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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    Ukraine Russia

    • France 24 has published an interview with a man it describes as a Russian paramilitary chief who provides Russian citizens access to mercenary work in Syria in which he said people wanted revenge after reports that the US handily defeated hundreds of Russian fighters in a battle earlier this month.
    • He also detailed a grim fate that awaits Russian mercenaries, who he says have been described to him as "minced meat" in freezers.
    • The paramilitary chief also said the families of Russians killed in the attack wouldn't be informed until after Russia's election in March, most likely to avoid bad press for President Vladimir Putin.

    France 24 published an interview last week with a man it described as a Russian paramilitary chief who provides Russian citizens access to mercenary work in Syria in which he said his countrymen were taking an embarrassing loss to US forces.

    "Each week I receive five or six new requests," the man said. "Some call me by phone; others come to see me."

    He said about 100 people in Russia's Yekaterinburg region, where he is based, "are planning to go to Syria."

    After US forces earlier this month crushed an advance of fighters loyal to the Syrian government — troops said to have contained hundreds of Russians — the man said he had seen a change in the volunteers.

    "Now it's more about getting revenge than it is about money," he said.

    What it's like to be a Russian mercenary in Syria

    t-72 tank us airstrike

    Russia is believed to use military contractors in Syria rather than its military. Some experts say it's to conceal Russia's true combat losses in Syria while it uses its state-run media to tell citizens the operation is cheap and effective.

    For Russian military contractors, the work promises brutal and dangerous conditions in which they can expect to be asked to kill to protect business or political interests. They stand to make a decent wage, but the man says many of them don't live that long.

    "If you sign up with a private military company, you have sold yourself to them for money," the man said.

    He added: "The company can use you however it wants. What will happen to you after your death? If you've been turned into mincemeat, so what? They put you in a bag, close the coffin and — in the best-case scenario — send you home. In the worst, they bury you there. If you are ready to earn money by killing people and defending the commercial interests of others, then that’s fine."

    One factor contributing to the losses of Russian contractors in Syria is a lack of air cover provided by Russia's or Syria's military, the man said.

    In the battle on February 7, US airstrikes, artillery, and Apache helicopters strafed and decimated the pro-government forces, who are said to have had no anti-aircraft weaponry.

    Without air power or any ability to combat aircraft, it's unclear how Russian military contractors on the ground could do any better against US-aligned forces.

    The man told France 24 that 218 Russians died in the battle, while news reports have indicated as many as 300 were killed or wounded. Russia has said five citizens may have died while "several dozen" were wounded.

    How is the Kremlin playing the story?

    putin and assad

    But just because Russia's military, which has considerable airpower nearby, didn't protect the Russians involved in the battle doesn't mean it didn't know about the advance.

    Citing US intelligence reports with intercepted communications, The Washington Post reported last week that a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin told a senior Syrian official he had "secured permission" from the Kremlin before the advance.

    Reuters has reported that the advance on US-backed forces was intended to gauge the US's response, which may have been stronger than anticipated.

    The paramilitary chief told France 24 that one Russian contractor had 150 men in freezers who were described to him as "minced meat." According to the man, the families of Russians killed in the battle won't be informed until after Russia's election in March — if at all.

    "We all know why," the man said. "There's no problem keeping the deaths secret."

    SEE ALSO: These are the 25 most powerful militaries in the world — and there's a clear winner

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's what might happen if North Korea launched a nuclear weapon


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    saudi women

    • Saudi Arabia's military has opened its applications to women for the first time, marking another major step towards enhancing women's rights in a deeply patriarchal society. 
    • Successful candidates must meet 12 requirements, which include residing with a male guardian in the same province as the job's location and, if married, having a Saudi husband.
    • While the new positions signal a continued shift towards increasing women's rights, some of the job requirements reinforce a male-oriented system.


    Saudi Arabia's military has opened applications to women for the first time, marking a major step towards improving women's rights in a deeply patriarchal country. 

    The interior ministry posted on its jobs portal that it would accept applications for women's military posts in the provinces of Riyadh, Mecca, al-Qassim, and Medina until March 1.

    But  as well as passing a test and personal interview with a female employee — the application outlines 12 requirements, successful candidates must meet.

    Women must be of Saudi origin and, for the most part, have grown up in Saudi Arabia. Applicants must be between the ages of 25 and 35, have at least a high school diploma, be at least 155 centimeters (5 feet) tall, and have a good height-to-weight ratio.

    Most notably, women must not be married to a non-Saudi and must reside with her guardian in the same province as the job's location. 

    In Saudi Arabia every women must have a male guardian — a father, brother, husband, or even son — who has the authority to make decisions on her behalf. A guardian's approval is needed for women to obtain a passport, travel outside the country, get married, or leave prison. 

    Women's rights are slowly growing in Saudi Arabia

    Saudi Arabia women men

    While the new positions signal a continued shift towards improving women's rights in the kingdom, many of the job's requirements reinforce rules created by Saudi Arabia's male-oriented system.

    In April 2017, King Salman ordered all agencies to abolish unofficial guardianship requirements, meaning women who didn't have a male guardian's consent couldn't be denied access to government services unless existing regulations required it.

    And while Saudi women have recently been granted the right to drive and attend soccer matches, a male guardianship system remains in place.

    Giving women the right to drive suggested authorities might review and potentially eliminate some of the restrictive guardianship laws. However, the system remains in place, despite government pledges to abolish it.

    But progress is ongoing.

    On Monday, Tamadur bint Youssef al-Ramah was appointed as deputy labor minister, a rare senior post for a woman in Saudi Arabia.

    Increasing the number of Saudi women in the workforce is part of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's Vision 2030 reforms, which seek to to raise women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's what might happen if North Korea launched a nuclear weapon


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    Kim Jong Nam

    • Kim Jong Nam, the poisoned half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, told a friend in Malaysia his life was in danger six months before he was killed.
    • Two women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, have been charged with murdering Kim by smearing his face with VX, a banned chemical poison, at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13 last year.

    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Kim Jong Nam, the poisoned half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, told a friend in Malaysia his life was in danger six months before he was killed, a police official told a court on Tuesday.

    Two women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, have been charged with murdering Kim by smearing his face with VX, a banned chemical poison, at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13 last year.

    Four North Korean fugitives have also been charged with murder.

    Defence lawyers say the women thought they were playing a prank for a reality show, as they had been paid to do elsewhere at airports and shopping malls, and did not know they were poisoning Kim. They face the death penalty if convicted.

    Kim arrived in Malaysia on Feb. 6 last year and was picked up at the airport by the driver of friend Tomie Yoshio, lead police investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz said.

    The driver was instructed to take Kim to his lodgings and other places he wanted to go after Kim told Yoshio his "life was in danger" during a prior visit to Malaysia.

    "Six months before the incident on Feb. 13, Kim Jong Nam said 'I am scared for my life and I want a driver'," Wan Azirul said, citing police interviews with Yoshio.

