It sunk during training after making contact with a US Coast Guard ship. But a reason for why it sunk was never determined. Because of the depth, salvage operations were not possible, the Navy said.
“At no time during the approach or the ensuing sound search were distress signals from S-28 seen or heard, nor was any sound heard which indicated an explosion in S-28,” the Naval History and Heritage Command said.
The armed forces’ Court of Inquiry said the sub lost depth control “from either a material casualty or an operating error of personnel, or both, and that depth control was never regained. The exact cause of the loss of S-28 cannot be determined.”
Data from the organization’s find will be shared with the Navy to help determine the cause of the loss.
Defense Department officials told lawmakers Wednesday they hope to forgive about 90 percent of cases involving thousands of California National Guard members that auditors say received improper bonuses during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is my hope that by the end of the year, we will have something between 1,000 and 2,000 cases total out of the universe of 17,000 that are subject to review,” Peter Levine, undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, told members of the House Armed Services Committee.
Levine was among Pentagon and Army National Guard officials who testified at the Dec. 7 hearing to tell lawmakers how the Pentagon plans to resolve what some are calling a betrayal of the troops by next summer and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
“Compensation, whether it is a bonus for a service agreement or regular pay, is an obligation to our service members and their families that they should not have to worry about,” said Rep. Joseph Heck, a Republican from Nevada and chairman of the panel’s Military Personnel Subcommittee.
“I find it unacceptable that we would place the additional burden of years of concern about the legitimacy of a bonus payment or a student loan repayment on those who volunteer to serve,” he added.
Lawmakers have come up with a compromise as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that calls on the Pentagon to forgive the enlistment bonuses and student loan benefits unless the soldier who received the money “knew or reasonably should have known” that he or she was ineligible for it.
The Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau reported last month that the Pentagon was demanding repayment of enlistment bonuses given to California Guard soldiers to help fill enlistment quotas for the wars. Many of the soldiers served in combat, and some returned with severe injuries.
Many of soldiers were told to repay bonuses of $15,000 or more years after they had completed their military service. Student loan repayments, which were also given out improperly to soldiers with educational loans, sometimes totaled as much as $50,000.
“Many reasons these cases are particularly troublesome,” Levine said. “Many of them are based on a technical deficiency.
“Particularly in cases like this, where we have a service member who made a commitment on the basis of a bonus and served out that commitment, so when we come in later after someone has fulfilled their commitment and then question on a technical ground why they received a bonus in the first place — that is a particular hardship,” he said.
There are two basic categories of cases, Levine said. One type involves about 1,400 cases already ordered to pay back bonuses. The second category of 16,000 cases involves soldiers who were put under suspicion or threat of recoupment of bonuses they received.
“For those cases that are in recoupment, we have the question of, ‘Are we going to dismiss the case? Are we going to forgive the debt? Are we going to repay the soldier if we decide it was improper?’ ” Levine said.
Through detailed screenings, “It’s my hope we can get from about 1,400 down to about 700 … that’s a goal; I don’t know what exact numbers we can get to.”
As for the larger category of about 16,000 cases, “We have greater discretion because we haven’t yet established the debt yet,” Levine said.
Several “rules of thumb” will be established in an attempt to:
— Screen out cases that are more than 10 years old.
— Screen out cases with a debt of $10,000 or less.
— Screen out most of the cases that involve enlisted members and lower ranking members without prior service on the basis that it’s unlikely they would be able to understand their contract fully without assistance.
“As we go through those screens from that second universe of 16,000 or so cases, I expect to reduce that by about 90 percent, so we get down to about 10 percent,” Levine said. “We will then put that universe through the kinds of substantive screens, and I hope to get that down further.
“The objective is to find that easy ones first, get rid of those, tell people ‘we are not pursuing you … we are telling you, you are off the hook; we are done with you,’ so we can focus our resources on the cases that are the most significant.”
Many lawmakers said they felt the California Guard scandal severely damaged the trust of current Guard members across the country.
“In some of these cases, there have been troops — through no fault of their own — that are suffering the consequences,” said Rep. Paul Cook, a Republican from California. “It’s our fault, and I use that word collectively on behalf of all officers that are in positions of authority. We betrayed the trust of the troops, and there is no excuse for that.”
Rep. Susan Davis, a Democrat from the state, said it’s “critically important that we do not forget service members and their families that have been deeply affected by this.”
“Once these families have encountered financial hardships, we know it can be truly difficult to recover. Even if we return their bonus, we have already upended their lives by creating unnecessary emotional stress and financial instability.”
Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, the California Guard’s incentive manager, pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
But National Guard officials told lawmakers that many others were held accountable, including leaders who failed to provide proper oversight, said Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, adjutant general for the California National Guard.
“We punished, within the California National Guard, 61 people — including firing four general officers and two full colonels,” Baldwin said.
The Department of Justice prosecuted 44 soldiers. Of those, 26 were found guilty and convicted, Baldwin said. Another 15 cases are pending, and the remainder were either dismissed or acquitted, Baldwin said.
Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, director of the Army National Guard, told lawmakers that the National Guard Bureau has taken steps to prevent this from happening again.
In 2010, the bureau conducted a review of all incentive programs across all states territories and the District of Columbia and found “no systemic fraud,” Kadavy said.
