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- 01/04/17--12:24: _The most expensive ...
- 01/05/17--07:27: _F-35 pilot: It's 'p...
- 01/05/17--11:01: _The most incredible...
- 01/06/17--07:35: _5 military vehicles...
- 01/06/17--08:59: _The US had no aircr...
- 01/06/17--11:20: _US Air Force Genera...
- 01/09/17--05:49: _US Navy fires warni...
- 01/09/17--08:27: _Here's what the US ...
- 01/09/17--12:02: _The former head of ...
- 01/09/17--13:34: _US slaps sanctions ...
- 01/09/17--14:26: _Commander of US Nav...
- 01/10/17--13:35: _How Iran made the U...
- 01/11/17--06:49: _The legendary A-10 ...
- 01/11/17--11:17: _Taliban releases vi...
- 01/12/17--07:02: _The F-35 may carry ...
- 01/12/17--08:54: _The US Army shifts ...
- 01/12/17--09:46: _Why the US military...
- 01/12/17--11:56: _9 reasons why milit...
- 01/13/17--07:11: _The terrifying trut...
- 01/13/17--08:56: _China expert: Tille...
- 01/05/17--11:01: The most incredible photos of the US Army in 2016
- 01/06/17--07:35: 5 military vehicles you can actually buy
- 01/09/17--08:27: Here's what the US military really thinks about Obama
- 01/09/17--12:02: The former head of the CIA explains what operatives are really like
- 01/12/17--09:46: Why the US military will love its new grenade launcher
- 01/12/17--11:56: 9 reasons why military mortarmen are so deadly
- 01/13/17--07:11: The terrifying truth about North Korea's nuclear weapons
The Pentagon has established a "red team" to address considerable shortcomings with the F-35C, the carrier-based naval variant of the most expensive weapons project in history.
The F-35, subject to cost overruns and delays throughout its production, reached an initial state of military readiness with its Air Force and Marine variants in 2016, but the Navy's variant lags behind in part due to an issue with its nose gear during catapult-assisted takeoffs from aircraft carriers, Inside Defense uncovered on Wednesday.
Essentially the problem, detailed in a Navy report with data dating back to 2014, deals with rough takeoffs that hurt and disorient pilots at the critical moment when they're taking off from a carrier.
The Pentagon's red team found the problem was due to several factors central to the plane's design, and recommended several fixes that will take several months to several years to fully fix. The report states that long term actions to address the problem will not take place until 2019, at which point they'll take 12-36 months to implement.
Redesigns to the plane, as well as to carriers, may be necessary to fully address the problem.
A Pentagon deficiency report in 2015 stated that extreme movements in the cockpit during launch risked pilot health.
One hundred and five pilots completing catapult launches rated their level of pain or discomfort on a scale of one to five. Of the 105, 74 pilots reported "moderate" pain or a 3, 18 pilots reported "severe" pain or a 4, and one pilot reported "severe pain that persists" after launching from an aircraft carrier.
"The oscillations shake the pilot's head sufficiently to impair their ability to consistently read flight critical data, which poses a safety of flight risk," reads the report cited by Inside Defense.
This pain, more than a mere inconvenience, threatens the ability of pilots to read flight-critical data as they perform the complicated task of launching from a moving platform at sea. Exasperating the problem, some pilots locked down their harnesses to avoid jostling around during the launch, but this makes it more difficult for the pilot to eject, should they need to.
At a roundtable discussion in December, F-35 Program Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan assured reporters that F-35C takeoff problems only occur when the planes takeoff with low weight load outs, saying " you don't see this problem at all" when the plane is more laden with ordnance or fuel.
A representative from Lockheed Martin told Business Insider that all the catapult launches they had monitored were successful.
The F-35C was the most expensive variant of the Joint Strike Fighter program for the most recent Low Rate Initial Production contract. The Navy currently operates aging F-18s, nine of which have crashed or majorly malfunctioned in the last six months of 2016. The Aviationist's David Cenciotti attributes this to the age of the planes.
Meanwhile, the Navy awaits the F-35C's groundbreaking capability as other world powers invest heavily in their naval and anti-ship capabilities. President-elect Trump has expressed interest in building dozens of new ships, taking the US Navy's total from 272 to 350 operational ships, as well as confronting China in the heavily militarized South China Sea.
F-35 pilots have told Business Insider that the F-35s stealth characteristics make it absolutely vital to operating in heavily contested airspace like the South China Sea, the Baltics, and lately Syria.
Lockheed Martin told Business Insider that it will look into the Inside Defense report. This post will be updated with the company's future comment.
In December, Business Insider interviewed a former US Navy Commander, Chris Harmer, who had a unique idea for an alternative to the F-35.
Harmer suggested that in 2001, when the F-35 program first came together, military planners simply could have updated existing airframes, like the carrier based F-18, with the advanced avionics and sensor fusion featured in the F-35.
The article voiced a somewhat contrary opinion and imagined a world where one and a half decades and hundreds of billions of dollars had been spent towards ends other than the F-35.
It met with swift disapproval from defense aviation writers and members of the F-35 community.
US Marine Corps Lt. Col David "Chip" Berke, the only Marine in history to fly the F-22 and the F-35, and also the first squadron commander of operational F-35Bs, got in touch with Business Insider as a result of the article.
Berke insisted that the idea that fourth generation fighters could be upgraded to do what the F-35 does was "preposterous."
According to Berke, legacy aircraft designed without sensor fusion in mind, planes meant for a bygone era of aerial combat, just couldn't handle the F-35's responsibilities.
"What we’re really trying to do," with fifth generation aircraft "legacy aircraft can’t do. Even if you could, without low observability capability (stealth), what would be the point?" Berke said.
Berke has seen first hand the exponential shift in capabilities between fourth and fifth generation aircraft. Berke logged thousands of hours in the F-18 and served two combat tours in Iraq before transitioning to the F-22 and then the F-35.
He has talked at length about the seismic shift between the two modes of operation, comparing the stark and conceptual differences between the F-18 and an F-35 to the leap between a corded wall phone and an iPhone. Berke and pretty much every single other F-35 program participant on record share this view.
