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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    Since the US developed, tested, and eventually used nukes, nuclear weapons have been the hallmark of a US deterrence strategy that has seen seven decades of relative peace settle over the globe.

    Today, the US relies on a the "nuclear triad" for deterrence, which means they can launch nuclear missiles from silos based on land, submarines based in the sea, and bombers flying in the sky.

    But that triad is under attack. The argument, mainly emanating from democrats in the House and Senate, is that we should not waste billions on weapons systems we're likely to never use. However, to never have to use these weapons is the best-case scenario, and it is in fact the entire point of the effort.

    Each leg of the triad offers it's own unique advantages, and all three of these areas are desperately in need of modernization, even if it costs the US $450 billion.

    When a nuclear weapon is modernized, it's the delivery platform that changes, not the warhead itself. The US no longer makes nuclear warheads, and it has been a long trumpeted goal of the Obama administration to move towards disarmament with the distant goal of deterring nuclear attacks on the US or on allies being the sole purpose of the US's nuclear arsenal.

    Land based silos scattered across the US provide fixed locations from which the US can mount a nuclear attack. The clear benefit of these bases comes from their situation underground. Even a nuclear attack on one or all of the known sites won't render them useless. They are the fastest way the president can deploy nuclear weapons, and as they are spread out, they would be very hard for an adversary to neutralize all at once. When people talk about the president having "a finger on the button," these are the missiles that button fires.

    Currently the silos house Minutemen III intercontinental ballistic missiles that were devised in 1982. These weapons are capable and well-maintained, but they're limited by their aged technology, specifically the targeting system. 


    Air-launched nuclear missiles can be fired from bombers or fighters, and provide the most forward-deployable leg of the triad. These air-launched cruise missiles have an incredible range of over 1,000 miles which is hugely important for penetrating contested enemy air spaces. The B-52 can carry 20 such cruise missiles, which can be fired in an overwhelming salvo to neutralize enemy air defenses.

    But unlike the ground-based ICBMs, or submarines deep under the sea, the nuclear armed planes provide a showy kind of deterrence. Moving a B-52 to a region, as the US recently has in the Baltics and the Pacific, puts the entire area on notice that the US has laid a powerful chess piece in striking range.

    Again, the new missiles needed to modernize the airborne leg of the triad would incorporate modern technology and targeting that would make them harder to see and shoot down. However, even if a cruise missile is shot down, it's infinitely better than the loss of a pilot and a bomber.

    Ohio class_submarine_launches_Tomahawk_Cruise_missiles_(artist_concept)

    The final leg of the triad are ballistic-class nuclear submarines. Situated in hidden locations in oceans throughout the world, these submarines are the ultimate check against nuclear strikes. As they are incredibly difficult to track and destroy, a ballistic-missile submarine provides the US with the chance to launch a nuclear counter-attack.

    Today's Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines are undetectable in the water, but that could change as technology rapidly develops and cyber espionage makes sure that no secret is safe. So, the US has commissioned the new Columbia-class submarine to protect the US's important deterrence capability. Improvements to the trident missiles employed by these submarines, first deployed in 1990, are also budgeted for the near future.

    The days when the US could fly a propeller-driven bomber over enemy territory, and simply drop a nuclear-armed unguided bomb onto a city are long gone and simply not coming back.

    Understanding the importance of nuclear deterrence is counterintuitive, as these weapons of mass destruction actually serve as a kind of insurance policy on peace and the continued existence of humanity as we know it on earth. And not to downplay the US's desperate need for infrastructure and other worthy projects, but if the price for nuclear deterrence comes out to $450 billion, out of a $4 trillion yearly budget, then relative peace on earth is worth it.

    SEE ALSO: Here's how disturbingly easy it is to get materials for a dirty bomb in the US

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: CLINTON: 'A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons'

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    If you screw up your cashier duties at McDonald’s, chances are your boss won’t smoke you, unless he wants a harassment suit brought against him. In the military world, we live by a different set of rules and laws, one in which we forfeit many of our previously enjoyed rights and freedoms.

    The U.S. armed forces follow the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a set of legal conventions that was born from the 69 Articles of War in 1775. Although our current rendition of the UCMJ wasn’t signed into law until 1950 by President Harry S. Truman, it sure feels as though some of the punishments contained within its bindings date back to colonial times.

    Here are eight punishments that wouldn’t fly in the civilian world.

    SEE ALSO: The US Coast Guard turns 226 years old — here are 34 jaw-dropping photos of the branch in action

    Food denial

    Confinement on “diminished rations”— or a substantially limited amount of food —  may be imposed as punishment upon personnel in paygrade E-3 or below, attached to, or embarked in a vessel.

    Forfeiture of all pay and allowances

    In the civilian world, your place of employment can’t garnish your wages, dock your pay, or force you to work without pay for poor performance.

    In certain instances, if you lose your company a ton of money or break some expensive equipment, you can be found liable, but your employer is required to pay you for all of the hours that you work.

    In the military, however, the UCMJ allows the military to take the pay and allowances of someone who’s been given nonjudicial punishment or who’s been found guilty in a court-martial.  

    Confinement for naughtiness

    Cursing can get you sent to the clink for six months in the military, and up to two years if directed at a child. Having a threesome while married, regardless of consent, can get you put away for a year. “Straggling” while marching could get you three.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    china military

    Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan have joined China in a military alliance aimed at countering Islamist militancy, officials said.

    Military leaders from the four countries gathered on August 4 in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang to announce the alliance, the Pakistani Army said.

    Known as the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism, the alliance is meant to bring together member states in areas of counterterrorism and intelligence, the army said.

    Pakistan and Afghanistan, both already U.S. allies in the war on terror, have faced violence from Islamist militant groups including Al-Qaeda and the Taliban for more than a decade.

    Tajikistan has been the victim of its own Islamist militants. China has been battling an ethnic minority group of Islamist militants in its Muslim-dominant, oil-rich region of Xinjiang near the country's border with Pakistan.

    China is also working with Pakistan and the United States to broker so far fruitless peace talks to end a Taliban insurgency that has raged for 15 years in Afghanistan.

    U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington welcomed the new alliance as a "positive" for the region.

    "There's a lot of work to be done," he said.

    Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa

    SEE ALSO: Danish warplanes just bombed ISIS in Syria for the first time

    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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    China military

    A recent report from the US Congressional Research Service outlines China's 2.3 million-member armed forces and sheds light on misconceptions from Western military analysts.

    Simply put, the report challenges the idea that Westerners can understand China's military and foreign-policy decisions without first understanding Chinese philosophy and culture of warfare.

    Unlike the US, China has a media apparatus controlled by the state, so its military reports lack the transparency established by a free press.

    China also has a fundamentally different understanding of aggression. For the Chinese, there is little difference between peacetime and wartime cyber espionage, and they have engaged in stealing military secrets from the US and others because they can.

    The report, written by Ian E. Rinehart, a CRS analyst in Asian affairs, urges Congress and military leadership to examine a "Chinese way of war."

    Specifics of the report, detailed below, show how China has stepped up to rival the US's military might in the Pacific:

    SEE ALSO: China is falling into a nightmare of a US-Japan-South Korea military alliance

    SEE ALSO: A one-minute video shows China's worst nightmare in the Pacific

    Overview of China's military forces

    With a population of 1.3 billion to draw from, more than four times as much as the population of the US, China has over 2.3 million in active service, with an additional 1.1 million as reserves and military police. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has actually shrunk from its estimated 1992 level of more than 3 million in active service.

    The US military has about 1.4 million active service members, which represents a much lower total number of personnel, but a much higher percentage of the population engaged in the military.

    Also important to consider is that China's last war was a short fight against Vietnam in 1979. The Chinese have not been in a sustained conflict since the Korean war that ended in 1953.

    Source: Congressional Research Service

    Chinese theaters of command

    This graphic depicts China's recently formed theaters of command.

    The US's theaters of command span the entire world, which means that resources are dedicated to certain geographic areas.

    Though the US has larger and more modern forces, they would face huge difficulty in abandoning their posts worldwide to focus on China.

    Source: Congressional Research Service

    US theaters of command for comparison

    The US has only a fraction of its forces dedicated to a large region in the Pacific that includes China.

    The US would have to abandon interests worldwide in order to focus on China, whereas China's entire military would focus on defending its borders and few interests in the Pacific.

    Source: Congressional Research Service

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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

    SEE ALSO: These were the best military photos of the past month

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign town hall at Ocean Center, Wednesday, August 3, 2016, in Daytona Beach, Florida.

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, accompanied by CEO Warren Buffett, left, gives a thumbs up at a rally at Omaha North High Magnet School in Omaha, Nebraska, Monday, August 1, 2016.

