These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels - We Are The Mighty
Asperiores odit

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels

Since June, Coast Guard vessels patrolling the US’s southern approaches have stopped seven low-profile smuggling vessels — stealthy ships that ride low in the water to spirit illicit cargos from South America to Mexico and the US.


Akin to self-propelled semi-submersibles used by smugglers for the same purpose, low-profile vessels are boats designed to run near or at surface level to present the smallest possible radar signature.

Low-profile vessels usually have a sharp bow to cut through the water and an elongated body to transport cargo — typically high-value drugs like cocaine. Some only have masts or conning towers that stick out above water, and they are often outfitted with multiple outboard engines and painted to blend in with the water.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
A Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team seizes cocaine bales from a self-propelled semi-submersible. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

The Coast Guard said the last time a low-profile vessel was stopped prior to the current fiscal year was in late May 2016. Six narco subs were caught during that fiscal year (and one was intercepted in September, the first month of fiscal year 2017).

The seven interdictions since June occurred in drug-transit areas in the eastern Pacific, off the coasts of South and Central America.

In mid-August, Coast Guard cutter Steadfast intercepted a suspected low-profile vessel several hundred miles off the coast of Central America, seizing more than 6,000 pounds of cocaine and arresting four suspected traffickers.

Another low-profile vessel — six feet wide and 54 feet long — was stopped by Coast Guard cutter Waesche off the Central American coast in early June, after the cutter tracked the vessel for almost 100 miles. The Waesche’s crew arrested four suspected smugglers and seized 2.79 tons of cocaine.

 

 

The US and partner forces have stepped up their activity in the eastern Pacific, and cocaine production has risen considerably in Colombia, the world’s biggest producer of the drug.

The result has been “a significant increase in narcotics removal” in drug-transit areas off South and Central America, the Coast Guard said.

During fiscal year 2016, the Coast Guard set a record by seizing more than 443,000 pounds of cocaine bound for the US. The service says it is on pace for another record-setting amount of seizures this fiscal year, though officials have warned that it doesn’t have the resources to fully address the trafficking activity it detects.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Photo courtesy of US Coast Guard.

The ocean area from Colombia to the Galapagos and up to the Mexican and US coasts is about the size of the continental US, Vice Adm. Charles Ray, the Coast Guard’s deputy commandant for operations, said at a hearing earlier this month.

“On any given day, we’ll have between six to 10 Coast Guard cutters down here,” Ray added. “If you imagine placing that on [an area the size of] the United States … it’s a capacity challenge.”

US officials believe about 90% of the cocaine shipped to the US traverses the sea at some point, typically arriving somewhere in Central America or Mexico and being smuggled over the US-Mexico land border.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says about 93% of the cocaine sent to the US comes through the Mexico/Central America corridor.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Suspected trafficking routes detected during 2016. US Southern Command photo via Adam Isacson.

US anti-narcotics officials also think they intercept about one of every four tons of cocaine headed for the US, with about 69% of it stopped in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Narco subs — a category that includes fully submersible vessels, semi-submersible vessels, or towed containers — appeared in the 1990s, as Colombian smugglers sought to stay ahead of law-enforcement’s detection abilities.

Fully submersible and semi-submersible vessels are hard to detect and expensive to build (though their cargos are valuable enough that a single trip can cover the price), so interceptions of them are not that common.

Low-profile vessels, which are not technically semi-submersible, are the majority of seized drug-smuggling vessels, according to a 2014 report.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Coast Guard photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

Low-profile vessels can come in various forms, often balancing speed and stealth in different ways. A more recent variation appears to be what naval expert HI Sutton called “very slender vessels” — elongated vessels that go through waves rather than over them. In April, Guatemalan forces found an abandoned vessel that appeared to be a VSV, as did the crew of the Waesche in June.

VSVs sacrifice cargo size for stealthiness and speed, and their appearance suggests a maturation in the designs of Colombian traffickers — in particular Los Urabeños, the country’s most powerful criminal group — Sutton notes.

Narco subs are typically constructed near Colombia’s Pacific coast, assembled under cover of jungle canopy.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
US Coast Guard photo.

They’re moved through rivers and mangroves to the coast once completed, and their smuggling routes typically take them out into the Pacific — sometimes around the Galapagos Islands — before turning north.