'The biggest advocates for fifth-generation aircraft are the ones flying them. Take a bunch of pilots who flew fourth gens, and you put them in an F-35 and they say it’s the most important thing. The people that complain the most are the ones that aren’t involved in the program, and that know the least about it," said Berke.
"These pilots who grew up in the Hornet (F-18), that have thousands of hours of combat experience" find the idea that you could simply update legacy platforms to reach the level of the F-35 "laughable," according to Berke.
Yet Berke understands where the criticism of the F-35 program comes from. He admits that it's even difficult for F-35 pilots to realize the full scope of the Joint Strike Fighter's revolutionary capabilities, and that building such capabilities took a lot of time and effort, sometimes more than what program directors estimated.
"Innovation is really hard, expensive, and fraught with criticism. The easiest thing in the world is to criticize innovation," said Berke.
But given his role as a former commanding officer in an F-35 squadron, Berke has nothing but confidence in the future of US air dominance and the F-35's role in that picture.
"Dinosaurs look at a new piece of technology and ask: What can this do for me?" said Berke, who sees a generation of young F-35 pilots meeting the groundbreaking technology and saying "what can I do with this technology? What can I do with this airplane?"
According to Berke, the F-35 program has shown tremendous promise even in its infancy.
"We don’t even know 50-80% of what this airplane can do," Berke said.
The US Army, the largest branch of the US armed forces, had a challenging year in 2016.
With forces deployed all over the globe and ever-changing political and battlefield dynamics, the US Army depends on disciplined soldiers at all levels to maintain professionalism and to protect Americans and their interests.
Below are a selection of the best, most inspiring pictures taken by the US Army in 2016. We tried to paint a picture of the diverse, proud reality of Army life.
The US Army consists of a huge variety of specialized commands and forces. Here a Green Beret, the Army's special forces component, surveys a vast, beautiful landscape.
Here's a classic scene: US Army soldiers doing what they do best — taking a door with overwhelming force ...
... And securing a room like nobody's business.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
If you have the money, you can buy military vehicles that travel by land, air, or even sea.
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The US operates 10 Nimitz-class flat top aircraft carriers, more than the rest of the world, but for the first time since the close of World War II, not a single carrier is deployed.
The US had the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower deployed in the Persian Gulf carrying out a fast-paced air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria until late December, but that carrier returned home on December 30.
But the pause in activity, while highly unusual, won't last long. On Thursday, the USS Carl Vinson left its port in San Diego to head for the Western Pacific, where tensions with China have reached an uncomfortable high.
Meanwhile, the USS George H.W. Bush, which has been detained longer than expected, prepares to replace the Eisenhower in the fight against ISIS.
The lull in US carrier activity happens to coincide with a spike in carrier activity from the US's stiffest competition at sea — Russia and China.
While the US has no presence in the Mediterranean, Russia's sole carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, has been deployed off the coast of Syria for months. The Kuznetsov suffered major mechanical issues and some high profile plane crashes, but overall managed to achieve its first-ever combat deployment.
In the Pacific, the Chinese Liaoning, China's sole aircraft carrier, just carried out live-fire drills in the heavily contested South China Sea. The Liaoning rattled the Taiwanese as it skirted the island during it's deployment. China has been keen to demonstrate it's control over Taiwan since President-elect Trump broke with decades of US foreign policy tradition and accepted Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen's phone call.
Experts have called for an increased US Navy presence in the South China Sea to deter the Chinese from establishing regional hegemony and to affirm international norms such as right of innocent passage.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook stressed that despite the lack of carrier deployments, the US has "a significant presence in both those areas and will continue to have a significant presence even though we may not at any one particular time have an aircraft carrier there."
The Navy, however, has repeatedly called for more carriers and combat ships to meet rising threats around the world.
While China's and Russia's Soviet-designed carriers pale in comparison to US carriers, their deployments have been meaningful in bolstering their perceived strength at a time when the US appears to be losing traction in international conflicts.
WASHINGTON — America's priciest weapons system — the F-35 — is continuing its march to full combat capability, but the US isn't the only major power working toward a fifth-generation fighter.
"While there are countries that are building their version of a fifth-generation fighter, they are years and years behind the capabilities of the F-35," US Air Force Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, director of the F-35 integration office, told Business Insider.
Pleus, a former commander of the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base and a command pilot with just north of 2,200 flight hours, said the F-35 "is leaps and bounds ahead of anything else in the world today."
In August 2016, US Air Force Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, declared initial operational capability (IOC) for a squadron of F-35A's — a significant breakthrough for the weapons program, which has been beset by design flaws, cost overruns, and technical challenges.
Since IOC, the Air Force has trained more than 120 pilots in 100 F-35As, accruing a combined total of 75,000 hours of flight time.
"It's important to realize that the F-35 program is flying combat capable today and that our adversaries are trying to produce the same technology that we have but we are in front of them, for the time being," Pleus explained.
"So while, Russia and China have both rolled out a prototype of their fifth-generation fighter they have a long way to go until they've got 75,000 flying hours on that airframe and more than 100 airplanes in their inventory."
During the Air Force Association's annual conference in September, Pleus sat on a panel alongside Carlisle, F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Program executive officer Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, and 388th Fighter Wing commander Col. David Lyons.
During his remarks, Pleus, who has flown both the F-16 and F-35, described the latter as "absolutely head and shoulders above our legacy fleet of fighters currently fielded."
"This is an absolutely formidable airplane, and one our adversaries should fear," he continued.
In order to maintain a "tactical advantage over our adversaries," Pleus said the US must continue to modernize the F-35, F-22, and fourth-generation fighters.
"You can't just build an F-35 or an F-22 or whatever the next generation of fighter is and say, 'we're good.' It constantly has to be updated because the threat, the folks that want to do us harm, will constantly upgrade their airplanes and their anti-airplane weapons on a day to day basis," Pleus explained.
A US Navy destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels after they closed in at a high rate of speed near the Strait of Hormuz, two US defense officials told Reuters on Monday.
The incident, which occurred Sunday and was first reported by Reuters, comes as US President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office on Jan. 20. In September, Trump vowed that any Iranian vessels that harass the US Navy in the Gulf would be "shot out of the water."
