A simple glance at a map would tell you all you need to know. Camp Pendleton is on the southern California coast with San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orange County just a short drive away. By contrast, Twentynine Palms is in a remote desert location akin to being stuck on Tattooine.
But there’s more to like about Camp Pendleton than fun outside the base.
Then the late 1990s Asian financial crisis hit Thailand. Bangkok’s grand plans for its carrier were significantly hobbled. Commissioned in 1997, the same year the financial crisis struck the country, the Chakri Naruebet — which means “Sovereign of the Chakri dynasty,” the Thai monarchy’s ruling family — was mostly consigned to sitting in port due to lack of funding.
Now, according to The Motley Fool, Asia has plenty of aircraft carriers, as China, India, Japan, and South Korea all have carriers of different sizes. Not wanting to be left out, Singapore is on its way to constructing a carrier too.
All this competition has only made Thailand’s once-proud carrier look like a bizarre reminder of the country’s dysfunction, rather than the symbol of growing prestige that it was intended to be.
According to The Diplomat, Thailand’s AV-8S Matador (Harrier) accompanying jet fleet was withdrawn from service in 2006, leaving Bangkok with an aircraft carrier without aircraft. Thailand experienced a military coup that same year, along with a second one in 2014.
Thailand ordered its aircraft carrier from Spain in 1992. The vessel was commissioned five years later, in 1997
Almost immediately, Thailand ran into budget constraints. The Chakri Naruebet was put to port for the better part of each month and in 2006 its associated air wing was withdrawn. The Harriers are now over 30 years old.
Even while operational, the carrier has been outclassed by the larger vessels of India and China, not to mention the US’s super carrier fleet pictured below. It’s now the smallest functioning aircraft carrier in the world.
Still, despite its shortcomings, the Chakri Naruebet has proved useful in humanitarian missions. The Diplomat notes that the carrier was used after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as well as in rescue operations after flooding in Thailand in 2010 and 2011.
Conscription in the United States military — also known as “the draft” — ended with the Vietnam War. Today men and women serve because they want to, not because they have to, but it wasn’t always that way.
Throughout history, when a country waged war and needed a large Army, it turned to drafting its people. The U.S. applied conscription as early as the Revolutionary War by drafting men into the militia and state Army units.
But every time a government turned to conscription, it stirred controversy, exposing fault lines of race, culture and social class. Some say it unifies the country, others argue it tears a society apart. Despite the all-volunteer force of the United States as an example of defense without conscription, there are many countries which still use a draft in 2015.
China is at it again, starting off the first 100 days of the Biden Presidency with a number of cyberattacks aimed at shaking American businesses, local governments and even those agencies with their own interests in what happens inside the Chinese government.
The latest round of Chinese attacks on American data services was one of the most advanced hacks yet, especially in terms of the measures taken to evade detection. This time, the hackers weren’t necessarily targeting the Department of Defense or critical infrastructure, they were targeting individuals with information China would consider valuable.
A hacking group called Advanced Persistent Threat 5 (or APT5) is the culprit in the latest round of attacks according to Charles Carmakal, chief technology officer of Mandiant, a division of FireEye. FireEye has routinely aided the U.S. government in its cybersecurity efforts and has detected or thwarted a number of high-profile attacks in the past decade.
“This looks like classic China-based espionage,” Carmakal told the Washington Post. “There was theft of intellectual property, project data. We suspect there was data theft that occurred that we won’t ever know about.”
Though the defense department was a target of this round of hacking, a number of other U.S. government agencies were, along with some critical defense contractors. The attacks began in June of 2020 and may even be ongoing. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), acknowledged as much in an April 2021 alert.
This time, the flaws exploited by Chinese hackers were inside of Pulse Secure virtual private network servers (VPN) that allow remote working employees to access company servers while offsite.
Hackers also got into hardware devices near the victims’ locations, and renamed their servers to mimic those of current employees. Hiding in plain sight with a common name and the accounts of persons they just hacked is what made the intrusion so difficult to detect.
FireEye has a long history of exposing high-profile hacks from state actors. In 2015, the company discovered Chinese hackers exploiting vulnerabilities in Microsoft Word and Office applications as well as Adobe Flash Player. In 2016, it discovered a vulnerability in the Android mobile operating system that allowed hackers to access text messages and phone directories.
The cybersecurity firm was also a target of hackers itself in 2020, when state-funded hackers stole the FireEye toolkit. FireEye had to then begin to fight its own software, releasting tools to make the use of its toolkit more difficult in cyberattacks.