In 2012, the National Guard stood up the Guard Incentive Management System, or GIMS, which now provides “a centralized oversight program for bonus and incentive payments,” he said.
In 2016, the Army Audit Agency conducted an “external review” of GIMS and validated its effectiveness, Kadavy said. Auditors found that the system “substantially improved the controls of eligibility monitoring and payment phases of the incentive process.”
Despite the steps being taken to resolve the problem, officials admitted that they should have known about this a lot sooner.
“We have oversight on the California National Guard, the Army has oversight, the National Guard Bureau has oversight,” Levine said. “We were not aware of this until we read it in the newspaper, and that is on us; we missed this.”
Over 29 days in spring 2018, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity documented this 360-degree panorama from multiple images taken at what would become its final resting spot in Perseverance Valley. Located on the inner slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater, Perseverance Valley is a system of shallow troughs descending eastward about the length of two football fields from the crest of Endeavour’s rim to its floor.
“This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery,” said Opportunity project manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “To the right of center you can see the rim of Endeavor Crater rising in the distance. Just to the left of that, rover tracks begin their descent from over the horizon and weave their way down to geologic features that our scientists wanted to examine up close. And to the far right and left are the bottom of Perseverance Valley and the floor of Endeavour crater, pristine and unexplored, waiting for visits from future explorers.”
The trailblazing mission ended after nearly 15 years of exploring the surface of Mars, but its legacy will live on. Opportunity’s scientific discoveries contributed to our unprecedented understanding of the planet’s geology and environment, laying the groundwork for future robotic and human missions to the Red Planet.
This image is an edited version of the last 360-degree panorama taken by the Opportunity rover’s Pancam from May 13 through June 10, 2018. The version of the scene is presented in approximate true color.
This image is a cropped version of the last 360-degree panorama taken by the Opportunity rover’s Pancam from May 13 through June 10, 2018. The panorama appears in 3D when seen through blue-red glasses with the red lens on the left.
The panorama is composed of 354 individual images provided by the rover’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) from May 13 through June 10, or sols (Martian days) 5,084 through 5,111. This view combines images taken through three different Pancam filters. The filters admit light centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near-infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet).
A few frames remain black and white, as the solar-powered rover did not have the time to record those locations using the green and violet filters before a severe Mars-wide dust storm swept in on June 2018.
Taken on June 10, 2018 (the 5,111th Martian day, or sol, of the mission) this “noisy,” incomplete image was the last data NASA’s Opportunity rover sent back from Mars. Click here for full image and caption.
The gallery includes the last images Opportunity obtained during its mission (black-and-white thumbnail images from the Pancam that were used to determine how opaque the sky was on its last day) and also the last piece of data the rover transmitted (a “noisy,” incomplete full-frame image of a darkened sky).
These two thumbnail images, with the ghostly dot of a faint Sun near the middle of each, are the last images NASA’s Opportunity rover took on Mars. Click here for full image and caption.
After eight months of effort and sending more than a thousand commands in an attempt to restore contact with the rover, NASA declared Opportunity’s mission complete on Feb. 13, 2019.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, managed the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
It was after 6 p.m. in the small Midwestern town as people began to end their day.
The warm colors of the mid-August afternoon sky started slipping into the evening. That’s when a handful of Army drill sergeants were inadvertently called into action, and saved a family from a burning vehicle.
Shortly before, people were driving home from work, running errands or just passing through Sparta, Wisconsin, on Highway 21.
Among those driving was David Turner, 62, a retired maintenance worker, who on Aug. 15, 2019, was in his silver SUV with his granddaughters — Delilah, 4, and London, 2 — on an evening cruise along the highway that connects Sparta to his hometown, Tomah, Wisconsin, roughly 17 miles away.
Meanwhile, several drill sergeants with the Army Reserve were also among the passersby.
They had finished a day’s work at Fort McCoy, a nearby Army base located between Sparta and Tomah, and were driving back to their hotels, said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Juhl, a drill sergeant with the 95th Training Division.
The soldiers were on orders, training other Army Reserve drill sergeants vying for U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year later that month.
The right place, at the right time
The drive was cut short after the soldiers had pulled off the road into a nearby parking lot, tending to their first of two unexpected incidents.
The drill sergeants were parked outside of a local flower shop, and had their heads under the hood of a car, trying to pinpoint engine failure in one of the vehicles — but, they weren’t having much luck.
That’s when Sgt. Roger Williams, owner of the inoperable car, and who admits he’s “not a car guy,” called his non-commissioned officer in charge, Sgt. 1st Class Justin McCarthy — who owns a car shop in Charlotte, North Carolina — for back up. Always willing to help, McCarthy arrived shortly after and identified the problem; a serpentine belt had snapped.
Williams, a Beloit, Wisconsin native, opted to drive his personal vehicle to Fort McCoy. The other soldiers, from various parts of the country, were driving rentals.
“We were meant to be there,” said Sgt. Daniel McElroy, a drill sergeant attached to the 108th Training Command, believing by serendipitous chance they were “at the right place, at the right time” to save lives.
As the men finished checking Williams’ car, Turner, the grandfather in a silver SUV, raced by them. Unbeknownst to the soldiers, Turner was suffering from a medical condition at the time, rendering him unconscious. Yet his foot remained pressed on the vehicle’s accelerator.
