Multiple sources are reporting that the Army has put on hold its search for a new battle rifle to field to troops in overseas operations that fires a heavier round than the service’s current weapon.
The Army has been facing pressure from Congress and some in the service to field a larger caliber rifle to troops fighting ISIS and other militants who use Russian-made weapons and body armor. Defense officials have said the American M4 carbine and its variants fire a 5.56mm round that cannot penetrate new Russian-designed armor and that the answer was to field an immediate supply of rifles chambered in 7.62mm.
“We recognize the 5.56mm round, there is a type of body armor it doesn’t penetrate. … Adversarial states are selling it for $250,” Army chief Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers in May. “There’s a need, an operational need [for a 7.62 rifle]. We think we can do it relatively quickly.”
But less than two months after the Army issued a request from industry to provide up to 50,000 7.62 battle rifles, sources say the service has pulled the plug on the program, citing internal disagreements on the true need for the rifle and cost savings. The shelving comes as the Pentagon is finalizing a broad-based report on the military’s small arms ammunition and what the future needs of the services are given the existing threats.
Some insiders say the service is leaning toward a rifle chambered in an entirely new caliber that has better penetration and fires more accurately at longer distances, and that pursuing an “interim” solution is a waste of time and resources.
“There are systems out there today, on the shelf, that with some very minor modifications could be adapted to munitions that we’re developing at Fort Benning that could be used to penetrate these SAPI plates that our adversaries are developing,” Milley said in May. “It’s not necessarily an either or proposition on that one. I think there’s weapons out there that we can get, in the right caliber, that can enhance the capability of the infantry soldier.”
Other experts say most hard body armor can withstand multiple hits from both 5.56 rounds and 7.62 ones, so spending limited funds on a new rifle in a caliber that current body armor can already resist is simply spending good money after bad.
So for now, it looks like the Army is going to stick with its M4 for now. But with the service holding off on buying an interim 7.62 rifle, it could be that soldiers might be looking at a whole new rifle platform a lot sooner than they thought.
North Korea reportedly launched a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile in April of last year that failed a few seconds into flight and came crashing down on a North Korean city.
The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda and David Schmerler, of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, cited a U.S. government source as saying the missile failed a minute into flight and never went higher than 70 kilometers.
That initial minute of boosted flight propelled the missile 39 kilometers away to Tokchon, a city of about 200,000 people in North Korea’s interior, according to Panda and Schmerler’s investigation.
Satellite imagery scanned by the authors shows damage to industrial or agricultural buildings near a residential area. The Hwasong-12, with unburned liquid fuel, could still cause a massive explosion even without a warhead, though the authors concluded there were most likely few casualties.
The wider threat of failed missile tests
But the fiery crash of a North Korean missile into a populated town demonstrates yet another threat posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
North Korea has twice fired a Hwasong-12 missile over Japan. A similar failure in the launch process could see a large liquid-fueled missile crashing down on a populated Japanese town.
If such an accident were interpreted as a deliberate attack, it could spark a wider conflict.
The AK-12 assault rifle has passed military field tests and meets all of the Russian armed forces’ design and operational standards, gunmaker Kalashnikov Concern says, according to Jane’s 360.
The AK-12’s success in military trials sets it up to become the standard weapon for soldiers in Russia’s Ratnik — or ‘Warrior’ — future weapon system.
Work on the AK-12 began in 2011 with the AK-200 as a base model. Kalashnikov Concern presented prototypes in early 2012, and the first generation of the weapon was also successful in military tests.
However, according to Jane’s, the Russian military requested design alterations and wanted the new weapon to be cheaper to make. The company then produced the second-generation version of the weapon, using a 5.45 mm round with the AK-400 as its base model. The second-generation model also addressed issues regarding full-automatic fire.
The 5.45 mm AK-12 is being developed with the 7.62 mm AK-15 — both of which are to be teamed with the 5.45 mm RPK-16 light support weapon. The Russian military has also been testing A545 and A762 assault rifles — 5.45 mm and 7.62 mm, respectively — made by Kovrov Mechanical Works.
Both the AK-12 and the AK-15 keep some traditional Kalashnikov features and are compatible with magazines used by earlier versions of the AK-74 and the AKM rifles, according to Modern Firearms. The new weapons are designed to offer better accuracy in all conditions, can be fitted with add-ons like sighting equipment and bayonets, and can carry a 40 mm grenade launcher under the barrel.
A right-side view of the final production model of the AK-12, which is based on the AK-400 prototype. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Arms experts have said the AK-12 is not a grand departure from the AK-74, which is the current standard weapon for the Russian military.
“There are improvements but very modest on the background of excessive expectations triggered by a media campaign,” Mikhail Degtyarev, editor-in-chief of Kalashnikov magazine, told Army Recognition in May, making specific mention of ergonomic improvements.
Nor do observers see the wholesale replacement of the AK-74 on the horizon, as that weapon is “a very successful design but … needs modernization,” military expert Viktor Murakhovsky told Army Recognition. “It is necessary to considerably improve combat engagement convenience, including ergonomics, and provide a possibility to mount additional devices.”
Alongside the AK-12/AK-15 package, Kalashnikov Concern has been working on an AK-74 upgrade that includes a folding and telescoping stock, rails for add-ons, and a more ergonomic fire selector and handgrip.
The Russian military’s AK-74M in the field. Photo from Russian Defense Ministry.
The Russian military has been designing and testing a variety of futuristic gear for the Ratnik program over the past year.
That includes modernized body armor, bulletproof shields, tactical computers, and a helmet equipped with night vision and thermal-imaging devices.
According to Russian state-owned outlet RT, the country’s military has also debuted a combat suit with a “powered exoskeleton” that purportedly gives the wearer more strength and endurance, as well as high-tech body armor and a helmet and visor covering the entire face.
