While shopping privileges exclude the purchase of uniforms, alcohol and tobacco products, it includes the Exchange Services’ dynamic online retail environment known so well to service members and their families. This policy change follows careful analysis, coordination and strong public support.
“We are excited to provide these benefits to honorably discharged veterans to recognize their service and welcome them home to their military family,” said Peter Levine, performing the duties for the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
“In addition, this initiative represents a low-risk, low-cost opportunity to help fund Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs in support of service members’ and their families’ quality of life. And it’s just the right thing to do,” Levine added.
The online benefit will also strengthen the exchanges’ online businesses to better serve current patrons. Inclusion of honorably discharged veterans would conservatively double the exchanges’ online presence, thereby improving the experience for all patrons through improved vendor terms, more competitive merchandise assortments, and improved efficiencies, according to DoD officials.
“As a nation, we are grateful for the contributions of our service members. Offering this lifetime online benefit is one small, tangible way the nation can say, ‘Thank you’ to those who served with honor,” Levine said.
NOW WATCH: Pentagon considers lifetime access to Exchange system for vets
Heading out to the field to conduct a training operation sounds like a whole lot of fun when it’s your first time out. But as we all know, the majority of the time nothing happens as originally planned, and things tend to fall apart just as soon as they start.
Although tactical training is super important, field ops usually consist of nothing more than a lot of hiking, shooting some blanks and eating MREs.
No matter how many times you’ve gone out to the field in your career, you’ll always remember your first time above the rest.
President Donald Trump has reemphasized military strength, reportedly planning to ask for $716 billion in defense spending in 2019 — a 7% increase over the 2018 budget (though spending is currently limited by budget caps).
US defense spending is the highest in the world, more than the combined budgets of the next several countries. But US plans to ramp up acquisitions of military hardware will only add to an already booming arms industry.
Between 2012 and 2016, more weapons were delivered around the world than during any five-year period since 1990.
Below, you can see the world’s top 5 militaries, as ranked by Global Firepower Index.
The ranking assesses the diversity of weapons held by each country and pays particular attention to the manpower available.
“Balance is the key — a large, strong fighting force across land, sea, and air backed by a resilient economy and defensible territory along with an efficient infrastructure — such qualities are those used to round out a particular nation’s total fighting strength on paper,” the ranking states.
But a few defining aspects of those countries’ ability to muster military power are not directly related to their armed forces.
Geographical factors, logistical flexibility, natural resources, and local industry all influenced the final ranking, Global Firepower said.
Each of the top 10 countries have a labor force of more than 30 million people. Three of the top five — the US, China, and India — have more than 150 million available workers.
The following 15 countries vary more widely in labor-force size — from 123.7 million in Indonesia to 3.9 million in Israel — but they still have more than 37.2 million workers on average.
Industrial and labor capacity are complemented by robust logistical capabilities, including extensive railway and roadway networks, numerous major ports and airports, and strong merchant-marine corps. Extensive coastlines and waterways also facilitate the movement of goods and people.
For the US, those logistical capacities have been tested by increasing activity in Afghanistan as well as efforts to built up its presence in Europe.
The US Army’s 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade served as the logistics headquarters in Afghanistan in 2017. During its six-month deployment, the unit distributed more than 380 million gallons of fuel throughout Afghanistan — a landlocked country roughly the size of Texas.
“It’s not easy to [transport] fuel. You have to get it to the right place at the right time. You have to make sure it’s of the right quality, and you have to make sure you have storage on one end and distribution capability on the other end,” Col. Michael Lalor, the brigade commander, said in late February. “That’s what always kept me up at night.”
US Military Sealift Command (MSC), which oversees the US Navy’s fleet of mostly civilian-crewed support ships, is adding ships to boost its presence around Europe and Africa, in response to both insurgent activity and growing tensions with Russia — all of which have added tension to the US’s already strained supply lines.
In 2017, MSC moved twice as much ordnance, three times as many critical parts, and one-third as much cargo in Europe and Africa as it did in 2016.
“I definitely don’t see (activity) going down anytime soon,” Capt. Eric Conzen, MSC commander in Europe and Africa, told Stars and Stripes of his unit’s workload. “There’s a desire for it to increase.”
In May 1898, Admiral George Dewey’s name carried almost as much weight as that of George Washington among Americans. His feats were compared to other homegrown legends of the sea such as John Paul Jones, Oliver Hazard Perry, and David Farragut. Thousands of ribbons, bowls, dishes, celluloid buttons, canes, paperweights, and spoons were produced depicting his distinguishing features – his white hair and matching walrus mustache. He was avowed as an American folk hero for his victory at Manila Bay against the Spanish, and his popularity almost launched him into the presidency as it did Zachary Taylor in 1850.
But today, the mention of his name to most Americans would be met with blank stares.
Dewey was not a remarkable man. He was neither brilliant nor did he possess any identifiable characteristics that demonstrated an above average ability. While attending the United States Naval Academy, he earned 113 demerits in his first year due to a number of infractions and his never-ending fixation with practical jokes. (Two hundred demerits would have led to a midshipman being expelled.)
