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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    trump military bomber japan

    • President Donald Trump's new National Defense Strategy reportedly calls for the US to focus on Russia and China as main adversaries and to prepare for a great power war.
    • The US hasn't focused on great power wars since the end of the Cold War, and Trump's strategy may return the focus to beating near peer adversaries, as opposed to terror groups like ISIS.
    • The new strategy ties in with a new National Security Strategy and a nuclear posture review that recommended more nuclear weapons.


    President Donald Trump's administration is set to release the Pentagon's first new National Security Strategy on Friday, and it will reportedly refocus the US on great power wars against the likes of Russia and China.

    While the US under former President Barack Obama mainly focused on defeating insurgencies overseas, like in Iraq and Syria, and later on defeating non-state actors like ISIS, Trump's strategy will reportedly shake off the post-Cold War mentality and return to outgunning near-peer adversaries, according to the Financial Times.

    China has developed a class of "carrier killer" missiles specifically designed to target US aircraft carriers. Russia has also designed systems specifically with US weapons in mind. Many now openly question whether or not the US Navy could win a war overseas against China or Russia.

    "As you look at what China and Russia have developed, it is purposefully meant to counter some of our strengths," an official familiar with the new defense strategy told the FT. "What the Chinese have done on hypersonics is specifically meant to limit our aircraft carriers."

    Hypersonic weapons, specifically, fly at many times the speed of sound, and can speed past most US defenses. China recently embarked on building the world's largest wind tunnel to cheaply test such weapons.

    The strategy follows a new National Security Strategy that names Russia and China as the US' top adversaries, as well as a nuclear posture review that calls for more nuclear weapons to counter recent Russian advancements in nuclear weaponry.

    The strategy will try to make the US "more competitive in those areas where China and Russia have invested and sought to exploit asymmetries that are favorable to them," a second source told the FT.

    FILE PHOTO:  A U.S. Navy F18 fighter jet takes off from aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during a routine exercise in South China Sea, March 3, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

    Since the close of World War II, establishment foreign policy and military policy figures have emphasized nuclear weapons and their ability to deter conflict. The nuclear era has seen seven decades of relative peace pass by and unprecedented prosperity in economies around the world.

    But Trump's new policies — in defense, security, and nukes — reflect a US military that's waking up to the possibility that world wars have again become a real threat.

    SEE ALSO: Trump's leaked review of the US's nukes seems to confirm Russia has an underwater nuclear doomsday weapon

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's how easy it is for the US president to launch a nuclear weapon


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    mattis tillerson

    • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis are reportedly working together to hold President Donald Trump back from his most dramatic policies.
    • The two have reportedly moderated Trump's position on a handful of potentially explosive issues.


    US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis have served under President Donald Trump for just under a year, and in that time they have had to adapt to, and sometimes rein in, a president elected to dramatically upset the status quo.

    Tillerson and Mattis "never go to a National Security Council meeting or to the president without being in agreement in advance themselves," said Sen. Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, according to the Associated Press. "So they're always on the same page."

    With a united voice, the former Marine Corps general and Exxon Mobil CEO have managed to steer Trump away from some of his most dramatic, controversial foreign-policy positions and tweets.

    "This president's different, and so everybody had to understand that this is going to be different," Tillerson told the AP, also saying foreign leaders had adjusted to Trump's style. "Now that we're a year into it, I think most of them have become rather accustomed to it."

    Trump often declares policy positions via Twitter, after which they are apparently printed out and given to Tillerson, whose staff then tries to make them into policy.

    But Trump has a flair for the dramatic, and Tillerson and Mattis often end up dealing with the fallout when Trump's vision yields positions they view as unrealistic. According to the Associated Press, Mattis and Tillerson's alliance have pushed for the following moderate positions:

    • Removing Iraq from Trump's travel ban, as many Iraqis help and work for the US military.
    • Remaining engaged in Afghanistan and even increasing troop levels despite Trump's promises to end spiraling conflicts overseas.
    • Keeping the US Embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv, rather than in Jerusalem.
    • Continuing diplomatic efforts with North Korea, after Trump directly undercut Tillerson by calling it a "waste of time."
    • Keeping the Iran nuclear deal despite Trump's repeated promises to rip it up.
    • Sticking with NATO despite Trump's demands for more spending, and even back pay, from allies.

    Multiple other reports have credited Tillerson and Mattis with holding back Trump from initiating a "bloody nose" strike on North Korea.

    SEE ALSO: Rex Tillerson said his staff prints out Trump's tweets and hands them to him to read

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's how easy it is for the US president to launch a nuclear weapon


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    North Korea Soldier Panmunjom DMZ

    • South Korea's Ministry of Unification says talks with North Korea will become a regular thing.
    • Seoul will also push North Korea to talk to the US about denuclearization.


    South Korea's Ministry of Unification has unveiled plans to make the recent talks with North Korea a regular thing, and it will look to eventually involve the US.

    "We will regularize the high-level talks and discuss pending issues between the South and the North in a comprehensive manner," a unification ministry document seen by NK News said.

    Though the original pre-Olympic talks focused mainly on inter-Korean relations and preparations for the games, the ministry said it will try to push North Korea to the "negotiating table for denuclearization based on the South-North dialogue and international cooperation."

    Denuclearization, the sticking point that has kept the US and South Korea from seriously negotiating with Pyongyang, was brought up in the original talks, but North Korea expressed disdain at the mention.

    Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea has written the possession of nuclear weapons into its constitution. The US maintains that the Korean Peninsula must become nuke-free, and has refused to negotiate on that point.

    "We will concentrate our diplomatic capability on inducing the North and the US enter dialogue process together and endeavor to make a virtuous circle between North-South dialogue and talks between the North and the US,” South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told NK News.

    SEE ALSO: China needs the world more than ever right now. Don't tell Donald Trump.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un is 34 —here's how he became one of the world’s scariest dictators


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    Kim Jong Un

    North Korean state media has issued a release mocking the US for having "nuclear-phobia" after several coincidental news stories has US citizens fearing a North Korean attack.

    "Nuclear-phobia by the nuclear force of the DPRK has now caused a tragicomedy in the U.S.," a state-run outlet published, using the acronym for North Korea's formal name.

