Thomas H. Begay didn’t want to be a radio operator. In fact, up until he graduated from bootcamp, he thought he was going to become an aerial gunner for the Marine Corps during World War II.
“They sent me to a confidential area,” he said. “I walked in and there’s a whole bunch of Navajo.”
His previous MOS didn’t matter. Begay would attend code talking school.
The Navajo language had become the basis of a new code, and they were going to train to become code talkers. It was hard to see it then, but Begay and his fellow Navajo would help turn the tides of war and save countless lives.
An unbreakable code
The Code Talkers used native languages to send military messages before World War II. Choctaw, for example, was successfully used during World War I. But the Marine Corps needed an “unbreakable” code for its island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. Navajo, which was unwritten and known by few outside the tribe, seemed to fit the Corps’ requirements.
Thomas H. Begay recalls Navajo Code Talker program; Battle of Iwo Jima
Twenty-nine Navajos were recruited to develop the code in 1942. They took their language and developed a “Type One Code” that assigned a Navajo word to each English letter. They also created special words for planes, ships and weapons.
But just because a person understood Navajo didn’t mean they could understand the code. While a person fluent in the language would hear a message that translated into a list of words that seemingly had no connection to each other, a code talker would hear a very clear message.
In addition to being unbreakable, the new code also reduced the amount of time it took to transmit and receive secret messages. Because all 17 pages of the Navajo code were memorized, there was no need to encrypt and decipher messages with the aid of coding machines. So, instead of taking several minutes to send and receive one message, Navajo code talkers could send several messages within seconds. This made the Navajo code talker an important part of any Marine unit.
Peter MacDonald Sr. recalls Navajo Code Talker program; Battle of Iwo Jima
Begay did well in training and picked up the code quickly. A month after arriving at code talking school, he was given orders to his new unit and sent overseas.
“They told us we were going to Tokyo,” he said with a chuckle. “In February, we were told we’re supposed to land on Iwo Jima.”
On Feb. 19, 1945, at 0900 hours, Begay landed on the north side of the island with the 5th Marine Division. One code talker had already been killed during the first wave of attacks, and five more would be injured by the time the fighting stopped. In the face of machine gun fire and mortar rounds, Begay and his fellow Navajo Code Talkers continued to relay messages that were vital to the eventual victory on the island.
In all, nearly 800 coded messages were sent during the assault on Iwo Jima. There were zero mistakes.
“I was protected by the Marines,” Begay said. “They were protecting us; we were protecting them. I was lucky. But some didn’t get lucky – like those who got killed on the beach.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Shortly after converting to Islam, then-Sgt. Khallid Shabazz struggled to find his way while his devout Lutheran family and fellow soldiers questioned his move.
And with a few Article 15s for insubordination on his record, Shabazz, a field artilleryman at the time, wanted out of the military.
Then, one day while training out in the field, an Army chaplain approached him and struck up a conversation.
“Honestly, it was like a revelation from God,” Shabazz said. “When it hit my ears, I knew that was what I was going to do in life. It was incredible.”
The Christian chaplain had told Shabazz, who was a teacher before he joined the Army, that he should consider being a Muslim chaplain. That way, the chaplain said, he could help other Muslim soldiers in need of guidance.
Shabazz later became a chaplain, and proudly wore his uniform with the Islamic crescent moon stitched onto it. The career change was a catalyst for him, as he went on to achieve several other goals.
Lt. Col. Khallid Shabazz, the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command’s chaplain, delivers a sermon during a Jummah prayer service, which is held on Fridays, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Sept. 21, 2018.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Claudio R. Tejada)
Currently a lieutenant colonel, Shabazz holds two doctorate degrees on top of four master’s degrees. He has written three books and teaches online courses at four colleges. This fall, he plans to teach at a fifth one, the University of Hawaii.
He recently was chosen to study at the National War College, a rare feat for chaplains — only three of them are accepted each year.
And in 2017, Shabazz became the U.S. military’s first Muslim division-level chaplain, a position he held with the 7th Infantry Division.
Now the lead chaplain of the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command here, he plans to surpass yet another milestone. That’s when he is slated to be promoted to colonel, which will be the highest rank ever attained by a Muslim chaplain.
