Retirement planning can be stressful, but figuring out how to finance it takes a great deal of the stress away. Enter the government’s Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP. The first step in understanding TSPs is answering five basic questions: who, what, where, when, and why.
Who: The thrift savings plan is available to federal employees and members of the uniformed services. It is managed by BlackRock, a financial planning and investment firm headquartered in New York City.
What: TSP is a retirement savings plan similar to a private sector 401(k). Federal employees and military personnel can contribute up to a certain percentage of their base pay to their TSP. BlackRock assigns a broker to manage TSP accounts. Brokers are not held to the same standards as fiduciaries in that a broker has no vested interest in your funds; rather a broker’s only job is to invest money in suitable securities.
When: If you are a federal employee who joined your agency after 2010, you’re automatically enrolled in TSP with 3 percent of your base pay sent to your TSP; your agency matches this contribution automatically. If you joined your agency before 2010, an automatic 1 percent of your base pay is sent to TSP; your agency matches your additional contributions above the 1 percent. Military members must set up their own contributions and there is no matching contribution from the military.
Where: Military members can set up contributions to TSP through MyPay. Which type of funds you decide to invest in will determine when you can access the funds from that investment. There are L Funds, which are “lifestyle funds” that you can withdraw from at a predetermined time. Then there are G, F, S, C, and I funds, which rely on you to make your own investment decisions with a broker, according to the government’s TSP summary.
Why: A thrift savings plan gives you the ability to participate in a long-term retirement savings and investment plan. Additionally, you can choose between a regular TSP and a Roth TSP. Traditional TSP is tax free as you contribute, but you’ll pay taxes when you withdraw the funds. A Roth TSP allows you to pay taxes upon investment, and withdraw at a later date tax free. The upside to utilizing the government’s TSP is that you won’t pay fees to invest, and you’ll have a broker to manage the funds.
The PAK-DA will be a subsonic aircraft designed for high payload and long-range flight. It’s expected to replace the aging Soviet-era turbo-prop Tu-95 “Bear” and the Tu-160 strategic bombers. Developed by Russia’s Ministry of Defense and Tupolev, the PAK-DA is scheduled to begin testing in 2019, according to KRET, the Russian company responsible for designing its radar system.
About three months ago an animated video surfaced showing the PAK-DA’s blended wing-body design, which looks a whole lot like a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber knock-off. It’s probably not the aircraft’s final design considering the style of the video, which is strikingly similar to those published by Russia’s propaganda media arm, Russia Today.
Here are two other articles with the same animation style we’ve written about:
The first operational KC-46A Pegasus — the tanker being designed by Boeing to replace the aging KC-135 — took its maiden flight on Dec. 5.
That flight came after numerous delays and cost overruns that have stymied the tanker’s development over the past several years. Even though it got off the ground in December, Boeing admitted at the time that it would miss a self-imposed deadline to give the Air Force the first operational KC-46 by the end of 2017.
Now the Air Force expects to receive the first operational KC-46 by spring 2018, and Boeing is obligated to deliver 18 of the new tankers by October. But major defects remain unresolved, according to Aviation Week.
The most worrying deficiency is the tendency of the tanker’s boom — where the fuel flows — to scrape the surface of the aircraft receiving fuel.
The problem could endanger the aircrews involved and risks compromising the low-observable coating on stealth aircraft like the F-22 and F-35 fighters. A KC-46 with a refueling boom contaminated by stealth coating may also have to be grounded.
Representatives from the Air Force and from Boeing told Aviation Week that they are working on the problem, with personnel from the government and industry reviewing flight data to assess such incidents and compare them to international norms.
Their assessments will help decide whether changes are to be made to the camera used for refueling on the KC-46. The Pegasus’ boom operator sits at the front of the aircraft while directing the boom, relying heavily on the camera. Older tankers have the boom operator stationed at the back of the plane to guide the boom in person. A decision on the camera is expected by March.
A Boeing spokesman said similar contact between the boom and the receiving aircraft happens with the Air Force’s current tankers as well.
A Boeing spokesman also told Aviation Week in December that an issue with the KC-46’s high-frequency radio had been resolved, but an Air Force spokeswoman said the force was still working on it, expecting to have options to address it by January.
The radios use the aircraft’s frame as an antenna, which sometimes creates electrical sparks. The Air Force wants to ensure they can never broadcast during refueling in order to avoid fires.
Issues with uncommanded boom extensions when the refueling boom disconnects from the receiving aircraft with fuel flowing have been reduced to a Category Two deficiency, an Air Force spokeswoman told Aviation Week. The solution to that problem is expected to be implemented in May, the spokeswoman said.