No one is really sure how he got the nickname “Shang,” but it stuck. His career was lifeless leading up to 1898. By then, he was more than sixty years old and had not seen active duty in over thirty years.
The legendary Admiral David Farragut (of “Damn the torpedoes!” fame) was his role model. Dewey cherished the memory of serving alongside Farragut during the American Civil War. He declared of his idol that, “Farragut has always been my ideal of the Naval Officer; urbane, decisive, indomitable. Valuable as the training at Annapolis was, it was poor schooling beside that of serving under Farragut in time of war.” Even on the eve of the Battle of Manila Bay, Dewey asked himself “What would Farragut do?” He made a point to exemplify the characteristics he learned from Farragut for the remainder of his life.
Dr. Ronald H. Spector, author of Admiral of the New Empire: The Life and Career of George Dewey, wrote that the years between the 1860s and the 1890s were years of pain, frustration, tedium, and stagnation for Dewey. His wife Susie died in 1872, five days after giving birth to a son. He always carried a gold pocket watch with an image of her declaring to one individual, “My wife goes with me always.” With the exception of the death of his wife, these years were the most monotonous of his life. But in 1898, life drastically changed for Dewey.
At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Dewey took command of the U.S. Asiatic Squadron anchored north of Hong Kong in January of 1898. Even though well past his youth, Dewey was still lean and possessed a decisive frame of mind. Then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt favored the old naval officer and proclaimed, “Here was a man who could be relied upon to prepare in advance and to act fearlessly and on his own responsibility when the emergency aroused.” Dewey received orders from his government to crush the Spanish Pacific fleet anchored in the vicinity of Manila Bay, Philippines.
Under the cover of darkness, Dewey’s fleet (coated with gray paint to cover their glistering white frames) snuck into Manila Bay. The vessels passed single file through the Spanish channel with Dewey in the lead on his flagship, the Olympia, followed by the Baltimore, Boston, Raleigh, Concord, and Petrel. One officer feared Spanish mines in the channel might endanger the life of Dewey, voicing his concern to his commander. Dewey wanted to hear none of it and declared, “I have waited sixty years for this opportunity. Mines or no mines, I am leading the squadron myself.”
When the Olympia drifted to within 5,500 yards of the Spanish Pacific fleet around 5:40 a.m. on May 1, it unleashed the first salvo as the lead American vessel. Dewey led his vessels to and fro in front of the Spanish fleet, until they were finally within the close proximity of 1,800 yards. The whole time Dewey sat with composure on the bridge of the Olympia while his guns roared, sporting an ivory uniform and matching golf cap. By 12:50 p.m., all seven Spanish vessels were sunk or set on fire and scuttled, with the heavy loss of 400 killed and wounded. Dewey lost neither a ship nor man (8 men were wounded).
One of the most flawless U.S. naval victories in history was conducted by a man of mediocre ability, but who rose to the occasion and snatched a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. His grit, decisiveness, and courage made up for his shortage of brilliance. Dewey’s victory allowed for the U.S. occupation of Manila and contributed to ending the war. Sometimes the most prosperous men in war are the most ordinary men during peacetime.
The Summer Olympics Games may be in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil but all eyes are on Peru this week as security forces from 20 nations compete at Fuerzas Comando, a friendly military skills competition where the top special operations forces and police forces from the Western Hemisphere compete for the coveted Fuerzas Comando Cup.
Along with the U.S. and Colombian delegations, teams from the nations of Argentina, Belize, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay will compete in this year’s event. The U.S. team is represented by elite Green Berets from the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group.
The U.S. is looking to finally bring home the gold after coming in second place each of the previous two years, losing to the Colombian special operations team. Colombia has won the last three Fuerzas Comando competitions and has won seven times overall since the games were established in 2011.
Sponsored by U.S. Southern Command and executed by U.S. Special Operations Command South, the annual event aims to improve cooperation, knowledge, and interoperability between participating countries. It’s broken down into two parts: an assault team competition and a sniper team competition. Each event is scored and evaluated by judges from each of the 20 participating nations to provide a fair and balanced evaluation of all the participating nations.
The team who wins each event wins 200 points. The team with the most points by the end of the week-long event wins the title of Fuerzas Comando champion. These are the events in which the teams will be judged:
This event consists of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and a 2-mile run.
2016 Competition Update: The Guatemala Team place 1st in this event and were awarded 200 points. They were followed by Mexico and Honduras. The U.S. team placed 14th in this event.
A series of tests assessing the marksmanship abilities of the assault team members using both rifle and pistol from various distances. Each of the events is timed.
Competitors must run long distances with heavy objects and drag large mannequins across various stations on a firing range and then engage stationary targets. The team with the most successful hits wins 200 points.
This event consists of getting across a large body of water in a raft, run 3 miles with their rucks, swim with full military gear and weapons, and then sprint to a pistol marksmanship range and engage targets.
The obstacle course consists of a series of stations such as a rope climb, horizontal ladders, wall climbs, and rappelling tall towers to test each individual’s strength, endurance, and balance.
Competitors compete in a 12-mile ruck march with full military equipment. Team with the fastest time wins the event.