“It’s phenomenal first, but it’s unbelievable second,” Shabazz said of his pending promotion.
Born as Michael Barnes, Shabazz grew up in a large Lutheran family in Alexandria, Louisiana.
Once a faithful Lutheran himself, Shabazz often attended church and even graduated from a Christian college.
His religious views changed in the Army when he decided to debate a Muslim soldier on the merits of both religions. He admits he was ill-prepared for the debate and had misinformation about what Muslim people actually believed in.
Lt. Col. Khallid Shabazz, the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command’s chaplain, delivers a sermon during a Jummah prayer service.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Claudio R. Tejada)
Afterward, he became curious about Islam and began to study the Quran.
“I didn’t want to convert; I was happy where I was,” he said. “I’m a very inquisitive person. If I don’t know something, I’m going to get to know it.”
While Shabazz found more peace and solace by switching faiths, which included the Islamic custom of changing his name, many people in his life stopped talking to him.
His commander at the time, Shabazz said, even asked why he sided with the enemy.
“I was so hurt by those statements,” he said.
He eventually came to realize it was a lack of understanding some people had with Islam, which he was also guilty of until he studied it.
Islam is sometimes distorted by extremist groups, he said, similar to how other religions can be twisted to incite violent acts.
“Whether it’s the Bible, Quran, or the Torah, I want people to understand that religion really has nothing to do with violence,” he said. “99.9 percent of the people in religion are good people.”
As a whole, he said, the Army has improved its inclusiveness of Islamic culture. Religious accommodations allow Muslim soldiers to worship on Fridays and now give female soldiers the option to wear a hijab and males to have a beard.
He also educates leaders and soldiers about Muslim holidays and other traditions.
For those struggling as he once did, he encourages them to pursue knowledge, too. Often, he receives calls from Muslims across the Army asking for help on issues or how to deal with blowback from others in their unit.
“What I ask you to do is, keep doing your job and keep working hard,” he said he tells them. “Go to school at night and stay focused on everything else besides the treatment.
“That’s coming from a person like me who went through that type of turmoil. I was an E-5 and I received some pretty tough treatment back then. I can tell them those stories and I think it helps.”
As a chaplain, he strives to inspire soldiers to be successful, no matter their religious preference. To date, he has helped at least 70 soldiers become officers and many other NCOs gain promotion points by taking college courses.
Lt. Col. Khallid Shabazz speaks during his Change of Stole ceremony inside the Lewis Main Chapel at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., May 23, 2017.
“I’m like a chaplain life coach,” he said, laughing. “I’m telling them don’t quit.”
While proud of his faith, he does not want to be known only as the Muslim chaplain — he is one of five currently in the Army. Unless a soldier wants to talk about religion, he will leave those types of discussions at the door.
“I meet soldiers where they’re at. I attack problems,” he said. “My job is not to be your spiritual advisor, your religious guru. I want to help soldiers with school, with their family, their marital problems, and be almost like an arbitrator or a mediator.”
Years before, he had to overcome many of his own issues.
In high school, he failed the 9th and 12th grades. He was not able to graduate with his class and had to go to summer school. His destructive behavior continued throughout his first stint of college, he said.
When he was later able to get a job as a teacher, he made just under ,000 per year.
So, he decided to join the Army as a 23-year-old private to take care of his wife and children.
He also sought discipline and stability, which the Army could provide. As he initially thought it was a good idea to sign up, he admits it was a difficult change.
“I found myself getting into a lot of trouble. Having a 19-year-old sergeant cussing at you and telling you what to do didn’t go over very well with me,” he said, laughing.
Then that chaplain decided to stop and take the time to chat with Shabazz, who had just turned Muslim but still wrestled with his identity.
“I was at my lowest level and the chaplain came by and gave me what I needed at that point,” he said. “I wanted to dedicate my life, and I have, to helping people who are in that position. Not by converting them, but by being a person who can put their arm around them and try to help them get to the other side.”
Army testers accidentally dropped a Humvee from an Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft Oct. 24, 2018, about a mile short of the intended drop zone on Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The Airborne and Special operations Test Directorate was testing a new heavy-drop platform loaded with a Humvee, base spokesman Tom McCollum told Military.com.
