The Syrian Civil War has been a testing ground for some of Russia’s latest weapons. Russia even sent their piece-of-crap carrier, the Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, to do a “combat deployment” in Syria (though the carrier’s planes operated from land). Russia made a big deal about the deployment but, as is typical of much of Russia’s arsenal, there wasn’t much behind the hype.
Now, it looks like the new Pantsir mobile air-defense system may join that list of weapons that fail to meet expectations. The Pantsir is a combined gun-missile system armed with enough SA-22 Greyhound missiles to, theoretically, shoot down an entire squadron of fighters.
As it turns out, the Pantsir made its combat debut as a result of the recent contretemps between Iran and Israel after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal. Unfortunately for the Russians, this debut was less than stellar. The video above, released by the Israeli Defense Forces, shows the last seconds of a Pantsir’s existence, right up to the moment of impact.
According to an IDF release, the Israeli Air Force carried out an attack in response to rocket-launcher fire from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Israeli defense systems, like Iron Dome, destroyed four of the Iranian rockets, preventing any casualties and damages.
During the IDF’s response, Syrian air-defense systems fired on Israeli planes. All IDF aircraft returned home safely. Conversely, Israel claims that it destroyed several Syrian aerial interception systems, including the Pantsir.
A Pantsir air-defense system takes part in a 2016 live-fire demonstration.
(Photo by Sergey Bobylev, Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)
This isn’t the only time that Syria has taken the latest gear from Russia into battle only to see it perform poorly. In the 1982 Lebanon War, Syria sent T-72 main battle tanks into combat with the Israelis. The T-72s lost in action against Israel’s home-grown Merkava in what would prove to be a preview of that tank’s abysmal performance in Operation Desert Storm.
To see more on the Israeli Defense Forces’ recent operations in Syria, check out the video below.
A U.S. congressman and former Army infantry officer has started a company that makes an exact replica of the rifle wielded by soldiers he fought against in Iraq.
Dubbed the “Tabuk,” the Iraqi-made AK-47-style rifle remains a rare collectible and cannot be brought back to the United States. However, veterans who want a souvenir of their service in Iraq can get one made in detail to look and act the part.
And best of all, they have Iraq veteran to thank.
Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell is one of the founders and owners of Two Rivers Arms in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and is making the replica Tabuk rifles and other Iraqi-designed arms. Retired from the Army in 2006 after helping lead the mission to capture Saddam Hussein in Iraq during Operation Red Dawn, Russell is now a Republican congressman representing Oklahoma’s 5th district.
The replica Tabuk his company makes is a semi-automatic, long-stroke gas piston operated rifle chambered in 7.62×39 mm with a rotating bolt and firing from a detachable 30-round box magazine. And all of the original markings on an Iraqi Tabuk have been replicated to exacting detail.
In the Late 1970s Saddam Hussein ordered his Ministry of Defense to start production on a domestically made variant of the AKM. This was in the middle of the on again, off again war between Iraq and Iran and a reliable supply of small arms was needed. As the Iraqi military already had a good relationship with the former (at that time current) Yugoslavia an easy partnership was formed and tooling and training delivered.
The new Iraqi made AKMs were dubbed the Tabuk and were identical copies of the Yugo M70B1 and M70AB2 rifles.
Russell and his company spared no expense in making the replica Tabuk as close to the ones U.S. troops saw in Iraq as possible. In fact, they’re so authentic looking, Two Rivers Arms-made Tabuk rifles were used in the movie “American Sniper.”
The right side of the rear sight base on the Two Rivers-made rifle is marked “Tabuk” and “Cal. 7.62x39mm” in English just as on the original. Two Rivers Arms took special care to match the style, size and font of all the engravings using original samples. On the left side of the rear sight block is found the same text as on the right but in Arabic.
In between the name and caliber designation is the lion circle emblem that appears on all Tabuks. This is supposed to represent the Lion of Babylon standing in front of a pyramid and surrounded by a circle. The lion is standing over a prostrate man and has a saddle on its back as in legend it was ridden by Ishtar the Babylonian goddess of love and war.
A final touch of authenticity is that every rifle comes with an exact reproduction of the Iraqi instruction manual issued to troops and manufactured from an original and hard to find manual. It is of course in Arabic.
The Two Rivers Arms Tabuk replica rifle comes in at about $1,200.
The AGM-114 Hellfire has been a lethal anti-tank missile, and it’s also been used to make a bunch of terrorists good terrorists, according to one of William F. Halsey’s more Mattis-esque statements. But the 20-pound warhead on the Hellfire can be too much of a bang.
How that perceived problem was solved was to put laser guidance onto a smaller missile. Lockheed Martin has done just that with a program called DAGR, which you can best describe as what happens nine months after a Hydra rocket and a Hellfire hooked up.
According to an e-brochure sent by Lockheed Martin, DAGR used the rocket and warhead of the Hydra, and mated it with the laser-seeker technology of the Hellfire. This creates a missile with a range of up to seven and a half miles, but also has a 10-pound warhead that the laser guidance can put within three feet of a target. Okay, not as big a boom, but would you want to stand next to ten pounds of high explosives detonating?
Lockheed notes that this system is not only cheaper, but that it can hit high-value targets and minimize collateral damage. Since it works like the Hellfire, it can be used on any aircraft, helicopter, or drone that can use the Hellfire.
