The rapid turn toward diplomacy could defuse building tensions over the North’s accelerated testing of missile and nuclear devices to develop a nuclear-armed long- range missile that can target the U.S. mainland.
The Trump administration has led a “maximum pressure” campaign that imposed tough sanctions on Pyongyang, and planned for possible military action, if needed, to force the Kim government to give up its nuclear program.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said he was delighted with the progress being made to reduce regional tensions and facilitate direct talks between Trump and Kim.
The Chinese leadership has closely consulted the U.S. and South Korea on the prospects of talks. Lu Chao, a North Korea expert at the Liaoning Academy of Social Science in China said Beijing has nothing to fear from being left on the sidelines of the upcoming summit between Washington and its ally in Pyongyang.
“Beijing’s role will not be diminished. Neither will China’s interests be compromised if the U.S. engages in direct talks with the North Koreans,” said Lu.
The Global Times, China’s Communist Party newspaper, also reacted to the prospect of a Trump/Kim summit by urging the Chinese people to “avoid the mentality that China is being marginalized.”
Yet other China scholars in the region worry that Trump’s diplomatic initiative could undermine Beijing’s influence and further strain already tense relaxations between Xi and Kim.
“There is evidently anxiety on the progress being made in the absence of its [China’s] influence all of a sudden,” said Seo Jeong-kyung, a professor with the Sungkyun Institute of China Studies in Seoul.
North Korea has still not reacted to Trump’s response, nor confirmed the offer for a summit that was communicated though a South Korean envoy that met with Kim in Pyongyang.
If the summit does happen, Trump would be the first head of state who Kim Jong Un will meet since he came to power in 2012. The North Korean leader has yet to meet with Chinese President Xi.
Even though North Korea is dependent on China for over 90 percent of its trade, relations between the two allies has been strained over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. The young leader of North Korea has also not cultivated friendly ties with China, and has repeatedly ignored Beijing’s calls for Pyongyang to refrain from provocative missile and nuclear tests.
In contrast, Kim Jong Il, the father of the current North Korean leader, often visited with the leaders in Beijing, despite his own disagreement with China over nuclear weapons. In the 2000s China led six party talks – that included the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and Russia — to reach a denuclearization deal. But in 2009 Kim Jong Il walked away from these talks to resume his country’s nuclear development program.
President Xi’s frustration with past failure and with the young North Korea leader may also be part the reason why Beijing is willing to sit out the denuclearization talks this time.
“China wants to play some role, but the greatest obstacle is Kim Jong Un’s hostility against China,” said Shi Yinhong, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing.
Improving U.S.-North Korea relations could further estrange Kim from Xi. With a nuclear deal in place, the Trump administration would no longer need Beijing’s support on sanctions and could take a more confrontational approach to deal with Chinese trade issues and to counter Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
For China, there are clear benefits to a North Korea nuclear deal. It would reduce the potential for conflict in the region and restore expanding cross border economic activity.
Rather than lead to confrontation with the U.S. on other issues, there is also speculation that Beijing could leverage its support of U.S. led sanctions to end Washington’s objections to China’s claims in the South China Sea, or to the “One China Principle” on Taiwan.
“There have been discussions about trying to obtain the cooperation of the U.S. to unify Taiwan into China, after securing a good deal with the U.S. on the North Korea issue,” said Seo Jeong-kyung, with the Sungkyun Institute of China Studies.
A nuclear deal would also increase pressure on the United States and South Korea to reduce their military presence and remove the THAAD missile defense shield that was deployed on South Korea in 2017.
On August 27, the All American Riders held a motorcycle ride and charity event to raise awareness for veteran assistance programs. The event was called the “Silkies Slow Ride.”
We Are The Mighty’s Weston Scott joined other veterans in a patriotically revealing event where riders donned their “silky” workout shorts for the ride. Let’s just say that they were showing a lot of … freedom.
The purpose of the silkies on motorcycles was to encourage curious onlookers to ask questions and prompt a conversation about veterans issues — particularly the high rate of veteran suicides.
According to some stats, approximately 22 U.S. military veterans take their own lives each day. The men and women of All American Riders invited all veterans with motorcycles to ride through various cities in Southern California in their PT shorts to catch the public eye.
Air Force F-35A Joint Strike Fighters coordinated close air support with Navy SEALs, trained with F-15Es and A-10s, dropped laser-guided bombs and practiced key mission sets and tactics in Idaho as part of initial preparations for what will likely be its first deployment within several years, senior service officials said.
“We are practicing taking what would be a smaller contingent of jets and moving them to another location and then having them employ out of that location,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, Director, F-35 Integration Office told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While the Marine Corps has publically said it plans to deploy its Short-Take-off-and-Landing F-35B aboard an amphibious assault ship by 2017, the Air Force has been reluctant thus far to specify a deployment date for its F-35A variant.
However, Harrigian did say the Air Force plane would likely deploy within several years and pointed to recent mini-deployments of 6 F-35As from Edwards AFB in Calif., to Mountain Home AFB in Idaho as key evidence of its ongoing preparations.
“They dropped 30-bombs – 20 laser-guided bombs and 10 JDAMS (Joint Direct Attack Munitions). All of them were effective. We are trying to understand not only how we understand the airplane in terms of ordnance but also those tactics, techniques and procedures we need to prepare,” Harrigian explained.
