With each passing day, tensions flare anew on the Korean Peninsula. By now, we all know that North Korea’s been hard at work dong what they do best: Launching test missiles and fiery rhetoric.
On Dec. 4, the U.S. and South Korea kicked off their largest joint air exercise yet, dubbed Vigilant Ace 18, involving hundreds of aircraft and tends of thousands of troops on the ground. As you might expect, Pyongyang wasn’t too happy about the drills, going as far as saying Dec. 2 that Trump’s Administration is “begging for nuclear war.”
While we’re at a point now where North Korean threats are as routine as the sunrise, China has sent an aggressive message in passive support of the belligerent state that warrants more serious attention.
People’s Liberation Army Air Force Spokesman Shen Jinke announced Dec. 4 (the same day as Vigilant Ace 18 kicked off) that China would be running drills through “routes and areas it has never flown before.” These new routes are expected to cover airspace over the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. The exercises will involve all variety of aircraft, from reconnaissance planes to fighter jets, in joint operation with surface-to-air missiles. Simultaneously, China launched drills Dec. 2 that involve sending new Shaanxi Y-9 transport aircraft over the South China Sea, simulating an airdrop over an island in contested waters.
Though Chinese military officials will likely claim that the new drills are not in direct response to U.S. and South Korean actions, military experts agree that this show of force warns against the continued provocation of North Korea.
The U.S. and China have a rocky history, but are far from going to blows. That being said, should conflict erupt on the Korea Peninsula, we’ll quickly see how the chips fall.
A Taliban shadow governor who had planned and executed improvised explosive device attacks on Marines and Afghan soldiers for well over a decade was killed in a precision airstrike just days before Christmas, Marines in Afghanistan told Military.com.
Task Force Southwest, the 300-Marine element that deployed to Helmand province as an advisory force for the Afghan National Defense Forces in April, does most of its work from inside the wire, supporting the local troops who patrol and launch ground attacks. But this recent strike on local Taliban mastermind Qari Fida Mohammad illustrates the impact Marines continue to have on the active fight.
Mohammad, longtime shadow governor of the restive Helmand district of Marjah, was killed Dec. 20, task force spokeswoman Maj. Kendra Motz said.
Standing inside the unit’s operations center, where 11 large flat screens featured detailed live drone footage from around Helmand province, Capt. Brian Hubert explained how the strike happened.
“Through the work of the intelligence sections as well as the operations in here, and coordination with the Afghans as well, we were able to conduct a strike on him a few days ago,” said Hubert, battle captain for Task Force Southwest. “Basically, we’re very familiar with the battlespace now. So when we see the leaders we know are important there, we can kind of do a bead on them.”
The unit started tracking Mohammad with its eyes in the sky. When he was well positioned as a target, the Marines called in two Air ForceF-16 Fighting Falcons to execute the strike.
“He was in a vehicle traveling with deputies, bodyguards, and a cousin of his, who was also a sub-commander,” Hubert said. “We took the shot successfully, and [he was] dead on the spot, which was huge.”
Mohammad, who was based in the Taliban hotbed of Marjah, but operated throughout Helmand province, had been well-known to the Marines for years.
Col. Matthew Reid, deputy commander of the task force, told Military.com he had known about Mohammad in 2010, when he deployed to Helmand for active combat operations.
“We’re still not really fully aware of the exact ramifications of taking him out,” Reid said. “It was a pretty big takedown, so we’re pretty happy about it. He was behind a lot of attacks against Marines back in the day–really high profile attacks.”
Hubert said the task force was now tracking the impact of Mohammad’s elimination. Ahead of the strike, he said, Marines had watched via drone footage as local civilians took to their homes, fearful of being blamed and facing violent reprisal if any attack were launched on the shadow governor. Now, he said, newly leaderless Taliban fighters in southern Marjah are acting disorganized and confused, without orders to carry out.
“Supposedly, [Mohammad] also had a lot of intimidation where he killed full families; he was absolutely just a Mafia-style Taliban leader in that area,” Hubert said, adding that he regularly demanded ‘taxes’ from local civilians by force. “Taking him out … hopefully provides the residents of Marjah and the southern end a little bit of a ‘hey, maybe it’s a turn.'”
For the Marines, Marjah is a region full of history. It’s the site of some of the service’s most hard-fought battles in Helmand. Some 50 American troops died in the 2010 joint siege on Marjah, known as Operation Moshtarak. When Marines departed Afghanistan in 2014, Marjah was considered relatively stable; but by 2016 it had fallen back under Taliban control.
Marines are now working to empower Afghan troops from the local 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army to hold the line. When the small task force arrived, the provincial capital city of Lashkar Gah was on the verge of being overtaken by the Taliban, Marines said. Now, with support from the Task Force, the soldiers have restored stability to the town and are beginning to move offensively against the Taliban.
In a shura with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller on Dec. 23, Helmand provincial governor Hayatullah Hayat said Afghan troops continue to take daily casualties in the fight.
But task force personnel continue to exact a daily toll against the Taliban as well. On a December visit to the operations center, a dark plume of smoke rose from a road on one of the screens — evidence of a precision strike carried out only minutes before.