Combat Assault (Shoot House)
Each nation’s assault team moves through a shoot house to clear several targets. Teams must eliminate all threats located inside and rescue a hostage dummy. Each team must carry their hostage back to the finish line to successfully complete the event.
Sniper concealment and Mobility
Move within a range observe and engage a target while remaining undetected. They must return to the starting point without being seen by the judges. The teams have 90 mins to complete this event.
Sniper Unknown Distance Shoot
Competitors engage targets from various distances, 300 to 800 meters. The team who hits the most targets wins the event.
The exercise ends with a multinational friendship airborne jump. To stay updated on the day-to-day results and scores on the competition, follow https://www.facebook.com/USSOCSOUTH/
The Pentagon is making a massive push to accelerate the application of artificial intelligence to ships, tanks, aircraft, drones, weapons, and large networks as part of a sweeping strategy to more quickly harness and integrate the latest innovations.
Many forms of AI are already well-underway with US military combat systems, yet new technologies and applications are emerging so quickly that Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has directed the immediate creation of a new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.
“The Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the DoD Chief Information Officer to standup the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center in order to enable teams across DoD to swiftly deliver new AI-enabled capabilities and effectively experiment with new operating concepts in support of DoD’s military missions and business functions.” DoD spokeswoman Heather Babb told Warrior Maven.
Pentagon officials intend for the new effort to connect otherwise disparate AI developments across the services. The key concept, naturally, is to capitalize upon the newest and most efficient kinds of autonomy, automation, and specific ways in which AI can develop for the long term — yet also have an immediate impact upon current military operations.
AI performs a wide range of functions not purely restricted to conventional notions of IT or cyberspace; computer algorithms are increasingly able to almost instantaneously access vast pools of data, compare and organize information and perform automated procedural and analytical functions for human decision-makers in a role of command and control. While AI can of course massively expedite data consolidation, cloud migration and various kinds much-needed cybersecurity functions, it is increasingly being applied more broadly across weapons systems, large platforms and combat networks as well.
Rapid data-base access, organizing information and performing high-volume procedural functions are all decided advantages of AI applications. Algorithms, for example, are increasingly able to scan, view and organize ISR input such as images or video – to identify points of combat relevance of potential interest to a commander.
AI enabled technology can perform these kinds of procedural functions exponentially faster than humans can, massively shortening the crucial decision-making timeframe for combat decision makers. At the same time, many experts, developers, and military leaders recognize that the certain problem-solving faculties and subjective determinations unique to human cognition – are still indispensable to decision making in war.
For this reason, advanced AI relies upon what developers refer to as “human-machine” interface or “easing the cognitive burden” wherein humans function in a command and control capacity while computer automation rapidly performs a range of key procedural functions.
AI & IT
This AI-driven phenomenon is of particular relevance when it comes to data systems, IT as a whole and advances in cybersecurity. For instance, Air Force developers are using advanced computer automation to replicate human behavior online – for the specific purpose of luring and tracking potential intruders. Also, AI can be used to perform real-time analytics on incoming traffic potentially containing malware, viruses or any kind of attempted intrusion. If the source, characteristics or discernable pattern of an attempted intrusion are identified quickly, cyber defenders are better positioned to respond.
When high-volume, redundant tasks are performed through computer automation, humans are freed up to expend energy pursuing a wider range of interpretive or conceptual work.
For example, the Army is working with a private firm called NCI to establish a certification of worthiness for a specific AI-enabled program designed to streamline a number of key tasks.
The NCI-developed program enables account creation, account deletion, background checks and other kind of high-volume data analysis.
“You can log into 10 different websites simultaneously, rather than having a person do that. A machine can go through and gather all the information for a person,” Brad Mascho Chief AI Officer, NCI, told Warrior Maven in an interview. “Humans can focus on higher priority threats.”
At the same time, big data analytics can quickly present new challenges for a variety of key reasons; a larger data flow can make it difficult for servers to “flex” as needed to accommodate rapid jumps in data coming through. Therefore, AI-empowered algorithms such as those engineered by NCI are needed to organize incoming data and identify anomalies or potential intrusions.
There is also a growing need for more real-time monitoring of activity on a message “bus,” because standard analytics methods based on probability and statistical probability often detect intrusions after the fact and are not always reliable or 100-percent accurate, cybersecurity experts and analysts explain.
AI & cyber defense
Algorithms calling upon advanced AI are being used to quickly access vast pools of data to perform real-time analytics designed to detect patterns and anomalies associated with malware.
“Every day, the Defense Department thwarts an estimated 36 million e-mails containing malware, viruses and phishing schemes from hackers, terrorists and foreign adversaries trying to gain unauthorized access to military systems,” Babb told Warrior Maven earlier this year.
Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle.
One particular technique, now being developed by CISCO systems, seeks to address a particular irony or cybersecurity paradox; namely, while much DoD network traffic is encrypted for additional safety, encryption can also make it more difficult for cyber defenders to see hidden malware in the traffic.
CISCO is now prototyping new detection methods as part of an effort to introduce their technology to the US military services.
“We have the ability to read and detect malware in encrypted web traffic. Even though the data is encrypted there is still a pattern to malware,” Kelly Jones, Systems Engineer for CISCO Navy programs, told Warrior Maven.
