The police official’s testimony seems to confirm a May 2017 report from The Asahi Shimbun, which described Kim Jong Nam meeting a Korean-American who Malaysian officials suspected was a U.S intelligence agent.
According to the report, the two met on Feb. 9 and Kim’s computer showed a record of a thumb drive being inserted, which some have speculated was used to offload vital information to the suspected U.S. agent. The report includes a photo that purports to show the two meeting, though the suspected agent’s face is cropped out. On Jan. 29, the police official seemed to confirm the encounter took place.
While reports about Kim’s life say he was a gambler with no ambitions to rule North Korea, he would make sense as someone whom the U.S. — and even China — would want to groom and leverage to possibly remove Kim Jong Un from power.
At 34 years old, Kim Jong Un could lead North Korea for another three to five decades. While his leadership makes obvious its hostility to the U.S., he is also no fan of China.
Citing three sources, Nikkei Asian Review reported in August 2017 that top government officials in China and North Korea seriously considered a plot to remove Kim Jong Un in 2012, however the plot reportedly fell through and resulted in the dictator having his own uncle killed.
Unlike his predecessors, Kim Jong Un has never visited Beijing nor had Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pyongyang. Kim Jong Un has never met with another head of state, and has increasingly been viewed as out of Beijing’s control, while threatening the U.S. with nuclear weapons.
Kim Jong Un has effectively put a giant nuclear target on China’s borders, and risks having his country overthrown and occupied by U.. troops. Kim also has had top officials with ties to China brutally assassinated with packs of dogs or anti-aircraft guns, according to reports.
As a result, both the U.S. and China have plenty of reason to wish for something to end Kim Jong Un’s rule over North Korea. Because North Korea is ruled by the Kim family dynasty, Kim Jong Un could theoretically be replaced with another Kim in a relatively bloodless coup.
Such an opportunity may have proven too enticing for both the U.S. and China to pass up, and too risky for North Korea to ignore.
Kim family infighting becomes geopolitical
An anonymous source told South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo in November 2017 that Chinese authorities blocked a plot from seven North Korean assassins to enter the country and kill Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam.
Though North Korea denies any involvement in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the same country that has worked to build up a nuclear arsenal while under the heaviest sanctions on earth might not think twice about offing a member of the Kim family to protect from coups orchestrated by outsiders.
Kim Han Sol, another legitimate Kim, now fears for his life as he represents the heir to a bloodline that could unseat one of the world’s most brutal rulers.
A U.S. military spokesman says the U.S.-led military coalition in Syria has begun the process of withdrawing troops from the country.
The spokesman, Colonel Sean Ryan, said in a Jan. 11, 2019 statement that “the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria” had begun, however he did not reveal specific details.
“Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements,” Ryan said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the U.S.-led coalition had started scaling down its presence at the Rmeilan airfield in Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakeh.
Marines fire an 81mm mortar during training in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Hajin, Syria, Aug. 4, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)
It said the U.S. troops began to withdraw from the military base on Jan. 10, 2019, describing the development as “the first such pullout of American forces” since President Donald Trump announced on Dec. 19, 2018, that he intended to withdraw all of an estimated 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria.
Trump’s announcement, which came after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stunned U.S. allies and has been criticized within his own administration.
Last night’s 92nd Academy Awards had most military-connected folks rooting for Adam Driver to win best actor.
Driver, who was nominated for his role in the Netflix film, “The Marriage Story,” served in the Marines as a mortarman. He was previously nominated for his role in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.” Unfortunately, Driver didn’t take home the statue (Joaquin Phoenix did for his portrayal of Joker), but we looked to see what other veterans had won an Oscar for best actor.
Turns out, there were quite a few. These 20 veterans have all won entertainment’s most prestigious acting award:
Unlike some in Hollywood that hid behind their status, Stewart signed up right away and joined the Army when the U.S. entered WWII. Serving all the way to 1968, Stewart’s military exploits are an article in and of itself.
Stewart was nominated five times, winning once for “The Philadelphia Story.” He also received a well-deserved Honorary Oscar in 1985.
Robards served in the Navy and saw a lot of action in his time. He was out at sea when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, where he was stationed. His ship was later sunk in the South Pacific, with Robard treading water for hours until he was rescued. The second ship he served on suffered a kamikaze attack off the coast of the Philippines.
Robards decided to become an actor while serving and had an illustrious career.
He won two Oscars; one for “All the President’s Men” and “Julia.”
Marvin was a badass on screen with his steely-eyed demeanor, a trait no doubt perfected during his time in the Marines during WWII. He fought in the Battle of Saipan, earning a Purple Heart when he was hit by machine-gun fire and then by a sniper.
Marvin later won the Oscar for his role in “Cat Ballou.”
Probably the most famous leading man of them all, Gable served in the Army Air Forces during WWII, seeing combat in the skies over Europe. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. Legend has it that Hitler was a fan of Gable and offered a reward for him to be captured alive.
Gable earned an Oscar for this role in “It Happened One Night” and surprisingly not for “Gone with the Wind.”
George C. Scott
Another post-WWII Marine, Scott was stationed at 8th and I in Washington D.C. where he served as an honor guard at services held at Arlington National Cemetery.
