercises, will include land, air, and amphibious forces training to repel an adversary threatening the sovereignty of a NATO ally or partner state.

The Russians have been invited to observe the exercises, which are designed to send a message to Moscow.

“There’s a strong deterrent message here that will be sent,” Foggo explained to press at the Pentagon in October 2018. “They are going to see that we are very good at what we do, and that will have a deterrent effect on any country that might want to cross those borders, but especially for one nation in particular.”

Tensions are running high between Russia and NATO, and Kaliningrad is a potential fault line for regional conflict.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

This is how the Marine Corps plans to turn the MV-22 Osprey into a gunship

The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, has been exploring the use of forward-firing rockets, missiles, fixed guns, a chin-mounted gun, and also looked at the use of a 30MM gun along with gravity drop rockets and guided bombs deployed from the back of the V-22.


In recent years, the Corps has been working on a study to help define the requirements and ultimately inform a Marine Corps decision with regards to armament of the MV-22B Osprey.

Adding weapons to the Opsrey would naturally allow the aircraft to better defend itself should it come under attack from small arms fire, missiles, or surface rockets while conducting transport missions; in addition, precision fire will enable the Osprey to support amphibious operations with suppressive or offensive fire as Marines approach enemy territory.

Furthermore, weapons will better facilitate an Osprey-centric tactic known as “Mounted Vertical Maneuver” wherein the tiltrotor uses its airplane speeds and helicopter hover and maneuver technology to transport weapons, such as mobile mortars and light vehicles, supplies, and Marines behind enemy lines for a range of combat missions, including surprise attacks.

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Jesse Marquez Magallanes

The initial steps in the process of arming the V-22 includes selecting a Targeting-FLIR, improving digital interoperability, and designating Integrated Aircraft Survivability Equipment solutions. Integration of new weapons could begin as early as 2019 if the initiatives stay on track and are funded, Corps officials said.

Developers added that “assault support” will remain as the primary mission of the MV-22 Osprey, regardless of the weapons solution selected.

So far, Osprey maker Bell-Boeing has delivered at least 290 MV-22s out of a planned 360 program of record.

Laser-guided Hydra 2.75-inch folding fin rockets, such as those currently being fired from Apache attack helicopters, could give the Osprey greater precision-attack capabilities. One such program firing 2.75in rockets with laser guidance is called Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System.

Bell-Boeing designed a special pylon on the side of the aircraft to ensure common weapons carriage. The Corps has been analyzing potential requirements for weapons on the Osprey, considering questions such as the needed stand-off distance and level of lethality.

Sgt. Austin J. Otto, a crew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 363, participates in an MV-22 Osprey tail gun shoot during Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 3-17. USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Becky L. Calhoun.

New Osprey Variant in 2030

The Marine Corps is in the early stages of planning to build a new, high-tech MV-22C variant Osprey tiltrotor aircraft to enter service by the mid-2030s, service officials said.

While many of the details of the new aircraft are not yet available, Corps officials told Scout Warrior that the MV-22C will take advantage of emerging and next-generation aviation technologies.

The Marine Corps now operates more than 250 MV-22 Ospreys around the globe and the tiltrotor aircraft are increasingly in demand, Corps officials said.

The Osprey is, among other things, known for its ability to reach speeds of 280 knots and achieve a much greater combat radius than conventional rotorcraft.

Flight deck personnel conduct night operations with MV-22 Osprey aircraft aboard the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Oscar Espinoza.

Due to its tiltrotor configuration, the Osprey can hover in helicopter mode for close-in surveillance and vertical landings for things like delivering forces, equipment, and supplies – all while being able to transition into airplane mode and hit fixed-wing aircraft speeds. This gives the aircraft an ability to travel up 450 nautical miles to and from a location on a single tank of fuel, Corps officials said.

A Corps spokesman told Scout Warrior that, since 2007, the MV-22 has continuously deployed in a wide range of extreme conditions, from the deserts of Iraq and Libya to the mountains of Afghanistan and Nepal, as well as aboard amphibious ships.

Between January 2007 and August 2015, Marine Corps MV-22s flew more than 178,000 flight hours in support of combat operations, Corps officials said.

Corps officials said the idea with the new Osprey variant is to build upon the lift, speed, and versatility of the aircraft’s tiltrotor technology and give the platform more performance characteristics in the future. While few specifics were yet available, this will likely include improved sensors, mapping, and digital connectivity, even greater speed and hover ability, better cargo and payload capacity, next-generation avionics, and new survivability systems, such as defenses against incoming missiles and small-arms fire.

An MV-22B Osprey from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 (Reinforced) takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan B. Trejo.

Greenberg also added that the MV-22C variant aircraft will draw from technologies now being developed for the Army-led Future Vertical Lift program involved in engineering a new fleet of more capable, high-tech aircraft for the mid-2030s

The US Army is currently immersed in testing with two industry teams contracted to develop and build a fuel-efficient, high-speed, high-tech, next-generation, medium-lift helicopter to enter service by 2030.

The effort is aimed at leveraging the best in helicopter and aircraft technology in order to engineer a platform that can both reach the high-speeds of an airplane while retaining an ability to hover like a traditional helicopter, developers have said.