The Air Force still expects the first operational KC-46s by late spring, arriving at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma and McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
Air Force Gen. Carlton Everhart, chief of Air Mobility Command, told Air Force Times that once testing is finished and the new tankers start to be delivered, he expects “they’re going to clear out pretty quick” to Air Force bases.
Boeing won the contract to develop the new tanker in 2011, and the Air Force expects to buy 179 KC-46s under the $44.5 billion program. Under the contract, Boeing is responsible for costs beyond the Air Force’s $4.82 billion commitment. As of late 2017, the defense contractor had eaten about $2.9 billion in pretax costs.
Despite his limited involvement in the Pentagon’s weapons programs, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a stark warning to acquisition officials in November, telling them he was “unwilling (totally)” to accept flawed KC-46 tankers.
On Wednesday, journalist Dolia Estevez reported that during a brief, blunt phone call the previous Friday, US President Donald Trump threatened and cajoled Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
According to Estevez, who cited “confidential information” obtained from sources on both sides of the call, Trump disparaged Mexico and Mexicans, threatened to levy taxes on Mexican imports, and went so far as to hint at sending US troops to confront drug traffickers who, Trump said, Mexico’s military had been incapable of stopping.
The incendiary comments attracted instant attention, both for their vitriol and for their verisimilitude, as Trump frequently inveighed against Mexico throughout his campaign and has kept up his harsh rhetoric during the first days of his administration.
Estevez’s report also characterized Peña Nieto’s response as “stammering.” Much of the Mexican public has been frustrated with Peña Nieto’s response to Trump’s attacks, and the Mexican president has seen his approval rating fall to 12% in recent weeks.
However, while Trump has mentioned a 35% tariff on exports from US companies in Mexico, the most commonly floated number is a 20% tax on Mexican goods entering the US. The White House lists no press briefing by Spicer on January 27, the day of the call.
Hours after Estevez’s report surfaced, a report from The Associated Press corroborated some of the content of the conversation, but downplayed the tone.
“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Peña Nieto, according to an excerpt seen by the AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”
But, the AP said, the excerpt did not make clear who Trump was referring to as “bad hombres,” nor did it make evident the tone or context of Trump’s remark. Moreover, the excerpt did not include Peña Nieto’s response.
The Mexican government also issued a statement around the same time totally rejecting Estevez’s report.
“[It’s] necessary to clarify that the publication is based in absolute falsities and with evident ill intention,” Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on Twitter.
“During the call, President Peña Nieto was clear and emphatic in signaling the differences of position in respect to some statements made by President Trump in public and which he repeated during their dialogue,” the ministry said, adding:
“You assert that you obtained information from confidential sources from ‘both sides of the border.'”
“Only [Peña Nieto] and the foreign minister participated in that call and neither of them remember knowing you or having spoken with you ever. Whoever has been your confidential source on this side of the border, lied to you.”
Eduardo Sanchez, Mexico’s presidential office spokesman, said the conversation was respectful, not hostile or humiliating, as described by Estevez.
“It is absolutely false that President Trump has threatened to send troops to the border,” he said during a Wednesday-night interview with Mexican journalist Carlos Loret de Mola.
Later on Wednesday, the Mexican government issued a statement disputing the AP’s initial report, saying the details of it “did not correspond to reality.”
“The negative expressions to which [the AP report] makes reference, did not happen during said telephone call,” the statement, posted on Twitter, said. “On the contrary, the tone was constructive …”
The White House also disputed the account of a contentious call between Trump and Peña Nieto.
“The White House tells me POTUS did not threaten to invade Mexico,” Andrew Beatty, the AFP’s White House correspondent, tweeted a little before 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Jim Acosta, CNN’s senior White House correspondent, also tweeted a comment he attributed to a White House official: “Reports that the President threatened to invade Mexico are false. Even the Mexican government is disputing these reports.”
A more in-depth report from CNN published Wednesday night cited a transcript of the call that differed from the text published by the AP:
“You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with. We are willing to help with that big-league, but they have be knocked out and you have not done a good job knocking them out.”
A source told CNN that the AP’s report was based on a readout of the conversation between Trump and Peña Nieto written by aides, not on a transcript.
In a further qualification, the White House characterized Trump’s “bad hombres” remark as “lighthearted” to the AP in a story published on Thursday morning.
The White House said the comments were “part of a discussion about how the United States and Mexico could work collaboratively to combat drug cartels and other criminal elements, and make the border more secure.”
A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the AP the conversation was “pleasant and constructive.”
While both sides has downplayed the content of the conversation and dismissed the reportedly hostile tone, the exact nature of the phone call is still unclear, and may remain so until a full transcript or audio (which the Mexican government traditionally does not record) is revealed.
