The M2 .50 caliber machine gun has been in production longer than any other, and it’s easy to see why troops love it.
Since the 1930s, “Ma Deuce” has been serving troops on the ground, in vehicles, and in aircraft, and with its effectiveness and reliability, it doesn’t look like this weapon is going out of style any time soon. Originally developed during World War I by John Browning, the weapon is now in the hands of U.S. troops and a number of NATO allies.
The M2 .50 cal has served troops well in Iraq and Afghanistan as a fearsome automatic weapon usually mounted to vehicles.
But it was just as deadly in Normandy in 1944 …
… As it is overlooking remote bases in Afghanistan today.
With a belt-fed .50 BMG round, it packs serious punch that can effectively hit targets out to 1,800 meters.
The weapon can fire a variety of ammunition types, such as standard ball, blanks, armor-piercing (AP), armor-piercing incendiary (API), armor-piercing incendiary tracer (APIT) …
… And the crowd favorite: Saboted Light Armor Penetrator (SLAP), which can bust through steel.
Troops can find the .50 cal everywhere from the perimeter of the forward operating base …
Once it’s ready to go, soldiers place the rounds on the feed tray, make sure the cover is closed, and pull the bolt to the rear to load the weapon.
Then it’s ready to rock and roll. The .50 can fire in single shot or fully automatic mode.
At the rear, soldiers grab the “spade” handle and fire it using a butterfly trigger. They need to be careful however: There’s no safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge (Some variants have been fielded which feature a positive safety selector).
While it’s most often mounted to vehicles in a rotating turret …
… Ma Deuce can also be found on the side of helicopters.
And with the use of a tripod, it can also be fired very effectively from the ground.
Correction: This post was updated with new information to reflect the fielding of the M2A1 variant and other versions, which feature safety selectors, and don’t require the need for adjustments to headspace and timing.
Russia recently announced that it would begin drawing down its deployment to Syria. One of the first major assets to depart will be its lone aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, according to a report by Agence France Press.
The Russian government produced a slick tribute video that harkens back to the 1950s Soviet Union, where the same M-4 Bison bombers were flown past the reviewing stands of the 1955 Aviation Day parade several times to make it look like the Soviets had tons of planes.
The new Kuznetsov video showed crewmen standing watch – some on the carrier’s flight deck with an assault rifle, as well as Su-33 Flankers taking off from the ship.
The Admiral Kuznetsov in drydock — a place it should never leave.
That said, there is a whole lot of stuff this video has left out. Regular readers of this site are familiar with the Kuznetsov Follies, coverage of the many… shortcomings, this carrier displayed on the deployment.
The highlight of these follies — well, let just say the term lowlight might be more accurate — would be the splash landings Russian Navy fighters made. In November, a MiG-29K made a splash landing shortly after takeoff. The next month, a Su-33 Flanker made its own splash landing. The Flanker wasn’t to blame – an arresting cable on the craptastic carrier snapped.
The carrier has been known to have breakdowns, too, and as a result, deploys with tugboats. Other problems include a central heating system that doesn’t heat, a busted ventilation system, broken latrines, and a lot of mold and mildew.
So, with all that in mind, here is the Russian video:
In its quest to meet and exceed the challenges of the future, the U.S. Air Force has been increasingly looking to unmanned systems — and a recent test proved that an unmanned F-16 can now think and fight on its own.
The U.S. has used F-16 drones before as realistic targets for the F-35 to blow up in training, but on April 10 it announced fully autonomous air-to-air and ground strike capabilities as a new capability thanks to joint research between the service and Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunkworks.
Not only did the F-16 drone figure out the best way to get there and execute a ground strike mission by itself, it was interrupted by an air threat, responded, and kept going.
“We’ve not only shown how an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle can perform its mission when things go as planned, but also how it will react and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way,” said Capt. Andrew Petry of the Air Force Research Laboratory in a Lockheed Martin statement.