“In recent years, ‘narco-sub’ vessels (mostly LPVs) have been built with upper lead shielding which helps to minimize their heat signature and hence they can evade infrared sensors,” according to a 2014 paper in Small Wars Journal. “Some of the newer models have piping along the bottom to allow the water to cool the exhaust as the ship moves, making it even less susceptible to infrared detection.”

In addition to the Coast Guard air and sea assets deployed to stop traffickers, US Customs and Border Patrol have eight P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft converted into Long Range Trackers. The former Navy aircraft have been upgraded with radars originally designed for the F-16 fighter jet, as well as optical sensors.

Asperiores odit

SOG Covert Task Force in Vietnam

Studies and Observations Group (SOG) was a highly classified, special ops unit that conducted unconventional warfare during the Vietnam War.  SOG carried out the capture of enemy prisoners, rescued downed pilots, and conducted rescue operations to retrieve prisoners of war throughout Southeast Asia. The Task Force also engaged in clandestine intelligence, propaganda and psychological operations.  J.D. Bath and Bill Deacy were members of this elite group.

Asperiores odit

5 of the worst things about standing in a ceremonial formation

In the military, there isn’t much that matches the pride of standing in a ceremonial formation. There you are, in front of a respectable crowd. Your dress uniform is perfectly pressed, your medals are shining bright, and the weather is outstanding — what the hell could go wrong?

Well, since there are many elements to a military ceremony, from the posting and retiring of the Colors to several long-form speeches, things usually run a lot longer than you’d expect — that’s when these happen .


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Needing to pee

As you can imagine, it takes a minute to prepare everyone to march out in formation. Everyone needs to be accounted for before stepping off. You’ll be out there in the sun, so it’s essential that you drink plenty of clear fluids. Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between being hydrated and being a bit too hydrated.

Suddenly, halfway through the proceedings, your full bladder tells your brain that you need to hit the head. Guess what? The ceremony won’t pause so one troop can take a leak. So, good luck holding it in until the end.

Passing the f*ck out

Service members are trained to properly move into the position of attention, hold the pose, and move out of it in a smooth, choreographed motion. We’re taught how to stand at that position for prolonged periods of time by keeping our knees slightly bent and wiggling our toes — even still, many end up passing out.

Most of us have passed out for one reason or another in our lifetimes, but doing it in front of a big crowd is super embarrassing.

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Overthinking

Most people aren’t born to entertain a crowd. When you suddenly become the subject of a crowd’s direct attention, you may start to overanalyze the little things, leading to dumb mistakes. How fast are you supposed to snap up a salute? Wait — do I start out on my right foot or my left?

It happens.

Getting the shakes

When standing in the same position for too long, people get tired and, to compensate, end up shifting their weight to find some type of relief. Although this might be subtle individually, when you’re up against a backdrop of stone-still troops, the movement sticks out.

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Losing track of time

Since ceremonies can last a long time and they can be pretty dull, our minds will wander. Because we’re thinking of something else, we tend to lose track of time, which can lead to making a stupid mistake, like snapping into parade rest at the wrong moment.

Asperiores odit

Tunnel Rats in Vietnam

The tunnel rats were courageous soldiers who performed underground search and destroy missions during the Vietnam War.  American and Australian troops uncovered the enemy’s intricate network of tunnels while conducting larger operations. Tunnel rats were tasked with gathering intelligence within them, and killing or capturing their occupants–often in conditions of close combat. CW Bowman, Gerry Schooler and Art Tejeda spent days maneuvering through the tunnel complexes clearing and destroying lethal booby-traps.

Asperiores odit

What are the reasons for such vaping popularity in the US military nowadays?

Some time ago, when movies were still black and white and Second World War themes were frequently used in screenplays, seeing a soldier with the cigarette both on screen and in public wasn’t a rare occasion. The war was actually the moment when the relationship between the US military and tobacco industry has been established, mainly through advertising. Furthermore,cigarettes were a part of army rations and often used as a valuable trading currency.


After the war, the connection between armed forces and tobacco did not end as many young recruits started smoking soon after they joined the service. Besides being a matter of tradition and way of bonding, smoke breaks were sometimes used in “boot camps” as a form of reward and punishment system. Meanwhile, as it was proofed that smoking influence troop’s readiness and raise health costs, as predicted, the tobacco use was restricted in military facilities not designated as “tobacco use areas”. What could’ve not been predicted was that after 2011 the statistic will change and vape mods will be used rather than tobacco among military personnel.

