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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    Kim Jong Un

    • The US is considering a limited strike on North Korea to give Kim Jong Un a metaphorical "bloody nose," The Telegraph reported.
    • The US has plenty of options for delivering a short, sharp strike against North Korea that could deny it the ability to test and perfect intercontinental ballistic missiles.
    • But a US attack on North Korea would be a gamble that a limited strike won't turn into all-out nuclear war.


    After months of resolutely declaring that it cannot and will not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea, the US is reportedly planning a "bloody nose" attack to send Pyongyang a message.

    The Daily Telegraph cited "well-placed" sources as saying the Trump administration had "dramatically" stepped up preparations for a military response to North Korea's nuclear provocations.

    Those possible responses include destroying a launch site before North Korea could test a missile and targeting a stockpile of weapons, according to The Telegraph.

    "The Pentagon is trying to find options that would allow them to punch the North Koreans in the nose, get their attention and show that we're serious," a former US security official briefed on policy told The Telegraph.

    The report said the Trump administration had the April 7 strike on a Syrian airfield in mind as a blueprint for the move against North Korea.

    Attacking North Korea would make the Syria strike look easy

    US Syria missile strike

    When US Navy ships fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield, President Donald Trump had the world's support in attacking a nation accused of using chemical weapons on its own people.

    Syria's military was already stretched thin fighting a civil war and multiple Islamist terrorist groups. The strike went virtually unpunished.

    But that most likely wouldn't be the case with a US strike on North Korea, which has a massive standing army and a military posture geared toward offense.

    And there are practical reasons the US can't just blow up a North Korean missile launch site. As Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said on Twitter, "Mobile missiles don't need launch sites, Donald."

    Instead of using designated launch sites, North Korea puts its missiles on mobile launchers, some of which have treads to launch from off-road locations.

    Lately, North Korea has varied its launch sites, most likely to make it harder for the US to track and possibly intercept missiles.

    If the US wants to give you a bloody nose, nothing can stop it

    US forces south korea military drill

    The US does have tools to give North Korea a "bloody nose."

    Short of blowing up a launch site, which could kill launch officers — and possibly Kim Jong Un, as he usually watches launches from close by — the US could attempt to intercept North Korea's next missile launch.

    The US and allies have not only increased missile-defense deployments to the region — they've also deployed F-35 stealth fighters that have some capability to shoot down missile launches.

    Submarines like the USS Michigan, which has frequently visited South Korea in recent months, could send a volley of cruise missiles at any military site in North Korea without ever surfacing.

    Forward-deployed Aegis guided-missile destroyers in the US Navy could intercept the missiles as they launched, Sid Trevethan, a former US Navy specialist in ballistic missile defense and electronic countermeasures, told Business Insider.

    Secretary of Defense James Mattis recently said that though North Korea's last ballistic missile test demonstrated a very long range, he's not convinced the entire missile system works. US policy on North Korea explicitly calls for denying it the means to perfect its missile program.

    Destroying North Korean missiles during launch would rob Pyongyang of valuable testing and could ensure it never tests an ICBM at full range, meaning it could never be fully confident in its ability to hit the US.

    Calling Kim's bluff risks nuclear war

    North Korea artillery

    The US knows what capabilities it has to counter North Korea, but not how North Korea would respond.

    If the US were to send Tomahawk missiles toward a launch site, North Korea might interpret the incoming salvo as targeting its supreme leader and being an outright act of war.

    Immediately, Kim could order North Korea's massive artillery installations to open fire on Seoul, potentially killing tens of thousands within hours.

    The bloody-nose scenario comes down to a gamble on whether North Korea is ready to enter all-out war over a limited strike.

    North Korea has sunk US and South Korean ships without proportionate punishment in the past. It has shelled South Korean islands, captured Americans and South Koreans, and killed civilians without US retaliation.

    North Korea, despite having the weaker hand militarily, has often gambled that the US and South Korea value prosperity and peace — albeit an uneasy peace — too much to respond tit-for-tat to its military provocations.

    A US attack on North Korea might just call a long-standing bluff and show that Pyongyang's bark is worse than its bite — or it might unleash nuclear war.

    SEE ALSO: Trump's national security adviser just said the US is ready to take North Korea's nukes by force

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: What life is like on the $11 billion US military base right next to the North Korean border


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    North Korea

    • North Korea has been under sanctions for years, but the UN has drafted a new wave of sanctions that could really hurt Pyongyang, Reuters reports.
    • The UN wants to cut 90% of petroleum exports to North Korea, cap crude oil shipments, and get all North Korean workers abroad back home.
    • If Russia and China OK the move, it might push North Korea to the negotiating table.


    SEOUL — Newly proposed sanctions on North Korea could have a significant effect on the isolated country's already struggling economy, analysts said ahead of an expected UN Security Council vote on Friday, which will hinge on support from China and Russia.

    Tensions have been rising over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, which it pursues in defiance of years of different UN Security Council resolutions, with bellicose rhetoric from the North and the White House.

    But US diplomats have made clear they are seeking a diplomatic solution and have proposed several new, tougher sanctions designed to ratchet up pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

    North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, the United States and Japan and says its weapons programs are necessary to counter US aggression. The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

    On Friday, a representative for North Korea's foreign ministry called US President Donald Trump's recently released national security strategy the latest American policy seeking to "stifle our country and turn the entire Korean peninsula" into an outpost of American hegemony.

    He said Trump was seeking "total subordination of the whole world."

    Increasing pressure

    nikki haley

    The draft UN resolution, seen by Reuters on Thursday, seeks to ban nearly 90% of refined petroleum product exports to North Korea by capping them at 500,000 barrels a year and demand the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad within a year.

    It would also cap crude oil supplies to North Korea at 4 million barrels a year, as well as ban numerous North Korean exports such as machinery, lumber, and other products and resources.

    "If they were enforced, the cap on oil would be devastating for North Korea's haulage industry, for North Koreans who use generators at home or for productive activities, and for [state-owned enterprises] that do the same," said Peter Ward, a columnist for NK News, a website that tracks North Korea.

    The forced repatriation of foreign workers would also cut off vital sources of foreign currency and investment not only for the government but for North Korea's emerging market economy, he said.

    "If such sanctions were enforced, they would thus impede and endanger North Korea's economic development," Ward said.

    Asked about the effects of sanctions before these latest proposals were announced, Michael Kirby, who led a UN inquiry into human-rights abuses in North Korea, said that cutting off fuel imports would be "a very serious step."

    "Cutting off oil, petroleum supplies would obviously have a very big impact on the ordinary population," he said.

    Eyes on China and Russia

    putin xi

    China, which supplies most of North Korea's oil, has backed successive rounds of UN sanctions but resisted previous US calls to cut off supplies to its neighbor.

    Asked about the proposed new resolution on North Korea, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, called on all sides to exercise restraint and to "strictly implement the current relevant UN Security Council resolutions."

    While not directly addressing the new proposals, Hua said China would maintain communications with all sides and supported measures to "quickly create the necessary conditions to peacefully resolve the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue through talks."