“I noticed his vehicle going really fast before hitting a median,” said McElroy, adding that the sound of the engine racing initially caught his attention. They were stopped along a residential area, facing a four-way intersection, where vehicles typically drive slowly.
Within a fragment of a moment, the SUV smashed directly into a utility pole on the other side of the intersection, at full speed, splintering the tree-like column on impact and causing power outages in the area.
A “massive, fiery blue explosion” erupted, McElroy said, and was accompanied with multiple energy blasts shooting from the fractured utility pole. The mangled SUV caught fire.
Answering the call
Although the men were bewildered, working together came naturally. So, without a word or moment of hesitation, all four sprinted toward the burning vehicle. They felt their Army training kick in.
McCarthy, a 25-year service veteran, had experienced a similar situation during a 2007 deployment in Iraq, when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. He also has a civilian background with energy, and verified no live wires were touching the vehicle.
However, its motor was in flames, fluid had puddled onto the road around it, and black smoke from the engine poured into the air vents and filled the inside of the vehicle with smoke. It seemed the family was on borrowed time.
“The first person we checked was the driver,” Juhl said, after rushing to the vehicle, adding that Turner was conscious, but “out of it” at the time.
Turner, who suffered a fractured vertebrae among other injuries, was pinned in the driver’s seat. He woke up to the smell of air bag powder blended with engine smoke, he said, and immediately thought about his granddaughters in the back.
When the collision happened, the pole pretzeled the framework of his vehicle as easy as a soda can being crushed. The steering wheel immediately locked Turner into place. The soldiers tried opening the driver’s side door, but it was useless.
Like Turner, the door was pinned in. However, it was bent enough for the soldiers to fold the frame like a banana from the top, McCarthy said. They worked on the door until the glass from the driver’s side window shattered, causing black smoke to roll out from inside.
They could reach Turner with their hands, but were still unable to move him. All Turner could repeat was, “How are the girls?” in a dazed tone.
“I tried getting out on my own,” Turner later said. “The pain was so intense all I could say was ‘get the girls, leave me alone, if I die, I die.'”
At the time, the soldiers were unaware of any passengers. Due to the smoke-filled interior, deployed side airbag curtains, and dark tinted windows of the SUV — their vision was clouded, McCarthy said. In addition, he didn’t hear any crying.
McCarthy “didn’t know what to expect” when he opened the back door, he said, and his “heart sank thinking of the children’s conditions.” He and Juhl rushed to opposite sides of the vehicle to check the children.
McCarthy was greeted by the 2-year-old, London, and he asked “is it okay if I get you out of your chair?” London, safely in her car seat, replied, “I’m 2,” ignoring the question, raising her index and middle fingers. He didn’t see injuries on the girl.
Meanwhile, Juhl checked on Delilah, who also had no visible injuries. They removed the girls without any issues.
The soldiers “relied on their Army training in a civilian environment,” McCarthy said, adding, although it wasn’t a tactical vehicle, and they’ve “never trained with child seats,” it was comparable to “a gunner in a turret,” or similar training scenario.
Around this time, McElroy pulled Turner from the vehicle from the front passenger side door. After ensuring the victims were okay, and local responders arrived, the soldiers slipped into the crowd and left. It wasn’t until the Turner family searched for the men that their story was able to be shared.
The drill sergeants credit readiness training for their actions.
“The Army has done an outstanding job training individual soldiers,” McCarthy said, adding, “Things like combat lifesaving skills prepared me adequately, and without the Army’s training, I don’t know if I would have responded as effectively.”
“Those men were humble; they responded and went home,” Turner said, who is expected to make a full recovery. “But, the word ‘hero’ doesn’t touch who they are. Anybody who is in the military, if they are going through any training, should emulate the people who saved my life.”
The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and the University of Texas at Austin hosted the Mad Scientist Conference at the university on April 24 and 25, 2019. The Mad Scientist Conference brings together military, academia, and private industry experts in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, ethics in future innovation, and the future of space.
This year’s conference focused on disruption and the future operational environment. With the Army’s effort to modernize the force, it is critical for collaboration between the Army and the brightest minds of technological innovation.
Dr. Moriba K. Jah, Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, presents at the U.S. Army’s annual Mad Scientist Conference on April 25th at The University of Texas at Austin’s Engineering Education and Research Center.
(U.S. Army Photo by Mr. Luke J. Allen)
“Mad Scientist and Army Future Command are two sides of the same modernization coin,” said Lt. Gen. James Richardson, deputy commanding general of Army Futures Command. “We need to tap into America’s unique culture of innovation. That’s why we’re here in Austin. AFC is an opportunity for collaboration with the best minds in the world in academia and industry.”
Collaboration today to solve the complex problems of tomorrow’s battlefields requires significant imagination to predict possibilities.
Mr. Robert O. Work, former 32nd Deputy Secretary of Defense and Senior Counselor for Defense and Distinguished Fellow for Defense and National Security, speaks at the U.S. Army’s annual Mad Scientist Conference on April 24th at The University of Texas at Austin’s Engineering Education and Research Center.
(U.S. Army Photo by Mr. Luke J. Allen)
“The future of warfare will be both familiar and utterly alien,” Richardson said.
With the development of evolving artificial intelligence and robotics, Mad Scientists discussed the applications they have on future warfare.
