The US Navy has fired two senior commanders in the Pacific region in connection with recent deadly collisions of Navy ships, as part of a sweeping purge of leadership in the Japan-based fleet.
The announcement comes a day before the top US Navy officer and the Navy secretary are scheduled to go to Capitol Hill for a hearing on the ship crashes.
Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander of the Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet, fired Rear Adm. Charles Williams and Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, citing a loss of confidence in their ability to command. Williams was the commander of Task Force 70, which includes the aircraft carriers, destroyers and cruisers in the 7th Fleet, and Bennett was commander of the destroyer squadron.
Capt. Jeffrey Bennett (left) and Rear Adm. Charles Williams. Photos from US Navy.
Last month, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, who previously led 7th Fleet, was relieved of duty.
The USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided in Southeast Asia last month, leaving 10 US sailors dead and five injured. And seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided in waters off Japan.
The latest dismissals bring the number of fired senior commanders to six, including the top three officers of the Fitzgerald.
Navy Capt. Charlie Brown said Sept. 18 that 7th Fleet ships have completed the one-day operational pause ordered for the entire Navy to make sure crews were conducting safe operations. And Pacific Fleet is in the process of carrying out a ship-by-ship review of its vessels, looking at navigation, mechanical systems, bridge resource management, and training.
Rear Adm. Marc Dalton is now commander Task Force 70, and Capt. Jonathan Duffy, who was deputy commander of the destroyer squadron, took over as commander.
Thundering jets above Colorado Springs the morning of May 9 bid a final farewell to a native son who went missing 48 years ago on a mission to bomb the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
It was a sound that Capt. Roger Helwig loved. Helwig, who was born in Trinidad and raised in Colorado Springs, was a free spirit known for meticulous honesty oddly melded with a wild streak that drove him to seek adventure in the sky.
“He was a tremendous guy,” said retired Maj. Jack Schnurr, a flight school friend, after an Air Force Academy memorial for the captain.
Helwig loved the F-4 Phantom and new bride Carol in what some joking called equal measures when he flew off for his second tour in Vietnam in 1969.
“He didn’t have to be there,” Schnurr said. “He volunteered to go back.”
On his first tour overseas, Helwig flew in the second seat of the F-4, running the plane’s weapons systems and electronics as a GIB, the military acronym for “guy in back.”
After he came home, Helwig got more flight training and headed back to war as the guy in front.
He was a forward air controller, one of the legendary “fast-FACs” who ranged far and wide over Southeast Asia spotting targets for troops on the ground.
During his final flight, Helwig and Capt. Roger Stearns were 10 miles west of Vietnam on a mission to stop the flow of arms and troops that fueled the Viet Cong insurgency. Flights against targets in neutral Laos, though, were something the Air Force avoided discussing in public.
Records say the two had just bombed a target, and the jet was trailing a mist of fuel before it exploded. Searchers later found shredded parachutes and the remains of a life raft, but they didn’t find Helwig or Stearns.
In 1990, a Defense Department team returned to the crash site and found Stearns’ remains. Helwig stayed missing until last summer.
His widow got a visit from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in August. Searchers had found a tiny talisman at the jungle site: Helwig’s dog tag.
“It was surreal when I held that in the palm of my hand,” Carol said May 9. “It was as if I was reliving the past.”
Dozens gathered at the academy May 9 to relive the past with her and tell stories about the 26-year-old pilot.
Lt. Col. Mike Newton, a chaplain, told mourners they need to remember Helwig’s courage.
“I have no idea what it took to fly 100 missions in Vietnam, each one of them harrowing,” Newton said. “But he strapped it on every time.”
Carol remembered the kind but kind of crazy young man she met when he was riding his motorcycle from Arizona to Washington, D.C.
She knew she was competing with a twin-engined jet for Helwig’s affection.
“He loved flying,” she said.
Helwig left no children to mourn him, but a wide array of friends came to the Air Force Academy cemetery to remember.
The academy supplied an honor guard, rifle team, and a bugler to play taps.
The 24 notes of Taps lay heroes to rest. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy)
Air Combat Command offered up four F-15 Eagle fighters to blaze overhead in the missing man formation.
