DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter - We Are The Mighty
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DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
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The US military has enlisted academics to fight a new enemy: Twitter bots.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held a special contest last year to identify so-called “influence bots”  — “realistic, automated identities that illicitly shape discussion on sites like Twitter and Facebook.”

The fascinating 4-week competition, called the DARPA Twitter Bot Challenge, was detailed in a paper published this week.

The paper minces no words about how dangerous it is that human-like bots on social media can accelerate recruitment to organizations like ISIS, or grant governments the ability to spread misinformation to their people. Proven uses of influence bots in the wild are rare, the paper notes, but the threat is real.

The contest

And so, the surprisingly simple test. DARPA placed “39 pro-vaccination influence bots” onto a fake, Twitter-like social network. Importantly, competing teams didn’t know how many influence bots there were in total.

Teams from the University of Southern California, Indiana University, Georgia Tech, Sentimetrix, IBM, and Boston Fusion worked over the four weeks to find them all.

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
A Twitter bot post | Twitter

With 8.5% of all Twitter users being bots, per the company’s own metrics, it’s important to weed out those bots who go beyond just trying to sell you weight-loss plans and work-at-home methods, and cross the line into politics.

But actually making that distinction can be a challenge, as the paper notes.

Sentimetrix technically won the challenge, reporting 39 correct guesses and one false positive, a full six days before the end of the four-week contest period. But USC was the most accurate, going 39 for 39.

How to detect a robot

DARPA combined all the teams’ various approaches into a complicated 3-step process, all of which will need improved software support to get better and faster going forward:

  1. Initial bot detection — You can detect who’s a bot and who’s not by using language analysis to see who’s using statistically unnatural and bot-generated words and phrases. Using multiple hashtags in a post can also be a flag. Also, if you post to Twitter a lot, and consistently over the span of a 24-hour day, the chances you’re a bot go up.
  2. Clustering, outliers, and network analysis: That first step may only identify a few bots. But bots tend to follow bots, so you can use your initial findings to network out and get a good statistical sense of robot social circles.
  3. Classification/Outlier analysis: The more positives you find with the first two steps, the easier it is to extrapolate out and find the rest in a bunch.

A key finding from the DARPA paper, and very important to note, is that all of this required human interaction — computers just can’t tell a real human from an influence bot, at least not yet.

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
We Are The Mighty | YouTube

The good news, say the authors in their paper, is that these methods can also be used to find human-run propaganda and misinformation campaigns.

The bad news is that you can expect a lot more evil propaganda bots on Twitter in the years to come.

“Bot developers are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Over the next few years, we can expect a proliferation of social media influence bots as advertisers, criminals, politicians, nation states, terrorists, and others try to influence populations,” says the paper.

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Marine Corps receives first of its new, more lethal amphibious combat vehicles

The Marine Corps is accepting delivery of its first new Amphibious Combat Vehicle that can fire stabilized weapons, maneuver in littoral areas and launch faster, more survivable ship-to-shore amphibious attacks from beyond-the-horizon.


Referred to by Corps developers as ACV 1.1, the new vehicle is engineered to replace the services’ current inventory of Amphibious Assault Vehicles, or AAVs – in service for decades.  There is an existing effort to upgrade a portion of its fleet of AAVs to a more survivable variant with spall liner and other protection-improving adjustments such as added armor.

Also read: Meet the Army’s new stealthy hydrogen fuel cell vehicle

Nevertheless, despite the enhancements of the AAV Survivability Upgrade, or AAV SU, the Corps is clear that it needs a new vehicle to address emerging threats, Kurt Mullins, ACV 1.1 Product Manager, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

“ACV 1.1 gives us the ability to operate throughout the range of operations. The current AAV is limited because of its survivability. The new vehicle will be significantly more survivable than a standard AAV,” Mullins said.

The Corps is now in the process of acquiring a number of Engineering, Manufacturing Development vehicles for further testing and evaluation from two vendors – SAIC and BAE Systems. Mullins said the Marine Corps plans to down-select to one manufacturer by 2018 and have an operational new ACV 1.1 by 2020.

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
The Marine Corps’ current AAV in Iraq. | Wikimedia Commons

Marine Corps fleet plans call for more than 200 of the new vehicles to support attacking infantry battalions. They are building both personnel and recovery variants, he explained.

The ACV 1.1 will serve alongside and improve upon the upgraded portion of the existing AAV fleet. The Marines have operated a fleet of more than 1,000 AAVs over the years ; some will “sunset” and others will receive the survivability upgrade.

Stabilized .50-cal machine guns and Mk 19 grenade launchers will make the new ACV for lethal and accurate in attacks against enemies; engineers are building in an up-gunned weapons station operating with Common Remotely Operated Weapons Systems, or CROWS, able to allow attackers to fire weapons from beneath the protection of the vehicle’s armor.

Unlike the tracked AAVs, the new ACV 1.1 is a wheeled vehicle designed for better traction on land and operations involving enter and egress from Amphib ships.

“Wheeled vehicles are more reliable, when operating across the range of military operations.”

Given that the new vehicle is being built for both maritime and land combat operations, requirements for the emerging platform specify that the platform needs to be better equipped to defend against more recent threats such as IEDs and roadside bombs. This, at least according to BAEs offering, includes the construction of a “V” shaped hull in order to increase the vehicle’s ground clearance and deflect blast debris away from the crew compartment.