Most importantly, FireEye detected the 2020 SolarWinds attack and reported it to the National Security Agency (NSA). The SolarWinds attack allowed hackers to breach multiple government agencies, grant themselves privileged access to their networks. This attack was allegedly conducted by hackers working for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR.
In response, President Biden implemented seeping sanctions on the Russian economy upon taking office. There is no word yet on retaliation against China from the Biden Administration, the White House has only commented that it was aware of the situation and was monitoring it closely.
The most recent cybersecurity breach by APT5 is the third detected attack in 2021, all suspected to have links to China’s Communist Party. One of the previous two attacks hit 30,000 Americans in small business and local government, the other targeted tech giant Microsoft.
An animated video claiming to be a new U.S. military weapon concept to target T-90 and T-14 Armata tanks has gotten a lot of attention on the Internet. The video titled “US Military SNEAKY SURPRISE for T-90 Armata Tanks” was published on December 10, 2015, and has more than 1.2 million views on the popular YouTube channel ArmedForcesUpdate.
While cool in concept, we were more surprised by the video’s creators, RT News—Russia Today—who’s logo and spinning globe appear at 3:16 of the video. The video’s animation, music and naming convention is also strikingly similar to the Russian transformer video WATM published in November 2015 called “Russian military NASTY SURPRISE in a box for US Military.” RT is a Russian government-funded television network directed to audiences outside of its federation. The network is based out of Moscow and broadcasts around-the-clock programming in different languages across the world.
It’s unclear why would Russian state media make a video destroying its new main battle tank. In the meantime, check out the video. (Russia paid good money for it.)
Cedric Terrell’s photography studio is full of energy, creativity, and stunningly beautiful people, inside and out.
The photographer and former Marine captures gorgeous profiles of anyone from everywhere. This guy is straight up talented. After seven years with the USMC, Cedric is running his own studio with offices in New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. Learn more about Cedric in the videos below.
With the help of U.S. special forces, the Armed Forces of the Philippines have been battling radical Islamic terrorists in the south Pacific island chain since 2002. The Philippines, a former Spanish colony, is a predominantly Christian nation. However, its southern islands are home to a large Muslim population. Since the late 60s, there has been some form of push, political or terrorist, to create an independent Muslim state in the southern Philippines. The most prominent terror organization in Philippines since the early 2000s is the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Known officially by their ISIS counterparts as Islamic State — East Asia Province, ASG first had ties to Al-Qaeda. They operated extensively throughout southeast Asia, especially in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. ASG conducted bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and drug trafficking to further their cause for an Islamic caliphate. Under the leadership of Isnilon Hapilon, who swore allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ASG began conducting kidnappings and killings in the name of ISIS in 2014.
Simultaneously, brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, founded their own Islamic terrorist organization in their hometown of Marawi in the southern Philippines. The brothers were educated in Muslim nations overseas where they were radicalized. Bringing this ideology back to the Philippines, they recruited other Muslim Filipinos to their cause. Working alongside Hapilon, Maute group and ASG stockpiled weapons and ammo in Marawi for a planned offensive. It would be their opening attack to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Philippines.
By May 2017, Maute group and ASG had amassed a huge stockpile of arms in Marawi. However, their planned offensive was forced to be accelerated. Working with the Philippine National Police, AFP Intelligence learned that Hapilon, who was on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list with a reward of $5 million, was in Marawi. A surgical operation was launched on May 23, 2017 to capture the ASG leader. However, when Philippine special forces entered the city, they found much more than they bargained for.
Prepping for the planned offensive, roughly 1,000 militants had amassed in Marawi, some of whom came from foreign countries. Heavily armed, they quickly took over the city, burning churches, homes, and executing known Christians on sight. As civilians fled, some Muslims harbored their Christian neighbors who could not get out and hid them from the extremists. ASG and Maute group blocked all roads in and out of the city and took hostages demanding that the AFP cease all military operations in and around Marawi. At the same time, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared a state of martial law for the entire island of Mindanao.
The next day, additional military forces arrived and 120 hostages at the hospital were freed. Key buildings like city hall and a university were recaptured by AFP forces who established command posts in preparation for the coming operations. The Philippine Air Force began airstrikes on Marawi. Army units pushed into the city and battled against heavy resistance. Although AFP ground troops were able to re-secure much of Marawi by May 31, the sections of the city under militant control were a maze of tight alleys and closely packed buildings. It would require Fallujah-style house-to-house room-by-room clearing to secure the rest of the city.