“When technology is proliferated down to the battlefield, what happens?” asked Robert Work, senior counselor for defense and distinguished senior fellow for defense and national security at the Center for a New American Security. “We’ll inevitably go to more unmanned systems.”
The University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering hosts a discussion panel at the U.S. Army’s annual Mad Scientist Conference on April 25th at UT’s Engineering Education and Research Center.
(U.S. Army Photo by Mr. Luke J. Allen)
While wars today feature manned combat vehicles, the Mad Scientists suggest wars of the future may be fought by drones and AI-controlled machines. Work referenced the Army’s next generation combat vehicle currently in development that has the potential to be optionally manned.
One way future vehicles can operate without a human crew is using AI.
“How do we make autonomous systems behave in a trustworthy fashion?” asked Dr. Maruth Akella, professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at UT-Austin.
A primary goal of AI and robotics is full autonomy to perform increasingly complex tasks. The Mad Scientists questioned how to establish ethics and human oversight for automated machines used on complex battlefields where non-combatants, enemy forces and partner forces are intermingled in real-time, dynamic domains.
The discussions examined how much autonomy should autonomous machines have in military operations.
The University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering hosts a discussion panel at the U.S. Army’s annual Mad Scientist Conference on April 25th at UT’s Engineering Education and Research Center.
(U.S. Army Photo by Mr. Luke J. Allen)
“How much human control do we want or need to have over these autonomous systems?” asked Dr. Paul Zablocky, program manager for the strategic technology office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
To further understand the implications of autonomous machines in the operational environment, the conference speakers discussed how AI learns and how humans are involved in the AI-learning process.
“We need to look at integrated human-in-the-loop systems,” said Dr. Garrett Warnell, a research scientist with Army Research Lab. “When robots are becoming autonomous, they need a lot of human interaction. They slowly depend less and less on humans and become more autonomous.”
If robotics are considered for warfare in the future, Work said we must pursue systems with tele-operated capabilities. Additionally, the panelists strongly emphasized that robotics must be disposable, which opened the conversation to how much these technologies might cost. Work pointed out that China could pass the US in absolute GDP in about 10 years.
Sharon Wood, Dean of University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering, speaks at the U.S. Army’s annual Mad Scientist Conference on April 24th at The University of Texas at Austin’s Engineering Education and Research Center.
(U.S. Army photo)
“The U.S. cannot spend our way back to military dominance,” said Work. “That means that we have to out-think, out-innovate, and out-maneuver our competitors.”
The opportunity to collaborate, out-think and out-innovate is the reason that Army Futures Command was created and based in Austin amongst a variety of tech companies, start- ups, and innovators.
It was an uphill battle, according to Kaj Larsen, a fellow SEAL and friend of WATM who helped campaign for Greitens. The outgoing governor, Jay Nixon, was ineligible to run for re-election due to the state’s term limits, but Greitens nevertheless faced a tough challenger in current Missouri Attorney Gen. Chris Koster.
“We started with nothing against our opponent’s $11 million,” Larsen wrote on Facebook as Greitens claimed victory in the state. “But when your buddy is in a gunfight, you show up with ammunition to help. For three months straight we outworked our opponent.”
Kaj Larsen introduces Eric Greitens for his victory speech at a hotel in the Chesterfield suburb of St. Louis. (Facebook photo)
Greitens is a Republican who ran against what he saw as corrupt establishment politics; called for banning gifts from lobbyists; advocated instituting term limits for every elected office in Missouri; wants to cut government spending; supports the Second Amendment, and called for more backing of local firefighters and law enforcement officers in the state.
At 42, Greitens is the youngest governor in the United States. This is his first attempt at public office. Republicans have only won the Missouri Governor’s seat once since 1992.
According to his book, “The Heart and the Fist,” Greitens went to Naval Officer Candidate School in January 2001, then went to BUD/S — the basic training course for Navy SEAL candidates — in February 2002.
His awards include the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, among many Achievement and Commendation Medals.
“We’re going to take on the special interests and clean up Jefferson City,” Greitens said in his victory speech as recorded by the Kansas City Star. “Our mission in this campaign was to build a stronger and better Missouri we can take in a new direction.”
Not everyone is thrilled with Greitens’ victory. The most controversial issue surrounding his campaign is his support of making Missouri a “Right-to-Work” state, sapping power from local labor unions.
“It was one of the high honors of my life to introduce my friend and swim buddy last night as he took the stage to give his victory speech,” Larsen wrote on Facebook.
Winning the governorship is a big deal, but as the BUD/S motto goes: The only easy day was yesterday.
During flu season, protecting your health with a flu shot is easier than ever and as close as your local VA or neighborhood Walgreens. VA and Walgreens care about your health and are partnering to offer enrolled Veteran patients easy access to flu shots.
VA and Walgreens are national partners, providing no-cost standard (Quadrivalent) flu shots to enrolled Veterans of the VA health care system.
If you are interested in finding out more about other vaccine options, especially if you are aged 65 or older, contact your VA health care team.
During the program, which runs from Aug. 15, 2018, through March 31, 2019, enrolled Veteran patients nationwide have the option of getting their flu shot at any of Walgreens’ 8,200 locations in addition to their local VA health care facilities.
