Developed in the late 1970s, Russia’s Kirov-class battle cruisers are the largest and heaviest surface-combat ships in the world — and they’re coming back with advanced weaponry, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.
At more than 800 feet long, with a displacement of around 25,000 tons, the Kirov dwarfs any navy ship short of an amphibious assault ship or aircraft carriers. But only one, the Pyotr Veliky, is still in service.
Russian media says that another aging Kirov-class hull, the Admiral Nakhimov, is being fitted with Russia’s newest antiship, antiair, and surface-to-surface missiles.
Russia intends to return the Admiral Nakhimov to its fleet in 2019, at which time the Pyotr Veliky will be docked to undergo the same upgrades.
These include missiles of the Kalibr variety that recently hit targets in Syria from the Caspian Sea, Zircon hypersonic missiles, which are slated to be ready by 2020, and a “navalized” version of Russia’s S-400 missile-defense system, according to Foxtrot Alpha.
To accommodate these missiles, Russia plans to overhaul the ship’s vertical-launch systems. That contract alone is worth 2.56 billion rubles, or $33.5 million, NavyRecognition.com notes.
One of the challenges facing Army leadership as they transition to the new Army Combat Fitness Test, which will be fully implemented by October 2020, is preventing musculoskeletal training injuries. Physical training is necessary to develop and maintain the fitness required to accomplish military missions, but is also known to cause injury.
According to Army Public Health Center experts, MSK injuries and related conditions led to an average of 37 limited duty days per injury. This translates to 2 million medical encounters across the Army annually and an estimated 10 million lost training days due to limited duty.
“Seventy percent of all limited duty profiles are for MSK injuries,” said Dr. Michelle Chervak, acting manager for the APHC Injury Prevention Program, which identifies causes and risk factors for Army training-related injuries. “We can show that greater amounts of training (for example, of running or road marching) result in more injuries. Civilian data show us that there are levels of training above which injury rates increase, but fitness does not improve — two signs of overtraining.”
Dr. Bruce Jones, senior scientist, APHC Clinical Public Health and Epidemiology Directorate, explained further that part of the problem for the Army is that the thresholds of training above which injury rates increase and fitness does not have not been established. However, commanders have the information necessary to make decisions about the thresholds — they know the amount of training, physical fitness of their soldiers, and the number of soldiers on profile.
This infograph offers several tips for leaders to help their soldiers avoid MSK injuries.
“What we need to provide commanders are the general principles of training injury prevention; and an understanding of the relationships between training, fitness, and injuries,” said Jones. “They have to determine the risk of injury they are willing to accept.”
APHC Injury Prevention is working on updating financial and readiness costs to the Army due to MSK injuries.
“At this time, the only formal cost estimate that we have comes from a National Safety Council report for the Secretary of Defense,” said Chervak. “That report stated the annual costs ranged from -20 billion (2001 data). Roughly 40 percent of all injuries across the Department of Defense occur to Army personnel, so the Army costs are approximately .8-8 billion.”
The 2018 Health of the Force report highlights a previous Army success in reducing injury by changing its approach to fitness training.
In 2003, the Army evaluated a new standardized physical training program designed to enhance fitness while minimizing injuries through avoidance of overtraining. An evaluation group implemented the new standardized program and a comparison group conducted traditional PT (running, calisthenics, push-ups, and sit-ups). After nine weeks of basic combat training, the evaluation group had fewer injuries and a higher APFT pass rate.
Army Physical Fitness Test at the Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition.
The modified program reduced the total miles run by trainees, conducted distance runs by ability groups, added speed drills, executed warm-up exercises instead of pre-exercise stretching, progressed training amount and intensity gradually, and provided a wider variety of exercises.
In 2004, the new standardized PT program based on this evaluated program was mandated for all BCT units across the Army. It was also incorporated into Army physical training doctrine. From 2003 to 2013, a 46 percent decrease in all injuries and a 54 percent decrease in lower extremity overuse injuries among Army trainees was observed.
Jones recommends a five-step public health approach as the most effective construct for Army public health to organize and build an injury prevention program. Steps include surveillance to define the magnitude of the problem, research and field investigations to identify causes and risk factors, intervention trials and systematic reviews to determine what works to address leading risk factors, program and policy implementation to execute prevention, and program evaluation to assess effectiveness.