Nominated several times, Scott famously told the Academy that he would refuse the award if he won for Patton on philosophical grounds. The role was so iconic, he won anyway.
James Earl Jones
Before his voice terrified moviegoers as Darth Vader, James Earl Jones served in the ROTC at the University of Michigan. He then went to become a first lieutenant in the Army.
He received an honorary Oscar in 2011 for his many iconic roles. His filmography is lengthy and includes The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Sandlot, Lion King, Clear and Present Danger, and many more.
He’s made us laugh in Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, and Young Frankenstein.
Before his life of comedy, Brooks had a more serious role defusing landmines in Germany during World War II.
Brooks won an Academy Award for his screenplay of “The Producers.”
A badass of the silver screen, Eastwood served stateside during the Korean War.
Eastwood is an Oscar legend winning four times against 11 nominations. He won two Best Director Awards and Two Best Picture Awards for “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
He was also nominated for two amazing military movies, “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “American Sniper.”
Before he “loved the smell of napalm in the morning,” Duvall served stateside during the Korean War.
After his stint in the Army, he went on to achieve greatness in acting with seven Oscar nominations (including for “Apocalypse Now” and “The Great Santini”), winning for “Tender Mercies.”
Known for many military roles, including “McHale’s Navy” and “The Dirty Dozen,” Borgnine served in the U.S. Navy in 1941 and was discharged, only to rush back into service when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
He won an Academy Award for his role in “Marty” in 1955.
Arguably one of the best-looking actors of all time, Newman served in the Navy during World War II. He tried to become a pilot, but color blindness prevented him from doing so. He instead served as a radioman and turret gunner.
Newman also is an Oscar legend with a nomination in 5 different decades. He won an Honorary Oscar in 1985, and had a Best Actor win the next year for The Color of Money.”
Before he portrayed the gladiator turned freedom fighter Spartacus, Douglas served in the Navy during WWII from 1941 – 1944.
He would later be awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1996 after earning three nominations during his illustrious career.
Fonda left acting and enlisted in the Navy during World War II and served in the Pacific, earning a Bronze Star.
When he returned to acting, he would have a legendary career with two nominations, including a win for “On Golden Pond.”
Heston served in the Army Air Forces during WWII as an aerial gunner. He was stationed in Alaska, which was under threat from the Japanese.
Heston had a legendary career with epic roles in “The Ten Commandments,” “Planet of the Apes,” and “El Cid,” and won an Oscar for his role in “Ben-Hur.”
While it is easy to imagine Freeman serving as a radio operator, he actually served in the Air Force as a Radar Repairman.
While earning several nominations, he won for his role in “Million Dollar Baby.”
Before his iconic, “They call me Mr. Tibbs!” line, Poitier served in the U.S. Army, lying about his age in order to serve.
He won the Oscar for his role in “Lilies of the Field.”
Known for many roles, his most famous being the Huron warrior Magua, who cut out the heart of his vanquished foe. Studi enlisted in the Oklahoma National Guard and served in Vietnam.
He was awarded an Honorary Oscar, the first Native American to be so honored.
Hackman lied about his age and enlisted in the Marines as a radio operator in 1946, rising to the rank of Corporal.
Nominated five times in his illustrious career, he won twice for “the French Connection” and “Unforgiven.”
Lemmon had an amazing and long career showing off his chops in movies like “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Before that, Lemmon served in WWII as a Naval Aviator toward the end of the war.
He later won two Oscars for his roles in “Mister Roberts” and “Save the Tiger.”
Palance was known for his rugged looks, which studio execs claim he got from surgery to repair injuries he suffered when jumping out of a burning bomber while training during WWII.
He was nominated three times and won for City Slickers, which he celebrated by doing one-armed pushups on stage.
With President Donald Trump’s first official State of the Union address on Jan. 30, the White House’s security apparatus is making preparations for a grim worse-case scenario.
If there was a targeted attack on the Capitol, someone would have to take over the government.
Excluding the years immediately after a new president is elected, one member of the president’s Cabinet has been selected every year since the 1960s to be the “designated survivor.”
They sit out the State of the Union far away from the House chamber, so that in case there is a catastrophe, a Senate-confirmed official could take the reigns of the presidency. Since 2005, a designated survivor from Congress has also been selected in order to rebuild the legislative branch.
This year’s designated survivor has not been announced yet. Although highly unlikely, this doomsday scenario has captured the imaginations of screen writers and TV producers, spawning a an entire show on ABC called simply “Designated Survivor.”
In the real world, designated survivors have often tended to be low-ranking cabinet members, and until 9/11, had spent their evenings away from Washington, DC, in a variety of ways. Almost all choose to kick back, relax, and enjoy the perks of the presidential treatment for a few short hours.
Here are how past designated survivors have spent their State of the Union addresses as the possible president-to-be:
A designated survivor has been selected for the State of Union address since sometime in the 1960s, but the first one documented person was secretary of housing and urban development Samuel R. Pierce Jr. at former President Ronald Reagan’s in January 1984.
In 1996, secretary of health and human services Donna Shalala spent the State of the Union address in the White House. She reportedly ordered pizza for her staff after former President Bill Clinton told her, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
In 1997, secretary of agriculture Dan Glickman visited his daughter in Lower Manhattan to hang out at her apartment — “nuclear football” and all. But after the State of the Union ended and Secret Service left, they were left looking for taxis in the pouring rain.
