Rights groups are calling for the release of an Afghan man with a special visa given to those who assist the United States military overseas who has been held by immigration authorities for nearly three weeks.
Abdul, whose full name is not being revealed for security reasons, arrived at the Newark, New Jersey airport on March 13 as part of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. Afghans who are in life-threatening danger are eligible for this status.
“Border agents coerced him into signing away his fundamental rights, even though the federal government understood his life was in danger in Afghanistan because of his service to the United States,” Jeanne LoCicero, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
The man and his family had previously been attacked by the Taliban armed group. U.S. immigration authorities are trying to deport him.
Abdul, who holds a sponsorship letter from a retired U.S. Army sergeant, worked as a cashier for five years at a cafeteria next to the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul until February, shortly before he departed for the United States.
Instead of a warm welcome, Abdul was detained on arrival.
“If they had stamped his passport, he would be a lawful U.S. resident,” Jason Scott Camilo, an immigration lawyer representing Abdul, told Al Jazeera.
Camilo said the Afghan was initially interrogated for 28 hours by agents from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs (ICE) agencies.
The lawyer said Abdul was without legal counsel for more than a day. He was held in “a big waiting room. There’s a couple of jail-like cells without beds…he couldn’t sleep,” Camilo said.
Shortly before his scheduled deportation, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) filed a case on Abdul’s behalf, which was denied. It then filed an emergency appeal and a court placed a temporary stay on his deportation pending a review of his case.
Abdul has since passed an initial interview for refugee status and is awaiting a court review in mid-April. However, he remains locked up in the Elizabeth Detention Center, a private facility contracted by ICE.
Betsy Fisher, IRAP’s policy director, said Abdul’s detention is part of a larger clampdown on the Special Immigrant Visa program.
In December 2016, then-president Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which only allocated 1,500 more SIV visas. With so few visas available, Fisher explained, interviews for applicants at the U.S. embassy in Kabul ended on March 1.
“There are roughly 10,000 people still waiting for SIVs,” Fisher told Al Jazeera. “The fact that applicants are now in indefinite limbo because Congress has failed to provide the number of visas we knew were needed is a disgrace and abandonment of our allies.”
Abdul is the second Afghan SIV recipient to be detained in March. On March 4, a family of five that had been granted approval to move to the U.S. because of their father’s work was detained in Los Angeles.
Al Jazeera contacted ICE and CBP for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.
The term “Navy SEALs” is a household phrase in America today — one that brings forth images of America’s finest breaching Osama bin Laden’s compound in Zero Dark Thirty, or training in iconic green face paint. Because of the anti-terror unit’s lethal combat skills incredible military record, many people forget that the SEALs actually came from very humble beginnings. The PBS documentary “Navy Seals: The Untold Story,” details the history of this iconic military force that many civilians — and even military veterans — know little about, despite their popularity in film, literature and pop culture today.
Only about 2,000 men serve today on active-duty as Navy SEALs. All are volunteers.
Recruits go through vigorous Navy SEAL training Photo: YouTube
But long before they earn the title, they need to make it through Hell Week, “a non-stop, grueling set of obstacles that pushes the human body — and spirit — to the breaking point.”
Retired UDT/SEAL Vice Admiral Joe Maguire says of Hell Week: “We do hell week, first and foremost, so you can have confidence in yourself. You stay up for 120 hours during the week , and you get about three or four hours of sleep. The reason you get three or four hours of sleep is because we’ve done studies and we’ve found that if you don’t get that amount of sleep, you’ll die if you’re up for 120 hours.”
Their elite status among special ops is very elite: Less than 10,000 men in history have ever been Navy SEALs.
And especially in a post-9/11 world, small groups of SEALs have taken on terrorist enemies like the Taliban, Iraqi insurgents, Al Quada, and Osama bin Laden.
But how’d they start? Their forefathers were naval special warfare swimmers, better known as frogmen.
The nickname apparently comes from their British colleagues, and how they “looked in their newly fashioned green wet suits.”
SEAL is an acronym, meaning SEA, AIR, and LAND, which “is how and where they operate,” the narrator says.
He continues: “The SEALs were born in World War II, of two oceans, for two kinds of demolition work. In the Pacific, their predecessors swam in in advance of US Marines and Army troops, removing underwater obstacles to make amphibious landings possible. In the Atlantic teams were needed on the beaches of France to blow open the gateway to Europe for D-Day.”
After the NCDU’s success at D-Day, the Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) was created in the Pacific. These men would work entirely underwater, and were dubbed the “Naked Warriors.”
