US Air Force General John E. Hyten, the Commander of US Strategic Command, made a worrying admission on March 20, 2018, about the state of US defenses against hypersonic weapons: They don’t really exist.
While hypersonic weapons are still largely in either the conceptual or testing phase, Russia and China have been making headway on their respective programs.
China tested a functional hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) in November 2017, and Russia tested a hypersonic weapon only a few weeks after President Vladimir Putin boasted that he has an “invincible” hypersonic missile in early March 2018.
When asked by Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, the committee chairman, what kind of defenses the US had against such weapons, the general responded, “our defense is our deterrent capability.”
“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us,” Hyten said.
The general said that the only “defense” the US had was the threat of nuclear retaliation, adding, “our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the Triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat.”
More specifically, Hyten said that low-yield submarine-based nuclear weapons were the primary defense.
Hyten added later in the hearing, responding to a question from Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, that the US needed to “pursue improved sensor capabilities” in order to “track, characterize, and attribute the threats wherever they come from.” Detection of ICBMs is mostly done through satellites orbiting the earth.
The General acknowledged that there are still issues, primarily due to lack of resources and aging equipment. “Right now we have a challenge with that, with our current on-orbit space architecture and our limited number of radars that we have around the world,” Hyten said.
Hypersonic weapons can be destabilizing. HGVs and hypersonic cruise missiles can travel Mach 5 and above (340 miles every 6 minutes), can maneuver to avoid ICBM defenses, and can impact a target just minutes after being detected.
The RAND Corporation published a report that predicts that hypersonic weapons will be deployed to the battlefield in the next 10 years. At that point, the primary defense against ICBMs and nuclear missiles could no longer be kinetic or proximity interception of the missiles themselves, but the Cod War-era concept of mutually assured destruction.
The US Navy is looking at a number of ways to increase its presence in the Arctic around Alaska, including deployments of the service’s advanced maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, the Navy’s top civilian official said in December 2018.
Asked by Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan about the US presence in that part of the world, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 12, 2018, that the Navy was present under the sea and in the air and “looking at how we can get up there” in other capacities.
“If I had a blank check for everything, it’d be terrific, to ice-harden ships, but with the demand that we have right now, it is unaffordable,” Spencer said, adding that it would be possible to send assets up there seasonally as sea ice melts.
“You and I did go look on the coast up there for a potential strategic port,” Spencer told Sullivan. “I think the Coast Guard, in concert with the Navy, we should definitely flesh out what could possibly be done.”
A US Navy P-8 Poseidon.
“When it comes to using Alaska in the Arctic area for training, the commandant and I have talked about this — plans to go look at doing something this summer, possibly on Adak, for training,” Spencer added, referring Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, who was also at the hearing.
Spencer said he and Navy Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran “have talked about possible P-8 [deployments] up to Adak. There are definite training uses, and there’s definite ability to affect the National Defense Strategy with Arctic activity.”
The Navy and Marine Corps presence in Alaska is currently small, with some sailors and Marines stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, the latter personnel there as part of a reserve unit.
Marines have been deployed to Norway on a rotational basis since the beginning of 2017, and Oslo recently said that it would ask the US to increase their numbers and move them farther north, closer to that country’s border with Russia.
The Navy has also made moves toward higher latitudes, sending an aircraft carrier above the Arctic Circle for the first time since the early 1990s as part of NATO’s exercise Trident Juncture, which took place in October and November 2018. Navy officials have stressed that they intend to be more active in the Arctic going forward.
Neller has emphasized that his command is focusing on training for harsh conditions.
Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment disembark an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter after a simulated raid on Indian Mountain radar system as part of Exercise Arctic Edge 18 at Fort Greely, Alaska, March 12, 2018.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brianna Gaudi)
In March 2018, Marines joined soldiers, sailors, and airmen in Alaska for Arctic Edge 2018, where they trained “to fight and win in the Arctic,” the head of Alaskan Command, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach, said at the time.
A few weeks after that exercise, Neller told Sullivan during a Senate hearing that the Marines “have gotten back into the cold-weather business.” In August 2018, while traveling through Alaska with Spencer, Sullivan said that the Marine Corps was “looking at spending a lot more time in Alaska.”
Adak Island is at the western edge of the Aleutian Islands. The naval facility, which was on the northern side of the island, took up more than 76,000 acres and was an important base for submarine surveillance during the Cold War.
