New study sheds light on 'PTSD genes' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’

A VA Million Veteran Program study identified locations in the human genome related to the risk of re-experiencing traumatic memories, the most distinctive symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder.

Researchers from the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, Yale University School of Medicine, the VA San Diego Healthcare System, and the University of California San Diego collaborated with colleagues on the study of more than 165,000 veterans.

The results appeared in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

PTSD is usually considered to have three main clusters of symptoms: re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal. Avoidance and hyperarousal are common to other anxiety conditions as well, but re-experiencing is largely unique to PTSD. Re-experiencing refers to intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks.


The researchers compared the genomes of 146,660 white veterans and 19,983 black veterans who had volunteered for MVP.

The study revealed eight separate regions in the genome associated with re-experiencing symptoms among the white veterans. It did not show any significant regions for black veterans, considered separately as a group, because there were far fewer black study participants available, making it harder to draw conclusions.

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’

(Department of Veterans Affairs)

Results were replicated using a sample from the UK Biobank.

The results showed genetic overlap between PTSD and other conditions. For example, two genes previously linked to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were implicated. This could mean that the hallucinations experienced in schizophrenia may share common biochemical pathways with the nightmares and flashbacks of people with PTSD.

The study also revealed genetic links to hypertension. It is possible that hypertension drugs that affect these same genes could be effective for treating PTSD.

Taken together, the results “provide new insights into the biology of PTSD,” say the researchers. The findings have implications for understanding PTSD risk factors, as well as identifying new drug targets.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

We have to talk about this week’s ‘SEAL Team’ death

WARNING: This post contains spoilers from Season 2 Episode 19.

This week, SEAL Team tackled one of the most dangerous threats to military veterans: suicide.

U.S. veterans have a higher suicide rate than civilians — and the number is staggeringly higher among female veterans. According to a 2016 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs, on average 20.8 service members commit suicide every day; of those, 16.8 were veterans and 3.8 were active duty, guardsmen, or reservists.

Since 2001, the total number of fatal casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan is 6,995.

There were more than 6000 veteran suicides each year from 2008-2016 alone.

It’s a critical threat, one that must be acknowledged and addressed — which is why it’s important that shows like SEAL Team tell their stories.

According to ‘former frogman’ and SEAL Team writer Mark Semos, the suicide in the episode ‘Medicate and Isolate’ was inspired by the death of a real U.S. Navy SEAL.


[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/Bwr-5VXnzA3/ expand=1]Mark Semos on Instagram: “For those of you who tuned into last night’s episode of @sealteamcbs: Brett Swann’s character was based on Ryan Larkin, a former SEAL who…”

www.instagram.com

In the episode, Brett Swann (played perfectly by Tony Curran) struggles with many issues that are common among veterans — and he’s lucky enough to have a buddy helping him navigate the labyrinth of the VA system: long waits, over-taxed doctors, and confusing procedures are among the basics of what can be expected.

Swann is certain he has an undiagnosed TBI (traumatic brain injury) but the VA doctor is unable to treat it because there’s no proof that it is service-connected. A 45-minute episode isn’t long enough to get into the details of Swann’s options, so the writers deftly cut to the finish: Swann wasn’t going to get the treatment he desperately needed. Certainly not right away.

I can’t communicate strongly enough how disorienting and discouraging it is to finally seek help only to be turned away, especially for veterans, who were trained by the military to “suck it up.”

Some get lucky and find advocates (I highly recommend the DAV, a non-profit that, among other initiatives, helps veterans with disability claims), some patiently wade through the murky system, but others…

…well, it’s becoming painfully clear that others give up hope.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/Bwp5pE8n0L0/ expand=1]Tyler Grey on Instagram: “It’s hard to promote tonight’s episode as it’s about a subject that is sadly more truth than fiction. Rather than entertain I hope that it…”

www.instagram.com

Just this month, two more veterans died by suicide at VA facilities. So while the Department of Veterans Affairs does provide treatment for millions of veterans, the truth is that it isn’t enough.

For a country that spends more on its defense budget than the next seven countries combined (China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan), it reflects the DOD’s priorities when VA hospitals and facilities don’t have the funds to meet the staffing and medical needs of its veterans.

There is hope

I have seen a trend where veterans are coming together to support each other, to maintain the strong community we had during service. As more and more veterans lose friends, the fear of talking about suicide is diminishing.