    Mrs. Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, First Lady Michelle Obama, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and US President Barack Obama wave from the White House balcony during official welcoming ceremonies on August 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, July 24, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

    Israel on Friday bitterly rejected US President Barack Obama’s claim that its officials now support last year’s nuclear deal with Iran. Far from accepting Obama’s assertion, the Israeli Defense Ministry compared the year-old accord to the Munich Agreement signed by the European powers with Nazi Germany in 1938.

    Obama said Thursday that Israeli defense officials are now behind the deal signed by world powers and Iran, and that they recognize the efficacy of the accord.

    “The Israeli defense establishment believes that agreements have value only if they are based on the existing reality, but they have no value if the facts on the ground are the complete opposite of those the deal is based upon,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

    A top minister close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, furthermore, directly contradicted Obama’s assertion that Israel now backs the accord. “I don’t know to which Israelis he (Obama) spoke recently. But I can promise you that the position of the prime minister, the defense minister and of most senior officials in the defense establishment has not changed,” Tzachi Hanegbi told The Times of Israel.

    “The opposite is the case. The time that has elapsed since the deal was signed proved all our worries that, regrettably, we were justified before the deal was made,” said Hanegbi, a minister who works in the Prime Minister’s Office and who until recently chaired the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

    When the deal was signed last summer between Iran and world powers, Yisrael Beytenu party leader and current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman compared it to the 1938 Munich Agreement, calling the deal with Tehran “total capitulation to unrestrained terrorism and violence in the international arena.”

    The Defense Ministry employed similar language in Friday’s rejection of Obama’s claim.

    “The Munich Agreement didn’t prevent the Second World War and the Holocaust precisely because its basis, according to which Nazi Germany could be a partner for some sort of agreement, was flawed, and because the leaders of the world then ignored the explicit statements of [Adolf] Hitler and the rest of Nazi Germany’s leaders,” the ministry said.

    Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves as he gives a speech on Iran's late leader Khomeini's death anniversary, in Tehran, Iran June 3, 2016. via REUTERS

    “These things are also true about Iran, which also clearly states openly that its aim is to destroy the state of Israel,” it said, pointing to a recent State Department report that determined that Iran is the number one state sponsor of terrorism worldwide.

    The Defense Ministry further said the deal reached “only damages the uncompromising struggle we must make against terrorist states like Iran.”

    Obama on Thursday defended the US-led deal with Iran reached last summer which aims to curb Tehran’s nuclear development in exchange for sanctions relief. The “Israeli military and security community … acknowledges this has been a game changer,” he said. “The country that was most opposed to the deal.” “By all accounts, it has worked exactly the way we said it was going to work,” the president said,

    Some high-level former and current Israeli defense figures have spoken out in sometimes conditional defense of the nuclear deal. Chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot said warily in January that it could present “opportunities” in the future but also raised concerns at the “challenges” it poses. But lawmakers from the ruling coalition have continued to criticize the agreement, citing continued ballistic missile tests banned under an attendant UN agreement, and pointing to Tehran’s continued anti-Israel rhetoric and support for terror groups.

    An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. mural painted on the wall of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran in a file photo.  

REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA

    Netanyahu remains openly critical of the agreement, which he says paves Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.

    The nuclear agreement “removes the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program based on dates certain, rather than on changes in Iran’s aggressive behavior, including its support for terrorism around the world,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel two weeks ago. “The deal doesn’t solve the Iranian nuclear problem, but rather delays and intensifies it.”

    The accord, which began its formal implementation in January, will expire in 15 years.

    Obama also said those who had been most critical of the deal should make mea culpas and admit they were wrong.

    “What I’m interested in is if there’s some news to be made, why not have some of these folks who were predicting disaster come out and say, ‘This thing actually worked.’ Now that would be a shock,” he said.

    “That would be impressive. If some of these folks who said the sky is falling suddenly said, ‘You know what? We were wrong and we are glad that Iran no longer has the capacity to break out in short term and develop a nuclear weapon.’ But that wasn’t going to happen.”

    SEE ALSO: Israeli cyber group claims it has hacked into an ISIS chat containing a list of future terror targets

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: These US war conspiracies turned out to be true

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    China military training

    In the wake of last month’s legal curb stomping of China’s sweeping claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, observers have been anxiously watching to see how Beijing would digest the ruling. This week they got their answer: Not well at all. And apparently all Beijing’s troubles are America’s fault.

    In the past few days, all three Chinese naval fleets have taken to the sea to practicefor a “sudden, cruel, and short” conflict. China’s Defense Minister, Chang Wanquan, called for a “people’s war at sea” to fend off any threats to Chinese “sovereignty” over distant reefs and rocks.

    More ominously, perhaps, China has also changed its laws to arrest and jail anyone caught fishing in waters Beijing considers its own, even though many of those waters are precisely the bits that are disputed among China’s neighbors in the South China Sea. Before, Chinese coast guard vessels would just chase away foreign fishermen, perhaps confiscating their boats. The stiffer penalties now, according to Chinese media, are meant to provide a legal justification for more aggressive Chinese patrols around the disputed shoals and islets.

    That’s a real concern because fishing is one of the flash points in a watery tinderbox. Chinese fishermen, subsidized by Beijing and escorted by coast guard vessels, have been ranging further afield, enraging neighbors. Those neighbors, in turn, are striking back: Indonesia has blown up hundreds of illegal fishing boats, not just from China. Now Malaysia is getting in on the act.

    And just to make sure the message was heard, Beijing also made sure to escalate the ongoing war of words with Japan — whose most recent defense white paper noted “concern” over the South China Sea — and sent more ships into disputed waters in the East China Sea. China’s defense ministry blasted Japan for “sowing discord” among China and other Asian states.

    And just to round out the week, Chinese state media slammed Australia for its public support of the July 12 ruling by the international arbitration panel in The Hague. Calling the land down under an “offshore prison” of the United Kingdom and a “paper cat,” the Global Times newspaper identified Australia as the “ideal target” of a strike in the event Canberra meddles in the South China Sea fracas. Then the paper doubled down with further threats.


    As Peter Dutton, the director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College tweeted: Chinese president Xi Jinping “had to choose between escalation and accommodation. Escalation it is.”

    All this saber rattling isn’t just a result of the Hague ruling, of course. Even before Xi took office, China had started to take a harder line on territorial and sovereignty disputes, especially in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s claims clash with those of a half-dozen other claimants. For party leadership, reversing what it calls the “century of humiliation,” especially at sea, has been a constant refrain and a staple of its appeal to nationalist citizens, especially those that are active online.

    But as Dutton notes, there has been an uptick in anti-American propaganda since that July ruling, which handed Beijing a resounding and very public loss. One recent video paints a dystopian vision nearly worthy of the Republican convention, complete with clashes at sea, ambushed peacekeepers, rampaging separatists, and terrorists in far western provinces.

    “Behind everything we can always glimpse the deep shadow of the Stars and Stripes,” it concludes.

    SEE ALSO: How the world's largest military stacks up to the US armed forces

    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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    f-15 eagle afghanistan

    Air Force pilot Capt. Brian Udell is one of the only pilots in history to survive after ejecting from a fighter at supersonic speeds. The force of the air moving at more than 768 mph on his body was so strong that it nearly killed him.

    “It felt like somebody had just hit me with a train,” said Udell. “When I went out into the wind stream, it ripped my helmet right off my head, broke all the blood vessels in my head and face, my head was swollen the size of a basketball and my lips were the size of cucumbers. My left elbow was dislocated and pointed backward, the only thing holding my leg on was an artery, the vein, the nerve and the skin and my left leg snapped at the bottom half.”

    His body was essentially being torn apart by the wind.

    The following day Udell learned that his Weapon Systems Officer in the back seat was killed when he ejected from his F-15. This video shows Udell describing his harrowing experience.


    SEE ALSO: Why the US needs to spend $450 billion on nuclear modernization

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The F-35 has hit another snag — this time because it’s too stealthy

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    On August 6, 1945, the US dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. 

    The bombing of Hiroshima was the first time a nuclear weapon had ever been used outside of a testing environment, and it was the first of only two military uses of a nuclear weapon in history. 

    Overall, the effects of the bombing of Hiroshima were utterly devastating. The bomb is estimated to have wiped out approximately 90% of the city. Between the initial devastation of the bombing, and the subsequent effects of radiation poisoning, over 100,000 people died in Hiroshima. 

    This photo, colorized by Marina Amaral, showcases the overwhelming devastation of Hiroshima immediately following the attack. 