The DAGR can be fired from modified Hydra rocket pods, but the system also can be used from a specialized launcher that holds four rounds. Each of these missiles comes in at 36 pounds, and is 75 inches long.
Since its official field debut in 1983, the MRE has come a long, long way. Today’s current iteration seems like veritable fine dining compared with previous versions, but they’re still widely considered “Meals Rejected by Everyone,” and “Meals Rarely Edible.” Take a look at how MREs have evolved over time and what the DoD is doing to make them more palatable.
1907: The Iron Ration becomes the first individual combat ration issued to military personnel and included three 3-ounce cakes made from beef bouillon powder and cooked wheat, three 1-ounce bars of chocolate, and salt and pepper.
1917: Reserve Rations are issued to soldiers during the end of WWI. These included 12 ounces of fresh bacon or one pound of canned meat, two 8-ounce cans of hardtack biscuits, 1.16 ounces of ground coffee, 2.4 ounces of sugar, and .16 ounces of salt—no pepper in sight.
1938’s C-Ration is closest to what many now think of as the MRE. It consisted of an individually canned, wet, pre-cooked meal. Service members had three choices: meat and beans, meat and vegetable stew, or meat and potato hash.
Just four years later, the 1942 K-Ration saw an increase in both calories and options. This MRE included meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the choices (canned ham and eggs, bacon and cheese for lunch, and a beef and pork loaf for dinner) weren’t that appetizing.
By 1958, the Meal, Combat, Individual (MCI) included canned wet rations averaging about 1,200 calories each. The majority of all service members disliked the MCI, but this remained the only field option available for almost twenty years.
Adopted as the official DoD combat ration in 1975, large scale production of Meals Ready to Eat began in 1978, and the first delivery went out just three years later. The 25th ID ate nothing but MREs for 34 days, and service members rated the food “acceptable,” but only about half of the meals were consumed. Translation: the food was super gross, and the soldiers only ate them out of necessity. Three years later, the same experiment was performed … with the same results.
(U.S. Air Force Photo)
So, starting in 1988, the DoD made some changes. Entrée size was changed from 5 ounces to 8 ounces, and nine of the 12 entrée options were replaced. Candies were added to four choices, as was hot sauce, and for all 12 menus, cold beverage choices were made available.
But the MREs were still pretty gross.
Field testing and early feedback from Operation Desert Storm (ODS) brought another round of changes. This time, the DoD replaced old mil-spec spray-dried coffee with commercially freeze-dried coffee. Hot sauce was made available to all 12 menus, dehydrated fruits were swapped out for wet-pack fruit, and candy was made available to an additional four menus choices.
During ODS, service personnel ate MREs for as many as 60 days in a row, which resulted in another round of changes. Shelf-stable bread inside an MRE pouch was created, a chocolate bar able to withstand high heat was developed, and flameless ration heaters were developed as an easy method for service members to heat their entrees since the only thing grosser than eating MREs for two months is eating cold MREs for two months.
In 1994, more changes were field-tested. The DoD decided that commercial-like graphics should be added to increase consumption and acceptance. MRE bags became easier to open, and biodegradable spoons were added.
1996 saw MREs available for special diets to help increase calorie intake for service members in the field. Menu counts increased to 16 items and included ham slices and chili. One year later, there were 20 entrée items, including cheese tortellini and boneless pork chops with noodles.
Current menu offerings include southwest style beef and black beans, pepperoni pizza, creamy spinach fettuccine, and vegetable crumbles with pasta in taco style sauce. While none of those sound exceptionally appealing, they’re far better than beef bouillon cakes of 1907.
Ranked as the best MRE available, the chili mac menu comes with pound cake, crackers, a jalapeno cheese spread, and candy. The worst choices tie between the veggie burger (which includes a knockoff Gatorade powder, two slices of snack bread, and a chocolate banana muffin) and the Chicken a la King, which sounds yummy but is, in fact, just a gelatinous goo of shred of “chicken.”
MREs are useful for FTXs and good to have on hand in case of natural disasters. They’re convenient and shelf-stable, so they’re a good addition to emergency preparations. But don’t count on them tasting that great.
The Marine Corps is a department of the Navy, there’s no question about it. But when Marines go on ship, it can be a frustrating time for them. Being separated from the rest of the world, getting sea sick, or just wasting time on your command’s idea to make itself look good in front of the Navy makes the experience horrendous.
Some Marines might actually like the idea of going on ship. It gives you the chance to experience the world in a way not many others will be able to. What usually ends up killing the enthusiasm, however, is what ends up happening on ship. It usually causes Marines to hate their lives even more than they already do.
Here are just a few of those things.
It’s important to note that larger ships will have plenty more gyms but on smaller ships, the options are extremely limited. Given the fact that you’ll be at sea for a long periods at a time, exercise is crucial. While the option to do cardio-based workouts exists, the ability to lift weights is one that many Marines choose to supplement the other options.
What trips you up is that the Navy sets specific time frames to allow Marines the chance to get their work-out in. The problem is that they take it upon themselves to take the best hours and give Marines the time slots where they’ll likely be working. What’s worse is you’ll find sailors working out during “green side” hours but Lord help you if you get caught during “blue side” hours.
We get it. Every unit on ship MUST give up a few bodies to assist in day-to-day tasks but it doesn’t change the fact that Marines get annoyed over having to go sort the trash.