The suit, however, remains a few years from production, and it’s “unclear whether these type of suits will eventually make it to the battlefield,” Stratfor analyst Sim Tack told Business Insider in June.
For its second act of expansion, Arlington National Cemetery plans to grow southward onto property formerly occupied by the Navy Annex. Work there will begin in 2020, said the cemetery’s executive director.
Karen Durham-Aguilera spoke March 12, 2019, before the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies. She told lawmakers the cemetery plans to break ground on the first phase of the project in 2020. She also thanked them for providing the appropriate funding to make it happen.
“With Congress’s support, the Defense Access Road project is fully funded with million and the Southern Expansion is partially funded with 9.1 million dollars no-year funding, toward a 0 million requirement,” she said.
Both projects, which include a plan to reroute Columbia Pike, which runs alongside the cemetery to the south; and a plan to develop reclaimed land and bring it up to the standards of the cemetery, are currently underway.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. James K. McCann)
The road project should finish by 2022, Durham-Aguilera said. The second phase of the project should begin in 2022, and complete in 2025.
“Southern Expansion will add 37 acres of burial space and extend the cemetery’s active life,” Durham-Aguilera said. “We will continue to provide quarterly report to Congress, outlining the progress of these important projects.”
To move forward on the project, Durham-Aguilera said the Army is working with Arlington County, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Federal Highway Administration.
Durham-Aguilera also told lawmakers about additional projects that have either been completed at the cemetery, which are underway, or which are currently in the planning stages. Since 2013, she said, 70 infrastructure projects have been completed. Today, an additional 25 are underway.
“We have completed or are currently rebuilding more than eight miles of roadways, with approximately ten additional miles in planning or design,” she said. “We have replaced about one-third of the cemetery’s storm sewer lines … since 2013, we have replaced over 1,000 feet of sanitary line, typically, as an emergency repair. We plan to replace or rehabilitate an additional 5,000 feet to prevent further failures.”
The Arlington National Cemetery Southern Expansion Plan will add more space to ANC in a location near the existing Air Force Memorial and former Navy Annex. Plans include rerouting portions of the existing Columbia Pike.
In submitted testimony, Durham-Aguilera said the cemetery will also do work on its administrative building where families gather in advance of a funeral.
In fiscal year 2018, ANC buried nearly 6,500 service members, veterans and eligible family members, Durham-Aguilera said. While the expansions will extend how long the cemetery can remain active, it will not be enough, she said.
“Expansion alone will not keep ANC open well into the future — defined as 150 years,” Durham-Aguilera said. “The [fiscal year 2019] National Defense Authorization Act requires the secretary of the Army, in consultation with the secretary of defense, by Sept. 30, 2019, to prescribe and establish revised criteria for interment that preserves ANC as an active burial ground. Evaluation of multiple options is ongoing to inform the secretary of the Army’s decision.”
To help inform that decision about eligibility criteria, Durham-Aguilera said, ANC has, among other things, conducted two public surveys of nearly 260,000 respondents and held meetings and listening sessions with key stakeholders — including more than 25 veteran and military service organizations.
“Arlington National Cemetery’s enduring mission is to represent the American people for the past, present and future generations by laying to rest those few who have served our nation with dignity and honor, while immersing guests in the cemetery’s living history,” Durham-Aguilera said. “We are committed to ensuring confident graveside accountability, our cemetery maintenance, our fiscal stewardship, and preserving the iconic look and feel of the cemetery.”
The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force has conducted simulated intercontinental ballistic missile strike missions from underground bunkers, Chinese media reported.
The exercises, which are aimed at imaginary foreign enemies, are designed to improve China’s counterattack capability in the event a war breaks out, the nationalist Global Times reported, citing state broadcaster CCTV. Many of China’s ICBMs are strategically positioned in hardened, protective bunkers to preserve China’s second-strike capabilities. China has a no first strike policy.
The country’s intercontinental-range ballistic missiles include a variety of silo-based, road-mobile, and submarine-launched missiles. China is believed to have tested a new longer-range submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in November 2018, and the country is expected to unveil the mysterious road-mobile DF-41 ICBM in 2019.
These moves are all possible signs that China is bolstering its nuclear deterrent. These developments come as both Russia and the US are also looking into modernizing their respective nuclear arsenals.
A Topol-M (in its container) on MZKT-79221 mobile launcher during rehearsals for the 2012 Moscow Victory Day Parade.
In addition to ICBM strike exercises, troops stationed in the defensive bunkers guarding parts of China’s nuclear arsenal also conduct regular long-term survival training.
The man behind China’s strategic bunkers is a man named Qian Qihu, who was recently honored for his achievements with regard to the development of storage facilities for China’s nuclear warheads — bunkers built to serve as a critical last line of defense should China’s missile shields and air defense systems fail.
The bunkers are said to be able to withstand a direct, head-on collision by a standard passenger jet.
In an interview with state media following a recent award ceremony, he stressed the need for tougher defenses to counter evolving threats.
“As the Chinese idiom goes, the thickening of a shield must closely follow the sharpening of a spear. Our defense engineering must keep evolving when attack weapons continue to pose new challenges,” Qian explained, according to the Asia Times.
He described the existing bunkers as an “underground Great Wall,” the South China Morning Post reported. “My goal has been to design a nuclear weapons-proof wall for my country,” the 82-year-old defense engineer added.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Images courtesy of the Instagram accounts 18disaster_ hoodlumsandbrigands.
Feed the Rangers.
It’s hard to imagine that one of the U.S. military’s premier Special Operations units would fail to sufficiently feed its troops during an extraordinary time. And yet that’s exactly what is been happening in the 1st Battalion, 75th Regiment, which is based at Fort Steward, Georgia.