F-16 Fighting Falcons from Kunsan Air Base and South Korean KF-16s taxi to the runway together during Exercise Buddy Wing 14-8 at Seosan Air Base, Republic of Korea Aug. 21, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The Air Force has what’s called an “open mission system” where it designs all platforms to network together and share information. Essentially, even an unmanned drone will have decision-grade data fed to it from everything from satellites in the sky to radars on the ground.
Lockheed Martin calls it the “loyal wingman” program, where drone systems like old F-16s can seamlessly network with F-35s and think on its feet.
After weeks of speculation about North Korea’s leader Kim Jung Un’s health, Reuters reported a medical team was dispatched to North Korea to care for Kim. And yesterday, a senior executive of a Beijing-backed satellite tv station in China said Kim is dead.
The only thing we really ever know about North Korea is that we can’t ever be sure about what’s happening there, but rumors about Kim’s grave health and possible passing have been circulating for weeks.
When Kim failed to make an appearance on April 15 for the country’s most important holiday which honors the founder of the country (Kim’s late grandfather Kim II Sung), suspicion started building that Kim was sick. April 25 is another major holiday – the 88th anniversary of their armed forces, the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army. As night falls in North Korea, the leader again failed to appear, bringing more people to believe that there may be some truth to the rumors that Kim is dead.
As of this writing, the White House and senior officials in the United States government remain tight-lipped about his health and are giving no credence to the rumors.
“While the US continues to monitor reports surrounding the health of the North Korean Supreme Leader, at this time, there is no confirmation from official channels that Kim Jong-un is deceased,” a senior Pentagon official not authorized to speak on the record told Newsweek yesterday. “North Korean military readiness remains within historical norms and there is no further evidence to suggest a significant change in defensive posturing or national level leadership changes.”
Earlier in the week, President Trump sent Kim Jong Un his well wishes. “I’ve had a very good relationship with him. I wouldn’t — I can only say this, I wish him well, because if he is in the kind of condition that the reports say, that’s a very serious condition, as you know,” Trump said on Tuesday during a White House press briefing. “But I wish him well.”
But on Thursday, when asked about Kim Jong Un’s condition, the president said, “I think the report was incorrect, let me just put it that way. I hear the report was an incorrect report. I hope it was an incorrect report,” he added, without providing further details.
Although the US remains somewhat quiet about Kim’s health, a Hong Kong Satellite TV executive told her 15 million followers on Weibo that she had a source saying Kim was dead. While we’re not sure if she named her source, her uncle is a Chinese foreign minister.
Photos of Kim appearing to lie in state have also been circulating social media, but they look suspiciously a lot like Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il’s final resting photos. We’re guessing photoshop is far more likely than a leaked photograph.
What happens if Kim dies? Likely, another Kim would take over. The possibility of his sister, Kim Yo Jong, being named leader is “more than 90%,” said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, as reported by the Associated Press. He noted she has “royal blood,” and “North Korea is like a dynasty.” Kim’s sister has accompanied him on various high-profile meetings in recent years, prompting many to speculate she’s next in line.
Is Kim Jong Un dead? We’re not sure. But as soon as we know more, we’ll tell you.
For Army Sgt. Shaun Castle, the Army was becoming a career.
As a military policeman in the early 2000s, Castle had some key war-zone assignments to Kosovo, Macedonia and the Middle East that were tracking toward a bright future in the service.
But in 2005, Shaun suffered a spine injury that eventually ended his Army career. And while he recovered enough to serve as a police officer in Alabama, his prior-service injury worsened and he had to leave the force, losing the use of his legs.
Undaunted, Shaun focused on getting a college degree and earned a place on the roster of the University of Alabama wheelchair basketball team where he’s also a member of the 2020 Paralympic Games development team.
In 2012, after standing under the Paralympic banners of the Birmingham-based Lakeshore Foundation, Castle began training six days per week – hard work that has paid dividends for the now collegiate and professional sports star who plays for the University of Alabama’s men’s wheelchair basketball team and the USA Developmental team. Castle also has played professional wheelchair basketball in Lyon, France, and is a Paralympic hopeful for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo from Shaun Castle)
An advocate for Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Lakeshore Foundation, Castle has participated in numerous radio spots and other promotions in which he’s known for making mundane topics – like MREs (meals ready to eat) – sound interesting. In 2016, Castle pioneered the construction of an arena dedicated solely to wheelchair basketball at the University of Alabama. (Photo from Shaun Castle)
Coca-Cola, the USO, and Dollar General have teamed up to run a special “Share a Coke” campaign this summer in support of the military community. It was designed with the best of intentions, but it’s caught a bit of backlash for not including a few branches.