Rude higher ranks
Before you go on ship, your First Sergeant will hammer you with learning Navy rank structure so you can give the proper greeting to whomever rates it. But you’ll find gradually that you won’t get the greeting back. Now, a Navy Chief isn’t required to return your “good morning” but it’s usually just common courtesy. This is what separates Marines from Sailors.
If you tell a Marine Staff Sergeant “good morning” they’ll return it happily, usually with a “good morning to you, devil dog,” but on ship, Sailors will just kind of scoff and keep walking. But rest assured, if you don’t give a proper greeting, your First Sergeant will hear about it.
“Breakouts” are when the mess deck needs to get food out of storage so they’ll set up a line of Marines and Sailors from one place to another to pass the supplies along in the easiest way possible. The annoying part actually comes at the fault of other Marines. A problem you’ll likely face is having to be the on-call Marine for every ship duty, every day.
Lack of respect
If you’re a Marine grunt on a Navy ship, don’t hold your breath waiting for respect from Naval officers because you’ll rarely get it, if at all. They’ll act like that snobby rich kid you knew in high school whose parents bought them everything and who never had to worry about any real problems, and they’ll treat you like the dirty trailer park kid who wears clothes from the second-hand store.
This isn’t the case for every officer on ship; some will be pretty down-to-Earth, but plenty will just look at you like a peasant and avoid you like the plague. At the end of the day, though, their job exists to support yours.
Replenishment at sea
A RAS is where another ship pulls up next to yours to send supplies so you don’t find yourself starving or throwing a mutiny aboard the USS whatever. This usually comes just at the right time and you’ll be able to buy chips or whatever at the store. It’s a few hours of work but it’s well worth it.
Where the problem lies is that the ship will call upon every available person to line up and help with the effort and the Navy will send people to help but, over time, you’ll notice the Sailors have disappeared and only Marines are left.
The new red, white, and blue paint job would be a change from the light blue color scheme designed by President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, in the 1960s and which has appeared on every presidential aircraft since.
On October 19, 1962, Boeing delivered a highly modified version of the civilian 707-320B airliner with the serial number 62-26000. It would be tasked with Special Air Missions and get the call sign “SAM Two-six-thousand.”
It was the first jet aircraft built specifically for the US president, and when he was on board the call sign changed to “Air Force One,” which was adopted in 1953 for use by planes carrying the president.
The SAM 26000 would carry eight presidents in its 36-year career — Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton — as well as countless heads of state, diplomats, and dignitaries.
Below, you can take a tour of the SAM 26000, which is now on display at the National Museum of the Air Force and which one Air Force historian said could justifiably be called “the most important historical airplane in the world.”
In addition to the blue and white colors they picked, the words “United States of America” were painted along the fuselage, and a US flag was painted on the tail. Kennedy reportedly chose the font because it resembled the lettering on an early version of the Constitution.
In June 1963, the plane flew Kennedy to Berlin, where he delivered his “Ich bin ein Berliner,” or “I am a Berliner,” speech.
During the flight into Berlin, “The Russians put MiGs (fighter planes) up on both our wings so we would stay in the corridor over East Germany to West Berlin. They didn’t want us to spy,” said Col. John Swindal, who became commander of Air Force One at the start of Kennedy’s presidency.
That afternoon, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson helped staffers pull the the casket into the rear of the plane, where seats had been removed to make space. Johnson was sworn in as president on the plane prior to takeoff.
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. John Hames, who worked as a steward on Air Force One between 1960 and 1975, was one of the crew members who helped remove seats to make room for the casket.
“We served a lot of beverages (Scotch) on the way back,” Hames said in 1998. “It was a long ride back to Washington. Nobody wanted to eat. Mrs. Kennedy was in shock. She still had on the blood-stained clothes.”
“You can stand on that spot where President Kennedy’s casket came in — you think about the horror of what was going on and the shock of what happened,” Underwood said. “You can look forward toward the nose of the aircraft and know that’s where the transfer of power took place, and you can see where Mrs. Kennedy sat near the body of her slain husband.”
The SAM 26000 played a prominent role in the presidencies after Kennedy as well.
In 1998, retired Air Force Master Sgt. John Hames, a steward on Air Force One between 1960 and 1975, said the SAM 26000 “was so much faster that we had less time to prepare meals, but we got the job done.”
Kennedy was a “great person for soup. It was a comfort food for him,” Hames told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1998. “President Johnson was kind of different. He told me that any beef prepared aboard Air Force One had to be well done. He didn’t care for rare beef the way the group from New England did.”
Nixon “ate fairly light … cottage cheese,” Hames said. “President Ford ate almost anything, but he was in such a short time.”
In 1964, Johnson invited reporter Frank Cormier and two colleagues into the plane’s bedroom for an improvised press conference. Johnson, who had just given a speech under the hot sun, “removed his shirt and trousers,” while answering their questions and then “shucked off his underwear” and kept talking while “standing buck naked and waving his towel for emphasis.”
As Nixon exited the plane in China, a “burly” aide “blocked the aisle” to keep staffers from following Nixon, Kissinger said later. Nixon didn’t want anyone messing up his photo with the Chinese premier.
Three months after ferrying him to China, the SAM 26000 took Nixon on an unprecedented visit to the Soviet Union.
Unsuccessful presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey was reportedly given a ride on the plane by President Richard Nixon, according to retired Chief Master Sgt. Stan Goodwin. During the trip between Washington and Minnesota, Humphrey made 150 phone calls to tell people he’d finally made it aboard Air Force One.