AI & large combat platforms, tanks & fighter jets
Real-time analytics, informed by AI, has already had much success with both Army and Air Force Conditioned-Based Maintenance initiatives. The Army used IBMs Watson computer to perform real-time analytics on sensor information from Stryker vehicles and tactical trucks.
Drawing upon seemingly limitless databases of historical data, Watson was able to analyze information related to potential engine failures and other key vehicular systems. Properly identifying when a given combat-vehicle system might malfunction or need repairs helps both combat and logistical operations. Furthermore, the Army-IBM Stryker “proof of principle” exercise was able to wirelessly transmit sensor data, enabling AI to compare new information gathered against a historical database in seconds.
The Army is also working with IBM to test AI-enabled “autonomy kits” on tactical trucks designed to enable much greater degrees of autonomous navigation.
Advanced computer algorithms, enhanced in some instances through machine learning, enable systems such as Watson to instantly draw upon vast volumes of historical data as a way to expedite analysis of key mechanical indicators. Real-time analytics, drawing upon documented pools of established data through computer automation, can integrate otherwise disconnected sensors and other on-board vehicle systems.
“We identified some of the challenges in how you harmonize sensor data that is delivered from different solutions. Kevin Aven, partner and co-account lead, Army and Marine Corps, IBM Global Business Services, told Warrior Maven in a 2018 interview.
Watson, for example, can take unstructured information from maintenance manuals, reports, safety materials, vehicle history information and other vehicle technologies – and use AI to analyze data and draw informed conclusions of great significance to military operators, Aven explained.
When created, IBM stated that, “more than 100 different techniques are used to analyze natural language, identify sources, find and generate hypotheses, find and score evidence, and merge and rank hypotheses,” according to IBM Systems and Technology.
Working with a firm called C3IoT, the Air Force is doing something similar with F-16s. On board avionics and other technologies are monitored and analyzed using AI-enabled computers to discern when repairs or replacement parts are needed.
Applications of AI are also credited with enabling the F-35s “sensor fusion” technology which uses computer algorithms to autonomously gather and organize a wide-range of sensor data for the pilot.
U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
It goes without saying that targeting data is of critical importance when it comes to mechanized ground warfare. With this in mind, Army combat vehicle developers are prototyping AI-enabled sensors intended to combine sensor information essential to identifying targets. If long-range EO/IR or thermal imaging sensors are able to both collect and organize combat data, vehicle crews can attack enemy targets much more quickly.
Some near-term applications, senior officials with the Army Research Laboratory say, include increased air and ground drone autonomy. It is an example of an area where AI is already having a large impact and is anticipated to figure prominently over the long-term as well.
“We know there is going to be unmanned systems for the future, and we want to look at unmanned systems and working with teams of manned systems. This involves AI-enabled machine learning in high priority areas we know are going to be long term as well as near term applications,” Karl Kappra, Chief of the Office of Strategy Management for the Army Research Lab, told Warrior Maven in a 2018 interview. “We also know we are going to be operating in complex environments, including electromagnetic and cyber areas.”
For instance, Kappra explained that sensor-equipped micro-autonomous drones could be programed with advanced algorithms to send back combat-relevant images or provide attacking forces with key interior dimensions to a target location.
“We are looking at micro-electrical mechanical systems and image-based systems to fly through a building autonomously and show you where walls and threats are inside the buildings,” Kappra said.
Also, Army combat vehicle developers consistently emphasize manned-unmanned teaming with “wing man” drone robots operating in tandem with manned vehicles to carry ammunition, test enemy defenses, identify targets and potentially fire weapons. Some senior Army weapons and technology developers have said that most future combat vehicles will be engineered with some level of autonomous ability or manned-unmanned teaming technology.
Increased computer automation also performs a large function on the Navy’s emerging Ford-Class aircraft carriers. The new carriers use advanced algorithms to perform diagnostics and other on-board maintenance and procedural tasks independently. This, Navy developers say, allows the service to reduce its crew size by as many as 900 sailors per carrier and save up to billion dollars over the life of a ship.
Warfare, ethics & AI
Interestingly, debates about the future of AI, especially when it comes to autonomy, continues to spark significant controversy. Current Pentagon doctrine specifies that there must always be a “human-in-the-loop” when it comes to making decisions about the use of lethal force. However, the technology enabling an autonomous system to track, acquire and destroy a target by itself without needing human intervention – is already here.
In a previous interview with Warrior Maven, an Air Force scientist made the point that the current doctrine is of course related to offensive strikes of any kind, however there may be some instances where weapons are used autonomously in a purely defensive fashion. For instance, AI-enabled interceptors could be programmed to knock out incoming enemy missile attacks – without themselves destroying anything other than an approaching enemy weapon. In this instance, AI could serve an enormously valuable defensive function by performing intercepts exponentially faster than having a human decision maker involved.
Naturally, this kind of technology raises ethical questions, and some have made the point that even though the US military may intend to maintain a certain ethical stance – there is of course substantial concern that potential adversaries will not do the same.
Also, while often heralded as the “future” of warfare and technology, AI does have some limitations. For example, problems presented in combat, less-discernable nuances informing certain decisions, determining causation and the analysis of a range of different interwoven variables – are arguably things best performed by the human mind.