In any case, Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders during his first two weeks as president have been concerning for observers, both at home and abroad.
“(Trump’s) interactions are naive in that he keeps suggesting we will have the best relationship ever with a broad departure of countries, but there is no substance to back it up,” a government official with knowledge of Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders told CNN.
“Source familiar with Trump foreign leader calls says the POTUS convos are turning faces ‘white’ inside the” White House, Acosta tweeted late on Wednesday.
During that call, Trump bragged about his election victory and said Australia was going to send the US “the next Boston bombers” as part of an Obama-approved deal to taken in refugees held by Australia, which he criticized.
Descriptions of Trump’s calls are at odds with “sanitized” White House accounts, The Washington Post, which first reported the nature of the Turnbull call, said of Trump’s discussions with foreign leaders, adding:
“The characterizations provide insight into Trump’s temperament and approach to the diplomatic requirements of his job as the nation’s chief executive, a role in which he continues to employ both the uncompromising negotiating tactics he honed as a real estate developer and the bombastic style he exhibited as a reality television personality.”
The contentious nature of the Trump’s call with the Australian leader was especially troubling, in light of the longstanding and close-knit ties Washington and Canberra have developed over decades.
While the call with Mexico’s president appears to be less sensational that initially reported, that correction will likely do little to sooth the nerves of Mexicans and people of Mexican descent in Mexico and in the US.
Moreover, Mexicans appear to have been caught up in the “extreme vetting” Trump has targeted at citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries.
“We have reports of Mexicans who have been held for more than 12 hours … We have a case of a family who were held for more than 10 hours and we’re looking into that,” Marcelino Miranda, consul for legal affairs at Mexico’s consulate in Chicago, said on Tuesday.
Miranda said he believed stringent questioning faced by those Mexicans had nothing to do with the newly intensified vetting process, though others from the country likely see it as part of a broader hostility to the US’s southern neighbor.
Trump “wants to make an example of Mexico to show how he will deal with countries around the world,” Maria Eugenia Valdes, a political scientist at the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico, told journalist Ioan Grillo.
“This man is capable of anything,” she added.
“When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it, just don’t worry about it,” Trump said during a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning.
“We’re going to straighten it out,” Trump added. “That’s what I do. I fix things.”
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan revealed July 12 he’s been using new rules of engagement that allow his command to deploy American and NATO forces to aid Afghan troops who are on the attack.
The new policy marks a sharp departure from previous authorities for the use of force that restricted U.S. and allied combat power to last ditch efforts to save Afghan troops from defeat.
Afghan mission commander U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson said in a press briefing in Kabul that now U.S. and NATO forces can use airpower and other troops “so that the Afghan Army can assume the offensive against the enemy.”
“As we focused on it this year, we used our in-extremis authorities that we had at the time to help prevent a strategic defeat. … It was in a defensive, reactive kind of manner,” Nicholson said. “With the new authorities that we have now, as of June, we’re able to then provide combat enablers to assist the Afghans … taking the initiative against the enemy and their staging areas.”
The new authority comes on the heels of a stinging Pentagon report that showed special operations forces trying to help Afghan troops fight off a Taliban takeover of Kunduz in 2015 were hamstrung over rules of engagement that left them confused over when they could fight.
According to the report obtained by Reuters, commandos who radioed back for clarification of the ROEs were left hanging by superiors in the rear.
“Sadly, the only sounds audible were the sounds of crickets … though those were hard to hear over the gunfire,” one special operator said in the Pentagon report, according to Reuters.
Nicholson launched a reassessment of the Afghanistan operation, dubbed “Resolute Support Mission,” when he assumed command in February. And in June he was given new authority to help Afghan troops on offense.
In one battle, Nicholson explained he was able to sortie F-16s to strike Taliban positions outside Tarin Kowt to help Afghan forces clear roads cut off by insurgents.
“Since that operation … we’re using our new authorities so that the Afghan army can assume the offensive against the enemy in Maiwand District, Band-e-Timor area, which is a well-known staging area. So it’s offensive,” Nicholson said.
President Obama announced last week he would keep about 8,500 American troops assigned to Afghanistan to fight the continued Taliban insurgency and fight terrorist groups.
Nicholson said during his press conference that about 3,000 U.S. troops would be assigned to continue training and advising Afghan troops, with another 3,300 “enablers,” including helicopter and fixed wing aircraft crews, assigned to give the Afghans a little extra combat punch.
The force also includes about 2,150 troops dedicated to the counterterrorism mission and about 400 troops based in other countries but helping with the Resolute Support mission.