You can find 16-oz cans of Coke labeled with ‘Sailor,’ ‘Airman,’ and “Coast Guardsman,” which accounts for three of the five branches, but you’ll notice that both ‘Solider’ and ‘Marine’ are missing. Instead, you’ll find cans marked ‘hero’ and ‘veteran’ respectively.
So, if they’re going to swap out two branch-specific terms in favor of something more widely applicable, that opens the door for plenty of other possibilities! Try these on for size:
For that no-drag specialist in your squad.
With all due respect, they’ve kinda missed the mark by using “Hero” as the label for soldiers — this isn’t exactly a compliment in some contexts. In the Army, the term ‘Hero’ is a play on the phrase, “there’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity.” Basically, it’s another term for ‘idiot.’
Why not go all the way and label one “High Speed?”
Every Marine was, at one point in their career, a dumb boot. It’s only after a young boot has made enough mistakes and has had the stupid smoked out of them enough times that they’re finally accepted by their fellow Marines. It’s a rite of passage.
Since boots are also the most likely to remind everyone in the outside world of their service, they should have their own can.
Caw caw, mother f*cker.
No one likes the blue falcon — it’s no coincidence that the first letter of each word in this term is shared with another, less polite label: Buddy F*cker.
Blue falcons work hard to keep up their game and getting your buddies in trouble is thirsty work. Why not celebrate them with a nice, cold middle finger?
Perfectly mixes well with whiskey.
The C.O.B. (or the Crabby Ol’ Bastard) is the Chief of the Boat and is more often than not the oldest person on the ship.
You’ll never know how these salty sailors made it so long without being forced into retirement, but you have to respect their amazing ability to hold a ship together using only pure hatred.
They can get a Coke and a Bronze Star as an End of Tour award.
Rangers are some of the hardest badasses in the Army. The Powerpoint Ranger, however, is on the very opposite side of the coolness spectrum.
All these guys do is sit on the FOB and craft the perfect Powerpoint presentation on the complexities of connex cleaning. These guys probably haven’t seen the range in years, but they do have a direct line to the Colonel.
The one and only universal truth that every service member can agree on is: “F*ck Jodie.”
A Coke isn’t the only thing Jodie wants to share with you.
Meanwhile, China’s neighbors have grown increasingly worried and timid as it cements a land grab in a shipping lane that sees $5 trillion in annual trade and has billions in resources, like oil, waiting to be exploited.
Six countries lay claim to parts of the South China Sea, and the US isn’t one of them. But the US doesn’t need a dog in this fight to stand up for freedom of navigation and international law.
Here’s how the US counters China in the region.
For the US, checking Beijing in the Pacific often means sailing carrier strike groups through the region — something the Navy has done for decades, whether China protests or not.
As Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of 7th Fleet, said recently at a military conference: “We’re going to fly, sail, operate wherever international law allows.”
The strike group has plenty of aircraft along with them, like this A F/A-18E Super Hornet and a nuclear-capable B-1B Lancer from Guam.
Unlike submarines and ICBMs buried under land or sea, the US’s strategic, nuclear-capable bombers make up the most visible leg of the nuclear triad. Placing a handful of B-1Bs in Guam sends a message to the region.
Here’s the US’s entire strategic bomber force lined up in Guam, representing more than 60 years bomber dominance.
It also doesn’t hurt when the US Navy shows off its complete mastery of carrier-based aircraft. There are F-18 pilots in the Navy that likely have more carrier landings than the entire Chinese navy combined.
Those jets benefit from the support of about 7,000 sailors on the ship, who keep them running around the clock.
Airborne early warning and control planes like the E-2 Hawkeye use massive radars to act as the eyes and ears of the fleet. Not much gets past them.
