South Korea is planning to arm its newly-formed special forces unit, known as the “decapitation unit,” with suicide drones and other lethal weapons to take out North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to the Korea Herald.
The South Korean Defense Ministry announced on Dec. 6 that the decapitation unit was allocated $310,000 for weapons and equipment, and an anonymous Defense Ministry official told the Herald that the unit will receive $24 million altogether.
The “equipment includes suicide drones, surveillance drones, and grenade machine guns,” the defense ministry official told the Herald.
The decapitation unit is an army brigade consisting of 1,000 special operators. It was established on Dec. 1 with the aim of assassinating Kim and his top leaders.
It’s expected to be modeled off SEAL Team 6, but it’s not yet operational as it requires more equipment, such as low-flying aircraft to take the operators into North Korea, the Herald reported.
South Korean officials have been openly discussing the formation of the unit since summer 2015. It’s considered strange for a government to freely talk about assassinating world leaders.
American special operators teamed with Arab fighters in Syria are poised to take a key town north of the Islamic State stronghold in Raqqah. If they succeed it would be an important blow to the Islamic insurgency and assist the government of Iraq in taking back its second largest city.
Since late June, jets from the United States, France, and Australia have been pounding ISIS positions in the city of Manbij, a key northern crossroads town north of the ISIS-held town of Raqqah in Syria. Kurdish and Syrian-Arab fighters who make up the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, are squeezing hundreds of ISIS fighters in the town, said to be a key transit point for bootleg oil and illicit arms for the terrorist group.
“I’ve been extraordinarily pleased with the performance of our partner forces, the Syrian-Arab coalition, in particular,” said Central Command chief Army Gen. Joseph Votel during a press conference at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
“This has been a very difficult fight. This is an area that the Islamic State is trying to hold onto,” he added.
Pentagon chief Ash Carter said the campaign in Manbij is part of an effort to squeeze ISIS into Raqqah in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. Defense officials have hinted that a full-on assault on Iraq’s second largest city is imminent, with regional leaders meeting July 20 at Andrews to flesh out a post-takeover plan.
“In play after play, town after town, from every direction and in every domain, our campaign has accelerated further, squeezing ISIL and rolling it back towards Raqqah and Mosul,” Carter said. “By isolating these two cities, we’re effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL’s control over them.”
Al Jazeera reports that ISIS has lost nearly 500 fighters in Manbij as SDF fighters with American help have squeezed the terrorist enclave. The SDF has suffered less than 100 dead.
Carter said the anti-ISIS coalition, dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve, is looking into the allegations.
“We’re aware of reports of civilian casualties that may be related to recent coalition airstrikes near Manbij city in Syria,” Carter said. “We’ll investigate these reports and continue to do all we can to protect civilians from harm.”
Votel added that Kurdish and Syrian-Arab parters are working to keep the 70,000 civilians in Manbij out of harms way.
“What I’ve been most impressed with is the deliberateness and the discipline with which our partner forces have conducted themselves,” Votel said. “They are moving slowly, they are moving very deliberately, mostly because they’re concerned about the civilians that still remain in the city.”
“And I think that that speaks very highly of their values and it speaks very highly of what they’re about here. We’ve picked the right partners for this operation,” he said.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is an annual piece of legislation which gives authority and funding to the United States Military. While it is a detailed body of work that doesn’t make for light reading, it should be read. This legislation is filled with items that impact the military family directly.
It addresses military pay
The 2020 NDAA provided a 3.1% pay raise to military service members. This pay raise was the biggest one to be received in the last decade and was reflected in the first paycheck received by service members of 2020. The bill also extended specific bonuses and special pay. One of the big take-aways of this bill is the focus on supporting not just the member, but the military family as a whole.
Military spouse education and employment
Within the bill there are increases in support of professional licensure for spouses. With the new 2020 bill, spouses are currently eligible for up to 00 in reimbursement for licensure costs accumulated when moving. This is twice the amount that was authorized in last year’s bill. It also addresses license portability by giving authorization to the Council on State Governments to research ways to create reciprocity across state lines.
The bill also extended opportunities for spouses for education. The My Career Advancement Account program is an example of this, as it is a valuable resource for military spouses. It offers up to 00 in assistance for licensure, certification, or an associate’s degree in a field that is portable. The eligibility for this is limited to E-1 through E5, W-1 through W-2, and O-1 spouses. The initial pilot program had it available to all spouses but rising costs and enrollment forces restrictions in who can utilize this benefit. In this bill language, Coast Guard spouses were also included even though they fall under the Department of Homeland Security.
Military housing reforms
One of the key elements of this bill is that it addresses the issues within military privatized housing. The bill created new accountability for these companies by enforcing quality assurance measures. It also increased the number of required inspections. This bill provides an additional 1.8 million dollars to make sure that each housing office has the vital personnel it needs to ensure military families are taken care of.
One of the tools that will be utilized going forward is a way to assess and evaluate for risks within military housing. This includes things like mold and lead. It also allows for the BAH to be withheld from the private housing entity until issues or disputes are solved. Another key piece is that it forces transparency by requiring these entities to disclose repairs or issues prior to lease signing. There will also now be a required Tenant Bill of Rights and minimal livable standards established.
Military family needs
The NDAA also authorized million for the STARE BASE program, which is a DOD youth program. It is an American military educational program for grades K-12 that teaches science and math in hands on ways. It was created to tackle the low rates of readiness in these subjects by implementing a program that makes math and science fun and interactive. To learn more about this program and to see if it’s located in your area, click here.
One of the chief concerns outlined in the 2018 Blue Star Families survey was that 72% of military families cannot find reliable childcare. An amendment was included in the NDAA for 2020 that creates more coordinator positions on bases to assist with childcare and extends childcare hours for families.
