At a parade touting Beijing’s massive military might on the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, China rolled out it’s newest intercontinental ballistic missile, the DF-31AG.
Another upgrade to the survivability and lethality of the missile comes from the truck that carries it. Like the DF-31, it’s mobile and therefore can evade attacking forces, hide, and fire from surprising locations. But unlike the previous model, the DF-31AG can actually go off road, further complicating any plans to neutralize China’s nuclear might.
Watch the rollout of the DF-31AG below:
China’s new DF-31AG intercontinental missiles make public debut at military parade in Zhurihe base in Inner Mongolia pic.twitter.com/PaTeQp4TPN
There’s a lot about the Song-class Chinese submarine that’s special. It was the first submarine developed entirely by the People’s Republic of China and the first to use the modern teardrop hull shape. It’s also the only Chinese submarine ever to pop up in the middle of an American aircraft carrier group.
In November of 2006, one of China’s Song-class diesel electric submarines surfaced just five miles away from the USS Kitty Hawk off the coast of Okinawa. At the time, the carrier group was in a protective formation, using anti-submarine defenses and aircraft. The appearance of a Chinese submarine no doubt surprised everyone in the fleet.
The surprise was not just because the submarine surfaced so close to the Kitty Hawk. No one knows exactly how long the submarine had been there, how long it had tailed the fleet, or even why it decided to pop up above the surface.
What the Navy did know is that their anti-submarine efforts had grown extremely lax in the wake of the end of the Cold War. If the submarine had been hostile to the United States, the damage it might have caused could have been on a scale the U.S. hasn’t seen since World War II.
Song-class submarines aren’t particularly special, but they do carry an armament of Russian-made homing torpedoes and cruise missiles designed to take down ships just like the ones escorting the Kitty Hawk that day in November 2006. The USS Kitty Hawk was first launched in 1961, so the extent of the damage it could do to the aircraft carrier is up for debate, but it would have done some kind of damage.
The saving grace for the US Navy is that the battle group wasn’t actively doing any kind of anti-submarine operation. The sudden appearance of a Chinese submarine might have been catastrophic to U.S.-Chinese relations, which were already strained at the time, but are ven more so today.
The Chinese claim to the South China Sea has caused Chinese aggression in the region to amp up exponentially in the past few years. China has also ramped up its homegrown ship building since 2006, including the construction of an aircraft carrier, its first-ever domestically produced carrier, and the beginning of its second.
China has also built up its military presence to support its claim to the Spratly Islands and the Paracel islands, even increasing their size and installing military units on them to support their claims to them.
The Spratleys are the biggest point of concern. The islands are also claimed by Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Vietnam. They sit in the middle of the South China Sea and would extend China’s territorial waters to cover most of the waterway, which is also a major shipping lane.
The U.S. Navy regularly conducts freedom of navigation cruises in the area to maintain the islands’ disputed status. This regularly means U.S. military forces are staring down Chinese military forces for long periods of time. As tensions mount, the area becomes an overwhelming powderkeg for potential conflicts.
As time goes on, events like the sudden appearance of a Chinese submarine in the middle of a carrier battle group could be a spark that turns an already tense situation into a full-scale war.
While most of the things COVID-19 has brought us have been horrible, contagious, disappointing, frustrating, no good and almost overwhelmingly sad (just me? No?), one of the many silver linings has been the accessibility of entertainment. Movies like Trolls released straight to television, Ryan Seacrest hosted a family Disney sing-a-long (can you tell I have young children at home?) and museums and theaters all over the world are opening their doors for virtual shows, tours and the like.
And now (well, Sunday, April 19), you can watch one of our favorite Bond movies, GoldenEye, with none other than Bond. James Bond. (Fine, Pierce Brosnan, the fourth actor to star as 007).
Whether or not he’s your favorite Bond, you can’t say no to that face.
