The USS Little Rock looks like it was designed by a committee of 12-year-old Transformers enthusiasts, that is, like a sports car speedboat battleship with guns that go pew pew pew. It cost the United States about $440 million and is part of a new category of ultra-versatile warship known as the littoral class: “a fast, agile, mission-focused- platform designed for operation in near-shore environments yet capable of open-ocean operation.”
What the Little Rock does not do is fly. This ugly-as-sin future-boat is, ultimately, still just a boat. It was built at a shipyard in Wisconsin and spent the summer of 2017 in trials on Lake Michigan. It was commissioned last month in Buffalo, New York. From there, it’s next stop was to be its home port in Florida. As it turns out, the Little Rock will be a few months late. Because winter.
As reported by the Washington Post, the Little Rock is currently docked in Montreal. It’s stuck. The Saint Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes’ outlet to the Atlantic Ocean, is frozen over.
USS Little Rock enters Buffalo prior to being commissioned. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
While colder-than-average temperatures in the Northeast haven’t helped, this is actually normal. The freshwater Seaway (and the Great Lakes shipping system, generally) normally closes to shipping between December and March because of ice.
In any case, this winter stopover for the USS Little Rock wasn’t planned. Significant weather conditions prevented the ship from departing Montreal earlier this month and icy conditions continue to intensify, offered a statement from the Navy.
The temperatures in Montreal and throughout the transit area have been colder than normal, and included near-record low temperatures, which created significant and historical conditions in the late December, early January timeframe.
There are some ships actually designed for this. Ice-ready ships usually aren’t even what we’d normally think of icebreakers. These are just normal boats built for cold climates.
Ships with this capability are rated according to “ice class,” a loose classification system corresponding to how much extra strengthening a ship’s hull has. Ice class ships range from Scandinavian ferry boats to Russia’s “polar corvette” take on littoral battleships. Indeed there’s anxiety among military types in the US about an “icebreaker gap” between the US and Russia. That is, we don’t really have fast battleships that can fight in the Arctic, while Russia does.
We’re assured that the 70 person crew is making the most of their time in port, working on training and certifications and other assorted boat stuff. And, as far as places to be stuck in the winter, they’re probably better off in Montreal than, say, Buffalo. There’s nothing like a steaming pile of poutine on a cold-ass day.
John Daniel was an Army infantryman who remembers his Iraq deployment as long, hard, and constantly on the move.
Though is unit suffered its share of casualties, miraculously there were no fatalities. So to celebrate a KIA-free deployment, he and his men snuck some bootleg hooch and had a toga party.
Daniel has many tattoos — from a Roman helmet atop modern combat boots to his staff sergeant’s favorite phrase “Pain and Repetition.” He points to the one on his shoulder with particular pride. It reads: “The Real 1%ers.”
“We’re the ones in America who will stand up to fight and defend our country,” Daniel explains.
Daniel’s story is part of a video series presented by We Are The Mighty. War Ink: 11 for 11 features 11 combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan using tattoos to tell their stories on and off the battlefield. Each week for the next 11 weeks, a different tattooed veteran will share his or her story.
Do you have a tattoo that tells the story of your war experiences? Post a photo of it at We Are The Mighty’s Facebook page with the hashtag #WeAreTheMightyInk. WATM will be teeing up the coolest and most intense ones through Veteran’s Day.
An investigation into events that led to the reliefs of the commanding officer, former executive officer and command master chief of the guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge earlier this month implicated 15 other officers and senior leaders on the ship in the scandal.
Cmdr. Sean Rongers, Cmdr. Brandon Murray, and Command Master Chief Richard Holmes, were relieved April 7 by Destroyer Squadron 28 commander Capt. Richard Brawley after an investigation found fireworks were being stored aboard the Bainbridge in violation of Navy instructions and unlawful gambling was taking place among officers, officials said.
A 149-page preliminary inquiry report released to Military.com through a Freedom of Information Act request found the ship’s leaders also failed to get a pregnant officer transferred off the ship in keeping with Navy policy, conducted certain ship maneuvers that endangered gear, and encouraged relaxed uniform guidelines under long underway periods with the sale of “no-shave chits.”
A command climate survey also obtained by Military.com dating from February also found that the ship’s top officers presided over a command marked by exeptionally poor trust in leadership and leadership and organizational cohesion.
According to the February investigation, Rongers, the commanding officer, directed the purchase of just under $1,500 worth of fireworks for a July 4 display aboard the Bainbridge, using funds from the ship’s morale, welfare and recreation account. In April 2015, Rongers directed a subordinate to purchase the fireworks, knowing that the ship had conducted a similar fireworks display in 2013.