No appointment is required. Simply go to any Walgreens, tell the pharmacist you receive care at a VA facility and show your Veterans Health Identification Card and another form of photo ID. (Patients will also be asked to complete a vaccine consent form at the time of service.)
Your immunization record will be updated electronically in your local VA electronic health record. Walgreens has the capability to electronically send vaccination information to the VA electronic health record.
The VA-Walgreens national partnership is part of VA’s eHealth Exchange project. This national program ensures that many Veterans get their no-cost flu shot at their local Walgreens, satisfying their wellness reminder because they either found it more convenient or did not have a scheduled appointment at a local VA health care facility.
Other options for immunization
VA health care facilities:
You may receive a no-cost flu shot during any scheduled VA appointment if you are admitted to one of our VA health care facilities, or at one of the convenient walk-in flu stations. For more information on locations and hours contact your local VA health care facility.
Other non-VA providers and pharmacies:
Many local retail pharmacies offer flu shots that may be covered by private insurance or programs such as Medicare. There may be a charge for your flu shot at these locations. If you do not have insurance, there will usually be a charge.
This fully customized Dodge Challenger was built by Galpin Auto Sports of Van N California, and is outfitted with special gullwing doors, a carbon fiber body kit, and a “stealth” exhaust system that, when activated, allows the Vapor to run almost silently. Its features include cutting edge technology used by the , such as a forward looking infrared system for night operation and a high-resolution 360-degree surveillance camera with 1/4 mile range.
In addition, the car’s blacked-out “command center” interior is equipped with aircraft style controls, a passenger side steering wheel, and a windshield head-up display with both night and thermal vision capability, and its advanced computer system allows remote operation from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.
The Vapor Supercar toured the for more than seven years with the Recruiting Service, educating the public on opportunities for officers and enlisted airmen by showcasing ingenuity, state-of the-art technology, and innovation.
According to National Museum of the Deputy Director and Senior Curator Krista Strider, having the Vapor Supercar on display at the museum will not only allow visitors to appreciate the advanced technology and unique aspects of the car, but could also lead to some extended mileage for its recruiting mission.
“The special features and innovative technology associated with the Vapor Supercar is really interesting for visitors to see,” said Strider. “A major part of the museum’s mission is to inspire our youth toward an or STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career, and the Vapor Supercar is another asset that we can utilize to help accomplish that goal.”
KYIV, Ukraine — China sent fighter jets into Taiwanese airspace on Monday morning amid the first visit by a senior US official to Taiwan in decades, underscoring a steady deterioration in Sino-American relations that is increasingly edging the two countries closer to a military clash, some experts warn.
“The risk of conflict in the Taiwan Strait is rising,” Ryan Hass, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies, told Coffee or Die. “At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that Taipei, Washington, and Beijing each continue to have a strong incentive to manage competition without resorting to force, given the risks of rapid escalation and the catastrophic consequences that any conflict in the Taiwan Strait would create for all parties.”
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar landed in Taiwan on Sunday afternoon, marking the most significant official US visit to the island country in more than four decades. Around 9 a.m. Monday morning, Chinese J-10 and J-11 fighter jets crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait — the narrow body of water dividing mainland China from Taiwan — and briefly entered Taiwanese airspace.
A Chinese Su-27 Flanker fighter makes a fly by while the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, visits with members of the Chinese Air Force at Anshan Airfield, China Mar. 24, 2007. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, released.
After the Chinese warplanes ignored Taiwanese warnings, Taiwan’s air force scrambled fighters to intercept the Chinese jets, Taiwanese military officials reported on Monday. Taiwanese missiles were also tracking the Chinese jets, Taiwanese defense officials said.
“Beijing is using its military to demonstrate its capabilities to audiences that are likely watching,” Dean Cheng, senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, told Coffee or Die.
“This is part of the Chinese approach to compellence — which is translated often as deterrence,” Cheng said.
In a release, Taiwan’s air force stated that the Chinese aerial maneuver was a “deliberate intrusion and destruction of the current situation in the Taiwan Strait” and that it “seriously undermined regional security and stability.”
Beijing has not yet commented on the incident, which marked the third time since 2016 that Chinese warplanes have violated Taiwan’s airspace.
“Chinese fighters crossed the [Taiwan Strait] mid-line in 2019 and have done so several times this year,” Cheng told Coffee or Die.
“So, on the one hand, this is part of the new normal, put in place since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan in 2016,” Cheng said, adding that the Taiwanese president is “committed to Taiwan independence, so as you can imagine, she — and her party and government — are not seen as friendly to Beijing.”
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon from Eielson Air Force Base, flies in formation over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, July 18, 2019. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson.
Azar’s visit was meant to signal US recognition of Taiwan’s role in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. However, amid mounting tensions with Beijing, Washington has made it a priority to tighten its ties with Taiwan, including increased arms sales to the island nation.
“We consider Taiwan to be a vital partner, a democratic success story, and a force for good in the world,” Azar said at a meeting with the Taiwanese president Monday.
Rather than a significant, escalatory move by China, some experts say Monday’s aerial incident is further evidence of a new era of strategic competition between Washington and Beijing — an era, experts add, that is fraught with danger due to the risk of an accidental conflict arising from an unintended, escalatory domino chain set in motion either by accident or an ill-conceived military maneuver.
