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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    army

    • The US Army confirmed on Monday that it had mishandled retired bomb-sniffing war dogs and said it would comply with calls for reforms.
    • The canine heroes, which saved the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan while working with brigade combat teams to sniff out roadside bombs, were mistreated by the Army after they returned to the United States.
    • Some dogs were left in kennels for up to 11 months, and they were mistreated through lack of care and attention, and others may have been put down.

    (Reuters) - The U.S. Army confirmed on Monday that it had mishandled retired bomb-sniffing war dogs and said it would comply with recommendations in a Defense Department Inspector General’s report that called for reforms.

    In a report released on Friday, the Inspector General said that canine heroes, which saved the lives of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan while working with brigade combat teams to sniff out roadside bombs, were mistreated by the Army after they returned to the United States.

    Army spokesman Major Christopher Ophardt said in a statement emailed to Reuters, “The Army concurs with the DoDIG (Defense Inspector General) report and is complying with” its recommendations.

    The report said that some dogs were left in kennels for up to 11 months, beyond a deadline for giving them away for adoption or re-using them in the military or other government agencies. It said they were mistreated through lack of care and attention, and others may have been put down.

    Contrary to military rules, new owners were not screened before the Army allowed them to adopt the dogs. It said that some dogs with histories of biting were given to families with children, and others were given to owners who lacked the ability or resources to care for them.

    In some cases, the report said, soldiers who wanted to adopt dogs with which they had worked were not told they had the right to do so. An investigation was started after soldiers who had handled the war dogs complained about their fate.

    The recommendations included requiring unit commanders to comply with Army regulations spelling out proper handling of “Military Working Dogs.” The regulations require that plans be made ahead of time for their retirement and for screening owners who want to adopt dogs.

    The recommendations also call for the Army to better track and keep records of all of its working dogs. In addition to the dogs specified in the report, which specialized in detecting roadside improvised explosive devices, the Army also has search dogs and “patrol” dogs.

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

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Kim Jong-un

    • South Korea says North Korea has made huge concessions in nuclear negotiations and is willing to talk to the US about disarming, but North Korean media mentions no such thing.
    • This points to a few possible strategies North Korea may be playing out, and they range from innocent to sinister.
    • The US responded to North Korea's apparent talk of disarmament with cautious optimism but stressed that use of military action to force Pyongyang to denuclearize was still on the table.

    North Korean media has been very hushed about historic talks this week between South Korean officials and Kim Jong Un, which ended Tuesday with representatives from Seoul announcing that Kim had made massive nuclear concessions.

    The front page of North Korea's most widely read domestic newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, on Wednesday made no mention of Kim's reported wish to denuclearize. On page six, the paper talks about North Korea as a "responsible nuclear power ... preserv(ing) the values of parallel development of economy and nuclear weaponry,"according to the North Korea-focused news site NK News.

    The talk of growing the country's economy and nuclear program at the same time echoes one of Kim's consistent messages, and certainly doesn't acknowledge the massive about-face the South Koreans said he made during the talks.

    In another North Korean publication, meant more for international consumption, Pyongyang bashed the US in its typical way, saying the US was "openly pushing ahead with its preparations for igniting a war of aggression in an attempt to reverse the atmosphere of detente on the Korean Peninsula,"according to The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Cheng.

    The incongruity between South Korea's public statements and North Korea's media, which continues to discuss nuclear development and the US as an instigator of war, points to a few possible motivations driving Pyongyang.

    Possible motives

    North Korea

    The most innocent explanation would be that North Korea does not yet want to publicize its concessions and is awaiting a US response before talking openly of them to avoid embarrassment if the US were to reject the concessions.

    Another possibility, according to Yun Sun, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center, is that South Korea oversold North Korea's promises. "South Korea has an innate interest to provide the most benevolent interpretation of what North Korea said,"Sun told Business Insider on Tuesday.

    The US has met reports of North Korean outreach with skepticism but cautious optimism, with President Donald Trump hailing "possible progress" in the negotiations and Vice President Mike Pence reemphasizing that the US may still use military force to sort out the conflict with Pyongyang. The theory goes that North Korea may simply be trying to buy time to perfect its weapons programs or earn some sanctions relief by paying lip service to peace talks.

    Another, more sinister motivation for Pyongyang could be driving a wedge between the US and its ally South Korea by exposing differences between the two countries' North Korea policies.

    In South Korea, the government has sought more engagement with the North and is exposed to the brunt of Pyongyang's military force if war breaks out, whereas the US has expressed a resolve to let North Korea wither under sanctions or go to war if necessary.

    SEE ALSO: Kim Jong Un appears to have caved to Trump's pressure — but it could be a trap

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    Feb 16, 2018; Pyeongchang, South Korea; South Korea president Moon Jae-in visits the Main Press Centre during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    • South Korean President Moon Jae-in said talks with Kim Jong Un won't automatically lead to an easing of international sanctions and pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program.
    • "These international efforts (to pressure the North) cannot be loosened by inter-Korean dialogue. We don't aim for that to happen and it's also impossible," he said.
    • China, which is North Korea's only major ally, cheered the exchanges between the Koreas and called for a return to six-nation talks on denuclearization that it previously hosted.

    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday downplayed concerns that the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue will be accompanied by an easing of international sanctions and pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program.

    Moon made the comments in a meeting with political party leaders a day after South Korea announced an agreement with the North to hold a rare summit in April. Senior South Korean officials who met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Monday also said the North expressed a willingness to hold talks with the United States on denuclearization and normalizing ties.

    Conservative opposition leaders expressed concern during Wednesday's meeting at Seoul's presidential palace that North Korea could use the talks as a way to reduce the pressure, and also questioned whether the North in genuinely interested in abandoning its nuclear weapons.