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the USS Mahan established radio communication with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats but they did not respond to requests to slow down and continued asking the Mahan questions.
The Navy destroyer fired warning flares and a US Navy helicopter also dropped a smoke float before the warning shots were fired.
The Iranian vessels came within 900 yards (800 meters) of the Mahan, which was escorting two other US military ships, they said.
The IRGC and Trump transition team were not immediately available for comment.
Years of mutual animosity eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran last year after a deal to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. But serious differences still remain over Iran's ballistic missile program as well as conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
One official said similar incidents occur occasionally.
Most recently in August, another US Navy ship fired warning shots towards an Iranian fast-attack craft that approached two US ships.
In January 2016, Iran freed 10 US sailors after briefly detaining them in the Gulf.
The official added that the warning shots fired on Sunday were just one of seven interactions the Mahan had with Iranian vessels over the weekend, but the others were judged to be safe.
On Sunday, a poll from Military Times and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families displayed the thoughts and sentiments of active-duty military troops about President Barack Obama as he ends his eight years as commander in chief.
The results showed that US service members have an overwhelmingly negative view of Obama — or a neutral view at best.
Overall, 60.3% of Marines, 53% of the Army, 49.6% of the Air Force, and 45.9% of the Navy said they disapproved of Obama — a plurality in each case. Enlisted soldiers and Marines were more likely than officers to disapprove of Obama, by about 4 percentage points.
In total, 29.1% of soldiers said they had a very unfavorable view of Obama's leadership, and 18% said they held a very favorable view.
The poll elicited responses from 1,664 participants. The responses were weighted to better reflect the entire military, according to the poll. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Obama sought to reduce the role of the military during his presidency, with drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan and a decrease in the overall size of the force.
Troops interviewed by Military Times said those steps possibly made the US less safe, as the last few years of Obama's presidency have seen the rise of ISIS in Iraq and a resurgence of Taliban aggression in Afghanistan.
SEE ALSO: Here's Obama's exit memo to America
Michael Hayden is the former director of the CIA and the NSA, as well as the author of "Playing to the Edge." He reveals what CIA operatives are actually like after visiting more than 50 CIA stations and bases throughout the world.
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Washington (AFP) - The United States on Monday slapped sanctions on Russia's most senior criminal investigator and two agents alleged to have poisoned ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko in London.
The US Treasury added the head of Russia's Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, and alleged assassins Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun to an existing sanctions list.
In a brief but illuminating interview, US Navy Vice Admiral Tom Rowden, the commander of the US Navy's Surface forces, told Defense News' Christopher P. Cavas a key difference between the ships of the US and Chinese navies.
Cavas asked Rowden about China commissioning a 4,000 ton frigate and deploying it just six weeks later, a start-to-finish speed inconceivable in the US Navy, where ships undergo many rounds of testing and often take more than one year to deploy.
When asked about the differences between the US and China's processes, Rowden explained that while a US and a Chinese ship may both appear combat-ready,"[o]ne of them couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag and the other one will rock anything that it comes up against."
Rowden couched his criticism well, but the meaning is clear. The US doesn't test its ships for fun, or to spend excess money in the budget, but "to be 100 percent confident in the ship and confident in the execution of any mission leadership may give them."
Rowden wouldn't speculate much on China's process, but he made himself clear to begin with.
Tensions between China and the US stand at a high over perceived shifts in US policy towards Taiwan, China's seizure of a US Navy drone, and years of China militarizing the South China Sea and bullying its neighbors.
Surely Rowden has sized up China's fleet and its rapidly burgeoning navy, and his assessment in this interview is telling.
NOW WATCH: 5 military vehicles you can actually buy
On Monday, the news came out that Iranian fast-attack craft had once again harassed US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf with unsafe and unprofessional behavior, forcing the USS Mahan to fire warning shots.
The incident, the first of its type reported this year, follows a huge increase in Iran's navy harassing US ships in 2016, the US Navy has told Business Insider.
Iran's ability to undermine the West, to harass their ships in international waters, and to look militarily strong while having weak conventional forces owes to Tehran's expert handling of the US diplomatically and militarily, according to Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Although the US lists Iran as the number one state sponsor of terror, and has accordingly moved to sanction Iran over the last few decades, the actions have not been enough to deter Iran. According to Taleblu, "sanctions are an important step, but they’re not the only step."
In addition to sanctions, the US would benefit from a signaling its resolve against Iran, where the Obama administration has been seen as "phobic" in confronting them.
The US "need[s] to make sure our commanders and CENTCOM (the US command responsible for the Middle East region) have a free hand — not to go rogue — but so they do not feel politically encumbered to defend themselves, US vessels, and partners in the region," said Taleblu.
Retired Navy Captain Lawrence Brennan, also an expert on international maritime law and the rules of engagement, told Business Insider the US Navy's response so far has been "measured and appropriate under the circumstances," but also noted that it was likely muted somewhat by concerns over Iran's nuclear program in an incident that "seems to be near the edge," of militarily actionable behavior.
Others say that the Navy has exercised too much restraint under a president striving to improve ties with Iran, and that may be actually encouraging Iran to act aggressively.
Former US Navy Commander Jeremy Vaughan stressed in an essay for the Washington Institute that the strategic goals of the Obama administration may have confined Navy commanders to more docile responses to Iranian aggression.
According to Vaughan, even when Navy commanders have established the "threat triangle" (determining that a threat has the capability, opportunity, and intent to harm the US Navy), sailors have not responded with force in keeping with naval guidance.
A specific example comes from the January 2016 capture of US Navy sailors on a broken down boat by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' navy during which the boat captain said he had thought the following: "the Commander in Chief would not want me to start a war over a mistake, over a misunderstanding."
So while no direct decree from the president has hamstrung the Navy, the overall political climate deterred a more forceful action.
How Iran bosses around the much stronger US
Taleblu explained that the reason Iran is "an enduring threat, even though it’s a weak state, is because it fights asymmetrically."
According to Taleblu, understanding Iran's strategy requires looking into the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Iran's navy, soundly defeated by US ships in the Persian Gulf, never fully recovered after the conflict. The US "went after their frigates and destroyers. Now Iran goes after us with these little speedboats," said Taleblu.