Many things in warfare, naturally, are often a complex byproduct of a range of more subjectively determined factors – impacted by concepts, personalities, individual psychology, historical nuances and larger sociological phenomena. This naturally raises the question as to how much even the most advanced computer programs could account for these and other somewhat less “tangible” factors.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Two U.S. Air Force pilots have ejected after a U-2 spy plane crashed around noon local time during a training mission on the West Coast, a service spokesman said.
Lt. Col. Michael Meridith, a spokesman for the Air Force, confirmed the incident on Tuesday at the Air Force Association’s annual conference outside Washington, D.C., but he didn’t know the whereabouts or the condition of the service members. “It did crash,” he said when asked if the plane went down. “Two pilots ejected.”
Meridith said a search and rescue operation for the crew was under way.
The U.S. Air Force press desk later tweeted, “We can confirm a U-2 from @9thRW Beale AFB has gone down in Sutter County, CAA; 2 pilots have ejected; details to follow when available,” referring to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing.
But officials walked back their initial statements on the pilots’ condition as the day went on.
“We have no official confirmation on the pilots’ condition,” Beale Air Force Base tweeted later in the day. “We will provide updates when more information is available.”
Air Combat Command around the same time issued a similar statement to correct a previous one that wrongly stated the pilots had “safely” ejected and were “awaiting recovery with aircraft in isolated area.”
The U-2 Dragon Lady is a Cold War-era surveillance plane based at Beale Air Force Base in California. Trainer models of the aircraft hold two crew members.
For some, reunion is a simple and hollow engagement — existing in great frequency, and holding little weight on an individual’s life. For others, it is a sought-after moment, a serendipitous experience that is immediately followed by the feel of a warm embrace and serenaded by sobs of joy. The latter has the undeniable potential of being a rock-solid memory, one that would never be forgotten. This feeling is amplified considerably when someone reunites with the one place that gives them all the comfort and joy in the world; home.
In this case, Chief Personnel Specialist Angie Burns, from Cali, Colombia, reunited with the country of her birth when the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrived in Turbo, Colombia, Nov. 14, 2018. Burns was born in Cali, Colombia, several hours south of Turbo, and feels that this mission is important to her and all of her countrymen.
“It’s a great experience for me to see all of this,” said Burns. “I always hear about missions like this, but I haven’t done one yet. Especially coming down to Colombia where I know there are so many people in need.”
Chief Personnel Specialist Angie Burns shows Juan Sebastian, a Colombian boy and former patient, a map during his tour of the hospital ship USNS Comfort, in celebration of his 10th birthday.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Waldrop)
In 1994, Burns moved to the U.S. to follow her mother when she was 13 years old. She lived in New Jersey in her mother’s home and in the community. She barely spoke English before joining the Navy in 1999.
“I was not really exposed to it that much,” said Burns. “All of my friends spoke Spanish. All of my friends were Colombians. You always find the comfort zone and the comfort zone for me was to still be around Colombians and people who spoke Spanish. So, there wasn’t really a need for me to speak English prior to the Navy, because everyone spoke Spanish.”
Fast-forward 19 years and Burns is underway with Comfort supporting Enduring Promise 2018 as the deputy dispersing officer. Along with her daily duties of managing money for the ship and the crew, Burns found a niche that has been highly sought after on the mission; translating for Comfort’s leadership.
Any part she can do to help the Comfort team work to complete the mission at hand, she is happy to support.
“The mission is mainly a medical mission and I am not in that field,” said Burns. “I can’t take someone’s blood pressure. But, it’s an honor to be out here and helping whoever needs it with the little bit I can give to the mission.”
Burns has enjoyed her time being back in Colombia and believes that this mission has been making a great impact on people’s lives in this part of the world.
Chief Personnel Specialist Angie Burns gives Juan Sebastian, a Colombian boy and former patient, Task Force 49 patch during his tour of the hospital ship USNS Comfort, in celebration of his 10th birthday.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Waldrop)
“I spoke to some of the patients and they are so grateful,” said Burns. “They don’t get tired of telling you how grateful they are. One day, a little boy was onboard and I was translating for him. Everywhere he and his mother went, they kept saying they were so grateful and thanking everyone for everything we were doing for her son. I think that we are making a great difference.”
In a couple of days, Burns will say, “goodbye” to Colombia and will continue to support the Enduring Promise mission in Honduras during Comfort’s next scheduled mission stop.
Comfort is on an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative. Working with health and government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras, the embarked medical team will provide care on board and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partly by an increase in cross-border migrants. The deployment reflects the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership and solidarity with the Americas.
As North Korea draws ever closer to possessing a nuclear weapon that could hit the US mainland, President Donald Trump and his top military advisers must weigh whether or not they’d launch a preemptive strike on North Korea and risk potentially millions of lives in the process.
At a National Committee on US-China Relations event in New York City, Samuel J. Locklear, the former head of the US military’s Pacific Command made it clear: “Just because it’s tragic doesn’t mean he won’t do it.”
“If the national interests are high enough, and I think this is the mistake that [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un needs really to think about, if you start pressing on an issue that has to do with the survival of the United States against a nuclear attack, the tragic becomes conceivable to stop it,” said Locklear. “It could be tragic.”