The subordinate, whose name is redacted in the report, negotiated a deal with the company Phantom Fireworks to buy the pyrotechnics. An overnight trip was made to purchase the goods, which included fireworks with names like “The Beast Unleashed” and “Swashbuckler 72-shot.”
Some of the fireworks purchased were not available for sale in Virginia, the investigation shows. Then, while the ship was operating in the Virginia Capes area, near Virginia Beach, Rongers dispatched rigid-hulled inflatable boats to pick the fireworks up at Rudee Inlet in a late-night operation.
Rongers told investigators that the fireworks were brought aboard via late-night boat operations in order to avoid force protection measures or other regulations that might have prohibited them coming through the main gate when the ship was pierside in Norfolk, Virginia. He also said he checked with another officer about the legality of using MWR funds for fireworks and got the all-clear. The officer, whose name is redacted in the investigation, denied that Rongers had checked with her.
The fireworks were stored in black trash bags in the ship’s pyro locker, near its barbershop. Ultimately, however, officials from Destroyer Squadron 28 got wind of the fireworks plan when a prospective weapons officer from the Bainbridge raised concerns, saying he had already confronted Rongers and Murray, the executive officer about having them stored aboard ship.
Rongers had the fireworks removed from the ship and loaded into his own car. The MWR funds used to purchase them were never reimbursed, however.
Investigators found that Rongers and Murray failed to do the research needed to ensure the fireworks purchase and display were legal. They violated MWR policy prohibiting funds from being used to pay for “hazardous activities,” according to the report, and Rongers “rationalized” his actions because a fireworks display had taken place before, even though Navy policy prohibits fireworks being stored aboard ship and transported the way that they were.
Rongers did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Military.com.
The gambling accusations stem from a weekly Friday night officers’ poker game that took place in the Bainbridge officers’ wardroom with Rongers and Murray’s consent and participation during the ship’s 2015 deployment. There was a $10 buy-in, and participants played with chips in lieu of money and kept scores and money owed written on a piece of paper.
Concerns arose after an officer was asked to pay a buy-in fee she claimed she was never informed about. A legal officer approached Rongers and Murray with doubts about the legality of the command-sanctioned game, according to the report, but they dismissed these concerns, saying no one was forced to play.
Ultimately, the game was temporarily closed down and replaced by a non-gambling game night with activities like Uno and Risk. However, the game started up again later in the deployment, investigators found.
The investigation also revealed a booming business: the purchase of “no-shave chits” which allowed Navy personnel to grow facial hair or, if female, to wear their hair in a ponytail during long periods underway. At $30 a pop, the MWR raised nearly $12,700 on a single deployment from sale of the chits, the investigation found. The ship’s leaders sanctioned this practice, and Rongers even purchased a chit at one point, documents show. While the practice of selling the chits is fairly common, investigators found, it is not permitted by policy.
Bainbridge leadership also fell afoul of policy when an officer became pregnant. Though regulations stipulate that pregnant sailors need to be transferred off-ship by the 20th week of pregnancy, she was not transferred until some five weeks after that deadline, even though the report shows she repeatedly brought the matter to the attention of her chain of command. Moreover, Murray waited until January 2016 — past the pregnancy’s 20-week point — to inform the ship’s placement officer of the need to transfer the officer, even though he was aware of the situation in November, the investigation found.
Finally, Rongers’ handling of the Bainbridge on breakaways following underway replenishment caused alarm among sailors and led to the loss of some gear, the investigation found. On multiple occasions, witnesses testified, Rongers would conduct the breakaways at high speed, before personnel and gear were secured. In one case, sailors ordered to clear the deck could hear items tumbling around as the ship broke away. Two aluminum drip pans were lost over the course of the deployment, and one “killer tomato” or inflatable naval gunnery target, was struck loose by the wind, but was ultimately recovered.
Investigators faulted many other officers for failing to take appropriate action in light of the improper behavior taking place aboard the Bainbridge. While Rongers and Murray were advised they were suspected of violating articles 92 and 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, violation of a general order and conduct unbecoming of an officer and gentleman, respectively, 16 others were cited on suspicion of dereliction of duty or violation of a general order.
These include the ship’s chief engineer, the supply corps officer, the weapons officer, the force protection officer, the recreational services officer, the Tomahawk leading chief petty officer and others, though the names of these individuals were redacted.
Investigators recommended that Rongers face non-judicial punishment for directing a subordinate to illegally transport and store fireworks. They also recommended that the ship’s chief petty officers ensure sailors are taught lessons on “misplaced loyalty” with regards to the fireworks incident, since many aboard ship were found to have covered for leadership, rather than adhered to policy.