UDT men would swim to the beach wearing only swim trunks, a K-bar knife, a slate, and a pencil to take reconnaissance and depth soundings of the beach. They would then swim back to their watercraft and relay the information they obtained. These men made a huge impact on the success of missions such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
News of the heroic and daring “Frog Men” soon reached civilian ears, and Hollywood was quick to create lighthearted propaganda films such as “The Frogmen”, shown above, which in turn encouraged hundreds of young men to pursue a life of service with this elite new American squadron.
To learn more about the formation of this legendary military force, watch the full documentary below:
The current attacks aimed at retaking ISIS-held areas in Northern Iraq are being supported by U.S. artillery fire on the ground, U.S. Central Command officials said.
Iraqi Security Forces have launched a series of offensive attacks to re-take villages from ISIS in the vicinity of Makhmour, an area south of Mosul where their forces have been preparing, maneuvering and staging weapons for a larger attack.
“The Iraqis have announced an operation in Makhmour to liberate several villages in the vicinity. The coalition is supporting the operation with air power,” Col. Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, told Scout Warrior in a written statement.
U.S. Coalition ground artillery and airpower can include a wide range of assets, potentially including 155m Howitzer artillery fire, F-15Es, F-18s, drones and even A-10s, among other assets.
Although its clear the Iraqis do at some point plan to launch a massive attack to take back the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, these attacks may be merely “staging” exercises, one Pentagon official told Scout Warrior.
“Staging” exercises are often used by forces to consolidate power, demonstrate and ability to make gains and solidify preparations for a much larger assault.
“We announced months ago that shaping operations for Mosul have begun. This is part of that effort. The coalition support is focused on helping the Iraqis liberate Mosul and conducted in close coordination with the Government of Iraq,” Pentagon spokesman Maj. Roger M. Cabiness II, told Scout Warrior.
Officials with U.S. Central Command explain that “shaping” exercises for a full offensive into Mosul have been underway for several weeks.
“We began the isolation of Mosul from Raqqa and central Iraq when the Peshmerga took Sinjar and Iraqi Security Forces, retook Tikrit and Bayji. Operations in the Euphrates River valley support the eventual battle inside Mosul by preventing Da’esh (ISIS) from reorienting forces to that fight, and preventing easy resupply of the fighters in Mosul,” U.S. Central Command told Scout Warrior in a written statement.
At the same time, the U.S. military has established a special, separate fire base apart from Iraqi forces in Northern Iraq designed to protect Iraqi Security Forces massing in preparation for an upcoming massive offensive attack on ISIS-held Mosul, officials said.
The outpost, called “Firebase Bell,” includes roughly a company-sized force of several hundred Marines. While U.S. military units have previously established a presence to defend Iraqi troops in other locations throughout Iraq, this firebase marks the first time the U.S. has set up its own separate location from which to operate in support of the Iraqi Security Forces, U.S. officials explained.
Armed with artillery and other weapons to defend Iraqi forces, the U.S. Marines have already exchanged fire with attacking ISIS fighters who have launched rockets at the firebase.
On March 19, ISIS forces launched two rocket attacks at the Marine Corps firebase, killing one U.S. Marine and injuring others, Warren explained while offering condolences to the family of fallen Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin.
U.S. Marine Corps counter-battery fire was unable to destroy the location from which the rockets were launched, as ISIS is known to use mobile launchers and quickly abandon its fire location.
The Marines, who are from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, are armed with 155m artillery weapons able to reach targets at distances greater than 30-kilometers. The weapons are designed to thwart and destroy any approaching ISIS forces hoping to advance upon massing Iraqi forces or launch attacks.
When it comes to the eventual full assault on Mosul, Warren did not deny that U.S. military firepower from “Firebase Bell” might support attacking Iraqi Security Forces with offensive artillery attacks, but did not confirm the possibility either – explaining he did not wish to elaborate on potential future operations.
Overall, there are roughly 3,700 U.S. troops in Iraq, however that number could rise by a thousand or two in coming weeks – depending upon how many U.S. forces are temporarily assigned to the region.
On a muggy summer day in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, a Marine Corps instructor stood on a ledge overlooking a swamp. He looked out at his students, and his eyes found Master Sgt. Aretha Boston — the only airman in the platoon.
He called her forward, and Boston walked up to the ledge.
“Just as soon as I extended my hand, he grabbed it,” Boston recalled. “And before I knew it, he was pulling me into the swamp.”
For Boston, 11th Medical Group command staff superintendent, it was another of many surprises at the Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy Advanced Course. The opportunity to attend the course was a surprise in itself.
Most surprising, though, was how well she performed. At graduation time, Boston took home three of the most prestigious awards at the school: the class Gunnery Sergeant Award (voted on by instructors), the Honor Graduate Award (voted on by her classmates), and the Distinguished Graduate Award (for measured academic excellence).