Adm. Timothy J. Keating, another former commander of Pacific Command, echoed Locklear’s statement.
“There are a wide range of options” that are “readily available to the president and the secretary of defense resident in the planning warrens at Pacific command,” Keating said at the event.
The discussion between two former top military commanders shows what a difficult situation the US is in with regard to North Korea. Pyongyang may wield up to 15 or so nuclear weapons, and they repeatedly threaten to use them against US forces, South Koreans, and Japanese.
Though the US has in place the world’s most advanced missile defenses, there are no guarantees when it comes to stopping ballistic missiles. Even a single nuclear warhead touching down near Seoul could kill millions of innocent South Koreans in an instant.
But the US has its own citizens to worry about. Experts contacted by Business Insider have spoken with near unanimity saying North Korea wants a thermonuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile to hold the US at risk.
What exactly the US military planners discuss behind closed doors rightly remains classified, but if they calculate that a relatively small tragedy today could avert a massive tragedy tomorrow, then the US may see war with North Korea at some point.
Over a period of several years and 21 meetings with CIA case officers in Moscow, Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer overseeing a radar development lab at a Soviet state-run defense institute, passed the US information and schematics the revealed the next generation of Soviet radar systems.
Tolkachev struggled to convince the CIA he was trustwory: He spent two years attempting to contact US intelligence officers and diplomats, semi-randomly approaching cars with diplomatic license plates with a US embassy prefix.
When the CIA finally decided to trust him, Tolkachev transformed the US’s understanding of Soviet radar capabilities, something that informed the next decade of US military and strategic development.
Prior to his cooperation with the CIA, US intelligence didn’t know that Soviet fighters had “look-down, shoot-down” radars that could detect targets flying beneath the aircraft. Thanks to Tolkachev, the US could engineer its fighter aircraft — and its nuclear-capable cruise missiles — to take advantage of the latest improvements in Soviet detection and to exploit gaps in the enemy’s radar systems.
The Soviets had no idea that the US was so aware of the state of their technology. Tolkachev helped tip the US-Soviet military balance in Washington’s favor. He’s also part of the reason why, since the end of the Cold War, a Soviet-built plane has never shot down a US fighter aircraft in combat.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author David E. Hoffman’s newly published book “The Billion Dollar Spy” is the definitive account of the Tolkachev operation. It’s an extraordinary glimpse into how espionage works in reality, evoking the complex relationship between case officers and their sources, as well as the extraordinary methods that CIA agents use to exchange information right under the enemy’s nose.
It’s also about how espionage can go wrong: In 1985, a disgruntled ex-CIA trainee named Edward Lee Howard defected to the Soviet Union after the agency fired him over a series of failed polygraph tests. Howard was supposed to serve as Tolkachev’s case officer. Instead, he handed him to the KGB.
Business Insider recently spoke with Hoffman, who won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for The Dead Hand, an acclaimed history of the final decade of the Cold War arms race.
Hoffman talked about some of the lessons of the Tolkachev case. Successful espionage, he said, is like a “moonshot,” an enormous effort that only works when cascades of unpredictable variables are meticulously kept in check.
And as Hoffman notes, his book is a unique glimpse into how such an incredibly complex undertaking unfolds on a day to day basis.
“You can read a lot of literature about espionage but rarely do you get to coast along on the granular details of a real operation,” Hoffman says, in reference to the over 900 CIA cables relating to the Tolkachev case that he was able to access. “That’s what I had.”
The archive, along with the scores of interviews Hoffman conducted in researching the book, yielded unexpected insights into the realities of spycraft: “I was really surprised by both the sort of quest for perfectionism” among the agents who handled the Tolkachev case, says Hoffman, “but also by the enormous number of things that can and did go wrong.”
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
BI: Your book the story of a CIA triumph: They run this source in the heart of Moscow for 5 or 6 years and get this bonanza of intelligence. But it’s also a story of organizational failure — about how this asset was eventually betrayed from within the CIA’s own ranks.
Is there a message in these two interrelated stories about the nature of intelligence collection and the challenges that US intelligence agencies face?
David E. Hoffman: On the first point, I think the big message, which is still very valid today, is the absolutely irreplaceable value of human source intelligence.
We live in an era when people are romanced by technology, the CIA included. Between what you scoop up from people’s emails and what satellites can see and signals intelligence, there always seems to be a new technological way to get various kinds of intelligence.
But this book reminded me that there is one category of espionage that is irreplaceable, and that is looking a guy in the eye and finding out what the hell is going on that isn’t in the technology — that can’t be captured by satellites. Satellites cannot see into the minds of people. They can’t even see into a file cabinet.
Even in the cyber age, it seems to me that you still have to get that particular human source, that spy that will do what nobody else will do: to let you sort of bridge the air gap, plug in the USB thumb drive if that’s necessary, to tell you something that nobody has written down …
Tolkachev was that kind of human source, an absolutely sterling example of someone who could bring stuff that you couldn’t get any other way.