    Hiroshima after the bombing

    See more of Marina Amaral's gorgeous colorized photos »

    SEE ALSO: The US dropped 67 nuclear bombs on this tiny island nation — and now it's far more radioactive than we thought

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: President Obama calls for the end of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima

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    Even though World War I may have ended nearly a century ago, little has changed — politicians still rattle their verbal sabres as they send their servicemembers off to defend, or in some cases, meet a foreign enemy in battle.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This police officer has become a social-media star by promoting community policing

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    The US government has named two high-level Venezuelan officials, both former members of that country's antidrug agency, as suspected drug traffickers in an indictment that was unsealed on Monday.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: EX-DEA AGENT: How I got Mexican drug cartels to trust me

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    a-10 f-16 elephant walk warthog south korea

    The US Air Force has presented several plans for replacing the beloved A-10 Warthog — a close air-support attack plane — over the years, but its latest plan takes the cake as the most absurd.

    As it stands, the Air Force wants to buy or develop not one, but two new airframes to eventually phase out the A-10.

    First, it'd pick out a plane, likely an existing one, called the OA-X (Observation, Attack, Experimental), which would likely be an existing plane with a low operating cost. Propeller-driven planes like the Beechcraft AT-6, already in use as a training plane for the Air Force, or Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, which the US recently gave to Afghanistan for counterinsurgency missions, are possible options.

    The OA-X would fly with A-10s in low-threat airspaces to support the tank-buster, but this option appears to make little sense.

    A subsonic, propeller-driven plane can perform essential close air-support duties in much the same way a World War II-era platform could, but it's a sitting duck for the kind of man-portable, shoulder-launched air-defense systemsbecoming increasingly prominent in today's battle spaces.


    Next, the Air Force would look to field an A-X2 to finally replace the Warthog. The idea behind this jet would be to preserve the A-10's CAS capabilities while increasing survivability in medium-threat-level environments.

    So while an update on the 40-year-old A-10 seems to make sense, the funding for it doesn't.

    The Air Force expects a "bow-wave" of costs in the mid-2020s, when modernization costs are looming and can't be put off any further. This includes procuring F-35s, developing the B-21, procuring KC-46 tankers, and even possibly embarking on the quest to build a sixth-generation air-dominance platform.

    Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James seemed puzzled by the proposed plan to replace the A-10, saying in an interview with Defense News that "everything has a price tag ... If something goes in, something else has to fall out."

    Air Combat Command chief Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, told Defense News his doubts that the proposed replacements would be a good use of limited public funds.

    "If you look at the things within the combat Air Force portfolio that I'm responsible for in modernization and taking care of those systems, I don't know where the money would come from," Carlisle said. "And if we got extra money, in my opinion, there's other things that I would do first to increase our combat capability before we go to that platform."

    Boneyard Graveyard Air Force

    Also, Carlisle doubted the need for a plane to operate in low-threat or "permissive" airspaces, as they are fast disappearing.

    "Given the evolving threat environment, I sometimes wonder what permissive in the future is going to look like and if there's going to be any such thing, with the proliferation of potential adversaries out there," he said.

    "The idea of a low-end CAS platform, I'm working my way through whether that's a viable plan or not given what I think the threat is going to continue to evolve to, to include terrorists and their ability to get their hands on, potentially, weapons from a variety of sources," he said.

    Further, the Air Force's proposal seems to run contrary to other proposals to replace the A-10 in the past. For a while, Air Force officials said that the F-35 would take over for the A-10, and though the F-35 just reached operational capability, it was not mentioned as part of the newest proposal.

    A10 Aircraft Iraq 2003

    Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee that other legacy fighters, the F-16 and F-15, could fly the A-10's missions in Iraq and Syria until the F-35 was available, but that idea was also mysteriously absent from the Air Force's two-new-plane proposal.

    The Air Force, expecting huge costs in the near future, is wise to try to slash costs, so retiring an airplane and all the associated infrastructure makes an attractive target, but the A-10 represents just 2% of the Air Force's budget, and has unique capabilities that no other aircraft in the fleet can hope to match.

    SEE ALSO: Eerie night-vision footage shows F-22 Raptors refueling during air strikes on ISIS

    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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    Hezbollah Member Lebanon

    BEIRUT – Hezbollah has deployed its elite fighting unit to southwestern Aleppo after rebel forces over the weekend broke the regime’s siege on the opposition-held eastern quarters of Syria’s divided second city, according to Iranian media.

    The semi-official Fars News Agency reported on Sunday that the troops from Hezbollah’s Radwan Forces, one of the party’s special operations unit, were dispatched to Aleppo Hamdaniyah quarter amid the intensified fighting in the city.

    Rebel forces on Saturday pierced through regime lines in the Ramouseh area just south of Hamdaniyah, taking a major artillery base while connecting with their cohorts in eastern Aleppo, who had been under siege of pro-government troops seized control over the Castello road in the north of the city in July.

    Fars News claimed that the Radwan Forces were sent to Hamdaniyah “in preparation for the retaking of the areas in southwest Aleppo from the hands of terrorist groups,” adding that a counteroffensive in the flashpoint front “will be carried out jointly by resistance forces.”

    The report added that despite opposition advances, the Hamdaniyah quarter “enjoys full security,” further claiming that “there is no danger to the residents of the area.”

    However, the Army of Conquest coalition that broke the regime siege on eastern Aleppo announced a highly-ambitious offensive to retake all regime-held areas in the city, which has been divided in half since opposition forces first stormed into the city in the summer of 2012.

    NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated Arabic-language material. 

    SEE ALSO: Syria's opposition is on the verge of one of the most 'surprising' victories of the revolution

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: EX-PENTAGON CHIEF: These are the 2 main reasons ISIS was born

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    The drones of tomorrow will be stealthier, faster, more computerized, equipped for electronic warfare, more lethal, more autonomous and, in some cases, able to deploy as swarming groups of mini-drones, according to the Air Force’s Chief Scientist.

    “The ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) side will get a lot smarter. With the next generation, you will see UAVs that are faster, more maneuverable and maybe stealthy. You will see them accompanying fighters with extra weapons, EW (electronic warfare), countermeasures and even lasers on board,” Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias told Scout Warrior in an interview.

    Some of these anticipated developments were forecasted in a 2014 Air Force report called RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) Vector designed to anticipate and prepare for future drone developments over the coming 25 years. However, the rapid pace of technological change has sped up and, to some extent, changed the timeline and mission scope for drones outlined in the report. 

    Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy

    The processing speeds of computers and algorithms aimed at increasing autonomous activities have continued to evolve at an alarming rate, creating a fast-moving circumstance wherein drones will increasingly take on more and more functions by themselves, Zacharias explained.

    Computer algorithms will enable drones to conduct a much wider range of functions without needing human intervention, such as sensing, targeting, weapons adjustments and sensor payload movements, ranges and capabilities, he added.

    Developments with “artificial intelligence,” (AI) will better enable unmanned platforms to organize, interpret and integrate functions independently such as ISR filtering, sensor manipulation, maneuvering, navigation and targeting adjustments.  In essence, emerging computer technology will better enable drones to make more decisions and perform more functions by themselves.

    The beginning of this phenomenon is evidenced in the computers and sensor technologies of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; the aircraft uses a technique known as “sensor fusion” wherein information from multiple sensors is organized, interpreted and presented to pilots on a single screen. 

    Air Force 2015 drones

    Digital mapping, ISR information from the F-35’s Distributed Aperture System and targeting data from its Electro-Optical Targeting System are not dispersed across multiple screens which pilots try to view simultaneously. Fast evolving sensor technology, which allows for an ability to more closely view targets and tactically relevant information from increasingly farther distances, will continue to enable and improve this trending phenomenon.

    One of the largest consequences of AI will likely lead to a scenario wherein multiple humans will no longer need to control a single drone – rather multiple drones will be controlled by a single human performing command and control functions.

    “People will function as air-traffic controllers rather than pilots, using smart, independent platforms. A person does command and control and drones execute functions. The resource allocation will be done by humans as higher level systems managers,” Zacharias explained.

    As a result, drones will increasingly be capable of working more closely with nearby manned aircraft, almost functioning like a co-pilot in the cockpit and massively expanding the mission scope of a fighter jet or other aircraft able to control targeting, sensors and weapons functions from the air nearby.

    “Decision aides will be in the cockpit (of a nearby fighter jet or aircraft) and platform oriented autonomous systems will function like a wing man, for instance, that might be carrying extra weapons, helping to defend or performing ISR tasks,” Zacharias said. “We will get beyond simple guidance and control and will get into tactics and execution.”

    Drones could lead the way into higher-risk areas in order to reduce risks for manned aircraft, test and challenged next-generation enemy air defenses and greatly increase the ISR and weapons ability of any given mission.

    US drones

    In addition, drones will become more capable of air-to-air maneuvers and attacks and no longer be primarily engineered for air-to-ground attacks. In fact, early conceptual renderings of 6th generation fighter jets and the Air Force’s in-development Long Range Strike-Bomber are being engineered for unmanned flight as well as piloted flight.

