“Air India signed an agreement today to fly to Israel over Saudi Arabia,” he said during a briefing in Washington, DC on March 5, 2018, according to Times of Israel.
Currently, Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and has banned any flights to the country from using its airspace for more than 70 years. If Netanyahu’s claims are correct, it would mark the first time Saudi Arabia has allowed commercial flights to Israel to use its airspace and would signal a significant shift in strategic policy in the region.
But an Air India spokesman denied the Prime Minister’s comments several hours later, stressing they had not received any confirmation and had only submitted a request for a flight along that route.
“We have yet to receive anything from authorities,” Air India spokesman Praveen Bhatnagar told The Times of Israel.
Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority did not respond to requests for comment from Business Insider.
In Feb. 2018, Air India confirmed it had begun plans for three faster weekly flights between Israel and India, although Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority was quick to deny reports that its airspace would be used.
At the time, Israel’s Airports Authority told Reuters the service was set to begin in early March 2018.
Currently, Israel’s national airline El Al is the only airline offering direct flights from Israel to India. The route avoids flying into neighboring Saudi Arabia’s airspace by diverting to the Red Sea and around the Arabian peninsula, adding two hours to the overall trip.
If Saudi Arabia were to ease its airspace regulations it could be seen as concrete evidence of warming relations with Israel and a broader re-configuring of regional alliances.
Many troops enlist with hopes of finding something bigger than themselves. After their contract is up, it’s not uncommon for the battle-hardened grunt to feel lost in a world now unfamiliar. All the while, they’re told that there’s nothing out there for them but flipping burgers or greeting customers at some supermarket.
Then, there’s the world of law enforcement. The police force is, and always will be, trying to scoop up as many of these former-military badasses as possible. In terms of transitions, going from the armed forces into law enforcement isn’t that much of a stretch: you’ll face similar hours, do similar tasks, and be surrounded by similar camaraderie all in attempts to promote greater good.
With the utmost respect to law enforcement officers, however, many infantrymen aren’t interested in waiting at the local doughnut shop until it’s time to write parking tickets and toss the same village drunk into the lockup — again. They want something bigger, something badass, something that rewards their ability to kick in doors. This is where the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team comes in.
For many, the only real change between the infantry and SWAT is the uniform. Here’s why:
You’ll even do the exact same training. Being an infantryman just gets you ready for the same ol’ ride.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Patrick Harrower)
The job description is nearly identical
Heavy ballistic armor? Check. Assigned weapon? Check. Breaking down doors to catch bad guys? Oh, yeah — check.
The SWAT team’s objective is to keep the peace at a level higher than is expected of the average cop. While every police officer should be trained and ready to fight at a moment’s notice should the situation arise, the SWAT team provides that extra oomph needed in intense situations, like bank robberies, hostage negotiations, and high-level drug cartel activities.
Instead of infiltrating a compound in Kandahar to catch an HVT bomb maker, SWAT officers are infiltrate compounds back home to catch drug kingpins.
Did I mention that you’ll spend a lot of time training at the range?
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Patrick Harrower)
The requirements are basically the same
Potential applicants must be physically fit, hard working, excellent shots, mentally and emotionally strong, decisive under stress, and able to communicate under hazardous conditions.
The help-wanted ad reads almost exactly like a description of a post-deployment infantryman.
The only thing holding an infantryman back from immediately joining the SWAT team is that, typically, membership requires three years of prior experience in law enforcement. I can’t speak for every police department, but that requirement can be lessened for exceptionally badass applicants.
You really will be training… a lot. Which shouldn’t be too far off from infantry life.
(Photo by Sgt. Juana M. Nesbitt)
The structure almost mirrors the military
Between SWAT teams and military life, the chain of command is identical and the organizational structure is the same.
Being selected for SWAT isn’t easy. Potential recruits go through a grueling process and only the best of the best can make it through to the end. But if you do, you’re basically in the military again.
You’ve still got a battle buddy (you’ll call them “partner” instead), you still work in four-man teams (squads) and there’ll be, on average, 15 teams per district. Since high-stakes situations aren’t happening every day, you’re going to be training and continually honing your skills with your team.
Officers got each other’s back, literally and figuratively.
(Photo by Sgt. John Crosby)
The brotherhood is just as tight
If there’s one thing that damn-near every veteran misses about the military, it’s the camaraderie. Knowing that the people to your left and right would die for you without a second thought is hard to come by at some desk job.
SWAT is not a place to go if you’re looking to make a name for yourself at the expense of others. Real SWAT teams live as a unit, work as a team, and train until everyone becomes as close as family.
This level of trust in another human can only be formed in groups like the military and SWAT.
Military service is very common among law enforcement officers — especially in SWAT. You’ll fit right in.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Patrick Harrower)
The good you do is in your community
As a SWAT officer, you’re not deploying for 12 months at a time and leaving your family behind. You’re still going to come home and sleep in your own bed most nights.
Now, don’t get that twisted: There will be bad nights. There will be moments that go horribly wrong. There will be missions that require you to be gone for extended periods of time. SWAT officers, like infantrymen, are over-worked and under-appreciated.
But doing the difficult thing to promote the greater good is exactly what you’re signing up for — again.
A U.S. Army project took a new approach to developing robots — researchers built robots entirely from smaller robots known as “smarticles,” unlocking the principles of a potentially new locomotion technique.
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and Northwestern University published their findings in the journal Science Robotics.