But carriers don’t sail alone either. Here a guided missile destroyer knocks through some rough seas accompanying the Vinson.
The US Navy may be the most professional in the world, with a very serious mission in the South China Sea, but they still make time for a swim on one of the US’s newest combat ships, the USS Coronado.
The Coronado doesn’t look like an aircraft carrier, but it does have serious airpower in the form of a MH-60S Seahawk with twin .50 caliber door guns.
But the key to the US’s success in far away waters is allies. The US doesn’t do anything alone, if you’re noticing a pattern here. Here US and Royal Brunei Navy sailors practice boarding a ship.
In February, US Marines partnered up with Japanese self-defense forces to practice amphibious landings — a skill that may one day come in handy on artificial islands.
Sometimes working with allies means getting down and dirty. Here a Seabee gets neck deep in Japan.
The bottom line is that the US military has decades of experience sailing, training, and fighting with its allies in the Pacific. China has come a long way in shifting the balance of power in the region, but the US remains on top — for now.
Bob Hope’s support for our military was so prolific and enduring that he is one of only two civilians who have received honorary veteran status.
In 1997, Congress passed a measure to make Hope an honorary veteran of the U.S. military in recognition of his continued support for the troops. At the time, Hope was the only civilian to be recognized in such a way (he now shares the honor with philanthropist Zachary Fisher who, in 1999, would become the second honorary veteran).
He has so many accolades to his name that it’s nearly impossible to track, but these are some of our favorites:
1. He entertained the troops from 1941-1991
On May 6, 1941, he performed his first USO Show at March Field in Riverside, California, which was a radio show for the airmen stationed there. He went on to headline for the USO 57 times during more than 50 years of appearances, providing entertainment for the troops from World War II through the Persian Gulf War.
Letter from prisoner of war, Frederic Flom, written on back of wrapper, Feb. 24, 1973.
(Bob Hope Collection, Library of Congress)
2. He advocated for the release of POWs during the Vietnam War
During his 1971 Christmas tour, Hope met with a North Vietnamese official in Laos to try to secure the release of American POWs. When F-105 pilot Frederic Flom heard about this, it lifted his spirits and prompted him to write Mr. Hope a letter of thanks.
On his last day in office, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Bob Hope the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
The Bob Hope Veterans Support Program was launched in 2014 with a generous seed grant from The Bob Hope Legacy
3. His legacy continues to improve the lives of America’s military community
The Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program provides one-on-one employment services, as well as referrals to other resources, to meet the unique needs of military personnel and veterans transitioning out of the military into a civilian job, starting their own small business or pursuing higher education.
Since launching in 2014, the program has served nearly 1,100 veterans and families with employment support and referrals to other resources, placing more than 600 into civilian positions and 83 pursuing education degrees. Free to veterans, who do not need to have a disability to participate, the program was launched with a generous seed grant from The Bob Hope Legacy, a division of The Bob Dolores Hope Foundation, which supports organizations that bring HOPE to those in need and those who served to protect our nation consistent with the legacy of Bob Hope.
To date, The Bob Hope Legacy has donated more than million dollars in support of Easterseals’ military and veteran services.
During a week-long campaign in observation of Memorial Day this year (May 23-29), Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions shoppers throughout Southern California can make donations in support of the program via the pin pad at registers, with 100 percent of the donations going directly to Easterseals Southern California’s Bob Hope Veterans Support Program.
In recent weeks, Wall Street has talked a lot about the fears of a coming recession, fueled by a drop in government bond yields. The casual investor may have no idea what this means for them, but for homeowners in the military and beyond, it means now is the perfect time to refinance a mortgage.
What any potential refinancer needs to know is that the falling bond yield is pushing mortgage rates to their lowest levels in three years. In November 2018, the interest rate was steady at five percent. Eight months later, the interest rate in now at 3.6 percent and looking to fall further.
This isn’t some shady internet ad, promising easy money on Obama-era mortgage laws or new Trump-era government home loans – those certainly exist and everyone should be wary about trusting easy money. But the drop in mortgage rates comes directly from Freddie Mac, whose rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.6 in August 2019. The reason is that the 30-year rate is linked to 10-year Treasury Bonds. The rate of return on those bonds just fell to their lowest since October 2016.
