Round, smooth and iridescent, pearls are among the world’s most exquisite jewels; now, these gems are inspiring a U.S. Army research project to improve military armor.
By mimicking the outer coating of pearls (nacre, or as it’s more commonly known, mother of pearl), researchers at University at Buffalo, funded by the Army Research Office (ARO), created a lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter (less dense) than steel and ideal for absorbing the impact of bullets and other projectiles.
ARO is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory.
The research findings are published in the journal ACS Applied Polymer Materials, and its earlier publication in J. Phys. Chem. Lett. (see related links below)
“The material is stiff, strong and tough,” said Dr. Shenqiang Ren, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, a member of University at Buffalo’s RENEW Institute, and the paper’s lead author. “It could be applicable to vests, helmets and other types of body armor, as well as protective armor for ships, helicopters and other vehicles.”
Round, smooth and iridescent, pearls are among the world’s most exquisite jewels; now, these gems inspire U.S. Army researchers looking to improve military armor.
The bulk of the material is a souped-up version of polyethylene (the most common plastic) called ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE, which is used to make products like artificial hips and guitar picks.
When designing the UHMWPE, the researchers studied mother of pearl, which mollusks create by arranging a form of calcium carbonate into a structure that resembles interlocking bricks. Like mother of pearl, the researchers designed the material to have an extremely tough outer shell with a more flexible inner backing that’s capable of deforming and absorbing projectiles.
“Professor Ren’s work designing UHMWPE to dramatically improve impact strength may lead to new generations of lightweight armor that provide both protection and mobility for soldiers,” said Dr. Evan Runnerstrom, program manager, materials design, ARO. “In contrast to steel or ceramic armor, UHMWPE could also be easier to cast or mold into complex shapes, providing versatile protection for soldiers, vehicles, and other Army assets.”
A new lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter (less dense) than steel may lead to next-generation military armor.
(University at Buffalo)
This is what’s known as soft armor, in which soft yet tightly woven materials create what is essentially a very strong net capable of stopping bullets. KEVLAR is a well-known example.
The material the research team developed also has high thermal conductivity. This ability to rapidly dissipate heat further helps it to absorb the energy of bullets and other projectiles.
The team further experimented with the UHMWPE by adding silica nanoparticles, finding that tiny bits of the chemical could enhance the material’s properties and potentially create stronger armor.
“This work demonstrates that the right materials design approaches have the potential to make big impacts for Army technologies,” Runnerstrom said.
In 1966, the Marines in Vietnam found themselves with an unusual opportunity – to turn the tables on the enemy.
This came by way of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese defectors who were willing to be retrained to work and fight with American combat units. In exchange, they would receive better treatment and pay than they had at the hands of the communists.
This program dubbed “Chieu Hoi” (translated as “open arms”) offered defecting Viet Cong and North Vietnamese amnesty, healthcare, money, and employment assistance. After barely surviving under communist oppression, many were more than willing to give it up.
Kit Carson scouts were recruited from Vietcong defectors for their knowledge of the terrain and the local population. (Photo from AirborneOCS.com)
These incentives were enough to convince thousands of Viet Cong to desert and join the Americans. Due to their inherent knowledge of the terrain and the locals, the Marines called them Kit Carson scouts after the famous American frontiersman.
To the Vietnamese they were Hoi Chanh – or “one who has returned.”
To prepare for missions with American forces, communist defectors first had to pass training to become Kit Carson scouts.
For the 3rd Marine Division, an early proponent of the Kit Carson program, this training took place at Quang Tri City. Sergeant Maj. Tran Van Tranh, a communist infiltrator who defected when he saw the good life in South Vietnam, led the school there.
At the school he lectured on mines, booby-traps, snipers, and ambushes. And how to detect and disarm each one.
In 1967, after seeing the effectiveness of the program with the Marines, U.S. commander Gen. William Westmoreland ordered all divisions to recruit and train at least 100 scouts each.
Other schools with other divisions soon followed. In the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division the Hoi Chanhs became known as Tiger Scouts.
Despite their training and experience many Kit Carson Scouts lacked English language skills. This was overcome in the Marine Corps by training young Marines in the Vietnamese language prior to arriving in country. These Marines were then assigned as “handlers” to the scouts assigned to their unit.
The Kit Carson Scouts were able to perform numerous tasks that made them priceless to the American fighting men. They were able to talk to the local Vietnamese in their native language and could identify Viet Cong guerrillas in the villages.
Through their training and experience they became adept at spotting booby traps – often having laid some themselves – saving countless Americans from death and dismemberment.