While the investigation does not cover how problems with the ship’s command affected the rank-and-file, a command climate survey from the time reveals troubling trends. Fifty-three percent of sailors on the Bainbridge rated their trust in leadership unfavorably, according to the survey. On leadership cohesion, 63 percent of sailors gave unfavorable ratings, and 47 percent of sailors rated organizational cohesion unfavorably. Organizational processes received a 52 percent unfavorable rating, and 42 percent of sailors rated their job satisfaction unfavorably.
A spokesman for Naval Surface Force Atlantic, Lt. Cmdr. Myers Vasquez, said Rongers, Murray and Holmes remain assigned to SURFLANT in Norfolk. Vasquez said the administrative process was still ongoing for the sailors named in the investigation and declined further comment.
In one city block, future soldiers could find themselves in an intense gunfight with enemy militants. In another, soldiers might crawl through debris to rescue trapped residents or deliver needed supplies. At the city’s opposite end, U.S. troops could be attempting to quell a civilian riot.
As urban populations worldwide continue to rise, the probability of these scenarios increases.
From the metropolitan sprawl of Tokyo with its 36 million inhabitants, to the massive clutter of rush hour traffic in Seoul, mega cities present a jarringly daunting obstacle to the future of world combat operations, Army senior leaders said at the 2018 LANPAC conference.
“The complexities that go on in this scale almost are unimaginable,” said retired Lt. Gen. James Dubik, former commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq.
Additionally, if current trends continue, two thirds of the world’s population will reside in large, metropolitan areas, according to United Nations projections. Threats to megacities take increased importance in the Asia-Pacific, where a majority of the world’s megacities are concentrated.
Making matters worse, many of the cities sit inside the Ring of Fire, a 25,000-mile chain in the Pacific basin rampant with volcanic eruptions and unpredictable seismic activity. Some nations, such as Japan, sit on one of the most active tectonic plates in the world. Densely populated cities that include Bangkok and urban centers in Bangladesh are prone to natural disasters.
(Photo by Spc. John Lytle)
U.S. forces scarcely encountered operations in megacities in World War II, or the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
“The challenge of megacities is unlike (anything) we’ve had to deal with in history,” said Dr. Russell Glenn, G-2 director of plans and policy at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
With so much of a nation’s population contained in a compact, urban space, megacities pose a vastly different challenge from the deserts of the Middle East soldiers have grown accustomed to.
“Every act you do in a city reverberates,” said Gen. Stephen Townsend, TRADOC commander, who spoke via video teleconference at LANPAC.
Military units in rural areas, deserts and small villages can contain the aftereffects of combat. In a large urban environment, skyscrapers, large structures and traffic can cause a domino effect that spread throughout a city.
Glenn added that smaller subsystems comprise a megacity that in turn is part of a much larger system that can extend worldwide.
A new kind of war
To prepare for the complexities of urban warfare, TRADOC has created simulations for soldiers to prepare for urban terrain. Weeks of coordination and planning must be implemented for a few hours of training, but Army leaders believe it will prepare soldiers for future conflicts. Townsend said the Army has considered increasing the scale and size of their urban-simulated training centers. He added facilities can never match the scale needed to truly simulate warfighting in a megacity environment.
“Our simulations have not kept up with changes in our formations — changes in warfare,” Townsend said. “So we’ve got to advance our simulations.”
(Photo by Joe Lacdan)
In March 2018, paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division spent close to a month training for combat in underground tunnels and structures at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. They simulated chemical attacks. Soldiers learned to spontaneously alter current operating procedures to adapt to a city environment.
The Army has been working on a synthetic training environment to bolster its capabilities, while also incorporating space and cyber capabilities more than before. Multi-domain operations will be crucial, commanders said.
No amount of planning, study or preparation can prepare a military unit for the unique rhythm of a major city or what Townsend labeled the “flow.” The city’s flow can’t be clearly defined but its impact can never be understated, the general said. It can be felt during rush hour traffic or by careful observation over time. A city’s social infrastructure carries more importance than its physical infrastructure, noted Glenn. But understanding how a megacity’s population moves and lives can provide valuable insight for learning a city’s unique intricacies.
To better understand a city’s flow, Townsend said the Army must consult with a city’s police force, fire department and its citizens. In April 2018, the Army held a panel discussion in New York City to discuss logistics and how through interagency cooperation a force might handle the environment’s unique challenges. Gen. Robert Brown, U.S. Army Pacific commanding general, Townsend and New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill joined the panel.
“The point that came through … more clearly emphasized more than any other was the need to understand our partnership,” Glenn said. “Take advantage of those military and civilian (relationships), only then can we fully understand the environment that we’re working in.”