“It needs to be able to provide significant armor and stand-off distance from the ground to the bottom of the hull,” Mullins added.

An ability to better withstand emerging threats and new weapons likely to be used by enemies is said to be of crucial importance in today’s evolving global environment; enemies now have longer-range, more precise weapons and high-tech sensors able to find and target vehicles from much further distances.

Accordingly, emerging Marine Corps amphibious warfare strategy calls for an ability to “disaggregate” and spread approaching amphibious vehicles apart as necessary to make the much more difficult for enemies to target. They are also being engineered operate more successfully in ground combat environments wherein approach vehicles need to advance much further in from the shoreline.

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
Assault amphibious vehicles (AAVs) with the AAV platoon, Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), leave the well deck of the dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45) | US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Melissa Wenger

The new ACVs are also being designed to work seamlessly with longer-range, more high-tech US Navy and Army weapons as well. As US Navy weapons and sensors operate with a vastly improved ability to detect and destroy enemy targets – on land and in maritime scenarios – amphibious assault strategy will adjust accordingly.

BAE Systems ACV 1.1

The first BAE Systems ACV 1.1 vehicle has been delivered to the Marine Corps for additional assessment and testing, company officials said.

In a special interview with Scout Warrior, BAE weapons and platform developers explained that their offering includes a number of innovations designed to best position the vehicle for future combat.

BAE’s emerging vehicle uses no axl but rather integrates a gear box for each wheel station, designed for better traction and mission such as driving up onto an amphibious vehicle or rigorous terrain on land.

“It has positive drive to each of the wheel stations so you don’t have gear slippage and have positive traction at all times. All eight wheels are driven at the same time,” Swift said.

The absence of an axl means engineers can create greater depth for the vehicle’s “V-shaped” hull, he added.

Their vehicle is built with a 690-horsepower engine, composite armor materials and can travel up to 12 nautical miles with a crew of 13; also, the BAE ACV 1.1 can travel 55mph on land, and six mph in the water, BAE developers said.

Blast attenuated seats where seat frames are suspended from the ceiling are another design feature aimed at further protecting Marines from attacks involving explosions underneath the vehicle.

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
Marines with Combat Assault Battalion, Ground Combat Element, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade Forward, III Marine Expeditionary Force, in amphibious assault vehicles train with smoke grenades. | III Marine Expeditionary Force Public Affairs photo by Pfc. Mark Stroud

Fuel tanks on the new ACV 1.1 are stored on the outside of the vehicle as part of a method of reducing damage to the crew and vehicle interior in the event of an attack.Finally, like many emerging platforms these days, BAE’s offering is being engineered with an often-used term called “open architecture” – meaning it is built for growth such that it can embrace and better integrate new technologies as they emerge.

The Marine Corps awarded BAE a $103 million deal in November of last year; the company has delivered its first of 16 prototypes planned to additional testing.

 The Marine Corps’ Future of Amphibious Attack

The Marine Corps future plan for amphibious assault craft consists of a nuanced and multi-faceted plan involving the production of several more vehicles. Following the ACV 1.1, the Corps plans to engineer and produce a new ACV 1.2 variant with increased combat and technical mission abilities.

“We are working on requirements for ACV 1.2, which will be informed by our ACV 1.1 experience,” Mullins said.

However, this next ACV 1.2 will merely serve as an interim solution until much faster water-speed technology comes to fruition, a development expected in coming years.

Meanwhile, Corps weapons developers from the advanced Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory are already in the early phases of preparation for when that much faster water speed exists. A future mission ability or vehicle of this kind, to be operational by 2023, could involve a number of different possible platform solutions, Mullins explained.

“Some sort of high-water speed capability that may not be a single vehicle solution. It could be a high-water speed connector that gets that vehicle to shore,” he said.

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
Marines posts security at the rear of an Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) during a mechanized assault as part of a live fire range in Djibouti, Africa. | US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alex C. Sauceda

Amphibious Assault Vehicle “Survivability Upgrade”

The Marine Corps is revving up its fleet of 1970s-era Amphibious Assault Vehicles to integrate the latest technology and make them better able to stop roadside-bombs and other kinds of enemy attacks, service officials said.

The existing fleet, which is designed to execute a wide range of amphibious attack missions from ship-to-shore, is now receiving new side armor (called spall liner), suspension, power trains, engine upgrades, water jets, underbelly ballistic protections and blast-mitigating seats to slow down or thwart the damage from IEDs and roadside bombs, Maj. Paul Rivera, AAV SU Project Team Lead, told Scout Warrior.

“The purpose of this variant is to bring back survivability and force protection back to the AAV P-variant (existing vehicle),” he said.

The classic AAV, armed with a .50-cal machine gun and 40mm grenade launcher, is being given new technology so that it can serve in the Corps fleet for several more decades.

“The AAV was originally expected to serve for only 20-years when it fielded in 1972. Here we are in 2016. In effect we want to keep these around until 2035,” John Garner, Program Manager for Advanced Amphibious Assault,” said in an interview with Scout Warrior last year.