(St. Louis Federal Reserve)
What this means is that suddenly your homeowner dollar goes a little bit further, considering the cost of taking out a new loan or refinancing an old one just dropped. According to Caliber Home Loans, a lending company who specializes in military and veteran homebuyers, the rule of thumb used to be that the interest rate for a new mortgage must be about two percentage points below the rate of a current mortgage for refinancing to make sense.
With new low- and no-cost refinancing from Caliber and other lenders, refinancing could make sense any time – especially right now, given the latest interest rates. A refinance could reduce overall interest while reducing a monthly payment. If you acted right now, you wouldn’t be alone, not by far. Falling rates boost the U.S. housing market.
It’s important to think of your home as an investment, too.
“My applications are up across the board,” said Angela Martin, a Nashville, Tenn.-based loan officer told the Wall Street Journal. “Every time the Fed starts talking is when my phone starts ringing off the hook.”
What Martin means is the Federal Reserve just cut the benchmark interest rate after a few successive rate hikes. This is when people start looking for a better deal. But be wary – lenders will sometimes employ different perks after a rate drop to entice customers to accept things like credits at closing instead of a lower rate.
For military families and veteran homeowners, look into military-oriented lenders like Caliber Home Loans. Caliber and companies like it specialize in the needs and benefits afforded to military members and veterans. Caliber is also a proud sponsor of the 2019 Military Influencer Conference, a three-day conference of service members, veterans, and spouses who work to elevate the military veteran community.
St. Patrick’s Day is nearly upon us and so is the flavorless onslaught of cheap, green beer dully visible through red solo cups. Midwestern brewed pilsner paired with a few drops of food coloring seems a poor way to celebrate the Irish. We prefer to toast old St. Pat with uisce beatha, also known as whiskey.
There is no shortage of good Irish whiskey. But while most are familiar with the traditional, big name blended varieties like Jameson and Bushmills, few are familiar with the Emerald Isle’s fantastic single malts. That’s a shame because single malts are much more flavorful and there are numerous stellar bottles worth sipping. Take this as an opportunity to celebrate some Irish single malts and try one of these five excellent options.
Dingle Batch No. 3
Out on the island’s west coast, independent maker Dingle only started producing spirits a few short years ago in 2012. Their Batch No. 3 can be a little hard to find but its worth the search. Aged in ex-bourbon and port barrels, it’s is a sweet sipper with elegant notes of honey, berries, citrus, and wood.
Peated whiskey is a rarity on the emerald isle. In fact, there is only one Irish peated single malt on the market. But if you enjoy a healthy dose of smoke in your dram you’re going to love Connemara 12. Nutty and peppery, notes of vanilla, grass, honey, and wood play off the smoke and a lingering brine to create a lovely mouthful.
Fruity and rich, West Cork’s ten-year-old single malt is an easy sipper and even easier on the wallet. Delicious with notes of apples, sugar and toffee with a hint of pepper, it’s an approachable and satisfying for whiskey lovers of all stripes.
A fusion of two 14-year-old single malts, one aged in ex-bourbon barrels, the other in Oloroso sherry, the result is a rich and tasty dram. Honey, coconut, and fruit notes play off a subtle touch of oak.
Made from the mountain-fed waters of the Slieve na gCloc river, this ten-year-old malt gets a finish in Madeira wine barrels from the Portuguese islands. Light in the mouth, cocoa and honey play off oak, cinnamon and salt.
Astronauts travelling aboard Elon Musk’s Dragon Capsule will wear form-fitting white-and-black spacesuits that bear little resemblance to their NASA forebears, the SpaceX founder revealed on August 23, a pivotal development in his quest to launch crewed missions to and from the International Space Station and beyond.
Although he offered few details in his sneak-peek Instagram post – “More in the days to follow,” a brief message promises – the tech billionaire, who is also chief executive of automaker Tesla, indicated that his spacesuit is functional and tested to withstand pressure loss while traveling through space. And in a nod to the design, he noted how “incredibly hard” it was to marry aesthetics and survivability.