Statistics and policy changes

According to the Department of Defense report presented in the year 2011, 24 percent of active duty personnel were smokers compared with 19 percent of civilians and 38 percent of the servicemen and women started smoking after enlisting. In the year 2015, studies showed that the number of troopers who are occasional smokers dropped by nearly half, since 2011 — down from 24 percent to 13.9 percent. Overall, the statistic also showed that since 2009 tobacco use rates have decreased in the US army, although it is possible that these numbers are also closely connected with the increased use of vape mode kits.

There are several reasons why these figures are going down, slowly but firmly. The decision to ban tobacco use entirely during recruit training, which was done at most training centers, was an important step in starting to modify the surrounding in order to change military-driven behavioral patterns and reduce tobacco use among service members. It also helped a higher percentage of smokers to quit at a rate higher than would be expected without the ban.Restrictive smoking regulations in military facilities seem to have a significant effect on cigarette consumption too. Enlarged efforts involving educational, motivational, and social changes such as stronger educational messages, including ones orientated toward changing social norms regarding smoking in the military, resulting in a decreased number of new smokers among recruits.

Some military policies which tolerated tobacco use to some point came under the spotlight and their alterations are taken under consideration.For example, starting October 2019 all Department of Veterans Affairs health care facilities, which historically permitted smoking in designated areas, will be completely smoke-free, and this new policy will cover all forms of tobacco use, including e-cigarettes and vaping. The policy change ends the use of designated smoking areas at VA hospitals and applies to everyone at VA facilities, including patients, visitors, volunteers, and staff. The fact that this and similar decisions cover vaping as well, shows that the number of army personnel who use e-cigarettes and vape mods significantly increased over the last few years.

Is vaping a new trend in the US army?

The rise of vaping among US troops occurred quickly. According to some researches, made since 2015, 11 percent of service members said they were daily e-cigarette users, while nearly 20 percent of junior enlisted ranks are current e-cigarette smokers. The Marine Corps and Navy have the highest percentage of those vaping among the service branches, at 16 and 14 percent,despite restrictions on e-cigarettes imposed by the Navy a few years ago.

Based on a study of 105 U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers made by University at Buffalo it seems that daily users often see e-cigarettes satisfying or even more satisfying, and less harmful, than cigarettes. According to researchers L.T. Kozlowski and G.G. Homish, perception of danger from e-cigarettes decreased as the frequency of use increased. One finding, related to the perception that participants have had toward vaping products showed that articles which were considered much more satisfying than cigarettes were also perceived as less dangerous than cigarettes.

Financially speaking, switching from smoking to vaping has probably a lot to do with prices of tobacco in military stores. As a result of increased efforts to encourage troops to quit, prices became higher and the sales of traditional tobacco have fallen. As opposed to that, starting with the year 2018, sales of vaping products nearly doubled. A chart that represents these numbers in sales, starting with the year 2013, has a very interesting line: from 2013 it was an upward trend with the peak in 2015, then sales decreased by nearly half till the end of 2017, and was trending up again in 2018.

Judging from the personal experiences shared anonymously by the military personnel vaping has been used to reduce stress while overseas, and after returning home. For some of them, it is a way of relating to flavors of being home which ease their mental strain and helps them to reduce the tension. In some units, smoking is forbidden so using e-cigarettes and mod vape is the only way to cope with the smoking habit.

It is important to underline that in most US army facilities vaping falls under the same rules as all other tobacco products, meaning vaping is only allowed in designated smoking areas. Also, it is necessary to point out that although the health effects of e-cigarettes are not yet known, they can contain chemicals that may cause harm to users and those exposed to secondhand vapors

References

1.Terry L. Conway, San Diego State University-Tobacco use and the United States military: a longstanding problem

2.The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)-Military Tobacco Policies: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

3.L.T. Kozlowski, G.G. Homish, University at Buffalo-Daily users compared to less frequent users find vape as or more satisfying and less dangerous than cigarettes, and are likelier to use non-cig-alike vaping products

About the author: Christina Matthews, the journalist who studies the latest news in the health industry. Now she studies the effects of smoking and vaping on health and reasons for such its popularity.