Carol supplied her own touch. Bells played a last waltz for the man she loved — the theme song of Doctor Zhivago, the first film they had seen together.
And as the bells played, quiet voices whispered the song’s tale of love long lost but reclaimed.
“Somewhere, my love, there will be songs to sing. Although the snow covers the hope of spring.”
Sexual assault is a mortifying secret for far too many veterans. Although it is not often talked about, Military Sexual Trauma, or “MST” as it is often called, is a significant problem in the military. Some of this is due to hazing, dominance and other unexplained reasons. Regardless of the cause, individuals who are victims of MST can experience various mental health problems.
According to Stephanie Cojocaru, Psy.D., a psychologist in Florida, screening conducted on veterans who are treated through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers and clinics shows that “one in four women and one in 100 men report experiencing [Military Sexual Trauma] while in the military.” However, Dr. Cojocaru believes that those rates are much higher because “many service members do not report the [Military Sexual Trauma] at all.”
Although the results of the VA screening indicate that women are more likely to suffer from MST than men, Dr. Cojocaru believes that the numbers are more evenly split than they might initially appear. She bases this on a recent Department of Defense study of 21,000 service members who reported MST in the year of the study. Dr. Cojocaru explains that 52 percent of those who suffered MST were men. This means that many veterans, both male and female, have been victims of MST.
MST can affect different people in very different ways. For example, Dr. Cojocaru states that she has “seen many veterans who had been raped in the military … who go on to develop severe depression, anxiety, PTSD or substance abuse.” However, she has also “met many veterans who have been sexually assaulted in the military who went on to live seemingly normal lives, being somewhat unscathed by the event.” This means that depending on the veteran and circumstance, the outcome can vary widely. Some individuals may be impacted so severely that they have difficulty maintaining employment, in social situations or even functioning in day-to-day life.
Because this is such a problem in the military, the VA has made special regulations to make it easier for MST victims to obtain disability benefits. MST will often present as a type of post-traumatic stress disorder. Although normally the VA requires that veterans provide some corroborative evidence of the event, in cases of MST, the veteran need only show evidence of a change in behavior. Change in behavior can be shown by a request to transfer to another unit, decline in work performance, substance abuse, depression, panic attacks, anxiety without an otherwise discernable cause or unexplained economic or social behavioral changes.
If the veteran can show that there was a change in behavior during military service and there is a current psychiatric diagnosis due to the MST, the VA will grant a service connection. Once the VA decides that the MST is due to military service, the next step is for the VA to rate the severity of the condition. Because the symptoms of MST can vary from person to person, so do the VA’s ratings. However, often, a veteran still must appeal the VA’s initial rating of MST to eventually obtain a rating as high as is actually deserved.
MST remains an ongoing problem in the military. However, in the meantime, victims of MST should seek treatment immediately and consider applying for VA disability benefits upon discharge. According to Dr. Cojocaru, “a good rule of thumb is to seek help sooner rather than later … because it can more often than not lead to a better prognosis.”
This article originally appeared on Military1. Follow @Military1 on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: This story was first published on TheConversation.com in May 2018. It does not discuss the most recent development in the region, but is still a great guide to the state of tensions between the two countries.
After Donald Trump announced that the US would unilaterally pull back from the historic 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, Iranian forces in Syria fired rockets into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the first time. The Israelis retaliated by targeting Iranian forces and positions in Syria. That attack, which killed 23 people, was the biggest Israeli assault on Iranian positions in Syria since the civil war there started in 2011.
For a moment, it looked like two of the Middle East’s major political and military players to the verge of a full-scale military conflict. An Israeli-Iranian war could throw the Middle East into one of its most destructive clashes in modern history, one that could polarise the world’s powers, dragging in the US, a reliable ally of Israel, and Russia, Syria’s strongest ally and hence Iran’s strategic ally. And yet, neither has so far chosen to escalate further. Why?
For its part, Iran knows that its capacity to strike back is limited. But more than that, the two countries’ history and military development makes an explosive conflict unlikely.