The new AAV, called AAV “SU” for survivability upgrade, will be more than 10,000 pounds heavier than its predecessor and include a new suspension able to lift the hull of the vehicle higher off the ground to better safeguard Marines inside from being hit by blast debris. With greater ground clearance, debris from an explosion has farther to travel, therefore lessening the impact upon those hit by the attack.

The AAV SU will be about 70,000 pounds when fully combat loaded, compared to the 58,000-pound weight of the current AAV.

“By increasing the weight you have a secondary and tertiary effects which better protect Marines.  We are also bringing in a new power train, new suspension and new water jets for water mobility,” Rivera said.

A new, stronger transmission for the AAV SU will integrate with a more powerful 625 HP Cummins engine, he added.

The original AAV is engineered to travel five-to-six knots in the water, reach distances up to 12 nautical miles and hit speeds of 45mph on land – a speed designed to allow the vehicle to keep up with an Abrams tank, Corps officials said.

In addition, the new AAV SU will reach an acquisition benchmark called “Milestone C” in the Spring of next year. This will begin paving the way toward full-rate production by 2023, Rivera explained.

The new waterjet will bring more speed to the platform, Rivera added.

“The old legacy water jet comes from a sewage pump. That sewage pump was designed to do sewage and not necessarily project a vehicle through the water. The new waterjet uses an axial flow,” Rivera said.

The new, more flexible blast-mitigating seats are deigned to prevent Marines’ feet from resting directly on the floor in order to prevent them from being injured from an underbelly IED blast.

“It is not just surviving the blast and making sure Marines aren’t killed, we are really focusing on those lower extremities and making sure they are walking away from the actual event,” Rivera said.

The seat is engineered with a measure of elasticity such that it can respond differently, depending on the severity of a blast.

“If it’s a high-intensity blast, the seat will activate in accordance with the blast. Each blast is different. As the blast gets bigger the blast is able to adjust,” Rivera said.

In total, the Marines plan to upgrade roughly one-third of their fleet of more than 900 AAVs.

The idea with Amphibious Assault Vehicles, known for famous historical attacks such as Iwo Jima in WWII (using earlier versions), is to project power from the sea by moving deadly combat forces through the water and up onto land where they can launch attacks, secure a beachhead or reinforce existing land forces.

Often deploying from an Amphibious Assault Ship, AAVs swim alongside Landing Craft Air Cushions which can transport larger numbers of Marines and land war equipment — such as artillery and battle tanks.

AAVs can also be used for humanitarian missions in places where, for example, ports might be damaged an unable to accommodate larger ships.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Japan just accidentally raised alarm about North Korean missile

Japan’s public broadcaster NHK issued a false alarm about a North Korea missile test.


The broadcaster sent a push alert to users of its disaster prevention app, warning of them of an imminent launch from Kim Jong-un’s regime.

But soon after, NHK said the warning was raised incorrectly and it apologized. The error was spotted by The Japan Times and The Wall Street Journal’s Japan editor Alastair Gale.

 

 

It comes after the people of Hawaii received a false alarm on Jan. 13, warning of an inbound ballistic missile. It was apparently caused by an employee at Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency pushing the “wrong button” by accident.

Also Read: The Hawaii worker who ‘pressed the wrong button’ has been reassigned

 

The false alarm in Japan is a sign of increased tension over North Korea’s military aggression. Pyongyang fired intercontinental ballistic missile’s towards Japan and fired missiles over Japan’s territory in 2017.

Japan has since signaled its intention to shoot down the tests if they present a threat. Japanese people have also been conducting nuclear attack drills.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A-10s brought the heat in fight against ISIS

The 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron is wrapping up a deployment that saw heavy involvement in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.


Upon arrival, their efforts were focused on Raqqa for approximately three months. During that time, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs participated in an urban, close air support role. Pilots focused on protecting friendly forces as they maneuvered in the city between very large buildings in which the enemy hid and used as fighting positions.

“It was a difficult location to work in and we faced some situations that we have not dealt with before we arrived here,” said Maj. Matthew Cichowski, 74th EFS assistant director of operations. “Our weapons and tactics planners have done an excellent job preparing us for the variety of tactics and locations that we use and operate in.”

Adapting the squadron to the new location and varied tactical situations fell to the squadron’s weapons tactics planners.

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly in formation. (Photo from U.S. Air Force)

“When we showed up, we got thrown into this fight essentially on day one,” said Lt. Col. Craig Morash, 74th EFS commander. “The fight itself was within the urban complex of Raqqa and the pilots had to get creative to figure out ways to strike targets at the bottom of these five story buildings. There was a lot of learning as this wasn’t something we traditionally trained to when we arrived. We reached out to different communities to see what we could learn from them.”

“Everyone jumped on board trying to figure out solutions to the problems we faced even though we had long days and a mountain of work to accomplish,” Morash continued. “Our intel shop processed an unbelievable amount of expenditure reports to make sure (U. S. Air Forces Central Command) had an accurate picture of what we were doing. Our life support troops were generating equipment and doing it perfectly every single time.”

The squadron’s intelligence Airmen also provide vital key information to pilots before their missions, enabling those pilots to adapt to threats and challenges on the fly.