From the screens, Hubert said, Marines had watched a pair of Taliban fighters carrying weapons dig a hole in a road south of the Marjah district center, intending to emplace IEDs ahead of a trip Afghan National Security Forces intended to make to the center.
Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucanos were in the air at the time, and Marines reached out and shared what they were seeing, offering them the opportunity to take out the fighters.
“They couldn’t quite get it, so we stepped in,” Hubert said. “We took the shot with F-16s and killed the two enemy. So now, they’re free to move toward the Marjah district center unimpeded by any kind of enemy contact right now.”
The process of identifying targets and executing strikes is a collaborative one, Hubert explained. Often the Marines will share what they’re seeing and make recommendations to the Afghan troops about how to respond, but leave the decision-making to them. The Afghan troops also play a significant role in the intelligence-gathering: in addition to ground reports, they maintain their own ScanEagle drone, its footage featured on one of the screens at the operations center.
As one target smoldered on the screen, Marines were tracking another: two men traveling up a road, south of friendly forces, one carrying a weapon on his back, concealed by clothing.
“We can see [the weapon] by the shape and size of what it looks like, then we’ll see him take it out,” Hubert explained.
In the course of several hours that morning, the Marines would coordinate the elimination of a half-dozen Taliban fighters.
The recent strike against Mohammad, and the daily strikes on Taliban targets, illustrate the intensity of the fight the Marines are still waging, albeit from a greater distance than they were during active combat in support of Operation Enduring Freedom four years ago.
“I know we want to bring in governance, and I know we want institutional fixes. But right now, this is a fight,” said Reid, the task force deputy commander. “And as Marines, when we’re fighting, we’re going to kill the enemy, and we’re going to kill as many as we can.”
Turkey is looking into joining a Chinese- and Russian-led alliance known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on Sunday at the end of his official tour of Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
Erdogan said he met with SCO leaders over the weekend and expressed his interest in joining the Eurasian political, economic, and military alliance as an alternative to joining the European Union, which has not been receptive to Turkey’s repeated bids for membership that began in 1963.
France, Germany, and Belgium — home to Brussels, where the EU is headquartered — have long opposed Turkey’s accession into the EU. Erdogan’s reluctance to sign on to certain membership requirements and his increasingly authoritarian leadership over Turkey have also sparked concern among European leaders that he is not committed to a Western conception of human rights and civil liberties.
Thousands of Turkish civil servants — as well as military personnel, police officers, academics, and teachers — have been purged or arrested on suspicion that they were associated with a failed coup in July of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
Dozens of journalists, primarily those working for opposition newspapers, have also been arrested since the attempted coup, while several opposition outlets have been shut down altogether.
Erdogan insisted in a recent interview with “60 Minutes” that “these measures are being taken by prosecutors and judges in full accordance with the rule of law.” But the crackdown has led the European Commission to warn Turkey that it is “backsliding” in human rights and democracy — an accusation Erdogan appeared to scoff at.
“From time to time, we see insults directed at myself, claims that there was no freedom of expression in Turkey,” Erdogan said on Sunday. “Meanwhile, terrorists prance around in French, German, and Belgian streets. This is what they understand of freedom.”
A rejection, or a bluff?
Increasing disenchantment with the EU and the perception that he is being lectured to by the US — which supports anti-ISIS Syrian Kurds viewed by Turkey as terrorists — has apparently spurred Erdogan to look east, where his domestic policies have not been heavily scrutinized or condemned.
“Erdogan feels much more comfortable and at home among the authoritarian regimes of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization rather than facing the scrutiny and criticism of the European family of nations,” Aykan Erdemir, an expert on Turkey and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider on Monday.
Joining or even threatening to join the Shanghai bloc — which is heavily influenced by Russia and China — would rattle the West and, as Erdogan said on Sunday, would “considerably broaden” Turkey’s “room for maneuver.”
“If Turkey were to actually join the SCO, it would, of course, drastically alter relations with the US and NATO,” Michael Koplow, a Middle East analyst and policy director of the Israel Policy Forum, told Business Insider on Monday.
“It would be viewed as a rejection of the Western alliance and make it incredibly difficult to include Turkey in any type of high-level strategic dialogue, given concerns about Russian expansionism,” he said, adding that Turkey, unlike other NATO members, is already a partner country to SCO dialogue.
Still, many analysts are skeptical that Erdogan is prepared to put his money where his mouth is. He has been flirting heavily and publicly with Russia since the summer, but it is unclear whether a closer alliance with Russia and China would benefit Turkey politically or economically.
“Erdogan’s weather vane foreign policy characterized by frequent U-turns is based neither on values nor principles,” said Erdemir, a former member of Turkish parliament. He noted that Erdogan made the same announcement about possible SCO membership during a November 2013 meeting with Putin, yet never acted on it.
Michael Kofman, an expert on Russian and Eurasian affairs and fellow at the Wilson Center, said the SCO is “not a cohesive economic or political bloc” and would offer little to Turkey in practice other than to “instill the perception that the West is somehow ‘losing Turkey’ and should chase Erdogan to get it back.”