Another key piece to this legislation is that it created the ability of military service members to sue under administrative claims for medical malpractice by a military provider. Although there was existing legislation for under the Federal Tor Claims Act, the United States itself was immune. After countless hearings within congress over a decade, this amendment passed within the NDAA. If a service member sustains injury or death they can file a claim and receive up to 0,000 as long as they file it within two years.
Surviving spouses receive relief
Finally, one of the biggest parts of the 2020 NDAA is the elimination of what is known as the “widows’ tax” in phases. For multiple decades surviving families have not received their full benefits as they deserve, even though they paid into the benefit programs. This is a piece of legislation that has been debated and fought over for almost twenty years. Finally, change is coming and it will be finalized by 2023.
If you’d like to look through the 2020 NDAA, you can find it here. Fair warning, it is 1119 pages long. However, a pro tip is to utilize the search ability within the document to enter terms that you want to specifically read about. This will bring you exactly where you need to go. Happy reading!
President Donald Trump, on Feb. 12, 2018, released his budget request for fiscal 2019, marking the first step in a months-long process in which lawmakers from both chambers of Congress debate and, ultimately, decide on its funding levels and policy provisions.
Trump’s defense budget request for the fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, totals $716 billion, including $686 billion for the Defense Department alone. The Pentagon’s top line includes a base budget of $597.1 billion and an overseas contingency operations, or war, budget of $89 billion. It represents a nearly 12 percent increase over the current year’s level of nearly $612 billion.
But defense spending as a share of the economy would remain relatively flat at roughly 3.1 percent, according to Pentagon budget documents, and the spending bump would be financed in part by deficit spending.
Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know about the President’s budget request:
2.6% pay raise
The Defense Department proposed a 2.6 percent military pay raise for 2019 that would come on top of the 2.4 percent increase this year. “In support of the department’s effort to continue to build a bigger, more lethal and ready force, the FY2019 budget proposes a 2.6 percent increase in military basic pay,” the Pentagon said in releasing its budget request. The proposed raise, which would have to be approved by Congress and the White House, would amount to the largest military pay raise in nine years, the department said in the supporting papers for the budget request. Check out Military.com’s pay charts to see what the change would mean for you.
16K more troops
The proposed spending plan would add 16,400 more troops, bringing the size of the total force, including the Guard and Reserve components, to 2.15 million members. That figure differs from those published in the Pentagon’s overview budget document because it takes into account 2018 levels recently authorized by Congress. The additional troops would include 15,600 for the active component, with 1.3 million service members; and 800 for the Guard and Reserve, with 817,700 service members, respectively. Here’s how those figures break down: 4,000 soldiers for the active Army, 7,500 sailors for the Navy, 100 Marines for the Marine Corps, and 4,000 airmen for the Air Force; 100 sailors for the Navy Reserve, 200 airmen for the Air Force Reserve, and 500 airmen for the Air National Guard.
The president’s budget would fund a number of weapons systems designed to give the U.S. armed forces a technological edge over adversaries, including new missile interceptors and cyber operations. It would also fund a higher number of existing aircraft, ships and combat vehicles, including adding 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jets, 68 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, 250 B61 nuclear bomb upgrades, three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, two fleet replenishment oilers, five satellite launches through the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program and 5,113 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles.
The Army is requesting $182 billion, including war funding, a 15 percent increase from $158 billion, according to budget documents. The service wants to continue growing its headcount, with funding for 4,000 soldiers for the active component, largely to resource fires, air defense and logistics units. The service would also purchase large quantities of long-range missiles and artillery shells, and would buy a higher number of aircraft such as the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters made by Boeing Co.; combat vehicles including the Joint Light Tactical Vehicles made by Oshkosh Corp., and missile systems such as the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System and the Army Tactical Missile System.
The Navy is requesting $194.1 billion, including war funding, a 12 percent increase from $173 billion in fiscal 2018, according to budget documents. However, the much-hailed jump-start in Navy shipbuilding to reach the larger fleet officials say the service needs represents only a small portion of the service’s requested funding increase. By 2023, the Navy expects to add 54 new ships, but most of them had already been part of long-term production plans. For 2019, the plan includes only one more ship than was budgeted in 2018: an additional Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, for a total purchase of three instead of two. The service is also set to add 7,600 sailors as its fleet grows, in part to man new Navy variant of the V-22 Osprey, the CMV-22.
The Air Force is requesting $194.1 billion, including war funding, a 14 percent increase. The proposal would increase the size of the service’s active-duty end strength to just over 329,100 airmen, an increase of 4,000 airmen over the current year, according to the documents. The Air National Guard is requesting another 500 airmen; the Air Force Reserve wants another 200 airmen. The spending plan also includes funding to train nearly 1,000 pilots to deal with a chronic shortage; buy more F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, MQ-9 Reaper drones, KC-46 tankers; develop the future B-21 bomber; and replenish the stockpile of precision-guided munitions such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, and Hellfire missiles.
Part of the Navy’s fiscal 2019 budget request, the Marine Corps is asking for $28.9 billion, a nearly 5 percent increase. As a second rotation of Marine advisers begins work in Helmand province, Afghanistan, and other units continue to fight ISIS in the Middle East, the budget request features a significant increase in big guns and artillery rockets — as well as a plus-up of some 1,100 Marines, including 2018 manning increases. There are significant procurement outlays as the Marine Corps makes big investments in its CH-53K King Stallion, slated to replace the CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopter in coming years, and continues to pursue the amphibious combat vehicle 1.1. Among the most eye-catching planned buys, however, are in ground weapons systems, including 155mm towed howitzers and high mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS.