This is critical because veterans have to know where to turn for help.

There is a crisis hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (or anyone in need can send a text message to 838255)

There are organizations like 22KILL, which raises awareness and combats suicide by empowering veterans, first responders, and their families through traditional and non-traditional therapies.

And there are shows and films depicting these stories, raising awareness, and removing the stigma of unseen injuries and mental health.

There are many who are wary of sending the message that veterans are all traumatized or unstable; if anything, this episode is further proof of the opposite. SEAL Team employs a lot of veterans who are professionals in the entertainment industry.

Who better to tell the story of those among us who need our help?

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy Search and Rescue saves the day once again

A Search and Rescue team from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island rescued an injured hiker at Deception Pass State Park on Oct. 21.


The SAR crew took off from NAS Whidbey Island around 5 p.m. Due to the injured hiker’s location and surrounding terrain, North Whidbey Fire and Rescue was unable to reach the man.

Upon arrival, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class John Siedler, a search and rescue medical technician, hoisted down to the scene and prepared the injured man for immediate extraction. The patient was transported to Island Hospital where he was delivered to a higher level of care.

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’
Deception Pass State Park, Washington. Wikimedia Commons photo by user Tobias Haase.

This was the 35th rescue of 2017 for NAS Whidbey Island SAR, which has also conducted seven searches and 15 Medical Evacuation missions this year, totaling 64 lives delivered to a higher level of care.

The Navy SAR unit operates three MH-60S helicopters from NAS Whidbey Island as search and rescue/medical evacuation platforms for the EA-18G aircraft as well as other squadrons and personnel assigned to the installation.

MIGHTY TRENDING

B-52 bomber is getting a massive weapons update

The Air Force is giving its historic B-52 bomber a massive weapons enhancement by engineering an upgrade to the aircraft’s internal weapons bay, which promises to substantially enhance its attack mission options.


The 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade, or IWBU, will allow the B-52 to internally carry up to eight of the newest “J-Series” bombs in addition to carrying six on pylons under each wing. This initiative not only increases the weapons delivery capacity for the bomber but also enables it to accommodate a wider swath of modern weapons.

IWBU uses a digital interface and a rotary launcher to increase the weapons payload, service officials said.

Also read: What happens when lightning tears a giant hole in the tail of a B-52

“The B-52 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade provides internal J-series (smart) weapons capability through modification of Common Strategic Rotary Launchers and upgrade of aircraft software,” Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Emily Grabowski told Warrior Maven.

The B-52 has previously been able to carry JDAM weapons externally, but with the IWBU, the aircraft will be able to internally house some of the most cutting-edge, precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, among others.

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’
(U.S. Air Force by Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Horstman)

Air Force weapons developers have told Warrior Maven that the IWBU effort will bring a 66-percent increase in carriage capability for the B-52.

Service developers also explain that having an increased internal weapons bay capability affords an opportunity to increase fuel-efficiency by removing bombs from beneath the wings and reducing drag.

The move is a key modernization step for the Air Force which, for many known reasons, no longer views the B-52 in its historic role as a “carpet bombing” aircraft. The demands and challenges of modern warfare, both counterinsurgency as well as the possible force of large-scale mechanized warfare, now require precision. This weapons upgrade will help expedite the integration of an even larger arsenal of precision-guided or (smart) weapons, as Grabowski explained.

Related: How the 65-year old B-52 Stratofortress just keeps getting better with age

While the B-52 can, of course, still blanket an area with bombs should it need to do so, more likely challenges in a modern threat environment would doubtless use long-range sensors, guided weapons, or even lasers to achieve both greater standoff and precision in possible engagements.

Also, given that the size and “not-so-stealthy” configuration of the B-52, it is primarily intended to operate in areas where the US Air Force already has air supremacy. Longer range, more precise Russian-built air defenses would also be expected to pose a significant threat to even high-altitude bombing missions.

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’
A United States Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. (USAF photo)

Given the fast pace of advances in command and control technology, manned-unmanned teaming, and artificial intelligence, it is entirely feasible that manned bombers, such as the B-52, will soon be able to control nearby drones from the air. (A former Air Force Chief Scientist discussed this at great length in previous interviews with Warrior Maven.)