‘A rogue and dysfunctional’ ally
Complicating the Western temptation to write off Erdogan’s comments as empty threats, however, is Turkey’s recent deal with the EU to help stem the flow of refugees trying to enter Europe from Syria.
“Erdogan knows that the EU views Turkey as critical to staunching the flow of refugees into Europe,” Koplow said. “He has a long history of making these types of threats in order to pressure Europe into concessions of various sorts. It’s a gambit that will probably be successful if recent history is any guide.”
Over the summer, the EU agreed to pay Turkey €3 billion ($3.2 billion) — and German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to speed up Turkey’s EU bid — if Turkey pledged to harbor the vast number of refugees and migrants seeking asylum in Europe.
Turkey’s entry into the SCO would also complicate its relationship with NATO.
“In theory, SCO membership would not require Turkey’s exit from NATO,” geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the political risk firm Eurasia Group, told Business Insider on Tuesday. “In practice, however, it would severely strain Ankara’s ties with other NATO members.”
Ultimately, however, Bremmer believes Erdogan is just looking for leverage.
“Erdogan wants the US to rely less on the Syrian Kurds and to extradite [Fethullah] Gulen rather than a signal of a historic and strategic shift away from the West,” he said, noting that many existing SCO members don’t necessarily want Turkey to join.
“Erdogan himself said yesterday relations with the US and NATO are on track, so I think there’s lots of smoke, no fire here,” he added.
Erdogan told CBS over the weekend that Turkey is “moving in the same direction with NATO that we have always done.” But July’s failed coup appears to have made him only more determined to stomp out dissent, whether from his own citizens or the international community.
Erdemir, meanwhile, predicted that Turkey’s “gradual drift from NATO” would continue.
“Putin will make sure that this is a slow and painful process for Turkey and the transatlantic alliance,” he said. “He knows that as a rogue and dysfunctional NATO ally, Turkey is of greater use to Moscow than as a defector to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”
Afghan special forces have freed 61 captives held by the Taliban in an operation in the southern province of Helmand, the military says.
Jawid Saleem, a spokesman for the elite commando units, said the operation was conducted late on Aug. 2, 2018, in the Kajaki district in Helmand, a stronghold of the Taliban.
Saleem said at least two Taliban militants were killed during the rescue mission by Afghan special forces.
The Taliban did not immediately comment on the matter.
The prisoners were transferred to the provincial army headquarters, said Munib Amiri, an army commander.
Those held had been captured for a range of reasons, Saleem said, from cooperating with Afghan security forces to belonging to the local police force.
According to Saleem, the prisoners were held in poor conditions, including a lack of proper food and health care. They were also tortured, Saleem added.
Hundreds of prisoners have been freed from Taliban prisons by Afghan security forces in Helmand Province in recent months.
On May 31, 2018, Afghan special forces freed 103 people held at two sites run by the Taliban in Kajaki district.
According to the latest report by the Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, an independent U.S. federal auditor, the militants control nine of 14 districts in Helmand. Half of the population of the province lives in areas under Taliban control.
“Nothing sexier than a man in a fine cravat,” the beautiful and mysterious woman said flirtatiously.
“Except for a woman who appreciates a fine cravat,” Barney Stinson responded confidently.
“How about we just call it a tie?” The woman joked. The two laughed and the 17th episode of season 5 of How I Met Your Mother continued. But what is a cravat, why is it called that, and why is it the same thing as a tie? For that answer, we have to go back to the 17th century and a hired boost in military power.
The Croatian Cravat Regiment parades through Zagreb wearing their traditional uniform (Croatia Times)
The Thirty Years’ War was fought from 1618-1648 primarily in Central Europe. France entered the war in 1635 and, in order to augment his own forces, King Louis XIII hired Croatian mercenaries from the Croatian Military Frontier to fight for him. These mercenaries wore traditional knotted neckerchiefs which tied the tops of their jackets. Although they were designed to be purely functional, the ties had a decorative effect that piqued the interest of the ever fashion-conscious Parisians. In fact, the Croatian neckties caught the attention of the king who found them rather appealing. He liked the garment so much that he made the ties a mandatory accessory for royal gatherings. In honor of the Croats who introduced the ties, he named the garment “la cravate”—derived from the French word Croates meaning Croats.
Following the introduction of the tie and the death of King Louis XIII, the boy-king Louis XIV began to wear a lace cravat around 1646 at the age of seven. This set the fashion trend for French nobility who quickly donned lace cravats as well. These lace cravats, or jabots, were tied in place by cravat strings, arranged neatly with great time and effort, and tied in a bow. Soon, the trend spread across Europe like wildfire and both men and women were wearing fabric neck pieces as a sign of wealth and status.
In the 18th century, the cravat evolved to include the Steinkirk, a type of cravat designed to be worn in deliberate disarray. Yet again, this fashion trend evolved from the military as a result of the Nine Years’ War. According to Voltaire, the fashion trend originated at the Battle of Steenkerque where the French were attacked by surprise forcing the French gentlemen to hurriedly don their cravats and wear them in disarray throughout the fight.