The research could lead to robotic systems capable of changing their shapes, modalities and functions, said Sam Stanton, program manager, complex dynamics and systems at the Army Research Office, an element of U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, the Army’s corporate research laboratory.
“For example, as envisioned by the Army Functional Concept for Maneuver, a robotic swarm may someday be capable of moving to a river and then autonomously forming a structure to span the gap,” he said.
Five identical “smarticles” — smart active particles — interact with one another in an enclosure. By nudging each other, the group — dubbed a “supersmarticle” — can move in random ways. The research could lead to robotic systems capable of changing their shapes, modalities and functions.
The 3D-printed smarticles — short for smart active particles — can do just one thing: flap their two arms. But when five of these smarticles are confined in a circle, they begin to nudge one another, forming a robophysical system known as a “supersmarticle” that can move by itself. Adding a light or sound sensor allows the supersmarticle to move in response to the stimulus — and even be controlled well enough to navigate a maze.
The notion of making robots from smaller robots — and taking advantage of the group capabilities that arise by combining individuals — could provide mechanically based control over very small robots. Ultimately, the emergent behavior of the group could provide a new locomotion and control approach for small robots that could potentially change shapes.
“These are very rudimentary robots whose behavior is dominated by mechanics and the laws of physics,” said Dan Goldman, a Dunn Family Professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the project’s principal investigator. “We are not looking to put sophisticated control, sensing and computation on them all. As robots become smaller and smaller, we’ll have to use mechanics and physics principles to control them because they won’t have the level of computation and sensing we would need for conventional control.”
The foundation for the research came from an unlikely source: a study of construction staples. By pouring these heavy-duty staples into a container with removable sides, former doctoral student Nick Gravish — now a faculty member at the University of California San Diego — created structures that would stand by themselves after the container’s walls were removed.
Light hits a smarticle (smart active particle) causing it to stop moving, while the other smarticles continue to flap their arms. The resulting interactions produce movement toward the stopped smarticle, providing control that doesn’t depend on computer algorithms.
Shaking the staple towers eventually caused them to collapse, but the observations led to a realization that simple entangling of mechanical objects could create structures with capabilities well beyond those of the individual components.
“Dan Goldman’s research is identifying physical principles that may prove essential for engineering emergent behavior in future robot collectives as well as new understanding of fundamental tradeoffs in system performance, responsiveness, uncertainty, resiliency and adaptivity,” Stanton said.
The researchers used a 3D printer to create battery-powered smarticles, which have motors, simple sensors and limited computing power. The devices can change their location only when they interact with other devices while enclosed by a ring.
“Even though no individual robot could move on its own, the cloud composed of multiple robots could move as it pushed itself apart and shrink as it pulled itself together,” Goldman said. “If you put a ring around the cloud of little robots, they start kicking each other around and the larger ring — what we call a supersmarticle — moves around randomly.”
The researchers noticed that if one small robot stopped moving, perhaps because its battery died, the group of smarticles would begin moving in the direction of that stalled robot. The researchers learned to control the movement by adding photo sensors to the robots that halt the arm flapping when a strong beam of light hits one of them.
Smarticles: Robots built from smaller robots work together
“If you angle the flashlight just right, you can highlight the robot you want to be inactive, and that causes the ring to lurch toward or away from it, even though no robots are programmed to move toward the light,” Goldman said. “That allowed steering of the ensemble in a very rudimentary, stochastic way.”
In future work, Goldman envisions more complex interactions that use the simple sensing and movement capabilities of the smarticles. “People have been interested in making a certain kind of swarm robots that are composed of other robots,” he said. “These structures could be reconfigured on demand to meet specific needs by tweaking their geometry.”
Swarming formations of robotic systems could be used to enhance situational awareness and mission-command capabilities for small Army units in difficult-to-maneuver environments like cities, forests, caves or other rugged terrain.
The research project also received funding from National Science Foundation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against delivering an advanced air-defense system to Syria, saying it will further destabilize the war-torn region.
After a call between the two leaders on Sept. 24, 2018, Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister told Putin that “transferring advanced weapons systems into irresponsible hands will increase the dangers in the region.
He also said that Israel “will continue to defend its security and its interests” by staging bombing raids on Iranian military targets in Syria.”
Israel’s statement came on the same day that U.S. national security adviser John Bolton warned that Russia’s decision to supply Syria with an S-300 surface-to-air missile system was a “major mistake” and a “significant escalation” in Syria’s seven-year civil war.
Israeli planes have carried out a number of deadly air strikes on Iranian military targets in Syria in 2018, largely undeterred by the Russian military presence there, apparently owing to close consultations between the Israeli and Russian militaries that Netanyahu’s office said were reaffirmed during the phone call.
But in September 2018, Russia for the first time challenged an Israeli incursion into Syria, blaming it in part for the downing of a Russian military plane that killed all 15 people on board.
A Russian Air Force Ilyushin Il-20.
Syrian air defenses mistakenly shot down the Russian Il-20 surveillance plane on Sept. 17, 2018, following an Israeli bombing raid. Moscow claims the Russian plane was hit because Israeli pilots were using it as “cover.”
Putin has described the incident as a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”
The incident led Russia this week to announce new security measures to protect its military in Syria, including supplying the Syrian Army with an S-300 system and jamming radars of nearby warplanes.
Russia at an earlier stage in the war had suspended sending an S-300 system to Syria amid Israeli concerns that the missiles could be used against it.
But Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that “the situation has changed, and it’s not our fault.”
Netanyahu in the phone call with Putin continued to blame what his office called the “unfortunate incident” on “the Syrian military, which brought down the plane, and Iran, whose aggression is undermining stability.”
Despite differing views of what happened, Netanyahu’s office said the Russian and Israeli leaders “agreed to continue dialogue between professional teams and intermilitary coordination via military channels.”
Navy veteran Tyler Welch used to patrol the streets of Iraq as a corpsman. Now, he’s fighting a new battle against fires.
Welch is part of the Veterans Fire Corps crewmember program, run through the Southeast Conservation Corps. SECC is an AmeriCorps-affiliated non profit that engages recent-era veterans, partnering with the U.S. Forest Service Southeast Region. SECC started the Veterans Fire Corps program in 2018. The 10-month intensive training program engages recent-era military veterans up to age 35 in fuels reduction, fuels management, and wildland firefighting.
For veterans like Welch, the program is a perfect fit for his transition.
“Wildland firefighting had been an idea in the back of my head for a few years as a job to looking into when I got out of the military,” Welch said. “The program that SECC is running piqued my interest because it is a veteran program and is a lengthy training program allowing me to see several parts of the wildland world.”
Navy veteran Tyler Welch went from corpsman to Veteran Fire Corps member.
Welch served tours in Hadditha, Iraq, with Marines as the senior corpsman; and in Basra, Iraq, and Kuwait as a search and rescue medical technician. Stateside, he served at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, and at Naval Hospital Whidbey Island, Washington. Seeking a new challenge, he sought something that could use his military service.
“The biggest skills I’ve carried over from the military that have helped with the program are team work and leadership,” he said. “Additionally, just being able to grind and get the work done on the hard day. It’s not always easy or fun, but at the end of the day you look back and see what you accomplished.”
For those looking for a challenge, Welch had three pieces of advice. The first is to keep fit, as days are long. The second is carryover advice from military service: get a good pair of boots. The third is to go camp and get used to being in the woods, living out of a tent and campground.
VFC crewmembers can earn certifications related to fuels management. This includes courses on firefighting, wildland fires, chainsaws, incident management, first aid and CPR. Southeast National Forests use VFC, which facilitates opportunities for crew members to work across a variety of districts and landscapes while simultaneously assisting forests with a myriad of fuels related needs.
“This program is designed to engage veterans in a truly hands-on experience,” said SECC Director Brenna Kelly. “Through rigorous and repeated trainings as well as field-based project work, veterans will earn necessary certifications and practical experience needed to compete for career positions related to fire and natural resource management.”
Navy veteran Tyler Welch went from corpsman to Veteran Fire Corps member.
Home base for VFC crews is the Conasauga Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Georgia. The crew roves throughout the Southeastern United States for the duration of the program.
Some projects require members to work five days at a time with two days off. Other projects require camping and living on project locations for 8-14 days, with a set amount of days off. Members cannot use drugs or alcohol during work related travel at any time.
In addition to a stipend, members receive paid trainings and certifications and an education award upon program completion. Members also receive food and accommodations during overnight travel and transportation to and from work sites.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The Navy will soon finish initial prototyping of new weapons tubes for its Virginia-Class submarines designed to massively increase missile firepower, bring the platform well into future decades and increase the range of payloads launched or fired from the attack boats.
The new missile tubes, called the Virginia Payload Modules, will rev up the submarines’ Tomahawk missile firing ability from 12 to 40 by adding an additional 28 payload tubes – more than tripling the offensive strike capability of the platforms.
Prototyping of the new submarines amounts to early construction, meaning the missile tubes now being engineered and assembled will be those which will ultimately integrate into the completed boat. In essence, construction and metal bending for elements of what will become the first VPM are underway.
“Prototyping is underway,” Rear Adm. Charles Richard, Director of Undersea Warfare, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Increasing undersea strike capability is a key element of the strategic calculus for the Navy as it continues to navigate its way into an increasingly high-tech and threatening global environment; potential adversaries are not only rapidly developing new quieting weapons and sonar detection technologies but also fielding long-range, precision-guided anti-ship missiles designed to target surface ships at long ranges.
The nation’s newest and most advanced nuclear-powered attack submarine and the lead ship of its class, PCU Virginia. | U.S. Navy photo by General Dynamics Electric Boat
The Chinese DF-21D and subsequent follow-on weapons in development are engineered to destroy carriers, destroyers and other surface vessels from distances as far as 900-miles off shore; if there is not a suitable defense for these kinds of long-range “anti-access/area-denial” weapons, the Navy’s ability to project power and launch attacks could be significantly limited. Carriers, for example, could be forced to operate further from the coastline at ranges which greatly complicate the aerial reach of many fighter aircraft which would launch from a carrier air-wing. If carriers are forced by the threat environment to operate at ranges further than fighter aircraft can travel, then new potentially dangerous aerial refueling options become much more complicated and challenging.
Navy strategy is therefore looking much more closely at the size and mission scope of its submarine fleet moving into the future, as undersea assets will most likely have an ability to conduct reconnaissance or strike missions far closer to an enemy shoreline – locations where it may be much harder for surface ships to operate given the fast-increasing threat environment. While the service is, of course, massively revving up its surface-ship offensive and defensive weaponry designed to allow vessels to better operate in so-called “contested” or high-threat areas, submarines are expected to increasingly play a vital role in a wide range of anticipated future mission requirements.