Also Read: Everything you need to know about the A-10 Thunderbolt II

“We’re trained on what the capabilities of the aircraft are, which allows us to give threat perspectives to pilots with what’s going on in the area of operations and how that affects the aircraft and pilots,” said Senior Airman Jake Owens, 74th EFS intelligence analyst. “We brief pilots on possible threats they may face while flying missions and we’re also tied into the intelligence reporting, where we report targets struck to higher headquarters. There’s a lot of battle tracking and predictive analysis.”

According to the squadron’s weapons and tactics chief, one of the most difficult aspects of close air support isn’t physically dropping the bomb, it’s making sure the rest of the process has been done correctly. The pilots assigned to the 74th EFS are trained to work through that process correctly, making sure friendly positions are confirmed, any attack restrictions make sense and are adhered to, and they are flying above or are laterally deconflicted with any artillery that may be firing, and avoiding any exposure to threats like anti-aircraft fire or other aircraft.

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
Two U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly in a wingtip formation after refueling from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Feb. 15, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

“Positive identification is extremely important and is something that takes a large team and a long amount of time to get right,” said Capt. Eric Calvey, 74th EFS chief of weapons and tactics. “Long before we show up there are individuals who use Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets to get an idea of what targets to strike and make sure that what we drop on is, in fact, a hostile target. We’re the last link in the chain and there’s a large amount of work done ahead of time to prepare these targets for strike before we employ munitions on them. It’s amazing seeing the utmost care that is taken before we employ on these targets.”

Although the squadron’s deployment is coming to a close, Morash said they are still keen on supporting the ground forces, no matter where they are.

“Every single person in this squadron was and still is mission focused. They are looking at the bigger picture, seeing what solutions to problems could be and mitigating risk to ground forces every single day,” Morash said. “The way this team came together, operations and maintenance, to look after each other and to get things done made me proud to be an Airman.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. warship headed to Sea of Japan to challenge Russia

The US Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer Dec. 5, 2018, to challenge Russia in the Sea of Japan.

The USS McCambell “sailed in the vicinity of Peter the Great Bay to challenge Russia’s excessive maritime claims and uphold the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea enjoyed by the United States and other nations,” US Pacific Fleet spokesperson US Navy Lt. Rachel McMarr told CNN.

The Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet is headquartered in the eastern port city of Vladivostok, located in Peter the Great Bay, the largest gulf in the East Sea/Sea of Japan.


Pacific Fleet stressed to CNN that Dec. 5, 2018’s freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP) was “not about any one country, nor are they about current events,” adding, “These operations demonstrate the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the Sea of Japan, as in other places around the globe.”

The US Navy regularly conducts FONOPS in the South China Sea, much to China’s displeasure. The guided-missile cruiser USS Chancelorsville “sailed near the Paracel Islands to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law.”

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter

The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jon Dasbach)

Two days later, the US Navy sent two warships — the destroyer USS Stockdale and the underway replenishment oiler USNS Pecos — through the Taiwan Strait. Both the South China Sea FONOP and the Taiwan Strait transit, which occurred just days before a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump, drew criticism from Beijing.

China has also repeatedly criticized US Air Force bomber overflights in the region.

Tensions between Moscow and Washington are on the rise in the wake of apparent Russian aggression in the Sea of Azov, where Russian vessels rammed and fired on Ukrainian vessels before capturing the ships and their crews, and US plans to withdraw from the Cold War Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a response to Russian violations.

NATO has accused Russia of developing weapons in violation of the treaty, and the State Department has warned Russia that it has 60 days to return to compliance or the treaty is finished.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Dec. 5, 2018, that if the US withdraws from the 1987 treaty, Russia will begin developing the very nuclear weapons prohibited by it.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why everyone is worried Russia will cut undersea internet cables

This map shows how the huge, complicated network of undersea cables which keep the internet running is spread around the world.


The map, by telecom analytics company Telegeography, uses colored lines to show how there are many hundreds of fiber optic cables running under the world’s oceans.

It shows the sheer scale of the infrastructure which keeps the internet running. It’s built up over decades, mainly as a result of private enterprise rather than coordinated state infrastructure projects, like road or water networks.

Lines shown on the map above are not exactly geographically correct, but they show the broad path of the cables and which territories they connect.

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
Europe’s network of submerged cables in detail. (Image Telegeography)

According to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, 97% of all intercontinental data is carried via such cables.

Although they are of obvious strategic importance to the countries involved, relatively little is done to guard them. In recent months, defense authorities have started to warn that state aggressors — Russia in particular — could cut them.

A U.S. admiral, one of Britain’s most senior military commanders, the former head of GCHQ, and a London-based think-tank all made similar warnings in a matter of days late last year.

Rishi Sunak, a Conservative MP, produced a report for the Policy Exchange think-tank in which he warned that Russia is “aggressively operating” in the Atlantic, where cables link Europe and the U.S.

Also Read: The Army’s new sensors can track small arms fire to its source

In the foreword to the report, retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis claimed: “Russian submarine forces have undertaken detailed monitoring and targeting activities in the vicinity of North Atlantic deep-sea cable infrastructure.”

He said they have the capacity to make a concentrated hit, causing “potentially catastrophic” damage.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the UK’s most senior military officer, gave a speech in December in which he said: “There is a new risk to our way of life, which is the vulnerability of the cables that criss-cross the seabeds.

“Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living.”