Photo portrait of William Tecumseh Sherman c. 1864 (Matthew Brady—Public Domain)
The 18th century saw another evolution of neckwear with the introduction of stocks in 1715. Stock ties were worn as everyday apparel throughout the 18th and 19th century, but became a more formal garment in the later 19th century. They are still worn today by equestrians, especially in dressage where the ties are often mandatory and required to be white. The term originally applied to a leather collar, laced at the back, and worn by soldiers to promote holding their heads high in a military manner. Leather stocks also served a practical battlefield purpose; the layer of leather around the neck afforded some protection against saber or bayonet strikes. The leather stock saw continued use into the 19th century and gave the United States Marines their nickname of “Leathernecks”. The modern Marine dress uniform pays homage to leather stocks with its stiff standing collar. General William T. Sherman is also seen wearing a leather stock along with his necktie in many of his Civil War-era photographs.
The industrial revolution saw the demand for neckwear that was easier to put on, more comfortable, and could last an entire work day without needing to be readjusted. This demand was met with the traditional long necktie that we are familiar with today. Neckwear has come a long way from King Louis XIII’s adoption of the cravat and its evolution and constant influence by the military is a bit of sartorial history that we can still see today.
NATO naval officials have repeatedly warned about Russia’s submarines — a force they say is more sophisticated and active.
US Navy officials have said several times that Russian subs are doing more now than at any time since the Cold War, though intelligence estimates from that time indicate they’re still far below Cold War peaks.
But the most significant capability Russian subs have added may be what they can do on land.
Long-range Kalibr cruise missiles are launched by a Russian Navy ship in the eastern Mediterranean.
(Russian Defense Ministry photo)
Asked about the best example of growth by Russia’s submarines, Adm. James Foggo, the head of US Naval Forces in Europe and Africa, pointed to their missiles, which offer relatively newfound land-attack capability.
“The Kalibr class cruise missile, for example, has been launched from coastal-defense systems, long-range aircraft, and submarines off the coast of Syria,” Foggo said on the latest edition of his command’s podcast, “On the Horizon.”
“They’ve shown the capability to be able to reach pretty much all the capitals in Europe from any of the bodies of water that surround Europe,” he added.
The Kalibr family of missiles — which includes anti-ship, land-attack, and anti-submarine variants — has been around since the 1990s.
Ranges of Russia’s Kalibr missiles when fired from seas around Europe. Light red circles are the land-attack version. Dark red circles indicate the anti-ship version.
The land-attack version can be fired from subs and surface ships and can carry a 1,000-pound warhead to targets between 930 miles and 1,200 miles away, according to CSIS’ Missile Defense Project. It is said to fly 65 feet above the sea and at 164 to 492 feet over land.
After the first strikes in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said the Kalibr was accurate to “a few meters” — giving them a capability not unlike the US’s Tomahawk cruise missiles.
In 2011, the US Office of Naval Intelligence quoted a Russian defense industry official as saying Moscow planned to put the Kalibr on all new nuclear and non-nuclear subs, frigates, and larger ships and that it was likely to be retrofitted on older vessels.
But the system wasn’t used in combat until 2015.
In October that year, Russian warships in the Caspian Sea fired 26 Kalibr missiles at ISIS targets in Syria. The submarine Veliky Novgorodfired three Kalibrs from the eastern Mediterranean at ISIS targets in eastern Syria later that month, and that December a Russian sub fired four Kalibrs while en route to its home port on the Black Sea.
A Russian Navy ship launches Kalibr cruise missiles from the Caspian sea at targets over 1000 miles away in Syria.
“There’s no operational or tactical requirement to do it,” NORTHCOM Commander Adm. William Gortney told Congress in early 2016. “They’re messaging us that they have this capability.”
Russia has used “Syria as a bit of a test bed for showing off its new submarine capabilities and the ability to shoot cruise missiles from submarines,” Magnus Nordenman, the director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council, told Business Insider in early 2018.
A 2015 Office of Naval Intelligence report cited by Jane’s noted that the “Kalibr provides even modest platforms … with significant offensive capability and, with the use of the land attack missile, all platforms have a significant ability to hold distant fixed ground targets at risk using conventional warheads.”
A long-range Kalibr cruise missile is launched from the Krasnodar submarine in the Mediterranean.
(Russian Defense Ministry photo)
“The proliferation of this capability within the new Russian Navy is profoundly changing its ability to deter, [or to] threaten or destroy adversary targets,” the report said.
While Russia’s submarine force is still smaller than its Soviet predecessor, that cruise-missile capability has led some to argue NATO needs to look farther north, beyond the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap that was a chokepoint for Russian submarines entering the Atlantic during the Cold War.
Today’s Russian subs “don’t have to go very far out in order to hit ports and airports and command and control centers in Europe, so they don’t have to approach the GIUK Gap,” Nordenman said in a recent interview. “In that sense the GIUK Gap is not as important as it used to be.”
Foggo said US submarines still have the edge, but the subs Russia can deploy “are perhaps some of the most silent and lethal in the world.”
Concerns about land-attack missiles now mix with NATO’s concern about bringing reinforcements and supplies from the US to Europe during a conflict.
“That’s why Russian submarines are a concern,” Nordenman said in ealry 2018. “One, because they can obviously sink ships and so on, but related, you can use cruise missiles to shoot at ports and airfields and so on.”