    Any move to curb exports of Chinese fuel to North Korea may have a limited effect, as China National Petroleum Corp. suspended diesel and gasoline sales to its northern neighbor in June over concerns the state-owned company would not get paid.

    Business has slowed steadily since then, with zero shipments of diesel, gasoline, and other fuel from China in October. November data will be released on Monday.

    Russia quietly boosted economic support for North Korea earlier this year, and last week Russia's deputy foreign minister, Igor Morgulov, said Moscow was not ready to sign up for new sanctions that would strangle the North economically.

    China and Russia on Thursday asked for more time to consider a US proposal to blacklist 10 ships for transporting banned items from North Korea, diplomats said. It was unclear how much more time would be given.

    Even if the proposed sanctions had an economic effect, it's unclear whether that would push Pyongyang to negotiate or stop its weapons development, said Kim Sung-han, a former South Korean vice foreign minister.

    "We have had numerous — sometimes so-called toughest — sanctions against North Korea over the past 25 years," he said. "Almost none have worked effectively to halt the regime's military and nuclear ambitions."

    Olympic catalyst

    FILE PHOTO: An ice sculpture of the Olympic rings is seen during the Pyeongchang Winter Festival, near the venue for the opening and closing ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, February 10, 2017.  REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

    The additional sanctions would come as South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, seeks to ease tensions ahead of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February. He has proposed delaying annual joint military drills with the United States, which North Korea sees as a preparation for an invasion, until after the games.

    A foreign ministry representative declined to comment until after the Security Council vote on the resolution on Friday, but an official at South Korea's Unification Ministry said Seoul supported global efforts to rein in North Korea even as it tries to use the Olympics as a catalyst for peace negotiations.

    "The North should have its own thinking about whether or not to participate in the Olympics," regardless of sanctions, the official told Reuters. "If it were to come, it would make a decision at the last minute. Until then, we will continue to wait and see."

    Seoul has also sought to repair relations with China, which were damaged when Beijing complained about the deployment of an American anti-missile system in South Korea.

    Officials at foreign ministries in both Seoul and Beijing have denied reports by travel agents that some Chinese tour groups are still being blocked from traveling to South Korea.

    "As far as I am aware, according to the information I have before me, these reports are not in accord with the facts," Hua said on Friday.

    While Trump and Kim have publicly derided negotiations as useless without major policy shifts by the other side, Seoul has continued a slightly softer approach while still supporting international pressure.

    "If we get to meet the North side, we are willing to have frank, active discussions on various issues that are of North Korea's interest, without any preconditions," South Korea's unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, told reporters in Seoul.

    "Next year, we would pursue our policy in a more proactive manner than this year, making use of various opportunities, including the Pyeongchang Olympics," Cho added.

    SEE ALSO: The US reportedly wants a limited strike on North Korea to give Kim Jong Un a 'bloody nose'

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A Navy SEAL explains why you should end a shower with cold water


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    nikki haley

    • The UN General Assembly passed on Thursday a condemnation of President Donald Trump's decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
    • The resolution was nonbinding, and the UN has no authority to dictate US policy. Both major US political parties have intended to move the embassy to Jerusalem since 1995.
    • Before the vote, the US ambassador to the UN sent letters to 180 countries telling them if they voted against the US, their funding might get cut. 
    • "Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care," the US said of the vote.

    UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Thursday to denounce President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, largely ignoring Trump's threats to cut off aid to any country that went against him.

    The nonbinding resolution declaring U.S. action on Jerusalem "null and void" was approved 128-9 — a victory for the Palestinians, but not as big as they predicted. Amid Washington's threats, 35 of the 193 U.N. member nations abstained and 21 were absent.

    The resolution reaffirmed what has been the United Nations' stand on the divided holy city since 1967: that Jerusalem's final status must be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

    The Trump administration made it clear the vote would have no effect on its plan to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said afterward that he completely rejects the "preposterous" resolution.

    Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour called the vote a victory not only for the Palestinians but for the United Nations and international law, saying U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley "failed miserably" in persuading only seven countries aside from the U.S. and Israel to vote against the resolution.

    "And they used unprecedented tactics, unheard of in the diplomatic work at the U.N., including blackmail and extortion," he said.

    The United States and Israel had waged an intensive lobbying campaign against the measure, with Haley sending letters to over 180 countries warning that Washington would be taking names of those who voted against the U.S. Trump went further, threatening a funding cutoff: "Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care."

    But in the end, major U.S. aid recipients including Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa supported the resolution. Egypt received roughly $1.4 billion in U.S. aid this year, and Jordan about $1.3 billion.

    The nine countries voting "no" were the U.S., Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands and Togo. Among the abstentions were Australia, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic and Mexico.

    The absent countries included Kenya, which was the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. aid last year, Georgia and Ukraine, all of which have close U.S. ties.

    After the vote, Haley tweeted a photo naming the 65 nations that voted no, abstained or were absent, and said: "We appreciate these countries for not falling to the irresponsible ways of the UN."

    She later sent invitations to the 65 ambassadors inviting them to a reception on Jan. 3 to thank them for their friendship with the United States.

    The U.S. is scheduled to dispense $25.8 billion in foreign aid for 2018. Whether Trump follows through with his threat against those who voted "yes" remains to be seen.

    But within hours, the Trump administration appeared to be backing away from its funding threats. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said cuts to countries that opposed the U.S. are not a foregone conclusion.

    "The president's foreign policy team has been empowered to explore various options going forward with other nations," Nauert said. "However, no decisions have been made."

    During the debate, Arab, Islamic and non-aligned nations urged a "yes" vote on the resolution, which was sponsored by Yemen and Turkey.

    Yemeni Ambassador Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany warned that Trump's recognition of Jerusalem undermines any chance for peace in the Mideast and "serves to fan the fires of violence and extremism."

    He called Trump's action "a blatant violation of the rights of the Palestinian people and the Arab nations, and all Muslims and Christians of the world," and "a dangerous violation and breach of international law."

    On Wednesday, Trump complained that Americans are tired of being taken advantage of by countries that take billions of dollars and then vote against the U.S. Haley echoed his words in her speech to the packed assembly chamber, threatening not only member states with funding cuts, but the United Nations itself.

    Worshippers sit around before Friday prayers on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, as Palestinians call for a

    Haley said the vote will make no difference in U.S. plans to move the American Embassy, but it "will make a difference on how Americans look at the U.N., and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the U.N."

    "And this vote will be remembered," she warned.

    Trump's pressure tactics had raised the stakes at Thursday's emergency meeting and triggered accusations from the Muslim world of U.S. bullying and blackmail.

    "It is unethical to think that the votes and dignity of member states are for sale," said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. "We will not be intimidated! You can be strong but this does not make you right!"

    The Palestinians and their supporters sought the General Assembly vote after the U.S. on Monday vetoed a resolution supported by the 14 other U.N. Security Council members that would have required Trump to rescind his declaration on Jerusalem.

    The resolution adopted by the assembly has language similar to the defeated measure.

    It "affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the holy city of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded."