While Israel has openly clashed with its Arab neighbors before — notably Egypt, Jordan, and Syria — it has never engaged in a direct military showdown with Iran. In fact, it’s easy to forget now that before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran and Israel enjoyed a close relationship. They were the US’s two main Middle Eastern allies, and Iranian oil was delivered to Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Things only changed when the Iranian Shah was ousted in 1979; after that, the revolution’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, proclaimed Israel a “foe of Islam” and cut off all ties with it.
Spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
But then came the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. This grueling conflict had a huge impact on Iran’s military doctrine, and the experience of it underpins the country’s geopolitical and national security concerns to this day. The reality of war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq compelled the Iranian government to prioritiZe a more defensive foreign policy; where it participates in other conflicts, it usually prefers to do so via proxies rather than by direct military action.
As a result, to the extent Israel considers Iran a major existential threat today, it’s particularly worried about Iranian involvement in other Middle Eastern conflicts. It has more than once fought Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, most recently in 2006. And while the protracted conflict in Yemen, for example, is in many ways a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iranian-backed forces could use Yemeni territory to strike Israeli targets.
But even if a conflict erupted on one of these fronts, there’d be another calculation to factor in: the two countries’ very different military assets.
The bulk of Iran’s arms stockpile is domestically developed and manufactured, its own-brand rockets and missiles tested in the field mostly by Hezbollah. But in recent years, Iran has also been procuring weapons and technical expertise from nations antagonistic toward the West: China, Russia, and possibly (in nuclear form) North Korea.
Israel’s main strength is its exceptional military power. Its weapons systems include the Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defence shields, extremely precise defence tools that can pulverise perhaps more than 90% of hostile missiles in mid-air.
Israel also commands air power unrivalled in the Middle East; it recently took possession of the US-manufactured F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which it is augmenting with its own technology. On top of all this, in 2016, the US agreed to increase its military aid to Israel to US.8 billion a year until 2028.
IAF F-35I Adir on its first flight with the Israeli Air Force, 2016.
And yet, Israel too is less than confident about the consequences of an conflict with Iran. However formidable its strategic and technological edge, it’s still unable to fully mend political and diplomatic fences with many of its Arab neighbours. It lives in hostile surroundings, constantly vulnerable to attack on almost all fronts. A major war with another heavily armed power is the last thing it needs.
At arm’s length
One advantage Iran does have is its array of proxies and non-state allies, which allow it to project hard power far closer to Israel than it would want to send regular forces. It has a valuable ally in Hamas, which controls Gaza; in Lebanon, Hezbollah could be prepared to assist if necessary. It could also exploit Sunni/Shia splits across the Middle East to secure the support of Shia volunteer armies. And since Saddam Hussein’s fall, Iran has been hugely influential in Iraq, which is struggling to establish a political order that can accommodate Shia, Kurds, and Sunnis.
Yet even with all this influence at its disposal, Iran would clearly prefer not to end up escalating a military conflict with Israel. Aside from the military implications, to do so would squander what moral and diplomatic support it’s gathered since the US’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
So for now, both sides are being cautious. Israel’s recent airstrikes targeted raid on military installations, not individuals — an acknowledgement that a heavy casualties might put Iran under pressure to retaliate. Meanwhile, Iran’s domestic debate on whether and how to respond is still rumbling, with progressives insisting the nuclear deal must be safeguarded while their hawkish countrymen would prefer a more confrontational stance. The government has yet to decide which road to take.
But whatever happens in the immediate future, Israel and Iran remain bitter foes, both heavily armed and tied up in a mess of geopolitical interests. Were a war to break out between them, they would gravely damage each other, but neither is likely to rise as the ultimate victor. That both seem to be fully aware of this reality is perhaps the most important thing standing on the way of what could be a true catastrophe.
KYIV, Ukraine — Residents of a northern Russian village were informed this week that they were living in a “danger zone” due to unspecified “work” being done a little more than 1 mile away at a secretive weapons testing site where the Russian military has been developing its new arsenal of so-called doomsday weapons.
An internet post advised the roughly 500 residents of the White Sea coastal village of Nyonoksa that five buses were ready to evacuate them as a precaution due to activity planned for July 7 to 8 at the nearby military weapons facility, which has been operational since the 1950s for the development and testing of sea- and land-based cruise missiles.
The warning paralleled another for mariners in the White Sea, issued by the port authorities of Arkhangelsk, which was to last from July 6 to 10. The maritime warning proscribed sea vessels from entering an area beginning off the coast of Nyonoksa and the nearby town of Severodvinsk and extending northeast.
A Russian Federation air force Su-27 fighter participates in Vigilant Eagle 13. Photo by Mary Kavanagh, Canadian Forces Artist Program/Released.
No further information was given regarding the exact nature of this week’s test. But the Nyonoksa weapons testing facility has seen extraordinary activity in recent years — including some high-profile accidents that put civilian lives at risk.
In December 2015, an errant cruise missile from the facility hit an apartment block in Nyonoksa, starting a fire. There were no injuries, according to news reports at the time. And in August last year, the botched test of a nuclear-powered cruise missile off the coast of Nyonoksa killed five civilian and military specialists, injured others, and spiked radiation levels in nearby civilian settlements.
The explosion happened when a barge reportedly attempted to recover a nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile from the seabed. Those killed included members of a special nuclear reactor development team from Rosatom, Russia’s national nuclear energy corporation.
The 9M730 Burevestnik — known as the “Skyfall” among NATO militaries — is a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed cruise missile with virtually unlimited range. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the experimental weapon in March 2018 along with several other “doomsday” weapons. A video presentation of one weapon system showed a simulated attack on Florida.
A U.S. F-22 Raptor intercepts a Russian bomber near Alaska on June 10. Photo courtesy of NORAD.
Putin, who touted Russia’s new weapons as “invincible,” warned the U.S. to take Russia’s military might seriously.
“You will have to assess that new reality and become convinced that what I said today isn’t a bluff,” the Russian president said. “It’s not a bluff, trust me.”
However, the Burevestnik has reportedly hit some snags, the August 2019 nuclear accident most notable among them. Moscow never confirmed that its Burevestnik cruise missile was behind last August’s accident. Yet, referring to the NATO name for the Russian weapon, in a tweet last year President Donald Trump cited the “failed missile explosion in Russia” as the “‘Skyfall’ explosion.”
Following the breakdown of the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and Russia last year, and with Moscow and Washington increasingly at loggerheads over a broad gamut of geopolitical issues, Putin has embarked his country’s military on a crash-course program to develop new weapons.
Apart from the Burevestnik, in 2018 Putin unveiled other new weapons that he touted would be able to defeat U.S. missile defense systems. Among those was the Avangard hypersonic vehicle, supposedly capable of flying at Mach 27. The Avangard reportedly went operational in December.
Russia is also reportedly developing a nuclear-powered underwater drone — the “Poseidon” — that will creep up to an adversary’s coast, detonate a nuclear weapon, and create a 500-meter, or 1,640-foot, tsunami.
According to some scientific journal reports, Russia may also be resurrecting some Soviet-era antisatellite missile programs, particularly one missile known as Kontakt, which was meant to be fired from a MiG-31D fighter.
Whereas the Soviet-era Kontakt system comprised a kinetic weapon intended to literally smash into U.S. satellites to destroy them, the contemporary Russian program — incidentally, also named Burevestnik, although unrelated to the novel nuclear-powered cruise missile — will likely carry a payload of micro “interceptor” satellites that can effectively ambush enemy satellites.
Thus, with Russia’s many advanced weapons systems in development, this week’s so-called optional evacuation of Nyonoksa is not necessarily suggestive of any extraordinary development, experts say. However, the news also comes amid reports in late June that radiation levels across northern Europe were reading above normal — a phenomenon that some scientists attributed to likely weapons tests by Russia in the Arctic.
On June 23, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) reported that scientists in Sweden had detected unusually high levels of radiation. Weather patterns suggested northern Russia was the point of origin.
According to open-source radar satellite imagery, a Russian ship previously associated with testing of the Poseidon nuclear-powered underwater drone was off the coast of Nyonoksa on June 23. Some experts speculate that a failed test of the Poseidon could be the culprit behind the recent radiation spike.
With most veteran service organizations, the only way to get in the door is to show your military cred — if you didn’t serve, they don’t serve.
And that’s great for some. But for groups like Team Red, White Blue, the whole point is to bring veterans and the civilian community together.
If you didn’t serve, we’re here to serve, they say.
And that proved a crucial difference for Mark Benson, a former Army fire direction specialist who left the military in 2004 after serving a tour during the invasion of Iraq. It was that civilian-to-military connection that attracted Benson to Team RWB, and it’s a distinction that he believes helps former service members survive in the civilian world.
“Team RWB’s mission is also to help folks rejoin the civilian world. If you’re not engaged with civilians then how are you ever going to connect with the civilian world?” Benson said. “If you’re just hanging out with a bunch of veterans, then you just kind of have your own little microcosm.”
Living in the Los Angeles area is like living in a military veteran desert, he said, it’s hard to find folks who get what doing a combat deployment means. But through his work as a community liaison with Team RWB, Benson found that even those who didn’t serve have a lot of support to offer.
“Some of these non-veterans did experience things in their life where they had a hard time and they kind of can relate to a certain extent,” Benson said. “A lot of the people that are in the leadership in the LA chapter aren’t veterans, but they do have a story. And I think that’s important.”
Benson has been a community liaison for Team RWB for almost a year and helped run with the “stars and stripes” in this year’s cross-country Old Glory Relay. It was Benson’s first run and served as a poignant reminder of the service he and others gave of themselves and provided an outlet to show a new generation the meaning of patriotism and selflessness.
During a stretch of the relay, Benson and his team of runners passed by an elementary school where the kids were lined up outside reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Later in the run, the Old Glory Relay team paid their respects with the flag at a veterans memorial cemetery.
“It was kind of cool to start out with the young future leaders of the world and then go pay our respects to those who gave their lives to help those young leaders live their lives in peace,” Benson said.
With just over a year being part of Team Red, White Blue, Benson sees his involvement deepening and the influence of his organization growing. Particularly in a non-military town like Los Angeles, it’s groups like Team RWB that bring veterans and their community together and help narrow that military-civilian divide.
“LA is probably one of those areas that has a larger civilian-military divide,” Benson said. “But it seems like in our area at least, there’s definitely a lot more understanding.”
While speaking to US Marines in San Diego on March 13, 2018, President Donald Trump suggested creating a branch of the military for space.
“My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a war-fighting domain just like the land, air and sea,” Trump said at Miramar Air Station. “We may even have a Space Force.”
“You know, I was saying it the other day cause we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space,” Trump said. “I said ‘maybe we need a new force, we’ll call it the space force.’ And I was not really serious, and then I said ‘what a great idea, maybe we’ll have to do that.'”
“That could happen, that could be the big breaking story,” Trump said. “Look at all those people back there,” Trump said, pointing to the media in the background. “Look at them… Ohhhh, that fake news.”
While Trump appears to have wandered into the issue in his speech, the idea is not new.
The Congressional Strategic Forces Subcommittee even proposed creating such a branch in July 2017, which they called Space Corps. But the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that passed in November 2017 actually banned it.
On the 72nd anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, as World War II veterans gathered to attend a ceremony on their behalf at the National WWII Memorial in Washington DC, the veteran campaign Got Your 6 rallied 125 veterans, family members, and civilian supporter volunteers to work with the National Park Service beautifying the grounds — painting benches, clearing brush, and mulching flower beds.
“There’s not a better generation of veterans who have led a resurgence of community than World War II vets,” said Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6. “Seventy-two years ago today the United States lost more troops storming the beaches of Normandy than we have in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over 14 years. No generation has given more to their country, and we want to honor their legacy. That’s why we picked the World War II Memorial, but we had so many badass vets show up that we pushed them over to the Vietnam War Memorial as well.”
Marine Corps vet Matt Stiner, the White House’s associate director of Veterans and Military Affairs, kicked off the event by reading a proclamation from President Obama:
I send greetings to all those joining Got Your 6 in honoring our nation’s veterans. America endures because of the great patriots who bear the incredible burden of defending our freedom. Our veterans have been tested in ways that the rest of us may never fully understand. As you come together with a common purpose know that I am grateful for your efforts. God bless the members of our armed forces and their families, and God bless the United States of America.
The volunteers were given their beautification assignments by Park Ranger James Pierce, an Army veteran who was wounded by a suicide bomber while serving in Khost, Afghanistan. Pierce got his job through a program called Operation Guardian that places wounded vets into roles with the National Park Service.
“I just changed uniforms,” Pierce explained. “My mission is still important. A lot of people are depending on me. It gets me out of bed in the morning.”
Howard Banks is a WWII veteran who was injured while protecting Old Glory. Not in Europe or the Pacific, but in front of his Texas home.
The 92-year-old Banks is legally blind, but could spot someone trying to tear down the American flag posted in front of his house in Kaufman, Texas. When he went out to see what was happening, he was pushed to the ground.
Banks didn’t stay down for long. Just the previous year, vandals took down his U.S. flag, shredded it and then tore up his Marine Corps. Still holding on to the railing, Banks stood back up, ready to meet his attackers.
But they ran off. Banks was left with a twisted knee and some other bruises, but his flags were intact. Neighbors moved to help the 92-year-old, whose flags were still there. Banks attributed his dedication to the flag as more than just defending his property and his Marine Corps heritage.
“We’ve honored our flag all that time and doggone it, with our political climate the way that it is, we need something to rally around and that’s our flag,” Banks told the local Fox affiliate. “Once a Marine, always a Marine. I try to live that way.”
In the days since, Banks was surprised with a gift from Honor Flight, whose mission is to help older veterans by flying them to Washington, D.C., free of charge so they can visit their war’s memorial.
Banks’ neighbors moved in quickly to assist him. He now has security cameras in place to monitor his flags.
A government official says a Jordanian soldier faces murder charges in the shooting deaths of three US military trainers at a Jordanian air base.
He says the soldier will be tried by a military court, starting June 7th. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
The US Army Green Berets were killed November 4 at the Al-Jafr air base in southern Jordan. They came under fire as their convoy entered the base.
Jordanian officials initially said the trainers sparked the shooting by disobeying orders from Jordanian soldiers.
The slain Americans were 27-year-old Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Lewellen, of Kirksville, Missouri; 30-year-old Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe of Tucson, Arizona; and 27-year-old Staff Sgt. James F. Moriarty of Kerrville, Texas.
The Sasebo-based amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) rendered assistance to two distressed mariners, Oct. 25, whose sailboat had strayed well off its original course.
The mariners, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, both from Honolulu, and their two dogs had set sail from Hawaii to Tahiti this spring. They had an engine casualty May 30 during bad weather but continued on, believing they could make it to land by sail.
Two months into their journey and long past when they originally estimated they would reach Tahiti, they began to issue distress calls. The two continued the calls daily, but they were not close enough to other vessels or shore stations to receive them.
On Oct. 24, they were discovered 900 miles southeast of Japan by a Taiwanese fishing vessel. The fishing vessel contacted Coast Guard Sector Guam who then coordinated with Taipei Rescue Coordination Center, the Japan Coordination Center, and the Joint Coordination Center in Honolulu to render assistance.
Operating near the area on a routine deployment, Ashland made best speed to the location of the vessel in the early morning on Oct. 25 and arrived on scene at 10:30 a.m that morning. After assessing the sailboat unseaworthy, Ashland crew members brought the distressed mariners and their two dogs aboard the ship at 1:18 p.m.
“I’m grateful for their service to our country. They saved our lives. The pride and smiles we had when we saw [U.S. Navy] on the horizon was pure relief,” said Appel.
Appel said they survived the situation by bringing water purifiers and over a year’s worth of food on board, primarily in the form of dry goods such as oatmeal, pasta and rice.
Once on Ashland, the mariners were provided with medical assessments, food and berthing arrangements. The mariners will remain on board until Ashland’s next port of call.
“The U.S. Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation,” said Cmdr. Steven Wasson, Ashland commanding officer.
Part of U.S. 7th Fleet’s forward deployed naval forces out of Sasebo, Japan, Ashland has been on a routine deployment for the past five months as a ready-response asset for any of contingency.
In Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s first landmark Pacific policy address, the newly installed PM said Australia will commit anew to the Pacific, setting up a multibillion-dollar infrastructure bank to fund projects in the region and appointing a series of new diplomatic posts.
“Australia will step up in the Pacific and take our engagement with the region to a new level,” the prime minister said Nov. 8, 2018.
“While we have natural advantages in terms of history, proximity and shared values, Australia cannot take its influence in the southwest Pacific for granted, and too often we have,” Morrison said.
Morrison announced new defense force mobile-training team, annual meetings of defense, police, and border security chiefs, and new diplomatic posts in a number of Pacific countries.
The centerpiece will be a billion AUD financial facility to help fund major regional projects while the existing export financing agency (EFA) will be boosted by another one billion dollars.
Referring to Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, Morrison said the stability and economic progress of the Pacific region are of “fundamental importance,” and no single country can tackle the challenges on its own.
Chinese President Xi Jinping
(Photo by Michel Temer)
Morrison announced his Pacific Pivot ahead of a milestone meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Asia-Pacific regional leaders next week at the APEC forum in Papua New Guinea.
Morrison said it was time Australia opened a “new chapter in relations with our Pacific family.” “Australia has an abiding interest in a Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically, and sovereign politically.”
A familiar tone
In a speech that strongly echoed former US President Barack Obama’s “Asian Pivot” address in Canberra in 2011, Morrison outlined his own plan to project Australian soft power in an attempt to thwart China’s unchecked economic and industrial expansion across the Pacific over the last decade.
In a pretty unforgettable speech to Australia’s parliament on Nov. 17, 2011, Obama declared that “America is back!” “Let there be no doubt: in the Asia-Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all-in.”
That was about the zenith of the much-vaunted pivot, and at around exactly the same time China started to take its interests in the Pacific to a fresh intensity.
According to Reuters’ calculations, since Obama’s “Asia Pivot,” China has poured id=”listicle-2618687423″.3 billion in concessionary loans and gifts to almost instantly become the Pacific’s second-largest donor after Australia.
Falling under Beijing’s influence
Today, China is the region’s biggest bilateral lender, although Australia’s significant aid programs mean it remains the largest financial backer in the South Pacific.
While China has always maintained a political stake in the region as part of its ongoing diplomatic chess battle with Taiwan, the sheer magnitude and speed of Chinese assistance eventually raised alarms and even hysteria among Western-aligned nations that the string of southern Pacific island states was very quickly falling under Beijing’s influence.
But if Australia’s backyard was finding itself over a Beijing barrel, then Morrison put his hand up for the first time to acknowledge that Australia and its major allies, the US foremost amongst them, wore some of the blame for that and had neglected the region for too long.
Australia, he said, had taken the Pacific and its nations “for granted.” Speaking from a military facility in Townsville where US troops are based, Morrison redrew the Pacific’s strategic importance to Australia’s foreign and defense policy.
Morrison promised closer economic, military and diplomatic ties in what will undoubtedly be seen from Beijing as a move to counter its efforts to drive its controversial One Belt, One Road initiative or in this case its 21st-century maritime silk road.
One Belt, One Road initiative. China in red, Members of the AIIB in orange, the six corridors in black.
Fortunately, Beijing won’t even have to pick up the phone with Morrison’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne already in Beijing heading up Australia’s first mission to China in several years after an extended diplomatic freeze out. “This is not just our region, or our neighborhood.
It’s our home,” Morrison said. Morrison flagged that the region requires around billion per year in investments up to 2030, adding, “It’s where Australia can make the biggest difference in world affairs.”But that is something China has been more than happy to help achieve.
Beijing has sewn up diplomatic relations with eight Pacific island countries, from the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Fiji, Niue, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu. (Others of course, recognize Taiwan.)
In the ten years between 2006 and 2016, The Lowy Institute a Sydney-based think tank, reckons Beijing has probably injected more than .3 billion into the region.
China has been more than happy to accommodate small nations such as Vanuatu, Tonga and the Solomon Islands with concessional loans, criticized by many as overt “debt-trap diplomacy.”
Colombo’s failure to get on top of billion in debt repayments to Beijing’s state-owned enterprises has already given Beijing what many analysts consider a critically handy strategic toehold in Sri Lanka, in the port of Hambantota, including a 99-year-lease.
The port has idyllic views of the major Indian Ocean sea lanes. Elsewhere China is copping its first significant OBOR pushback out of the Asia-Pacific.
Malaysia is trying to find itself some wriggle room, preferably around perceived inequalities in the huge billion of China-originated infrastructure deals Kuala Lumpur has signed off on. Part of Australia’s appeal to the Pacific will be in aid and funding transfers that have traditionally not been about incurring trade deficits or weighty balance of payments crisis.
However, academics including James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia China Research Institute say that analysis of debt in the Pacific strongly suggests that the “debt-trap diplomacy” argument is without much foundation.
What is certain, however, is that over and above China’s bilateral aid programs across the pacific and its support for regional organisations, Beijing has been at pains to show it is a partner in good faith.
Beijing has backed and hosted major regional meetings, most recently in 2013, in which it announced a suite of aid measures to boost economic resilience and diplomatic engagement, while also providing strong support to regional organisations, most particularly the Pacific Islands Forum.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
China has provided generous scholarship programs for Pacific islands students and contributes significant human resources and training for pacific island government officials.
Johnny Koanapo Rasou, Vanuatu’s Member of Parliament for Tanna Constituency, where China has been delivering badly needed road works and infrastructure, said in a press statement in 2017 that Vanuatu had its eyes wide open as China’s assistance becomes more and more evident.
“Our people are now learning more about China’s capability to positively contribute to our development aspirations.” “The manner in which the Chinese Government is delivering their aid to Vanuatu is different from the styles we are used to from New Zealand or Australia.
“But we must accept that all our development partners have different state structures. China is a communist state but it has created an enabling environment for its own citizens to flourish and therefore they themselves can go out and invest in other countries.”
League of debtor nations
However, according to Thomson Reuters almost half (49.08%) of Vanuatu’s external debt belongs to China. In August 2018, Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva said he hoped Pacific states could negotiate together to find a way out from under Beijing’s loans, before Tonga began to lose control of state assets as was happening in Sri Lanka.
Chinese loans make up more than 60% of Tonga’s total external debt burden. Another focus for Beijing has been the variety of resources available in loosely governed Papua New Guinea, which lays claim to the biggest Chinese debt, nigh on 0 million.
New Guinea, Tonga, and Vanuatu all receive military aid from China. Fiji’s military leaders in particular have been welcoming of Chinese economic, military and strategic assistance.
China’s state media Xinhua has a quiet, but impactful bureau in Suva. While the US and its allies have been distracted with conflicts in the Middle East, China stepped up its military activities in the South Pacific. Chinese companies have sought and often secured access to strategic ports and airfields across many regional archipelagos.
According to Anne-Marie Brady, a political scientist from Canterbury University, satellite interests are an important aspect to China’s surge into the South Pacific. “In 2018, China launched 18 BeiDou-3 satellites into space.
Beidou-3 is China’s indigenous GPS, it provides missile positioning and timing and enhanced C4ISR capabilities for the Chinese military, as well as navigation services to more than 60 countries along the Belt and Road, including in Oceania.
Professor Brady said China’s mobile satellite station receiving station vessels regularly dock in Papeete (Tahiti) and Suva (Fiji), as do other quasi-military boats such as the Peace Ark and China’s well-equipped polar research vessels.
Brady a leading expert on Chinese investment in then pacific said many Pacific leaders now acknowledged China as “the dominant power in the region.”
“China’s strategic and military interests in the South Pacific build on longstanding links and fill the vacuum left by receding US and French power projection in the region, as well as Australia and New Zealand’s neglect of key relationships in the region.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.