Jones also notes that both overweight and underweight soldiers who are the least physically fit are at the highest risk for injury compared to their most fit peers.
“The highest risks occur among the most underweight (leanest), least physically fit (slowest run times) men and women in basic training,” said Jones. “This is probably because underweight soldiers lack the muscle mass necessary to perform soldiers tasks and withstand the vigorous physical activity required.”
Injury risks are also 20 to 50 percent higher for soldiers who smoke cigarettes.
“A variety of hypotheses explain this relationship; the most feasible is that smokers have a reduced ability to heal following injury,” said Chervak. “Overuse injuries result from an inability to repair damage due to daily training; smokers repair that cumulative microtrauma less rapidly.”
U.S. Army Spc. Cameron Hebel, assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, performs sit-ups during the Army Physical Fitness Test at Joint Multinational Training Command Best Warrior Competition at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, May 8, 2013.
(U.S. Army Photo by Visual Information Specialist Gertrud Zach)
APHC is currently piloting a program through the Army Wellness Center at Fort Campbell focused on identifying soldiers at highest injury risk based on APFT run time, the leading predictor of active-duty Army injury risk.
APHC is working with specific units and the Fort Campbell Community Ready and Resilient Council to identify soldiers who meet the criteria for referral (men: run time slower than 15 minutes; women: run time slower than 19 minutes), said Chervak. These soldiers are offered AWC fitness assessments to assist with improving aerobic fitness, physical activity, sleep, and body composition.
“AWC education efforts focus on physical activity, sleep, nutrition (weight loss), and tobacco cessation; all factors that influence injury risk,” said Chervak. “There is a natural partnership with APHC’s Health Promotion and Wellness directorate. Key avenues of influence are Performance Triad-related communications and referral of high risk soldiers to the AWCs.”
Jones said the most important step forward is for leadership to recognize that training-related injuries are a problem and they can be prevented.
“Commanders need to recognize that there are no magic bullets,” said Jones. “Training causes injuries and modifications of training will prevent injuries. Commanders have the information to monitor injuries and fitness, and modify training to prevent injuries. We still need to determine the thresholds of training by unit at which injuries increase, but fitness does not improve.”
The U.S. Army is hosting a fly-off starting a year from now, and some of the biggest names in defense manufacturing are working in earnest to win it.
The Army put out a “request for proposals,” better know in procurement circles as an “RFP,” last year as the first step in their Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMRTD) program, and the competition is down to two efforts: The V-280 “Valor” by Bell Helicopter and the SB-1 “Defiant” by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. The two designs take wildly different approaches to meet the JMRTD performance requirements that include the ability to reach an airspeed of 230 knots and fly a combat radius of around 275 miles. The Valor is a tiltrotor aircraft, which builds on Bell’s experience and learnings with the V-22 “Osprey,” and the Defiant is a coaxial rotor design, which uses two rotors spinning in opposite directions above the fuselage and a thruster aft.
The two designs take wildly different approaches to meet the JMRTD performance requirements that include the ability to reach an airspeed of 230 knots and fly a combat radius of around 275 miles. The Valor is a tiltrotor aircraft, which builds on Bell’s experience and learnings with the V-22 “Osprey,” and the Defiant is a coaxial rotor design, which uses two rotors spinning in opposite directions above the fuselage and a thruster aft.
“We realize there’s still a pretty significant filter out there about the troubled history of the tiltrotor,” said Robert Hastings, Bell’s EVP for communications and government affairs . “But the Marines today would tell you it’s transformational. Younger pilots who never had to unlearn bad habits from other airplanes are flying the V-22 in ways we never imagined.”
Hastings, who flew Cobras and Blackhawks in the Army and also served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs during Robert Gates’ tenure at the Pentagon, related a conversation he had with a V-22 squadron commander during the most recent Singapore Air Show. The CO told him that at that moment he had Ospreys in Australia, Okinawa, and the Philippines as well as at the show.
“He was a lieutenant colonel with an operational sphere of influence as big as what an admiral had a generation ago,” Hastings said. “To quote Gen. Davis, the Marine Corps’ assistant commandant for aviation: ‘The V-22 has not only changed the way we operate; it changed the way the enemy worries about us.'”
But while Hastings readily lists the V-22’s successes in the nation’s most recent conflicts, including how the CV variant has been used by the Air Force Special Operations Command, he is quick to point out that the V-280 is what he called a “clean sheet design.”