“The risk of a clash is trending upward,” said Steve Tsang, director of SOAS University of London’s China Institute. “In the run up to the US presidential election, I do not expect Beijing to want to create an incident involving Chinese and US military forces. […] But the risk of an unintended incident is trending higher.”
According to the Defense Department’s 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, China “seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and, ultimately […] global preeminence in the long-term.”
Ens. David Falloure, from Houston, uses a rangefinder to determine the ship’s distance to the Royal Australian Navy Anzac-class frigate HMAS Stuart (FFH 153), left, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Akizuki-class destroyer JS Teruzuki (DD 116) from the port bridge wing aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) during a trilateral photo exercise, July, 21, 2020. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James Hong.
Greater sway over the Pacific region would expand China’s regional economic and military influence — it would also help China undercut Taiwan’s network of regional allies, experts say. Thus, in the minds of America’s military leadership, the larger contest between the US and China for global dominance is currently playing out in the Indo-Pacific region.
Highlighting the region’s newfound importance to the US, the White House National Security Council recently created the new position of director for Oceania and Indo-Pacific Security. And, looking forward, the Pentagon is set to beef up the US military’s presence in the Indo-Pacific, taking advantage of existing partnerships and developing new ones to pre-position US forces and equipment.
Across the entire Indo-Pacific region, both China and the US are jostling for influence over island nations for the sake gaining strategic military advantage over the other.
Establishing a far-reaching footprint across the region will allow US military forces to forward deploy military forces — including long-range, precision strike weapons — which are meant to deter China from aggressive power grabs that threaten the status quo balance of power.
Some warn, however, that tensions between China and the US are edging away from innocuous diplomatic sparring and increasingly toward military competition. Thus, as the China and the US continue their tit-for-tat military maneuvers in the Indo-Pacific region, the danger of a military clash is trending upward.
“Sending fighter jets into Taiwan’s airspace should always been considered significant but given the context of Secretary Azar’s visit, it symbolizes something else,” said SOAS University of London’s Tsang.
“The impotence of the Chinese state in its response to something that it would have seen as unacceptable,” Tsang told Coffee or Die. “Sending the jets is clearly meant to show how tough Beijing is, but Beijing knows perfectly well that it will have no effect on the USA or Taiwan, so it remains essentially a gesture.”
An MH-60S Sea Hawk, attached to the Golden Eagles of Helicoper Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, approaches the flight deck of the Navy’s only forward deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during a trilateral exercise in the Philippine Sea, July 21, 2020. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erica Bechard.
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, opposed Azar’s visit, calling it an escalatory move. Ahead of Azar’s arrival in Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin urged Washington to cut off all official contact with Taipei to “avoid serious damage to China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
“Foreign Minister Wang’s statement last week confirms my assessment that Beijing would prefer to lower the temperature at the moment,” Tsang said. “Hence, the gesture in the response to Secretary Azar’s visit to Taipei. Beijing cannot afford not to respond in a way that can be presented as robust.”
Also on Monday, China announced it had placed sanctions on 11 high-profile US senators and officials in response to American criticisms of Beijing’s authoritarian crackdown on Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s protests began in June 2019 over a new bill allowing the extradition of the special autonomous-city’s citizens to mainland China. In November, Washington passed a new law — the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act — that supports the Hong Hong protesters and the city’s democratic autonomy from the rest of China.
After months of protests, Beijing announced in May that it would tighten its grip on Hong Kong under a new “national security” law.
On Friday, President Donald Trump enacted new sanctions against Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as well as law enforcement personnel. Then on Monday Chinese authorities arrested Hong Kong media magnate Jimmy Lai, who has been a staunch supporter of Hong Kong’s anti-Beijing, pro-democracy protest movement.
“In response to those wrong US behaviours, China has decided to impose sanctions on individuals who have behaved egregiously on Hong Kong-related issues,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reportedly said, according to multiple news outlets.
F-15C Eagles fly in formation over the East China Sea Dec. 11, 2018, during a routine training exercise out of Kadena Air Base, Japan. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Matthew Seefeldt.
At the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, Chinese national forces under the command of Chiang Kai-shek retreated from the Chinese mainland and established an autonomous government on Taiwan called the Republic of China. Communist China has continued to claim Taiwan as its sovereign territory.
In 1971, Taiwan was booted from the United Nations and many countries have refused to officially recognize the autonomous island nation for fear of sparking reprisal from Beijing. The US does not recognize Beijing’s claim to Taiwan. And even though Washington officially ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, the US has sold military hardware to Taipei — including missiles, missile defense systems, and F-16 fighters.
Despite the escalating tensions, The Heritage Foundation’s Cheng remained skeptical about the possibility of an imminent armed clash between US and Chinese forces.
“I don’t think this signals that there is a greater likelihood of military conflict,” Cheng said of China’s warplane incursion into Taiwanese airspace on Monday. “It does reflect China’s greater willingness to employ the military to signal others, a natural outcome as China’s military becomes mores sophisticated and more capable.”
Cheng added: “Beijing seems to have a far different view of crisis stability compared with Western nations. It seems to think that it has the ability to unilaterally escalate and deescalate crises. It is this attitude, if it were transferred to the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, or the East China Sea, that might precipitate a military confrontation.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has reiterated that Kyiv is seeking a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a formal step toward joining NATO.