In 2000, secretary of energy Bill Richardson spent his time as designated survivor hanging out with his family in coastal Maryland. They dined on roast beef and drank beers as the Secret Service watched over them.
But after the 9/11 attacks rocked the world, the role of designated survivor took on new gravity. From then on out, designated survivors were taken to an undisclosed location and didn’t speak to reporters about their experiences.
In 2006, secretary of veterans affairs Jim Nicholson had to deal with this new level of seriousness when he was transported via helicopter to an unknown location and given a security briefing. But was able to enjoy a steak dinner in the process.
Had anything happened to the president, Clinton would have succeeded former President Barack Obama because she was next in the line of succession, but because her location was known, another survivor had to be selected.
The US Missile Defense Agency just issued a bold request for proposals for a missile defense system that could change the game and act like a silver bullet against North Korean missile launches.
The MDA asked for proposals to build a high-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned aircraft capable of flying higher than 63,000 feet and carrying a laser to shoot down ballistic missiles as they arc upwards towards the sky.
While the laser system sounds like something out of science fiction, and is something the US Navy has struggled to field for over a decade, Ricky Ellison of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance told Business Insider that this drone could be the perfect application of the technology.
“What it can do is intercept missiles in the boost phase, therefore you don’t need to have billion dollar radars all over the world to intercept with 80 million dollar interceptors,” said Ellison.
Ballistic missiles fly high into earth’s atmosphere before breaking apart, often releasing multiple reentry vehicles, countermeasures, and decoys. This makes them a nightmare for traditional missile defense systems which track the launch and then fire interceptor vehicles to smash them apart upon reentry.
Another possible design for the laser interceptor. Photo from missilethreat.csis.org
Even the top-of-the-line THAAD system, recently sent to South Korea, would struggle to destroy a large salvo from North Korea, and the price of installing and using the entire system, interceptors included, would cost into the billions. Additionally, THAAD’s high-powered radar capability makes China extremely nervous, as they believe it could limit their ability to respond to a nuclear strike from the US.
Meanwhile, a solid state laser can be fired continuously for dollars a minute, about what you’d pay for electricity in your home. Though building the platform would cost millions in research, development, and testing.
Traditionally, while boost-phase interception looks more attractive on paper because it hits the missile in a more vulnerable stage, it’s been impractical because the interceptor has to be close to the projectile.
So there’s just no way the US could intercept a missile fired from central Russia or China in its boost phase. With a small country like North Korea though, US drones right off the border could melt down missiles with a light-speed weapon in the cloudless upper atmosphere.
“This would be far more efficient to have boost-phase intercept capability over that territory at that height to handle that,” said Ellison. “As North Korea develops countermeasures, decoys, multiple reentry vehicles, and all the things that will continue to evolve, you have a great opportunity to eliminate all those advancing technologies before all that gets dispersed.”
The MDA hopes to field this technology by 2023, at which point most experts agree North Korea will have perfected an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was backed by most countries in the region, who shared the goal of ousting the extremist Taliban regime and eliminating the allied Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
The governments in Tehran, Moscow, and Islamabad readily helped the United States fight the extremist groups.
Iran provided crucial intelligence to support U.S. special forces and CIA teams orchestrating the invasion.
Russia supplied Soviet-era maps and intelligence and later allowed the U.S. military to send supplies to Afghanistan through its territory.
Even Pakistan, the chief backer of the Taliban, offered its assistance in helping hunt down Al-Qaeda militants and became the main supply line for NATO forces.
But in the intervening 19 years, the regional consensus favoring the U.S. troops in Afghanistan has eroded.
Though the U.S. military swiftly overthrew the Taliban and eliminated Al-Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan, many feel it got bogged down in mission creep.
Meanwhile, Washington’s ties with many regional players — including Pakistan, Iran, and Russia — became toxic.
With U.S. forces scheduled to exit Afghanistan next year as part of a framework peace deal with the Taliban, Washington’s rivals see an opportunity to step in and expand their footprint in the war-torn country.
Those efforts have intensified since the United States and the Taliban signed a deal in February aimed at negotiating an end to the war, which began way back in 2001.
Under that agreement, U.S. forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which has pledged to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal with the Kabul government.
The delayed intra-Afghan peace talks are expected to be complex and protracted, and will likely take years.
Impatient to end the costly and unpopular war, President Donald Trump is considering fast-tracking the exit of American troops ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, according to U.S. media reports.
Experts say that in the absence of a peace deal, a U.S. military withdrawal could ignite a free-for-all that involves regional powers pursuing often competing interests in Afghanistan.
“The stage has already been set, with many key actors — including Russia and Iran — increasing their ties with both the Afghan state and the Taliban,” says Michael Kugelman, South Asia senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
“The objective is to develop more influence and generate more leverage with key actors across the board, so that they will be in a better position to pursue and achieve their goals in a post-America Afghanistan — a place we can expect to be increasingly unstable and complex.”
Iran, Pakistan, and Russia — with long histories of meddling in the country — are hedging their bets. The three countries have sought to improve their relations with the Western-backed government in Kabul, while also reaching out to the Taliban in case it gains a role in a future Afghan government.