“They were going in for a time-on-target on Sicily Drop Zone at 1 p.m.,” McCollum said. “Everything was going well; they were at the one-minute mark to the drop zone.
“We don’t know what happened, but the platform went out early and landed in a rural area. There was no one hurt. No private property was damaged.”
The incident, which is under investigation, follows a similar airborne mishap that occurred in April 2016 when three separate Humvees came loose from their heavy-drop platforms and crashed onto a designated drop zone in Germany.
The Texas Air National Guard 136th Airlift Wing’s C-130 Hercules aircraft completes a heavy cargo airdrop with a Humvee.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Julie Briden-Garcia)
For his role in the incident, Sgt. John Skipper was found guilty of three counts of destroying military property and one of lying during the investigation, according to Army Times.
A court-martial panel sentenced Skipper to be demoted to the rank of private and to receive a Bad Conduct Discharge.
In today’s accident, the C-17 was flying at 1,500 feet during the heavy-drop test, McCollum said.
“Basically what takes place is a heavy drop pallet is inside the aircraft and by this time the doors have already been opened,” he said, explaining that a pilot parachute pulls the platform out of the aircraft and three heavy-drop parachutes then open. “Everything worked as it was supposed to, except it went out early.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Every generation has a slightly different experience of military service. Here are 13 things that no longer exist but you’ll remember if you served in the US Navy in the 1980s.
1. You could have a beard
Remember when you just couldn’t wait to make E-4 so you could have one of those great big bushy Navy beards? Too bad you couldn’t wear an OBA to breathe in a fire with that big old beard…
2. Beer machines in the barracks
Nothing better than getting off work, coming back to an open barracks room with 75 other guys in it, going into the TV lounge to watch the same show everybody else wants to see and dropping $.75 into a cold drink machine to enjoy a nice lukewarm can of brew.
3. Snail mail that took months to reach you
Getting your Christmas cards for Easter is always fun.
4. Cinderella liberty
Get back to the ship by midnight or you will turn into a pumpkin (or at least pull some extra duty)!
5. Life before urinalysis
Gave new meaning to “The smoking lamp is lit.”
6. Watching the same movie 72 times on deployment because there was no satellite
Reciting the lines by memory added to the fun. For a treat they would show it topside on the side of the superstructure.
7. Enlisted and officers partying together
Nothing better than drinking all night with your division officer and showing up for the next day’s morning muster while he is nowhere to be found.
8. Liberty cards, request chits, and green “memorandum” books
No liberty until the chief handed out the liberty cards; chits filled out in triplicate were required for everything; and you knew you made it when you carried a little green memo book in your pocket (to write stuff down with your Skilcraft pen).
9. Having a “discussion” with the chief in the fan room
A little attitude adjustment never hurt anybody. The next day you were best buds, and you never told a soul where you got that black eye.
10. Getting paid in cash
Nothing better than armed guards standing by for payday on the mess decks and having a pocket full of $20s every 2 weeks.
11. Our only enemy was the Reds
Ivans and Oscars and Bears, Oh My!
12. Communicating with flags
Just what are those guys waving around semaphore flags saying to each other?
13. Navigation before GPS
Quartermaster get a sextant and tell me where we are!
It seemed almost immediate: right after the death of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in 1972, the FBI began opening up training to women who were qualified candidates. At Hoover’s funeral was a young female Marine, sent to Washington as a representative of the U.S. Navy. As soon as Hoover’s replacement offered the title of “special agent” to women, that Marine was one of the first ones to go to Quantico.
Susan Roley Malone wanted to be an FBI agent ever since she was tasked to give a presentation on the Bureau in the eighth grade. The young Malone was supposed to research the agency, interview special agents, and tell her class about career opportunities, even though she would not be eligible for them. The FBI was her passion as she grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. She read books about the FBI. She watched movies about the FBI. When it came time to serve her country, however, she wasn’t allowed to join. So she became a Marine.
She and another woman – a former nun named Joanne Pierce – went to the FBI academy on Jul. 17, 1972 – little more than two months after Hoover’s death. Her FBI career would include investigating the Patti Hearst kidnapping, organized crime, and monitoring foreign nationals.