“We know that Russian submarines are in the Atlantic, testing our defenses, confronting our command of the seas, and preparing a very complex underwater battle space to try to give them the edge in any future conflict,” Foggo said. “We need to deny that edge.”
US Navy crew members on board a P-8A Poseidon assisting in search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the in the Indian Ocean, March 16, 2014.
The US Navy has asked for more money to buy sonobuoys, supplies of which fell critically short after an “unexpected high anti-submarine warfare operational tempo in 2017.” NATO members also plan to buy more US-made P-8A Poseidons, widely considered to be the best sub-hunting aircraft on the market.
But the Kalibr’s anti-ship capability has also raises questions about whether ASW itself needs to change.
At a conference in early 2017, Lt. Cmdr. Ian Varley, deputy commander of the Royal Navy’s Merlin helicopter force, said anti-ship missiles were pushing ASW away from “traditional … close-in, cloak and-dagger fighting” to situations where an enemy submarine “sits 200 miles away and launches a missile at you.”
“That becomes an air war,” he said. “We need to stop it becoming an air war. We need to be able to have the ability to defend against that.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Lance corporal is the most common rank in the Marine Corps. It’s the upper-most junior-enlisted Marine; the last step before becoming an NCO. It’s at this rank that you truly learn the responsibilities that come with being an NCO — and it’s when you start to shoulder those responsibilities. But Marines can be lance corporals straight out of boot camp. But how can someone with no experience possibly be ready to lead others Marines? This is why we created an unofficial rank — “senior lance corporal.”
Lifers everywhere will tell you that there’s no such thing. They’ll say something along the lines of, “being a senior was a high school thing and it ought to remain there.” But the truth is that there are very valid reasons for the distinctive title.
No matter your reason for stating otherwise, one thing’s for sure: senior lance corporals exist. This is why.
This Lance Corporal still has a lot to learn.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Catie Massey)
The “junior” lance corporal
The “junior” lance corporal is the guy who picked up rank during boot camp because they were an Eagle Scout or some sh*t. Regardless, they didn’t earn real Marine Corps experience while waiting for that rank. Hell, the only experience they have in the Marine Corps is with marching — which is important, sure, but there’s a lot more to being a Marine than marching.
There are exceptions, of course. You could have spent time in the service prior to deciding that whatever branch you were in was a group of weaklings compared to the Marines. In that case, you do have experience, but this is pretty rare. The majority of “junior” lance corporals haven’t led Marines yet — not really, anyway — nor have they been to any leadership courses.
They spent a lot of time doing things by the book, which isn’t typically how things go in a real unit.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
They spent their time learning the basics which, if we’re being honest, are great building blocks, but your unit’s standard operating procedure may render a lot of what you learned basically useless.
Anyone who’s reached NCO before their first term and has led Marines knows that you can’t trust a junior lance corporal to clean their room the right way on their first attempt. How could that lance corporal possibly be the same as the one who went through leadership and/or advanced schools and has a deployment under their belt? Hint: It’s not.
Enter the “senior” lance corporal.
These guys have been around a minute.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
The “senior” lance corporal
When a junior Marine gets to their unit, even if they’re a lance corporal, this is the guy they refer to as “lance corporal.” The junior will quickly come to understand that, while they may hold the same rank, they are not the same. The difference, in fact, is rather large.
A senior lance corporal has been on a deployment. Regardless of whether that deployment was into combat or not, that lance corporal has real leadership experience. They went to a foreign country and they were responsible for leading Marines to success. Then, before you got to the unit, they went to leadership schools. These Marines have a lot more experience than a greenhorn fresh out of boot camp.
So ask yourself, are you treating your Marines a certain way based on experience — or rank?
(U.S. Marine Corps photo Cpl. Aaron Patterson)
Realistically, there are plenty of senior lance corporals that don’t give a f*ck anymore. But for every one of those, there are ten who strive to be good Marines and great leaders. To diminish their hard work and reduce them to the same level as some fresh boot does nothing but destroy their spirit.
The fact is, a “senior” lance corporal could be a squad leader — a job that is meant to be held by a sergeant, but is more commonly held by a corporal. You could not take a “junior” lance corporal and say the same. The difference is clear.
During a meeting this week with the Marine Corps rotational force stationed in Norway, the Corps’ commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, told Marines that war could be looming and that his command may soon adjust its deployments to meet rising threats.
Neller said he saw a “big-ass fight” in the future, telling members of the U.S. force in the Nordic country to be ready at all times.
“I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming,” Neller said, according to Military.com. “You’re in a fight here, an informational fight, a political fight, by your presence.”
Marines have been in Norway since January, when a rotation from the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines arrived. The rotation was extended during the summer, and a replacement from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines arrived in August. The rotation is the first time a foreign force had been stationed in Norway since World War II.
Neller told Marines in Norway that he expects focus to shift from the Middle East to Russia and the Pacific — areas highlighted by President Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy and home to three parts of the Defense Department’s “4+1” framework: Russia, North Korea, and China (along with Iran and global terrorism).