During a week of meetings with Soviet leaders, Nixon reached a number of agreements. One set the framework for a joint space flight in 1975. Another was the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), which contained a number of measures to limit the manufacture of strategic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
In October 1981, it took former presidents Carter, Nixon, and Ford on an uneasy trip to Egypt for the funeral of President Mohammed Anwar Sadat, who had been assassinated a few days before. Then-President Ronald Reagan did not attend because of security concerns.
Secretary of State Alexander Haig, as Reagan’s official representative, took the stateroom, leaving other officials with regular seats. The former presidents were “somewhat ill at ease,” Carter said later.
“It was one and only time that I’d seen three presidents and two secretaries of state standing in line to go to the men’s room,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Stan Goodwin, who manned the radio on the flight. Things were also tense among staffers on the trip. They reportedly bickered over who got bigger cuts of steak at dinner.
But it was Nixon, whose resignation in 1974 led to Ford taking office, who “surprisingly eased the tension” with “courtesy, eloquence, and charm,” Carter wrote later. Carter and Nixon’s interaction on the plane led to them developing a friendship.
The Boeing 707 that was acting as Air Force One got stuck in the mud at Willard Airport in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. The SAM 26000, waiting nearby as an alternate, was called in to pick up the president.
The SAM 26000 was officially retired in March 1998, after logging more than 13,000 flying hours and covering more than 5 million miles. While it made more 200 trips in 1997 alone, the lack of parts for the plane as well as its high exhaust and noise levels led to its retirement.
Then-Vice President Al Gore took the plane’s final flight, traveling from Washington to Columbia, South Carolina. “If history itself had wings, it probably would be this very aircraft,” Gore said after the trip.
In May 1998, the plane arrived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. In a nationally televised event, the Air Force retired the plane and turned it over to the National Museum of the Air Force.
It looks like it was made from mismatched pieces of plumbing.
What’s more, there is nothing “down under” about this Australian weapon’s magazine. The magazine loads into the top of the Owen gun – and spent cartridges eject from the bottom of its receiver.
But despite all its oddball features, despite the fact it was painted with jungle camouflage colors that defy description, the Owen worked astoundingly well.
The Owen is considered one of the most reliable submachine guns of the war, with a track record that not only includes the War in the Pacific but service with Aussies who fought in the Korean War and alongside U.S. troops in Vietnam.
Mind you, that’s a performance record earned during jungle warfare — an environment known for producing the kinds of things that cause weapons to jam at the worst possible moment.
The gun is the namesake brainchild of Lt. Evelyn Owen, a member of the Australian Imperial Forces who loved to tinker with firearms.
In 1938, Owen designed and built a homemade .22-caliber automatic carbine that had a large revolver-style cylinder instead of a magazine and a thumb-operated trigger.
Unfortunately, the contraption interested no one in the military. Owen literally set the gun aside, storing it in a large sugar sack and going about his business as an Army private.
The Australian military brass distrusted submachine guns, putting their faith in the tried and true Lee-Enfield rifle. Besides, they had been promised the Sten gun, a weapon touted by its designers to be more than adequate in battle.
But then came the fall of France in 1940. The British lost thousands of small arms that were destroyed or simply abandoned after the devastating rout at Dunkirk.
Bolt-action rifles from The Great War and hunting guns were often the only firearms available for some units. Terrified generals in Australia knew they did not have enough weapons to repel a Japanese invasion force – and the Sten gun wouldn’t be production until 1941.
However, Owen had a neighbor who managed a large Australian steel products factory. Vincent Wardell found the prototype gun and expressed admiration for the design.
Owen’s father, embarrassed by his son’ carelessness, explained to Wardell how the younger Owen tinkered with weapons. Wardell didn’t care about whether the son picked up after himself – the simplicity of the firearm convinced Wardell that Owen’s skills were wasted as a mere foot soldier.
Wardell convinced the Australian military to transfer Owen from the infantry to the Army Inventions Board, which directed the development of new weapons.
Newly promoted Lt. Owen started to develop additional prototypes in different calibers. Slowly, the Australian government began to take an interest in his ideas.
In 1942, the John Lysaght metalworks factory made three versions of the Owen in 9-millimeter Luger, .38-200 caliber and .45 ACP. All were subjected to stress tests along with a Thompson submachine gun and the Sten gun as benchmark weapons.
The tests included immersing all of the guns in mud and water, then blowing sand at the weapons. The only gun that didn’t jam was the Owen.
In fact, the top-mount magazine proved beneficial. Gravity helped feed bullets into the gun, and the ejection port at the bottom of the receiver meant water and gunk drained out of the chamber more easily.
In short, the Owen Machine Carbine as it was called officially was perfect for jungle warfare.
The government wanted the nine-millimeter version. Eventually, Lysaght produced 45,000 weapons and they were a hit with the Australians soldiers – nicknamed “diggers”—who wielded them.
It only weighed 10 pounds, fired at about 700 rounds a minute from an open bolt, and was easily fired from the prone position.
About its only disadvantage were the offset sights. The top-mounted magazine blocked a normal sight picture, so the sights on the Owen are designed so the shooter looks around the magazine – but it only works for a right-handed shooter.
