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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    Kurdish Peshmerga

    In a few months, a major operation will take place at Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul.

    After capturing the city in 2014, ISIS forces have since entrenched themselves — effectively blending in amongst the civilian populace. Being one of the last remaining bastions for ISIS militants, Mosul has remained a constant threat not just for coalition forces in the Middle East, but abroad as well.

    Backed by a sense of optimism, US and Iraqi forces are preparing for the major assault on the city. But they won’t be alone in the campaign for Mosul’s liberation.

    An elite unit of 400 Kurdish Peshmerga have also answered this call and have been preparing themselves for the fight to come. Known as the “Black Devils,” this resilient unit has been claimed to be the first responders against ISIS activity.

    Possessing a name that’s reminiscent of other elite forces, Fox News reports that the unit has the battle skills to go along with the unit designation.

    After a fierce battle against terrorist forces in the outskirts of Mosul, the unit, along with the assistance of US Navy SEALS, established their headquarters in the ancient Christian town of Tel Asqof, about 8 miles away from ISIS’ epicenter — becoming the area’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF).

    In an interview with Fox News, Major Raad, a former interpreter for the US Army explained, “If anyone has a problem and gets attacked, we go there.”

    Speaking about how ISIS felt about their effectiveness, Raad continued, “They never have mercy on us. They just kill us.”

    Having been attacked nearly every day by ISIS forces with snipers and 120mm mortar rounds, the unit has experienced 7 deaths and 57 casualties during the ongoing campaign. According to Fox News, the unit is comprised of members aged from anywhere between 20 and 55 with many of them being immediate family members and childhood friends.

    Kurdish peshmerga

    Established in 2014 — about the same period when ISIS started making headlines — the Black Devils don’t merely engage in direct attacks. They also specialize in clandestine operations that deal with secrecy and rooting out ISIS sleeper cells.

    Listening in on conversations over the airwaves, they have become adept at thwarting ISIS’ plans, such as suicide bombers. After studying their radio transmissions, they’ve been able to crack some of their code. Fox News stated that after ISIS’ code was analyzed, “sending a bird” would mean that an incoming mortar was imminent, and that “visiting the farmer” suggested that an airstrike was inbound.

    It remains to be seen whether the campaign to recapture Mosul will be successful. However, the repercussions, even with a favorable outcome for Iraqi forces, will impact the world. Already the United Nations is bracing for the inevitable surge of fleeing refugees from the city of 1.5 million.

    “The impact of the Mosul military campaign on civilians will be devastating,"ABC News reports from a statement by the UN humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande. "Mass casualties among civilians are likely and families trying to flee are expected to be at extreme."

    SEE ALSO: One of ISIS’ fiercest enemies is finally getting US help

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The Air Force's A-10 Warthog targets ISIS fighters with this massive gatling gun

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    South China Sea

    China just suffered a lopsided, humiliating, and very public defeat when the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against its nine-dash line claims in the South China sea.

    The ruling prompted widespread anti-American sentiment and demonstrations across the country, and perhaps motivated the world's most populous country to make an extremely dangerous, destabilizing move.

    The ruling puts the Chinese Communist Party in an awkward position, as China has invested heavily in its South China Sea reclamation project, the modernization of its navy, and an overall push to become a regional hegemon.

    The CCP pushes a "China dream" narrative, which involves China rising as a world power following its "century of humiliation," according to Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

    To back down from any of its positions would make the CCP appear weak and ineffective before a newly energized nationalist movement, and thusly China can conceivably go forward in only two ways without significantly damaging its legitimacy.

    Potentially, China could leverage its soft power. As the world's second-largest economy and a major trade partner with Japan, the Philippines, and the US, there is some room for negotiation. But China, with its introverted, authoritarian government, is notoriously weak in the soft power department.

    Trying to attract the support of the newly appointed Philippine President Rodrigo Duerte seems an especially dubious prospect, as he was elected on a largely nationalist platform. And many Filipinos view China as an invasive power because of the nation's competing claims on the Scarborough Shoal and the bullying actions of Beijing's navy in those waters.

    China Navy

    That leaves one option for the CCP — flexing its hard, or military, power.

    So far, in the South China Sea, China has enjoyed enormous success in employing a "salami-slicing" method of incrementally militarizing the region without taking any step so bold as to prompt a response from the US.

    China could continue along this incremental course, increasing naval patrols of the South China Sea shoals and islands, as well as by continuing to establish radar installations and military-grade runways. Or China could declare an Air Defense Identification Zone, similar to its actions following the 2013 dispute with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

    chinese j-11 takeoff

    Though some observers doubt that China could credibly keep out the US' mature military, the US Naval Institute recent published an article stating that because of China's improved fighters and bombers, as well as its burgeoning network of radar outposts in the South China Sea, it pretty much could establish such a zone.

    But the most dangerous and aggressive move that China could pursue would be to directly defy The Hague's ruling and go right ahead with building out the Scarborough Shoal — a move Obama has already warned Chinese President Xi Jinping about.

    Developing the Scarborough Shoal, which is 150 miles from Manila and clearly in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, would represent a brazen break with international law and courtesy. This would also conceivably out Chinese forces within a few hundred miles of important US military and naval bases like the Subic Bay.

    Scarborough shoal map south china sea philippines manilla subic bay

    The US Navy patrols China's claims in the region regularly, skirting just outside of its territorial waters with elements from the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group, which also regularly perform freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPS, in the area.

    If China moved forward on the Scarborough Shoal, it would dash any attempts at branding its expansion as peaceful, and it would further isolate Beijing from its neighbors.

    The move could also force the US to intervene for its own interests, as well as on the behalf of the Philippines, whose navy is comparatively weak.

    US navy uss ronald reagan rimpac 2010 carrier strike group

    Furthermore, China has repeatedly made it clear that it has no intentions of respecting The Hague's ruling or ceasing its island-building activities, going as far to warn that US FONOPS in the region could end in "disaster."