The airstrip there has been in commercial use since the Navy shut down military operations in 1997.
Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, left, meets with Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, right, in Nome to discuss the construction of deep-draft ports in western Alaska, Aug. 13, 2018.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco)
The Navy is currently grappling with operational and maintenance challenges brought on by more than two decades of continuous operations around the world — a situation that has been complicated by discussions of expansion and by uncertainty about its budget in the future as it builds new supercarriers and designs a new generation of ballistic missile subs that will carry nuclear warheads.
Returning to Alaska would present an array challenges, according to Jeffrey Barker, a deputy branch head for policy and posture on the chief of naval operation’s staff.
US Navy crew members on board a P-8A Poseidon assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 16 man their workstations while assisting in search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 March 16, 2014 in the Indian Ocean.
(US Navy photo)
“We want to be agile, but sustainability is key,” Barker said at the beginning of December 2018 during a Wilson Center event focused on the Arctic. “We don’t really want to do anything if we can’t sustain it, so that’s a huge part of that, and the infrastructure to that.”
“When Secretary Spencer went around Alaska, he was asked a lot of questions, and he asked us a lot of questions about how much would it cost to go back to Adak,” Barker said. “He was shocked — gobsmacked is what he said — when the report that we gave him said id=”listicle-2623753290″.3 billion.”
Barker said that Spencer clarified that he only wanted to use the facility “for a couple of weeks here and there,” and when asked about the plan after the hearing on Dec. 12, 2018, Spencer said the base was up to that task.
“The airstrip is in great shape,” he told Breaking Defense, which first reported his comments about a potential P-8 deployment. Spencer added that the Navy may have to pay to clean up one of the hangars.
But the airport, he said, “has a fuel farm up there that Air Alaska is using to fuel its planes. It has de-icing platforms that we could use for fresh water washdowns for the P-8. They have lodging up there that is supposedly coming forward to us on a rental availability, so it really isn’t a big bill.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
At a White House briefing on Sunday, March 22, President Trump stated that the National Guard would be stepping up to assist three states that have been hit the hardest to date by the novel coronavirus: California, New York and Washington state.
President Trump explained that the Guard activation was to help effectively respond to the crisis. This certainly isn’t unprecedented — the National Guard is frequently used in emergency situations. But this definitely got people talking: Are we heading toward martial law? And what does that mean?
Trump Deploys National Guard To Help States Respond To The Coronavirus | NBC News
In a press release issued by the National Guard Bureau, a spokesperson said, “The National Guard is fully involved at the local, state and federal level in the planning and execution of the nation’s response to COVID-19. In times of emergency, the National Guard Bureau serves as a federal coordinating agency should a state require assistance from the National Guard of another state.”
Additionally the release explained, “At the national level, Guard members are training personnel on COVID-19 response, identifying and preparing National Guard facilities for use as isolation housing, and compiling state medical supply inventories. National Guard personnel will provide assistance to the states that include logistical support, disinfection/cleaning, activate/conduct transportation of medical personnel, call center support, and meal delivery.”
New York Army National Guard Soldiers move a floor during the placement of tents at the New York-Presbyterian-Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., as medical facilities prepare for the response to the outbreak of COVID 19 patients March 20, 2020. The Soldiers are part of the statewide effort to deploy National Guard members in support of local authorities during the pandemic response. U.S. Army National Guard/Richard Goldenberg.
So that’s what the National Guard does and is doing in this situation … but what does “federalized” actually mean?
Under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, the National Guard can be federalized, meaning that the Guard still reports to the respective state’s governor but the federal government picks up the associated costs. In his briefing, President Trump remarked that he had spoken with the governors of the three states that were impacted.
“We’ll be following them and we hope they can do the job and I think they will. I spoke with all three of the governors today, just a little while ago and they’re very happy with what we’re going to be doing.” Trump said. “This action will give them maximum flexibility to use the Guard against the virus without having to worry about cost or liability and freeing up state resources.” He added, “The federal government has deployed hundreds of tons of supplies from our national stockpile to locations with the greatest need in order to assist in those areas.”
See, that’s nice. They’re going to help build temporary hospitals and coordinate logistics and resources. They’re not going to be driving tanks up and down the streets to make sure people stay in their homes.
In a call with reporters Sunday night, Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, said, “There is no truth to this rumor that people are conspiring, that governors are planning, that anyone is conspiring to use the National Guard, mobilized or not, Title 32 or state, to do military action to enforce shelter in place or quarantines.” He did say that he expected more states would move to Title 32 as the need developed.