    "The sanctions and pressure on North Korea aren't maintained by South Korea alone — these are actions based on U.N. Security Council resolutions, and then there are strong unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States," Moon said, added that the pressure on the North could only be reduced by "substantive progress" on denuclearization.

    "These international efforts (to pressure the North) cannot be loosened by inter-Korean dialogue. We don't aim for that to happen and it's also impossible."

    Moon's presidential national security director, Chung Eui-yong, who led the South Korean delegation that met with Kim, is to leave for the United States on Thursday to brief U.S. officials on the outcome of his trip to the North. Chung told reporters on Tuesday that he received a message from North Korea intended for the United States, but didn't disclose what it was.

    Japan has responded cautiously to the South Korean announcement of summit talks, saying Tokyo's policy of keeping maximum pressure on North Korea is unchanged.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that dialogue for dialogue's sake is meaningless and that the allies "should fully take into consideration lessons from our past dialogues with the North, none of which achieved denuclearization." He said Japan is on the same page as the United States, citing U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as saying Washington's pressure campaign is unchanged, with all options still on the table.

    China, which is North Korea's only major ally, cheered the exchanges between the Koreas and called for a return to six-nation talks on denuclearization that it previously hosted.

    Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Wednesday that China was "pleased to see the positive outcomes from those exchanges and interactions between the two sides. ... We hope the North and South will earnestly implement their consensuses and proceed with the process of reconciliation and cooperation."

     

    SEE ALSO: North Korea is very hushed about the prospect of denuclearization — and it could be playing the US

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    f 35b uss wasp usmc us navy

    • The US Marine Corps now has F-35Bs operating on US Navy ships in the Pacific, something no other military on earth comes close to.
    • The F-35 will become a fixture on aircraft carriers and air bases around the US, ushering in a new era of sea and air power.


    A US Marine Corps F-35B opened up its tail fan, blasted its massive jet engine downwards, and settled softly on the deck of the USS Wasp in what was the first Joint Strike Fighter landing on a deployed warship at sea in early March.

    A while later, another F-35B took off, and another landed. Within days, the procedure had become routine and unremarkable.

    But with the arrival of the F-35Bs on the decks of the US's small carriers, and soon the US's big carriers, naval warfare has changed forever.

    The Marines have tailored their whole operating concept to fit with the F-35, stocking ships with special helicopters and facilities to work on the next-generation jet that will become the workhorse of the force.

    The F-35B can takeoff in full stealth mode to penetrate enemy airspaces, it can carry scores of heavy bombs when stealth is no longer an issue, it can tank up with fuel and a detachable gun on the jet's belly, it can use its futuristic sensors and communications to guide ship-fired missiles to targets on land.

    Russia has an aircraft carrier and a navy, so do China and India and a host of other nations.

    But nobody has anything like the F-35B out at sea, and starting this month no smart US adversary will ever look at naval warfare the same again.

    SEE ALSO: The F-35 could dismantle Russia's Su-57 'stealth' jet program without even firing a shot

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    Rex Tillerson

    • US President Donald Trump made the decision to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un himself, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Friday.
    • "That is a decision the president took himself. I spoke to him very early this morning about that decision and we had a very good conversation," Tillerson told reporters.
    • He said the United States was surprised at how "forward-leaning" Kim was in his conversations with a visiting South Korean delegation.

    DJIBOUTI (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump made the decision to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un himself, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Friday, but the talks will take "some weeks" to arrange.

    Trump has said he was prepared to meet Kim in what would be the first face-to-face encounter between the two countries' leaders and potentially mark a major breakthrough in nuclear tensions with Pyongyang.

    "That is a decision the president took himself. I spoke to him very early this morning about that decision and we had a very good conversation," Tillerson told reporters during a visit to the African nation of Djibouti.

    "President Trump has said for some time that he was open to talks and he would willingly meet with Kim when conditions were right," the top U.S. diplomat said.

    "And I think in the president's judgment that time has arrived now."

    He said the United States was surprised at how "forward-leaning" Kim was in his conversations with a visiting South Korean delegation. He said it was the strongest indication to date of Kim's "not just willingness but really his desire for talks".

    SEE ALSO: South Korean leaders announce unprecedented invitation for Trump to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

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    FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un inspects artillery launchers ahead of a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army (KPA) on April 25, 2017.  KCNA/File Photo via REUTERS

    • President Donald Trump on Thursday agreed to meet face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the next two months.
    • But North Korea has pulled out of talks before, and experts say the US should approach with caution, as Pyongyang may using engagement to secure sanctions relief and buy time to cement its nuclear status.

    President Donald Trump on Thursday agreed to make history as the first sitting US president to meet face-to-face with a North Korean leader — but Kim Jong Un's unprecedented offer may actually be part of a diplomatic offensive designed to shatter Trump's progress on pressuring the country to give up its nuclear weapons.

    The breakthrough happened after what is thought to be a lighthearted dinner between Kim and South Korean officials this week, where, according to South Korea, Kim joked about himself and expressed willingness to dismantle his country's nuclear program and enter talks with the US.

    Trump, who as president has led the strictest sanctions yet against the North, started roundly receiving praise after Kim made what appeared as large concessions in seeking talks.

    "The leadership of President Trump, who gladly accepted Chairman Kim's invitation, will receive praise not only from people in the South and the North, but also from people around the world," South Korean President Moon Jae-in said through a representative.

    But North Korea has pulled out of talks before, and experts have urged Trump to proceed with caution.

    Good-will diplomacy, or a diplomatic offensive?

    Donald Trump Moon Jae in

    In agreeing to give up his country's nuclear weapons, Kim would be flipping on a core principal of his politics.