    With the US preoccupied with a heated election and US military power stretched thin across the world, China's apparent will to ignore international law and order to seize a vital shipping corridor in the South China Sea proves that the Middle Kingdom is now more dangerous than ever.

    SEE ALSO: China's Navy says it's 'ready' to counter aggression in the South China Sea

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The US and 25 other nations are working together in the world’s largest maritime exercise

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    RIMPAC 2002 (DC)

    During RIMPAC 2016, the largest naval exercise in the world, in which the US led 27 other nations, 45 ships, five submarines, and more than 25,000 personnel and 200 aircraft, a major element of the US's grand naval strategy came to fruition: distributed lethality.

    Starting in early 2015, the US Navy sought to reverse a trend of Russia and China's growing capacity to rival the US's naval power in their respective regions.

    The US aimed to return to the end of the Cold War, when the US Navy was supremely dominant and uncontested in the open seas.

    No longer could the US Navy focus solely on defense. Instead it needed distributed lethality, which means putting war-fighting first with a renewed focus on offense and equipping even the smallest ships in the fleet with serious, long-range firepower.

    So the Navy began plotting to put over-the-horizon missiles on Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), and on July 19 it tested the Harpoon Block 1C surface-to-surface missile by firing it at a decommissioned frigate 20 nautical miles away.

    The missile missed its target, but that really doesn't matter. Targeting and fire-control issues with new missiles should come as no surprise — after all, that's the whole point of testing the missile.

    But the Harpoon canister was placed near the forward deck of the USS Coronado and fired seamlessly, addressing one major concern for the Navy — that smaller ships would be rocked by the momentum of large, high-powered missiles firing on their decks.

    USS COronado distributed lethality harpoon 1c missile

    The July 19 firing of the Harpoon proved that they were good to go on installing these deadly missiles on LCSs across the fleet. 

    “It actually felt very normal,” Cmdr. Scott Larson of the USS Coronado said of the launch. “The impact essentially was there was no impact. It felt like any other missile launch I’ve done on any other platform that I’ve served on.”

    “It’s very significant,” Larson said about the Harpoon's addition to the LCSs.

    “It’s a huge win for the program, a game-changing capability for the LCS variant, for the Navy and the message we’re trying to send in Seventh Fleet.”

    Watch the video of the Harpoon's launch from the USS Coronado below:

    SEE ALSO: China suffered a humiliating loss in arbitration, and now it's more dangerous than ever

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here’s what the US Navy learned about shark attacks during World War II

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    F/A-18 Super Hornets are a seriously incredible plane. 

    A multirole fighter capable of carrying out a variety of missions, Boeing's Super Hornet is fully capable of operating aboard aircraft carriers. And with the capacity to carry air-to-air missiles as well as precision guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles, the F/A-18 is fully able to engage in a wide variety of targets. 

    Perhaps, one of the few things more amazing than the F/A-18's capabilities is watching it be built. The following video, from The Boeing Store, shows a time lapse of a Super Hornet being built from start to finish. 


    SEE ALSO: Here's every plane in the US Navy's massive air contingent, in a single epic chart

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    NOW WATCH: Watch newly released footage of the F-35B taking off, hovering, and landing vertically

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    mq-25a stingray x-47b

    The US Navy just named the first carrier-based Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) the MQ-25A Stingray.

    The Navy has been pursuing a carrier-based drone since 2006 — first as a long-range stealthy bomber, then as a surveillance and strike craft, and finally as a flying tanker. Though air-to-air refueling is hardly a breakthrough, having a carrier-based tanker provides the Navy with a possible solution to one of their most pressing problems — anti-access area denial (A2AD).

    Both China and Russia have developed ranged platforms capable of locking US forces out of key locations in their respective areas, but the Stingray could increase the range of US carrier-based aircraft indefinitely, allowing them to burst enemy A2AD bubbles.

    For instance, China's famous DF-21D "carrier killer" ballistic missile has a range of about 810 miles. The US's longest-range carrier-based aircraft only have a range of about 550 miles, which forces the US to either operate carrier-based aircraft outside of their effective range or risk bringing an entire carrier, with 6,000 sailors and about 70 aircraft, within range of the DF-21D.

    The Stingray, once integrated into carrier fleets, will extend the range of US carrier's existing F-18s, allowing them to effectively operate from a safe distance.

    Once fielded, the Navy will look to increase the role of the Stingray.

    mq-25a stingray x-47b

    “We’re probably going to drop some of the high-end specs and try to grow the class and increase the survivability [later],” Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, told the US Naval Institute's news service.

    “It has to be more refueling, a little bit of ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions), weapons later and focus on its ability to be the flying truck.”

    The Naval Institute reports that a request for proposals to build the Stingray will be issued this year, and the service hopes to field the Stingray by 2020.

    SEE ALSO: A major element of US Naval strategy came to fruition in this 15-second clip

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The US and 25 other nations are working together in the world’s largest maritime exercise

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    Lt. Col. Scott Mann is a retired Green Beret in the US Army as well as the president of MannUp Leadership TrainingMann spent most of his adult life in the Special Forces and explains why he believes the United States Military's strategy against terrorism is actually making the problem worse. 

    Follow BI Video: On Twitter

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    British WWII Commandos

    During World War II, there were many ingenious and courageous raids, but only one would come to be known as “The Greatest Raid of All” – the British raid on St. Nazaire.

    Since the beginning of hostilities, the German Navy had wreaked havoc on shipping in the Atlantic. With the fall of France, the Nazis had ample facilities on the Atlantic to service their fleet, well away from areas patrolled by the Royal Navy.

    The British wanted to take this away and force them through the English Channel or the GIUK (Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom) gap, which they heavily defended. To do this, they devised a daring raid that would put the port of St. Nazaire out of action.

    The plan, codenamed Operation Chariot, was to assault the port with commandos supported by a converted destroyer, the HMS Campbeltown. The British planned to load the Campbeltown with explosives and then ram it into the dry docks where it would detonate. The commandos would also land and destroy the port while up-gunned motor launches searched for targets of opportunity.