Islamabad has retained its long-standing ties with the Taliban and shelters the group’s leadership, while Tehran and Moscow have been tacitly working to bolster their ties with the militants, with the goal of expanding their own strategic interests in Afghanistan.
‘Make The Taliban Even Stronger’
Pakistan has long been accused of playing a double game in Afghanistan, sheltering and aiding the Taliban while receiving billions in U.S. aid to clamp down on the militants.
Pakistan’s ties to the Taliban date back to the 1990s, when it provided arms, training, and intelligence to the militants. Islamabad was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban government when it took power in Afghanistan in 1996. After the regime’s fall in 2001, many Taliban leaders took shelter inside Pakistan.
Observers say Pakistan sees the Taliban as an insurance policy for reaching its long-standing strategic goals in Afghanistan — installing a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul and limiting the influence of its archrival India, which has close ties to Kabul.
Experts say Pakistan stands to be the biggest beneficiary of a U.S. military pullout from Afghanistan.
“If a withdrawal leads to a peace process that results in a settlement, then Pakistan would benefit as this would likely entail the Taliban holding a fair share of power,” says Kugelman. “If the peace process collapses and the U.S. withdrawal ushers in a period of extended destabilization, Pakistan would still benefit because it would make the Taliban even stronger.”
Iran has supported its traditional allies in Afghanistan — the Shi’ite Hazara minority and the Persian-speaking ethnic Tajiks — while recently establishing contacts with the Taliban, a predominately Pashtun group.
Iran and the Taliban were on the verge of war in 1998 — when the group controlled most of Afghanistan — after the deaths of eight Iranian diplomats in the Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif.
Tehran backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. But in recent years the Islamic republic and the Taliban have forged closer ties, with militant leaders even visiting Tehran.
The relationship between Shi’ite-majority Iran and the Taliban, a fundamentalist Sunni group, is complex. Iran officially opposes the Taliban, but experts say it provides some military support to the mainstream Taliban and even rival breakaway factions.
Analysts say that while Iran does not want the Taliban to return to power, Tehran is looking to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in case the Taliban becomes a political player in Afghanistan or it forcibly seizes control of the country.
“These initiatives serve the purpose of securing Iran’s sphere of influence in Afghanistan and perhaps even creating a buffer zone on Afghan soil to protect parts of Iran’s eastern borders from infiltration by forces hostile to Iran,” says Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
‘A Great Power’
For more than a decade after the U.S.-led invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Washington for taking on the “burden” of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and urged it to “carry it to the end.”
But since 2014, the Kremlin has attempted to undermine the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, fueled by Moscow’s desire to be an international power broker and its rivalry with the West in Ukraine and Syria, where Russia joined Iran in supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Moscow said it has established contacts with the Taliban in recent years because of the common threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Afghanistan. Washington has accused Russia of arming the Taliban, which it denies.
In the past two years, Moscow has hosted two international conferences on the Afghan peace process, inviting Taliban leaders and Afghan opposition members.
Earlier this month, U.S. media reported that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered secret bounties to the Taliban if they killed U.S. or NATO-member troops in Afghanistan.
Moscow and the Taliban have denied the reports, which are based on U.S. intelligence assessments. But the revelations have served to highlight Moscow’s murky dealings in Afghanistan.
“Russia’s interests in Afghanistan are twofold: to avoid an explosion of chaos on the borders of what it considers its sphere of influence, and to use it as an opportunity to demonstrate and assert its claim to be a great power,” says Mark Galeotti, a Russia analyst and a senior associate fellow at the British-based Royal United Services Institute.
Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro on Feb. 27, 2019, tweeted a 40-minute-long livestream on Periscope about the government’s carnival preparations as the country further spirals into crisis.
Carnival — or “Carnaval” as known in Venezuela — is a big celebration celebrated before Lent every year, in which people dress up in costumes, dance, and attend parades with floats.
Maduro’s video came after a weekend of violent clashes when state forces barred activists from bringing in aid through the Colombian and Brazilian borders.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro discussed plans for Venezuela’s upcoming Carnaval celebrations while the country continues to crumble.
Police fired tear gas and pellets on protesters, killing at least two and injuring at least 300, The Associated Press (AP) reported. More than 300 Venezuelan soldiers defected and fled to Colombia after the unrest, the AP added.
But in his lengthy stream, Maduro primarily focused on his plans for a “safe carnival” in 2019. The video showed Venezuelans in costumes dancing and celebrating, as the president calls on ministers, governors and mayors to explain how the government will ensure smooth festivities.
Maduro then mused about cute children in costumes before announcing that he will also dress up and join the celebration.
The leader is often criticized for organizing big celebrations and performances, like salsa dancing, as a distraction from the humanitarian and economic crisis plaguing the nation.
Feb. 23, 2019, he was slammed for dancing at a concert while government forces blocked the entry of food and medicine at the borders.
Maduro addressed his critics in his Feb. 27, 2019, livestream, saying: “The imperialists were mad that I was dancing. We [Venezuelans] always dance because we are a happy people and this is a revolution of joy.”
The video also showed images of pro-government rallies, with Maduro saying that the majority of Venezuelans oppose international intervention.
Maduro and his allies around the world — like Russia, China, and Syria — have opposed foreign support for his opponent Juan Guaidó, who declared himself Venezuela’s interim government in January 2019.