Poroshenko, in a post on Facebook on March 10, 2018, said a MAP was Ukraine’s “next ambition” on the path toward eventual membership in the 29-country Western alliance.
“This is what my letter to Jens Stoltenberg in February 2018 was about, where, with reference to Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty, I officially [set out] Ukraine’s aspirations to become a member of the Alliance,” Poroshenko wrote.
A Membership Action Plan is a multistage process of political dialogue and military reform to bring a country in line with NATO standards and to eventual membership. The process can take several years.
Poroshenko’s comments came after NATO updated its website to include Ukraine alongside three other countries — Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, and Macedonia — that have declared their aspirations to NATO membership
“Countries that have declared an interest in joining the Alliance are initially invited to engage in an intensified dialogue with NATO about their membership aspirations and related reforms,” the NATO website said.
The next step toward possible membership is a MAP. But a NATO official told RFE/RL that the alliance has not changed its position on Ukraine.
“NATO’s policy remains the same,” the official said. “There has been a change in Ukraine’s policy, which the website reflects.”
Under former President Viktor Yanukovych, Kyiv said it was not interested in joining NATO. But Kyiv has sought NATO membership since the 2014 antigovernment Maidan protests that toppled Moscow-friendly Yanukovych and ushered in a pro-Western government.
Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on June 8, 2017, passed a law making NATO integration a foreign policy priority.
In July 2017, Poroshenko announced that he would seek the opening of negotiations on a MAP with NATO.
Ukraine is currently embroiled in a war with Russia-backed separatists in part of its eastern regions that has killed more than 10,300 people and displaced hundreds of thousands since April 2014.
It is a successor to the 1970’s Shkval (Russian for ‘Squall’), which has an impressive speed of over 200 knots, far faster than any NATO torpedo, making it difficult to stop. However, it has range of less than ten miles compared to more than 30 for the US Mk 48. Shkval is also limited by the fact that it cannot use sonar guidance when travelling at speed. Western analysts have tended to be scathing about the Shkval, calling it a suicide weapon because of its short range. One Russian commentator described it as “amusing but useless.”
However, a new Russian torpedo is likely to see the Shkval’s defects remedied. The Khishchnik (“Predator”) is a new supercavitating torpedo at an advanced stage of development. Unlike various supposed super-weapons which they boast about publicly, the Russians are keeping very quiet about Predator.
High-speed underwater projectiles rely on a principle called supercavitation. Rather than being streamlined, Shkval’s nose is blunt, ending in a flat disc. This creates a low-pressure area in its wake – the pressure is so low that a bubble of water vapor forms. This cavitation effect is well known; propellers are designed to minimize it because it reduces contact with the water and causes damage. In supercavitation, the bubble is large enough to enclose the entire torpedo except for its steering fins. By travelling inside the bubble, the torpedo experiences far less drag than a normal torpedo in contact with the water. The low drag means it can reach phenomenal speeds.
Russia has long been the leader in supercavitating weapons. These include the bullets fired by the APS underwater assault rifle, effective at a range of thirty meters underwater – several times greater than any other firearm.
Torpedoes like Shkval use a more advanced version of the effect in which the cavity is ‘ventilated,’ sustained by an injection of exhaust gases. Shkval is not rocket-propelled as many sources assume; there’s a good description (in Russian) here. A rocket boosts the torpedo up to cavitation speed, but after that, a hydrojet takes over, burning magnesium-based fuel and using seawater as the oxidizer.
Western efforts to copy Russian supercavitating technology have not so far been successful. There have been great successes in the lab, but these have not translated into deployed hardware. DARPA had an ambitious plan for a 100 mph+ supercavitating submarine called the Underwater Express. They had a three-year contact with sub makers Electric Boat from 2006-2009, but it came to nothing. The US Navy RAMICS project involved busting underwater mines with a supsercavitating projectile fired from a helicopter, the project ran from 1997 to 2011 before funding was terminated without the system being fielded. The US Navy’s supercavitating torpedo project has been on hold since 2012; a spokesman says that improved understanding of the basic physics of supercavitation is needed.
The Western work may give us some insight into how the Russians are improving on Shkval. The reason why it cannot carry sonar is because the cavitating disc is much too small for a sonar system, and the engine is too noisy. General Dynamics patented a new type of cavitator in the early 2000’s. Rather than being flat, this is a parabolic curve, giving gives enough surface area for the sonar receiver. In the GD design, the sonar emitters are mounted separately on the fin tips, and filters block out engine noise.
This suggests that a guided supercavitating torpedo is now feasible; a 2015 article on the Shkval suggested that one was under development.
The other issue with the Shkval is its short range. Georgiy Savchenko of the Institute of Hydromechanics at Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences works on supercavitating designs and says that improved fuel will make a dramatic difference – he estimates that the range could be improved by a factor of ten.
Very little information is being released on Khishchnik apart from the fact that it is being developed by Elektropribor, a design bureau which makes instruments for ships and subs as well as aviation components. Its existence was revealed in documents uncovered by Russian defense blog BMPD, which revealed that the company had been working on Khishchnik since 2013 and that launch tests were expected in 2016 as part of a contract worth 3 billion rubles ($53m). There have been no official comments or announcements.