Last week, approximately 300 Rangers were notified by their leadership that they would be moving to another barracks and undergo a two-week quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The barracks that they relocated to, however, wasn’t prepared to receive them. The main issue with the new housing arrangement was that it didn’t have an adequate Dining Facilities Administration Center (DFAC) that could properly feed the Rangers.
SOFREP understands that in the first days the quarantined troops, several of which have tested positive for the Coronavirus, were being fed twice a day with extremely low quantities and quality of food. The following pictures speak for themselves.
To alleviate the quarantined Rangers’ predicament, a support group was set up in order to supplement their nutrition. Word quickly spread via social media, and in just a few days, the support group has managed to raise over ,000 and deliver food to the troops in need.
One of the quarantined troops reached out to those organizing the Ranger version of the Berlin airlift and said, “I’m one of the guys who unfortunately tested positive [for COVID-19] from 1/75, just wanted to reach out and personally say we all appreciate what you guys have done for us. . . before y’all showed up, we would all just get the scraps of whatever came through for food, but now man, that is definitely not the case anymore. We all really do appreciate it!”
The guys who are organizing and running the support service are clear that what they are doing is only to supplement the nutrition of the quarantined Rangers. They don’t have an issue with the leadership.
The whole issue signals a breakdown in communications. Broken down, the core duties of a leader are to achieve the mission and take care of his troops. You can easily discern good officers and non-commissioned officers from their actions. Are they last to eat or sleep while in the field? Do they help clean up after a long day at the range? If yes, then that’s a sign that they put their troops before their welfare and comfort. Good and timely communication is also important. You can honestly care about your troops but if you don’t communicate it or, reversely, encourage productive feedback, then your good intentions will fall short.
Furthermore, the situation suggests that the Army is still having trouble in addressing COVID-19 and potential quarantines. It seems like units just hope it won’t reach them rather be proactive about it and sufficiently prepare. As a consequence, they are forced to such hodgepodge reactions that result in troops not being fed enough.
The 75th Ranger Regiment is the premier direct action Special Operations unit of the U.S. military. It is comprised of three infantry battalions (1/75, 2/75, 3/75), a special troops battalion, and a military intelligence battalion.
This event is sure to produce second-order effects. With such poor treatment during a time of need, several Rangers will be looking to either move to other Special Operations units, such as the Special Forces Regiment or Delta Force, or leave the force altogether.
The quarantine is expected to last for approximately ten more days.
You can help out by visiting the GoFundMe page that has been set up by the members of the community.
It was Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist that said “Please, Sir, I want some more,” but it’s the quarantined Rangers who are living it.
Taliban officials have denied a report that its leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, died after contracting the coronavirus.
Foreign Policy magazine, citing unnamed Taliban officials, reported on June 1 that Mullah Akhundzada contracted COVID-19 and possibly died while receiving treatment abroad.
Foreign Policy quoted Mawlawi Mohammad Ali Jan Ahmad, a senior Taliban military official, as saying that Mullah Akhundzada was “sick” after contracting the virus but was “recovering.”
But three other Taliban figures in the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Taliban leadership is believed to be based, told Foreign Policy on condition of anonymity that they believed Akhunzada had died of the illness.
Foreign Policy said the coronavirus has stricken a number of senior Taliban leaders in Quetta and in Qatar, where the militant group has a political office.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid on June 2 denied that Mullah Akhundzada or any other senior leaders had contracted the disease or died.
In a tweet, Mujahid accused Foreign Policy of spreading “propaganda” and said Mullah Akhundzada was well and “busy with his daily activities.”
Sayed Mohammad Akbar Agha, a former Taliban military commander who lives in the Afghan capital, Kabul, told RFE/RL that the report of Mullah Akhundzada’s death was “untrue.”
But a Taliban official in Quetta told RFE/RL that he could neither confirm nor deny the leader’s death.
Mullah Akhundzada took over leadership of the Taliban after his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in May 2016.
The reclusive leader is a former Taliban chief justice and heads the militant group’s religious council.
An Islamic scholar, he is said to have strong religious credentials, and has been responsible for issuing fatwas, or Islamic decrees, to justify military and terrorist operations.
Taliban officials told Foreign Policy that Mullah Akhundzada had not been seen for the past three months and had not made any voice recordings.
Some Taliban sources in Quetta told Foreign Policy that Mullah Akhunzada went to Russia for treatment.
Foreign Policy reported that many of the Taliban’s senior leaders in Quetta had caught COVID-19, including Mullah Akhunzada’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network.
The network, a Taliban faction, is believed to have been behind some of the deadliest attacks on Afghan and international forces and civilians in Afghanistan.
With the top two leaders out of action, Foreign Policy reported that the Taliban was now being run by Mullah Mohammad Yuqub, the eldest son of the Taliban’s founder and spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Mullah Omar’s death was revealed in 2015, more than two years after he had died in Pakistan.
Mullah Yuqub is a graduate of a seminary in the Pakistani port city of Karachi.
Believed to be in his early 30s, he is said to have the backing of a considerable number of field commanders and the Taliban’s rank-and-file.
Experts say that Mullah Yuqub supports the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February that is aimed at negotiating an end to the 18-year Taliban insurgency.
It is unclear how a possible change in the Taliban leadership would affect that deal, which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which is committed to negotiating a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing arrangement with the Kabul government.
Army Spc. Gabriel D. Conde’s short life spanned the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, from the euphoria over the fleeting early successes to the current doubts about the new strategy to break what U.S. commanders routinely call a “stalemate.”
When Conde was six years old, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Taliban had been defeated and the Afghan people were now free “to create a better future.”
He was seven years old when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We’re at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities.”