Maduro also mocked Guaidó’s slogan while discussing Carnaval plans. “Vamos bien,” he said — Spanish for “we are making progress.”
Venezuelan “interim president” Juan Guaidó.
Guaidó is currently exiled in Colombia, and has met with US Vice President Mike Pence and the Lima Group, a regional bloc established to end the Venezuelan crisis.
Guaidó told his supporters via video on Feb. 26, 2019, that he is currently planning his return to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas to mobilize his supporters. The exact date of his arrival and next steps will be made public in the coming days, he added.
He said he refuses “this compromise of having to fight from abroad,” referring to Colombia, and said that Maduro is “alone and desperate.”
Guaidó also posted an audio message, urging his supporters to keep mobilizing and and announcing unspecified actions to garner support from military and government workers.
In 2007, China fired a missile that flew 537 miles above the earth and smashed one of its weather satellites, causing thousands of pieces of debris to drift endlessly through Earth’s orbit.
Just a year later, the US Navy responded by shooting down a satellite in danger of falling out of earth’s orbit at 133 miles and traveling at 17,000 mph with an SM-3 missile, which the US military fields hundreds of.
Since then, Russia has completed at least five anti-satellite missile tests.
Though US astronauts aboard the Apollo 11 left behind a plaque on the moon in 1969 with the inscription “We came in peace for all mankind,” in the intervening decades, space has become militarized as major superpowers now rely on satellite communications.
“Space is not a sanctuary, it is a war fighting domain,” US Air Force Brigadier General Mark Baird said at the Defense One Tech Summit last week.
The US military relies on space-based operations for everything including communications, coordination, navigation, and surveillance, Peter Singer, a senior fellow at non-partisan think tank New America and the author of “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War,” told Business Insider.
Even civilian systems like the stock market are reliant on satellites because GPS systems “time-stamp” stock trades, according to Singer.
“If you were an adversary attacking the US, you’d start by attacking satellites,” said Singer. “The first shots in a war between the US and China or Russia, no one would likely hear.”
China and Russia also rely on space systems for numerous functions, but the US is more heavily dependent. Chinese and Russian jets still use analogue systems in their older jets and tanks and boats, and could operate better without satellites.
In that way, the US’s strength in space assets has become a dragging liability.
New defenses emerging
Nimbus B1 Satellite. (Image from NASA.)
While the concept of a space-based conflict terrifies Baird, he said a range of growing technologies and possibilities also has him excited.
In response to the growing space threat, the House of Representatives passed a National Defense Authorization Act with money set aside for a proposed sixth military branch, the Space Corps. While the Space Corps seems unlikely to make it through the Senate, the Senate version of the NDAA does set aside extra money for increased space operations.
But even with a dedicated military branch, there is just no protecting satellites, which sit defenseless in geosynchronous or predictable orbits above earth.
Instead, companies and the military are leveraging shrinking processors and cameras to develop constellations of small satellites that can be easily launched, thus ending a reliance on large satellites that cost billions. The US would then be able to quickly replace downed satellites with smaller, cheaper ones that would simultaneously create more, lower-value targets for adversaries to find and destroy.
For example, the massive Stratolaunch airplane, founded by billionaire Paul Allen, could one day fly high in the atmosphere and launch three rockets, each carrying multiple small satellites into orbit.
Additionally, reusable rockets from companies like SpaceX could save the US time and money on launches, making it less damaging when a satellite is lost.
Stratolaunch Systems Corporation
The space debris problem
While replacing large satellites with smaller ones works as a quick fix, it comes with major environmental concerns.
Space debris from destroyed satellites clutters the domain and makes it harder for sensors and trackers to operate. In a worst-case scenario, the debris could potentially get into a very fast orbit around the earth and end up smashing holes into existing space systems.
“I worry about anti-satellite business from the orbital debris mitigation point of view,” Dr. Bhavya Lal, a research staff member at the IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute, said at the Defense One Tech Summit.
According to Lal, the Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007 added approximately 3,000 pieces of debris to the more than half a million pieces “bigger than a marble” in Earth’s orbit.
With enough high-velocity debris flying around, the entire upper atmosphere of Earth could become unsuitable for satellites, possibly resetting technology back decades before the proliferation of space systems.
1986 DIA illustration of the IS system attacking a target. (Ronald C. Wittmann via Wikimedia Commons)
Like all conflicts between major powers, space combat doesn’t happen because it is deterred.
The US’s anti-satellite tests have demonstrated that it too can down another nation’s satellites, to say nothing of the US’s ability to counter any serious attack with its formidable nuclear forces.
However, new technologies like Stratolaunch and others show that the US can can survive an initial space attack and get a new cluster of critical satellites up within a matter of hours if needed.
For the US, the world’s most powerful country, commanding forces is mainly about deterring aggression rather than fighting wars.
When the USS Emory S. Land, one of the Navy’s two submarine tenders, sailed into the Ulithi Atoll on Dec. 7, 2019, it was a return to a major hub for US operations in World War II and yet another sign the US military is thinking about how it would fight a war in the Pacific.
Only four of the atoll’s 40 small islands are inhabited, but they all surround one of the world’s largest lagoons, which was a vital jumping-off point for the Navy as it island-hopped closer to the Japanese mainland during the war.