Moreover, Hapilon and the Maute brothers were still at large. Even if the majority of the militants were killed or captured, the escape of the terrorist leaders would be a major victory for ISIS. Heavy street fighting raged through the contested areas of the city as AFP troops rooted out pockets of resistance in search of the high value targets. To complicate the already arduous task of urban combat, the militants dug tunnels throughout the city. Like the Vietcong in Vietnam or the Soviets in Stalingrad, this allowed them to escape quickly and covertly from an engagement and reappear in an unexpected location.
Fighting continued through June with the AFP announcing that it had killed over 200 militants. Still, resistance in the city was stiff and Marawi seemed no closer to being secured. Additionally, an estimated 2,000 civilians remained trapped in the city. On the morning of June 25, a unilateral ceasefire began in recognition of the Islamic holiday of Eid. This allowed Muslims on both sides of the fighting to observe the end of the month-long period of Ramadan. It also gave many civilians the opportunity to escape. Despite the ceasefire, militant snipers continued to engage AFP positions. At the end of the ceasefire, combat operations resumed in full.
In addition to technical support from the United States in hunting the wanted terrorist leaders, the Philippines accepted the aid of the Australians. Two AP-3C Orion surveillance planes were sent to the Philippines to support the battle. By July, AFP reported nearly 400 militants had been killed and over 700 civilians had been rescued. Still, 93 AFP service members were KIA and at least 45 civilians were dead.
On July 20, AFP forces scored a major strategic victory. Mapandi bridge, which provides access to Marawi’s commercial center, was retaken. This allowed AFP armored vehicles to push further into the city. Intense close-quarter fighting continued in the city’s rubble. IEDs and militant snipers made progress slow and deadly. However, AFP forces scored a major victory when Abdullah Maute was killed in an airstrike on August 7. His death was a morale boost for the weary Filipino troops who had been engaged in heavy and constant combat for months.
On August 18, the AFP announced that the combat zone had been reduced to an area covering 800×600 meters. Still, this section of the city contained 400 buildings which would have to be cleared one-by-one in search of Hapilon and Omar Maute.
By September, the combat zone had been reduced to an area of 500 square meters. However, these gains came at a high cost. Hundreds of Filipino troops had been wounded and dozens killed. On September 24, the last key bridge in Marawi was captured by the AFP, effectively isolating the remaining militants. Although Islamic representatives lobbied for a peace agreement, the Philippine government rejected them, saying that it was too little, too late. They would accept nothing less than total victory over the terrorists. In October, a major development occurred that would help bring the fighting to an end.
A hostage who had been held by Hapilon and Maute managed to escape to AFP lines and informed them of the location of the terrorist leaders. Army Special Forces Command quickly planned a top-tier operation. Elements of the 1st Scout Ranger Regiment and the Light Reaction Regiment, modeled after the 75th Ranger Regiment and Delta Force respectively, were tasked with clearing the suspected location and killing or capturing Hapilon and Maute. Trained by their American counterparts, these were the best men for the job. Supported by armored fighting vehicles, the commandos executed the operation on October 16.
As the special forces troops assaulted the target building, Hapilon and Maute escaped out the back. However, they were engaged by the remainder of the commandos and the armored vehicles who had secured the rear of the building. Maute was almost immediately killed by the .50-cal gunner in one of the vehicles. However, the gunner was unable it identify the fleeing militant as Maute through his thermal sight. Meanwhile, Hapilon was engaged by Ranger sniper teams who struck him three times in the chest. Despite going down, Hapilon harmlessly returned fire until he succumbed to his wounds.
The commandos killed a further 8 militants in securing the target building. 17 hostages including women, children, and a 2-month-old baby, were rescued. There were no AFP or civilian casualties. Once the target area was secure, the commandos went through the bodies and identified Hapilon and Maute. The announcement of their deaths was met with celebration across Marawi. DNA samples were sent to the FBI in the United States who confirmed the identities of the terrorist leaders.
The next day, President Duterte flew down to Marawi and declared the city’s liberation from the Islamic state. Fighting continued until October 23, exactly five months from the start of the battle, when the last pockets of ASG and Maute fighters were eliminated. The victory was hard-won. 168 Philippine service members were killed and over 1,400 were wounded. Sadly, 87 civilians also lost their lives during the five months of fighting. Still, 978 militants were killed and 12 were captured. The Battle of Marawi dealt a major blow to ASG and all but eliminated Maute group.