When Conde was 12, then-President George W. Bush was at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to declare that “the Taliban is gone from power and it’s not coming back.”
In 2009, when Conde was 13, then-President Barack Obama said he would “make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”
He sent 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, with a timeline for their withdrawal.
Obama wanted the withdrawal to be complete by the time he left office, but he left behind about 8,500 U.S. troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban and a new enemy — an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or IS-K.
August 2017, when Conde was 21, President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan that discarded “nation building” in favor of a plan to drive the Taliban into peace talks and a negotiated settlement.
Trump acknowledged that his initial impulse was to pull U.S. troops out completely, but he agreed to boost troop levels from 8,500 to about 14,000.
The presence of U.S. troops would now be conditions-based and not subject to artificial timelines. “We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” Trump said.
Late April, 2018, the Taliban announced the start of its 16th annual spring offensive.
On May 1, 2018, when Conde was 22, he was killed by small-arms fire in the Tagab District of Kapisa province northeast of Kabul. A second U.S. soldier was wounded.
Conde, of Loveland, Colorado, served with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), of 25th Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. His unit was expected to return to Alaska at the end of May 2018.
Also on May 1, 2018, the Trump administration took official note of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan by granting political asylum to former Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force, who had been training in the U.S.
Through her lawyer, she had successfully argued to immigration authorities that the chaos in Afghanistan, and death threats against her and her family, made it impossible for her to return.
On the same day that Rahmani won asylum and Conde was killed, the latest in a wave of suicide bombings and terror attacks devastated the Shash Darak district of central Kabul in what Afghans call the “Green Zone.”
Two suicide bombers had slipped past the estimated 14 checkpoints surrounding the district, Afghanistan’s TOLOnews reported.
The first set off a blast and the second, reportedly disguised as a cameraman, joined a pack of reporters and photographers rushing to the scene and triggered a second explosion.
At least 30 people, including nine journalists, were killed. A 10th journalist was killed on the same day in an incident in Khost province. (Short biographies of the 10 journalists can be seen here.)
Mattis put on spot over attacks
In response to May 1, 2018’s events, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, echoed what other commanders and Pentagon officials have said so many times before during America’s longest war.
They mourned the loss of a valorous soldier and the victims of the bombings. They said the strategy of increased airpower and the buildup of Afghan special forces is showing progress. They pledged to stay the course.
At a session with Pentagon reporters May 1, 2018, Mattis said the Taliban are “on their back foot.”
The recent terror attacks show that they are desperate, he said.
“We anticipated they would do their best” to disrupt upcoming elections with a wave of bombings aimed at discouraging the Afghan people from voting, Mattis said.
“The Taliban realize the danger of the people being allowed to vote,” he added. “Their goal is to destabilize the elected government. This is the normal stuff by people who can’t win at the ballot box. They turn to bombs.”
At a welcoming ceremony on May 2, 2018, for the visiting Macedonian defense minister, Mattis was challenged on how he could point to progress amid the wave of bombings and a recent series of watchdog reports on widespread and continuing corruption in Afghanistan.
“The message from this building has consistently been that the situation is turning around, that things are improving there,” Mattis was told. “How do you reconcile this difference?”
“First, I don’t know that that’s been the message from this building. I would not subscribe to that,” Mattis said. “We said last August NATO is going to hold the line. We knew there would be tough fighting going forward.
“The murder of journalists and other innocent people is a great testimony to what it is we stand for and more importantly what we stand against,” he added.
“The Afghan military is being made more capable. You’ll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors. And these are the most effective forces,” Mattis said.
“We anticipated and are doing our best and have been successful at blocking many of these attacks on innocent people but, unfortunately, once in a while they get through because any terrorist organization that realizes it can’t win by ballots and turns to bombs — this is simply what they do. They murder innocent people,” he said.
For the long run, “We’ll stand by the Afghan people, we’ll stand by the Afghan government and the NATO mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement,” Mattis said.
Nicholson’s two-year plan to end the ‘Forever War’
“Actions like this only strengthen our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” Nicholson, who doubles as commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said after the bombings May 1, 2018, and the death of Conde.
“We offer our sincere condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with our Afghan partners in defeating those who would threaten the people of this country, whose cries for peace are being ignored,” he said.
Like many of his troops, the 60-year-old Nicholson, a West Point graduate, has served multiple tours in Afghanistan. When he was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 to succeed Army Gen. John Campbell as commander, he would go back to Afghanistan for the sixth time.
Since 9/11, “the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has largely defined my service” in 36 years in uniform, he told the Senate.
Nicholson is the son of Army Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, also a West Point graduate, and is distantly related the legendary British Brig. Gen. John Nicholson (1821-1857), who fought in the First Anglo-Afghan War.
Early on in his command, Nicholson was at the forefront on the military advisers who convinced Obama to approve the expansion of the air campaign against the Taliban and IS-K. In February 2017, he began arguing for more troops to partner with the Afghan National Defense Security Forces.
Mattis later signed off on what was essentially Nicholson’s plan. And Trump, in coordination with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, authorized it in an address to the nation in August 2017.
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)
In a video conference from Kabul to the Pentagon in November 2017, Nicholson said it would take about two years to bring 80 percent of Afghanistan under government control and drive the Taliban into peace talks.
“Why 80 percent? Because we think that gives them [the Afghans] a critical mass where they control 80. The Taliban are driven to less than 10 percent of the population; maybe the rest is contested,” Nicholson said.
“And this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they’re living in these remote, outlying areas, or they reconcile — or they die, of course, is the third choice,” he said.
Nicholson’s remarks contrasted with a simultaneous report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office.
In his foreword to the IG’s quarterly report, Acting IG Glenn Fine said, “During the quarter, Taliban insurgents continued to attack Afghan forces and fight for control of districts, and ISIS-K terrorists launched high-profile attacks across the country.”