Glenn said that if wartime conditions necessitate it, a military unit can impose or alter flow, so long as it benefits the friendly population and minimizes friction.
Mosul opened the door
The July 2017 re-capture of Mosul from ISIS forces presented perhaps a blueprint for the future of urban warfare.
As the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force in Iraq, Townsend said he observed firsthand strategies deployed by the Iraqi army to regain control of the city.
“I think the enemy has watched Mosul,” the general said. “I think they will deliberately go to the cities and dig in there to fight because they know it takes away a lot of our technological advantages … the range of our weapons is degraded — the effects of our weapons are degraded.
(Photo by Joe Lacdan)
“So I think we’re going to see battle in megacities and there’s little way to avoid it.”
Townsend saw the difficulties of urban warfare in the northern Iraqi city which has a population of less than one million. His unit’s command control systems lagged and struggled to keep pace with the conflict. He said digital maps and imagery were impacted.
“The urban landscape changes so rapidly,” Townsend said. “Our C2 systems, our targeting systems … became outdated quickly because the urban landscape was changing faster than we could update our imagery.”
By 2030, the UN predicts the world’s 30 mega cities will also double to 60. Large-scale cities will increase from 45 to 88. America’s potential enemies, China, Russia and North Korea will take advantage of this trend.
“Wars are basically won or lost where the people are — where the population is,” Townsend said.
The Army’s solution: better training, preparation and greater trust. At TRADOC, more soldiers are receiving training in an urban environment. Soldiers must also learn to trust, not only first-responding agencies but accepting greater responsibility, Townsend said.
“As powerful as our mission command systems are, they are all challenged by the environment — the complex terrain that is a city … modern city,” Townsend said.
“You can’t go more than one floor deep without losing (communication) with everybody who’s up on the surface.
“So this whole notion of conveying commanders’ intent, and empowering subordinates … to achieve that commanders’ intent, and trusting them to do that is exactly how we’ll have to fight in even small cities.”
Operation Safety Net, the US Marshals Service-led child trafficking task force in Ohio, has located 25 missing children as of Saturday, according to a US Marshals press release. In addition, Operation Moving Target, led by the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force, concluded on Thursday with 27 online predators arrested for cybercrimes and attempted sexual conduct with children.
“Sometimes the situations they — they go to, believe it or not, may be better than the situations they left from,” US Marshal Pete Elliott told WOIO-TV. “We’re trying to do our part. A number of these children have gone to the hospital after we’ve recovered them to get checked out, so again this is something we take very seriously.”
Operation Safety Net focuses on Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and the surrounding area to locate missing and endangered children. The operation’s reach has extended into the northern portion of the state with help from the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force. According to the US Marshals press release, “Children have been recovered in Cleveland, East Cleveland, Akron, Mansfield, Euclid, Willoughby and as far away as Miami.” Even though the operation started in Ohio, leads developed in the state have led to locating missing children outside of Ohio.
U.S. Marshals launch initiative aimed at finding endangered, missing children
The US Marshals have been working with Cleveland, East Cleveland, and Newburgh Heights police departments for the past 20 days to locate missing children, ages ranging from 13 to 18 years old. One in every four cases resolved by the task force are related to human trafficking or prostitution.
While Operation Safety Net is still underway, Operation Moving Target was started by the Ohio ICAC on Aug. 24 and concluded on Aug. 27. The Ohio ICAC is a federal anticrime task force funded by the US Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The operation was short in duration but concluded with the arrest of 27 suspects.
For Operation Moving Target, undercover law enforcement officers posed as children online to lure sexual predators. During conversations via various social media platforms, the suspects requested meeting times and locations for sexual activity, and some even sent photos of their genitalia to the purported children. Many of the suspects had firearms, condoms, personal lubricant, sex toys, and drugs in their possession at the time of arrest.
Georgia’s Operation Not Forgotten, in action above, is comparable to Ohio’s Operation Safety Net. Photo courtesy of Shane T. McCoy/US Marshals Service.
When the suspects arrived at the meeting place, law enforcement arrested them for crimes including attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, disseminating matter harmful to juveniles, importuning, and possessing criminal tools. The suspects were transported to Cuyahoga County Jail, and each case will be viewed by a Cuyahoga County grand jury.
“As we have seen the number of Cybertips dramatically increase this year, it is clear that online predators remain a serious threat to our children,” said prosecutor Michael C. O’Malley in a Cuyahoga County Office of the Prosecutor press release. “Hopefully the success of yet another operation serves as a stern warning to offenders that you will be found, you will be arrested, and you will be prosecuted.”