“The V-22 is largely a 1980s product,” he said. “Manufacturing is different today.”
Hastings explained digital designs along with more precise machining allows parts “to slip into place very nicely” instead of having to be sanded down and otherwise manipulated by technicians along the assembly line as they had to while making the Osprey. With these sorts of improvements, Bell is striving to make the V-280 cost half of the V-22’s $71 million unit flyaway cost.
Bell has partnered with Lockheed-Martin to give the Valor a state-of-the-art cockpit suite, building on what engineers and test pilots have learned during the development of the F-35. While there’s no plan for helmet visor symbology (which has been a challenge to develop during F-35 testing), Hastings said the cockpit’s “open architecture” could afford V-280 pilots that capability in the future. The cockpit also accommodates a wide array of sensors and mission packages, which are designed to give the Valor a lot of combat agility.
Bell is calling their JMRTD candidate a “third generation” tiltrotor. (V-22 is second generation.) The V-280 differs from its predecessor in a number of ways: It’s much lighter because it’s constructed entirely of carbon-based materials. It has a straight wing instead of the Osprey’s forward-swept wing. It has a side door instead of an aft ramp.
Hastings also pointed out that — with an internal fuel cell added in the cabin area — the Valor can fly 2,100 miles, which will give the Army a self-deploy capability it’s never had before.
“Imagine a future where the 82nd Airborne is told to deploy, and the aviation division commander says to his aviation unit commander, ‘Meet me at the Horn of Africa in three days,'” Hastings said. “He doesn’t have to worry about a third of his strategic lift assets being tied up by those helicopters.”
The JMRTD fly off program will last two years, and at the end of it the Army will pick one of the two airplanes to replace its force of 2,000 Blackhawks and 800 Apaches. (And Hastings pointed out that the utility and attack variants of the Valor have 85 percent commonality beneath the prop-rotor — another cost-saving feature, he said.) The Army wants the new airplanes ready for war by 2029.
“We believe that helicopters will be around forever,” Hastings said, “but we think helicopters have reached as far as you can expand them. We think tiltrotors have a ton of growth in terms of what you can do with them.”
The Pentagon says a military raid last month killed the head of the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan.
In a statement May 7, the Pentagon confirmed the death of Abdul Haseeb Logari. At the time of the raid officials said they thought Logari had been killed, but were not certain.
U.S. officials said Logari was among several high-ranking Islamic State in Afghanistan leaders who died in the April 27 raid. It was carried out by Afghan Special Security Forces in partnership with U.S. forces.
After nearly two decades of counter-terror operations the world over, the United States military is now shifting its focus back toward great power competition with the likes of China and Russia. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the past two decades have left the U.S. military particularly well suited for the war at hand, but not very well positioned for the wars that are feasibly to come.
During this era of counter-terror operations, China has had the opportunity to seek higher degrees of technological and tactical parity, while having the benefit of not being actively engaged in expensive combat operations on the same scale. That has allowed China’s sea-faring power to grow at an exponential rate in recent years, with an active fleet of more than 770 vessels sailing under the banners of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy, their militarized Coast Guard, and a maritime miitia that takes its orders from the Chinese military as well.
Chinese Navy on parade (Chinese state television)
The addition of China’s massive ballistic missile stockpile, including hypersonic anti-ship platforms the U.S. Navy currently has no means to defend against, has further established China’s advantage in the Pacific. Even if the U.S. Navy leveraged every vessel in its 293-ship fleet, American forces would still be outnumbered by Chinese ships by more than two to one. Importantly, however, the United States likely couldn’t devote its entire fleet to any single conflict due to its global commitments to security and stability, especially regarding essential shipping lanes.
Today, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are both actively seeking ways to mitigate China’s numbers advantage, as well as the area-denial bubble created by China’s anti-ship platforms. Multiple possible solutions are being explored, ranging from hot-loading Marine Corps F-35Bs on austere airstrips on captured islands in the case of the Marines, to the Navy’s ongoing development of the MQ-25 aerial refueling drone that aims to extend the reach of America’s carrier-based fighters. Still, thus far, there has been no magic bullet. In fact, concerns about a near-peer conflict with China has even prompted several high-ranking defense officials to question the practicality of America’s fleet of super-carriers, both because of their immense cost, and because of the likelihood that they could be sunk by China’s hypersonic missiles long before they could get close enough to Chinese shores to begin launching sorties of F-35Cs and F/A-18 Super Hornets.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Mohamed Labanieh/Released)
The fundamental challenges a war with China would present are clear: Finding a way to mitigate the risks posed by advanced anti-ship missiles and offsetting the significant numbers advantage Chinese forces would have within the region. In the past, we’ve discussed the possibility of arming commercial cargo ships with modular weapons systems in a “missile barge” fleet as a means to bolster American numbers and capabilities. Another feasible option that could even work in conjunction with this strategy would be issuing “letters of marque” to private operations, effectively allowing non-military forces to serve as privateers for the U.S. government.