Marawi itself suffered greatly. 95% of structures in the 4 square kilometer combat zone were damaged, if not completely destroyed. This left 200,000 civilians displaced. The battle was the most intense and destructive in the Philippines since WWII. Rehabilitation and recovery efforts continue to this day.
The Battle of Marawi was the ultimate failure for ISIS in southeast Asia and a display of strength and unity for the Filipino people. ASG and Maute group were unable to establish their caliphate. Moreover, the Filipino people, Muslims, Christians, soldiers, and civilians alike, stood side-by-side against the violence and terror brought upon them and prevailed.
Dr. Vince Houghton is a U.S. Army veteran and Historian and Curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. He grew up watching and loving the original Star Wars Trilogy. While in the Army, he served in a sort of intelligence role and after leaving the military, he earned a Ph.D. in Intelligence History with a background in diplomatic military history.
Every year on May 4th, he gives a lecture at the museum, making the argument for Star Wars being a series of spy films.
“People always debate about it,” Houghton says. “Is this fantasy, is this sci-fi, is it a western in space? For whatever reason, I’ve always seen it as a spy movie.”
Houghton argues that the backbone of the original trilogy is a spy operation — a story made into the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. That story is the catalyst for Star Wars IV: A New Hope, which he sees as a classic spy movie.
“You could replace the death star with V2 or V1 or a German atomic bomb or the Iranian atomic bomb or any kind of scientific and technological intelligence and it becomes a spy movie,” he says. “Strip away all the science fiction and it’s a woman with stolen plans for a weapon trying to get them to a group of guerrillas fighting against this totalitarian empire — it could be the World War II resistance.”
But Houghton takes his argument further.
“With Empire Strikes Back, the whole thing is kicked off by the Empire attempting to use imagery intelligence, their drones, their probes, to locate the secret base of the rebels,” he says. “It’s still an intelligence operation, just a different kind.”
Houghton claims Return of the Jedi is a story based on intelligence gathering and counterintelligence.
“That’s also the catalyst behind Return of the Jedi,” Houghton says. “It’s stealing the plans for the second death star. It turns out, that’s actually a big deception operation — another key issue when it comes to intelligence.”
The Spy Museum Curator is talking about Emperor Palpatine allowing the Rebel Alliance to know the location of the second Death Star. Rebel Bothan spies capture the location and plans for the space station, but it’s a ruse for the Emperor to defeat the Rebel fleet on his chosen battlespace; it was a trap, a classic deception operation designed to hide the true strength of his forces.
“You could go all the way back to Mongolians in this case,” says Houghton. “Genghis Khan did everything from tying brooms to his horses’ tails so it would kick up a lot of dust and make sure it looked like there were thousands of soldiers instead of hundreds.”
In the case of Return of the Jedi, the Emperor’s plan just didn’t work because, you know, it’s Star Wars.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters Dec. 16th. You can catch more of Dr. Vince Houghton on the International Spy Museum’s weekly podcast, Spycast, on iTunes and AudioBoom.
Earlier this week, defense officials from the United States and the United Kingdom signed an agreement that will allow the two nations to merge forces into a joint U.S./U.K. carrier strike group in 2021. The joint strike group will be led by the U.K.’s new flagship carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, and will include a U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, as well as a compliment of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighters.
“This deployment underscores the strength of our bilateral ties and demonstrates U.S.-U.K. interoperability, both of which are key tenets of the U.S. National Defense Strategy,” a Pentagon’s announcement on the agreement reads.
Carrier strike groups represent some of the most potent means of force projection in any nation’s military, made up of an aircraft carrier and assorted ships tasked with defending and supporting carrier operations. The standard U.S. Navy carrier strike group is led by one of America’s supercarriers from the Nimitz class of ships (with Ford-class carriers expected to enter operational service in the near future as well). Each carrier maintains a carrier air wing made up of as many as 70 aircraft, allowing a single ship to leverage more destructive power than some entire nations. The U.S. Navy operates F/A-18 Super Hornets and will soon fly F-35C Joint Strike Fighters from the decks of its flat tops.
That carrier is usually accompanied by at least one cruiser, two destroyers or frigates, and other ships that may support specific operations like nuclear submarines or supply ships. All told, a single American carrier strike group usually boasts more than 7,500 personnel and wields enough conventional firepower to achieve tactical and strategic objectives on a broad scale. At any given time, the United States maintains 10 such carrier strike groups around the world.