A retired University of Wisconsin administrator was elected national commander of the nation’s largest veterans organization today during The American Legion’s 99th national convention.
Denise H. Rohan, a Vietnam-era veteran of the US Army, is the first woman to be elected to the top position of the 2 million member American Legion.
“Women were allowed to vote for national commander of The American Legion back in 1919, before they could vote for the president of the United States,” Rohan said. “The American Legion has always believed that a veteran is a veteran regardless of gender, race, or religion. If I can offer a different perspective than other Legionnaires, that’s great. But I am excited to build on the great programs, dedicated service and proud legacy of the many Legionnaires who came before me.”
Rohan has served The American Legion since 1984. While commander of Post 333 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, she established Sons of the American Legion Squadron 333 and chartered Boy Scout Troop 333. She has also served as the department (state) commander of the Wisconsin American Legion.
She was employed with the University of Wisconsin Madison as the assistant bursar of student loans until her retirement in 2012. She managed the University of Wisconsin Madison, University of Wisconsin Green Bay, and University of Wisconsin Colleges’ $120 million loan portfolio made up of approximately 200 different federal, institutional and state programs in compliance with all laws, regulations, and policy.
Rohan was responsible for the efficiency and design of the computerized student loan accounts-receivable system.
After taking the oath of office, Trump remained at the Capitol to sign a number of documents officially nominating his choices for cabinet and ambassador posts and to declare Jan. 20 a “National Day of Patriotism.”
Among the documents was the historic waiver for the 66-year-old Mattis, who led the 2003 invasion of Iraq as commander of the 1st Marine Division, commanded a task force in Afghanistan in 2001, and commanded a battalion in the Persian Gulf war in 1990.
In 1947, Congress passed a law barring members of the military from taking the Defense Secretary’s post until seven years after retirement to preserve civilian control of the military. Mattis retired in 2013.
The only previous exception to the law was the waiver granted to Gen. George C. Marshall, the five-star Army chief of staff in World War II, who became Defense Secretary in 1950.
Earlier this week in separate action, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 26-1 to approve Mattis for a confirmation vote by the full Senate. The only “No” vote in the Committee was from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, who praised Mattis but said she was voting against him on the issue of civilian control.
The full Senate was expected to confirm Mattis, possibly later Friday. If confirmed, Mattis was expected to make his first visit as the 26th Secretary of Defense to the Pentagon to meet with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, who was staying on temporarily at the Pentagon to assist with management issues.
During the campaign, Trump said he would demand a plan from his commanders within 30 days of taking office speed up and ultimately end the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In his inaugural address, Trump said he would “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the Earth.”
During his Senate confirmation hearings, Mattis also said he would be reviewing plans to “accelerate” the ISIS campaign but gave no details.
Already, there were signs that the U.S. military was moving more aggressively against ISIS and also the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. On Wednesday, in the last combat mission specifically authorized by President Barack Obama, B-2 Spirit stealth bombers flying out of Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri struck ISIS camps in Libya.
On Thursday, a B-52 bomber deployed to the region dropped munitions in Syria west of Aleppo against a training camp of the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham group, formerly known as the Al Nusra Front and linked to Al Qaeda.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman said “The removal of this training camp disrupts training operations and discourages hardline Islamist and Syrian opposition groups from joining or cooperating with Al Qaeda on the battlefield.”
In the military space, there are all kinds of strength, variations of independence and endless examples of courage. Jennifer Mabus, 2018 Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hiker and new Navy spouse is planning to literally walk away from it all (again) with her husband’s next deployment.
In the spring of 2018, Mabus and her now-husband Owen began a long-distance friendship at quite possibly the most inopportune time in each’s lives. Mabus was setting out to hike the PCT and Owen, a Navy diver, was gearing up for deployment. With one quick chance to see each other on a layover work trip, the two had just one shot at meeting face to face before both set out.
PCT 2018 Day 1 | The Day I Poured Out My Dad’s Booze
“We communicated every chance we got the entire time I was on trail and he was deployed, but there was never any tension. We were both doing our things and clearly understood that from the beginning,” says Mabus, who credits their communication and mutual respect aiding to the love within their story.
Mabus, a mechanical engineer, made the cross country move to Virginia this January, taking her first steps into life as a military spouse. “My dad was a Ranger. I had some idea about what this life would be like, but it wasn’t what I imagined being ideal for myself to be honest.”
“Coming into military spouse life, it is the partner who undergoes major changes. It’s a challenge to face the potential of losing some of your identity, to be the one who is left behind,” says Mabus hesitantly in reflection of still searching for her niche now.