The Owen routinely out-performed the Sten gun –known as the Austen in its Australian incarnation – and was so well liked that Gen. Douglas MacArthur even considered it for American jungle forces in the Pacific.
During the Korean War, the Owen remained in the Australian arsenal. Even though the Lee-Enfield rifle was the main weapon for the infantryman, Owens found their way into the hands of many soldiers. During the Battle of Kapyong in 1951, any Australian soldier who could get his hands on an Owen used one.
“All hell broke loose as Diggers cut down the surge of attackers, directing into them as much rapid fire as their weapons could produce, the Owen submachine gun being the most effective weapon for this and the dear old single-shot Lee-Enfield the worst,” Maj. Ben O’Dowd, 3 Royal Australian Regiment, Alpha Co., said in an oral history of the battle prepared for the Australian War Memorial.
Helicopter search-and-rescue crews also carried Owens, using them to fend off Chinese Communist and North Korean troops attempting to capture downed airmen.
In addition, infantry scouts and commando units carried Owens during Australian participation in the Vietnam War.
The Australians retired the Owen from mainline service in 1971. However, it still occasionally appears in the hands of special operators when they train fellow soldiers undergoing a weapons familiarization course.
Regrettably, Evelyn Owen’s life was far shorter than the oddball but long-lasting weapon he designed. Owen received £10,000 in royalties – about the equivalent of $728,000 today – but sold the patent rights for the Owen submachine gun to the Australian government.
Owen built a saw mill with the money he received. He continued to tinker with firearms, particularly sports rifles, but he never achieved the same success he had with the Owen gun. In addition, heavy drinking took a toll on his health.
He died of heart failure in 1949 at the age of 33.
During an interview with with Fox News Channel host Chris Wallace, Putin was asked about whether he had any “qualms” about civilians being killed in Russian bombings in both Aleppo and Ghouta.
“You know, when there is a warfare going on — and this is the worst thing that can happen for the humankind — victims are inevitable,” Putin told Wallace.
“And there will always be a question of who’s to blame,” he added, before shifting responsibility to terror groups in the region, like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, for “destabilizing” the country’s political situation.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russia has supported the Assad regime in Syria since it formally entered the country’s civil war in 2015.
Putin also tried to deflect the issue of casualties by talking about the Syrian city of Raqqa, where Amnesty International says US-led coalition airstrikes killed and injured thousands of civilians in 2017 and left the city in ruins.
On July 16, 2018, President Donald Trump met with Putin in Helsinki and discussed a number of issues including the humanitarian situation in Syria.
“Cooperation between our two countries has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives,” Trump said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A dusting of snow and unease fell over Ukraine one day after Russian Coast Guard vessels fired on and detained three Ukrainian military ships and their crews off the Crimean coast, igniting rioting outside the Russian Embassy and public demands for retaliation.
The Nov. 25, 2018 incident marked the most significant escalation of tensions in the shared Sea of Azov in 2018 and the first time since Russia’s unrecognized annexation of Crimea four years ago that Moscow has publicly acknowledged opening fire on Ukrainian forces.
Here’s what went down, what has happened since, and what it all could mean:
What happened and where?
The Ukrainian and Russian versions of events differ, with each blaming the other for instigating the incident.
Kyiv said the Russians’ actions violated a 2003 bilateral treaty designating the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait as shared territorial waters and the UN Law of the Sea, which guarantees access through the strait.
Russian officials said the Ukrainian ships were maneuvering dangerously, requiring the strait to be temporarily closed for security reasons. Moscow has since announced the reopening of the strait after using a cargo ship to block passage beneath a controversial new bridge connecting Russia with occupied Crimea.
But what isn’t disputed is that a Russian Coast Guard vessel, the Don, slammed into a Ukrainian Navy tugboat as it escorted two military vessels toward the Kerch Strait in the direction of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which lies on the coast of the inland Sea of Azov. A series of dangerous events followed.
According to the Ukrainian Navy, the transfer of its vessels from the port of Odesa to the port of Mariupol was planned in advance. It said that while en route on Nov. 25, 2018, the ships had radioed the Russian Coast Guard twice to announce their approach to the Kerch Strait but received no response.
Hours later, as the boats approached the strait, they were intercepted by Russian Coast Guard vessels. A video recorded aboard the Don and shared by Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov appeared to show the chaos that ensued, including the moment that the Russian vessel collided with the Ukrainian tugboat. The tugboat suffered damage to its engine, hull, and guardrail, according to the Ukrainian Navy.
Ukrainian authorities said the Russian forces subsequently opened fire on its vessels, badly damaging them. Russia said its forces fired on the Ukrainian boats as a matter of security.
As the incident unfolded, Russia blocked the Kerch Strait — the only passage to and from the inland Sea of Azov, which is jointly controlled by Russia and Ukraine — by anchoring a freighter across the central span of its six-month-old Crimean Bridge.
At least six Ukrainian servicemen were said to have been wounded, including two seriously, a National Security and Defense Council official and a Foreign Ministry official told RFE/RL on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment officially to journalists. They said around midday on Nov. 26, 2018, that there had been no contact with 23 sailors aboard those vessels. The ships and crew were detained and brought to the Russia-controlled port in Kerch, in annexed Crimea.
Early on Nov. 26, 2018, Kerch FM, a local radio station and news site, published photographs and a video of what it claimed were the detained Ukrainian Navy vessels moored at the port in Kerch.