During the exercises at Mountain Home AFB, the F-35A also practiced coordinating communications such as target identification, radio and other command and control functions with 4th-generation aircraft such as the F-15E, he added.
The training exercises in Idaho were also the first “real” occasion to test the airplane’s ability to use its computer system called the Autonomic Logistic Information System, or ALIS. The Air Force brought servers up to Mountain Home AFB to practice maintaining data from the computer system.
A report in the Air Force Times indicated that lawmakers have expressed some concerns about the development of ALIS, which has been plagued with developmental problems such as maintenance issues and problems referred to as “false positives.”
“This is a new piece of the weapons system. It has been challenging and hard. You have all this data about your airplanes. We learned some things that we were able to do in a reasonable amount of time,” Harrigian said.
F-35A “Sensor Fusion”
The computer system is essential to what F-35 proponents refer to as “sensor fusion,” a next-generation technology which combines and integrates information from a variety of sensors onto a single screen. As a result, a pilot does not have to look at separate displays to calculate mapping information, targeting data, sensor input and results from a radar warning receiver.
Harrigian added that his “fusion” technology allows F-35A pilots to process information and therefore make decisions faster than a potential enemy. He explained how this bears upon the historic and often referred to OODA Loop – a term to connote the Observation Orientation, Decision, Action cycle that fighter pilots need to go through in a dogfight or combat engagement in order to successfully destroy the enemy. The OODA-Loop concept was developed by former Air Force strategist Col. John Boyd; it has been a benchmark of fighter pilot training, preparation and tactical mission execution.
“As we go in and start to target the enemy, we are maximizing the capabilities of our jets. The F-35 takes all that sensor input and gives it to you in one picture. Your ability to make decisions quicker that the enemy is exponentially better than when we were trying to put it all together in a 4th generation airplane. You are arriving already in a position of advantage,” Harrigian explained.
Also, the F-35 is able to fire weapons such as the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile “off boresight,” meaning it can destroy enemy targets at different angles of approach that are not necessarily directly in front of the aircraft.
“Before you get into an engagement you will have likely already shot a few missiles at the enemy,” Harrigian said.
The F-35s Electro-Optical Targeting System, or EOTS, combines forward-looking infrared and infrared search and track sensor technology for pilots – allowing them to find and track targets before attacking with laser and GPS-guided precision weapons.
The EOTs system is engineered to work in tandem with a technology called the Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, a collection of six cameras strategically mounted around the aircraft to give the pilot a 360-degree view.
The DAS includes precision tracking, fire control capabilities and the ability to warn the pilot of an approaching threat or missile.
An F-35B dropping a GBU-12 during a developmental test flight. | U.S. Air Force photo
The F-35 is also engineered with an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. This paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and, along with Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on-the-move on the ground and airborne objects or threats.
F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Deployment
The Air Force plans to announce what’s called Initial Operational Capability, or IOC, of its F-35A at some point between August and December of this year; seven F-35As are preparing for this at Hill AFB, Utah.
There is an operational unit at Hill AFB which, this coming June, is slated to go to Mountain Home for its training and preparation. They are the 34th Fighter Squadron
“All of this is part of a robust schedule of activities,” Harrigian added.
Following this development, the F-35A will be ready for deployment, Harrigian explained.
Once deployed, the F-35 will operate with an advanced software drop known as “3F” which will give the aircraft an ability to destroy enemy air defenses and employ a wide range of weapons.
Full operational capability will come with Block 3F, service officials said.
Block 3F will increase the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb, 500-pound JDAM and AIM 9X short-range air-to-air missile, Air Force officials said.
As per where the initial squadron might deploy, Harrigian said that would be determined by Air Combat Command depending upon operational needs at that time. He did, however, mention the Pacific theater and Middle East as distinct possibilities.
“Within a couple years, I would envision they will take the squadron down range. Now, whether they go to Pacific Command or go to the Middle East – the operational environment and what happens in the world will drive this. If there is a situation where we need this capability and they are IOC – then Air Combat Command is going to take a hard look at using these aircraft,” he said.
The KC-135 Stratotanker, one of the oldest aircraft still flying in the US Air Force today, will likely get a life extension thanks to budget and replacement issues according to Gen. Carlton Everhart of Air Mobility Command, adding over 40 more years to its service record which began in the mid-1950s.
By the time this legendary aerial refueler enters retirement and is phased out from the USAF once and for all, it will have served just over 100 years — longer than any other aircraft in American history. Having seen action in virtually every American-involved conflict since 1956, the Stratotanker is easily one of the most recognizable and beloved aircraft flying today with the Air Force.
The KC-135 was, at first, supposed to be replaced entirely by the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus. But thanks to budget cuts and slashes to the projected buy for the KC-46, the Air Force will be left with a shortage of tankers to carry out aerial refueling operations both at home and overseas, severely impacting the service’s ability to extend the range of the vast majority of its aircraft. Instead, the Air Force will be looking to upgrade its KC-135s into a “Super Stratotanker” of sorts, keeping it flying for 40 more years until the branch initiates the KC-Z replacement program to supersede the Stratotanker for good.