    The raiding force consisted of 265 commandos (primarily from No.2 Commando) along with 346 Royal Navy sailors split between twelve motor launches and four torpedo boats.

    The raiders set out from England on the afternoon of March 26, 1942, and arrived at the target just after midnight on March 28. At that point, the Campbeltown raised a German naval ensign to deceive German shore batteries. However, a planned bombing by the Royal Air Force put the harbor on high alert, and just eight minutes from their objective they were illuminated by spotlights.

    A gun battle between the approaching ships and the Germans ensued. At one mile out, the British raised their own naval ensign, increased speed, and drove through the murderous German fire. The helmsman of the Campbeltown was killed, his replacement wounded, and the whole crew blinded by searchlights. At 1:34 a.m., the destroyer found the Normandie dry dock gates, hitting with such force as to drive the destroyer 33 feet onto the gates.

    Saint Nazaire Harbour 1942

    As the commandos disembarked, the Germans rained small arms fire on the raiders. Despite suffering numerous casualties, they were able to complete their objectives, destroying harbor facilities and machinery.

    The commandos on the motor launches were not so lucky. As the boats attempted to make their way to shore, most of them were put out of action by the German guns. Many sank without landing their units. All but four of 16 sank.

    The motor launches were the means of egress from the port for the commandos already ashore. The image of many of them burning in the estuary was a disheartening sight.

    Lt. Col. Newman, leading the Commandos on shore, and Commander Ryder of the Royal Navy realized evacuation by sea was no longer an option. Ryder signaled the remaining boats to leave the harbor and make for the open sea. Newman gathered the commandos and issued three orders: Do the best to get back to England, no surrender until all ammunition is exhausted and no surrender at all if they could help it. With that, they headed into the city to face the Germans and attempt an escape over land.

    The Commandos were quickly surrounded. They fought until their ammunition was expended before proceeding with their only remaining option: surrender. Five commandos did manage to escape the German trap though and make their way through France, neutral Spain, and to British Gibraltar, from which they returned to England.

    HMS Campbeltown

    As the Germans recaptured the port, they also captured 215 British commandos and Royal Navy sailors. Unaware that the Campbeltown lodged in the dry dock was a bomb waiting to explode, a German officer blithely told Lt. Commander Sam Beattie, who had been commanding the Campbeltown, the damage caused by the ramming would only take a matter of weeks to repair. Just as he did the Campbeltown exploded, killing 360 people in the area and destroying the docks – putting them out of commission for the remainder of the war.

    The British paid dearly for this success. Of over 600 personnel involved, only 227 returned to England. Besides those taken prisoner, the British also had 169 killed in action. The raid generated a large number of awards for gallantry, one of the highest concentrations for any battle.

    Five Victoria Crosses, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, were awarded, two posthumously. There were a total of 84 other decorations for the raiders ranging from the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal to the Military Medal.

    The raid infuriated Hitler and, along with other raids by commandos, caused the Germans to spread troops all along the coast to defend against future raids or invasions. More importantly, the destruction of the St. Nazaire port denied the Germans repair facilities for large ships on the Atlantic coast. Due to the daring nature of the operation and the high price paid for success, the action came to be called “The Greatest Raid of All.”

    SEE ALSO: Amazing colorized photos show a new side of World War II

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Inside a secret basement under Grand Central that was one of the biggest World War II targets

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    kirby pokemon

    A US State Department press briefing was interrupted Thursday when spokesman John Kirby stopped to ask a reporter whether he was playing Pokémon Go.

    Kirby stopped mid-sentence to say, "You're playing the Pokémon thing right there, aren't you?"

    Here's the exchange via the State Department transcript:

    Kirby: As the amount of anti-ISIL content continues to eclipse pro-ISIL content online, the working group renewed its commitment to launching innovative international campaigns and expanding regional and global networks and accelerating global efforts to confront them in the information space.

    As the secretary said earlier today, though, and I think it's an important reminder — you're playing the Pokémon thing right there, aren't you?

    Reporter: I'm just keeping an eye on it.

    Kirby: It's an important reminder — we know this won't be easy. We recognize it's a challenge, and we're clear-eyed about the work we still have to do. This is why we convened this important ministerial and will continue to work with our coalition partners to defeat Daesh. Did you get one?

    Reporter: No. The signal is not very good.

    Kirby: Sorry about that.

    Here's the video:


    SEE ALSO: A soldier played Pokémon Go while fighting ISIS in Iraq

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses a news conference at State House in Nairobi, Kenya June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has responded to last week’s coup attempt with a hammer.

    Over the span of just a few days, more than 50,000 people have been fired from their jobs or detained on suspicions that they’re connected to the coup or to the Gülenist movement (which President Erdoğan blames for the coup attempt). Now emergency rule has been imposed, suggesting that more detentions may follow.

    Turkish leaders are assuring everyone that the state of emergency is meant to control the situation and to preserve Turkish democracy. But many observers, including in the West, aren’t buying it: There are legitimate fears that these measures will actually further consolidate Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule. And the consequences of Turkey’s continued drift away from democracy isn’t only a human rights or governance problem—it could become a real geopolitical challenge for the West. 

    The swinging pendulum

    Turkey—literally the bridge between Europe and Asia—sometimes seems of two minds on governance issues. On the one hand, its leaders express a commitment to a Western form of governance based on the rule of law, liberal democracy, transparency, and accountability.

    On the other—and more in the vein of governance styles in Russia, Iran, and China—they sometimes reject what they see as outside interference, restrict civil liberties and government transparency, and promote a heavy state role in the economy. 

    Although Turkey was welcomed into NATO and other transatlantic institutions after World War II—at a time when Soviet expansionism was a real fear—its commitment to democratic values has always been shaky. The military’s shadow loomed large over Turkish politics (last week’s coup attempt was far from the first) and the country’s human rights record was poor, particularly on minority rights. 

    afp turkey in new raids against suspected coup plotters

    Many thought that all this would change when Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. They introduced political reforms that propelled Turkey toward EU membership. The Turkish economy excelled: Many people in Turkey once depended on remittances sent by Gastarbeiters (guest workers) in Germany and other West European countries, for instance, but the country quickly became host itself to immigrants from neighboring countries.