The second point is, you called it institutional dysfunction but I think there’s a larger factor here which is counterintelligence …
[Intelligence] cannot simply be a matter of collection. You also have to have defenses against being penetrated by the other guys.
We live in a world where the forces of offense and defense are in perpetual motion. Counterintelligence is part of that. And counterintelligence is what really failed here.
I think it was also institutional dysfunction in the way they treated Howard. That wasn’t a counterintelligence problem so much it was a sort of incompetence: They fired a guy, they said get lost, and he was vengeful.
But I also think that — maybe not particularly in this case but just generally — the CIA did not value counterintelligence highly enough for a long time. Really the events that followed Tolkachev — [Aldrich] Ames [see here], [Robert] Hanssen [see here], that whole period of the 1985-86 losses [see here] — were a failure of counterintelligence …
There were really some big vulnerabilities there. In the end Tolkachev was exposed and betrayed by a disgruntled, vengeful fired trainee. But there were other losses soon to follow that were caused by essentially not having strong enough counterintelligence in place.
BI: It’s interesting how much the success of the operation had to do with these agents understanding Tolkachev’s state of mind based on these very short meetings that would be spaced months and months apart.
And from that they would have to build out some kind of sense of who this guy was. From the looks of it they did so fairly successfully for awhile.
DEH: That’s my toughest question. Espionage at its real core is psychology. You’re a case officer, you’re running an agent — what is in the soul of that man? What’s in his heart, what motivates him?
These are all questions that you have to try to answer for headquarters but also for yourself, in trying to play on his desires and understand them. Sometimes it can be a real test of will as you saw in this particular narrative. This psychological business can be very difficult …
A couple of times early in the operation Tolkachev revealed his deep antipathy towards the Soviet system. He said I’m a dissident at heart, he describes how fed up he is with the way things were in the Soviet Union.
He gives only a very very skimpy factual account of his wife’s parents travails, but I was able to research them in Moscow and discovered that his wife grew up without her parents. Her mother was executed and her father was imprisoned for many years during Stalin’s purges. And Tolkachev was bitter about that.
He also came of age in the time when [Nobel-prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn] and [Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicist and activist Andrei Sakharov] were also sort of coming of age as dissidents.
All of that rumbled around behind these impassive eyes. It’s not as if he handed over a book saying, I’m a dissident and here’s my complaint. Instead he handed over secret plans and said, I’m a dissident and I want to destroy the Soviet Union.
This psychological war and test of nerves of constantly trying to read a guy is really the most unpredictable and most difficult part of espionage. In this case, I’m not sure it was always successful.
The case officers did grasp that Tolkachev was determined. He expressed this sort of incredible determination, banging on the car doors and windows for 2 years to get noticed.
And when he’s working for the CIA he gives them his own espionage plan that takes years and multiple stages that he had mapped out. He’s a very, very determined guy. But what’s driving that isn’t always clear to the case officers.
BI: How does Tolkachev’s story fit in to the larger story of the end of the Cold War arms race?
I don’t think you could make the extravagant claim that he ended the Cold War or that he ended the arms race. But that’s not to minimize what Tolkachev did do. One of the things I discovered was how uncertain we were about Soviet air defenses in that period at the end of the Cold War …
There was always a funny thing going on with the Soviet Union. They had a lot of resources and were a very large country and the state and the military industrial complex was a big part of it. They always built a lot of hardware.
In fact they had a huge number of air-defense fighters and bases positioned all around their borders. [Air defense] wasn’t such a big deal for us but for them, the enemy was at their doorstop, right in Europe. They also had the world’s longest land borders. They had a lot to defend.
Thanks to Tolkachev, the US knew all about the radar capabilities of the Soviet-built MiG-29, the advanced interceptor introduced in the mid-1980s.
The US saw all the deployments but there was also evidence that Soviet training was poor, that the personnel who manned all these things were not up to it, [and] that there was a goofy system where pilots were told exactly what to do by ground controllers and had very little autonomy.
The intelligence about whether the Soviets had look-down shoot-down radar was very uncertain. Some people said no, they don’t have it, some said yeah. And here’s were Tolkachev stepped into the breach.
Within a few years of his work, we knew exactly what they had and what they were working on. Tolkachev was also bringing us not only what ws happening now but what would be happening 10 years from now. A
nd if you think about it in real time, if you were in the Air Force and thinking about how you were going to deal with Soviet air defenses, getting a glimpse of their research and development 10 years ahead was invaluable …
There was also a fine line between [air defenses] and the nuclear issue. There were two aspects to strategic nuclear weapons that depended on air defenses and the kind of stuff Tolkachev brought us.
One was obviously bombers. In the early days of the Cold War [the US had] a high altitude strategy. B-52s would fly at a very high altitude and bomb from 50,000 or so feet.
Then we made a switch and we decided that the Soviets’ real vulnerability was at low altitudes. And it’s true. They did not have good radars at low altitude …
The strategic cruise missile scared the living daylights out of the Kremlin, because they knew they could fly right under their radars.
BI: Much of this book consists of reconstructions of scenes that were top-secret for many years but that you put together through researching the cable traffic and conducting interviews.
What do you see as the biggest challenge of writing about these dark spaces in American national security?