Asperiores odit

Here’s a look inside Canada’s most elite search and rescue force

Canada is the second largest country in the world in terms of land mass and size, with harsh, unforgiving territory marking the majority of its geographic map. Air traffic nevertheless crisscrosses these large expanses of land, boats and ships still ply the rough seas around, and hikers and the adventurous of heart still navigate their way through the desolate north to explore the country’s natural beauty.


But when the unthinkable happens – be it an airplane crash in a remote area, a stranded an grievously ill hiker in the middle of  forest, or a sinking vessel off Canada’s coast, the Canadian armed forces are among the best prepared in the world.

We Are The Mighty recently flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force to watch its search and rescue teams in action.

The RCAF’s mission is known as Canadian Armed Forces Search and Rescue, CAFSAR for short, conducted by teams of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, which can seamlessly integrate with Canadian coast guard and naval vessels for waterborne rescue missions, should the need arise.

From recovering downed aviators to rescuing civilian boaters adrift at sea, CAFSAR’s various units can do it all.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
A CC-130H Hercules and CC-115 Buffalo (right) sit side by side before a training sortie (Photo Ian D’Costa)

Canada’s SAR units primarily use fixed-wing aircraft like the CC-130H Hercules and the CC-115 Buffalo to function as “spotters.” On missions, these aircraft fly low to the Earth, with aircrew inside maintaining vigilance over the terrain below for telltale signs of the imperiled.

To better facilitate these missions, the RCAF has modified their H-model Hercs with plexiglass “spotting stations” where the para-doors once existed towards the rear of the aircraft.

Both the Herc and the Buffalo are capable of remaining on-site for extended periods of time, and they often contain supplies and support materials relevant to the mission. For example, sometimes crews carry inflatable air-dropped life rafts and bilge pumps for at-sea rescues or recoveries. They also carry a complement of orange-clad SAR Technicians, who represent the backbone of the CAFSAR apparatus.

SAR “techs” are among the most elite of the Canadian Forces, numbering only 140 out of the nearly 70,000-strong military. Techs are considered specialists in their field, trained to provide “advanced pre-hospital medical care,” and are broadly qualified to perform missions in all areas of the Canadian wilderness and North, ranging from lakes, oceans, heavily-forested areas, mountains and onward to the bleak Arctic tundra.

SAR tech training is arduous and difficult. The attrition rate for students is high, and only the best students of each training class are posted to CAFSAR’s various joint rescue commands across the country.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Aircrew with 424 Sqn, RCAF prepare to drop inflatable liferafts to stranded boaters below (Photo Ian D’Costa)

CAFSAR also uses rotary aircraft— namely the CH-146 Griffon and CH-149 Cormorant — to move SAR techs to hard-to-reach places, and to conduct seaborne rescue operations. These aircraft can hover in place while techs are lowered and raised via winches, horse collars, and metal baskets. Rotary assets are often “vectored” to the site of a rescue by the spotter aircraft, when the site of the incident has been triangulated and located.

Given the urgent nature of rescue operations, missions can appear when least expected, and require crews to be alert and ready at a moment’s notice. In a matter of minutes, a Herc or a Buffalo can be loaded up and prepared for launch while SAR techs and the aircrew ready themselves for the mission at hand. Simultaneously, Griffons and/or Cormorants begin spooling up nearby for their own inevitable launch.

When on a larger joint SAR operation, a Herc or a Buffalo will lift off with the intention of finding and marking the location of the incident/rescue with a smoke canister. This can happen within minutes of reaching the general area, or after an hour of low-level flying. Depending on the nature of the emergency, support materials are prepped and deployed, while rotary units are flown over to the area with SAR techs ready for action.

Should the circumstances merit immediate assistance, CAFSAR’s SAR techs have one very important and versatile trick up their sleeves. Its members are qualified to perform “pararescue” operations, which involve parachute jumps from Hercs and Buffalos to reach areas on the surface where aircraft can not hover or land nearby.

The careful coordination of these assets, the advanced and well-developed abilities of SAR techs and rescue aircrews, and years of experience in performing rescue missions throughout Canada has helped CAFSAR become what it currently is – one of the most competent and effective search and rescue apparatuses in existence today.

Asperiores odit

Putin is playing all the angles in the Middle East

After watching for years as the United States called the shots in the region, Russian President Vladimir Putin is seizing the reins of diplomacy in the Middle East, establishing footholds, and striking alliances with unlikely partners.