Luckily for Mabus, adaptation was a skill she honed while on trail. “Humans can adapt to anything. On trail, no matter how great your plan was, the likelihood was that it would be altered or changed. That’s a lot like military spouse life I’m finding out.”
Couples bring all sorts of skills and expectations into marriage, but for these two, the mutual understanding of accomplishing huge feats (deployment and thru-hiking) simultaneously or otherwise, was a goal they wouldn’t lose sight of. Pre-pandemic, Mabus had coordinated a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) at the same time Owen was to deploy.
“He knows how much life this brings to my life. Being married now, we had to check-in emotionally because there would be a chance, I may not be home when he gets back from deployment,” she says nervously.
Dependents worldwide understand the monumental pressure of holding down the fort when service members are gone. While certainly unique, Mabus’ plan to pursue her own hard thing might not be so shocking to comprehend after hearing just a few of her reflections of her time on trail.
“There’s a deep disconnect from life’s stressors and a newfound connection to yourself that happens. This isn’t a weekend getaway, it’s dedicating every day to walking forward with extreme intention,” a feeling she has yet to find elsewhere.
“I’ve never been prouder of myself, of my body, or the trust I had in what I could do,” she said.
When asked about keeping up with communication expectations now as a married couple Mabus shared, “Last time, I sent postcards from each town I reached. We both left messages, videos and picked up conversations when each had the chance. The understanding that each of us might be out of touch for a few days or delayed in responding is important.”
Managing expectations for military couples is an obstacle we all tackle in ways unique to our relationship. Missing “scheduled” calls and experiencing what feels like radio silence for days on end is taxing. Imagining deployment when both parties not only accept, but expect to both give and receive these lags in communication has to eliminate byproducts like resentment, fear or even anger.
The unexpected mix of experiences and perspectives that live within the military spouse community is everything that keeps the group (military spouses) amazing. Mabus’ outlook, strength and unique plan will undoubtedly shake up a few mindsets, and for that we’re giving her the biggest high five we can. We’ll be catching up with her Youtube trail diary (from 2018) and low-key stalking her Instagram for her next adventure.
A U.S. Army project took a new approach to developing robots — researchers built robots entirely from smaller robots known as “smarticles,” unlocking the principles of a potentially new locomotion technique.
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and Northwestern University published their findings in the journal Science Robotics.
The research could lead to robotic systems capable of changing their shapes, modalities and functions, said Sam Stanton, program manager, complex dynamics and systems at the Army Research Office, an element of U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, the Army’s corporate research laboratory.
“For example, as envisioned by the Army Functional Concept for Maneuver, a robotic swarm may someday be capable of moving to a river and then autonomously forming a structure to span the gap,” he said.
Five identical “smarticles” — smart active particles — interact with one another in an enclosure. By nudging each other, the group — dubbed a “supersmarticle” — can move in random ways. The research could lead to robotic systems capable of changing their shapes, modalities and functions.
The 3D-printed smarticles — short for smart active particles — can do just one thing: flap their two arms. But when five of these smarticles are confined in a circle, they begin to nudge one another, forming a robophysical system known as a “supersmarticle” that can move by itself. Adding a light or sound sensor allows the supersmarticle to move in response to the stimulus — and even be controlled well enough to navigate a maze.
The notion of making robots from smaller robots — and taking advantage of the group capabilities that arise by combining individuals — could provide mechanically based control over very small robots. Ultimately, the emergent behavior of the group could provide a new locomotion and control approach for small robots that could potentially change shapes.
“These are very rudimentary robots whose behavior is dominated by mechanics and the laws of physics,” said Dan Goldman, a Dunn Family Professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the project’s principal investigator. “We are not looking to put sophisticated control, sensing and computation on them all. As robots become smaller and smaller, we’ll have to use mechanics and physics principles to control them because they won’t have the level of computation and sensing we would need for conventional control.”
The foundation for the research came from an unlikely source: a study of construction staples. By pouring these heavy-duty staples into a container with removable sides, former doctoral student Nick Gravish — now a faculty member at the University of California San Diego — created structures that would stand by themselves after the container’s walls were removed.
Light hits a smarticle (smart active particle) causing it to stop moving, while the other smarticles continue to flap their arms. The resulting interactions produce movement toward the stopped smarticle, providing control that doesn’t depend on computer algorithms.
Shaking the staple towers eventually caused them to collapse, but the observations led to a realization that simple entangling of mechanical objects could create structures with capabilities well beyond those of the individual components.
“Dan Goldman’s research is identifying physical principles that may prove essential for engineering emergent behavior in future robot collectives as well as new understanding of fundamental tradeoffs in system performance, responsiveness, uncertainty, resiliency and adaptivity,” Stanton said.