    In 2012, Kim wrote possession of nuclear weapons into North Korea's constitution. In September of last year, Kim sent Trump a personal letter saying Trump's nuclear threats and military buildups "have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the (nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile) path I chose is correct."

    But the US under Trump has said it will talk to North Korea directly only if Kim considers getting rid of his nukes. North Korea discussed that possibility with South Korea this week and, according to South Korean officials, seemed open to it if the ruling government's security would be guaranteed.

    The question will be just how to make North Korea feel secure enough to part with its nuclear weapons, which it sees as an existential necessity.

    For that reason, most experts remain skeptical toward the talks. North Korea's new policy of engagement with the US "should be understood as a tactic to secure sanctions relief, buy time to cement the status quo of DPRK's nuclear weapons status, and to try make inter-Korean contact a priority for Seoul over the US-ROK relationship," Chad O'Carroll and Fyodor Tertitskiy write at NK News, a website for expert commentary on the Korean Peninsula.

    By agreeing to the simple consideration of denuclearization, Kim has managed to advance North Korea's diplomatic agenda tremendously without agreeing to concrete action.

    North Korea could still introduce nonstarters into negotiations, for example agreeing to denuclearize only if the US withdraws all its forces from South Korea. Similarly, agreeing to denuclearize only if the US or the whole rest of the world does the same would seem to meet the conditions for talks while ultimately achieving nothing.

    What does Kim stand to gain?

    North Korea nuclear weapon

    Under Trump, the US has ramped up pressure on North Korea more than ever before. On a near monthly basis, new US-led sanctions hit North Korean people, banks, ships, companies, and virtually any entity or avenue of commerce.

    As a result, sanctions are beginning to bite and drain the country's reserves of cash.

    "North Korea has a history of having these big sanctions arrayed against it," Shea Cotton, an expert on the history of North Korea's missile program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told Business Insider. But North Korea also has a history of entering talks to gain sanctions relief, only to back out at the last moment.

    "After the sanctions are off for a while, North Korea returns to its bad behavior and the US has to build back up sanctions," Cotton said.

    With greater international support for and pressure on North Korea, Kim's diplomatic offensive can give the world the impression that he is ready to negotiate and that Washington, not Pyongyang, is stoking tensions.

    North Korea's move toward peace talks could also be intended to highlight differences between US and South Korean policies toward the country, potentially straining the relationship between two of the most important countries involved in confronting Pyongyang's nuclear threat.

    SEE ALSO: South Korean leaders announce unprecedented invitation for Trump to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

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    trump baseball bat pence oval office

    • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un making serious concessions to get his foot in the door for talks with Donald Trump seems to show the US president's strategy of nuclear brinkmanship worked.
    • Experts worried that Trump was bringing the US to the edge of nuclear war, but China and North Korea appear to have been swayed by Trump's bellicose threats, and they're now heeding US demands. 
    • Trump's strategy appears to have worked because he credibly portrayed himself as a madman and someone who fears the consequences of war in Korea less than Kim Jong Un.


    While much of the world responded with horror to President Donald Trump's talk of "fire and fury" against North Korea, the bellicose threats appear to have backed down Kim Jong Un and moved the US towards the most meaningful diplomacy it's had with Pyongyang in decades. 

    "Like it or not, Donald Trump’s policy has been remarkably successful — so far, at least," Director of Korea Risk Group, Andrei Lankov wrote in NK News, responding to the recently announced Trump-Kim summit.  

    Some of Trump's success with North Korea has been handed to him. During Trump's presidency, North Korea exponentially increased its nuclear and missile testing as the program that had been long in the works came to fruition.

    Extremely visible displays of aggression, like launching missiles over Japan and performing the only nuclear tests of the new millennium, galvanized global support for international pressure on North Korea. 

    But in an important way, Trump appears to have earned what looks like major concessions from Kim, and it all comes down to his credibility as a madman.

    Madman doctrine

    kim jong un

    North Korea experts argued consistently that Trump's tough talk towards Pyongyang destabilized an already fraught situation. Some thought his talk of strikes on North Korea would scare Kim into firing first. Some thought it dragged the US into a moral equivalency with one of the most brutal regimes on earth.

    But in the end, talks, not war, emerged, and fans of diplomacy should welcome this. 

    Trump's administration has given every signal that it's readying for war with North Korea. Under Trump, the US has built up its military presence in the region, deployed high-end stealth jets, sent in aircraft carriers, and given South Korea the green light to go ahead on a missile program of its own

    Trump has dismissed a prospective State Department appointee, perceived to be soft on North Korea, and hardly filled out the Asia department of the office, leading many to think he wasn't seriously considering diplomacy. 

    North Korea, South Korea, and China are scared

    North Korea

    Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if they attack the US or an ally before the United Nations. In December, his White House leaked stories to reporters contemplating a "bloody nose" strike against North Korea.

    Since the news of the "bloody nose" strike, wherein the US would respond to some North Korea provocation like a missile test with a small strike to humiliate Pyongyang, North Korea hasn't tested a single missile. 

    Reports out of both North and South Korea found the two sides seriously worried about war, and thinking up ways to de-escalate. China, North Korea's main backer, has taken unprecedented military steps to warn the US about war while capitulating overall to US-led sanctions pushes.

    Today, China is implementing sanctions on North Korea more faithfully than ever before, which directly coincides with Trump's talk of military action.

    While the world fretted enormously over Trump mocking Kim as "little rocket man," South Korean reports from a meeting with the leader indicate that Kim thought it was funny, and laughed about it during a meeting where he appeared to make massive concessions to the US by agreeing to discuss giving up his nuclear program.