The Capture of a French Ship by Royal Family Privateers by Charles Brooking
American Privateers or Pirates?
The concept of issuing letters of marque to American privateers was recently discussed by retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian and Brandon Schwartz in the U.S. Naval Institute’s publication, “Proceedings.” Although the idea seems almost ridiculous in the 21st Century, the legal framework outlined by Cancian and Schwartz is sound, and one could argue that their assertions about the viability and strategic value of privateer fleets are as well.
Cancian and Schwartz argue that privateering is not piracy, as there are laws governing it and precedent for the practice established in past U.S. conflicts, including the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
“Privateering is not piracy—there are rules and commissions, called letters of marque, that governments issue to civilians, allowing them to capture or destroy enemy ships. The U.S. Constitution expressly grants Congress the power to issue them (Article I, section 8, clause 11).” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
However, despite their argument being technically right, it’s difficult to dismiss how the piracy narrative would almost certainly affect public perception of the use of privateers, and potentially even the conflict at large.
While the United States could argue that privateers operate with specifically outlined rules and commissions, even the American public would likely see American privateers as pirates. And because America has found itself trailing behind nations like China and Russia in terms of manipulating public narratives, that narrative could indeed hurt not only public support for the conflict; it could even jeopardize some international relationships.
The Pride of Baltimore, left, and the Lynx, two privateer vessels, reenact a battle of the War of 1812 in Boston Harbor during Boston Navy Week 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Elisandro T. Diaz/Released)
Privateers are not pirates in the literal sense only because a government is sanctioning their piracy. In the eyes of those who don’t recognize America’s authority to grant such permissions in far-flung waterways, the two terms would be interchangeable.
Regardless of vernacular, the United States has used this approach to great success in the past. Although the last time American privateers set sale was more than 200 years ago, their approach was modern enough to set precedent for a return to the concept.
“The privateering business was thoroughly modern and capitalistic, with ownership consortiums to split investment costs and profits or losses, and a group contract to incentivize the crew, who were paid only if their ship made profits. A sophisticated set of laws ensured that the capture was ‘good prize,’ and not fraud or robbery. After the courts determined that a merchant ship was a legitimate capture, auctioneers sold off her cargo of coffee, rum, wine, food, hardware, china, or similar consumer goods, which ultimately were bought and consumed by Americans.” -Frederick C. Leiner in “Yes, Privateers Mattered“
In the event of a large-scale conflict with a nation like China, that potential narrative blowback may be a necessary evil. However, the ramifications of that evil could be mitigated through a concerted narrative effort to frame privateer actions in the minds of the populous as an essential part of a broader war effort that has the American people’s best interests in mind.
In the War of 1812, privateering saw such public support (in large part thanks to the profits it drove) that some took to calling the conflict the “War of the People.” Managing the narrative surrounding American privateers could make the concept far more palatable to the American people.
As for the legal aspects of privateering, you can read a thorough legal justification for the practice in a separate piece written by Schwartz called “U.S. Privateering is legal.”
(Italian Center for International Studies)
The role of American privateers at war
China’s massive fleet of vessels in the Pacific can be broken down into their three command groups, all of which ultimately answer to China’s People’s Liberation Army. China’s maritime militia accounts for approximately 300 vessels, the militarized Coast Guard has 135 more, and the PLA-Navy itself boasts an ever-growing roster expected to reach 450 surface vessels by the end of the decade.
In the event of a war with China, the American Navy would have more than its hands full engaging with such a massive force, limiting its ability to cut China off from one of its most significant revenue sources, overseas trade. China’s reliance on shipping products to other nations has helped its economy grow rapidly, but it also represents a strategic disadvantage, as Cancian and Schwartz point out, if America can find the means to disrupt this exchange.