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
The network of cables around North America. (Image Telegeography)

At the start of December, former GCHQ director Robert Hannigan told The Times newspaper: “In hybrid warfare, you could tweak the UK economy, even without bringing it to its knees, by just cutting a few [fiber-optic cables].”

“It could slow things down and with automated trading, you could make life pretty difficult if you wanted to without going for full conflict.”

Russia has responded to the threat by suggesting it is not serious. Its embassy in London ran a Twitter poll in response to the Times interview, where most respondents seemed not to take the prospect seriously.

 

Articles

Syrian militia launches offensive to capture Raqqa

The US-led international coalition said the Syrian Democratic Forces militia launched a ground offensive to capture the Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa, the US military said.


The SDF’s offensive began on June 6th after efforts to capture the city’s surrounding territory began in November.

The US-led anti-Islamic State international coalition called the Combined Joint Task Force: Operation Inherent Resolve said the SDF has been “rapidly tightening the noose around the city since their daring air assault behind enemy lines in coalition aircraft in March to begin the seizure of Tabqah.”

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
DoD Photo by Spc. Ethan Hutchinson

US Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commanding general of the coalition, said the fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but victory will deliver a decisive blow to the idea of the Islamic State as a physical, ruling entity.

The offensive in Raqqa comes as Iraqi security forces near victory in west Mosul, though progress has been slow in the densely populated areas of Iraq’s second-largest city. The SDF’s assault also follows the attacks in London and Manchester for which theIslamic State, also known as ISIL, Daesh, and ISIS, took credit.

“It’s hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin ‘capitals’ in both Iraq and Syria,” Townsend said in a statement. “We all saw the heinous attack in Manchester, England. ISIS threatens all of our nations, not just Iraq andSyria, but in our own homelands as well. This cannot stand.”

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter

The SDF has called on Raqqa residents to evacuate so they do not become trapped, are not killed by Islamic State snipers and are not used as human shields

The US-led coalition supports the SDF by providing equipment, training, intelligence and logistics support, airstrikes and battlefield advice.

Articles

6 things to know about the VA home loan

The Veterans Affairs home loan can be incredibly confusing, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the information found on the VA website. So we have broken it down into six basic questions for you: who, what, when, where, why, and how?


*As always, when making decisions that impact your personal finances, make sure you’re sitting down with a financial advisor. Most banks have financial advisors on staff who are always willing to work with customers.

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter
Veterans Affairs employs assessors and appraisers to ensure that each home purchased by service members is priced correctly.(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric Glassey, 4th Inf. Div. PAO)

1. Who:

Lendee eligibility is determined by service status:

Active duty personnel must have served a minimum of 90 continuous days to be eligible

Reserve or guard members must:

  • have six years of service in the selected reserve or National Guard, and
  • be discharged honorably, or
  • have been placed on the retired list, or
  • have been transferred to Standby Reserve or to an element of Ready Reserve (other than the Selected Reserve after service characterized as honorable), or
  • still be servicing in the Selected Reserve

Spouses can be eligible as well.

2. What:

The VA home loan program is a benefit for eligible service members and veterans to help them in the process of becoming homeowners by guaranteeing them the ability to acquire a loan through a private lender.

Utilizing the VA home loan, lendees do not make a down payment and are not required to pay monthly mortgage insurance, though they are required to pay a funding fee. This fee varies by lender, depends on the loan amount, and can change depending on the type of loan, your service situation, whether you are a first time or return lendee, and whether you opt to make a down payment.

The fee may be financed through the loan or paid for out of pocket, but must be paid by the close of the sale.

The fee for returning lendees and for National Guard and members of the reserve pay a slightly higher fee.

The fee may also be waived if you are:

  • a veteran receiving compensation for a service related disability, or
  • a veteran who would be eligible to receive compensation for a service related disability but does not because you are receiving retirement or active duty pay, or
  • are the surviving spouse of a veteran who died in service or from a service related disability.

3. When:

Lendees may utilize the loan program during or after honorable active duty service, or after six years of select reserve or National Guard service.

4. Where:

Eligible lendees may use the VA home loan in any of the 50 states or United States territories

5. Why:

Veterans Affairs helps service members, veterans and eligible surviving spouses to purchase a home. The VA home loan itself does not come from the VA, but rather through participating lenders, i.e. banks and mortgage companies. With VA guaranteeing the lendee a certain amount for the loan, lenders are able to provide more favorable terms.

6. How:

Eligible lendees should talk to their lending institution as each institution has its own requirements for how to acquire the loan.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump hits Turks with sanctions in a row over US pastor

The US has imposed sanctions on two top Turkish officials on Aug. 1, 2018, in a long-standing dispute over Turkey’s detention of an American pastor.

The US Treasury Department targeted Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and its Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu, whom they say played a major role in the arrest and detention of the evangelical Christian pastor Andrew Brunson.


“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated the Justice Department’s words at a press briefing Aug. 1, 2018, and said that Trump had personally ordered the sanctions against the officials who played “leading roles” in Brunson’s arrest.

DARPA held a contest to identify evil propaganda robots on Facebook and Twitter

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Brunson,50, is originally from North Carolina, and has led a small congregation in the coastal Turkish city of Izmir since 1993.

He was arrested in 2016 and has been accused of orchestrating a failed military coup attempt against Turkish President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has been imprisoned in Turkey for the last 21 months on espionage charges, though he was moved to house arrest last month because of health concerns.