    Why it worked for Trump

    donald trump

    Trump's madman tactics worked because he has succeeded in casting himself as an unconventional president. Nobody in South Korea, North Korea, China, or Japan knows if Trump would really attack Pyongyang. Frankly, nobody in the US even knows what Trump would do, outside his innermost circle. 

    In the world of nuclear strategy and regime survival, smart actors can only act on worst-case assumptions.

    North Korea has assumed for decades that the US would not risk damaging its ally, South Korea, to strike at Pyongyang, but Trump, and only Trump acting on his instincts, appears to have reversed that assumption. 

    Trump is now slated for talks with Kim, who made serious and shocking concessions to even get a seat at the table.

    While North Korea will get a considerable propaganda boost from the meeting and entertaining diplomacy and denuclearization, the talks are a beginning point, not an end, to a new point in US-North Korean relations ushered in by the legitimate fear of the US's military might and Trump's trigger finger. 

    SEE ALSO: North Korea talks look like a big victory for Trump — but Kim Jong Un may have already won

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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



    The US will reportedly hold back aircraft carriers from joint military drills with South Korea as North Korea's stance softens and its leader Kim Jong Un seeks talks with both the US and South Korean president.

    "While US aircraft carriers have taken part in joint South Korea-US exercises in the pass, it has been decided that none will be coming for the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises," a US military official told Korea's Hankyoreh website on March 8.

    "There is a possibility no nuclear submarines will be coming either," the source added.

    Last year, the US raised eyebrows by deploying three aircraft carriers and two nuclear submarines to Korea for different exercises. Both aircraft carriers and submarines have been viewed as high-end platforms the US would deploy in the event of an actual war.

    The carrier deployments also may have spooked North Korea, as it released a propaganda video if its missiles destroying a carrier and other key US weapons systems.

    But Hankyoreh's source said the upcoming drills' lack of carriers had been planned long in advance, and didn't coincide with the recent thaw in North Korea relations.

    Potentially, the lack of big, headline-making naval assets to the Korean Peninsula during the US and South Korea's regularly scheduled military drills could ease tensions as the sides move towards Kim's first-ever meetings with heads of state.

    A Pentagon spokesperson decline to confirm what military assets would take part in the drills, but US officials have said that the US will continue its strategy of flexing its military muscle towards North Korea until Kim shows he's serious about giving up his nuclear ambitions.

    SEE ALSO: Trump looks to have backed down China and Kim Jong Un with his madman strategy towards North Korea

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    Syria

    • UN Ambassador Nikki Haley slammed Russia for its support of Syria's Assad government, which she accuses of gaming the UN system to continue to kill civilians, possibly with chemical weapons.
    • French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that France would launch attacks on any Syrian facilities used to launch chemical weapons attacks.
    • Haley ended her statement by saying that if the UN couldn't stop violence in Syria, then the US would act on its own.

    The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, slammed Russia and laid down a heavy warning for the UN Security Council on Monday, saying that if the international community can't come together to stop the bloodshed in Syria, the US will.

    Haley's statement follows French President Emmanuel Macron's statement on Monday that France would launch attacks on any Syrian facilities used to launch chemical weapons attacks, much as the US did in April 2017.

    Haley's statement was especially scathing towards Russia, a permanent member of the security council. Russia, Haley claimed, negotiated loopholes into a ceasefire deal struck by the Security Council in February.

    Haley went on to say that Russia had used those loopholes to carry out premeditated attacks, possibly with chemical weapons, on civilian populations it knowingly mis-categorized as terrorists.

    "With that vote Russia made a commitment to us, to the Syrian people, and the world to stop the killing in Syria," Haley said of February's UN Security Council ceasefire in Syria. "Today we know Russians did not keep their commitment. We see their actions don't match their commitment as bombs continue dropping on the children of east Ghouta."

    Hell on earth in eastern Ghouta

    Man with a child are seen in hospital in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria February 25, 2018. Picture taken February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam KhabiehOne of the last pockets of Syrian rebels has been holding out in eastern Ghouta against a furious onslaught of Russian and Syrian airstrikes that have killed 1,160 people since February 18, according to a war monitor.

    The roads in and out of eastern Ghouta, where the UN Security Council intended to send aid, have been peppered with airstrikes, making aid convoys' journey treacherous.

    A Reuters report on Monday stated that the pace and volume of airstrikes had grown so thick that it was no longer safe to leave shelter to bury the dead. Haley called Russia and Syria's air and artillery strikes "a brutal bombardment of civilians in Syria."

    In the Security Council resolution, the UN called on Russia to use its influence to stop the bloodshed and allow aid and medical evacuations from east Ghouta, but Haley challenged that assumption in her speech by asking if it was Russia, once Syria's powerful ally and savior, that was subservient to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    "Has the situation reversed and Russia is now the tool of Assad, or worse, Iran?" Haley asked.

    Haley cited reports of Russians bombing medical clinics and hospitals while declaring the strikes successful missions against terrorist targets.

    "Every minute we delayed meant more people were killed, but the Russian delegation stalled and drew out the talks."

    "The Russian and Syrian regimes insist they're targeting terrorists" with airstrikes in Syria, Haley said. But according to Haley, Russia maintains that "the hospitals are full of terrorists, the schools are full of terrorists," while outside monitors report heavy civilian deaths.

    Russia insists that its targets have been exclusively terrorists, and that it has allowed evacuation. It claims that terrorist attacks have shut down UN convoys and thwarted attempts to evacuate Syrians in medical need.

    But it's unclear how rebels or terrorists, who live among Syrian civilians in east Ghouta, could retain sufficient territory to stage mortar or artillery attacks against medical evacuations or aid convoys under such heavy bombardment.

    On Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British war monitor, said about 511,000 people had been killed in the Syrian war since it began in 2011, with 85% of those being killed by Assad's government.