“Thirty-eight percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) comes from trade, against only 9 percent of U.S. GDP. Chinese social stability is built on a trade-off: The Chinese Communist Party has told the people they will not have democratic institutions, but they will receive economic prosperity.” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
In 2018, China’s merchant fleet was already approaching 2,200 total vessels, thanks to massive external demand for inexpensive Chinese exports. America’s Navy would likely be stretched too thin to actually blockade such an expansive merchant fleet. Like with aircraft, America’s preference for large and expensive ships that are capable of fulfilling multiple roles has offered increased capability but significantly decreased numbers. At its peak during World War II, the U.S. Navy boasted more than 6,000 ships. Today, the Navy has 293 far more capable vessels, but none can be in more than one place at a time.
American Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, for instance, are too big and expensive to task with waiting out Chinese ships hiding in foreign ports, and would likely largely be assigned to Aegis missile defense operations. This is where American privateers could offer an important service.
American privateers wouldn’t be tasked with engaging the Chinese Navy or even with sinking merchant ships. Instead, they would be tasked with capturing Chinese cargo vessels, offering them a multi-million dollar bounty on each, and quickly compromising China’s ability to sustain its export sales.
“Since the goal is to capture the hulls and cargo, privateers do not want to sink the vessel, just convince the crew to surrender. How many merchant crews would be inclined to fight rather than surrender and spend the war in comfortable internment?” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
Of course, despite Cancian and Schwartz’ dismissive take on how apt Chinese crews would be to fight to maintain control of their ships, it’s important to remember that these privateers would likely be engaging in close quarters fighting with Chinese crews or security on board. As American privateers proved more costly to the Chinese government, an increased emphasis on protecting these cargo ships would almost certainly follow.
This begs an essential question: Where do you find privateer crews?
Private security contractors in Iraq (DoD photo)
Private infrastructure already exists
While the concept of American privateers seems borderline fantastical, the truth is, the United States has already leveraged the premise of using non-military personnel for security and defensive operations the world over. American security firm Blackwater (now Academi) is perhaps the highest-profile example of America’s use of private military contractors. In fact, contractors in Iraq have reached numbers as high as 160,000 at some points, nearly equaling the total number of U.S. military personnel in the region. At least 20,000 of those private contractors filled armed security roles.
So while the term “privateer” or even pirate suggests an entirely unconventional approach to modern warfare, the premise is already in play. Terminology may dictate perception to a significant degree, but in practice, privateering wouldn’t be all that different from existing relationships the United States maintains with private security outfits. Further, private security firms, including Blackwater, have already operated at sea in a similar manner to privateers, from Blackwater’s armed patrol craft policing Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa to countless armed and privately owned boats patrolling the Indian Ocean today.
In 2007, Blackwater acquired the McArther from the NOAAS. (WikiMedia Commons)
Many such organizations, with existing infrastructure and established relationships with the U.S. government, would likely seek and win contracts, or letters of marque, in the early days of a burgeoning Sino-American war, and stand up their own forces far more quickly than the United States could expand its naval force in the same volume. Rather than building ships and enlisting crews, the United States could simply authorize existing ships with existing crews to go on the offensive against China’s commercial fleets.
The American government’s experience with military contractors throughout the War on Terror means these relationships would not be as without precedent as they may seem, and the existing private military industry would make American privateers a quick and effective means to grow America’s offensive capabilities.
China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea (shown in red). A conflict with China would undoubtedly play out here. (WikiMedia Commons)
A complicated solution to a complex problem
Of course, there are many variables at play when discussing a future conflict with China. Incorporating privateers into such a strategy admittedly seems rather extreme from our vantage point in 2020, but it’s important to note that there is no precedent for what something like a 21st Century Sino-American war might look like. The massive sea battles of World War II may offer some sense of scale, but the rapid advancement of technology in the intervening decades creates a hypothetical war that is simply incongruous with the World War II models.
America does boast the largest and most powerful military in the world, but China’s rapidly expanding and modernizing force has not been growing in a vacuum. From space operations to warship construction, China has been developing its war-fighting apparatus with America specifically in mind. China isn’t interested in competing with the United States on its terms and instead has been focused on identifying potential American vulnerabilities and tailoring new capabilities to leverage those flaws.