    Tourists, business people, students, athletes, and artists poured into the country in the millions. And Turkey enjoyed considerable soft power in the region and the world, often touted as a model in the wake of the Arab Spring of a country that properly paired mainstream Islamism and democratic governance. None of this would have been possible were it not for Turkey’s growing adherence to Western governance norms and its membership in the transatlantic community. 

    But the picture has since become rather grim. The events of the past week have renewed concerns about the state of Turkish democracy, yes—but those concerns have in fact been growing for years. Turkey’s commitment to supporting freedom of expression, freedom of the media, anti-corruption efforts, and liberal markets has been in serious doubt for a while.

    Meanwhile, the economy has stalled, related in part to political developments and to a recent spate of terror attacks that have seriously damaged the overall security situation. It is no wonder that Turkish per capita income—which peaked at $10,800 in 2013—has now fallen to 2009 levels, at $9,950. (That’s an almost 10 percent drop in the span of just two years.) Turkey’s further slide away from Western governance norms would likely only make matters worse, making Erdoğan’s promise of putting Turkey among the largest 10 economies in the world a fantasy.

    Turkey coup uprising

    If you ask Erdoğan and his AKP colleagues why reforms sputtered out, they’re likely to answer with conspiracy theories: They’ll blame the West, the EU, the interest rate lobby, and others. But the AKP has failed to be self-critical, which could have helped it succeed. 

    Turkey’s choice of orbit

    So if Turkey seems to be moving away from Western norms, is it also moving away from the West? Possibly. In November 2013—after years of stop-and-go accession talks with the EU—Erdoğan sought Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for accepting Turkey into Eurasian organizations like the Shanghai Five. That could be a big geostrategic gain for Russia, something not lost on the Russian press.

    Western Europe and the United States would be the biggest losers if Turkey moved closer to Russia’s camp. Losing their partnership with Turkey would deliver a serious blow to the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, for one thing. But it would also further dim prospects that Turkey might really embrace Western-style democracy any time soon.

    As Ted Piccone has written, Turkey has the potential to be a linchpin of the liberal international order—and a long-term downturn in the country could have wide detrimental effects in regional and global governance. 

    putin erdogan

    The path ahead

    Finally, is there a role for the United States in all this? In the short term, as Ömer Taşpınar has argued, the United States should offer real help to Ankara in investigating the role of Pennsylvania resident Fethullah Gülen and his movement in last week’s coup attempt. Extradition is a highly sensitive issue, and the United States must defend its legal standards.

    At the same time, that kind of cooperation could build trust in US-Turkey relations, calm Ankara’s paranoia about a potential US role in the coup attempt (and therefore possibly help minimize the damage to Turkish democracy that Ankara itself might cause in its heavy-handed response), and help the United States build credibility on the rule of law.

    turkey protest

    A thorough investigation—including into the Gülenists—is important for determining who was behind the coup attempt. And it’s in US interests to know: As Turkey is a NATO member, a threat against it should be considered a threat against all members. It is in no NATO member’s interest to allow a political earthquake like this to push Turkey from its fold or towards a rival mode of governance. 

    This isn’t to downplay the burden now on Ankara; the Turkish government shouldn’t forget that its respect for civil liberties and the rule of law once helped earn it a lot of international respect and a place in the Western community. It’s disappointing that the AKP and Erdoğan supporters have failed to capitalize on their country’s potential.

    Among its peers in the Muslim world, Turkey had once made the most progress in terms of democratic values and economic growth. Many would still like to believe that that Turkey still exists, in spite of recent setbacks. But for Turkey to win back those gains, its leadership will have to proceed very cautiously and with reason.

    SEE ALSO: Turkey's Erdogan: 'Demand' for death penalty for coup-plotters 'will surely be assessed'

    SEE ALSO: Putin is a big winner of the failed coup in Turkey

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: IAN BREMMER: Turkey’s president wants to emulate Putin — but it’s not going to work

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    Xi Jinping

    No one, not even President Barack Obama, has done more to make the United States welcome in Asia than Chinese President Xi Jinping. Since 2012, Xi’s foreign policy has unraveled years of careful efforts on China’s part to persuade its Asian neighbors of the “win-win” benefits of China’s peaceful rise.

    Under Xi, Beijing has suffered a series of diplomatic setbacks so counterproductive that they raise serious questions about his foreign policy competence.

    A brief review of the past three years shows a remarkable string of failures and foreign policy defeats. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on July 12th nullified China’s “Nine-Dash Line,” which is the basis for Beijing’s claim to disputed islets and reefs, and 85 percent of the South China Sea, as sovereign Chinese territory. 

    This was a body blow, undoing a major pillar of Chinese foreign policy toward the rest of Asia. The ruling was a troubling metaphor, undermining the smiley-face image China has sought to project.

    Yet the Hague decision was only the latest in a series of diplomatic setbacks.

    It was preceded by South Korea’s decision to deploy THAAD, a U.S. missile defense system, in the face of China’s strong objections and heavy-handed threats against Seoul. China’s overbearing posture, and call for South Korea to prioritize Beijing’s security concerns over Seoul’s, aimed to drive a wedge into the U.S.-South Korea alliance, but did just the opposite.

    The THAAD decision moved South Korea closer to the U.S. and opens the door to trilateral U.S.-South Korea-Japan strategic cooperation, long anathema to Beijing.

    The THAAD decision, of course, was related to the failure of Chinese diplomacy to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile test programs. Indeed, Pyongyang thumbing its nose at Beijing’s admonitions not to conduct nuclear and missile tests was a stunning rebuke.

    A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency.  U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

    Xi had sent a special envoy to Pyongyang to persuade North Korea against a ballistic missile test. Yet, literally as he deboarded the airplane, North Korea announced it would conduct the missile test. And for spite, Pyongyang launched it on the eve of Chinese New Year.