    The article cites the recent errant ballistic missile alert in Hawaii as causing "great disarray" and "chaos." Likewise, a meteor that lit up the skies over Ohio and Michigan made people "greatly worried" that they were under nuclear attack, the article claims.

    Though it may seem perfectly normal to fear a rogue nuclear nation that regularly threatens the US with hyperbolic acts of war like "nuclear thunderbolts," the article blames the US's own actions for the fear.

    SEE ALSO: Here are the dramatic tweets and policies Tillerson and Mattis reportedly had to hold Trump back from

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un is 34 —here's how he became one of the world’s scariest dictators


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    An EA-18G Growler launches from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in this U.S. Navy picture taken in the Arabian Gulf October 28, 2014. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Philip Wagner Jr./Handout via Reuters

    • Despite the appearance of thawing tensions with North Korea, both Washington and Pyongyang have made several steps that suggest things could escalate soon.
    • The US has quietly moved heavy firepower like nuclear bombers and aircraft carriers to the region.
    • On the sidelines of important diplomatic meetings, talk of military action has been ever present, if not front and center.


    While most of the world celebrates the progress from pre-Olympic inter-Korean talks and the apparent thaw in tensions between North Korea and the world, the US has taken steps to move heavy firepower to the region.

    Though the US called off regularly scheduled military drills until the end of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics in March, elsewhere they have trained for scenarios that seem tailor made for fighting North Korea.

    The New York Times reports that 48 Apache gunships and Chinook helicopters drilled in Fort Bragg on how to move troops under artillery fire, and that next month soldiers will drill on setting up mobilization centers to quickly send forces over seas.

    Surviving artillery fire and mastering the tricky logistics of an overseas deployment would be key skills needed if conflict broke out with North Korea, as Pyongyang maintains a massive range of artillery guns pointing at Seoul, South Korea's capital with 25 million people.

    Besides the drills, the US has positioned both its nuclear-capable bombers in Guam for the second time ever, just a short flight from North Korea.

    In addition to the usual forward-deployed USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in Japan, the USS Carl Vinson has also headed into the Pacific, while smaller carriers the USS Wasp and the USS Bonhomme Richards also patrol the waters. 

    While the US military maintains these exercises are routine and unrelated to North Korea, the increased tensions with Pyongyang bring scrutiny to every move.

    Quiet, too quiet

    Kim Jong Un

    While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended a meeting of 20 ministers this week in Vancouver, Canada to discuss sanctions implementation on North Korea, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis joined and briefed the ministers on the US's plan for military strikes.

    When news of the inter-Korean talks dominated usually bleak headlines about North Korea, Trump's National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster met with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts and dismissed the talks as "diversions."

    On the North Korean side, things are also not as they seem. Although the inter-Korean talks will now continue regularly and indefinitely, most experts agree that Pyongyang will soon launch a satellite. Additionally, North Korea may hold a military parade in the days before the Olympics begin.

    Although few expect the US to initiate conflict with North Korea while civilians from around the world gather in Northern South Korea to watch one of the world's most important sporting events, a satellite launch provides a suitable target for a "bloody nose" strike, which the US is reportedly considering.

    After a year in office, President Donald Trump's foreign policy has an established history of upsetting norms. After a successful strike on Syria in April 2017, and a handful of unilateral foreign policy decisions going unpunished by supposedly riled actors, Trump's White House may soon feel emboldened to make a statement. 

    SEE ALSO: Here are the dramatic tweets and policies Tillerson and Mattis reportedly had to hold Trump back from

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's how easy it is for the US president to launch a nuclear weapon


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    Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018 temple 2

    • South Korea's President Moon Jae In's popularity has dipped after a series of political dust-ups and disapproval of including North Koreans in South Korean Olympic endeavors.
    • South Korean and North Korean women will compete in hockey, with the North Korean athletes being included in the game for political reasons, rather than their merit as athletes.
    • South Korea's Ministry of National Defense warned that North Korea's diplomatic efforts could actually be a front to weaken the US-South Korean alliance.

    While South Korea's President Moon Jae In talks up the recent wave of negotiations with North Korea as making inroads to denuclearization and peace, the majority of South Koreans don't like the deals being made.

    NHK, Japan's national broadcaster, cites multiple polls as saying 70% of South Koreans don't want a joint Korean women's hockey team at the PyeongChang Games.

    Young people, who supported Moon and helped him win the presidency after former South Korean President Park Geun-hye was removed from office after an influence-peddling scheme came to light, disapprove of the joint team most, according to NHK.

    The joint team, which will include North Korean women playing alongside South Korean women in a move more based on Korean unity and inclusion than the merit of the athletes, has been heavily supported by Moon.

    But recent polls show that Moon's popularity has taken a hit, falling to a four-month low. Moon has been accused by past presidents of targeting them with investigations as a means of political retaliation, crafting confusing cryptocurrency policy, and now including North Korean athletes in South Korean teams at the expense of the fans.

    Moon's approval now stands at 67.1%, according to South Korea's Yonhap News. It was as high as 85.3% in August last year.

    Though Moon has long desired talks with North Korea and sees them as a "precious chance to open the door" to peace, South Korea's Ministry of National Defense has warned that Pyongyang's diplomatic efforts could be an "attempt to weaken ROK – US cooperation."

    SEE ALSO: Rescue workers accuse Syria's government of using chemical weapons on women, children

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un is 34 —here's how he became one of the world’s scariest dictators


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    uss hopper 7th fleet us navy

    • China's top newspaper said the US sailing it's Navy ships through international waters in the South China Sea will only cause China to increase the militarization of the region.
    • China's neighbors worry that it's building artificial islands and militarizing them with missile sites and air bases in order to gain control over the shipping lane where $5 trillion in annual commerce passes through.
    • The US Navy sails through international waters all over the world, and challenges maritime claims that international courts find excessive.


    BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s top newspaper, decrying Washington as a trouble-maker, said on Monday U.S. moves in the South China Sea like last week’s freedom of navigation operation will only cause China to strengthen its deployments in the disputed waterway.

    China’s foreign ministry said the USS Hopper, a destroyer, came within 12 nautical miles of Huangyan island, which is better known as the Scarborough Shoal and is subject to a rival claim by the Philippines, a historic ally of the United States.