The initiative is looking at developing a wide range of technologies, including lighter-weight airframes to reduce drag, different configurations and propulsion mechanisms, more fuel-efficient engines, the potential use of composite materials, and a whole range of new sensor technologies to improve navigation, targeting, and digital displays for pilots.

An MV-22 Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 363 lands at Camp Wilson during Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 3-17. USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Becky L. Calhoun.

Requirements include an ability to operate in what is called “high-hot” conditions, meaning 95-degrees Fahrenheit and altitudes of 6,000 feet where helicopters typically have difficulty operating.  In high-hot conditions, thinner air and lower air-pressure make helicopter maneuverability and operations more challenging.

The Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program has awarded development deals to Bell Helicopter-Textron and Sikorsky-Boeing teams to build “demonstrator” aircraft by 2017 to help inform the development of a new medium-class helicopter.

The Textron-Bell Helicopter team is building a tilt-rotor aircraft called the Bell V-280 Valor and the Sikorsky-Boeing team is working on early testing of its SB-1 Defiant coaxial rotor-blade design. A coaxial rotor-blade configuration uses counter-rotating blades with a thrusting technology at the back of the aircraft to both remain steady and maximize speed, hover capacity, and maneuverability.

Bell V-280 Valor. Image from Bell Helicopter.

Planned missions for the new Future Vertical Lift aircraft include cargo, utility, armed scout, attack, humanitarian assistance, MEDEVAC, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, land/sea search and rescue, special warfare support, and airborne mine countermeasures, Army officials have said.

Other emerging technology areas being explored for this effort include next-generation sensors and navigation technologies, autonomous flight, and efforts to see through clouds, dust, and debris described as being able to fly in a “degraded visual environment.”

While Corps officials say they plan to embrace technologies from this Army-led program for the new Osprey variant, they also emphasize that the Corps is continuing to make progress with technological improvements to the MV-22.

These include a technology called V-22 Aerial Refueling System, or VARS, to be ready by 2018, Corps developers explained.

USAF photo

The Marine Corps Osprey with VARS will be able to refuel the F-35B Lightning II with about 4,000 pounds of fuel at VARS’ initial operating capability and the MV-22B VARS capacity will increase to 10,000 pounds of fuel by 2019, Corps officials told Scout Warrior last year.

The development is designed to enhance the F-35B’s range, as well as the aircraft’s ability to remain on target for a longer period.

The aerial refueling technology on the Osprey will refuel helicopters at 110 knots and fixed-wing aircraft at 220 knots, Corps developers explained.

The VARS technology will also be able to refuel other aircraft such as the CH-53E/K, F-18, AV-8B Harrier jet, and other V-22s.

The Corps has also been developing technology to better network Osprey aircraft through an effort called “Digital Interoperability.” This networks Osprey crews so that Marines riding in the back can have access to relevant tactical and strategic information while in route to a destination.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why the Queens Guard wear those giant black hats

The black-hatted redcoats who guard royal residences in London and beyond, including Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London, are the Queen’s Guard. While you might think it’s fun to get in their way and try to make them laugh, the reality is these guys will straight up break you if it comes down to it. This all starts with the overly large hat on their head.

The hat – a bearskin – is a symbol of what it takes to be the best.


(Ministry of Defence)

While the Guard date all the way back to 1656, their trademark bearskin shakos date back to the Napoleonic Wars, the end of the Napoleonic Wars. As its name suggests, this is the series of conflicts fought between Imperial France, led by Napoleon and his various allies against the United Kingdom and the Coalitions it formed to counter the rise of the little emperor. The Guards were part of the First Regiment of Foot that finally ended the Napoleonic Wars at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. That’s also when their uniforms picked up the now-iconic bearskin hats.

Specifically, the British picked the hats up from the dead bodies of fallen Frenchmen.

(Waterloo Association)

Some of Napoleon’s most elite troops and diehard supporters were the French Imperial Guard. These were troops that had been with Napoleon from the very beginning and were with him to retake power when l’empereur returned from exile on Elba. That’s how they ended up at Waterloo in the first place. They were the (arguably) the world’s best soldiers, and definitely some of the most fearsome in the world. The grenade-throwing grenadiers wore large bearskin shakos to make themselves appear taller and more fearsome. They received better pay, rations, quarters, and equipment, and all guardsmen ranked one grade higher than all non-Imperial Guard soldiers.

At Waterloo, the decisive engagement that determined if Napoleon would once again be master of Europe, the emperor committed his Imperial Guard against the First Regiment of Foot. The outcome of that battle would change history, as for Napoleon, it was a huge gamble that, if successful, could totally break the British and win the battle for the French. That’s why he committed his best.

(Waterloo Association)

As the First Regiment of Foot stood up to a punishing French artillery barrage and then a charge from the vaunted Imperial Guard, the British tore into the Frenchmen with repeated musket volleys, dropping hundreds of them before Napoleon’s best broke and ran. With the fall of some of Napoleon’s finest Imperial Guards, the outcome of the battle was all but assured.

With their stunning defeat of France’s best in frontline fighting with relatively few casualties, the British 1st Foot adopted the tall bearskins, a trophy to celebrate their stunning victory over the emperor, reminding the world of what it means to be elite. The bearskins have been on their uniform ever since.