The first increment of IWBU integrates an internal weapons bay ability to fire a laser-guided JDAM. A second increment, to finish by 2022, will integrate more modern or cutting-edge weapons such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, JASSM Extended Range (ER) and a technology called Miniature Air Launched Decoy, or MALD. A MALD-J “jammer” variant, which will also be integrated into the B-52, can be used to jam enemy radar technologies as well.

More: This is how the $102 million B-1A almost replaced the B-52

Engineers are now equipping all 76 of the Air Force B-52s with digital data-links, moving-map displays, next-generation avionics, new radios, and an ability to both carry more weapons internally and integrate new, high-tech weapons as they emerge, service officials said.

The technical structure and durability of the B-52 airframes in the Air Force fleet are described as extremely robust and able to keep flying well into the 2040s and beyond – so the service is taking steps to ensure the platform stays viable by receiving the most current and effective avionics, weapons, and technologies, Air Force weapons developers told Warrior Maven over the course of multiple interviews with program managers in recent years

MIGHTY TRENDING

There’s serious activity at a major North Korean nuclear test site

Significant activity has been spotted at North Korea’s main atomic test site’s west portal — an as-of-yet unused tunnel complex where little or no activity had been observed over the past several months — raising the possibility of preparations for a fresh nuclear test, an analysis of new satellite imagery showed Nov. 6.


In the report on the Punggye-ri atomic test site, the North Korea-watching website 38 North said that the imagery, dating from Sept. 8 to Nov. 1, showed “significant movement of equipment, mining carts, material, and netting within the area” of the west portal after Pyongyang’s sixth and most powerful nuclear blast on Sept. 3.

That test — which North Korea has claimed was of a hydrogen bomb — was held at the site’s north portal, where the isolated country’s last five nuclear tests were conducted.

According to the imagery, two temporary structures near that portal’s entrance believed to be associated with the September test have been removed, and no vehicles, mining equipment, or materials have been observed there since the test.

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’
KCNA, the state run media out of North Korea, released a photo of what it claims is the launch of a surface-to-surface medium long range ballistic missile. (KCNA).

“While it is not possible to determine the exact purpose of these activities from imagery alone, they could be associated with new nuclear test preparations at the west portal, further maintenance on the west portal in general and/or the abandonment of the north portal,” the report said.

While noting little change at the test site’s south portal, the report maintained 38 North’s long-held stance that tunnels there “have been sufficiently prepared to accommodate a test at any time.”

The analysis also said that the available imagery could not corroborate a recent report by TV Asahi citing an unnamed North Korean source said that more than 200 personnel and rescuers had been trapped and feared dead in tunnel collapses at the site.

TV Asahi reported Oct. 31 that the accident had killed scores around Sept. 10. North Korea lashed out at Japan on Nov. 2, dismissing the report as “misinformation” and part of a bid “to secure a pretext for sending the Japan ‘Self-Defense Forces’ into the Korean peninsula on their own initiative by building up the public opinion over [the] ‘nuclear threat’ from the DPRK.”

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’
North Korea’s Hwasong-14 missile. Photo from KCNA.

The Japan Times could not independently confirm the report, but North Korea rarely acknowledges major accidents, and any incident related to its nuclear program would be especially taboo.

The Nov. 6 analysis by 38 North, however, said the movement of equipment and material at the west portal provided “sufficient evidence that mining personnel have been inside” at least some tunnels at the site.

It said that while the three most recent post-test tremors could have damaged the tunnel networks, there were no observable signs of such a tunnel collapse or intensive rescue or recovery operations outside any of the portals or within any of the support areas.

Related: This is what would happen if North Korea popped off an H-bomb in the Pacific

“While it is possible that the north portal has been at least temporarily abandoned in the aftermath of the Sept. 3 nuclear test, the overall Punggye-ri nuclear test site is neither abandoned nor mothballed,” the report concluded. “Significant tunnel related operations continue at the west portal, while the south portal remains in a continuing state of nuclear test readiness.”

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho warned in September that Pyongyang may consider conducting “the most powerful detonation” of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean amid rising tensions with the United States.

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’

The country’s top diplomat made the comment after US President Donald Trump warned that North Korea, which has ramped up its development of nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States, would be “totally destroyed” if it threatened the US or its allies.

A senior diplomat with the North’s Foreign Ministry said in an Oct. 25 interview with CNN that the threat of an atmospheric test over the Pacific should be taken “literally.”