The researchers used a 3D printer to create battery-powered smarticles, which have motors, simple sensors and limited computing power. The devices can change their location only when they interact with other devices while enclosed by a ring.
“Even though no individual robot could move on its own, the cloud composed of multiple robots could move as it pushed itself apart and shrink as it pulled itself together,” Goldman said. “If you put a ring around the cloud of little robots, they start kicking each other around and the larger ring — what we call a supersmarticle — moves around randomly.”
The researchers noticed that if one small robot stopped moving, perhaps because its battery died, the group of smarticles would begin moving in the direction of that stalled robot. The researchers learned to control the movement by adding photo sensors to the robots that halt the arm flapping when a strong beam of light hits one of them.
Smarticles: Robots built from smaller robots work together
“If you angle the flashlight just right, you can highlight the robot you want to be inactive, and that causes the ring to lurch toward or away from it, even though no robots are programmed to move toward the light,” Goldman said. “That allowed steering of the ensemble in a very rudimentary, stochastic way.”
In future work, Goldman envisions more complex interactions that use the simple sensing and movement capabilities of the smarticles. “People have been interested in making a certain kind of swarm robots that are composed of other robots,” he said. “These structures could be reconfigured on demand to meet specific needs by tweaking their geometry.”
Swarming formations of robotic systems could be used to enhance situational awareness and mission-command capabilities for small Army units in difficult-to-maneuver environments like cities, forests, caves or other rugged terrain.
The research project also received funding from National Science Foundation.
The motorcycle club whose members were at the vanguard of Russia’s occupation of Crimea, nicknamed “Putin’s Angels” by the media, is on the road again.
Members of the Night Wolves were due in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Serb-majority entity Republika Srpska, Banja Luka, on March 21, 2018, and were expected to hold a press conference in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, around a week later.
They have planned or taken provocative rides before — including a Victory Day trip to Berlin and a candle lighting at Katyn, where Josef Stalin is said to have ordered the execution of tens of thousands of Polish officers during World War II — and are targeted by U.S. and Canadian sanctions for their thuggish support of non-uniformed Russian forces during the takeover of Crimea in 2014.
The group’s agenda during its tour of what it calls the “Russian Balkans” remains unclear, and it is hard to know whether it somehow reflects Kremlin geopolitical goals or is just a solid effort at trolling.
Atlantic Council senior fellow Dimitar Bechev recently argued that while Russia is increasingly active in the Western Balkans, its influence is not as great as generally believed.
Promoting his new book, Rival Power: Russia In Southeast Europe, at the London School of Economics, Bechev expressed concern that Western media was obsessed with the idea of Russia as a “partner-turned-enemy” in the Balkans and the Middle East.
“In reality, if Russia was increasingly present in the Balkan region, it was not always because it was imposing itself but because local powers and elites were engaging Russia to serve their own domestic agendas,” Bechev said.
The Slavic culture and the Orthodox faith of many of the region’s inhabitants have also meant that the “narrative structure [already] tends to favor Russia” in the Balkans and makes it fertile ground for the possible exercise of Russian “soft power.”
But Jasmin Mujanovic, author of the book Hunger Fury: The Crisis Of Democracy In The Balkans, is less certain that Russia’s influence in the region has been overstated.
“Russia’s influence in Bosnia and the Balkans is obviously not as significant as it is in its immediate ‘near abroad.’ But that does not mean Moscow does not have concrete strategic aims in the region, aims which, from the perspective of the political and democratic integrity of local polities, are incredibly destructive.”
According to Mujanovic, the combination of clear Russian objectives in the region and the desperation of some local politicians to cling to power (such as Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik) makes for an explosive mix.
“[O]ne does not militarize their police, or hire paramilitaries, or purchase missiles if they are not prepared to use them,” said Mujanovic. He suggested that some individuals were prepared to use violence to sabotage the Bosnian elections in 2018 and “counting on support from Russia and assorted Russian proxies to do it.” He did not provide specific evidence of any such plans.
“Russia’s objective is simple: Keep Bosnia out of NATO and the EU,” Mujanovic added. “Moscow wants to ensure that the country remains an ethnically fragmented basketcase in the heart of the Balkans.”
Into this volatile context ride the Night Wolves.
On their Facebook page, the Russian bikers said their nine-day tour through Bosnia and Serbia would cover 2,000 kilometers after leaving Belgrade on March 19, 2018. Two of the Night Wolves have been denied entry to Bosnia on security grounds, including the group’s leader, Aleksandr Zaldostanov, aka “The Surgeon.”