    He did not give any other details about Yoshio or his whereabouts.

    Gooi Soon Seng, Siti Aisyah's lawyer, has argued the killing was politically motivated, with key suspects linked to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, suggesting his client was being made a scapegoat.

    Kim had criticized his family's dynastic rule of North Korea, some South Korean officials have said.

    Under questioning, Wan Azirul agreed with Gooi that the two accused women had no motive for the killing, but denied accusations that the police investigation had been "lop-sided".

    Gooi had earlier asked about Hong Song Hac, a North Korean who had paid Siti Aisyah to act on a prank show and was caught on airport video recordings fleeing the country on the day of the killing.

    Hong, one of the four North Koreans charged with the murder, was an official with the North Korean embassy in Indonesia from 2016 to 2017, Gooi told the court, citing records obtained from Indonesia's foreign ministry.

    Wan Azirul could not confirm Gooi's assertion, admitting he had not looked into Hong's background despite naming Hong as a suspect.

    The trial resumes on Mar. 14.

    SEE ALSO: Kim Jong Un's half brother was assassinated with nerve poison one year ago — here's how it went down and the remaining unsolved mysteries

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Elon Musk explains the one thing that went wrong with SpaceX's Falcon Heavy flight


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    Su-57

    • Russia said its recent deployment of two of its new Su-57 fighter jets to Syria would scare off other countries from flying their planes in Syrian airspace.
    • But the Su-57 is a long way from being combat ready, and it's unreasonable to think the US, Israel, or Turkey would be deterred from operations in Syria by two of the unproven jets. 
    • Russian officials also said the deployment would be a good chance to test out the jet in combat conditions, but experts told Business Insider that the plane is designed for high-flying air-to-air combat, not bombing near-defenseless ground targets, which is Russia's declared mission in Syria.


    Russia deployed two Su-57 advanced fighter jets to Syria in a move widely seen as a marketing ploy for the troubled plane that's struggled to attract international investment, but they recently hinted at another purpose behind the deployment.

    The Times of Israel reports that Russia gave a "covert warning" to the Jewish state by saying the Su-57 will serve as a deterrent "for aircraft from neighboring states, which periodically fly into Syrian airspace uninvited."

    The veiled warning comes after Israel and Syria had a heated air battle with Syrian air defenses downing an Israeli F-16. Israel said that it took out half of Syria's air defenses in return.

    In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Ronan Bergman reported that Israel planned a larger response to Syria's downing of their jet, but a "furious phone call" between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syria's ally, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    But whatever the two heads of state said on the phone, it's unlikely the Su-57 had anything to do with it. The Su-57, as it is today, doesn't pose a threat to Western fighters despite being Russia's newest and most advanced fighter jet. It awaits a pair of new engines and has significant problems flying and releasing bombs at supersonic speeds.

    "I don't think anyone is too worried about a kinetic threat from Su-57s over Syria in its current state," Justin Bronk, a combat aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider.

    Bronk pointed to problems with the Su-57 integrating its radar into data the pilot can actually use in the cockpit, and difficulties in getting the jet to drop bombs properly, calling it "far from combat ready."

    Though the Su-57's advanced and "innovative" radar set up could pose a threat to US stealth aircraft like the F-22, also operating in Syria, by scoping out its radar signatures and helping inform future battle plans, it's just not ready for a fight with Israel, the US, or even Turkey.

    A commercial for a struggling Russian military export?

    Su-57 Putin T-50

    Another Russian official gave Russian media an additional reason for the Su-57's presence in Syria that seemed to confirm Western analysis that the deployment is a marketing ploy and test run for the unproven jet.

    The official said the jet had a "need to be tested in combat conditions, in conditions of [enemy] resistance."

    Yet another Russian official said in Russian media that "as we helped the brotherly Syrian people, we tested over 200 new types of weapons," which have included very advanced systems like submarine-launched cruise missiles designed for high-end warfighting.

    But as Bronk pointed out, "the only declared combat which the Russian air contingent in Syria is engaged in is bombing rebel and Daesh forces in support of Assad's ground forces," which he added was "hardly relevant for the air-superiority optimized Su-57."

    Essentially, all Russia's air force does in Syria is bomb rebel ground targets. In years of fighting, the bombings have only demonstrated one occasion that the target had anti-air defenses. On that one occasion, the rebels downed a Russian Su-25.

    As a result, Bronk said the Su-57s "will no doubt fly above 15,000 feet to avoid" those missiles, meaning the new Russian jet won't really be flying in combat conditions, only bombing defenseless targets.

    Not really in combat, not really a threat

    IAF F 35I and F 16I nf

    So why do they need a next-generation, stealth fighter built to dogfight with US F-22s and F-35s that isn't ready for combat yet? Bronk said the bombing campaign in Syria is "absolutely not the mission set [the Su-57s] are designed for."

    Retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, now the Dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Power Studies, told Business Insider that it's a chance for Russia to test out its new jet where they "don't have to pay for training ranges," and concurred with Bronk's assessment that the plane is not yet able to fully fight. 

    So while Russia may have found a frugal way to boost the profile of an airplane they're desperate to sell by testing it out in Syria's almost eight-year-long civil war, nobody familiar with the state of the plane would take it seriously as an air-to-air threat.

    SEE ALSO: Here's how the F-35 stacks up to Russia and China's 5th-generation aircraft

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Elon Musk explains the one thing that went wrong with SpaceX's Falcon Heavy flight


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    Phone mobile in China Tiananmen square

    • Huawei and ZTE phones, which were used for unclassified purposes, are being strategically phased out by Australia's defense department.
    • The agency said the phones were not deemed a security risk, despite assertions from US intelligence officers who said that they don't use the phones because they could be conduits for foreign surveillance.
    • Huawei was previously banned from contributing to Australia's national broadband network due to security concerns.


    An Australian government agency is phasing out two Chinese phone brands as the US warns of possible security concerns.

    The Department of Defence confirmed to Business Insider it no longer uses any Huawei phones and is retiring its ZTE mobiles.

    "Defence has a quantity of aging ZTE mobile phones in service that are used for unclassified voice and text purposes. Existing ZTE mobile phones, when they fail, are being replaced with an alternate unclassified voice and text mobile handset," a Defence spokesperson told Business Insider.

    A risk assessment was conducted on both phones for unclassified voice and text communications and the department "deemed that these mobile phones do not pose a security risk for Defence."

    But this seems at odds with recent warnings from US intelligence officials. Earlier this month six intelligence chiefs  including the heads of the CIA, FBI, and NSA — testified they do not use, and would not recommend private citizens use Huawei and ZTE products.

    "We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks," FBI Director Chris Wray said. "It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."

    During his recent visit to the US, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was reportedly briefed by the head of the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security regarding concerns over Huawei's desire to supply equipment for a new phone network in Australia.

    On Monday it was announced that the local Home Affairs Department would need to conduct a full national security assessment before Huawei could contribute to the project.