    Nevertheless, although drones and unmanned fighters will rapidly become faster and more maneuverable, algorithms may not soon progress to the point where unmanned systems can respond or react to unanticipated developments in a dynamic, fast-changing environment the way a human brain could. At the same time, advances in long-range sensor technology will continue to enable aircraft to see enemies at much longer distances, massively decreasing the need for drones or unmanned systems to be able to dogfight in mid-air. 

    During the last decade and a half of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. forces experienced uncontested air superiority, drones were used almost exclusively for air-to-ground attacks against insurgent fighters on the run, compounds, weapons caches, bunkers and other strategically vital targets. As the Air Force looks to the future, it aims to be capable of using drones as a key part of successfully engaging near-peer competitors and potential adversaries with technological ability able to rival the U.S. edge.

    Russia and China, for example, both operate 5th generation stealth fighters (the latest and greatest technology) – and Russia is known to operate some of the most sophisticated enemy air defenses in the world.  Russian-built air defenses, such as the S-300 and S-400, are now better networked to one another, have faster processing speeds and are able to detect fighter aircraft on a wider range of frequencies, making it much more difficult for even stealthy fighters and bombers to operate. Russia is even reported to be developing a more-advanced S-500 able to hit ranges greater than 125 miles. 

    These potential scenarios, now being studied by Pentagon analysts, involve developing an ability to operate in what is called a “contested environment,” where enemies operate advanced air defenses, 5th generation fighter jets and long-range precision-guided weapons.

    “You need to increasingly be able to react more to your environment in the air, addressing unanticipated failures and threats coming after you,” Zacharias added.  

    Zacharias explained that many of these developments will come to fruition more fully through ongoing training, simulations and live virtual constructions designed to assess various expected scenarios.

    DARPA drones

    Faster computer processing power will also better enable an ability to organize and streamline the massive amount of collected ISR data. If a drone loiters over strategically important areas for hours upon hours, computer algorithms will increasingly allow the platform to identify important tactical information by itself.

    “Right now we are using lots of bandwidth to send our real-time video. One of the things that we have is smarter on-board processors. An RPA (drone) can orbit around a given target and have it look, for instance, for a relevant white pick-up truck, instead of having human operators do that,” he said. “This requires image processing, pattern recognition. Then you could just send a signal instead of using up all this bandwidth saying ‘hey I just saw something 30 seconds ago you might want to take a look at the video feed which I am sending right now.’”

    The ability for a single human to control multiple drones could bring a number of implications, such as an ability to effectively use a swarm of small drones. Air Force scientists have explained that emerging algorithms are increasingly able to allow large numbers of small, mini-drones to operate in unison without hitting one another. For instance, they could collectively work to jam or overwhelm an enemy radar system, act themselves as weapons or munitions, or cover an expansive area with ISR video feeds.

    More Lethal Drones

    A wider arsenal of weapons will also be integrated onto drone platforms, including high-tech guided weapons able to discern and destroy enemy targets by themselves to a much greater degree. This will likely include laser weapons as well, Zacharias added.

    These weapons will naturally include laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missiles which are the primary weapon used by today’s platforms such as the Predator, Reaper and Army Gray Eagle.  At the same time, drones or unmanned platforms are expected to fire a wider range of guided air-dropped munitions and air-to-air weapons such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-120 AMRAAM.

    Also, the Air Force is now developing an air-dropped guided weapon called the Small Diameter Bomb II. This weapon uses an emerging technology called a tri-mode seeker, which draws upon infrared, laser and millimeter wave radar technology to detect, track and destroy targets in any kind of weather environment.

    military drones

    At the same time, Pentagon doctrine stipulates that a human needs to be in-the-loop when it comes to the possible use of lethal force, except potentially in some rare circumstance where immediate defensive weapons are needing in milliseconds due to an incoming attack, Zacharias explained.  As a result, nearly all weapons will help distinguish, track and destroy targets under the guidance and supervision of human command and control.

    Given the pace of technological change, future Air Force drones will also need to be modular, meaning they will be engineered such that they can readily exchange sensor payloads when mission requirements change or new technology emerges, Air Force officials said.

    Future drones will also be much faster than the 200 to 300 miles per hour most current drones are able to travel at. Hypersonic speeds greater than Mach 5.5 may be in the very distant future; the Air Force Research Laboratory and Boeing have worked together on an emerging hypersonic test platform called the X-51A Waverider.

    The test vehicle has had both failed and successful test trying to launch from an aircraft and travel at hypersonic speeds. While this super-high speed technology may hold promise for possible drone applications in the distant future, it is currently regarded as a long way off and in need of much further development. 

    Nevertheless, there have been some successfull flights of hypersonic technology, including on in May of 2013 wherein the X-51A Waverider flew over the Pacific Ocean reaching speeds of Mach 5.1.

    This May 1 test flight wound up being the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight ever, wrapping up a $300 million technology demonstration program beginning in 2004, according to an Air Force statement.

    U.S. airmen prepare a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it leaves on a mission at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan March 9, 2016. Picture taken March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Josh Smith

    “The X-51A took off from the Air Force Test Center at Edwards AFB, Calif., under the wing of B-52H Stratofortress. It was released at approximately 50,000 feet and accelerated to Mach 4.8 in about 26 seconds powered by a solid rocket booster. After separating from the booster, the cruiser’s supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, engine then lit and accelerated the aircraft to Mach 5.1 at 60,000 feet,” a previous Air Force Statement explaining the test stated. 

    Naturally, massively increased speed could give drones an ability to urgently reach and potentially deliver weapons and sensors to crucial time-sensitive combat situations exponentially faster.

    Stealthy Drones

    Future drones will also be quite stealthy, as a technique for having more success against high-tech air defenses. There are already a number of stealthy drones in various stages of development.

    One such example is Lockheed Martin's RQ-170 Sentinel stealth UAV which, according to a 2011 report in The Atlantic, helped track Bin Laden’s compound prior to his death.

    Boeing has unveiled its Phantom Ray, a fighter-sized unmanned combat air vehicle which first flew in 2011. The aircraft has a 50-foot wingspan, can climb to 40,000 feet and reach speeds of Mach .85. 

    SEE ALSO: The US Air Force has an absurd plan for replacing the A-10 Warthog

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    Missile defense for the US has traditionally focused on fending off ballistic missiles that arch across the sky and fly in a somewhat predictable path, but recently the proliferation of cruise missiles have created a new threat to the US for which there is no current solution.

    “While ballistic missile defense has now become established as a key military capability, the corresponding counters to cruise missiles have been prioritized far more slowly,” Thomas Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said last year.

    “In some ways, this is understandable, in terms of the complexity of the threat, but sophisticated cruise missile technologies now out there are just not going away and we are going to have to find a way to deal with this — for the homeland, for allies and partners abroad, and for regional combatant commanders.”

    Unlike ballistic missiles, that thrust high into the earth's atmosphere and loft down, rockets propel cruise missiles through the duration of the flight. This enables the missile to hug the ground, wind through mountains, and even accelerate in the last phase of an attack. In short, cruise missiles present a completely different set of challenges for missile defense.

    Additionally, the US's most advanced adversaries, China and Russia, have developed extremely rangy cruise missiles that pose real threats to targets even in the US mainland.

    The biggest problem with detecting cruise missiles remains the need for an elevated platform to observe them. A ballistic missile falling from the sky is fine to observe from the ground with sensors pointing up, but the low-flying cruise missiles demand some kind of airborne system to see and track the threats that skim just above the surface.

    cruise missile

    A few possible solutions have been proposed to address this problem, each with their own strengths an weaknesses, but "the important thing is we need to be doing something, and right now we're not," Karako said in a recent interview with Defense News.

    One solution would be to place targeting pods to search for cruise missiles on F-16s or UAVs that patrol the US, but these are limited to the time the planes can stay in the air, and the range they can observe. Another solution involves floating giant balloons with sophisticated radars to track the movement of small airborne vehicles off the US's coast, but the US would require many of these costly installations.

    Also, the airspace around the US coasts is very congested with all types of aviation, further complicating the scenario.

    Karako quoted the Vice Chair Joint Chief of Staff  as saying that "cruise missile threats have risen in importance above regional ballistic missile threats."

    Russian kalibr cruise missiles

    With the problem of cruise missile defense so difficult to address comprehensively, Karako turned his attention to the "left of launch," or the concept of preempting an attack before it begins.

    According to Karako, the "left of launch... includes everything from cyber, the suite of counter-proliferation things, but it also includes the ability of a tomahawk to hit a launch pad or a mobile launcher in the field."

    Just how far the US is willing to go with "left of launch," or preempting attacks from possibly nuclear-armed and advanced adversaries remains a question for top leadership, but until it's figured out, the US remains very exposed to cruise missiles.

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    ukraine grad missile launcher

    MARYINKA, Ukraine -- Framed by a tiny cutout in the fortified bunker, this particular piece of no-man's land is tinted a blood-reddish orange by the setting summer sun.