    Defeat on the Korean peninsula was preceded by defeat in the Senkakus, the disputed rocks which Beijing had attempted to use to drive a wedge into the U.S.-Japan alliance by raising the question of whether the United States would support Japan in a conflict with China. But in April 2014, during a visit to Japan, Obama made clear that Article V of the alliance extends to the Senkakus.

    Meanwhile, China’s continuing air and naval incursions into the Senkakus and East China Sea have had a major impact on Japan’s security policy, leading to the decision in 2014 to reinterpret the constitution to allow for the exercise of collective self-defense and the 2015 Japan-U.S. defense guidelines, which recognize a wider Japanese regional security role.

    This spring, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships made port calls in Subic Bay in the Philippines, Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, and Sydney Harbor in Australia — to Beijing’s horror. And Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent Upper House election victory raises the possibility of Japan amending its Peace Constitution, another long-dreaded nightmare for China.

    japan prime minister shinzo abe

    In June, Xi’s forceful diplomacy did score a major success during a meeting between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Kunming, China, where the Chinese government pressured ASEAN to withdraw a statement of concern over tensions in the South China Sea.

    At the same time, Beijing’s assertive behavior in the South China Sea has led to bandwagoning and unprecedented security cooperation between Australia, Japan, the United States, and the maritime states of the region.

    Beyond Asia, the losing streak continued in Europe, where the European Union, despite Chinese pressure, rejected Beijing’s bid to be granted “market economy status” in the World Trade Organization. Instead, China’s oversupply of steel and other products triggered an anti-dumping tariff from the EU and United States.

    In addition, heavy handed Chinese nationalist economic policies penalizing European and U.S. businesses in favor of China’s “national champions,” particularly in the IT sector, have disillusioned the U.S. business community, long the foundation of support for the U.S.-China relationship.

    Absent the ballast of support from U.S. business, the already volatile U.S.-China relationship would become still more problematic, shaping the policy environment for a new U.S. president, who will have to make difficult choices.

    obama xi china us

    Perhaps the Politburo Standing Committee should reread the anonymous open letter by a party member that urged Xi to resign in March. The letter found Xi to be lacking “the abilities to lead the party and country into the future,” citing his counterproductive foreign policy as abandoning caution for “dangerous adventurism.”

    It defies the imagination that Xi Jinping’s foreign policy has had the unintended consequence of promoting U.S. interests and strengthening Obama’s “rebalance” — success that the State Department or the Pentagon couldn’t match on their best day.

    How to explain all this? After the 2008-2009 U.S. financial crisis, Chinese analysts mistakenly concluded that the United States was in terminal decline, and that China’s moment had come to undo a century of humiliation by asserting its influence rather than biding its time as it developed its economy.

    Thus, Chinese strategy is based on flawed assumptions: that China, with geography on its side, is getting bigger and militarily stronger, and that a declining United States will gradually leave the region. Asian nations will have no choice but to pay deference to China’s interests. The intriguing question is: With all of Xi’s bad bets going sour, will his Politburo comrades treat him like most companies would treat a demonstrably failed CEO? 

    SEE ALSO: This photo says so much about China's view of the South China Sea ruling

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The US and 25 other nations are working together in the world’s largest maritime exercise

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    A selection of photos from some of the biggest news that you might have missed this week.

    SEE ALSO: The military in photos this month

    Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heads an emergency meeting following a coup attempt in Turkey.

    People watch a speech by Turkey's president at Taksim Square, Istanbul, Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had announced a three month state of emergency following a failed coup.

    Workers demolish a hotel that was allegedly the meeting point of the plotters who planned the failed coup. The hotel had been subject to fines and demolition orders since 1993, and the directive to demolish the hotel was approved by the mayor three days after the failed coup.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    M1A1 abrams front

    Since first coming into service in 1980, the M1 Abrams tank has become a staple of US ground forces. The 67-ton behemoth has since made a name for itself as an incredibly tough, powerful tool that has successfully transitioned from a Cold War-era blunt instrument to a tactical modern weapon.

    In the slides below, find out how the M1 Abrams became, and remains, the king of the battlefield.

    SEE ALSO: Ukrainian soldiers made this epic video using a battle-tank turret as a selfie stick

    Here is one of the first M1 Abrams in 1979. The Abrams entered service in 1980, but didn't see heavy combat until Desert Storm in 1991.

    The Abrams was the first tank to incorporate British-developed Chobham composite armor, which includes ceramics and is incredibly dense.

    Despite the British-designed armor, the Abrams tanks were made in Ohio and Michigan.


    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    bulgarian su-25 frogfoot

    Bulgaria's defense minister said on Sunday there had been a rise in violations of its airspace by Russian military and commercial aircraft in the past month, calling the alleged breaches a "provocations toward Bulgaria and its air forces".

    Nikolay Nenchev told Bulgarian television channel Nova TV that Russian military aircraft had entered what he termed "Bulgaria's area of responsibility" in NATO airspace four times in the past month.

    He said the planes had turned off their transponders – communications devices that, alongside normal radars, make it easier for an airplane to be located, especially in congested air space.

    "It is very worrying, so we take preventive measures," Nenchev said. Any unauthorized entry of an aircraft required the scrambling of Bulgarian fighter jets, he added.

    Russian passenger planes breached the airspace six times in the past month, he said.

    Bulgaria had demanded an explanation from Moscow over the violations, Nenchev said, describing the incidents as "provocations toward Bulgaria and its air forces".

    The Russian Defence Ministry was not immediately able to comment when contacted by Reuters.

    In January, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia to "take all necessary measures" to ensure NATO airspace was not violated.

    nato jens stoltenberg

    His comments came after Turkey shot down in November a Russian warplane flying a sortie over Syria that it said had violated its airspace, triggering a diplomatic rupture in which Russia imposed economic sanctions.