The Coast Guard asked for about $11.7 billion in funding for fiscal 2019, an increase of $979 million, or 8.4 percent, over its previous request. The additional money would include $750 million for a new heavy icebreaker slated for delivery in 2023. The funding would go toward building “the Nation’s first new heavy Polar Icebreaker in over 40 years,” a budget document states. In other big-ticket equipment items, the service’s budget request also includes $400 million in funding for an offshore patrol cutter and $240 million in funding to buy four new fast response cutters (FRCs), designed to replace the 110-foot patrol boats and to enhance the service’s ability to conduct search-and-rescue operations, enforce border security, interdict drugs, uphold immigration laws and prevent terrorism.
The Veterans Affairs Department requested $199 billion, an increase of $12 billion, or 6.5 percent, from the current request. The plan includes nearly $110 billion in mandatory funding for benefits programs and $89 billion in discretionary funding, with the goal of “expanding health-care services, improving quality and expanding choice to over 9 million enrolled Veterans,” the VA said. The budget includes money for the Veterans Choice Program, which allows vets to seek private-sector care. It also includes another $1.2 billion for a costly effort begun in 2011 to make health records electronic and reintroduces a controversial proposal to round-down cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments to the nearest dollar for vets who receive disability compensation — a practice that was standard until 2013, Stars and Stripes reported.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae In and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed on Nov. 29 that the two nations could “no longer tolerate” the nuclear and missile provocations from North Korea.
“President Moon Jae-in and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to further intensify their countries’ cooperation to put stronger pressure and sanctions against North Korea, noting they can no longer tolerate North Korea’s threats to security,” Moon’s chief press secretary said, according to Yonhap News.
The leaders expressed “concerns over North Korea’s claim that its nuclear and missile development programs are in their final stages,” and agreed to take steps on cracking down on the regime.
Both leaders also agreed that China must play a bigger role in containing Pyongyang.
While Moon and Abe may be determined to hit back at North Korea, there’s little they can do.
South Korea fired missiles across North Korea’s maritime border in the immediate aftermath of the launch on Nov. 28, but the displays of force have no track record of stopping Pyongyang’s nuclear missile progress.
But Moon and Abe discussed a seemingly unrelated topic that may have an important implication for North Korea. Abe reportedly raised the possibility of attending South Korea’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February.
Mental health treatment can be complicated, and adjustments are often needed to make it as effective as possible. When treatment isn’t meeting the Veteran’s goals or leading to improvement, VA encourages the Veteran and provider to discuss potential reasons and consider modifications or alternative treatments that better meet the patient’s needs.
To help, VA uses standardized questionnaires to measure change along the way. This process, known as measurement-based care (MBC), transforms the way VA delivers mental health care. MBC involves the following steps:
The Veteran routinely completes brief questionnaires about their symptoms and progress toward treatment goals.
The provider and the Veteran review and talk about the results together, using the questionnaire as a starting point for discussing what’s working in treatment — and what’s not. The provider explains what the findings mean and may offer ideas for changing treatment based on the results.
Based on these conversations and considering the Veteran’s perspective, the provider and Veteran work together to select the best treatment options.
Benefits of MBC
Data from MBC questionnaires can signal when treatment isn’t working. It also helps the clinician and Veteran develop a plan to get back on track. MBC helps foster an open dialogue between Veterans and their providers, ensuring that the treatment process is progressing toward each Veteran’s mental health goals. This dialogue may include meaningful conversations about personal goals, collaborative development of treatment plans, assessment of progress over time, and joint decisions about adjustments to the treatment plan. Veterans’ participation in developing their treatment approach has the added benefit of helping them to actively engage in their care.
Change can be challenging
Using MBC can be a pretty big adjustment for many mental health providers. Changing a health care practice is challenging even when the new method is simple, and the MBC approach involves several steps and many considerations. That’s why VA is rolling out MBC in phases, so that along the way we can learn from providers’ experiences the best ways to put MBC into practice.
Members of the VA Center for Integrated Healthcare, the VISN 4 MIRECC and the Behavioral Health QUERI are studying how providers at 10 sites are implementing MBC into their primary care and mental health integration programs. Their goal is to understand what it takes to help providers shift their practice to the MBC approach. Their results will be used to help providers at other VA sites figure out how to adopt MBC.
Coming to a VA location near you
Veterans in VA care may have already had MBC interactions with their providers. For those who have not, MBC is coming to a VA facility near you! VA is continuing to expand measurement-based care across its many medical centers, clinics and other facilities.
SpaceX is one giant grain-silo launch closer to reaching Mars.
The aerospace company, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, launched and landed an early prototype of a potentially revolutionary rocket system called Starship at 7:57 p.m. ET on Monday. The flight occured at SpaceX’s expanding rocket factory, development, and test site in Boca Chica, a relatively remote region at the southeastern tip of Texas.
“Mars is looking real,” Musk tweeted shortly after the flight of roughly 492 feet (150 meters) into the air, later adding: “Progress is accelerating.”
SPadre.com, which has a camera trained on SpaceX’s launch site from about 6 miles away on South Padre Island, captured the entire launch from start-to-finish with a 24-hour live feed on YouTube. In the background audio of a livestream hosted by NASASpaceFlight.com (which caught yet another view with a different camera and angle), audible cheers could be heard coming from on-site SpaceX employees and contractors.
The clip below shows a profile of the whole flight from SPadre‘s feed.
In the movie, the prototype takes off using a single Raptor rocket engine, translates across the launch site, deploys a set of short landing legs, and touches down on a concrete pad.
Musk later tweeted that Starship’s next set of landing legs “will be ~60% longer” and that a version farther down the line “will be much wider taller” like the legs of a Falcon 9 rocket booster, “but capable of landing on unimproved surfaces auto-leveling” — in other words, optimized to landing on the moon or Mars.