Due to the nature of their work and being out in front of American forces the Kit Carson scouts often found themselves engaged in combat as well. Relying on their guerrilla instincts and proper military training from the Americans, they excelled.
Many were recommended for awards for their bravery.
The scouts proved their value early on. In a short period of time in late 1966 the few Kit Carson Scouts assigned to the Marines were credited with nearly 50 enemy kills and the detection of nearly 20 mines, booby-traps, or tunnels.
Another scout led Marines through unfamiliar territory, at night, allowing them to surprise and capture a 15-man contingent of Viet Cong.
In another instance, a scout on patrol with Recon Marines fought savagely when the unit was ambushed. His suppressive fire in the face of overwhelming odds drove the enemy back. He then located a suitable landing zone for extraction and single-handedly carried two wounded Marines there. It was only after he fell, exhausted, while working to clear the landing zone that the Marines realized he had been shot three times but had never stopped.
The usefulness of the Kit Carson Scouts did not stop on the battlefield though.
They were equally as valuable in civil affairs and psychological operations due to their understanding of the local population and the enemy. Most importantly, they could help recruit more Viet Cong to rally to the government’s cause.
In total, over 83,000 Viet Cong were convinced to defect to South Vietnam, though only a small number would become Kit Carson Scouts.
In a paper detailing his experiences as the Officer in Charge of Kit Carson Scouts for the 3rd Marine Division Capt. William Cowan explained “the methods of effective Scout employment are restricted only by the imagination…success varies proportionally with the unit’s attitude and methods of employment.”
He gives the example of a Kit Carson Scout, Nguyen Thuong, who worked with 2nd Battalion 9th Marines. This particular scout could do it all.
In one instance Thuong discovered a well-concealed trap but because of his experience he suspected an enemy observation post in the area. His keen instinct was correct and the Marines were able to sweep through and destroy it.
In a later mission, Thuong braved enemy mortars to determine their firing position and called out the coordinates, in English, to the Marines who were able to call for fire and silence the position.
Thuong also made broadcasts for the Marines psychological operations efforts and acted as a clandestine agent in the villages around the Cam Lo artillery base. His intelligence gathering was far superior to anything the Marines could hope to accomplish on their own.
The service of men like Thuong proved invaluable to the overall war effort. By wars end over 200 Kit Carson Scouts had been killed in action out of less than 3,000 who served with the Americans.
The Navy has been testing a railgun that could see deployment on the guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt and her sister ships. The goal is to get the railgun to not only be able to fire its projectiles to a range of 110 nautical miles, but to increase the rate of fire to as many as ten rounds a minute.
The long range is only one of the many advantages. Another is improved safety. Gunpowder can be very volatile, as a number of British battlecruisers found out at Jutland and at the Denmark Straits. The battleship USS Arizona (BB 39) also found out about how bad a gunpowder explosion in the wrong place at the wrong time can be.
The approach also saves money, and provides for more ammo capacity. The gunpowder is expensive to safely store, has to be purchased, and it takes up spaces in the ship. All of those factors end up making the ship design more expensive.
The railgun testing is slated to take place over the summer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Virginia. One of the big issues will be to quantify how much electrical power will be needed to send the rounds downrange.
Forget what you saw in 2009’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” when an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer took out the Decepticon Devastator. Only the Zumwalt-class destroyers have the electrical power capacity to use a railgun.
Another is addressing the issue of barrel wear – largely because it is sending the mail downrange at Mach 6.
Dr. Tom Beutner of the Office of Naval Research notes that the barrel wear issue is being fixed, saying, “They’ve extended the launcher core life from tens of shots’ core life when program started to something that’s now been fired over 400 times and … we anticipate barrels will be able to do over 1,000 shots.”
Watch the video of the Navy testing the railgun’s autoloader below:
The sister of the North Korean leader on Feb. 9 2018 became the first member of her family to visit South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War as part of a high-level delegation attending the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Arriving on her brother Kim Jong Un’s white private jet for a three-day visit, Kim Yo Jong and the country’s 90-year-old nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam are scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Feb. 10 in a luncheon at Seoul’s presidential palace.
Dressed in a black coat, carrying a black shoulder bag, and hit with a barrage of camera flashes, Kim Yo Jong smiled as a group of South Korean officials, including Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, greeted her and the rest of the delegates at a meeting room at Incheon International Airport.
The North Koreans — also including Choe Hwi, chairman of the country’s National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North’s agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs — then moved down a floor on an escalator to board a high-speed train to Pyeongchang.
Moon has been trying to use the games as an opportunity to revive meaningful communication with North Korea after a period of diplomatic stalemate and eventually pull it into talks over resolving the international standoff over its nuclear program.