    It's hot as hell, and it's about to get hotter. When the sun goes down, the guns start blazing. And all that separates the men at their triggers is a grassy patch of land the size of a soccer field that is heavily mined. If you're a Ukrainian soldier here, you don't need binoculars to observe the enemy -- you just look in his direction.

    It starts with a single shot from a Kalashnikov: Ziiip. Then another: Ziiip. And three more: Ziiip. Ziiip. Ziiip. Each shot whizzes dangerously closer. In the time it takes to boil an egg, the situation escalates as the rifles are joined by .50-caliber machine guns, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades that explode with hollow thuds against the earth or cottages where the soldiers eat and sleep, showering everything with shrapnel.

    Within an hour, shells from howitzers and tanks -- and eventually surface-to-surface Grad missiles, whose name is Russian for "hail" -- begin pummeling the scarred steppe.

    Reload. Fire. Repeat

    The "disco," as the soldiers and the few residents left in this forsaken town call it, is in full effect. The relative calm that dawn brings seems a lifetime away. All are at the mercy of the darkness.

    This is eastern Ukraine 28 months after the start of a conflict that once seemed unthinkable, and a year and a half after the signing of a second cease-fire deal, known as Minsk 2, that was supposed to bring lasting peace to this war-torn edge of Europe and reintegrate it with the rest of Ukraine.

    But the armistice is unraveling fast as fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists has escalated to levels not seen since more furious phases of the conflict in the Donbas -- where the separatists hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- in 2014 and 2015. Casualties, both civilian and military, are mounting.

    War Footing

    The number of civilian casualties recorded by the United Nations nearly doubled in June to 69, including 12 deaths, and rose again in July, when eight civilians were killed and 65 wounded.

    ukraine checkpoint donetsk

    "The escalation of hostilities and the accompanying civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine over the last two months are very worrying," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said on August 3. "Civilians are once again having to flee to improvised bomb shelters in their basements, sometimes overnight, with increasing frequency -- the price of the cease-fire violations is too high for the women, men, and children in eastern Ukraine."

    The UN said that 57 percent of those casualties were the result of "mortar fire, cannons, howitzers, and tanks" -- weapons banned under the Minsk deal.

    When combatants and civilians are included, the toll of deaths documented by the UN Human Rights Office since the outbreak of war in April 2014 had reached 9,553 by July 31.

    But the UN says the real number of casualties may be higher, and the International Crisis Group said in a July report that "there is little doubt that the death toll is significantly higher than either side admits."

    The UN has urged all sides to respect the cease-fire provisions, to remove combatants and weapons from civilian areas, and to scrupulously implement the Minsk agreements -- successive cease-fire and settlement deals signed in September 2014 and February 2015.

    But there are signs of both sides going back to a war footing: Kyiv is on high alert and has deployed special-forces units and battle-hardened battalions to the front, while Russia has reportedly amassed large amounts of military hardware in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula it seized from Ukraine in March 2014.

    Pro-Russia rebels stand on top of an armoured vehicle outside a regional government building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine May 10, 2014. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

    After the leader of separatists in the Luhansk region, Igor Plotnitsky, was injured in an apparent assassination attempt on August 6, separatists were ordered to be on full combat readiness.

    Peace Deal In Jeopardy

    "The Minsk agreements have met their end," Vyacheslav Vlasenko, a commander of government forces who is known as "the Owl," told RFE/RL. Soldiers in his Donbas Ukraine unit, a volunteer battalion that split off and was brought under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces, nodded in agreement.

    They are preparing for what they see as an imminent return to full-scale war -- something that is seen as a distinct possibility on both sides of the "demarcation line" in the Donbas.

    "The situation remains tense, and at any moment it could break out and escalate into full-fledged clashes," Denis Pushilin, the leader of separatists in the Donetsk region, warned last week.

    Puffing on a cigarette inside his Maryinka operating base, the raspy-voiced Vlasenko leaned over a situation map marked with blue and black ink and traces his finger over the locations where fighting is the heaviest -- these days, pretty much everywhere along the narrow frontier that separates his men from the Russia-backed fighters. In Maryinka, it is especially heavy near the bases of two old coal-mine slag heaps nicknamed "crocodile" and "tits" because of their shapes.

    To highlight the recent escalation of violence, Vlasenko slid a casualty list for the past 49 days beneath a flickering lamp. It listed: 112 firefights; 45 wounded soldiers, including 19 from shrapnel and three from bullets; 18 troops with contusions; two with traumatic amputations; two with bone fractures; and one crushed to death by debris.

    Members of the Ukrainian armed forces gather on armoured vehicles on the roadside near the village of Vidrodzhennya outside Artemivsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Oleksandr Klymenko

    For the Ukrainian Army, July was the deadliest month since August 2015. At least 42 servicemen were killed and 181 wounded, according to statistics provided by Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for President Petro Poroshenko's administration.

    Some days the casualties were particularly bad. On July 19, Ukraine reported seven soldiers had been killed and 14 injured. On July 24, the military said six more died in clashes. On August 6, three servicemen died and four were wounded.

    On the Internet, the Ukrainian military's daily situation map is lit up by explosion markers up and down the snaking 500-kilometer contact line, indicating pitched battles. 

    On the ground, unarmed monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) say both sides are violating the cease-fire on a regular basis. The group's nonpartisan, no-nonsense reports have shown that a steady increase in fighting began in June, with the number of cease-fire violations rising from dozens to hundreds daily and the use of heavy weapons on the front lines becoming more frequent.

    The reports also paint a picture of a growing hostility toward members of the OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) on the part of government troops and separatist fighters. In a July 30 report, the OSCE described members being surrounded by Donetsk separatist fighters who trained their rifles at them while one "made a 'cut throat' sign" and took photographs of their vehicles and the drivers.

    On August 2, a fighter in an unmarked uniform at a known Ukrainian military position chambered a round into his submachine gun, flicked off its safety, put his finger on the trigger, and aimed it at a monitor.

    The OSCE mission has faced threats before, and has even had its members kidnapped. It has also faced criticism from both warring sides for not doing more.

    The monitors acknowledge substantial limits to the effectiveness of their mission: They do not operate at night, meaning that much of the fighting is heard but not seen, and it is all but impossible to determine whether Russian soldiers and arms are crossing into Ukraine because they only have a mandate to observe at two border crossings.

    A member of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic forces walks on top of a self-propelled artillery gun during tactical training exercises in Donetsk region, Ukraine, February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

    At this point in the conflict, Vlasenko said, the OSCE was "useless."

    A Deadly 'Game'

    Before the war, Maryinka -- like many towns that have found themselves on the front line -- was a sleepy, rural collection of cottages. It lies just 28 kilometers east of Donetsk, the regional capital that is now a separatist stronghold. People like Alina Kosse, 58, raised their children and tended their gardens here, most living modest but unruffled lives.

    "It was so peaceful and everyone was friendly," Kosse said while cooking a pot of borscht and a cabbage-wrapped meat-and-rice mixture to feed to Ukrainian soldiers passing through on their way to their forward positions.

    For the past two years, Maryinka has been caught in the war's crossfire. The first heavy battles were fought here in July 2014, and the separatists controlled the town before the Ukrainian Army managed to regain its footing.

    Much of the heart of the town was destroyed in the fighting.

    The front line cuts right up against Maryinka's northern edge. On the other side is separatist-held Donetsk's Petrovskiy district.

    Neighbors whose homes are a few minutes' walk apart haven't seen each other in more than two years: It can take as long as a transcontinental flight to cross a heavily guarded makeshift frontier bristling with fighters, checkpoints, tank traps, and land mines.

    A serviceman of the Ukrainian armed forces fires a weapon in the direction of positions of units of the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic during a battle in Avdiivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, August 23, 2015.   REUTERS/Maksim Levin

    And the war remains so fluid here that sometimes it's hard to know which road belongs to whom. Possession of them can change daily, and one wrong turn can land you in enemy territory.

    There is one road in Maryinka that nobody dares to tread. Dubbed the "road of death" and "snipers' alley," it dips and winds into a shallow valley overlooked by separatist positions perched atop slag heaps and on the upper stories of a line of buildings, making it easy to gun down anyone or anything that tries to pass.

    Natasha, a friend of Kosse's who came over for a chat and a bite to eat, said the separatist snipers do not discriminate. "They assume whoever uses that road is a combatant, so they shoot to kill everything," she said. "It's like a game for them, to shoot at us like we're rats."

    Fight And Sacrifice

    Among some in Ukraine's government and many on the front line, the spike in fighting has fed a growing desire -- driven by anxiety about what Russia's military might do next, frustration over the failure of the Minsk deal to end the conflict, and anger at the mounting battlefield deaths -- to wrest back control of separatist-held territory by force rather than diplomacy.