Susan Roley Malone
The hostility began right away – and abated just as fast. At lunch, some male agent trainees sat around her and began to grill her on her dedication to training with the Bureau.
“Why are you here?”
“Who are you?”
“Why do you want to be here?”
“What makes you think you can be an FBI agent?”
Her answer was curt but honest. She sat down and told them what’s what: she was there for the same reason any man was there. She loved her country just like anyone else. She wanted to continue to serve, now in law enforcement. She knew the FBI and the work it did. She cherished their work and she wasn’t going anywhere.
“It’s like any organization,” Malone says. “When you’re the first and you’re a pioneer, you know, you’re going to get push back from some people. But I got a lot people that helped, a lot of people that held out their hands, and were colleagues and allies to help. Those people that didn’t help or were maybe nasty to me, they have to walk in their own skin and you know they probably didn’t feel good about themselves, I can’t say.”
Her first field office was Omaha, Nebraska, wrangling cattle rustlers, which she thought was a cruel joke at first, chasing down cattle rustling in the 1970s. It turns out that stealing cattle was a big business. But she was a good agent – and dedicated one. She began making arrests right away, the first arrest ever made by a female FBI agent.
“I am where I am today because of the talents and gifts of many people that have opened doors for me,” she says. That have assisted me along on my journey. And especially some of the people that I recall that were FBI agents… These people had such talent and they were willing to share it. They were willing to take a young agent, whether it was a man or women, and share that talent. And for that I am grateful.”
In the game series Fallout, one of the weapons most coveted by players is a portable mini-nuke launcher that, as you might imagine, is capable of destroying basically anything it touches. It fits perfectly within the game’s theme of roaming across the apocalyptic wasteland, dispensing wanton destruction.
Bethesda, the developers behind Fallout, weren’t just pulling something out of thin air when they designed the digital weapon. In the late 1950s, when the threat of nuclear war with the Soviets was lurking around the corner, the U.S. actually created a functioning mini-nuke launcher of their very own.
It was called the M-29 Davy Crockett Weapon System. And the reason it never really made it out of initial testing was because it was probably the most poorly designed weapon system the U.S. military ever thought would work.
The Davy Crockett was a recoilless, smooth-bore gun, operated by a three-man crew, that fired a nuclear projectile. In theory, this weapon gave a small squad the ability to decimate enemy battalions with an equivalent yield of 20 tons of TNT — or roughly the same firepower as forty Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The maximum effective range of the Davy Crockett was about a mile and a half. Anything within a quarter-mile radius of the explosion would receive a fatal dosage of radiation. Anything within 500 feet of the epicenter of the blast would be completely incinerated.
It was so portable that it could either be attached to the back of a Jeep or given to paratroopers for airborne insertion. The weapon technically worked, but not without a bevy of significant problems.
The first major flaw was the aiming. The launcher was flimsy when compared to the immense weight of munitions, so it was prone to toppling over at any moment. It had an unreliable height-of-burst dial, so accurate detonations were nearly impossible. It also didn’t have an abort function, which meant that as soon as it was fired, it’d have to detonate.
To make matters worse, the previously stated half-mile kill radius was only accounted to instant death by radiation. As we’ve learned, being downwind of a nuclear blast almost certainly meant death — maybe not right away, but eventually. So, the three-man crew firing the Davy Crockett, who had at most one mile of safety, could only fire and pray that the winds didn’t turn against them.
For more information on why mini-nukes were an awful idea, check out the video below:
The Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared a military coup against the government of President Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday, April 30, 2019, sparking a confrontation that escalated into an armed conflict.
In a message to supporters online, Guaidó announced the beginning of what he called “Operation Liberty” and called for supporters to rally at a military air base in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.
Reporters for the news agency Reuters reported that the gathering at the military air base — called La Carlota — came under fire Tuesday morning and shot back. Reuters said both sides appeared to be using live rounds.
Part of the clash can be seen in this video, broadcast by the Latin American TV channel NTN24. A noise that sounds like gunfire can be heard:
The opposition leader then held a rally at Francia de Altamira square where he told supporters: “Today it became clear that the armed forces are with the people and not with the dictator.”
Maduro called for his supporters to maintain “nerves of steel,” tweeting that he still has complete loyalty from his commanders.