Fine added, “Internal political tensions increased in Afghanistan, and corruption remained a key challenge to governance despite positive steps by Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Justice Center.”
Fine also said that maintaining the accuracy of future IG reports made available to the public is becoming more difficult, since key statistical measures are now being classified.
“When producing this report, we were notified that information that was previously publicly released regarding attrition, casualties, readiness, and personnel strength of Afghan forces that we had included in prior Lead IG reports was now classified,” Fine said. “In addition, we were advised that ratings of Afghan government capabilities were now classified.”
The strategy — what strategy?
In announcing the strategy for Afghanistan in August 2017, Trump made clear that he was doing so with grave misgivings.
“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he said.
The skeptics are many. “Why would anybody call this a strategy? We declared we wanted to win, but we didn’t change anything fundamentally that we’re doing,” retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told Military.com.
The focus now, as it has been for years, is on building up the Afghan military into a more effective force capable of holding and administering territory retaken from the Taliban, he said, “but that army assumes the existence of a functioning government.”
“We are creating a military that assumes the existence of a state that does not exist,” said Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.
“What it boils down to is that we can’t decide what we want,” Dempsey said. “The only consensus we have on Afghanistan is that we don’t want to lose.”
In her analysis of the Trump administration’s strategy, Brookings Institution scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote that the president basically had three options — “full military withdrawal, limited counterterrorism engagement, and staying in the country with slightly increased military deployments and intense political engagement.”
“The option the Trump administration chose — staying in Afghanistan with a somewhat enlarged military capacity — is the least bad option,” Felbab-Brown said.
“Thus, the Trump administration’s announced approach to Afghanistan is not a strategy for victory,” she said.
“Staying on militarily buys the United States hope that eventually the Taliban may make enough mistakes to seriously undermine its power,” she said. “However, that is unlikely unless Washington starts explicitly insisting on better governance and political processes in the Afghan government.”
Watchdog reports contrast with claims of progress
The goal of better governance is dependent on an Afghan military as the enabler, but the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said May 2, 2018, that the number of Afghan soldiers and police has declined sharply in the past year.
In a report, SIGAR said that the combined strength of the military and police dropped nearly 11 percent over the past year, from about 331,700 in January 2017 to about 296,400 this January, well below the total authorized strength of 334,000.
“Building up the Afghan forces is a top priority for the U.S. and our international allies, so it is worrisome to see Afghan force strength decreasing,” John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, told reporters.
At the end of January 2018, insurgents controlled or had influence over 14 percent of the Afghanistan’s 407 districts, SIGAR said, while the Afghan government controlled or influenced 56 percent. The remaining districts were contested, SIGAR said.
The report also noted the significant increase in the air campaign: “The total of 1,186 munitions dropped in the first quarter of 2018 is the highest number recorded for this period since reporting began in 2013, and is over two and a half times the amount dropped in the first quarter of 2017.”
In addition, the report indicated that Nicholson’s plan to bomb drug production centers and have the Afghan military interdict shipments in an effort to cut off Taliban funding was having little effect.
“From 2008 through March 20, 2018, over 3,520 interdiction operations resulted in the seizure of 463,342 kilograms of opium. But the sum of these seizures over nearly a decade would account for less than 0.05% of the opium produced in Afghanistan in 2017 alone,” SIGAR said.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has invested more than $850 billion in the war and efforts to bolster the Afghan government, but a recent drumbeat of reports from SIGAR and the Pentagon Inspector General’s office have highlighted widespread and continuing corruption.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in April 2018, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, called on Army Secretary Mark Esper to justify a $50 million contract that SIGAR charged was used to buy luxury cars such as Alfa Romeos and Bentleys for Afghan officials and pay for $400,000 salaries for no-show jobs.
“Please tell me that a senator 20 years from now is not going to be sitting here and going, ‘How in the world are taxpayers paying for Alfa Romeos and Bentleys?’ ” McCaskill said.
‘We’ve kind of been going about it wrong’
As of March 2018, there were roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, according to U.S. officials.
Of the 14,000, about 7,800 of these troops were assigned to NATO’s Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.
The 7,800 number reflects an increase of 400 personnel from the deployment of the Army’s first Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB, to Afghanistan.
In February 2018, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a report on what those troops can be expected to accomplish this year that was at odds with the upbeat assessments of Mattis and Nicholson.
“The overall situation in Afghanistan probably will deteriorate modestly this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency” and the “unsteady” performance of the Afghan military performance, the DNI’s report said.
Afghan troops “probably will maintain control of most major population centers with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centers under continued strain,” the report said.
Mattis and Nicholson have singled out the SFAB as a key component in reforming and refining the operations of the Afghan security forces.
The SFAB concept takes specially selected non-commissioned and commissioned officers, preferably with experience in Afghanistan, and assigns them the train, advise and assist role in place of conventional Brigade Combat Team units.
Before the deployment, Army 1st Sgt. Shaun Morgan, a company senior enlisted leader with the SFAB, told Stars & Stripes that there were no illusions about the difficulty of the job ahead.
“So, we’ve been kind of going about it wrong for a while, I think,” Morgan said. “Maybe this is an opportunity to get on the right foot toward getting it right.”
Previously in Afghanistan, “we couldn’t get it through our heads that we weren’t the fighters,” Morgan told Stripes in a reference to the role of U.S. troops as partners and advisers to the Afghans who were to take the lead in combat.
“I think the bosses decided maybe this is the right shot, and it just makes sense to me,” Morgan said.
The Afghans also were under no illusions on the continuing threats posed by the Taliban and other insurgents, and the risks they take to go about their daily lives.