The last time a South Korean president invited North Korean officials to the presidential Blue House was in November 2007, when late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, the political mentor of Moon, hosted then-North Korean premier Kim Yong Il for a luncheon following a meeting between the countries’ senior officials.
Skeptics say North Korea, which is unlikely to give up its nukes under any deal, is just using the Olympics to poke holes at the U.S.-led international sanctions against the country and buy more time to further advance its strategic weaponry.
The North Korean delegation’s arrival came a day after Kim Jong Un presided over a massive military parade in Pyongyang that was highlighted by the country’s developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles, which in three flight tests last year showed potential ability to reach deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.
South Korean media have been speculating about whether Kim will send a personal message to Moon through his sister and, if so, whether it would include a proposal for a summit between the two leaders.
Kim Yo Jong, believed to be around 30, is the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to visit the South since the Korean War.
As first vice director of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, Kim has been an increasingly prominent figure in North Korea’s leadership and is considered one of the few people who has earned her brother’s absolute trust.
Analysts say the North’s decision to send her to the Olympics shows an ambition to break out from diplomatic isolation and pressure by improving relations with the South, which it could use as a bridge for approaching the United States.
By sending a youthful, photogenic person who will undoubtedly attract international attention during the games, North Korea may also be trying to craft a fresher public image and defang any U.S. effort to use the Olympics to highlight the North’s brutal human rights record.
South Korea has yet to announce a confirmed schedule for the North Korean delegates aside from their participation in the opening ceremony and the Feb. 8 luncheon with Moon.
There’s a possibility that they would attend the debut of the first-ever inter-Korean Olympic team at the women’s ice hockey tournament, hours after their meeting with Moon. They could also see a performance by a visiting North Korean art troupe in Seoul before heading back to Pyongyang.
The North has sent nearly 500 people to the Pyeongchang Games, including officials, athletes, artists and also a 230-member state-trained cheering group after the war-separated rivals agreed to a series of conciliatory gestures for the games.
Moon, a liberal whose presidential win in May last year ended a decade of conservative rule in Seoul, has always expressed a willingness to reach out to the North. His efforts received a boost when Kim Jong Un in his New Year’s Day speech called for improved ties between the Koreas and expressed willingness to send athletes to Pyeongchang.
This led to a series of talks where the Koreas agreed to have its delegates jointly march during the opening ceremony under a blue-and-white “unification” flag and field a combined team in women’s ice hockey. A North Korean art troupe also performed in Gangneung on Feb. 8 2018 and will perform in Seoul on Feb. 11 2018 before heading back home.
Critics say that South Korea while cooperating with its rival over the Olympics allowed itself to play into the hands of the North which is apparently trying to use the games to weaken sanctions.
South Korea allowed the North to use a 9,700-ton ferry to transport more than 100 artists to perform at the Olympics, treating it as an exemption to maritime sanctions it imposed on its rival, and is now considering whether to accept the North’s request to supply fuel for the ship.
While neither Kim Yo Jong nor Kim Yong Nam are among the North Korean officials blacklisted under U.N. sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department last year included Kim Yo Jong on its list of blacklisted officials over her position as vice director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department.
The U.N. committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea has proposed granting an exemption for Choe, who has been on the U.N. sanctions blacklist since last June.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fires flares during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve June 21, 2017. The F-15, a component of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, supports U.S. and coalition forces working to liberate territory and people under the control of ISIS.
U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Fesler, 1st Fighter Wing commander, looks back to his wingman during his final F-22 Raptor flight over Charlottesville, Va., June 21, 2017. The Raptor is a 5th-generation fighter jet that combines stealth, supercruise, maneuverability and integrated avionics.
Soldiers of the 100th Battalion donned Ghillie suits, June 18, 2017, in preparation for their mock ambush on opposing forces during their annual training at Kahuku Training Area.
An M1A1 Abrams from Task Force Dagger plays the role of Opposing Forces at Fort Hood, Texas, to provide the 278th Armored Brigade Combat Team with a near-peer opponent during the unit’s eXportable Combat Training Capability rotation May 30 – June 21. Task Force Dagger consisted of the 116th Brigade Engineer Battalion’s forces and was supplemented by units from five other states during the exercise.
The Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler USNS Yukon (T-AO 202) is underway alongside the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100) during a replenishment-at-sea. Kidd is underway with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group on a scheduled deployment to the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) prepare to participate in an M9 pistol shoot on the ship’s port aircraft elevator. The ship and its ready group are deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations designed to reassure allies and partners, and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region.