Federal, state, and local law enforcement have been pursuing missing children and their predators for years. The US Marshals partnered with the National Center for Missing and Endangered Children in 2005. Since this partnership began, the US Marshals Service has assisted in recovering more than 1,800 missing children, according to a US Marshals press release. In 2015, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was approved, granting the US Marshals enhanced authority.
This legislation enabled the creation of the US Marshals Service Missing Child Unit, which has been setting up joint task forces to carry out operations across the country, including Ohio’s Operation Safety Net and Georgia’s Operation Not Forgotten, which located 39 missing children in a matter of weeks.
It’s Saturday, but most of you enlisted fellows blew your paycheck last weekend and are now looking forward to sitting around the barracks this week. To alleviate your boredom, here are 13 military memes that made us laugh.
See, we know about you, privates.
Yay, submarines! A phallic object filled with phallic objects!
That visit to North Korea was Pompeo’s second in a month, which in itself represents a drastic step up in the level of official contact between the North Korean and US governments.
Kim has repeatedly proposed talks with world leaders about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which was a US precondition for talks. Kim has asked for few concessions in return for his promise to denuclearize.
Trump’s administration has laid out a number of ambitious goals for the negotiations, which include permanent, irreversible, verifiable denuclearization of North Korea before sanctions are lifted.
Singapore had not been widely suggested in advance as a likely location for the summit.
But a number of factors make it a logical choice: It has diplomatic relations with both countries, hosts a North Korean embassy, has a good position in Southeast Asia, and can play the part of a neutral third party.
Other candidates had been Mongolia, also a neutral country, and the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
The Islamic State came dangerously close to obtaining a radioactive dirty bomb, in fact the ingredients were readily available to the group for more than three years, but an apparent lack of knowledge or know-how prevented a disaster.
ISIS gained a military treasure trove after its seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014. Everything from tanks to guns were spoils of war, many of them American-made. But the most valuable prize the group unwittingly obtained were two supplies of cobalt-60, a highly radioactive substance used in cancer treatment which is also perfect for a dirty bomb, according to a report by Joby Warrick of The Washington Post published on July 22.
ISIS apparently stumbled upon the radioactive substance possibly without even know what they had. It was locked away in a storage room on a college campus contained in heavy shielding when ISIS took over the area. When Iraq Security Forces retook the campus earlier this year, they found the cobalt-60 still in storage, providing a major relief to security officials and experts who had been tracking its location.
“We are very relieved that these two, older albeit still dangerous, cobalt-60 sources were not found and used by Daesh. They were recovered intact recently,” said the Institute for Science and International Security, a think tank which compiled a dossier on the substance’s whereabouts beginning in 2015, in a report published July 22.
The Institute provided its final report to the US and other “friendly governments,” and ultimately decided not to publish the report at the time out of concern that ISIS could use it.
A dirty bomb is essentially a terrorist’s ideal weapon. It uses a traditional explosive to spread radioactive material across a given area, in an attempt to incite panic and chaos. It is not necessarily difficult to obtain the ingredients for a dirty bomb; highly radioactive material is used in a multitude of civilian applications. A terrorist would need only to gain a suitable amount of material, combine it with a traditional explosive, and unleash it on a target area. While the death toll from the detonation of such a device would likely be low, it is the resulting fear among the targeted population that worries officials.
Thankfully, ISIS either was not able or aware of the cobalt-60 in Mosul.
“They are not that smart,” a health ministry official told WaPo.
It is possible that ISIS was aware of the caches of cobalt-60, but did not have the know-how to remove it from its casing without exposing its own forces to the deadly radiation. It is equally possible they simply had no idea what they had. The Institute also speculated that “courageous hospital and university staff” may have worked to keep the cobalt-60 a secret from the terror group.
The cobalt-60 is not the first time ISIS has had a chance at a weapon of mass destruction. US forces conducted air strikes against two chemical weapons factories in Mosul in March 2016. Officials had been concerned that the group was possibly stolen using chemistry equipment from Mosul University, though it is unclear if that equipment was being used in the weapons factories. Despite the strikes, ISIS is known to have used chlorine and mustard gas against its enemies in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS’s failure to use the cobalt-60 was fortunate, but there are lessons to be learned.
“This case should lead to reinvigorated efforts to inventory and adequately protect radioactive sources throughout the world. However, as this case highlights, improving physical protection may not be enough,” said the Institute’s report. “It is also important for the United States and its allies to accelerate programs to identify, consolidate, and remove dangerous radioactive sources, particularly in regions of tension or where terrorists are active.”