Crew members from the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron prepare to take off in a KC-135 Stratotanker before performing a refueling mission over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve September 15, 2016. The KC-135 provides the core aerial refueling capability for the U.S. Air Force and has excelled in this role for more than 50 years — and could be on the flightline for another 40 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Douglas Ellis/Released)
The KC-46, the result of the controversial KC-X program, was destined to be a larger longer-range follow-on to the KC-135, featuring two engines instead of four, and greater fuel carriage capacity, allowing for more aircraft to be refueling during a typical mission than what the Stratotanker could handle. However, the program has been constantly plagued with a variety of issues including cost overruns and delays, which ultimately led to the Air Force scaling down the number of Pegasus tankers it originally planned on buying to just 179.
This pushes retiring the KC-135 out of the question, as the Air Force (and Air National Guard) require a greater number of tankers to continue carrying out their mission at home and around the world.
While the USAF will continue with its plans to field the Pegasus, the Stratotanker fleet’s life-extension seems inevitable. At the moment, the Air Force has already begun the $910 million Block 45 extension program, which seeks to keep these 60-year-old aircraft relevant and able to meet the needs of the modern Air Force. As part of the Block 45 updates, all American KC-135s will receive a new glass cockpit, replacing the older analog/gauge cockpits still in use, new avionics and an upgraded autopilot system, an enhanced navigation suite, and much more.
To keep the KC-135 flying for 40 more years, an advanced networking and electronic countermeasures suite would likely be the next upgrade the Air Force will pursue with the aircraft, during or after the completion of Block 45, which will end in 2028. Currently, the USAF estimates that their KC-135s have only used up around 35 percent of their lifetime flying hours, meaning that the aircraft is perfectly capable of flying on until 2040 with regular maintenance and scheduled overhauls.
As of 2014, there are 414 KC-135s in service with the US military — 167 assigned to the active duty Air Force, 180 to the Air National Guard, and 67 in the Air Force Reserve. Once the Air Force finishes procuring its 179 KC-46s, the number of Stratotankers in service will likely drop by 100 airframes, which will be retired to the boneyard at Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona.
It’s also probable that the KC-135’s current [younger] sister tanker, the three-engined KC-10 Extender, will receive a similar upgrade to keep its smaller fleet flying longer. Eventually, both of these aircraft will see their flying days come to an end with the initiation of the KC-Y and KC-Z next generation tanker programs, still decades away from coming to fruition.
With each passing hour, Mayra Guillen is consumed by one thought: Will Vanessa be found today?
“I don’t even know what’s keeping me going,” Mayra said. “Sometimes I don’t get hungry. I have my days when I feel like giving up, but then I think about it and I say, ‘What if I’m a step away? What if tomorrow’s the day?”’
Army Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, Mayra’s younger sister, has been missing since April 22 at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Guillen, 20, was last seen in the parking lot of her squadron headquarters, wearing a black T-shirt and purple “fitness-type” pants. Guillen is of Hispanic descent. She is 5 feet, 2 inches tall, weighs 126 pounds and has black hair and brown eyes.
The Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) is working with other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety. More than 150 people have been interviewed, and ground and air searches have been conducted, the CID said.
Along with her barracks room key, ID card and wallet, Guillen’s car keys were discovered the day she disappeared in the armory room where she was working, the CID said.
“We are completely committed to finding Vanessa and aggressively going after every single piece of credible information and every lead in this investigation,” Chris Grey, CID chief of public affairs, said in a news release this week. “We will not stop until we find Vanessa.”
The CID is offering a reward up to ,000 in its search for Guillen, whose case has drawn the attention of, among others, actress Salma Hayek.
“We will maintain our resolve to locate Pfc. Vanessa Guillen and will continue our efforts until she is found,” Col. Ralph Overland, 3rd Calvary Regiment commander at Fort Hood, said in a separate news release.
A team of investigators at Fort Hood will look into allegations that Guillen was being sexually harassed, it was announced Thursday.
Searches are ongoing for missing Soldier Pfc. Vanessa Guillén. Troopers from Thunder Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, receive a brief prior to going out on searches recently in the training area at Fort Hood, Texas. (Army courtesy photo.)
Guillen, the second-oldest of six children, was raised in Houston. As a child, she loved playing soccer and running. The medals from her races would hang in her room.
Vanessa and Mayra traded turns doing each other’s hair and makeup. Mayra was not surprised when Vanessa enlisted.
“She knew right away she wasn’t suited to work in an office or something in an environment where you have to sit down, just be still,” Mayra said. “She’s really active, so when she started looking up about joining the Army, she saw a future there. She wanted to represent the country, have some type of honor because you have to honor and respect our soldiers.”
Vanessa was taking online classes and planned to study kinesiology, the science of human movement.
Investigators said they do not believe that Guillen’s disappearance is related to the case of PV2 Gregory Morales, who had not been seen since last Aug. 19. Morales’ remains were found Friday in a field in Killeen. An autopsy is pending.
“It’s something that I still can’t accept,” Mayra said. “I still can’t believe this happened, and I’m having to deal with it. … I still honestly believe that she’s alive and she’s waiting to be found, and by the grace of God, it’s going to happen.”