Marine Special Operations School Individual Training Course students fire an M249 squad automatic weapon during night-fire training April 13, 2017, at Camp Lejeune. For the first time, U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Airmen spent three months in Marine Special Operations Command’s initial Marine Raider training pipeline, representing efforts to build joint mindsets across special operations forces.
U.S. Marines of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, exit a CH-53E from Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 772, 4th Marine Air Wing, MARFORRES, to perform a rehearsal for the Air Assault Course as a part of the battalion final exercise for Integrated Training Exercise 4-17 at Camp Wilson, Marine Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, June 21, 2017. ITX is a Marine Air Ground Task Force integration training exercise featuring combined arms training events that incorporate live fire and maneuver.
A 25-foot Response Boat-Small boatcrew from Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu (91107) conducts a coastal safety and security patrol while escorting Hōkūleʻa, a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe, back to Magic Island, Oahu, June 17, 2017. The Hōkūleʻa returned home after being gone for 36 months, sailing approximately 40,000 nautical miles around the world.
A member of the U.S Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard’s silent drill team waits prior to performing at a sunset salute program, Tuesday, June 20, 2017, at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. The team performed in front of the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle as part of the festivities surrounding Sail Boston.
A Chinese destroyer used a weapons-grade laser to target a US Navy P-8A surveillance aircraft flying above the Pacific last week, US Pacific Fleet said Thursday.
In a statement, the US accused the People’s Liberation Army Navy destroyer of “unsafe and unprofessional” actions over the incident, said to have occurred about 380 miles from Guam, where the US has a significant military presence.
The laser appeared to be part of the destroyer’s close-in weapon system, a Pacific Fleet spokeswoman told Insider.
“The laser, which was not visible to the naked eye, was captured by a sensor onboard the P-8A,” Pacific Fleet said. “Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems.”
The Chinese destroyer, hull No. 161, appears to have been the Type 052D Luyang III-class destroyer Hohot.
US Pacific Fleet accused the Chinese warship of violating international rules and regulations, including agreements on conduct at sea, by targeting the aircraft, which was operating in airspace above international waters, with a laser.
The latest incident is not the first time the US military has accused the Chinese military of using lasers against US assets and personnel.
In 2018, the Department of Defense accused the Chinese military, specifically personnel stationed at the country’s first overseas military base, in Djibouti, of using lasers to target US aircraft operating nearby, CNN reported at the time.
A notice to airmen issued at the time urged pilots “to exercise caution when flying in certain areas in Djibouti,” saying the call for caution was “due to lasers being directed at US aircraft.”
“During one incident, there were two minor eye injuries of aircrew flying in a C-130 that resulted from exposure to military-grade laser beams, which were reported to have originated from the nearby Chinese base,” the notice said.
The Pentagon said the activity posed “a true threat to our airmen.”
ISIS fighters will be closely watching the fighting between Turkish and Kurdish troops in northeastern Syria, waiting for a chance to break thousands of fighters, and tens of thousands of family members, out of Kurdish prisons, according to a former member of the group, Western intelligence officials, and Kurdish commanders.
Concerns of a mass-scale ISIS prison break have grown as Turkish troops enter northeastern Syria to confront the Syrian Defence Forces. The SDF is a predominately Kurdish group regarded as terrorists by Turkey but a key American ally in the ground war against ISIS. SDF officials, who have warned that their resources were already overstretched guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners before the invasion, now say the situation is critical.
But that won’t be enough to prevent ISIS from attempting to break out thousands of lesser known but vital fighters, according to a former member of the group.
“Prison is like their home,” a former ISIS fighter tells Insider
Abu Ahmed al Halabi fought alongside ISIS and its predecessor groups from 2012 until 2015 before quitting the group over its brutal treatment of other Syrian rebel groups in his hometown of Tal Riffat, outside of Aleppo. Although not in contact with the group any longer, he’s currently fighting in Idlib Province for a non-jihadist rebel group. He told Insider that the group is deeply experienced in prison breaks, and its men will have organized while they were detained.
“All of the big bosses in Daesh are Iraqis that were in jail together during the American occupation,” he said. “The group that Abu Musab [al Zarqawi] founded in Iraq in 2003 was all sent to Camp Bucca, it’s where they organized Daesh [ISIS]. Prison is like their home.”
“Daesh will be organized inside the prisons and ready to attack the guards and escape,” Abu Ahmed said. “Outside the prisons, Daesh will be watching the guards and defenses and planning an attack, at any of these prisons they know they can get an entire [battalion] of fighters if they succeed. They have people watching right now waiting for a chance.”
Western intelligence officials agree, one officer from a NATO member that served inside Syria with his government’s special forces told Insider.