Brunson has denied any wrongdoing. He faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.

There are suspicions that Brunson’s detention could be politically motivated. Erdogan has openly suggested a high-level strategic swap with the US in exchange for Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher living in Pennsylvania who has been accused of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt.

Since the failed coup, Erdogan has instituted sweeping executive powers, which allow him to select his own cabinet, regulate ministries and remove civil servants, all without parliamentary approval.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 15 years, was sworn in as president in July 2018. Opponents say his newly enforced executive powers have lurched the country towards authoritarianism .

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How China plays it both ways in disputes over sea territory

China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea and its broad interpretations of international law often lead it to protest what many other countries consider to be normal naval maneuvers in the area. But farther afield, Beijing’s activity indicates that it doesn’t abide by the standard it applies to others.

China frequently protests military operations by US and other countries in its Exclusive Economic Zone, which can extend up to 230 miles from a country’s coast. Beijing has referred to those operations as “close-in surveillance.”


The US and other countries have countered that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, permits military activity inside EEZs. (The US is not a signatory to the UNCLOS.) An international tribunal has also ruled that China’s claims in the South China Sea have no legal basis.

In addition to its protests about military operations inside its EEZ, China has also protested ships passing within the territorial waters — which extend nearly 14 miles from a coast — of disputed islands in the South China Sea where China has constructed military facilities. The international tribunal also rejected those claims.

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According to the US Defense Department, however, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy has carried out a number of military operations inside the exclusive economic zones of other countries, seemingly contradicting the stance it takes in waters closer to home.

“Although China has long challenged foreign military activities in its maritime zones in a manner that is inconsistent with the rules of customary international law as reflected in the [law of the sea convention], the PLA has recently started conducting the very same types of military activities inside and outside the first island chain in the maritime zones of other countries,” the department said in its annual China military-power report, released this week.

“This contradiction highlights China’s continued lack of commitment to the rules of customary international law,” the report adds.

Since 2014, the Chinese navy has conducted what the Defense Department refers to as “uninvited” operations throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

In 2017, a Chinese spy ship entered Australia’s EEZ to observe US and Australian ships during military exercises; entered the US’s EEZ around the Aleutian Islands, in what was likely an attempt to monitor testing of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system; and carried out air and naval operations inside Japan’s EEZ.

Chinese naval vessels also carried out a delivery to Beijing’s base in Djibouti, which is China’s first overseas base and is near a major US outpost.

In 2018, China dispatched a spy ship to monitor the US-led Rim of the Pacific exercise around Hawaii, as it has done in years past, after the US rescinded Beijing’s invitation to the exercise over the latter’s actions in the South China Sea.

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US Navy destroyer USS John S. McCain conducts a patrol in the South China Sea.

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class James Vazquez)

The US and other countries involved in those incidents have not protested the presence of Chinese ships in their EEZs, seeing it as allowed under international law. Some have cited China’s presence in foreign EEZs as justification for similar movements in China’s EEZ and as a tacit acknowledgement by Beijing of those rules.

In the South China Sea, the US has continued to carry out freedom-of-navigation operations around disputed islands, in part to show it does not recognize China’s claims there as valid under international law.

Days after one of the most recent FONOPS, as they are known, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised more and underscored their significance.

“They’re freedom of navigation operations. And you’ll notice there’s only one country that seems to take active steps to rebuff them or state their resentment of them,” Mattis said in late May 2018, adding that the US would continue “confront what we believe is out of step with international law, out of step with international tribunals that have spoken on the issue.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Why grenades in movies look nothing like real life

Yeah, yeah, yeah… We know grenades in movies aren’t like the real thing. But that could make you wonder, “Why?”

Real grenades are puffs of smoke with a bit of high-moving metal. Why not give troops mobile fireballs that instill fear and awe in the hearts of all that see them? Why not arm our troops with something akin to Super Mario’s fire flower?


First, we should take a look at what, exactly is going on with a real grenade versus a movie grenade.

The grenades you’re probably thinking of when you hear the term “grenade” are likely fragmentation grenades, consisting of strong explosives wrapped up in a metal casing. When the explosives go off, either the case or a special wrapping is torn into lots of small bits of metal or ceramic. Those bits fly outwards at high speed, and the people they hit die.

The U.S. military uses the M67 Fragmentation Hand Grenade. 6.5 ounces of high explosive destroys a 2.5-inch diameter steel casing and sends the bits of steel out up to 230 meters. Deaths are commonly caused up to 5 meters away from the grenade.

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U.S. Army soldiers throw live grenades during training in Alaska.

(U.S. Army)

That’s because grenades are made to maximize the efficiency of their components. See, explosive power is determined by a number of factors. Time, pressure, and temperature all play a role. Maximum boom comes from maximizing the temperature and pressure increase in as little time as possible.

That’s actually a big part of why M67s have a steel casing. The user pulls the pin and throws the grenade, starting the chemical timer. When the explosion initiates, it’s contained for a fraction of a second inside that steel casing. The strength of the steel allows more of the explosive to burn — and for the temperature and pressure to rise further — before it bursts through the steel.

As the pressure breaks out, it picks up all the little bits of steel from the casing that was containing it, and it carries those pieces into the flesh and bones of its enemies.