Experts say that conducting such a test would be a way of demonstrating the North’s capability of striking the United States with nuclear weapons, since all of its previous tests have been underground.

MIGHTY TRENDING

In new plan, US allies would pay the cost of hosting US troops

The Trump administration plans to demand that US allies pay the full cost for hosting American troops, plus 50% more for the privilege of hosting them, Bloomberg News reported March 8, 2019, citing a dozen administration officials and people it said had been briefed on the situation.

The plan targets allies such as Germany and Japan but is expected to extend to any country that hosts US military personnel. With the so-called “Cost Plus 50” plan, some countries could wind up paying as much as six times what they pay now to host US troops.


In January 2019, South Korea agreed to pay just shy of id=”listicle-2631065522″ billion, significantly more than the previous 0 million, to host US troops in country. Bloomberg reports that President Donald Trump demanded “cost plus 50” in recent payment negotiations with South Korea and that it nearly derailed talks.

Trump has long railed against allies for not paying what he considers their fair share for US defense.

“We defend Japan. We defend Germany. We defend South Korea. We defend countries. They do not pay us what they should be paying us,” he said during the first presidential debate in September 2016. “We are providing a tremendous service, and we’re losing a fortune.”

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’

President Donal Trump.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

“Wealthy, wealthy countries that we’re protecting are all under notice,” the president said at the Pentagon in January 2019. “We cannot be fools for others.”

Since he took office, he has repeatedly pressed NATO countries to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense as some countries pledged to do by 2024.

The Cost Plus 50 plan, according to Bloomberg, has alarmed both the State Department and the Defense Department, with rising concern that such a move could weaken the alliances at a time when the US is again facing great-power competition from rivals like China and Russia.

Countries such as Japan and Germany are already becoming increasingly resistant to the presence of the US military within their borders, and there are concerns that demands for larger payments could make the host countries even more hostile to the idea of hosting US troops.

“Getting allies to increase their investment in our collective defense and ensure fairer burden-sharing has been a long-standing US goal,” the National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis told Bloomberg. “The administration is committed to getting the best deal for the American people,” he added, while refusing to comment on ongoing deliberations.

It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will announce the Cost Plus 50 plan as is or lessen the steep new demands.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

F-35 forward deploys to Bulgaria

Two F-35A Lightning IIs and about 20 supporting Airmen arrived at Graf Ignatievo Air Base April 28 from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.


The F-35As are participating in the first training deployment to Europe. The aircraft and total force Airmen are from the 34th Fighter Squadron, 388th Fighter Wing, and the Air Force Reserve’s 466th Fighter Squadron, 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

“The United States and Bulgaria have a strong and enduring relationship,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, the Third Air Force commander, during a press event after the arrival. “We routinely train through joint and combined initiatives like Operation Atlantic Resolve and in flying exercises like Thracian Eagle, Thracian Summer and Thracian Star. Our commitment to Bulgaria is but an example of our unwavering support to all allied nations.”

Similar to the aircraft’s visit to Estonia on April 25, this training deployment has been planned for some time and was conducted in close coordination with Bulgarian allies. It gives F-35A pilots the opportunity to engage in familiarization training within the European theater while reassuring allies and partners of U.S. dedication to the enduring peace and stability of the region.

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’
U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw

“I have to say that for us, this makes us very proud,” said Maj. Gen. Tsanko Stoykov, the Bulgarian Air Force commander. “Our efforts have been appreciated and we are trusted as a reliable ally and it immensely contributes to the development of the bilateral relations between our two counties and our two air forces.”

This is the first overseas flying training deployment of the U.S. Air Force’s F-35As. The deployment provides support to bolster the security of NATO allies and partners in Europe while demonstrating the U.S. commitment to regional and global security.

Related: Israel’s F-35s may have already flown a combat mission against Russian air defenses in Syria

“We are grateful to our Bulgarian friends for their support in making today possible,” Clark said. “Your cooperation helps prepare the F-35 for its invaluable contribution to our alliance. We look forward to many more years of our shared commitment and partnership.”

This training deployment signifies an important milestone and natural progression of the Joint Strike Fighter Program, allowing the U.S. to further demonstrate the operational capabilities of the aircraft. It also assists in refining the beddown requirements for the F-35A at RAF Lakenheath in order to enhance Europe’s ability to host the future capabilities of the Air Force and coalition team. Also, it helps to integrate with NATO’s infrastructure and enhance fifth-generation aircraft interoperability.