    Haley says Russia makes a 'mockery' of the UN, and the US may strike again

    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley looks on after arriving to watch a training of the COBRAS, Honduras National Police Special Forces, at their base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

    Haley described Russia and Syria's continued subversion of a peace process a "mockery," and concluded her speech with a warning, and recalled the US's April 7, 2017, naval strike on Syrian air bases thought to have participated in a sarin gas attack on its own people.

    "When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action," Haley said.

    "We also warn any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhumane suffering, most especially the outlaw Syrian regime, the US remains prepared to act if we must," she said.

    "It's not the path we prefer, but it's a path we've demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take it again," Haley concluded.

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

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    A picture illustration shows a WeChat app icon in Beijing, December 5, 2013. A REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

     

    • Australian defense officials have been banned from using Chinese app WeChat, one of the world’s largest social media platforms.
    • It follows the ‘phasing out’ of Chinese mobile phone brands Huawei and ZTE by the department.
    • Australia's defense is currently undertaking a security assessment on WeChat.


    Australia’s Department of Defence has banned employees from using one of the world’s largest social media apps, WeChat.

    The ban was first reported in the Australian Financial Review, with the Australian Defence Department confirming it did allow “limited use of Facebook, but not WeChat.”

    The app, which has more than 1 billion users, is undergoing a security assessment. Until it is cleared, it is not allowed on any official’s mobile device.

    The ban follows the Department of Defence confirming to Business Insider just a fortnight ago that it no longer uses any Huawei phones and is retiring its ZTE mobiles.

    The Chinese brands had just been named in a US Senate Intelligence Committee report from the FBI as an espionage concern, given they were owned by companies that were “beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values” and could be used to “gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks“.

    Huawei was founded by former People’s Liberation Army engineer Ren Zhengfei. In 2012, it was banned from participating in Australia’s NBN project over security concerns.

    However, the Australian Department of Defence said the mobile phones “do not pose a security risk for Defence” and were simply being replaced as they aged and failed.

    It’s unclear whether the WeChat ban on Australian Defence officials is in place due to concerns about espionage activity, or whether the app is seemed deemed to be not secure enough.

    Both courses of action have taken place after an October report from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation that warned Australia was the target of “espionage and foreign interference.”

    WeChat has been dogged by security issues ever since its inception in 2011, and even Chinese authorities aren’t comfortable with the way its location-reporting and anonymity features can be abused.

    But there is little doubt that those in charge of China’s internal security – police known as guobao – are also able to access user accounts.

    That was most prominently highlighted by dissident artist Hu Jia, who claims guobao “were able to quote messages that he had sent via the service verbatim.”

    WeChat and other Chinese apps were banned for use by the Indian Defence Ministry in December.

    The Australian Defence Department is yet to respond to Business Insider regarding why WeChat has been singled out for the ban, or when and under what circumstances it could be lifted.

    The department told the AFR that: “Defence does not provide or support the use of unauthorized software, including the WeChat social media application, on Defence mobile devices.”

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    tomahawk cruise missile

    • A top Russian general has threatened to retaliate against the US if it makes good on its promise to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for bombing Syrian civilians.
    • The US said on Monday it would attack Syria again if unacceptable levels of violence continued, and the Russian general said that if that attack endangered Russian servicemen, Russia would fight back.
    • The US has plenty of military options for striking Syria, some of which would be harder to retaliated against, and Russia's aggressive foreign policy may be more about signaling intentions than actually fighting.

    A top Russian general has threatened to retaliate against the US if it makes good on its promise to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for his alleged role in bombing his own people.

    General Valery Gerasimov was reported by multiple Russian news outlets as saying he had information that rebel groups in Syria would carry out a chemical weapons attack on civilians and then blame that attack on the Syrian government as pretense for another military strike.

    Gerasimov went on to say that if the US attacked Syria, and any Russian servicemembers' lives were at risk, Russia would retaliate against any missiles or launchers used in the attack.

    The last time the US attacked Syria, it was in response to a massive sarin gas attack that killed civilians and linked to government airstrikes. The US used guided-missile destroyers to pull off the attack.

    Now, the US has a considerable and heavily-armed presence in Syria, but in the country's east, not where the Assad government's main targets are in the west. It's likely the US would again have to line up naval assets to strike Syria again.

    If the US feared Russian reprisal for the attack, it could simply use a submarine that can fire missiles while submerged and then speed off.

    US called out Russia and threatened to strike Syria

    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley looks on after arriving to watch a training of the COBRAS, Honduras National Police Special Forces, at their base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge CabreraGerasimov's threat comes a day after US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley trashed Russia as she alleged they negotiated loopholes into a UN ceasefire agreement that allowed them to continue bombing civilian targets like hospitals and schools when aid convoys were meant to reach a besieged Syrian town.

    International war monitors support Haley's assertion that Russian and Syrian jets have struck civilian targets. 

    Haley concluded her speech by saying that Russia made a mockery out of the UN, and that the US was prepared to strike Syria if the behaviors continued.

    Russia has placed air defenses around key Syrian airfields, and air assets represent a likely target for any US strikes looking to punish chemical weapons or human rights violators.

    Russia's air defenses in Syria are regarded as very capable, and if the US tries to attack sites protected by Russian defenses, it could meet the conditions Gerasimov set for a counter attack.

    Despite the uptick in tensions lately, the US and Russia have operated near each other in Syria since October 2015. Experts tell Business Insider that Russia, a militarily strong but economically weak state, would not enter outright fighting with the US over Syria.

    In February, the US reportedly killed as many as 300 Russian paramilitary officers and blew up a Russian-made tank in fighting between pro-Syrian government forces, that Russia backs, and rebel forces, that the US backs. 