    It was the latest U.S. naval operation challenging extensive Chinese claims in the South China Sea and came even as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

    The ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said in a commentary that, with the situation generally improving in the South China Sea, it was clear that the United States was the one militarizing the region.

    “Against this backdrop of peace and cooperation, a U.S. ship wantonly provoking trouble is singleminded to the point of recklessness,” the paper said.

    “If the relevant party once more makes trouble out of nothing and causes tensions, then it will only cause China to reach this conclusion: in order to earnestly protect peace in the South China Sea, China must strengthen and speed up the building of its abilities there,” it said.

    The commentary was published under the pen name “Zhong Sheng”, meaning “Voice of China”, which is often used to give the paper’s view on foreign policy issues.

    The widely read Global Times tabloid, published by the People’s Daily, said in an editorial on Monday China’s control of the South China Sea is only growing and it is well placed to react to U.S. “provocations”.

    South China Sea Map

    “As China’s military size and quality improve, so does its control of the South China Sea,” it said. “China is able to send more naval vessels as a response and can take steps like militarizing islands.”

    The Scarborough Shoal is located within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone but an international tribunal in 2016 ruled that it is a traditional fishing ground that no one country has sole rights to exploit.

    The U.S. military says it carries out “freedom of navigation” operations throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and that they are separate from political considerations.

    The Pentagon has not commented directly on the latest patrol but said such operations are routine.

    SEE ALSO: South Korea's president drops in polls as few support plan to include North Koreans on Olympic team

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's what losing weight does to your body and brain


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    free syrian army

    • The US and Turkey are on opposite sides of a conflict in Syria, with Turkey bombing US-backed forces that helped defeat ISIS.
    • Turkey has had a growing list of grievances with the US for years, and many have picked up on the rift as Turkey drifts closer to NATO.
    • The US has dozens of nuclear weapons stockpiled in a Turkish air base, and experts have questioned the wisdom behind that as Turkey appears become increasingly hostile to the West.


    The US and Turkey, both NATO countries and allies for decades, began fighting a proxy war in Syria over the weekend.

    Turkish jets pummeled US-backed forces in Sryia's north — all while Turkey holds one of the US's most important bases and dozens of US nukes.

    Turkey targeted the YPG, a Kurdish element of the Syrian Democratic Forces, one of the largest and most effective fighting forces that the US trained, equipped, and supported with air strikes during the successful three-year campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS' caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

    Turkey's motivation to destroy the Kurdish fighters comes from their alleged connection to the PKK, a Kurdish group responsible for terror attacks in Turkey that both Washington and Ankara consider a terror group.

    After the US announced, and then walked back, plans to create a 30,000 strong border policing force comprised of the Kurdish and other fighters, Turkey quickly said it would fight against the Kurds.

    In the span of a few days, Turkish jets and tanks poured over Syria's border and dropped bombs as artillery pieces shelled the Afrin, where the YPG intended to set up its border force. A spokesman for the SDF said on Monday that the strikes had killed 18 and wounded 23, according to Reuters.

    In response, a rocketed fired from Afrin hit a Turkish camp where the Free Syrian Army, backed by Ankara, sustained 12 losses, the Dogan news agency reported.

    Now it looks like the US could up fighting a proxy war against Turkey, a NATO ally that holds dozens of US tactical nuclear weapons.

    US nukes at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey

    An F-15E Strike Eagle sits on the flightline at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Nov. 12, 2015.

    If the US decided to provide air cover for its allies in Afrin, it would likely launch those planes from Incirlik Air Base, which is inside Turkey. Incirlik is a central hub for US air power in the region and the resting place of a few dozen B-61 nuclear gravity bombs with adjustable yields.

    Though the bombs are securely confined to the US-controlled side of the base, regularly maintained and looked after, and at little risk of falling into enemy hands, experts have long questioned the wisdom of holding US nuclear weapons in Turkey.

    Issues surrounding Turkey's stability as a US ally arose during the attempted coup of July 2016, and have only grown during the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's crackdown on tens of thousands of citizens for suspected anti-government activities.

    In April 2017, Erdogan gained a sweeping new set of powers under a constitutional referendum, which he used to consolidate power and continue his attacks on political enemies. Throughout the entire coup and aftermath, Turkey has maintained that a cleric harbored by the US organized the coup.

    Turkey's drift from democratic, Western-leaning principals into what looks more and more like a religious autocracy has been well documented over the years. Also starting in 2016, Turkey began its drift from NATO and towards Russia.

    Turkey and Germany, a key NATO figure, feud frequently over Erdogan's influence on Turks in Germany. Recently, Turkey chose a Russian-made missile defense system over NATO types, despite the fact that the Russian system can't network with Turkey's existing NATO infrastructure.

    Turkey's drift from democratic, Western-leaning principals into what looks more and more like a religious autocracy has been well documented over the years.

    SEE ALSO: Here are the dramatic tweets and policies Tillerson and Mattis reportedly had to hold Trump back from

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un is 34 —here's how he became one of the world’s scariest dictators


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    Russian spy ship Viktor Leonov

    • A Russian spy ship has been spotted sailing up the US's east coast over the past few weeks.
    • The same Russian ship did the same thing in January of last year.
    • The ship has made the annual trip since at least 2014, and it's nothing to freak out over.


    A Russian spy ship has been spotted sailing up the US's east coast over the past few weeks, recently coming close to a US Navy base that houses ballistic-missile submarines.

    Though US relations with Russia have deteriorated lately amid reports of Russian military aggression, meddling in the 2016 US election, and possible contacts with the Trump administration before and during his presidency, the ship has made the annual trip since at least 2014, and it's nothing to freak out over.

    "There's been incidents like this over many years. This is not a serious incident," James Jeffrey, a former deputy national security adviser to George W. Bush who is now a member of the Washington Institute, told Business Insider.

    The US Navy echoed Jeffrey's lack of enthusiasm.

    "We are aware of the vessel's presence," Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a Defense Department spokeswoman, told Business Insider. "It has not entered US territorial waters."

    The US often has similar spy ships in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, but it should be noted that the US has allies in those regions, whereas Russia is a long way off from any friendly nations.

    A former US Navy officer with knowledge of signals told Business Insider that while Russia could in theory be eavesdropping on US voice transmissions, Moscow has many ways to do that. Instead, the former officer said, the vessel is likely focusing on intercepting and analyzing US radar and sonar waveforms — something the US routinely does to Russia.