China’s Type 002 Aircraft carrier (Tyg728 on WikiMedia Commons)
Large scale warfare between technological and economic giants would play out differently than any conflict we’ve ever seen. In order to emerge from such a conflict successfully, America has to do much more than win. Once the price of victory begins to compromise America’s ability to sustain its way of life thereafter, that victory becomes less pronounced.
In order to win in such a conflict, the United States will need to dig deep into its bag of tricks. On the home front, it would mean finding ways to rapidly expand America’s industrial base to replenish vehicles, supplies, and equipment as they’re expended or destroyed on the front lines. The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, and Space Force will all be required to communicate and rely on one another in ways never before accomplished on a battlefield.
And China’s massive numbers advantage would have to be mitigated somehow. American privateers, or pirates as the press would surely call them, might just do the trick.
Military photographers from all branches of the armed forces are constantly taking awesome shots of training, combat, and stateside events. We looked through the military’s official channels, Flickr, Facebook, and elsewhere and picked our favorites over the past week. Here’s what we found:
Tech. Sgt. Donnie McCorkle watches a C-17 Globemaster III land at Altus Air Force Base, Okla.
A C-5M Super Galaxy sits on the flightline as Airmen clear snow Feb. 17, 2015, on Dover Air Force Base, Del. Winter Storm Octavia dumped a total of four inches of snow on the base and throughout the local area.
SEMBAWANG, Singapore (Feb. 19, 2015) Culinary Specialist 1st Class Robert Parks, from Fostoria, Ohio, heaves a mooring line on the forecastle of the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) during a sea and anchor detail.
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti (Feb. 18, 2014) Cmdr. Ron Neitzke, Camp Lemonnier command chaplain, places ashes on the forehead of Chief Hospital Corpsman Alvin Cruz during an Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a Christian religious observance that covers a period of approximately six weeks before Easter Sunday.
An Army Green Beret, assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), provides security for a mule carrying the Mk 47 grenade launcher during MULE Packing Training on Fort Bragg, N.C., Jan. 27, 2015.
Army Medicine researchers are investigating possible long-term effects of exposure to dust and other airborne particulate matter.
ARLINGTON, Va. – Sergeant Major Micheal Barrett, the 17th sergeant major of the Marine Corps, relinquished his post to Sergeant Major Ronald Green, the 18th sergeant major of the Marine Corps, during a ceremony at the Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington, Virginia, Feb. 20, 2015.
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina – Lance Cpl. Zachary Painter (left) and Lance Cpl. Reymond Kane, machine gunners with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment and natives of Roanoke, Va. and Long Island, N.Y., respectively, simulate firing at an enemy during a gun drill at training area G-G aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 18, 2015.
A USCG helicopter stands ready as the sun sets on another day of service to nation.
USCG crew responds to 13 yr. old boy needing medical attention aboard cruise ship.
On his first visit to the tense but eerily quiet frontier between North and South Korea as US Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis conveyed the message he hopes will win the day: Diplomacy is the answer to ending the nuclear crisis with the North, not war.
He made the point over and over – at the Panmunjom “truce village” where North literally meets South; at a military observation post inside the Demilitarized Zone, and in off-the-cuff comments to US and South Korean troops.
“We’re doing everything we can to solve this diplomatically — everything we can,” he told the troops after alighting from a Black Hawk helicopter that had ferried him to and from the border some 25 miles north of central Seoul.
“Ultimately, our diplomats have to be backed up by strong soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines,” he added, “so they speak from a position of strength, of combined strength, of alliance strength, shoulder to shoulder.”
At Panmunjom, where the armistice ending the Korean war was signed in July 1953, Mattis quoted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as saying, “Our goal is not war.” The aim, he said, is to compel the North to completely and irreversibly eliminate a nuclear weapons program that has accelerated since President Donald Trump took office.
Despite unanimous condemnation by the UN Security Council of the North’s missile launches and nuclear tests, “provocations continue,” Mattis said.
As Mattis arrived at Panmunjom alongside South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo, a small group of apparent tourists watched from the balcony of a building on North Korea’s side of the line that marks the inter-Korean border. Uniformed North Korean guards watched silently as Mattis and Song stood just yards away.
Atop Observation Post Ouellette, where he could see deep into North Korea and hear their broadcast taunts of the South, Mattis listened to Song recount some of the history of the 1950-53 Korean war in which thousands of Americans and perhaps more than a million Koreans died in a conflict that remains officially unsettled.