    SEE ALSO: US slams Russia at the UN and warns it will strike Syria again if airstrikes against civilians continue

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    Turkey air force

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Three Turkish air strikes hit a checkpoint held by pro-Syrian-government Shi'ite militiamen on the road to Afrin in northwestern Syria on Wednesday, killing five fighters, a pro-government commander told Reuters.

    The Shi'ite militias, which control the nearby villages of Nubl and Zahraa, recently assumed control of the position in agreement with the Kurdish YPG militia -- the stated target of a Turkish offensive in the Afrin region, the commander said.

    The air strike also wounded two Kurdish fighters.

    SEE ALSO: Russia just announced it will test its allegedly unstoppable new 'Satan 2' nuclear missile

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    taurus bunker buster

    • South Korea has quietly signed an order for 90 bunker-busting missiles that lend themselves perfectly to a pre-emptive strike on North Korea
    • The move comes as high-stakes talks play out between Seoul and Pyongyang, and historic meetings between South Korean President Moon Jae In and President Donald Trump sit on the near horizon.
    • The decision to buy offensive, bunker-busting missiles even as hopes are high and tensions thawing between North and South Korea indicates that South Korean President Moon Jae In is serious about keeping the pressure on.

    South Korea has quietly signed an order for 90 bunker-busting missiles that lend themselves perfectly to a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, and possibly taking out Kim Jong Un in an underground bunker.

    The move comes as high-stakes talks play out between Seoul and Pyongyang, and historic meetings between South Korean President Moon Jae In and President Donald Trump sit on the near horizon.

    But South Korea has long shown an interest in deep penetrating missiles, even designing its own Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missiles that can hit all of North Korea and dig deep into the earth before exploding.

    In response to North Korean missile tests in the past, South Korea has released video of the missile torching a mannequin in a deep bunker, perhaps as a message to Kim.

    South Korea's Defence Acquisition Program Administration, or DAPA, ordered the KEPD 350K Taurus bunker-busters from a German company and will add them to about 170 such missiles they already own, according to IHS Janes.

    The missiles fire from South Korea's F-15K Slam Eagles and have a range of 500 kilometers, putting all important North Korean leadership and nuclear sites within range.

    South Korea has previously and successfully tested the Taurus from F-15s, according to Yonhap.

    The decision to buy offensive, bunker-busting missiles even as hopes are high and tensions are thawing between the two technically warring states indicates that Moon is serious about keeping pressure up on North Korea.

    Though North Korea has reportedly offered to suspend missile and nuclear tests during the process of trying to speak to the US, both South Korea and the US have announced that their joint military drills will continue.

    Here's a video of the bunker-buster in action with South Korea's air force:

    SEE ALSO: Russia responds with veiled nuclear, death threats to UK nerve agent attack

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    FILE PHOTO: 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 announced a new nuclear weapon that demonstrates Russia's apparent disregard for human life in human warfare.
    • Most nuclear weapons use nuclear detonations in the air to put massive heat and pressure on targets.
    • Russia's new nuke weaponized radiation itself in a way that could leave massive swaths of Earth uninhabitable for the better part of a century.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a raft of new nuclear weapons systems at his State of the Nation address on March 1 — and one demonstrates Russia's apparent disregard for human life.

    Known as the Status 6, the underwater, high-speed nuclear-capable torpedo isn't like other nuclear weapons. While any time an atom is split, there's a risk of radioactivity, nuclear weapons typically use nuclear detonations to create heat and pressure, with lingering radioactivity as a dangerous side effect.

    But Putin's nuclear torpedo uses radioactive waste to deter, scare, and potentially punish enemies for decades to come.

    President Donald Trump's nuclear posture review released earlier this year appeared to confirm the weapon, noting that Russia is developing "a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo." 

    What makes the doomsday device so dirty?

    Russian status 6 nuclear torpedo dirty bomb

    "Nuclear weapons only generate significant amounts of radioactive fallout when they are detonated at, near, or beneath ground level," Stephen Schwartz, author of "Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of US Nuclear Weapons Since 1940," told Business Insider.

    These types of nuclear explosions "suck up dirt, or water, contaminates it with debris from the bomb, and then lofts it into the atmosphere," Schwartz said.

    US nuclear weapons, which are mainly designed to destroy other nuclear weapons in a mutual nuclear exchange, detonate in the air to create the maximum amount of pressure to targets on the ground.

    The amount of pressure created by a US Minuteman III ICBM would crush much of a city, but their strategic purpose lies in holding Russia, or another country's ICBM silos at risk. 

    "Where the fireball does not touch the surface of the earth," as can be the case with air-burst nuclear weapons, "the only fallout is from the bomb debris itself and any dust particles in the air that come into contact with it," Schwartz said.

    "When a thermonuclear weapon is surrounded with with ordinary cobalt (cobalt-59) metal,"as Russia's Status 6 is rumored to be, "the fast neutrons escaping the explosion will instantly transmute it into radioactive cobalt-60, which would vaporize, condense, and then fall back to earth tens, hundreds, or thousands of miles from the site of the explosion."

    How the doomsday bomb could make thousands of square miles uninhabitable for the better part of a century

    nuclear

    The result would be a shroud of radioactive cobalt spreading indiscriminately across the planet. A cobalt bomb detonated in Washington DC could contaminate Canadian or Mexican soil. Schwartz estimates the cobalt would take 53 years to return to non-dangerous levels, and that other radioactive elements could persist for much longer. 

    "Any contaminated areas would be rendered essentially uninhabitable for that amount of time and people in shelters would not be safe if they returned to the surface for any period of time," Schwartz said. "If detonated in a populated area, decontamination costs would be astronomical."