“These guys are a jail gang, running their operations while detained might even be easier than [being outside] hiding from drones afraid to use a telephone,” the official, who lacks permission to speak to the media, said.”
We are sure that there is close cooperation between fighters in some prisons, the families in al Hol, and the units that are still free in the desert area between Iraq and Syria,” the official said.
As many as 12,000 ISIS fighters including about 2,000 foreigners are held in SDF prisons. Among the 70,000 women and children in al Hol are hundreds of women who are still loyal to ISIS’s ground leadership.
Flag of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”
“[ISIS leader Abu Bakir] Baghdadi even said in his last statement that his people should be patient and await rescue, and that was before the Turks upended what had been a mostly stable situation.”
ISIS fighters in Kurdish jails have been in constant contact with the group’s leadership via Telegram and Whatsapp
The families of ISIS fighters currently held in deteriorating security conditions in al Hol — where the SDF was already stretched thin — were in constant contact with the group’s leadership via Telegram, Whatsapp and other secure messaging systems, the official told us.
“Of course, we know they are plotting something but the resources to stop them just aren’t available,” the official said.
Abu Ahmed described the release of women and children in al Hol as a goal for the group but secondary to the immediate military need to free as many of its captured fighters as possible.
“The women might escape al Hol themselves but the Daesh bosses will be watching the prisons holding the fighters first,” he said. “They want those thousands of mujahideen so they can also fight the Kurds and Iraqis. If they take one prison, they will use those new guys to take another prison and then it will be just like Mosul” in 2014.
“They will have planned to attack at the perfect time and will have trucks and guns waiting for all the men they free”
Abu Ahmed said that in a series of attacks on Mosul in 2014, the plan was merely to break out 2,500 fighters from a local prison. Fighting for the group in northern Syria at the time, Abu Ahmed’s commander had been assigned to help plan the mission.
“My Emir was Abu Omar [al Shishani], and he was commander for all Daesh ground forces in Syria and Iraq, I helped him plan the Mosul operation. We were just trying to get fighters out of prison when the Iraqi Army collapsed. Once Abu Omar saw this he ordered everyone to attack to take as much space as they could as the Iraqis retreated. But the Mosul operation was part of a campaign of jailbreaks called ‘Breaking the Walls.'”
“These are very careful people,” he added. “They will have planned to attack at the perfect time and will have trucks and guns waiting for all the men they free.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The B-2 Spirit is one of the most clandestine and rare planes in the world. Only 21 were ever built, and they reportedly have a stealth profile similar to that of a large bird despite their 170-foot wingspan. And they’re invisible to many infrared seekers, despite four large engines.
Here’s how engineers made a massive plane with large engines nearly invisible to systems designed to detect threats exactly like the B-2.
The B-2’s stealth profile is the result of extensive computer testing that wasn’t possible before its design. While the F-117 and B-1 were stealth aircraft, they were designed by nerds with slide rules and minimal computer modeling because the technology and the computers necessary simply didn’t exist.
But when it was time to design the B-2, the all-powerful nerds had super computers and leveraged them to create a model that had no flat surfaces with which to reflect radar directly back to the sensor. While a machine with no flat surfaces is harder to manufacture, the increase in stealth was deemed worthy of extra costs.
If the B-2 were flying directly towards the radar, most of the waves would actually be reflected 90 degrees away from the receiver, giving the radar operators next to nothing to work with.
But of course, the flying wing would lose most of its stealth if the engines were mounted outside of its high-tech form. So the engines were mounted inside with special openings for intake and exhaust that, again, would not reflect radar waves back to the dish.
It has a few (mostly classified) systems to help with this. The exact shape of the exhaust helps a lot, but it also cools its exhaust and mixes it with the outside air to create a final exhaust that is at nearly the same temperature as the air flowing into the intake.
This greatly frustrates pursuing missiles and fighters, but obviously still leaves it vulnerable if someone spots the plane and talks fighters into the vicinity to hunt it.
Anyone who has worked with most other jets knows that you can typically hear them before you see them, often by a matter of hundreds of feet. It’s the sound that lets you know to look for the plane, but the B-2’s tiny acoustic signature means that most observers on the ground won’t know there’s anything in the sky to look for.
Combined, this makes the B-2 a plane with little radar observability, that’s too quiet for most people on the ground to notice it flying nearby, and it gives off little heat, frustrating missiles and fighters sent to down it.
All of this still requires good pilots and planning. Determined defenders could use low-frequency radar waves and skilled fighters to hunt down a B-2 following a too-populated or well-defended route. But the last element of B-2 stealth comes from good intelligence, allowing pilots and planners to send the bombers in through relatively undefended routes or through routes the B-2 can defeat.