If Starship and its Super Heavy rocket booster end up being fully reusable, Musk has said, the system may reduce the cost of launching anything to space by about 1,000-fold and enable hypersonic travel around Earth.
But first, SpaceX has to see if its core designs for Starship work. To that end, the company is moving briskly to build, test, and launch prototypes.
Monday’s “hop” flight — Musk said ahead of the flight that SpaceX was targeting an altitude of 150 meters (492 feet) — represents the first flight of any full-scale Starship hardware. It’s also a crucial step toward informing future prototypes and, ultimately, launches that fly Starships into orbit around Earth.
SpaceX had hoped to attempt a flight of SN5 on July 27, but Hurricane Hanna damaged a component that had to be fixed, Musk said. A previous notice to airmen, or NOTAM, suggested the company would try to fly SN5 on Sunday — the same day as its attempt to land two NASA astronauts in the Gulf of Mexico — but the launch window came and went. (SpaceX’s Demo -2 was an historic test flight of the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship, a vehicle developed with about .7 billion in NASA funding.)
Prototyping toward Mars
The above photo shows the SN5 prototype from above during a test-firing of its engine on July 30.
SN5 is the latest of several full-scale Starship prototypes that SpaceX has built in Texas. The previous versions have either crumpled during tests or, as was the case on May 29, catastrophically exploded.
Each failure has taught SpaceX valuable lessons to inform design and material changes — tweaks that Musk says are already being worked into SN6, SN7, and SN8 prototypes, which are in various stages of assembly within the company’s expanding and bustling work yards in South Texas.
The steel vehicles don’t have wing-like canards or nosecones attached, in case something goes wrong in their earliest phases of testing, so they look more like flying fuel tanks or grain silos than rocket ships.
However, as last year’s test launch of an early Starship prototype called Starhopper showed, the flights of even experimental vehicles (shown above) can impress: On August 27, Starhopper soared to a similar height as SN5, translated across a launch site, and landed on a nearby concrete pad.
SpaceX obtained a launch license from the FAA to send Starship prototypes on a “suborbital trajectory,” meaning the experimental rocket ships could reach dozens of miles above Earth before returning and landing. However, it’s uncertain if SpaceX eventually plans to launch SN5 on such an ambitious flight path after Monday’s “hop.”
The company couldn’t attempt more ambitious flights until late August at the soonest, though. On July 23, SpaceX asked the FCC for permission to communicate with prototypes flying as high as 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) within the next seven months. The earliest date noted on the request, which is still pending, is August 18.
Musk said after the flight of SN5 that the next phase of testing won’t fly prototypes very high, at least initially.
“We’ll do several short hops to smooth out launch process, then go high altitude with body flaps,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
SpaceX is also pursuing a launch license for full-scale, orbital-class Starship-Super Heavy vehicles. Musk hopes Starship will launch a cargo mission to Mars in 2022, send a private crew around the moon in 2023, return NASA astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024, and even begin sending people to Mars the same year.
The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 87,000 with over 1.4 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.
Here’s a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL’s broadcast regions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has told cabinet ministers and regional heads to prepare to battle the coronavirus as he outlined steps being taken to counter the outbreak.
“Right now we need to get ready to fight for the life of each individual in every region,” Putin said during a video conference from his residence outside Moscow on April 8 during which he outlined measures being implemented to counter the growing outbreak in the country.
Russia has more than 8,670 officially confirmed coronavirus infections and at least 63 fatalities.
However, critics have cast doubt over the veracity of the figures, saying the actual toll could be much higher.
Among the steps publicized by Putin during his address was extra pay for medical personnel and the freeing up of 10 billion rubles (3 million) from the federal budget to be disbursed among the country’s more than 80 administrative regions.
In addition, he said that medical personnel who are in direct contact with coronavirus patients would be in line for an additional bonus.
Addressing the economy, Putin said that there was “practically no such thing as a total shutdown of business,” despite the obstacles and restrictions being faced.
“We must realize what kind of damage and destructive consequences this can bring about,” he said.
Putin also told the nation that he realized it is difficult to “remain inside four walls all the time.”
“But there is no choice,” he said. “One has to make it through self-isolation,” he told chiefs of Russia’s regions, which are mostly under strict lockdown.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani has urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to provide Tehran a multibillion-dollar emergency loan it had requested to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
The epidemic has further damaged Iran’s economy, already battered by U.S. sanctions that were reimposed after Washington in 2018 withdrew from a landmark deal between Tehran and world powers to curb the country’s nuclear program.
Tehran, as well as several countries, the United Nations, some U.S. lawmakers, and human rights groups have urged the United States to ease the sanctions to help Iran respond more effectively to the virus.
The outbreak has officially infected more than 62,500 people and killed over 3,800 in the country. Iranian officials have been criticized for their slow initial response to the pandemic, and experts have been skeptical about the veracity of official figures released by the authorities, who keep a tight lid on the media.
“We are a member of the IMF…. There should be no discrimination in giving loans,” Rohani said in a televised cabinet meeting on April 8.
“If they do not act on their duties in this difficult situation, the world will judge them in a different way,” he added.
Last month, the Central Bank of Iran asked the IMF for billion from its Rapid Financing Initiative to help to fight the pandemic in one of the hardest-hit countries in the world.
An IMF official was quoted as saying the Washington-based lender was in dialogue with Iranian officials over the request.
Iran has not received assistance from the IMF since a “standby credit” issued between 1960 and 1962, according to the fund’s data.
U.S. President Donald Trump has offered some humanitarian assistance, but Iranian officials have rejected the offer, saying Washington should instead lift the sanctions, which Rohani on April 8 equated to “economic and medical terrorism.”