Marines in Norway have trained with Norwegian and other partner forces for cold-weather operations. Earlier this year, the Marines carried out a timed strategic mobility exercise, organizing the vehicles and equipment that would be needed to outfit a ground combat force.
Norway and the Marine Corps have jointly managed weapons and equipment stored in well-maintained caves in the central part of the country since the Cold War. The commander of Marine Corps Europe and Africa told Military.com this summer that Norway could become the service’s hub in Europe.
Places like Norway would become more of a focal point for the Marine Corps, according to Neller, deemphasizing the Middle East after two decades of combat operations there.
“I think probably the focus, the intended focus is not on the Middle East,” Neller said in Norway, when asked by a Marine about where the force saw itself fighting in the future. “The focus is more on the Pacific and Russia.”
A Marine artillery unit recently left Syria after several months supporting the fight against ISIS there (burning out two howitzers in the process), but Marines remain in the region — including 450 training and advising partner forces in Afghanistan and hundreds more in Iraq, where they recently returned to “old stomping grounds” in western Anbar province to support anti-ISIS efforts.
While Neller admitted that U.S. forces would remain in the Middle East for some time to come, he predicted “a slight pullback” from that region and a reorientation toward Russia and the Pacific.
“So I believe we’ll turn our attention there,” he said,according to Military.com.
‘We’ve got them right where we wanted’
Countries throughout Europe have grown wary of an increasingly assertive Russia, especially the Baltic states and others in Eastern Europe.
But Norway and others in Western Europe are concerned as well. Norway has publicly discussed ways to counter Russian armor and boosted its defense spending.
Earlier this year, Oslo decided to buy five P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft — a move that tied it closer to the U.S. and UK, with whom it maintained a surveillance network during the Cold War. In February, Norway decided to shift funds from cost-savings programs into military acquisitions. That same month, Norway teamed up with Germany to buy four new submarines — two for each. (None of Germany’s subs are currently operational.)
In November, Norway accepted the first three F-35A fighters to be permanently stationed in the country, joining the seven Norway has stationed in Arizona for training. This month, Norway signed a contract for 24 South Korean-made K9 self-propelled howitzers and ammunition resupply vehicles.
U.S. forces have also moved throughout Europe in recent months for training and deployments to bolster partners in the region, but the rotational force in Norway has been particularly irksome for Russia, which shares a 120-mile border with Norway.
U.S. Marines in Norway have been hesitant to link their deployment directly to Russia — going as far as to avoid saying “Russia” in public — but Moscow has still expressed displeasure with their presence.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said relations between Oslo and Moscow were “put to a test” when Marines arrived in January. Moscow warned its neighbor in June that the Marines’ deployment could “escalate tensions and lead to destabilization” in the region.
Norwegian officials themselves have also questioned their government about what the Marines are doing there, out of concern that the country’s leadership could be shifting its defense policy without debate.
For some of the Marines, Moscow’s displeasure appears to be a point of pride.
“They don’t like the fact that we oppose them, and we like the fact that they don’t like the fact that we oppose them,” Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green told Military.com. “Three hundred of us, surrounded by them. We’ve got them right where we wanted, right? We’ve done this before.”
The Marvel Cinematic Universe was the start of superhero fandom for millions. For many, many others, it was just the latest iteration of graphic works of art – this time, come to life on the big screen. And inside each of those was a small cameo, a little role to play for the man who started it all, Stan Lee.
For the veteran community, Stan Lee was a fantastic example of life after serving. In the Pinks and Greens of his World War II enlistment, the young Lee might be unrecognizable to many of us today. But in true superhero form, he saw the world needed his help and he donned his superhero uniform in 1942 (which just happened to be one of the Army’s signal corps) and enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Lee during his WWII-era enlistment.
It’s probably more difficult to imagine Stan Lee in his early years, merely filling inkwells as an assistant at a pulp comics publisher. It was there that Lee created his first comic stories, including the exploits of Captain America. Eventually, he worked his way up to editor-in-chief of that same publication.
Lee’s time in the Army came just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Army installed the young Stanley Martin Lieber (Lee’s birth name, he changed it to his pen name later) as a telephone pole lineman. After realizing it made a mistake, he was moved to the training film division to create posters and worked as a writer of films, shorts, and comics for the duration of the war.
Throughout his life, Lee would use his experiences to influence his characters and his later works – and the Army was a small but significant part of it.
After leaving the Army, Lieber went back to his work in publishing, destined to become the great Stan Lee we know today. Throughout the 50s and 60s, he and artist Jack Kirby created some of the most enduring characters in American literature, thanks in no small part to Lee’s perspective on what makes characters relatable. Where rival DC Comics and other publishers at the time created heroic, idealistic archetypical characters, Lee created complex characters with deep flaws who also happened to be imbued with tremendous power and the will to do what was right.
Save for the superpowers, these were people we could all relate. They were to be the kinds of hero many aspired to be. The publisher who gave Stan Lee his start as an assistant and later his role as chief soon changed its name to Marvel Comics. Stan Lee began creating the characters we all grew to love in our early years, the same one the Marvel Cinematic Universe is gifting to our children.