Military action enforcing shelter in place or quarantines would be considered martial law.
In dictionary terms, martial law is the suspension of civil authority and the imposition of military authority. The military is in control of the area; it can act as the police, the courts, even the legislature. Martial law is enacted when civilian law enforcement agencies are unable to maintain public order and safety.
Sounds reasonable and fine, right? Wellll, until you start really digging into what martial law can include, like a suspension of parts of the Constitution, namely the Bill of Rights. In previous uses of martial law, we’ve seen confiscation of firearms (remember Hurricane Katrina? The government seized firearms and supplies when deemed necessary and acceptable, which at the time, they stated was when citizens were resisting evacuation or when a firearm was found in an abandoned home). Other suspensions include due process (Habeas corpus), road closures and blockades, strict zoning regulations (quarantine anyone?) and even automatic search and seizures without warrants (who can forget the images of SWAT teams running through houses in Boston searching for the bombers after the marathon? Do you think they stopped to get a warrant before they went into each one? Spoiler alert: no.).
Martial law has happened in the United States before and someday, it very well may happen again.
But for now, the Guard is just doing what they do best: bringing some much-needed logistics support and maybe even a little hope.
The Air Force has begun experimenting and conceptual planning for a 6th generation fighter aircraft to emerge in coming years as a technological step beyond the F-35, service leaders said.
“We have started experimentation, developmental planning and technology investment,” said Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Acquisition.
The new aircraft, engineered to succeed the 5th-generation F-35 Joint StrikeFighter and explode onto the scene by the mid 2030s, is now in the earliest stages of conceptual development with the Air Force and Navy. The two services are now working together on early conceptual discussions about the types of technologies and capabilities the aircraft will contain. While the Air Force has not yet identified a platform for the new aircraft. The Air Force characterizes the effort in terms of a future capability called Next-Gen Air Dominance.
While Bunch did not elaborate on the specifics of ongoing early efforts, he did make reference to the Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan which delineates some key elements of the service’s strategy for a future platform.
Fighter jets in 20-years may likely contain the next-generation of stealth technology, electronic warfare, sophisticated computer processing and algorithms, increased autonomy, hypersonic weapons and so-called “smart-skins” where sensors are built into the side of the aircraft itself.
Some of these characteristics may have been on display more than a year ago when Northrop Grumman’s Super Bowl ad revealed a flashy first look at its rendering of a new 6th-generation fighter jet.
Northrop is one of a number of major defense industry manufacturers who will bid for a contract to build the new plane – when the time is right. While there are not many details available on this work, it is safe to assume Northrop is advancing concepts, technology and early design work toward this end. Boeing is also in the early phases of development of a 6th-gen design, according to a report in Defense News.
The Navy’s new aircraft will, at least in part, replace the existing inventory of F/A-18 Super Hornets which will start to retire by 2035, Navy officials said.
The Navy vision for a future carrier air wing in 2040 and beyond is comprised of the carrier-launched variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, and legacy aircraft such as the EA-18G Growler electronic jamming aircraft.
Also, around this time is when Navy planners envision its 6th generation aircraft to be ready, an aircraft which will likely be engineered for both manned and unmanned missions.
Technologies are rapidly advancing in coatings, electromagnetic spectrum issues, artificial intelligence, maneuvering, superiority in sensing the battlespace, communications and data links, Navy leaders have said.
Navy officials also add that the Navy is likely to develop new carrier-launched unmanned air vehicles in coming years as well. For instance, Northrop’s historic X-47B demonstrator aircraft was the first unmanned system to successfully launch and land on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Analysts have speculated that as 6th generation developers seek to engineer a sixth-generation aircraft, they will likely explore a range of next-generation technologies such as maximum sensor connectivity, super cruise ability and an aircraft with electronically configured “smart skins.”
Super cruise technology would enable the new fighter jet to cruise at supersonic speeds without needing afterburner, analysts have explained. As a result, super cruise brings a substantial tactical advantage because it allows for high-speed maneuvering without needing afterburner, therefore enable much longer on-location mission time. Such a scenario provides a time advantage as the aircraft would likely outlast a rival aircraft likely to run out of fuel earlier. The Air Force F-22 has a version of super-cruise technology.