“It was the logistical hub for the invasions in the Philippines, Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa — all of those operations were launched from the base at Ulithi,” Capt. Michael Luckett, commanding officer of the Emory S. Land, said in a release. “At the height, there were as many as 700 ships anchored there in the lagoon, including dry docks, repair ships, tenders, battleships, aircraft carriers, destroyers, and sea planes.”
The Philippines, which includes Leyte Gulf, and the Japanese islands, including Okinawa, are part of the Pacific’s first island chain, of which Taiwan is also part.
Farther east is the second island chain, comprising Japan’s volcanic islands, which include Iwo Jima, and the Mariana Islands, which are administered by the US and include Guam, where the Land and fellow tender USS Frank Cable are stationed.
The approximate boundaries of the first and second island chains in the western Pacific.
(US Defense Department)
The island chain strategy has been around for some time, developed with the Soviet Union in mind. It has gained renewed attention as China’s influence has risen.
The first island chain is now within reach of Chinese naval and land-based weapons, while the second island chain is an important strategic line of defense for the US. Ulithi, west of Guam, has an important place between the two.
“It’s a convenient place to operate that’s relatively close but not so close that you’re going to be exposed to large numbers of either Chinese forces or Chinese missile attack, potentially,” said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
While underway replenishment is common for the Navy today, calm waters inside atolls like Ulithi still make them valuable spots to resupply submarines and surface ships.
“One thing you can’t do while you’re underway is rearming. So a ship that launches a bunch of missiles … they can’t just send the missiles over and reload them at sea,” said Clark, who was a Navy submariner and led development of strategy as special assistant to the chief of naval operations.
“You pretty much have to pull into port” to rearm, Clark said. “So this would be a way to have the ship pull into the atoll, have the tender load up the missiles in the [vertical launching system] magazine, and then the ship can go back out rearmed,” Clark added.
In a conflict, the release said, Ulithi “could again represent a logistical hub capable of supporting the fleet.”
Sailors aboard submarine tender USS Emory S. Land look on as submarine tender USS Frank Cable departs Apra Harbor in Guam for sea trials, December 16, 2019.
(US Navy photo by MCS 2nd Class Heather C. Wamsley)
Not just submarines
The Land and Cable, usually working out of Guam or Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, provide maintenance and logistical support to US ships in the 5th and 7th Fleet areas of operation.
“They’re designed mainly for submarines because submarines have more maintenance requirements, but they actually do maintenance on surface ships as well,” Clark said.
They mostly do minor repairs, but they can work on more complex systems like nuclear reactors. Tenders also have dive teams that can do perform repairs on the hull and its coating in the water.
“They can do welding. They can do hull repair. They can do replacement of components. They can remove interference that’s in the way of replacing a pump or something,” Clark added. “So they can do lots of relatively heavy maintenance that just doesn’t require dry-docking.”
These kinds of fixes can extend how long a warship is suited for combat before it must return to an industrial hub for an overhaul.
The Land’s visit to Ulithi was meant “to demonstrate the submarine tender’s ability to return to Ulithi and successfully anchor within the lagoon,” the release said. Luckett said it showed the Land could “do all of the things needed inside the lagoon without any support from external sources.”
“The idea,” Clark said, is that the tenders would provide support “not just for submarines but also for surface ships. That’s probably the the bigger purpose of putting it into the atoll … to support surface combatants.”
An unmanned aerial vehicle delivers a 5-pound payload to the the Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS Hawaii during a training exercise off the coast of Oahu, October 10, 2019.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 1st Class Michael B. Zingaro)
Keeping the fight going
The Pentagon’s shift to “great power competition” with Russia and China has put renewed emphasis on logistics networks in Europe and the Pacific, the latter of which, a vast ocean dotted with far-flung islands, presents a particular challenge for resupply and reinforcement.
The Navy has “been putting time and research into how you might do it. They actually haven’t been making that many investments changing how they do the logistics,” Clark said, but there have “been analyses and studies and some technical research on different techniques.”
One of those was illustrated in October, when sailors used a small drone to deliver a 5-pound package to a sub about a mile off the coast of Oahu in Hawaii.
“What started as an innovative idea has come to fruition as a potentially radical new submarine logistics delivery capability,” a Navy officer said at the time. “A large percentage of parts that are needed on submarines weigh less than 5 pounds, so this capability could alleviate the need for boats to pull into ports for parts or medical supplies.”
The drone’s payload and its range put limits on the additional capability it can provide to the fleet right now, Clark said.
But it would still provide some safety benefit and save time by obviating the need for a sub to sail into port to get those supplies — and in a conflict in the western Pacific, where China could sortie a lot of subs quickly, timing could make all the difference.
Plus, success with a small drone now could lead to bigger advantages in the future.
“If you take that and extrapolate,” Clark said, “a larger drone could cover a longer distance and maybe do the same operation, so now I do get a more distributed supply network.”
“If you had a bigger UAV, like a Fire Scout or something, that could go for three hours and might cover a couple of hundred miles. Well, then maybe … that’ll allow you to spread out your logistics networks,” Clark added, referring to an unmanned helicopter the Navy wants to use aboard littoral combat ships.