    "My soul hurts for each of the lives of our soldiers sacrificed for Ukraine," Viktor Muzhenko, the commander of Ukraine's armed forces, said after seven soldiers were killed on July 19. "There will be an adequate response."

    Oleksandr Turchynov, chief of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, said the same day that if the situation continued to deteriorate he would consider imposing martial law.

    President Poroshenko has since poured cold water on the idea, warning that international financial backers would freeze much-needed assistance for Ukraine -- which is struggling with economic troubles in addition to the war in the east and the aftermath of Russia's armed takeover of Crimea. But not since the conflict began in spring 2014 has the issue of martial law and greater security measures been so seriously discussed.

    "This war is a bulls**t," one soldier, who asked that his name not be used because he did not want his commander to view him as insubordinate, said in English.

    Switching to Russian, he said: "The Ukrainian Army is stronger than it was [at the start of the war], and we are ready to die if it is necessary. I say, let's make this sacrifice for our country, for its future."

    Kyiv appears to be listening, at least with one ear.

    Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (L) and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inspect the honour guard during a welcoming ceremony in Kiev, Ukraine, July 11, 2016.  REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

    In June, it put its strongest volunteer fighting battalions on a war footing, sending them back to the front lines to repulse separatist attacks.

    Among them -- and deployed for the first time since its inception a year ago -- was Ukraine's 10th Brigade, which is comprised of a few thousand highly skilled soldiers from three units: Donbas Ukraine, the Aidar Battalion, and the 8th Battalion. All are positioned around Donetsk.

    While they haven't made a big collective move, dozens of Ukrainian soldiers I spoke with said their commanders had been more aggressive than in recent months.

    The Russia Factor

    Inside the Donbas Ukraine post, a fly buzzed by the flickering light before getting stuck in dangling fly paper, a soldier with a boyish face and a Cossack-style Mohawk haircut scanned live cameras trained on separatist positions. Lighting up another cigarette, Vlasenko explained that he had been a more permissive commander as of late.

    "If it's just small arms, like rifles, we don't shoot back [at the separatists]," he said. "But if it's rockets or something heavier, we respond with our own artillery. Or when I see that they are shooting at the homes of noncombatants, then I give the order to shoot at them. When they have killed or wounded one of our guys, I give the command to open fire with everything we've got."

    Vlasenko added that his soldiers were allowed, in some cases, to take the first shot. "When we see them bring new equipment to the front, like they brought a tank yesterday, we open fire" to prevent them from using it, he said.

    "We are not ruled by a desire to kill everyone standing on the other side of the line. Our aim is to stabilize the situation in Maryinka," he continued. But like the troops he commands, he is growing exasperated by the daily skirmishes that don't bring the end of the war any closer.

    "Show [the journalists] our recent work," Vlasenko said to the soldier with the Mohawk, who switched from the live feed to a video shot on July 16 that shows Ukrainian artillery pounding what is said to be separatist positions.

    When he closes his eyes, Vlasenko said, he daydreams about being given the order for all 69,000 Ukrainian troops Kyiv says are currently in the eastern war zone to push east to Donetsk and Luhansk -- and beyond. "I would like to see a parade of Ukrainian troops marching on Red Square," he says in deadpan tone.

    Top AP Photos 2015 Ukraine Soldier Military

    Only then, he said, could Ukraine live in peace and he go back to what he was doing before the war: "lying on the sofa."

    Dreams of Red Square aside, a major deterrent to any notion of a new Ukrainian offensive in the Donbas is the possibility that it would spur President Vladimir Putin's Russia -- which Kyiv and NATO say has poured money, soldiers, and weapons into Ukraine during the conflict and has a large force stationed just across -- to intervene with devastating effect.

    Even without provocation from Kyiv, there are concerns in Ukraine that Russia could be gearing up for a new offensive. Crimean Tatar activists reported on August 7 that armed checkpoints were being hastily erected on the annexed peninsula and large concentrations of Russian hardware massed in northern Crimea, near mainland Ukraine. On the same day, Ukraine's border-guard service said that Russian authorities had blocked all entry to Crimea by road for several hours.

    Ukraine got a deadly taste of what Russia's forces could do in the Donetsk region town of Ilovaysk in August 2014, when hundreds of Ukrainian troops were massacred after being surrounded, and again in February 2015 in Debaltseve, on a key highway between Donetsk and Luhansk. The battles dealt devastating blows to the Ukrainian military, in terms of human lives and morale, and bolstered the confidence of the Russia-backed separatists.

    Russia and the separatists, meanwhile, may have their own motives for escalating the fighting now -- and their own reasons not to take it too far. In 2014, there were strong signs that Putin hoped to take control of a huge swath of southern Ukraine from the Donbas to Crimea and the Black Sea port city of Odesa -- an area that Russian leaders began to call Novorossia, or "New Russia" -- but that plan unraveled after it failed to catch on beyond Donetsk and Luhansk.

    For Moscow today, disincentives for a major new offensive by the Russia-backed separatists include the prospect of stepped-up Western sanctions, fears of overstretching the military, and the ire Putin would face across much of the world if he ignited a full-scale war in Europe.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting prior to a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 2, 2015. REUTERS/Etienne Laurent/Pool

    Many analysts say that for now, at least, the Kremlin wants to use the conflict it helped whip up in the Donbas to destabilize Ukraine, bleed its economy, and keep it from getting too close to NATO and the European Union.

    'Just Give The Order'

    While Vlasenko holds the line in Maryinka and awaits orders, some are taking it upon themselves to push, ever so slowly, forward.

    About 25 kilometers south of Maryinka, in sprawling field of wild grass outside the village of Solodke, the Aidar Battalion is now dug in just 300 meters from separatist positions after making a rare forward push eastward 1 kilometer in May.

    They paid a steep price for the advance, as separatists pounded them with mortars and heavy artillery, destroying several vehicles and other equipment, as well as the warehouse that stored them. Commanders say they also lost soldiers in the push and in battles since, but they will not disclose how many for fear of appearing weak to their enemy.

    A muscular middle-aged fighter who goes by the nom de guerre Musician -- a reference not to proficiency with an instrument but to his use of a grenade launcher beneath the barrel of his rifle -- said that those sacrifices would not be in vain, and that he and his comrades were eager to retake the separatist-held section of the Donbas by force.

    "Just give the order," he said.

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    the bomb film tribeca nuclear weapon out of controll

    Cold War history is rife with close calls that nearly led to nuclear holocaust.

    In September 1983, for example, sunlight reflecting off a patch of clouds fooled a Soviet missile-warning system into detecting the launch of five US intercontinental ballistic missiles that never were. A wary colonel in a bunker ignored the alarm on a 50/50 hunch.

    Two months later, US forces staged "Able Archer 83"— a massive nuclear-strike drill on the doorstep of the USSR. Soviet commanders panicked at the show of force and nearly bathed America in thermonuclear energy. Once again, an act of human doubt saved the planet.

    Now scientists have one more hair-raising event to add to the books: The "Great Storm" of May 1967.

    "The storm made its initial mark with a colossal solar radio burst causing radio interference ... and near-simultaneous disruptions of dayside radio communication," a group of atmospheric scientists and military weather service personnel wrote in a new study, published August 9 in the journal Space Weather.

    Hours later, high frequency communications dropped out near US military installations in and near the Arctic— one of the closest places to station nuclear weapons and launch them at a Cold War-era Soviet Union.

    "Such an intense, never-before-observed solar radio burst was interpreted as jamming," the study authors wrote. "Cold War military commanders viewed full scale jamming of surveillance sensors as a potential act of war."

    A 'Great Storm'

    Earth's magnetic field protects life on the planet by corralling the sun's high-energy particles toward the planet's polar regions.

    If the sun happens to launch a cloud of solar particles directly toward Earth during a violent outburst, called a coronal mass ejection, it can trigger powerful geomagnetic storms.

    This not only leads to beautiful auroras, but can also scramble wireless communications and disrupt radar systems.

    geomagnetic solar storm auroras earth poles nasa gsfc

    While The Washington Post wrote up a story about the storm as "City Gets Rare Look at Northern Lights," top US military commanders sounded the alarms in secret.

    The Air Weather Service (AWS) — a relatively new branch of the Air Force — had warned military leadership about the possibility of a solar storm, but US commanders believed the Soviet forces were jamming NORAD systems designed to detect threatening planes and missiles.

    As the Strategic Air Command warmed up the engines of bombers and taxied toward the runway, the decision to go airborne may have been kicked all the way up to the "highest levels of government," possibly involving President Lyndon B. Johnson.

    "Just in time, military space weather forecasters conveyed information about the solar storm's potential to disrupt radar and radio communications," according to a press release from the American Geophysical Union. "The planes remained on the ground and the U.S. avoided a potential nuclear weapon exchange with the Soviet Union."