    In 2012, Huawei was not allowed to tender for Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) due to cybersecurity concerns, a decision that was based on advice from the national security agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).

    During the Mobile World Congress this week, Huawei CEO Ken Hu called the concerns from Australia and the US "groundless suspicions."

    "Some people, some of our competitors, are using political ways to try and kick us out of the US market -- they can’t compete with us on the technology and innovation so they compete with us on the politics," Richard Yu, the head of Huawei’s consumer business, said in a briefing on Sunday. "We’re independent from any country, any government. We’re not involved in politics."

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Watch SpaceX launch a Tesla Roadster to Mars on the Falcon Heavy rocket — and why it matters


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    A rescue worker holds an injured girl in the rebel held besieged town of Hamouriyeh, eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

    • Syrian government forces and allied militias gained ground on Wednesday in clashes with rebels in eastern Ghouta near Damascus as fighting raged despite a Russian ceasefire plan, according to a war monitor.
    • The Russian plan is for daily, five-hour ceasefires in eastern Ghouta, but after a brief lull, the agreement collapsed into renewed bombardment on Tuesday, the first day of the plan.
    • Syria blamed the rebels for breaking the truce by shelling Damascus, insurgents denied such shelling, and a senior U.S. general accused Moscow of acting as "both arsonist and firefighter" by failing to rein in Assad.

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian government forces and allied militias gained ground on Wednesday in clashes with rebels in eastern Ghouta near Damascus as fighting raged despite a Russian ceasefire plan, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

    The government forces advanced in the Hawsh al-Dawahira area on the eastern edge of the opposition's besieged stronghold, the Observatory reported. The Syrian army and rebel sources could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.

    The Russian plan is for daily, five-hour ceasefires in eastern Ghouta from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (0700 GMT to 1200 GMT). But after a brief lull, the agreement collapsed into renewed bombardment on Tuesday, the first day of the plan.

    Eastern Ghouta, where the United Nations says around 400,000 people live, is a major target for President Bashar al-Assad, who has recovered numerous areas from rebels with Russian and Iranian military backing.

    On Feb. 18, the government and its allies began one of the heaviest bombardments of Syria's seven-year conflict on eastern Ghouta, killing hundreds of people in air and artillery strikes, the Observatory and local rescue workers say.

    It led the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution on Saturday calling for a full, 30-day humanitarian ceasefire reaching across all of Syria but excluding some jihadist groups.

    Moscow and Damascus blamed rebels for the collapse of the truce on Tuesday, saying fighters had shelled a safe route intended for civilians to leave the enclave.

    The insurgents denied such shelling, and a senior U.S. general accused Moscow of acting as "both arsonist and firefighter" by failing to rein in Assad.

    A Syrian military source said the corridor was open for a second day on Wednesday to allow civilians, the sick and wounded to leave eastern Ghouta. But state TV reported that no civilians had left the area on Tuesday or Wednesday.

    Rebels say people will not leave eastern Ghouta because of fear of the Syrian government. The eastern Ghouta is an area of farmland and towns that represents the rebels' last major stronghold near Damascus.

    Shelling

    Smoke rises from the besieged Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, February 27, 2018. REUTERS/ Bassam Khabieh

    Rebels have intensified shelling of nearby government-held Damascus. A medical official in the capital said on Monday 36 people had been killed in four days. Damascus and Moscow say the campaign in eastern Ghouta is needed to halt such shelling.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday the plan would allow aid to be delivered to eastern Ghouta.

    But the United Nations said it was proving impossible to aid civilians or evacuate wounded, and said all sides must instead abide by the 30-day truce sought by the U.N. Security Council.

    With no sign of decisive international pressure to stop the attack, eastern Ghouta seems likely to meet the same fate as other areas won back by the government, where rebels and dissident civilians eventually left in negotiated withdrawals.

    The multi-sided Syrian war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven half of the pre-war population of 23 million from their homes. Fighting has escalated on several fronts this year, with the collapse of Islamic State giving rise to conflict between other Syrian and foreign parties.

    As Assad has pressed the offensive against eastern Ghouta, Turkey has launched an incursion against Kurdish fighters in the northwestern Afrin region. Tensions have also flared between Iran and Israel, alarmed by Tehran's influence in Syria. Syrian air defenses shot down an Israeli F-16 earlier this month as it returned from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria.

    SEE ALSO: Russia thinks its new advanced fighter jet in Syria will scare off other countries — but nobody's afraid of it

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Elon Musk explains the one thing that went wrong with SpaceX's Falcon Heavy flight


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    Putin Missile

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted about Russia's nuclear might at his annual state of the nation address in Moscow on Thursday.
    • In doing so he seemed to confirm the existence of a long-feared Russian doomsday device.
    • The weapon is an underwater torpedo that has been reported to have a nuclear warhead.
    • The radiation is spread could render large swaths of earth uninhabitable for years.
    • Russia has previously let images of this device leak, and the US seemed to know about it, but Putin confirmed it himself on Thursday.


    Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted about Russia's nuclear might at his annual state of the nation address in Moscow on Thursday — and seemed to confirm the existence of a long-feared Russian doomsday device.

    Putin turned towards offensive nuclear-capable systems near the end of a wide-ranging speech, where he also admitted that Russia needs to spend heavily on improving conditions for average Russians. 

    Putin described at least five new weapons systems, and each time emphasized how they can defeat US missile defenses, and that they're almost all nuclear-capable.

    But, in typical fashion, Putin's descriptions contained wild, scientifically unimaginable claims about how great the weapons were. 

    A computer-generated animation accompanied each announcement of new weapons, which may reveal how conceptual or far from realization the systems are. 

    First, Putin mentioned a new intercontinental ballistic, which he claimed had unlimited range and could get past all US missile defenses.

    An animation showed the missile taking two trajectories towards the West. Despite not having much real video of the actual product, Putin declared that "our defense companies have launched mass production of this new system."

    Next, Putin announced what he called a "global cruise missile," which he claimed had unlimited range and was nuclear-capable.

    An animation showed the missile fired from Russia's north, flying north of Europe into the Atlantic, weaving through US air defense zones, and the inexplicably traveling south the entire length of the Atlantic ocean before wrapping around Argentina and ending up near Chile. 

    Typically, all missiles have a finite range, as their propulsion relies on burning fuel.

    The doomsday device

    Russian status 6 nuclear torpedo dirty bomb

    Then, Putin seemed to confirm a long-feared "doomsday" weapon: an unmanned, undersea vehicle capable of carrying a nuclear weapon across oceans at high speeds.

    Previous reports of the weapon have stated it may be a dirty bomb, or a nuclear weapon with additional metal in its core to keep radiation in the atmosphere for years to come.

    The undersea weapon's concept has been mocked as an over-the-top, insane system with little purpose other than destroying massive swaths of human life.