Iran "cannot fight a set piece war against America. That’s why its military is framed the way it is," said Taleblu. Instead, Iran focuses on sending weapons to terrorist organizations that oppose the US and their allies.
For example, Iran sent missiles to Iraq to use against US soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom. More recently, Iran has been tied, though not conclusively, to providing anti-ship missiles that Houthi militants fired against US ships off the coast of Yemen.
Despite being a smaller country with a conventionally weaker military, Iran has proven a "competent adversary capable of learning," says Taleblu.
Meanwhile, pursuing nuclear weapons has worried the US enough to engage with them diplomatically. The Iranian deal only addresses nuclear weapons and doesn't include effective measures to combat its ballistic missile program.
The lack of restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program, which could easily be modified to create nuclear ballistic missiles, "is a direct result of the failure of the Obama administration to include ballistic missiles in talks with Tehran," said Taleblu.
So Iran openly sponsors terror, and tests ballistic missiles with slogans that read"Israel should be wiped off the Earth" printed on the side.
"The launches actually make the US look weak," said Taleblu. Iran "does it to poke a finger in the eye of the West," and have been allowed to because the US failed to stop Iran's ballistic missile ambitions when they curbed Iran's nuclear program, said Taleblu.
Iran has masterfully employed cheap, asymmetrical means of keeping their enemies, the US and its allies, off balance. Iran lacks a modern air force, which would be terribly expensive, so instead Tehran is pursuing the development of ballistic missiles to continue engaging in terror while simultaneously deterring attacks on their homeland said Taleblu.
Since Iran has not engaged in overt military actions, the US military cannot fight Tehran head on. Iran instead spreads its influence through a diverse group of regional proxies in a move that the US cannot address simply by force.
"The cost of the US fighting Iran is so prohibitive [the US is] just forced to absorb the provocations," said Taleblu.
In another positive sign for the beloved A-10, Air Force maintainers at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona have outfitted the Warthog with an upgrade for combat search and rescue missions (CSAR).
Dubbed the lightweight airborne recovery system, the upgrade helps A-10 pilots "communicate more effectively with individuals on the ground such as downed pilots, pararescuemen and joint terminal attack controllers,"according to an Air Force statement.
Of all the fixed-wing aircraft in the US Air Force's inventory, no plane carries out CSAR missions like the A-10.
CSAR missions jump off with little warning and often involve going deep into enemy territory, so becoming certified to perform CSAR missions takes tons of training, which only A-10 pilots undergo.
The A-10's rugged survivability, massive forward firing power, newly acquired communication capabilities, and long loiter times at low altitudes make it ideal for flying low and slow and finding the lost person.
According to the Air Force, an "urgent operational need arose" for increased CSAR capabilities in August 2016. Within a few short months, the "massive logistical challenge" that required the Air Force to "build a production machine, find facilities, manpower, equipment, tools, and make material kits (to) execute the requirement," came together, and now 19 A-10s sport the upgrade, according to the Air Force.
“A-10 pilots take the Combat Search and Rescue role very seriously,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Hayde, 354th Fighter Squadron commander and A-10 pilot. “While this is just one tool, it can assist us in bringing them back to US soil safely.”
While the A-10 still faces the chopping block in 2018, new investment in the Warthog and the October reopening of the production lines bode well for the planes future protecting American interests and infantrymen.
The Afghan Taliban released a video on Wednesday showing an Australian and an American hostage pleading with the US government to negotiate with their captors and saying that unless a prisoner exchange was agreed they would be killed.
Timothy Weeks, an Australian teacher at the American University in Kabul and his American colleague Kevin King were seized near the campus in August.
The video, which Weeks said was made on Jan. 1, showed the two men, both bearded, asking their families to put pressure on the US government to help secure their release.
Addressing President-elect Donald Trump, who is due to take office on Jan. 20, Weeks said the Taliban had asked for prisoners held at Bagram air field and at Pul-e-Charkhi prison on the outskirts of Kabul to be exchanged for them.
"They are being held there illegally and the Taliban has asked for them to be released in our exchange. If they are not exchanged for us then we will be killed," he said.
"Donald Trump sir, please, I ask you, please, this is in your hands, I ask you please to negotiate with the Taliban. If you do not negotiate with them, we will be killed."
In September, the Pentagon said US forces mounted a raid to try to rescue two civilian hostages but the men were not at the location targeted.
Kidnapping has been a major problem in Afghanistan for many years. Most victims are Afghans and many kidnappers are criminal gangs seeking ransom money but a number of foreigners have also been abducted for political ends.
Last year, the Taliban released a video showing a US hostage and her Canadian husband abducted in 2012 asking their governments to pressure the Kabul government not to execute Taliban prisoners.
The Air Force designed the F-35A with nuclear capability in mind, and a new report indicates that the Joint Strike Fighter may carry nuclear weapons sooner than expected.
The Air Force originally planned to integrate nuclear weapons in the F-35 between 2020-2022, but Air Force Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus told Defensetech.org that “it would definitely be possible,” to hasten the deployment of B-61 nuclear gravity bombs on the F-35 should the need for it arise.
As it stands, the B-61's "military utility is practically nil," wrote General James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2012. The B-61s "do not have assigned missions as part of any war plan and remain deployed today only for political reasons within the NATO alliance," Cartwright continued.
Currently among fighter jets, only the F-15E and F-16C carry the B-61. Neither of these planes can penetrate contested enemy airspace, so they could only drop the gravity bomb on an area unprotected by air defenses.
The F-35, a polarizing defense project in its own right, could change that with its stealth capabilities. However, President-elect Trump has voiced concerns about the F-35 project while simultaneously stressing that the US needs to "expand its nuclear capability."
Immediately this lead to talk of a new nuclear arms race, much to the horror of nuclear experts and non-proliferation advocates. The fact is that Russia and the US already have more nuclear weapons than necessary to meet their strategic needs.
Additionally, nuclear modernization is due to cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades, and around a trillion dollars in total.
But not only do experts find nuclear expansion costly and unnecessary, they also find it dangerous.