For example, improved increased sonar and quieting technologies referred to as Navy “acoustic superiority” are expected to allow submarines to conduct undersea reconnaissance missions much closer to enemy forces – and possibly behind defended areas. Such an ability could prove to be particularly relevant in coastal waters, shallow areas or islands such as portions of the South China Sea. These are precisely the kinds of areas where deeper draft surface ships may have trouble operating.
Building Virginia payload modules
The Navy plans to engineer a new 84-foot long module into the length of the submarine in order to add four 87-inch launch tubes into the body of the ship.
The tooling and initial castings are now nearing completion in preparation for the first prototyping of the VPM tubes which will be finished in 2017, developers explained. Construction of the first VPM boat is slated for 2019 en route to being finished and operational by 2024 or early 2025. Initial work is underway at an Electric Boat facility in Quonset Point, R.I.
“The first tube fabrication begins next April,” Ken Blomstedt, Vice President of the Virginia-Class Program here at Electric Boat, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The second submarine construction among the planned Block V Virginia-class attack submarine will be engineered with integrated VPM. It is called SSN 803, Blomstedt explained. The last 20 ships of the class, in Blocks V, VI and VII, will have VPM integrated.
A new massive module will be emerging from an Electric Boat manufacturing facility in Quonset Point, R.I.
“We are able to add that amount of strike capability in for a 15 percent increase in the price of the vessel – all on-track coming in very nicely. We are excited about the progress of the design. We are finishing up the castings of the integrated tube and hull,” Richard said.
“Tube and hull” forging
Electric Boat developers tell Scout Warrior the VPM technical baseline has now been approved by the Navy, clearing the way for initial construction.
“The module consists of four 87-inch vertical payload tubes. The module is broken up into three sections – a forward support base, center section with four vertical payload tubes and an internal ballast tank to preserve or restore buoyancy for increasing the length of the ship,”
The technical baseline, which was informed by 39 key decisions, has been formally submitted and approved by the Navy as of February of this year.
“Will be exciting to see that first 184-foot module with VPM installed. Key to the module is using an integrated tube and hull approach,” Blomstedt added.
Electric Boat is using an emerging construction technique, called “tube and hull forging” design to expedite building and lower costs. The tactic involves connecting the top section of the tube to the pressure hull as one monolithic piece, he said.
“From a technology standpoint, we are broadening the base with a one-piece casting. That piece comes into the missile tube fabricator,” Blomstedt said.
Along with firing Tomahawk missiles, the additional 87-inch payload tubes are being engineered to accommodate new weapons as they emerge and possibly launch other assets such as unmanned underwater vehicles.
The Navy will likely use the pace for a whole bunch of future payloads that they are just starting to think about,” Blomstedt said.
While it is certainly conceivable that Torpedoes and other weapons could eventually be fired from VPM tubes, Virginia-Class boats currently have a separate torpedo room with four torpedoes able to launch horizontally
A ballast tank has a pressure hull where the crew can operate, water levels inside the boat are adjusted to raise or lower the boat within the ocean; the weapons are designed to fire out of the launch tubes from a variety of different depths.
“When you submerge the ship, there is normally sea water all around the tubes,” he said.
Need for more undersea fire power
The reason for the Virginia Payload Modules is clear; beginning in the 2020s, the Navy will start retiring four large Ohio-class guided-missile submarines able to fire up to 154 Tomahawk missiles each. This will result in the Navy losing a massive amount of undersea fire power capability, Navy developers have explained.
From 2002 to 2008 the U.S. Navy modified four of its oldest nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines by turning them into ships armed with only conventional missiles — the USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia. They are called SSGNs, with the “G” designation for “guided missile.” These boats were among US military assets that provided firepower during action against Libya in 2011 – by firing Tomahawks from undersea at key locations such as enemy air defenses designed to clear the way for strike aircraft.
If the VPM action is not taken, the Navy will lose about 60-percent of its undersea strike launchers when the SSGNs retire in the 2020s. When VPM construction begins in 2019, that 60-percent shortfall will become a 40-percent shortfall in the 2028 timeframe.
Accordingly, building VPMs is designed to eliminate the loss of firepower. The rationale for accelerating VPM is to potentially mitigate that 40-percent to a lower number, Navy developers have said.
Virginia-class submarines, engineered to replace the 1980s-era Los Angeles-class attack submarines, are being built in block increments. Blocks I and II, totaling 10 ships, have already been delivered to the Navy. Block III boats are currently under construction. In fact the first Block III boat, the USS North Dakota, was delivered ahead of schedule in August of 2014.
The first several Block IV Virginia-class submarines are under construction as well — the USS Vermont and the USS Oregon. Last April, the Navy awarded General Dynamics’ Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding a $17.6 billion deal to build 10 Block IV subs with the final boat procured in 2023.
Also, design changes to the ship, including a change in the materials used for the submarines’ propulsor, will enable Block IV boats to serve for as long as 96-months between depots visits or scheduled maintenance availabilities, Navy developers explained.
President Donald Trump gave a timeline for the upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and appeared to be optimistic for a positive outcome.
“We’ll be meeting with them sometime in May or early June 2018, and I think there’ll be great respect paid by both parties and hopefully we’ll be able to make a deal on the de-nuking of North Korea,” Trump said on April 9, 2018, according to Reuters.