    Last September, Bulgaria denied Russian aid flights bound for Syria entry to its airspace, citing it had serious doubts about the cargo onboard.

    Bulgaria, a former Communist state and once staunch ally of Moscow, is almost entirely dependent on Russian energy supplies, and many Bulgarians feel a deep affinity for their giant neighbor across the Black Sea.

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    dore gold

    Israel's Foreign Ministry says a senior official has met with a visiting former military general from Saudi Arabia. The meeting marks a rare public engagement between countries that have no official relations.

    Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon says Sunday that Director General Dore Gold met with Anwar Eshki at a Jerusalem hotel. Eshki currently heads a Saudi think tank in Jeddah but is believed to have close ties with the kingdom's rulers. Official government permission was likely necessary for him to make such an overt visit.

    Saudi Arabia has floated a plan for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It has unofficially grown closer to Israel in recent years over their shared concerns regarding Iran.

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    Southwest Cay Vietnam

    China is not the only nation building islands in the South China Sea — although the scope of its construction is unparalleled.

    Along with Beijing, Vietnam has also started projects mostly within the past two years of constructing islands. Altogether, the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has documented 10 sites of Vietnamese construction throughout the region. Together, Vietnam has built slightly over 120 acres of land in the area.

    By comparison, China has created over 3,000 acres of land in the Spratly Islands, far overshadowing Vietnam's efforts. But Vietnam's construction gives China cover for its activities as the US has called on both sides to cease construction in the region.

    Below are before and after photos showcasing Vietnam's island-building efforts:

    SEE ALSO: These images might just be the clearest signs of China's expansion in the disputed South China Sea

    Spratly Island: 2014 - 2016

    Southwest Cay: 2005 - 2016

    Sin Cowe Island: 2006 - 2016

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    german undetonated bombs

    Just over a mile from where a stretch of the Berlin Wall once stood in Germany’s capital city, the neighborhood of Rummelsburg was evacuated earlier this week after construction workers uncovered a 550-pound American bomb. The bomb, with its fuse still intact, had sat dormant for more than 70 years since the Allies dropped it during World War II.

    This one had failed to detonate, and now, decades later, its corroding fuse could set it off at any time. Every year, at least one or two such bombs explode in Germany without warning, according to the 2015 film The Bomb Hunters, which documents the work of the KMBD—the bomb squad for the state of Brandenburg.

    First reported by the Associated Press, the story of this latest discovery was picked up by a handful of media outlets worldwide. But to Germans, such findings are so frequent in certain cities that it’s hardly shocking anymore. In fact, the KMBD estimates that more than 2,000 tons of unexploded bombs are uncovered each year, according to Smithsonian magazine.

    Many are found in Oranienburg, a city roughly an hour outside Berlin. “They have it so well figured out that the city has a very specific routine [to find and defuse bombs], and it's coordinated very well through their website,” says Berlin-based filmmaker Rick Minnich, who spent a year and a half filming The Bomb Hunters in Oranienburg. “People are just kind of like, ‘Oh, well, getting evacuated again.' And when schools get evacuated, sometimes kids get upset that their school is just outside the evacuation area, because then they have to go to school.”

    The threat, however, lingers.

    During the war, the U.S. and its allies showered Europe with 2.7 million tons of bombs, some of which had a delayed fuse so that they would detonate hours or even days after they landed. It was a terror tactic, designed to hinder the cities’ recovery. Half ended up in Germany, and what’s left today buried in German soil makes up the roughly 10 percent of bombs that never went off. Instead, they were left scattered as the country pursued aggressive post-war reconstruction efforts.

    No one knows exactly where these bombs are lurking, and in the past they’ve turned up in a multitude of places: in people’s backyards, underneath railroad tracks, beneath highways, and near airports. Just last week, the German carmaker Volkswagen discovered a 550-pound bomb under its headquarters in the city of Wolfsburg, about 150 miles outside Berlin.

    When a bomb is discovered, it can paralyze an entire city. In 2011, for example, the City of Koblenz came to a halt after authorities found a 10-foot bomb weighing two tonsalong the riverbank. Some 45,000 residents were evacuated, according to the New York Times. Jails, hospitals, hotels, and the city’s main train stations all had to be emptied, and authorities shut down a busy stretch of the highway. Temporary shelters were set up for the elderly and other vulnerable people.

    Accidental discoveries have led to casualties, though it’s been rare. Still, when a bomb is found on private property, the consequences for the owner are sometimes devastating. In The Bomb Hunters, Minnich turned his camera on Gunthard ‘Paule’ Dietrich, a retired taxi driver who discovered a bomb in his back yard. When the KBMD came to defuse it, they ended up having to detonate it instead. The explosion blew up his house and destroyed everything he owned. Afterwards, Paule’s efforts to rebuild had to be put on hold because authorities suspected two more bombs were lurking in his neighbor’s yard.

    Paule lives in Oranienburg, one of the heaviest-shelled towns in Germany during the war: 5,690 bombs were once dropped over just 45 minutes. The Allies had targeted the city’s military infrastructure—an airplane-manufacturing plant, Hitler’s arms depot, an atomic-research facility, and the railway station, which served as a transit hub for German soldiers heading toward the Eastern Front.

    Today, according to the film, some 300 remain in the ground there, making Oranienburg the German city with the highest concentration of unexploded WWII bombs. “It's really extreme at the moment; they've been having a defusing about once a month this year because they found several bombs in one spot,” says Minnich. “They've been defusing them one at a time in full hazmat suits because the soil is radioactive. That's the area where the factory was, where the Nazis were doing their nuclear research.”

    City officials began aggressively searching for them in 2008, launching systematic searches that involve drilling holes as deep as 30 feet all around town. To determine their approximate locations, researchers analyze hundreds of archival aerial photos taken shortly after the bombings, purchased from the U.S., the U.K., and Germany. The price: “A six-figure sum,” local expert Frank Ritter says in the video.