Early in the morning of Nov. 19, 2017. an Okinawa-based Marine drove his truck while impaired – at three times Japan’s legal limit. The Marine ran a red light, driving into oncoming traffic and hitting another truck driven by 61-year old, Jun Tamanaha. Tamanaha was killed in the incident.
The Marine is identified as Pvt. First Class Nicholas James-McLean.
“I would like to convey my deepest regret and sincere condolences to the family and friends of the Okinawan man who died as a result of this accident. We are still gathering facts and working with the Japanese authorities who are investigating the accident and its causes,” Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force said in an official statement.
In response, U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez ordered all Japan-based troops banned from buying or consuming alcohol until further notice.
“Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen must return to quarters and cease consuming alcohol effective immediately,” says the order from III Marine Expeditionary Force. “Off base liberty is NOT permitted in Okinawa. Authorized leave is to be conducted outside Okinawa.”
This was not a knee jerk reaction. Over the years, there have been many incidents involving U.S. troops stationed in Okinawa under the influence of alcohol. This sparked many local Japanese protests against the troops stationed there.
In July 2017, some 25,000 protested after a Marine drunkenly broke into a house and molested a young girl. In June 2016, 65,000 protesters assembled after an American contractor raped and murdered another local woman. One of the largest to date was in 1995, after three service members abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl, causing 85,000 protesters to rally.
As rival powers develop increasingly capable air-defense networks, the US military is working with defense firms to arm the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter with a missile able to destroy these systems at long range.
Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $34.7 million contract to modify the stealth jet’s internal weapons bay to carry “aft heavy weaponry,” the Department of Defense announced July 2019.
The “aft heavy weaponry” referenced in the announcement is the Navy’s Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile — Extended Range (AARGM-ER), a standoff weapon designed to target enemy radar systems from outside the range of enemy air-defense assets, a source close to the project told Aviation Week.
Northrop Grumman, which is responsible for the development of the AARGM-ER, has said that this long-range weapon can be deployed from a “sanctuary,” a protected area presumably beyond the reach of Chinese and Russian anti-access area-denial capabilities.
U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
The exact range of the weapon is classified, although there are reports that it could be in excess of 120 miles, significantly farther than the 60 to 80 miles of the AGM-88E AARGM.
The US Navy began developing the AARGM-ER, officially designated the AGM-88G, nearly two years ago with reported plans to field this weapon on nonstealthy fourth-generation fighters like the carrier-based F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and the electronic attack EA-18G Growlers sometime in the early 2020s.
The service is expected to later integrate the missile into the weapons bay of the fifth-generation F-35Cs, which only recently achieved initial operating capability.
The Air Force, also a part of the project, is expected to field the AGM-88G on its F-35As around 2025. The Marine Corps F-35Bs, because of the presence of the lift fan, has very limited space in its internal weapons bay.
F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter in-flight missile launch.
(F-35 Program Office)
The F-35 modifications, which will involve changes to the Station 425 bulkhead in the weapons bay, will also allow the advanced fighters to carry more air-to-air missiles internally, Aviation Week reported. The “Sidekick” modification, as the program is called, will allow the F-35 to carry six AIM-120 radar-guided air-to-air missiles, instead of four, internally.
The ability to store more firepower in the weapons bay rather than externally allows the F-35 to maintain its all-aspect stealth in combat. Storing the weapons on the outside in the “beast-mode” configuration allows the aircraft to carry more weapons overall, but it increases the size of the jet’s radar signature, making it easier to detect.
The modifications will be made at a facility in Fort Worth, Texas, and completed in 2022.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
But a new study of the victims of these mysterious phenomena suggests a new, disconcerting possibility: Some unknown force projected in the direction of the patients could have somehow injured their brains.
“The unique circumstances of these patients and the consistency of the clinical manifestations raised concern for a novel mechanism of a possible acquired brain injury from a directional exposure of undetermined etiology,” the study’s authors wrote.
The saga began in late 2016 when American diplomatic staff (and some Canadians) that had been in Cuba began to report odd physical and mental symptoms. Some could no longer remember words, while others had hearing loss, speech problems, balance issues, nervous-system damage, headaches, ringing in the ears, and nausea.
Some even showed signs of brain swelling or concussions — mild traumatic brain injuries.
Many of the victims remember strange occurrences before the symptoms appeared, though others didn’t hear or feel anything. One diplomat reported a “blaring, grinding noise” that woke him from his bed in a Havana hotel, according to the Associated Press. The AP also reported that some heard a “loud ringing or a high-pitch chirping similar to crickets or cicadas” in short bursts at night, while others said they could walk “in” and “out” of blaring noises that were audible only in certain spots.
The US State Department eventually determined that the incidents were “specific attacks” and moved to cut its Cuban embassy staff by 60%.
But despite that determination, no one understands those “specific attacks” or is even sure they’re responsible for everything that’s happened. According to ProPublica, the FBI hasn’t even been able to rule out the possibility that some of the patients were never attacked in the first place.
Studying the victims
Most of the victims were first examined in Miami, but a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair were selected to help further evaluate and treat at least 21 patients, whose cases are described in the new study.
By studying those 11 women and 10 men, the researchers were able to establish a significant amount of common ground among the patients. More than 80% reported hearing a sound that had a “directional” source — it seemed to come from somewhere. After three months, 81% still had cognitive issues, 71% had balance problems, 86% had vision issues, and about 70% still reported hearing problems and headaches.