    And this all happened at the peak of nuclear armament — when a record 31,255 nuclear weapons were deployed around the world. (Today there are roughly 7,200 nuclear armaments at hand.)

    "Had it not been for the fact that we had invested very early on in solar and geomagnetic storm observations and forecasting, the impact [of the storm] likely would have been much greater," study leader and UCAR atmospheric scientist Delores Knipp said in the release.

    After the near miss, the researchers say the military learned to listen to its space weather forecasters, improve its abilities to see another looming "Great Storm," and avert the first and perhaps final global nuclear exchange.

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    An aerial view of the Pentagon in Washington August 31, 2010.    REUTERS/Jason Reed

    When my mother came for lunch at the Pentagon, I shepherded her through the visitor’s entrance, maneuvered her onto the escalator, and had just ushered her past the chocolate shop when she stopped short.

    I stopped too, letting an army of crisply uniformed officers and shirt-sleeved civilians flow past us down the corridor. Taking in the Pentagon’s florist shop, the banks, the nail salon, ­and the food court, my mother finally looked back at me. “So the heart of American military power is a shopping mall?”

    She wasn’t far off. By the time I started working at the Defense Department in the early years of the Obama administration, the Pentagon’s 17.5 miles of corridors had sprouted dozens of shops and restaurants catering to the building’s 23,000 employees. And, over time, the U.S. military has itself come to offer a similar one-stop shopping experience to the nation’s top policymakers.

    At the Pentagon, you can buy a pair of new running shoes or order the Navy to search for Somali pirates. You can grab some Tylenol at CVS or send a team of Army medics to fight malaria in Chad. You can buy yourself a new cell phone or task the National Security Agency with monitoring a terrorist suspect’s text messages. You can purchase a small chocolate fighter jet or order up drone strikes in Yemen.

    You name it, the Pentagon supplies it. As retired Army Lt. Gen. Dave Barno once put it to me, the relentlessly expanding U.S. military has become “a Super Walmart with everything under one roof” — and two successive presidential administrations have been eager consumers.

    But the military’s transformation into the world’s biggest one-stop shopping outfit is no cause for celebration. On the contrary, it’s at once the product and the driver of seismic changes in how we think about war, with consequent challenges both to our laws and to the military itself.

    Here’s the vicious circle in which we’ve trapped ourselves: As we face novel security threats from novel quarters — emanating from nonstate terrorist networks, from cyberspace, and from the impact of poverty, genocide, or political repression, for instance — we’ve gotten into the habit of viewing every new threat through the lens of “war,” thus asking our military to take on an ever-expanding range of nontraditional tasks. But viewing more and more threats as “war” brings more and more spheres of human activity into the ambit of the law of war, with its greater tolerance of secrecy, violence, and coercion — and its reduced protections for basic rights.

    Philippines US military exercise

    Meanwhile, asking the military to take on more and more new tasks requires higher military budgets, forcing us to look for savings elsewhere, so we freeze or cut spending on civilian diplomacy and development programs. As budget cuts cripple civilian agencies, their capabilities dwindle, and we look to the military to pick up the slack, further expanding its role.

    “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The old adage applies here as well. If your only functioning government institution is the military, everything looks like a war, and “war rules” appear to apply everywhere, displacing peacetime laws and norms. When everything looks like war, everything looks like a military mission, displacing civilian institutions and undermining their credibility while overloading the military.

    More is at stake than most of us realize. Recall Shakespeare’s Henry V:

    In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man

    As modest stillness and humility:

    But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

    Then imitate the action of the tiger;

    Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

    Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage 

    In war, we expect warriors to act in ways that would be immoral and illegal in peacetime. But when the boundaries around war and the military expand and blur, we lose our ability to determine which actions should be praised and which should be condemned.

    US Army

    For precisely this reason, humans have sought throughout history to draw sharp lines between war and peace — and between the role of the warrior and the role of the civilian. Until less than a century ago, for instance, most Western societies maintained that wars should be formally declared, take place upon clearly delineated battlefields, and be fought by uniformed soldiers operating within specialized, hierarchical military organizations. In different societies and earlier times, humans developed other rituals to delineate war’s boundaries, from war drums and war sorcery to war paint and complex initiation rites for warriors.

    Like a thousand other human tribes before us, we modern Americans also engage in elaborate rituals to distinguish between warriors and civilians: Our soldiers shear off their hair, display special symbols on their chests, engage in carefully choreographed drill ceremonies, and name their weapons for fearsome spirits and totem animals (the Hornet, the Black Hawk, the Reaper).

    And despite the changes ushered in by the 9/11 attacks, most of us view war as a distinct and separate sphere, one that shouldn’t intrude into our everyday world of offices, shopping malls, schools, and soccer games. Likewise, we relegate war to the military, a distinct social institution that we simultaneously lionize and ignore. War, we like to think, is an easily recognizable exception to the normal state of affairs and the military an institution that can be easily, if tautologically, defined by its specialized, war-related functions.

    But in a world rife with transnational terrorist networks, cyberwarriors, and disruptive nonstate actors, this is no longer true. Our traditional categories — war and peace, military and civilian — are becoming almost useless.

    In a cyberwar or a war on terrorism, there can be no boundaries in time or space: We can’t point to the battlefield on a map or articulate circumstances in which such a war might end. We’re no longer sure what counts as a weapon, either: A hijacked passenger plane? A line of computer code? We can’t even define the enemy: Though the United States has been dropping bombs in Syria for almost two years, for instance, no one seems sure if our enemy is a terrorist organization, an insurgent group, a loose-knit collection of individuals, a Russian or Iranian proxy army, or perhaps just chaos itself.

    A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, in this U.S. Air Force handout photo taken early in the morning of September 23, 2014. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Matthew Bruch/Handout

    We’ve also lost any coherent basis for distinguishing between combatants and civilians: Is a Chinese hacker a combatant? What about a financier for Somalia’s al-Shabab, or a Pakistani teen who shares extremist propaganda on Facebook, or a Russian engineer paid by the Islamic State to maintain captured Syrian oil fields?

    When there’s a war, the law of war applies, and states and their agents have great latitude in using lethal force and other forms of coercion. Peacetime law is the opposite, emphasizing individual rights, due process, and accountability.

    When we lose the ability to draw clear, consistent distinctions between war and not-war, we lose any principled basis for making the most vital decisions a democracy can make: Which matters, if any, should be beyond the scope of judicial review? When can a government have “secret laws”? When can the state monitor its citizens’ phone calls and email? Who can be imprisoned and with what degree, if any, of due process? Where, when, and against whom can lethal force be used? Should we consider U.S. drone strikes in Yemen or Libya the lawful wartime targeting of enemy combatants or nothing more than simple murder?

    When we heedlessly expand what we label “war,” we also lose our ability to make sound decisions about which tasks we should assign to the military and which should be left to civilians.

    Today, American military personnel operate in nearly every country on Earth — and do nearly every job on the planet. They launch raids and agricultural reform projects, plan airstrikes and small-business development initiatives, train parliamentarians and produce TV soap operas. They patrol for pirates, vaccinate cows, monitor global email communications, and design programs to prevent human trafficking.

    Two U.S. medics carry stretchers during a medical evacuation exercise, part of a joint military drill, in Yangju, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Seoul, March 5, 2008.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

    Many years ago, when I was in law school, I applied for a management consulting job at McKinsey & Co. During one of the interviews, I was given a hypothetical business scenario: “Imagine you run a small family-owned general store. Business is good, but one day you learn that Walmart is about to open a store a block away. What do you do?”

    “Roll over and die,” I said immediately.

    The interviewer’s pursed lips suggested that this was the wrong answer, and no doubt a plucky mom-and-pop operation wouldn’t go down without a fight: They’d look for a niche, appeal to neighborhood sentiment, or maybe get artisanal and start serving hand-roasted chicory soy lattes. But we all know the odds would be against them: When Walmart shows up, the writing is on the wall.

    Like Walmart, today’s military can marshal vast resources and exploit economies of scale in ways impossible for small mom-and-pop operations. And like Walmart, the tempting one-stop-shopping convenience it offers has a devastating effect on smaller, more traditional enterprises — in this case, the State Department and other U.S. civilian foreign-policy agencies, which are steadily shrinking into irrelevance in our ever-more militarized world.

    The Pentagon isn’t as good at promoting agricultural or economic reform as the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development — but unlike our civilian government agencies, the Pentagon has millions of employees willing to work insane hours in terrible conditions, and it’s open 24/7.

    It’s fashionable to despise Walmart — for its cheap, tawdry goods, for its sheer vastness and mindless ubiquity, and for the human pain we suspect lies at the heart of the enterprise. Most of the time, we prefer not to see it and use zoning laws to exile its big-box stores to the commercial hinterlands away from the center of town. But as much as we resent Walmart, most of us would be hard-pressed to live without it.