Maximum connectivity would mean massively increased communications and sensor technology such as having an ability to achieve real-time connectivity with satellites, other aircraft and anything that could provide relevant battlefield information.The new aircraft might also seek to develop the ability to fire hypersonic weapons, however such a development would hinge upon successful progress with yet-to-be-proven technologies such as scramjets traveling at hypersonic speeds. Some tests of early renderings of this technology have been tested successfully and yet other attempts have failed.
The Air Force Chief Scientist, Dr. Geoffrey Zacharias, has told Scout Warrior that the US anticipates having hypersonic weapons by the 2020s, hypersonic drones by the 2030s and recoverable hypersonic drone aircraft by the 2040s. There is little doubt that hypersonic technology, whether it be weaponry or propulsion, or both, will figure prominently into future aircraft designs.
Smart aircraft skins would involve dispersing certain technologies or sensors across the fuselage and further integrating them into the aircraft itself, using next-generation computer algorithms to organize and display information for the pilot. We see some of this already in the F-35; the aircraft sensor fusion uses advanced computer technology to collect, organize and display combat relevant information from a variety of otherwise disparate sensors onto a single screen for pilots. In addition, Northrop’s Distributed Aperture System is engineered to provide F-35 pilots with a 360-degree view of the battlespace. Cameras on the DAS are engineered into parts of the F-35 fuselage itself to reduce drag and lower the aircraft’s radar signature.
Smart skins with distributed electronics means that instead of having systems mounted on the aircraft, you would have apertures integrated on the skin of the aircraft, analysts have said.
This could reduce drag, increase speed and maneuverability while increasing the technological ability of the sensors.
It is also possible that the new 6th-generation fighter could use advanced, futuristic stealth technology able to enable newer, more capable air defenses. The air defenses of potential adversaries are increasingly using faster computing processing power and are better networked together, more digital, able to detect a wider range of frequencies and able to detect stealthy aircraft at farther distances.
The new 6th-generation fighter will also likely fire lasers and have the ability to launch offensive electronic attacks.
Dozens were killed after three suicide bombers blew themselves up at Turkey’s largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, on Tuesday.
The Associated Press, citing senior Turkish officials, said that nearly 50 people have died.
The attack, which occurred at around 10 p.m. local time and appeared to be coordinated, left at least 60 others injured, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.
The “vast majority” of victims were Turkish nationals, Reuters reported, but foreigners were also among the casualties, the wire service said, citing an official on Wednesday.
The Associated Press said that initial indications suggest that ISIS is responsible for the attack.
“The assessments show that three suicide bombers carried out the attacks in three different spots at the airport,” Vasip Şahin, Istanbul Province’s governor, said.
The suspects apparently detonated the explosives at the security check-in at the entrance to the airport’s international terminal as they exchanged gunfire with police, a Turkish official told Reuters.
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that at least one of the attackers opened fire on the crowd using a Kalashnikov rifle before detonating himself.
It is still unconfirmed who is responsible for the attack, but ISIS and Kurdish groups have claimed multiple attacks in Turkey in the last year. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is waging an insurgency against the Turkish government, but primarily targets military and security personnel in the country’s southeast.
The Ataturk attack “fits the ISIS profile, not PKK,” a counterterrorism official told CNN, adding that the PKK doesn’t usually go after international targets.
Some flights to the airport have been diverted, an airport official told Reuters.
Ataturk is the 11th-busiest airport in the world, with at least 61 million travelers passing through in 2015. Many have noted that Turkey had assigned extra security to the entrance of Ataturk in the wake of numerous ISIS-linked terrorist attacks in Istanbul in the past several months.
Airport-security workers recorded the surveillance-camera footage of the moment the explosion ripped through the airport:
Lisa Monaco, assistant to the US president for homeland security and counterterrorism, has briefed US President Barack Obama on the attack, according to a White House official.
All scheduled flights in both directions between the US and Istanbul have been temporarily suspended, a senior US official told ABC. The airport will be closed until 8 p.m. on Wednesday local time.
The US State Department renewed its three-month-old travel warning for Turkey on Monday, noting that “Foreign and US tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous terrorist organizations,” in a warning posted on the department’s website.
The US consulate is working to determine if US citizens are among the airport attack’s victims, the State Department tweeted.
Many passengers are now stranded outside of the airport:
Last July, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in southeastern Turkey that killed 33 young activists. Three months later, a n ISIS-linked suicide bombing at a peace rally in Ankara killed over 100 people.