    Russia may have intentionally leaked images of it in 2015, because it's suspected that a major purpose of this weapon would be to deter attacks on Russia. The animation of the system showed it striking both US Navy formations and a coastal city. 

    Putin said the undersea weapon was successfully tested in December 2016, and the US intelligence community seems to have been aware of it, as the weapon was mentioned in President Donald Trump's nuclear posture review.

    Other crazy weapons

    Chinese Hypersonic Glide Vehicle

    Putin then discussed a hypersonic plane-launched, nuclear-capable missile, and showed it hitting US Navy ships.

    The US, Russia, China, and others are working on hypersonic weapons that can defeat all current defenses by flying at many times the speed of sound.

    Finally, Putin talked up Russian laser weapons, and showed a brief video of an electronic system with lenses pivoting on the back of a truck. He provided little detail about the system. 

    For many of the systems, Putin asked Russian citizens to send in suggestions for their names. He used the opportunity to stoke Russian pride by saying the systems were not reworkings of Soviet designs, but recent within the last few years. 

    "They kept ignoring us, nobody wanted to listen to us, so listen to us now," said Putin to a standing ovation, referring to the Western world. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Why you should never pour grease down the drain


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    nuclear bomb

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin announced new, supposedly unstoppable nuclear weapons that could hit the US in a matter of minutes.
    • Putin may be overselling it, but Russia certainly has the nuclear offensive capabilities to destroy much of the US, and there's nothing the US can do to stop it.
    • Yet the likely targets of a Russian nuclear strike would be counterintuitive, and places like New York and Los Angeles may be spared for more high-value targets in North Dakota or Montana.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia had developed four new "unstoppable" nuclear systems devised specifically to render US missile defenses "useless," and even played animations of launches toward the US.

    The systems include an super-fast underwater drone, a nuclear-powered "unlimited" range cruise missile, a new intercontinental ballistic missile with multiple independent warheads, and a hypersonic missile to be fired from jets.

    With most everything from the Kremlin, it's best to take their claims with a grain of salt. But one thing is certain, in a full-on nuclear attack from Russia, the US has little chance to defend itself, and millions would die in an instant.

    Since the Cold War, the US and Russia have drawn up plans on how to best wage nuclear war against each other — but while large population centers with huge cultural impact may seem like obvious choices, a smarter nuclear attack would focus on countering the enemy's nuclear forces.

    So while people in New York City or Los Angeles may see themselves as being in the center of the world, in terms of nuclear-target priorities, they're not as important as states like North Dakota or Montana.

    According to Stephen Schwartz, the author of "Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of US Nuclear Weapons Since 1940," as the Cold War progressed and improvements in nuclear weapons and intelligence-collection technologies enabled greater precision in where those weapons were aimed, the emphasis in targeting shifted from cities to nuclear stockpiles and nuclear war-related infrastructure.

    This map shows the essential points Russia would have to attack to wipe out the US's nuclear forces, according to Schwartz:

    US Nuke Targets

    This map represents targets for an all-out attack on the US's fixed nuclear infrastructure, weapons, and command and control centers — but even a massive strike like this wouldn't guarantee anything.

    "It's exceedingly unlikely that such an attack would be fully successful," Schwartz told Business Insider. "There's an enormous amount of variables in pulling off an attack like this flawlessly, and it would have to be flawless. If even a handful of weapons escape, the stuff you missed will be coming back at you."

    Even if every single US intercontinental ballistic missile silo, stockpiled nuclear weapon, and nuclear-capable bomber were flattened, US nuclear submarines could — and would — retaliate.

    According to Schwartz, at any given time, the US has four to five nuclear-armed submarines "on hard alert, in their patrol areas, awaiting orders for launch."

    Even high-ranking officials in the US military don't know where the silent submarines are, and there's no way Russia could chase them all down before they fired back, which Schwartz said could be done in as little as five to 15 minutes.

    But a strike on a relatively sparsely populated area could still lead to death and destruction across the US, depending on how the wind blew. That's because of fallout.

    radioactive fallout zone nuclear blast expanding shrinking 48 hours bruce buddemeier llnl

    The US has strategically positioned the bulk of its nuclear forces, which double as nuclear targets, far from population centers. But if you happen to live next to an ICBM silo, fear not.

    There's a "0.0 percent chance" that Russia could hope to survive an act of nuclear aggression against the US, according to Schwartz.

    So while we all live under a nuclear "sword of Damocles," Schwartz said, people in big cities like New York and Los Angeles most likely shouldn't worry about being struck by a nuclear weapon.

    SEE ALSO: Putin describes Russian 'doomsday' nuclear weapon in a wild speech to the nation

    DON'T MISS: The US just shot down an ICBM — but if North Korea attacks it won't be that easy

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Watch how the US would shoot down an incoming ICBM in its tracks


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    Putin Angry

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin bragged during a speech to his country's elites on Thursday about a wide range of new nuclear-capable missiles that he said can beat the US's missile defenses.
    • Putin is correct — the US does not have sufficient ballistic missile defenses to stop a Russian attack, nor has it for decades.
    • Instead of worrying about defense, the US just builds its own nuclear missiles, which Russia also can't stop.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin bragged during a speech to his country's elites on Thursday about a wide range of new nuclear-capable missiles that he said can beat the US's missile defenses — and he's absolutely right about that.

    The US does have systems in place to defend against ballistic missile attacks, but has never deployed a system designed to protect the entire US homeland. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, with components in California and Alaska, is the closest thing the US has to continental missile defense, but there's no way it could stand up to a Russian attack.

    The system, which has a poor track record and costs billions, relies on hit-to-kill technology, or anti-missiles that the US would fire to slam into incoming nuclear missiles, stopping them in their tracks. It's extremely difficult to hit a ballistic missile in flight, as they travel at over a dozen times the speed of sound. 

    The US has succeeded a few times at hitting a mock-up of a ballistic missile, but it's still a crap shoot that only makes sense against a limited adversary like North Korea. The GMD has 44 missile interceptors as of 2017. Russia has 1,700 deployed nuclear missiles.

    Additionally, some of the systems described by Putin on Thursday weren't even ballistic missiles, but underwater torpedoes and cruise missiles, which the US doesn't actively do much to defend against.

    But the lack of US missile defense against Russia isn't a mistake. The US tried in the 1980s to create a space-based ballistic missile defense system called "Star Wars." The effort failed in a practical sense, functioning as a giant money pit that achieved virtually nothing.

    But in a political sense, the US making public its attempts to nullify Russia's nuclear arsenal succeeded. Work on Star Wars played a non-negligible role in getting concessions out of the Soviets during arms control talks in the 1980s. 

    Why doesn't the US even try to block Russia's nukes?

    putin trump g20 hamburg

    The US and Russia have built nuclear weapons and aimed them at each other since the 1960s, and neither side really has a way of stopping an attack from the other side. Instead, they rely on a doctrine called "mutually assured deterrence."