    Germany isn’t the only country still suffering the volatile relics of wars past. Unexploded bombs from WWII and World War I have been found London,France, and Belgium. The threat of leftover bombs also lingers in the U.S. And among developing countries, Laos still feels the effects of the 2 million tons of bombs dropped on its provinces in the 1960s and 1970s, with at least 20,000 bomb-related casualties since the Vietnam War.

    Khin Naing, 50, a former soldier who lost his leg during the war in Kayah state after he stepped on a landmine in 2009, sits near his home in Yangon, Myanmar June 3, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

    Meanwhile, civil war has left Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia and African nations like Angola and Mozambique with millions of landmines scattered throughout. Where the government hasn’t taken the initiative to clean up the land, nonprofits like APOPO, which trains rats to find landmines, have jumped in.

    “If it's still such a problem from WWII, what about all the wars that have been fought since then?” asks Minnich. The sobering truth is that finding these bombs will go on for generations—and yet it’s still a race against the clock. The longer efforts to uncover them take, the more corroded and unstable bombs become.

    Minnich recalls visiting the temporary shelters when German cities had to be evacuated. “It’s kind of a strange experience, because that’s where you sometimes find people who were little kids when the bombings took place,” Minnich recalls. “It’s like the war never ended.”

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    scs bless it

    China's lion-share claims to the resource-rich waters in the South China Sea took a huge blow earlier this month after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) issued a landmark ruling dismissing China's "nine-dash line" territorial claim.

    The court found that Beijing had violated the Philippines' economic and sovereign rights and concluded there was no legal basis for China's nine-dash line, which encompasses approximately 85% of the South China Sea.

    While the PCA ruling is only binding between Beijing and Manila, it does, however, set a legal foundation by determining that the rules of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLCLOS) take precedence over China's historic claims.

    In short, if there is no "nine-dash line," other stakeholders in the South China Sea may be inspired to file lawsuits against China if Beijing refuses to compromise on access to the resource-rich waters.

    Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan, and China all have claims in the South China Sea, making the region one of the most disputed areas on the planet.

    map south china sea

    On July 12, a panel of legal experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies' sixth annual South China Sea conference commented on the impact of the decision on other claimants.

    "Because it's invalid, will it encourage other states" to push back against China's claims, Dr. James Kraska, professor of Oceans Law and Policy at the US Naval War College asked, referring to the nine-dash line. "I think so and I hope so," he told Business Insider in a question-and-answer session.

    "It will have enormous impact on future jurisprudence and on the perceived legitimacy of other claims in the South China Sea and around the world," said Gregory Poling, CSIS fellow and director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

    vietnam navyAccording to a report from financial market analysis firm BMI Research, Vietnam "is likely to be the key beneficiary from the spillover effects of the ruling."

    Because of similarities in the PCA's ruling, Vietnam would most likely win in a maritime row against Beijing's claims in the Paracels but would have to abandon all claims on Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal since those areas fall under the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). 

    Vietnam would also have to withdraw troops from Alison Reef, Tennent Reef, and Cornwallis Reef in the Spratlys.

    Here's the full report from BMI Research:

    Click here to read more about the South China Sea »

    SEE ALSO: This photo says so much about China's view of the South China Sea ruling

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    ukraine grad missile launcher

    The Ukrainian military says three soldiers have been killed and three others wounded in fresh clashes between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in the country's volatile east.

    Two servicemen were killed by mortar fire near Avdiyivka, an industrial hub some 10 kilometers north of the separatists' de-facto capital Donetsk, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists on July 25.

    Another soldier was killed near the village of Nevelske, 12 kilometers northwest of Donetsk, Lysenko said. 

    The latest fatalities come just a day after Kyiv announced the deaths of six Ukrainian servicemen. 

    Lysenko accused the separatists of using weapons banned by truce agreements. 

    De facto authorities in the Donetsk territory held by the separatists accused Ukrainian forces of shelling areas under separatist control and injuring two civilians.

    The TASS news agency quoted an unnamed source in Donetsk as saying on July 25 that "the situation in Donetsk remains tense" and that "the number of shelling attacks reached 570 over the past day."

    Fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 9,400 people in eastern Ukraine since the conflict began in April 2014.

    Under a cease-fire agreement reached last year in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, both sides pledged to pull back heavy weaponry as well as take other steps toward a peace settlement.

    Based on reporting by AFP and TASS

    SEE ALSO: Ukraine has become a trove for the black market arms trade

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    Recep Tayyip Erdogan Turkey President

    Since Turkey’s failed July 15 coup, the Turkish authorities have accused U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of being behind the attempted takeover of power. It is an explanation that is widely accepted across Turkey. A brief look at the history of Gulen's movement helps explain why.

    What Does The Movement Want?

    Gulen was originally a supporter of Said Nursi, an Ottoman-Kurdish scholar from the Hanefi school of Sunni Islam. But in the 1970s, Gulen formed a sect of his own that people later called "Gulen Camaati" (Gulen community or movement).

    Like any other Islamic sect under the strictly secular and pro-military Turkish governments, Gulen’s community was banned and operated largely underground until 1983. But, unlike other religious communities, which were mainly teaching the Koran and performing private religious prayers, Gulen’s group became increasingly politicized. Businessmen began to donate money and the movement became a political player among conservative and religious groups in Turkey.

    "[Gulen] wrote at that time that he wanted to train 'courageous, selfless men' for society,"says Rusen Cakir, a leading expert on Turkish Islamic groups. "It was about them training and planting young people in different important layers of the government: the police, the justice system, the Interior Ministry, and even the army."

    But, unlike more transparent political parties, Gulen's sect kept everything secret. It was never clear how many members the group had, who they were, and what exactly they were seeking to do politically. It was widely rumored that his movement, and all its related "foundations" and businesses, were getting wealthier and more and more people were joining his community, but there was little categorical evidence to support this.

    How Big Is The Movement?

    It is almost impossible to quantify the size of the Gulen movement's membership or its wealth. By many estimates, over the course of some 40 years, the movement has gathered tens of thousands of supporters. 