Put on by Esquire UK, the GoldenEye watchalong will stream live on their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube feeds this Sunday 19th April at 7pm BST (2pm ET for American viewers.) According to Esquire UK:
The 66-year-old screen icon will be taking us all behind the scenes of the spy epic, discussing his time in the tuxedo and how it felt to take up the mantle, as well as interacting with his legions of fans – which, of course, is where you come in. We need you to supply us with all the unanswered questions that have been burning away inside your brain for 25 years. Send them over to us via our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages now for a chance to get them answered by the main man himself.
The idea is simple: press play on GoldenEye (rental options are listed below) at the same moment as Pierce, and listen along to his play-by-play analysis and commentary in real-time.
The design firm AVX has pitched to the military before, but you’re probably not familiar with their work. That’s because they don’t have a full aircraft to their credit or any big programs that everyone would recognize. But they’ve been quietly working to make military aviation better, winning maintenance contracts and bids to increase fuel efficiency.
And their work in the fuel efficiency space led them to propose a fairly radical redesign of the helicopter. Right now, the “traditional” helicopter design calls for one main rotor that generates lift and a tail, “anti-torque” rotor that keeps the bird pointed in the right direction. It’s the design at work on the Apache, the MH-6 Little Bird, the Lakota, and lots more.
But AVX wants to see more use of “coaxial” designs where the main rotor has two discs instead of one. They spin in opposite directions, stabilizing the helicopter without the need for a tail rotor. These coaxial designs are typically more efficient, and AVX wants to combine that with two ducted fans for propulsion, allowing for a helicopter that’s safer, faster, and more efficient.
The Army ended up retiring the OH-58 instead of going through an overhaul, but that left it with no dedicated scout helicopter. Right now, the AH-64 Apache is switch hitting, serving as a scout helicopter and an attack helicopter. But Apaches are more expensive per flight hour, heavier, and require highly specialized pilots that the Army is already short on.
Getting a new scout helicopter would alleviate a few of these problems. But AVX isn’t as large or as experienced an aviation company as Bell, Boeing, Lockheed, or other companies that have produced rotary platforms for the Army. So AVX has partnered with L3 Technologies, another company experienced in supporting Army aviation.
And the aircraft these companies are pitching to the Army for the new scout helicopter? You guessed it: Coaxial rotor blade for lift and two ducted fans for propulsion. As an added bonus for efficiency, there are two stubby wings that will generate significant lift at high speeds.
Now, it’s far from certain that AVX will get selected by the Army. The Army wants to be buying and fielding the birds by 2024, an aggressive timetable that a small company will struggle to meet. And it wants to buy the aircraft for million apiece flyaway cost, meaning there won’t be a lot of room in the budget for inefficiencies and screwups. So, the Army may prefer a more experienced manufacturer.
But there are early elements of the design that signal a possible AVX advantage. First, despite all the tech required to make those coaxial blades and ducted fans work, the technologies are fairly proven and don’t add a whole lot to cost. Also, the program has ambitious requirements for speed, size of the aircraft, and agility, and the AVX design fits the bill if it makes it through selection and manufacturing process without any big compromises.
So the next helicopter looking over your shoulder in battle might just look like a science fiction aircraft, but don’t expect Michelle Rodriquez to be flying it. She’ll most likely be busy with Fast and the Furious 14.
The first type of molecule that ever formed in the universe has been detected in space for the first time, after decades of searching. Scientists discovered its signature in our own galaxy using the world’s largest airborne observatory, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, as the aircraft flew high above the Earth’s surface and pointed its sensitive instruments out into the cosmos.
When the universe was still very young, only a few kinds of atoms existed. Scientists believe that around 100,000 years after the big bang, helium and hydrogen combined to make a molecule called helium hydride for the first time. Helium hydride should be present in some parts of the modern universe, but it has never been detected in space — until now.
SOFIA found modern helium hydride in a planetary nebula, a remnant of what was once a Sun-like star. Located 3,000 light-years away near the constellation Cygnus, this planetary nebula, called NGC 7027, has conditions that allow this mystery molecule to form. The discovery serves as proof that helium hydride can, in fact, exist in space. This confirms a key part of our basic understanding of the chemistry of the early universe and how it evolved over billions of years into the complex chemistry of today. The results are published in this week’s issue of Nature.