    Basically, if Russia attacked the US with nuclear missiles, US nuclear missiles would attack right back. The US has early warning satellites watching Russia from space, so if Putin did fire his unstoppable missiles, before they even landed, the US would probably have their own missiles flying back at Moscow. 

    So on Thursday, when Putin told Russia's elites that he had built missiles that the US could never stop, he was telling the truth.

    But what he didn't mention is that Russia has been able to nuke the US for decades, and that if Putin went through with it, it would likely be one of the last things he ever did.

    SEE ALSO: Putin describes Russian 'doomsday' nuclear weapon in a wild speech to the nation

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    Ukraine Russia

    • After a massive battle that multiple reports cite as resulting in hundreds of dead Russian military contractors, Russian job listing websites are reportedly offering more high-paid work in the "security" field.
    • The ads seek recruits with good physical fitness who can go on "business trips" to Ukraine or Syria for about three months.
    • A Russian paramilitary official recently told France24 that Russian men were volunteering not for money, but for revenge.


    After a massive battle that multiple reports cite as resulting in hundreds of dead Russian military contractors, Russian job listing websites are reportedly offering more high-paid work in the "security" field.

    A Ukranian website posted several screenshots from Russian job listing websites offering high-paid but vague jobs for those willing to work on "security" projects abroad, and reported that such listings have spiked sharply in February, when the battle took place.

    The ads seek recruits with good physical fitness who can go on "business trips" to Ukraine or Syria for about three months. Russia stands accused of sending "little green men" or military contractors without proper Russian military uniforms or affiliation, to wage war in those two countries.

    Multiple reports state that Russia's reason for using military contractors in Syria, where it is fighting against insurgents who oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad, is to conceal the true cost of the war to Russian servicemen.

    But the conditions for the contractors are reportedly bleak. Hundreds of Russian mercenaries were reportedly routed in a battle with US airpower, against which they were defenseless. Alleged leaked audio from Russian paramilitary commanders captures them lamenting the unwise battle, and expressing humiliation at their sound defeat.

    Russian officials admit to only a few Russian nationals dying in battles, and several dozen wounded, but all other reporting of the battle portrays severe losses for the pro-government side, which many say was mostly Russian.

    A Russian paramilitary official recently told France24 that he had 150 men in freezers in Syria as "minced meat," and that their mortal remains won't even be returned to their family until after Russia's presidential election in March. The official, however, said that now Russian men were volunteering not for money, but for revenge.

    SEE ALSO: Putin confirms Russia has a 'doomsday' nuclear weapon in a wild speech to the nation

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly, including the State Duma parliamentarians, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and other high-ranking officials, in Moscow, Russia March 1, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed he had a nuclear-powered cruise missile with unlimited range that could hit anywhere on Earth with a nuke.
    • But the US reportedly pushed back on that, saying it hadn't been successfully tested.
    • Putin provided no evidence for his claim other than a video that was clearly computer animated.

    After Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that he had built a nuclear-powered cruise missile with unlimited range that can evade all US defenses and deliver a nuclear weapon anywhere on Earth, it looks like the US is already casting doubts.

    Putin said that Russia successfully tested the missile in 2017, which besides sounding incredibly dangerous as it's an untested flying nuclear reactor, had not been reported by any news outlets in or outside the country.

    But on Thursday, Fox News's Lucas Tomlinson quoted US officials as saying the weapon was not yet operational, and that the test had failed.

    Though Putin said, and later tweeted, that the missile worked, he was only able to show a computer animation of the missile during his speech. In fact, all the missile systems he talked up during his speech were demonstrated with computer animations, and not actual footage. 

    In any case, Russia having or not having a nuclear-powered cruise missile doesn't really alter the balance of power that much.

    The US relies on the doctrine of "mutually assured deterrence," or having Putin rest with the knowledge that if he ever did fire a nuclear weapon at the US or one of its allies, US nuclear missiles would find him too.

    SEE ALSO: Putin is bragging about being able to beat US missile defenses — and he's absolutely correct

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    • Russian President Vladimir Putin made a bunch of wild claims about Russia's nuclear arsenal on Thursday, but Russia getting new nuclear weapons doesn't actually improve the country's situation.
    • Russia is still a very poor country on a per capita basis, and the new nuclear weapons won't actually shift the balance of power.
    • Putin said other countries would "listen" to Russia now that it has new nuclear weapons, but that was for domestic consumption before a big election, and in reality the international community doesn't make decisions based on who has newer nukes.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a wild state of the nation address to the country's elites on Thursday, and he chose to conclude the speech by hyping up a bunch of doomsday nuclear devices and threatening to retaliate against anyone who attacks the US with nuclear force.

    But Putin's talk was classic bluster. In reality, his country has severe weaknesses. 

    "There was nothing new in his speech," Anna Borschevskaya, an expert on Russia at the Washington Institute, told Business Insider.

    Take a look at this line from Putin after he described new nuclear weapons systems he framed as able to defeat the US: "They kept ignoring us," Putin said of the West, to a standing ovation. "Nobody wanted to listen to us, so listen to us now."

    Borschevskaya pointed out "the victimization themes in his speech."

    "You (implying the West) didn't listen to us before, but you will listen now," she said, adding that Russia has threatened the US with nuclear weapons before.

    With weak oil prices and international sanctions crushing Russia's economy, "Putin has little else to offer to the public besides the classic narratives of Russia as a besieged fortress surrounded by enemies," Borschevskaya said. 

    This possibly explains why other non-nuclear nations play a greater role in the international community and enjoy a higher standard of living than Russia, which prioritizes nuclear weapons above other things like investing in education or infrastructure.

    Russia has a smaller GDP than Canada, but four times the population. Canada doesn't have nuclear weapons or a large military footprint, but somehow it gets other countries to listen to it. 

    So while military might is Putin's last leg to stand on, recent events question even that.

    Untold numbers of Russian mercenaries are dying in Syria

    Putin is reportedly trying to keep a lid on a troubling news story that hundreds of Russian nationals were handily defeated by US air power in Syria. Detailed reports and allegedly leaked audio paint a picture of an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the US military, and how the remains of dead Russian mercenaries are being held until after Russia's presidential election in March.

    And while Putin's new nuclear weapons may improve upon older models, they don't really change much. 

    "These concepts were raised and explored repeatedly during the Cold War," Justin Bronk, a combat aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider. "To be honest I don't think they're terribly destabilizing."

    The early part of Putin's speech made big promises on social and economic issues, which are "very important to the Russian public," according to Borschevskaya.

    "Everything from poor roads, a classic problem in Russia, to health care and poverty," came up in the speech, "but while he talked big, he said nothing about exactly how these issues are going to get improved," she said. 

    "While this might make Putin look like a tough guy flexing new nuclear muscles ahead of upcoming undemocratic elections in Russia that will coronate him again, the new systems don't change the essential deterrence equation between the US and Russia," Barry Pavel, a senior vice president and director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council wrote.