The fact that a number of these symptoms could be subjective has raised questions about the possibility that this group of people is suffering from some sort of collective delusion, according to the study authors. But they say that mass delusion is unlikely, since affected individuals were all highly motivated and of a broad age distribution, factors that don’t normally correspond with mass psychogenic illness. Plus, objective tests of ears and eye motion all revealed real clinical abnormalities.
All these symptoms seem consistent with some form of mild brain trauma, according to the researchers. But these symptoms persisted far longer than most concussion symptoms do, and were not associated with blunt head trauma.
“These individuals appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma,” the study authors wrote.
Mysterious weapons — or something else?
Despite having identified common symptoms and clinical evidence of some sort of injury, researchers are still at a loss about the cause.
If there is some kind of weapon involved, no one knows what kind it was or who would have used it. The Cuban government has denied any connection and investigators haven’t found any link to Russia, which intelligence analysts had speculated might have the means and motivation to carry out an attack.
The reported presence of strange audio and of the feeling of changes in air pressure have led to speculation about some kind of sonic or audio-based weapon. But even though sonic weapons exist, they’re very visible and easy to avoid, according to Seth Horowitz, a neuroscientist who wrote the book “The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind. Plus, the specific symptoms make that unlikely.
“There isn’t an acoustic phenomenon in the world that would cause those type of symptoms,” said Horowitz.
He speculated that perhaps some sort of mysterious pathogen or other phenomenon could have caused the symptoms, but the authors of the new study report that no signs infection (like fever) were identified. They determined it was unlikely a chemical agent would have caused these effects without damaging other organs.
In an editorial published alongside the new study, two doctors wrote that without more information and more data on the patients before they reported feeling ill, we can’t be certain what went wrong.
“At this point, a unifying explanation for the symptoms experienced by the US government officials described in this case series remains elusive and the effect of possible exposure to audible phenomena is unclear,” the editorial’s authors wrote. “Going forward, it would be helpful for government employees traveling to Cuba to undergo baseline testing prior to deployment to allow for a more informed interpretation of abnormalities that might later be detected after a potential exposure.”
Every year, Wreaths Across America works to ensure that every one of the nearly 250,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery has a wreath on it for Christmas. This year, though, they are very short, and whether they succeed is very much in doubt.
According to a report by the Washington Examiner, this year the group is almost 120,000 wreaths short of being able to accomplish its mission. That means nearly half the graves at the cemetery where two presidents (John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft), 367 recipients of the Medal of Honor, Thomas G. Lanphier Jr. (the pilot who shot down the plane carrying Isoroku Yamamoto), Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom and Roger Chafee, the crew of the space shuttle Challenger, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover and General of the Armies John J. Pershing would not be decorated.
“Last year at this time we were still short, but not by quite as many. I think a lot of people drive by the cemetery in December and see all those wreaths and unfortunately people still believe that the government does that like they do the flags on Memorial Day,” Wayne Hanson, the chairman of the board for Wreaths Across America told the Examiner.
The origins of Wreaths Across America go back to 1992, when 5,000 surplus wreaths were donated to decorate headstones at Arlington. The ceremony continued until taking off in 2002. In 2007, the organization was recognized as a not-for-profit 501(c)3.
According to the organization’s website, in 2015 over 168 companies delivered over 300 truckloads of wreaths to be placed on the graves of veterans.
The U.S. Army loves robots and wants its soldiers to love them, too. The U.S. Army Joint Modernization Command recently conducted its annual Joint Warfighting Assessment in the Pacific Northwest, with most of the testing at the Yakima Training Center. From late April to May 11, 2019, troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 2-2 Stryker Brigade and 2nd Ranger battalion, along with U.S. Marines from Camp Lejune and Camp Pendleton, tested new weapon concepts for a Pacific war scenario set in 2028.
One of the concepts they were testing was the “optionally manned vehicle,” which would allow leaders in the field to decide to switch their systems to remote operating systems instead of putting their troops on the line.
“The idea is that the robotics could be available, so when they pick that platform you can put the robotics on it, and now you can do the manned (or) unmanned team and push the robotics out on the battlefield,” explained Lieutenant Colonel John Fursmo, the officer commanding the opposing force for the exercise.
The Assault Breacher Vehicle.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Some of the vehicles that have been brought out for testing are actually quite old, brought back to life and stuffed with robotic capabilities by engineers tinkering with them like Frankenstein’s monster. Troops and engineers explain that it’s all about testing, experimentation and soldier feedback. “These are concepts, these are not necessarily the pieces of equipment we would actually use,” said Fursmo. “The Army still has to decide what it wants for this new combat vehicle that will replace some tanks and other armored vehicles.”
Fursmo pointed to an old M58 mobile recon vehicle that’s been retrofitted with remote control capabilities. “It’s a tracked vehicle, it’s been in the Army a very long time, [and] essentially the Army stopped using it several years ago because the mission itself was so dangerous that it was just decided it wasn’t worth it,” he explained. “But make it a robot and now it’s at least conceptually worth looking at it again.”
Robotics and digital tech are already changing the way wars both big and small are being fought around the world every day. What were once science fiction dreams (or nightmares) aren’t as far away as some might think. Some are already here.