The US has 180 B-61 nuclear bombs stationed in five bases throughout Europe. Russian intelligence services monitor deployments of fighter jets across Europe, and the fact that the F-15E and F-16C regularly deploy to these bases could lead to a catastrophic misinterpretation.
Kingston Reif, the director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy at the Arms Control Association, told Business Insider that the US "should be seeking to strengthen the dividing line between nuclear and conventional weapons, not blur that line" by certifying additional fighter jets to carry nuclear weapons.
F-35s, with their excellent stealth attributes, taking off from European bases that may or may not house the B-61s (it would be extremely difficult for Russia to know) and flying near Russia's borders could put Moscow on high alert. This could even potentially spook the Kremlin into launching an attack on the US.
Furthermore, the B-61s are low-yield bombs, meaning they don't pack much of a punch. In the event of an actual nuclear conflict, "the likely hood is that we're going to use the big bombs, and not the little bombs,"Laicie Heely of the nonpartisan Stimpson Center think tank points out.
So while the F-35 may provide a stealthy, sleek new delivery method for nuclear bombs, they may destabilize already fraught relations between the world's two greatest nuclear powers — Russia and the US.
"There can be no winners in a nuclear war and that as long as each side has nuclear weapons, strategic stability will remain central to their bilateral relations," Reif said of US-Russian relations.
The Army’s “live-fire” combat exercises involve large-scale battalion-on-battalion war scenarios wherein mechanized forces often clash with make-shift, “near-peer” enemies using new technologies, drones, tanks, artillery, missiles and armored vehicles.
The Army is expanding its training and “live-fire” weapons focus to include a renewed ability to fight a massive, enemy force in an effort to transition from its decade-and-a-half of tested combat experience with dismounted infantry and counterinsurgency.
Recent ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created an experienced and combat-tested force able to track, attack and kill small groups of enemies -- often blended into civilian populations, speeding in pick-up trucks or hiding within different types of terrain to stage ambushes.
“The Army has a tremendous amount of experience right now. It has depth but needs more breadth. We’re good at counterinsurgency and operations employing wide area security. Now, we may have to focus on 'Mounted Maneuver' operations over larger distances,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, Training and Doctrine Command, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While senior Army leaders are quick to emphasize that counterinsurgency is of course still important and the service plans to be ready for the widest possible range of conflict scenarios, there is nonetheless a marked and visible shift toward being ready to fight and win against a large-scale modernized enemy such as Russia or China.
The Army, naturally, does not single out these countries as enemies, train specifically to fight them or necessarily expect to go to war with them. However, recognizing the current and fast-changing threat environment, which includes existing tensions and rivalries with the aforementioned great powers, Army training is increasingly focused on ensuring they are ready for a mechanized force-on-force type engagement.
At the same time, while large-scale mechanized warfare is quite different than counterinsurgency, there are some areas of potential overlap between recent warfare and potential future great power conflict in a few key respects. The ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, over a period of more than a decade, involved the combat debut of various precision-guided land attack weapons such as GPS guided artillery and rocket weapons.
Weapons such as Excalibur, a GPS-guided 155m artillery round able to precisely destroy enemy targets at ranges greater than 30-kilometers, gave ground commanders an ability to pinpoint insurgent targets such as small gatherings of fighters, buildings and bomb-making locations. Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System, or GLMRS, is another example; this precision guided long-range rocket, which can hit ranges up to 70-kilometers, was successful in killing Taliban targets in Afghanistan from great distances, among other things.
These kinds of precision munitions, first used in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the kind of weapon which would greatly assist land attack efforts in a massive force-on-force land war as well. They could target key locations behind enemy lines such as supplies, forces and mechanized vehicles.
Drones are another area of potential overlap. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan featured a veritable explosion in drone technology and drone use. For example, the Army had merely a handful of drones at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now, the service operates thousands and has repeatedly relied upon them to find enemy locations, spot upcoming ambushes and save lives in combat. These are the kinds of platforms which would also be of great utility in a major land war. However, they would likely be used differently incorporating new tactics, techniques and procedures in a great power engagement.
“This is not back to the future…this is moving towards the future where Army forces will face adaptive enemies with greater lethality. This generation of Army leaders will orchestrate simultaneous Combined ArmsManeuver and Wide Area Security” Smith said.
Nevertheless, many Army leaders now experienced with counterinsurgency tactics will need to reexamine tactics needed for major conventional warfare.
“You have a generation of leaders who have to expand learning to conduct simultaneous ‘Combined Arms’ and 'Wide Area Security” Smith said.
“The Army has to be prepared across the entire range of military operations. One of these would be ‘near-peer’ operations, which is what we have not been fighting in recent years,” Smith explained.
Massive Land War "Decisive Action"
The new approach to this emerging integrated training is called “Decisive Action,” Senior Army leaders explained.
Live-fire combat at Fort Riley, Kan., for instance, affords an opportunity to put these new strategies into effect.
“Every morning I could put a battalion on the north side and a battalion on the south side - and just joust working "Combined Arms Maneuver." I can do battalion-on-battalion and it does involve “Combined Arms” live fire,” a senior Army official said.. “Because of the airspace that we have here - and use the UAS - I can synchronize from 0-to-18,000 feet and do maneuver indirect fire.”
This includes the use of drones, Air Force air assets, Army attack aviation along with armored vehicles, artillery, tanks and infantry units equipped for small arms fire, he explained.
Some of the main tactics and techniques explored during “Decisive Action” live fire exercises include things like “kill what you shoot at,” “move to contact,” “synchronize indirect fire,” and “call-in 9-line,” (providing aircraft with attack coordinates from the ground), the senior Army official said.
Grigsby explained that “live-fire” combat exercises now work to incorporate a wide range of emerging technologies so as to better anticipate the tactics, weapons and systems a future enemy is likely to employ; this includes the greater use of drones or unmanned systems, swarms of mini-drones in the future, emerging computing technology, tank-on-tank warfare tactics, electronic warfare, enemy aircraft and longer-range precision weaponry including anti-tank missiles, guided artillery and missiles.