    Putin's appeal to nuclear might as a tool of persuasion and national power in 2018 represents a bygone era of Cold War competition, and doesn't really change anything.

    SEE ALSO: Putin describes Russian 'doomsday' nuclear weapon in a wild speech to the nation

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    • China has planned to up its military spending by 8.1% in 2018 in an effort to modernize its armed forces. 
    • Defense spending has increased following Xi's appointment as Commander-in-Chief in April 2016.
    • Experts said Xi's designation of Commander in Chief was symbolic and stressed his control over the country and its military power.

    China plans to increase its military spending by 8.1% in 2018 in an effort to modernize its armed forces. 

    Beijing proposed spending 1.11 trillion yuan ($175 billion) on its military, according to its budget report presented ahead of the opening of China's 13th National People's Congress on Monday, according to Reuters.

    Premier Li Kequiang said in his opening address that China will "advance all aspects of military training and war preparedness, and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests."

    He also said the military, the government, and its people must always be as "strong as stone."

    China's defense spending has increased following Xi's appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Joint Operations Command in April 2016. The budget grew 7.6% in 2016, and 7% in 2017.

    At the time he was appointed, experts said Xi's designation as Commander in Chief stressed his control over the country and its military power.

    Xi has also pledged to modernize the army, promising to unveil a "world-class" armed forces by 2035.

    SEE ALSO: After netizens criticized Xi Jinping, China banned a Quora-like app for not censoring enough content

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    • A South Korean delegation met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday for the first time.
    • The talks could set the tone for US engagement at a later date.
    • The South Koreans received a warm welcome but promised to push North Korea on denuclearizing — something it bitterly opposes.
    • International sanctions are closing in on North Korea, and the US and South Korea are expected to return to regular military exercises after the Paralympics.

    A 10-member South Korean delegation met face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday for the first time in history — and the talks could set the tone for later US engagement.

    The meeting, which took place in Pyongyang, reportedly involved an elegant reception and banquet for the visiting diplomats, who will stay in what a representative of the South Korean president's office told NK News was a "luxury resort" on the Taedong River.

    "The North Korean side has been preparing a lot for warmly welcoming the South Korean delegation," the representative said. North Korea is known to go all out when hosting foreign diplomats.

    But while the South Koreans may have found a warm reception, the delegation's leader promised they would talk about the most difficult topic at hand and most likely the elephant in the room: North Korea's nuclear arsenal and ambitions.

    Chung Eui-yong, the chief of South Korea's National Security Office, told reporters at a briefing that, "more than anything," the diplomats would "clearly deliver" South Korean President Moon Jae-in's "firm will to achieve the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and create sincere and permanent peace."

    North Korea has consistently said its possession of nuclear weapons is nonnegotiable; it's even written into the country's constitution. The US and South Korea maintain that their goal in engaging with North Korea is denuclearization and that any mutual talks must seek that end.

    Since the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea, North Korea has been much more open to inter-Korean talks, with Kim even inviting Moon to Pyongyang to become the first head of state to meet him in person.

    Moon has not yet accepted the invitation, and US President Donald Trump has said talks must happen only "under the right conditions."

    But North Korea may be feeling pressure to engage diplomatically with the US and South Korea, as a new wave of sanctions and an aggressive policy by the Trump administration of policing North Korea's exports threaten to hamstring the country's economy.

    Additionally, the US and South Korea are expected to return to normal military exercises in mid-March after the Paralympic Games; such exercises serve as a major irritant to North Korea, which often responds with missile tests. Experts calculate that Pyongyang still needs several tests to ensure the functionality of its latest intercontinental ballistic missile systems.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea reportedly 'laundered' coal through Russia in an apparent breach of sanctions

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    • The US Navy made history on Monday by putting to sea for the first time an aircraft carrier with F-35B jets and by deploying them in the Pacific.
    • China has been asserting its power in the region, but the F-35 poses real problems for Beijing's newly-built defenses, and signals the US's intention to not back down.
    • The US has developed a new set of tactics to make the most of the F-35B's vertical landing-and -takeoff abilities, which make it perfect to dominate the Pacific.

    The US Navy made history on Monday by putting to sea for the first time ever an aircraft carrier with F-35B jets.

    And by deploying them in the Pacific, it's a message China and North Korea are sure to hear loud and clear.

    The US Marine Corps's Fighter Attack Squadron 121 deployed aboard the USS Wasp, a smaller-deck aircraft carrier that used to operate harrier jump jets and helicopters before getting special modifications to field the F-35.

    "This is a historic deployment," said Col. Tye R. Wallace, 31st MEU Commanding Officer in a US Navy press release. "The F-35B is the most capable aircraft ever to support a Marine rifleman on the ground."

    The deployment marks the culmination of years of planing. Since its inception, the F-35 has been designed with the idea of accommodating short takeoff, vertical landing variants. Initially, the design compromises forced by the massive tail fan and unique capabilities caused complications, compromises, and long and expensive delays.

    But the US has still beaten China, Russia, and the entire world to the punch with a navalized stealth fighter that can fight for air superiority, pull off precision strikes, penetrate enemy airspaces, and coordinate with the two US Navy guided-missile destroyers to guide ship-fired missiles to targets ashore.

    The squadron aboard the Wasp has also trained heavily on a new set of tactics meant to keep the US dominant in the Pacific region. Leveraging the short-takeoff, vertical landing ability of the F-35B, the pilots and maintainers drilled on setting up improvised refuel and reloading points, and how to quickly restock the jet for battle much like mechanics perform pit stops during NASCAR races.

    Additionally, the F-35B has the option of equipping a gun and opening it up as a close-air-support platform to support Marines making a beach landing.

    The result is a stealth fighter/bomber/reconnaissance jet well suited to the Asia-Pacific region, which US adversaries like China and North Korea will be sure to recognize.

    US competition in the region and around the world put on notice

    f 35b uss america

    "You're about to put for the first time ever fifth-generation fighters on a ship at sea and put it into a highly contested area that is fraught with geopolitical risk and controversy and tensions," retired US Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Berke, a former F-35B squadron commander, previously told Business Insider.

    "The implications of a fifth-generation airplane being in [the Pacific] is impossible to overstate," he added. "They're going to provide capability that nobody knows exists yet."

    As Beijing pushes on with its massive land grab in the South China Sea by militarizing artificial islands, intruding in territorial waters of its neighbors, and performing increasingly aggressive fighter jet drills around the Pacific, the F-35B deployment gives the US an advantage in terms of air power at sea.

    China has struggled to field its own stealth jets that many see as an answer to US air power in the region.

    North Korea, not a powerful nation in terms of air power, will now feel the added pressure of stealth jets it cannot track sitting near its shores in Okinawa or on deployment around the region.