From the battlefields of Syria to its burgeoning relationships with Iran and Turkey to its deepening ties with Saudi Arabia, Russia is stepping in to fill a void left by the United States first under the Obama administration and now in the vastly inconsistent and largely hands-off policies of Donald Trump.

Embroiled in controversy at home and loathe to engaging in the strife-riddled region beyond fighting the Islamic State group, Trump has largely stayed on the sidelines of attempts to help find a political settlement for Syria’s long-running civil war.

Those efforts are now led by Russia, in partnership with Iran and Turkey, organizing local cease-fires and creating “de-escalation zones” that have significantly reduced the violence in the country. Russia’s role in Syria has raised its international profile and allowed it to claim fighting terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group while it shored up President Bashar Assad’s government.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) meets with Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, in Tehran. Nov. 1, 2017. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Moscow has stood by Tehran while Trump has refused to re-certify the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers — a stance reiterated by Putin himself Nov. 2 on a visit to Tehran. It has also reached out to Iran’s Mideast rival Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, promising weapons deals and other investments to the Sunni power house.

Bilal Saab, a senior fellow and director of the Defense and Security Program at the Middle East Institute, said that while Russia has clearly become a more influential interlocutor on Syria, there are clear limits to its overall foray into the region.

“What Russia offers is transactional, as opposed to strategic. Arms sales are no substitute for deep political rapport, which is what Washington provides, despite lingering tensions with key partners,” he said.

Still, Putin appears to be positioning himself as Mideast broker, seeking to expand his influence in a region where the US remains the most dominant military actor.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Russia President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Syrian President Assad. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Syria Power Broker

Moscow’s military involvement in the Syrian war since 2015 has propped up Assad’s forces and turned the conflict in his favor, while Russian mediation earlier this year launched cease-fire talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. The talks, sponsored jointly with Iran and Turkey, have brokered local deals that have significantly reduced violence in the war-torn country.

This week, Russia announced plans to host Syrian groups and government representatives for political talks on Nov. 18 — just 10 days before a new round of UN-sponsored talks are to start in Geneva. The invitation has roiled Syrian opposition groups who described it as an attempt to “bypass” UN efforts to resolve the country’s conflict and dictate the terms of any settlement.

Russia invited over a dozen groups, a mix of government representatives and political opposition parties, including for the first time the main US-backed Kurdish party now in control of northern Syria. The Syrian Kurdish PYD has previously been barred from participation in political negotiations at the Geneva Talks, at Turkey’s insistence.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Photo courtesy of Kurdish YPG Fighters Flickr. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) were initially formed by the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The invitation by Russia has led to speculation that Russia may use the conference to broker a wider reconciliation between Assad and the Syrian Kurds under conditions that preclude long-term US influence in Syria.

“Russia is accelerating its effort to subvert the Syrian political process by establishing a new diplomatic framework that sets conditions to expel the US from Northern Syria,” said an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War this week.

Related: The US is supplying weapons to Kurdish fighters in Syria

Badran Ciya Kurd, an adviser for the Kurdish-led self-administration who met with Russian officials ahead of the invite to Sochi, said Russia supports the Kurdish federal project while the US strategy has been vague.

“It is not yet clear what their (Americans) strategy is after Raqqa, and we would like to understand,” he said, referring to the northern city liberated from Raqqa last month.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Russian President Putin (left) finds common ground with Iranian President Rouhani.

Shared interests with Iran

While Iran promised a foreign policy that would be “neither East nor West” after its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran has tilted toward Russia given its antipathy for Washington. Tehran relied on Moscow’s support to complete its Bushehr nuclear power plant in 2011 and received Russia’s S-300 surface-to-air missile system in 2016.

In that time, Russia and Iran also found themselves fighting to support the embattled Syrian president. The countries regularly coordinate on Syria and have provided overwhelming military and political aid to prop up Assad’s government and army.

On a visit to Tehran on Nov. 2, Putin strongly backed Iran and its nuclear deal with world powers, saying Moscow opposed “any unilateral change” to the accord after Trump refused to re-certify it.