In order to execute this kind of combat approach, the Army is adapting to more “Combined Arms Maneuver.” This warfare competency seeks to synchronize a wide range of weapons, technologies and war assets in order to overwhelm, confuse and destroy an enemy force.
Smith likened “Combined Arms” to being almost like a symphony orchestra where each instrument is geared toward blending and contributing to an integrated overall musical effect.
In warfare, this would mean using tank-on-tank attacks, indirect fire or artillery, air defenses, air assets, networking technologies, drones, rockets, missiles and mortar all together to create a singular effect able to dominate the battlespace, Smith explained.
National Training Center Combat Training
The new "decisive action" approach, is also in effect at the Army's National Training Center, Ft. Erwin, Calif. NTC training is also firmly centered upon Combined Arms Maneuver, or CAM, and Wide Area Cecurity, also known as WAS.
While each of these concepts comprise elements of a broader, full-spectrum operations approach, CAM encompasses the entire spectrum of conventional threats, from near-peer potential adversaries engaged in fully mechanized tank-on-tank engagements, missiles and air defense, to guerrilla-style forces armed with advanced conventional weapons such as anti-tank guided missiles.
Wide Area Security also incorporates guerrilla and insurgent-type attacks.
The NTC uses mock-combat scenarios to precisely replicate both insurgency combat scenarios such as Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as preparation for mechanized force-on-force warfare. In recent years, the NTC has been shifting its focus to emphasize more force-on-force training in preparation for the prospect of major power war.
This includes drones, air support, heavy armored vehicle maneuver tactics as well as artillery, missiles and infantry designed to capture the challenges, nuances and details expected in a massive ground war.
The thrust of "Decisive Action" is to accurately and with painstaking authenticity and detail, replicate the threats, tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs and combat scenarios currently being experienced in the Afghan theater - while also preparing forces for the possible contingency of facing future, hybrid-type adversaries, officials said.
This hybrid-type threat, represented at the NTC as a fictional "Donovian" force, encompasses a range of potential scenarios involving conventional forces often blended with or fortified by insurgent, guerrilla and even criminal elements.
In total, the NTC consists of more than 1,000 buildings, 1,800 "role-players," seven forward operating bases, or FOBs, and seven to nine towns, some of them complete with Afghan-style provincial governments and reconstruction teams. Various role players in the mock-combat villages dress, look, eat, live and cook just like people in actual Afghan villages.
The villages, constructed in the years following the start of the Afghan and Iraq wars, are designed to replicate the Afghan theater in great detail, complete with street markets, villagers, insurgents and host-nation security forces.
The OPFOR, or mock "enemy" force or "opposing" force used in NTC combat training is called the Black Horse 11th Armored Calvary Regiment. It made up of role players embracing key roles designed to replicate, for instance, a Taliban member trying to implant IEDs, a local police chief, a town mayor and even insurgents from the Haqanni network. The OPFOR is equipped with the most recent weapons and tactics, techniques and procedures currently being encountered by Soldiers in Afghanistan.
Many of the village inhabitants, who speak multiple languages including Pashto, Dari and Arabic, are part of what NTC calls the Contemporary Operating Environment Force, or COEFOR. In fact, one current NTC employee is a role player who formerly served as a member of the Iraqi Army during Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Senior Army leaders explained.
The M203 grenade launcher entered service with the U.S. military in 1969 during Vietnam. It replaced the M79 “Blooper” stand-alone launcher, almost always being used as an under-barrel addition to an assault rifle.
Though it has served faithfully and effectively for over 40 years now and will continue to do so for years to come, the M203 is being phased out of Army service and is being replaced by the new M320 designed and built by Heckler & Koch.
For now the Marines are sticking with the 203, though many top infantry advocates in the service want the Corps to replace its current ones with M320s.
The M320 won a competitive bidding process and entered production in 2008 with over 71,000 of the weapons planned for the U.S. Army. Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division were the first to field the weapon operationally.
While the M203 was capable of operating independently, in practice it is rarely used in standalone configuration. In fact, the old M79 resurfaced during Operation Iraqi Freedom as a superior option for grenade launcher duties without a rifle.
The break-action blooper (or ‘thumper,’ based on who you ask) was touted as a superior tool for the job when the whole rifle/launcher combo was too heavy or unwieldy, and standalone M203 units were not up to the task or simply unavailable.
The M79 has greater range and better accuracy than the M203. While it has performed admirably since Vietnam, no one has ever claimed that the M203 provided pinpoint accuracy.
The M79, introduced in 1961, is even older than the M203. Much more importantly, it’s not capable of being used as an under-barrel launcher on an M4 or M16 rifle. While stand-alone launchers definitely have their place, the need for a grenadier who is also a rifleman is a crucial one in most cases. A new, better, under-barrel 40mm grenade launcher was needed.
The M320 filled that need. Using the same high-low propulsion system of the M79 and M203 to keep recoil low while firing a heavy 40mm projectile, the M320 has the same range as the M203 while increasing accuracy and coming with a number of improvements over the older model.
One of the most noticeable upgrades over the M203 is the M320’s side-loading mechanism. The barrel swings out for loading, rather than the M203’s forward-sliding pump-like barrel. This allows the use of additional, longer, ammunition, particularly non-lethal rounds. With the weapon’s introduction, the Army is able to move forward with the development of new, high-tech rounds that wouldn’t fit in the M203.
Another obvious feature of the M320 is the folding foregrip. The grip is intended primarily for use when the weapon is used separate from a rifle, but it can also serve as a forward vertical grip when mounted under a barrel. When not needed, the foregrip can be easily folded back and out of the way.
The sights of the M320 are certainly more advanced than those of the M203, and they benefit from being integral to the launcher itself, being mounted on the side of the unit. The M203’s sights were attached separately and had to be re-zeroed every time.
The M320’s leaf sight simply flips up when needed, and the integrated electronic sighting system allows users to dial in the range as determined by laser and tell if they’re on target. This alone makes the M320 easier to field and more accurate in more conditions more of the time. While operating the M79 was an acquired ability and accuracy with the M203 was more art than skill, the M320’s sight helps to make every operator a capable grenadier.