“They’ve said so. We’ve said so,” Trump continued. “Hopefully, it’ll be a relationship that’s much different than it’s been for many, many years.”
On April 8, 2018, a US official confirmed that North Korea was willing to discuss the subject of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
The CIA has reportedly been in communication with representatives from North Korea, setting up backchannels, according to multiple news reports. Officials from the two countries were reportedly communicating with the intent to establish an appropriate venue for the talks and other details ahead of the summit.
Trump’s statement comes amid North Korean state-sponsored media’s acknowledgement of the bilateral talks.
The two Korean leaders are set to hold their own historic summit on April 27, 2018, the first in 11 years, between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim.
There’s a chill settling in over Moscow, and it’s not just the arctic temperatures that typically smother the Russian capital in January.
As U.S. officials put the finishing touches on new financial and travel sanctions against Russia, expectations that the punitive measures will target an expanded list of secondary companies, as well as Kremlin-connected insiders and business leaders, are causing consternation.
Unlike previous rounds, when Washington tried to punish Russia for its actions in Crimea and Syria by targeting big fish like major state-run firms and government agencies, the focus is shifting. The new wave to be announced by month’s end is expected to be broader, focusing on companies that do business with previously sanctioned entities, closing loopholes that allowed Russia to skirt punishment, and identifying — and potentially going after — the Kremlin’s inner circle of smaller fish.
Moscow appears to be on edge. One official has accused the United States of trying to influence the upcoming presidential election. An influential Russian newspaper has reported that as many as 300 people close to President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle could be identified. And financial institutions are taking steps to minimize their risk.
“It is true that the Russians have been freaking out over this for more than a month now,” said Daniel Fried, who was formerly the chief sanctions coordinator at the U.S. State Department.
Andrei Piontkovsky, a Russian political analyst now based in Washington, D.C., echoes that assessment. “The expectations are very gloomy” in Moscow, he said, “because for the first time, it will bring personal pain to those closest to Putin.”
The new measures, expected to be rolled out beginning Jan. 29, stem from a bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress last summer and signed reluctantly into law by President Donald Trump in August.
Known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, the law firstly provides for “secondary sanctions” that broaden the restrictions against people or companies doing business with Russians hit earlier.
The earlier measures were imposed by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama not only for Russia’s Crimea annexation in 2014 but also for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its military campaign in Syria, and other things.
In October, in the first indication of whom the new law would be targeting, the State Department put three dozen major Russian defense companies and intelligence agencies on notice, indicating that other companies, Russian or foreign, who do “significant” business with them could face restrictions.
In theory, this meant that a foreign bank that provided credit to a company supplying a previously sanctioned Russian state-controlled company could be targeted for doing business with listed companies. That might include state arms exporter Rosoboroneksport or the legendary weapons-maker Kalashnikov.
The law also ordered the Treasury Department, in coordination with intelligence agencies, to provide Congress with a list of prominent Russians and their family members who would potentially face direct restrictions. Known as Section 241, the instruction includes identifying oligarchs according to “their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.”
This, in theory, could target the daughter of a high-ranking Russian official who owns property in the United States, or the head of a major industrial corporation with holdings in the West.
Around Washington, close observers of the sanctions process are calling it “the oligarchs list.”
“This will hit people because it shows they are not safe; that the U.S. is willing to go after this class of people and Putin cannot protect them… that there will be consequences for Russians who seem to be in Putin’s corrupt inner circle and [are] aiding and abetting his corrupt activities,” Fried told RFE/RL.
Those included will not immediately face financial or travel restrictions, but experts say it would be a clear signal of what may soon come and, more immediately, would have a major psychological effect on those listed and those who do business with them.
It could also foreshadow a public record of some wealthy Russians’ sources of income and assets in the United States.
“For some people, it’s very personal. For others, it will be very political,” said Olga Oliker of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The question is: What’s the signal that is being sent by the administration and how will it be received in Moscow?”
For the moment, the potential nominees for the “oligarchs’ list” is a closely held secret by both members of Congress and administration officials. But sanctions experts, Russian opposition activists, and Western lawyers and business groups have been trying to guess. Some wealthy Russians have also stepped up quiet lobbying campaigns in Washington, trying to persuade Congress or administration officials to keep them off the list, according to several observers.
On Jan. 12, the Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing its own sources in Washington, said as many as 300 people could end up being listed, a number that includes both officials themselves, but also their relatives.
In December, a group of Russian opposition activists with backing from chess master and outspoken Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov met in Lithuania to compile their own sanctions list. The compilation features more than 200 names, including prominent business tycoons who have so far avoided restrictions, including Aleksei Mordashov, owner of the steelmaking giant Severstal, and German Gref, chief executive of Russia’s largest state bank, Sberbank.
Several prominent Russians included in the opposition group’s list were already on earlier U.S. sanctions lists, including Sergei Ivanov, an ex-defense minister and President Putin’s former chief of staff; Lieutenant General Igor Sergun, head of Russian military intelligence; and Gennady Timchenko, an oil trader hailing from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg.
The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to queries about its upcoming list.
One indication of how the Kremlin has sought to get ahead of the new measures came in November. The business newspaper Vedomosti reported that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had signed a decree that would exempt Russian state companies from the requirement to disclose the names of their contractors.
Already there are signs that financial markets, in and out of Russia, are factoring the likelihood of sanctions into predictions for 2018. But among bond traders, equity dealers, and other portfolio managers, the measure that has prompted most worry is a possible restriction on buying Russian government debt.