    SEE ALSO: UN defies warnings from the US and votes overwhelmingly to condemn Trump's decision on Jerusalem

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    kim jong un

    • South Korea has predicted that North Korea will look to negotiate with the US in 2018 after a new round of sanctions.
    • The UN has passed new, very tough sanctions on North Korea that Pyongyang has branded an act of war.
    • But North Korea will still look to be recognized as a nuclear nation, and it may launch a satellite soon.

    SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea predicted on Tuesday that North Korea would look to open negotiations with the United States next year in an optimistic outlook for 2018, even as Seoul set up a specialized military team to confront nuclear threats from the North.

    The UN Security Council unanimously imposed new, tougher sanctions on reclusive North Korea on Friday for its recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, a move the North branded an economic blockade and act of war.

    "North Korea will seek negotiation with United States, while continuing to pursue its effort to be recognized as a de facto nuclear-possessing country," South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a report, without offering any reasons for its conclusion.

    The Ministry of Defense said it would assign four units to operate under a new official overseeing North Korea policy, aimed to "deter and respond to North Korea's nuclear and missile threat."

    Tensions have risen over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, which it pursues in defiance of years of UN Security Council resolutions, with bellicose rhetoric coming from both Pyongyang and the White House.

    US diplomats have made clear they are seeking a diplomatic solution, but President Donald Trump has derided talks as useless and said Pyongyang must commit to giving up its nuclear weapons before any talks can begin.

    In a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency, North Korea said the US was terrified by its nuclear force and was getting "more and more frenzied in the moves to impose the harshest-ever sanctions and pressure on our country."

    China, the North's lone major ally, and Russia both supported the latest UN sanctions, which seek to limit the North's access to refined petroleum products and crude oil and its earnings from workers abroad, while on Monday Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called for all countries to ease tension.

    On Tuesday, Beijing released customs data indicating China exported no oil products to North Korea in November, apparently going over and beyond UN sanctions.

    China, the main source of North Korea's fuel, did not export any gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, or fuel oil to its neighbor last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

    China also imported no iron ore, coal, or lead from North Korea in November.

    In its 2018 forecast, South Korea's Unification Ministry said it believed the North would eventually find ways to blunt the effects of the sanctions.

    "Countermeasures will be orchestrated to deal with the effects, including cuts in trade volume and foreign currency inflow, lack of supplies, and reduced production in each part of the economy," the report said.

    The latest round of sanctions was prompted by the November 29 test of what North Korea said was an intercontinental ballistic missile that put the US mainland within range of its nuclear weapons.

    hwasong 15

    The Joongang Ilbo Daily newspaper, citing an unnamed South Korean government official, reported on Tuesday that North Korea could also be preparing to launch a satellite into space.

    Experts have said such launches are most likely aimed at further developing the North's ballistic missile technology, and as such would be prohibited under UN resolutions.

    The North Korean Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Monday said "peaceful space development is a legitimate right of a sovereign state."

    North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, the US, and Japan, and it says its weapons are necessary to counter US aggression.

    The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, and regularly carries out military exercises with the South, which the North sees as preparations for invasion.

    SEE ALSO: Japan may refit a helicopter carrier to handle F-35B stealth fighters in response to threats from China and North Korea

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    FILE PHOTO: Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov arrives for the opening ceremony of the International Army Games 2017 in Alabino, outside Moscow, Russia, July 29, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

    • A powerful Russian General has accused the US of using one of its bases in Iraq to train former ISIS fighters to destabilize Syria.
    • The US strongly denied this, and Russia has made similiar accusations before.

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - The chief of the Russian General Staff has accused the United States of training former Islamic State fighters in Syria to try to destabilize the country.

    General Valery Gerasimov's allegations, made in a newspaper interview, center on a U.S. military base at Tanf, a strategic Syrian highway border crossing with Iraq in the south of the country.

    Russia says the U.S. base is illegal and that it and the area around it have become "a black hole" where militants operate unhindered.

    Islamic State has this year lost almost all the territory it held in Syria and Iraq. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday the main part of the battle with Islamic State in Syria was over, according to the state-run RIA news agency.

    The United States says the Tanf facility is a temporary base used to train partner forces to fight Islamic State. It has rejected similar Russian allegations in the past, saying Washington remains committed to killing off Islamic State and denying it safe havens.

    But Gerasimov told the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper on Wednesday that the United States was training up fighters who were former Islamic State militants but who now call themselves the New Syrian Army or use other names.

    He said Russia satellites and drones had spotted militant brigades at the U.S. base.

    "They are in reality being trained there," Gerasimov said, saying there were also a large number of militants and former Islamic State fighters at Shadadi, where he said there was also a U.S. base.

    "They are practically Islamic State," he said. "But after they are worked with, they change their spots and take on another name. Their task is to destabilize the situation."

    Russia has partially withdrawn from Syria, but Gerasimov said the fact that Moscow was keeping an air base and naval facility there meant it was well placed to deal with pockets of instability if and when they arose.

     

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Kim Jong Un

    • The US has sanctioned two officials it calls 'key leaders' of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
    • The sanctions block the men from any property or transactions from American citizens.
    • The move follows UN sanctions and is part of President Donald Trump administration's 'maximum pressure campaign.'

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions Tuesday against two officials it describes as "key leaders of North Korea's unlawful weapons programs."

    The sanctions against Kim Jong Sik and Ri Pyong Chol block them from any property or interests in property within U.S. jurisdiction, and prohibit them from transactions with American citizens. Treasury said the men are senior officials in North Korea's Munitions Industry Department.

    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctions are part of the United States' "maximum pressure campaign" to isolate North Korea and "achieve a fully denuclearized Korean Peninsula."

    The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved tough new sanctions against North Korea on Friday in response to its latest launch of a ballistic missile, which Pyongyang says is capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

    Baik Tae-hyun, spokesman of South Korea's Unification Ministry, expressed hope Wednesday that the continuing campaign of sanctions and pressure will eventually force North Korea into "making the right decision" and engaging in dialogue over its nuclear program.

    Baik noted it was the seventh time the U.S. Treasury has imposed unilateral sanctions against the North since the start of President Donald Trump's administration. Baik also pointed out that the two North Koreans had already been under U.N. Security Council sanctions.

    SEE ALSO: South Korea predicts new sanctions could force North Korea to push for talks in 2018

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    F 35

    • The F-35 could become capable of intercepting ballistic missiles over North Korea with a small tweak to its firmware, but there's a catch.
    • The F-35 would have to be right next to the launching missile, which would put it in danger.
    • Instead, the F-35 could also use the US Navy's network to guide a ship-launched missile to hit a launched missile.
    • According to reports, North Korea is planning to launch a satellite, and the US is planning to give Kim Jong Un a "bloody nose," possibly by stopping one of its launches.


    As the US military begins deploying the F-35, which brings with it the promise of revolutionizing aerial combat, it may also be deploying a ballistic-missile defense asset.

    US jet fighters have spent decades trying to master the air-to-air kill. In the days of "Top Gun" and the F-14 Tomcat, that meant turning dogfights, with a mix of guns and missiles to outfox the other pilot.