    USS Alabama ballistic missile ohio class submarine

    Most likely, Russia is collecting data on US Navy emissions to catalog them and plan how to use electronic countermeasures against the US emissions in the case of war, the former Navy source said. Russia, however, is unlikely to get much data from 30 miles out at sea, he added.

    Jeffrey said the Navy had the ability to disrupt Russia's listening equipment but would most likely do nothing but "shadow the ship."

    "In a time of peace you might say, 'We're not at war with Russia, so why should we show them how we'd jam their equipment?'" Jeffrey said.

    SEE ALSO: NATO expert says Obama was so soft on Moscow that 'Russian legislators made fun of him'

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    NOW WATCH: This is why a US aircraft carrier is a force to be reckoned with


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    indonesia snake mattis

    • Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis watched Indonesian special forces show off their survival skills.
    • Mattis is in Indonesia pushing for better military relations with the country.
    • The US broke ties in the 1990s when a brutal Indonesian dictator used special forces to kill political rivals.
    • The US is interested in Indonesia as a potential ally in pushing back against China's expansion into the South China Sea.


    Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis saw a rare display on a trip to Indonesia where he sought to improve ties with the country's historically vicious special forces.

    As part of that trip, Mattis watched a demonstration by soldiers, during which they broke bricks over their heads, walked on hot coals, performed martial arts, rolled in broken glass, killed live snakes, and drank their blood.

    As the troops prepared the snakes, which were king cobras, one reportedly got loose and postured as if preparing to bite Mattis, though it was wrangled back into the fold, the Japan Times reports.

    Eating snakes is actually a common military ritual, with some US troops training in the practice to prepare them for jungle warfare.

    But Mattis was in Indonesia to repair ties with the country's military, that came under sanction when the country's former dictator used the special forces as a criminal organization to brutally enforce his policies.

    Currently, Indonesia's special forces are banned from training with US forces, but Mattis may look to soften that policy after the trip.

    Many fear that Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, could become home to extremist groups like ISIS as the group looks to expand beyond Iraq and Syria.

    Additionally, Indonesia has proved a key figure in pushing back on China's expansion into the South China Sea. The US may look to fold them into a coalition of countries that resist the unilateral militarization of the important shipping lane.

    Mattis said on his trip he thought the human rights violators of Indonesia's past had moved on from the special forces, and stressed the need for the countries to work together. 

    “No single nation resolves security challenges alone in this world,” Mattis said, according to the Washington Post.

    SEE ALSO: Insane video shows what it's like to get shot at by the A-10 Warthog's 30mm Gatling gun

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    NOW WATCH: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un is 34 —here's how he became one of the world’s scariest dictators


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    Jim James Mattis

    • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis thanked Vietnam during a trip to Hanoi for adhering to sanctions against North Korea.
    • Vietnam is a communist country, like China or North Korea, but it has drawn closer to the US as it opposes Beijing's militarization and expansion into the South China Sea, which it lays claim to also.

    HANOI (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis praised Vietnam on Wednesday for adhering to sanctions against North Korea, saying at the start of a two-day visit to Hanoi that its leadership on the issue came despite the costs associated with lost trade.

    "I have to pay my respects there and thank them for their support on the (North Korea) issue. They have been supporting the United Nations sanctions, at some cost to them," Mattis told reporters before landing in Hanoi.

    "And so we appreciate their leadership on that, leading by example and stepping up."

    North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and missiles capable of hitting the United States has spurred deepening U.N. sanctions and stoked fears of a military conflict.

    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week that the United States was getting evidence that sanctions were "really starting to hurt" North Korea, although there are no signs yet that they have altered Pyongyang's military calculus.

    Vietnam and North Korea, at one time both within the influence of the former Soviet Union, maintain traditional diplomatic and political ties.

    But those relations have been tested in recent years, particularly following the alleged involvement of a Vietnamese citizen in the murder of Kim Jong Un's half brother in 2017.

        Hanoi expelled blacklisted North Koreans last year by asking them to voluntarily leave, taking into account "traditional relations" between the two countries, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

    In a report to the U.N. Security Council in April 2017, Vietnam also said it had taken measures to implement U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

    Mattis said Vietnam was adhering to those sanctions and noted that cutting off trade with a country so close carried an economic cost to Vietnam.

    "DPRK sells coal very cheaply and so obviously if they turn that off, there could be costs associated," Mattis explained, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

    South China Sea

    south china sea map

    Mattis' first stop in Vietnam was to a U.S. Defense Department office in Hanoi that sits just across the street from the North Korean embassy and seeks to recover the remains of U.S. troops killed in the 1965-75 Vietnam War.

    Some 1,293 U.S. forces are still unaccounted for, one U.S. official said.

    Mattis' trip comes amid steadily strengthening U.S.-Vietnamese ties, including between their two militaries, as both countries seek to put the Vietnam War firmly behind them.

    Relations these days are seen largely through shared concern over China's aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, where more than $3 trillion in cargo passes every year.

    Vietnam has emerged as the most vocal opponent of China's expansive territorial claims and has been buying U.S. military hardware, including its acquisition of an armed, Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutter.

    The ship, one U.S. official said, was larger than anything Vietnam had in its navy.

    "(Vietnam) does have one of the region's fastest growing economies and so freedom of navigation and access in the South China Sea will be critical to them economically and of course in their security efforts," Mattis said.

    SEE ALSO: Indonesia's special forces drank snake blood and broke bricks with their heads in a rare display for Jim Mattis

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un is 34 —here's how he became one of the world’s scariest dictators


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    special forces YPG

    ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Wednesday he did not think Turkey will come face-to-face with the United States as it carries out military operations in Syria, seeing only a small possibility of this happening in the Manbij area.

    In an interview with Reuters, Bozdag said Turkey would, if necessary, continue to use airspace over Syria's Afrin region as its incursion against the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia entered a fifth day.

    Bozdag, who is also the government spokesman, added that Turkey was ready for all kinds of cooperation with the United States and Russia if that would bring peace to the region.

    Turkey opened a new front in Syria's multi-sided civil war with its Afrin operation, which it has dubbed "Olive Branch". But it could also threaten U.S. plans to stabilize and rebuild a large area of northeast Syria.