    Here's a video of the F-35B landing vertically on the Wasp at sea:

    SEE ALSO: Kim Jong Un meets with South Korean officials for historic talks in Pyongyang

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    • In the immediate aftermath of Kim Jong Un reportedly expressing a willingness to submit to talks with the US under the precondition of denuclearizing his country, President Donald Trump tweeted "we'll see what happens."
    • North Korea agreeing to talk to the US about getting rid of its nuclear weapons could be seen as a big win for Trump, but he hasn't yet approached it that way.

    In the immediate aftermath of North and South Korea announcing historic agreements and Kim Jong Un reportedly expressing a willingness to submit to talks with the US under the precondition of denuclearizing his country, President Donald Trump's first comment was "we'll see what happens."

    Trump has made North Korea a main foreign policy focus during his presidency, but on Tuesday morning after the bombshell news out of historic bilateral talks between North and South Korea, he wasn't tweeting about the breakthrough at first.

    In his first tweet of Thursday morning, Trump addressed reports of chaos and high turnover in the White House, defending himself by calling it "Fake News" and saying: "There is no Chaos, only great Energy!"

    In another tweet moments later, he called on Democrats to act on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation, or DACA, something he frequently accuses them of dragging their feet on.

    Two minutes later, he retweeted a Drudge Report headline saying that the US would soon become the world's largest oil producer, "We are getting it done - jobs and security!" Trump tweeted.

    Finally, Trump addressed the talks in Korea by retweeting a day-old story that only announced the talks were going on, not the monumental results they achieved.

    "We will see what happens!" Trump tweeted, including a link to the talks, which had already taken place and produced considerable news.

    Kim Jong Un's reported decision to bend to the US's will that he discuss denuclearizing could be seen as a win for Trump, who has pushed international sanctions and put unprecedented military pressure on Pyongyang.

    Though Trump is usually quick to grab on to positive news coverage, he appeared to be cautious on Tuesday, or out of the loop.

    It remains to be seen if North Korea is sincere in its desire for peace and reunification with the South, but so far Kim has indicated a willingness to sit down with Trump, something Trump has also expressed interest in.

    SEE ALSO: Under pressure, Kim Jong Un agrees to talk to the US about denuclearizing, peace

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    north south korea talks kim jong un Chung Eui-yong

    • South Korea says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made a shocking concession and agreed to meet with the US to talk about getting rid of his country's nuclear weapons.
    • President Donald Trump responded with cautious optimism, but there's a "missing link" that the US could be missing out on.
    • South Korea has motivations to give the US the most benevolent-sounding version of events to promote talks between the US and North Korea, but the truth may be darker than anyone has acknowledged.

    South Korean diplomats emerged from a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week with shocking news— that Kim appeared to back down amid international pressure and offered up talks with the US about denuclearization.

    While President Donald Trump met the development with cautious optimism, if it's true, it would represent a huge concession from Pyongyang that could put the North on a path to peace and reconciliation with the world.

    But there's a major "missing link" causing this analysis to skew premature, according to Yun Sun, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center.

    South Korea's special envoy will now head to the US to debrief Washington on the talks and share with the White House secret messages North Korea asked it to transmit, but Yun finds the circumstances suspicious.

    "South Korea has an innate interest to provide the most benevolent interpretation of what North Korea said," said Yun, who pointed out that by Tuesday afternoon North Korean officials had yet to publicly comment on the apparent progress.

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in campaigned on a more engagement-heavy strategy, while his opposition favored a harder, more militaristic approach to North Korea. But North Korea began aggressively testing its nuclear weapons and its missiles after his election, blocking most opportunity for engagement with Pyongyang.

    South Korea's desire to see the US talk to North Koreans became apparent during the Winter Olympics, when, Yun said, diplomats "tried very hard" to make talks happen and Seoul's diplomats themselves made concessions and let certain North Koreans skirt sanctions to facilitate its inclusion in the games.

    Additionally, a small tweak to North Korea's language could make a big impact in talks. South Korean officials said Kim agreed to submit to talks with US under the precondition of denuclearization, for example, a considerable concession.

    But South Korean officials also said Kim cited denuclearization as a dying wish of his father, Kim Jong Il. It was the younger Kim, however, who wrote the possession of nuclear weapons into North Korea's constitution, suggesting he either disobeyed his father's dying wish, fabricated the wish, or is playing at some other, more nuanced game with the prospect of denuclearization.

    Also, when North Korea does eventually comment on the matter, it could say it agreed to something more complicated or less achievable than what the South described Tuesday, such as denuclearizing only if the US or the whole world does as well.

    In Yun's view, the US should examine how North Korea discusses the talks in its internal media to avoid being sold on a sanitized version of the talks by South Korea.

    "If North Korea comes out and corroborates, watch the language it uses and what it really means in terms of North Korea's position," said Yun, who cited a "possibility that South Korea was providing an overly benevolent interpretation of events."

    SEE ALSO: Under pressure, Kim Jong Un agrees to talk to the US about denuclearizing, peace

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    • Russia is struggling to fund its new Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet, and have only ordered 12 of the jets while the US ramps up its sales and production of the F-35 — a direct competitor.
    • Specifically, the US and India have engaged in some preliminary talks about selling the F-35, when India was initially a key investor in the Su-57 project.
    • Russia's Su-57 is still in a theoretical stage with few airframes built and new engines and weapons integration sorely lacking, but the F-35 is ready to sell.


    Russia recently grabbed a bunch of publicity for its new Su-57 fifth-generation jet by sending a pair of the supposedly stealth fighters to practice dropping bombs in Syria — but it looks like the F-35 could squash the program in its infancy.

    Multiple experts recently told Business Insider that Russia's program to acquire and field the Su-57 desperately needs an infusion of cash from an international investor like India. 

    Initially, India was a partner in the Su-57 program, and intended to help develop, build, and eventually buy scores of the advanced fighter jet pitched as a rival to the US F-22 and F-35, but those talks soured and Russia never saw the money.

    Experts now allege that Russia's deployment of the underdeveloped, underpowered fighters to Syria, a combat zone where they're hardly relevant as air-superiority fighters not facing any real air threats, was a marketing ploy to get more investment.

    But while Russia rushes off the Su-57s for a deployment that lasts mere days and demonstrates only that the supposedly next-generation fighters can drop bombs, the US has made real inroads selling the F-35 to countries that might have looked at the Su-57.

    The US sent F-35s to the Singapore Air Show in February as part of an international sales pitch. President Donald Trump's administration has loosened up regulations on who the US can sell weapons to, and the F-35, once a troubled program, finally seems to have hit its stride.

    "The Russian economy is a mess," retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, now head of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Business Insider. "One of the things they can actually get money for is the advanced tech in their weapons systems."

    But with the Su-57 seeming like a long shot with trouble ahead, and the F-35 now ready to buy, the Trump administration's expressed strategy of punishing the Kremlin's cash flow with military sales might bear fruit.

    Asked if the F-35's export to countries like India posed a threat to Russia's Su-57 program, Deptula gave a short answer: "Yes."