In some ways, though, it was a fitting chapter in a storied career that almost never was.
Coming from a small town in Florida, Boston’s life plan didn’t involve joining the military. Her mother, though, had different ideas. She insisted that her daughter enlist.
Master Sgt. Aretha Boston, 11th Medical Group command staff superintendent, poses for a portrait Oct. 24, 2018, at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Boston.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Noah Sudolcan)
“To be completely honest, in the beginning I was angry,” Boston said. Despite her misgivings, at the age of 17 and straight out of high school, she begrudgingly agreed and enlisted in the Air Force to become a dental technician. Years later, she said she views it as “by far the best decision my parents could have made for me.”
Boston’s first base was 7,479 miles from home: Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. She was away from her family, the only airman basic in the dental clinic and learning a whole new lifestyle. Over those first few months, she learned the technical portion of her job, but she said she struggled with the challenge of conforming to military discipline.
“I acted out a lot,” Boston said. “I didn’t want people to tell me to do something. I was very stubborn.”
After serving a year in Korea, she moved to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Dealing with the culture shock coming from Korea, she said she found it hard to connect with people.
Her first Christmas break in Florida started with a call from her first sergeant asking why she wasn’t at bay orderly — an extra duty to help clean the dorm common areas. Thinking she had the week off, she said it all seemed unfair.
“The first shirt sat me down and told me, ‘Listen, I’ve been told you’re a stellar airman, but you have a terrible attitude,'” she said. When he told her that an unchecked bad attitude could end up getting her kicked out of the military, she said she decided to make some changes.
“That was my turning point,” she said. “From then on, I did the best I could to be the best airman.”
The new attitude paid off. Several years — and promotions — later, everything was going well. But Boston said she craved something different. A new challenge. Something to separate herself from her peers. She was comfortable, standing on the solid ground of a well-constructed military career, but she was contemplating a big jump.
Air Force Master Sgt. Aretha Boston, middle left, poses with her Marine Corps classmates during the Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy Advanced Course in the summer of 2018.
She found out the Air Force offers the chance for master sergeants to attend a sister service academy. She applied. Then she got accepted. The class started in the summer of 2018, and when she arrived, there were only six airmen in a sea of 120 Marines.
“(Marines) operate completely different from (airmen),” Boston explained. “Everything ties into fitness. Leadership, strategy planning — it always goes back to fitness.”
Physical training was every day, which she said was taxing on both her body and mind.
Those challenges culminated when, after a long morning run, the instructor pulled her into the swamp. With Marines cheering from the side, Boston remembers the feeling of being engulfed by the freezing water. After she and the rest of her class swam to the other side, a long obstacle course lay ahead of them.
Like all the other obstacles in Marine Corps senior NCO training, along with the hurdles of her early career, Boston faced them head on.
“It was pretty motivating to think she was an airman coming over to the course, doing something unprecedented,” said Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Walker, Boston’s classmate and Marine Corps Aviation Logistics Squadron 14 warehouse managements division warehouse chief.
Walker said it would be natural to see a decrease in academic productivity in the individual taking on the busy role of class gunnery sergeant. But he said Boston had no such trouble. In fact, she still managed to excel beyond her peers – even the ones wearing Marine Corps insignia.
“She literally did everything you would expect from a Marine, pushing forward, even outside of class.” Walker said. “She carried herself as a professional the entire time and represented the Air Force well.”
Scientists looking for signs of life beyond our solar system face major challenges, one of which is that there are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy alone to consider. To narrow the search, they must figure out: What kinds of stars are most likely to host habitable planets?
A new study finds a particular class of stars called K stars, which are dimmer than the Sun but brighter than the faintest stars, may be particularly promising targets for searching for signs of life.
Why? First, K stars live a very long time — 17 billion to 70 billion years, compared to 10 billion years for the Sun — giving plenty of time for life to evolve. Also, K stars have less extreme activity in their youth than the universe’s dimmest stars, called M stars or “red dwarfs.”
M stars do offer some advantages for in the search for habitable planets. They are the most common star type in the galaxy, comprising about 75 percent of all the stars in the universe. They are also frugal with their fuel, and could shine on for over a trillion years. One example of an M star, TRAPPIST-1, is known to host seven Earth-size rocky planets.
This artist’s concept shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about the planets’ diameters, masses and distances from the host star, as of February 2018.
But the turbulent youth of M stars presents problems for potential life. Stellar flares – explosive releases of magnetic energy – are much more frequent and energetic from young M stars than young Sun-like stars. M stars are also much brighter when they are young, for up to a billion years after they form, with energy that could boil off oceans on any planets that might someday be in the habitable zone.