    But today a new threat has taken aim at the US, and it's more dangerous than any fighter jet.

    As North Korea works toward building out its missile technology to put the US mainland in range of its nuclear arsenal, the F-35's new air target may be a missile, not a fighter.

    According to Justin Bronk, an expert on aerial combat at the Royal United Services Institute, the missiles already aboard the F-35 just need a slight tweak to start taking on missiles.

    "By changing the firmware a bit, tweaking it a bit, you could gain a theoretical" capability to engage ballistic missiles, Bronk told Business Insider.

    A source involved in ballistic-missile defense at the Pentagon confirmed Bronk's statement. Basically, the F-35 and its AIM-120 air-to-air missile stand a few wires away from potentially being able to disrupt North Korea's next missile test, but there's a catch.

    Burnout

    usmc f-35 AIM-120Perhaps the reason the F-35 doesn't already come equipped to shoot down ballistic missiles is that doing so still presents a logistical nightmare.

    North Korea often launches from unexpected locations, at strange times, and from mobile launchers. This all adds up to a very unpredictable launch, which an F-35 would have limited time to position itself against.

    "You'd have to be impractically close to their launch area," Bronk said. The problem then comes down to the missile itself.

    "Given that an AIM-120 burns for seven to nine seconds and then coasts, and a ballistic missile does the opposite, all while climbing," Bronk explained, the F-35 would have to engage the missile from very close.

    As a ballistic missile blasts upward, quickly gaining speed, the AIM-120's short burn time means the missile has only precious few seconds to catch its target before slowing down. During those seconds, the ballistic missile only gets higher and faster.

    F-35 as the quarterback, not a tackle

    Sm-3 US Navy raytheon intercept

    A more likely ballistic-missile defense situation spearheaded by the F-35 could capitalize on what the US military does best: networking complicated systems and getting support from linked assets.

    The F-35's AIM-120 is just 12 feet long, undersize for this role. But the US Navy's Arleigh-Burke guided-missile destroyers carry several 21-foot-long interceptor missiles.

    The F-35's designers built it to integrate easily with the Navy's targeting system, so the F-35 can find, track, and provide targeting info to missiles fired from ships or even other jets.

    "If you had F-35 loitering as close as possible but not in the airspace, with its sensor package is tuned to pick up a ballistic missile's infrared signature," Bronk said, it could function as a "forward part of the warning chain."

    This approach would allow the F-35 to stay out of North Korean airspace, which could be seen as an act of war. Instead, the F-35 simply tracks the ballistic missile, and a US Navy destroyer shoots it down.

    Perhaps sooner rather than later

    f 35b

    The F-35's deployment to Japan and its involvement in the ballistic-missile-defense discussion comes at a time of extreme tensions between the US and North Korea, with both sides reportedly announcing intentions to escalate further.

    Last week, sources from President Donald Trump's administration reportedly said they were planning a "bloody nose" attack to damage North Korea's missile program and humiliate the country.

    South Korean media reported on Thursday that North Korea may be planning a satellite launch, which looks very much like a missile launch but instead deposits a satellite in space.

    In North Korea, missile launches are key propaganda events and vital to the military's research and development. For the US, the F-35 is the most expensive weapons system ever made and one that has yet to deliver on its promise of changing the game in aerial warfare.

    SEE ALSO: The US reportedly wants a limited strike on North Korea to give Kim Jong Un a 'bloody nose'

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Watch the F-22 in action — the most dangerous jet fighter in the US Air Force for the last 20 years


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    Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) reviews members of Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) during the JSDF Air Review, to celebrate 60 years since the service's founding, at Hyakuri air base in Omitama, northeast of Tokyo, in this October 26, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/Files

    • Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to bolster defenses against North Korea's "unacceptable" provocations.
    • Abe said the North Korean threat is the sverest threat the country has seen since World War Two. 
    • Japan's constitution renounces war, but members of his party have long wanted a more militaristic Japan, and North Korea gives them cause.

     

    TOKYO (Reuters) - The security situation facing Japan is the most perilous since World War Two because of North Korea's "unacceptable" provocations, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday and he vowed to bolster defenses to protect the Japanese people.

    Tension in the region has been rising, particularly since North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test in September, and then in November, said it had successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach all of the U.S. mainland.

    "It is not an exaggeration to say that the security environment surrounding Japan is at its severest since World War Two. I will protect the people's lives and peaceful living in any situation," Abe told a New Year news conference.

    Abe said Japan would take new steps to strengthen its defense posture but he did not go to specifics.

    The government approved a record military budget last month, with defense outlays due to rise for a sixth year, increasing by 1.3 percent to 5.19 trillion yen ($46 billion), with the biggest item 137 billion yen in reinforcing defenses against North Korean ballistic missiles.

    The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said this week the United States was hearing reports that North Korea might be preparing to fire another missile, and she warned it not to.

    "It is absolutely unacceptable that North Korea is trampling the strong desire of Japan and the rest of the international community for peaceful resolutions and continuing with its provocative behavior," Abe said.

    Abe has said he wants to amend Japan's pacifist constitution with the aim of loosening constraints on the military, although the public is divided over changes to the charter imposed after Japan's World War Two defeat.

    War-renouncing Article 9 of the constitution, if read literally, bans the existence of standing armed forces, but has long been interpreted to allow a military for exclusively defensive purposes.

    Abe said he wanted more debate on the issue.

    "I would like this to be a year in which public debate over a constitutional revision will be deepened further," he said.

    Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition retained its two-thirds "super majority" in parliament's lower house in an Oct. 22 election, re-energizing his push to revise the constitution.

    SEE ALSO: South Korea has been calling North Korea everyday for the past 2 years, and someone finally answered

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    su 24 frogfoot syria

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia denied a report in daily newspaper Kommersant that seven Russian planes had been destroyed by rebel shelling at Syria's Hmeymim air base on Dec. 31, the TASS news agency on Thursday quoted the defense ministry as saying.

    The ministry also said two Russian service personnel were killed in a mortar attack on the base by rebels, according to TASS.

    Kommersant report's late on Wednesday detailed the single biggest loss of military hardware for Russia since it launched air strike in Syria in autumn 2015, with reportedly more than 10 servicemen wounded in the attack by "radical Islamists."

    Kommersant said at least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, citing two "military-diplomatic" sources.

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    Kim Jong Un

    • The head of the US militaryin South Korea warned against raising hopes over North Korea's peace overture to South Korea.
    • North Korea and the US recently exchanged nuclear threats again, but Pyongyang also reached out to South Korea in what could end up as peace talks.
    • Many fear that North Korea could be trying to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea with its mixed talk of nuclear war and peace.

    SEOUL (Reuters) - The head of U.S. forces in South Korea warned on Thursday against raising hopes over North Korea's peace overture amid a war of words between the United States and the reclusive North over its nuclear and missile programs.

    In a New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was open to dialogue with U.S. ally South Korea and could send a delegation to the Winter Olympics to be held in the South in February.