Michael Weiss, co-author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” noted on Twitter that ISIS has a “lot of motives for attacking Ataturk airport, including the imminent loss of Manbij [in Syria], Turkish shelling of ISIS, and of course Turkish-Israel rapprochement.”
The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons — a breakaway faction of the PKK — claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Ankara in February that killed 29 people and another in March that killed 37. A car bomb claimed by Kurdish separatists ripped through a police bus in central Istanbul on June 7 during the morning rush hour, killing 11 people and wounding 36 near the main tourist district, a major university, and the mayor’s office.
Frustrated current and former US officials warned that President Donald Trump’s personal Apple iPhone is being monitored by Chinese spies, according to a New York Times report published Oct. 24, 2018.
Trump reportedly has two iPhones that were programmed by the National Security Agency for official use, but he keeps a third, personal phone that remains unaltered — much like the normal iPhones on the consumer market, according to the officials.
Unlike the other government-managed phones, Trump uses the unaltered personal iPhone because of its ability to store contacts, The Times reported. One of the two official phones is designated for making calls, the other one is for Twitter.
The information Chinese spies have collected included who Trump regularly speaks to and why, The Times said, and was part of a wider lobbying effort to influence Trump’s friends and business associates. US intelligence agencies discovered the espionage campaign from sources in foreign governments and communications from foreign officials.
(Flickr photo by Japanexperterna.se)
Through its efforts, China reportedly identified Blackstone Group chief executive Stephen Schwarzman, who has ties to Beijing’s Tsinghua University, and former Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn as potential targets in an influence campaign to curb the ongoing trade war with China.
China’s plan included targeting and encouraging Trump’s associates to persuade the president to formally meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, one official said to The Times.
Despite the security compromise, current and former officials reportedly cited Trump’s unfamiliarity in matters of intelligence and said they believe he was not divulging sensitive information through his personal phone.
The White House’s communication methods have long been scrutinized by people familiar with the situation. Much to the chagrin of the officials, Trump is believed to quietly make calls to current and former aides. Separately, the White House chief of staff John Kelly’s phone was reportedly compromised for months in 2017.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Pentagon has named a U.S. soldier who died on Nov. 24, 2018, in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand and confirmed that the soldier had been critically wounded during a firefight against “enemy forces” in a neighboring province.
In a statement issued on Nov. 25, 2018, the Pentagon said 25-year-old Army Ranger Sergeant Leandro Jasso sustained his fatal wounds during combat in the Khash Rod district of Nimruz Province.
He died after being evacuated to the Garmsir district of Helmand Province, where U.S. forces operate an expanded forward operations base known as Camp Dwyer and a smaller military installation known as Camp Garmsir.
Jasso was the ninth U.S. soldier to die in Afghanistan in 2018.
Some 14,000 U.S. soldiers are currently serving in Afghanistan, where the United States and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in 2014.
The remaining Western forces mainly train and advise the Afghan security forces, which have been struggling against attacks from a resurgent Taliban and other militant extremist groups.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said earlier in November 2018 that 58 Americans had been killed in Afghanistan since the start of 2015 when Afghan troops took over primary responsibility for Afghanistan’s security.
During the same period since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops from Afghanistan, Ghani said nearly 29,000 Afghan police and soldiers have been killed — a figure far higher than anything previously acknowledged by the government in Kabul.
Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard served in the Marine Corps during World War II and was wounded in action. But he never lost a love for aviation, also serving in the Air Force and as an airplane mechanic in his civilian life.
Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard (Youtube screenshot)
So, for his 99th birthday, one friend decided to pick up the former Marine’s spirits after Leonard became a widower and moved to the Phoenix area, Fox10Phoenix.com reported.
What was selected for that task was another World War II veteran — a restored B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.
In a day and age where we lose 492 World War II veterans a day, according to the National World War II Museum, those few remaining are a link to the heroic history of that conflict.
The same can be said for the planes. In this case, one World War II vet was able to give another one a brief pick-me up.
Here is Fox10Phoenix’s report on Staff Sgt. Leonard’s flight:
As NASA sets its sights on returning to the Moon, and preparing for Mars, the agency is developing new opportunities in lunar orbit to provide the foundation for human exploration deeper into the solar system.
For months, the agency has been studying an orbital outpost concept in the vicinity of the Moon with U.S. industry and the International Space Station partners. As part of the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, NASA is planning to build the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in the 2020s.