    Manbij, to the east of Afrin, is part of a much larger area of northern Syria controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the YPG.

    SEE ALSO: Dozens of US nuclear weapons in Turkey could be in question as the NATO allies fight a proxy war in Syria

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's how easy it is for the US president to launch a nuclear weapon


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    B 2

    • The US recently sent nuclear bombers to North Korea that can carry tactical nukes that would be perfect for taking out Kim Jong Un.
    • Some have suggested that a quick tactical nuclear strike on North Korea could cripple the country's nuclear infrastructure with few casualties.
    • Recent reports have suggested President Donald Trump considering a strike on North Korea, but some experts and politicians think the idea of a tactical nuclear strike is a recipe for disaster.


    The US has been quietly amassing firepower in the Pacific during a lull in tensions with North Korea, but recent developments on an under-the-radar nuclear weapon suggest preparation for a potential tactical nuclear strike.

    The US recently sent B-2 stealth bombers to Guam, where they joined B-1 and B-52s, the other bombers in the US's fleet.

    While the B-2 and B-52 are known as the air leg of the US's nuclear triad, as they carry nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles, a smaller nuclear weapon that has undergone some upgrades may lend itself to a strike on North Korea.

    Newly modified tactical nukes — a game changer?

    B 61 nuclear bombs on rack

    The B-61, a tactical nuclear gravity bomb that the B-2 can carry 16 of, has been modified in recent years to increase its accuracy and ability to hit underground targets, though that version has not yet been deployed.

    Not only will the B-61's new modification make it ideal for destroying dug-in bunkers, the kind in which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might hide during a conflict, but it has an adjustable nuclear yield that could limit harmful radioactive fallout after a nuclear attack.

    Though the US has plenty of nuclear weapons that can easily hit North Korea from land, air, or sea, they're predominantly large ones meant to deter countries like Russia or China.

    A 2017 paper in MIT's International Security journal suggested that recent advances in guidance systems and nuclear weapons could allow the US to destroy all of North Korea's nuclear infrastructure while causing 100 or so deaths, versus 2 million to 3 million deaths on both sides of the 38th parallel without them.

    But Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, suggested the paper was flawed.

    Hanham told Business Insider that the paper's supposition that only five sites would constitute the bulk or entirety of North Korea's nuclear infrastructure stood without merit.

    North Korea has gone to great lengths to deter nuclear or conventional strikes by spreading its nuclear infrastructure across the country. The sites are shrouded in secrecy, and the US intelligence community, despite its best, concerted efforts, has been wrong about their locations before, a former State Department official told Business Insider.

    Trump seems to like the idea of tactical nuke strikes and striking North Korea

    b 2 spirit

    Despite evidence that tactical nuclear weapons won't solve the North Korean military quagmire, President Donald Trump's administration has looked favorably on smaller nuclear weapons.

    Trump's recent nuclear posture review recommended building more small nuclear weapons, as their size would make them easier to use in a conflict — something the International Security paper supports.

    The B-61 bombs live in military bases spread across Europe and are much less visible than big bombers, whose movements are often publicized. For example, The Aviationist reported in October that a civilian with a handheld radio scanner intercepted B-2 and B-52 pilots over Kansas training to pull off a strike on North Korean VIP targets.

    Recent reports have suggested Trump is considering a "bloody nose" strike on North Korea, or a move designed to embarrass Kim by responding to a missile launch or nuclear test with the limited use of force.

    But experts and politicians have characterized the idea of a nuclear strike as destabilizing and frankly crazy. Rep. John Garamendi, a California Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, questioned the wisdom of it in an interview with Business Insider.

    "Certainly, North Korea understands that the US is pretty tough," Garamendi said. "The US is prepared and willing to respond to aggression by North Korea."

    He added: "But we must assume that if we were to do a bloody-nose attack, that North Korea would respond in some way. Then what?"

    Update: This article has been updated to reflect that the modified B-61 is not yet deployed.

    SEE ALSO: Dozens of US nuclear weapons in Turkey could be in question as the NATO allies fight a proxy war in Syria

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    • The former director of the CIA's Korea division just returned from Seoul and said that officials there have "very strong concerns" about the US attacking North Korea.
    • President Donald Trump's administration is reportedly considering a strike.
    • The former CIA agent said some people think the US could hit two or three targets that North Korea wouldn't launch a full war over.


    An ex-CIA agent from the agency's Korea division recently returned from South Korea and found widespread worry that the US is gearing up for a military strike against North Korea.

    "Seoul has very strong concerns about the potential for a US 'preventive attack' on North Korea," Bruce Klingner, the former chief of the CIA Korea division, told NBC.

    Klingner's comments follow persistent reports out of the White House that the US is considering a "bloody nose" strike on North Korea to make a statement, and that President Donald Trump's secretary of state and secretary of defense are the key figures holding him back.

    Klingner seemed to pick up on a fear in Seoul of an attack even greater than a "bloody nose," which would be a highly visible yet materially limited strike.

    "Some are suggesting that the US is thinking of hitting two or three targets, and that North Korea would likely respond proportionately," Klingner said. "Not the all-out artillery barrage on Seoul."

    To attack North Korea in such a way that they would notice, yet restrain their response to something short of all out war, would require meticulous planning, flawless execution, and a healthy dose of luck, as no one can surely say exactly how Kim Jong Un would react.

    Experts have panned the idea of a strike on North Korea with near unanimity, but Trump's administration has constantly touted the use of force as a potential tool.

    Trump's National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, the hawkish voice on North Korea within his inner circle, reportedly said at Davos that "the danger is growing" from North Korea and has become a "grave threat" to the US.

    McMaster, according to a personal doctrine he expresses in talks and writing, believes using military force against the US's weaker enemies could cow them and show them who is in charge.

    But with the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics going on until mid-March, it seems unlikely the US would decide to strike now.

    SEE ALSO: Top North Korea expert makes the case for the US bombing Kim Jong Un's personal toilet

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    Turkish soldiers and tanks are pictured in a village on the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

    ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it would not be right for Turkey and the United States to discuss a potential "safe zone" in Syria until trust issues between the NATO allies are resolved, the Hurriyet newspaper said on Thursday.

    On Wednesday, local media had quoted Cavusoglu as saying that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had proposed a 30 km safe zone along Turkey's border with Syria.