Putin made the comments on a one-day trip to Tehran for trilateral talks between Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia, during which he met with both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Russian and Saudi government officials, including President Putin of Russia and King Salman, meet in expanded format, Oct. 5, 2017. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Gulf Contracts

Across the Gulf Arab states, the US has been the guarantor of security since the 1991 Gulf War. In recent years, however, Gulf countries have increasingly looked toward making defense deals with Russia, especially after growing wary of the US detente with Iran under President Barack Obama. In the last weeks alone, Russia has gone big into Saudi Arabia, which supported the Afghan mujahedeen against Soviet troops in the 1980s.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia visited Moscow last month and signed multi-billion dollar energy deals with Russia, which also agreed to sell the Iranian rival its advanced S-400 missile system, which Tehran does not possess. Other deals would include Saudi Arabia locally producing Russian anti-tank missiles, rocket launchers, and automatic grenade launchers, as well as the latest version of the Kalashnikov assault rifle.

King Salman’s visit marked the first by any Saudi monarch to Moscow and heralded a new era of cooperation and a thawing in a bilateral relation that has been severely strained since Russia’s military intervention in Syria on behalf of Assad.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, on a visit to Sochi, Aug. 23, 2017. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Close cooperation with Israel

Israel and Russia maintain a close, if sometimes uneasy, relationship on regional issues — particularly when it comes to the war in neighboring Syria. In recent years, the Israeli and Russian air forces have been active in Syrian skies and have maintained, throughout the fighting, a hotline to prevent clashes between their air forces. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also held a number of meetings and phone conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to discuss the situation in Syria.

Still, Israeli officials are concerned about Russia’s cooperation with Iran. But they also believe that Russian and Iranian interests could diverge as both countries compete for lucrative reconstruction contracts and political influence in postwar Syria. Israeli officials believe that Russia considers Iran a potentially destabilizing force in postwar Syria, and are cautiously optimistic that Russia understands Israel’s security concerns.

“Russian and Israeli interests in Syria may not be the same but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Russia cannot play a constructive role in Syria in Israel’s view or that certain understandings can’t be reached between Russia and Israel with regard to Syria,” said Chagai Tzuriel, the director general of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry.

Asperiores odit

Turkey raises alarm with purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile system

Turkey finalized its purchase of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system earlier this month.


The acquisition has stirred concern in other NATO countries since it was first reported several months ago, and the sale comes at time of increased tensions between Ankara and the West, the US in particular, over the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as the US-led campaign against ISIS in Syria.

Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu appeared to make pointed references to the S-400’s potential use against NATO and US planes on Sept. 20, when it tweeted out an infographic displaying the specifications of the S-400 and which US planes it could shoot down.

The graphic, as noted by Military Times, says the S-400 can react to targets in less than 10 seconds and can hit targets at a range up to 250 miles while traveling at about 10,000 mph. It also says the system can eliminate such US aircraft as the B-52 and B-1 bombers; F-15, F-16, and F-22 fighters; as well as surveillance aircraft and Tomahawk missiles.

 

Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 raised alarm among other NATO countries for the consequences it would have for military cooperation as well as the signals it appeared to send about the contentious diplomatic relationships within the defense alliance.

Militarily, the missile system would not be interoperable with NATO defense systems and would not be subject to the same restrictions on deployments, meaning Turkey could put it in places like the Armenian border or Aegean coast.

The S-400 is Russia’s most sophisticated missile-defense system (though Turkey is unlikely to get the most advanced version). It can detect and target manned and unmanned aircraft and missiles, and hit targets up to 250 miles away.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
SA-400. Photo by Vitality Kuzmin

A Turkish official said this summer that the S-400 would not come with friend-or-foe-identification system, meaning it could be used against any target. Turkey has said that a domestic firm would install software so it could distinguish between friend and foe aircraft, but there are doubts that process is technically feasible.

Diplomatically, the sale seemed to be the culmination of a period of frosty relations between Turkey and its partners in Europe and the US.

Ankara has clashed with Germany in the wake of a failed coup against Erdogan, after Berlin criticized the Turkish government for a crackdown on people accused of involvement.

Turkish-US relations have also suffered because of the war in Syria, where the US backs Kurdish fighters who Turkey sees as aligned with the Kurdish PKK, which both the US and Turkey have designated a terrorist group.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Kurdish PKK Guerilla. Photo from Flickr user Kurdishstruggle

Turkey has threatened to target US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria several times.