That measure is seen as an attempt to close a loophole that allowed Russia to skirt sanctions imposed in 2014 that cut certain companies close to or controlled by the state from international credit markets.
The Kremlin ended up bailing out those companies to the tune of tens of billions of dollars and was still able to raise capital on its own. In 2016, for example, Russia sold around $3 billion in new Eurobonds.
The Countering Adversaries law includes the possibility that U.S. citizens could be barred from buying ruble-denominated, Russian government bonds. It’s unclear how much of Russia’s overall sovereign debt is held by Americans, but Central Bank data from October showed that foreigners held about $38 billion of it.
That decision won’t be handed down for some months, but still, analysts predict a ban would put severe pressure on the Russian ruble, which plummeted in 2014 after the Crimea sanctions and amid low world oil prices and has yet to fully recover. In the medium term, that would drive up inflation, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch said in a research note in December.
Some Russian financial institutions have also given indications that whatever the measures are that end up being issued by Washington, they will ripple through the country’s economy.
For example, Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private commercial lender, said it was cutting back its exposure to the country’s formidable defense industry.
“This does not mean that we have severed relations with it overnight,” Oleg Sysuyev, a deputy chairman of the bank’s board of directors, told Ekho Moskvy radio. “But we are just trying to minimize risks.”
In the short term, that could pose a direct challenge to Putin, who will run for another term as president in the election scheduled for March, a month after the new measures are unveiled.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov alluded to this on Jan. 13 when, in comments to the state news agency TASS, he charged that the U.S. measures were an attempt to influence the vote.
Piontkovsky, a longtime critic of the Kremlin, predicted that the U.S. move to target more individuals could help undermine the broad support that Putin has enjoyed for years.
“It means he is losing his meaning for the elites, his function was to protect them, and their assets in Russia and the West, to ensure their security. And now, on the contrary, he is becoming toxic,” he said.
The question now, according to Oliker, who directs the CSIS’s Russia and Eurasia Program, is whether the new sanctions will, in fact, affect Kremlin policies.
For example, with the conflict in eastern Ukraine grinding into its fourth year, dragging on Russia’s economy and losing popularity among Russians, there’s good reason for Russia to pull back on its support for separatist fighters.
However, it would be virtually impossible for Putin to pull back if it appeared he was giving in to the pressures from U.S. sanctions, she said.
Depending on who or what is targeted, the problem is that the new measures could reinforce the perception — encouraged by the Kremlin — that Washington only wants to damage Russia, Oliker said.
“In Russia, the pervasive narrative is that all the sanctions are merely to punish Russia — [that] they’re punitive, it’s not a matter of attaining actual policy goals,” she said. Many think “it’s just those nasty Americans trying to get us.”
Clinicians who are, or becoming, experts in Point of Care Ultrasonography (POCUS) are in awe of a new ultra-portable ultrasound device, the Butterfly IQ.
The Butterfly’s first use in the United States was at VA NY Harbor Healthcare System and at NYU Langone. It is a very lightweight probe that looks like a sleek black electric razor. It plugs into an iPhone.
The user prompts the probe into action and gives it directions with a finger-flick of an app and a tap on individual links that are pre-programmed for screening of the heart, lungs, veins of the legs and other parts of the body.
Squeezing some gel onto the head of the probe, the physician then places the device on a patient’s body in the specific area of concern. For example, it might be placed on the side of the patient’s chest corresponding to the location of the lungs. The interior structure and movement of the lungs then is visualized in real time on the physician’s cell phone screen.
“Most of the time, you can figure out why a patient is having trouble breathing immediately at the bedside without sending the patient for any additional test,” said Dr. Harald Sauthoff.
Dr. Sauthoff considers the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) as his “home”, but he also sees patients on the general medicine wards, where he was using the Butterfly to examine LoRusso, a veteran with lung cancer. Fluid had been drawn and removed the previous day with a needle guided by ultrasound.
Dr. Sauthoff said, “I can still see a lot of fluid around the lung.” The patient was most concerned about not having another tissue biopsy that had been performed some weeks before. Dr. Sauthoff explained that use of the sonogram, unfortunately, might not eliminate the need for another biopsy.
He told the Korean War veteran that taking and testing more fluid might provide enough information to identify and then target the specific type of cancer cells that caused his disease.
Point-of-care ultrasonography (POCUS) is revolutionizing the way physicians examine their patients. Rather than just feeling and listening, physicians can now look into their patients’ bodies often supporting an immediate bedside diagnosis without delay and potentially harmful radiation.
Lightweight, portable, and simple to use, the Butterfly IQ is an enormously attractive clinical tool because it produces precise, high-quality results. The low cost will make it possible for more clinicians to examine their patients using ultrasound at the bedside, carrying an ultrasound probe in their coat next to the stethoscope.
The remaining hurdle for the widespread utilization of POCUS is lack of physician training in this powerful technology. Because most attending physicians are not trained in the use of POCUS, the traditional method of teaching students and residents is ineffective.
For this reason, Dr. Sauthoff has recently created a POCUS teaching course for hospitalist attending physicians across NYU, including VA NY Harbor Healthcare System’s Manhattan Campus. Carrying a Butterfly during their rounds, they are rapidly learning to use this powerful tool, and they will soon help to teach students and residents and change the culture of bedside diagnosis across VA and NYU.