The platform will consist of at least a power and propulsion element and habitation, logistics and airlock capabilities. While specific technical and mission capabilities as well as partnership opportunities are under consideration, NASA plans to launch elements of the gateway on the agency’s Space Launch System or commercial rockets for assembly in space.
“The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will give us a strategic presence in cislunar space. It will drive our activity with commercial and international partners and help us explore the Moon and its resources,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We will ultimately translate that experience toward human missions to Mars.”
The power and propulsion element will be the initial component of the gateway, and is targeted to launch in 2022. Using advanced high-power solar electric propulsion, the element will maintain the gateway’s position and can move the gateway between lunar orbits over its lifetime to maximize science and exploration operations. As part of the agency’s public-private partnership work under Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, five companies are completing four-month studies on affordable ways to develop the power and propulsion element. NASA will leverage capabilities and plans of commercial satellite companies to build the next generation of all electric spacecraft.
The power and propulsion element will also provide high-rate and reliable communications for the gateway including space-to-Earth and space-to-lunar uplinks and downlinks, spacecraft-to-spacecraft crosslinks, and support for spacewalk communications. Finally, it also can accommodate an optical communications demonstration – using lasers to transfer large data packages at faster rates than traditional radio frequency systems.
Habitation capabilities launching in 2023 will further enhance our abilities for science, exploration, and partner (commercial and international) use. The gateway’s habitation capabilities will be informed by NextSTEP partnerships, and also by studies with the International Space Station partners. With this capability, crew aboard the gateway could live and work in deep space for up to 30 to 60 days at a time.
Crew will also participate in a variety of deep space exploration and commercial activities in the vicinity of the Moon, including possible missions to the lunar surface. NASA also wants to leverage the gateway for scientific investigations near and on the Moon. The agency recently completed a call for abstracts from the global science community, and is hosting a workshop in late February 2018, to discuss the unique scientific research the gateway could enable. NASA anticipates the gateway will also support the technology maturation and development of operating concepts needed for missions beyond the Earth and Moon system.
Adding an airlock to the gateway in the future will enable crew to conduct spacewalks, enable science activities and accommodate docking of future elements. NASA is also planning to launch at least one logistics module to the gateway, which will enable cargo resupply deliveries, additional scientific research and technology demonstrations and commercial use.
Following the commercial model the agency pioneered in low-Earth orbit for space station resupply, NASA plans to resupply the gateway through commercial cargo missions. Visiting cargo spacecraft could remotely dock to the gateway between crewed missions.
Drawing on the interests and capabilities of industry and international partners, NASA will develop progressively complex robotic missions to the surface of the Moon with scientific and exploration objectives in advance of a human return. NASA’s exploration missions and partnerships will also support the missions that will take humans farther into the solar system than ever before.
NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft are the backbone of the agency’s future in deep space. Momentum continues toward the first integrated launch of the system around the Moon in fiscal year 2020 and a mission with crew by 2023. The agency is also looking at a number of possible public/private partnerships in areas including in-space manufacturing and technologies to extract and process resources from the Moon and Mars, known as in-situ resource utilization.
May 2, 2018 – Update
As reflected in NASA’s Exploration Campaign, the next step in human spaceflight is the establishment of U.S. preeminence in cislunar space through the operations and the deployment of a U.S.-led Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. Together with the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, the gateway is central to advancing and sustaining human space exploration goals, and is the unifying single stepping off point in our architecture for human cislunar operations, lunar surface access and missions to Mars. The gateway is necessary to achieving the ambitious exploration campaign goals set forth by Space Policy Directive 1. Through partnerships both domestic and international, NASA will bring innovation and new approaches to the advancement of these U.S. human spaceflight goals.
NASA published a memorandum outlining the agency’s plans to collaboratively build the gateway. Learn more:
In early April 2016, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Charlie Linville departed the U.S. with The Heroes Project founder Tim Medvetz. Their destination was Nepal and their third attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the top of the world.
Linville is an Afghanistan veteran and father of two who had his right leg amputated below the knee as a result of an IED attack. Medvetz is the founder of The Heroes Project and a former member of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club. They arrived at the Everest base camp on April 17 and reached the summit of the mountain on May 19, making Linville the first combat wounded veteran to make it to the top.
Their first two attempts to summit the mountain failed. In 2014, they made it to Lobuche Peak just above Everest Base Camp when a serac, a huge ice tower, separated from the Khumbu Icefall. The resulting avalanche killed 18 sherpas. They opted not to proceed out of respect for the dead.