His government also said it was taking action against “a small group of traitors” in the military who had defected to Guaidó.
In his announcement Tuesday morning, Guaidó was seen surrounded by uniformed men whom he described as Venezuelan soldiers who switched their loyalty to him.
“People of Venezuela, the end of the usurpation has begun,” Guaidó said on Twitter. “At the moment I am meeting with the principal military units from the armed forces to start the final phase of Operation Liberty.”
He said the gathering at La Carlota would set in motion the “definitive end” to Maduro’s rule.
Guaidó was joined by Leopoldo López, another opposition leader who had been under house arrest for two years. López tweeted that he was freed by soldiers supporting Guaidó.
Venezuela’s government said it was working to stop the uprising.
Jorge Rodríguez, the Vice President of Communications, said on Twitter that the state was “confronting and deactivating a small group of traitors in our military personnel.”
Venezuela’s defense minister, Vladimir Padrino, tweeted: “The armed forces are firmly in defense of the national constitution and its legitimate authorities.”
Diosdado Cabello, the leader of Maduro’s socialist party, urged Maduro supporters to rally in front of the presidential palace, according to the AP.
The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said President Donald Trump had been briefed. “We are monitoring the ongoing situation,” BBC News reported her as saying.
Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, tweeted that the US government “fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy.”
Russian news agencies reported that President Vladimir Putin, an ally of Maduro, had scheduled a meeting to discuss the uprisings with his Security Council, according to the AP.
Guaidó has been trying to oust Maduro since January 2019, when Guaidó declared himself the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. He cited emergency powers in the constitution that he argued gave him the right to rule.
More than 50 countries, including the US, the UK, and all the nations of the European Union, have backed Guaidó’s claim to power.
Besides calling for new elections, one of Guaidó’s main goals was to win support from Maduro’s power base: the army.
The power is especially concentrated among high-ranking officers who hold important government positions and run influential companies under the socialist government.
Richard Arvin Overton was already 35 years old when he fought at Pearl Harbor. Now, 73 years after the end of World War II and his service in the Pacific Theater, the 112-year-old is alive and kicking. Today, the City of Austin and its Mayor, Steve Adler, even came out to wish America’s oldest veteran a happy birthday.
Find out how to live your life like Richard Overton lived his.
Overton is still completely independent — he lives on his own, walks where he wants (albeit with the aid of a cane), and drives where he needs to go. He enjoys cigars, good whiskey, and dating his “lady friend.”
That also happens to be Richard Overton’s big, anti-aging secret, which he shared over a few drinks with We Are The Mighty’s Orvelin Valle during the celebration.
“The secret to life,” Overton says, “is Scotch and cigars.”
You’ll never catch Overton without a pocket full of cigars and, while you might think they’re hazardous to his health and well-being, it seems they’re doing more good than harm. He passes every medical test the doctors (and the DMV) can throw his way.
Although he drives himself because he thinks too many people around his neighborhood drive crazily, he isn’t afraid of anything, even at his advanced age. He even remarked that he feels completely comfortable sleeping with his doors unlocked at night.
“You see a soldier with a gun,” he once told National Geographic (while holding his issued M1 Garand rifle), “you don’t see him turn around and come back this way.”
But that stress-free life starts with a good cigar or twelve. He often smokes a dozen or more per day. He doesn’t inhale, though, saying there’s no point.
“Forget about swallowing it,” Overton says. “There’s no taste to it. It just makes you cough.”
Not inhaling his cigars is what he calls “the healthy way.” This lifestyle also includes a diet of milk, fish, corn, and soup. But the 112-year-old vet also starts his day with about four cups of coffee and ends each by eating butter-pecan ice cream.
And, sometimes, he adds whisky to the mix
He doesn’t spend his money on buying things he doesn’t need and he definitely doesn’t use credit cards. He’s been driving the same truck for decades, which he paid for with cash. Still, it’s a far cry from his first car – a Ford Model T.
To live like America’s oldest veteran, just live a stress-free life. Start with the simple pleasures, like ice cream, whisky, and cigars. If you don’t take his advice, that’s fine. As he says, “that’s your bad luck.”
In the social media age, U.S. military planners know it is near impossible to move large equipment, like ships and aircraft, without being spotted and having the activity broadcast to the world.