Dr. Sauthoff using the Butterfly was recorded by BBC TV for an online program about innovation called The Disruptors.
We’ve heard this one before, but a senior U.S. military official said Sept. 13 that a swarm of coalition jets bombed a facility near Mosul, Iraq, he claimed was making chemical weapons for the Islamic State terrorist group.
The general in charge of Central Command’s air forces said the recent strike on a former pharmaceutical plant involved a dozen aircraft — from A-10 Thunderbolt IIs to B-52 Stratofortresses — on 50 different targets.
“Intelligence had indicated that Daesh converted a pharmaceutical plant complex into a chemical weapons productions capability,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian during a press briefing Sept. 13. “This represents just another example of [ISIS] blatant disregard for international law and norms.”
The air chief admitted there’s a long history of false reporting on chemical weapons production in the Middle East, particularly with Iraq, but said intelligence pointed to specific weapons being manufactured there.
“The target set, as we better understood it, was basically a pharmaceutical element that they were, we believe, using them for most probably chlorine or mustard gas,” Harrigian said. “We don’t know for sure at this point.”
The strike included F-15E Strike Eagles; A-10s; B-52s; Marine F/A-18D Hornets and F-16 Falcons.
“With respect to the number of airplanes we used, so as we looked at the number of points of interest … specifically, we had a pretty significant number of them,” Harrigian said. “And so to allocate the right types of weapons from the — the necessary number of platforms, we needed that many jets to be able to take out the breadth from that facility that was out there on the ground.”
“The strike near Al Bab, Syria, removes from the battlefield ISIL’s chief propagandist, recruiter and architect of external terrorist operations,” said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook. “It is one in a series of successful strikes against ISIL leaders, including those responsible for finances and military planning, that make it harder for the group to operate.”
U.S. Air Force courtesy photo/ Air Mobility Command Public Affairs (cropped).
In an August 19th news conference to address the events unfolding in the wake of U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby and U.S. Army Major General Hank Taylor referred on multiple occasions to the ongoing U.S. military operations in theatre as a “non-combatant evacuation operation.” This might sound like a bit of bureaucratic Pentagon-speak, or simply government jargon, but the term actually refers to an established military doctrine, and a systematic government (usually military) operation to evacuate Americans.
Typically shortened to NEO within the U.S. military, non-combatant evacuation operations are emergency military actions executed specifically outside of the continental United States (OCONUS), when crisis conditions in a particular country threaten American personnel located there. Those conditions thus necessitate that the American government mandates — or authorizes — the immediate evacuation of civilian and/or non-essential official U.S. government personnel from that country. In other words, it is what is happening in Afghanistan right now, as the U.S. military tries to get all Americans (and many Afghan non-combatants) out of Afghanistan.
In a situation requiring a NEO, the U.S. government recognizes that conditions present an unacceptable threat to Americans in a particular country, and the U.S. government tells those Americans (via the State Department) that they must leave, or should leave (a voluntary evacuation) immediately. After announcing this order, the U.S. military in whichever theatre of operations the country is located, tasks appropriate units to execute the NEO.
An example of a “typical” NEO (in reality, they are hardly typical, or common) — apart from the current situation in Afghanistan — would be political instability and a resulting crisis in a country in Africa. I am using this example because I was a member, for a time, of a designated NEO force for Africa while I was stationed in Europe shortly after 9/11. This was before the establishment of Africa Command, so European Command (USEUCOM) was tasked with executing any NEO that might occur in Africa. Our designated force consisted of a deployed Navy SEAL Platoon (my platoon), a deployed Marine Corps Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team (FAST) company, various air and navy assets, as required, and then contingency military forces based in EUCOM, as events might necessitate.
If Morocco, for example, politically imploded back in 2001, and all of the thousands of Americans located there — civilian, military, and official — were ordered to depart, some would make it out on commercial flights, some would no doubt choose to hunker down (whether the evacuation was voluntary or not), and the rest would likely attempt to find refuge at the U.S. Embassy or some other location deemed secure (an American consulate, for example, or a friendly, third-country embassy). The U.S. military (EUCOM) would then coordinate with U.S. Embassy personnel in Rabat, Morocco, to effect the evacuation via military assets of those remaining personnel.
My SEAL platoon and the FAST company would have arrived at the embassy, secured it, and held it until all Americans were evacuated. U.S. military aircraft, ground convoys, naval assets, and/or any other useful mobility platform would have been utilized for the evacuation.
NEO is an inherently fast-changing and flexibility-demanding operation, and we trained for it extensively while stationed in Europe. We were on standby for quick response, as a NEO always demands rapid execution to have the greatest chance of success. Once completed, and all Americans are accounted for, senior American military and political leaders would then have decided if the NEO force would remain to hold the embassy/U.S. government facility, or exfiltrate the country and effectively terminate America’s official presence there.
We are still in the execution phase of the current Afghanistan NEO, as the U.S. military works to evacuate Americans and designated Afghans from the country. As is every NEO — by definition — the current operation in Kabul is fluid, challenging, and likely prone to escalate in risk at a moment’s notice. The American forces deployed as the NEO force there face a challenging task and no one should doubt that they will execute it to the best of their ability, in a manner they have likely trained for prior to this deployment. We should all wish them Godspeed in completing their mission.
Air Force officials said this spring that the force was 1,555 pilots short — about 1,000 of them fighter pilots. But the shortage of pilots continued to grow during the 2017 fiscal year, which ended in September.