Meanwhile, Poroshenko’s permanent representative for Crimea, Borys Babin, told the 112 Channel that at least three of six wounded Ukrainian servicemen had been transferred to Moscow for medical treatment. Russian Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova reportedly told Ukraine’s Hromadske TV that three others were being treated at a hospital in Kerch.
Poroshenko calls for martial law. what would that mean?
From Kyiv’s perspective, the sea skirmish marked a significant escalation in a long-running conflict and perhaps the opening of a new front at sea. Until then, the fighting in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russia-backed separatists since April 2014, had been mostly a land war fought in trenches and with indiscriminate heavy artillery systems, albeit with mounting confrontations at sea as Russia bolstered its military presence there.
At an emergency cabinet meeting after midnight on Nov. 26, 2018, Poroshenko called on parliament to support a declaration of martial law to respond to Russia’s attacks and its effective blockade of the Sea of Azov. His call was heeded by parliament speaker Andriy Parubiy, who convened an extraordinary session for the late afternoon.
Some are uneasy about Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s desire to introduce martial law.
With a powerful coalition in parliament supporting Poroshenko, passage was virtually assured. Even some members of parliament who frequently oppose the coalition quickly voiced support for the measure, including Self Reliance party leader and Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy.
But some lawmakers expressed concern about the move. Mustafa Nayyem, a member of Poroshenko’s party who is often critical of the president, wrote on Facebook that “the president must indicate the JUSTIFICATION of the need to impose martial law, the BORDER of the territory in which it is to be introduced, as well as the TERM for its introduction.”
“In addition,” Nayyem argued, “the document should contain an exhaustive list of constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens that would be temporarily restricted.”
The proposal from the National Security and Defense Council that Poroshenko announced he had signed on Nov. 26, 2018, listed some of these things, according to a text published on the president’s official site.
The initial text called for partial mobilization, the immediate organization of air-defense forces, tightened security at borders with Russia, increased information security, an information campaign to present facts about Russia’s “aggression,” increased security around critical infrastructure, and more. It can reportedly be canceled at any time.
The text reportedly made no mention of the scheduled presidential election in March 2019, which some critics fear could be postponed. But presidential adviser Yuriy Biryukov said before the decree was published that Poroshenko’s administration would not do that, adding that there would be no restrictions on freedom of speech.
As passed by lawmakers later on Nov. 26, 2018, martial law was to be imposed from Nov. 28, 2018. The order sets out extraordinary measures including a partial mobilization, a strengthening of Ukraine’s air defenses, and several activities with broad wording — such as unspecified steps “to strengthen the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and countersabotage regime and information security.”
Martial law will be introduced in areas of the country most vulnerable to “aggression from Russia.”
Poroshenko and the martial law decree say it is necessary for national security. Specifically, the decree states it is “in connection with the next act of armed aggression on the part of the Russian Federation, which took place on Nov. 25, 2018, in the Kerch Strait against the ships of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
Beyond that, he hasn’t said much else about the timing or aims.
The introduction of martial law represents an extraordinary and unprecedented move. No martial law was imposed during Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea in early 2014 nor at any point since hostilities began a month later in eastern Ukraine — even when Ukrainian soldiers and civilians were dying at the height of fighting that summer and in early 2015.
Back then, Ukrainian officials worried publicly that a declaration of martial law could severely damage the country’s ailing economy and disrupt cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Today, the economy has seen some recovery and the IMF recently promised Ukraine another financial bailout.
There could be other reasons, as some on Ukrainian social media pointed out after the president’s proposal was made public.
Poroshenko’s approval ratings have declined dramatically in recent months. He’s now lagging far behind his highest-profile opponent, former Prime Minister and Fatherland party leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Some Ukrainian and foreign observers have suggested that Poroshenko, who has tried to capitalize on the threat from Russia with a three-pointed election slogan — Army! Language! Faith! — might benefit from playing up Russian hostilities.
Also, under martial law, some fear Poroshenko could try to cancel or postpone elections. For its part, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission reportedly statedthat holding elections under martial law would be possible.
Meanwhile, in Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s own approval ratings have sunkin recent months as Russians vented anger over controversial pension reforms. Putin’s purported order to special forces to seize the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine came in March 2014, with his approval ratings sagging.
But tensions in and around the Sea of Azov have been mounting for some time, with the Ukrainian military and Border Guard Service telling RFE/RL in August 2018 that it felt like only a matter of time before the situation would worsen.
How did we get here?
Confrontation has been brewing in and around the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait for months, if not years, as RFE/RL reported from Mariupol in August 2018.
The situation began ramping up in May 2018, when Russia opened a 19-kilometer, rail-and-highway bridge over the Kerch Strait connecting mainland Russia with the annexed Crimean Peninsula. The bridge’s low height restricted the types of merchant ships that could pass, decreasing traffic to service Ukrainian ports in Mariupol and Berdyansk. For those cities, their ports are economic lifelines.
Both sides increased their military presence in the Azov region. And Kyiv accused Moscow of harassing ships bound for Mariupol and Berdyansk. Ships operated by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) have since detained more than 150 merchant vessels, holding them for up to several days, at considerable cost to the companies and the ports.
Each side has detained the other’s vessels. In March 2018, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service detained a Russian fishing boat and impounded it in Berdyansk. In November 2018, Russian Border Guards seized a Ukrainian fishing boat and impounded it in the Russian port of Yeysk, about 60 kilometers southeast of Mariupol.