Lee collaborated with artist-writer Jack Kirby on stories, like The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk,Iron Man, Thor, SilverSurfer, and X-Men. With artist-writer Steve Ditko, he created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, and with artist Bill Everett came Daredevil. Lee created or co-created many of the world’s now-beloved favorites.
“I’ve tried to write stories that anybody would enjoy,” Lee once said. “I’ve tried to make them understandable enough, and exciting or suspenseful or interesting enough for youngsters… to hold their interest. And I’ve tried to make them hopefully intelligent enough for older people.”
US Navy destroyer USS Porter with other ships during exercise Sea Breeze in the Black Sea, July 25, 2020. (US Navy/Courtesy of Ukrainian Navy)
The long-awaited announcement about the redeployment of thousands of US troops currently in Germany finally came at the end of July.
US officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Tod Wolters, who heads US European Command, outlined the moves and the strategic reasoning behind them. President Donald Trump immediately undercut their remarks, but their references to the Black Sea reflect how the region is a growing point of tension with Russia.
“We’re moving forces out of Central Europe, Germany, where they had been since the Cold War,” Esper said. “We’re following, in many ways, the boundary east [to] where our newest allies are, so into the Black Sea region” as well as Poland and the Baltics.
The shift means European Command will “now be able to rotate units in perpetuity in multiple locations,” including the Black Sea, which “dramatically improves our operational capability,” Wolters said.
‘The Kremlin sees that’
Moscow, the most powerful Black Sea state, invaded neighboring Georgia in 2008. Tensions have remained high since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.
“The Black Sea region is what the Kremlin uses launch its operations in Syria and Libya and the Eastern [Mediterranean],” Ben Hodges, who commanded US Army Europe between 2015 and 2017, told Insider. “It’s how they influence everything that goes on in the Balkans and the Caucuses as well as obviously Ukraine and Moldova.”
Hodges is one of many who criticized the redeployment of European Command forces, arguing it doesn’t improve readiness and that the manner in which it’s being done hurts NATO.
“Having said that, I always welcome any additional focus on the Black Sea region, because I think that … needs to be a much higher priority,” Hodges said, adding that Esper’s suggestion that a Stryker brigade could be deployed to the region was “a very good idea.”
“Increasing [NATO] naval presence in the Black Sea region really is even more important,” as the Turkish, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Ukrainian navies are “still not a match for the Russian Black Sea Fleet,” Hodges said.
Hodges cautioned that the coming months — with an ongoing drought in Crimea, US and Ukrainian elections, and Moscow’s major Kavkaz-2020 military exercise in southwestern Russia — could see more Russian action.
But the combination of factors creates an opening, Hodges said.
“Given the inconsistent response by this administration in the United States, and other than EU sanctions on Russia there hasn’t been that much in the way of real, firm response in the region” to Russian actions, Hodges said. “I think the Kremlin sees that.”
Ukrainian navy ships during exercise Sea Breeze in the Black Sea, July 21, 2020. (US Navy/Courtesy of Ukrainian Navy)
‘The increasingly important Black Sea’
In June, Adm. James Foggo, outgoing commander of US naval forces in Europe, said eight US ships spent about 120 days patrolling the Black Sea last year and “routinely” conduct “complex exercises” like Sea Breeze with allies and partners.
The US military has increased its presence in the area in recent years, and the 20th iteration of Sea Breeze, a Ukrainian-US exercise with other Black Sea and NATO nations, was the latest example.
“Every visit to the Black Sea encompasses working together with our partners and growing our interoperability,” Cmdr. Craig Trent, commanding officer of Navy destroyer USS Porter, told Insider. “Together, we executed a complex, multi-warfare exercise all without stepping foot ashore for face-to-face planning due to COVID mitigations.”
US sailors conduct simulated small boat attacks from USS Porter during Sea Breeze, July 22, 2020. (US Navy/Interior Communication Electrician 2nd Class Jeffrey Abelon)
This year it included more than 40 ships and aircraft from eight countries. The Porter was there on its third Black Sea patrol in five months.
The destroyer “conducted surface action group tactical maneuvering, over-the-horizon surface targeting, air defense, and anti-submarine operations,” Trent said.
The Porter worked with a US P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft “to share a common tactical maritime picture” and “with Ukrainian tactical aircraft during the air-defense exercises,” Trent said.
The P-8A worked with ships and aircraft, including Ukrainian Su-27 fighter jets, on undersea warfare and air-intercept training, Cmdr. M. Trever Plageman, head of Patrol Squadron 47, told Insider. (Russian planes frequently intercept US aircraft over the Black Sea, including during Sea Breeze.)
USS Porter and an Air Force MC-130J exercise together during Sea Breeze, July 20, 2020. (US Navy)
The Black Sea “provides complex training opportunities, which enhance aircrew proficiency for littoral undersea warfare,” Plageman said. “Of equal importance was the cooperative interaction with allies and other partner nations, which improved our squadron’s interoperability within the increasingly important Black Sea region.”
The Porter also worked with the US Air Force on “air defense and surface-to-air integration of systems,” Trent said.
During Sea Breeze, US Air Forces Europe led a one-day mission with Navy and Space Command assets “to train US forces to integrate, operate, and communicate while executing all domain operations,” according to a release.