    Kim also warned that he would push ahead with "mass producing" nuclear warheads, pursuing a weapons program in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

    In response, Seoul on Tuesday proposed high-level talks at a border village and on Wednesday, the two Koreas reopened a border hotline that had been closed since February 2016.

    "We must keep our expectations at the appropriate level," the chief of United States Forces Korea (USFK), Vincent Brooks, was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying in an address to a university in Seoul.

    U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged a series of bellicose comments in recent months, raising alarm across the world, with Trump at times dismissing the prospect of a diplomatic solution to a crisis in which North Korea has threatened to destroy the United States, Japan and South Korea.

    Trump has mocked Kim as "Little Rocket Man" and again ridiculed him on Twitter this week, raising some eyebrows at home.

    "Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!" he wrote.

    The White House on Wednesday defended the tweet, saying, in answer to a question, Americans should be concerned about Kim's mental fitness, not their president's.

    U.S. officials have responded coolly to North Korea's suggestion of talks and the State Department said Pyongyang "might be trying to drive a wedge" between Washington and Seoul.

    Brooks, who triples as commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command, said the overture was a strategy to divide five countries - the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia - to reach its goal of being accepted as a "nuclear capable" nation, according to the Yonhap report.

    "We can't ignore that reality," he said, adding it was important for the United States and South Korea to maintain an "ironclad and razor sharp" alliance.

    USFK and event organizers could not confirm the commander's remarks.

    The five countries and the North were involved in years of on-again-off-again "six-party talks" aimed at resolving the crisis, negotiations which eventually fizzled when the North pulled out.

    North Korea says its weapons are necessary to counter U.S. aggression. The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

    The security crisis posed by North Korea to Japan is the most perilous since World War Two because of "unacceptable" provocations, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday as he vowed to bolster defenses.

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    FILE PHOTO - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS/File photo

    • A failed North Korean missile reportedly struck a populated city in April.
    • Photos from around the time of the missile test show a building in the city of Tokchon having sustained damage.
    • The Diplomat reports that the failed missile was the same type that North Korean launched over Japan twice, highlighting the danger of the seldom-tested rockets.


    North Korea reportedly launched a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile in April of last year that failed a few seconds into flight and came crashing down on a North Korean city.

    The Diplomat's Ankit Panda and David Schmerler, of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, cited a US government source as saying the missile failed a minute into flight and never went higher than 70 kilometers.

    That initial minute of boosted flight propelled the missile 39 kilometers away to Tokchon, a city of about 200,000 people in North Korea's interior, according to Panda and Schmerler's investigation.

    Satellite imagery scanned by the authors shows damage to industrial or agricultural buildings near a residential area. The Hwasong-12, with unburned liquid fuel, could still cause a massive explosion even without a warhead, though the authors concluded there were most likely few casualties.

    The wider threat of failed missile tests

    But the fiery crash of a North Korean missile into a populated town demonstrates yet another threat posed by Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

    North Korea has twice fired a Hwasong-12 missile over Japan. A similar failure in the launch process could see a large liquid-fueled missile crashing down on a populated Japanese town.

    If such an accident were interpreted as a deliberate attack, it could spark a wider conflict.

    Another danger pointed out by The Diplomat comes from North Korea's newly demonstrated ability to carry out surprise tests.

    Using mobile missile launchers, which sometimes even have treads like a tank, North Korea showed in 2017 it could launch from virtually anywhere within its borders.

    The unpredictability and mobility of North Korea's launches mean the US or its allies would have a hard time preempting such a launch or even knowing where to look for one.

    SEE ALSO: South Korea has been calling North Korea everyday for the past 2 years, and someone finally answered

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    Kim Jong Un

    • President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday morning that his hard line on North Korea helped open up communications between Seoul and Pyongyang.
    • Trump recently taunted Kim Jong Un with nuclear annihilation.
    • The war of words may see both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae In may be falling into a clever trap from North Korea.


    President Donald Trump seemed to reverse his stance on diplomacy with North Korea, and at the same time double down on his threats of nuclear annihilation in tweets early on Thursday morning.

    "With all of the failed 'experts' weighing in, does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total “might” against the North. Fools, but talks are a good thing!" Trump tweeted.

    Trump caused massive backlash among political pundits who found his most recent exchange with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un frightening and destabilizing.

    The exchange consisted of Kim Jong Un delivering a New Years address in which he said the "nuclear button" was always on his desk.

    Trump responded by mocking Kim and his "depleted and food starved regime " and saying his nuclear button was a "much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

    But the latest exchange was just the most recent in a series. Since taking office, Trump has taken a decidedly harder line on North Korea, which some experts say could lead to war.

    However others point out that North Korea has long been on the path to building nuclear weapons.

    While Trump may antagonize Kim, they say, Pyongyang's mission has not changed, and the regime will not risk a nuclear war that could level the country over derogatory remarks.

    But while Trump's threats don't actually change much US policy, they may position Trump and Moon Jae In, the president of South Korea, into a trap set by Kim Jong Un.

    Trump could be falling into Kim's trap

    Trump South Korea Moon

    Unlike North Korea's previous threats, Pyongyang's latest round of communication did not just threaten the US.

    It also extended an olive branch to South Korea by reopening a phone line and engaging in preliminary talks about including North Korea in South Korea's upcoming Winter Olympics.

    Though Trump gave himself credit for pushing North Korea to talks, the opposite could be true, according to Yun Sun, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center.

    "North Korea is quite skillfully playing its diplomacy, reiterating its nuclear capacity on one hand and reaching out to South Korea with a conciliatory tone on the other," Yun told Business Insider.

    While Trump ran on a promise of taking a hard line against global adversaries, Moon campaigned on engaging with and talking to the North Koreans.

    So far, only Trump has delivered on his campaign promise, as constant missile tests and provocations have made engagement with Pyongyang untenable even for the liberal Moon.

    'This could potentially create a rift between US and South Korea," said Yun.

    An editorial in South Korea's JoongAng Daily cautioned that Kim had set a trap for Moon and Trump, and that it may be working.

    Kim "is trying to put a wedge between us and the United States and fuel our internal ideological divisions," the editorial cautioned.

    If Kim offers Moon a deal to suspend North Korea's missile and nuclear testing in exchange for the US and South Korea stopping their military drills (something the US has continually rejected), Moon may be tempted to take it.

    But Trump has said many times, loud and clear, that the US will not accept talks with North Korea unless total denuclearization is on the table. For the US, a pause in North Korea's testing represents a failure to meet its goals.

    Trump reversing course on talks?

    North Korea Soldier Panmunjom DMZ

    Trump is not known to shy away from good publicity, and his Thursday morning tweets may have tried to indulge in that habit.

    Though Trump has previously undercut his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, by saying talks with North Korea were a waste of time, and the White House hastily backpedaled after Tillerson said the US would be willing to talk to Pyongyang without preconditions, Trump on Thursday said "talks are a good thing!"

    But Trump has several times changed course on North Korea. In May, Trump said he would be "honored" to talk to Kim. Months later, at the UN General Assembly, he threatened to totally destroy the country.