Image of planetary nebula NGC 7027 with illustration of helium hydride molecules. In this planetary nebula, SOFIA detected helium hydride, a combination of helium (red) and hydrogen (blue), which was the first type of molecule to ever form in the early universe. This is the first time helium hydride has been found in the modern universe.
(NASA/ESA/Hubble Processing: Judy Schmidt)
“This molecule was lurking out there, but we needed the right instruments making observations in the right position — and SOFIA was able to do that perfectly,” said Harold Yorke, director of the SOFIA Science Center, in California’s Silicon Valley.
Today, the universe is filled with large, complex structures such as planets, stars and galaxies. But more than 13 billion years ago, following the big bang, the early universe was hot, and all that existed were a few types of atoms, mostly helium and hydrogen. As atoms combined to form the first molecules, the universe was finally able to cool and began to take shape. Scientists have inferred that helium hydride was this first, primordial molecule.
Once cooling began, hydrogen atoms could interact with helium hydride, leading to the creation of molecular hydrogen — the molecule primarily responsible for the formation of the first stars. Stars went on to forge all the elements that make up our rich, chemical cosmos of today. The problem, though, is that scientists could not find helium hydride in space. This first step in the birth of chemistry was unproven, until now.
“The lack of evidence of the very existence of helium hydride in interstellar space was a dilemma for astronomy for decades,” said Rolf Guesten of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, in Bonn, Germany, and lead author of the paper.
Helium hydride is a finicky molecule. Helium itself is a noble gas making it very unlikely to combine with any other kind of atom. But in 1925, scientists were able to create the molecule in a laboratory by coaxing the helium to share one of its electrons with a hydrogen ion.
Then, in the late 1970s, scientists studying the planetary nebula called NGC 7027 thought that this environment might be just right to form helium hydride. Ultraviolet radiation and heat from the aging star create conditions suitable for helium hydride to form. But their observations were inconclusive. Subsequent efforts hinted it could be there, but the mystery molecule continued to elude detection. The space telescopes used did not have the specific technology to pick out the signal of helium hydride from the medley of other molecules in the nebula.
The Universe’s First Type of Molecule Is Found at Last
In 2016, scientists turned to SOFIA for help. Flying up to 45,000 feet, SOFIA makes observations above the interfering layers of Earth’s atmosphere. But it has a benefit space telescopes don’t — it returns after every flight.
“We’re able to change instruments and install the latest technology,” said Naseem Rangwala SOFIA deputy project scientist. “This flexibility allows us to improve observations and respond to the most pressing questions that scientists want answered.”
A recent upgrade to one of SOFIA’s instruments called the German Receiver at Terahertz Frequencies, or GREAT, added the specific channel for helium hydride that previous telescopes did not have. The instrument works like a radio receiver. Scientists tune to the frequency of the molecule they’re searching for, similar to tuning an FM radio to the right station. When SOFIA took to the night skies, eager scientists were onboard reading the data from the instrument in real time. Helium hydride’s signal finally came through loud and clear.
“It was so exciting to be there, seeing helium hydride for the first time in the data,” said Guesten. “This brings a long search to a happy ending and eliminates doubts about our understanding of the underlying chemistry of the early universe.
SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 106-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703, in Palmdale, California.
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.
Last month’s failed coup in Turkey has sparked substantial unrest, a crackdown on opposition to the Erdogan regime, and a downward spiral in relations with the United States. With the refusal (to date) of the United States to extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen and interference with operations at Incirlik Air Base (including a halt in air operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), concern centered around an estimated 50 B61 “special stores.” (Official United States policy is to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on an installation.)
Now, according to reports from Euractiv.com, those bombs have been evacuated from Incirlik and are now in Romania, where components of an American missile defense system for NATO is being deployed. As might be imagined, it isn’t easy to move up to fifty special stores. It’s also understandable that the security is a big deal – some variants of the B61 have yields of 340 kilotons – over 20 times the power of the device used on Hiroshima 71 years ago.