Medicines and medical equipment are technically exempt from the U.S. sanctions but purchases are frequently blocked by the unwillingness of banks to process transactions for fear of incurring large penalties in the United States.
In one of the few instances of aid, Britain, France, and Germany used a special trading mechanism for the first time on March 31 to send medical supplies to Iran in a way that does not violate the sanctions.
The three countries sent supplies via Instex, the mechanism set up more than a year ago to allow legitimate humanitarian trade with Iran.
On April 7, Iran’s parliament reconvened for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak forced it to close, and rejected an emergency bill calling for a one-month nationwide lockdown.
More than two-thirds of the legislature’s 290 members gathered in the absence of speaker Ali Larijani, who tested positive for the virus last week.
During the session, deputy speaker Massud Pezeshkian criticized the Rohani administration for “not taking the outbreak seriously.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on April 7 condemned the detention of journalist and workers’ rights defender Amir Chamani in the northwestern city of Tabriz after he posted tweets about the health situation in Iran’s prisons and protests by inmates.
The Paris-based media freedom watchdog quoted Chamani’s family as saying he was detained on April 2 after being summoned by the cyberpolice.
The authorities have given no reason for the arrest of Chamani, who was transferred to a detention center run by the intelligence department of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, according to RSF.
Romania has confirmed another 344 cases of COVID-19 to reach 4,761, with 18 more fatalities that brought the toll to 215, the country’s coronavirus task force said on April 7, amid renewed calls for a sustained increase in the number of tests.
More than 700 of those infected are health-care workers.
The first fatality among medical staff was reported on April 8 — an ambulance paramedic from the northeastern city of Suceava who had reportedly kept working without being tested for days, although his health was deteriorating rapidly.
Suceava is the epicenter of the outbreak in Romania and has been under lockdown since last week.
The first coronavirus death was registered in Romania on March 22.
An additional 631 Romanians tested positive for COVID-19 abroad, most of them — 412 — in Italy, the world’s hardest-hit country. Some 37 Romanians have died so far in Italy, Britain, France, Spain, and Germany.
The country has been under a state of emergency since March 16, and President Klaus Iohannis on April 6 announced his intention to extend it by one month, while the government decided to postpone local elections that should have been held in early summer.
The Suceava paramedic’s death adds to worries about how Romania’s system is coping with the epidemic. Doctors and nurses have spoken out in recent weeks over insufficient equipment for those treating COVID-19 cases, and many medical staff have resigned over the shortages as well as mismanagement and fatigue.
Romanian platform for online activism DeClic has launched an Internet campaign urging the authorities to speed up the testing under the slogan “Mr. [Prime Minister Ludovic] Orban, don’t toy with our lives.”
Romania, a country of 19.5 million, has tested 47,207 people for coronavirus. By comparison, fellow EU member the Czech Republic has tested almost 99,000 people out of a total of 10.5 million. The Czech death toll stands at 99, less than half of Romania’s.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Romanian Service, digi24.ro, g4.ro, Reuters, and hotnews.ro
A former top official of the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Akhmed Zakayev, has been hospitalized in London with coronavirus symptoms.
Zakayev’s relatives told RFE/RL that the exiled former member of the Chechen separatist government was hospitalized on April 6 after he experienced difficulties breathing.
The relatives added that three days prior to his hospitalization, other family members were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever and cough, as well.
Medical officials asked Zakayev’s relatives to sign a consent paper to use artificial respiration during his treatment.
Zakayev, 60, served as culture minister, deputy prime minister, prime minister, and foreign minister in Chechnya’s separatist government.
He and his immediate family members have been residing in exile in London since 2002.
He is wanted in Russia for alleged terrorism, which he and his supporters deny.
Among members of the Air Force, there’s a tendency to be interested in aircraft. More than just aircraft, though, aircraft in aircraft is the type of idea that has the potential to harken back to the science fiction imaginings of many early childhoods. But true to form, science fiction in the military scarcely stays fiction for long.
From Jan. 11 to 13, 2019, it was the job of the C-5M Super Galaxy aircrew and aerial port specialists at Travis Air Force, California to join in efforts with the Army to transport four UH-60 Black Hawks from California to the helicopters’ home base at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
“Accomplishing the feat took no small measure of cooperation between the two sister services,” said Staff Sgt. Bradley Chase, 60th Aerial Port Squadron special handling supervisor. “You figure some of the C-5M aircrew who are transporting the Black Hawks have never even seen one before,” Chase said. “It’s because of that, having the Army here and participating in this training with us is so important. Coming together with our own expertise on our respective aircraft is what’s vital to the success of a mission like this.”
Chase went on to explain that in a deployed environment, Black Hawks are usually ferried around on C-17 Globemaster IIIs because of their tactical versatility.
US Air Force C-17A Globemaster III.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey)
Which is great, he said, but in respect to total force readiness, sometimes a C-5M is the better choice for airlift.
“Our job as a military isn’t only to practice the tried and true formula — it’s to also blaze and refine new trails in the event we ever need to,” he said. “By allowing us to train on mobilizing these Black Hawks, the Army is giving us the opportunity to utilize not only the C-17s in our fleet, but also our C-5Ms. As it pertains to our base’s mission, that difference can mean everything.”
The difference Chase speaks of is one of 18 aircraft — over five million more pounds of cargo weight in addition to the 2,221,700 afforded to Travis AFB’s mission by the C-17. In terms of “rapidly projecting American power anytime, anywhere,” those numbers are not insignificant.
The Army, likewise, used the training as an opportunity to reinforce its own mission set.