    As the U.S. military struggles to define its role and mission, it evokes similarly contradictory emotions in the civilian population. Civilian government officials want a military that costs less but provides more, a military that stays deferentially out of strategy discussions but remains eternally available to ride to the rescue. We want a military that will prosecute our ever-expanding wars but never ask us to face the difficult moral and legal questions created by the eroding boundaries between war and peace.

    We want a military that can solve every global problem but is content to remain safely quarantined on isolated bases, separated from the rest of us by barbed wire fences, anachronistic rituals, and acres of cultural misunderstanding. Indeed, even as the boundaries around war have blurred and the military’s activities have expanded, the U.S. military itself — as a human institution — has grown more and more sharply delineated from the broader society it is charged with protecting, leaving fewer and fewer civilians with the knowledge or confidence to raise questions about how we define war or how the military operates.

    US Marines Okinawa

    It’s not too late to change all this.

    No divine power proclaimed that calling something “war” should free us from the constraints of morality or common sense or that only certain tasks should be the proper province of those wearing uniforms. We came up with the concepts, definitions, laws, and institutions that now trap and confound us — and they’re no more eternal than the rituals and categories used by any of the human tribes that have gone before us.

    We don’t have to accept a world full of boundary-less wars that can never end, in which the military has lost any coherent sense of purpose or limits. If the moral and legal ambiguity of U.S.-targeted killings bothers us, or we worry about government secrecy or indefinite detention, we can mandate new checks and balances that transcend the traditional distinctions between war and peace. If we don’t like the simultaneous isolation and Walmartization of our military, we can change the way we recruit, train, deploy, and treat those who serve, change the way we define the military’s role, and reinvigorate our civilian foreign-policy institutions.

    After all, few generals actually want to preside over the military’s remorseless Walmartization: They too fear that, in the end, the nation’s over-reliance on an expanding military risks destroying not only the civilian competition but the military itself. They worry that the armed services, under constant pressure to be all things to all people, could eventually find themselves able to offer little of enduring value to anyone.

    Ultimately, they fear that the U.S. military could come to resemble a Walmart on the day after a Black Friday sale: stripped almost bare by a society both greedy for what it can provide and resentful of its dominance, with nothing left behind but demoralized employees and some shoddy mass-produced items strewn haphazardly around the aisles.

    This column is adapted from Rosa Brooks’s new book, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, published by Simon & Schuster. It has been edited for length and clarity.

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    An Afghan National Army soldier holds a position while patrolling the village of But Khak on the outskirts of Kabul May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo

    Afghan forces, backed by the US, killed an estimated 300 Islamic State fighters in an operation mounted two weeks ago, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan said on Wednesday, calling it a severe blow to the group.

    Gen. John Nicholson said the offensive in the eastern province of Nangarhar was part of US operations to degrade the capabilities of the Islamic State wherever it raised its head, whether in Iraq and Syria or in Afghanistan.

    The group, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh, is believed to be confined to three or four of the more than 400 districts in Afghanistan. Last month it claimed responsibility for bombing a demonstration by the Shi'ite Hazara minority in the capital, Kabul, in which at least 80 people were killed.

    Nicholson, in New Delhi for talks with the Indian military, which has provided training and some arms to Afghanistan, said Afghan forces supported by the US had just carried out a counterterrorism operation against the Islamic State.

    "They killed a number of top leaders of the organization and up to 300 of their fighters," he told reporters.

    "Obviously it's difficult to get an exact count, but what this amounts to is about 25% of the organization at least, and so this represents a severe setback for them."

    The Islamic State first appeared in Afghanistan at the beginning of 2015, and it had about 3,000 fighters at the height of the movement, many of them former members of militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

    afghanistan isis taliban map

    Though the group was previously considered a much smaller threat than its bitter enemies the Taliban, its bomb attack in Kabul underlined how dangerous it could be, even without holding large tracts of territory.

    On Tuesday another US military official said American soldiers helping Afghan troops fight the Islamic State in Nangarhar were forced to abandon equipment and weapons when their position came under fire.

    Fighters from the group had circulated photographs of a rocket launcher, grenades, ammunition, identification cards, an encrypted radio, and other equipment they said they had seized.

    By being more aggressive, the Afghan military was more successful this year against the Taliban than in 2015, when it lost 5,000 men, Nicholson said.

    predator gulf weapons

    The killing of Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour in a US drone strike in Pakistan had been a greater blow to the group than it had let on, partly because the Taliban were having trouble getting control of the finances he dealt with, Nicholson said.

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    vietnam navy

    Vietnam has discreetly fortified several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China's runways and military installations across the vital trade route, according to Western officials.

    Diplomats and military officers told Reuters that intelligence shows Hanoi has shipped the launchers from the Vietnamese mainland into position on five bases in the Spratly islands in recent months, a move likely to raise tensions with Beijing.

    The launchers have been hidden from aerial surveillance and they have yet to be armed, but could be made operational with rocket artillery rounds within two or three days, according to the three sources.

    Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said the information was "inaccurate", without elaborating.

    Deputy Defence Minister, Senior Lieutenant-General Nguyen Chi Vinh, told Reuters in Singapore in June that Hanoi had no such launchers or weapons ready in the Spratlys but reserved the right to take any such measures.

    "It is within our legitimate right to self-defense to move any of our weapons to any area at any time within our sovereign territory," he said.

    The move is designed to counter China's build-up on its seven reclaimed islands in the Spratlys archipelago. Vietnam's military strategists fear the building runways, radars and other military installations on those holdings have left Vietnam's southern and island defenses increasingly vulnerable.

    Military analysts say it is the most significant defensive move Vietnam has made on its holdings in the South China Sea in decades.

    Hanoi wanted to have the launchers in place as it expected tensions to rise in the wake of the landmark international court ruling against China in an arbitration case brought by the Philippines, foreign envoys said.

    The ruling last month, stridently rejected by Beijing, found no legal basis to China's sweeping historic claims to much of the South China Sea.

    south china seas

    Vietnam, China and Taiwan claim all of the Spratlys while the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim some of the area.

    "China has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly islands and nearby waters," China’s Foreign Ministry said in a faxed statement on Wednesday. "China resolutely opposes the relevant country illegally occupying parts of China’s Spratly islands and reefs and on these illegally occupied Spratly islands and reefs belonging to China carrying out illegal construction and military deployments.”

    The United States is also monitoring developments closely.

    "We continue to call on all South China Sea claimants to avoid actions that raise tensions, take practical steps to build confidence, and intensify efforts to find peaceful, diplomatic solutions to disputes," a State Department official said.

    State-of-the-art system

    Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015.  U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

    Foreign officials and military analysts believe the launchers form part of Vietnam's state-of-art EXTRA rocket artillery system recently acquired from Israel.

    EXTRA rounds are highly accurate up to a range of 150 km (93 miles), with different 150 kg (330 lb) warheads that can carry high explosives or bomblets to attack multiple targets simultaneously. Operated with targeting drones, they could strike both ships and land targets.

    That puts China's 3,000-metre runways and installations on Subi, Fiery Cross and Mischief Reef within range of many of Vietnam's tightly clustered holdings on 21 islands and reefs.

    While Vietnam has larger and longer range Russian coastal defense missiles, the EXTRA is considered highly mobile and effective against amphibious landings. It uses compact radars, so does not require a large operational footprint - also suitable for deployment on islets and reefs.

    "When Vietnam acquired the EXTRA system, it was always thought that it would be deployed on the is the perfect weapon for that," said Siemon Wezeman, a senior arms researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

    There is no sign the launchers have been recently test fired or moved.

    mlrs rocket launcherChina took its first Spratlys possessions after a sea battle against Vietnam's then weak navy in 1988. After the battle, Vietnam said 64 soldiers with little protection were killed as they tried to protect a flag on South Johnson reef - an incident still acutely felt in Hanoi.

    In recent years, Vietnam has significantly improved its naval capabilities as part of a broader military modernization, including buying six advanced Kilo submarines from Russia.

    Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam's military at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said the deployment showed the seriousness of Vietnam's determination to militarily deter China as far as possible.

    "China's runways and military installations in the Spratlys are a direct challenge to Vietnam, particularly in their southern waters and skies, and they are showing they are prepared to respond to that threat," he said. "China is unlikely to see this as purely defensive, and it could mark a new stage of militarization of the Spratlys."

    Trevor Hollingsbee, a former naval intelligence analyst with the British defense ministry, said he believed the deployment also had a political factor, partly undermining the fear created by the prospect of large Chinese bases deep in maritime Southeast Asia.

    "It introduces a potential vulnerability where they was none before - it is a sudden new complication in an arena that China was dominating," he said.

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