And in 2015, they were once again on the mountain when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, killing thousands and devastated the region. Linville and Medvetz decided to link up with Team Rubicon’s Operation Tenzig, distributing food and first aid to villages in the Nepalese countryside that the Red Cross couldn’t access.
Linville and Medvetz climbed the mountain with videographer Kazuya Hiraide and producer Ed Wardle. The team is currently descending the mountain.
At some point during the Trump administration, Russia told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that it could use nuclear weapons in the event of a war in Europe — a warning that led Mattis to regard Moscow as major threat to the US.
According to “Fear,” Bob Woodward’s recently released book about turmoil in the White House, Moscow’s warning was in regard to a potential conflict in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
The Baltics were part of the Soviet Union and have deep ties to Russia, which has sought to reassert influence there since the end of the Cold War. Those countries have tried to move closer to the West, including NATO membership.
According to Woodward’s account, the warning from Russia came some time during or before summer 2017, when the Trump administration was haggling over the future of the Iran nuclear deal.
At the time, President Donald Trump wanted to withdraw from the deal, claiming Iran had violated the terms.
Mike Pompeo, then the director of the CIA, and Mattis didn’t disagree with Tillerson, Woodward writes, but they responded to the president’s assertions more tactfully.
Mattis, long regarded as a hawk on Iran, had mellowed, according to Woodward, preferring other actions — “Push them back, screw with them, drive a wedge between the Russians and Iranians” — to war.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
Russia, Woodward then notes,”had privately warned Mattis that if there was a war in the Baltics, Russia would not hesitate to use tactical nuclear weapons against NATO.”
“Mattis, with agreement from Dunford, began saying that Russia was an existential threat to the United States,” Woodward adds, referring to Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Woodward offers no additional context for the warning, nor is it totally clear why that detail is included where it is in the book.
Most nuclear-armed countries have policies that would allow their first-use in a conflict.
Imagery released early 2018 indicated ongoing renovations at what appeared to be an active nuclear-weapons storage site in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea, south of Lithuania.
“Features of the site suggest it could potentially serve Russian Air Force or Navy dual-capable forces,” a Federation of American Scientists report on the imagery said. “But it could also be a joint site, potentially servicing nuclear warheads for both Air Force, Navy, Army, air-defense, and coastal defense forces in the region.”
‘Tactical nuclear weapons as a leveler’
Tactical nuclear weapons typically have smaller yields and are generally meant for limited uses on the battlefield. Strategic nuclear weapons usually have higher yields and are used over longer ranges.
Some experts prefer the term “non-strategic nuclear weapons,” as the use of nuclear weapons would have both tactical and strategic implications. Mattis himself has said there is no such thing as a “tactical” nuclear weapon, as “any nuclear weapon used at any time is a strategic game-changer.”
Russia and the US have more than 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads, though Russia’s arsenal is slightly larger. Pentagon officials have said Russia wants to add to that arsenal, violating current arms-control treaties.
During the Cold War, the Soviets expected Western countries to use nuclear weapons first and had plans to use nuclear weapons against NATO targets in the event of war, using larger-yield devices against targets like cities and smaller-yield ones — “tactical” nukes — against NATO command posts, military facilities, and weapons sites.
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Aug. 2, 2017.
(US Air Force photo)
The size of Russia’s current stockpile of non-strategic nuclear weapons is not known, though it’s believed to be much smaller than that of the Soviet Union.
It’s not totally clear how Russia would use “tactical” nuclear weapons — the Congressional Research Service has said Russia appears to view them as defense in nature — but they are seen as compensating for Russia’s conventional military shortcomings. (US interest in “low-yield” nuclear weapons as a deterrent has also grown, though critics say they would raise the chance of US first-use.)
Russia has fewer “strategic” nuclear weapons than the US, and “tactical” nuclear weapons may be more handy for Moscow’s shorter-range, regional focus, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told The National Interest in late 2017.
“Russia’s conventional forces are incapable of defending Russian territory in a long war,” Kristensen said. “It would lose, and as a result of that, they have placed more emphasis on more usage of tactical nuclear weapons as a leveler.”
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the US not to “play with fire” in Syria after a massive escalation in violence took place on all sides of the multi-faceted conflict early February 2018.
“The US should stop playing very dangerous games which could lead to the dismemberment of the Syrian state,” Lavrov said at a Middle East conference in Moscow on Feb. 19, 2018, according to Bloomberg.