How will the international community respond?
An emergency United Nations Security Council meeting held later on Nov. 26, 2018, failed to offer any solutions.
Much of the international community, which dismissed Russia’s claim to Crimea in a UN vote in 2014, has largely sided with Ukraine.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said free passage of the Kerch Strait was guaranteed by the 2003 treaty signed by Russia and Ukraine. “The Agreement must be respected. It is of utmost importance to avoid any further escalation in the region,” he said in a statement.
Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister, tweeted her support for Kyiv. “Canada condemns Russian aggression towards Ukraine in the Kerch Strait,” she wrote. “We call on Russia to immediately de-escalate, release the captured vessels, and allow for freedom of passage. Canada is unwavering in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, who has been particularly critical of what he calls “Russian aggression” against Ukraine, tweeted, “Russia rams Ukrainian vessel peacefully traveling toward a Ukrainian port. Russia seizes ships and crew and then accuses Ukraine of provocation???”
But U.S. President Donald Trump did not name either country in a brief response to a reporter’s question about the confrontation. “Either way, we don’t like what’s happening. And hopefully they’ll get straightened out. I know Europe is not — they are not thrilled. They are working on it too. We are all working on it together,” Trump said.
Statements of condemnation were welcomed in Kyiv, but some Ukrainian officials privately expressed to RFE/RL their frustration with such statements. What they would prefer, they said, is for their international partners to apply fresh, harsh sanctions against Russia over the skirmish.
What’s Russia’s next move?
With Ukraine under martial law, this is perhaps the biggest lingering question. The short answer is that no one knows.
Russia’s flagship news program claimed the Kerch Strait incident was a Ukrainian provocation ordered from Washington in a bid to sabotage an upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and Putin at this week’s Group of 20 (G20) summit in Argentina.
If Russia’s state media provide any indication, the Kremlin might well play up the incident as a demonstration of Ukrainian aggression and perhaps a pretext for further actions against Ukraine. But what kind of actions remains to be seen.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, in a statement, offered no specifics but warned the Kyiv “regime and its Western patrons” of “serious consequences” of the skirmish at sea.
“Clearly, this is a well-thought-out provocation that took place in a predetermined place and form and is aimed at creating another hotbed of tension in that region and a pretext for stepping up sanctions against Russia,” the ministry said.
“We are hereby issuing a warning to Ukraine that Kyiv’s policy, pursued in coordination with the United States and the EU, that seeks to provoke a conflict with Russia in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea is fraught with serious consequences.”
It added: “The Russian Federation will firmly curb any attempts to encroach on its sovereignty and security.”
In the 1950s France, in the midst of dealing with insurgencies in its colonies in Algeria and Indochina, recognized a military need for easily transportable artillery that could quickly be deployed to the front lines. It happened upon one very novel solution: a militarized Vespa scooter with a built-in armor-piercing gun.
The Vespa 150 TAP, built by French Vespa licensee ACMA, was designed expressly to be used with the French airborne special forces, the Troupes Aéro Portées (TAP).
The Vespa TAP was designed to be airdropped into a military theater fully assembled and ready for immediate action. This high level of mobility made the TAP the perfect anti-guerilla weapon, since enemy irregulars could appear at a moment’s notice even in remote locations.
Outfitted with an M20 recoilless rifle, the TAP proved more than capable of destroying makeshift fortifications used by guerrillas in Algeria and Indochina. The M20 was designed as an anti-tank recoilless rifle that was outfitted with a high-explosive anti-tank warhead. Under ideal circumstances, the rifle could penetrate 100mm of armor from 7,000 yards away.
The M20 outfitted on the Vespa was never actually meant to be fired while the vehicle was in motion. Instead, the Vespa frame functioned as a way of transporting the artillery to the front line. Once there, the rifle would be removed from the Vespa and placed on a tripod for accurate firing.
Remarkably, aside for a slight overhaul of the engine, plus the inclusion of the rifle and ammunition mounts, the standard Vespa and the TAP were designed almost identically. The TAP had a strengthened frame and lower gearing, but besides that it drives just as any Vespa would.
About 500 total TAPs were produced throughout the 1950s.
However ingenious the TAP was, the vehicle was never used outside of the French military during engagements in Algeria and French Indochina.
As you were busy buying big bags of charcoal and forming hamburger patties in preparation for a Memorial Day cookout, the Chinese flew nuclear-capable bombers around Taiwan. This sort of passive aggression isn’t anything new — it happens pretty often, so it’s not a big deal to most of us. But for the island of Taiwan, seeing two H-6 Badgers fly overhead is certainly cause for concern.
China carried out a similar orbit of the so-called “Nine-Dash Line” using a Badger shortly after the freshly-elected President Trump took a congratulatory call from the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. China has been seeking to isolate Taiwan, which it views as a renegade province, and has forced a number of countries, the latest being Burkina Faso, to end diplomatic relations with island nation.
Republic of China Air Force AIDC F-CK-1 Ching-kuo fighters scrambled to intercept the Badgers.
(Photo by Toshiro Aoki)
In potential hot spots, like Taiwan or the South China Sea, “training missions” like these are often used to probe opposing forces — and the tactic isn’t exclusive to China. The United States prefers the deceptively innocuous term “freedom of navigation exercises” for similar missions, which are conducted by ships or aircraft. On rare occasions, such passive provocations can devolve into shootouts.