The deal also underscores for many in the West who believe there is an increasingly cozy relationship between Russia and Turkey.

Some view the sale as another step by Moscow to undermine NATO — a sentiment Russian presidential adviser Vladimir Kozhin may have tried to nurture earlier this month by saying, “I can only guarantee that all decisions taken on this contract strictly comply with our strategic interests.”

Asperiores odit

This is how NATO is restructuring in the face of rising Russian tensions

The US and its European allies have been boosting their presence in Eastern Europe in recent months, responding to a period of tense relations with Russia. Now, NATO forces are looking for ways to reestablish military capabilities that have eroded since the end of the Cold War.


US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other NATO military leaders are set to review changes to the military bloc’s command structure next month, with an eye on enhancing their rapid-deployment abilities and reinforcing their supply lines.

Also read: Russian lab admits it took secret NSA code from US computer

“Fast-evolving security challenges mean new demands on our command,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told Stars and Stripes. “So work is underway to ensure that the NATO command structure remains robust, agile, and fit for purpose.”

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu. Photo from NATO.

A NATO internal report seen by German news outlet Der Spiegel concluded that the bloc’s ability to rapidly deploy throughout Europe has “atrophied since the end of the Cold War.”

According to the report, even the alliance’s designated response force was not up to standard. It found that NATO would be unable to move troops fast enough and lacks sufficient officers and supplies in Europe.

Neither military officials nor the NATO report see hostilities with Russia as imminent, but, after Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, NATO members regard an enhanced military presence as a way to deter aggression from Moscow, which has called NATO’s moves provocations.

“The alliance has to move as quick or quicker than Russian Federation forces for our deterrent to be effective,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the top US Army commander in Europe, said this month. Recent months have seen close encounters between Russian and NATO aircraft over Eastern Europe and between Russian and NATO ships in the waters around Europe.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander, US Army Europe, is awarded the German Federal Armed Forces Golden Cross of Honor by German Lt. Gen. Joerg Vollmer, the chief of staff of the German Army. Photo courtesy of US Army.

The report, citing the need to reorganize supply procedures, recommends setting up two new command centers. One, based in the US and modeled on the Cold War-era Supreme Allied Command, would oversee the shipment of personnel and supplies to Europe. The other, which could end up in Germany or Poland, would oversee logistics operations on the continent, particularly between Central and Eastern Europe.

NATO members in Europe are also working on legislation to bolster infrastructure and to allow military equipment to move across national borders faster. The latter problem has hindered military exercises in Europe in recent months.

Also Read: How much of a threat does Russia pose to NATO and the US?

While NATO has the ability to suspend civilian laws on transportation and travel in the case of war, preparations for combat would need to be done before hostilities break out. The bloc must also find ways to maintain an eastern flank that now extends beyond its Cold War boundaries, running right up to Russia’s borders in some places.

NATO forces have been gathering information about infrastructure in Eastern Europe, like bridge and rail networks. Many roadways and bridges have weight restrictions that limit which NATO vehicles that can use them, and some railways cannot move heavy equipment.

“We are also looking at making sure air, rail, and sea lift is readily available and in sufficient numbers,” a NATO official told Stars and Stripes. In 2016, US A-10 Thunderbolts practiced landing and taking off on an Estonia highway for the first time since 1984. And US troops in Europe have started making preparations like painting tanks and vehicles with green color schemes — reminiscent of Cold War camouflage.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 127th Wing, Michigan Air National Guard, lands on a remote highway strip near Jägala, Estonia, June 20, 2016. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Amy Lovgren.

The US Marine Corps in particular is looking to boost its capabilities in Europe in response to potential conflict with Russia. The Corps now wants to restore combat functions to the Marine Expeditionary Force — the largest Marine combat unit, which can have up to 25,000 Marines.

“The MEF command element will have to be ready to support a warfighting effort in Europe,” Lt. Gen. Robert Hedelund, commander of II Marine Expeditionary Force, said this week.

The decision follows other increases in the Marine presence in Europe. US Marines have deployed a rotational force to Romania and have conducted back-to-back deployments in Norway, positioning gear and doing exercises near the Russian border. The rotational force’s arrival in Norway was the first time a foreign force had been posted there since World War II.