The M320 has a double-action trigger compared to the M203’s single-action unit and has an ambidextrous safety. This allows the operator more control over his weapon, its firing, and better capability to handle a misfire or simple unloading.
Despite the M320’s technical advantages over its predecessors, its introduction did not come without some hiccups. All new weapons systems suffer from some teething pains, particularly when introduced during a time of war, and the new grenade launcher was no exception.
While intended to be lighter than the M203, the M320 is actually slightly heavier, weighing in at 3.3 pounds compared to the M203’s 3.0 pounds. While this difference is small, combat troops are already overloaded and every ounce counts.
While the new sight provides significant advantages over the M203’s sight, some troops have complained that it’s a little fragile for hard use in the combat zone. This may be due to the fact that the troops are used to not worrying about an M203 because there was so little to break.
Another complaint is that when used stand-alone with the stock assembly, the buttstock is a little short for many operators.
Finally, the single-point sling attachment of the stand-alone M320 meant that the weapon swung around and was often bouncing in the way, with troops calling for a holster of some sort to use while carrying the launcher unmounted. The Army responded by launching an M320GL Holster Soldier Enhancement Program.
The SEP was a “try-before-you-buy” program that used holsters from three different vendors and issued them to troops for testing and feedback. The holster solution will also address some of the concerns about the fragile sights, since the weapon won’t be bouncing around or getting dragged on the ground when the operator hits the dirt.
A comment found online from a soldier claiming to carry an M320 in Afghanistan says that the launcher is a pain in the ass and swings everywhere, he “wouldn’t trade it for anything else in a firefight.” It’s hard to come up with a better endorsement of the M320 than that.
Mortars used to be considered artillery weapons because they lob hot metal shells, sometimes filled with explosives, down on the enemy’s heads.
But the mortar migrated to the infantry branch, and the frontline soldiers who crew the weapon maneuver into close ranges with the enemy and then rain hell down upon them. Here’s what makes the mortarman so lethal:
Mortarmen can emplace their system and fire it quickly.
Mortars can maintain a relatively high rate of fire.
The mortar crew is located near the front, so it can observe and direct its own fire.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
"North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US. It won't happen!"tweeted President-elect Donald Trump on January 2.
However, the terrifying truth is that North Korea, the only country to test nuclear weapons in the 21st century, has just as much say over whether or not its potential nuclear arms can or will reach the US as Trump and the whole US do.
"It can be difficult to make assessments about North Korea's nuclear capabilities given that we have very little access to North Korea's missile facilities," Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy and a North Korea expert at the Arms Control Association, told Business Insider.
"But it's clear that North Korea has made significant advances both with nuclear warheads and with ballistic missiles," said Davenport.
North Korea's nuclear arsenal still stands in its early phases, but Kim Jong Un commands about 100 missile launchers with several missiles for each, according to Jeffrey Lewis, founding publisher of ArmsControlWonk.com.
While there's some debate about North Korea's stockpile of nuclear materials, "you’re looking at a few tens of warheads, but that number's going to keep going up every year," Lewis told Business Insider.
In comparison, the US has 1,796 nuclear missiles deployed, another 4,500 stockpiled, and 2,800 retired and waiting to be dismantled, according to the Arms Control Association.
Furthermore, North Korea presently has no way of reaching any part of the US with a missile of any sort, but Pyongyang is "likely at the point now where it could mount a nuclear warhead on a medium range missile and that would put South Korea, Japan, and US military installations in range of the NK nuclear threat," said Davenport.
Despite the fact that North Korea is a tiny, poor, backwards nation with limited missile capabilities and a small nuclear stockpile, it poses a very serious threat to the US and its allies. Ultimately, the US can do extremely little to stop the rogue nation should it chose to strike.
Can the US stop a North Korean nuclear attack?
The US and its allies have three major forms of missile defense against North Korea.
"Missiles come in a variety of ranges. Every missile defense system is set to deal with a small subset of missiles in a particular range and at one stage in flight," said Lewis.
For the short and medium range missiles that North Korea could look to strike a nearby foe with, or the 25,000 US troops stationed in South Korea, the US has Aegis radar-equipped Navy destroyers.
"That’s good for medium range missiles," said Lewis.
Next up, Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC 3) interceptors provide defense against missiles at their final, or terminal stage. These are "mostly good at short and medium range ballistic missiles," said Lewis. The PAC 3 "would cover a city or an airfield."
Finally, the biggest and perhaps best system is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. "THAAD could cover all of South Korea, including everything up to a No Dong missile (North Korea's medium range system)."
On maps and graphics, you can see the overlapping areas of protection provided by these three systems, but looks can deceive. With missile defense, all systems deal in probability, not certainties.
"You actually have to see the thing get launched, understand where it’s heading, and pass the information along to battlefield management software, the brain that makes all of this work," said Lewis.
Of all the steps in the process, not one has immunity to distortion. "Radars can be defeated by chaff or clutter. North Korea could launch a radar blackout attack, where a nuke detonates in the atmosphere and can black out a radar for a few seconds. Those could be the few seconds you need," Lewis told Business Insider.
"It's important to note that this THAAD system will only cover North Korea, but North Korea could evade that by launching a nuke from a submarine from outside of THAAD radar," said Davenport. Additionally, North Korea may "try to confuse the THAAD system by launching multiple missiles at once, or launching decoys."
But can North Korean missiles overwhelm the US's defenses of its own homeland? Experts say we have every reason to believe Kim when he says he's working towards an ICBM, and unfortunately, the US's own defenses suffer the same uncertainties as systems abroad.
The US protects its Western coast from a fixed site in Alaska, where interceptor missiles would theoretically strike an incoming ICBM "mid-trajectory, while it’s traveling through space," said Lewis.
However, as a recent Bloomberg post noted, the office that tests this system concluded it had only “limited capability to defend the US homeland from small numbers of simple” ICBMS, according to its last report.
Lewis echoed this claim, saying "it’s got a spotty test record," and there are multiple "questions about how well it would perform." According to Lewis, the fact that unlike THAAD, the Alaska site fires salvos, a series of interceptor missiles for each incoming threat, serves as an admission that the system falls short of perfection.