Following their role in the Ukrainian conflict, the Night Wolves were blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury in 2014 and a year later prevented from riding through Poland on their way to Berlin to mark the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany.
Yet these concerns apparently are not shared by authorities in Serbia and in Republika Srpska, in Bosnia.
“The different perceptions of the [Night Wolves’] tour are a reflection of the Balkan political landscape, including differences in relations with Russia,” Belgrade-based analyst Bosko Jaksic told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service.
“Republika Srpska in particular is a bastion of pro-Russian sentiment and currently the main focus of Russian activity in the Western Balkans,” Jaksic added. “In Serbia, meanwhile, there are numerous organizations, groups, associations, and even political parties that do not hide their admiration for Russia. [This tour] among other things should serve as a warning that Russia is ramping up its influence, relying both on existing local support and using every available means and avenue to project its soft power.”
Jaksic said he believes the Balkans became a key part of Moscow’s strategic agenda following the onset of the Ukrainian crisis and is now a target for its soft-power arsenal.
“These so-called ‘Putin’s Angels’ are undoubtedly a part of a very political agenda,” Jaksic said.
It appears that in Republika Srpska, where only around half of the population has access to the Internet, trolls must deliver their message in person.
“The leader of the Night Wolves…uses his motorbike like a scalpel to make an incision and separate parts of the Balkans from the West, bringing them closer to Russia. He does so while preaching pan-Slavism and Christian Orthodoxy, two favorite themes of Russian propaganda,” Jaksic said.
While the West equivocates over the Balkans, Mujanovic complained, “Moscow and Banja Luka will not squander an easy opportunity to ‘create new facts’ on the ground,” adding that even a small dose of violence could be fatal to “a polity already as fragmented as Bosnia.”
“This,” Mujanovic said, “is the most significant threat to the Dayton peace [accords] since 1996.”
Thank you for being a friend … and a MARINE! Yes, the very same Bea Arthur that we know and love as Dorothy Zbornak from the “Golden Girls” and Maude from “All in the Family” served in the U.S. military.
Arthur, who passed away in 2009 of lung cancer, was originally named Bernice Frankel. She later changed her first name, and used an alternate spelling of her former husband’s last name, Aurthur.
In 1943, the Marines became the last military branch to accept women into their ranks. They announced a call for enlistments with the marketing slogan, “Be a Marine … Free a Man to Fight.” With the addition of women into their force for administrative and behind-the-scenes work, men who were previously performing those jobs were able to head to the frontlines.
Just five days later, Arthur enlisted. However, not yet 21 (the age required to enlist at the time) she had to obtain permission from her parents. All of this, and more, is listed on her Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), which is available to this day via the National Archives.
It’s worth noting that, because the Marines had just begun accepting women, they hadn’t even provided paperwork to do so. Therefore, Arthur, and hundreds of others, were processed into the Marines through Navy paperwork and exam schedules.
In one of her incoming interviews, a processing worker wrote comments like “frank and open,” “argumentative,” “over aggressive,” and “probably a good worker if she has her own way!”
She joined the military during World War II, in February of 1943, when she served for two years before being honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant in September of 1945. She was one of the first women to enlist with the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. She worked as a typist in Washington, D.C., before requesting to attend the Motor Transport School. She then worked as a dispatcher and truck driver. Throughout her career, she was stationed between Washington, D.C. and two bases in North Carolina.
After her discharge, Arthur went to school to become a lab tech, even interning at a hospital. However, she didn’t enjoy the work and left to attend drama school in 1947. By the late ’40s, she was performing in off-Broadway shows. She went on to perform on Broadway, winning a Tony for her performance as Vera Charles in “Mame”, before transitioning to television, where she was one of the most famous actresses throughout the ’70s and ’80s.
It’s worth noting that Arthur publicly denied her time in the Marines throughout her acting career; she also did so blatantly, on-the-record, in a 2001 interview. Her military records were made public a year after her death, in 2010, proving her enlistment. It’s unknown why she denied her involvement as a Marine. Though one running theory is that it was to hide a misconduct report, when Arthur was written up for contracting a sexually transmitted disease. The stint left her “incapacitated for duty” for five weeks, for which she received a cut in pay.
However, at the time of joining, records show her as eager and “willing to do her part” to help with the war.
Russia hinted on Jan. 11 that Ukraine manufactured the explosives used in an attempted drone attack on its military bases in Syria, following claims linking Turkey and the U.S. to the attack.
“Preliminary research has shown that PETN was used as a base for an explosive substance used in that ammo, which is more powerful than hexogen. The specified explosive is produced in a number of countries, including at Ukraine’s Shostka Chemical Reagents Plant,” Major General Alexander Novikov said in a Russian Ministry of Defense release.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense denied the allegations, according to Hromadske, a Ukrainian media outlet.