The US has already announced plans to keep Syria divided until UN-sanctioned elections can take place across Syria, and it’s made it clear it will respond with force when Russian, Iranian, or Syrian forces threaten that goal.
On Feb. 7, 2018, a group of pro-government fighters, who were reportedly majority Russian military contractors, launched what the US called an “unprovoked attack” on one of its positions in eastern Syria. The US responded with airstrikes and shelling killing between 100 and 300, according to a variety of reports.
US not going anywhere as hellish fighting ramps up on all sides
Lavrov also spoke of another front in the Syrian conflict, saying that he and his allies in Iran and Syria “are seeing attempts to exploit the Kurds’ aspirations,” a reference to the US’s support for Kurdish militias in northern Syria, who aspire to a state all their own.
Turkey views the Kurdish militia as part of a terror group and there is strong popular support in the country for an operation to clear the Kurds off its borders. Allegations of human rights abuses and shocking videos depicting violence against captured, unarmed Kurds have come out of the conflict in northern Syria as the US stands by its Kurdish ally, whom they credit for defeating ISIS in the region.
Turkey has announced its intentions to start shelling the Kurdish town of Afrin in the coming days.
Also during mid-February 2018, Israel launched a massive air campaign against Iranian targets in Syria and lost an F-16 to Syrian air defenses. Syria and Russia now stand accused by an opposition figure of launching a “new holocaust” in rebel-held pockets of Syria, where some 98 people, including women and children, were reported killed on Feb. 19, 2018.
“No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones,” UNICEF’s regional director Geert Cappalaere began a release on the Syrian government’s recent bombing campaign. UNICEF left part of the statement blank to express its frustration.
It’s unclear what “fire” Lavrov referenced in Syria, as the country has been in conflict for seven years.
What is clear is that the US has a new foreign policy direction in the country, and it isn’t afraid of fighting Iran, Syria, and Russia to keep Assad and Tehran out of power in the besieged country.
Congress is hurtling toward yet another government shutdown deadline on Jan. 19 and while the focus for this round of negotiations is on immigration, there is one key issue that will determine whether the deadline comes and goes without an agreement.
Congress must still decide exactly how much funding to provide for defense and non-defense functions of the government. So far this fiscal year, short-term funding bills passed before the few shutdown deadlines maintained last year’s spending levels for federal programs — but Congress wants to increase spending for the new year.
There are limitations on how large the funding increases can be because of the spending caps triggered in 2013 by the 2011 Budget Control Act. These caps on the amount the government can increase spending for defense and non-defense spending from year to year are much lower than lawmakers want.
Both Democrats and Republicans want to come to an agreement in order to increase those levels beyond the current limits for next year. Going above the Budget Control Act’s limits can be done with a congressional action, but first Congress must get over the substantial disagreement on the size of the increases.
Republicans want a bulk of the spending increase to go to defense spending instead of non-defense spending. Democrats, on the other hand, want to increase defense and non-defense spending by an equal amount.
The initial offer from the GOP in December was to boost defense spending by $54 billion and non-defense spending by $37 billion for 2018 and 2019. Democrats rejected this, calling for parity between the two by raising both sides by $54 billion.
Despite being in the minority, Democrats have substantial influence on the issue because some Republicans concerned about government spending — such as Sen. Rand Paul — could vote against any bill that substantially increases spending above the caps.
Additionally, Democrats could filibuster any spending bill in the Senate that does not meet their demands.
Sen. John Cornyn, the second-highest ranking GOP senator, said that setting these caps has been difficult so far because Democrats are attempting to attach codification of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program, which prevents the deportation of undocumented immigrants that entered the country as minors, to the bill setting the caps.
Despite the complication of the DACA fight, Democrats have additional leverage on the spending cap issue since no party has had the government shut down while controlling both Congress and the White House since 1979.
The most likely scenario in the coming days, according to reports, is that Congress passes a short-term funding extension with new cap levels, giving appropriators — staffers who do technical budgetary work — time to hash out exactly where to spend the money.
“In our minds, the only question is the size of the deal — we had initially ball-parked a $300 billion deal over two years, though ~$200 billion over two years (equal amounts to defense and non-defense) now seems more likely,” said Chris Kreuger, a policy strategist at Cowen Washington Research Group. “The Republicans have offered $54 billion for defense and $37 billion for non-defense, though the Democrats are demanding 1:1 parity (which they are likely to get).”