The US deployed dozens of helicopters and thousands of pieces of military equipment to Germany this spring, and another detachment of US helicopters are headed to Eastern Europe this week.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
US Marines with Black Sea Rotational Force 17.1 prepare to board a bus after arriving in Vaernes, Norway, Jan. 16, 2017. The Marines are part of the newly established Marine Rotational Force-Europe, and will be training with the Norwegian Armed Forces to improve interoperability and enhance their ability to conduct operations in Arctic conditions. USMC photo by Sgt. Erik Estrada.

While these preparations come at the direction of senior military leadership, a shift to Eastern Europe is one that many US troops believe necessary.

A recent Military Times poll of US servicemembers found that, even though many troops don’t think a military fight is likely, 42% think the US military should increase its activities in Eastern Europe to counter Russia. The poll also found that troops rated Russia the fifth biggest threat to US national security — behind cyberterrorism, North Korea, and domestic and foreign terrorism tied to Islam.

Only one-quarter of respondents approved of Trump’s handling of relations with Moscow, but their feelings about Trump’s dealings with NATO were more mixed: 32% said US relations with NATO were good, 35% said poor, and 30% said average.

Asperiores odit

Here are the best military photos for the week of May 6

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:


Air Force:

An F-35 Lightning II assigned to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, flies alongside a 100th Air Refueling Wing KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight to Estonia on April 25, 2017. The F-35s are participating in their first-ever flying training deployment to Europe. 

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christine Groening)

Airmen conduct a high altitude, low opening jump from a MC-130J Commando II April 24, 2017, above Okinawa, Japan. Kadena Air Base land and water drop zones are suited for multi-pass jump operations which maximize proficiency and limited resources.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier

Army:

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from A Company, 1/150th Assault Helicopter Battalion, flies over Belize City while transporting Soldiers and Marines on their way back from Dangriga, Belize, April 10, 2017. The 1/150th is providing lift support and medevac, if necessary, for Beyond the Horizon 2017, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored, Army South-led exercise, designed to provide humanitarian and engineering services to communities in need, demonstrating U.S. support for Belize. 

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Joshua E. Powell

A Best Sapper competitor completes an Australian rappel, April 25, 2017, as part of the 2017 Best Sapper Competition being held at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. 

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
U.S. Army photo by Michael Curtis

Navy:

HOMER, Alaska (April 29, 2017) The guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70) prepares to moor in Homer, Alaska, for a scheduled port visit. Hopper is visiting Homer in conjunction with its participation in exercise Northern Edge 2017. The biennial training exercise conducted in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex and includes participation from units assigned to Alaskan Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. 3rd Fleet, Marine Corps Forces Pacific, and U.S. Army Pacific.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joseph Montemarano

SOUTH CHINA SEA (April 30, 2017) Sailors assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23 run tests on the the MQ-8B Firescout, an unmanned aerial vehicle, aboard littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4).

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Deven Leigh Ellis

Marine Corps:

Reconnaissance Marines prepare to conduct night time helo-casting training operations during the Reconnaissance Team Leader Course at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, April 24, 2017. The purpose of the Reconnaissance Team Leader Course is to provide the students with the required knowledge and skills needed to perform the duties of a Reconnaissance Team Leader.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt Ezekiel R. Kitandwe

Marines with the Silent Drill Platoon perform during an evening parade at Marine Barracks Washington, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2017. Col. Tyler J. Zagurski, commanding officer of MBW, hosted the parade and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller was the guest of honor.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Samantha K. Braun

Coast Guard:

Crew members from Coast Guard Cutter Tarpon, an 87-foot Coast Patrol Boat homeported in St. Petersburg, Florida, offload 1,735 kilograms of cocaine, an estimated wholesale value of $56 million and transferred custody of eight suspected drug smugglers to partner federal agencies Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg, Florida. The contraband and suspected smugglers were interdicted during four separate cases supporting Operation Martillo, a joint interagency and multi-national collaborative effort among 14 Western Hemisphere and European nations to stop the flow of illicit cargo by Transnational Criminal Organizations.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse

A boat crew for the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Legare gets underway between Cuba and Hispaniola during drug interdiction operations in April, 2017. The cutter Legare’s crew completed a 35-day tour of the strait between Cuba and Hispaniola, completing drug interdiction missions, building partnerships with local agencies and aiding local communities.

These narcos are going old school with their latest drug smuggling vessels
U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Coast Guard Cutter Legare