    "There was a loss of trust with the United States during this period. Until trust is instilled again, it is not right for these issues to be discussed," Hurriyet quoted Cavusoglu as saying.

    Cavusoglu's comments appeared to be in line with those of a senior U.S. official this week, who had said that Turks had not been ready to engage in detail on such a proposal.

    SEE ALSO: Dozens of US nuclear weapons in Turkey could be in question as the NATO allies fight a proxy war in Syria

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    US Marines Syria bombing

    • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the US's new strategy in Syria, and he named combating Iran's influence and its threat to US interests as a main goal.
    • The US has just 2,000 troops in Syria while Iran has an estimated 70,000, but the US has plenty of assets — military, economic, and diplomatic — to deny Iran's dream of outsized influence in Syria.
    • The US may look to rally its allies in a full press against Iran's growing influence, and it could follow on Israel's military approach.


    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently laid out a new US approach to the conflict in Syria, and two things became immediately clear — the US is staying in Syria and conflict with Iran could be coming.

    Up until this point, the US presence in Syria has focused on fighting ISIS, the terror group that gained control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014. But with ISIS in rapid decline and its once UK-sized territory all but completely removed from their grasp, Tillerson described Iran as the new principal threat to US interests in Syria.

    "Continued strategic threats to the US from not just ISIS and Al Qaeda, but from others, persist," Tillerson said earlier this month. "And this threat I'm referring to is principally Iran."

    Tillerson said Iran "is positioning to continue attacking US interests, our allies, and personnel in the region" through its positioning in Syria.

    In no uncertain terms, Tillerson said Iran dreams of a land arch that would connect them to their ally, Lebanon, through Syria, where it can provide weapons support to anti-US and anti-Isreal terror groups. He noted that one of the US's desired end results is that "Iranian influence in Syria is diminished, their dreams of a northern arch are denied, and Syria's neighbors are secure from all threats emanating from Syria."

    While the new strategy does not guarantee outright fighting between the US and Iran, it puts the US's 2,000 or so troops in Syria in direct strategic competition with Iran's estimated 70,000.

    Numbers can be deceiving

    Iranian revolutionary guard irgc

    Despite an apparent 35 to 1 numbers advantage for Iranian and Iranian-aligned forces in Syria, Iran's forces are weak, overexposed, and certain to fare poorly in a direct competition with the US, according to Tony Badran, a Syria expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

    US and US-backed forces have already come into contact with Iranian and Iranian-backed forces in Syria, and the short engagements proved decisive victories for the US, which holds considerable advantages in air power and high-end warfighting.

    But those skirmishes only focused on getting Iranian forces off the backs of US-aligned forces while the US focused on defeating ISIS. In the US's new campaign to shut down Iran's hoped-for land bridge to Lebanon, the US will likely have to work with local allies, according to Badran.

    "The US is going to have to develop local Arab fighting forces," said Badran, "But you can do a lot more damage a lot quicker by expanding or amplifying the existing Israeli campaign by going after installations, mobile targets, or senior cadres."

    Israel, while it has stayed out of the majority of its neighbor Syria's civil war, has made no apologies for stepping in with airstrikes when it feels Iran getting to close to Lebanon, where the Hezbollah militia vows to wage war against the Jewish state. 

    With Israel potentially at its back, the US "has assets far beyond 2,000 guys out in the desert somewhere," said Badran. The US can call on naval power, aircraft carriers, nearby air bases, allied air power, standoff weapons like cruise missiles, and artillery.

    Iran sacrifices asymmetrical advantage

    f/a 18 uss george h w bush isis

    Meanwhile, Iran's forces are overextended and exposed, according to Badran.

    While Iran usually enjoys what military analysts call an "asymmetrical advantage" over US forces in the Middle East, or its ability to fight against US interests using proxy armies and less-than-lethal force, that advantage disappears in a direct confrontation. If Iran mounted a large-scale attack on US forces in Syria, the bases, depots, and planners involved in the attack would be quickly reduced to rubble, according to Badran.

    For that reason, Iran may look to avoid direct military engagement with the US, and simply continue to support the US's enemies while playing the long game of aggravating the US and hoping Washington's will breaks before Tehran's.

    But another prong of the US's strategy in Syria is to isolate the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

    "We're going to treat Syria like North Korea — an economic, not just a political pariah," said Badran.

    With the US pressuring allies not to do business with the Assad regime and providing no money for reconstruction, the Syrian government, Iran's ally, may weaken, making way for a less Iran-friendly administration in the future, thereby denying Tehran its land bridge without a shot fired.

    The US won't go it alone

    trump erdogan turkey

    Tehran has its own problems to worry about. Country-wide protests over the country's steep inequality and billions in spending on foreign adventurism have threatened the very fabric of its leadership. Local Syrians — a diverse, mainly Sunni bunch — also may prove resistant to Iran, the dominant Shiite Muslim power in the region.

    Though the US and Turkey frequently clash over differences in their vision for Syria, former US ambassador to Turkey and Washington Institute expert James Jeffrey says Washington and Ankara ultimately agree on the broad goals.

    "Right now, about 40% of Syria is under control of US or Turkey, and while US and Turkey are not all that well coordinated, both US and Turkey see the goal to a transition to a regime that will not do what [Syrian President Bashar] Assad has done," said Jeffrey.

    Jeffrey added that Turkey also would like to reduce the role of Iran in Syria, as Tehran has a "tendency to bully the Sunni Arab population" which could lead to another civil war.

    Badran does not question that the US could easily overwhelm or destroy Iranian forces in Syria, and instead believes the real challenge lies in determining who will establish control of southern Syria in the future.

    SEE ALSO: Dozens of US nuclear weapons in Turkey could be in question as the NATO allies fight a proxy war in Syria

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    North Korea China coal imports

    • North Korea shipped coal to Russia, which was then shipped to South Korea and Japan, Western European Intellignece sources said.
    • Russia has been accused of helping North Korea evade sanctions and urged to "do more" to make sure the sanctions are implemented. 
    • The US Treasury on Wednesday imposed sanctions on nine entities, 16 people and six North Korean ships it accused of helping the weapons programs.

    PARIS/LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) - North Korea shipped coal to Russia last year which was then delivered to South Korea and Japan in a likely violation of U.N. sanctions, three Western European intelligence sources said.