The aircraft and Airmen began arriving in Europe on April 15, and are scheduled to remain in Bulgaria for a brief period of time before returning to RAF Lakenheath to continue their training deployment.

The KC-135 is from 459th Air Refueling Wing, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and is providing refueling support for the deployment to Bulgaria.

Articles

Major changes are in the works for Marine Corps Scout Snipers

Since the days of Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock and his exploits in Vietnam, the image of Marine Corps Scout Snipers has struck fear in the hearts of America’s enemies.


New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

And for good reason.

The Corps has one of the most comprehensive — and toughest — training schools for its sniper teams, with a grueling curriculum of long-range shooting, covert reconnaissance and advanced camouflage.

And that’s the problem, Corps infantry leaders say.

Marine officials have confirmed that Commandant Gen. Robert Neller is considering a plan that would make being a Scout Sniper a primary military occupational specialty in the Marine Corps, a move infantry leaders say would help units better meet the increasing demand for these highly-skilled specialists.

A Marine spokesperson declined to comment on whether the Commandant would sign off on the changes but said the Corps is looking into how to improve its Scout Sniper cadre.

“The Marine Corps is currently assessing the best way to train and sustain its Scout Snipers,” Marine spokesperson 1st Lt. Danielle Phillips told WATM. “It’s important we are thorough in our review to determine the best way the Corps can improve this vital capability.”

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’
Marine Scout Snipers play a key role in forward reconnaissance and observation for infantry battalions. Marine leaders say they can’t get enough of them the way the training is set up today. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

According to officers familiar with the process who spoke to We Are The Mighty on background, the way the Corps staffs its sniper platoons falls far short of the authorized goal of around 20 per platoon. One leader said on average a platoon has four trained snipers “if we’re lucky.”

Read More: This is what makes Marine Scout Snipers so deadly

“A lot of kids come to the sniper school not prepared or not fully qualified, so they fail out,” the infantry leader said. “So we’re just not able to maintain the number of snipers we need in a battalion.”

That’s why Neller was forwarded a plan to make the 0317 Scout Sniper MOS a primary one, in hopes that the Corps will do more to make sure enough of the sharpshooters get to the fleet where they’re needed.

“There’s a struggle to find Marines who have the time to train up and get to a ‘school level’ of success,” said a senior Marine sniper familiar with the MOS change proposal. “Right now it’s almost impossible.”

The senior Scout Sniper, who spoke on background to We Are The Mighty, said if the change is approved, a Marine who signed on as an 0317 would go through boot camp and the School of Infantry then would immediately be sent to a Basic Scout Sniper course. After that, the Marine would go back to the fleet to fill a Scout Sniper job in a platoon rather than leaving to chance the option of being pulled into another combat arms job.

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’
If infantry leaders and senior Scout Snipers have their way, new Marines entering the Corps will have the option to enlist as an 0317 and go directly to sniper training after the School of Infantry. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Today, Marines who are selected for Scout Sniper have already completed one deployment and are approaching their end of active service, making it hard to keep snipers in the Corps even if they get the secondary MOS, the sniper leader said.

“There’s no way to make sure they stay in the sniper community,” he said.

As part of the change, the Corps is looking into modifying the Basic Scout Sniper course to focus more on the “scout” part of the training as opposed to shooting skills, the senior Marine leaders said.

Over the years, scout snipers have played an increasing role in reconnaissance and clandestine observation of targets where infantry leaders need “eyes on” key areas. Additionally, it’s been increasingly difficult to teach the advanced marksmanship skills that were once part of the basic sniper curriculum, contributing to the wash-out rates and making it harder for Marines to prepare for the sniper school.

The senior sniper said a lot of the advanced shooting techniques and other sniper-specific skills can be taught by senior NCOs once the new 0317 gets to his platoon. After a deployment in a sniper platoon, the Scout Sniper is better prepared for an advanced course and will help form a more seasoned cadre of leaders back at the platoon, he said.

But there are critics, senior Marine leaders acknowledge, particularly when it comes to the training changes.

“The old timers are pointing a bony finger at us and saying the new plan waters down sniper training,” the senior sniper said. “That’s an emotional response to how it used to be.”

“Nobody’s watering down what the Scout Sniper is and what he can do,” he added.