“Now the ship with a couple of Fire Scouts can cover a lot more area than it could if it was just doing it by itself.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A video shows the inside of a US military camp overtaken by Russian mercenaries working with Syrian forces, shortly after American troops abandoned it.
US forces left the Manbij camp in northern Syria early Oct. 15, 2019, following an Oct. 6, 2019, directive from President Donald Trump to leave a coalition with the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the terrorist group ISIS. A spokesman for the US operation confirmed the departure on Oct. 15, 2019.
The US’s decision to pull out gave Turkish forces the green light to invade Syria on Oct. 9, 2019, and drive out the SDF, which contains Kurdish fighters. Turkey considers the Kurds terrorists and has long vowed to destroy them. Over the weekend, the SDF allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government to fight the Turkish offensive.
US troops formerly based at the camp willingly left it to Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, an SDF official near Manbij told Business Insider’s Mitch Prothero.
The broader Manbij area is under the control of Assad’s troops, who await an assault from Turkish troops from the north.
The video was first posted on Twitter by a defense blogger known as MrRevinsky. The SDF official confirmed its accuracy to Business Insider.
A second video posted by MrRevinsky appeared to show Blokhin raising and lowering a mechanical checkpoint barrier at the camp.
Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria, and Turkey’s subsequent incursion, has unleashed chaos in the region and displaced thousands of Kurds. Dozens of “high value” ISIS prisoners have escaped from detention, something that experts say could help the terrorist organization regroup.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Moscow authorities have struggled to clear the streets and told children they could skip school after the Russian capital was hit by massive snowfall.
The national meteorological service said on Feb. 5 2018 that more than the monthly average of snow fell on Moscow over the weekend, with the height of snow reaching up to 55 centimeters in some parts of the capital.
“That’s an anomaly of course,” Nadezhda Tochenova, the deputy head of the Hydrometeorological Center, told AFP news agency.
However, she denied claims that the snowfall was an all-time record.
Calling the event “the snowfall of the century,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin hailed utility workers and other municipal employees he said had kept the city “functioning normally.”
“There is no collapse, no catastrophe,” Sobyanin told journalists.
The mayor said on Feb. 4 2018 that one person had been killed when a tree brought down electricity lines, and that 2,000 trees collapsed due to the massive snowfall.
The city authorities said more than 100 of those trees fell on vehicles.
Thousands of city workers have been working to keep Moscow’s roads and the subway system open, while the Russian military said it had sent soldiers to help clear snowdrifts on the streets.
Deputy Mayor Pyotr Biryukov said snowplows had cleared 1.2 million cubic meters of snow from the streets.
Meanwhile, the emergency services urged drivers to use public transport unless there was “extreme need,” and Moscow authorities announced that children need not come to school, although they would remain open.
The heavy snowfall triggered the cancellation or delay of dozens of flights at Moscow’s airports, as well as power failures in hundreds of smaller towns around the city.
Officials at the Emergency Situations Ministry said that heavy snowfall also affected the regions of Leningrad, Tatarstan, Saratov, Penza, Ulyanovsk, Kaluga, and Vladimir, where power cuts affected tens of thousands of people.
Thirty-three days into the US government shutdown, the only military branch affected has missed one paycheck and is on the verge of losing its next.
The Coast Guard and its roughly 41,000 active-duty members are part of the Homeland Security Department, which wasn’t funded before the government shut down last month. The other branches are part of the Defense Department, which is fully funded.
Officials found a way to pay Coast Guard members on Dec. 31, 2018, but no such maneuver was possible for Jan. 15, 2019. Legislative action is needed this week to make sure a check comes on Jan. 30, 2019. Pay and benefits for Coast Guard civilian workers and retirees are also on the line.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Bryan Evans, a Coast Guard Air Station Miami rescue swimmer, conducts a free-fall deployment from a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter east of Miami Beach, June 6, 2017.
(Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric D. Woodal)
‘We are in uncharted waters’
Some Coast Guard operations, like safety boardings and license services, have been curtailed, but missions related to saving lives and national security continue. Now the service’s current and former commandants have weighed in, rebuking the inaction prolonging the shutdown.
In a video posted Jan. 22, 2019, commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told service members that he, the service’s leadership, and the public “stand in awe of your continued dedication to duty and resilience and that of your families.”
“We’re five-plus weeks into the anxiety and stress of this government lapse and your non-pay. You as members of the armed forces should not be expected to shoulder this burden,” Schultz said.
Schultz said he was heartened by assistance being officer to service members. “But ultimately I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life.”
Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, left, with Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, right, in Nome, Aug. 13, 2018.
(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco)
Paul Zukunft, who retired in June 2018 as an admiral after his four-year term as commandant, was more blunt in a column for the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings Magazine titled “Breaking Faith with America’s Coast Guard.”
Despite the service’s extensive and varied responsibilities and continuous operations, the Coast Guard is often overlooked by the public and by congressional appropriators, Zukunft writes.
“To add insult to injury, the Coast Guard is no longer ‘doing more with less,’ but ‘doing all with nothing,'” Zukunft says. “I have served shoulder to shoulder with our service members during previous government shutdowns and listened to the concerns of our all-volunteer force. This current government shutdown is doing long-term harm and is much more than pablum to feed the 24-hour news cycle.”