Shah Marai Faizi, the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse in the Kabul bureau, was among the nine journalists killed in May 1, 2018’s suicide bombings in Kabul. He was the father of six, including a newborn daughter.
In 2017, Shah Marai wrote an essay titled “When Hope Is Gone” that was read in part on the Democracy Now cable program.
“Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity,” he wrote. “I don’t dare to take my children for a walk. I have five, and they spend their time cooped up inside the house. I have never felt life to have so little prospects, and I don’t see a way out.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
As most of you are aware, in the last several months the US Navy has suffered two collisions at sea. On 17 June the USS Fitzgerald lost 7 Sailors and on 21 August, the USS McCain lost 10 Sailors. The Surface Warfare community has not experienced such a loss in nearly 30 years since the explosion on the USS Iowa that killed 47 sailors.
After the collisions, I have quietly tried to make sense of what happened. I have just recently returned to the Surface Warfare community after spending the majority of my career working in the world of Naval Special Warfare. At this point, I am an outsider looking in and trying to learn about my new environment, and to make sure I am pulling more than my weight of the work load.
While trying to understand what happened, I have made the mistake of reading comments posted on Social Media of what people think happened. Comments from people from all walks of life and most who seem to have never served a day in their life in the Navy or on a Warship. One comment has particularly bothered me. After the Navy announced the firing of several Admirals, including a Command Master Chief, one podcaster stated the collisions happened because the “Navy has gone soft.”
I want to assure anyone reading this: The United States Navy has never been stronger than it is today.
I know it’s hard for most of us to remember a time that the US has not been engaged in war. We have been in Afghanistan for 16 years and Iraq for 13 years. No one knows that better than pre 9/11 service members, especially given there are very few of us still on Active Duty. But before Operation Enduring and Operation Iraqi Freedom, during the time that most Army units were running training evolutions, the Navy was steadily deploying around the world to carry the Big Stick. Before Bosnia, before the Gulf War, before Panama, before Vietnam, before the Korean War….The Navy has quietly and steadily deployed during War Time and during Peace time since its inception 241 years ago.
No one does it better than we do.
As I have stepped back into the Surface Navy, I have done so with very little experience and official Surface Warfare qualifications. So I have started at the bottom of the training pipeline with 18 and 19 year old Seaman and brand new Junior Officers.
Classes are typically taught by senior 1st Class Petty Officers and Chiefs, and some are taught by trusted 2nd Class Petty Officers. Most of the training has been done “in house” and the instructors still have a day job. Some of the Instructors are Gunners Mates and are responsible for any and all aspects of ammunition on board the ship, whether its 9mm rounds, 5 inch rounds, or highly precise, multimillion dollar missiles.
In addition to teaching, managing their daily tasks and subordinates, most of the instructors are also balancing Duty. Duty is not their day job. It’s the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job of ensuring proper security is being maintained on the ship and making sure the ship is ready to start to get underway if needed. Duty is broken down into sections and each Sailor essentially works for 24 hours a day once or twice a week. A sailor may work a normal work day and then stand watch in the middle of the night, and is expected to work a full day the next work day, only running on a few hours of sleep and lots of caffeine.
The overwhelming amount of hours spent working on the ship each week is more than anything I have seen during my time in NSW. Like most jobs in the military, it’s a thankless job that most Sailors never truly see the results of their labors. And to my astonishment over the last few months, the Sailors don’t complain about the work on the ship. They complain about the food. They complain when the coffee grounds run low. The Junior Enlisted complain about the Junior Officers. The Junior Officers quietly complain about the Senior Officers, And the Chiefs complain about everyone.
But when the bells ring, everyone is beside each other backing up the other one so the ship can get the attention it needs. They are a family. And like any family, there are of course some dysfunctional members, but as a whole, it’s an amazing thing watching these crews breathing life into Warships.
I can’t speak to high level policy decisions that happen in the beltway, or even administrative orders from Millington, but I can speak to the level of dedication at the lower levels. Sailors are hardworking. They are unruly at times, but will back each other up when its time. They are professional, and know their jobs because that’s what Sailors do. They work long hours, more than most will ever know, and they do it when Wars end and people forget ships are still required at Sea. At times, they work in terrible conditions covered in grease and smelling of Jet fuel and only a few hours of sleep, and often for weeks or months with no days off.
They are the hardest Sailors in the world.
While recent events are heartbreaking, I want to assure everyone that the United States Navy is still the strongest Naval force this earth has ever seen. Horrendous mistakes were made on the USS Fitzgerald and the USS McCain, but these ships were good ships and had good crews. These were also extremely hard worked ships ported in foreign piers.
And as of right now, the Navy has acknowledged that training in specific areas fell short. With that in mind, remember the Navy has kept ships out to Sea for 241 years. Even as you read this, there are 10’s of thousands of Sailors somewhere in the world, fiercely carrying the Navy’s Honor wherever they go. The Navy will correct the course and continue to provide diplomacy wherever is needed.
Dozens of Nigerian state governors on Dec. 14 approved the transfer of $1 billion to aid the federal government’s fight against the deadly Boko Haram insurgency, signaling that previous announcements of victory over the Islamic extremists had come too soon.
Attacks have increased in recent weeks as Boko Haram turns to using women and children, often abducted and indoctrinated, as suicide bombers to target cities and towns in the country’s vast northeast.
Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki said 36 state leaders approved the transfer of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account, which is used to hold revenues from oil production and protect planned budgets from shortfalls due to volatile crude prices.
The transfer makes up nearly half of the $2.3 billion held in the account. The $1 billion will be spent on purchasing security equipment, procuring intelligence, and logistics. The decision was made during a meeting of the National Economic Council.
Weapons procurement for the fight against Boko Haram has been marred by a massive corruption scandal in a country where graft is widespread. Nigeria’s former national security adviser faces criminal charges alleging that $2.1 billion meant to buy arms was diverted.