The U.K. maintains only one carrier strike group, which is smaller in scale than any of America’s. Today’s UKCSG (U.K. Carrier Strike Group) is comprised of nine total ships, including the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, two frigates, two destroyers, one replenishment ship, and a solid support ship. The Queen Elizabeth, which is the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy, is not nuclear powered like America’s Nimitz-class carriers and is notably smaller–displacing 65,000 tons compared to the Nimitz’s 100,000.
While the Queen’s carrier may not be as large as its American counterparts, it still packs one hell of a punch. The HMS Queen Elizabeth is capable of supporting more than 65 aircraft and intends to field between 24 and 35 F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, alongside another 14 helicopters, at any given time.
“Next year, HMS Queen Elizabeth will lead a British and allied task group on our most ambitious deployment for two decades,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. “We shall forward-deploy more of our naval assets in the world’s most important regions, protecting the shipping lanes that supply our nation.”
The UKCSG currently includes the HMS Diamond, HMS Defender, HMS Kent, HMS Richmond, at least one attack submarine, the RFA Fort Victoria supply ship, and a Tide-class tanker for fuel.
The HMS Diamond and the HMS Defender are both Daring-class air-defense destroyers with a suite of onboard weapon systems, including up to 48 Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles. The Kent is a Duke-class frigate with anti-submarine torpedoes, 8 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and 32 anti-air missiles, and the Richmond is an older Type 23 frigate with a similar loadout. The subs used in the carrier strike group hail from either the older Trafalgar or the latest Astute-class of nuclear attack submarines.
In 2021, the UKCSG will be joined by the USS The Sullivans, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer homeported in Mayport, Florida. The 505-foot ship displaces around 6,800 tons and carries a crew complement of around 280. Each Arleigh Burke-class vessel can carry 56 Raytheon Tomahawk cruise missiles. Each Tomahawk can strike targets as far away as 1,550 miles.
The joint strike group will be bolstered in the air by 10 of the U.S. Marine Corps’ short take-off, vertical landing variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. While the U.S. Navy operates F-35C’s off the decks of its own flattops, the F-35B has been considered a better option for the Queen Elizabeth’s sloping deck. The F-35B is the only version of the stealth fighter that can land vertically, eliminating the need for arresting wires during landing. The U.S. Marine Corps has been operating F-35Bs off the deck of amphibious assault ships in recent years in a similar fashion, earning the colloquial name of “Lightning Carriers.”
Now that a top American general has declared tiny drones as the biggest threat in the Middle East since IEDs, the British military is bringing some tiny drones of their own. But the UK’s drone swarms can be fired from a 40mm grenade launcher.
Whether an infantry unit needs the drones to carry cameras, bombs or act as a swarm, they can now field what they need with the pull of a trigger. British troops in Mali supporting Operation Newcombe will soon be fielding the Australian-designed Drone 40.
The Drone40 is being used for long range ISR in the sub-Saharan country to support United Nations troops operating there.
Military reporters at Overt Defense first reported the Drone40 debut at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in 2019. The devices were able to bring flashbangs and smoke to the battlefield along with other weapons and reconnaissance capabilities.
Drone40 UAVs are adaptable to many battlefield situations and can be adapted quickly to changing situations. When used in a non-combat situation, the devices are retrievable and can be reused multiple times. In a combat environment, they can carry an explosive payload with armor-piercing warheads.
The British troops in Mali are apparently using only the ISR functions.
“Although the system is in use, the version we are using is hand launched and does not include any munitions – it is purely used for surveillance and reconnaissance,” British Royal Anglican commander Will Meddings said on Twitter.
He also clarified that British troops in Mali are only hand launching them because there is “plenty that needs to be trialed, tested and assured.”
The new drone can be fired from 40mm launchers but its size depends on the kind of drone being used. Launchers that only fire short rounds will not be able to use some of the different payloads.
Operation Newcombe is the British effort in the United Nations’ Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. The UK has 300 soldiers in the country to help support French peacekeeping efforts after a 2012 uprising by al-Qaeda linked nearly tore the country in two.
The British are supplying logistical and long-range reconnaissance support to the French antiterrorism effort. The British Long Range Reconnaissance Group is part of the UN Peacekeeping mission there, in order to determine how best to help the people of Mali in a time of political instability.