    In the US, nuclear modernization has meant for decades improving the survivability, accuracy, and precision of nuclear systems to hit small targets with minimal collateral damage.

    The Russian idea of nuclear superiority, as revealed by Putin, involves making the Earth uninhabitable and visiting unimaginably horrific destruction for the sake of instilling fear, or simply for killing.

    SEE ALSO: Putin just said Russia has 'unstoppable' nukes — here are the areas in the US most likely to be hit in a nuclear attack

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    USS Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group

    • US Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the US military in the Pacific, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the US isn't planning a one-off "bloody nose" strike on North Korea to humiliate and scare Kim Jong Un.
    • Instead, he said, "If we do anything along the kinetic spectrum of conflict, we have to be ready to do the whole thing."
    • Reports about President Donald Trump's plans to strike North Korea have persisted for months, but Harris outright denied the "bloody nose" strategy. 

    US Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the US military in the Pacific told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the US isn't planning a one-off "bloody nose" strike on North Korea, but rather it's planning to go all out in war or not at all.

    Senior administration officials are reportedly exploring the "bloody nose" strategy, which entails a limited strike to humiliate and intimidate North Korea. When asked about this during the Senate hearing, Harris said no such plan existed.

    "We have no bloody nose strategy. I don't know what that is," Harris said in response to a question from Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, USNI reported.

    "I am charged by the national command authority of developing a range of options through the spectrum of violence, and I'm ready to execute whatever the president and the national command authority directs me to do, but a bloody nose strategy is not being contemplated," Harris continued.

    Experts uniformly reacted in horror at the news that President Donald Trump's administration was reportedly planning a limited strike on North Korea, as they allege it would likely result in an all-out, possibly nuclear retaliation from Pyongyang.

    According to Harris, the US feels the same way. 

    "If we do anything along the kinetic spectrum of conflict, we have to be ready to do the whole thing," Harris said, pouring cold water on the idea of a limited strike that would only have rhetorical ramifications.

    Speculation over Trump's willingness to strike North Korea peaked after he dismissed Victor Cha, a widely respected Korea expert, as US ambassador to South Korea after almost a year of consideration.

    Cha's dismissal owed to his disagreement Trump's plan to attack North Korea, multiple outlets reported at the time.

    SEE ALSO: Why Putin's new 'doomsday' device is so much more deadly and horrific than a regular nuke

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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

    MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the Russian military and the Syrian government are extending a cease-fire in Damascus' rebel-held suburbs as long as it takes to allow all the civilians to leave the area.

    Lavrov spoke in Kazakhstan on Friday, saying the cease-fire will be extended "until all (civilians) leave" the enclave known as eastern Ghouta.

    The Russian Defense Ministry said that 2,000 people had exited the rebel-held suburbs by early morning.

    Thursday saw the largest single-day exodus of civilians in Syria's civil war. Tens of thousands emerged from Hamouria and other opposition towns to escape the onslaught.

    The civilians were fleeing as Syrian government troops, backed by Russian aircraft, pushed further into eastern Ghouta.

    Elsehwere, Turkish forces are pushing their way into the northern Kurdish-held town of Afrin.

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    su 24 frogfoot syria

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday Russian air strikes on the Syrian rebel-held village of Kafr Batna in eastern Ghouta killed 12 civilians and wounded more than 100 others.

    "The bodies are completely burned by the Russian war plane air strikes," Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the UK-based war monitor, said.

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    John Bolton Mitt Romney

    • President Donald Trump is rumored to be on the verge of replacing his national security adviser.
    • A likely replacement is John Bolton, a man who argues constantly for bombing North Korea.
    • Bolton frequently appears on Fox News and writes that he thinks North Korea is an imminent threat to the US and must be dealt with immediately.
    • He dismissed North Korea's recent push for talks and maintains that war is still a good option.

    Rumors swirled around the White House on Thursday as The Washington Post reported that H.R. McMaster was about to be dismissed as President Donald Trump's national security adviser.

    His mooted replacement is John Bolton, a man who seems to really want to bomb North Korea.

    The White House quashed the staffing rumors Thursday night, but Trump's White House has often denied rumors of staff shake-ups only to go through with them anyway.

    This was the case with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's ouster on Monday.

    Trump's selection this week of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson, a move that was perceived to steer the White House in a hawkish direction, helped fuel rumors that McMaster's ouster was likely.

    Conventional wisdom in Washington now indicates that Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN, would take over should Trump dismiss his top security adviser.

    In late February, amid a marked thaw in tensions between North Korea and South Korea during which the prospect of diplomacy looked brighter than ever, Bolton wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal called "The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First."

    In the article, Bolton argued that North Korea had given the US no choice and must be attacked before it perfected its fleet of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. In his article Bolton never mentioned South Korea, which is in range of North Korea's massive installation of hidden artillery guns.

    Experts estimate that thousands would die in Seoul, South Korea, the capital of a democratic, loyal US ally, for every hour of fighting with North Korea.

    "It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current 'necessity' posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons by striking first," Bolton said to conclude his article.

    After South Korean diplomats said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had expressed willingness to give up his country's nuclear weapons, Bolton dismissed it as a trick.

    "The only thing North Korea is serious about is getting deliverable nuclear weapons,"he told Fox News. Bolton frequently appears on Fox, Trump's favorite news station, to talk about North Korea in his characteristically hawkish way.

    Bolton's Twitter feed is a constant stream of reminders of links between North Korea's weapons programs and those in Syria and Iran.

    Bolton believes, not without evidence, that North Korea could become an exporter of dangerous technologies that could threaten US lives.

    Trump already had a North Korea hawk — Bolton is a super hawk

    Donald Trump H.R. McMaster

    McMaster isn't exactly a dove on North Korea. McMaster is believed to have pushed the idea of striking North Korea, though perhaps in ways designed to prevent all-out war.