“We are now in uncharted waters given its duration and the hardship it’s causing, particularly at many Coast Guard installations that reside in high-cost communities along the US coastline where service personnel already live paycheck-to-paycheck to pay the bills and meet childcare costs that can exceed ,000 per month for one child.”
Family and friends reunite with crew members on Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf’s flight deck upon the cutter’s after a 90-day deployment, Sept. 4, 2018.
(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)
‘We can only take it day by day’
For the more than 14,000 junior members of the Coast Guard — about one-third of the active-duty force — base pay is considered to be at or just under the poverty level, three former master chief petty officers said in an op-ed, adding that most of them don’t have the resources to live without pay “over any extended period.”
“We chose to make some sacrifices when we signed up or married into the Coast Guard,” Coast Guard spouse Susan Bourassa told Military Times. “We’re proud to be there. But part of making those sacrifices is that we thought there was a paycheck we could count on, through thick or thin.”
Communities have rallied to support Coast Guard families — including in Alameda, California, home to four of the service’s new national-security cutters.
In January 2019, more than 600 service members, including 168 families, gathered there for a giveaway of everything from fresh fruit to diapers. The cutter Bertholf and its more than 100 crew members left Alameda for a months-long Pacific deployment. The Defense Department will reimburse the Coast Guard for the mission, but the personnel won’t be paid until the shutdown ends.
Coast Guard cutter Bertholf on a counterdrug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 11, 2018.
(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Trees)
In a Jan. 18, 2019 letter, vice commandant Adm. Charles Ray said Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, a nonprofit charity that assists the service, had increased the value of and expanded eligibility for interest-free loans it was offering.
Mutual Assistance is partnering with the Red Cross to distribute those funds, Schultz said in January 2019. CGMA has “secured sufficient funds to put money in your hands to bridge through your personal financial challenges,” Schultz said in his video message. “That is your fund. That is your safety net.”
Ray’s letter said the service was working with the Defense Department “to notify all privatized government housing sites that Coast Guard [basic allowance for housing] allotments will not be available until funding is restored.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
More details have emerged from a massive battle in Syria that is said to have pitted hundreds of Russian military contractors and forces loyal to the Syrian government against the US and its Syrian rebel allies — and it looks as if it was a mission to test the US’s resolve.
Bloomberg first reported in February 2018, that Russian military contractors took part in what the US called an “unprovoked attack” on a well-known headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a rebel cohort the US has trained, equipped, and fought alongside for years.
Reuters cited several sources on Feb. 16, 2018, as confirming that Russian contractors were among the attackers and that they took heavy losses. The purpose of the attack, which saw 500 or so pro-government fighters get close to the US-backed position in Syria, was to test the US’s response, Reuters’ sources said.
How the battle played out
Initial reports said pro-government forces launched a coordinated attack that included about 500 troops, 122mm howitzers, tanks, and multiple launch rocket systems.
A source close to Wagner, the Russian military contracting firm, told Reuters that most of the troops were Russian contractors and that they advanced into a zone designated as neutral under a deal between the Russian military and the US-led coalition against the terrorist group ISIS.
The troops reportedly sought to find out how the US would react to the encroachment into that zone.
Forces operating Russian-made T-55 and T-72 tanks fired 20 to 30 tank rounds within 500 feet of the SDF base, which held some US troops, said Dana White, the Pentagon press secretary, according to the executive editor of Defense One.
The US-led coalition responded with “AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships, and Marine Corps artillery,” according to Lucas Tomlinson, a Fox News reporter. CNN also reported that Himars and MQ-9 drones were used in the attack.
“First of all, the bombers attacked, and then they cleaned up using Apaches,” attack helicopters, Yevgeny Shabayev, a Cossack paramilitary leader with ties to Russia’s military contractors, told Reuters.
The Reuters report cites an unnamed source as describing Bloomberg’s report that 300 Russians died as “broadly correct.”
The US reported more than 100 dead. According to Reuters, Russia says only five of its citizens may have died in the attack.
The Pentagon says only one SDF fighter was injured in the attack.
What might the Russians have learned from the ‘test’?
The pro-government forces operated without air cover from Russia’s military. The US-led coalition apparently warned Russia of the attack, but it’s unclear whether Russia’s military passed on notice to the troops on the ground.
“The warning was 20 minutes beforehand,” a source told Reuters. “In that time, it was not feasible to turn the column around.”
Reports have increasingly indicated that Russia has used military contractors as a means of concealing its combat losses as it looks to bolster Syrian President Bashar Assad’s flagging forces. Russia has denied it has a large ground presence in Syria and has sought to distance itself from those it describes as independent contractors.
According to the news website UAWire, Igor Girkin, the former defense minister of the self-described Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist region backed by Russia in eastern Ukraine, said that Russian mercenaries operating in Syria who died in combat were cremated on sight to hide the true cost of Russia’s involvement.
As the US’s stated mission in Syria of fighting ISIS nears completion, others have taken center stage. The US recently said it would seek to stop Iran from gaining control of a land bridge to Lebanon, its ally, citing concerns that Tehran would arm anti-US and anti-Israeli Hezbollah militants if given the chance.
The US also appears intent on staying on top of Assad’s oilfields in the east both to deny him the economic infrastructure to regain control of the country and to force UN-sanctioned elections.