As the Defense Department continues to posture itself to counter China and Russia, one Air Force command is strategizing ways to throw off the enemy by doing everything in plain sight, according to the top general for the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command.
“That may mean not going into the predictable places or setting up new predictable places,” Gen. Maryanne Miller said. Miller spoke with Military.com during a trip with Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein to the base here.
Executing that strategy could be as simple as sending a C-5 Supergalaxy aircraft instead of a C-17 Globemaster III, on a cargo mission, or by placing cargo in spots the U.S. typically doesn’t operate in, making movements more difficult for observers to interpret.
US Air Force C-5 in flight.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Brett Snow)
“An example is, if you drive by a 7-11 [store], is that really a 7-11, or what’s really going on in there?” Miller said. “We land places all the time. You can land at MidAmerica [St. Louis] Airport and there may be some customers that are using some of those hangars that do some very special things. But yet when you see that place operate every day, it looks normal.”
She continued, “We need the capacity and the capability to just get to where we need to get to, [and that may be] off the beaten track sometimes.”
The initiative is part of a larger effort to actually shrink the Air Force’s footprint while expanding its reach, added Goldfein. The service has been working on modular bases that would act as small hubs designed to house a quick-reaction force. The Air Force has conducted exercises in Eastern Europe in recent months to see how effectively it can build up, tear down and move to get closer to a potential crisis.
The Air Force may also be able to make use of positions and infrastructure not designed for military purposes.
US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III.
(US Air Force photo)
“For me, the number one [thing] is, ‘Do we have the right amount of basing and access to be able to perform the global mobility mission?'” Goldfein said. “The global mobility mission requires a number of bases … military and civilian, that we routinely exercise and use. Because in a time of crisis or conflict, you don’t want to start building your basing access at that point. You actually have to have it.”
The Defense Logistics Agency, for example, is working fuel contracts with civilian ports to get more fuel access for Air Force planes, he said.
“We’re going to all these different places all the time to make sure that we can move an airplane; every three minutes, there’s somebody taking off or landing to do that,” Goldfein said.
There are also lessons to be learned from close international partners, Goldfein said.
For example, “India, in the global mobility business, actually operates the highest-altitude C-17 operations on the planet,” Goldfein said.
“We have a lot to learn from India in high altitude and mobility operations. And we have a lot to offer India when it comes to global mobility and how we operate back and forth. So that’s one example where … we’re more competitive because we … build trust and confidence at a different level,” Goldfein said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
In the early 1900s the navies of the world were quickly expanding their submarine fleets and with them the technology that they used to fight.
One problem submarines faced as they matured was how to communicate underwater. Radio communication was only a couple decades old and radio waves barely transmit underwater. To allow submarines to communicate with naval forts, each other, and surface vessels, the U.S. Navy tested an improvised “violin” for submarines that allowed communication at ranges of up to five miles.
The violins had a single string stretched between two large, metal rods connected to the hull of the submarine. A wheel with a rough edges spun in close proximity to the string. A Morse-code operator could tap a button that pressed the spinning wheel to the string, sending a vibration through the string, the rods, and then the submarine hull itself. This vibration would continue through the water to underwater microphones on ships and coastal installations. The tests began in 1913 with three violins being installed on three ships. There’s no sign that these violins were ever used in combat.
As the new Congress begins, it will soon discuss the comprehensive reports to the U.S. Senate on the disinformation campaign of half-truths, outright fabrications and misleading posts made by agents of the Russian government on social media in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
There are already indications that Cyber Command conducted operations against Russian disinformation on social media, including warning specific Russians not to interfere with the 2018 elections. However, low-level cyberwarfare is not necessarily the best way. European countries, especially the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have confronted Russian disinformation campaigns for decades. Their experience may offer useful lessons as the U.S. joins the battle.
The Baltic Sea region of northern Europe. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are in light green in the center, west of Russia in blue.
Beginning in 1940 and continuing until they declared independence in the early 1990s, the Baltic countries were subjected to systematic Russian gaslighting designed to make people doubt their national history, culture and economic development.