Because that’s a big part of the B-2’s mission. It’s not supposed to act as the primary bomber in most circumstances. It’s a first-wave attacker, clearing the air defenses on the ground and opening “alleys” for less stealthy aircraft. Ideally, they get a picture of the air defenses they will attack from reconnaissance aircraft like the RC-135 and are then able to dismantle them piece by piece.
But the B-2 can and has been sent against other targets, including bunkers in Iraq housing command and control elements during the invasion of that country. This is particularly useful when planners need to eliminate a target too early in the timeline to dismantle the air network first.
After all, if an enemy commander shows himself at a rally in the capital during an air campaign, you aren’t going to wait for the B-2s to finish opening the air corridors, you’re just going to send in B-2s to the final target (or you send B-1s if the B-2s can’t get there in time). You can get the radars later.
And that’s what’s so great about the B-2. While the plane costs more dollars per hour of flight than many others and carries fewer bombs than planes like the B-52 and B-1, it can hit targets that few other platforms can, largely because of its amazing stealth.
Foreign intelligence agents are using online platforms and videoconferencing apps to spy on Americans, TIME reported, citing several US intelligence officials.
Chinese spies, in particular, have exploited the coronavirus pandemic to get information about American companies as they take their operations digital and offices across the US shut down amid stay-at-home orders.
The video conferencing app Zoom has proven particularly susceptible to cyber intrusions because of its popularity — Zoom’s CEO said the number of people using the app jumped from 10 million in December to 200 million in March — and lack of encryption.
Hackers targeting the platform, dubbed “Zoombombers,” have disrupted events like doctoral dissertations, Sunday school, city council meetings, online classes at universities, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Even the FBI weighed in on the matter, warning schools, in particular, to be wary of hackers infiltrating online meetings and calls to post pornographic imagery and hate speech.
Now, TIME reported, Zoom is becoming a playground for foreign spies, as operatives from countries like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea target Americans’ video chats.
“More than anyone else, the Chinese are interested in what American companies are doing,” one official told the outlet.
Zoom, moreover, is more vulnerable to intrusion by Chinese cyberspies because some of its encryption keys are routed through Chinese servers, according to a report this month from The Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto.
The report also found that Zoom owns three companies in China, at which at least 700 employees are paid to develop Zoom’s software.
“This arrangement is ostensibly an effort at labor arbitrage: Zoom can avoid paying US wages while selling to US customers, thus increasing their profit margin. However, this arrangement may make Zoom responsive to pressure from Chinese authorities,” the report said.
Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic is a blessing in disguise for intelligence agencies in China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other rogue regimes, many of whom have adapted to using cyberwarfare to carry out their objectives.
As people across the world are forced to stay home and work remotely, they’re increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks and disinformation — two tools that are more useful than ever to foreign spies.
These methods are also cheaper to employ and require less financial investment than traditional methods of intelligence gathering, giving countries like China and Russia a leg-up as they compete against more financially stable countries like the US.
“For the past several weeks, supporting this influx of users has been a tremendous undertaking and our sole focus,” Zoom’s CEO, Eric Yuan, wrote in a blog post. “However, we recognize that we have fallen short of the community’s — and our own — privacy and security expectations.”
Yuan announced that the company will freeze its feature updates for 90 days while it addresses privacy and security issues. He said Zoom will also conduct a “comprehensive review with third-party experts” to ensure it’s taking the necessary steps to protect user privacy.
In the meanwhile, several US lawmakers have called for investigations into Zoom’s security, and some state attorneys general are examining the matter as well.
In the movies, secret agents face their adversaries with guns, weapons, and flashy cars. And they’re so proficient in hand-to-hand combat that they can bring enemies to their knees with the right choke hold or take them down with a well-placed aimed shot. As much as I’d like to think I was that cool, in reality, life in the CIA is much more pedantic.
What most people don’t know is that the CIA is really a massive sorting agency. Intelligence officers must sift through mountains of data in an effort to determine what is authentic and useful, versus what should be discarded. We must consider the subtleties of language and the nuance of the nonverbal. We must unwind a complicated stream of intelligence by questioning everything. In the counterterrorism realm, this process has to be quick; we have to weed out bad information with alacrity. We can’t afford to make mistakes when it comes to the collection, processing, dissemination, and evaluation of terrorism intelligence. As we say in the CIA, “The terrorists only have to get it right once, but we have to be right every time.”
Contained in that massive flow is an incredible amount of useless, inaccurate, misleading, or fabricated information. The amount of bad reporting that is peddled, not only to the CIA but to intelligence agencies all over the world, is mind-boggling.