Defense officials at the highest levels of South Korea’s government told Yonhap News on Wednesday that the US would deploy “strategic assets” to the peninsula amid tensions with North Korea.
“The US has pledged to expand the rotational deployment of its strategic assets near the Korean Peninsula,” Chung Eui-young, the chief of the National Security Office said according to Yonhap.
While “strategic assets” can refer to nuclear weapons, it can also mean nuclear-powered submarines, aircraft carriers, or stealth aircraft. Chung said the deployment could happen as early as the end of 2017.
Another South Korean publication, Chosun, reported on Tuesday that a government source said the US may send an aircraft carrier, B-2 stealth bombers, and the world’s stealthiest and most lethal combat plane, the F-22 Raptor.
The talk of increased US firepower in South Korea comes after North Korea interpreted some of President Donald Trump’s tweets as a declaration of war, and announced it would try to shoot down US bombers flying anywhere near its airspace.
As it stands, the US has B-1B Lancer bombers stationed in Guam that frequently respond to North Korean missile or nuclear tests by doing flybys near its borders accompanied by advanced US, Japanese, or South Korean jets.
But the B-1B isn’t nuclear capable, nor is it stealth. The B-2, however, has both.
Although the US already has F-22 and F-35 stealth aircraft stationed nearby in Japan, placing them on the Korean Peninsula could spur further escalation of an already-tense situation.
The B-2 can carry 16 nuclear warheads as well as massive ordnance penetrators — bunker-busting bombs that would be the US’s best bet for hunting North Korea’s leadership as they hide in underground caves.
NK News recently reported that the US had to tell North Korea about the last flight of the B-1 near its borders, because Pyongyang couldn’t really track the supersonic bomber jet. If North Korea struggled with the non-stealth B-1, then it has little hope of spotting a B-2 and virtually no chance of spotting the F-22 on its radar screens.
Still, the move could backfire and destabilize the situation in North Korea, as the US’ asymmetrical advantage over North Korea’s aging forces could cause an uneasy Kim Jong Un to think he has no choice but to strike first.
“Often times when we think we’re sending very clear signals, we can’t be sure they’re being interpreted that way,” Jenny Town, the assistant director of the US-Korea Institute, told Business Insider of the US’s attempts to show its strength towards North Korea.
“In South Korea they’ve talked about trying to scare North Korea into changing their behavior,” Town said, referring to the deployment of US military assets to South Korea. But, “the way they change their behavior is not necessarily the way we want them to.”
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis shared the thinking behind the new National Defense Strategy during a discussion at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington on Oct. 30, 2018.
The strategy, released in January 2018, sees Russia and China as the greatest threats with Iran and North Korea as regional threats. Violent extremism rounds out the threat matrix.
The strategy is based on a return to great power competition among the United States, Russia and China.
Power, urgency, will
Mattis told Stephen Hadley, the moderator of the event and former national security advisor to President George W. Bush, that in setting up the strategy, officials looked at threats from three different angles: Power, urgency and will.
“In terms of raw power right now, I look at Russia and the nuclear arsenal they have,” he said. “I look at their activities over the last 10 years from Georgia and Crimea to the Donetsk Basin to Syria and I can go on and on and on. In terms of just power, I think it is Russia that we have to look at and address.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks at the United States Institute of Peace, in a discussion moderated by the chair of the institute’s board of directors, Stephen J. Hadley, Washington, D.C., Oct. 30, 2018.
(DOD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
There are two threats that are most urgent right now: North Korea and the continuing fight against violent extremism. North Korea’s nuclear and missile program — in clear violation of United Nations sanctions — remains a problem, and the current fight against violent extremists from the Islamic State to al-Qaida to Boko Haram to other transnational terror groups must be fought.
“In terms of will, clearly it is China,” he said.
China is different than Russia. “Russia wants security around its periphery by causing insecurity among other nations,” he said. “They want a veto authority over the economic, the diplomatic and the security decisions of the nations around them.
“China seems to want some sort of tribute states around them,” he continued. “We are looking for how do we work with China. I think 15 years from now we will be remembered most for how … we set the conditions for a positive relationship with China.”
The United States is looking for ways to cooperate with China and that has been beneficial to both countries, Mattis said. He pointed to China’s vote against the North Korean nuclear program in the United Nations Security Council as an example. The United States will also confront China when it must as he pointed to the United States continuing freedom of navigation operations in international waters and airspace.
“I have met with my counterpart in Beijing and in Singapore 10 days ago, and he will be here 10 days from now to continue that dialogue as we sort it out,” Mattis said.