Movie grenades, meanwhile, are either created digitally from scratch, cobbled together digitally from a few different fires and explosions, or created in the physical world with pyrotechnics. If engineers wanted to create movie-like grenades, they would need to do it the third way, obviously, with real materials.

The explosion is easy enough. The 6.5 ounces in a typical M67 would work just fine. Enough for a little boom, not so much that it would kill the thrower.

But to get that movie-like fire, you need a new material. To get fire, you need unburnt explosives or fuel to be carried on the pressure wave, mixing with the air, picking up the heat from the initial explosion, and then burning in flight.

And that’s where the problems lie for weapon designers. If they wanted to give infantrymen the chance to spit fire like a dragon, they would need to wrap something like the M67 in a new fuel that would burn after the initial explosion.

Makers of movie magic use liquid fuels, like gasoline, diesel, or oil, to get their effects (depending on what colors and amount of smoke they want). Alcohols, flammable gels, etc. all work great as well, but it takes quite a bit of fuel to get a relatively small fireball. The M1 flamethrower used half a gallon of fuel per second.

But liquid fuels are unwieldy, and even a quart of gasoline per grenade would add some serious weight to a soldier’s load.

So, yeah, there’s little chance of getting that sweet movie fireball onto a MOLLE vest. But there is another way. Instead of using liquids, you could use solid fuels, especially reactive metals and similar elements, such as aluminum, magnesium, or sodium.

The military went with phosphorous for incendiary weapons. It burns extremely hot and can melt its way through most metals. Still, the AN-M14 TH3 Incendiary Hand Grenade doesn’t exactly create a fireball and doesn’t even have a blast. Along with thermite, thermate, and similar munitions, it burns relatively slowly.

But if you combine the two grenades, the blast power of something like the M67 and the burning metals of something like the AN-M14 TH3, and you can create actual fireballs. That’s how thermobaric weapons work.

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U.S. Marines train with the SMAW, a weapon that can fire thermobaric warheads.

(U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Brian J. Slaght)

In thermobaric weapons, an initial blast distributes a cloud of small pieces of highly reactive metal or fuel. Then, a moment later, a secondary charge ignites the cloud. The fire races out from the center, consuming the oxygen from the air and the fuel mixed in with it, creating a huge fireball.

If the weapon was sent into a cave, a building, or some other enclosed space, this turns the secondary fire into a large explosion of its own. In other words, shoot these things into a room on the first floor of a building, and that room itself becomes a bomb, leveling the larger building.

But throwing one of these things would be risky. Remember, creating the big fireball can turn an entire enclosed space into a massive bomb. And if you throw one in the open, you run the risk of the still-burning fuel landing on your skin. If that’s something like phosphorous, magnesium, or aluminum, that metal has to be carved out of your flesh with a knife. It doesn’t stop burning.

So, troops should leave the flashy grenades to the movies. It’s better to get the quick, lethal pop of a fragmentation grenade than to carry the additional weight for a liquid-fueled fireball or a world-ending thermobaric weapon. Movie grenades aren’t impossible, but they aren’t worth the trouble.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

These pocket-sized drones could be a game changer on the battlefield

US soldiers have started receiving pocket-sized drones that could be a game changer for troops on the battlefield.

Soldiers with the 3 rd Brigade Combat Team, 82 ndAirborne Division recently got their hands on FLIR Black Hornet personal reconnaissance drones, a part of the Army’s Soldier Borne Sensor (SBS) Program.

These drones, which are small enough to be carried on a soldier’s person, allow troops to see the field of battle more clearly without putting themselves in harms way.


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A soldier with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division trains with a personal drone at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

(US Army photo by Patrick Ferraris)

The personal reconnaissance system includes two drones, one for day and one for night, as well as a base station, which connects to a handheld controller and a display.

These drones are small — only about 6 inches in length — and extremely lightweight, making it possible for soldiers to carry these tiny unmanned aerial vehicles on a utility belt.

Able to fly out to roughly one and a half miles, these little drones allow soldiers to assess the situation beyond them without abandoning their cover.

This technology, according to the Army’s PEO Soldier, “mitigates future losses of life and injuries by having a drone complete dangerous work that combat soldiers would usually perform on their own,” such as sending out a fire team to gather intel and conduct field reconnaissance.

One of the engineers involved in the project likened the new drones to flying binoculars that allow soldiers to see their surroundings like never before.

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A personal reconnaissance drone flies in the sky at Ft. Bragg.

(US Army Photo by Patrick Ferraris)

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division will take these drones with them on their upcoming deployment, which will be the first time these UAVs will be deployed at the squad level.

Soldiers trained for a week at Fort Bragg in North Carolina with the new drones, getting a feel for the possibilities provided by this technology.

“This system is something new that not a lot of Soldiers have touched or even seen before, so it’s cool to test it out and push it to its limits before we take it with us on our deployment,” Army Sgt. Dalton Kruse, one of the operators, said in a statement.

He further commented that most of the operators who were trained on this new system had never flown a drone before, but they were able to adapt to the technology quickly.

“It was easy to pick up and fly, very user-friendly, and I can already tell that this system will benefit my unit downrange,” Kruse explained.

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A soldier with the 3rd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division gets his turn during the recent fielding at Fort Bragg.