    The U.N. Security Council banned North Korean exports of coal last Aug. 5 under sanctions intended to cut off an important source of the foreign currency Pyongyang needs to fund its nuclear weapon and long-range missile programs.

    But the secretive Communist state has at least three times since then shipped coal to the Russian ports of Nakhodka and Kholmsk, where it was unloaded at docks and reloaded onto ships that took it to South Korea or Japan, the sources said.

    A Western shipping source said separately that some of the cargoes reached Japan and South Korea in October last year. A U.S. security source also confirmed the coal trade via Russia and said it was continuing.

    "Russia's port of Nakhodka is becoming a transhipping hub for North Korean coal," said one of the European security sources, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of international diplomacy around North Korea.

    Russia's foreign ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment sent on Jan 18. Russia's mission to the United Nations informed the Security Council sanctions committee on Nov. 3 that Moscow was complying with the sanctions.

    Two lawyers who specialize in sanctions law told Reuters it appeared the transactions violated U.N. sanctions.

    Reuters could not independently verify whether the coal unloaded at the Russian docks was the same coal that was then shipped to South Korea and Japan. Reuters also was unable to ascertain whether the owners of the vessels that sailed from Russia to South Korea and Japan knew the origin of the coal.

    The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday put the owner of one of the ships, the UAL Ji Bong 6, under sanctions for delivering North Korean coal to Kholmsk on Sept. 5.

    It was unclear which companies profited from the coal shipments.

    Russia urged to "do more" on sanctions

    Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech while attending the Forum of Small Towns and Historical Settlements in the town of Kolomna, south of Moscow, Russia January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Alexander Nemenov/Pool

    North Korean coal exports were initially capped under a 2016 Security Council resolution that required countries to report monthly imports of coal from North Korea to the council's sanctions committee within 30 days of the end of each month.

    Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia had not reported any imports of North Korea coal to the committee last year.

    The sanctions committee told U.N. member states in November that a violation occurs when "activities or transactions proscribed by Security Council resolutions are undertaken or attempts are made to engage in proscribed transactions, whether or not the transaction has been completed."

    Asked about the shipments identified by Reuters, Matthew Oresman, a partner with law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who advises companies on sanctions, said: "Based on these facts, there appears to be a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution by the parties involved."

    "Also those involved in arranging, financing, and carrying out the shipments could likely face U.S. sanctions," he said.

    Asked about the shipments, a U.S. State Department spokesman said: "It's clear that Russia needs to do more. All U.N. member states, including Russia, are required to implement sanctions resolutions in good faith and we expect them all to do so."

    The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The independent panel of experts that reports to the Security Council on violations of sanctions was not immediately available for comment.

    North Korea has refused to give up the development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States. It has said the sanctions infringe its sovereignty and accused the United States of wanting to isolate and stifle North Korea.

    An independent panel of experts reported to the Security Council on Sept. 5 that North Korea had been "deliberately using indirect channels to export prohibited commodities, evading sanctions."

    Reuters reported last month that Russian tankers had supplied fuel to North Korea at sea and U.S. President Donald Trump told Reuters in an interview on Jan. 17 that Russia was helping Pyongyang get supplies in violation of the sanctions.

    The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday imposed sanctions on nine entities, 16 people and six North Korean ships it accused of helping the weapons programs.

    Two routes

    North Korea

    Two separate routes for the coal were identified by the Western security sources.

    The first used vessels from North Korea via Nakhodka, about 85 km (53 miles) east of the Russian city of Vladivostok.

    One vessel that used this route was the Palau-flagged Jian Fu which Russian port control documents show delivered 17,415 tonnes of coal after sailing from Nampo in North Korea on Aug. 3 and docking at berth no. 4 run by LLC Port Livadiya in Nakhodka. It left the port on Aug. 18.

    The vessel had turned off its tracking transmitter from July 24 to Aug. 2, when it was in open seas, according to publicly available ship tracking data. Under maritime conventions, this is acceptable practice at the discretion of the ship's captain, but means the vessel could not be tracked publicly.

    Another ship arrived at the same berth -- No. 4 -- on Aug. 16, loaded 20,500 tonnes of coal and headed to the South Korean port of Ulsan in Aug. 24, according to Russian port control documents.

    Reuters was unable to reach the operator of the Jian Fu, which was listed in shipping directories as the China-based Sunrise Ship Management. The Nakhodka-based transport agent of the Jian Fu did not respond to written and telephone requests for comment. LLC Port Livadiya did not respond to a written request for comment.

    The second route took coal via Kholmsk on the Russian Pacific island of Sakhalin, north of Japan.

    At least two North Korean vessels unloaded coal at a dock in Kholmsk port in August and September after arriving from the ports of Wonsan and Taean in North Korea, Russian port control data and ship tracking data showed.

    The Rung Ra 2 docked in Kholmsk three times between Aug 1 and Sept. 12, unloading a total of 15,542 tonnes of coal, while the Ul Ji Bong 6 unloaded a total of 10,068 tonnes of coal on two separate port calls -- on Aug. 3 and between Sept. 1 and Sept. 8, according to the official Russian Information System for State Port Control.

    The coal did not pass Russian customs because of the UN sanctions taking effect, but was then loaded at the same dock onto Chinese-operated vessels. Those vessels stated their destination in Russian port control documents as North Korea, according to a source in Sakhalin port administration who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Reuters has seen the port control documents which state the destination of the coal as North Korea. But the vessels that loaded the North Korean coal sailed instead for the ports of Pohang and Incheon in South Korea, ship tracking data showed.

    In Beijing on Friday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters she did not know anything about the situation but China was clear in its hope that the UN resolutions are followed fully.

    China will not allow any Chinese company or individual to do anything that goes against the resolutions and if there is cast-iron proof this is happening, China will handle it seriously and in accordance with the law, she added.

    The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday included the owner of the Ul Ji Bong 6 under sanctions for delivering North Korean coal to Kholmsk after the sanctions took effect.

    It was unclear which companies profited from the coal shipments.

    Asked about the shipments, a South Korean foreign ministry official said: "Our government is monitoring any sanctions-evading activities by North Korea. We're working closely with the international community for the implementation of the sanctions."