    The Su-57's death blow could fall in a boardroom in New Delhi

    f-35 f-16 f 35

    Japan and South Korea are both thinking about buying more F-35s, but most importantly, The Diplomat rounded up several reports indicating that India's Air Force formally requested a classified briefing on the F-35A, and it may buy up to 126 of the jets.

    At around $100 million per airframe, such a purchase would likely leave little room in the budget for India to buy Su-57s, which would require vastly different support infrastructure than the US jet. 

    "Having been to India and met with their Air Force leadership, while they are a neutral country, their culture is one that fits very well with English speaking nations around the world," said Deptula, who said the US trying to sell F-35s to India would be "worthwhile."

    If India decided to buy F-35s, or really any Western jet, Russia would have it's struggling Su-57 and one fewer customer for it. Meanwhile, Russia has only ordered 12 of the Su-57s, not even enough for a full squadron.

    So while jet enthusiasts have long debated who would win in a fight between the F-35 and the Su-57, we may never find out.

    The US's F-35 is a real jet — three real jets actually — that has significant money behind it to keep it flying in air forces around the globe for decades to come. Russia's Su-57 has no such security.

    SEE ALSO: The US Navy has put to sea the first-ever F-35 aircraft carrier — and it's a big warning to China and North Korea

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    • North Korea reportedly had activity at its nuclear reactor before talking to South Korea's diplomatic envoy, and it suggests Pyongyang has been trying to make more nuclear warheads.
    • But North Korea reportedly told South Korea it was open to denuclearization, which seems at odds with an uptick in nuclear production.
    • The US responded to North Korea's talk of denuclearization by implying it was ready for both war and diplomacy, and this may be Pyongyang's way of saying the same thing.


    South Korean diplomats emerged from a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday with shocking news that Pyongyang would agree to talk to the US about denuclearizing — but reports indicate it was doing something mysterious at its nuclear reactor right before the talks.

    On February 25, 38 North, a website of expert analysis of imagery and reporting from North Korea, detected plumes of vapor emanating from the generator hall of North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.

    "As the evidence suggests, it means North Korea has resumed production of plutonium presumably for its nuclear weapons program,"according to the website.

    Only weeks later, on March 6, and without any material change in the US or South Korea's position towards North Korea save for another US sanctions push, Kim reversed course on the country's nuclear program, according to South Korea's president's office.

    But in responding to North Korea's reported overtures of peace, President Donald Trump expressed doubt, tweeting that it may "be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction," likely referencing both diplomacy and fighting.

    According to Yun Sun, an expert on North Korea at the Stimson Center, North Korea both preparing nuclear material and discussing denuclearization "sounds like North Korea is also prepared on both sides."

    "We know that North Korea's nuclear stock is limited," Sun told Business Insider, explaining that North Korea would have to enrich more radioactive material to create more nuclear warheads, something satellites can normally spot from space.

    "For North Korea this is not atypical," Sun said about Kim talking diplomacy on one hand while possibly preparing more nuclear weapons on the other. 

    "North Korea has its programs ongoing," Sun said. "Before they have a deal, they’d probably see any nuclear activity as justified because there’s no deal."

    SEE ALSO: Trump hails 'possible progress' as North Korea says it will discuss giving up its nukes

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    U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis boards a U.S. Air Force C-17 for a day trip to a U.S. military base in Djibouti from Doha, Qatar April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    • The top U.S. general for Africa told lawmakers on Tuesday that the military could face "significant" consequences should China take a key port in Djibouti.
    • Last month, Djibouti ended its contract with Dubai's DP World, one of the world's biggest port operators, to run the Doraleh Container Terminal in what the company called an illegal seizure.
    • Lawmakers said they had seen reports that Djibouti seized control of the port to give it to China as a gift, and the US fears it base there could be next.

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. general for Africa told lawmakers on Tuesday that the military could face "significant" consequences should China take a key port in Djibouti, as Beijing becomes increasingly muscular in Africa in an effort to expand its influence.

    Last month, Djibouti ended its contract with Dubai's DP World, one of the world's biggest port operators, to run the Doraleh Container Terminal, citing failure to resolve a dispute that began in 2012.

    DP World called the move an illegal seizure of the terminal and said it had begun new arbitration proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration.

    During a U.S. congressional hearing on Tuesday, which was dominated by concerns about China's role in Africa, lawmakers said they had seen reports that Djibouti seized control of the port to give it to China as a gift.

    China has already built a military base in Djibouti, just miles from a critical U.S. military base.

    "If this was an illegal seizure of that port, what is to say that government wouldn't illegally terminate our lease before its term is up," said Representative Bradley Byrne, a Republican.

    In a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Byrne said he was concerned about China's influence in Djibouti and the impact it would have on U.S. military and intelligence assets.

    Djibouti is strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal.

    Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, the top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa, said that if China placed restrictions on the port's use, it could affect resupplying the U.S. base in Djibouti and the ability of Navy ships to refuel there.

    "If the Chinese took over that port, then the consequences could be significant," Waldhauser said during the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing.

    Djibouti hosts a U.S. military base that is home to about 4,000 personnel, including special operations forces, and is a launch pad for operations in Yemen and Somalia.

    "There are some indications of (China) looking for additional facilities, specifically on the eastern coast ... So Djibouti happens to be the first - there will be more," Waldhauser said.

    Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he did not know anything about the port situation, but China's cooperation with Africa was neither aimed at any third party nor aimed at excluding anyone.

    "We hope that the U.S. side can objectively and fairly view China's development and China-Africa cooperation," he told a daily news briefing.

    Soft power 

    djibouti map

    China has sought to be visible in Africa, including through high-profile investment in public infrastructure projects, as it deepens its trade ties.

    Waldhauser said that the United States would be unable to match the scale of that investment throughout the continent, noting Beijing's construction of shopping malls, government buildings and even soccer stadiums.

    "We'll never outspend the Chinese in (Africa)," Waldhauser said, noting some of the Chinese investments in Djibouti.

    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday the United States will give more than $533 million in humanitarian aid for victims of conflicts and drought in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and the West and Central African countries bordering Lake Chad.

    But Tillerson contrasted the United States' work on the African continent, which he said promoted "sustainable growth," with that of China, which recently pledged $124 billion for its Silk Road plan to expand links between Asia, Africa, Europe and other places.

    Tillerson said China's investment in Africa "encouraged dependency."

    This year, the U.S. military put countering China, along with Russia, at the center of a new national defense strategy.

    The Pentagon said China was a part of "revisionist powers" that "seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models."

    Waldhauser said he was in the process of rewriting U.S. military strategy in the region with China in mind.

    "China has been on the African continent for quite some time, but we as a combatant command have not dealt with it in terms of a strategic interest," Waldhauser said.

    "We are taking baby steps in that regard," he added.

    SEE ALSO: There's a puzzling 'missing link' in South Korea's story about Kim Jong Un wanting to denuclearize

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