There are all kinds of missing jigsaw pieces in these narratives that we think we know, say, about terrorism, or about WMD. One of the things you find out if you’re one of those people who go with a pick and shovel at history and try to unearth rocks and tell stories is that pieces are missing — tiny little pieces, and also important things.
In this story there were a bunch of gaps that I had to report. I had enough to tell the story, but you never feel at the end that you know the whole story …
I still think there are big parts of what Tolkachev meant that are still in use and that are legitimately still classified. Even though this case is three decades old, it’s quite likely that some of that stuff is still considered pretty valuable intelligence.
Footage recently emerged from a prime-time segment on Chinese state-run television showing Chinese special forces practicing a raid that bears an eerie resemblance to the US Navy SEALs’ 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The segment, first noticed by the New York Times, takes place in Xinjiang, a province in Western China home to the Uighurs, a Muslim minority often at odds with China’s state-endorsed atheism and their dominant ethnicity, the Hans.
In the slides below, see details from the Chinese reenactment of the Bin Laden raid.
Here’s the compound US Navy SEALs found Osama Bin Laden in.
Here’s China’s reproduction.
Here we see the Chinese special forces taking doors and clearing rooms.
Now, inexplicably, they’re crawling under flaming ropes.
Putting on a bit of a show here.
Finally we see helicopters descend on another, similar compound.
While the delivery may be a bit garbled, it’s clear that China sought to imitate the world’s finest in its version of the successful SEAL Team 6 raid. Whether the special forces units will participate in raids against Al-Qaeda-linked targets abroad or simply continue to hit the Uighur minority, they’ve broadcasted loud and clear that they’re proud and ready.
In January, a report from Inside Defense broke the news that the US Navy’s F-35 variant, the most expensive in the Joint Strike Fighter family, had an issue with the nose gear that made takeoffs untenably rough and the aircraft unsuited for carrier launches.
The Navy’s F-35C has a history of problems with its development as it attempts to master the tricky art of catapult launches from aircraft carriers, but the nose-gear issue could set back the F-35C into the 2020s if an innovative solution is not found quickly.
“This is a very stiff airplane, even though the oscillations about the same magnitude as you would see in a Super Hornet. It beats the pilot up pretty good,” US Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan told reporters at the McAleese/Credit Suisse defense conference earlier this month, US Naval Institute News reported.
F-35C pilots are “hurting after doing three or four of these [launches] and in some instances even banging his half-a-million-dollar helmet on the canopy,” Bogdan said. “That’s not good for the canopy or the helmet. So we knew we had an issue there.”
Testing at a land-based US Navy catapult system showed that instead of a costly and lengthy redesign of the F-35C’s nose section, some smaller adjustments may suffice.
Jeff Babione, the general manager of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program, echoed that sentiment at the company’s office in the Washington, DC, area, telling reporters the company had worked on a few simple changes that seemed to yield results. Babione said Lockheed Martin changed the way the pilot straps in and their head and arm positions, as well as reduced the “holdback,” or stress on the plane, in the moments before launch.
“The initial indication is some of those techniques improved” the F-35C’s launches, Babione said. He conceded that the real testing would be done by the Navy aboard carriers “to see whether or not those changes were successful.”
The make-or-break tests of the launch will take place at sea later this year.
When America sends its super-secret warriors behind enemy lines, remaining camouflaged can mean the difference between nabbing the bad guy and causing a major international incident if discovered.
But staying in the shadows means more to those types of commandos than Ghillie suits and MultiCam combat uniforms. Instead, for special operators like SEAL Team 6 commandos and Delta Force soldiers, it’s cultural camouflage that keeps them alive and on mission. When they’re on a clandestine op, that means mingling with the population unseen.
While SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force can easily get their operators looking like the natives, it’s proven to be a lot harder to get them sounding like a local in the country they’re deployed to. Learning a language is very difficult skill, and the military has been at pains to get its operators up to speed quickly.
According to most experts, it takes at least six months for Special Forces soldiers to get proficient in one of the European languages like Spanish or French, and up to a year for proficiency in languages like Arabic and Chinese.
With smaller units like those in Joint Special Operations Command, taking operators off the line for that long makes it tough to keep units fully manned.
So SEAL Team 6 has been experimenting using sensory deprivation tanks to cut language learning to a fraction of the time used in traditional methods.
“They’re able to steer operators into a state of optimum physiological and neurological relaxation and then introducing new content. … And one of the examples is learning foreign languages,” says John Wheal, the Executive Director of the Flow Genome Project which works to increase the performance of top-end athletes and business executives.
“By combining these sensory deprivation tanks with next-generation biofeedback they’ve been able to reduce a six-month cycle time for learning foreign languages down to six weeks.”
Basically, sensory deprivation tanks are pod-shaped beds filled with lukewarm salt water that delivers neutral buoyancy. An operator will float in the chamber in pitch dark to remove any distractions and wear a set of specialized sensors that measure various physical readings like heart rate and brain wave activity.
Once the SEAL has gotten into the right state of mind, then the learning starts, Wheal says.
Previously the exclusive purview of rich show business types with money to burn, the nation’s top commandos are now using cutting-edge tools like sensory deprivation tanks to get better at their jobs quicker.