Other companies may also be working on the project. In 2016, Boris Obnosov, CEO of Russian company Tactical Missiles Corp, mentioned work in this area to Rambler News Service
“Take, for instance, the well-known unique Shkval underwater missile. We are working on upgrading it heavily.”
The ‘heavily upgraded’ Shkval seems likely to be the Khishchnik.
Shkval has been upgraded several times previously, with improvements in range and guidance. A new name suggests a more significant upgrade. An export version of the Shkval, the Shkval-E was produced in 1999. There would be a big market for an unstoppable, carrier-killing torpedo.
China dispatched members of its People’s Liberation Army to the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti July 11 to man the rising Asian giant’s first overseas military base, a key part of a wide-ranging expansion of the role of China’s armed forces.
The defense ministry said on its website that a ceremony was held at a naval peer in the southern Chinese port of Zhanjiang presided over by navy commander Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong.
It said the personnel would travel by navy ship but gave no details on numbers or units. Photos on the website showed naval officers and marines in battle dress lining the rails of the support ships Jingangshan and Donghaidao.
China says the logistics center will support anti-piracy, U.N. peacekeeping and humanitarian relief missions in Africa and western Asia. It says it will also facilitate military cooperation and joint exercises as the PLA navy and other services seek to expand their global reach in step with China’s growing economic and political footprint.
Djibouti is already home to the center of American operations in Africa, Camp Lemonnier, while France, Britain, Japan and other nations also maintain a military presence in the small but strategically located nation.
Chinese special operations forces raid a civilian ocean transport during a counter-piracy mission. (Photo from Chinese Ministry of Defense)
Multinational anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden that China joined in 2008 have also given its navy ready access to the Mediterranean, and, in 2011, it took the unprecedented step of sending one of its most sophisticated warships together with military transport aircraft to help in the evacuation of about 35,000 Chinese citizens from Libya.
In 2015, China detached three navy ships from the anti-piracy patrols to rescue Chinese citizens and other foreign nationals from fighting in Yemen. The same year, it took part in its first Mediterranean joint naval exercises with Russia.
The United States formally withdrew on November 22 from the Open Skies Treaty, an 18-year-old arms control and verification agreement that Washington repeatedly accused Moscow of violating.
The withdrawal is the latest blow to the system of international arms control that U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly scorned, complaining that Washington was being either deceived or unfairly restrained in its military capabilities.
The U.S. State Department confirmed the move, noting six months had expired since notice of the pending exit had been issued and saying “the U.S. withdrawal took effect on November 22, 2020, and the United States is no longer a State Party to the Treaty on Open Skies.”
The National Security Council confirmed the withdrawal and added that “Russia flagrantly violated [the treaty] for years.”
It quoted national-security adviser Robert O’Brien as saying the move was part of an effort to “put America first by withdrawing us from outdated treaties and agreements that have benefited our adversaries at the expense of our national security.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 21 announced the U.S. intention to withdraw and gave the six-month notification to Open Skies’ 34 other members, as required under the treaty’s rules.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S. decision.
“Washington has made its move. Neither European security nor the security of the United States and its allies themselves have benefited from it. Now many in the West are wondering what Russia’s reaction will be. The answer is simple. We have repeatedly emphasized that all options are open to us,” the ministry said in a statement on November 22.
Signed in 1992, the treaty, which entered into force in 2002, allows its 34 members to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation and surveillance flights over one another’s territories, to collect data on military forces and activities. More than 1,500 flights have taken place under the agreement.
The treaty’s proponents say the flights help build confidence by showing that, for example, adversaries are not secretly deploying forces or preparing to launch attacks.
But its critics, particularly among U.S. Republicans, have asserted the treaty has been violated repeatedly, first and foremost by Moscow.
In his May statement, Pompeo charged that Russian violations included restrictions on flights near breakaway regions over Georgia, along Russia’s southern borders, and limits on the lengths of flights over the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
“Russia has consistently acted as if it were free to turn its obligations off and on at will,” he said.
Arms control experts have said while some of the U.S. complaints have merit, others are misleading. And U.S. military and intelligence agencies will lose an important source of data by not being party to the treaty, they said, and NATO allies support the agreement.
“While Russia has violated the treaty, the United States has reciprocated. NATO allies support the treaty — which focuses first and foremost on enhancing European security — and wish the United States to remain a party,” Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador and arms control expert, said in commentary published last week.
The Trump administration has targeted several international treaties over the past four years, most notably the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a key Cold War agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union.
After years of complaining that Russia had secretly designed, then deployed, a treaty-violating missile, Washington withdrew in 2019 and the treaty collapsed.
Another more consequential treaty, the New START agreement, is also set to expire in February 2021, and U.S. and Russian officials have been struggling to find a way to keep it intact.
But Trump administration officials want to expand the treaty to include China. And they have also sent mixed signals about new conditions for extending New START, something Moscow has rejected.
Adding to the uncertainty is Trump’s expected departure from the White House on January 21, 2021, when Democrat Joe Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated and take office.
Biden has signaled support for extending New START and preserving other treaties.
“Instead of tearing up treaties that make us and our allies more secure, President Trump…should remain in the Open Skies Treaty and work with allies to confront and resolve problems regarding Russia’s compliance,” Biden said in a statement in May.