    For now, prospective talks between South and North Korea appear limited to the upcoming Winter Olympics, and not seem to have limited connection to Trump's "maximum pressure campaign" against Pyongyang.

    But until the talks materialize further, it remains clear that Trump will confront North Korea either verbally or with nuclear weapons if need be, and that he won't be passed over for good press when something goes his way.

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    Kim Jong Un

    • North Korea has reopened communications with South Korea, and the US has agreed to suspend military exercises during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
    • There is now set to be 2 1/2 months of quiet on the Korean Peninsula, giving the sides time to make peace.
    • But North Korea may be setting a trap to divide Washington and Seoul while preparing additional tests for its missile forces.


    Just days after President Donald Trump mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's "nuclear button" and flaunted the size and efficacy of his own nuclear fleet, the two countries have made strides toward peace.

    With little more than a month before the start of South Korea's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, North Korea has reopened communications with Seoul and expressed interest in mending relations.

    In the same New Year's Day address in which Kim touted his willingness to engage in nuclear war, he "earnestly" wished for South Korea's games to succeed and said it was a "good opportunity to show unity of the people."

    Now talks over sending a delegation of North Korean athletes to the games are scheduled to take place between Pyongyang and Seoul.

    The US and South Korea have also announced they will pause their military exercises not just through the end of the games in late February but reportedly all the way through the Paralympics, set to end in mid-March.

    As a result, the US, South Korea, and North Korea may have just scheduled an unprecedented 2 1/2 months of markedly lowered tensions.

    North Korea hates the US and South Korea's military exercises, which regularly feature huge numbers of troops and advanced weapons systems. Lately, the drills and development of new weapons systems have increasingly focused on taking out Kim.

    North Korea often intentionally times missile launches to coincide with the drills.

    North Korea, China, and Russia all support the "freeze for freeze" path to negotiations, wherein the US and South Korea suspend the military drills in exchange for North Korea halting missile and nuclear tests.

    The US has always rejected this strategy on the grounds that North Korea's missile tests are illegal and the military drills are not. But the Winter Olympics have opened a window of opportunity for diplomacy.

    But is it a trap?

    Trump South Korea Moon

    North Korea has made overtures of peace to South Korea before. In fact, Andrea Berger, a senior researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, pointed out on Twitter that Pyongyang had a history of extending olive branches after periods of tension.

    "2017 painted the extremely worrying security backdrop that everyone is desperate to move away from," Berger wrote. "The DPRK will test each South Korean administration, pushing to see how far doors will open."

    "But, it is worth remembering that most January windows of opportunity for North-South progress get smashed fairly quickly," Berger wrote — North Korea's peace overtures normally occur in January.

    Even as North Korea prepares for its highest-level talks with South Korea in years, reports have surfaced that it's planning to test a missile or at least a rocket engine.

    Additionally, a lull in activity may tempt South Korea to side with China, Russia, and ultimately Pyongyang, rejecting the US's calls for total denuclearization and holding out for talks until strict preconditions have been met.

    But for now, the US and South Korea are set to go months without provoking North Korea with military exercises. It will be up to North Korea, which has backed out of peace talks before, to demonstrate its commitment to de-escalation.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea has agreed to hold talks with South Korea for the first time in more than 2 years

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    NOW WATCH: Watch the F-22 in action — the most dangerous jet fighter in the US Air Force for the last 20 years


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    F-22

    • A top US Air Force General says Russia has learned a lot from operating alongside US aircraft in Syria, and they are now integrating the lessons into their training.
    • Russian jets and anti-air systems in Syria have been able to practice tracking US jets, including the F-22, possibly eroding its stealth advantage.
    • But the US has been watching Russia too, and the US' competitors still have a long way to go before negating the US' air supremacy. 


    In the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, US and US-led coalition jets have flown thousands of sorties and dropped  tons of munitions, but in doing so they've tipped their hands to Russian fighter jets that have eagerly stalked the US's best jets.

    "In the skies over Syria, it's really just been a treasure trove for [Russia] to see how we operate," Lt. Gen. VeraLinn "Dash" Jamieson told an Air Force Association briefing before Congress and reporters.

    "Our adversaries are watching us, they're learning from us," said Jamieson, who added that the Russian Air Force cycled the majority of its entire forces through Syria to give them real world combat experience.

    During the air campaign in Syria, Russia got a look at the tactics, behaviors, radar, and thermal signatures of the US' top air dominance fighter, the F-22. 

    Russia is figuring out the US and gloating about it

    su 35

    In the skies over Syria, Russia's top fighter jets came face to face with the F-22, and appeared to show it little reverence. 

    Russia's air force has used the occasion to gloat and share stories of their dominance in such encounters, which should be taken with a grain of salt. 

    "We always found ourselves 'on their tails' as the pilots say, which means victory in a dogfight," Russian Airspace Forces major, Maksim Makolin, said, according to state media.

    Though Russia often exaggerates or fabricates stories of its air force's prowess, there's real reason to believe Russia gained valuable information that could help it in a fight with US jets. 

    "Russia can learn more than just observing US/coalition tactics, techniques, and procedures," Justin Bronk, an expert on aerial combat at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider. "They can also 'paint' Western fighters and other air assets with ground based and aerial fire control and search radars."

    The F-22 relies on stealth for its major advantage against Russian jets, which have similar if not greater performance in traditional style confrontations like dogfights. If Russia gained experience tracking the F-22 with infrared search and track radars, as Bronk suggested they might, it would be "very useful stuff."

    Russia operating in close proximity to the US likely allowed them to tune their air and land based sensors to detect all varieties of US and coalition aircraft operating over Syria.

    Russia's role in Syria has been a double-edged sword

    US Navy aircraft carrier

    As a result, the advantages afforded to planes like the F-22 that utilize stealth — and all US fighter jets that use classified tactics in combat scenarios — may have been eroded.

    "Russia has gained invaluable insights and information with operating in a contested air space alongside us, and they're incorporating lessons learned from actually doing a first 'away' fight," said Jamieson.

    But as Bronk points out, the observation was likely mutual, and likely cut both ways.

    "Whilst Russia is certainly making every use that it can of the opportunity to learn about Western air operations and capabilities in the shared skies over Syria, that process goes both ways since whatever Russian military aircraft do is done within airspace heavily surveilled by Western assets," Bronk said.

    Still, as time marches on and adversaries catch up, the future of US air supremacy comes into question.

    "The US Air Force can and will maintain air supremacy today," said US Air Force Lt. Gen Chris Nowland at the same forum. "The question is the future."

    SEE ALSO: 2 Russian military personnel were killed in the mortar attack at a Syrian air base that reportedly destroyed 7 Russian jets

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    File photo: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani delivers remarks at a news conference during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, U.S. September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

    • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said admitted on Monday that his country's wave of protests were not just economic, but also political.
    • Rouhani is considered a moderate by Iranian standards, and defeate anti-Western hardliners last year.
    • "People had economic, political and social demands," said Rouhani of protests in which authorities killed 22 and arrested more than 1,000.