MIGHTY TRENDING

3 injured as Syria intercepts Israeli missiles

Syrian state media says the country’s air defenses have downed several Israeli missiles in a wave of attacks that injured three soldiers.

Syria’s state news agency SANA reported on Dec. 25, 2018, that most of the missiles fired from Israeli jets were intercepted before reaching their targets.

“Our air defenses confronted hostile missiles launched by Israeli war planes from above the Lebanese territories and downed most of them before reaching their targets,” SANA quoted a military source as saying. The source added that an arms depot was hit and three soldiers were injured in the attack.


The Israeli Army only noted on its official Twitter account that “an IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] aerial defense system activated in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria,” while the U.K.-based monitoring group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the missiles were launched from above Lebanese territories and targeted western and southwestern Damascus rural areas.

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria has been engulfed in a bloody civil war since 2011 with Russia and Iran backing President Bashar al-Assad.

Israel has become alarmed at Tehran’s increased power in the country and has struck targets it says are Iranian deployments.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China trains near Taiwan Strait, ready to defend

China has kicked off large-scale military drills in waters near Taiwan just days after warning in a new defense report that it remains ready and willing to use force to achieve reunification.

Drills are being held at both ends of the Taiwan Strait, according to two local maritime safety administration notices marking off the exercise areas.

An area off the coast of Guangdong and Fujian provinces was blocked off from Monday to Friday for military activities in the South China Sea while an area off the coast of Zhejiang province was marked off for military exercises in the East China Sea from Saturday to Thursday, Reuters reported.


Breaking News: China simultaneously conducts major military exercises targeting Taiwan in the East and South China Sea from July 28 to August 02.pic.twitter.com/UABJv9GiIk

twitter.com

The South China Morning Post reports that these exercises may be “routine” drills the Chinese defense ministry recently announced but adds that these appear to be the first simultaneous exercises in the area since the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. Business Insider was unable to independently confirm this point.

“The main goal of the drills is to practise how to effectively maintain control of the sea and the air amid growing foreign interference in Taiwan affairs,” Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military analyst, told the Post, explaining that the exercises “serve as a warning to foreign forces that the [People’s Liberation Army] has the resolve to [achieve reunification] with Taiwan.”

Also read: That time Russia and China almost went to nuclear war

A Taiwan-based naval affairs expert said that the PLA was responding to US arms sales to Taiwan and the increasingly routine transits by US Navy warships through the Taiwan Strait, a sensitive international waterway.

Earlier this month, the US has also approved a .2 billion arms sale to Taiwan, one that will see the delivery of tanks and surface-to-air missiles able to help Taiwan “maintain a credible defensive capability.”

Here’s why so many nations want to control the South China Sea — and what China wants to do

www.youtube.com

Here’s why so many nations want to control the South China Sea — and what China wants to do

And last week, the US Navy Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Antietam sailed through the Taiwan Strait. The move came just one day after the release of a new Chinese defense white paper warning that the Chinese government will not renounce the use of force to achieve reunification with Taiwan.

“We make no promise to renounce the use of force, and reserve the option of taking all necessary measures,” the report read. “This is by no means targeted at our compatriots in Taiwan, but at the interference of external forces and the very small number of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists and their activities.”

“The PLA will resolutely defeat anyone attempting to separate Taiwan from China and safeguard national unity at all costs,” the sharply worded warning said.

Commenting specifically on the recent Taiwan Strait transit, the state-run China Daily accused Washington of “raising a finger to what the white paper said about China’s determination to defend its unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” adding that if the US “thinks that Beijing will not deliver on this commitment, it is in for a rude awakening.”

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said Monday that it is monitoring Chinese military activities, adding that it remains confident in its ability to defend the homeland and safeguard Taiwan’s freedom, democracy and sovereignty, according to local media.

“The national army continues to reinforce its key defense capacity and is definitely confident and capable of defending the nation’s security,” the ministry said in a statement.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is why no one in North Korea is celebrating Kim Jong Un’s birthday

Jan. 8 is Kim Jong Un’s 34th birthday — but nobody in North Korea is celebrating with him.


The country’s official calendar shows it as a normal workday, according to the BBC.

North Korea has attempted to cover up Kim’s birthday in the past.

The former NBA star Dennis Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim at a basketball game in Pyongyang on the day in 2014. But citizens were told Rodman sang Kim “a special song,” with no mention of his birthday.