The unveiling comes as SpaceX and aeronautics giant Boeing each have struggled to meet deadlines for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a cost-savings partnership between the agency and private industry focused on facilitating travel to the space station. It could be 2019 before either is certified to fly astronauts there, although both hope to conduct their first crewed test flights next year.
A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on Aug 23, 2017 at 12:59am PDT
Boeing, maker of the Starliner space capsule, unveiled its minimalist “Boeing Blue” spacesuit in January. Like the new SpaceX suit, Boeing’s product is lighter, and more tailored and flexible than the cumbersome gear NASA astronauts have worn since the 1960s.
That’s because they’re built for a distinctive mission. For commercial flights to and from the space station, these suits will be worn during launch and reentry, or if a problem occurs causing the capsule to depressurize. As Thuy Ong notes for the Verge, this gear is specifically not intended for spacewalks, so it doesn’t need to provide the same bulky protection from dust and debris, or temperature fluctuation.
Photos of the SpaceX suit (or an early incarnation) first surfaced many months ago on Reddit, where observers were struck by its futuristic appearance. Like science fiction, some said.
Musk might disagree. The image he released August 23 is refined, exhibiting the considerable attention he gives not only to his products’ function but to the sophistication and simplicity of their design.
Consider, for instance, some early feedback on his newest electric car, the Tesla Model 3, in which nearly all functions – from the wiper blades to the air conditioning and stereo – are controlled via a small touch display beside the steering wheel. Musk has called the car “a very simple, clean design.” That’s deliberately so, he said in July, an effort to recognize that “in the future – really, the future being now – the cars will be increasingly autonomous.”
Indeed, after a three-minute test ride in the Model 3, The Washington Post’s Peter Holley observed the following: “It’s not so much that Tesla is ushering in the future… I’m more inclined to think that Tesla is single-handedly pulling the automotive industry into the present.”
The SpaceX Dragon was built to shuttle cargo into space, which it accomplished for the first time in 2012. It can be configured to carry a crew of seven.
Beyond the space station, Musk has said he wants to launch a human mission to Mars by 2025, a much more ambitious schedule than NASA envisions.
Perfecting the spacesuit technology was seen as a vital benchmark.
When most people think armor, they think of thick steel, ceramic or Kevlar. It stops (or mitigates) the harm that incoming rounds can do, but there’s one big problem: You can’t see a friggin’ thing if you’re behind it.
This is no a small problem. Put it this way, in “Clausewitzian Friction and Future War,” Erich Hartmann, who scored 352 kills in World War II, was reported to have believed that 80 percent of his victims never knew he was there. Project Red Baron, also known as the Ault Report, backed that assessment up based on engagements in the Vietnam War.
Bulletproof glass exists, but it can be heavy. When it is hit, though, the impact looks a lot like your windshield after it catches a rock kicked up by an 18-wheeler on the interstate.
That also applies in firefights on the ground – and according to a FoxNews.com report, the Navy has made it a little easier to maintain situational awareness while still being able to stop a bullet. The report notes that the Navy’s new armor, based on thermoplastic elastomers, still maintains its transparency despite being hit by bullets.
In a Department of Defense release, Dr. Mike Roland said, “Because of the dissipative properties of the elastomer, the damage due to a projectile strike is limited to the impact locus. This means that the affect on visibility is almost inconsequential, and multi-hit protection is achieved.”
That is not the only benefit of this new armor. This new material can also be repaired in the field very quickly using nothing more than a hot plate like that used to cook Ramen noodles in a dorm room – or in the barracks.
“Heating the material above the softening point, around 100 degrees Celsius, melts the small crystallites, enabling the fracture surfaces to meld together and reform via diffusion,” Dr. Roland explained.
Not only will this capability save money by avoid the need to have replacement armor available, this also helps reduce the logistical burden on the supply chain, particularly in remote operating locations that were very common in Afghanistan during the Global War on Terror.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis shared the thinking behind the new National Defense Strategy during a discussion at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington on Oct. 30, 2018.