    LONDON (Reuters) - Protests that shook Iran were not just aimed at the economy, President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday, remarks suggesting the real targets were powerful conservatives opposed to his plans to expand individual freedoms at home and promote detente abroad.

    The pragmatic cleric, who defeated anti-Western hardliners to win re-election last year, also called for the lifting of curbs on social media used by anti-government protesters in the most sustained challenge to hardline authorities since 2009.

    "It would be a misrepresentation (of events) and also an insult to Iranian people to say they only had economic demands," Rouhani was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.

    "People had economic, political and social demands."

    Iran's influential Revolutionary Guards said on Sunday the security forces had put an end to a week of unrest fomented by what it called foreign enemies.

    The protests, which began over economic hardships suffered by the young and working class, spread to more than 80 cities and towns and has resulted in 22 deaths and more than 1,000 arrests, according to Iranian officials.

    Hamid Shahriari, the deputy head of the Judiciary said that all ringleaders of the protests had been identified and arrested, and they would be firmly punished and might face capital punishment.

    An Iranian lawmaker confirmed on Monday the death of one detainee in prison.

    "This 22 year old young man was arrested by the police. I was informed that he has committed suicide in jail," Tayebeh Siavashi was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency.

    Many of the protesters questioned Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East, where it has intervened in Syria and Iraq in a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia.

    Iranians can criticize 'everyone'

    iran protests

    The country’s financial support for Palestinians and the Lebanese Shi‘ite group Hezbollah also angered Iranians, who want their government to focus on domestic economic problems instead.

    Rouhani won re-election last year by promising more jobs for Iran’s youth through more foreign investment, as well as more social justice, individual freedom and political tolerance - aims questioned by his main challenger in the contest.

    Echoing some of his campaign rhetoric, Rouhani said on Monday people should be allowed to criticize all Iranian officials, with no exception.

    Demonstrators initially vented their anger over high prices and alleged corruption, but the protests took on a rare political dimension, with a growing number of people calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.

    The Supreme Leader is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and appoints the heads of the judiciary. Key ministers are selected with his agreement and he has the ultimate say on Iran’s foreign policy. By comparison, the president has little power.

    "No one is innocent and people are allowed to criticize everyone," said Rouhani.

    Rouhani also dismissed calls from hardline clerics who had asked the government to permanently block access social media and messaging apps.

    As protests have ebbed, the government has lifted restrictions it imposed on Instagram, one of the social media tools used to mobilize protesters. But access to a more widely used messaging app, Telegram, was still blocked. The government has said the restrictions would be temporary.

    "People's access to social media should not permanently be restricted. We cannot be indifferent to people's life and business," Rouhani said.

    State television showed live pictures of more pro-government rallies in several cities, including Sanandaj in western Iran, as marchers carried posters of Ayatollah Khamenei and chanted slogans in his support.

    Iranian Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar tweeted on Monday that Rouhani has insisted that all detained students should be released.

    Mohammad Bathaei, the education minister said on Monday there were many school children among the detainees and he was asking for their release before exam season.

    Amnesty International said last week that more than 1,000 Iranians had been arrested and detained in jails "notorious for torture and other ill-treatment over the past seven days", with many being denied access to families and lawyers.

    SEE ALSO: The extravagant lives of the 'Rich Kids of Tehran' are fueling Iran's protests — take a look

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    • President Donald Trump will reportedly announce a new plan that would loosen restirctions on who the US can sell arms to in an effort to create jobs.
    • Trump may look to sell US-made arms like fighter jets, drones, and warships, to countries that may not have been allowed to buy them before, and it could bring in billions to the US.
    • Trump will also reportedly look to revisit the International Traficking in Arms Regulation, a central policy governing arms exports that hasn't be revamped in over three decades.

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration is nearing completion of a new "Buy American" plan that calls for U.S. military attaches and diplomats to help drum up billions of dollars more in business overseas for the American weapons industry, going beyond the assistance they currently provide, U.S. officials said.

    President Donald Trump as early as February is expected to announce a "whole of government" effort to ease export rules on purchases by foreign countries of U.S.-made military equipment, from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery, according to people familiar with the plan.

    Trump is seeking to fulfill a 2016 election campaign promise to create jobs in the United States by selling more goods and services abroad to bring down the U.S. trade deficit from a six-year high of $50 billion.

    The administration is also under pressure from U.S. defense contractors facing growing competition from foreign rivals such as China and Russia. But any loosening of the restrictions on weapons sales would be in defiance of human rights and arms control advocates who said there was too great a risk of fueling violence in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia or arms being diverted to be used in terrorist attacks.

    Besides greater use of a network of military and commercial attaches already stationed at U.S. embassies in foreign capitals, senior officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said another thrust of the plan will be to set in motion a realignment of the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (ITAR). It is a central policy governing arms exports since 1976 and has not been fully revamped in more than three decades.

    This expanded government effort on behalf of American arms makers, together with looser restrictions on weapons exports and more favorable treatment of sales to non-NATO allies and partners, could bring additional billions of dollars in deals and more jobs, a senior U.S. official said, without providing specifics.

    The strategy of having the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department take a more active role in securing foreign arms deals could especially benefit major defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co.

    "We want to see those guys, the commercial and military attaches, unfettered to be salesmen for this stuff, to be promoters," said the senior administration official, who is close to the internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    US arms exports

    A State Department official, asked to confirm details of the coming new policy, said the revamped approach "gives our partners a greater capacity to help share the burden of international security, benefits the defense industrial base and will provide more good jobs for American workers."

    The White House and Pentagon declined official comment.

    Defense industry officials and lobbyists have privately welcomed what they expect will be a more sales-friendly approach.

    It is unclear how deeply the diplomats and military officers overseas will delve into dealmaking and what guidelines will be established, said officials in the administration.

    Trump, a Republican, has the legal authority to direct government embassy "security assistance officers," both military personnel and civilians, to do more to help drive arms sales.

    Administration officials see this group, which already has duties such as managing military aid overseas and providing information to foreign governments for buying U.S. arms, as underutilized by previous presidents.

    'Back seat' for human rights?

    f-16

    One national security analyst said that easing export restrictions to allow defense contractors to reap greater profits internationally would increase the danger of top-of-the-line U.S. weapons going to governments with poor human rights records or being used by militants.

    "This administration has demonstrated from the very beginning that human rights have taken a back seat to economic concerns," said Rachel Stohl, director of the conventional defense program at the Stimson Center in Washington. "And the short-sightedness of a new arms export policy could have serious long-term implications."

    The administration officials said human rights considerations would remain part of the formula for arms sales decisions. But they said such reviews would now afford greater weight than before to whether a deal would be good for the U.S. economy and strengthen America's defense industrial base, in which case red tape would be cut accordingly.

    Rules to make it easier to sell U.S.-made military drones overseas and compete against fast-growing Chinese and Israeli rivals are also expected to be in the Trump plan, officials said.

    Trump's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, also sought to make it easier to sell to America's most trusted allies but in a more cautious approach that his administration billed as a way to boost American business while keeping strict controls against more dangerous arms proliferation. Foreign weapons sales soared during his tenure, with the United States retaining its position as the world's top arms supplier.