The Euractiv.com report came two days after Ibrahim Karagul, the editor of Yeni Safak, a Turkish newspaper, said that Turkey should seize the nuclear weapons at Incirlik if the United States refused to hand them over in a post on the microblogging site Twitter. Karagul also claimed that the United States was an “internal threat” to Turkey. The tweets came the day after a study by the Stimson Center claimed that the nukes at Incirlik were at risk in the wake of the failed coup.
“From a security point of view, it’s a roll of the dice to continue to have approximately 50 of America’s nuclear weapons stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey,” Laicie Heeley of the Stimson Center told Agence France Presse‘s Thomas Watkins. The Stimson Center’s study recommended the removal of all United States tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.
“We do not discuss the location of strategic assets. The [Department of Defense] has taken appropriate steps to maintain the safety and security of our personnel, their families, and our facilities, and we will continue to do so,” a DoD statement in response to the study said.
Everyone is up a tizzy now about the possibility of an actual Space Corps, the sixth branch of the military. But this isn’t America’s first pass at space occupation. The Army and Air Force launched two separate studies in the late 1950s about establishing a base on the moon and permanently occupying it.
Since America ultimately won the first round of the Space Race, it’s easy to forget that the Soviet Union spent years firmly in the lead. It launched the first man-made satellite in 1957 and landed the first man-made object on the moon in 1959.
So the U.S. looked quickly for a way to catch up. The CIA was stealing technology as quickly as it could, Eisenhower ordered the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (now DARPA), and the Army and Air Force got to work planning moon bases.
While it may sound odd today, both military studies took it as a given that someone would occupy the moon relatively soon and that it should be America — even if there wasn’t a firm plan yet on what to do with it.
The Army said:
The primary objective is to establish the first permanent manned installation on the moon. Incidental to this mission will be the investigation of the scientific, commercial, and military potential of the moon.
The Air Force was more direct, saying, “The decision on the types of military forces to be installed at the lunar base can be safely deferred for 3 to 4 years provided a military lunar base program is initiated immediately.”
But both services did have their own plans on what to do with it, even if they were relatively hazy ideas in the far future.
Both services wanted to use the moon base as a point for intercepting Soviet signals, an idea partially proven by the 1948 detection of air defense radar signals bouncing off the moon and later by “ELINT” which detected cutting-edge Soviet radar technology via lunar reflection.
The Army and Air Force were both interested in using the moon as an observation platform from which to watch activity in the Soviet Union.
But the most surprising proposed use of the moon base came from the Air Force, which twice mentioned the possibility of a “Lunar Based Earth Bombardment System,” a weapon projected to be accurate within 2-5 nautical miles.
The study doesn’t go into detail on what ordnance the LBEBS would use, but…pretty much the only weapon that can destroy an enemy installation by landing within five miles of it is a nuke.
When it came to planning the construction of the base, both services focused on their strong points.
The Army, used to building large and complex bases around the world while under fire or during other adverse conditions, wrote up a detailed plan on how a 12-man team could bury modular containers three feet under the surface to establish a base for them to live in. They would use a special tractor and other excavation equipment to do so. It even planned out potential meals.
The Air Force, meanwhile, spends a lot of time and energy discussing how to send automated rocket flights with equipment payloads to specific points on the surface for later construction. But the study essentially kicks the can down the road when it comes to assembling those payloads into a functioning base.
A nuclear power plant was slated to power each base.
The timelines for the projects were ambitious, to say the least. The Air Force called for an operational lunar base by June 1969. In reality, Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the moon a month later, almost two years after the Air Force’s projection for the first manned mission.
The Army was even more optimistic, envisioning that the first people would reach the moon in 1965 and that the first outpost would be fully-functioning by the end of 1966.
Instead, here we are in the new millennium without a single moon base. The Space Corps is going to be busy playing catch up if it ever actually gets formed.
Editor’s Note: On April 15, 2018, R. Lee Ermey passed away from complications of pneumonia. His long time manager, Bill Rogin, made the announcement via Ermey’s twitter handle. In honor of his passing, We Are The Mighty is proud to share these facts about America’s favorite Gunny.
Most people know R. Lee Ermey from his role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. And if you somehow joined the military and never saw Full Metal Jacket, the first question anyone would ask is “How is that even possible?” But the second would be “How much do you know about this guy, anyway?”