“I like to think that K stars are in a ‘sweet spot’ between Sun-analog stars and M stars,” said Giada Arney of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Arney wanted to find out what biosignatures, or signs of life, might look like on a hypothetical planet orbiting a K star. Her analysis is published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Scientists consider the simultaneous presence of oxygen and methane in a planet’s atmosphere to be a strong biosignature because these gases like to react with each other, destroying each other. So, if you see them present in an atmosphere together, that implies something is producing them both quickly, quite possibly life, according to Arney.
However, because planets around other stars (exoplanets) are so remote, there needs to be significant amounts of oxygen and methane in an exoplanet’s atmosphere for it to be seen by observatories at Earth. Arney’s analysis found that the oxygen-methane biosignature is likely to be stronger around a K star than a Sun-like star.
Arney used a computer model that simulates the chemistry and temperature of a planetary atmosphere, and how that atmosphere responds to different host stars. These synthetic atmospheres were then run through a model that simulates the planet’s spectrum to show what it might look like to future telescopes.
“When you put the planet around a K star, the oxygen does not destroy the methane as rapidly, so more of it can build up in the atmosphere,” said Arney. “This is because the K star’s ultraviolet light does not generate highly reactive oxygen gases that destroy methane as readily as a Sun-like star.”
This stronger oxygen-methane signal has also been predicted for planets around M stars, but their high activity levels might make M stars unable to host habitable worlds. K stars can offer the advantage of a higher probability of simultaneous oxygen-methane detection compared to Sun-like stars without the disadvantages that come along with an M star host.
Additionally, exoplanets around K stars will be easier to see than those around Sun-like stars simply because K stars are dimmer. “The Sun is 10 billion times brighter than an Earthlike planet around it, so that’s a lot of light you have to suppress if you want to see an orbiting planet. A K star might be ‘only’ a billion times brighter than an Earth around it,” said Arney.
Arney’s research also includes discussion of which of the nearby K stars may be the best targets for future observations. Since we don’t have the ability to travel to planets around other stars due to their enormous distances from us, we are limited to analyzing the light from these planets to search for a signal that life might be present. By separating this light into its component colors, or spectrum, scientists can identify the constituents of a planet’s atmosphere, since different compounds emit and absorb distinct colors of light.
“I find that certain nearby K stars like 61 Cyg A/B, Epsilon Indi, Groombridge 1618, and HD 156026 may be particularly good targets for future biosignature searches,” said Arney.
If you’ve ever seen some of the DOD videos – or photos, for that matter – from Iraq or Afghanistan, they’re often accompanied by huge clouds of dust as helicopters come in for a landing.
But here’s what you don’t see; the damage the sand and dust does on the engines of those helicopters.
That matters – because the engines of helicopters and jets have one naturally-occurring enemy: FOD, which stands for “foreign object debris.” According to an FAA fact sheet, FOD was responsible for the June 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde that killed 113 people.
What the fact sheet doesn’t mention is that sand and dust are also foreign objects to an engine. What they do isn’t as spectacular as what happened in Paris almost 17 years ago, but it can be just as lethal.
Worse, while regular FOD walks can handle the larger objects, you can never quite get all the sand and dust away from an air base in Afghanistan or Iraq. So, there is a need to figure out how to keep the sand and dust from damaging engine components.
The Department of Defense recently released a video about efforts to address this. For instance, one of the researchers in this video one component in the T-700 engine is supposed to last 6,000 hours, but sand and dust reduce that to 400 hours – 1/15 of the planned operating life.
The price tag for the component in question? $30,000. That is a minor inconvenience. When a helo goes down, things get even uglier.
So check out the new ways researchers are attacking the problem of sand-damaged engines.
Iran’s only female Olympic medalist says she has permanently left the country, posting a lengthy Instagram post that begins with “Should I start with hello, goodbye, or condolences?”
Kimia Alizadeh, 21, cited the country’s treatment of women, including her, as the main force driving her defection to Europe. Alizadeh earned a bronze medal in the taekwondo 57-kilogram weight class at the 2016 Summer Olympics and won a silver medal at the 2017 World Taekwondo Championships.
On Thursday, Iran’s state-run news media reported that Alizadeh had defected to the Netherlands, according to RadioFreeEurope, which added that she was expected to still try for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo with a different country’s team.
Alizadeh didn’t specify in her Instagram post where she was or what her future athletic plans were, though she did say her only concerns at the moment were taekwondo, her security, and a healthy and happy life.
“I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran, who have been playing with me for years,” Alizadeh wrote, according to an English translation. “They took me wherever they wanted. Whatever they said, I wore. Every sentence they ordered, I repeated.”
She also accused the Iranian government of exploiting her athletic success while condemning her as a woman, writing, “They put my medals on the obligatory veil and attributed it to their management and tact.”