    U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers Turkey blames for a failed coup, is shown in still image taken from video, speaks to journalists at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania July 16, 2016. Gulen said democracy cannot be achieved through military action.  REUTERS/Greg Savoy/Reuters TV

    Gulen has repeatedly denied having a "network." He has said that people may sympathize with him in any government institution even without an organized network, as is the case with other political parties. But analyst Cakir says that directing school graduates to choose positions selected by "community guides" -- members of the Gulen movement who counsel younger members -- was not something any other political party was doing.

    Why Did The Movement Clash With The Turkish State?

    In the 1970s, the government, army, and security services tried to clean up their ranks and remove those they perceived to be Gulenist "implants." And in the 1980s, secular parties and magazines (like Nokta from 1986, which is pictured below) were warning against secret "Fethullahists" in the army. 

    Working up the ladder in the army and civil service, Gulen supporters helped other members of the movement join their ranks. In 2010, prior to a national exam for entrance into government agencies, exam questions were reportedly communicated among Gulen movement members to ensure their passing the exam. 

    While Gulen was gathering and guiding supporters, his schools both in Turkey and abroad were bringing him fame and popularity. Critics say that running those successful schools was a "cover" for his "infiltration" of the government, although raising the level of Turkey's education and culture was always one of Gulen’s stated goals. 

    In 1999, secret recordings of Gulen's speeches were played on state television. In them, he called on his supporters to "silently and patiently" infiltrate government agencies and wait for "the moment" of change. "If you act too soon, you'll have Turkish state institutions on your back," he said. 

    Under increasing pressure from secular media and government, Gulen emigrated to the United States in 1999. His movement, though, kept growing.

    Why Did The Relationship With Erdogan Turn Sour?

    In the 2000s, Gulen already had scores of loyal supporters at high levels of the police, justice system, media, educational institutions, and even the army. He was also a close ally of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who became prime minister in 2003. Gulen and Erdogan came from the same Islamic background, although they held different interpretations on how an Islamic movement should operate within a secular state.

    Turkey Erdogan

    Once Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won parliamentary elections in 2002 and built a one-party government, it was actively supported by the Gulen movement. In return, the movement and its activities were tolerated by the AKP government until 2010.

    It was then that Erdogan started taking measures against the Gulen sympathizers. He began to clean up the police and his "foundation schools," but stopped short with the military. In 2013, Erdogan completely broke with Gulen, after a series of secret audio and video recordings emerged about corruption cases in the AKP government and Erdogan's inner circle, which he suspected were leaked by the movement. 

    Why Were The Gulen Supporters Detained So Quickly?

    Less than 48 hours after the coup attempt began, police, security, and army forces loyal to the government detained around 7,000 suspected supporters of the Gulen movement. Over the next seven days, this number rose to more than 50,000, although some of them were later released. Media, businesses, and even schools were closed or their management taken over. 

    In the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt, dozens of alleged members of the Gulen movement have admitted getting their instructions from higher ranks in the Gulen community, usually verbally or via messaging. Even a colonel did not shy away from giving instructions to his supervising general. 

    A supporter of Gulen movement attends a protest outside the Kanalturk and Bugun TV building in Istanbul, Turkey, October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

    The immediate question for many, especially in foreign countries, was how could they identify so many of the pro-Gulen people so fast. It has been suggested, including by the EU enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, that the government had prepared lists of names and institutions well before the coup attempt. Some commentators went further and suggested that the coup attempt was staged.

    Given that the Gulen group has been active in Turkish political life for the last 40 years, and given Erdogan's authoritarian tendencies, it is quite possible that the government had lists of Gulen supporters within the civil service, education system, and businesses. And it is of little doubt that they were under surveillance by security and military agencies.

    According to Erdogan’s advisers, the Turkish president was planning to clean up the army in August of this year. That may have led the plotters to strike before they were ready. In his disputed secret speeches 17 years earlier, Gulen warned about the foolhardiness of striking too soon, or "you’ll have Turkish state institutions on your back." Regardless of whether Gulen’s organization was responsible for the coup, his words were prescient.

    SEE ALSO: Putin is a big winner of the failed coup in Turkey

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    Chengdu J-20

    China's new fifth-generation stealth jet is believed to be drawing closer to completion after a supposed low-rate-initial-production, or LRIP, test plane was spotted last week.

    According to Sputnik, video footage from Chinese websites emerged showing the suspected J-20 unit in action.

    This would be the second J-20 caught by onlookers after one was spotted in December. Unlike that unit, however, the most recent J-20 was painted in gray and marked with no identifiable serial numbers — it was reported that one of the few noticeable markings on the fighter was a toned-down version of the national insignia.

    Several sources suggest that this would be the fourth LRIP developed by the Chinese air force. But despite the evidence, such as satellite imagery of J-20s from China's Flight Test Establishment base, government-owned news outlets have not confirmed the existence of the jet.

    Even a quick look at Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group's lineup of military aircraft shows no trace of the development of the J-20.

    J20 Inverted

    The J-20's progress comes at the heels of a congressional report from the US Defense Department that claims it may become operational in 2018, while some sources have even claimed it would be combat-ready by 2019.

    Though the J-20 may be well on its way to supplementing China's squadrons, aviation experts have asserted that China has gone through dubious means to get its program up-to-date.

    Aviation expert Carlo Kopp of the think tank Air Power Australia writes, "By cleverly exploiting contemporary United States-developed stealth fighter shaping design rules, Chengdu engineers were able to rapidly get an excellent basic shaping design with a minimum of risk and cost, and significant long-term stealth performance growth potential."

    Powered by twin Russian Saturn AL-31 engines, the J-20 is estimated to fly at speeds as high as 1,305 mph, and it holds a central bay of four beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles and two short-range air-to-air missiles.

    As of 2011, analysts have also estimated the cost of each J-20 unit to be about $110 million.

    Here's some footage of the preproduction variant of the J-20:

    SEE ALSO: The US Air Force may make history and buy this ridiculously cheap jet

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