An experimental quadcopter mounted on a Stryker during JWA 19.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Eyes in the Sky
Cavalry scouts often call themselves the ninjas of the U.S. Army. Though considered combat troops, their job is more often to scope out the enemy without drawing fire and to report their findings. “A big problem we have is seeing without being seen,” explained Major Dave Scherke, a cav scout squadron leader with the 2-2 Stryker Brigade.
A scout team might move with three troops aboard a Stryker and three dismounted on the ground. They use maps, rulers, and measuring tape to take down mission critical information while conducting route reconnaissance. “It’s very time consuming and, from a security standpoint, can leave you exposed,” Scherken said.
However, at Yakima Training Center, Scherke’s men have been testing the Sensor Enabled Scout Platoon concept. They’ve tested the “Instant Eye” quad copter, an aerial drone surveillance system. “We have that all the way down to the squad level. So instead of just having one of these for each one of my cav troops, now I have six of them, and that massively increases our ability to see over the ridge and see the enemy first,” Scherke explained.
The quad copter itself isn’t particularly unique — you can buy similar models at Best Buy. Drones have already become part of the new normal for warfare. In Iraq and Syria, ISIS militants have used store-bought drones to help them target mortars and have even modified them to drop grenades and other improvised explosives. During the battle of Mosul, frustrated Iraqi troops started purchasing commercial drones of their own to fight ISIS. Robots are everywhere.
However, the small drones the scouts are testing are equipped with the Instrument Set Reconnaissance and Survey (ENFIRE) system that uses software and algorithms that can help measure terrain features, roads, and even calculate how much weight a bridge is capable of supporting. “There’s a bridge classification app that tells you the whole bridge classification,” said Colonel Chuck Roede, the deputy commander of JMC. “It really allows the scouts to do the job we expect them to do.”
ENFIRE connects directly to systems in the Stryker itself, which connects to a larger network. “It takes all that information, aggregates it into a computer, and creates a route overlay,” Scherke explained. “[Plugging] into our mission command systems to send very rapidly [means] our logistics planners and our other maneuver planners can get that information right away. So it speeds up what our scouts can do, and now instead of having six scouts on the ground just doing this while other guys are securing them, you can put fewer scouts on the ground to do that mission.”
Deep purple, the drone utilized by chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist, prepares to lift off on an NBC reconnaissance mission at the Joint Warfighting Assessment 19 training exercise at Yakima Training Center, Yakima, Washington, April 29, 2019.
(Photo by Pfc. Valentina Y. Montano/302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army)
The Instant Eye has night vision, infrared, and powerful zoom and camera clarity features for checking out targets, as well as signal tracking. “We can get some eyes on there without exposing our scouts and then bring indirect fires down to win that fight first because we want to be fighting an unfair fight,” said Scherke.
Cav scout Sergeant Joseph Gaska, who was in the field operating the prototype, told Coffee or Die that he was impressed with it. “As long as you’re high enough, you won’t hear it, so it’s not going to be that buzzing sound above your head,” he said of small, nimble drones’ ability to move nearly undetected. It has other ambitious features, too, Gaska noted. For instance, he said that if they were to somehow lose their connection to the drone, it’s programmed to remember where its handlers are and will return to them.
The Joint Warfighting Assessment JWA19 WA, UNITED STATES 04.28.2019
One of the most difficult things ground troops are asked to do is breaching operations against enemy strongholds. The defending side nearly always has the advantage. Good defenders lay out layers of defense that can include walls, barbed wire, ditches, minefields, and countless other hazards and traps. “It’s a very challenging task because you have to imagine your opponent on the far side of that position ready to destroy you with every weapon system that they have,” Fursmo said. “If you can take humans out of that, you’re going to have fewer casualties — it’s really the most dangerous thing a ground force does.”
Troops in the field trained with various aerial drones for detecting chemical threats and minefields, but more of the efforts focused on ground-based systems. One of the key systems they were testing was the Assault Breacher Vehicle. Their ABV working prototype was built around the hull of an M1A1 Abrams tank armed with mine charges and a .50-caliber machine gun and equipped with plows and dozer blades.
“Basically, the concept of this vehicle is that this one vehicle with two operators can do what an entire platoon of engineers would be required to do in a breach,” U.S. Marine 1st Lt. David Aghakhan explained. “It’s not taking anything away from my capabilities — I can still manually operate it — but it gives me the option of saying ‘I don’t want to expose my Marines in this obstacle belt because it’s too dangerous,’ and I can pull them out and we can robotically operate it.”
A soldier remotely operates a humvee from inside another humvee.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Working from remote controls in command vehicles, soldiers and Marines could also remotely control other vehicles to move in and provide suppressing fire for the ABV as it worked to clear mines, smash berms, and deal with other obstacles. Captain Nicole Rotte, an Afghanistan veteran and commander of the 2-2’s engineer company, said that she was impressed with it.
“The challenge that I have is my planning factor for moving through a breach is 50 percent loss,” said Rotte. “So all these concepts, to be able to take an unmanned vehicle and bring them down the battlefield, to be able save soldiers from being lost in the breach, that’s awesome for me.”
Rotte said they only had minor technical issues that were easily solved by turning the systems off and on again. She added that if anything, she’s excited for the prospect of having more robots available to her and seeing what they can do.