It included F-16s that “conducted training scenarios” using Joint Air-to-Surface Missile cruise missile tactics. The JASSM is a long-range “precision standoff missile” designed “to destroy high-value, well-defended targets.” US Special Operations Command Europe also sent an MC-130J aircraft “to exercise special operations forces insertion.”
Sea Breeze concluded on July 26, but on August 2, the Navy and Air Force conducted a similar exercise in the area — with live weapons.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says it has test-launched a Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile from its most advanced nuclear-powered submarine for the first time, striking a target thousands of kilometers away.
The ministry said on Oct. 30, 2019, that the missile was fired from an upgraded Borei-class nuclear submarine that was submerged in the White Sea near Arkhangelsk on Russia’s northern coast.
It said the missile carried a dummy payload that reached a test site in Russia’s Far East region of Kamchatka.
Vice Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev said the upgraded model of the Borei-class submarine is scheduled to enter service with Russia’s Northern Fleet at the end of 2019 once it has completed trials that include weapons tests.
The test comes amid tensions between Moscow and Washington following the demise of a Cold War-era nuclear treaty that has sparked fears of a growing arms race.
Global arms controls set up during the Cold War to keep Washington and Moscow in check have come under strain since the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned the deployment of short- and intermediate-range missiles.
In August 2019, the United States pulled out of the accord.
Washington said Moscow has openly disregarded the conditions of the treaty, a charge that Russia has denied.
The last major nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and the United States, known as the New START treaty, is due to expire in 2021.
Signed in 2010, the New START treaty limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia are allowed to deploy.
The U.S. Navy and numerous NATO partners are developing a new, high-tech ship defense weapon designed to identify, track and destroy incoming enemy anti-ship cruise missiles and other threats, service officials explained.
The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block II, or ESSM, is a new version of an existing Sea Sparrow weapons system currently protecting aircraft carriers, destroyers, cruisers, amphibious assault ships and other vessels against anti-ship missiles and other surface and airborne short-range threats to ships, Navy officials said.
The ESSM Block 2 is engineered with what’s called an active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can achieve improved flight or guidance to its target by both receiving and actively sending electromagnetic signals, said Raytheon officials.
The ESSM uses radar technology to locate and then intercept a fast-approaching target while in flight; the use of what’s called an “illuminator” is a big part of this capability, Raytheon officials said.
The current ESSM missiles use what’s called a semi-active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can receive electromagnetic signals bounced off the target by an illuminator; the ESSM Block 2’s “active” guidance includes illuminator technology built onto the missile itself such that it can both receive and send important electromagnetic signals, Navy and Raytheon officials explained.
Block 2 relieves the missile from the requirement of having to use a lot of illuminator guidance from the ship as a short range self-defense, senior Navy officials have said.
A shipboard illuminator is an RF signal that bounces off a target, Raytheon weapons developers have explained. The antenna in the nose in the guidance section [of the missile] sees the reflected energy and then corrects to intercept that reflective energy, the Raytheon official added.
The emerging missile has an “active” front end, meaning it can send an electromagnetic signal forward to track a maneuvering target, at times without needing a ship-based illuminator for guidance.
“The ESSM Block 2 will employ both a semi-active and active guidance system. Like ESSM Block 1, the Block 2 missile, in semi-active mode, will rely upon shipboard illuminators,” Navy spokesman Dale Eng, Naval Sea Systems Command, told Scout Warrior in a written statement.
Also, the missile is able to intercept threats that are close to the surface by sea-skimming or diving in onto a target from a higher altitude, Navy officials explained. The so-called kinematic or guidance improvements of the Block 2 missile give it an improved ability to counter maneuvering threats, Navy and Raytheon officials said.
ESSM Block 2 is being jointly acquired by the U.S. and a number of allied countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway and Turkey. All these countries signed an ESSM Block 2 Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, designed to solidify the developmental path for the missile system through it next phase. The weapon is slated to be fully operational on ships by 2020.
“The ESSM Block 2 will be fired out of more than 5 different launching systems across the NATO Seasparrow Consortium navies. This includes both vertical and trainable launching systems,” Eng added.
U.S. Navy weapons developers are working closely with NATO allies to ensure the weapon is properly operational across the alliance of countries planning to deploy the weapon, Eng explained.
“The ESSM Block 2 is currently in the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase. The ESSM Block 2 will be integrated with the various combat systems across the navies of the NATO Seasparrow Consortium nations,” Eng said.
The ESSM Block 2 weapon is part of what Navy officials describe as a layered defense system, referring to an integrated series of weapons, sensors and interceptors designed to detect and destroy a wide-range of incoming threats from varying distances.
For instance, may ships have Aegis Radar and SM-3 missiles for long-range ballistic missile defense. Moving to threats a litter closer, such as those inside the earth’s atmosphere such as anti-ship cruise missiles, enemy aircraft, drones and surface ships, the Navy has the SM-6, ESSM, Rolling Airframe Missile and SeaRAM for slightly closer threats. When it comes to defending the ship from the closest-in threats, many ships have the Close-In-Weapons System, or CIWS, which fires a 20-mm rapid-fire Phalanx gun toward fast approaching surface and airborne threats.