That’s precisely why one of the greatest challenges we faced as counterterrorism experts was figuring out who was giving us solid intelligence and who wasn’t. And when we were dealing with terrorists, getting it wrong could mean someone’s death.
In early 2007 when Iraq was awash with violence, many Iraqis who had formerly counted the United States as the Great Satan for occupying their country switched sides and were willing to work with Coalition Forces against Iraqi terrorists. Brave locals were rebelling against al-Qa’ida’s brutal tactics and were doing whatever they could to take back the streets from these thugs. This was a turning point in the war. Our counterterrorism efforts became wildly successful, fueled by accurate and highly actionable intelligence.
In one such case, we were contacted by one of our established sources, who was extremely agitated. Mahmud had come from his village claiming that he had seen something that sent chills down his spine. As Mahmud was driving not far from his home, he saw an unknown person exit a building that one of his cousins owned. The building was supposed to be empty and unoccupied. For reasons Mahmud could not explain, he thought that something bad was going on and that maybe the man he saw was a member of Al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI).
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)
Up until this point, Coalition Forces had found Mahmud’s information extremely reliable. Of course, they did not know his name or personal details, but they made sure we knew that his information had checked out. They contacted us on numerous occasions to praise us for the source’s reporting, explaining that it had allowed them to disarm IEDs and detain insurgents who were causing problems in his village.
Mahmud had a solid track record. But the bits he provided this time were sketchy and lacked sufficient detail. You can’t just disseminate intelligence reports saying that a location “feels wrong,” “seems wrong,” or that some random dude you just saw “looked like a bad guy.” That kind of information does not meet the threshold for dissemination by the CIA. In this case, however, the handling case officer and I went against protocol and put the report out.
Within the hour, we were contacted by one of the MNF-I (Multi-National Force-Iraq) units with responsibility for that AOR. They regularly executed counterterrorism operations in that village and wanted to know more about the sourcing. They were interested in taking a look at the abandoned building because they had been trying to locate terrorist safe houses they believed were somewhere in the vicinity of the building mentioned in our report. They had a feeling that nearby safe houses were being used to store large amounts of weaponry and a few had been turned into VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) factories. But there was one big problem: Military units had acted on similar intelligence reports before, but the reports had been setups—the alleged safe houses were wired to explode when the soldiers entered.
A spate of these types of explosions had occurred east of Baghdad in Diyala Governorate, and while we had not yet seen this happen out west in al-Anbar Governorate, one could never be too careful. Basically, the military wanted to know: How good is your source? Do you trust him? Do you think he could have turned on you? Could this be a setup?
This was one of the hardest parts of my job. While I had to protect the identity of our sources when passing on intelligence, I had to balance this with the need to share pertinent details that would allow the military to do their job. It was critical to give them appropriate context on the sources, their access, and their reporting records, and to give them a sense of how good the report may or may not be. Given our positive track record with these military units, I knew that they would trust my judgment, and therefore, I needed to get it right. Lives were at stake.
My mind was spinning.
What do I think? Is this a setup? He’s usually such a good reporter, but what if someone discovered he was the mole?
Even if Mahmud was “on our side,” the insurgents could turn him against us by threatening the lives of his wife and kids. Similar things had happened before. I prayed, “Please, Lord, give me wisdom.”
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)
The bottom line was, I didn’t know anything for sure, and I told the military commander that. But I also remembered that just the week before, Mahmud had provided a report that MNF-I units said was amazingly accurate regarding the location of an IED in his village. They found the IED and dug it up before the Coalition Humvee rolled over it. So as of then, he was definitely good, and I told the commander that as well.
The next day, the case officer came to my desk and said, “Did you hear?”
“Mahmud’s information was spot on!”
“Really?” What a relief, I thought. “What happened?”
“When the soldiers entered the abandoned building, they found seven Iraqis tied up on the floor, barely clinging to life. It was more than a safe house. It was a torture house. There were piles of dead bodies in the next room.”
Mahmud’s intuition about the stranger he saw exiting that building had been correct. Something about the unidentified man’s behavior or appearance—the look on his face, the posture of his body, the way he walked or the way he dressed—had hit Mahmud as being “off” or “wrong.” It turned out that local AQI affiliates had commandeered the building and were using it as a base to terrorize the local population.
My colleague pulled out copies of the military’s photographs that captured the unbelievable scene. The first images showed the battered bodies of the young men who had just been saved from certain death. According to the soldiers, when they entered the building and found the prisoners on the floor, the young men were in shock. Emaciated and trembling, they kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” They could barely stand, so the soldiers steadied them as the young men lifted up their bloodstained shirts for the camera, revealing torsos covered in welts and bruises. If that unit hadn’t shown up when they did, those men would have been dead by the next day.