At that point, it had expanded to 2,000 total force pilots — active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve. That includes nearly 1,300 fighter pilots, and the greatest negative trends over the past two fiscal years have been among bomber and mobility pilots, Air Force spokeswoman Erika Yepsen told Business Insider.
But fliers aren’t the only ones absent in significant numbers
According to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, the lack of maintainers to keep planes flying has also become a hindrance on the service’s operations.
“When I started flying airplanes as a young F-16 pilot, I would meet my crew chief … and a secondary crew chief at the plane,” said Goldfein, who received his commission from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1983, in a briefing in early November, adding:
We’d walk around the airplane. I’d taxi out. I’d meet a crew that was in the runway, and they’d pull the pins and arm the weapons and give me a last-chance check. I’d take off. I’d fly to a destination [where] different crew would meet me. Here’s what often happens today: You taxi slow, because the same single crew chief that you met has to get in the van and drive to the end of the runway to pull the pins and arm the weapons. And then you sit on the runway before you take off and you wait, because that crew chief has to go jump on a C-17 with his tools to fly ahead to meet you at the other end. This is the level of numbers that we’re dealing with here.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airmen Krystalane Laird (front) and Helena Palazio, weapons loaders with the 169th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina Air National Guard, download munitions from an F-16 fighter jet that was just landed after a month-long deployment to Łask Air Base, Poland. (South Carolina Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson)
‘The tension on the force right now is significant’
The pilot and maintainer shortages are part of what Air Force officials have called a “national air-crew crisis” that has been stoked by nearly 30 years of ongoing operations, hiring by commercial airlines, as well as quality-of-life and cultural issues within the force that drive airmen away. In recent years, pressure from budget sequestration has also had a impact on Air Force personnel training and retention.
The maintainer shortage has been a problem for some time. In 2013, the total shortage was 2,538. But the force’s drawdown in 2014 — during which the Air Force shed more than 19,800 airmen — added to the deficit. Between 2013 and 2015, the shortage of maintainers grew by 1,217, according to Air Force Times.
By the end of fiscal year 2015, the service was short some 4,000 maintainers, Yepsen told Business Insider.
The shortage of maintainers created hardship for the ones who have remained.
The commander of the 52nd Maintenance Group at Spangdahlem Air Force Base in Germany told Air Force Magazine in late 2016 that workdays had stretched to 13 or 14 hours, with possible weekend duty meaning air crews could work up to 12 days straight. In the wake of the 2014 drawdown, maintainers at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina saw their workdays extend to 12 hours or more, with weekend duties at least twice a month.
“There comes a point where people stop and say it isn’t worth it anymore,” Staff Sgt. Stephen Lamb, an avionics craftsman from the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Shaw, told Air Force Times in March. “I’ve seen, in the past few years, a lot of good friends walk out the door.”
As with pilots, the Air Force has made a concerted effort to improve its maintainer situation. In 2016, the force quadrupled the number of jobs eligible for initial enlistment bonuses — among them 10 aircraft maintenance and avionics career fields.
The Air Force has also offered senior crew chiefs and avionics airmen perks, such as reenlistment bonuses and high-year tenure extensions. At the end of 2016, 43 Air Force specialty codes, many of them flight-line maintainers, were being offered bonuses averaging $50,000 to remain in uniform for four to six more years.
Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel services, said earlier this year that the service closed 2016 with a shortage of 3,400 maintainers, warning that the ongoing shortage held back personnel development.
“Because of this shortage, we cannot generate the sorties needed to fully train our aircrews,” Grosso told the House Armed Services’ personnel subcommittee at the end of March.
According to Yepsen, the Air Force spokeswoman, that shortage has continued to decline, falling to 400 personnel at the end of fiscal year 2017. Several Air Force officials have said they hope to eliminate the maintainer shortage entirely by 2019.
But the health of the Air Force maintainer force won’t be solved by simply restoring its ranks. The complex aircraft the Air Force operates — not to mention the high operational tempo it looks set to continue for some time — require maintainers with extensive training. Air Force units can only absorb and train so many recruits at one time.
“We have to have time to develop the force to ensure that we have experienced maintainers to support our complex weapons systems,” then-Col. Patrick Kumashiro, chief of the Air Force staff’s maintenance division, told Air Force Magazine in late 2016. “We cannot solve it in one year.”
Heftier bonuses for senior air-crew members are also a means to keep experienced maintainers on hand for upkeep of legacy aircraft and to train new maintainers, with the addition of those new maintainers allowing experienced crew members to shift their focus to new platforms, like the F-35 fighter and the KC-46 tanker.
“While our manning numbers have improved, it will take 5-7 years to get them seasoned and experienced,” Yepsen told Business Insider. “We are continuously evaluating opportunities to improve our readiness as quickly and effectively as possible.”
“We’re making the mission happen, but we’re having to do it very often on the backs of our airmen,” Goldfein said during the November 9 briefing. “The tension on the force right now is significant, and so we’re looking for all these different ways to not only retain those that we’ve invested in, but increase production so we can provide some reduction in the tension on the force.”
Former Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf wants to raise $1 million for the Navy SEAL Foundation, a non-profit that supports the families of fallen SEALs, by jumping out of a plane at 36,500 feet. His jump aims to break the wing suit overland distance world record of 17.83 miles.
Please help Andy raise $1 million for the Navy SEAL Foundation by donating to his GoFundMe page.