Confirmation of her departure comes days after Saturday’s protests in Iran, after the government acknowledged it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane that took off from Tehran, killing 176 people.
Alizadeh also said she had not been invited to defect to Europe but would “accept the pain and hardship of homesickness” over what she said was the “corruption and lies” in Iran.
“My troubled spirit does not fit into your dirty economic channels and tight political lobbies,” she wrote. “None of us matter to them.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
So many North Koreans have disappeared from fishing villages along the Hermit Kingdom’s east coast that the villages dotting the coastline are becoming known as “widow’s villages.”
Where do their husbands go?
They end up dead on boats adrift in the Sea of Japan. Their ships and bodies wash ashore on Japan or are picked up by the Japanese Coast Guard. Last year alone, 50 or more North Koreans were found on Japanese beaches.
For years, the phenomenon of these fishing boats full of dead men was a mystery. But now a few anonymous complaints to the United Nations may explain the “Ghost Boats” phenomenon. China has been poaching fish in North Korean waters, according to an investigation by the Irish Times.
In March 2020, two countries reported that 800 Chinese fishing vessels violated the sanctions placed on North Korean fishing waters. The sanctions were intended to prevent the North from selling the rights to fish in those waters. The area is a heavily-contested and poorly watched region of the ocean as it is but Chinese fleets compound the issue by switching off their location transponders.
Two countries provided the UN with satellite imagery that prove China is operating fishing fleets in the areas. External watchdogs estimate the Chinese have depleted the waters of stocks by up to 70 percent for some species.
The flotilla of Chinese fishing boats has also allegedly forced smaller, less well-equipped North Korean fishermen to pursue waters further from their villages, further from shore and further than their victualing can reasonably accommodate the crews of those ships. Once too far from shore, the North Korean peasants’ boats are susceptible to engine failures and storms – but don’t have the supplies to survive being adrift for very long periods.
Once the engines fail, the boats are likely caught up in the Tsushima current that runs up the west coast of the Japanese home islands. These flat-bottomed boats, filled only with fishing supplies and a few jugs of water, are usually found with tattered North Korean flags, and heavily decomposed bodies, if any remains are found at all.
The fishermen chase squid populations and end up with dead engines in the middle of the ocean, where they will probably spend the rest of their days, dying of thirst or exposure.
Service members from all ranks experience some crazy things during their time in uniform. From taking on the bad guys in a firefight to surviving some crazy accidents that most civilians couldn’t stomach — it’s all just part of the job.
We embrace the suck and, in the process, develop a unique sense of humor that’s not for everyone. For us, laughing at the crazy events of our daily life in service makes us stronger and helps us to push through the next dangerous mission with smiles on our faces.
When we tell people the true stories of what we’ve seen and done, the average man or woman lets out an exasperated “wow.”
The recent aerial bombardment of Syrian chemical weapons production facilities was one of epic proportions, featuring aircraft and warships from three countries — namely France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Reminiscent of the large Alpha strike flights of the Vietnam War, this attack formation consisted of dozens of aircraft, each with their own roles and objectives. From bombers to reconnaissance jets, supersonic high-performance fighters, and a 50-year-old electronic attack plane, the strike package employed a diverse array of aircraft to achieve overall success.
These are the aircraft that were involved in the attack:
Fighter aircraft from the US, UK, and France were absolutely integral in making the entire strike mission a success. American F-22 Raptors, F-16 Fighting Falcons, and F-15C Eagles from U.S. Air Forces in Europe covered the attack force alongside British Eurofighter Typhoons and French Mirage 2000s. Armed with air-to-air missiles, they loitered nearby, waiting patiently to deal with any aerial threats.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando A. Schwier-Morales)
The British and French aerial strike force consisted of Panavia Tornado supersonic attack jets and Rafale multi-role fighters. Both were armed with the Storm Shadow/SCALP air-launched cruise missile, which has a range of over 600 miles.
A small element of B-1B Lancer supersonic bombers were responsible for carrying out the American contribution to the aerial attack mission, using JASSM-ER air-launched missiles. These behemoth aircraft have previously operated in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, supporting troops on the ground with devastating close air support.
(US Air Force)
Built during the Cold War as a way for the US Air Force to avoid air defenses and deliver nuclear weapons to their targets, the Lancer, more affectionately known as the ‘Bone,” eventually moved out of its nuclear attack role as the Soviet Union fell. Today, it carries targeting pods and scores of conventional, “smart” munitions, flying as an on-call bomb truck for ground units.
By far, one of the most interesting additions to the strike force was a sole EA-6B Prowler, a four-seater electronic attack jet flown exclusively by the Marine Corps. The Prowler originally entered service with the US Navy and Marines in the early 1970s, serving as anti-radar “jammers.” The Marines plan on operating the Prowler into 2019, when they’ll retire them in favor of the electronic warfare capabilities of the F-35 Lightning II.