    The official declined to say whether the ministry was aware of the shipments reported by Reuters.

    The Japanese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The European security sources said the route via Russia had developed as China, North Korea's neighbor and lone major ally, cracked down on exports from the secretive Communist state.

    "The Chinese have cracked down on coal exports from North Korea so the smuggling route has developed and Russia is the transit point for coal," one of the European security sources said.

    SEE ALSO: South Korea 'has very strong concerns' the US might strike North Korea, ex-CIA Korea expert says

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    F 35

    • Young pilots are now graduating training and going straight into F-35s, as opposed to previous generations of pilots that flew legacy airframes like F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s first.
    • The new generation of pilots will revolutionize air combat in the F-35, according to former F-35 squadron commander David "Chip" Berke.
    • Berke says the new pilots will overcome the biggest limitation of current F-35 pilots — not bringing old, bad habits with them from other aircraft.


    The UK Ministry of Defense recently announced it had its first class of Royal Air Force graduates to exit training and go straight into flying the F-35, and a former F-35 squadron commander told Business Insider they'll perform better than any pilots seen before.

    David "Chip" Berke, a retired US Marine Corps Lt. Col. who flew F-18s off aircraft carriers, the F-22 Raptor, and became an F-35 squadron commander who helped write the book on F-35 tactics, said the new pilots represent the first generation of true fifth-generation fighters.

    "Guys like me and everyone who's ever transitioned" from flying a legacy airplane like an F-16, F-15, or F-18, are "always going to bring forward some habits," from the old jet, said Berke. "A lot of those habits are going to be wrong."

    Berke often likens the gap between an F-18 and an F-35 to the gap between a wall phone and an iPhone, in that the F-35 represents such a game change that it takes some figuring out just how to use the fundamentally different set of capabilities.

    Just as an aging generation is struggling with adapting to iPhones and giving up old habits, legacy pilots also carry outdated habits with them to the F-35, severely limiting their performance, according to Berke.

    "They're going to be your best, most effective tacticians," Berke said of the new generation of pilots. Legacy pilots are "never going to be as good as them," according to Berke.

    For once, the F-35 will get an objective viewing by pilots not biased towards old school fighter jets.

    "Every single thing everyone has ever said that's a limitation of the F-35 has been wrong," said Berke, who explained "they don't understand the airplane."

    david berke

    "They take this template they used in the past" to judge the F-35, Berke said. This leads to heated debates about thrust-to-weight ratios, wing loading, and other complicated metrics used to judge fighter performance.

    But according to Berke, people who try to judge the F-35 by say, an F-14's standards, are "wrong all the time."

    "The biggest limitation for the F-35 is that pilots are not familiar with how to fly it. They try to fly the F-35 like their old airplane," Berke said.

    With a new generation of pilots who bring a fresh, unencumbered look to the F-35, it looks as though the students are set to become the teachers.

    SEE ALSO: The US just majorly stepped up nuclear bomber deployments to Guam amid soaring North Korea tensions

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    Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny leaves the European court of Human Rights after a hearing regarding his case against Russia at the court in Strasbourg, France, January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Monday it did not regard opposition leader Alexei Navalny as a political threat ahead of a March presidential election and said protests he had organized on Sunday were not that big.

    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that it was unlikely that anyone could compete with President Vladimir Putin ahead of a March 18 election which polls show he should comfortably win.

    Navalny has been barred from running against Putin over what Navalny says is a trumped-up suspended prison sentence.

    Russian police wrestled Navalny into a patrol wagon on Sunday moments after he appeared at a rally to urge voters to boycott what he said would be a rigged election.

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    A member of Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army police forces secures the road as they escort a convoy near Azaz, Syria January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

    • Turkey has detained 311 politicians, journalists, and activists for "spreading terrorist propaganda," or supporting anti-war movements as it bombs Syrian Kurds.
    • The Turkish Medical Association denounced the military campaign, saying "No to war, peace immediately," but Turkish Presdient Tayyip Erdogan denounced them as imperialists. 
    • Turkey has jailed 50,000 since the July 2016 coup that failed as Erdogan consolodates power.

    ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey has detained more than 300 people for social media posts criticizing its military offensive in Syria, the government said on Monday, a day after President Tayyip Erdogan accused doctors who opposed the campaign of betrayal.

    Since launching its 10-day-old air and ground offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria's northwestern region of Afrin, Turkish authorities have warned they would prosecute those opposing, criticizing or misrepresenting the incursion.

    The Interior Ministry said on Monday a total of 311 people had been held for "spreading terrorist propaganda" on social media in the last 10 days. Detainees have included politicians, journalists and activists.

    Turkey considers the U.S.-backed YPG, which controls Afrin, to be a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought an insurgency in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast since 1984.

    The military operation has been widely supported by Turkey's mainly pro-government media and by most political parties, with the exception of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). But there have been dissenting voices.

    Over the weekend, Turkish media reported that 170 artists had written an open letter to lawmakers from Erdogan's ruling AK Party calling for an immediate end to Turkey's incursion.

    Last week the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) denounced the cross-border operation, saying "No to war, peace immediately."

    On Sunday, Erdogan accused the union of treason. "Believe me, they are not intellectuals at all, they are a gang of slaves. They are the servants of imperialism," he told AK Party members in the northern province of Amasya.

    "This 'No to war' cry by this mob ... is nothing other than the outburst of the betrayal in their souls ... This is real filth, this is the honorless stance that should be said 'no' to," Erdogan said.

    Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Twitter on Saturday that the TTB and the Turkish Engineer and Architect Chambers Association (TMMOB), which has backed the medics, cannot use the word "Turkish" in their names, saying they did not represent Turkish medics, engineers and architects.

    In a statement on Friday, the TTB said it rejected the accusations directed at it, adding remarks by senior government officials had made it a target of attacks. The Interior Ministry said later it had started an investigation into the association's actions.

    Since a failed coup in 2016, Ankara has enforced a crackdown that saw more than 50,000 people jailed and 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs, including members of the pro-Kurdish opposition party. The government says the moves were necessary given the security threats Turkey faces.

    Critics accuse the government of unjustly targeting pro-Kurdish politicians. Some lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) have been jailed on terrorism charges, which they deny.

    SEE ALSO: A map of fitness tracker data may have just compromised top secret US military bases around the world

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