Also part of the strategy are U.S. strengths, and foremost among them is the country’s network of alliances and friends around the world. This network requires constant tending, the secretary said. He noted that just in the last month he has attended NATO meetings, consulted with Central and South American allies and journeyed to Manama, Bahrain, to meet with Middle Eastern allies and friends.
All of these were part and parcel of forming the National Defense Strategy.
South Asia Strategy
The secretary also spoke about the South Asia Strategy announced in August 2017 and how that is proceeding. Officials continue to follow the strategy and it is making progress, but it is slow. It entails far more than just the military and far more than just the United States, he said.
The strategy is a regional approach to the problem. It also reinforced the commitment to the area and realigned those reinforcements with Afghan forces. This was needed because the Afghans had an Army that wasn’t ready to have the training wheels taken off the bike, Mattis said. “Only the Afghan special forces had mentors from NATO nations with them,” he said. “And every time they went against the enemy, the Taliban, they won.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks at the United States Institute of Peace, in a discussion moderated by the chair of the institute’s board of directors, Stephen J. Hadley, Washington, D.C., Oct. 30, 2018.
(DOD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
But the rest of the Afghan forces were spread out around the country with no mentorship and no air support. The strategy changed that. The air support is crucial in giving Afghan forces the high ground in the mountainous country, “and that changes the tactical situation,” the secretary said.
Afghan forces are carrying the burden. They took more than 1,000 dead and wounded in August and September 2018, the secretary said, and they stayed in the field fighting. “And the Taliban has been prevented from doing what they said they were going to do, which was to take and hold district and provincial centers, also disrupt an election that they were unable to disrupt,” he said.
But the most important aspect of the strategy is reconciliation. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad agreed to serve as a special envoy in Afghanistan specifically aimed at reconciliation between the Taliban and the government in Kabul. “He is hard at work on this, on an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation effort,” Mattis said. “So this is the approach we’re trying to sustain right now. It is working from our perspective, but what is heartbreakingly difficult to accept is the progress and violence can be going on at the same time.”
President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly considering businessman Philip Bilden to serve as Secretary of the Navy. Bilden is somewhat of a surprise choice as former Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) and current Representative Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) were seen as front-runners for the position.
According to a report by USNI News, Bilden spent nearly two decades living in Hong Kong as an investment banker. Prior to that, he was with HarbourVest in Boston and served ten years as an intelligence officer in the Army Reserve, reaching the rank of captain.
The Washington Examiner notes that Bilden has served on the Asia Advisory Council for the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association, and has been on the Asia Pacific Advisor board for Harvard Business School. The EMPEA web site notes that Bilden received a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Naval Academy Foundation.
The potential nomination received heavy criticism from the web site BreakingDefense.com. Editor Colin Clark wrote that “contributions to the Naval Academy Foundation, Naval War College Foundation and to the GOP, including Mitt Romney’s failed campaign” were used by Bilden to become a player.
Retired Admiral James Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, praised the potential pick, telling USNI News that Bilden “is a man of extraordinary expertise on maritime and nautical affairs. He is an expert on Asia and understands, in particular, China very deeply.”
Trump’s national security team also included retired Marine general James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, retired Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn as national security advisor, and Vincent Viola, a former Army officer who owns the NHL Florida Panthers as Secretary of the Army.
US military snipers have to be able to make the hard shots, the seemingly impossible shots. They have to be able to push themselves and their weapons.
Staff Sgt. Hunter Bernius, a veteran Marine Corps scout sniper who runs an advanced urban sniper training course, walked INSIDER through his most technically difficult shot — he fired a bullet into a target roughly 2.3 kilometers (1.4 miles) away with a .50 caliber sniper rifle.
The longest confirmed kill shot was taken by a Canadian special forces sniper, who shot an ISIS militant dead at 3,540 meters, or 2.2 miles, in Iraq in 2017. The previous record was held by British sniper Craig Harrison, who shot and killed a Taliban insurgent from 2,475 meters away.
“There are definitely people out there who have done amazing things,” US Army First Sgt. Kevin Sipes, a veteran sniper and instructor at the sniper school at Fort Benning, Georgia, told INSIDER. “Anything is possible.”
Weapons Company scout sniper and Lufkin, Texas, native Hunter Bernius takes a shooting position during field training at an undisclosed location.
(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tommy Huynh)
Snipers are trained to scout the movements of enemy forces often from very exposed positions, and are also used to target enemy leaders and to pin down their forces. These dangerous missions require they become masters of concealment, as well as skilled sharpshooters.
While 2,300 meters may not be a record, it is still a very hard shot to make.
US military snipers typically operate at ranges between 600 and 1,200 meters. At extreme ranges, the Marine is pushing his weapon past its limits. The M107 semi-automatic long range sniper rifles used by the Marine Corps can fire accurately out to only about 2,000 meters.