During the strike mission, the Prowler accompanied the American attack force as a guardian of sorts, preventing them from being targeted by Syrian (and potentially Russian) air defense radars mated to surface-to-air missiles. Marine Prowlers have been previously deployed to the Syrian theater to conduct similar protection-type missions.
France sent a pair of E-3F Sentry AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) jets from Avord Air Base to the area, where they constantly scanned and monitored the skies for nearby Russian, Syrian, and civilian aircraft.
(US Air Force)
The Sentry, produced by Boeing, began service with the US Air Force in the early 1970s as a replacement for older Warning Star aircraft. Essentially flying radar pickets, these aircraft come with a massive rotating radar dome affixed above the fuselage and a whole suite of sensors and communications gear that allows it to feed information to friendly aircraft operating nearby.
The aerial refueling community in the US has a saying, “nobody kicks ass without tanker gas!” This was certainly true during the Syrian strike mission. American and French KC-135R and C-135FR Stratotankers were on-station, a safe distance away from the action, ready to refuel allied aircraft as needed.
(US Air Force)
Built by Boeing and operating off the same platform as the E-3 Sentry, the KC-135 has flown for the USAF since the late 1950s and will likely remain in service for decades to come. This legendary workhorse has seen action from Vietnam to Operation Desert Storm and still actively participates in coalition operations against ISIS today in the Middle East.
In the hours before the attack, a single RQ-4 Global Hawk drone was briefly tracked flying near Syria and Lebanon, according to David Cenciotti of The Aviationist. Additionally, an RC-135V Rivet Joint aircraft was also operating in the area at the time, likely generating data and gathering information in advance of the strike mission.
(US Air Force)
Global Hawks, aptly named for their jaw-dropping endurance and range, have flown with the US Air Force for the past 17 years, functioning as a versatile surveillance platform over combat zones across the Middle East. The Rivet Joint, on the other hand, is a manned signals intelligence aircraft used for reconnaissance purposes on classified missions across the world.
President-elect Donald Trump caused a genuine uproar in the combat-aviation community when he tweeted in December, “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”
The idea that an F/A-18 Super Hornet could be “comparable” to the F-35 met swift and intense condemnation, and Lockheed Martin quickly lost billions in value on its stock.
Virtually everyone pointed to a single aspect of the F-35 that the F/A-18 lacked: stealth.
But the US and other countries already have in their sights a modern update on the F/A-18 that is meant to complement the F-35. The update may be poised to deliver even more capability than Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter in some areas, even without being as stealthy.
Dan Gillian, Boeing’s vice president of F/A-18 and EA-18 programs, told Business Insider that even with the coming F-35C naval variant, US carrier air wings would still field versions of the F/A-18 into the 2040s. The company is planning considerable updates that will focus on “addressing the gaps” in naval aviation.
Gillian and the Boeing team call it the Advanced Super Hornet, a modern update on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which itself was an update on the original F/A-18 Hornet. Gillian says Boeing designed the Super Hornet “from the beginning in an evolutionary way with lots of room for growth in power, cooling, and weight so it could adapt to changes over the years.”
Gillian says Boeing could start fielding Advanced Super Hornets by the early 2020s at the latest, while some limited contracts to bring elements of the Advanced Super Hornet are already underway. So even though the designs of the F-35 and the F/A-18 reflect different missions, they certainly are comparable in terms of price, availability, and capability.
So what does a 2017 update of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet look like?
“When we talk about the Advanced Super Hornet package, it can be delivered to a build of new airplanes and it can be retrofitted to existing airframes,” Gillian said.
“An airplane that I’m building today off the line has some systems that have matured over time that a Super Hornet would not have,” he added, saying there would essentially be no difference between a 2017 Advanced Super Hornet and a Super Hornet plucked off an aircraft carrier and brought up to date.
The physical characteristics of a fully decked out Advanced Super Hornet would be as follows:
Shoulder-mounted conformal fuel tanks to carry 3,500 pounds of fuel and reduce drag. These fuel tanks could “extend the reach about 125 nautical miles,” meaning the planes can “either go faster or carry more,” according to Gillian.
An infrared search and track radar, which would be the first such capability included on a US fighter jet since the F-14 Tomcat. This will allow the Advanced Super Hornets to counter enemy stealth capability and to get a read on heat-emitting entities without emitting any radar signal of their own. “There was a fixation on stealth attributes,” Gillian said of fifth-gen fighters, “which is an important attribute for the next 25 years, but tactical fighters are designed for stealth in one part of the spectrum, all planes emit heat.”