President Muhammadu Buhari a year ago announced that Boko Haram had been “crushed” after the military flushed the extremists from forest strongholds. A series of high-profile attacks this year, however, led to a military shuffle.
Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency has proven to be one of Africa’s more persistent threats, killing more than 20,000 people, spilling over into neighboring countries and displacing millions in a vast humanitarian crisis. Nigeria was part of a massive aid appeal by the U.N. secretary-general early this year for four countries, including Somalia, Yemen, and South Sudan, where mass hunger is fueled by conflict.
Aid groups have despaired that such appeals for Nigeria’s crisis remain underfunded.
President Donald Trump on Dec. 12 signed a massive defense bill that authorizes everything from troop pay raises to military end strength in fiscal 2018.
The Fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, authorizes about $700 billion for the Defense Department, including $634 billion for the base budget and $66 billion for the war budget. The figures are targets, and Congress still faces a year-end deadline to pass an accompanying spending bill to keep the government running.
Even so, the authorization bill approved by Congress includes numerous policy-related provisions, many of which are in line with what the president requested, though it authorized additional funding for higher pay raises, more weapons, and more troops.
“History teaches us that when you weaken your defenses, you invite aggression,” Trump said before signing the bill. “The best way to prevent conflict of any kind is to be prepared. Only when the good are strong will peace prevail.”
The president added, “Today, with the signing of this defense bill, we accelerate the process of fully restoring America’s military might. This legislation will enhance our readiness and modernize our forces and help provide our service members with the tools they need to fight and win.”
Trump acknowledged Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for their work in preparing the bipartisan bill. He also called on Congress to eliminate spending caps known as sequestration and approve a “clean” appropriations bill.
So what’s in the defense authorization bill for you? Here’s a rundown of the top changes:
2.4% troop pay raise
Troops will see a 2.4 percent pay raise in 2018. That’s the largest year-over-year increase service members have received since 2010.
20,000 more troops
The military will grow by some 20,000 troops. The Army will increase by 7,500 soldiers, the Navy by 4,000 sailors, the Marine Corps by 1,000 Marines, and the Air Force by about 4,100 airmen. Reserve forces will grow by about 3,400 reservists.
Previously, many retirees and military dependents paid nothing for many prescriptions. That’s about to change, as co-pays will increase under the Tricare pharmacy program. The increases won’t apply to disabled retirees, their dependents, and dependents of service members who died on active duty.
Cuts “Widow’s Tax”
The bill reduces the so-called “Widow’s Tax” by making permanent the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance, or SSIA, which pays $310 a month to military widows and widowers whose Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments were offset as a result of receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
License rebates for spouses
Military spouses who get a new professional license or certification after a permanent change of station move will be able to apply for a $500 rebate from the Defense Department.
Eases PCS moves
The bill authorizes a program to allow some families of troops who are changing duty stations to move before or after the service member for job, school or other reasons. The initiative also allows the service member to utilize government housing, if available.
Reservist health care
The legislation mandates for all mobilized Reserve Component members to receive pre-mobilization and transitional health care.
Criminalizes revenge porn
The bill allows for court-martial punishment for troops who engage in so-called “revenge porn,” or the unauthorized sharing or distribution of “an intimate visual image of a private area of another person.”
Creates training database
The legislation authorizes the creation of a new database to record all training completed by military members. This information will be made available to employers and states to help veterans get certifications or licenses, or claim their military experience when applying for a civilian job.
Retirees as recruiters
The bill calls for the creation of a pilot program to use retired senior enlisted Army National Guard members as recruiters.
1911s for commercial sale
The bill would allow recently confirmed Army Secretary Mark Esper to transfer 8,000 or more of the Army’s iconic .45-caliber M1911/M1911A1 pistols, spare parts and related accessories to the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice and Firearms Safety as part of a two-year pilot program.
The Navy has released its emerging Long Range Anti-Ship Missile from an F/A-18 Super Hornet, marking a new milestone in the development of a next-generation, long range, semi-autonomous weapon designed to track and destroy enemy targets – firing from aircraft and ships.
A Long Range Anti-Ship Missile was successfully released earlier this month from a U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, a Lockheed Martin statement said.
The weapon, called the LRASM, is a collaborative effort between Lockheed, the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advanced Project Research Agency, or DARPA.
The test involved a “jettison release” of the first LRASM from the Super Hornet, used to validate the aerodynamic separation models of the missile, Lockheed developers said. The test event was designed to pave the way for flight clearance to conduct captive carry integration testing scheduled for mid-year at the Navy Air Weapons Station, China Lake, California.
The LRASM, which is 168-inches long and 2,500 pounds, is currently configured to fire from an Air Force B-1B bomber, Navy surface ship Vertical Launch Tubes and a Navy F-18 carrier-launched fighter. The current plan is to have the weapon operational on board an Air Force B-1B bomber and a Navy F-18 by 2019, Navy statements have said.
“The first time event of releasing LRASM from the F/A-18E/F is a major milestone towards meeting early operational capability in 2019,” Mike Fleming, Lockheed Martin LRASM program director, said in a written statement.
With a range of at least 200 nautical miles, LRASM is designed to use next-generation guidance technology to help track and eliminate targets such as enemy ships, shallow submarines, drones, aircraft and land-based targets.
Navy officials told Scout Warrior that the service is making progress with an acquisition program for the air-launched variant of LRASM but is still in the early stages of planning for a ship-launch anti-ship missile.
“The objective is to give Sailors the ability to strike high-value targets from longer ranges while avoiding counter fire. The program will use autonomous guidance to find targets, reducing reliance on networking, GPS and other assets that could be compromised by enemy electronic weapons,” a Navy statement said.