The Soviets rewrote history books to falsely emphasize Russian protection of the Baltic people from invading hordes in the Middle Ages, and to convey the impression that the cultural evolution of the three countries was enabled by their allegiance and close ties to Russia. Even their national anthems were rewritten to pay homage to Soviet influence.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the independence of the Baltic countries, the Russian Federation has continued to deliver disinformation to the region, making extensive use of Russian-language social media. Some themes characterize the Baltic people as ungrateful for Soviet investment and aid after World War II. Another common message criticizes Baltic historians for “falsification of history” when really they are describing the real nature of the Soviet occupation.
A massive Russian attack
After independence, and as the internet grew, Estonia led the way in applying technology to accelerate economic development. The country created systems for a wide range of government and commercial services, including voting, banking and filing tax returns electronically. Today, Estonia’s innovative e-residency system is being adopted in many other countries.
These advances made the Baltics a prime target for cyberattacks. In the spring of 2007, the Russians struck. When Estonia moved a monument memorializing Soviet soldiers from downtown Tallinn, the country’s capital, to a military cemetery a couple of miles away, it provoked the ire of ethnic Russians living in Estonia as well as the Russian government.
The relocation of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn sparked a Russian cyberattack on Estonia in 2007.
(Photo by Keith Ruffles)
For three weeks, Estonian government, financial and media computer systems were bombarded with enormous amounts of internet traffic in a “distributed denial of service” attack. In these situations, an attacker sends overwhelming amounts of data to the targeted internet servers, clogging them up with traffic and either slowing them down or knocking them offline entirely. Despite concerns about the first “cyber war,” however, these attacks resulted in little damage. Although Estonia was cut off from the global internet temporarily, the country’s economy suffered no lasting harm.
These attacks could have severely damaged the country’s financial system or power grid. But Estonia was prepared. The country’s history with Russian disinformation had led Estonia to expect Russian attacks on computer and information systems. In anticipation, the government spearheaded partnerships with banks, internet service providers and other organizations to coordinate responses to cyberattacks. In 2006, Estonia was one of the first countries to create a Computer Emergency Response Team to manage security incidents.
The Baltic response
After the 2007 attack, the Baltic countries upped their game even more. For example, Estonia created the Cyber Defense League, an army of volunteer specialists in information technology. These experts focus onsharing threat information, preparing society for responding to cyber incidents and participating in international cyber defense activities.
Internationally, Estonia gained approval in 2008 to establish NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn. Its comprehensive research into global cyber activities helps identify best practices in cyber defense and training for NATO members.
In 2014, Riga, the capital of neighboring Latvia, became home to another NATO organization combating Russian influence, the Strategic Communications Center of Excellence. It publishes reports on Russian disinformation activities, such as the May 2018 study of the “Virtual Russian World in the Baltics.” That report analyzes Russian social media activities targeting Baltic nations with a “toxic mix of disinformation and propaganda.” It also provides insight into identifying and detecting Russian disinformation campaigns.
The Baltic countries also rely on a European Union agency formed in 2015 to combat Russian disinformation campaigns directed against the EU. The agency identifies disinformation efforts and publicizes accurate information that the Russians are seeking to undermine. A new effort will issue rapid alerts to the public when potential disinformation is directed against the 2019 European Parliament elections.
Will the ‘Baltic model’ work in the US?
Because of their political acknowledgment of threats and actions taken by their governments to fight disinformation, a 2018 study rated Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania the three European Union members best at responding to Russian disinformation.
A similar approach may work in the U.S., though it would require far more collaboration than has existed so far. But backed by the new government motivation to strike back when provoked, the methods used in the Baltic states and across Europe could provide a powerful new deterrent against Russian influence in the West.
Russia — the country that’s failed to build its super carrier and any meaningful amount of its newest jets or tanks — is now claiming that it’s going to build the world’s first catamaran aircraft carrier, a vessel that would carry an air wing while suffering less drag and costing less than other carriers.
While this effort will likely suffer from the same problems that prevented the construction of the super carrier, it’s still a revolutionary design that’s generating a lot of buzz.
The U.S. has purchased and leased some catamaran ships, but nothing nearly the size of the proposed Russian aircraft carrier. The HSV 2 in the photo has a displacement of less than 5 percent the size of the Russian design.