Advanced electronic warfare capabilities. Currently, the F-18 family leads the US military in EW platforms with the Growler, an EW version of the Super Hornet in which Boeing has “taken out the gun and installed more EW equipment … Instead of missiles on the wing tips it has a large sensing pods,” Gillian said. The Navy has scheduled the F-35C to eventually carry the advanced EW pod, but the initial generation of F-35s will have to rely on Growlers for EW attacks. The Advanced Super Hornet will have EW self-protection, but not the full suite present on the Growler.
An advanced cockpit system with a new 19-inch display. Basically “a big iPad for the airplane, allowing the pilot to manage all the information and data that’s out there,” Gillian said, comparing its utility to the F-35’s display.
Improved avionics and computing power as well as increased ability to network to receive targeting data from platforms like the F-35 or the E-2 Hawkeye. The Advanced Super Hornet would also feature an improved active electronically scanned array radar.
Further enhancements still to be considered by the US Navy for Advanced Super Hornets include the following:
An enclosed weapons pod would make the plane more aerodynamic while also cutting down on the plane’s radar cross section. Combined with the form-fitting fuel tanks, the Advanced Super Hornet could cut its radar signature by up to 50%.
An improved engine could increase fuel efficiency and performance. Boeing hasn’t yet begun earnestly working toward this, and it could add to the overall cost of the project significantly.
Hypothetically, Advanced Super Hornets could field IRST before F-35Cs come online. Growlers will also serve in the vital role of EW attack craft, without which the F-35 cannot do its job as a stealth penetrator.
So while an Advanced Super Hornet will never be comparable to the F-35 in all aspects, it could certainly develop some strengths that the F-35 lacks.
Additionally, Gillian said the Advanced Super Hornets would not cost much more than the current F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, which run about $70 million apiece. Even if that price rose by $10 million, it would still be lower than that of the cheapest expected F-35s, which come in at $85 million.
Conclusion: Could Boeing create an F/A-18 ‘comparable’ to the F-35?
“The Advanced Super Hornet is really a collection of systems and design changes that when implemented achieve a significantly different capability for the air wing,” said Gillian, who stressed that the Super Hornet and Growler platforms were “well positioned” to improve in scope and capability over time.
Gillian made it clear, however, that the Advanced Super Hornet program had been, since its inception, meant to accompany the F-35, with carrier air wings consisting of three squadrons of Super Hornets and one squadron of F-35s into the 2040s.
The US Navy has contracts already underway to update its existing Super Hornet fleet with elements of the Advanced Super Hornet package, and it seems the US will end up with both Advanced Super Hornets and F-35s, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
The F/A-18, not designed with all-aspect stealth in mind, will most likely never serve as a penetrating aircraft for heavily contested airspace, but its future onboard America’s aircraft carriers is well defined for decades to come.
But with Boeing’s field record of delivering F/A-18 projects on time and on budget, and the US Navy left waiting by overrun after overrun in the F-35 program, the two planes are starting to look like apples and oranges — both good choices. Choosing which to buy and when may simply come down to what is available on the market.
The Trump administration announced a new round of sanctions on Venezuela on May 21, 2018, further limiting government officials there from selling debt and other assets “at fire-sale prices at the expense of the Venezuelan people,” a senior administration official said.
The new restrictions come hours after a presidential election that President Nicolas Maduro was expected to win through illegitimate means and which the US said it would not recognize before the first ballot was cast.
President Donald Trump’s stance on Venezuela and its embattled president has appeared at odds with his attitude toward the leaders of other authoritarian regimes and his administration’s response to disputed elections in those countries.
In April 2017, Trump congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a referendum that expanded Erdogan’s powers, differing from the State Department, which cited international observers’ reports of election irregularities and called on Turkey to respect the rights of its citizens.
And in a March 2018 phone call, Trump reportedly congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his reelection, despite guidance from his national-security team not do so.
Some leaders have been reluctant to offer Putin similar compliments, given the state’s control of much of the media in Russia as well as restrictions on opposition candidates. Election monitors said the most recent contest was “overly controlled” and “lacked genuine competition.” (President Barack Obama congratulated Putin after the latter’s 2012 election victory, though his administration also publicly expressed concerns about that vote.)
A few days later, when asked whether Russia’s election was free and fair, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “We’re focused on our elections. We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate.”
“What we do know is Putin has been elected in their country, and that’s not something that we can dictate to them, how they operate,” she added at the time. “We can only focus on the freeness and the fairness of our elections.”
Asked May 21, 2018, about the seeming disparity between Trump’s approach to the election in Venezuela and elections under similar conditions elsewhere, senior administration officials pointed to the intensity of the economic and political turmoil in the South American country as a distinguishing feature.