Ermey didn’t go right into acting and if it weren’t for his Marine Corps-level determination, we might never know him at all. Which would be a shame, because his life before and after Full Metal Jacket is equally interesting.
1. His first job after the military was untraditional.
Ermey was medically retired from the Marine Corps and was at a loss about what to do as a civilian. He told Entertainment Weekly in a 1997 interview that he “bought a run-down bar and whorehouse” in Okinawa. He had to leave the business behind when the Japanese FBI caught wind of his black marketing. He escaped to the Philippines, where he met his wife.
2. His first role was an Army helicopter pilot.
It was while in the Philippines that the future Gunnery Sergeant was cast in Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola himself. Ermey was studying drama and did a number of Filipino films before Coppola discovered him. You can see him in yet another legendary war movie scene.
Ermey was doing his job as technical advisor, reading the part of Sgt. Hartman while interviewing extras for the film. They already hired another actor for the part but Ermey had a plan to get the part. He got the job as technical advisor because of his other roles in Vietnam movies. He taped the interviews he did as Hartman and Kubrick cast him after seeing those tapes.
Interestingly enough, Ermey wrote the insults he hurled at the Marines in the film. Kubrick never gave him input on what a drill instructor might say. He wrote 150 pages of insults.
4. Ermey is the only Marine to be promoted after retiring.
He rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant after spending 14 months in Vietnam and doing two tours in Okinawa. He was medically retired for the injuries he received during his service. But it was in 2002, that Marine Corps Commandant James L. Jones promoted Ermey to E-7, Gunnery Sergeant, the rank he became so well-known for. It was the first and only time the Corps has promoted a retiree.
5. He originally joined the Corps to stay out of jail – and almost went Navy.
In the old days, joining the military was an option for at-risk youth and juvenile delinquents to avoid real jail time. Ermey was arrested twice as a teen. He admits to being a bit of a hell-raiser. And he didn’t even know about the Marine Corps the day he decided to join.
“Basically a silver-haired judge, a kindly old judge, looked down at me and said ‘this is the second time I’ve seen you up here and it looks like we’re going to have to do something about this,'” Ermey told a gathering in 2010. He wanted to join the Navy because his father was in the Navy, but they rejected him on the grounds that he was a troublemaker.
U.S. Marines, attached to special operations forces in Syria, often found themselves in direct-fire gunfights with Islamic State fighters early 2018, according to the commander of the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response for Central Command.
The unit, designed with capability to launch combat forces within six hours anywhere in the CENTCOM theater, sent two rifle companies to support Special Operations Command units operating in Northern Syria between January and April 2018, Marine Col. Christopher Gideons, commander of the task force, said June 8, 2018, at the Potomac Institute.
“When Marines deploy, they want to get involved,” he said. “When there is a gunfight out there … they want to find that opportunity to feel like they are making a meaningful contribution. We did exactly that.”
Gideons initially deployed a platoon-size element that linked up with ArmySpecial Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) teams.
“They were integrated with [special operations forces], absolutely integrated. We were providing Marine infantry, we were providing indirect fires, and we were providing anti-tank fires,” he said.
The SOF elements would push forward, advising Syrian Democratic Forces, “the ones that were primarily engaged in the direct firefights with ISIS,” Gideons said.
“You would have Marines integrated with those ODAs … providing fires down at that lower tactical level,” he said.
During its 243-day deployment, the unit had to conduct several “rapid planning processes” to deploy forces on short notice, he added.
Over time, more support was needed in Syria, so Gideons deployed more Marines to grow the platoon-size element to “two infantry [companies minus]” that were located in two separate locations in Northern Syria.
“We anticipated that that requirement would grow with a need for Marine Corps capabilities, and it did,” he said.
Soon the fighting intensified.
“On a number of different occasions, there would be various engagements, some direct, some indirect,” Gideons said. “As the SDF would close in sometimes, they would outstretch particularly what our mortar fires could provide.