“The decision to come to Travis mostly had to do with our needing a (strategic air) asset to facilitate our own deployment readiness exercise to Elmendorf,” said Capt. Scott Amarucci, 2-158th Assault Helicopter Battalion, C Company platoon leader. “Travis was the first base to offer up their C-5M to get the job done, so that’s where we went.”
Amarucci’s seven-man team supervised the Travis AFB C-5M personnel in safe loading techniques as well as educated the aircrew on the Black Hawks’ basic functionality to ensure the load-up and transport was as seamless as possible.
Amid all the technical training and shoring up of various workplace competencies, the joint operation allowed for an unexpected, though welcomed, benefit: cross-culture interactions.
“It’s definitely been interesting being on such an aviation-centric base,” said Private 1st Class Donald Randall, 2-158th AHB, 15 T Black Hawk repair. “Experiencing the Air Force mission
Airmen and soldiers offload a UH-60 Black Hawk from a C-5 Galaxy at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Henry Chan)
definitely lends to the understanding of what everyone’s specialties and capabilities are when we’re deployed.”
“Plus, the Air Force’s food is better,” he laughed.
Chase also acknowledged the push to bring the Air Force and Army’s similar, yet subtly different cultures to a broader mutual understanding during the times socializing was possible, an admittedly infrequent opportunity, he said.
“Outside of theater, there aren’t too many opportunities to hang out with members from other branches,” he said. “So when the chance to do so kind of falls into your lap, there’s this urge to make the most out of it. A lot of the differences between branches are very nuanced, like how the Army likes to be called by their full rank and stuff like that, but knowing them and making an effort to be sensitive to those differences can pay huge dividends when it comes time to rely on them during deployments.”
Along with finding room in our demeanors to give space for cross-cultural interactions, Chase also underscored the importance of a positive mindset to ensure successful interoperability.
“It’s the idea of taking an opportunity like this that was very sudden and probably pretty inconvenient for a few people’s weekend plans and asking, ‘Well, I’m here, so how can I help — what lessons can I learn to help benefit my team and take what I’m doing to new heights?'”
Infantry soldiers often carry an array of supplies and gear that together can weigh anywhere from 60 to 120 pounds, said Capt. Erika Hanson, the assistant product manager for the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport.
But the SMET vehicle, which the Army expects to field in just under three years, “is designed to take the load off the soldier,” Hanson said. “Our directed requirement is to carry 1,000 pounds of the soldier load.”
That 1,000 pounds is not just for one soldier, of course, but for an entire Infantry squad — typically about nine soldiers.
Late May 2018, during a “Close Combat Lethality Tech Day” in the courtyard of the Pentagon, Hanson had with her on display the contenders for the Army’s SMET program: four small vehicles, each designed to follow along behind a squad of infantry soldiers and carry most or all their gear for them, so they can move to where they need to be without being exhausted upon arrival.
“I’m not an infantry soldier,” Hanson said. “But I’ve carried a rucksack — and I can tell you I can move a lot faster without out a rucksack on my back. Not having to carry this load will make the soldier more mobile and more lethal in a deployed environment.”
The four contender vehicles on display at the Pentagon were the MRZR-X system from Polaris Industries Inc., Applied Research Associates Inc. and Neya Systems LLC; the Multi-Utility Tactical Transport from General Dynamics Land Systems; the Hunter Wolf from HDT Global; and the RS2-H1 system from Howe and Howe Technologies. Each was loaded down with gear representative of what they would be expected to carry when one of them is actually fielded to the Army.
(U.S. Army photos)
“Nine ruck sacks, six boxes of MREs and four water cans,” Hanson said. “This is about the equivalent of what a long-range mission for a light Infantry unit would need to carry.”
Hanson said that for actual testing and evaluation purposes, the simulated combat load also includes fuel cans and ammo cans as well, though these items weren’t included in the display at the Pentagon.
These small vehicles, Hanson said, are expected to follow along with a squad of soldiers as they walk to wherever it is they have been directed to go. The requirement for the vehicles is that they be able to travel up to 60 miles over the course of 72 hours, she said.
Three of the vehicles are “pivot steered,” Hanson said, to make it easier for them to maneuver in off-road environments, so that they can follow soldiers even when there isn’t a trail.
One of the contenders for SMET has a steering wheel, with both a driver’s seat and a passenger seat. So if a soldier wanted to drive that vehicle, he could, Hanson said. Still, the Army requirement is that the SMET be able to operate unmanned, and all four vehicles provide that unmanned capability.
All four contenders include a small, simplistic kind of remote control that a soldier can hand-carry to control the vehicle. One of those remotes was just a light-weight hand grip with a tiny thumb-controlled joystick on top. A soldier on patrol could carry the light-weight controller at his side.
More advanced control options are also available for the SMET as well, Hanson said.
“All can be operated with an operator control unit,” she said. “It’s a tele-operation where you have a screen and you can operate the system non-line-of-site via the cameras on the system.”
When soldiers on patrol want the SMET to follow along with them, they can use the very simple controller that puts a low cognitive load on the Soldier. When they want the SMET to operate in locations where they won’t be able to see it, they can use the more advanced controller with the video screen.
Hanson said the Army envisions soldiers might one day use the SMET to do things besides carry a Soldier’s bags.
“It’s for use in operations where some of the payloads are like re-trans and recon payloads in the future,” she said. “In that situation, it would be better for a soldier at a distance to be able to tele-operate the SMET into position.”
(U.S. Army photo by C. Todd Lopez)
The “re-trans” mission, she said, would involve putting radio gear onto the SMET and then using a remote control to put the vehicle out at the farthest edge of where radio communications are able to reach. By doing so, she said, the SMET could then be part of extending that communications range farther onto the battlefield.