(US Army Photo by Patrick Ferraris)

This is life-saving technology that helps reduce the risk soldiers face on the battlefield.

“This kind of technology will be a life-saver for us because it takes us out of harm’s way while enhancing our ability to execute whatever combat mission we’re on,” Sgt. Ryan Subers, another operator, said in a statement.

The Army plans to eventually equip every squad with its own personal reconnaissance drone.

“It is the start of an era where every squad will have vision beyond their line of sight,” Nathan Heslink, the Assistant Program Manager for SBS with PEO Soldier, explained. “This allows soldiers to detect threats earlier than ever, meaning it is more likely Soldiers won’t be harmed during their missions.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

US snipers train with ally to sharpen shooting skills

The art of sniping is more than just proper cover, concealment and sight alignment; it demands vigilant situational awareness, flawless timing and solid arithmetic skills.

U.S. soldiers had a five-day Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) with Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) snipers at a base outside of Amman, Jordan, in October 2019. The Military Engagement Team-Jordan (MET-J), 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard; in collaboration with Jordan Operational Engagement Program (JOEP) soldiers; 1st Squadron, 102nd Cavalry Regiment, 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 42nd Infantry Division, New Jersey National Guard.


“As a group, we [MET-J, JOEP] were able to collaborate and come up with a good exchange,” said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Johnny Vidrio, with MET-J, 158th MEB, AZANG, “The sniper field is a perishable skill so you have to use it a lot to retain it. We are working with the JAF to keep our exchanges going.”

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A U.S. Army soldier, with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, adjusts the scope of a Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) snipers’ rifle during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)

Snipers are known for their specialization in shooting targets from long-range distances with a modified weapon, as well as their reconnaissance abilities. Vidrio, who served as the Sniper SMEE team lead, has more than 20 years’ experience with various weapons systems through his civilian and military occupations.

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A U.S. Army Soldier, with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, discusses a mathematical equation with Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) Soldiers during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)

Vidrio explained how the MET-J shared information on how the U.S. Army executes sniper tasks and in turn, the Jordanians shared their way of doing the same task. The exchange not only reviewed basic sniper skills but incorporated different approaches to instruct the material to other soldiers. The two nations were able to work through the Jordanians’ Basic Sniper Manuel which provided a platform for the Jordanian snipers to hone their basic skills and enhance their teaching techniques.

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A rifle faces downrange during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange between Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, and the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)

“The more you teach with a group, the more comfortable you will feel teaching by yourself,” explained Vidrio, “That’s what we were doing, helping them feel comfortable about teaching.”

MET-J facilitates and conducts military-to-military engagements with regional partners within the U.S. Army Central area of responsibility in order to build military partner capability and capacity, enhance interoperability and build relationships.

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A Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) sniper looks downrange through a tactical monocular during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)

Areas covered during the Sniper SMEE included setting up a comfortable firing position, weapons maintenance, correcting malfunctions, zeroing and determining wind values, to name a few. The snipers discussed how half value, full value, tail and headwinds affect the drift of a bullet. They examined techniques to find the directional movement of wind, such as observing the path of dust, smoke, trash or mirage waves, that are near an intended target. Target range estimation was calculated through a mathematical equation, but each nation used a different formula.

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Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) snipers practice setting up firing positions during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)

“They [JAF] have a different calculation for range estimation, this was new to American snipers,” said Vidrio “We learned a whole new way of estimating distance and ranges.”

SMEEs allow open information flow and an opportunity for coalition soldiers to work together, learn and grow from one another, which is beneficial to both counties. The United States is committed to the security of Jordan and to partnering closely with the JAF to meet common security challenges.

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Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) snipers hold certificates of appreciation given to them by U.S. Army Soldiers after the completion of a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)

One soldier who expressed favor in ongoing SMEEs with U.S. Army was JAF Sgt. 1st Class Ghareeb Alaomary, sniper instructor and logistics coordinator. He too specifically found value in the transfer of knowledge with the arithmetical equation calculations for target distance and range. “The mathematic equation formulas given [by the U.S.] were new information for us,” explained Alaomary, “It added to their [JAF snipers] knowledge to help make more accurate calculations.”

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Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) snipers pose for a photo after the completion of a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange with Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard, at Joint Training Center-Jordan in October 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)

According to Alaomary, the exchange between the two countries was engaging and an abundance of wisdom was shared, which resulted in a successful exchange. They plan to take the knowledge gained through the Sniper SMEE back to their individual units to cross-train with their comrades.

“I would like to give a special thanks for the effort you [U.S. Army] have dedicated to the students and the valuable information you have provided,” said Alaomary.

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A U.S. Army Soldier, with 1st Squadron, 102nd Cavalry Regiment, 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the 42nd Infantry Division, New Jersey National Guard, looks downrange through a tactical monocular during a Sniper Subject Matter Expert Exchange between the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) and Military Engagement Team-Jordan, 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Arizona Army National Guard at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in October 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla B. Hakeem)

The U.S. military has a long-standing relationship with Jordan to support our mutual objectives by providing military assistance to the JAF consistent with our national interests. Our people and governments have a historic, unbreakable, strategic relationship that spans decades and different administrations. Jordan is not only one of the United States’ closest allies in the region but in the world as a whole. This isn’t going to change.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

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