Alongside the preparation of LRASM as an “air-launched” weapon, Lockheed Martin is building a new deck-mounted launcher for the emerging engineered to semi-autonomously track and destroy enemy targets at long ranges from surface ships.
The missile has also been test fired from a Navy ship-firing technology called Vertical Launch Systems currently on both cruisers and destroyers – as a way to provide long range surface-to-surface and surface-to-air offensive firepower.
The Navy will likely examine a range of high-tech missile possibilities to meet its requirement for a long-range anti-ship missile — and Lockheed is offering LRASM as an option for the Navy to consider. .
A deck-mounted firing technology, would enable LRASM to fire from a much wider range of Navy ships, to include the Littoral Combat Ship and its more survivable variant, called a Frigate, Scott Callaway, Surface-Launched LRASM program manager, Lockheed Martin, told Scout Warrior in an interview last year.
“We developed a new topside or deck-mounted launcher which can go on multiple platforms or multiple ships such as an LCS or Frigates,” Callaway said.
The adaptation of the surface-launcher weapon, which could be operational by the mid-2020s, would use the same missile that fires from a Mk 41 Vertical Launch System and capitalize upon some existing Harpoon-launching technology, Callaway added.
Along with advances in electronic warfare, cyber-security and communications, LRASM is design to bring semi-autonomous targeting capability to a degree that does not yet exist. As a result, some of its guidance and seeker technology is secret, developers have said.
The goal of the program is to engineer a capable semi-autonomous, surface and air-launched weapon able to strike ships, submarines and other moving targets with precision. While many aspects of the high-tech program are secret, Lockheed officials say the available information is that the missile has a range of at least 200 nautical miles.
Once operational, LRASM will give Navy ships a more a short and long-range missile with an advanced targeting and guidance system able to partially guide its way to enemy targets and achieve pinpoint strikes in open or shallow water.
LRASM employs a multi-mode sensor, weapon data link and an enhanced digital anti-jam global positioning system to detect and destroy specific targets within a group of ships, Lockheed officials said.
LRASM is engineered with all-weather capability and a multi-modal seeker designed to discern targets, Lockheed officials said. The multi-mode sensor, weapon data link and an enhanced digital anti-jam global positioning system can detect and destroy specific targets within a group of ships, Lockheed officials said.
LRASM is armed with a proven 1,000-pound penetrator and blast-fragmentation warhead, Lockheed officials said.
The development of LRASM is entirely consistent with the Navy’s emerging “distributed lethality” strategy which seeks to better arm the fleet with long-range precision offensive and defensive fire power.
Part of the rationale to move back toward open or “blue water” combat capability against near peer competitors emphasized during the Cold War. While the strategic and tactical capability never disappeared, it was emphasized less during the last 10-plus years of ground wars wherein the Navy focused on counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and things like Visit Board Search and Seizure. These missions are, of course, still important, however the Navy seeks to substantially increase its offensive “lethality” in order to deter or be effective against high-tech adversaries.
Having longer-range or over-the-horizon ship and air-launched weapons is also quite relevant to the “distributed” portion of the strategy which calls for the fleet to have an ability to disperse as needed. Having an ability to spread out and conduct dis-aggregated operations makes Navy forces less vulnerable to enemy firepower while. At the same time, have long-range precision-strike capability will enable the Navy to hold potential enemies at risk or attack if needed while retaining safer stand-off distance from incoming enemy fire.
The United States has approved a $330 million arms deal with China’s neighbor Taiwan, in a move set to further increase tensions between Beijing and Washington amidst the escalating trade war, The South China Morning Post reported.
The news comes as China said on Sept. 24, 2018, that it was impossible to hold trade talks with the US while Washington’s tariffs are like “a knife” to China’s neck, following a fresh $200 billion of tariffs on China, and US President Donald Trump’s threat of $267 billion more.
The proposed arms deal which was announced on Sept. 24, 2018, by the Pentagon and will be put before the US Congress would include parts for F16 and F5 fighter jets, C130 cargo planes, Taiwan’s Indigenous Defence Fighter, and other aircraft systems.
The sale will contribute to the “foreign policy and national security of the United States,” the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said, adding that Taiwan “continues to be an important force for political stability, military balance and economic progress in the region.”
Taiwan has welcomed the move, and said that the deal helps the independent nation off the coast of China strengthen its defenses and deal with the challenges from Beijing. A spokesperson for the presidential office of Taiwan said, it would boost confidence in the face of “severe” security challenges, adding “We greatly appreciate that the US government takes note of the national security of Taiwan.”
President Donald Trump.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
China sees Taiwan as its sovereign territory, and as a breakaway province that must be united with the mainland by force if necessary. China has previously warned the US not to sell weapons to the country or establish close military ties there, the South China Morning Post reported.
The sale which is not yet finalized is the second under Trump following a id=”listicle-2607841195″.4 billion sale in June 2017 that also prompted anger from Beijing.
Critics of the deal in Washington said it bows to the wishes of Chinese opposition including US defence secretary, Mike Pompeo who criticised the Obama administration for delaying weapons sales to the area.
Officials in Taipei and Washington say it is now likely that the Trump administration will resume regular weapons sales to Taiwan, the Financial Times reported.
The escalating tensions come in the context of China rejecting an invitation for official talks in Washington, with its vice commerce minister, Wang Shouwen saying, “Now that the US has adopted this type of large-scale trade restrictions, they’re holding a knife to someone’s throat. Under these circumstances, how can negotiations proceed?”
US military officials said On Sept. 23, 2018, that the Chinese government denied permission for a US Navy ship to do a port visit in Hong Kong in October 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported. The denial comes amid escalating tensions between the countries over both economic and military issues.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.