One of the vehicles even has an option for a soldier to clip one end of a rope to his belt and the other end to the vehicle — and then the vehicle will just follow him wherever he walks. That’s the tethered “follow-me” option, Hanson said.
In addition to carrying gear for soldiers, the SMET is also expected to provide electric power to soldiers on patrol. She said while the vehicle is moving, for instance, it is required to provide 1 kilowatt of power, and when it’s standing still, it must provide 3 kW.
That power, she said, could be piped into the Army’s “Universal Battery Charger,” which can charge a variety of batteries currently used in soldier products. Vendors of the SMET have each been provided with a UBC so they can figure out how best to incorporate the device into their SMET submissions.
Hanson said the Army hopes that the SMET could include, in some cases, up to five UBCs on board to ensure that no soldier in an Infantry squad is ever without mobile power.
In November 2017, the Army held a “fly-off” at Fort Benning, Georgia, where 10 contenders for the SMET competed with each other. Only the developers of the vehicles were involved in the fly-off.
“From those, we down-selected to these four, based on their performance,” Hanson said.
To make its choice for the down-select, she said the Army looked at things like mobility and durability of the systems.
Now, the Army will do a technology demonstration to down-select to just one vehicle, from the remaining four. To do that, Hanson said, the Army will first provide copies of the competing SMET vehicles to two Army Infantry units, one at Fort Drum, New York, and one at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Additionally, Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will also get a set of the vehicles.
“Over the course of the tech demo, we’ll be getting feedback from the soldiers and the Marines on what systems best fill the need for the infantryman,” she said.
The technology demonstration, she said, will last just one year. And when it’s complete, feedback from soldiers and Marines will be used to down-select to just one system that will then become an Army program of record.
“I think the best part of the program is the innovative approach the team is taking to field them to soldiers before they select the program of record,” Hanson said. “That way, it’s the soldier feedback that drives the requirement, not the other way around.”
Hanson said she expects the program of record to begin in the first quarter of fiscal year 2020, after which the Army will go into low-rate initial production on the SMET. By the second or third quarter of FY 2021, she said, the first Army unit can expect to have the new vehicle fielded to them.
Hanson said the Army has set a base price of $100,000 for the SMET.
Every professional athlete will tell you there’s a science behind elite performance. Every coach will tell you there’s one for team dynamics as well. And, every military leader will say their best performing units are men and women who understand the importance of not just bettering themselves, but constantly working toward improving the group as a whole.
One Green Beret has cracked the code on understanding the battlefield and translating it to the professional playing field.
Jason Van Camp is the founder of Mission Six Zero, a leadership development company focused on taking teams and corporate clients to the next level. “We have some of the best military leaders you’ve ever seen,” said VanCamp. From Medal of Honor recipients Flo Groberg and Leroy Petry, Green Beret turned Seattle Seahawk Nate Boyer, to plenty of Marines, Delta Force, Rangers and Navy SEALs, their team is stacked with experience.
But that’s not where it ends. Van Camp has put research behind performance mechanisms with an equally impressive team of scientists to qualify their data and translate it into something teams can implement. One of the key factors to their success? “Deliberate discomfort,” said Van Camp. “Once you deliberately and voluntarily choose the harder path, good things will happen for you and for your team. You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
The reviews of the program speak for itself. “I thought I knew where I stood in the football world,” said Marcel Reese, former NFL player. “But after my experience with Mission Six Zero, along with my team, I learned more than I could have ever imagined… mostly about myself as a teammate, leader and a man in general. I would strongly encourage all teams to work with these guys.”
Van Camp shared a story about one of the teams he worked with. A player asked him if the workshop was really going to make him a better player. He responded, “It’s not about making you a better player, it’s making the guy to your left and to your right a better player.” Van Camp took his lessons and parlayed them into a book with the title reflecting their greatest theory: “Deliberate Discomfort.”
Van Camp and 11 other decorated veterans take you through their experiences – intense, traumatic battles they fought and won, sharing the lessons learned from those incredible challenges. Jason and his cadre of scientists further break down those experiences, translating them into digestible and relatable action items, showing the average person how they can apply them to their own lives and businesses.
The book is “gripping. Authentic. Engaging… prodigiously researched, carefully argued and gracefully written,” said Frank Abagnale, Jr., world-renowned authority on forgery (and also the author of Catch Me If You Can). It’s a heart-pounding read that will keep you turning the pages and wanting to immediately apply the lessons to your own life.
In addition to writing books, running a company and being just a badass in general, Van Camp also has a soft spot in his heart for the veteran community. He founded Warrior Rising, a nonprofit that empowers U.S. military veterans and their immediate family members by providing them opportunities to create sustainable businesses, perpetuate the hiring of fellow American veterans, and earn their future.
From the battlefield to the football field to the boardroom, with such an elite mission, it’s easy to see why Mission Six Zero is such an elite organization.
The US Army is developing precision-guided 155mm rounds that are longer range than existing shells and able to conduct combat missions in a GPS-denied war environment.
The Precision Guidance Kit Modernization (PGK-M) is now being developed to replace the standard PGK rounds, which consist of an unguided 155 round with a GPS-fuse built into it; the concept with the original PGK, which first emerged roughly 10 years ago, was to bring a greater amount of precision to historically unguided artillery fire.
Now, Army developers with the Army’s Program Executive Office Ammunition at Picatinny Arsenal are taking the technology to a new level by improving upon the range, accuracy, and functionality of the weapon. Perhaps of greatest importance, the emerging PGK-M shell is engineered such that it can still fire with range and accuracy in a war environment where GPS guidance and navigation technology is compromised or destroyed.
The emerging ammunition will be able to fire from standard 155mm capable weapons such as an Army M777 lightweight towed howitzer and M109 howitzer.