“This is nothing more than a regular informational attack,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Victoria Kushnir said. “We reject these allegations.”
Russia’s Hmeymim Air Base and Tartus Naval Facility in Syria were attacked overnight with a swarm of 13 drones on Jan. 5 and 6, but were seemingly successfully repelled.
Moscow has since released a number of pictures of the drones, which were fixed-wing UAVs made of wood and tape and powered by small internal combustion engines seen on lawn mowers.
Russia has continuously claimed the drones came from a local force that was backed by an outside power. But experts told Business Insider that the drones could have been constructed and operated without any outside help.
“I could literally turn 10 drones on right now in a field by myself and tell them to fly to a specific coordinate,” Brett Velicovich, a leading expert in drones and author of “Drone Warrior,” told Business Insider in an email.
“Basic swarming with drones now is so easy that any kid with an internet connection can figure out how to do it,” Velicovich said.
Russia plays the blame game
Moscow had previously hinted that the US helped target the drones, claiming that a P-8 Poseidon spy plane had “coincidentally” flown over the Russian bases around the time of the attack.
“Any suggestion the US, the Coalition or our partnered forces played a role in an attack on a Russian base is without any basis in fact and utterly irresponsible,” Defense Department spokesman Eric Pahon previously told Business Insider in an email, adding over the phone that the insinuation is “absolute bonkers.”
Moscow on Jan. 1o said that the drone attack originated from the village of Muazzara, which is located in the Idlib province of Syria.
“The recent drone attack on Russian bases in Syria was launched from an area near Idlib, which is controlled by Turkish-backed rebel forces,” RT reported, adding that Moscow complained to Turkey about the incident.
However, Russian President Putin said on Jan. 11 that he had spoken to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and that he was confident that Turkey had nothing to with it, according to the Associated Press.
“There were provocateurs, but they weren’t the Turks,” Putin said. “We know who they were and how much they paid for that provocation.”
“We often overestimate how much governments in capitals have control over the rebel groups they sponsor,” Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at CNA, previously told Business Insider.
While Moscow appears to have now excluded Ankara from its list of perpetrators, it continues to insinuate that the rebels that launched the drones had outside help.
The Russian MoD Defense Ministry spelled it out on Thursday, arguing that the complexity of the drones — which they said required “calculations and flight tests” — prove that whoever launched them were backed by an outside power.
“First of all, it is impossible to develop such drones in an improvised manner. They were developed and operated by experts with special skills acquired in countries that produce and apply systems with UAVs,” according to the MoD. “The fact that terrorists have received assembly technology and programming technology is the evidence that this threat stretches far beyond the Syrian borders.”
Experts agree: Russia is wrong
Business Insider spoke with multiple experts who all said that the drones could have been constructed and operated from a distance of more than 30 miles by rebels without any outside help.
Gorenburg, the CNA research scientist, said Russia was likely “embarrassed” by the attack and the MoD may have needed to attribute the drone strike to “a major power.”
Caitlin Lee, a political scientist at the RAND Corp., told Business Insider that GPS or a camera would be needed to operate a drone at such a distance.
“It’s not out of the realm of possibility for a non-state actor to put GPS software on a drone,” Lee said.
The Russian Defense Ministry even admitted that one of the drones had a camera on it.
Velicovich, the author of “Drone War,” said the drones could have come from ISIS, which has been increasingly active in Syria’s Idlib province.
“Wouldn’t surprise me if this was ISIS’s drone unit, which has been active for a few years now and played with similar technology under their Al Bara Bin Malik brigade,” he said.
Aaron Stein, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Business Insider the same thing.
“All of the technology — the styrofoam, wood, lawn mower engines — can probably be bought in Idlib for a couple hundred dollars,” Stein said.
“It’s really embarrassing to have a bunch of junk fly through your air defenses and wreak havoc,” he said.
Mix one U.S. Marine with alcohol and throw in the possibility of a huge foam party and you get an alcohol-related incident on Kadena Air Base.
That’s according to Navy Times, which reported on Tuesday that Air Force officials were investigating how a drunk Marine entered an aircraft hangar on Kadena on May 23 and turned on the fire suppression system at around 1:45 a.m., releasing flame retardant foam close to at least one aircraft.
“The details of the incident are currently under investigation,” 2nd Lt. Erik Anthony told Stars and Stripes in an email. “Kadena’s capabilities and readiness have not suffered.”
The unnamed Marine was arrested shortly after the incident, but details on the Marine’s level of intoxication, his or her unit, or who made the arrest, were not released.