The strategy, released in January 2018, sees Russia and China as the greatest threats with Iran and North Korea as regional threats. Violent extremism rounds out the threat matrix.
The strategy is based on a return to great power competition among the United States, Russia and China.
Power, urgency, will
Mattis told Stephen Hadley, the moderator of the event and former national security advisor to President George W. Bush, that in setting up the strategy, officials looked at threats from three different angles: Power, urgency and will.
“In terms of raw power right now, I look at Russia and the nuclear arsenal they have,” he said. “I look at their activities over the last 10 years from Georgia and Crimea to the Donetsk Basin to Syria and I can go on and on and on. In terms of just power, I think it is Russia that we have to look at and address.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks at the United States Institute of Peace, in a discussion moderated by the chair of the institute’s board of directors, Stephen J. Hadley, Washington, D.C., Oct. 30, 2018.
(DOD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
There are two threats that are most urgent right now: North Korea and the continuing fight against violent extremism. North Korea’s nuclear and missile program — in clear violation of United Nations sanctions — remains a problem, and the current fight against violent extremists from the Islamic State to al-Qaida to Boko Haram to other transnational terror groups must be fought.
“In terms of will, clearly it is China,” he said.
China is different than Russia. “Russia wants security around its periphery by causing insecurity among other nations,” he said. “They want a veto authority over the economic, the diplomatic and the security decisions of the nations around them.
“China seems to want some sort of tribute states around them,” he continued. “We are looking for how do we work with China. I think 15 years from now we will be remembered most for how … we set the conditions for a positive relationship with China.”
The United States is looking for ways to cooperate with China and that has been beneficial to both countries, Mattis said. He pointed to China’s vote against the North Korean nuclear program in the United Nations Security Council as an example. The United States will also confront China when it must as he pointed to the United States continuing freedom of navigation operations in international waters and airspace.
“I have met with my counterpart in Beijing and in Singapore 10 days ago, and he will be here 10 days from now to continue that dialogue as we sort it out,” Mattis said.
Also part of the strategy are U.S. strengths, and foremost among them is the country’s network of alliances and friends around the world. This network requires constant tending, the secretary said. He noted that just in the last month he has attended NATO meetings, consulted with Central and South American allies and journeyed to Manama, Bahrain, to meet with Middle Eastern allies and friends.
All of these were part and parcel of forming the National Defense Strategy.
South Asia Strategy
The secretary also spoke about the South Asia Strategy announced in August 2017 and how that is proceeding. Officials continue to follow the strategy and it is making progress, but it is slow. It entails far more than just the military and far more than just the United States, he said.
The strategy is a regional approach to the problem. It also reinforced the commitment to the area and realigned those reinforcements with Afghan forces. This was needed because the Afghans had an Army that wasn’t ready to have the training wheels taken off the bike, Mattis said. “Only the Afghan special forces had mentors from NATO nations with them,” he said. “And every time they went against the enemy, the Taliban, they won.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks at the United States Institute of Peace, in a discussion moderated by the chair of the institute’s board of directors, Stephen J. Hadley, Washington, D.C., Oct. 30, 2018.
(DOD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
But the rest of the Afghan forces were spread out around the country with no mentorship and no air support. The strategy changed that. The air support is crucial in giving Afghan forces the high ground in the mountainous country, “and that changes the tactical situation,” the secretary said.
Afghan forces are carrying the burden. They took more than 1,000 dead and wounded in August and September 2018, the secretary said, and they stayed in the field fighting. “And the Taliban has been prevented from doing what they said they were going to do, which was to take and hold district and provincial centers, also disrupt an election that they were unable to disrupt,” he said.
But the most important aspect of the strategy is reconciliation. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad agreed to serve as a special envoy in Afghanistan specifically aimed at reconciliation between the Taliban and the government in Kabul. “He is hard at work on this, on an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation effort,” Mattis said. “So this is the approach we’re trying to sustain right now. It is working from our perspective, but what is heartbreakingly difficult to accept is the progress and violence can be going on at the same time.”