    Shares of the five biggest U.S. defense contractors, including Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon Co, General Dynamics Corp and Northrop Grumman have more than tripled over the last five years and currently trade at or near all-time highs.

    c-5 galaxy m1 abrams

    Foreign military sales in fiscal 2017, comprising much of Trump's first year in office and the final months of Obama's term, climbed to $42 billion, compared to $31 billion in the prior year, according to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

    The Trump administration has already moved forward on several controversial sales. Those include a push for $7 billion in precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia despite concerns they have contributed to civilian deaths in the Saudi campaign in Yemen's civil war and the unblocking of $3 billion in arms to Bahrain, which was also held up by human rights concerns under Obama.

    Similar concerns have been raised over the administration's preparations to make it easier for American gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers.

    A draft of the new policy proposals recently finished by inter-agency teams coordinated by Trump's National Security Council must now be approved by a select group of senior cabinet members before being sent to his desk, the government sources said.

    Once Trump announces an extensive framework of the plan, there will be a 60-day public comment period. After that, the administration is expected to unveil further details. Some of the changes are expected to take the form of what is formally known as a presidential "National Security Decision Directive," two of the sources said.

    SEE ALSO: 'This president reads': CIA Director Pompeo defends Trump's unique approach to absorbing intelligence

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    kim jong un

    Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader who has presided over his country's shocking, uninvited entrance into the nuclear club, turned 34 on January 8.

    Kim, current head of the Kim dynasty that's ruled North Korea since the 1950s, has overseen several nuclear tests, dozens of missile tests, and the most tense, heated exchanges with a US commander in chief in his country's history. 

    But between threats of nuclear annihilation, brinkmanship, and attacks on South Korea, Kim, who assumed power at such a young age that many thought his rule would be doomed, has kept a firm grip on power throughout.

    With all this attention, still relatively little is known of Kim.

    Here's what we do know of how he grew to be one of the world's scariest dictators:

    SEE ALSO: US warns of 'significant international response' if North Korea conducts another nuclear test

    DON'T MISS: The US's show of force toward North Korea may be 'just adding fuel to the fire'

    Kim Jong Un was born on January 8 — 1982, 1983, or 1984.

    His parents were future North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and his consort, Ko Young Hee. He had an older brother named Kim Jong Chul and would later have a younger sister named Kim Yo Jong.

    While Kim Jong Un's official birth year is 1982, various reports suggest that the year was changed for symbolic reasons, including that it was 70 years after the birth of Kim Il Sung and 40 years after the birth of Kim Jong Il.

    However, a recent move by the US Treasury Department to sanction Kim Jong Un listed his official date of birth as January 8, 1984.



    Kim — here with his mother — lived at home as a child.

    During this period, North Korea was ruled by "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung. While Kim Jong Il was the heir apparent, Kim Jong Un's path to command was far less certain.



    Then it was off to Switzerland to attend boarding school.

    Called "Pak Un" and described as the son of an employee of the North Korean embassy, Kim Jong Un is thought to have attended an English-language international school in Gümligen, near Bern.

    Kim Jong Un is described by former classmates as a quiet student who spent most of his time at home, but he had a sense of humor, too.

    "He was funny," former classmate Marco Imhof told The Mirror."Always good for a laugh."

    "He had a sense of humor; got on well with everyone, even those pupils who came from countries that were enemies of North Korea,"another former classmate told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. "Politics was a taboo subject at school ... we would argue about football, not politics."



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    ROKS Dokdo south korea carrier

    • With a minor change, South Korea could turn its next small helicopter destroyer into a full-fledged aircraft carrier with a few F-35Bs.
    • The F-35B would provide unprecedented sea power.
    • South Korea would possibly have the ability to shoot down ballistic missile launches.

    As tensions between the US, North Korea, and South Korea reach a fever pitch, military planners in Seoul are considering turning one of their small Dokdo-class helicopter carriers into an F-35B carrier.

    "The military top brass have recently discussed whether they can introduce a small number of F-35B fighters" to new South Korean helicopter carrier ships, a military source told South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.

    South Korea operates a small but capable navy featuring a single 14,000 ton helicopter carrier known as the ROKs Dokdo. Seoul is planning to build an additional two ships of this type, with the next expected to be ready in 2020.

    The ships can support up to 10 helicopters. For scale, US Nimitz class aircraft carriers displace 100,000 tons and can support around 80 aircraft, both planes and helicopters.

    But the F-35's Marine variant, the F-35B, isn't a regular plane. It can takeoff almost vertically and also land straight down. With minor adjustments to the already-planned aircraft building — mainly strengthening the runway material to withstand the friction and heat of jet engines landing — South Korea's small helicopter carriers could become potent F-35B carriers.

    F-35 B

    South Korea already plans to buy 40 F-35As, the Air Force variant that takes off and lands on runways like a normal plane. The F-35B would be a new addition that would require additional planning and infrastructure.

    Should South Korea decide to make the leap into the aircraft-carrier club, they would end up as a potent sea power and with a plane that's capable of taking down ballistic missile launches. With its advanced sensors and networking ability, the F-35 could provide a massive boost to South Korea's already impressive naval capabilities.

    Additionally, the presence of stealth aircraft in South Korea presents a nightmare scenario for Kim Jong Un, whose country's rudimentary defenses and radars can't hope to spot advanced aircraft like the F-35. 

    The F-35B has excellent stealth characteristics that mean North Korea wouldn't even know if the planes were overhead.

    The US built the F-35 to penetrate the most heavily guarded airspaces on earth and to fool the most advanced anti-aircraft systems for decades to come. Built to counter superpowers like China and Russia, the F-35 could handily overpower anything North Korea could throw at it.

    SEE ALSO: Photos reportedly show Russian jets wrecked by mortar fire — and it could be the start of Russia's nightmare in Syria

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    russian jet su 24 baltic donald cook

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has enough forces remaining in Syria to withstand possible attacks on its bases, a Kremlin spokesman said on Tuesday.

    "That contingent that remains, the military infrastructure that remains, at the Hmeimim and Tartus military bases, they are completely capable of fighting these occasional terrorist acts," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call.

    The Russian Defence Ministry said on Monday that militants had attacked its bases overnight on Jan. 6 using thirteen armed drones.

    SEE ALSO: Photos reportedly show Russian jets wrecked by mortar fire — and it could be the start of Russia's nightmare in Syria

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    FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, December 21, 2017. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

    ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday condemned a U.S. sanctions-busting case against a Turkish bank executive as a "political coup attempt" and a joint effort by the CIA and FBI to undermine Ankara.

    A U.S. jury last week convicted the executive of Turkey's majority state-owned Halkbank of evading Iran sanctions, capping a trial that has strained relations between the NATO allies.

    Erdogan, speaking to members of his ruling AK Party in parliament, said the CIA, the FBI and the network of the U.S.-based cleric Turkey blames for a 2016 coup were together using the case to undermine Ankara.

    SEE ALSO: North and South Korea held the highest-level talks in years — here are the major breakthroughs

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