“The region has never seen a kleptocracy like this,” the official said. “We’ve never seen a country as wealthy — in terms of natural resources and in human capital — as Venezuela is, driven into such an economic death spiral so quickly by such a small group of individuals determined to enrich themselves at the expense of millions of people.”
“The effect on a close ally of the United States, Colombia, is enormous and is threatening to drag that country into the abyss from an economic standpoint as well,” the official said. “So this is a true catastrophe in every sense of the word, within the region.”
The US is not the only country that has reproved Maduro and his government.
The Lima Group — made up of 14 countries in Latin America — rebuked the Maduro government over the election when it was announced in January 2018, and said on May 21, 2018, that it did not recognize May 20, 2018’s vote as legitimate.
Canada has sanctioned Venezuelan officials, including Maduro, as has the European Union, which also has an arms embargo in place on the country.
The US has reportedly offered lawyers and policy experts to help other Latin American countries draft similar measures.
Venezuela experts have warned that sanctions themselves are unlikely to force Maduro out and cautioned that harsher sanctions — such as ones against the oil industry on which the country is heavily reliant — could only cause additional pain for the Venezuelans.
“If you added up the 12 nations in the Lima Group and the United States together, it’s about 95% of the hemisphere,” another senior administration official said. “So everybody is truly together on this, and it’s a unity in the hemisphere, frankly, that is almost unprecedented in approaching a crisis of democracy.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Some of their predictions even have military applications. The 7 best are listed below.
1. Dr. FlimFlam’s Miracle Cream
The amazing prescription for life’s aches and pains also tends to give its users superpowers like super strength, lickety-speed, and the ability to sometimes command sea creatures. Nothing says “precision strike” like flying to Syria just to punch the caliph in the face. All this for $60!
Warning: “Keep out of reach of children under the age of 500. For best results, sacrifice a small mammal Xanroc then apply evenly to interior of eyeball. Would you like to sell Dr. Flimflam products? Contact a representative at a covered wagon near you!”
2. Tube Transport
“[being controlled by a Brain Slug] On to new business. Today’s mission is for all of you to go to the Brain Slug Planet.” – Hermes
“What do we do there?” – Zoidberg
“Just walk around not wearing a helmet” – Hermes
MomCorps’ Transport Tubes are all over New New York, sucking in passengers and flying them to their destinations… but this may soon be a reality.
Instead of long waits for an airplane to get you to and from deployments, imagine just hopping in a tube and magically arriving where you want to go. Sounds better than wasting precious leave days while traveling to R and R from the Brain Slug Planet.
3. Electronium Hat
“Please, Fry. I don’t know how to teach. I’m a professor!“―Professor Farnsworth
Designed by the Professor to harness the power of sunspots, the electronium hat makes cognitive radiation, a special energy that makes any animal intelligent. The Professor tested it on a monket named Guenther whom he sent to college.
The intelligence potential of this technology is exciting (see what I did there?). The U.S. military could ally itself with hordes of hat-wearing animals.
4. Q.T. McWhiskers
“Now conquer Earth you bastards!” – Mom
“Conquer Earth us bastards!” – Killbots
Originally intended to be a children’s toy, petting it would cause the toy to meow and shoot rainbows from its eyes. Mom changed the production model into a massive killbot that shoots lasers.
“Hey, try it on me!” – Fry
Bender points it at Fry’s crotch.
“OW! My sperm!” -Fry
Professor Farnsworth’s F-Ray device emits a neutrino beam which allows the ray’s user to see through anything, including metal. The only problem was it emitted so much nuclear radiation that the Professor had to wear a full-body protective suit.
It would make searching prisoners much easier, but would likely violate a few treaties.
6. Universal Translator
“This is my Universal Translator, although it only translates into an incomprehensible dead language”– Prof. Farnsworth
“Hello!” – Cubert
“Bonjour!” – machine
“Crazy gibberish” – Prof. Farnsworth
In the episode A clone of my own, Professor Farnsworth reveals his Universal Translator invention, which only knows how to translate a funny, dead language (actually French). As is, the universal translator could help French forces in West Africa fighting al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Ansar Dine, and ISIS elements by allowing other intervening Western countries easier communication with locals.
Another version of this device works for alien languages as well as English.
7. What-If Machine
“Alright, Professor! Let’s do it. Make that machine show me what would happen if I was a little more impulsive. Just a little… Not too much.“―Leela
The ultimate weapons against ISIS is the ability go back and prevent them for ever forming. By now the world knows ISIS formed in the power vacuum left by the Americans after the Iraq War, but we didn’t see that then. What if we had a machine that would let us watch the consequences of our foreign policy decision so we could always make the right one?