    In November and December, persistent reports came out that Trump's inner circle was weighing such a "bloody nose" attack on North Korea. But by the new year, military and administration officials had started to pour cold water on the notion.

    On Thursday, the commander of the US military in the Pacific dismissed the possibility of a limited strike, saying the US military was planning for all-out war or none at all.

    SEE ALSO: Trump is reportedly pushing rumors and crazy gossip about his cabinet because he enjoys it

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    john bolton

    • President Donald Trump reportedly wants to replace his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, with John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, but he seems to not like Bolton's mustache.
    • In policy, Bolton is much more hawkish than McMaster and openly advocates striking North Korea.
    • In appearance, McMaster is much cleaner cut than Bolton and fits with Trump's "central casting" aesthetic and appreciation for US generals.

    Rumors of President Donald Trump's dissatisfaction with his national security adviser have swirled for months. But if Trump is truly thinking about replacing H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, as recent reports have indicated, Trump will first have to forgive Bolton's prominent mustache.

    McMaster, a hawk on military and foreign-policy issues who believes the US needs to demonstrate its strength to deter bad actors, being replaced by Bolton, an extreme hawk who has advocated bombing North Korea and who pushed hard for the invasion of Iraq in the 2000s, has huge policy implications.

    But there's good evidence that one factor holding Bolton back from the job is his thick, white mustache.

    Trump reportedly does not like facial hair. None of Trump's close associates have facial hair, a pattern dating back decades.

    "Donald was not going to like that mustache," a Trump associate told The Washington Post around the time of his inauguration. "I can't think of anyone that's really close to Donald that has a beard that he likes."

    "Bolton's mustache is a problem," the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was quoted as saying in the journalist Michael Wolff's tell-all book about the Trump administration. "Trump doesn't think he looks the part. You know Bolton is an acquired taste."

    Trump has repeatedly said he prefers to associate with people who appear to come out of "central casting," or people who look the part in a Hollywood sense.

    But academic research actually backs up Trump's apparent distaste for facial hair in his political associates.

    In 2015, Rebekah Herrick, a political-science professor at Oklahoma State University, published a paper called "Why Beards and Mustaches are Rare for Modern Politicians" that found voters didn't like facial hair on political figures.

    In 2016, amid the first talk of Bolton's appointment to a White House role, Bolton tweeted"I appreciate the grooming advice from the totally unbiased mainstream media, but I will not be shaving my ."

    The military-general look versus Bolton's look

    mcmaster bolton

    In contrast, McMaster's look couldn't be any cleaner. McMaster, who remains on active duty, still dons his US Army uniform and hardly has a hair on his head.

    Trump has gotten flak from service members for calling his top advisers, including McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, "my generals," but he seems to have a genuine respect for the uniform and look of military men.

    On Thursday, after a torrent of reports that McMaster was headed out the door, the White House denied any impending staff shake-ups. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, dismissed by Trump early this week, had been dogged by rumors of his weak standing in the White House for months before the news became final.

    McMaster may well stay in Trump's Cabinet for some time, but if Trump can overcome his apparent distaste for Bolton's big white mustache, he may he picked next for the role.

    SEE ALSO: Trump's likely pick to replace his national security adviser really wants to bomb North Korea

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    China Special Forces Navy Sailor

    • A major Chinese shipbuilder briefly posted, and then deleted, images of plans for ships and weapons systems that reveals that China may be planning to unseat the US as the most powerful navy in the world.
    • The picture shows a carrier at sea with models of unmanned drones and stealth jets on the deck in a clear effort to match US sea power.
    • China has long focused on countering the power of US aircraft carriers, but has usually done so with "carrier killer" ballistic missiles.

    A major Chinese shipbuilder briefly posted, and then deleted, images of plans for ships and weapons systems that reveals that China may be planning to unseat the US as the most powerful navy in the world. 

    The images, screengrabbed and reported on by Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer at Popular Science, showed Chinese plans for a massive, nuclear-capable aircraft carrier with stealth jets, nuclear submarines, and underwater drones, as well as a possible "underwater great wall of China" attack and defense system to surveil and attack enemy ships. 

    The China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) had previously confirmed on their website that a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was in the works and expected by 2025, the South China Morning Post reported.

    China currently operates two aircraft carriers, both of which are based on Cold War-era Soviet designs and burn fossil fuels, which limits their range and power projection ability. The smaller carriers, which displace about 60,000 tons, feature ski-jump platforms rather than the flat decks of US aircraft carriers, which also limits the weight and range of the aircraft it can launch.

    The photos posted by CSIC show a large flat-deck carrier that looks much like US Nimitz-class carriers.

    One picture shows a carrier at sea with models of unmanned drones and stealth jets on the deck. China has an upcoming class of stealth jets, though none of them have been navalized.

    With a nuclear-powered, flat deck aircraft carrier, China would join the US and France as the only countries with full-on naval power projection capabilities. China's single nuclear carrier would put it on par with France, but far behind the US, which has 11 full size nuclear aircraft carriers.

    But the leaked images likely indicate China wants to rival the US, as they included plans for electromagnetic catapults to launch heavy jets like the US's newest aircraft carrier types will feature. 

    Paired with the nuclear attack submarines also leaked by CSIC, the Chinese navy could see a considerable boost in power-projection capability.

    China has long focused on countering the power of US aircraft carriers, but usually done so with "carrier killer" ballistic missiles.

    The fact that China is investing in such an expensive, valuable target to put to sea so far in the future indicates there is some life left in the concept of aircraft carriers.

    See the images over at Popular Science >>

    SEE ALSO: Top US military general says war with North Korea will be all out or not at all

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