As North Korea regularly threatens anyone who insults Kim and throws massive parties to celebrate nuclear tests, it may seem bizarre that Pyongyang isn’t pulling out all the stops for its leader.

Experts have posited various reasons for the silence on Kim’s birthday — and some could spell disaster for his government.

It’s too cold and expensive to celebrate

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’
Kim Jong-Un on the summit of Mt. Paektu. Photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 19, 2015

Hazel Smith, a researcher at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London who lived in North Korea from 1998 to 2001, said it was “not very surprising” that the country wasn’t marking Kim’s birthday.

“Kim Jong Un is treated today as the supreme leader whose words are automatically seen as authoritative because he has the familial lineage of the Kim family,” Smith said, adding that the birthdays of Kim’s grandfather and father, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, are already designated national holidays.

“North Korea’s propagandists don’t need another day to emphasize the point,” she said.

Smith also said that national celebrations were costly to organize and that it was too cold to hold outdoor parties this time of year.

“These celebrations for these national days are also very expensive and involve thousands of people, and January provides the coldest temperatures of the year regularly falling to -25 centigrade,” she said. “It’s not very feasible to organize yet another set of parades when they have Feb. 16” — Kim Jong Il’s birthday celebration — “to plan for.”

There’s growing discontent within the country

Another reason North Korea isn’t celebrating Kim’s birthday could be because of his unpopularity within the country as a result of sanctions.

The UN approved multiple rounds of economic sanctions against Pyongyang last year as punishment for its nuclear development.

Also Read: North Koreans are tired of all the Kim Jong Un photos

Daily NK, a news site based in South Korea, last month quoted a source in North Korea’s South Pyongyang province as saying:

International sanctions, especially those instituted after the 6th nuclear test in September, have caused a lot of hardship for workers with many losing their jobs as a result of the gradual slowing of coal exports. So public opinion of Kim Jong Un has dropped to a new low.

 

As the government pushes propaganda about its nuclear and missile development while even the more successful merchants are losing jobs and going hungry this year, people would only ridicule Kim Jong Un if they saw his birthday had been made a holiday.

The source added, however, that government authorities would still “conduct lectures” and “distribute snacks to children” on Jan. 8.

Nevertheless, the extent of Kim’s popularity remains unknown.

“I don’t think we know anything for sure about his popularity one way or another apart from it’s extremely dangerous to speak out against him,” Aidan Foster-Carter, an honorary lecturer at Leeds University who’s an expert on North Korea, told The Independent.

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’
Members of the North Korean military stand in front of photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il (Image KCNA Watch)

Maybe Kim’s cult of personality just isn’t big enough

Experts also say Kim hasn’t amassed a large enough cult of personality to have his birthday designated a national holiday.

Owen Miller, a Korea expert at SOAS, told The Independent that North Korea “might consider it too soon to take Kim Jong Un’s personality cult up to that level.”

“Kim Jong Il was anointed as successor [to Kim Il Sung] in 1980, and his cult was built up long before he became leader,” Miller added. “Kim Jong Un, on the other hand, was only introduced to North Koreans a year or two before he became leader in 2011.”

Some experts even suggested that Kim was trying to reinvent himself as a man of the people and that designating his birthday as a national holiday would hamper that image.

The Guardian reported in September that Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister who’s a senior government minister, had been trying to “create a cult of personality around her brother that included presenting him as a benevolent, accessible leader.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Check out this crazy impressive Marine Corps Air Station made of LEGO bricks

I was made aware of the stunning video below by my son Lorenzo, who’s a big LEGO fan. The footage has just been posted by the “Beyond the Brick” Youtube channel and shows the crazy cool MCAS Marine Corps Air Station that Paul Thomas put on display at Bricks by the Bay 2019, an annual gathering of LEGO builders, enthusiasts and fans held in Santa Clara in mid-July.

The LEGO diorama was inspired by Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms but it’s (obviously) not a replica: it is a fictional representation of a U.S. Marine Corps base with aircraft and vehicles that you could find at an MCAS. Thomas created the 10 x 7.5 feet diorama in modules (since his garage could not accommodate it all) in about 6 months.


New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’

Another view of the Marine Corps Air Station by Paul Thomas.