Unmanning the Battlefield?
Some futurists have envisioned a world in which war was waged entirely by robots. The U.S. military and CIA have already used drones with operators in Nevada pulling the trigger to kill enemies as far away as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. However, while the vehicles are referred to as “unmanned,” they require regular maintenance — and usually have a human operator somewhere.
At times, U.S. military commanders have underestimated the strain on personnel in regard to upkeep and the long hours of operation. “The explosion in demand had created a snowball effect that never allowed the […] staff to take a pause and say, ‘Let’s normalize all the processes that we should be doing,'” the Air Force reported in one of its official annual histories from 2012. “Instead, normalization was put off to some future date after the pace of combat operations slowed down.”
But the wars continued, as did the extreme hours. Airmen working six days a week were constantly asked to work extra hours while leave got cancelled. They were never “deployed” but remained almost constantly on duty, remotely fighting wars in several countries that were continents away. “It’s at the breaking point and has been for a long time,” a senior Air Force official told The Daily Beast in 2015. “What’s different now is that the Band-Aid fixes are no longer working.”
A remotely operated humvee with a robotic firing turret.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Even without the logistical hurdles, many commanders (even those that fully embrace a robotic future for war) don’t believe grunts will ever become obsolete. “It’s technologically feasible to fly a drone from Nevada and have it circling over Iraq or Afghanistan. But the demands of the terrain, as Army soldiers we are so tied to the terrain — you need to have leaders on the ground to see and understand the terrain,” Roede said.
Col. Christopher Barnwell, head of the field experimentation division at JMC, said that while he could see a future where commanders could run a war without ever going to the field — adding that at this point communications are advanced enough that senior officers already don’t have to — he doesn’t think a good leader would choose to stay home while war is raging elsewhere.
“No commander I know would do that,” he said. “I feel like I need to be on the ground and see things with my own eyes and get a feel for what’s going. Technically possible? Yes. Likely? I don’t personally think so.”
An Alabama Army National Guard Soldier with the 690th Chemical Company inspects a “deep purple” drone at YTC at Joint Warfighting Assessment 19, May 4, 2019.
(Photo by Pfc. Valentina Y. Montano/ 302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, U.S. Army)
While they don’t see human judgement being removed from the equation, some military planners are excited by the prospect of artificial intelligence to allow vehicles to move on their own on the battlefield.
“As the concept matures, as we bring in elements of AI, as we bring in some measures of autonomy, the ratio of operators to vehicles will drop so that eventually you’ll have one operator who can control maybe a squad or platoon’s worth of vehicles,” said Roede. He suggested that AI could allow vehicles to autonomously navigate terrain and even rally into formations as they haul supplies and weapons.
Barnwell suggested it potentially going even further — he can foresee a day in the future when leaders can delegate to robotic weapons systems in combat and allow them to autonomously pick and engage targets.
“You tell these robotic vehicles, ‘You’ve got this part of the engagement area, and you are free to shoot at enemy vehicles; anything north of the niner-niner grid line is enemy and you are free to shoot it,'” Barnwell said. “And because these vehicles have AI, they know what to shoot […] on their own.”
However, the prospect of robots that can autonomously kill enemies based on algorithms or pre-programmed targets sets has potentially serious ramifications. The recent battles for Mosul and Raqqa proved incredibly bloody. House-to-house fighting and heavy bombing and artillery strikes led to untold deaths of civilians trapped in the cities, and the work of rebuilding the infrastructure since the battles ended has been slow.
Military strategists believe that urban fighting could be the norm for the 21st century. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and that’s expected to grow. In particular, there are concerns about the challenges posed by potentially fighting in massive megacities like Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, or Lagos. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley has pointed out that the entirety of Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — isn’t equal to a neighborhood in Seoul.
Conceptual prototypes at Yakima Training Center.
(Photo by Kevin Knodell/Coffee or Die)
Heavily armed robots combing the streets of a densely populated megacity picking targets based on algorithms have the potential to cause a lot of unintended collateral death and destruction. Machines feel neither remorse nor pity.
Barnwell said that they’re already considering these potential problems. “Through programming, we would be able to figure out what are appropriate targets, what are not. What is the ROE (rules of engagement), what are we going to allow these things to shoot at by themselves, and what are we not going to allow them to shoot at by themselves,” he explained. “In a megacity, for example, we may not even employ this sort of thing — or we may, depending on what the intelligence tells us the enemy is out there.”
But Roede stressed again that fighting wars is going to remain a fundamentally human endeavor, adding, “I don’t think we’ll ever be at a place where we’ll let the machine make the final decision on anything.”
A sailor assigned to Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Georgia was selected Dec. 7, 2018, as one of the Navy’s first warrant officer 1s since the rank was discontinued in 1975.
The Navy announced in NAVADMIN 293/18 the selection of Cryptologic Technician (Networks) 1st Class Nicholas T. Drenning and five other petty officers to the newly reestablished rank.
The warrant officer 1 rank was reinstated through the Cyber Warrant Officer In-Service Procurement Selection Board in order to retain cyber-talent and fill leadership roles. The Navy began accepting applications in June 2018 from CTNs in the paygrades of E-5 and E-6 who met Naval Enlisted Classification and time-in-service requirements.