“It reminds us that we fought together in very difficult times, and we stick together today,” Mattis said inside a Demilitarized Zone of craggy terrain, millions of landmines, and ghost-like reminders of the war.
The US has about 28,500 troops based in South Korea and has maintained a military presence there since the Korean War ended.
Mattis’s counterpart, Song, gave the former four-star Marine general the lay of the land, noting that the North has 342 long-range artillery pieces aimed at Seoul, among other weapons. That’s a threat that cannot be defended against, Song said, so Washington and Seoul must come up with “new offensive concepts” to be able to eliminate the artillery before it can be used, should war break out.
Mattis called the North “an oppressive regime that shackles its people, denying their freedom, their welfare, and their human dignity in pursuit of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery in order to threaten others with catastrophe.”
He noted that earlier this week in the Philippines, he and Song joined Southeast Asian defense ministers in committing to a diplomatic solution to the North Korea problem, even though Pyongyang and its young leader, Kim Jong Un, show no interest in negotiations.
Two other developments Oct. 26 showed the US intention to continue building diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang. The Trump administration imposed sanctions on 10 North Korean officials and organizations over human rights abuses and censorship, including a diplomat in China accused of forcing North Korean asylum seekers home.
Meanwhile, a rare military exercise involving three of the US Navy’s aircraft carrier strike groups was being planned for next month in the Asia Pacific, a US official said. The likely exercise would happen around the time that Trump travels to the region, including to Seoul.
The three Navy carriers and the ships that accompany them are currently thousands of miles apart in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. But they are moving through the region and could be closer together in weeks.
Trump entered office declaring his commitment to solving the North Korea problem, asserting that he would succeed where his predecessors had failed. His administration has sought to increase pressure on Pyongyang through UN Security Council sanctions and other diplomatic efforts, but the North hasn’t budged from its goal of building a full-fledged nuclear arsenal, including missiles capable of striking the US mainland.
On Oct. 28, Mattis will be joined by Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in annual consultations with South Korean defense officials. They are expected to admonish North Korea, vow to strengthen allied defenses, and discuss prospects for eventually giving South Korea wartime control of its own forces.
On June 16, 1963, Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space.
In the 60s, cosmonauts had to eject from their landing capsules at 20,000 feet during reentry and parachute to earth. A skydiving enthusiast with over 100 jumps, Tereshkova was well equipped to handle the task. After 18 months of training, Tereshkova spent more than 70 hours in space aboard the Vostok 6 — more than any other human at the time.
During her 70.8 hour flight, she made 48 orbits around the Earth, and still today she remains the youngest woman to fly in space (she was 26 years old) and the only one to fly a solo space mission.
After her Vostok mission, she never flew again.
The 1960s would take space exploration from a dream to a reality as the Space Race pitted the United States against their Cold War antagonist the Soviet Union. While the U.S. would indeed meet President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing an American on the moon before 1970 (though he wouldn’t live to see it) and, as a bonus, beat the Soviets to the moon, there was one critical way the Americans fell behind: including women in the space program.
Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, wouldn’t make her first space flight until 20 years after the Soviets sent women into space.
Tereshkova was honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union and, later that year, she married astronaut Andriyan Nikolayev. Their daughter Elena, was a subject of medical interest because she was the first child born to parents who had both been exposed to space. Elena grew up to be a healthy adult and became a doctor, but the effect of space travel on the human reproductive system remains of keen interest to scientists as humans plan deeper excursions into space.
The Kurdish YPG, a contingent of the US-backed forces fighting ISIS in Syria, released a video Aug. 29 showing the underground tunnels that ISIS digs to launch sneak attacks.
The video shows two rather large tunnels inside a captured, bombed-out mosque, from which the YPG claim that ISIS had been using.
“The barbaric group, aware of the YPG’s sensitivity towards people’s places of worship and other historic sites, has been using [mosques] as bases to delay the liberation of Raqqa,” text in the YPG video reads.
After another week of keeping the barracks secure from enemy attack, Pokemon, and —most importantly—the staff duty NCO, you deserve some funny military memes. Here are 13 of the best that we could find:
1. Wait, you can get out of PT just because you’re already dead?
Russia has offered to keep pro-Iranian forces in Syria about 100 kilometers from the border with Israel as part of an agreement with the United States and Israel to help guarantee Israel’s security, media are reporting.