(Screenshot from Beyond the Brick’s YT video)

Along with F-35B Lightning II jets, there are MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, CH-53E Super Stallion and AH-1Z Viper helicopters as well as a rotating radar, a security checkpoint at the gate of the base, hangars used for inspection and maintenance activities, various vehicles and much more.

Pretty impressive, isn’t it?

US Marines Air Base in LEGO | Bricks by the Bay 2019

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Will China’s moon landing launch a new space race?

China became the third country to land a probe on the Moon on Jan. 2, 2019. But, more importantly, it became the first to do so on the far side of the moon, often called the dark side. The ability to land on the far side of the moon is a technical achievement in its own right, one that neither Russia nor the United States has pursued.

The probe, Chang’e 4, is symbolic of the growth of the Chinese space program and the capabilities it has amassed, significant for China and for relations among the great power across the world. The consequences extend to the United States as the Trump administration considers global competition in space as well as the future of space exploration.


One of the major drivers of U.S. space policy historically has been competition with Russia particularly in the context of the Cold War. If China’s successes continue to accumulate, could the United States find itself engaged in a new space race?

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’

Illustration of Chang’e-4, Lander and Rover.

China’s achievements in space

Like the U.S. and Russia, the People’s Republic of China first engaged in space activities during the development of ballistic missiles in the 1950s. While they did benefit from some assistance from the Soviet Union, China developed its space program largely on its own. Far from smooth sailing, Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution disrupted this early programs.

The Chinese launched their first satellite in 1970. Following this, an early human spaceflight program was put on hold to focus on commercial satellite applications. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping articulated China’s space policy noting that, as a developing country, China would not take part in a space race. Instead, China’s space efforts have focused on both launch vehicles and satellites — including communications, remote sensing, and meteorology.

This does not mean the Chinese were not concerned about the global power space efforts can generate. In 1992, they concluded that having a space station would be a major sign and source of prestige in the 21st century. As such, a human spaceflight program was re-established leading to the development of the Shenzhou spacecraft. The first Chinese astronaut, or taikonaut, Yang Liwei, was launched in 2003. In total, six Shenzhou missions have carried 12 taikonauts into low earth orbit, including two to China’s first space station, Tiangong-1.

In addition to human spaceflight, the Chinese have also undertaken scientific missions like Chang’e 4. Its first lunar mission, Chang’e 1, orbited the moon in October 2007 and a rover landed on the moon in 2013. China’s future plans include a new space station, a lunar base and possible sample return missions from Mars.

New study sheds light on ‘PTSD genes’

Chang’e 1 spacecraft.

A new space race?

The most notable feature of the Chinese space program, especially compared to the early American and Russian programs, is its slow and steady pace. Because of the secrecy that surrounds many aspects of the Chinese space program, its exact capabilities are unknown. However, the program is likely on par with its counterparts.

In terms of military applications, China has also demonstrated significant skills. In 2007, it undertook an anti-satellite test, launching a ground-based missile to destroy a failed weather satellite. While successful, the test created a cloud of orbital debris that continues to threaten other satellites. The movie “Gravity” illustrated the dangers space debris poses to both satellites and humans. In its 2018 report on the Chinese military, the Department of Defense reported that China’s military space program “continues to mature rapidly.”

Despite its capabilities, the U.S., unlike other countries, has not engaged in any substantial cooperation with China because of national security concerns. In fact, a 2011 law bans official contact with Chinese space officials. Does this signal a new space race between the U.S. and China?

As a space policy researcher, I can say the answer is yes and no. Some U.S. officials, including Scott Pace, the executive secretary for the National Space Council, are cautiously optimistic about the potential for cooperation and do not see the beginning of a new space race. NASA Administrator Jim Brindenstine recently met with the head of the Chinese space program at the International Astronautical Conference in Germany and discussed areas where China and the U.S. can work together. However, increased military presence in space might spark increased competition. The Trump administration has used the threat posed by China and Russia to support its argument for a new independent military branch, a Space Force.

Regardless, China’s abilities in space are growing to the extent that is reflected in popular culture. In Andy Weir’s 2011 novel “The Martian” and its later film version, NASA turns to China to help rescue its stranded astronaut. While competition can lead to advances in technology, as the first space race demonstrated, a greater global capacity for space exploration can also be beneficial not only for saving stranded astronauts but increasing knowledge about the universe where we all live. Even if China’s rise heralds a new space race, not all consequences will be negative.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information