"The system in Alaska needs to be redesigned," said Lewis. "They plan to salvo fire it, so every interceptor has a 50-50 chance of hitting ... if they fire five, they’re gonna be up in the high confidence territory" for intercepts. But this high ratio of interceptors to threats means that a North Korean salvo could possibly exhaust the US's supply of interceptors with decoys, leaving the US defenseless.
So for now the only guarantee the US has against North Korean ICBMs is that such a threat doesn't exist.
So why doesn't the US just go and destroy North Korea's nuclear capabilities?
Each day North Korea gets closer to issuing a real threat to the US homeland, and it already significantly endangers the lives of millions within its range, yet the US can't exactly swoop in and stop them.
"A preemptive strike on NK would carry an enormous risk of retaliation on SK or US assets in the area," said Davenport.
"The big dynamic that’s a problem is that I think North Korea plans to use those missiles armed with nuclear weapons at the early part of the conflict to destroy US forces in the region and those coming in," said Lewis, adding that Kim's strategy would most likely be to "impede an invasion and shock us."
"The problem the US and South Korea faces is that the options for defense are not all that appealing," said Lewis.
US pilots currently train in mock North Korean air space with stealth planes like the F-22 and F-35 to destroy surface-to-air-missile (SAM) and nuclear sites. While the fifth-generation aircraft would likely succeed and overwhelm North Korean forces, the nuclear sites are just too spread out and mysterious to knock out before Pyongyang had a chance to strike back.
"There are so many unknowns about the number of warheads North Korea has, where it stores them ... It would be incredibly difficult to ensure that a preemptive strike would neutralize the North Korean threat, or even the conventional threat posed to Seoul," said Davenport, referring to the huge artillery installations North Korea has fixed on the South Korean capital that are ready to blast away.
When it comes to using jets to hunt down SAM and nuclear sites, "the US tried this in Iraq in 1991 and it was a total failure," said Lewis. The US's considerable losses of aircraft to anti-aircraft batteries during the Gulf War proved a "searing experience for the US Air Force," said Lewis.
While there's plenty of reason to think that today's F-22s and the coming F-35s far outmatch North Korea's technology and air defenses, the terrain of North Korea plays well for Kim. Iraq's countryside is defined by flat desert expanses, where road-mobile anti-aircraft batteries can easily navigate but have nowhere to hide.
North Korea, on the other hand, has mountains and forests, though it's smaller. Therefore the road-mobile missile launchers and anti-aircraft batteries have more opportunity to hide, but less space to do so. In any case, the landscape presents difficulties in hunting down sensitive sites, even with the best jets the US has to offer.
Additionally, unlike the US, North Korea has road-mobile launchers for its missiles, which can hide anywhere.
"One hundred launchers so it would be a pretty big lift, and you have to do it pretty fast," to avoid a North Korean counter attack, said Lewis. So instead of disarming North Korea with a lighting quick blitz from the air, many have suggested decapitating the regime by striking Kim Jong Un himself.
In fact, South Korea recently announced plans to form a small "decapitation brigade" that would surgically destroy the leader Un and his top leadership, but that's a best case scenario.
The terrifying truth about North Korea's nuclear threat is that it can't be stopped by one, or even multiple systems. It can't be blitzed from the sky. It can't be effectively debilitated by sanctions, as time has proven, and it ony grows stronger over time.
Several possible solutions circulate in the national security arena, all with strengths and weaknesses, all risking innocent lives. Additionally, each side appears set on striking first and ending the conflict before it begins.
"The US and North Korean war plans are to go first. South Korea plans to go first. All three independent parties plan to go first, and two of them are wrong. It's a dangerous situation people haven’t thought through," said Lewis.
President-elect Donald Trump's secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, made waves internationally on Thursday by suggesting that the US should "send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed."
Suggesting China stop its building of artificial islands and militarizing them doesn't sharply break with the policy of President Barack Obama's administration, but suggesting a blockade — or forcefully stopping China from sailing to its land features in the South China Sea — does.
China's response, at first muted, has come back strong, with Chinese media saying that "unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish."
"Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories," the Global Times wrote in an editorial.
Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also questioned Tillerson's depth of knowledge about the South China Sea.
"Some of the things Tillerson said were contradictory," Glaser told Business Insider.
"He was not speaking with notes in front of him, and this is not an issue I think he is very well versed in. He may know oil in the South China Sea, but I'm hearing from some people on the transition team that he misspoke," said Glaser, alluding to Tillerson's time as CEO of the energy giant Exxon Mobil.
Glaser pointed to the more measured statements on the South China Sea before the Senate Armed Services Committee from retired Gen. James Mattis, Trump's defense secretary nominee, as evidence that Tillerson went too far.
"The bottom line is the international waters are international waters, and we have got to figure out how do we deal with holding on to the kind of rules that we have made over many years," Mattis said on Thursday.
Tillerson seems to want to stop China from operating in international waters.
And his testimony contained a major contradiction, Glaser said.
"Tillerson did say that there would not be any change to the US position on recognizing China's sovereignty on land features in the South China Sea," Glaser told Business Insider. "If we don't object to China's land claims, do we have a legal right to deny China access to its sovereign territory?"
Furthermore, if the US tried to blockade China from the islands in the South China Sea, "that position would result in conflict," Glaser said.
If the US were to place "a cordon of ships around one or all of the islands, and the Chinese flew in aircraft to one of their new islands, what are we going to do? Shoot it down?" Glaser said. "We'd certainly end up in a shooting war with China."
However, some legal experts side with Tillerson. In a piece published Thursday in Lawfare, James Kraska of the Naval War College wrote this:
"China's interference with US warships and military aircraft in the South China Sea constitute a breach of its legal obligations under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and customary international law and are internationally wrongful acts within the law of state responsibility. In such law, injured states are entitled to take lawful countermeasures to induce compliance, such as withholding recognition of China's right to freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea to block access to its islands."
So while some legal basis may justify a huge US naval presence in the South China Sea blocking Beijing from its claimed islands, experts on the US and Chinese sides agree that such a measure could mean war between advanced world powers with nuclear capabilities.
Business Insider reached out to the Trump transition team about Tillerson's comments on the South China Sea and will update this story with any response.