A Russian delegation headed by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the suggestion while meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 23, 2018, Israeli television and western media reported, citing Israeli officials.
As he has in the past, Netanyahu demanded during the meeting that all Iranian fighters and their allies be removed from Syrian soil in the long term, media said. He also insisted that Iran should remove all long-range missiles and its air-defense system from the country, media said.
But Israeli media did not characterize Netanyahu’s response as a rejection of the Russian plan to keep Iranian military advisers and pro-Iranian fighters, including Lebanon’s Hizballah militia, at a substantial distance from Israel as Syrian troops reassert control in the border region.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
However, Reuters cited an Israeli official as saying that, while Russia was “committed” to its offer, Netanyahu rejected it and told Lavrov: “We will not allow the Iranians to establish themselves even 100 kilometers from the border” because Iran has long-range missiles that can reach Israel from Syria.
Reuters said Israel previously rejected a Russian proposal to keep Iranian forces about 80 kilometers from the frontier.
Russian officials did not immediately comment on Netanyahu’s meeting with Lavrov and the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, General Valery Gerasimov.
Before the meeting, Netanyahu thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump for their agreement at their summit in Helsinki in July 2018 to work together to safeguard the security of Israel.
“I appreciated the words that were spoken by President Putin together with President Trump regarding the security of Israel during the recent summit,” Netanyahu said.
But with regard to Iran, an avowed enemy of the Jewish state, Netanyahu said: “Israel will continue to act against any attempt by Iran and its proxies to entrench militarily in Syria.”
Netanyahu said the Russia delegation came to Israel on short notice at Putin’s request to discuss the situation in Syria, where the Syrian Army has been rapidly reasserting control over rebel-held areas of the southwest near Israel’s border under surrender agreements brokered by Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and United States President Donald Trump
As a condition of accepting the return of the Syrian Army to the border region, Netanyahu said Israel was demanding strict adherence to a 1974 disengagement deal that created a buffer zone patrolled by UN forces between Syria and Israel.
Syria and Israel fought two wars over their shared border, in 1967 and 1973, leading to Israel’s seizure of the Golan Heights in what was Syria’s Quneitra province. The Israeli occupation has never been recognized internationally.
While Israel and the United States have been pressuring Russia to limit Iranian influence in Syria, Moscow contends that it has little influence on the tight relationship between Syria and Iran, and it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from the country.
Russia and Iran have backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government throughout the war, which started with a crackdown on protests in 2011 and is estimated to have killed more than 400,000 people and displaced 11 million others.
Russia stepped up its military support in 2015, starting a campaign of air strikes and boosting its presence on the ground in a move that helped turn the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor.
Iranian leaders have dismissed U.S. and Israeli calls to leave country, saying that will happen only when Assad asks Iran to go.
Israeli Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin announced that its F-35 aircraft, known as Adir, “are already operational and flying in operational missions.”
“We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity,” Norkin said via the official Israel Defense Forces’ Twitter account on May 22, 2018.
In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper, Norkin said F-35s had been used in two recent strikes, but it was unclear if the aircraft supported the missions by providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance or conducted the strikes.
Early May 2018, Iranian forces “fired 32 rockets, we intercepted 4 of them & the rest fell outside Israeli territory,” Norkin tweeted, referring to a counterattack in the Golan Heights.
Israel responded by attacking multiple Iranian weapons and logistics sites in Syria. “In our response attack, more than 100 ground-to-air missiles were fired at our planes,” he said.
Israel declared initial operating capability of its Lockheed Martin-made F-35I in December 2017. Middle Eastern outlets have said the fifth-generation stealth aircraft has likely made flights before for reconnaissance missions over or near Syrian territory, but those reports are unconfirmed.
Critics at the time wondered why the F-35 wasn’t used, since the aircraft would have been better able to evade enemy radar. But pilots and former members of the Israeli Air Force said use of the F-35 would have been risky so early in its operational lifespan.
“If they thought that the targets were so strategically important, I’m sure they’d consider using them. But they weren’t. So why risk use of the F-35s at such an early point in their operational maturity?” retired Israeli Air Force Brig. Gen. Abraham Assael told Defense News at the time.
Israel in August 2017, signed a new contract with Lockheed for its next batch of 17 aircraft, following two previous contracts for 33 aircraft.
IAF officials have expressed interest in buying up to 30 additional aircraft.