Drenning, who was a second class petty officer when he submitted his package but promoted to petty officer first class in December 2018, applied for the warrant officer program to remain on a technical career path and shape the Navy’s cyber forces. He said he believes a strong technical background and dedication to training others directly contributed to his selection.
“After taking the enlisted advancement exam multiple times, I wanted to prove it to myself and the warrant officer selection board that they chose the right candidate” Drenning said. “Now I am excited to set a new precedent and build on the heritage and traditions that make the Navy unique.”
The Navy’s new W-1s will be worn on their covers instead of the traditional officer badge.
Drenning currently has nine years of enlisted service and is slated to be appointed to warrant officer 1 in September 2019. He said he looks forward to working with the other warrant officer selectees many of whom he has worked with previously in Maryland and Georgia.
“My personal focus will be fulfilling the intent of the program, which stresses technical expertise,” Drenning said. “Part of shaping our community is going to be building effective relationships with junior-enlisted, the chief’s mess and fellow officers.”
Upon appointment, Drenning said he looks forward to filling many different cyber work roles and mission sets as he helps to shape policy and build an effective cyber force.
NIOC Georgia conducts SIGINT, cyber and information operations for Fleet, Joint and National Commanders. The command supports operational requirements and deployment of Naval forces as directed by combatant and service component commanders.
Since its establishment, FCC/C10F has grown into an operational force composed of more than 14,000 Active and Reserve Sailors and civilians organized into 28 active commands, 40 Cyber Mission Force units, and 26 reserve commands around the globe. FCC serves as the Navy component command to U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command, and the Navy’s Service Cryptologic Component commander under the National Security Agency/Central Security Service. C10F, the operational arm of FCC, executes its mission through a task force structure similar to other warfare commanders. In this role, C10F provides support of Navy and joint missions in cyber/networks, cryptologic/signals intelligence and space.
For the first time since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, NASA says it may soon have the capability to send astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.
Critical milestones are on the horizon for Boeing and SpaceX, the space agency’s commercial crew partners: Flight tests of their spacecraft, including crewed missions, are planned for 2018.
That’s launched something of a “new space race” at the Kennedy Space Center, officials said.
“We have invested a lot as a center, as a nation into Kennedy Space Center to ready us for that next 50 years of spaceflight and beyond,” saidTom Engler, the center’s director of planning and development. “You see the dividends of that now, these commercial companies buying into what we’re doing.”
The public-private partnership is transforming Kennedy Space Center into a multiuser spaceport. NASA is developing the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft for missions to deep space, including to Mars, leaving private companies to send people to low Earth orbit.
Boeing is building the CST-100 Starliner, a spacecraft that will send astronauts to the space station, in a hangar once used to prepare space shuttles for flight. Three Starliners are in production, including one that will fly astronauts next year.
“If Mars is the pinnacle of Mount Everest, low Earth orbit is base camp. The commercial companies are the sherpas that haul things there,” saidChris Ferguson, a former NASA astronaut and director of crew and mission operations at Boeing. “It opens up a whole new world of business.”
SpaceX, which flies cargo missions to the space station with its Dragon spacecraft, has modified an old shuttle launch pad for its Falcon 9 rockets, which the company has successfully reused. It plans to use Dragon 2, a new version of the spacecraft, to send astronauts to the space station.
Blue Origin, founded by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is building a rocket factory; it also plans to launch its rockets from Cape Canaveral.
Boeing and United Launch Alliance built a crew access tower so astronauts can board the Starliner. The Atlas V, one of the world’s most reliable rockets, will launch the spacecraft and its astronauts.
“This is really the Apollo era for the next generation,” said Shannon Coggin, a production integration specialist at United Launch Alliance. “This is inspiring this next generation to fall in love with space again, to really test their boundaries and us paving their way for the future of commercial space exploration.”
To meet NASA’s requirements, Boeing and SpaceX must demonstrate their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station.SpaceX’s first flight test is scheduled for February. Boeing’s is scheduled for June.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “supervised” the test firing of a new tactical guided weapon, according to the country’s propaganda outlet on April 17, 2019.
It is unclear what type of weapon it was, but the regime claimed the test served as an “event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power.”
North Korea claimed the weapon has a guiding system and was capable of being outfitted with “a powerful warhead.”
The test comes months after the summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Vietnam ended with no tangible results. Last week, Kim said he was willing to meet Trump for the third time later this year, but tempered expectations by saying it would be “difficult to get such a good opportunity.”
President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong Un in Vietnam.
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
North Korea has long argued that the United State’s “maximum pressure” sanctions policy was detrimental to diplomacy.
“If it keeps thinking that way, it will never be able to move the DPRK even a knuckle, nor gain any interests no matter how many times it may sit for talks with the DPRK,” Kim said, according to North Korea’s propaganda agency.
North Korea made similar statements on an undisclosed weapon system in November, when Kim was said to have supervised a test of a “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon.”
Experts theorized at the time that the purported weapon was not nuclear in nature. Instead of a long-range missile with the capability to strike the US, South Korean experts suggested the weapon could have been a missile, artillery, anti-air weapons, or a drone, The Associated Press reported.
INSIDER reached out to the Pentagon for more information and will update as necessary.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.