So, first, let’s explore the highlights. Catamarans are multi-hulled vessels with the hulls in parallel. If you’re unfamiliar, that basically means that if you look at the vessel from the front, you can see a gap right down the middle of the hull near the waterline. The Russian vessel would be a semi-catamaran, so there would be a gap, but it would be beneath the waterline.
This greatly reduces drag and makes the vessel more stable while turning, but also reduces the amount of space below the waterline for aircraft storage, living spaces, and so forth.
Russia’s only current carrier is the Admiral Kuznetsov, and it’s less than impressive.
(U.S. Defense Department)
But it would still carry a healthy complement of aircraft, up to 46, including early warning aircraft and helicopters. That’s a far cry from the Ford’s 75 aircraft, but a pretty nice upgrade over the LHAs’ 30+ aircraft.
The catamaran would have an 8,000-mile endurance, anti-torpedo and anti-aircraft defenses, electronic warfare systems, and four bomb launchers.
All-in-all, that could make for an effective and affordable aircraft carrier. So, will Russia be able to crank this ship out, maybe clone it a couple of times, and become the effective master of the seas?
Russia: Mistral replacement? Storm Supercarrier model unveiled in St Petersburg
Well, no. Almost certainly not. First, Russia has the same spending problem it had when it threw a hissy fit after France cancelled the delivery of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. Russia responded with designs for the Storm Supercarrier, a ship larger than America’s Ford-class.
Most defense experts at the time weren’t very worried, and we shouldn’t be now. Russia has few personnel with experience building ships of this size. That’s actually why they wanted to buy the Mistral class in the first place — and the Mistral is half the size of this proposed catamaran.
The Soviet Union constructed the bulk of its ships in areas that broke away when the Soviet Union collapsed. Many were built in Ukraine, which now has a troubled relationship with Russia (to put it mildly). Russia lacks the facilities and personnel for such construction.
The PAK-FA/Su-57 is seemingly a capable fighter despite issues with its engines and other developmental hangups, but Russia simply can’t afford to buy them, or to buy a catamaran carrier.
Infographic from Anton Egorov of Infographicposter.com
And then there’s the money. Russia designed a reasonably modern and well-received tank in the T-14 and a good fighter in the PAK-FA, but they couldn’t build many of them because oil, currently, is way too cheap. Russia’s economy is relatively small — actually smaller than that of Texas or California — and it’s heavily reliant on oil sales.
And then there are the glaring flaws of the design. While the catamaran has the advantages mentioned above, it would have serious trouble moving in rough seas, as catamarans have a tendency to dig their bows into waves in rough conditions — and taking waves from the side would likely be even worse.
Aligning with a superpower worked for some countries during the Cold War, and for many others, it didn’t. But Iran never aligned itself with the US or the Soviet Union, preferring to maintain its independence and sovereignty. But where the Non-Aligned movement was dedicated to the principles of pretty much minding one’s own business, the coalition Iran is building is more dedicated to pushing back against the US.
But just for one very specific reason: inflation.
Ever since the United States left the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – also known as the ‘Nuclear Deal’ – sanctions imposed by the U.S. have left Iran’s currency and economy in tatters. As today is the day Iranians celebrate the New Year, Iran’s Supreme Leader is celebrating the regime’s resistance to the economic hardship.
“In the face of severe, and according to them unprecedented, sanctions from America and Europe, the Iranian people showed a strong and powerful reaction both in the field of politics and economy,” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in a pre-recorded speech. President Hassan Rouhani echoed that sentiment and called for Iranian to stop fighting each other a band together against the United States.
With sanctions crippling the value of Iranian currency, the Iranian government is looking to its neighbors to strengthen the rial. Other countries like Germany and France, who are still party to the nuclear plan, have opened channels to Iran for trade without using the dollar. While this has eased the out of control inflation in the Islamic Republic, the rial is still trading at 190,000 to one. Iranians have seen their savings and their net worth plummet in the past few years, which is the first result of rampant inflation.
Banks, merchants, and institutions have also seen the values of their businesses and livelihoods decline as a result. Throughout Iran, the inflation and unhappiness with the sanctions, and the regime’s inability to do anything about it has caused widespread protests and demonstrations – some on the same scale of the ones that brought down the Shah and saw the Islamic Republic come to power.