“Shooting on the ground can be easy, especially when you are shooting 600 meters in or 1,000 meters in. That’s almost second nature,” Bernius explained. “But, when you are extending it to the extremes, beyond the capability of the weapon system, you have all kinds of different things to consider.”
At those longer ranges, a sniper has to rely a lot more on “hard math” than just shooter instinct.
Bernius, a Texas native who has deployed to Iraq and other locations across the Middle East, made his most technically difficult shot as a student in the advanced sniper course, a training program for Marine Corps sharpshooters who have already successfully completed basic sniper training.
“When I came through as a student at the course I am running now, my partner and I were shooting at a target at approximately 2,300 meters,” Bernius explained. “We did in fact hit it, but it took approximately 20-25 minutes of planning, thinking of everything we needed to do with calculations, with the readings.”
Sgt. Hunter G. Bernius shoots at a target placed in the water from a UH-1Y Huey during an aerial sniper exercise.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Chance Haworth)
At that distance, it takes the bullet roughly six to eight seconds to reach the target, which means there is a whole lot of time for any number of external factors to affect where it lands.
“You have all kinds of considerations,” Bernius told INSIDER, explaining that snipers have to think about “the rotation of the earth, which direction you are facing, wind at not just your muzzle but at 2,300 meters, at 1,000 meters, you name it.”
Direction and rotation of the earth are considerations that most people might not realize come into play.
Which direction the sniper is facing can affect the way the sun hits the scope, possibly distorting the image inside the scope and throwing off the shot. It also determines how the rotation of the planet affects the bullet, which may hit higher or lower depending on the sniper’s position.
“This is only for extreme long range, shots over 2,000 meters,” Bernius explained.
Other possible considerations include the temperature, the humidity, the time of day, whether or not the sniper is shooting over a body of water (it can create a mirage), the shape of the bullet, and spin drift of the round.
“We ended up hitting it,” Bernius said. “That, to me, was probably the most technically difficult shot.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Russia has been accused by the head of NATO of blocking the alliance from properly observing next week’s “Zapad” military exercises, when about 100,000 Russian troops are expected to mobilize on the EU’s eastern borders.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, said an offer from Russia and Belarus for three of their experts to attend some aspects of the huge exercise fell short of the Kremlin’s international obligations.
“Briefings on the exercise scenario and progress; opportunities to talk to individual soldiers; and overflights over the exercise. This is something that is part of the Vienna document, an agreement regulating transparency and predictability relating to military exercises,” said Stoltenberg, during a visit to an Estonian military base, where British troops have been stationed since March.
“So we call on Russia to observe the letter and the spirit of the Vienna document. Transparency and predictability are even more important when tensions are high to reduce the risks of misunderstandings and incidents. NATO remains calm and vigilant and we are going to keep Estonia and our allies safe.”
Under Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe rules in the Vienna document, nations conducting exercises involving more than 13,000 troops must notify other countries in advance and be open to observers.
Russia and Belarus claim the Zapad (“west”) exercises, which will be held in Belarus and parts of western Russia between Sept. 14-20 will involve about 12,700 troops.
NATO, however, believes many more troops are set to be involved. The prime minister of Estonia, Jüri Ratas, who joined Stoltenberg at the base in Tapa, about 75 miles (120km) from the Russian border, confirmed that his government believed about 100,000 Russian soldiers would be mobilized during the exercise.
He said, “I would like to say that we are concerned about the nature and lack of transparency of the exercise. Our attitude remains cool and confident. Along with our allies, we will monitor the exercise very closely and remain ready for every situation.”
There has been speculation that Russia could use the upcoming exercises as a cover for the permanent movement of troops and equipment into Belarus or even an offensive against NATO states, something Moscow has adamantly denied.
Russia claims that that western concerns about Zapad are unfounded, saying the war games will be purely defensive and are designed to help practice dealing with a terrorist threat in the future. The country holds the Zapad exercises every four years.
Tensions following the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 have, however, seen the establishment of four multinational battle groups in three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – as well as Poland, amounting to approximately 4,500 troops, including those from the UK.
Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, told reporters in Estonia, “We are not changing our military posture because of the Zapad exercise, but NATO has only implemented important changes in our military posture in response to a more assertive Russia as seen developing in recent years, with more Russian troops close to our borders, more Russian equipment, and more exercises. And not least, of course, the use of military force against a neighbor, Ukraine.”
He added that while he saw no imminent threat to NATO states, that the battle groups’ presence sent a strong message “that an attack on one ally will trigger a response from the whole alliance.”