“PGK-M will provide enhanced performance against a broad spectrum of threats. In addition, PGK-M will be interoperable with the Army’s new long-range artillery projectiles, which are currently in parallel development,” Audra Calloway, spokeswoman for the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal, told Warrior Maven.
BAE Systems is among several vendors currently developing PGK-M with the Army’s Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium. BAE developers say the kits enable munitions to make in-flight course corrections even in GPS-jammed environments.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessica A. DuVernay)
“Our experience with munitions handling, gun launch shock, interior ballistics, and guidance and fire control uniquely positions us to integrate precision technology into the Army’s artillery platforms,” David Richards, Program Manager, Strategic Growth Initiatives for our Precision Guidance and Sensing Solutions group, BAE Systems, told Warrior Maven in a statement.
This technological step forward is quite significant for the Army, as it refines its attack technologies in a newly-emerging threat environment. The advent of vastly improved land-fired precision weaponry began about 10 years ago during the height of counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. GPS-guided 155m Excalibur rounds and the Army’s GPS and inertial measurement unit weapon, the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, burst onto the war scene as a way to give commanders more attack options.
Traditional suppressive fire, or “area weapons” as they have been historically thought of, were not particularly useful in combat against insurgents. Instead, since enemies were, by design, blended among civilians, Army attack options had little alternative but to place the highest possible premium upon precision guidance.
GMLRS, for example, was used to destroy Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, and Excalibur had its combat debut in the 2007, 2008 timeframe. With a CEP of roughly 1-meter Excalibur proved to be an invaluable attack mechanism against insurgents. Small groups of enemy fighters, when spotted by human intel or overhead ISR, could effectively be attack without hurting innocents or causing what military officials like to call “collateral damage.” PGK was initially envision as a less expensive, and also less precise, alternative to Excalibur.
The rise of near peer threats, and newer technologies commensurate with larger budgets and fortified military modernization ambitions, have created an entirely new war environment confronting the Army of today and tomorrow. Principle among these circumstances is, for example, China’s rapid development of Anti-Satellite, or ASAT weapons.This ongoing development, which has both the watchful eye and concern of US military strategists and war planners, underscores a larger and much discussed phenomenon – that of the United States military being entirely too reliant upon GPS for combat ops. GPS, used in a ubiquitous way across the Army and other military services, spans small force-tracking devices to JDAMs dropped from the air, and much more, of course including the aforementioned land weapons.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Veronica Mammina)
Advanced jamming techniques, electronic warfare and sophisticated cyberattacks have radically altered the combat equation – making GPS signals vulnerable to enemy disruption. Accordingly, there is a broad consensus among military developers, and industry innovators that far too many necessary combat technologies are reliant upon GPS systems. Weapons targeting, ship navigation, and even small handheld solider force-tracking systems all rely upon GPS signals to operate.
Accordingly, the Army and other services are now accelerating a number of technical measures and emerging technologies designed to create what’s called Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT), or GPS-like guidance, navigation and targeting, without actually needing satellites. This includes ad hoc software programmable radio networks, various kinds of wave-relay connectivity technologies and navigational technology able to help soldiers operate without GPS-enabled force tracking systems.
At the same time, the Army is working with the Air Force on an integrated strategy to protect satellite comms, harden networks, and also better facilitate joint-interoperability in a GPS-denied environment.
The Air Force Space strategy, for instance, is currently pursuing a multi-fold satellite strategy to include “dispersion,” “disaggregation” and “redundancy.” At the same time, the service has also identified the need to successfully network the force in an environment without GPS. Naturally, this is massively interwoven with air-ground coordination. Fighters, bombers and even drones want to use a wide range of secure sensors to both go after targets and operate with ground forces.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is working with industry to test and refine an emerging radiofrequency force-tracking technology able to identify ground forces’ location without needing to rely upon GPS.
Given all this, it is by no means insignificant that the Army seeks guided rounds able to function without GPS. Should they engage in near-peer, force-on-force mechanized ground combat against a major, technologically advanced adversary, they may indeed need to launch precision attacks across wide swaths of terrain – without GPS.
Finally, by all expectations, modern warfare is expected to increasingly become more and more dispersed across wider swaths of terrain, while also more readily crossing domains, given rapid emergence of longer range weapons and sensors.
This circumstance inevitably creates the need for both precision and long-range strike. As one senior Army weapons developer with PEO Missiles and Space told Warrior Maven in an interview — Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch — …”it is about out-ranging the enemy.”
Senate lawmakers on Thursday once again signaled to the Veterans Affairs Department they want VA doctors able to talk to patients about use of medical marijuana.
By a 20-10 bipartisan vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the military construction and veterans legislation allowing agency doctors to make recommendations to vets on the use of medical marijuana — something they can’t do now even in states where cannabis prescriptions are legal.
“We should be doing everything we can to make life easier for our veterans,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, said in a statement. “Prohibiting VA doctors from talking to their patients about medical marijuana just doesn’t make sense. The VA shouldn’t be taking legal treatment options off the table for veterans.”
Medical marijuana is being prescribed in some states for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, even though its effectiveness remains questionable.
The legislative amendment was sponsored by Merkley and Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, who successfully got the same amendment through the committee in November, only to see it stripped from the bill by House lawmakers a month later.
The latest language still has to be considered by the full Senate and then be sent once more to the House for approval.
The VA won’t comment on the lawmakers’ actions on medical marijuana, but its website quotes a report by Marcel Bonn-Miller of the National Center for PTSD at the VA Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, and Glenna Rousseau of the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont, dismissing marijuana as useful in treating veterans.
“Controlled studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD,” the report states. “Thus, there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD.”
The federal government in 2014 approved a study on medical marijuana to be conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a California-based nonprofit research center. But the research hasn’t yet been completed.