“We would displace out of our small [forward operating bases] we were operating out of, move closer in behind the SDF and then provide fires — a lot of times mortar fire … and of course as you were getting into an engagement, there is the potential for stuff to come back at you,” he said.
Marines operated in both mounted and dismounted roles. F/A-18s coming out of Bahrain provided close-air support when needed, Gideons said.
Despite the action Marines saw, there were no casualties.
“I am very happy and proud to say that we brought everybody home,” Gideons said.
He described the deployment as “dynamic.”
“What was unique on our watch is over our 243 days in theater … from our perspective, we were more distributed than any other SPMAGTF up until that point,” he said. “We had Marines operating in 10 different countries and 24 separate locations. I had Marines from Egypt to Afghanistan.
“I didn’t own missions in Iraq or Syria, but I had capabilities that could augment and support that mission’s successful accomplishment.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
In the 16th century a Frenchman named Martin Guerre from the Pyrenees region of Southern France suddenly left his wife and children and disappeared. This sparked the most infamous incident of imposture, when one person tries to slip into another’s life, in recorded history. The story has been retold and sensationalized in fiction since it happened, from Alexandre Dumas’ stories, to “Mad Men,” to “The Simpsons.”
In exhaustive research on the origions of this impostor story, Natalie Zemon Davis referenced contemporary reports from relatives and locals indicating Guerre left to ultimately join the Army of Pedro de Mendoza where he participated in the attack St. Quentin during the Italian War of 1551-1559.
Guerre, a peasant, married the daughter of a local landowner, Bertrand, when both were 14 in the year 1527. They had a child eight years later. In 1548, Guerre disappeared after being accused of stealing grain from his father.
In 1556, a man claiming to be Martin Guerre appeared in the village. He had similar features and knew much of Guerre’s life and that was good enough for his wife and most of the townsfolk. For three years the new Martin Guerre lived with his wife. They had two more children and Martin would claim the inheritance of his father, much to his Uncle’s Pierre’s chagrin.
Pierre tried to convince Bertrand, Martin’s wife, that the new Martin wasn’t Martin at all, but an impostor. A soldier passing through the village claimed the new Martin couldn’t be the real Martin because the real one lost his leg in battle. Uncle Pierre and his sons attacked the would-be impostor with clubs, but Bertrande intervened on his behalf. The new Martin was put on trial for falsely claiming the identity of Martin, but with Bertrande on his side he was found innocent.
Pierre wasn’t finished. He launched a full-scale investigation and found the impostor was really Arnaud du Tilh, a drifter with a terrible reputation from a nearby village.
At a new trial, Bertrande accused the new Martin of being an imposter. But then Martin shared an intimate story from their relationship before Martin disappeared. Bertrande confirmed to the court that the story was accurate. Despite her corroborating the memory, 150 witnesses testified that the new Martin was really Arnaud du Tilh. The man was sentenced to death by beheading.
Tilh appealed his case to a Parliament in Toulouse and Bertrande and Pierre were arrested for perjury and bearing false witness. The judges in the new trial tended to believe the New Martin’s story more than seemingly-greedy Pierre’s.
That’s when the real Martin Guerre showed up at the trial. He had a wooden leg and was positively identified by Pierre, Bertrande, and his own four sisters. Arnaud was sentenced to death for adultery and fraud.
After he had left his family in 1548, the real Martin had joined a Spanish militia, guarded a cardinal, and then entered Mendoza’s army. That’s when he went to St. Quentin, a city on the French border with modern-day Belgium.
After the Battle of St. Quentin Guerre spent years living in a monastery before returning to his wife. Guerre did not initially accept Bertrande’s apologies, because he believed she shouldn’t have been with another man.
The night before his execution, Arnaud du Tilh confessed he learned about Guerre and his life after two men confused him with Guerre. He was hanged in front of the real Martin Guerre’s house days later. Bertrande, Davis hypothesizes, agreed to the fraud because she needed a husband and was unable to remarry in a strictly Catholic society.
A U.S. Navy destroyer had a close encounter with an Iranian vessel Monday, just two days before a crucial Iranian presidential election.