On three instances in the 1980s, American forces ended up in combat with the Libyan regime of Muammar Qaddafi. In 1981, two F-14 Tomcats shot down Libyan Su-22 Fitters after taking enemy fire. 1986 saw extensive naval combat that resulted in the sinking of two Libyan missile boats. In 1989, two F-14s shot down two MiG-23 Floggers.
The 1986 freedom of navigation exercises in the Gulf of Sidra led to a sharp naval engagement, in which this Nanuchka-class corvette was sunk.
This may be a routine practice, but historical precedent also makes it a big deal. China may not be aggressing on Taiwan outright, but should Taiwan react forcefully, the fallout could be deadly.
Kadena Air Base, Japan (AFNS) — Providing the base and various other units on the island with cryogenic products – whether it be in a liquid or gaseous form – is the plant’s priority.
“We produce the liquid oxygen and the liquid nitrogen here for our organizations across the island to make sure they get the product they need to make the mission happen,” said Tech. Sgt. Mark Pannell, 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron assistant noncommissioned office in charge of cryogenic productions.
The production plant provides services for a range of reasons, whether it be for pilots or patients, the plant handles it all and can also be the difference in life or death in some instances.
“We manufacture liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen for various organizations to use…Breathable oxygen at high altitudes for aircraft, liquid nitrogen to fill tires for the aircraft so they don’t explode if they hit the ground too hard and the hospital has various uses for oxygen and nitrogen as you could imagine…It’s important,” said Senior Airman Christopher Tallan, 18th LRS cryogenic production operator.
While other bases have to purchase their liquid oxygen and nitrogen from external providers, Kadena Air Base is able to support the mission directly as well as save money.
A beaker of liquid oxygen sits filled July 27, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jessica H. Smith)
“I don’t like to solely rely on other people because I know if we do it ourselves, it’s going to be done the right way and I think this is really valuable for the Air Force because we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to save money,” Pannell said. “We should really strive to be innovative and this is something I push down to my Airmen – to be innovative and think of new ways to do things.”
With innovation comes plenty of learning opportunities – and growing pains.
“It’s been challenging at times because everyone is learning a new plant,” Pannell explained. “We have to learn the ins and outs; everyone here is growing.”
Providing these services can prove to be rather complex. From separation of atmospheric air to expansion and cooling, the job is chemically impossible to do without machines.
The machine – production plant – typically runs one week at a time for 24 hours a day and enables the production of about 50 gallons an hour.
While the machine is doing its job, the rest of the team is ensuring it works properly.
“We have to do hourly checks to make sure nothing is malfunctioning,” Tallan said. “We’re responsible for knowing what’s supposed to be going on. With such a big plant and so many pipes, we have to make sure that nothing is in a pipe that shouldn’t be in it, and make sure things are at the right temperature in the pipes they’re supposed to be in.”
With such a unique and vital mission role, working at the only operational cryogenic production plant in the Air Force seems to be a great source of pride and inspiration for those in the career field.
Senior Airmen Michael Hall and Christopher Tallan, both 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenic production operators, prepare to fill a cart with liquid oxygen July 27, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jessica H. Smith)
“I love my job; I love coming to work. I work in a cryogenic facility – it’s insane,” Tallan laughed. “I always thought about the cryo guys and how badly I wanted to go for one day and see…It’s different when every single day you’re holding a sample of liquid oxygen and you can feel it boil inside the beaker…I love it.
Along with the job being cool – literally and figuratively – it also demonstrates the importance of smart investment and innovation with promises of bettering the success of the Air Force mission as a whole.
“I take it as a personal challenge to myself and my team to do our best and actually show higher leadership that this is a legitimate plant and it could benefit not just Pacific Air Force, but other areas – especially overseas,” Pannell said.
Featured image: Senior Airman Michael Hall, 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenic production operator, fill a cart with liquid oxygen July 27, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
Israel has begun construction on a massive underwater barrier with the Gaza Strip which it is calling “impenetrable.”
Israel and the Gaza Strip are both located along the Mediterranean Sea, and are separated by several land borders. But no barrier has ever been erected at sea.
Israel’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that building of the “impenetrable” barrier has begun at Gaza’s northern border, along the beach of a small agricultural community, or kibbutz, called Zikim. The barrier is designed to withstand harsh sea conditions for many years, according to the ministry.
A defense official said the massive barrier will consist of three security layers, which include a layer below sea level, a layer of armored stone, and a top layer of barbed wire. An additional fence will surround the entire area.
Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the “one-of-a-kind” security project will “effectively block any possibility of infiltrating Israel by sea.”
Leiberman added that the barrier serves to limit militant group Hamas’ strategic capabilities as tensions continue to flare along the border. At least 60 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 injured during violent clashes with Israeli soldiers early May 2018. On May 29, 2018, more than 27 rockets were reportedly fired from Gaza into Israel.
The decision to build the barrier was prompted by a thwarted attack by Hamas militants at sea in July 2014, during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. Four Hamas naval operatives, referred to as frogmen, swam ashore at Zikim beach and attempted to cross into Israeli territory. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the men were armed with automatic weapons and explosives, and sought to carry out a terror attack. The four men were later killed in combined sea, air, and land attacks by the IDF.
The IDF posted aerial footage of the thwarted attack: