The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) is working with industry to implement AI, automation and machine-learning technology into aircraft as a way to anticipate and predict potential maintenance failures, service and industry officials said.
In a collaborative effort with DOD and the Air Force, C3 IoT is working on a deal to integrate AI-driven software into an F-16 and an E-3 Sentry AWACS surveillance aircraft, industry developers explained.
Developers say the new software should be operational on the aircraft within six months.
The plan is to gather and analyze data, such as operationally relevant maintenance information during or after missions so that crews and service engineers can utilize predictive maintenance.
“F-16s will benefit from predictive maintenance as a way to inform pilots of which aircraft are at the highest risk in terms of being unreliable. We pinpoint systems such as engines and subsystems such as the propulsion,” said Ed Abbo, president and CTO of C3 IoT.
The C3 IoT Platform enables the DOD to aggregate and keep current enormous volumes of disparate data, including both structured and unstructured datasets, in a unified cloud-based data image, running on Amazon Web Services, company statements said.
AI can draw upon all available information and assess on-board systems to know when a given component might fail or need to be replaced, bringing logistical advantages as well as cost-savings and safety improvements.
“If a machine fails during a desert landing, then algorithms can recognize that from analyzing other failure cases. We are looking at different properties and looking at prior failure cases so algorithms can determine when something like a propulsion system is likely to fail,” Abbo said.
Depending upon the kind of avionics in an aircraft, on-board sensors can collect essential maintenance data and either download telemetry upon landing or process information right on the aircraft, Abbo explained.
“LINK 16 can transmit data coming directly from on-board sensors, allowing information to be analyzed in real-time during flights by using machine learning and analytics,” Abbo said.
Some aircraft, for instance, have newer sensors able to perform on-board analytics and, in some instances, even record a pilot’s voice as a way to process language information.
This initiative is entirely consistent with a broad service-wide Air Force effort to extend data security beyond IT and apply AI, automation and machine learning to larger platforms.
The next time you are browsing the aisles at Walmart, just think to yourself that the son of Sam Walton, the founder of the retail giant, was involved in special operations during the Vietnam War. Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group — or MACV-SOG — is a name so bland that it shielded the true nature of their top-secret work into deniable areas like Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. How did the 11th richest man in the world intertwine his legacy into one of the most notorious special operations units in U.S. military history?
John Thomas Walton was born in Newport, Arkansas, the second of three sons, and excelled at athletics. He was a standout football star on their public high school football team and was more of a student of life than academics. His father, Sam, opened Walton’s 5&10 in Bentonville, a small business in a small town known for its variety of hunting seasons. Walton had a modest upbringing and after only two years of college he dropped out to enlist in the U.S. Army. “When I was at Wooster [The College of Wooster in Ohio], there were a lot of people talking about the war in the dorm rooms, but I didn’t think they understood it,” Walton said.
Walton enlisted in the Army and became a Green Beret (Army Special Forces). “I figured if you’re going to do something, you should do it the best you can,” he said during an interview with Andy Serwer for Fortune magazine. Assigned to MACV-SOG after the Tet Offensive in 1968, Walton was stationed at FOB 1 in Phu Bai where members of Strike Team Louisiana conducted deep penetration reconnaissance missions. John Stryker Meyer, a teammate and friend of Walton’s, wrote, “In August of ’68, on one such mission, Walton’s six-man recon team was surrounded and overrun by enemy soldiers.” The firefight became so intense that the team leader, William “Pete” Boggs, called an airstrike (napalm) directly on their own position to break contact.
Extracted from page 119 of “On The Ground” by John Stryker Meyer and John E. Peters.
“That strike killed one team member, wounded the team leader and severed the right leg of the Green Beret radio operator Tom Cunningham Jr., of Durham, N.H. Another team member was wounded four times by AK-47 gunfire by an enemy soldier whom Walton killed,” Meyer wrote. As the team’s medic, Walton was responsible in setting up a triage point to tend to the casualties. He applied a tourniquet to Cunningham’s leg that had begun to hemorrhage. The tourniquet ultimately saved his life, but he later lost his leg. Facing hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers (NVA) and completely surrounded, Walton called in two extraction helicopters.
The first helicopter, piloted by South Vietnamese Captain Thinh Dinh, touched down and picked up members of the team, some of whom Walton personally carried. The enemy soldiers were now sprinting to prevent their escape. Bullets clanged off the chopper and whizzed by their bodies. A second helicopter was needed to get them all out, but realizing how dire the situation had turned, the first helicopter sat back down and picked up the entire team. Their weight was too much, and they barely managed to climb over the treetops. Walton’s determination to get his teammates out of harm’s way earned him the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor.
During a poker game on the night they returned to base, one of his teammates noticed that the skin on Walton’s wrist was burnt. It was evidence of just how accurate the NVA gunfire was. Walton, Meyer, and his teammates enjoyed poker, Scrabble, and other games that require thought. They spoke about their goals and the dreams they hoped to accomplish when they returned home. Walton’s was a life of adventure.
Meyer shares how Walton had inspirations to travel domestically on a motorcycle and to Mexico, Central, and South America by plane. He earned his pilot’s license and started his own business crop-dusting cotton fields in Texas and Arizona. Crop-dusting provided Walton a new challenge that helped his transition after Vietnam. His aerial theatrics featured ingenuity, too — Walton co-founded the company Satloc in 1999, which pioneered the use of GPS applications in agricultural crop-dusting. He also served as a company pilot for his family business.
John Walton, far right, is shown in uniform.
(Photo courtesy of John Stryker Meyer.)
It seemed Walton was always searching for his next greatest thrill. He briefly owned a sailing company called Marine Corsair in San Diego, and he regularly traveled to Durango, Colorado, for outdoor activities such as mountain biking, skiing, and skydiving. As Walmart’s success climbed, so too did Walton’s wealth. At one point, he was the 11th richest man in the world, with an estimated .2 billion net worth. However, despite the amount of money he made, he always stayed true to his modest roots. Meyer recalled a breakfast the pair had in Oceanside, California, and Walton arrived in a small Toyota hybrid.
John T. Walton died on June 27, 2005, when his custom-built CGS Aviation Hawk Arrow plane crashed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. He was 58 years old. An investigation determined that loose flight control components were the cause of the fatal accident. Walton left behind a wife, Christy, and son, Lukas.
Though Walton’s name will always be immediately recognized as the heir to the Walmart empire, his legacy is also inextricably tied to MACV-SOG. Two years before his untimely death, Walton chartered his private jet to pick up the family of Thinh Dinh, the South Vietnamese pilot with whom he served decades prior. They reunited in Las Vegas, never forgetting the lasting bonds forged in war.
Embedded With Special Forces in Afghanistan | Part 2
While the Coast Guard is not slowing down in its most important national security operations as the U.S. enters its fifth week of a government shutdown, some activities have been halted or curtailed, and many newly minted Coasties find themselves stuck at recruit training, without funding to head to their first duty stations.
Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a Coast Guard spokesman, told Military.com that recruits whose new units are not well suited to support them during the shutdown or lack the means to return home in the interim “will remain attached to the Training Center [in Cape May, New Jersey] for the duration of the lapse.”
“There have been no immediate operational impacts related to recruit training; however, it is difficult to project the impact that the lapse in appropriations will have on mission readiness months or years from now,” he said Jan. 23, 2019.
There are currently 395 recruits in training. Seventy-six new Coasties graduated Jan. 18, 2019, he said.
Those who have the option to return home may receive a stipend from the government even as the shutdown continues.
Coast Guard cutter Bertholf on a counterdrug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 11, 2018.
(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Trees)
“While the partial government shutdown prevents our ability to provide advance payment of reimbursable transfer expenses, it does not prevent us from issuing plane tickets for recruits to travel directly to units with the capacity to support them during the shutdown,” McBride said.
Often, recruits have the opportunity to return home for leave before reporting to their first assigned unit.
“In these cases, we have been able to coordinate temporary hometown recruiting assignments that allow graduates to make their desired trip home for leave, assist the workforce recruiting effort and temporarily defer execution of their permanent transfer and associated costs,” McBride said. “For those who choose this option, there may be out-of-pocket costs, if the cost of a ticket home exceeds the cost allowance of government transportation to their new unit.”
The Coast Guard will continue to monitor the situation but said that it does not plan on letting recruits leave Cape May without an approved transfer plan with appropriately allocated resources.
Elsewhere in the Coast Guard, the shutdown is also taking a toll on operations.
Boardings for safety checks, the issuance or renewals of merchant documentation and licensing, fisheries enforcement patrols and routine maintenance of aids to navigation have been delayed or downsized, McBride said.
Other modified operations include administrative functions, training, and maintenance for surface and aviation fleets, he said in an email.
“The Coast Guard will continue operations required by law that provide for national security or that protect life and property,” he said, including monitoring coast lines, ports, harbors and inland waterways, as well as maritime intercept and environmental defense operations.
Family and friends reunite with crew members on Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf’s flight deck upon the cutter’s after a 90-day deployment, Sept. 4, 2018.
(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)
“They still have to go out and do their job and focus on the mission when sometimes it’s a very unforgiving environment,” he said in an interview with Military.com on Jan. 23, 2019. He retired from the position in 2018.
“I wouldn’t presume to think that anybody wouldn’t give it 100 percent,” Cantrell said, adding that the current situation does “weigh on people.”
Members of the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, missed their first paychecks Jan. 15, 2019. If the shutdown continues, they will miss their second at the end of the month.
While shutdowns have occurred before, support services for members and families “will have to expand if it goes any longer,” Cantrell said.
Coasties have been relying on donations, loans and even food pantries to sustain their families as they take on necessary duties such as search-and-rescue operations.
“It’s one thing to sit back and go, ‘Wow, why would I want to do that?’ Because they don’t have the option to say, ‘Well, I’m just going to go home.’ They’ve been deemed essential,” Cantrell said, adding that morale is “probably low” in places around the country.
(Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzo-Simmons)
Cantrell said he is hopeful the next generation of service members’ desire to serve will outweigh the current problems.
“People know it’s not the Coast Guard that’s doing this. And I’m 100 percent sure [leaders] have prepped the battlespace for those recruits to know what’s going on in the service. And they do a really good job… at the Training Center … [to get them] excited about the Coast Guard,” he said.
While frustrations remain, Cantrell said he thinks it’s unlikely there will be a significant or long-term national security impact, given the service has seen fluctuating or dwindling budgets before and was still able to press on.
But “it’s a bitter pill to swallow even as a retiree, and I just can’t imagine the young folks out there worrying about things that they shouldn’t have to worry about,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Iran and Israel engaged in a war of words two days after an exchange of missile fire in Syria, with a prominent Iranian cleric threatening to “raze” two Israeli cities if it “acts foolishly” and attacks Iranian forces in Syria again.
Israel’s defense minister issued his own warning, saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will face only “damage and problems” unless he kicks the Iranian military presence out of his country.
Israeli minister Avigdor Lieberman said Assad should especially beware of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that oversees operations outside Iran’s borders.
“I have a message for Assad: Get rid of the Iranians, get rid of Qassem Soleimani and the Quds Force. They are not helping you, they are only harming,” Lieberman said.
“Their presence will only cause problems and damage. Get rid of the Iranians and we can, perhaps, change our mode of life here,” he said.
On May 10, 2018, Israel accused Iran of firing rockets from Syria into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the first time that Iran is believed to have attacked Israel with rockets.
Israel struck back with its heaviest air strikes in Syria since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, saying it had attacked nearly all of Iran’s military infrastructure in the country. A war monitor said the missile exchange left 23 fighters dead.
Israel has warned it will not allow Iran to establish a military presence close to its borders in Syria, where Iranian military advisers, troops, and allied Shi’ite militia have since 2011 played a key role backing Assad in his civil war against Sunni rebels.
Iran on May 10, 2018, called Israel’s accusations, which were supported and corroborated by the United States and Western allies, “fabricated and baseless excuses” to stage attacks in Syria.
A senior Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, warned that the Jewish state could face destruction if it continues to challenge Iran.
“We will expand our missile capabilities despite Western pressure…to let Israel know that if it acts foolishly, we will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground,” he said in remarks during Friday Prayers that were carried on Iranian state television.
A prominent Iranian ally in Lebanon joined the verbal volley on May 10, 2018, warning that both Israel and the United States will face retaliation for repeated Israeli air strikes in Syria that monitors say have killed dozens of Syrian, Iranian, and Hizballah fighters in recent weeks.
Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who is allied with Hizballah, told the Associated Press in an interview that some 1,000 U.S. troops that are stationed in northern and eastern Syria to fight the Islamic State extremist group may be in danger.
“There are American interests in Syria and if there is a larger war, I don’t think even the American president can bear the consequences,” Berri said.
The White House on May 10, 2018, repeated its demand that Iran stop its “reckless actions” against U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.
After a telephone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May, “both leaders condemned the Iranian regime’s provocative rocket attacks from Syria against Israeli citizens,” the White House said.
“It is time for responsible nations to bring pressure on Iran to change this dangerous behavior,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
Veterans will be able to go online and order their new identification cards next month, Congressman Vern Buchanan announced Oct. 12. Buchanan, whose Veterans Identification Card Act (H.R. 91) was signed into law in 2015, said official ID cards will be available to all veterans free of charge by visiting the Department of Veterans Affairs website.
“Every veteran – past, present, and future – will now be able to prove their military service without the added risk of identity theft,” Buchanan said, noting that millions of veterans are currently unable to document their service without carrying around official military records.
“These ID cards will make life a little bit easier for our veterans and serve as a constant reminder that our brave men and women in uniform deserve all the care and respect a grateful nation can offer.”
When ordering online, veterans will need to upload a copy of a valid government issued ID (drivers license/passport), a copy of a recent photograph to be displayed on the card, and will need to provide service-related details. Once ordered, the Veteran ID Card will be printed and mailed directly to the veteran.
Prior to Buchanan’s bill, the VA provided identification cards only to those who served at least 20 years in the Armed Forces or received care from the VA for a service-connected disability. Veterans who did not meet these qualifications had to carry around a paper DD-214 document to prove their military status. This form contains sensitive personal information including social security numbers and service details that put veterans at needless risk for identity theft if they lost or misplaced their documents.
The new identification card will also provide employers looking to hire veterans with an easier way to verify an employee’s military service.
Buchanan represents more than 88,000 veterans in Sarasota, Manatee, and Hillsborough Counties. He served six years in the Michigan Air National Guard and four years on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
The Blackburn Buccaneer was a fast-attack jet of the Royal Navy designed to kill Russian cruisers from just above the waves with conventional and nuclear weapons in engagements lasting only a minute or so. Now, a retired oil company CEO has bought a retired Buccaneer and flies it around South Africa.
The plane was sent to the fleet in 1962 and served for over 30 years. The need for the jet came in 1952 when Russia introduced the Sverdlov-class cruisers. These were a class of cruisers valuable for defending the Russian coasts and attacking British and other carriers at night when the British would be unable to launch planes.
Britain could either build a new fleet of its own to counter Russia’s new fleets and the Sverdlov cruisers or, it could find a way to negate the new Russian assets. The British decided to build a new plane that could launch day or night, and that could quickly attack enemy ships and get away before the ship could retaliate.
This was a tall order against the Sverdlov which had cutting-edge radar and anti-aircraft weapons. British designers got around this by making the Buccaneer capable of flying just over the waves, below the radar of the enemy ships. And when they reached the target, the Buccaneers would launch their weapons in less than a minute and make their escape.
A Blackburn Buccaneer with its wings folded.
(Paul Lucas, CC BY 2.0)
The Buccaneer was supposed to eventually receive a custom-made nuclear air-to-surface missile, but actually spent most of its career carrying conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. Despite the failure to create the nuclear air-to-surface missile, the Buccaneer was equipped with nuclear free-fall bombs.
The aircraft performed plenty of training in the Cold War and were used for a number of missions, including extensive duties in Iraq during the Gulf War, but was retired in 1994 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
And that was where Ian Pringle came in. A successful oil businessman, Pringle had the money to scoop up a Buccaneer when it went up for sale. He had the plane transported to Thunder City, South Africa, where civilians are allowed to fly nuclear-capable aircraft.
Once there, he took lessons in how to fly the aircraft, a dangerous process. His plane was an operational one, and so it only has controls in the front seat, so his trainer had to sit in the back seat and coach him from there. If Pringle had panicked in flight, there was no way for the instructor to take over.
But Pringle figured it out, and now he races the plane low over the grass of South Africa when he can. The plane was made to allow pilots to fly just above the water, and so he can take it pretty low to the grass.
He’s one of only two civilians ever to fly the plane, though he obviously can’t fly it with missiles or bombs on board.
Violent jihadism as a governing ideology has been a significant feature of the global scene for nearly two decades.
There are certainly differences between say, the nature Al Shabaab’s control over Somalia in the early 2010s, the Taliban state’s governance of Afghanistan from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001, and ISIS’s “caliphate” in the present day.
But militant groups spurred by a combination of religious radicalism, violent disenchantment with the existing state system, revisionist philosophies of Islamic history, and a rejection of secularism and Enlightenment value systems have morphed into territorial political units with alarming frequency in recent years.
One such instance was in Mali in early 2012, when jihadists piggybacked on a long-simmering Tuareg autonomy movement — itself empowered by the collapse of Mali’s government in the wake of a shocking military coup — in order to take control of several population centers in Mali’s desert north. Among them was Timbuktu, a legendary center of trade and Islamic scholarship.
The jihadist occupation of Timbuktu was brutal but thankfully brief: In early 2013, a French-led coalition liberated the city after 10 months of militant control. Now, the rule of Al Qaeda-allied militants over the city is the topic of what might be the important movie of the past year.
The hypnotic and visually overwhelming “Timbuktu,” the work of Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako and an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, is an intimate and terrifying inquiry into one of the defining authoritarian ideologies of the 21st century, as told from the perspective of the people who are actually suffering under its yoke. (The film is currently playing in New York and LA and will open in various other US cities in February and March.)
US movie audiences have usually met jihadists through the lenses of American sniper rifles, or lying prone in front of CIA interrogators. “Timbuktu” is hardly the only movie that’s portrayed them as political and social actors. “Osama,” a multi-national production about a girl living in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that won the 2004 Golden Globe award for best foreign-language film, and Iranian director Moshen Makhmalbaf’s highly regarded “Kandahar,” about a Afghan woman who sneaks into Taliban Afghanistan to try to stop her sister from committing suicide, succeed in giving viewers a first-hand look at the societies that jihadists create and the horrors this visits upon the people trapped in them.
In the wake of ISIS’s takeover of a Belgium-sized slice of the Middle East, “Timbuktu” has more immediate resonance than either of those films. The movie opens with a pickup truck of fighters flying a black flag nearly identical to ISIS’s. As the opening credits roll, the fighters eviscerate a row of traditional figurines in a hail of machine-gun fire.
But the firmest sign that jihadist rule is something external, alien, and deeply unwanted comes in the next scene, when gun-toting fighters enter a mud-brick mosque without taking their shoes off. They tell the imam that they have come to wage jihad. The imam replies that in Timbuktu, people wage jihad (which has the double meaning of spiritual reflection and self-purification, in addition to earthly holy war) with their minds and not with guns.
The next hour and a half is a grisly survey of what happened when this 1400-year-old precedent was inverted.
The jihadists ban music — one of the most celebrated aspects of Malian culture — and then whip violators in public. They ban soccer, and then break up a group of children miming a game in silent protest. The jihadists speak a smattering of local languages and broken Arabic; their leader bans smoking only to sneak cigarettes under the cover of the town’s surrounding sand dunes.
In one of the more illustrative scenes, a female fish seller is told by one jihadist that women can no longer appear in public without wearing gloves. She explains to him that she can’t work unless she’s barehanded and then dares the fighter to cut her hands off on the spot.
In “Timbuktu,” the jihadists are power-tripping, thuggish and hypocritical. They are in the city to create a totally new kind of society and revel in their own insensitivity to local concerns.
But crucially they are not entirely outsiders, and some of the film’s most affecting scenes involve a Tuareg who joins with the jihadists occupying the town, a reminder that there are local dynamics at play. Just as importantly, the film hints at the context of state collapse and social chaos that allowed the jihadists to take over in the first place.
The movie’s primary narrative follows a Tuareg herder who accidentally kills a fisherman from a different ethnic group during an argument over his cows’ access to drinking water along a disputed riverbank. The film’s central conflict encapsulates the unresolved questions of ethnicity and resources that kept northern Mali in a state of crisis that the jihadists later exploited.
The herder’s treatment at the hands of Timbuktu’s new overlords depicts the imposition of an an outside ideology. But the killing is itself is a pointed example of how social turmoil can feed into a violent, totalitarian mania seemingly without warning. It harkens back to ISIS’s swift takeover of Iraq this past summer, a national-level instance of the dynamics that “Timbuktu” manages to boil down to an intimate, dramatic scale.
“Timbuktu” has a happy ending. Even if it isn’t part of the movie, the city was eventually liberated from jihadist control. The film depicts a now-extinct regime.
But the nightmare of “Timbuktu” is far from over. The liberation of the areas that ISIS rules will come at some indeterminate future date, and parts of Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria are still under the control of extremists whose ideologies are not categorically different from what appears in the film.
“Timbuktu” is maybe the best cinematic depiction ever made of what millions of people around the world are suffering through.
The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was backed by most countries in the region, who shared the goal of ousting the extremist Taliban regime and eliminating the allied Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
The governments in Tehran, Moscow, and Islamabad readily helped the United States fight the extremist groups.
Iran provided crucial intelligence to support U.S. special forces and CIA teams orchestrating the invasion.
Russia supplied Soviet-era maps and intelligence and later allowed the U.S. military to send supplies to Afghanistan through its territory.
Even Pakistan, the chief backer of the Taliban, offered its assistance in helping hunt down Al-Qaeda militants and became the main supply line for NATO forces.
But in the intervening 19 years, the regional consensus favoring the U.S. troops in Afghanistan has eroded.
Though the U.S. military swiftly overthrew the Taliban and eliminated Al-Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan, many feel it got bogged down in mission creep.
Meanwhile, Washington’s ties with many regional players — including Pakistan, Iran, and Russia — became toxic.
With U.S. forces scheduled to exit Afghanistan next year as part of a framework peace deal with the Taliban, Washington’s rivals see an opportunity to step in and expand their footprint in the war-torn country.
Those efforts have intensified since the United States and the Taliban signed a deal in February aimed at negotiating an end to the war, which began way back in 2001.
Under that agreement, U.S. forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which has pledged to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal with the Kabul government.
The delayed intra-Afghan peace talks are expected to be complex and protracted, and will likely take years.
Impatient to end the costly and unpopular war, President Donald Trump is considering fast-tracking the exit of American troops ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, according to U.S. media reports.
Experts say that in the absence of a peace deal, a U.S. military withdrawal could ignite a free-for-all that involves regional powers pursuing often competing interests in Afghanistan.
“The stage has already been set, with many key actors — including Russia and Iran — increasing their ties with both the Afghan state and the Taliban,” says Michael Kugelman, South Asia senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
“The objective is to develop more influence and generate more leverage with key actors across the board, so that they will be in a better position to pursue and achieve their goals in a post-America Afghanistan — a place we can expect to be increasingly unstable and complex.”
Iran, Pakistan, and Russia — with long histories of meddling in the country — are hedging their bets. The three countries have sought to improve their relations with the Western-backed government in Kabul, while also reaching out to the Taliban in case it gains a role in a future Afghan government.
Islamabad has retained its long-standing ties with the Taliban and shelters the group’s leadership, while Tehran and Moscow have been tacitly working to bolster their ties with the militants, with the goal of expanding their own strategic interests in Afghanistan.
‘Make The Taliban Even Stronger’
Pakistan has long been accused of playing a double game in Afghanistan, sheltering and aiding the Taliban while receiving billions in U.S. aid to clamp down on the militants.
Pakistan’s ties to the Taliban date back to the 1990s, when it provided arms, training, and intelligence to the militants. Islamabad was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban government when it took power in Afghanistan in 1996. After the regime’s fall in 2001, many Taliban leaders took shelter inside Pakistan.
Observers say Pakistan sees the Taliban as an insurance policy for reaching its long-standing strategic goals in Afghanistan — installing a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul and limiting the influence of its archrival India, which has close ties to Kabul.
Experts say Pakistan stands to be the biggest beneficiary of a U.S. military pullout from Afghanistan.
“If a withdrawal leads to a peace process that results in a settlement, then Pakistan would benefit as this would likely entail the Taliban holding a fair share of power,” says Kugelman. “If the peace process collapses and the U.S. withdrawal ushers in a period of extended destabilization, Pakistan would still benefit because it would make the Taliban even stronger.”
Iran has supported its traditional allies in Afghanistan — the Shi’ite Hazara minority and the Persian-speaking ethnic Tajiks — while recently establishing contacts with the Taliban, a predominately Pashtun group.
Iran and the Taliban were on the verge of war in 1998 — when the group controlled most of Afghanistan — after the deaths of eight Iranian diplomats in the Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif.
Tehran backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. But in recent years the Islamic republic and the Taliban have forged closer ties, with militant leaders even visiting Tehran.
The relationship between Shi’ite-majority Iran and the Taliban, a fundamentalist Sunni group, is complex. Iran officially opposes the Taliban, but experts say it provides some military support to the mainstream Taliban and even rival breakaway factions.
Analysts say that while Iran does not want the Taliban to return to power, Tehran is looking to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in case the Taliban becomes a political player in Afghanistan or it forcibly seizes control of the country.
“These initiatives serve the purpose of securing Iran’s sphere of influence in Afghanistan and perhaps even creating a buffer zone on Afghan soil to protect parts of Iran’s eastern borders from infiltration by forces hostile to Iran,” says Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
‘A Great Power’
For more than a decade after the U.S.-led invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Washington for taking on the “burden” of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and urged it to “carry it to the end.”
But since 2014, the Kremlin has attempted to undermine the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, fueled by Moscow’s desire to be an international power broker and its rivalry with the West in Ukraine and Syria, where Russia joined Iran in supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Moscow said it has established contacts with the Taliban in recent years because of the common threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Afghanistan. Washington has accused Russia of arming the Taliban, which it denies.
In the past two years, Moscow has hosted two international conferences on the Afghan peace process, inviting Taliban leaders and Afghan opposition members.
Earlier this month, U.S. media reported that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered secret bounties to the Taliban if they killed U.S. or NATO-member troops in Afghanistan.
Moscow and the Taliban have denied the reports, which are based on U.S. intelligence assessments. But the revelations have served to highlight Moscow’s murky dealings in Afghanistan.
“Russia’s interests in Afghanistan are twofold: to avoid an explosion of chaos on the borders of what it considers its sphere of influence, and to use it as an opportunity to demonstrate and assert its claim to be a great power,” says Mark Galeotti, a Russia analyst and a senior associate fellow at the British-based Royal United Services Institute.
This is a plane that kicks a lot of butt. But the Marine Corps has its own version. And theirs is far more versatile than the Spectre.
Let’s get a closer look at the AKC-130J Harvest HAWK.
Now, before AC-130 fans prepare the flames, we have nothing but respect for the AC-130. With a 25mm GAU-12, a 40mm Bofors, and a M102 105mm Howitzer, the AC-130 can blast the hell out of just about any target.
It is a circling angel of death. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Nazgul have nothing on the Spectre — and would be advised to learn their lesson from the Fellowship of the Ring when Arwen called in that flash flood: Don’t bother running, you’ll just die tired.
But the Harvest HAWK is more versatile. As GlobalSecurity.org points out, the AKC-130J started out as the KC-130J. This provided a number of benefits.
First, the Marines already had the airframes flying over Afghanistan to refuel their F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harriers that provided air support.
What makes the Harvest HAWK so lethal? It can carry (or drop) a variety of weapons. One of them is the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, the one commonly used on Predator drones to make the world a better place by blowing terrorists to smithereens.
With a range of five miles and a 20-pound warhead, this missile was intended to take out tanks. The Harvest HAWK carries four, usually on the left wing, according to a 2012 NAVAIR release.
The Marines also say another weapon the Harvest HAWK uses to deadly effect is the AGM-176 Griffin. Designation-Systems.net describes the Griffin as a tube-launched missile that is smaller than the Hellfire (Predators can carry three Griffins for each Hellfire).
NAVAIR says that the Griffin can be fired through a modified cargo door. The is only about 13 pounds, though. But that can still do in a terrorist — or a tank, even.
The Harvest HAWK also can use the GBU-44 Viper Strike. Originally known as the Brilliant Anti-Tank submunition (or BAT), it had one problem: its missiles kept getting cancelled.
In 2007, Strategypage.com noted that the Army eventually put a modified BAT on the MQ-5 Hunter. With a 2.5-pound warhead, it can take out a target without damaging the structures nearby.
Oh, and the Harvest HAWK also is slated to get a 30mm cannon in the future, according to a Pentagon report. The likely choice will be the Mk 44 Bushmaster II used on the M1296 Dragoon, a modification of the M1126 Stryker.
With all that, the Harvest HAWK can still refuel the AV-8B, F/A-18, and F-35B jets the Marines use to support infantry. Firepower and fuel, in one airframe – now, that’s awesome!
The GI Film Festival is an annual event that introduces new and established filmmakers that honor the stories of the American Armed Forces.
“From the very beginning, it has been about fostering a positive image for men and women in uniform,” said Brandon Millet, co-founder and director of the GI Film Festival. “We’ve expanded that image to also connecting service members to society given that only one percent serve. We want people to come to the event and be highly entertained and walk away with a greater sense of appreciation for what are men and women in uniform do for us on a daily basis and if we accomplish those two missions we’re happy.”
The GI Film Festival is open to filmmakers of every level, from first-timers to veteran directors and producers. Here’s a short video featuring some of the directors, actors, and producers at the GI Film Festival this year:
The US Navy’s Arctic muscles have atrophied over the years, so the service is working to relearn how to operate in this increasingly competitive space.
One way the Navy is doing that is by working with US allies and partners with the necessary knowledge and skills, picking their brains on how best to operate in this unforgiving environment.
Lt. Samuel Brinson, a US Navy surface warfare officer who took part in an exchange program aboard the Canadian frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec as it conducted Arctic operations, recently talked to Insider about his experiences.
Although he declined to say exactly where he went, Brinson said that he “didn’t know anyone who had been as far north” as he traveled on his Arctic mission.
The US Navy’s 2nd Fleet was reactivated last summer to defend US interests in the North Atlantic and Arctic waterways, as great power rivals like Russia and even China are becoming increasingly active in these spaces.
But there’s a learning curve.
“2nd Fleet is a newly-established fleet, and we just haven’t been operating in the Arctic as a navy much recently,” Brinson told Insider.
HMCS Ville de Quebec.
“We need to get up there. We need to practice operating. We need to practice operating with our allies. We need to get up there and experience it for ourselves as much as possible.”
That’s exactly what he did. He went on a one-month fact-finding mission in the Arctic.
Brinson, who had previously deployed to the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operations (Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf), was approached by 2nd Fleet for this opportunity, which involved reporting on how the Canadian navy carries out its activities in the Arctic effectively.
“The most striking difference [between the Arctic and other deployment locations] is how remote it is,” he explained to Insider. “There are just not many towns. You go forever without seeing other ships. You go forever without seeing other establishments. The distance is a lot further between the places we were operating than it looks on a map.”
From an operations perspective, that makes logistics a bit more difficult. “The biggest challenge for going into the Arctic is logistics,” Brinson said.
“You have to have a plan where you are going and really think about where you are going to get fuel, where you are going to get food, and if you need to send people or get people from the ship, how and where you are going to do that. Everything is pretty far apart.”
“You don’t have a lot of refueling points, resupply stations,” he added. “When you get up into the Arctic, there is not really anything there, and if someone had to come get you, like if they had to send tugs to come get us, it was going to take days, like lots of days.”
The emptiness of the Arctic isn’t just a problem from a resupply standpoint. It also creates navigational problems.
“Because it’s less developed up there, it’s also been less charted,” Brinson told Insider. “We spent a lot of time switching between electronic charts, paper charts, you know, Canadian charts, Norwegian charts, etc. to navigate around where we were going. You have to use whichever chart was most complete and most up to date.”
“There’s a lot of headway that could be made on that in the future,” he added. “The more we operate up there, the more we know that, but before we send ships in to some of these places, we probably need to just survey it first.”
Views of a U.S.-Canada joint mission to map the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean in 2011.
There’s also frigid temperatures and ice to worry about.
Brinson, a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was in the Arctic in August, a warmer period when the daytime highs were in the low 30s. “It was cold to me, but [the Canadians] all thought I was being silly,” he said.
In the spring, fall, or winter, the temperatures are much lower, and there is a risk of getting iced in while at port. “Right now, you pretty much only want to be up there June, July, August, and then as it starts getting into September, it starts getting too cold,” Brinson told Insider.
Even though the temperatures were higher when Brinson was there, ice was still a bit of problem. “There is enough around that you need to be extra careful, especially if it’s nighttime or foggy. There were icebergs that were bigger than the ship,” he said.
“If you were to hit something like that, it’s a huge problem,” Brinson added, recalling that he saw a polar bear roaming about on one of the icebergs with plenty of room to move around.
From the Canadians, Brinson learned how to deal with cold temperatures and ice, how to keep your water supply from freezing, which side to pass an iceberg on if there are pieces coming off it, and how to sail through an ice flow, among other things.
“Working with partners like Canada is key because they’ve never stopped operating up there,” he said. “They know things like that.”
Brinson told Insider that the US Navy has fallen behind and lost a step when it comes to Arctic operations. “What we need to do is just get back to doing it,” he said. “We need to start getting the level of knowledge back.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Were the US to go to war with China or Russia today, it might lose, a new report to Congress from a panel of a dozen leading national-security experts warns.
“If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat,” the report from the National Defense Strategy Commission — a bipartisan panel of experts handpicked by Congress to evaluate the 2018 National Defense Strategy — explained, calling attention to the erosion of America’s edge as rival powers develop capabilities previously possessed only by the US.
The commission highlights China and Russia’s energized and ongoing efforts to develop advanced anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) weaponry, systems that could result in “enormous” losses for the US military in a conflict. “Put bluntly, the US military could lose the next state-versus-state war it fights,” the report concludes.
The National Defense Strategy Commission has concluded that US national security is presently “at greater risk than at any time in decades.”
“America’s ability to defend its allies, its partners, and its own vital interests is increasingly in doubt. If the nation does not act promptly to remedy these circumstances, the consequences will be grave and lasting.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a state visit to Moscow in May 2015.
The report calls into focus a concern that the US military is trying to address — that while the US put all of its efforts and energy into the fights against insurgents and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere, adversarial powers have been preparing for high-end conflict.
“Many of the skills necessary to plan for and conduct military operations against capable adversaries — especially China and Russia — have atrophied,” the commission argues.
The National Defense Strategy emphasizes the return of “great power competition,” placing the threat posed by rival powers like China and Russia above terrorism and other challenges. The military branches are, in response, shifting their attention to the development of future warfighting capabilities — even as the ISIS fight and Afghanistan War grind on.
Preparation for high-end conflict is visible in the efforts across the Army, Navy, and Air Force to develop powerful stand-off weapons, such as long-range artillery and hypersonic strike platforms.
The commission is supportive of the National Defense Strategy, but it calls for faster measures and clearer explanations for how America plans to maintain its dominance. The report also called for an expansion of the current 6 billion defense budget, the bolstering of the nuclear arsenal, and innovative development of new weapons systems.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The United States has sharply criticized a European Union plan to help Iran get around U.S. sanctions by establishing alternative ways to pay for Iran’s trade with European companies.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking at a New York conference on Sept. 25, 2018, said that he was “disturbed and indeed deeply disappointed” when he heard of the plan announced a day earlier after a high-level meeting between European and Iranian diplomats.
“This is one of the most counterproductive measures imaginable for regional and international peace and security,” Pompeo told the United Against a Nuclear Iran group, accusing the EU of “solidifying Iran’s ranking as the No. 1 state sponsor of terror.”
Pompeo said he imagined Iran’s “corrupt ayatollahs” were “laughing” when they heard news of the proposed payment system, the details of which European leaders said are still being hammered out.
The plan carries out promises by European powers to keep honoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers after the U.S. announced in May 2018 that is was withdrawing from the accord and would reimpose sanctions on Tehran.
It represents the latest effort by the EU, France, Germany, and Britain to work with Iran, Russia, and China to keep carrying out the agreement, which granted Iran relief from economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear activities, without the United States.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, speaking in the same forum as Pompeo, mocked the EU for the plan’s lack of specifics.
“The European Union is strong on rhetoric and weak on follow-through,” he said. “We will be watching the development of this structure that doesn’t exist yet and has no target date to be created. We do not intend to allow our sanctions to be evaded by Europe or anybody else.”
Bolton said the United States will be “aggressive and unwavering” in enforcing its sanctions. He said Washington still expects Iran’s oil customers to end all of their imports by a Nov. 4, 2018 deadline.
U.S. President Donald Trump told the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2018, that renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil industry will come into effect on Nov. 5, 2018, with “more to follow.”
Pompeo questioned why nations would continue to trade with what he called an “outlaw regime,” which he said supports militant groups in the Middle East and sponsors attacks against Israeli targets around the world.
“There can be no question Iranian destructive activities are truly global in scope. It is therefore incumbent on every country to join our efforts to change the regime’s lawless behavior,” he said. “The ongoing, multinational, multicontinental nature of Iranian malign activity leaves no room for inaction or indecision.”
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, speaking late on Sept. 24, 2018, alongside Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that the sanctions evasion plan was in the interest of global peace and pointed to UN inspectors’ findings that Iran remains in compliance with the nuclear deal.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
The foreign ministers said in a joint statement that the so-called Special Purpose Vehicle they are creating to facilitate payments on trade with Iran is intended to “assist and reassure economic operators pursuing legitimate business with Iran.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters there is “strong unity” between Europe and Iran on minimizing the impact of U.S. sanctions.
But despite the EU’s determination to keep trading with Iran, it has struggled to come up with mechanisms and legal protections that are strong enough to convince major corporations to keep operating in Iran.
Finding a way to pay for Iran’s oil exports — which are a major driver of economic growth in the country — has been a key sticking point. Trade in oil and other globally important commodities is almost always conducted in U.S. dollars, but U.S. sanctions prohibit Iran from using the dollar to conduct business.
Despite efforts by the EU, Iran, India, and China to maintain their imports of oil from Iran, a report from the Institute of International Finance on Sept. 25, 2018, found that Iranian oil exports have dropped significantly already in 2018, even though U.S. sanctions specifically targeting Iran’s oil exports do not go into effect until November 2018.
Exports of Iranian crude oil and condensates dropped by 800,000 barrels to 2 million barrels a day between April and September 2018, the banking group said.
Based on the drop already seen in Iranian exports, the group is projecting that Iran’s economy has fallen into a recession and will contract by 3 percent in 2018 and 4 percent in 2019.
The report said oil exports are falling even though Iran is selling key grades of oil at a deep discount and using its own tankers to ship products to China and India at no extra cost.
It said Iranian shippers are also providing generous payment terms and, in some cases, accepting euros and Chinese yuan instead of U.S. dollars in payment for the oil.
Once U.S. sanctions go into effect, the group said Iran will have to rely more on barter trades to maintain its oil exports.