An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessel came within 1,000 meters of the USS Mahan, forcing it to fire flares toward the IRGC vessel after attempting to turn away from it, according to the Associated Press. The encounter is the latest of the Navy’s close encounters with Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf, coming two days before Iran’s radical conservative faction attempts to retake the presidency.
“[The] Mahan made several attempts to contact the Iranian vessel by bridge-to-bridge radio, issuing warning messages and twice sounding the internationally recognized danger signal of five short blasts with the ship’s whistle, as well as deploying a flare to determine the Iranian vessel’s intentions,” Lt. Ian McConnaughey, a 5th Fleet spokesman, told the AP in a statement Wednesday.
Iran’s leading conservative candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, is the supposed favorite of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate authority over the IRGC. It is unclear if the two events are related, but the timing of the event is telling. The IRGC’s provocation could be an attempt to exhibit the hardline faction’s strength against the U.S.
The Mahan had a previous encounter with Iranian vessels in January, at which time it was forced to fire warning shots at two patrol boats.
The IRGC has drastically increased its encounters with U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf. Many of the encounters occur near the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow channel through which 33 percent of the world’s oil passes. The U.S. Navy recorded 35 “unsafe and/or unprofessional” encounters with the IRGC in 2016, up from 23 in 2015. Seven such instances have been recorded in 2017, including Monday’s incident.
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After suggesting in late March 2018, that the US would be pulling out of Syria “very soon,” President Donald Trump reportedly told his national security team that he is open to keeping troops in the country for the time being, but wants to look to pull them out sometime soon, a senior administration official told CNN.
The US has now been involved in Syria for about three and a half years, having started its military intervention there as part of Operation Inherent Resolve in September 2014. The military has carried out numerous operations in Syria against ISIS and other targets, according to the Department of Defense, and members of the US Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Army are active in the country.
As of December 2017, there are approximately 2,000 US troops in the country. Four US soldiers have been killed in action in Syria.
The US has carried out over 14,989 airstrikes in Syria since 2014, according to the Pentagon.
While it is difficult to ascertain exactly how much the US military spent in Syria specifically, Operation Inherent Resolve as a whole has cost over over $18 billion as of February 2018, according to the Pentagon. The majority of these funds were spent on Air Force operations.
Since the US mission began, ISIS has seen its territory dwindle in Syria, and now almost all of its holdings have been conquered by local forces on the ground with US support.
US forces are fulfilling a variety of roles in the fight against ISIS
The US mission in Syria is aimed at defeating ISIS and its offshoots, providing coordination between air assets and troops on the ground and the anti-ISIS coalition. So far, this mission has largely been a military success — the group has reportedly lost over 98% of its territory since it stormed across Syria and Iraq in 2014.
(US Army photo)
The US has also been supporting Syrian Kurds in Syria’s north, bolstering a coalition of forces led by the Kurds called the Syrian Democratic Forces by deploying coalition advisers to train, advise, and assist the group. The SDF has conquered swathes of territory from ISIS in northeastern Syria with support from US airstrikes and special forces and, according to the Pentagon, is leading the fight against the remnants of the Islamist group in the country.
But the incredibly fractured nature of the conflict lends itself to additional challenges, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Business insider.
“It’s the most complex battlefield in modern warfare,” he said, explaining that there are active lines of communication open between US forces and other actors in the conflict like Turkey and Russia, which serve to avoid accidental military engagements and as deconfliction hotlines.
Pahon said that now that the active fight against ISIS is drawing down, the US is pivoting to civilian reconstruction efforts, clearing IEDs, and rebuilding civilian infrastructure.
“That’s a big challenge for getting people back into their homes, especially in populated areas like Raqqa,” Pahon said, citing numerous ways in which fleeing ISIS fighters have booby-trapped abandoned homes with explosives.
Pahon said part of the US civilian effort is training people on the ground on how to de-mine former urban battlefields.
He also pointed out that in addition to the military aspect of US operations in the country, other parts of the US government like the State Department and USAID are also active in reconciliation efforts, recovering water access, and rebuilding the power grids in destroyed towns and cities.
“It’s more than a military effort, it’s a whole of government effort,” he said.