I swallowed hard as I flipped through the photographs of the horrors in the next room, and my eyes welled up with tears. The terrorists had discarded the mutilated bodies of other villagers in the adjacent room, leaving them to rot in a twisted mound. I could hardly accept what I was seeing. It reminded me of Holocaust photos that were so inhumane one could not process the depth of the depravity: men and women . . . battered and bruised . . . lives stolen . . . eyes frozen open in emptiness and horror.
My stomach began to churn, but I made myself look at the pictures. I had to understand what we were fighting for, what our soldiers faced every day. As much as I wanted to dig a hole and stick my head in the sand, I needed to see what was really happening outside our cozy encampment in the Green Zone.
They say war is hell; they don’t know the half of it.
Michele Rigby Assad is a former undercover officer in the National Clandestine Service of the US Central Intelligence Agency. She served as a counterterrorism specialist for 10 years, working in Iraq and other secret Middle Eastern locations. Upon retirement from active service, Michele and her husband began leading teams to aid Christian refugees.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
North and South Korean troops have started to disarm their heavily fortified border as part of reconciliation efforts between the nations.
Starting on Oct. 1, 2018, Seoul and Pyongyang began removing all the land mines from the Joint Security Area (JSA), located along the 155-mile Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries.
The project will take place over the next 20 days, according to the South’s defense ministry. The move is part of the agreement reached between the South’s President Moon Jae-In and the North’s Kim Jong Un in September 2018 in Pyongyang, where they promised to halt “all hostile acts” against each other and remove threats of war.
Ri Sol-ju, Kim Jong-un, Moon Jae-in, and Kim Jong-sook during the 2018 inter-Korean summit.
The deal also calls for the removal of guard posts and weapons from the JSA. According to Reuters, the troops who remain will be unarmed. The JSA is the only point on the border where troops from both sides come face to face.
The two sides have already taken steps to cool tensions in the region.
Indian security officials say their troops engaged in a stone-throwing clash with Chinese forces in a disputed area of the Himalayas August 15.
The incident occurred after Indian soldiers prevented their Chinese counterparts from entering the mountainous region of Ladakh in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The confrontation ended after both sides retreated to their respective positions.
China did not immediately comment on the incident.
Indian and Chinese forces are locked in a 2-month-old standoff in a disputed area between India’s close ally, Bhutan, and China. The tensions began when Indian troops were deployed to obstruct a Chinese road-building project at Doklam Plateau. The area also known as Chicken’s Neck is hugely strategic for India because it connects the country’s mainland to its northeastern region.
New Delhi cites its treaties with Bhutan, with which it has close military and economic ties, for keeping its soldiers in the area despite strident calls by Beijing to vacate the mountain region.
The standoff is believed to be the most serious confrontation between the two Asian giants, who fought a brief war in 1962.
A petition lobbying the White House to reinstate the official Navy rating titles removed in late September gained more than 100,000 signatures on We the People, a website created by the Obama administration to allow large groups of Americans to directly request changes to public policy.
Petitions that cross the threshold are guaranteed an official response from the administration, but activists are not guaranteed that it will be a “yes” response.
Ratings were essentially job titles in the Navy and they were incorporated into the method of address for most enlisted leaders. Some of the ratings, like those for gunner’s or boatswain’s mates, have remained the same since the Continental Navy instituted them over 240 years ago. Other rates, such as special warfare boat operator, are newer.
Navy officials say that they removed the rating structure to allow sailors to more easily cross-train between jobs or switch career tracks entirely. This increased flexibility in job choices would also, according to comments given to the Navy Times, make it easier for sailors to get specific duty stations.
For 241 Years Navy personnel have been identified by their Job specialty, known as a “Rating.” The oldest rates such as Boatswain Mates, and Gunners Mate predate the founding of this country. Being known by your job title was a sense of pride. A sign of accomplishment. The Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations just senselessly erased this tradition.
While the White House promises an official response to successful petitions, it does so by putting the petition in front of the proper policy makers. According to the program’s “about” section:
With We the People, you can easily create a petition online, share it, and collect signatures. If you gather 100,000 signature in 30 days, we’ll review your petition, make sure it gets in front of the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.
In this case, that could mean that the petition would land on the desk of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus or someone on his staff. But Mabus and his staff were the ones who made the decision to get rid of Navy ratings in the first place.
The petition could encourage senior Navy leadership to take sailor feedback more seriously moving forward and possibly even find a plan that accomplishes the leadership’s goals while preserving Navy tradition.